The journey down to Sussex was easy enough. The car one of Mycroft’s drivers had parked for them on Baker Street last night ran very well - Mycroft had naturally managed to circumvent the petrol ration if it meant Sherlock’s attendance at lunch would be a sure thing. John and Sherlock had bathed, shaved and dressed quickly, laughing whenever they caught sight of each other. They’d managed to leave for ten and although the drive was long, the steady change in scenery, from London’s density and greyness, to the green countryside with blossom on the trees, was very pleasant indeed. John lit cigarettes for Sherlock every now and again, and whenever they reached a long stretch of road and Sherlock didn’t have to change gear, he rested his hand on John’s thigh.
‘Can we please get through this with as little fuss as possible?’ John asked as Sherlock pulled into the village at half past twelve.
‘I’m not sure what you mean,’ Sherlock said, leaning forwards in his seat, swinging the car left.
‘You know exactly what I mean, don’t give me that,’ John replied. ‘No picking fights with your brother or your mother or the children, or the help, or anyone else who happens to be there.’
‘No. Just... behave yourself.’
‘I’m not a child!’ Sherlock exclaimed as he pulled onto the huge drive, parking the car next to Mycroft’s.
‘Something about this place turns you into one.’ John squeezed Sherlock’s leg. ‘I love you.’
‘Hmph,’ Sherlock muttered, stepping out onto the gravel and slamming the car door. Conscious of his leg, John exited the car somewhat more carefully, putting his stick down first.
‘Mr. ‘Olmes, you’re late!’ A voice cried from the back door, followed by a flabbergasted ‘Mary!’
‘Cook says ‘er cheesy leeks are ruined because of ‘im, though, Alice, and they’re my favourite!’ Mary argued, glaring at Sherlock from where she stood in a pretty dress on the back step, her hair combed and face thoroughly scrubbed.
‘Mary Macneil, just because you’re upset that you’re parents aren’t here... oh, just get inside! I’m very sorry, Mr. Holmes, Doctor Watson,’ Alice called, looking anguished before she disappeared inside.
‘It appears Mary’s after your blood again, then, Sherlock Holmes,’ he said. ‘You’ve ruined the cheesy leeks because you insisted on “a good seeing to”, which, if I recall, was administered in exchange for a promise of good behaviour.’
‘Oh yes, so it was.’ Sherlock pulled a face. ‘Bugger. Are you going to make me join in with the cricket?’
‘Absolutely,’ John replied, grinning. Sherlock rapped on the door, which was opened a second later by Alice, who’d clearly hurried from the kitchen to let them in.
‘I really am very sorry about her, Sir, she said, addressing Sherlock, curtseying to them both.
‘It’s quite alright, Miss Poole,’ Sherlock said, taking off his hat.
‘Hello Alice,’ said John, smiling at her as he stepped into the hall as well.
‘Good afternoon, Doctor Watson. Mrs Holmes is in the garden with the other guests, I’ll let her know you’ve arrived.’
‘Thank you,’ Sherlock muttered, striding past Alice down the corridor towards the large drawing room that led out onto the garden. John followed close behind him, stick clicking on the parquet flooring.
‘Where have you been?’ Mycroft hissed, appearing from nowhere and grabbing Sherlock’s arm, which was quickly shaken off.
‘Deduce it,’ Sherlock replied, sneering at his brother.
‘You’re over an hour late, the timings of lunch have all gone completely out of the window--’
‘I should’ve known you’d be concerned about the food--’
‘Sherlock,’ John said in a warning tone, raising his eyebrows. Sherlock fell silent, his lips pursing.
‘That’s right, listen to your handler,’ Mycroft said nastily, drawing himself up to his full height. ‘Speaking of which, your old one’s out in the garden, with his wife, and his daughters--’
‘Oh, I could so easily make your life very difficult, Mycroft,’ Sherlock snapped, widening his stance as he faced his brother, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched.
‘Hardly as difficult as I could make yours,’ Mycroft said smoothly, glancing behind Sherlock at John.
‘Oh, I hate you, I hate you,’ Sherlock snarled, making a movement towards Mycroft. John caught hold of Sherlock’s forearm and squeezed, looking darkly at Mycroft.
‘Whatever’s troubling you, I’d thank you not to exercise your frustration on Sherlock and I.’ He looked Mycroft up and down and squeezed Sherlock’s arm again. ‘You’re making a spectacle of yourself. Now if you’ll excuse us.’ John glared at Mycroft once more and pushed Sherlock gently through the drawing room door.
