John has been living with Sherlock two and a half years before Sherlock starts falling apart at the seams.
He was proud of his flatmate—sort of; he was more intrigued by the fact that he was living with not just the world’s only Consulting Detective, but the world’s only winged human as well. (That is, until he met Jim Moriarty.)
Sherlock slowly allowed John to touch the wings, and John was proud of that: Sherlock curled his wings in, away from everyone else, when they got close.
But now? Now it was obvious that Sherlock wasn’t supposed to be alive. He was falling apart, piece by piece, bit by bit, if Mycroft’s more frequent visits and worried expressions were anything to go by.
The first thing to go was his restless energy.
John noticed when they came back from a case filled with barely suppressed yawns and tired articulations of the evidence Anderson had so “tampered” with—Sherlock didn’t throw himself into another experiment: He threw himself onto the couch.
“Sherlock,” he started, “are you—”
“Shut up, John, I’m tired.” Sherlock pulled a wing over his face. John just stared a moment.
“You? I-Don’t-Need-Sleep-I’m-Sherlock-Holmes? Tired? What is happening to this planet?” John joked, cracking a half smile, but sobered completely when Sherlock lowered the wing just enough to uncover a glare that looked utterly exhausted.
"John, I may have wings but I am still human. It’s extremely likely for me to get tired, just like you. Now, if you'll please..." He moved his wing over his face again to try and—a bit obviously for Sherlock’s pride—hide exactly how tired he was. John’s brows raised.
“All right, all right.” He raised his hands defensively, palms out, then moved forward to pull the afghan (Mrs. Hudson’s crocheting, a birthday gift for Sherlock from the year before.) from the back of the couch and drape it over his flatmate’s back. “There, now you’ll not freeze to death.”
The huff that came from Sherlock instead of a snide comment was thanks enough for him.
John sighed as he headed for the kitchen, concerned about Sherlock’s sudden apparently overwhelming exhaustion. He was a doctor, yes, but Sherlock was an entirely different matter. He relaxed a bit when Sherlock finally fell asleep and headed for the kitchen to make them both a cup of tea, though Sherlock’s would be stone cold by the time he woke up. John needed to find out what was going on.
From the pocket of the coat John had neglected to take off, his phone beeped. Confused, as nobody other than Sherlock texted him, he pulled it from his pocket as he set the kettle to boil and checked it.
NEW MESSAGE, the screen read, FROM NUMBER WITHHELD.
John opened the message.
All signs of exhaustion present, including incapability of staying alert. Does Sherlock have a fever or chills, Dr. Watson? MH
Of course it was him. John rolled his eyes and set his phone on the counter with a clatter.
Just as Mycroft asked, Sherlock started to shiver just slightly as he slept. His wings adjusted instinctively, pulling closer to his body for warmth and tangling in the afghan in a way that John knew would be uncomfortable to wake up to, once he saw it. Mycroft was a pain in both he and Sherlock’s sides with his constant nosing, but he was right about some things when it came to his brother’s well being. As much as John hated to admit it.
Before Mycroft could text him again, John decided that he would go check on his flatmate, doctor’s instinct winning out over his knowledge of Sherlock’s desire to be left alone to sleep. He snagged his phone from the counter and unlocked the screen so he could reply to Mycroft.
D’you think he’s sick? JW
The response was almost immediate.
Highly unlikely. MH
John blinked and stopped still between the kitchen doorway and the couch. If Mycroft was going to be all cryptic again, John was going to give the man a what-for the next time they met.
On the couch, Sherlock shifted and let out a sigh that had a hint of a whine underneath it. Though it wasn’t uncommon when Sherlock fell asleep with the weight of his wings weighing him down, that sound never failed to make John worry for the state of Sherlock’s ribcage.
John watched Sherlock a moment, then turned back to his phone.
Listen here, Mycroft. I haven’t got time for games, so if you could just tell me what might be wrong with Sherlock, I would definitely appreciate it. JW
This time, the reply from the unknown number took a few minutes. While John waited, he walked to the couch and disentangled Sherlock’s wings from the afghan. Sherlock began to stir when John plucked a fold of the blanket from under the bottom edge of his wing, but stilled when John smoothed the blanket down.
