There are people in the flat when John gets home.
He can hear them moving around up there, more feet than Sherlock has to himself. He hesitates for a second - bombs and pools a little too close for comfort - but strides up the stairs anyway. It is, more than likely, just a client looking for Sherlock to solve a case. Plus, the shopping is heavy in his hands.
When he gets upstairs he sees two strangers, and no Sherlock. He hesitates for just a moment, looking them both over. The older of the two, probably about John’s age, is a blond man sitting in his armchair, ankle crossed over his knee to support a cup of tea. He looks vaguely annoyed as he gives John a brief all over glance. It’s a glance that makes John a little hesitant, because it’s the same glance he’s currently giving - a threat assessment. He realizes that this bloke will be the most trouble should a fight break out, and moves towards him, flicking a glance to his partner. The other man is younger, with dark hair and excess energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet, hands in his pockets. He’s pale and thin in a way that reminds John vaguely of Sherlock, but the sunny smile that crosses his face kills that comparison right out of the gate.
“Hello.” John says, moving into the kitchen and keeping a wary eye on the blond, “Are you looking for Sherlock?”
The darker haired one responds, still grinning, which only increases John’s wariness of the blond, “We are, yes. You must be John. I’ve heard so much about you!”
John blinks a little, taken aback by the enthusiasm, but can’t help smiling in response.
“I’m Merlin. Sherlock’s told you about me?” John’s face must answer for him because Merlin sighs heavily, rolls his eyes, and turns to the blond, “All your fault, of course.”
The blond snorts into his tea, “Yes. I had the terrible bad taste to be seduced by you.”
Merlin’s grin widens, and he turns his attention back to John, “Anyway, I’m Merlin Holmes, Sherlock’s brother.”
“… Ah.” John says, intelligently.
Merlin gestures to the blond, “And this is my husband Arthur. He’s somewhat of a prat, you’re better off ignoring him completely.”
Arthur raises his tea in a mocking salute, “Charmed.”
John feels another ‘ah’ on his tongue, and swallows it back, “Well I must say, you’re already much more pleasant than Mycroft.”
Merlin laughs happily and Arthur smirks, “Not like that’s very hard, but Merlin on a bad day is more pleasant than a basket full of puppies.” Merlin smiles at his husband, pleased with the compliment, and Arthur’s smirk gets a bit sharper, “About as clumsy too.”
Merlin pouts a little at that, and honestly, if John had to pick one of them to be a Holmes based on actions rather than appearances he would have picked Arthur.
“Well I’m sorry I’m not sure where Sherlock is. I’ll text him.”
“Oh, no. Don’t do that. I can get him here much faster.” Merlin pulls out his own phone and bangs out a text.
“What are you telling him?”
“That I’m leaving you of course.”
John hesitates, wondering if it is any of his business, but he can’t help but be curious about the Holmes brothers, “Sherlock doesn’t like Arthur, I take it?”
Arthur laughs, finally standing, moving to the kitchen to refill his cup. He grins at John, an amused half grin, like he’s inviting John in on a joke, “Ah, John, aren’t you paying attention? No one likes me. I’m a bit of a prat.”
Merlin hums from where he’s sending his text, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t like prat today. I think today is a clod pole day.”
Arthur laughs, eyes wrinkling up attractively, “Have I risen to such great heights, Merlin?”
Merlin flips his phone shut and grins at his husband, “And anyway, I think Mycroft and Sherlock were more upset with the general cradle-robbing.” Merlin’s grin widens a bit, “And you stealing me away and tricking me into marrying you, of course.”
Arthur rolls his eyes extravagantly, “Yes of course, because I am totally capable of tricking a Holmes into doing something they don’t want to do.”
“Ah, it’s not that hard.” John says, smirking.
Arthur laughs, and John pours himself a cup of tea as he considers the two men. He likes Arthur already. Merlin’s phone goes off, and his attention is directed right to the screen. Arthur seems to think this is par for the course and leans in a little closer to John, looking him up and down again. “So. What did you do before you were drafted into the Holmes’ war against the world?”
“I was in the army. I was a doctor in Afghanistan.”
“Really? I was a Marine. In Iraq though.”
John feels himself smile, “It’s all the same desert.”
Arthur snorts in agreement.
Merlin makes a noise, turning all his attention to his phone when he receives a text. John feels like he and Arthur are on their way to becoming fast friends as they settle into the couch. Merlin completely ignores him in favour of his phone and they start a discussion about the general tendencies of Holmeses to be addicted to their mobiles. They then begin to wonder how Mycroft passed on this addiction to his assistant (whom Arthur calls She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sending John into a burst of giggles). Arthur speculates that she’s an android and John counters with his pet theory that Mycroft is a vampire and She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is under his thrall. They expand their theories to incorporate the umbrella. Arthur thinks it must have some kind of wireless signal to the android. John figures that it’s actually a sword that Mycroft uses to kill the vampire hunters who are foolish enough to come after him. Merlin spends almost the entire conversation on his phone, sending them both amused glances every so often.
Merlin is a puzzle. Aside from the unfortunate phone addiction and his general colouring, John has a hard time believing that he’s a Holmes. He’s cheerful and smiles a lot, for one. He goes an entire hour without calling anyone an idiot, apart from his repeated taunting of his husband – which seems more like flirting then anything.
By the time Sherlock finally decides to grace them with his presence John and Arthur are sitting together, already bonded, while Merlin flits between Sherlock’s laptop and various experiments around the flat. John is laughing at the image of Mycroft powering down his assistant for the night when Sherlock bursts through the door in a whirl of hair and coat.
He pauses just on the threshold, staring at Arthur, who raises his cup in the same mocking salute from before. Sherlock scowls at him, immediately looking to Merlin, “You lied.”
Merlin smiles at him sweetly, “I needed to speak to you.”
Sherlock glares hard at John’s new friend, and Arthur smirks back. John feels like the audience at a new play. But this is a familiar feeling around Sherlock, and he kind of likes it. He settles back to watch the drama unfold.
Sherlock stalks into the house, shedding his coat, “Obviously. You have a case for me I expect? I won’t work as long as that thing is still in my house. Or yours, for that matter.”
Merlin sighs, looking not unlike a kicked puppy, and John doesn’t even consciously make the choice to speak, “Sherlock.”
Sherlock glances at him, looking sulky. He holds Sherlock’s gaze for a second and raises an eyebrow. Sherlock sighs heavily, falling back dramatically into John’s armchair, “Fine. What do you want?”
“Lance is missing.” Arthur says.
Sherlock gives Arthur a half-hearted dark look, already distracted, John can tell. Sherlock steeples his fingers together, sinking down into his chair, staring at Arthur, “And you want me to find him?”
Arthur’s jaw jumps a little before he sighs, leaning back, “Please.”
There’s a tense, heavy silence, and John really wants to know the story behind all of this, but he figures he’ll get it all later. Merlin breaks the silence, sounding a little unsure for the first time, “Sherlock. I looked for him. I lost the trail. I’m not good at it like you are. You have to help us find him. Please.”
Sherlock is as still as a statue for a long moment, before he breaks eye contact at Arthur to look at his brother, “Why should I?”
John only met Merlin about an hour ago, but he really can’t handle that look on his face, “Sherlock-”
Sherlock cuts him off almost immediately, vicious, “Shut up John. You have no idea what’s going on.”
If there’s one thing John knows it’s how fucked up family can get. If there are two, the second is how to handle Sherlock’s moods. John’s spine straightens, and his voice is firm. “I know Merlin is your brother, no matter who he’s married to. And I know he’s asking for your help.”
Merlin and Arthur spare him grateful glances before turning their attention back to Sherlock. The battle of wills ends abruptly. Sherlock closes his eyes, letting his head fall back against the armchair, “I always did like Lance. He was the only member of your gang that wasn’t dull as a rock. Tell me everything.”
Merlin smiles, quickly, before starting the story, “Gwen and Lance found out about a year ago that they couldn’t get pregnant,” Sherlock makes an annoyed noise, and Merlin hushes him, “Stop it. I know what’s relevant, just trust me. They started to look into adoption in different countries. They were contacted by a company called Empty Hearts Adoption, and met a young boy. They saw the boy twice before he was removed from the programme. There were subtle emails asking for payments to see the boy again, masquerading as processing fees for getting the boy legally into the country. I told them that it didn’t seem right. So Gwen dropped it. Lance – I didn’t realize until after he’d disappeared, but he couldn’t let it go. He started investigating on his own. No one’s seen him in almost two days now. Gwen got an email from the adoption people this morning and I knew we had to come get you.” Sherlock holds out his hand and Merlin passes over his phone.
Sherlock reads over the email quickly, and his face gets a shade paler, startling John from the couch. Sherlock meets his gaze, sounding almost shocked, “John. Moriarty.”
John blinks, grabbing the phone. The email, bland and subtle, is signed with a stylized heart that's empty, but the relief of the artistic curls around it make it appear as if it's on fire. John doesn't see whatever Sherlock sees though until he reaches out to trace a letter carefully hidden in the logo.
After that it’s a rush to pack and figure out how they’re getting to Cardiff where Merlin, Arthur and their friends live. John makes sure to grab his gun and the second one that Mycroft gave him after the thing at the pool. He sticks the first in his waistband, and the second in his luggage. He finds his computer in a cupboard in the kitchen (why Sherlock?). He takes a look into the fridge, thinking about cleaning out anything that might spoil. The first thing he sees is a plate of ears, so he closes the fridge again, going to see what’s taking Sherlock so long.
And then the four of them are headed to the train station. He’s unsurprised to find they have a first class carriage to themselves. He collapses into a seat with a sigh, unsurprised again when Sherlock and Merlin take the chance to have a hissed conversation that goes right over his head. Arthur collapses into the seat across him, looking bemused, “So who the hell is Moriarty?”
John hesitates, glances at Sherlock, before looking back to Arthur and raising an eyebrow offers, “Story for a story?” Arthur nods and John tells him about the phone, the pips, the bombs, and the pool. He’s told the story to so many policemen and wrote it all out himself for the blog, so he has it down pretty good. His hand doesn’t shake at all when he tells it. When he’s done, something dark and terrible comes down over Arthur’s face.
“You think this guy has Lance?”
John shrugs, “Honestly? No. I think someone Moriarty is paying has Lance. And I think Sherlock will find him.”
Arthur breathes out slow, and nods, before launching into his own story, “I was a massive prat in school. I mean, I suppose I had my excuses, but overall I was incredibly annoying. Sherlock was in my year, and well, you know Sherlock. He was pretty much the same back then. Except smaller-sized, less deadly, and two years younger than the rest of us.” Arthur hesitates, and John has already figured out where this is going, and isn’t sure how he feels about it.
“I suppose, with a normal person, you could probably call it bullying, but with Sherlock it was more like a war. In retrospect, it was great training for Iraq. Anyway, I joined up after school, got some humility blown into me by an IED, and was sent back to Cardiff. That’s when I met Merlin. I didn’t know he was a Holmes. Or, I did, but I didn’t connect that with the kid I’d known at school. By the time I realized, well...” Arthur’s smile twists a bit, amused, and John can’t read his tone, “I suppose you could call our relationship a whirlwind. It was like we knew each other a thousand years.” Arthur’s tone is definitely heavy with deeper meaning, but John has no idea what it could be.
“So then we were engaged and I was meeting his family for the first time. You have to understand. Merlin is the baby. And I am ten years older than him. And I enjoyed a war with Sherlock at school. Not to mention I was unemployed and I think they thought I was a gold-digger. And they are Holmeses. Put all of it together and well,” Arthur’s smirk turns a bit bitter, “meeting the in-laws didn’t go so well.”
“No,” John says, trying to imagine it and failing, “No, I can’t imagine it would have. I’m kind of surprised you survived.”
“Me too, looking back on it.”
“First time I met Mycroft, he kidnapped me to a warehouse. He told me he was Sherlock’s nemesis. I was pretty sure he was some kind of crazy serial killer mastermind. He tried to bribe me to spy on Sherlock for him. I was quite insulted by the idea of working for some master criminal.”
