When Sherlock said, “It’s not technically the Embassy, so we should be fine,” John should have realized they had very different definitions of ‘fine’. In fact, he didn’t even recognize the potential for disaster in Sherlock’s tone until the taxi was already pulling up to the kerb as close as possible to the address John had given. Because of security measures, they had a bit of a walk from there, but it was a lovely day, though somewhat windy.
“Wait. What?” John asked, but Sherlock was already getting out, leaving John to pay the fare. He scrambled out after Sherlock, who was regarding the security barricades as a puzzle he could potentially solve — most likely with explosives. John shuddered, realizing that he’d begun thinking like Sherlock. Apparently, madness was contagious after all.
“John, I’m only banned from the Embassy proper,” Sherlock said in his second-most-condescending tone. “The Enlisted Barracks are completely permissible.”
“You’re banned from the American Embassy? And you didn’t think to mention this before coming with me today?”
“Not necessary. We’re not going to the garden party. We’re going to a barbecue,” Sherlock said, infusing the perfectly acceptable word with tones better reserved for particularly grotesque diseases. No, Sherlock probably approved of those, at least for study.
“Do I want to know why you’re banned from the American Embassy?”
Sherlock turned just enough for John to see the smirk tugging at his lips. “Most likely, but we should keep it confidential from the guard up ahead,” he advised smoothly. “Wallet?” he prompted, holding out his hand.
John stopped in his tracks, staring at the view Sherlock presented as he kept walking. Tight designer jeans that probably cost more than John made at the clinic in two weeks, a dull grey T-shirt that John had won in a poker game ten years earlier against two of the men who’d invited them to the party today. No suit, no tight-fitted button-down shirt, no swishy overcoat. God, John could learn to love summer in London, just for the view.
“Back pocket,” John called, breaking into a jog to catch up with Sherlock’s long strides.
Sherlock gave him a sly smile. “I know. Fetch it for me, will you?”
“You’re not going to keep me from seeing my friends just to have a quick tumble in some alley,” John said, resolutely taking out his own wallet instead. “You did bring identification, didn’t you? And I don’t mean one of Greg’s warrant cards.”
“Of course I did.” With a sigh of protest, Sherlock retrieved his own wallet, and John felt a tiny sense of victory. “I might even have my own identification in here somewhere,” he said, sorting through the cards.
“If we end up getting arrested today, I swear, Sherlock, I’m moving out once we’re released from prison.”
“Mycroft will never let it come to that. You’ll see,” Sherlock reassured him, and turned his most charming false smile on the guard. “Happy rebellion day.”
God, John thought, wondering if they’d just end up shot instead.
Sherlock led the way, mostly following the guard’s instructions through the temporary complex of buildings, with just a couple of detours to satisfy his own curiosity. Fortunately, John was too excited to take note.
“So, K-Twelve and Tank gave me a boost up on top of the wall, and sure enough — Sherlock? Are you listening?”
“Of course,” Sherlock lied, having long since lost the context of whatever story John was telling. A tiny core of warmth had settled deep in his chest, pressed against his ribs, growing whenever he glanced over to see John’s bright blue eyes, so alive with happiness. His smile was so expressive, Sherlock could have stared for hours — had done, in fact, though never in daylight, which now struck him as a terrible omission.
John went back to his tale, which would have made sense if not for the random words he kept inserting. Once, Sherlock would have deleted them without bothering to process; because it was John, though, every word went into Sherlock’s memory, filed away to never be deleted. Some things were more important than conserving hard drive space.
Sherlock rounded a corner and stopped, taking a moment to process the chaotic scene ahead. Easily fifty people or more were milling loudly about a green in a mix of camouflage and denim. Half the men seemed to have already stripped off their shirts. There were about half as many women mixed into the crowd, though no children, which was unusual. Presumably the families of the servicemen stationed here were at a different party elsewhere. The loud music did nothing to drown out the sounds of shouting and something of a scuffle on the far end of the green.
Sherlock and John were spotted at once, and several of the men shouted, “Three-cee!”
