“Dr. Watson, we’re so glad you could come.” His aunt Marie held the door wide.
“Thank you,” John said. “It’s good of you to have us.” He tried to ignore Sherlock’s eye roll. This was difficult enough. He didn’t need Sherlock’s antisocial tendencies on his conscience just now. “I don’t remember if you met my friend, Sherlock Holmes?”
“Of course, your, er, friend. Do come in. Betty will take your coats.” She waited until the maid had turned away and then took John’s arm, ushering him into the sitting room. The room seemed to be teeming with people, and John paused at the doorway while his aunt laughed merrily. “Now, dear, there’s nothing to worry about. We’re all family, here.”
“That makes it worse,” muttered Sherlock from behind and John looked back over his shoulder with a grin as he was bustled into the room.
He hadn’t wanted to come in the first place, he thought a brief time later as he stood with a drink he didn’t want in his hand. He blamed his mother for insisting that he learn manners in the first place. Given a choice, he would have refused outright to come when the invitation had arrived. After the cold shoulder he’d gotten at Ian’s funeral, he hadn’t expect anything warmer today and he hadn’t been disappointed.
So here he was, cornered by his new aunt and two uncles, all so busy talking they’d forgotten to pepper him with questions. For the moment, anyway. The bombard had been steady for the first half hour. His theory was that they were waiting until he’d had a few drinks before bringing out the heavy guns.
His eyes searched the room, looking for Sherlock. He had been torn about bringing him along. There was no question that he had more experience with wealthy people than John did, but he wasn’t exactly reliable in social situations. Still, John hadn’t wanted to face this alone and so had been convincing. (John promised not to complain about surprises in the refrigerator for a month, and Sherlock was allowed to perform two experiments on John in that time—as long as it didn’t affect John’s ability to function the next day. Frankly, he still regretted this concession. Who knew what Sherlock would come up with?)
Still, Sherlock looked like he was behaving himself. He certainly looked like he fit in, with his tailored suit and aristocratic bearing. His audience didn’t look appalled or horrified, so that looked all right, thought John. No unwelcome deductions … yet, at least.
John blinked and refocused on his Uncle James. “So sorry, I got distracted. What?”
“I asked what you were doing with your time now?”
John frowned. “Much the same as usual. Chasing criminals, writing my blog. Though I have cut back my hours at the surgery, which is something of a relief.”
Aunt Marie asked, “You still … work, then? But, I thought…”
Andrew touched her arm. “Just because you’ve never had to work doesn’t mean some of us don’t enjoy it, dear. Dr. Watson seems like he enjoys feeling useful.”
John gave a brief nod. “I worked hard to get through medical school. Hate to let all that work go to waste. Though I’ll admit treating children for colds isn’t my idea of real medicine, which is why I’m just as glad to be able to cut back my hours. That, and a chance for a full night’s sleep now and again.”
“You have trouble sleeping, dear?”
“Well,” John said, “We keep irregular hours. It’s hard to get up for a 9:00 shift when you’ve only fallen into bed at 3:00.”
“I can imagine,” said Andrew. “I find it hard enough if I’m in bed after 11:00. Though, at least the house is quieter now the girls are out. You don’t have children?”
“No, there was never really an opportunity,” John said.
“Because of your … friend?” Uncle James looked as if someone had held a bucket of fishing bait under his nose.
“What, Sherlock? No,” said John. “I mean, you’d have to be insane to bring a child into our flat, but mostly I meant because I was in Afghanistan for ten years. There just wasn’t time to settle down and have kids.”
He gave another look at Sherlock, casually standing near the fireplace and looking particularly elegant. John’s young nieces? (cousins? first cousins once removed?) were watching from a corner and giggling in high pitched bursts every few minutes. Apparently his new family had given up on trying to talk to Sherlock, and John tried not to feel jealous. He wished these three would get tired of talking to him.
Some of this must have shown on his face, because suddenly one of his cousins was at his arm. “Mummy, cousin John hasn’t had anything to eat since he got here. You know how that scotch sneaks up on people.” Giving a gentle tug, she extricated him from the corner and led him toward the buffet. “You looked trapped, Dr. Watson. Or should I call you John?”
“After that rescue? John, please,” he told her. “You’re my cousin Meredith, yes?”
“Correct. Marie and Andrew’s daughter. It must be terribly confusing.”
“It is a bit overwhelming,” John said. He looked again at his flatmate. “Sherlock seems to be doing all right for himself.”
A small giggle. “Oh, I think he frightened everybody away. He’s so intimidating and sexy.”
John’s eyebrows rose at her choice of adjectives as he looked over the food. “He does have an air about him.”
“It’s the mystery thing. You have it too, you know.”