Arthur laughs, loudly, which is good because he probably had to release some tension, “So you’re saying meeting the brothers Holmes never goes well?”
John feels himself smirk, “I doubt it.”
They lapse into comfortable silence. So they both see it when Sherlock says something and Merlin reacts like he’s been hit. He turns white and his mouth tightens, he steps back from Sherlock, hand clenching and releasing, looking both furious and hurt. Sherlock, for his part, looks triumphant for a moment, before his face falls a little, and he sighs heavily, reaching out a hand. Merlin dodges him easily, turning to Arthur, “Come buy me something from the snack compartment.”
Arthur looks between the two of them, and John can see his jaw jumping, the way he wants to know what just happened, to defend Merlin. Merlin looks at him pleadingly though, and Arthur stands, “Fine. Let’s go.”
The two of them walk away. Sherlock huffs dramatically, and collapses into the seat Arthur abandoned, facing John. He’s scowling a little. John can tell he already feels bad though, so he doesn’t comment, just raises an eyebrow. Sherlock ignores him, except to scowl a little harder and pull out his mobile. After a moment he hands it over. It’s a police report on a body found outside an office building, “Lance worked at this office. They found the body this morning. No telling how old it is just yet.”
John lets it go, because he’s the nice one, and it’s better to ambush Sherlock with these things anyway, “Do you think it’s Lance?”
“No. The body is the wrong ethnicity. We should visit the scene though, he was probably killed for access or to tie up loose ends. It’s the best lead we’ve got.”
“Yes. Alright.” He hands the phone back, and hesitates, not really sure what to say, “Sherlock-“
“I don’t hate him.” Sherlock interrupts, doing the creepy mind reading thing, though it probably wasn’t even hard this time, “I’m a high functioning sociopath, remember?”
John rolls his eyes so hard he thinks he might sprain something, and he doesn’t even try to keep the incredulity out of his voice, “Yes. Sure. Okay. Putting aside the fact that that’s not even what sociopath means I think it’s pretty obvious that you have some pretty strong feelings about both of them. And I can’t help but notice that Moriarty’s adoption agency is called ‘Empty Hearts’.”
Sherlock looks up at him, eyes intent, “You think this is step one of his plan to “burn the heart” out of me?” Sherlock asks, sounding way too interested in the concept for John’s comfort.
“Well it’s not impossible is it? The company did contact them, didn’t it?”
Sherlock looks contemplative, leaning back in his seat again, thinking, “Well. Merlin, against my advice, changed his name when he got married.” It surprises John not at all that Sherlock says ‘married’ like normal people say ‘cancer’, “And we haven’t been in the same city in almost five years. But if anyone was going to connect Merlin to me through Lance, it would be Moriarty.”
John nods, knowing they can’t put anything past him. He’s too clever to risk underestimating. But John doesn’t want to talk about Moriarty anyway, “So you and Arthur were in school together?”
Sherlock gives him a dark look, probably realizing the Moriarty conversation was a bait and switch, “Yes. You met Sebastian. We were all in school together.”
John spares a moment to think what that would have been like for Sherlock, and can’t quite control an empathetic jolt of pain, “Well. Arthur seems like much less of an arse than Sebastian. But if you’d like me to take a ridiculous amount of money off his hands as well, I’ll see what I can do.” John’s phone goes off then, text from his sister, which he ignores. When he looks up Sherlock is hastily covering up a fond look. He smirks in response.
“I’ll let you know.” Sherlock says, holding his gaze for a moment before turning his attention back to his phone.
Merlin’s shaking a little when they step out of the carriage, and Arthur quickly pulls him into a corner, hugging him close, hating his stupid family more than a little. He doesn’t even try to keep the anger out of his tone, “What the hell did he say?” Merlin shakes his head, nestling into Arthur’s neck, muffling out a denial. Arthur smoothes a hand down his spine, “Come on, M. Tell me what he said.”
Merlin sighs heavily, and pulls back a little, looking at the floor, “About what you’d expect. That it wouldn’t be any skin off his nose if Lance was dead and…” he cuts himself off, fiddling with the cuff of Arthur’s shirt, but Arthur can guess.
“And he thinks Lance should have taken me with him?” Merlin’s depressed nod makes Arthur long for Excalibur so he can go kill something. He runs his fingers through Merlin’s hair instead, “Ah M, I’m sorry. You always end up with the crap families.”
Merlin sighs heavily, leaning back against him, “Well. They aren’t so bad. At least I’ve never had Uther.”
Arthur smirks, because this time around Morgana ended up with Uther and he got a perfectly lovely couple in Swansea, “That’s because if you did, you’d kill each other before we could meet.”
Merlin scoffs his agreement, and Arthur smiles, pushing him away gently, “Come on, let’s get some drinks. I need some alcohol to deal with your brother.” Merlin nods and leads the way to the snack cart, tripping on the threshold; but Arthur has known Merlin for over a thousand years, so he’s ready to catch him when he does, “Do you think Sherlock can find Lance?”
Merlin chews on his lower lip, and half shrugs, as they get in line, “If anyone can, it’ll be him. Honestly, I liked him better the first time around. All that Victorian repression was good for something.”
Arthur snorts. It’s not often that they meet other souls with a capital-D-Destiny all their own, but Sherlock and John have both been around once before, though they seem to have no memory of it, “Sure you say that now. But you didn’t like it when they tried to lock you up for buggery, prostitution and general lechery.”
Merlin scowls heavily at him, “That was entirely your fault, you enormous prat.” He folds his arms over his chest, sulking, “I don’t even know why I like you.”
Arthur laughs, leaning in to kiss him gently, “Because I’m your king. Obviously.” Merlin smiles at him, that soft quirk of his mouth that still makes Arthur’s heart flutter, a thousand years later. He’s about to say something unforgivably sappy, but they’re at the front of the snack line, and he’s distracted by food.
They make their way back, laden with crisps and Coke, when Arthur realizes there’s something else hiding behind Merlin’s eyes. He stops them again, frowning, “M? There’s something else wrong, isn’t there?”
Merlin bites his lip again, and blows out a breath, “The kid? The boy that Gwen and Lance were trying to adopt? I’m pretty sure it was Mordred.” Arthur blinks, slowly, leaning back against the train wall.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Merlin is upset, and would probably be wringing his hands if they weren’t full of crisps, “I don’t know. I was hoping. Well. This is the first time around that Morgana has been normal, and not, you know, crazy bent on revenge. And I was kind of hoping that-”
“What? We could all get together and sing Kumbaya around a campfire in this life?”
Merlin kind of droops, and shrugs, “I guess. Yeah. I just – I don’t want to live out the rest of eternity fighting the two of them. I can’t do it Arthur. I could barely do it the first time!”
Arthur scowls, and straightens from the wall. It isn’t fair, he knows. Merlin already has to live with earlier memories than the rest of them, always hitting a period when he’s about fifteen where he almost goes completely insane every time, hundreds of other lives pouring into his head. On top of that he then has to find the rest of them to remind them as well. Arthur can’t imagine what that must feel like, how lonely Merlin has to be sometimes.
He really can’t imagine what it must feel like to kill Morgana and Mordred, the only other two people with magic in the whole world, both of whom were once their friends, their family. Let alone do it over and over again. So Arthur sighs, leaning in to kiss him again, bright and quick, “Okay. I’m sorry. We’ll find Lance, M. Or Sherlock will. Don’t worry. And maybe this time we’ll let Morgana handle Mordred.”
Merlin smiles a little, looking grateful, “Thank you.” He doesn’t give Arthur time to say anything back before they’re ducking into their carriage again, Arthur taking the seat next to John while Merlin threatens to sit on Sherlock’s legs until he moves them. He hands him a package of crisps, and Arthur guesses that must be Holmes for ‘You’re an idiot but I forgive you’ because Sherlock actually opens them and eats one before passing it to John.
John looks at all of them, smiles a little, and then begins asking completely harmless, distracting questions for the next fifteen minutes, and then the train is pulling in the station.
John has the foresight to call Lestrade for a personal reference to the Cardiff PD. Lestrade is not pleased to find out they are in Cardiff and mutters something vague about making sure Jack Harkness and Sherlock never meet. He demands that John promise he’ll drag Sherlock away kicking and screaming if he has to. John agrees and Lestrade makes the call.
So John isn’t surprised to find a policeman still on the scene when they get there, but Sherlock is. He looks him over critically and hums before ducking under the tape and pulling out his lens. John smiles at the poor confused man, offering his hand, “John Watson. That’s Sherlock Holmes.”
The man smiles, shaking his hand heartily, “Inspector Harris. Pleased to meet you. When I heard the great Sherlock Holmes was coming out here I couldn’t resist being the one on scene. I made sure no one moved the body, except the ME to check rigor. They think he’s been in the alley since about 8pm, day before yesterday. Don’t know why he’s interested. Looks like a heart attack.”
John nods his thanks, and Sherlock calls for him. He smiles apologetically, and ducks under the tape, going over on a knee by the body. He snaps on gloves as he begins his inspection, “You could try to be polite you know.”
Sherlock gives that suggestion all the scorn it deserves, with a scoff, “Boring. Tell me about the body.”
John rolls his eyes at him, used to this by now. He runs through a quick inspection, his desire to be fast warring with his desire to find everything Sherlock is going to ask him about. He makes a small noise when he finds a tissue up the man’s sleeve, and rubs his fingers over the man’s forehead, feeling the glands again. He hums again and Sherlock makes a noise like John is physically paining him, making him smile. When he’s done he pulls back a bit, smirking, “They’re wrong about time of death.”
Sherlock’s eyes widen slightly before he tries to pretend he already knew that, “Course they are. How wrong? When’d he die?”
John counts backwards in his head, “Day before yesterday, but around 3 in the afternoon. He had a cold, probably a fever, would have thrown off liver temp and decomposition. He had a limp as well-”
“Yes. Obvious.” Sherlock’s distracted now, looking around the scene, “What killed him?”
John smirks again, because he’s got something good, and he likes it when that happens, he reaches out to turn the head, “Well, I was going to say heart attack like the police, but then I felt this.” He brushes the body’s hair out of the way to show a pinprick right at the hairline, where it would usually be invisible. “So I’m guessing poison of some kind. Won’t know what kind without a sample.”
Sherlock’s eyes light on the puncture like a man spotting gold, he jumps up, excited, “Oh yes. It’s perfect.” He whirls away to start in on his phone.
John walks over to Inspector Harris, smiling kindly, because he’s found telling the police they are very wrong goes over much better if you smile, “Inspector Harris? Well. As it turns out. This isn’t a heart attack after all. I’m sure you would have spotted it once your team got the body back to the lab, but the man has actually been poisoned. His name was,” John stops, turning to Sherlock, who ambles over, finishing John’s sentence.
“Jake Easert. He worked at a car park around here. Where’s the nearest one?”
Harris blinks in surprise, clears his throat, and then points off to the left. Sherlock takes off immediately. John smiles again, pats Harris on the arm, “Thank you!” He takes off after Sherlock, ignoring the man’s sputtering.
He catches up to Sherlock easily, until they’re walking in step again. Sherlock’s face is bright and happy with the newest case actually being interesting. John can’t help but feel that bright joy infect him a little. He bumps shoulders with him easily, “Go on. Tell me everything.”
Sherlock’s grin gets even sharper, “It was his shoes, John. His shoes told me everything. They were worn from walking all day on asphalt. It’s a distinctive pattern. But his hands weren’t worn, and there was no paint on his shoes, so nothing involving labour. So who walks around asphalt all day, but doesn’t have a uniform? Answer, car park attendant. Simple. Once you gave me time of death I searched missing persons to find someone who missed a shift at a car park, which got me his name.” John grins, and bites back his praise. Sherlock looks over at him expectantly, John meets his eyes for a moment, and Sherlock grins like John said it aloud, “Thank you.”
John lets out his laugh, shaking his head, “You’re like a bloody peacock, I swear. I’m probably doing terrible things to the world by increasing your already massive ego.”