John let out a laugh and picked up the pace, taking the lead from Sherlock as he went right for them. A little overwhelmed, Sherlock hung back, watching them greet him with punches to his arms and hugs and calls for others to join them.
He’d never even imagined John to be this popular — and definitely hadn’t imagined this, he thought as one of the few women present wrapped herself around John and gave him a loud, enthusiastic kiss. Instead of protesting, John caught her by the waist and lifted her off the ground, taking his time before he set her back down.
A hard smack on the shoulder made Sherlock jump, bringing an arm up defensively. He spun just as his assailant said, “Easy! You must be Holmes, right?” Grinning, the man (early forties, cropped hair gone dark, stationed in London long-term, wedding ring not worn while on duty but worn now) offered Sherlock a beer bottle. “Love the website.”
Sherlock could blend in — had done, in fact, numerous times while investigating, but always with a false identity pulled around him like a cloak. He had nothing prepared, though, not having expected... well, this. “A few mates from Afghanistan,” John had said, but this was far in excess of anyone’s definition of ‘a few’.
“Were you really there when that guy got murdered onstage in The Aluminum Crutch?” the Marine asked expectantly.
“That’s not my website,” Sherlock protested automatically.
“Yeah, well — it’s about you —”
“Tank!” John intervened quickly, having extracted himself from the knot of younger men. He accepted the beer and a handshake from Sherlock’s interrogator, saying, “Yeah, this is my partner. Sherlock, this is Tank — or Joey, if you prefer.”
Both names seemed somewhat horrid. Sherlock submitted to the handshake, glad at least that there were no juvenile attempts at crushing fingers, though he resolved to avoid handshakes from this point forward. Surely the younger Americans wouldn’t be so civilized.
“Never figured you for a civilian, Three-cee,” Joey told John, the grin never leaving his weathered face.
“I wouldn’t exactly call Sherlock a civilian. He just gets in trouble without having to invade another country first. Most of the time.”
Sherlock endured the torture of small talk referencing events John had never mentioned, memorizing every single hint. They were going to have a very long discussion when this ordeal was over. John was apparently keeping secrets from him, and that just wasn’t possible.
As soon as Joey was gone, Sherlock asked, “Three-cee?”
John went the most astonishing shade of red, though he made a meager effort to hide it by taking a drink of his beer. “It’s... just a thing.”
Scenting another unacceptable secret, Sherlock demanded, “Obviously it is, so tell me.”
John huffed out a breath and turned to look in the direction of what looked like a no-holds-barred brawl. He started wandering that way, saying, “Stands for ‘Three-Continents Watson’, what my mates called me. They shortened it to Three-cee at Dwyer.”
“Three continents. You’ve traveled to more than three continents, though.”
“God,” John muttered, looking down with another shake of his head. He was terribly embarrassed, but there was also a grin that spoke of something more complex. “I had a bit of a reputation. Always able to find... local company.”
“No!” John glared at Sherlock.
“It was a perfectly reasonable assumption,” Sherlock protested.
“I never — I never needed to pay for it,” John hissed under his breath. “That’s the point. The other blokes would, but... Well... God, Sherlock, will you stop staring and relax?” he muttered, looking away.
The grin wasn’t gone. It was buried deep, but not gone. Oh. Of course, he wouldn’t be proud of managing to hire prostitutes as any idiot could do. Besides, he’d never shown interest in that sort of thing in London, though he was friendly enough to the ones they occasionally had to question as witnesses or suspects.
“Oh. Male and female, I take it?” Sherlock asked. It was something of a peace offering, meant to avoid any show of temper that would attract unwanted attention.
Now the grin came out of hiding. “Yeah, well. Why limit the choices?” he asked more quietly. “Not really the Americans’ thing, but the UK laws changed in 2000.”
“So how many, then? And who —”
“Sherlock,” John interrupted. “Ask me later, and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. But not here, all right?”
