Chapter 1: Cover Page
By Pennin Ink
Cover by Devinleighbee
Chapter 2: Prologue
There are secrets in the world. They endure, hidden in lost memory and the shadows of history, waiting for those with the will to seek them out.
“France?” John demanded, peering at his mother in disbelief. “For the whole of summer?”
“Yes.” She confirmed, adding more clothes to the suitcase she had splayed open on the kitchen table. “We’re going to Chateau Vernet to stay with the Holmeses. I did tell you.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been saying it since Harry was born. I didn’t think you actually meant it! All my friends are here, mum! I’m gonna miss the whole summer!”
“Oh hush! Vivi is very excited to have us, and besides, you won’t be alone. Mycroft will be there.”
John made a face. “Mycroft is boring! Every time I’ve seen him he’s been reading books without any pictures in!”
“You’ve hardly spent any time with him, John. And what about Sherlock?”
John wrinkled his nose and twisted his lips as though he’d just sucked on a particularly sour sweet. “Mum! He’s a baby!”
“He’s Harry’s age. And you’re not so much older than five yourself.”
“Harry,” John pointed out, his face and voice solemn. “Is a pain. And I’m eight. That’s ages apart from five!”
“Three years is not ‘ages’, John. Now pack a few toys and don’t forget to bring plenty of jumpers.”
“But I don’t want to go to France!”
“Don’t argue with me, Johnathan! I promised Vivi we’d stay with her as soon as Harry was old enough. She’s counting on it! Besides,” She sighed, shoving a blouse into the battered grey luggage. “We could really do with the money.”
‘Soon. I think it will be soon.'
Sherlock Sherringford Holmes was born on the sixth of January. Harriet Marjorie Watson was born on the tenth. Harriet’s birth had been text book, a scheduled cesarean without any fuss. Sherlock’s, not so much. He was still in NICU when Ann Watson and her new baby girl were transferred, dopy and drowsy, into the hospital room already occupied by a very worn and worried Vienne Amélie Holmes.
The two women bonded almost instantly over their mutual love of Agatha Christie novels and chocolate covered bananas, their absent husbands, and the fact that both were second-time mothers with sons waiting at home.
When seven-year-old Mycroft came to visit, escorted by his au pair, he walked quietly to his mother’s bedside and called her “ maman ” in a near-whisper.
When John came to visit, sat atop the soulders of his Uncle George, he squealed in delight and had to be restrained from pouncing on his mother’s tender and recently stitched abdomen. He held Harriet as though she were spun from glass, and cooed to her, and called her “Harry” in his toddler’s voice.
Mycroft placed a gentle hand on his mother’s sagging tummy and asked if he’d get to see the new baby. Vienne blinked back tears and smiled at her elder son. “Soon, bébé.” She said. “He’s very petit just now. He’s not done getting ready yet.” And Mycroft nodded, and sat, and held his mother’s hand.
They passed three days waiting for Sherlock to be brought to the room. He was finally wheeled in, fish tank and all, on Ann’s last day in hospital. He looked pink and warm and healthy, but he was astonishingly small. Ann lifted Harriet’s tiny, curled up hand and waggled it back and forth at the incubator.
“Say ‘hi’ to Sherlock, Harry!” She said with a bright smile. “Say ‘hi’!”
Vienne smiled and held out her hand, which Ann took and held, gently.
“He’s beautiful, Vivi.” She said, and Vienne blushed and smiled wider. It was her first nickname.
There was a tentative knock, and the women looked up to see George standing in the doorway with a very shy and quiet John clutching his hand. “May we come in?”
Vienne nodded, and Ann told them to be quiet and careful. John entered the room on tip-toes. He was clutching a small silver gift bag in one chubby hand.
“What have you got there, sweetheart?” Ann asked, bundling John into her lap where he could see Harry in her little cot beside the bed. He automatically reached out a hand to smooth her whispy hair, his palm just barely touching her skin, before he acknowledged his mother.
“Uncle George said I could get you a present.” He explained, lifting the bag for her to see. “I picked it!”
Ann glanced at her brother suspiciously, but he just shrugged his shoulders and waved dismissively. “It wasn’t much. He had his heart set on it.”
Ann opened the bag to find a jeweler’s box inside. She glared at George, and Vienne craned her head as much as she could without removing her hand from Sherlock’s incubator. Ann opened the box, and her breath caught in her chest. It was an oval pendant of white gold with a matching, delicate chain. The pendant was etched with the shillouette of a swan, its wings partially unfurled.
“Oh...Johnny.” She breathed, and her eyes prickled with the threat of tears. “Oh Johnny...”
“Why a swan John?” George prompted.
John scrunched his face up in concentration and recited, “Because swans are really pretty to look at, and they’re really really strong, too.” He flopped against her chest and spread his arms wide to hug her. “Like you.”
“We’ve been watching documentaries.” George explained.
“It’s too expensive, George.”
“It was nothing, Annie. A bargain. I promise you, it’s just a trinket. A get well charm.”
“Mummy?” John asked, peering up at Ann through his golden eyelashes. “Why is that baby in a fish tank?”
Ann flashed a worried glance to Vienne, who shook her head and said, “He’s sick, mon chéri. He needs to get better before he can come out.”
John crawled over his mother’s torso and then her legs until he could peer into the plexiglass wall of Sherlock’s incubator. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “What’s his name?”
“Sherlock.” Said Vienne.
John giggled, high-pitched and delighted. “Sherlock!” He chortled. He peered at the sleeping baby for a long time, watching his minescule legs kick and his minute arms flail as he dreamed.
After a time, he seemed to settle on something. He clambered back across his mother and gingerly took the necklace from her hand. She let him, curious to see where his innocent mind was going with this. John crawled back over to the incubator and gently placed the necklace on top of the lid.
“Here you go, Sherlock.” He said quietly. “It’s for good luck, and you need lots.” He looked up at his mother as if to ask, is this okay? Ann looked at Vienne, and was startled to see fresh tear tracks on her cheeks.
Vienne waved her away. “No, no. It’s okay. I’m okay.” But her voice was breaking, and she kept wiping at her eyes and sniffling. She nodded to Ann, who nodded to John, and John grinned and planted a loud, smacking kiss to the incubator wall.
Ann gathered John into her arms and hugged him tightly. “You’re a wonderful little man, Johnny.” She whispered. “You’re my little prince.”
Chapter 3: The First Summer
Since Vivi and Ann mostly kept in touch via long-distance phone calls and letters, John and Harry had rarely seen the Holmes boys in person. This would be the first time they’d met face to face since Harry learned to speak in sentences. John was not looking forward to it.
“I wanna play with Mike.” He pouted, glaring out the window of the aeroplane.
“Mike is in England.” His mother said wearily.
“I wanna be in England.” He insisted.
“Get used to that feeling, John. Life’s full of wanting.”
“Why do you have to work for Auntie Vivi anyway?”
“I’m not working for her, I’m working for the ambassador.”
“Same thing. He’s her husband.”
“It’s not. Now hush up and eat your sandwich.”
---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- -----
“Non!” Sherlock shouted and stamped his foot.
Vienne sighed and clutched her head. Sometimes she could swear it was the only word of French her youngest son knew. “Mon dieu... Sherlock, please. At least try to behave while Ann and the children are here.
“He never will.” Mycroft snorted. He was hunched over a large book at the kitchen table, the old leather almost blending in with the ancestral wood. “He’s selfish. Like Father.”
“Mycroft!” Vienne scolded.
“I don’t want them!” Sherlock shouted. “Vernet is our place! You said!”
“Mon peti , Ann is very important to me. I’ve been looking forward to this summer for five years. Please, Sherlock, for me?”
Sherlock glowered but he hung his head. “D’accord, maman.” He muttered.
Ann all but leapt from the hired car the second it came to a stop outside the grounds of Château Vernet. Harry tumbled out behind her, catching her up just as she threw her arms around Vienne’s shoulders and recieved a crushing hug in return. The women exclaimed and wept and grinned throught their delight at the reunion, and neither one noticed the funerary figure making his weary, reluctant way out of the car.