Sherlock grins happily at him, pointing to a car park across the street, “At least we’re having fun.”
John laughs softly, and can’t help but agree.
Merlin and Arthur walk quickly up the steps to Gwen’s house, letting themselves in as usual. Morgana is already there, pouring tea into Gwen’s cup for her, and gently rubbing her back. Gwen looks up hopefully when they come in, and blushes a little when she sees Arthur. Gwen blushes every time she sees Arthur, some kind of eternal embarrassment that they were married that one time. Merlin’s over it. Sort of.
He walks over to her, leaning down to kiss her cheek, “How are you?”
She smiles bravely, squeezes his hand, “I’m fine. Well. No, I’m not. But I’m not breaking down or anything.”
Arthur takes the armchair across from the couch, nodding hello to Morgana, and Gwen half smiles at him, getting over her embarrassment. “Where’s Elyan?” Arthur asks.
Gwen takes a sip of her tea, “He ran to get more tea. We’re going through it rather quickly. It’s calming me down.” She smiles ruefully, “And going to the bathroom every six seconds gives me something to do.”
Morgana smiles softly, stroking her back, her hair, “It’s alright. Merlin’s brother will find him. And if he’s dead we’ll just figure out how to bring him back to life again.” She says brightly, and Merlin gives her a dirty look when Gwen blushes deeper, and suddenly can’t look at Arthur again.
Merlin meets Arthur’s eyes, signalling him to get Morgana out of there for a second. Arthur, like his evil evil sister, just seems amused by Gwen’s eternal embarrassment, but eventually concedes to Merlin’s signals, levering himself out of the armchair, “Morgana. You know Mycroft don’t you? How much trouble do you think he’ll be in all this?”
Morgana, distracted by mention of her newest nemesis, moves off the couch. She follows Arthur into the kitchen to discuss it. Gwen smiles at Merlin after a second, sighing, “Thank you. She means well, but it’s-“
Merlin nods, smiles at her, “I know what you mean. Arthur is always asking me if I have any secrets I’d like to share. Like secretly having magic for five years without telling him.” Merlin rolls his eyes, “You’d think his sense of humour would eventually get a little better.”
Gwen laughs, slightly watery, but Merlin’s not going to point it out. He squeezes her hand again, and his phone goes off. He digs it out of his pocket, looking at the text, “Gwen, Lance was driving his car that day right?”
She nods, “Yeah. A blue BMW. It wasn’t at his work’s parking garage, and I don’t know where he usually parks.”
He sends a text back to Sherlock, and smiles at her, “Sherlock’s found his car. They’re going to look it over and then drive over here. I’m not sure which of them is driving, but it should be interesting. Neither of them have done anything other than take taxis for about two years now.”
She laughs again, looking a little amazed, “He found it already? You think he can find Lance?”
Merlin doesn’t tell her about the body, because there’s no reason to, and instead tries to inflect every inch of his words with confidence, “Gwen. If anyone in the world can find Lance, it’s going to be Sherlock.”
She nods slowly, then again, faster, moving suddenly to throw her arms around his neck, almost knocking him off the couch, “Thank you Merlin.”
He grins, hugging her back, “Thank me after they’ve left. Knowing Sherlock, he’s going to say something completely terrible and ruin our friendship forever.”
She pulls back to roll her eyes at him, boffing him lightly on the head, “Merlin. I married Arthur. And you sat there and were happy for us, you great self sacrificing idiot. Nothing your brother will say can ruin our friendship.”
He smiles, pleased, and hugs her again, “I know you mean that now, but you haven’t actually met him yet.”
He distracts her for a little while with meaningless, calming talk until there’s the sound of the garage door opening. Gwen jerks hard next to Merlin, actually succeeding in toppling him off the couch this time. She covers her mouth, horrified, and pulls him up by the hand, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I thought – it sounded for a second like Lance coming home. I’m so sorry, that was stupid of me. I just – you already said John and Sherlock were driving his car back. I should have realized.”
She keeps frantically apologizing, until Arthur comes back in, pulling Merlin away from her gently, “Gwen. It’s fine. Merlin falls over all the time. He’s like the opposite of a weeble. He doesn’t wobble. He just falls down.”
Merlin rolls his eyes, smiling at Gwen, trying to make her smile again, “See? I told you. Exact same humour. He would probably put me in a stupid hat if he was still king.”
Arthur rolls his eyes, shoves Merlin gently, “Merlin, don’t pretend like I need to be king to put you in a stupid hat.” He smiles at him, fondly, “Everyone knows you’re helpless to resist me.”
Which is when Sherlock walks in of course, frowning heavily at that comment, and Merlin feels kind of like a lifetime movie of the week. John, God bless John, is there to save them, “Sherlock. Tell them what you found.”
Sherlock looks like he wants, badly, to argue, but he makes a rough sound of annoyance instead, launching into his deductions, “The kidnappers killed the car park attendant with some kind of sedative or poison. They probably surprised Lance at his car. I couldn’t find any signs of a struggle there though, so maybe it was in the office building.” He scowls heavily, collapsing into a chair and stealing Gwen’s tea, “We tried going in but they wouldn’t let us. So you’ll have to call, Guinevere, and tell them to let us in. People are always more accommodating to grieving widows.”
Gwen turns sheet white at the term, almost falling, but John catches her easily, lowering her into an armchair, as he tosses Sherlock a dirty look, “Sherlock,” Sherlock makes a face like John is being ridiculous, and sighs.
“Obviously you’re not a grieving widow. But you might as well be for all the company cares.”
John is shaking his head, and Merlin feels his fingernails bite into his palm, before he releases a slow breath, pushing a murderous looking Arthur out of the room as gently as possible to avoid bloodshed. He carefully pulls Gwen out of the chair, quickly convincing her to go lie down, discreetly pressing his fingers to her forehead to make sure she can get to sleep. Only when she’s gone does he whirl on Sherlock, “Jesus Christ. What the hell was that?” He tugs his fingers though his hair violently, “Sometimes I am honestly convinced you were raised in a barn, which is a good trick, because we were raised in the same house!”
Sherlock glares at him like now he’s being ridiculous, “What did I do?”
John shakes his head, but seems resigned. Merlin resists the urge to pull his own hair out, takes another deep breath, trying to calm down.
This is, obviously, when Mycroft walks through the front door.
Merlin smacks himself so hard he thinks he might have left a mark. He sighs heavily and collapses onto the couch, “Everyone just ignore me. I’m going to have a little nervous breakdown.”
John’s gentle hand passes him a cup of tea and he takes a second to thank God for John Watson again. The beautiful, beautiful man. He wonders if Sherlock would mind if he kissed him. Well, even if Sherlock didn’t, Arthur definitely would. He sighs sadly at the thought. After a moment he’s covered in a large (though less large then it used to be) shadow. He keeps his eyes closed and pretends this is all a terrible dream.
Mycroft’s hand comes down after a moment, gently petting his hair, and his tone is gently chiding and amused when he speaks, “Merlin, I think the proper welcome to a long estranged brother is a hug.”
Merlin throws his arm over his eyes, “If general society had brothers like the two of you, I think rules like that would have changed a long time ago.”
Sherlock makes a noise like he considers that a compliment, and John snorts out a laugh.
Mycroft is smiling, Merlin can tell, “Be that as it may, I am glad to see you looking healthy, baby brother.” Merlin groans at the nickname, but Mycroft ignores him completely, “One is always gratified to see that closed circuit cameras do not lie.”
Merlin rolls his eyes under his arm, “Please. Like you’re allowed access to the cctv in this part of the country.”
Mycroft doesn’t respond but Sherlock makes a gleeful noise, “Merlin! have you found Mycroft’s blind spot?! John, we must move right away. Call Mrs. Hudson, see if she’ll just ship the whole of 221 to us. She can come too.”
Merlin isn’t opening his eyes, but he can guess that the look John is giving Sherlock right now is epic. Mycroft makes a sound of soft annoyance, “Sherlock, do not test me at the moment. I am not very pleased with you.”
“What did I do now, Mycroft?”
“You promised me that you would not investigate Moriarty on your own!” Mycroft is as close as he ever comes to actually yelling at Sherlock. It’s not very close, as even dead people know Sherlock doesn’t respond well to yelling, but it’s still a great deal louder than his normal speaking tone. If Merlin cared to open his eyes (which he definitely, definitely doesn’t) he would probably see The Umbrella being used a lot like a sword, “And you’ve involved poor Merlin in your game with the madman. I am not pleased with you at all.”
“First of all, Mycroft, I was under extreme duress when you forced that promise out of me, it doesn’t count.”
“What kind of extreme duress?” John asks, sounding worried.
There’s a pregnant pause that probably involves Mycroft and Sherlock giving each other fraught glances, Sherlock practically growls out his answer, “Mycroft would not get me in your hospital room until I had promised. After the pool.”
Another silence before John’s soft, “Oh.” And Merlin smirks a little to himself.
Sherlock goes on like he was never interrupted, “Secondly, Merlin brought this case to me. What was I supposed to do, lock him up?”
“Yes. Obvious. Merlin. I’m placing you in witness protection. I forbid you from being involved with any of this.”
Merlin snorts loudly, then can’t stop the laughter, finally dropping his arm from his face, and sitting up, “Oh God. No.”
But Merlin has had just about enough of this, “No, Mycroft. I may not be as endlessly annoying as Sherlock, but you’ve never been able to tell me what to do and you’re not starting now. You don’t have a terribly good record at it anyway. What happened when I was 13 and you forbid me from smoking? I went out and bought a case of cigarettes. What happened when I was 12 and you tried to force me to go to fucking Eton? I got the entire school board brought up on tyranny charges. And, Mycroft, what happened when I was 20 and you forbid me to marry Arthur?” He’s risen at some point during his little speech, and Mycroft is looking at him with something almost like alarm (for Mycroft anyway), “I’m pretty sure I disappeared from a locked room, had the two of you chasing your tails all night, broke Arthur out of jail where you’d stashed him, and got married anyway. So no, Mycroft, I will not be going into Witness Protection but thank you for the kind offer.”
There’s a resounding silence for a moment, before Arthur’s voice breaks through, sounding very amused. Merlin hadn’t even seen him come in, “Just so you know M, I still find it really hot when you do that.”
Merlin, against all of his best efforts, blushes a little, and smiles wide at him, moving to kiss him quickly, then again, a little longer, ignoring his brothers’ death glares. Merlin can say this with some degree of confidence as he’s been doing it for quite a while - kissing Arthur never ever gets old. He’s forcing himself to pull away and send Sherlock off to find Lance like he’s supposed to be, when Morgana walks in.
And Mycroft drops his umbrella.
John doesn’t know who the stunningly beautiful woman that just walked in is, but judging by Mycroft’s reaction, he can’t wait to find out.
She raises an eyebrow coolly as Mycroft strives to pretend he dropped his umbrella on purpose, and stoops to pick it up. She takes a seat on the last open armchair almost regally, ankles crossed and hands folded, “Mr. Holmes. What a lovely surprise.”
“Ms. Draig, it is wonderful to see you of course. I did not know you were in town.”
“Yes. Yes, you were in Cape Horn.”
“Yes.” Mycroft seems to take a moment to recover from the surprise. It’s kind of a bad thing, John supposes, knowing absolutely everything, because you never learn how to deal with surprises.
“Mr. Holmes. You are aware that you are in Cardiff. Which is, unless I am mistaken, still a part of Wales?”
“Oh yes, of course. And I do apologize for that. But, as you visited London just a week ago, I thought you would not begrudge me a trip to see my long lost brother.”
Ms. Draig’s smile is sharp and dangerous, and John likes her immensely, “I was in Heathrow. Which is hardly London.”
“It is in Britain, is it not? And by your own rules that means you must contact me before entering. I did check, I must have missed your email.” Ms. Draig’s eyes narrow, just a little, and John can tell that Mycroft has completely recovered himself from the surprise.
“As I must have missed yours."
“I also must have missed yours when you went into Southern Italy last month.”