“You great sod,” John muttered under his breath. “Worrying us like this.”
When the reply text from Mycroft finally came, it made the breath catch in John’s chest.
This is something better discussed in person, Doctor Watson. MH
Sherlock peeled his eyes open a sliver to peer at John after yawning wide enough for John to feel it in his own jaw. "You don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself; I am only tired, after all." He inclined his head at John’s phone from where he was reclined. "Unpleasant text?"
“You could say that,” John replied, sitting heavily in his armchair. “I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“It always wakes me up when someone bothers with my wings.” Sherlock stretched in what could only be called a feline manner and pushed himself to sit properly. Right. John had forgotten how sensitive Sherlock’s wings actually were. Another reason the consulting detective wouldn’t let anyone touch them.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Your wings tangled in the afghan.” John set his phone on the arm of the chair and watched as Sherlock rubbed the heel of his hand against his face. “You didn’t sleep very long,” he pointed out. Sherlock shrugged.
“It’s probably for the better. The couch isn’t very comfortable for sleeping.” John’s phone chimed as Sherlock tugged the afghan tighter around his shoulders and shifted his wings to fit better underneath it.
“Then you should go to bed,” John suggested, lifting his phone. Sherlock rolled his neck as John unlocked the screen.
I’ve sent a car. It should be there by the time you actually check this message, if Sherlock’s woken. MH
Sherlock rubbed his eye again and ruffled his dark curls as he stood up, knowing very well John was being called away and playing along. "I think I shall. The bed is more comfortable... Goodnight, John." He went straight to his room, shutting the door behind him with a kick, and watched out the window for John to leave so he could follow from a distance.
John sighed and rubbed a hand over his hair. Sherlock had gone without an argument. This didn’t sit well in the back of John’s mind. John didn’t know how Mycroft would take it if he stalled more to make sure Sherlock was asleep again, so he hoisted himself out of his chair, pocketed his phone, and headed out.
True to Mycroft’s text, there was a sleek, black car idling on the curb outside the flat.
Sherlock watched from the window as John got into the car, then raced down the stairs as soon as the car pulled away, tugging on his coat and not bothering to do the buttons that kept it snug around his wings to keep track of where the car was going. But with him already winded and tired from earlier, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up like he normally would. He kept up just farther behind than the other times Mycroft took John, but as he felt like he was too tired to even run straight, he lagged and almost lost the car several times.
Mycroft’s assistant was in the car typing away on her phone when John slid in. “Hello, John,” she greeted him without looking up. John sighed.
“Honestly, can’t Mycroft get over his power complex to meet me in person in the car for once? Anyways, hello. How are you? Anthea, wasn’t it?” He couldn’t help rubbing his forehead when she didn’t answer. “I’m just…fine.” John looked out the window, worried about Sherlock and his doctor instincts telling him he should have stayed back at the flat.
Finally, Anthea looked up from her phone at him. “You’re not going to an abandoned warehouse, if it makes you feel better.” John’s eyebrows lifted. Mycroft? Not taking him to an abandoned warehouse?
“So, he actually took my advice, did he?” John asked incredulously.
Anthea chuckled quietly and returned her attention to her phone. “Yes, he actually did, for once. Quite surprising if you ask me.” John sat back against the leather seat, definitely a bit shocked; if he wasn’t going to an abandoned warehouse then this must be serious. Was something deathly wrong with Sherlock?
“Do you know what this is about?” He paused. “I doubt you’ll answer me.”
She shook her head. “I will answer you, but I can’t say.” She gave him a bit of a sly grin. John sighed for what felt like the millionth time that afternoon.
Sherlock was doing his best to keep up but his energy was fading faster than ever as he ran after the car. He was stubborn, but he knew if he kept this up he may pass out soon and be rendered unable to return to the flat. He glanced up at the street sign on the corner, taking note of where the car was turning. “Oh, he’s not bringing John there...”
He braced a hand against the building he was standing next to and tried to catch his breath. The direction the car was headed wasn’t towards Mycroft’s office building, which Sherlock could honestly say he expected, but the car had turned the wrong way—John was being taken straight to Mycroft’s flat in Kensington. “I’ll never make it there on foot.”