Sherlock and Mycroft stood to either side of Vienne, Sherlock clutching his mother’s coat and hiding behind her legs, Mycroft standing straight and tall beside her.
“Missed you so much!” Ann was saying. “And Sherlock! Oh, you’ve gotten so big!”
Sherlock only glared and clutched Vienne’s coat tighter. Ann was undaunted. “And Mycoroft! Look at you! You’re a young man.” Mycroft stepped forward to shake Ann’s hand, and was promptly swept up into a bruising hug that left him red faced and unsteady in its aftermath.
“Lovely to see you as well Aunt Ann.” He gasped out. Ann tittered.
“Oh! And this is Harry!” Vienne exclaimed, scooping the little girl into her arms. Harry giggled and planted a sloppy kiss on Vienne’s cheek. “Oh, such a beautiful thing!”
“Hello Aunti Vivi!” She cried. “Hello Mycroft! Hello Sherlock!”
Vienne grunted a little and set Harry back on the ground. “Oh, you’re getting a bit big for that.” She said.
Mycroft smiled and ruffled Harry’s blond hair. “Hello there monster.” He said. Harry squealed and threw her arms around his waist.
Sherlock stood behind Vienne and said nothing.
Ann looked around. “Where did...? Oh, John! There you are! Get over here.”
John stood halfway between the car and the group of people, glaring down at his feet and kicking at the dirt.
“John!” Ann called again, frowning.
“Mycroft, go fetch him.” Vienne said.
“Um, I’d love to, mummy, but I can’t.” Mycroft said with a wince, gesturing to Harry, who was still clinging to him like melted marshmallow.
Vienne rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Sherlock, mon petit , go fetch John. I think he’s shy.”
Sherlock widened his eyes and gaped at her. “What? But maman , I--”
“ Now , Sherlock. You promised.”
“I...but...” Sherlock stammered. Vienne glared at him with the full force of her twelve years of motherhood, and he averted his gaze to his feet. With shoulders slumped, he trod morosely up the path to John.
“What?” John demanded as soon as Sherlock was close enough to hear.
Sherlock scowled at the ground. “My mother sent me to fetch you.”
John crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t want to.”
“Neither do I.” Sherlock looked up and met John’s eyes. They wore matching expressions of contempt.
“I should be home with my friends.”
“You lot should have stayed away from Vernet.”
“I don’t want to clean your ruddy old house.”
“I don’t want you anywhere near our house.”
“Sherlock! John!” Their mothers called. “What’s keeping you?”
John sighed and looked up at the sky as though looking for help from above. With a resigned slump, he held out his hand.
“What’s that for?” Sherlock demanded.
John rolled his eyes. “For them, stupid.” Sherlock blanched. “If we put on a show, they’ll leave us alone faster.”
Sherlock studied him, his eyes flickering from the hand to John’s face and back again. At last, with slow and careful movements, he accepted the hand and shook it. John plastered a fake smile on his face, and when Sherlock turned to walk back to their mothers, John followed him.
‘Ow! Stop it! It isn’t funny! Stop laughing at me!’
Officially, Ann was on the books as an “executive coordinator”. Unofficially, she was Vienne’s lifeline. Ann oversaw the staff for the sprawling Château, helped Vienne organise formal dinners, scheduled visiting dignitaries and in general acted as a second Vienne, partnering on the jobs Vienne ordinarily did on her own.
Usually, however, the two women could be found in one of the vast gardens, elbow deep in soil, laughing over a shared joke and watching their children run around together. Mycroft in particular seemed to do the most rushing about. He’d taken to his big brother role with gusto, and when he wasn’t hounding Sherlock’s steps to make sure nothing putrid or potentially poisonous ended up in the little boy’s hands, he was hurrying after Harry and coaxing her off of tree branches and fence posts. Sherlock seemed to resent every moment of interference from his older brother. Harry, on the other hand, adored him, and the pair were soon thick as thieves, leaving Sherlock and John as the awkward outliers.
“BAM! BAM BAH-BAM BAM!” John shouted, hopping out from behind a tree and pointing a stick at Sherlock, who was knelt over a very green wormy thing.
“What are you doing?” Sherlock asked, eyeing John with all the scorn a five-year-old could muster.
John deflated and let his arms fall to his sides. “It’s a gun, you idiot.” Sherlock’s mouth thinned into a hard white line. “I shot you. You’re supposed to fall over.” John spoke slowly, exaggerating his enunciations. Sherlock had to fight down the urge to hit him. Mycroft always said violence was a brutish recourse, and only fools had to resort to it.
“It’s not a gun. It’s a stick.”
“You pretend it’s a gun!” John gritted out, exasperated. “You know? Pretend? Playing? Fun? You do know what fun is, don’t you?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I am having fun.”
“You’re looking at a worm.”
“I am examining a larva. I want to see if I can figure out what it’ll turn into without looking it up.”
“That sounds like coursework.”
“I think it’s fun.” Sherlock insisted. “At least I’m not practicing for when I’m a murderer.”
“I’m not a murderer!” John protested.
“Not yet. Keep seeing guns in sticks and it’s only a matter of time.”
“I am not!” John shouted. “I’m gonna be a soldier! Like my dad.”
“You mean the one who died? That worked out great for him.” Sherlock sniped with a roll of his eyes.
John froze. Something twisted and furrowed across his features, and Sherlock had the sudden irrational urge to run away.
“I hate you.” John said, his voice very quiet. “You’re weird, and you talk like my teachers, and you’re horrible. I hate you.”
“You already said that.” Sherlock said softly.
“It was worth saying twice.” John snapped, and he stalked off, throwing the stick to the ground as he did.
Sherlock tucked his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He felt strange inside, sort of empty and pinched. It was like when he felt hungry, only higher up in his chest. His eyes burned and he didn’t know why. All he did know was that he suddenly couldn’t care less which species the caterpillar was.
“Harry and Mycroft seem positively smitten.” Ann giggled, handing Vienne a tall glass of lemonade. She settled into the chair opposite Vienne at the ornate white metal table on the veranda with her own glass.
“Mycroft loves feeling needed. Sherlock wants to be so independent. I think Mycroft enjoys looking after someone who appreciates it for once.” Vienne confided.
“Sherlock and John, though...” Ann said with a slight frown creasing her forehead.
Vienne nodded. “I know. Sometimes, Ann...I worry.” She bit her lip and glanced at her youngest son, currently digging a hole in the soil by the lilac trees. “He hasn’t made any friends at school. He argues with his teachers. He loves Vernet, but he never shows any interest in the children here, either. I know he’s young and there’s time, but sometimes I worry myself sick that he’ll be alone. That he’ll never find anyone.”
“You can’t find if you’re not looking.” Ann said. Then she offered a smile. “Don’t worry, Vivi. I’m sure he’ll grow out of it. He’ll grow up and discover girls and you’ll wonder why you ever doubted.”
Vienne smiled back, weakly. “Who knows?” She suggested. “Maybe he’ll discover Harry.”
Ann laughed at that. “Oh, wouldn’t that be perfect? Holmes and Watson, together forever.” Her eyes softened, and she took Vienne’s hand. “It would be so wonderful if our families stayed together after we were gone.”
“It would.” Vienne agreed. “And hey, they might! We can’t know what the future holds for our children, Annie.”
“Please!” Ann giggled. “As if life ever worked out so well. You ask me we’ve got about as much chance of Sherlock falling in love with Harry as with...I don’t know, John!”
Vienne’s eyes snapped wider at that, and a sly, foxish grin pulled at her lips. “Oh, Annie. You forget where you are! This is France, mon amie . Love was born here!”
Ann studied her friend with incredulous eyes. “You really think?”
“Sherlock and... and John?”
Vienne raised an eyebrow and lifted her chin.
“No. No, they...I mean, could they?”
Vienne’s lips twitched at the corners.
“Well... I mean there’s always the possibility. I mean, stranger things have happened...”
Vienne chuckled. “They have. And if we were to...help this strange thing along...”
Ann was silent for a moment. Then, slowly, like the sun peeking out from behind a cloud, she began to grin.