Ms. Draig’s eyes narrow even further, “As you are quite aware Mr. Holmes, I was overseeing a delicate operation that has been in motion since long before you laid claim to that part of the country.”
Mycroft inspects the tip of his umbrella, “Of course. Of course.”
There’s a tense, awkward silence, and John can feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The muscles in his thigh jump and he can’t quite stop himself from making sure he still has his gun.
“This is quite terrifying.” John’s eyes finally move away from the two of them, looking to Arthur, who has his hand over his pocket like he’s just making sure as well, “I mean, really, Morgana. Did they teach a class somewhere?”
Morgana laughs, soft and honestly amused, and whatever cold war is going on between her and Mycroft is banked for the moment as she smiles at Arthur, “Oh, Arthur. Surely you know I learned from the best? My dear father isn’t useful for much but he is quite good at terrorizing the general public.”
Across the room Arthur, Merlin and even Mycroft make the same face of chagrined agreement. And John really hopes he never meets Morgana’s father. He looks over at Sherlock, who is wearing his ‘dreadfully, painfully bored’ expression, and John stands from where he’s been sitting on the floor next to Sherlock’s armchair. Tugs him up as well, “Well this has been… quite terrifying as Arthur said. But Sherlock and I still have someone to find. So we’re going to go work on that. Can one of you please get us into Lance’s office building? And we’ll be on our way.”
“Of course.” Morgana says, smirking just a little in Mycroft’s direction as she pulls out her phone to text quickly. And John pulls Sherlock out of the house as fast as possible.
Once on the street John wastes no time in asking one of the most important questions, “Who was that?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes a little at his enthusiasm, as they get back into Lance’s car, “Morgana Draig. She has a small position in the British government, much like Mycroft.”
“Yeah, got that part. So they were serious? Did they, what, split the entire world into territories for each of them or something?”
Sherlock shrugs, “I suppose. It would be a logical solution, if they didn’t want to step on each other’s toes.”
“Christ. That was like Godzilla and Mothra. That was terrifying.” Sherlock gives him his ‘your human pop culture is worthless and stupid and I don’t care at all that I don’t know what you’re talking about’ look and John rolls his eyes. Honestly.
After John and Sherlock flee like the cowards they are, Merlin follows their example, pulling Arthur into the kitchen. Arthur lets him out of the kindness of his heart. He grabs for the teapot like a drowning person, hissing, “Jesus, why does your family have to be Mycroft?”
“Are you kidding? Why is your family Morgana?”
Arthur grimaces, reaching out to tug Merlin in close, “This whole thing is crazy. Just so you know.”
“Arthur ,you were king of all Albion for 30 years. I was your court sorcerer, and at one time I convinced you to pull a sword out of a stone. And you think this is crazy?”
Arthur has to grin, pulling Merlin in even closer, so they match up precisely, “Obviously."
Merlin gives him a dark look, the kind of look that preceded Arthur being forced to watch the bloody Disney version of Sword in the Stone again, because Merlin found it hilarious and will spend a week threatening to turn Arthur into various animals. Ah whatever, as long as it wasn’t White. He leaned in to kiss Merlin on the forehead, grinning a little, “Come on, Archimedes. Let’s convince Morgana to watch the last episode of Camelot with us.”
Merlin snorts. Arthur tugs him back in the living room to find Morgana sitting there, looking pleased, and Mycroft missing. Merlin groans, “You didn’t kill him, did you? I mean, he’s an annoying brother, but I still like him.”
Morgana grins at the two of them, standing, “No. I just sent him on his way. We are going to pool our resources into finding the names of everyone connected to Empty Hearts. Hopefully that will make it easier to find a location once Sherlock gets a lead.”
Arthur smirks a little at her, “We’re going to watch the last few episodes of that American show Camelot. Would you like to join us?”
She grins, jumping off the couch, “And miss the chance to make you blush watching that Morgana have sex all the time? Not on your life.”
When they get to Lance’s office the doors open for them far too easy. John would be unsettled by it, but he’s resolved not to let Mycroft unsettle him anymore and he can extend that resolve to Morgana. They haven’t even made it all the way to Lance’s office when Sherlock stops abruptly in the hallway, “Oh. Oh.” He says, reaching out to pull an office worker back from stepping onto a random section of carpet. The next second he’s on his knees, magnifying glass out. John smiles politely at the confused girl, directing her around the other way, “Oh. Oh John. It’s beautiful.”
John grimaces, but there’s always a chance Sherlock’s been distracted by something besides the abduction, so he gives him the benefit of the doubt for a moment, “What is?”
“The abduction! Can’t you see it? Oh. He fought back hard. Look at it!” John tries, but he still sees only an ugly carpet with a brain killing geometric pattern. Sherlock continues anyway, straightening off his knees to start going over the walls, “Lance injured one of them. No. Two. There were only two men and he got them both. Brilliant!” Sherlock falls silent but only for a second, brow slightly furrowed as he moves back to the carpet, “Remind me to ask what kind of martial arts he studied. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He pulls out a penknife and, faster than John can react, cuts out a swatch from the carpet. John raises a hand to his forehead, and groans.
“What! It’s evidence.”
“Despite your high opinion of evidence, we can’t actually afford to replace the carpets for this entire floor.”
Sherlock gives him a dirty look, before grinning like he’s won something, “John, are you suggesting that we let a kidnapper go free for money?” He sounds delighted rather than horrified, and John wonders idly when his life went completely off the rails. Oh wait, he remembers now, St. Bart’s, almost 2 years ago. He looks up and Sherlock’s looking almost hurt now, and John huffs out a breath.
“Oh, honestly. First of all, you can’t actually read my mind. Stop pretending.” Sherlock opens his mouth, probably to protest that he can actually, and John cuts him off, “And secondly, I never said that I regretted it, did I?” Sherlock considers that, then smiles a little, and John continues on, “Thirdly, what the hell is so fascinating about the carpet that we’re probably going to have to bankrupt ourselves for?”
Sherlock grins at him, bounces over, holding the carpet up closer to John’s nose. It doesn’t help the geometric pattern become less nauseating, “Look. Here. A spot of blood. From the look of the fight, most likely one of the attackers. They didn’t land many blows themselves. We can get DNA from it.”
John nods, then hesitates, before asking a questions that’s been nagging at him, “Sherlock. If they abducted him from the building, why’d they kill the car park attendant?”
Sherlock stares straight at him for a long moment, making John feel like he’s asked the stupidest question possible once again. And then Sherlock’s face lights with unholy glee, and he reaches out to grip John’s shoulders in a customary expression of delight, “Oh brilliant. The car park attendant was a mistake!! They’ve already made a mistake John. We must go and see the autopsy. It will tell us everything!”
Sherlock takes off like a shot down the hallway. John sighs, grabs the closest potted plant, placing it carefully over the hole in the carpet, before following him out.
When they get to autopsy, John isn’t completely surprised to see that Mycroft has beaten them there. He’s waiting in the observation gallery, and Sherlock scowls a little, but hands over the piece of carpet with good grace (or at least, good grace for Sherlock), “Do not pout so, brother dear. As soon as this case is completed I will be out of your hair and you can once again feel free to run around London proving you are the cleverest of all and don’t need my help.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, narrowed his eyes a little, “Don’t take out your frustrations with Morgana on me. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Mycroft doesn’t react, smoothing his thumb over the top of the umbrella handle, ignores him completely, “Of course you will continue to accept Dr. Watson’s help. I wonder Sherlock, what is it about him that has you so fascinated?”
John feels his ears flush a little, and ducks into the autopsy room, not really sure he wants to hear where that conversation is going.
Sadly for him the autopsy is already almost over and he has barely ten minutes to continue hiding. He allows himself to hesitate another second before taking a deep, bracing breath, and heading back into the Holmes civil war. Sherlock barely spares him a glance, “-and go have another pie.”
Mycroft sighs heavily, bouncing the tip of his umbrella against the floor, “Sherlock. Try, for Merlin’s sake if not mine, to act like a human being please.”
Sherlock’s face does something complicated that makes John’s stomach twist, and Mycroft opens his mouth, but John can’t take it anymore, interrupts, “Autopsy’s done. The poison caused a massive bleed in the brain. He died in seconds. I took a skin sample, figured you’d want to analyze it.” He presses the Petri dish into Sherlock’s hand, giving Mycroft a hard look as he continues “It also seems that the guy was recently in a fight. The poison stopped the bruising from being apparent when we looked at him in the alley. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the guys that attacked Lance in the office.”
Sherlock frowned heavily, examining the piece of skin in the Petri dish, “That implies a level of planning.”
“Getting that man to pose as a car park attendant. Yeah. I know what you mean. From carbon and fluoride levels in the teeth, and general care, I’d place him in Northern Africa for at least ten years.”
“And before that?”
John shrugs, “Great Britain most likely. Can’t be sure.”
Mycroft checks his phone, and John wonders, for the first time, where his assistant is, “She’s tending to things in London,” Mycroft answers, and John sighs softly, “But North Africa would make sense with what Ms. Draig and I have found about Empty Hearts. It’s probable their offices are located there.”
Sherlock hums, still looking at the skin slice, “I need a lab.”
Mycroft nods, “Room 143 should be cleared for you.”
Sherlock looks at him for a moment before sweeping out. John stands there with Mycroft for a tense moment, and John realizes this is the first time he’s been alone with the man since the warehouse.
“You judge me. For what I just said to Sherlock.”
John looks at him, thinking for a second, “I think that family is difficult, and it’s probably only more difficult when you’re all geniuses who don’t really understand how to act like normal people. I think it would be doubly hard because the two of you guard weak points from each other like you’re on different sides of a war. I don’t judge you for saying it. I do judge you for not apologizing.”
Mycroft considers him for a long moment, then ducks his head once. John takes that as dismissal and makes his way to the lab. It’s a little bit of déjà vu, and John, looking at Sherlock, can’t quite stop himself from saying, “Bit different than my day.”
Sherlock smiles a bit, the slightest curl to the corner of his mouth, but it makes John feel better, “It will be a while John.”
John nods, taking a seat, grabbing a newspaper off a desk, “I’ve got time.”
He reads the paper front to back, then does the crossword and the word search. He’s starting in on the Sudoku when Sherlock pushes back. He looks up to see Sherlock’s thinking face. He knows not to question it, and just stands, stretching a little, “I’m starving. Can you think in a restaurant?”
Sherlock doesn’t really respond, which John takes as a yes. He leads him out to the street. John finds a likely looking restaurant and takes a seat, opening his menu. When the waiter comes around he gets a burger and orders some soup for Sherlock, who might eat it unconsciously if John can trick him into it. After a second he pulls out his phone, and raises his eyebrows, “John.” John looks up at him, taking the phone as it’s passed over, it’s a text message, from Mycroft, it says, I apologize and John smiles. Sherlock’s shaking his head as he takes the phone back, smiling a little, “You are constantly surprising.”
During dinner John is successful in tricking Sherlock into eating almost an entire bowl of soup and a few breadsticks, until he realizes what he’s doing and demands they leave. They head back to Gwen’s house for the night. Merlin had texted John halfway through dinner and let him know that they would all be crashing there because Gwen didn’t want to be alone. John figured this was Merlin’s attempt to keep Sherlock away from his apartment. Lord knew what Sherlock would find in Arthur’s laundry to object to. Gwen’s house was probably safer all around.
John pulls Lance’s BMW into the garage, glancing over at Sherlock, who still had the furrowed brow that meant his large brain was masticating over a nice meaty problem. John doesn’t even try to stop the curl of his mouth as he gently leads Sherlock inside, and deposits him on the couch. He, after a moment of consideration, shoves Sherlock’s sleeve up roughly to find five nicotine patches. He rolls his eyes and pulls off two before releasing him. Sherlock gives him a strange look, and John meets his eyes steadily. He considers mentioning the risk of heart attack again, but Sherlock does so hate repetition. After a long moment of staring Sherlock pulls his arm away gently, pressing his fingertips together across his chest, looking at the ceiling. Taking this as an acceptance and dismissal he makes his way upstairs.