Somewhat disappointed, Sherlock nodded, and went back to studying John in this new environment. It was fascinating how different he was here — more relaxed than he was anywhere, except perhaps their flat.
Perhaps accepting this invitation hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. It would have been problematic if Sherlock had been forced to sneak in so he could observe John at a distance, and he really didn’t want to go through the tedium of getting arrested again.
John hadn’t planned on drinking, but the first beer was practically medicinal, necessary to cut through the anxiety that clawed at him as he second- and third-guessed his idea to bring Sherlock with him. He refrained from a quick second and instead let himself get dragged into a game of football, hoping he remembered enough of the American rules to get on. Besides, this was one place where he didn’t have to be self-conscious about taking off his shirt and showing the scar that had ended his career.
Tailing Sherlock around London had done wonders for his physical condition — not to mention saving him the cost of a gym membership. He couldn’t out-power the bigger opponents, but he was fast when he had incentive, and had a decent enough throwing arm that he held his own. Besides, the game was informal and the grass was much softer than the gravel where he’d first learned to play, so when he ended up tackled, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
He let himself be helped back to his feet just in time to see two of the opposing side — with shirts — confronting Sherlock. “Come on, we need one more.”
John’s first instinct was horror, followed quickly by the urge to rescue him. But some sadistic urge made him hold his tongue and grin, jogging back to the rest of his team. “Who’s the tall, skinny guy?” McCord asked. “Showed up with you, yeah?”
“Yeah. Probably never even seen football,” John guessed, thinking that statement true for both proper and American football. “I’ll handle him.”
McCord gave him a look. “Uh huh.”
“Judo, a bit of krav maga, and some savate when he was younger,” John explained, hiding his grin as McCord’s ‘knowing’ look gave way to surprise. “I know how to take him down without getting hurt.”
“Him?” McCord asked disbelievingly. “Isn’t he a little... pretty?”
“Is he? I hadn’t noticed,” John lied as Sherlock, obviously feeling obliged to play nice for John’s sake, allowed himself to be led onto the field.
Sherlock knew precisely as much about football as had been required for a case involving match fixing, and none of it involved a ball that was oblong rather than round, brown rather than black and white, and picked up rather than kicked. He hadn’t been watching the game, which had apparently been a mistake; he’d been watching John, who fit into this world seamlessly.
The instructions Sherlock’s ‘teammates’ had given him were utterly unhelpful. “Ball goes that way, and stop them from bringing it this way.”
At some obscure signal, they all started moving, and the patterns flashed in Sherlock’s mind. He couldn’t have explained why, but he saw where, at least. The other team did as well, apparently, and Sherlock almost missed the end of the round because John distracted him as he tripped up one of Sherlock’s teammates rather expertly. It was almost precisely the same sort of full-body tackle he’d used to stop a drug dealer who’d come at him with a knife while Sherlock was, terrifyingly, ten feet too far away to intervene.
So. The ball was coming this way, and given the exchange between those two, they were going to try to fake a — pass? Was that the term? So, if he stood here, he could avoid those two brutes when they started moving and be able to take down the ball catcher-thrower person.
Some sounds that had only a vague resemblance to actual words were yelled: “Hike hutt what?” Regardless, it was the signal to move. He stood for a moment, allowed Thug One beside him to tackle Brute Two across from him, and slid into the space remaining. And there was the fake pass, and he should be moving right —
The thought was lost as thirteen stone of blond Army doctor barrelled into him. Reflexively he braced to flip his assailant, but found that he was already on top, and not in a position to flip anyone. Well, at least not with clothes on.
John grinned up at him. “You’re too sneaky to be allowed to actually think about the game.” Sherlock glared.
“And I’m on the other team. I’m certainly not going to let you beat me at something as pedestrian and mundane as a game.” Sherlock wasn’t sure if he could glare any harder without actually shutting his eyes.
“Hey, quit flirting, you’re putting me off my game,” came the laughing voice of the marine, the tank one — no, that was his name and why would someone want to be named after a short, squat... Oh. Grudgingly Sherlock took the hand offered and rose to his feet.