Chapter 4: The Third Summer
“I hate him!” Sherlock bellowed, stomping through his bedroom. “I hate him I hate him I hate him!”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it.” Mycroft sighed from his post in the doorway.
“Of course he meant it! He’s horrible!”
“You didn’t have to make Harry cry.”
“Oh shut up about Harry!”
“It was just a few spiders, Sherlock.”
“It took me months to collect them! Do you know how hard it was to get them to France?”
“I’m sure he’s very sorry.” Mycroft sighed, rubbing his eyes.
“He will be.” Sherlock muttered, clutching the jagged remains of his shattered spider jar.
“Get him away from me!” John shouted, pelting full-tilt through the kitchen where his mother and Vienne were sitting, munching on biscuits and sipping tea. “He’s possessed!”
“Who?” Ann demanded, stopping John before he could knock the wind out of her.
“Sherlock! He’s mad! I broke his jar of spiders and now he’s trying to kill me!”
“Jar of--” Vienne sputtered. Her eyes narrowed and she pressed her lips together. “SHERLOCK!” She hollared.
“Don’t bring him here!” John cried.
“Sherlock you get in here this minute!”
Sherlock appeared, timid and with eyes downcast, in the doorway. “Yes, mummy?”
“You brought that horrible jar to Vernet?” Vienne demanded.
Sherlock said nothing and stared at the floor.
“Sherlock.” Vienne prompted, her voice menacing.
Sherlock broke. “It was perfectly safe! I was just going to watch them, honest! It would’ve been fine if John wasn’t such a clumsy oaf!”
“You left it on the floor!” John protested.
“I needed direct sunlight!”
“You told Harry one of ‘em would sneak into her bed and bite her to death!”
“She called me a psychopath!”
“You are a psychopath!”
“Johnathan Hamish Watson!” Ann gasped. “You apologise this second!”
John stared up at her in disbelief, but she did not relent. He glared at the furious seven-year-old. “Sorry, Sherlock.” He said miserably. He didn’t mean it, and Sherlock could obviously tell.
Ann and Vienne shared a despairing, hopless look before Vienne stood with a sigh. “I’ll call the exterminator.”
Sherlock made a protesting sound, but fell silent at his mother’s glare.
“Go and find something to do, the pair of you.” Ann said wearily.
The boys hung their heads and trooped out of the kitchen. Once their mothers were out of earshot John said, “I am sorry.”
Sherlock looked at him, confused.
“I’m really, really sorry I have to waste my summers here with you.” And with that he ran off.
‘Not long now.’
“Oh, Vivi.” Ann moaned into her hands. “I am so, so sorry. I raised him better than that.”
Vienne said nothing, only stared into her tea.
“I’ve spoken to Basil.” She said, her voice cracking just a little. “He wants to have Sherlock tested.”
“He’s not sick!” Vienne insisted. “He’s just...”
Ann put her hand over Vienne’s trembling hand. “Sherlock is fine. He’s wonderful. He’s brilliant, Vivi. You just need to give him time to grow into it.”
“What if he doesn’t?” Vienne whispered, her eyes wide and shining with tears. “The other children are scared of him, Annie! My little boy, and they run away from him. He has no friends. What if there’s really something wrong with--”
“Vivi. No.” Ann interrupted. “Sherlock and Mycroft are both incredible boys. Sherlock may be different, he may be special, but there is no part of him at all that’s ‘wrong’.”
Vienne pressed her lips together and wiped the moisture from her eyelashes. “Thank you, Annie.”
Sherlock closed his eyes and let the bow drag across the violin strings, the final note swirling up into the air like smoke. He smiled. He’d been working on that song for weeks, and he’d finally managed to play the whole thing through without any mistakes. It still didn’t sound like his instructor’s playing yet, but he was getting there.
There was a hushed sound from the doorway, and Sherlock looked up to see John shifting awkwardly just outside of his bedroom.
“What were you playing?” John asked.
“Nothing.” Sherlock said quickly, returning the violin and bow to their case. “I was just practicing.”
“It sounded pretty good.” John said.
“Yes, it did.”
John sighed. “Why do you always have to make everything so difficult?”
“Because you’re only here so you can look like the good guy, not because you actually want to be friends.”
“Please.” John scoffed. “As though you would want a friend.”
Sherlock shrugged. “How would I know? I’ve never had one.”
John fell silent at that. He lingered a moment longer, searching for something, anything to say. Finally, he gave it up for a bad job and turned away and left.
---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- ---
“And bah bah bah bah .” Mycroft half sang, guiding Harry through a subdued spin before dipping her so that her long blonde hair brushed the hardwood floor below.
Harry shrieked a giggle. The position was awkward, truthfully. Mycroft was fully seven years her senior and he towered over her, but they were both grinning without reservation. Ann and Vienne applauded from their seats on the piano bench. Sherlock and John moped against opposite walls of the room.
“Again! Again!” Harry cried. Mycroft laughed.
“Not just now, Monster. My arms hurt.” He’d been teaching Harry to waltz for the better part of two hours.
“Can you dance, Sherlock?” Ann asked. Sherlock jumped, then looked down at the floor, his face a thundercloud.
“He can.” Vienne said, without enthusiasm. “He just refuses.”
“Dancing is boring.” Sherlock said. “I wish I could un-learn it.”
“Even when you’re dancing with me, mon petit ?” Vienne asked, widening her eyes in a way Sherlock never could guard against.
Sherlock blushed and toed the floor with his shoe. “ Non, maman .”
“Go on, then Sherlock.” Ann prompted, and Sherlock didn’t look up in time to see the sly look that she shot to Vienne. “Show us what you’ve got.”
Sherlock looked around the room in a panic. Harry was grinning at him from her seat beside Mycroft, and made to get up but Vienne stopped her.
“ Non, non Harry.” She said. “You rest or you’ll get all cramped up. John, why don’t you dance with Sherlock?”
John’s eyes shot wide, and he and Sherlock shared a look of horror and disbelief. “You must be joking, Aunti Vivi!” He protested. “I’m a boy!”
“So?” Vienne asked. She played up her French accent, making the s sound like a z. “Sherlock and Mycroft have practiced together many times.” She softened her features and offered, “Don’t worry, you can even lead. Sherlock knows how to follow.”
If ever there were a less believable sentence in the English language, John had never heard it. He glared at Sherlock accusingly, as though it were all his fault. Sherlock matched him, expression for expression.
“Oh, please!” Ann supplied, her face beseaching. “Please, for me John?”
John sighed and stepped toward Sherlock, who reluctantly did the same. They met midway, and Mycroft started the music with blatant smugness on his face. Harry beamed at the room and swung her feet in front of her chair.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” John muttered.
“I can. My mother can make anyone do anything.” Sherlock muttered back.
John groaned. “All right, how am I supposed to do this?”
Sherlock scoffed and rolled his eyes. He grabbed one of John’s hands and placed it on his own waist, then held John’s other hand in his own while placing his free hand on John’s shoulder. They both blushed furiously and refused to look up from their feet.
“Just do what Mycroft did.” Sherlock suggested, but John had only seen a smooth whirl of feet and his sister’s hair fanning out as Mycroft whirled her about.
“Uh...I don’t think I can do that.” He said.
Sherlock sighed. “Fine! Just, where I move backward, you move forward.”
That didn’t sound so difficult. John nodded and zeroed in on Sherlock’s shoes.
What followed was possibly the clumsiest, most restrained and uncomfortable waltz in the history of ballroom dancing. John had no clue how to lead, Sherlock was loathe to follow, and by the end of the song John had trod on Sherlock’s toes enough times to reduce them to five nubby bruises.
The music came to a merciful end and they stopped on a mutual glare. The second they broke contact, both boys backed away to their opposing walls like clockwork figures in a novelty timepiece.
“Well...” Said Vienne. “That was...um...”
“A good start!” Ann chimed in, an encouraging smile pasted on her face. “You’ll just have to practice, John. I’m sure soon you’ll be able to hold your own.”
“Dancing is rubbish.” John scowled.
“Is not!” Harry chided. “I’ll show you!” And she stood up from her chair, strode over to Sherlock and grabbed his hand. Without so much as a “by your leave” she dragged him forcefully into the middle of the room, positioned his hands the way Mycroft had shown her, and clicked her fingers.