In the hallway he runs into Merlin and Arthur as they are walking out of the master bedroom. Merlin smiles at him as he gently closes the door, “We got Gwen to sleep finally. Morgana’s in there with her just in case. I’ll show you where you can sleep.”
John smiles a little, “Thanks. Sherlock won’t sleep tonight, I laid him out on the couch. There won’t be any guns downstairs right? Because the wall at Baker Street-“
Arthur laughs, reaching out to companionably sling his arm around John’s neck, “I saw that. I just figured some crazy criminal had done it.”
“I guess it depends on how you define criminal.” John responds, with an amused grin, and Arthur laughs, pushing him into the fourth door on the right. Merlin follows them in, taking a seat cross-legged on the floor in front of the armchair. Arthur slips into the armchair a second later.
“Is he close?” Arthur asks, tone turning dark and serious.
“I think so. He’s definitely at the meat of it now it’s just-“ John stops himself, because that’s probably not something Arthur needs to think about.
“Just what?” Arthur asks, eyes lit up. Merlin’s looking up at John as well and he hesitates. Because here’s the thing John’s been worried about all day long. Sherlock doesn’t, as a rule, hate people. He’s annoyed by them mostly. But he doesn’t hate them. Except for Sebastian, who he showed a great dislike towards, and Arthur. The only other person Sherlock has shown interest in like this is Moriarty himself. But that is like a dance or a joust. It’s hate and violence and something almost erotic. It’s blood and sweat and anger, and Moriarty can hold Sherlock’s interest better than anything John’s ever seen.
There’s a lot of history here that John only has the bare bones of, and he’s wondering, currently, constantly through the last dozen hours, if Sherlock is solving the case of where Lance is, or if he’s written him off as a bully and a friend of Arthur’s and is now only focused on Moriarty.
“You think he’s abandoned the idea of helping Lance in favour of catching Moriarty.” John blinks, pulled from his thoughts, to stare at Merlin, who is looking at him calmly, and for the first time John really has the realization that Merlin, despite his general good nature, is a Holmes. But John has more than enough experiences with Holmeses, so it only takes him a moment to adjust to his mind being read yet again.
“It crossed my mind.”
There’s tense edgy silence for a long moment, until Merlin shoves at Arthur’s knee, and, in one almost seamless movement Arthur tugs him off the floor and into his lap. For a moment John is bitterly jealous of their ease with each other. Not that he wants it with anyone specific, but he would like someone to hold close (or hold him close) when it gets cold or he gets tired or they are sad.
It looks like a wonderful thing to have.
Merlin pillows his head against Arthur’s collarbone, curled tightly in a way that is a little strange, him being the taller of the two of them. But it works for them, and John can’t help himself from wondering, “So. How did you two meet?”
The tense atmosphere vanishes as Merlin smiles and Arthur laughs softly, “Depends on who you ask.” Arthur says, one hand tracing up and down Merlin’s spine unconsciously.
John smiles, “Oh, Merlin. Definitely. His version is going to be way more fun.”
They both grin at him, and John smiles, taking a seat on the bed, and Merlin starts his tale with the air of a bard, “Well. Arthur was being a Royal Prat.”
“Merlin. When we have time, we really need to expand your vocabulary.”
“Shut it, you. John asked for my story. So, Arthur. Prat. He was at the clinic across the street from my uni and was moving the blind homeless man’s cup around and laughing about it with his kn-friends. His friends. I stomped over to yell at him.” Something about the rhythm of it doesn’t quite ring true, but John smiles anyway.
“I thought you said the IED blew humility into you?” John asks Arthur with a smirk.
Arthur laughs softly, “Well. Honestly it was half the IED and half Merlin.” Merlin makes an annoyed noise and Arthur rolls his eyes, “Maybe, maybe 30/70.”
“As I was saying. I went over to yell at him.”
“I thought he was a crazy person.”
“No one asked you.”
“No one had to. I give my opinions freely.”
“Honestly. Why do I like you? You are not as funny as you like to think.”
“Because I’m your k-husband. Obviously.”
Merlin smiles at him indulgently and John feels himself smiling too. Merlin continues after a moment, “Anyway. He of course, immediately fell in love with me for standing up to him and we went out to dinner that night and were engaged um, four weeks later.”
John blinks slowly, “Wow. No wonder your brothers didn’t like him. That barely gave Mycroft enough time to run a full background check.”
Merlin snorts a little, “Yes. They were rather peeved.”
“Rather peeved? The crazy sods threw me in jail!”
“Oh yes, let’s have that story please.”
“I’ll tell it, you’ll just ruin it, M.” Arthur straightens up a little, until Merlin ‘accidentally’ elbows him in the ribs and he lets out a squeaky sound of pain, glares at him before turning his attention back to John, “So. The first time I meet the two of them is when I recognized Sherlock. Which is a whole long story for another day. But anyway, that was the first meeting, the second was a family dinner. You haven’t had the pleasure of a Holmes family dinner yet, but they are quite … interesting. Sherlock had found out a few things from my past and revealed them in the most dramatic way possible, hoping to drive Merlin to break up with me. Then Mycroft had his go while Sherlock sulked. Then Merlin told them he was going to marry me if they liked it or not. And refused to have me even look at a pre-nup.”
Merlin makes a sound of annoyance, "They were being complete dicks about the whole thing. I would never, in a million years, ask Arthur to sign something like that.”
Arthur rolls his eyes, and this is obviously a fight they’ve had before, “I wouldn’t have minded. It’s not like we’re going to break up, so why the hell not?” Which was an argument for pre-nups that John had never heard before, “It would have helped smooth things over with them.”
“I wasn’t going to marry you with some document hanging over our heads that said ‘Oh, just in case this all falls apart this is all Arthur is allowed to have.’ It was stupid and insulting and they were treating me like a child and you like - like a gold-digging tramp. I didn’t want any of that anywhere near our marriage.”
Arthur gives him an indulgent look, “I know, M. Anyway, Mycroft comes down like the hand of God and forbids us from getting married.” Merlin’s massive eyeroll makes it clear what he thinks about that, “We kind of blew him off. And then Sherlock agrees with Mycroft. Which you may know, hardly ever happens.”
“I think that was actually the only time ever.”
“I have a great talent for uniting people in times of trouble.” Arthur says, deadpan, and Merlin snorts, elbowing him again, “So we left and went back to my flat. And were woken up at 4 in the morning by the police tramping through the house and pulling me out of bed to arrest me for three charges of murder.” John feels his eyes widen, and Arthur nods, “Yes. They really wanted me to go away. So Merlin-“
“Like an idiot.” Merlin interjects.
“Like someone who was distressed and not quite as Machiavellian as his brothers, went to Sherlock for help.”
John groans, seeing where this is going, and Merlin sighs heavily, “They basically locked me up at the estate, and were trying to show me the error of my ways or some bullshit.”
“It was quite the regency romance novel really.”
“Yes. And you were the damsel in distress.”
“Who rescued who, Arthur?”
Arthur scowls, but John can see the laughter hovering behind both of their faces as they look at each other, and he wonders for a second how Sherlock and Mycroft could possibly miss it. It’s fucking adorable.
“So how did you get out?” He asks Merlin, who flicks his fingers dismissively.
“They were overthinking the whole thing. I ended up walking right out the side door while Sherlock dug some kind of hole behind the back fence and Mycroft was resetting the security cameras.”
John snorts, trying to hold back his laughter, then he catches Arthur’s eyes and Merlin’s smug grin and all three of them burst into giddy laughter.
Which is why they don’t hear the first gunshot.
They do hear the second and the third and the fourth shots.
John and Arthur are on their feet almost instantaneously, and John has his gun in his hand a bare second after that. He catches the look Arthur throws him, and grabs the spare from his bag, tossing it over easily. Arthur nods his thanks, and they carefully make their way out to the hall. Arthur and Merlin trade one look and Merlin takes off silently for the master bedroom where Gwen and Morgana are probably still sleeping.
John heads down the stairs, heart pounding in his ears, breathing slow and careful, every part of him stretched, listening for another sound. Anything to tell him what he’s dealing with. He wishes fiercely for Sherlock to be next to him, and not so far away.
Arthur is at his shoulder, holding the gun calmly, waiting on John’s signals, and John is abruptly grateful to him, and resolves to not let Sherlock be a berk to him anymore.
He peeks carefully around the corner into the living room. Bullets are flying fast, from the window to the far wall, shattering pictures that Gwen has up and destroying the wall. John angles himself to look, and catches sight of the car as it goes by. He curses, but the bullets are between them and the door. Only a few more seconds before they can make a run for it, he figures.
He cases the room quickly for Sherlock, finding him on the couch, unbelievably, in the same position John left him, eyes closed, fingers pressed together, on his back. He doesn’t seem to have even registered the gunshots. John sighs heavily.
Of fucking course.
The car is completely past the house now and has stopped shooting so John runs to the door and out into the street, gun steady in his hands. Arthur’s on his heels, taking a stand 6 feet away from him. They fire almost simultaneously and the back wheels blow at the same time sending it crashing into a lamp post. They smirk a little at each other, even as they watch the men struggle from the car. John follows where Arthur’s aiming his gun and reminds him, “Shoot to wound not kill. Or Mycroft will use it as an excuse to lock you up again.”
Arthur scowls, but shifts his aim, taking out the leg of the man with the larger gun. There are sirens approaching already, and they lower their weapons, keeping a wary eye on the two men. The one Arthur shot is in no shape to do them more harm, while the second seems to be panicking a bit. John figures he should offer medical support, but wants to check on Sherlock first. “You’ve got them right? I just want to make sure everyone inside is okay.”
Arthur grins and nods, “Nothing like a nice shooting to wake you up all the way.”
John snorts and heads back into the house, sliding his gun into the small of his back as he goes. Sherlock is still in his thinking pose on the couch, “You’re bloody unbelievable, you are.”
Sherlock opens one eye at this, then closes it again almost immediately, shifting like something hard is stuck under his shoulder and he’s just realized it, “Please. That was obviously a drive-by, they had completely the wrong angle to hit me here. Why should I move?”
John rolls his eyes, but knows there’s no use in arguing, so he heads upstairs to make sure Merlin and the girls are okay. Merlin and Morgana meet him in the hall and Merlin rolls his eyes, “Gwen never even woke up.”
John blinks, “How is that possible?”
Morgana and Merlin trade a look he can’t read and Morgana waves a hand, “Magic. Or the pill she took. She was very upset. It is probably a good thing, she will be upset enough when she sees the damage tomorrow.”
The sirens are right out the door now, so John sticks the illegal gun under his temporary bed and heads outside to talk to the cops. He looks over at Morgana, “Any chance you can make all this go away?”
She smiles at him kindly, slips out her phone, “You only need to ask.”
Morgana, true to her word, has the police come and go rather quickly with a bare minimum of awkward questions about mysterious guns that John really shouldn’t have. Sherlock deigns to stand up and examine the car, and the two shooters. He doesn’t allow them to speak, and comes away from them with a slightly confused look on his face. He walks back to John, and John braces himself for a flood of words that will make him feel stupid.
They’re interrupted by Mycroft’s town car pulling up though, and Sherlock is immediately distracted by it. The Mycroft who comes out of the car is a Mycroft that John has never seen. He’s obviously stressed and worried – his knuckles are white with pressure around the umbrella handle. Sherlock makes a sound that’s half amusement and half surprise.
The three Holmes brothers separate from the crowd and join together in a little triangle right in front of Mycroft’s car. John’s too far away to quite hear what they’re saying, though that could be because they are not saying anything at all. The three of them just seem to stare at each other for a moment, probably deducing, until Mycroft’s hand releases his death grip on his umbrella and Sherlock and Merlin move away. None of them actually touch at any point. Sherlock comes back to John as if nothing happened, and Merlin is quickly wrapped up in a one armed hug by his husband.
“He okay?” John asks, still staring at Mycroft who is standing on the side of the street alone.
Sherlock glances back at his brother again, before looking to John, “Mycroft is always okay John. Pay attention.”
John rolls his eyes a little, but does as Sherlock asks, giving him all his attention, “What have you figured out then?”