Sherlock let out an irritated puff of air, still too tired to even think properly, and hailed a taxi. He told the cabbie Mycroft’s address and, resolving to tell the cabbie to stop a block or so away, started the awkward climb into the backseat. He hated getting in cabs sometimes because of his wings but this time he had no choice; even if he could manage to fly he wouldn’t be able to stay airborne due to his lack of energy.
As the cab took off, following the same route as Mycroft’s car, Sherlock leaned his head back against the seat, partly to collect his thoughts and rest for what was to come at Mycroft’s flat and partly to ignore the cabbie’s frequent, if brief, glances at his wings. They were certainly a pain when it came to normal people. “What are you doing with John now, Mycroft?” he muttered tiredly, letting his eyes slip closed.
John could hardly believe his eyes. The car was stopping outside a building in Kensington—the most expensive place to live in London. Was he going to be allowed inside Mycroft’s flat? This was incredibly personal and, suddenly, John felt himself overwhelmed and shaky with a bit of panic. What was so wrong with Sherlock that he had to be taken to Mycroft’s flat? Where he lived? No tricks or empty warehouses. Not even the cafe he could never remember the name of even though it was right outside his own flat.
“This is it,” Anthea told him. “You’re looking for flat 131-E. Go on.” She inclined her head towards the building. “Mr. Holmes is waiting for you inside.”
As John stepped out of the car, he was dimly aware of a sort of roaring in his ears. Like white noise or static or something when the telly was turned way down on a station that didn’t work. Still, he kept walking, one foot in front of the other. At the door to the building, there were the usual buzzers to each flat. John searched out the right one and pressed the button.
The very normal buzz sounded, and Mycroft's voice crackled through. "I'm buzzing you in, John. Come on up." The door unlocked, and John walked in on feet that didn’t feel like his own. He strode straight into Mycroft’s flat, where the older man was waiting by the buzzer with a cup of tea in his hand. “You’ll want tea for this.” He gestured to the tea set on the end table in a homely but not-very-lived-in living room.
"Will I?" John croaked, then paused and cleared his throat. It was far too obvious that something he hadn't even heard was affecting him this much. He was met with a sympathetic look.
"If you're already behaving in this sort of manner, yes, you will." Mycroft touched his shoulder and moved past him to crack the window leading to the fire escape, then sit in a cushy-looking armchair. Carefully, as if the entire illusion would break apart if he tread too roughly across Mycroft’s hardwood floor, John moved towards the couch the end table with the tea was closest to.
Sherlock's eyes cracked open when the cab slowed a building away from Mycroft’s. “Here is fine,” he instructed, tapping the window with a finger. He was still tired as ever, but he paid the cabbie when he stopped, made the just-as-awkward shuffle out of the cab, pulled up the collar of his coat, and started the walk towards the right building.
He circled the building to the fire escape and climbed it as quietly as he could to Mycroft’s floor, situating himself outside the cracked-open window that peeked in on the living room. Mycroft probably already knew he was there—or that he was at least on his way—but he didn't care if he was being sloppy. He wanted to know what he was telling John and why he had kidnapped him even after he demanded Mycroft didn’t. He shifted so he could hear what was being said, cringing at the old metal creaking, pulled his wings in tightly against him for warmth and tried his best to stay still and awake to listen.
John glanced towards the window when he heard the metal creak, curious as to why Mycroft cracked it open. It was still somewhat warm outside, and Mycroft’s flat was perfectly air conditioned. When nothing showed in the window, he looked back to the elder Holmes.
“Please, John,” Mycroft urged, nodding again towards the tea set on the end table. “Help yourself to some tea.” John seemed to be coming back to himself the more he sat in Mycroft’s flat, even though Sherlock’s health and safety still loomed over his head. So, instead of defying Mycroft’s suggestion that he have some tea, he leaned over and fixed himself a cup, all too aware of Mycroft’s eyes locked on him.
“Alright,” John said, gripping his daintily-patterned cup of tea. “Now that I’ve got my tea, what am I here to be told?” He took a scalding gulp of the milked-and-sugared liquid, brows knitting together at the heat that was almost too much, but also reveling in it because it brought him completely back to focus.