“As my lady commands.” Mycroft said with an artificially deepened voice and a gracious nod. He smirked and started the song again.
“Do I have to do this again?” Sherlock demanded of his mother.
“Come on, Shock!” Harry pestered, and Sherlock glared at her. “Are you scared you’ll be worse than John?” She tilted her head at her brother, and Sherlock’s already seething expression darkened.
“Very well, then.” He said, and his voice was very calm and cold. He listened to the music for a bit, found the beat he was looking for, and he began to dance.
It wasn’t like when Mycroft had danced with Harry. There was no awkward height difference now, and Harry was getting more comfortable with the steps. And Sherlock didn’t hold back.
They spun and twisted and whirled, and Harry’s hair was a golden fan around her head. Sherlock spun her and guided her and, essentially, turned her into a flickering golden vision, showcasing her with deft, confident motions. At the conclusion of the song, Sherlock guided her into an effortless dip, and she stared up at him, breathing hard.
John was ten years old. There was time, still, before his body and his mind would understand and facilitate things he was not yet ready to embrace. So when his heart lurched painfully inside of his chest at the sight of seven-year-old Sherlock dominating the simplified waltz, he managed to misinterpret the signal completely.
“Oi! Be careful, you idiot! You nearly cracked her skull open!”
‘Yes. It is almost time.’
Chapter 5: The Sixth Summer
The sixth summer was the summer everything changed..
Sherlock’s father was swamped with work and the family was unable to make their yearly journey to Vernet, so instead the Watsons would be joining them at the Sussex House, which lacked a stately name so far as John knew.
And while he would have preferred to stay in Islington, John was immensely chuffed that his best mate Mike would be able to join them this year, so he wouldn’t be alone with Mycroft and Harry’s simpering adoration and Sherlock’s scorn.
The sixth summer was also the year both John and Harry crashed headlong into puberty, and John was alternately confused by his own body trying to drive him barking mad, and horrified by the downright nightmare-inducing new additions his and Harry’s shared bathroom. He was almost looking forward to when they’d have numerous toilets to choose from at the big house.
“Figured it out then, have you?” Mycroft smirked. “About time. I was beginning to think you’d never get there.”
Sherlock flopped onto the setee bonelessly and groaned. “I’m doomed, aren’t I?”
“You and John both, I think.”
“They’ll never stop.” He sighed.
“Not so long as you all draw breath.” Mycroft chuckled. “No, I’m afraid mummy got a taste for matchmaking when she found a husband for the Turkish ambassador’s secretary. She’s addicted now.”
“Then there’s nothing else for it. I shall have to kill him.”
Mycroft scoffed. “You couldn’t even kill that toad you wanted to dissect.”
Sherlock frowned. “It kept looking at me!”
“It wouldn’t have been able to do that once it was dead.”
Sherlock crossed his arms and huffed. “It was pointless to kill it when there are perfectly sound dead toads on the side of the road every week.”
Mycroft smiled. “And it’s answers like that which will excite the doctors once father convinces mother to have you tested.”
Sherlock looked up at his brother with wide, hopeful eyes.
Then Mycroft pretended to frown in fierce contemplation. “Although, you might wish to leave out the part where you nursed it back to health and spent your entire allowance for the month building it a terrarium.”
“Bloody hell, is he always like that?” Mike asked, watching Sherlock stalk off across the garden to the house.
“Every. Sodding. Minute.” John grumbled. At thirteen, the boys delighted in swearing at every possible opportunity.
“He didn’t half lay into you.” Mike teased. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone called a ‘repugnant blemish on the evolutionary process’ before. How old is he?”
“Ten. He’s a right nightmare.”
“His brother seems an okay chap. Bit quiet.”
“Mycroft is the creepiest sod you’ll ever meet. Just give it time. He sort of...watches you. And then you find yourself doing things, things you had no intention of doing, and you don’t realise until after that he wanted you to do them. Would you believe I waxed his bleeding car last summer?”
“You what?!” Mike exploded with laughter.
“I did! And God help you if you do anything to upset Harry. You so much as make her lip quiver and it’s like your own personal apocalypse. And he never yells. Not even when he and Sherlock are having a row, which is always. He just gets really quiet and really calm, and then things start going wrong for you every time you turn around.” He shook his head. “I tell you, Mike, there aren’t words for how twisted this whole thing is.”
“I dunno.” Mike said with a shrug. “Seems exciting to me.”
John let out a sigh and leaned against a nearby tree. “I’m glad you’re here, mate.”
‘What’s your name, boy?’
‘Any good with that knife?’’
“Come on now, kids. Sherlock! Sherlock, stand closer to John, will you? I can’t get you all in frame standing so far apart.” Ann called over her camera.
Sherlock looked at John, who kept his eyes resolutely forward. A grudging shuffle, a few mumbled curses, and Sherlock and John were shoulder-to-shoulder. John gritted his teeth and placed a defiant arm around Mike’s shoulders, leaning away from Sherlock as much as he could.
Ann sighed, but she snapped the photograph anyway.
“Come on, Mike, faster!” John called, pumping his legs for all he was worth.
“Are you...sure...he’s...coming?” Mike panted.
“Mike! We nicked his microscope. He’d chase us to Hell and back for it!”
“Maybe.” Said John, gripping the lowest branch of the tree he’d picked that morning and pulling himself up. He could just see and edge of the marmite-filled bucket hidden amongst the foliage. “But isn’t it fun?”
Sherlock’s hair was still wet from his third shower. He’d thrown out the clothes he’d been wearing that day. He reckoned the smell of marmite would never really wash out, and he resolved to continue his trend of never touching the stuff.
No matter, though. Clothes were easily replaced. Microscopes, however, had to be begged from reluctant parents unless one was willing to endure waiting for a suitible holiday or birthday. Sherlock wasn’t.
That wasn’t to say he wasn’t patient, however. Oh no. He could be patient. For instance he could very patiently remove every bristle from John’s toothbrush. He could also very patiently fill the toes of John’s favourite trainers with week-old custard. He was even remarkably patient when it came to unravelling John’s warmest jumper and using the resulting yarn to make a perfect replica of a garden spider’s web between the walls of John’s bedroom.
Oh yes, when he put his mind to it, Sherlock had limitless patience.
“Fair cop.” John said. “You got me. I can’t get to my bed, I’ll never wear those trainers again, and I honestly don’t think my mum knows which one of us to decapitate for the jumper thing. I’d avoid her for the forseeable future if I were you.”
Sherlock barely glanced at him. He hated how John could just take his attacks in stride. Even now he was leaning casually against Sherlock’s bedroom doorframe, his face placid and nonthreatening.
“You knew I’d get back at you.”
John nodded. “Yes. I did know that. Mind you, I didn’t know how hard you’d strike back, but I think that’s what impresses me the most.”
Sherlock eyed him, warily. “So...you’re not going to try to get even?”
John blinked. “Even? Mate, we are even. You do remember the thing with the marmite, don’t you? Oh, and thank you for leaving Mike out of your revenge scheme. He really was an innocent bystander.”
“No he wasn’t. But I know you were the brains behind it. And I use the term as loosely as possible.” He sighed and pushed his chair away from his desk. “Thank you for not breaking the microscope.” He said quietly.
John smiled. It was one of his sunny, genuine smiles that made the girls in town giggle into their ice creams. Sherlock hated it. It always made something happen in his chest, like millipedes walking behind his flesh.
“I’m irritating.” John said. “Not evil.”
Sherlock didn’t respond, just looked at John and, meaningfully, at the hallway visible through the open door. John rolled his eyes and turned to go, then halted. He tilted his head like a curious puppy and peered at something which had caught his eye.
“Bloody hell...” He breathed. Sherlock followed his gaze, and to his horror he saw what John was looking at.
He lurched out of his chair and rushed to snatch the necklace off it’s hook on the wall, but John got there first and lifted it gently into the air. He held it by the chain, his free hand hovering just below the pendant as though to cach it should it slither from his grip.
“It is.” John whispered, looking stunned.