“I’ll have my eye on you, now,” he muttered to John, who only grinned harder and leapt to his feet like he’d never even dreamt of a limp, which really did make it all worth the indignity of playing.
Two hours later, everything was going surprisingly fine. Sherlock had actually relaxed (most likely the result of essentially sparring one-on-one with John for forty-five minutes) and was even managing to explain the cases from John’s blog without sounding like a complete prat. So when John was offered a tour of the barracks (with an emphasis on a pool table better than the rickety one at Dwyer), he felt it was safe enough to accept.
“So, what’re you doing with yourself?” Not-so-Quick asked, handing over a beer as he and John waited for the current match to finish.
“A little, ah, temp work at a local surgery,” he explained, remembering the American terms. It was amazing how quickly things came back to him with only a bit of effort. “Mostly, I try to keep Sherlock from getting us both killed.”
“How’s that working out?”
“Badly.” John grinned fiercely. “I haven’t been shot again, but not for lack of trying.”
“You saying that shit in your blog’s actually real?”
“Every word. At least, what’s up there so far. It’s split between private work and consulting for the Yard, and those cases don’t get written up until after the trial, assuming the suspect lives that long.”
“You, ah, have a tendency to kill them off before the trial then?”
“Well, you know, things happen.”
The marine snorted, eyes going distant with memory. “Yeah, I guess they do.” And then they snapped back, “But this is friggin’ London, man. What’re you doing killing perfectly innocent guilty people before the cons get their chance?”
“If it’s any comfort, it’s usually just the end result of turning their plans against them. One time, it was a ballista,” John said casually.
“Think giant crossbow.”
“That one never went to trial. I can show you the investigation photographs.”
Not-so-Quick glared at him suspiciously, but said, “Photoshopped. Twenty bucks says you’re bullshitting.”
John grinned. “You’re on,” he agreed, wondering if he’d be able to get the photos legitimately or if he’d have to get Sherlock to steal them next time they went to the Yard.
Though generally better at darts, which were portable enough that a lot of soldiers carried sets even at the most inhospitable posts, John was no slouch at pool. He broke even, once the currency conversion rate was agreed upon, and relaxed into the comfortable camaraderie that he’d never realized he missed this much. It was too easy to get caught up in the here-and-now whirlwind that was Sherlock Holmes.
Barber and Kassie were attempting to massacre each other, with Kassie cheating rampantly by stepping on Barber’s foot every time he turned around. She ignored the suggestions that she finish him off mercifully so the next in line could play and took her time.
So naturally John was starting on his third beer, patiently waiting his turn and listening to the complete and utter bullshit tale of a newbie decked out in full radcon gear singing ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ while standing on the desk of the department head, for some imaginary infraction involving a flashlight and three rolls of duct tape, when there was a quiet, almost soft fwoosh that every soldier in the room recognized.
The room stilled. Then too many people with reflexes honed in danger scrambled for the door. John took full advantage of his height and agility, his mind filled with the horrible knowledge that if there was an explosion, it must have had something to do with Sherlock Holmes.
“How is that even close to efficient?” Sherlock asked, no longer thinking it quite so strange to be talking to someone named Kay-twelve.
Grinning, he kept fanning at the coals with a flannel and said, “This is an art, man. Takes time.”
Art, Sherlock thought scornfully, finishing his beer. It was his third, which wasn’t usual for him, but it seemed to be what was done. The second wasn’t nearly as bad as the first, and the third was almost good, though, so that was all right.
He circled the barbecue, which was an incredibly primitive structure — no more than an elevated firepit full of charcoal briquets under a suspended grill. No propane, no automatic flame control, not even a built-in temperature gauge.
He very nearly had a moment of patriotic satisfaction that at least the English knew how to do this sort of thing properly, before he realized that Mycroft would have approved. Instead, he decided to do what he could to assist.