“Moriarty. Last time he faced the two of us…” Sherlock doesn’t exactly trail off so much as stop talking, but John knows where he’s going with this, because he’s already had much the same thought.
“He strapped me in a bomb jacket and brought about 10 snipers with him just to be sure.”
“Yes. But this is just two rather low level thugs and a car.”
“So he doesn’t know that Merlin is your brother?”
Sherlock smiles slowly after a second, “No. It would seem not. Either that, or this corner of the organization hasn’t kept him very up to date with the names of the people they are dealing with. The poison that killed the car park attendant was from a plant found in Africa. I expect that’s where the centre for this Empty Hearts organization will be found.”
“It would be easy enough for them to find orphaned children there.”
“Yes obviously. I do not suppose they would have brought Lance there.”
John wants to ask why an organization like that would even bother to keep Lance alive at this point, but doesn’t want to ask and have to deal with Sherlock’s answer. So he tries to lighten the atmosphere, “Well remind me to pack a lot of sunscreen before we fly down there. Lord knows what you’d be like to deal with with sunburn but I don’t relish the thought of it.”
Sherlock grins at him, quick and brilliant, before turning his attention back to the case, “We should tell Arthur and Merlin that they need to move. Just because Moriarty hasn’t known before now doesn’t mean this won’t draw them to his attention.”
John affects shock, “Are you actually agreeing with Mycroft?”
Sherlock shoots him a dirty look, “Of course not. I don’t think they need to go into Witness Protection. Just move and change their names.”
John huffs out a laugh, “Yes, that’s much different, I can see the distinction there.”
Arthur and Merlin wander over to them then, and Mycroft joins them as well, “Your friend doesn’t know who I am.” Merlin states, thoughts obviously running along the same line.
“Baby brother, you cannot be so blind as to think that you will continue to escape his notice. Sherlock’s war with the crazed man can only avoid true casualties for so long.” If any other person had said it John would have protested the idea of ‘true’ casualties, but Mycroft, worried like this, terrifies him. So he holds his tongue and can see the disgruntled look on Arthur’s face as he does the same. Mycroft continues, “We simply cannot pretend that you are safe here any longer. And though your guard dog did perform admirably under pressure, I do not believe even he can take on the whole of Sherlock’s nemesis.”
Arthur frowns a little, and leans in to whisper something into Merlin’s ear, but Merlin shakes his head before he’s even through, “No. It won’t help, Freya won’t give it back until it’s time, you know that.” Arthur scowls, “Stop it. Imagine the headlines. No. Not this time around. And Mycroft, I again appreciate your offer of Witness Protection but I can’t do it. My friends are here. And you might eventually consider taking in Arthur but all of us would never work.”
Mycroft doesn’t really react to the refusal, and Sherlock flounces a little, causing his coat to flap dramatically and attention to be returned to him, “I of course, do not agree with Mycroft at all, but at this point Merlin, a change of name and a move is only sensible. Moriarty will not hesitate to come after every one of your friends and then Arthur and then you.”
Merlin and Arthur have a long, silent conversation, before Arthur shrugs, “Well. We can always try to find something around Tintagel.”
John can’t help but comment on that one, “Why? You want to make puns about your names even easier?”
Merlin just grins at him, bright and happy, “Fine. Mycroft, shall we ask for your help or will Morgana be better?”
Mycroft appears to be grinding his teeth, and Sherlock is exuding smug like a cloud, “I shall help with the move. We can ask Ms. Draig to help with changing your names in an untraceable way.”
The three of them retreat back to the house, and John goes to follow them but pulls back when he sees Sherlock staring sightlessly at the empty street and the car that is carefully being towed away.
He’s still silent for a long while before he hisses softly, with the air of a curse, “Stupid. Stupid. I was over thinking it. Bloody idiot.” He grips his hair tight between his fingers, tugging hard, and John reaches a hand up, trying to gentle him, “Obvious. So obvious. Can’t believe I missed… John. We must go. Right away. No time to lose.”
John, used to being swept along in Sherlock’s wake, follows him quickly to the car, sliding into the driver’s side, and starting it up, “Where are we going?”
“To get Lance.”
“Where the hell are they going?” Arthur asked, watching as Sherlock and John peel off down the street.
Mycroft and Merlin both turn to look, and then turn back to each other, having one of the staring non-blinking ‘conversations’ that send a little bit of a shiver up Arthur’s spine. Merlin looks away from his brother with a tentative smile, “I think they’re going to get Lance.”
Arthur blinks, surprised, “What?”
Mycroft swings his umbrella, looking over his shoulder as the last of the police cars disappear, “Sherlock must have seen something on the men. Or their car. I can’t imagine that they will be very long.”
“But...” Arthur protests, then breaks off, realizing he’s being stupid. He’d had an image in his head of all four of them heading into a warehouse together, guns drawn. Obviously that was never going to happen. For a lot of reasons, not the least of them being that he’s seen Merlin shot to death their last three lifetimes, and he made Merlin swear not to go within 100 meters of anyone that might shoot him.
This is also the reason he’s okay with the idea of moving and changing his name. He swore a (very) long time ago that he’d do anything to save Merlin pain.
Merlin looks at him, smiling fondly, and Arthur will be kind of glad when he loses these Holmes genes and can’t quite read his mind anymore. Merlin makes a face at him, obviously seeing that thought as well. Arthur literally can’t stop himself from leaning in and kissing him, ignoring the sound Mycroft makes, like a cat being stepped on. Merlin shoots him two fingers behind his back, and Mycroft sighs heavily, moving into the house. The prospect of another showdown between Mycroft and Morgana is enough for Arthur to force himself to pull away, but can’t resist a soft bite to Merlin’s lower lip. Merlin hums appreciatively, swaying in close to him, sighs softly, “I really miss being in our house alone right now.”
Arthur laughs softly, nuzzling at his cheekbones, pressing another kiss under his eye, “It really makes you wonder how we ever managed in the damn castle.”
Merlin laughs, pulling back to grin at him, wide and so loved, “Well. I had my own tower. And you were the King. It offered us a certain freedom of movement. I’m pretty sure if we try to go up to the guest room right now, Mycroft and Morgana will follow us.”
Arthur shudders, “Ugh. M. That’s disgusting. I hate you a little right now.”
Merlin snorts at Arthur’s scurrilous lie and squirms out from his grasp, running inside. Arthur follows him closely, and when they get into the living room Morgana and Mycroft are sitting across from each other, sipping tea. They are staring at each other, and Morgana is smirking just a little. Mycroft stares back, unmoved by the terrifying smirk. Arthur’s estimation of Mycroft’s backbone goes up two notches.
Morgana’s foot is bouncing just a little, and she finally breaks the silence, “You’ve been very rude to my Arthur, Mr. Holmes.”
Arthur blinks. When, exactly, did he become hers? Merlin is biting his lip to stop from laughing. Mycroft calmly crosses his ankles, taking a sip of his tea, “I was unaware that you had bought him.”
Morgana resituates the hem of her skirt, “No. But I have put rather a lot of effort into him. We are like family.”
Mycroft sets his tea into the saucer, “When I met him he did not even know you.”
Morgana’s eyes narrow and Arthur feels both himself and Merlin tense into battle readiness, far too used to seeing that look across a field of dead soldiers, “He knows me now.” She takes a sip of tea, flicking a glance to the two of them in the doorway, “It hurts him, terribly, when his husband is hurt. And his husband is hurt by your removal from his life. Lord knows why as you are rather unpleasant.”
Mycroft is staring at her, intent, even though she is pointedly still looking at Arthur and Merlin. “What would you have me do?” he asks, placidly. It’s rather like watching two cobras circling each other, Arthur notes. He briefly wonders if this isn’t sexual tension before he has to turn his mind away from things that are far too terrifying for him to deal with.
“I would think you would relish the chance to reconcile with your brother.” Merlin twitches a little, and Arthur breathes out slow and controlled, trying not to feel guilty about the fact that he’s the reason Merlin even needs to reconcile with his brother. “You have to realize that you and Sherlock misjudged Arthur originally. I do not understand your continued refusal to admit your mistake and get your brother back in the process.”
Mycroft doesn’t say anything, looking straight at Morgana who finally meets his eyes again. He takes a measured sip from his cup. Merlin is practically vibrating next to Arthur, and Arthur will probably always resent Mycroft and Sherlock, just a little, for making him put Merlin through all of this.
“Merlin is my youngest brother. Whatever your emotions towards Arthur, I do not think you can comprehend what I would do to save my brother pain.”
“Your insistence that you know what is best for him is causing him pain. Look at him.” Morgana says, gesturing to Merlin. Arthur looks as well, can’t help himself. Merlin tries to stop his shaking, pressing his lips together tightly, trying to pretend that this conversation has nothing to do with him. Arthur reaches out to draw him in close, instinct driving him.
Mycroft is looking as well, and probably sees more than even Arthur does. Mycroft looks away quickly, setting down his cup, leaning forward, rubbing one hand over his face and sighing softly. Arthur remembers the very first time he saw Uther do something like that, and it feels almost the same. The sudden realization that this person is actually human.
They stand there like that, Morgana staring at a humbled Mycroft, Merlin close to Arthur’s side. Merlin finally breaks the silence, sounding exhausted, “Arthur. Can we go to bed please?”
Arthur rubs his hand up and down Merlin’s back, staring at a motionless Mycroft for a long moment, “Sure, M. Let’s go.”
He pulls Merlin up the stairs to their guest room (they stay at Gwen’s house enough that they have their own room), leaving the two cobras sitting in the living room.
Once the door is shut behind them Merlin collapses to the bed, looking sad and alone and Arthur hates it, viscerally. He doesn’t know what to say exactly, so he strips off his shirt and his trousers, pushing Merlin up gently to sit, tugging off his clothes as well. Merlin’s eyes beg him not to talk about it, so he lets the prat side of his brain take over, “Isn’t the undressing supposed to go the other way around, Merlin?”
Merlin summons up a smile from somewhere, presses their foreheads together, “Thanks.”
Arthur half smiles, pushing him gently back to the bed, “I’m sure you’ll make it up to me. Draw me a nice old fashioned bath in the morning.”
Merlin laughs, curling under the blankets, leaving space for him to join, “I don’t know what your obsession is with baths before plumbing was invented. Plumbing is awesome Arthur.”
Arthur laughs, flicking off the light and crawling in the bed to pull Merlin in close to him, “I just like the part where you have to keep coming in to add more water.”
Merlin laughs, “Pervert.”
Even with everything that’s going on, it isn’t long before they fall asleep wrapped around each other.
Merlin wakes up barely two hours later, just as the sun is rising through the window. He groans softly, but knows he won’t be able to get back to sleep without seeing if John and Sherlock are back yet. He heads down to the kitchen, bleary eyed and hopeful. The living room is empty, though the bullet holes are still in the wall. He’s exhausted, but he takes the time to lean his head against the wall, reaching down deep to pull up that bare wisp of magic that he still possesses, breathing out a spell to fix the damage. It doesn’t even occur to him to wonder what Mycroft and Sherlock will think of it until he’s done. Ah well, he can blame Morgana.
He shuffles into the kitchen and to the electric kettle. Lance’s car is still missing, and he sighs heavily, trying not to worry. It’s a sign of just how tired and distracted he is when he finishes half of his cup before realizing that Mycroft is sitting at the table. It startles him badly when he does realize, and he almost drops his cup. He laughs softly, sliding into a chair as Mycroft raises an eyebrow at him. “Did you sleep well, baby brother?”
“Yeah. Not long enough though. Any news?”
Mycroft touches his phone, which is lying on the table, shaking his head, “None so far.” He takes a sip of his tea, still looking at his phone, “I am allowing them 2 more hours before I make a call.”
“You know where they are?”
Mycroft smiles his shark smile, “I can find out.”
Merlin can’t stop his grin, loving being able to talk to his brother like this again, “You’ll ask Morgana?”
Mycroft gives him a speaking look, and Merlin grins even wider, causing the corner of Mycroft’s mouth to curl up, “You have not stopped being a brat.”