‘Sherlock! There you are,’ Mrs Holmes exclaimed from where she stood pouring drinks on the patio, smiling at them both. She hurried through the French doors and kissed Sherlock and John on the cheek, her curled and neatly-pinned hair coming a bit loose when she embraced them. ‘Where on earth have you been?’
‘Oh, it was a number of things, Mrs Holmes, please allow me to apologise,’ John said. ‘I insisted on giving the car a check before we left and couldn’t resist tinkering with the thing, and I made Sherlock stop halfway here so that the engine wouldn’t overheat. I’m ever so sorry I made both of us late, I hope lunch isn’t ruined? Mycroft and Mary both expressed a concern--’
Mrs Holmes waved her hands, the light refracting off her rings. ‘Don’t you mind, Doctor Watson. You’re both here now and the staff have put lunch back until quarter past one, so you’ve still time for a drink.’ She cupped Sherlock’s face in her hands again and stood on tiptoe to kiss his forehead. ‘There’s my darling boy. I’ve missed you.’
Sherlock beamed and pulled his mother into a tight hug. ‘I’ve missed you too, Mummy,’ he murmured, smiling at John over the top of her head.
‘Oh, you’re a lovely thing when you’re not being difficult,’ Mrs Holmes said, patting Sherlock’s back and stepping away from him, slipping her arm through John’s. ‘Now, you really much allow me to introduce you to the children’s parents, Doctor Watson, they’re all in the garden. Come along, Sherlock! Where’s your brother?’
‘No doubt being rotund and villainous somewhere,’ Sherlock muttered, following his mother and John out into the bright midday sunshine.
‘Oh, Sherlock, you mustn’t be unkind. He’s an awful lot on his mind at the moment.’
Sherlock pulled a face and looked around at the children running on the expanse of lawn that hadn’t been turned over to growing vegetables. A number of adults milled about, drinking something pale out of patterned glasses. Mrs Holmes handed Sherlock and John a glass before leading John over to where a group of adults stood clumped together. Sherlock left his glass on the drinks table, his eyes sweeping around the garden once more before resting where a tall, handsome-looking man stood, his ginger hair parted at one side, curling at the very edges. He had a neat moustache and kindly eyes and a large, easy smile.
‘Sherlock Holmes, is that really you?’ he called, his voice soft and pleasant.
‘Victor,’ Sherlock replied, paling somewhat. He didn’t smile back but walked over and offered his hand.
‘I can’t believe it’s been as long as it has, old boy,’ Victor said, grasping Sherlock’s hand in both of his.
‘Yes, thirteen years. RAF pilot now, I see.’
‘What gave it away, my crooked bottom tooth?’
‘Your left thumb. Are those your girls?’ Sherlock nodded towards where two children with long ginger curls ran around with the others.
‘Still just as sharp, then.’ Victor sighed and then smiled at Sherlock again.
‘Hardly a difficult deduction,’ Sherlock said dismissively, looking over to where John was being introduced to the people who were quite obviously the children’s parents.
‘You’ve not changed.’
Sherlock turned and stared at Victor, eyes cold. ‘Why are you here?’
‘I was invited. My mother and yours are in regular correspondence still. I often ask after you. I tried to get in touch just after Pauline was born, I wanted you to be her godfather, but--’
Victor looked around. ‘You can’t still be angry,’ he murmured, stepping closer to Sherlock, touching his arm. ‘Surely you understand.’
Pushing Victor’s hand away, Sherlock took his cigarette case out of his pocket and lit one, sucking the smoke in quickly, leaving the cigarette between his lips as he put his lighter and case back. ‘I want nothing to do with you, Victor, I would have thought that was quite obvious from the thirteen years of ignoring you and ignoring your wife and ignoring any brats you managed to fuck into her.’
Victor stumbled backwards, looking as though he’d been slapped.
‘Don’t you ever try and talk to me again,’ Sherlock spat, stalking over to where John stood, chatting kindly with a couple who were clearly Frank’s parents.
‘We miss him very much at home,’ Frank’s mother said, her east end accent thick. ‘Still, he’s very happy here,’ she added, clearly taking great care to pronounce the letter ‘h’.
‘I think they all are,’ John said, glancing up at Sherlock, his face concerned. ‘Uh... Mr. and Mrs Turner, this is Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Holmes’s youngest. Sherlock, Mr. and Mrs Turner, Frank’s parents.’