By now, he had adapted, chameleon-like, to the subtle mannerisms that let him pass as one of their own, at least on cursory inspection. He had no doubt that under normal circumstances, every soldier present knew every other one on-sight. But it seemed there were multiple parties in progress throughout the area, and guests had taken to wandering, leaving Sherlock free to slip into a nearby building for supplies.
No one ever thought to lock janitorial closets, and the Americans were no different. A weapons storage facility would have provided much more satisfying materials to work with — proper application of gunpowder would ignite most common materials nicely — but the industrial-class hoover that he found was more than up to the task, with a bit of rewiring.
A half-hour later, Kay-twelve had made little progress, most likely because he wasn’t there anymore. Neglected, the coals were sputtering and dying out, suffocated between the too-deep layer and the bowl-shape of the barbecue. Sherlock used tongs to prise off the grill, tossed it aside, and then started making improvements.
“Whatcha doin’?” someone asked, wandering over to watch.
“Forced-air,” Sherlock said tersely. And then, because he was used to being surrounded by people who couldn’t begin to keep up, he explained, “By adding a blower to force additional air into the combustion area, we can speed up not only the ignition of new coals but the spread of fire within each individual coal. Unless you’d rather wait until the fifth for your ‘burgers’,” he added, not quite able to keep his shudder hidden.
Instead of taking offense, whoever-it-was clapped him on the shoulder, sending up a puff of dust from the dirt embedded in the T-shirt John had made Sherlock wear. “Awesome.”
Well, yes, Sherlock thought. “Find me an extension cord on its own circuit breaker. I’ve made improvements to the motor,” he instructed, wondering where he could get some metal tubing. The plastic would melt at the temperatures he hoped to achieve.
As it turned out, he didn’t need to look at all. Apparently the sight of a dissected hoover, a stubbornly cool barbecue, and a screwdriver was enough to attract a sizable crowd of minions willing to fetch whatever he required on command. They also proved to be ingeniously creative in their scavenging. He was awaiting the return of one relatively intelligent looking fellow, who had suggested he knew the location of both wire and pliers, when an absolute behemoth of a man with an idiotic grin crouched next to him.
He was trapped. The tripod with its coals was to his left with the body of the hoover tucked safely to the side, and although technically he could go over it, he’d have to lose the screwdriver in his mouth and the wires that he had just finished separating and stripping. Tiresome to sort through it again. And the giant was grinning genially, without malice. He was not here to cause physical damage at least. Mental stagnation he could suffer through and redistribute to John later. He stayed where he was.
“Yer hair’s in yer eyes,” the hulk rumbled, and Sherlock caught sight of a scrap of cloth in his massive hands. They closed on his face, and he wondered if strangulation by gentle giant would amuse John as an epitaph. Then the cloth was on his forehead, his hair tucked out of the way, and he felt a knot snugged at the back of his head. “There,” the man said, and he stood and backed away.
He shifted the wires from one hand, and touched the fabric. It did indeed remove the hair from his eyes. Red, white and blue, he thought, but the stars make it their flag, not ours. John would be amused.
Well. Perhaps even enormous idiots had their uses. And there was his lackey with the pliers and wire.
By the end of his second hour, Sherlock thought the equipment was ready for a field test.
He switched the hoover on and watched as the coals flared, but it wasn’t quite enough. “Requires an additional fuel source,” he said thoughtfully.
Sherlock shook his head, disdaining the offered can. “Significantly more. Petrol should do, though something more volatile would be better. I don’t suppose there’s any liquid oxygen available?”
At that, the gathered marines went quiet. “Rocket fuel?” one finally said. “Probably not.”
“Petrol, then.” Sherlock gestured for them to hurry off and knelt down in the dirt to see what he could do to increase air output from the pathetically small motor. Electronics wasn’t a specialty, but the principles were childishly simple. He wondered why none of the marines had set up a forced air system for the barbecue before today. Weren’t all soldiers supposed to be experts on fixing problems, like John was?
It took another ten minutes before two of them returned with bright red jerrycans meant to hold fuel. Sherlock directed them to pour the contents directly onto the coals (which had, sadly, gone black again, or the result would have been much more satisfying). Then he switched on the blower, inhaling the fumes whipped up from the surface of the pool. Decent quality, though higher octane would have been better.