Merlin outright laughs grinning wide as he takes a long gulp of tea. Mycroft smiles back, until his phone beeps. There’s a tense moment when he looks at it, but then he shakes his head, responding to an email, “Not them.”
Merlin nods, pressing his knuckles against the table hard enough to turn them white. He finally gets the courage to ask the question that has been on the tip of his tongue all day, “Is he clean now?”
Mycroft’s face does something complex that Merlin tentatively identifies as pain and worry and hesitant relief. He breathes out slow, “It appears that way. He would not be able to hide a habit from me again. Though I am unsure he is not still using occasionally. John refuses to tell me anything about him, I was rather heavy handed in our original meeting and I am afraid I destroyed any chance of him helping me keep track of Sherlock.”
Merlin nods, having heard the story from John through Arthur, “But. In general, he’s okay?”
“I believe so. John Watson is good for him.”
“I read John’s blog. I think they are equally good for each other.”
Mycroft smirks ruefully, glancing at his phone again, “Until they get each other killed anyway.”
Merlin half smiles, then lets it fall, “I worry about you.” He admits, and watches Mycroft’s face do something else complicated that he doesn’t really have words for.
“Baby brother, I think that is the opposite of how it is supposed to go.”
Merlin scowls a little at him, “Screw supposed to. We are Holmeses. We never do what we are supposed to anyway.” Mycroft chuckles acknowledgement, taking a sip of tea, Merlin forges ahead, “I just – I have Arthur. And all of our friends, and my job. Sherlock has John, his cases, and somehow even they have friends. Though I have no idea how. That’s probably John’s influence again. But you. You have your job. And your assistant, I suppose. But...” Merlin blows out a frustrated breath, “I just worry about you.”
Mycroft had stopped looking at him at some point during his speech, tracing the grain of the table meditatively. There’s a heavy silence for a few long moments, and Mycroft finally breaks it, looking at the table, “I have my family.”
Merlin’s heart squeezes in her chest, stuttering hard, “You-” he stops, clears his throat, reorders his thoughts. “Arthur and I -” He stresses Arthur’s name, trying to make it as clear as possible that if Mycroft wants to spend time with him, he will have to deal with Arthur as well, “We have a Christmas party every year. On the 23rd so everyone can make it. You should come.”
Mycroft looks up at him, steadily for a moment, before reaching for his phone, “I will clear my schedule.”
Merlin breathes out sharply, and can’t stop himself from rising out of his chair and going forward to throw his arms around his brother’s neck, hugging him tightly. Mycroft clears his throat, perhaps surprised by the gesture, pats Merlin’s arm once, awkwardly.
They only release when Mycroft phone starts ringing and he has to clear his throat again before he answers, “Yes…What is their status? ... Mr. Holmes refuses opiates. … Yes I imagine he has. … Yes. … We will be there shortly.”
He stands, closing his phone. “They found Lance. He’s fine, dehydrated and a few bruises but fine. Sherlock somehow managed to find a way to fall off of a roof.”
“Yes. Broke his arm. And-” he hesitates, looking at his phone, “They gave him morphine.”
Merlin feels nauseous all the sudden, “Morphine?”
Mycroft nods, hitting a few more buttons on his phone, “John is with him.” Which is comforting, a little, but not totally. The last time Sherlock went on a morphine binge, he tried to kill himself 13 times before the high wore off completely.
“We should hurry.” Merlin says, and doesn’t wait for Mycroft to nod before he runs up the stairs to shove Arthur out of bed.
Arthur hits the floor with a thud, and groans as Merlin tosses his trousers at his head, “Merlin. What the hell?”
“Hurry. They found Lance. And they put Sherlock on fucking morphine. We’ve got to go now.”
Arthur is dressed by the time Merlin turns around, and Merlin smiles at him thankfully. They rush into Gwen’s room, dragging her out of bed as well. And together they all head out to Mycroft’s town car, dreading what they’ll find at the hospital.
Once they leave Gwen’s house Sherlock directs John back to Lance’s office building. John is completely confused, “Why are we here?”
“Don’t you see, John?”
John’s not bothered by that, “You just figured it out ten minutes ago.”
Sherlock scowls at him, before looking back to the building, pulling a small pair of binoculars out of his pocket and peering up to the windows, “I was too focused on Moriarty. I was trying to outthink him. I forgot to consider the fact that he does not run his side operations. He offers his advice, but not more than that. It is obvious that this particular organization has gotten cocky. They probably haven’t contacted him in a month or two. Explaining why they didn’t know about me or my connection to Merlin. They probably don’t even know Lance’s connection to Merlin. I didn’t even think. Why attack him in the building? Unless they were going to keep him in the building. We realized this the other day when we tried to break in.”
And just like that John realizes it too, “There was no way in. So there wouldn’t be a way out for them to carry Lance.”
“So much so obvious.” Sherlock drawls before looking abruptly angry with himself, jaw tightening, and John presses a hand against Sherlock’s arm.
“We need to get inside.”
Sherlock makes a noise, and leans closer to the windshield, “I want to figure out which floor they are on.”
John snorts a little, “I’m going to guess the basement.”
Sherlock shoots him an amused look, “This isn’t one of your terrible movies, John.”
John laughs, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest, “If you say so. Wake me when you see something.”
Sherlock hums absent acknowledgment, and John reaches out to grip his wrist without opening his eyes, “Seriously. If you go in there without me I’m going to destroy four of your experiments as soon as we get home.”
Sherlock laughs softly, and lets his hand stay where it is, “I will wake you. I promise.”
John lets go after a moment, shifting back in his seat, “Good then.”
John sleeps for probably about an hour before Sherlock wakes him. John is immediately ready to go, adrenaline pounding, “What?”
“Fifth floor. They’re probably getting the news that the drive-by didn’t go so well.”
John squints up at the window, but can’t see anything aside from shadows, “Are we going in, then?”
Sherlock nods, pocketing his binoculars again, “I figured out the best way to surprise them.”
John allows himself one indulgent yawn as he gets out of the car, “I bet you did. Lead on, MacDuff.”
Sherlock ignores John’s groundbreaking pop culture reference, and the two of them sneak around the building to the fire escape. Sherlock fiddles with something on the wall and it eventually clangs down halfway. Which is enough for them to jump up and grab the bottom rung and shimmy their way up the rest of the way.
Sherlock stops them on the fourth floor, shattering a window with his elbow, setting off a silent but blinking alarm, which he frowns at but ignores. They slip into the window, and then carefully, quietly, make their way to the stairs. Once they’re on the fifth floor landing Sherlock motions John quiet, and props the door open a bare centimeter, so they can hear what’s going on.
There are three voices, two thugs and Lance, who seems quite amused by this whole thing, more so than John feels an office worker has any right to be. From Sherlock’s raised eyebrow he agrees. The thugs are indeed getting the news that their little drive-by didn’t work out so well. Lance needles them with it, sounding completely amused, until one of them has the good sense to gag him again. Sherlock is listening with his eyes closed, and he eventually straightens, gripping John hard to signal that they are ready to move. Five seconds later they burst in, Sherlock going right for the closer man, leaving John to adjust and go after the second. He takes him down quickly, turning to Lance, carefully undoing the gag.
“There’s a third.” Is the first thing he says, immediately confirmed by sound of someone scrambling from a room further back. Sherlock takes off after the sound like a shot, leaving John with Lance.
He starts to untie him from the chair. As soon as one hand is free Lance starts on his other hand, leaving John to do his feet. Working together it’s barely ten seconds before Lance can stand, though he almost topples over when he does. John grips him tight, taking his pulse as he does, keeping him steady, “Careful. Sherlock’s got him. Don’t worry about it.” John fishes his phone out of his pocket, looking at the way Lance is turning a little green, calls an ambulance just to be safe.
“You don’t – I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Lance, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
John laughs softly, “John Watson. The man who ran off is Sherlock. Merlin’s brother.”
Lance blinks slowly, and John really doesn’t care what he wants, the man needs an ambulance. “Everyone’s alright? Gwen?”
“Everyone is fine. You’ll see them shortly I’m sure.” There’s a loud crash from upstairs, and John winces, “You’re okay right? I’ve got to-“
Lance takes a seat again, nodding and waving him on, “Go. Go. I’m fine.”
John doesn’t hesitate, taking off to the second staircase. He gets to it just in time to hear Sherlock chase the third man to the roof. He bolts up the stairs in time to see the third man shove Sherlock right off the roof.
John’s brain freezes, and his body goes into overdrive, and he attacks the man, body blows vicious enough and hard enough to send him crumpling to the floor. John ignores him completely, rushing to the edge of the roof to see…
Sherlock’s on the ground, arm obviously broken, but he’s moving a little, having managed to land almost completely in a skip. His arm must have hit the lip of the container as he fell, John figures. Sirens pierce the air and John abruptly becomes aware of himself again.
He races to the fifth floor, finding Lance already standing and moving towards the door. It kills him a little, to move at Lance’s stumbling pace down to the ground, but he refuses to leave him behind to go to Sherlock who is obviously fine. Obvious, he reminds himself. The ambulance will have found him already, there’s nothing John can do that the EMTs can’t.
When they finally emerge, John passes Lance off, and informs the police of the three men who are in the building. And then he doesn’t waste another second before running to Sherlock’s ambulance, climbing in right before they slam the doors shut.
Right after they administer the morphine.
When Mycroft gets to the hospital he’s very concerned for what he will find. Mycroft has lived his whole life in a state of suspended terror, when it comes to his younger siblings. Sherlock on drugs is a headache. Sherlock on morphine is terrifying. Even Sherlock himself has admitted this. Sherlock almost killed himself trying to get off the morphine, and the fact that the EMTs just shot him full of it is something that makes Mycroft’s blood boil.
He recognizes this is unfair though.
He thinks, for the millionth time, about commissioning Sherlock a pair of dog tags for emergencies just like this, but remembers, also for the millionth time, that even if he did Sherlock would never accept them. And certainly never wear them.
When Sherlock had tried morphine before it had been a week of hell. Mycroft had not been informed of his brother’s state until two days in, and, by the time he had Sherlock brought to him, his brother had already had his wrists (and, terrifyingly, his neck) wrapped in layers of gauze. Sherlock had been on an entirely separate plane of existence, mumbling half words that didn’t make any sense, spending hours and hours starting at his fingers, his violin, the wall, that safe at the manor that used to hold father’s gun. He would lie there, staring, just long enough to lull whoever was supervising him into a false sense of security and then lunge.
That was the truly terrifying thing of Sherlock on morphine, he could still deduce people, still manage to figure out the best way to get more drugs.
He broke three mirrors and two light bulbs trying to get something sharp enough to kill himself with, downed a bottle of kitchen cleaner, and broke his own wrist, probably hoping to break the skin and bleed out. He escaped from Mycroft twice and managed to get high again both times. It went against all logic.
Most people on morphine were happy enough to lie still and forget to breathe, but not Mycroft’s brother, no. That would be far too normal for the great Sherlock Holmes.
Mycroft shook his head, dismissing the thought. That was impolite. He would have to gain better control of himself before he actually got to the hospital. John wasn’t taking his calls, and the hospital couldn’t give him any more information then he already had. He considered that in the future he would need to invest in a car that went a bit faster than this one. Or at least, a new driver.
They finally pull up to the hospital though, and the nurse at the front desk gives them the information quickly. They have taken Sherlock into surgery to set his arm, the bone has broken through the skin. John, taking on the role of attending physician, had already gone in with him. Lance was fine, receiving an IV for his dehydration, and the nurse barely finished reporting his room number before Guinevere goes flying off down the hall.
Mycroft, Merlin and Arthur walk to the waiting room outside the operating theatre. Merlin looks pale and shaken, and Mycroft remembers that he had looked much the same the first time around. He is planning for every contingency he could possibly think of in regard to how to handle Sherlock now, and he let one plan slip out of his mouth almost before realizing, “I will take him to the manor again. He will hate it I’m sure, but he will survive it.”