“It’s nothing!” Sherlock snapped, wanting badly to grab it from John’s hands but terrified of snapping the chain by accident. “It’s just this thing. I’ve had it since I was a baby. My mother says it was the first gift anybody dared to give me when they weren’t sure I’d survive.” He was babbling. He hated babbling. But John had to understand, had to know why the necklace was off limits, why it was precious.
“It was?” John asked. He sounded surprised and, to Sherlock’s astonishment, he was blushing. “Christ I--I didn’t know that. I mean I couldn’t have. Shit, I can’t believe this is really it. You kept it.”
“What are you talking about?” Sherlock demanded. He wasn’t used to not knowing what was going on around him, and he wasn’t keen on the experience. “What could you know about--”
“I gave this to you, you dolt.” John said, grinning. “It was my gift. I gave you this necklace.”
Sherlock stared at him, frozen in place, and his heart gave a painful series of rapid-fire beats. He felt something prickle behind his eyes, and he dug his fingernails into his palms to help force it back. “You’re lying.”
John shook his head. “No, I’m not. I was too little to remember it now, but my Uncle George used to tell me about it all the time. Especially after a couple of lagers. I got it as a gift for my mum, but I ended up giving it to you.” He tilted his head back, deep in thought. “Let me see...what did I say...something like, ‘swans are beautiful to look at, but underneath they’re surprisingly strong.’ Something like that anyway.” He held up the necklace, looking from the pendant to Sherlock and back again. He smirked. “One out of two isn’t bad, eh, Sherlock?” And then he carefully pressed the necklace into one of Sherlock’s hands, and he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Sherlock stared at the necklace in his hand. The swan sillhouette glinted up at him, silent and unhelpful. He was torn. Part of him wanted to hurl it out the window, to lose it somewhere on the grounds, never to be seen again. And part of him wanted to clutch it tight, feel the metal warm against his skin, and keep tightening his grip until the pendant left impressions on his palm.
Dammit, it was his. It was the very first thing that had ever been his. His mother had told him, time and again, how this gift had allowed her, for the first time, to allow herself to believe he’d live to see the world outside the hospital. The day he’d gotten it was the day he became a real person, rather than a tragedy waiting to happen.
And now here was John, ruining everything. Sherlock clenched his jaw and pressed his lips together. Well, so what? Who cared if John ruddy Watson had been the one to give him his first gift? It didn’t matter. The swan was his, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Grimly, he unfastened the clasp on the chain and brought the two ends around his neck. It took some fumbling, but the dexterity gained from years of violin lessons came through and he managed to thread the tiny metal bar through the tiny metal loop. The pendant rested solidly against his shirt, and he brought a finger up to trace the edge of it.
The swan was his. Nothing else mattered. It was his.
With his hand on the doorknob, he froze. One out of two isn’t bad. One out of two. John had said that swans were both beautiful and strong, and that one out of two of those things applied to Sherlock.
One out of two isn’t bad.
But which one?
‘Tell me, Seb, what do you know about that boy?’
‘What, the little guy?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘Not much. Why do you want to know about him?’
“Promise me you’ll be here next summer!” Harry whimpered into Mycroft’s stomach.
Mycroft laughed. “I promise, Monster! I’m only going to university, not dropping off the face fo the Earth!”
“What if you meet some girl and run off to get married and I never see you again?”
John rolled his eyes, but neither of them noticed.
“Oh, Monster. As if I’d marry anyone without getting your approval first. Rest assured if I do meet someone, I’ll bring her with me next summer to meet you all.”
Harry buried her face deeper into Mycroft’s belly and wrapper her arms tighter around his waist. “Okay, Mye. I’ll hold you to that.”
“And you can tell me all about Bridget, right?”
Harry blushed and pulled away, kicking at the ground with the toe of her shoe. “If there’s anything to tell.”
“Oh, come now. Pretty girl like you? How could she resist?”
Harry blushed deeper and John had to look away. Honestly they could rot your teeth, the pair of them.
Vienne appeared then, her eyes already shiny with unshed tears. Sherlock was behind her, scowling at the ground. John leaned against the car and watched Mike wrestle with his suitcase while Vienne and Ann embraced and cried into each other’s shoulders. He let his eyes roam at random and caught sight of Sherlock, at which point he very nearly slid from the car onto his arse.
Sherlock was wearing the necklace. The white gold of the chain glinted against his pale skin, and the pendant shone against the dark grey of his shirt. John gaped, and something pinched in the space between his pecs.
Sherlock glared up at him. “It’s mine. I can wear it if I like.”
“Yeah...sure. Of course.” Oddly, it didn’t look strange or girly on him. It looked...right. Like it fit. “Knock yourself out.”
Sherlock shook his head in disdain, and John busied himself with helping Mike load his things into the boot. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why he was blushing.
“Did you notice, Annie?” Vienne whispered, concealing her words in theatrical sniffles against Ann’s blouse.
“Of course I noticed. What do you think it means?”
Vienne smiled against Ann’s shoulder. “It means there’s hope for them yet.”
Chapter 6: The Ninth Summer
Puberty hit Sherlock hard. He was used to his body simply being there, a useful tool with which he could interact with his surroundings. Now it had developed a mind of its own and seemed to delight in willful defiance at every turn.
With Mycroft absent and unable to placidly endure Sherlock’s indignant attacks, the newly adolescent boy took out his frustrations on the other children in his class. Always observant, he now took vindictive pleasure in speaking his observations aloud. The more incriminating the better. He became fascinated by people: how they moved, how they spoke, why they did the things they did.
Then he stumbled across a criminology text book, and a swimmer died in the pool during a sporting event in London, and an obsession was born.
“Were you there?” Sherlock demanded the second John set down his suitcase on the bed.
“Was I where?” John sighed, refusing to turn around and look at him.
“The pool! The sports tournament, it was in London. You live in London!”
John furrowed his brow. “The pool...wait, is this about that kid who drowned a few months ago?”
“Carl. Powers.” Sherlock pressed. “It’s been all over the papers. He’s from Sussex, they’ve been going mad over it here.”
John shrugged. “Sorry, Sherlock. Not my school. Not my sport. I’m more of a rugby man myself.”
Sherlock groaned and tugged at his hair. “What about Mike? Would he have been there?”
John rolled his eyes. “Sherlock, Mike and I go to the same school. We weren’t at the bloody tourn--” He stopped, because while he’d been talking he’d turned to face Sherlock and looked at him for the first time since arriving.
“Christ! What happened?” He demanded, advancing automatically on the boy and grasping either side of his face.
Sherlock tried to flinch away, but John just held tighter, peering at the ugly purple, green and yellow bruise over Sherlock’s right eye. “Sherlock, what happened to you?”
Sherlock grapped John’s wrists and tugged them away, stepping back and out of John’s reach. “Nothing. It’s not important.”
“Not im-- Sherlock, I know the result of a fight when I see it. Who did that to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh that’s bollocks. You never miss a trick, not in all the time I’ve known you.”
“Sherlock, why are you defending them?”
“Then tell me who hit you.”
“It could have been any one of them, okay?!” Sherlock shouted. He turned on his heel and stormed out of John’s bedroom.
John stared after him, utterly lost.
‘I saw what you did there, Jim.’
‘You can’t prove anything.’
‘Precisely. May we talk?’
‘You seem to know enough about me as it is. Why should I tell you anything else?’
‘I’d really rather hoped it would be the other way round.’
‘I’ve got a secret, Jim. Would you like to know what it is?’
“But all the rest of his clothes--
“You’re not listening ...
“No no, please don’t hang up! I can help you!
“Sodding bastards ” Sherlock snarled and he threw the phone against the wall. It thunked loudly, but was otherwise unharmed.
“I’ve brought you an ice pack.” Mycroft appeared in the doorway to their father’s study. Sherlock folded his arms over his chest and sank deeper into the sofa, turning his face away.
“Mummy told me what happened. How many where there?”
“My God...” Mycroft collapsed into one of the plush mahogany chairs. “Sherlock...I...” He looked tired. He looked so very tired. He barely looked like Mycroft. He was heavier than Sherlock remembered him, and his forehead was creased with lines that never used to be there. Twenty years old, and already the world seemed determined to crush him.