He dropped the canapé he’d just raised to his mouth. “I do?”
“Absolutely. We’ve heard such incredible things—that you’re a doctor, that you were in the army, and now you spend your time solving crimes? Not to mention the romance.”
“Romance.” It was barely even a question.
“Why, yes, between you and Sherlock.” She seemed surprised.
“We’re not a couple.”
She laughed. “Really? Because he’s barely taken his eyes off you all afternoon. And he did fake his own death to save your life, which is terribly romantic.”
Now John was hoping for a rescue from Meredith. “I’ll have to take your word for it,” he said, trying not to roll his eyes because this topic of conversation never got old. “I seriously doubt that ever crossed his mind. We’re just friends.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, John.” Sherlock had joined them in that silent, slippery way of his. “I thought we were partners?”
“Well, yeah, for solving crimes, Sherlock, not…” John’s voice faltered. What the hell was Sherlock doing? Then he realized—Sherlock was bored.
This was about to become a bit not good.
He tried not to flinch as Sherlock laid his hand on his arm. “Really, I’m crushed, John. You’re ashamed of me.”
Meredith’s eyes were wide, and John could see the rest of the room, frozen as everyone’s attention was riveted on the three of them. “You’re being silly, Sherlock. This is not the place,” John said, voice low.
Sherlock, on the other hand, was all but projecting his voice to the rafters. Not that this elegant room had rafters, exactly, but the image caught in John’s mind as he tried to figure out how to deal with this. “What? You know how I feel about you, John. I didn’t just say I was willing to die for you—I actually did it. How can you treat me this way?”
John shook his head, madly trying to think, but he already knew he was beaten. There was no way he was going to be able to head this off. “You’re really doing this, aren’t you? It’s like Buckingham Palace all over again.”
“What?” Meredith asked. “You’ve been to Buckingham Palace?”
John nodded. “Yes, and this idiot came dressed in nothing more than a sheet. You’d think a man of his background would have a better sense of decorum, but no.”
“Decorum is for mundane minds, John,” Sherlock said, his voice deep. “Not for us.”
“Us? At least I was dressed, Sherlock!”
“True, but you were amused.”
John snorted and gave a kind of sideways tip-of-the-head nod. “Yeah, well, let’s not have a repeat of that in front of all these nice people, shall we?”
He tried to ignore the way Sherlock’s eyes were boring into him, intent and all-seeing. What on earth was he doing? The entire room was staring unabashedly now, and the air felt thin, as if everyone had stopped breathing. “Good point, John. Being naked is definitely better suited for the privacy of home.” He leaned closer, and now John was having a hard time breathing. “How much longer are we going to be here?”
John just stared, totally thrown off balance. He knew (didn’t he?) that Sherlock was just messing around because he was bored, but still … he was shaken. For a moment, all he could do was blink, dumbfounded, until he caught a glint of humor in Sherlock’s eyes.
He was bloody well going to kill him, he thought, even as he reluctantly broke into a laugh.
“I just can’t take you anywhere, can I? All you had to do was say you were bored, Sherlock.” He eased around his flatmate and walked over to his aunt and uncles, standing dumbstruck in the corner. “I apologize for Sherlock, somehow he deleted the necessity of company manners. I should really take him home before he starts doing something really unspeakable. Thank you so much for inviting us.”
With a nod, he turned and walked back to take Sherlock’s arm, maneuvering him between the statues that were his new family. The maid was already waiting in the hall with their coats and John hurriedly grabbed his and headed for the door, trying to ignore the shocked faces staring their way from the sitting room as he pushed a now-grinning Sherlock out the door.
“You know they’re never going to invite me again, don’t you?”
“All the better. I’ve never met a more boring group of people,” Sherlock said. “Or, well, there’s my family … but, no. They’re insufferable, but they do at least have some conversational abilities.”
John just shook his head. Why had he thought it was a good idea to bring Sherlock, again? He was worse than a child. He glanced back at the house as they walked up the street. He could just see several faces peering out of the window.
He couldn’t help himself. He started to giggle. Sherlock was right. They were boring, and he was as glad to get out of there as his friend. “At least you didn’t bring the harpoon,” he finally said.
“Long arms,” Sherlock said, “I can reach the food on the buffet table without it. You should know that, John.” He raised an arm to hail a cab. “No, if I were going to bring anything, it would have been the skull to keep me company while you were on the other side of the room. It’s got more conversation than any of those silly cousins of yours.”
John bent over again, laughing at the mental image. “I don’t think we’re going to need to worry about seeing any of these people again, Sherlock.”
“Good,” Sherlock said. “Families are boring. Hungry?”
“Considering I didn’t get a chance to eat anything before you pulled that stunt? Starving. Let’s go.”