“Allow me to tell you a story, Doctor.” It wasn’t often that Mycroft called him by his title, but it was also out of place for Mycroft to want to tell him a story. John pressed his lips together, tightening his grip on his cup.
“A—A story?” John’s voice broke. To hide it, even though he knew Mycroft knew, John took another scalding gulp of tea. “What kind of story?” he asked, after clearing his throat.
Outside, Sherlock shifted. His left foot was falling asleep, and so was he. The fire escape creaked again, and he cringed before stilling involuntarily. If he didn’t want Mycroft to tell him to come inside, have some tea, sit in this chair in full view of John while Mycroft told him what Sherlock was sure he was going to tell so John could look at him with fear and pity and maybe something else lodged in his eyes.
Mycroft shifted, set his own mug of tea—untouched, John noticed—aside, and folded his hands against his middle. “I’m going to tell you the story of a boy who wanted to fly,” he said quietly.
Sherlock’s stomach dropped. He listened for John to say he didn’t have time for fairy tales—though this obviously wasn’t one—or for John to get up and move around like he did at the flat when he didn’t want to listen to Sherlock. But he didn’t. Sherlock peeked around the window, careful to stay hidden by Mycroft’s (horrifically ugly) drapes, and watched John take a sip from his mug of tea: a sign he was waiting for Mycroft to continue.
“This boy,” Mycroft started again, no less quiet, “Had a father, as most little boys do. His father knew how much he wanted to fly, and told the boy he had a friend—a scientist—that could make it happen.” John leaned forward a bit, rolling his cup between his hands.
“The boy’s older brother, already eleven, knew their father’s friend was a scientist, a geneticist, in fact, like the ones employed at Baskerville, and was wary of their father’s offer to take the young boy to his friend.” Sherlock kept his face neutral, even though neither of the men inside could see him. Mycroft was giving away information on their past kept highly classified, and making it obvious it was about them. He peeked around the drapes again. John looked enraptured. Damn.
“But,” Mycroft continued, refolding his hands, “the boy, only four, did not know what his father’s friend would do to him—or did not quite suspect, anyhow—and eagerly agreed to go. Any way to get to fly was a good way, right?” His volume never increased. John could feel the hair standing up on the back of his neck. He didn’t like where this was going.
“The little boy was taken to a lab, bouncing the whole way. The boy’s older brother reluctantly stayed home, unwilling to let his brother go. Their father thought it was jealousy, but it was not. The older brother cared for the boy and did not want to see him hurt.” Mycroft paused, picked up his mug of tea, then set it back down. John assumed it’d gone cold and glanced at the pot of tea next to him. Mycroft gave a brief shake of his head.
“The boy came back after a while, and the older brother didn’t know what happened to him, exactly, but he did know it was something big, judging by—”
“The wings on his back,” John finished at a whisper. Mycroft nodded.
“The wings on his back.” Mycroft confirmed, then stayed silent a few moments, letting the story sink into John’s mind.
Sherlock clenched his fists. He didn’t like that Mycroft was telling John his history without his permission and wanted to check to see how John was taking it all, but he was getting more and more tired. He needed to stay awake, he thought, fighting heavy eyelids. Mycroft might have information as to what was wrong with him that was worrying John so much.
“Oh my God,” he heard John murmur. Sherlock leaned his head against the rough brick of Mycroft’s building and let his eyes close. He could listen even like this, couldn’t he?
“Yes, it’s... rather a lot to take in,” Mycroft agreed. Sherlock heard the shift of fabric on fabric and imagined Mycroft shifting his weight in his chair yet again. Perhaps he was recrossing his legs.
“So, um, Mycroft.” John cleared his throat and wet his lips. “What, exactly, is wrong with Sherlock if he’s not sick?” He sounded tentative, like Mycroft could rescind his offer, take away his tea, and kick him out on his arse if he spoke the wrong word. Mycroft’s face turned perplexed, and John was immediately on edge.
“To put it quite simply, John, Sherlock was not supposed to...” he started slowly, though louder than he’d told the story, then paused as though the words physically pained him. “Sherlock’s genes are unraveling themselves.”