“You couldn’t have stopped it if you were here.”
“Don’t tell lies until you learn to tell them properly.”
“One learns through practice.”
“You’re not ready to practice on me.” And there. A smile. It surprised and disturbed Sherlock just how much he’d missed his brother’s smug, all-knowing smiles.
Sherlock said nothing, but he held out his hand and Mycroft placed the ice pack in his palm. It stung against his bruise, and the cold was almost too much at first, but he held it firm and the discomfort soon faded to manageable levels.
“I miss Vernet.” He said quietly, after several minutes had passed.
“So do I.” Mycroft admitted. “Father will sort it out in time.”
“How much time? Another three years?”
“It will happen when it happens, Sherlock.”
Sherlock pulled the ice pack away from his skin and looked up at the ceiling. “It’s easier in France.” He said. “Even mummy and Aunt Ann’s games are easier to stomach.”
“Do I detect the weakening of your resolve, brother dear?” Mycroft teased.
Sherlock angled his body toward the back of the sofa, away from Mycroft. “John isn’t as insufferable when he doesn’t have that Mike character with him.” He sighed. “I was so bored while you were away.”
“I’m so sorry about that, Sherlock. But I need to move forward.”
Sherlock said nothing to that. Mycroft waited a few more moments, then with a sigh he stood and made his way to the door. He was just about to pull it closed behind him when Sherlock’s voice said wearily, “I’m never bored when he’s visiting. I think that’s the worst bit.”
Mycroft closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. Then, without a word, he closed the door on his little brother’s solitude.
“No! For the last time, no!”
“John!” Sherlock was practically pleading, but it came out more as a petulant whine. “It’ll take ten minutes! Fifteen, tops.”
“No. Absolutely not.” John shook his head frantically. “Last time you said that I spent three hours with fake blood in my hair, trussed up to a bannister. I am not. Playing. A corpse.”
“It’s not playing, John. It’s crime scene reenactment.”
“Oh God.” John covered his face in his hands and slumped onto a chair. “I liked you better when you were diving for pond scum.”
“Considering how little you liked me then, you must loathe me now.”
John said nothing, just pressed his lips into a thin line.
Sherlock scoffed in exasperation and flopped down on the nearby sofa. He did that a lot nowadays, John noticed. He just sprawled out on the nearest vaguely soft surface and promptly removed the bones from his limbs.
John decided to ignore him and grabbed his Ray Bradbury collection. He’d managed to get through three pages before he gave into the temptation to look up. He really shouldn’t have. Sherlock was moping on the sofa, and he’d pulled the swan necklace out from underneath his shirt and was stroking idly at the pendant.
“You...” John gritted his teeth. “You absolute bastard.” He sighed and hung his head. “Tell me what I need to do.”
Sherlock’s face split into a grin and he hopped off the sofa, suddenly brimming with energy. “Terrific! Go get Mike, I’ll need his help. Oh...and how long can you comfortably stay upside down?”
John stared at him, opening and closing his mouth like a fish.
“No matter. We’ll find out over the course of the experiment. Thank you John!”
‘Very good, Jim. But you can do better.’
‘This is... this is...’
‘Obviously not. If it were impossible I wouldn’t be doing it. This is... fun.’
Sherlock discovered flirting as he’d moved into secondary school, but it had taken him a while to understand it’s intricacies and uses. Once he’d mastered them, however, the world opened up.
“Thank you so much, Becky.” He said smoothely, moving his hand to her shoulder briefly then letting his index and middle finger rest just a fraction longer than the rest of his hand when he pulled away. She blushed and muttered something about “no trouble at all” before hurrying off, empty basket swinging from her hand.
Sherlock grinned after her, satisfied at a job well done, and instantly turned his attention to the bag.
“What was that all about?” John asked, walking in from the kitchen with a sandwich in hand.
Sherlock rummaged in the paper sack for a moment, then produced his new acquisition.
John coughed and gaped and floundered. “Is...is that... blood ?”
Sherlock beamed. “Pig’s blood. Her mother runs the bucher’s in town. She comes by on deliveries sometimes. She thinks I’m attractive.”
“So...you’re using her to gain access to bodily fluids?” John asked.
Sherlock shrugged. “Isn’t that what everyone does?”
John slapped a hand to his forehead. “Not. Those. Fluids.”
Sherlock waved him off. “Oh, sex. Sex is boring. This is much more fun.”
John blinked at him. “You aren’t. You really aren’t human. You’re some kind of pod creature from the outer reaches of the galaxy, sent here to drive me barking mad.”
“I did tell you all that science fiction would rot your brain.”
“It really hasn’t. It’s just given me the tools I need to see through your wicked scheme.” He paused. “Speaking of, why do you need pig’s blood?”
“I’m going to mix it with turpentine and set it on fire.” Sherlock said, completely dead pan.
Sherlock blinked at John then, seemingly baffled. “Why shouldn’t I?”
‘Who is he?’
‘He’s interested. Asking all the right questions.’
‘He’s just a kid.’
‘So am I, and you brought me in.’
‘Is Seb not enough for you? Do you want me to bring in the boy?’
‘No, sir, of course not. I plan to do it myself.’
Sherlock never felt the necklace when he was wearing it. He knew it was there only because he remembered putting it on. Occasionally, when he forgot to tuck it under his shirt or else couldn’t be bothered, he’d catch sight of it in a mirror and would be slightly startled to see it. He never felt the chain against his nape, never noticed the smooth surface of the pendant against his chest. It had become a part of his body, like his eyelashes or his fingernails.
But he felt it when he took it off. His neck felt bare, exposed and cold. It wasn’t noticable enough for discomfort, but it was persistent enough to be annoying. He would rub at the back of his neck, scratch at his sternum and generally twitch with unease until he broke and returned the trinket to its rightful place.
Three years on, he only ever took it off for showers, swimming, sleep and particularly caustic experiments. He kept it concealed at school, though, where a boy wearing any article of jewelry that wasn’t a watch, a ring or a heavy, unadorned chain was practically begging for a beating. He got plenty of those on his own, thanks. But he often wore it openly at home, sudiously ignoring the twinkling look in his mother’s eye every time she saw it.
The problem, really the only one, was that he couldn’t look at the necklace, couldn’t touch it, feel it or think about it, without thinking of John. And...well he wasn’t stupid , quite the opposite in fact. He knew he was heading down a dangerous road, that he should really destroy the blasted thing or lose it or give it to some girl at school to lay the groundwork for future benefit. But he couldn’t. And John was so wonderfully sentimental about the thing. All it took was a little strategic fiddling with the pendant and John was deliciously accommodating. Sherlock was a Holmes. He lived for manipulating people.
So the necklace stayed, and every day it became more and more a part of him, and he tried very hard not to acknowledge how that meant John was becoming more and more a part of him, too.
“You’re staring again.” Mike said, jabbing John in the ribs.
John jumped, startled. “Am not!”
“You completely are. Your eyes track him every time he walks past.”
“If they do, it’s only because I’m waiting for the inevitable killing spree.”
“If you say so, John. If you say so.”
‘Choose, Jim. Anyone you want.’
‘I want her.’
‘Are you sure? You might want to think about it.’
‘Don’t patronise me, old man. I want the girl.’
‘Then you shall have her.’
Chapter 7: The Thirteenth Summer
“Come on, Sherlock, it’s a party! Get back out there.” John was hovering in the doorway, like always. He never willingly came into Sherlock’s room if he didn’t have to.
“I don’t like parties.” Sherlock grumbled, eyeing the petrie dish on his desk. It was starting to bubble. Promising.
“I know but...well, it’s your party.”
“No, it isn’t. It’s my father’s party. With my father’s associates and their spawn. Half of whom spent our mutual schooling devising new and interesting ways to pound my face in. I’ll pass.”
John scoffed and sauntered into the room proper. He stopped by the desk, one hip resting against the gleaming wood. “It’s your graduation, Sherlock. You earned a bit of basking.”
“I can bask just as easily in my bedroom. More easily, in fact. My room is generally free of people I’d rather avoid.” He eyed John up and down. “Generally.”