‘Ah yes, Frank with the glasses.’ Sherlock shook Mr. Turner’s hand and kissed the back of Mrs Turner’s, breathing in a huge lungful of smoke, releasing it steadily over his shoulder.
Mr. and Mrs Turner smiled politely and nodded.
‘I was just about to say what a lovely day it’s turned out to be.’ John pointed towards the sky with his stick. ‘Barely a cloud, look.’
Sherlock rolled his eyes and said nothing as Mr. and Mrs Turner hurried to agree with John on one of the safest conversation topics known to man. ‘Just going to find my drink, excuse me,’ he mumbled, going back over to the drinks table, making a disgusted sound when he saw Mycroft sitting next to it, one leg crossed over the other.
‘It appears Wing Commander Trevor has managed to overcome his... inversion,’ Mycroft said quietly, lifting one eyebrow at Sherlock.
Sherlock remained silent, pouring himself a fresh glass of the sweet, sticky drink his mother had had prepared.
‘I do suppose it helps that his father didn’t die whilst he was young, as was the case with you and Doctor Watson--’
‘Bugger off, Mycroft,’ Sherlock snarled through gritted teeth, slamming the glass jug back down onto the iron table. He dumped his glass down too, drink sloshing over each side as he lit another cigarette.
‘I am merely observing--’
‘Don’t bother yourself.’ Cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Sherlock shrugged his suit jacket off and rolled his sleeves up, throwing the jacket over one arm and grabbing his drink. Mercifully, the bell rang from indoors to announce lunch and everyone began to make their way inside, giving Sherlock a chance to get away from Mycroft. He went back to lingering near John for a moment before rushing ahead and swapping the name cards at the dinner table around to ensure that Victor was as far away from him as possible and he was opposite John.
‘Are you alright?’ John asked quietly as everyone found their seats.
‘I’d like to leave straight after lunch,’ Sherlock replied, effectively avoiding the question, though his troubled face spoke volumes.
‘Yes, yes, alright. We can. Who... who was that you were talking with?’
Sherlock glanced over at where Victor had just sat down, the light catching the ginger curls at his nape. He looked at John, at his grey hair and the heavy bags under his eyes, at his walking stick and his tight shoulder and his trembling hand.
‘No-one important,’ Sherlock murmured, managing a smile.
The Tiffany lamp bathed their bedroom at 221b in its soft light as John ran his hand slowly through Sherlock’s curls that night, after a restless afternoon had been spent in the car and around the flat. Finally calm, Sherlock was curled up on John’s chest, his hand spread over John’s heart, his eyes closed.
‘I wish we hadn’t gone today,’ Sherlock whispered.
John pressed a kiss to the top of Sherlock’s head. ‘Who was he?’ He asked. ‘Really?’
The only sound that could be heard in the silence that followed John’s question was the dripping of the tap in the kitchen.
‘Hm?’ John prompted, kissing Sherlock again.
‘I... I thought I loved him, once.’ Sherlock made an unhappy face and sighed heavily, his next words coming in a rush. ‘We were at Oxford together, he’s the one Mycroft caught me with, he was my friend, my only friend...’
John held Sherlock tighter, rubbing slow circles on his back.
‘After the Easter vac in our third year he left a note in my room saying he was engaged and... oh, what does it matter, there’s no use in going over it again, it was years ago, John, I...’ Sherlock shook his head. ‘Mycroft took the opportunity to point out the fact that Victor-’ he almost spat the name, ‘-had managed to overcome his inversion, and I--’
‘Shh,’ John murmured, tilting Sherlock’s chin up, kissing him sweetly. ‘Pay them no mind. They can’t hurt you, not here, not whilst you have me.’
The sound of the dripping tap was drowned out as the wind roared outside, the nice day having given way to the miserable weather and thick cloud more typical of April. The lamplight made the night seem that little bit less miserable, the bedroom warm and safe lit by its comforting, familiar glow.
‘I didn’t always have you,’ Sherlock whispered, his voice small, lost.
John cradled Sherlock’s head against his chest and kissed his forehead. ‘I’m here now,’ he said. ‘Now and always.’
A draught whistled into the room with a sudden gust of wind.
‘I’m sorry they hurt you,’ John said. The mattress creaked as he shifted lower on the bed until he was face to face with Sherlock, both of them sharing the same pillow, as usual. He took Sherlock’s hands in his and kissed Sherlock’s downturned mouth. ‘I love you.’
Sherlock nodded, taking a deep breath and swallowing.
Outside, it began to rain.