Merlin looks over at him, breathing out slow, nods after a second, “Yeah. Yes. That’s a good plan.”
Mycroft nods back, though he had already known it was a good plan. It was his plan. He resists the urge to pace, leaning on his umbrella. He casts his mind for another subject to take their minds off the terrifying ordeal they have in front of them, “Have you told your husband that I shall be attending Christmas?”
He’s pleased by the way Arthur startles at that, and looks at Merlin. Mycroft gives them all the attention he can spare, analyzing their relationship. He may be allowing himself to be browbeaten into giving Arthur a chance but he will still make sure his baby brother is happy. He looks at them, carefully brushing away the part of him that still insists Arthur is too old, too poor, too everything to be trusted with his little brother’s heart, and just looks.
Mycroft has lived his life by never admitting it when he’s wrong and he’s not about to start now. Not until he has just a bit more evidence. Christmas will do nicely.
John comes out then, pulling off the blood covered smock he’s wearing, and smiling at them tiredly, “Glad you’re all here. He’s still a little loopy but he’s conscious. We set the arm. He broke the radius and the ulna, and the radius broke the skin. It was pretty ghastly honestly, but we replaced the blood he lost, thank God you Holmeses have nice and easy AB. There doesn’t seem to be any nerve damage, though we’re unsure as of yet. There’s also the worry that because he fell into the garbage skip the wound will probably be infected.” John runs his fingers through his hair, and smiles tiredly, “But luckily for him he lives with a doctor, so I’ll be able to monitor him from home.”
Mycroft opens his mouth to tell John that Sherlock will not be going back to 221B until he is clean, but Merlin, excitable and sleep deprived, talks right over him. “How is he? You said he’s conscious?”
John Watson actually rolls his eyes at this question, startling Mycroft into complete silence, “Oh he’s a treat on morphine. I’ve never seen him on it before.” Mycroft wants to explain why that is, what morphine does to Sherlock, but he’s so shocked by the casual way John is talking about it that he can’t quite make himself speak just yet, “But yeah, he’s fine, ranting about my moustache, and how he’s got a brilliant plan to kill me and then himself. Keeps calling me Watson too, which is kind of amusing.”
Mycroft blinks. He realizes Merlin is just as startled. John is a doctor, and while that may lead to a more blasé attitude about some health issues, he’s never been dismissive of Sherlock like this before. Three possibilities come to Mycroft almost simultaneously. The first possibility is that John has managed to hide sociopathic tendencies of his own while living with Sherlock. Mycroft dismisses that possibility as soon as it occurs to him. The second possibility is that John has failed to notice the seriousness of Sherlock’s ‘brilliant plan’. The third possibility is that Sherlock’s reaction to morphine has drastically changed since the last time he was exposed to it.
The final two possibilities are inconclusive without more data, and he is about to start interrogating John when Sherlock is wheeled out on a gurney. The first thing Mycroft notes is that he is quite a bit more coherent then the previous time, and the second thing he sees are the straps holding him in place.
Sherlock sees John almost immediately, “Watson! What are you doing?”
John gives Mycroft a tired but slightly amused ‘see what I mean’ look, and walks over to him, “I’m right here Sherlock. I was just telling Mycroft what happened.”
Sherlock ignores his answer completely, tugging at the bonds like he wants to touch John, “No time. The explosion. You were. But Mary. Blackwood!”
Mycroft blinks, slowly, trying to assimilate himself to what is happening here. Behind him Merlin gasps softly, releasing a small ‘oh’ of understanding and Mycroft barely stops himself from turning on his baby brother and demanding an explanation. The orderlies have started moving Sherlock forward again, and they all follow like rats to the piper. Sherlock continues to mumble to himself, tugging harder and harder at his bindings until John reaches over to press his hand still, “She died. She died you know. Course you do. You were there. I apologize. Have you forgiven me yet?”
John pats his hand absently, trying to calm him down, “Yes, of course.”
“Watson!” Sherlock shouts, as if he’s just noticed John is here, “I have had the best idea! The only idea. We must kill ourselves at once.”
“Fine. I shall kill you and then myself.”
“I’m going to vote no on that one as well, Sherlock.”
“Watson! Don’t be completely stupid.”
“No one is dying today. Least of all us.”
They finally get to the room that has been assigned to Sherlock, and the orderlies leave, looking at least as amused as John. Mycroft is still too confused. It is, vaguely, amusing, though he can’t help but worry that these threats are in earnest. He will have to watch Sherlock carefully. He looks at Merlin, wondering what it was exactly that Merlin understood about this that has escaped him. Merlin is smiling though, the same amused smile as John, though with an edge of intense relief.
Mycroft has lived his life never admitting when he’s confused, though this is testing that resolve.
“May I kill you just a little bit?”
“How in the bloody hell do you kill someone a little bit?”
“With a small knife?"
“I’m pretty sure a small knife will kill me just as much as a large one, Sherlock.” John turns his attention to Merlin and Arthur, who are sinking into one of the visitor’s chairs, “You two should probably go check on Lance. He seemed perfectly fine, but he’ll probably want to see you.”
Arthur waves a hand dismissively, “Nah. He’s fine. Gwen’s there and they know where we are in the unlikely event they do need something.”
Merlin leans into his husband’s side, “This is vastly more amusing.”
“17!” Sherlock exclaims, as though to prove Merlin’s point.
“Seventeen what Sherlock?”
“Steps. Steps old boy. To our rooms on Baker Street.”
“Sherlock, there are 23 steps up to our rooms.”
Sherlock looks abruptly heartbroken, and Mycroft finally allows himself to relax, just a little, “No. No, there are 17.”
John smiles a little, and begins to try to untangle his hand from Sherlock’s grip, “Whatever you say. I have to go wash my hands. I feel like I still have your blood all over me.”
Sherlock glares at him, furious, grips his hand even tighter, “No. If you leave I will kill you immediately.”
John just raises an eyebrow, “If you kill me I won’t be able to come back.”
Sherlock considers the logic of this for a long moment, before releasing John, “Do as you like.”
John smiles at him, then turns to smile at Mycroft. Mycroft does not even want to know what expression he is currently wearing on his face, as John’s amusement just gets stronger, “I kind of like him like this honestly. He’s affectionate.”
John says this seriously, without a hint of irony, and Mycroft marvels at the fact that his brother managed to find someone just as unusual as himself. John goes to the attached bathroom to wash up for a few minutes, and Sherlock gets more and more restless the longer he’s gone. Mycroft watches him closely, but he shows none of the signs that he’s used to looking for. He does not, for example, seem fascinated by his veins, or even interested in the light bulb in the lamp by the bed. He seems completely focused on the sound of running water, waiting for John to return.
Once John does (Sherlock welcoming him back from the war, literally) Mycroft is finally able to rip his attention away to turn to Merlin. “You understand what is happening right now.”
Merlin looks at him, sitting up straight and looking a little less amused, “Enough.”
“Tell me everything.”
“No.” Mycroft feels his jaw tense, and his fingers tighten around the umbrella handle. Arthur’s eyes widen slightly at the movements, and he angles himself instinctively to protect Merlin (Mycroft will forever deny that this is the moment that he began to tolerate Arthur’s presence in Merlin’s life). Merlin looks apologetic, “I’m sorry big brother. But you wouldn’t understand even if I did explain it. At best you would just be frustrated and at worst you would throw me and Sherlock into an asylum of your choosing. Just trust the fact that Sherlock does not seem likely to attempt to kill himself again as long as John is here.”
Mycroft feels his jaw tighten and release again and again, before he breathes in slowly though his nose, releasing it just as slowly through his mouth. “Very well.” He bites out, swinging the umbrella around his wrist to release some more tension, “I will be back shortly.”
Mycroft leaves the room as Sherlock informs John that he misses the moustache terribly, but it wouldn’t work very well on his face anyway. He stops at the nurse’s station and is quickly able to determine where the man who pushed Sherlock off the roof is. He pulls a syringe from a cart he passes and lets himself into the man’s room. He grabs the chart, taking a certain vicious pleasure in reading the damage John managed to deal out. The man is unconscious. He uncaps the needle deliberately, moving to stand by the man’s IV.
“Certain amounts of this, I’m sure, are just bad luck. It was your extreme bad luck that allowed you to gain the upper hand in a fight with Sherlock, and it was your even worse luck to do so in the perfect way to force him to take opiates. It was even worse luck for you that all of this happened in a way to worry me the most. Another day, I might have let you live.” He considers the body. “Ah, well. No great loss.”
He slides the needle into the IV line, depressing the plunger slowly, forcing air into the line. He disposes of the weapon in the biohazard bin, and walks from the room, feeling quite a bit of tension release as the sirens go off just as he enters the elevator.
They do all converge on Merlin and Arthur’s new house for Christmas that year. Though Mycroft and Sherlock are currently arguing (to which John reacts with an eyeroll and a shrug) they manage to be civil (or what passes for civil for someone with the last name Holmes). Sherlock has not yet forgiven Mycroft for what he calls his ‘hovering’ while he came down off the morphine. Mycroft has not quite forgiven him for somehow managing to get a second dose.
John spends the party ignoring Sherlock (also still mad about the second dose, but having already forgiven him) and talking to Merlin and Arthur’s extremely interesting friends. Most of them served with Arthur and have quite a few stories to tell. John gets along quite splendidly with Gwaine, who had been travelling during Lance’s ‘unfortunate loss of brain function’ as all his friends call it.
Lance and Gwen are mostly concerned with keeping their little boy (who they actually decided to name Morgan after a long and complicated talk with Merlin about Destiny-with-a-capital-D).
Morgana and Mycroft manage to claim the kitchen where they work together to finally hammer out the end of a funny little problem in the Middle East. Morgana then takes great pleasure in terrifying everyone out of their mind by trapping Mycroft under the mistletoe.
John and Sherlock head home earlier than most of them, as they have longer to travel. Sherlock and Mycroft were successful in convincing/manipulating Merlin to move a little closer to London, and all of his friends bought houses up and down the neighbouring streets. John kind of wants to ask about this level of co-dependence, but knows he has no legs to stand on in that conversation.
“I quite like your brother.” John admits after a moment, and Sherlock’s lip curls into a ghost of a smile.
“I assume we are not talking about Mycroft?”
“Well. Him too I suppose. Though in very, very different ways. Mycroft scares the pants off me.”
“As well he should.”
John laughs as they take their seats on the train, “Are you set for Africa?”
“Mostly. One or two more things I would like to research first. I believe we will be ready to leave on the 27th.”
“Right. You’re not going to do anything stupid while we’re running around on the continent are you?”
“What would make you think that?”
“All I know is you kept rambling on about waterfalls being painful when you were high.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes expansively, “I promise not to throw myself off a waterfall.”
“Well good. That’s a load off my mind.”
Sherlock smiles again, “After all, we don’t want to miss next Christmas. Merlin is considering giving in to my demands to do a murder mystery.”
It’s John’s turn to roll his eyes, “Knowing you three it’s going to involve an actual dead body, isn’t it.”
“Of course John, what would be the fun without a body?”
John can feel himself fighting a grin, and he finally lets it go, laughing softly, “No fun at all, I suppose.”
Altogether Merlin decides to call the party a success, and he sees the last of them off around midnight, feeling exhausted but happy. He leaves the clean up for another day, ascending the stairs to their bedroom, where Arthur is waiting. He begins to undress Arthur absentmindedly, automatically, and Arthur lets him just as automatically, leaning into his warmth.
“That was fun.” Merlin says after a moment, tugging Arthur’s shirt over his head.
“It was.” Arthur agrees sleepily, “though if Mycroft and Morgana actually end up dating or something I am going to make you put me to sleep until our next life.”
Merlin laughs, “And miss the wedding? I’m pretty sure she’ll force you to be her maid of honour.”
Arthur groans in annoyance as Merlin unbuckles his belt, “I liked it much better when she was evil. And when we weren’t speaking to your brothers. Can I have a do over?”
Merlin leans in, pressing his smile against his favourite place on Arthur’s shoulder, whispering the promise into his skin, “Until the end of time."