John blew out a puff of air and crossed his arms over his chest. “Sherlock, please. For once in your life make an effort.”
“I always make an effort.”
“For someone other than yourself, I mean!”
“John, I hate those people. I literally hate them.”
“All of them? Even Harry? Mycroft? Your mum who worked so hard to set this up for you?”
Sherlock tensed, but he stayed still. “You’re trying to manipulate me. Don’t.”
“Oh no, heaven forbid. No, I’m just trying to appeal to some figment of your better nature.” John smirked. “If I wanted to manipulate you, I’d do this.” And in an instant his hand darted out toward Sherlock’s neck. He wrapped one finger around a visible bit of chain and lightly tugged the necklace out from under Sherlock’s shirt.
Sherlock’s head snapped up to look at him, but he didn’t struggle for fear of snapping the delicate links. Instead he snarled, “Let. It. Go.”
John just smiled at him, one of his sunny, genuine smiles. And Sherlock must’ve gotten it wrong all those years ago because they weren’t millipedes under his chest. They must’ve been some kind of larva because somehow they’d metamorphosed into something with delicate wings, and those wings were now beating lightly against his breastbone by the thousands.
John tugged, gently, on the chain. Sherlock moved with it, keeping his eyes fixed on John, until he was standing. John pretended to frown.
“I’ll never forgive you for getting taller than me.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Let go.”
“Agree to come to the party. Just make an appearance. Pretend to be human for a bit, I know you’re good at that when it suits you.”
“I have work--” Sherlock gestured feebly to the petrie dish and its mates, the large computer monitor currently running a series of calculations, the microscope with its myriad slides.
“You always have work. The work will be there when you get back. Now come on.” He tugged again, and Sherlock took a few steps forward to ease the pressure on the chain before it snapped.
“Don’t do this, John. Please. I don’t want to go out there.”
“Your mum wants you out there. For some unfathomable reason, she loves you.” Said John, slowly leading Sherlock through the hallway, toward the foyer.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “She sent you here. Didn’t she?”
John shrugged. “You know her. Never miss an opportunity.”
Sherlock froze. “You know?”
John rolled his eyes and tugged Sherlock back into motion. “Of course I know! I’m not an idiot. I probably didn’t figure it out as soon as you did, but I got there in the end. You’d have to be blind not to see what they were up to.”
“Are up to. You’re only encouraging them.”
“Come to the party Sherlock. One night of normal. It won’t kill you. Then you’re off to Vernet for the summer and I’m off to basic and we never have to see each other again.”
Again, Sherlock halted. John tugged at the chain again but Sherlock didn’t move. John let go and turned to face him.
John furrowed his brow. “You didn’t know?”
Sherlock shook his head. “No one told me.”
“I thought you’d have seen it by...I don’t know. The colour of my shirt or something.”
Sherlock glowered at him. “I’m not omniscient, John. I do need data to work with. You aren’t even nervous.”
John’s tongue darted out to lick his lower lip. “No, I’m not.” He took a breath. “I’m numb, mostly. Hard to believe it’s really going to happen. I mean, I know it is but...I don’t know. Denial, probably.”
“This. Tonight, it’s the last time we’ll see each other.” Sherlock wasn’t usually one for stating the obvious but this was surprisingly difficult to wrap his mind around. John was...well John was there . He was part of life. Had been since Sherlock could remember.
It made no sense. Sherlock had spent his entire life desperately trying to rid himself of the Watson boy. So why was his chest constricting so painfully at the reality of it actually happening?
He followed John without protest out to the garden, where several dozen of his peers and his father’s peers were assembled amidst music, food and alcohol. Sherlock’s hand flew up to conceal the necklace behind his clothing, but he stopped it. This was the last time he’d have to deal with these people, touch wood. He had nothing more to guard against. He left the necklace where it was and followed John into the throng.
‘Is it done?’
‘Good job, Seb. Bring me the body. I want to try something new.’
‘That bloke in the cell?’
‘Call it a whim. Now hurry up and bring me the corpse. It’s high time the old man proved himself useful for a change.’
Denial was a wonderful thing. John had recently become an expert in it. He was perfectly capable of denying the posibility of war breaking out before his first two-year tour of duty was out. He was remarkably skilled at denying that basic training and the subsequent military lifestyle would be more difficult and painful than he could easily tolerate. And he was magnificently adept at denying the slightest possibility that anything between him and Sherlock had changed.
Because it hadn’t. Honestly. Not. Even. A little.
So if John felt a worrying sensation low in his gut at the sight of Sherlock hovering awkwardly at the periphery of the party, well, that was just pity. John was a decent bloke, and he had known Sherlock all his life. It was a natural response, really.
And if the sight of inebriated classmates clumsily attempting to charm their collective way into Sherlock’s pants made him clench his teeth, well that was merely justifiable suspicion and the desire to ensure that no one did anything regrettable over the course of the night. John fancied himself a responsible young man, after all. And Sherlock was, so far as John knew, entirely inexperienced with intimacy.
Oh, slow down. Sherlock and intimacy. Not particularly a mental road John wanted to follow. That would be downright disturbing. The mental images didn’t bear entertaining. Sherlock was, after all, nothing but a wan collection of limbs and joints and scathing remarks. He was lanky and ungainly and skinny and...well, okay he had recently begun to grow into his arms and legs, and ever since he took up boxing at age fifteen he’d developed a certain confidence in his motions that bordered on grace. And...sure, his skin had started to clear in the wake of puberty and what was once sallow and pale had taken on a tone meriting words like “pearlescent” and “ivory”. But still. Weird looking.
His eyes were still creepy as hell. All slanted and narrow and far too light and piercing for comfort. They made John uneasy, the way they could never seem to settle on a single colour but instead shifted relentlessly between sky blue, seafoam greeen and sterling silver. They sat too high in his face, drawing attention to those improbable cheekbones just now rising to prominence as the softness of youth gradually drained away. And, really, what man had lips like that? All full and pouty and practically sculpted to resemble Cupid’s bow. And so pale as to nearly blend in with his skin until he bit or licked them, at which point they became a rosy pink with the barest tinges of violet and...
He very, very badly needed a drink.
He made his way to the drinks table, only to find his mother and Mycroft conversing in low voices while Harry handed them each drinks. The white fairy lights arranged throughout the garden glittered off his mother’s hair and face, making her eyes twinkle even more mischievously than usual. Harry said something, to which Mycroft responded with a nod and what looked like a small laugh. He reached out and tugged her to him, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, and she swatted him lightly on the arm.
John decided to forgo the drink and made his way instead to the food table and helped himself to some cake. Red velvet. It was Sherlock’s favourite, which John considered typical since it had a shade almost identical to human blood. At least it was tasty.
As he tucked in, he noticed Mycroft breaking away from the group and walking toward the sound system. John’s stomach flopped inside his abdomen, and he had a sneaking suspicion he knew what they had been talking about.
John licked his lips a lot. Sherlock had known this for years. So why, why did he find it so impossible to lick that stray bit of frosting from his upper lip now? It sat there, indolent and mocking, and Sherlock wondered if this would be the thing that finally drove him barking mad. He tried not to look at it as John walked over to him.
“What do you see?” John asked.
Sherlock blinked at him. “What?”
“You’re always watching. Tell me what you see.” Ah! Finally! John’s tongue darted out and the bit of icing vanished.
“Tedium.” Sherlock sneered. “My father is networking. The man he’s talking to at the moment is embezzling funds from his company. He thinks father doesn’t know.” Sherlock smirked at that. “The blond boy next to the hydrangia has been trying to work up the nerve to ask me to dance. He thinks I’ll refuse. He’s right.”
John frowned. “And why’s that?”
“Because he’s only going to ask to please his grandmother, who wants connections with my family. He’s slightly bisexual, but he favours girls and he’s fallen for one. He doubts his grandmother would approve of her, though. Beyond that, there is the fact that he spent the last three years endeavouring to etch the word “freak” on virtually every item in my posession.”
“Maybe you should accept, then.”
Sherlock looked at John in confusion. “Why on Earth would I do that?”
John rolled his eyes. “To show there’s no hard feelings. To tell him you know about the girl and you understand. To say you know what it’s like to have pushy relatives trying to control your love life at every turn. To be the better man, Sherlock! To prove you’re human!”
“You say that like it’s a good thing. There is nothing altruistic about humanity, John. The best and the worst aspects of history were equally human in their origin.”
John clenched his teeth. It made the skin around his jaw push out a bit.
“Dance with me, then.”
Well that was out of nowhere. “What? Why?”
John rolled his eyes. “Do you want to know what I see?”
Sherlock just looked at him, and John tilted his head toward the stereo system. “I see Mycroft fiddling with the music. And I just saw Mycroft whispering with mum and Harry. Tell me what you make of that.”
Sherlock furrowed his brow. “No. God no, not now!”
John nodded. “Let’s just do it, Sherlock. Our mothers have contrived to make us dance with each other every summer since I was ten. It’s our last. We might as well do it properly.”
“A proper send-off?” Sherlock smirked.
“A last good-bye.”
Sherlock bit his lip. “I don’t want you to die you know. For everything, it’ll be strange to spend a summer without you.”
John shook his head. “I don’t intend to die.
“Most people don’t.”
Mycroft succeeded in locating the song and the music began to play. John gave a resigned smile and held out his hand. “One last time?”
Sherlock looked up at him, momentarily lost inside his own head. Then he felt the corners of his mouth twitch upward and he slipped his hand into John’s. “One last time.”
‘Beautiful. Just like magic.’
‘Isn’t that what it is?’
‘Don’t be stupid, Seb. Magic is twinkly and irritating. This is power.’
‘What will you do with him?’
‘Oh...I’ll think of something.’
John led him out to the open bit of garden which served as the dance floor. A handful of couples were already swaying artlessly to what had grudgingly become John and Sherlock’s song. John brought him to the centre and turned so they were face to face. Without hesitation, John brought Sherlock’s hand to rest on his own waist and rested his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.
Sherlock looked at him questioningly, and John just smiled. “Your party, mate. You lead.”
Sherlock didn’t smile at him, but it was a near thing. Instead, he found the beat he wanted and began to move.
They had improved over the years. By leaps and bounds. Where they had been awkward and clumsy as children, now they moved with the smooth confidence of long practise and familiarity. Sherlock knew how John’s body moved, when to push and when to loosen his hold, when to grasp him tight and when to let him free. And John knew Sherlock’s speed, could keep up and move with purpose and intent. Regardless of position, neither of them led the other, and neither followed. Sherlock could feel John signalling him in a thousand tiny movements and breaths, could see him taking in every silent suggestion in Sherlock’s eyes, arms, legs and hips. They moved into and out of the song, drifting with it, swirling around it, gazes locked and hands clasped together.
For all that, Sherlock honestly couldn’t tell you how or when their fingers intertwined, could not for the life of him recall the moment when their bodies breached the pocket of space framed by their arms so they were chest-to-chest. All he knew was the thundering sensation of John’s heart beating against his own chest, his own heart racing to match it. His head filled with the scent of John’s hair, dark enough to almost appear brown if you weren’t looking closely enough. He could feel the heat from John’s body, hear the not-quite-gasps of his breath, and still they danced.
The music ended, a final flourish of violin strings followed by a whistful tinkling of piano keys, fading off into something sweet and sad, followed by silence.
There were no clockwork figures this time, only two bodies pressed close and still, a chaos of motion just under the surface where hearts pounded and lungs strained and flesh trembled. They did not see the crowd of eyes fixed on them in astonishment. They did not hear the deafening silence of two dozen voices lost for words. They did not feel the movment of their own bodies, of John’s hand sliding upward through air that was almost water, of Sherlock’s arm wrapping around John’s back to circle his waist, of John’s fingers weaving into the curls at Sherlock’s nape. They were unaware of the simultaneous movement of their heads as John tilted his face up and Sherlock tilted his down. They knew none of this, until their lips met and their world narrowed further still to a few square inches of heat and moisture and contact.
It was a chaste kiss. A kiss that wanted nothing more and nothing less than to exist. There was no hunger to it, no desperation; there was only a kiss. But it was a kiss with seventeen years of life behind it. It was a kiss full of promises and apologies and answers to questions they never thought to ask. It was that sort of kiss, and it set them alight.
It might have lasted hours, or seconds, or lifetimes, but eventually it ended and they drew apart. They gasped at the same air, eyes unfocussed and glassy, until their hearts slowed enough that they could hear beyond them.
“So.” John breathed after a time. “That happened.”
“Why did that happen?”
Sherlock shook his head.
John licked his lips, unwilling or unable to lift his head and look Sherlock in the eye. “What happens next?”
Sherlock didn’t answer, but his body had gone quasi-tense in the way that alwasy indicated he was in the middle of a truly heroic think. A moment later, he stiffened.
“Nothing.” He said.
John did look up then. “Eh?”
Sherlock looked away, and he slid his hands free of John’s body. “Nothing happens next. Tomorrow I’ll go with Mycroft and mummy to Vernet, and you’ll go back to London and then basic training. Then you’ll spend two years going from base to base, learning how to kill people and die properly, and I’ll go to Cambridge where I’ll hopefully stumble across a profession worth obtaining and we’ll forget all about tonight. It may as well have been a dream.”
John stared at him, letting Sherlock’s words sink in. “You can’t mean that.”
Sherlock nodded his head. “Of course I do. We said it before, John. One last time. Tonight is the last time we’ll ever see one another.”
“It doesn’t have to be!” John protested. He was gradually becoming aware of the people around them, and he tried to keep his voice under control. “Two years isn’t that long. I’ll come back. I’ll join my mother when she visits and--”
“And?” Sherlock demanded. “What then? You’ll come round in the summer time? Should we just forget about each other during the rest of the year? What if I choose to stay at Cambridge over the holidays? Would you come see me then?”
“You can’t just dismiss this before we have a chance to see where it leads!”
“I know exactly where this leads, John!” Sherlock snapped, loud enough to draw stares and John wanted to clap a hand over his mouth and drag him away from the party, but he held back. “It leads to my bedroom, and waking up tomorrow to find you’ve already gone. And then over the next six months or so we’ll exchange the occasional letter, maybe the odd long distance phone call. But it won’t last. They’ll come more and more slowly, fewer and farther between. Too much effort, not enough reward, to little to hold onto. We can’t build a life out of a single kiss and a someday, John.”
“I’m not asking for a lifetime, Sherlock.”
“You’re not asking for one night, either.” Sherlock retorted. “And right now one night is all we have. I know you John. For my whole life I’ve known you.” He put a hand over his breastbone, and he felt the smooth gold of the pendant against his palm. “If it was ever going to be anything, it was going to be a lifetime.” He smiled ruefully. “A kiss isn’t enough reason to wait for you. We’re too late, John. We had our chance, and we let it go by.” He looked up to meet John’s gaze, and his eyes were suspiciously bright.
“We’ve had thirteen years, John.” Sherlock said quietly. “It’s just our misfortune they were the wrong ones.” He leaned over and kissed John tenderly, just a brief and gentle brush of lips against lips. “I am sorry.” And he turned. And he walked away.
John wanted to follow, to hold Sherlock close and kiss away every doubt in his head. He wanted to banish reality and logic with the movement of their bodies, to get lost in tonight and all the promises it held.
But Sherlock was right. Tomorrow would come no matter how tightly they held each other. They would be left with nothing but time and lonliness and fading dreams. It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.
So John squared his shoulders and breathed deep and tried to imagine himself as a soldier. He checked his trouser pocket for his keys, cast an apologetic look at his mother and Vienne, who were clutching each other’s hands and standing with the perfect stillness of shock victims, and walked away in the direction of the driveway, the road, and London.
‘So... will you take him?’
‘Be patient, Seb. He’s not ready.’
‘He seems sharp enough.’
‘That’s because you’re an idiot. I don’t just want him sharp, I want him strong. It’s no fun if he doesn’t put up a fight.’
‘What about the short bloke?’
‘Yes, he could prove problematic. Keep an eye on him, will you? There’s a good man.’