Sherlock reached into the bag of briquets and carefully dropped some more in, piling up a little pyramid against one side of the bowl. The top bricks were just above the surface of the petrol.
People were shuffling back now, a fascinating crowd-brain movement that slowed or sped up, depending on how drunk each individual person was. Sherlock searched the most drunk ones, since they were still in arm’s reach, and snatched a pack of cigarettes from a pocket. John would scold him for this, but one drag wouldn’t kill him. Besides, he was helping John’s friends. Surely he’d understand.
Still, to be prudent, he backed up a few steps before holding out a hand. “Lighter,” he said, keeping an eye on the barbecue as it occurred to him that it didn’t look very stable. Granted, a tripod design was surprisingly steady, which was counter-intuitive; one would imagine that more legs were better, but the tripod was less likely to tip than one would expect.
Someone slapped a lighter against his palm.
He lit the cigarette and closed his eyes, savoring the nicotine that rushed into his system. It was a dizzying pleasure that he could almost imagine burning through his blood, sparking right into his brain, sharpening his thought processes.
He tossed the lighter away and took the cigarette from between his lips as a nagging little voice in the back of his head suggested that perhaps this wasn’t a good idea.
But that was nonsense. It was his idea, and all of his ideas were good ones.
Allowing himself a very slight smile of anticipation, Sherlock pitched the cigarette right at the pyramid of briquets rising from the surface of the petrol, adjusting for the air velocity and currents caused by the hoover. The cigarette landed, bounced, threatened to roll —
And then, fire.
“Sir. There’s been an incident.”
Mycroft hid his sigh, hearing his five least-favorite words in the language. They sounded so innocuous, so harmless, and always meant extra work that could most likely have been avoided with a bit of planning.
He excused himself from the table and followed his aide out of the dining hall. The Embassy reception was just informal enough to permit the interruption that would never have been tolerated at a black tie affair.
Out in the foyer, Mycroft straightened his waistcoat and softly said, “Go ahead, then.”
“Your brother was reported as approaching the compound several hours ago, sir. Given his ban, it was assumed to be a computer error.”
“Was,” Mycroft said, a chill passing down his spine.
“Six minutes ago, we received a priority two alert of an explosion at the USMC barracks.”
“Priority two?” Mycroft asked sharply. He hadn’t heard of an explosion reported at anything less than top priority since... well, since long before he’d joined the government.
“Yes, sir. Apparently it was, uh, ‘barbecue related’,” his aide said, reading precisely off her BlackBerry.
“And my brother?” Mycroft asked suspiciously.
“Automatic analysis of the gate guard’s visitation roster shows that Dr. Watson was permitted on the grounds just over four hours ago, sir. We can assume that Mr. Holmes’ presence is not, in fact, a computer error.”
Mycroft stared at her.
She stared back in a rare moment of silence, no longer typing on her BlackBerry.
“I see,” he said, jolting his brain into working again, although certainly not at top form. There was no acceptable explanation for this... situation. None at all.
The BlackBerry buzzed, startling them both.
“Sir, the American Marine commanding officer has ordered your brother taken into custody,” she read.
Mycroft stifled his initial impulse to just let Sherlock spend the night wherever his misbegotten actions had caused him to be thrown. Mummy would never forgive him for allowing Sherlock to be exiled to an American military prison.
He nodded his thanks and turned on his heel, fully prepared to go ask for a private audience with the American Ambassador. No sense in dealing with underlings. And then he froze in mid-step, looking back over his shoulder as something even worse than the thought of his mother’s reaction occurred to him.
“And where,” he asked, terribly proud that his voice remained steady, “is Dr. Watson?”
Sherlock was prodding at the plasters stuck to his face, wondering how he’d managed to miscalculate the expansion rate of the fireball quite so badly. His eyebrows had been reduced to charred stubble, and only the behemoth’s timely gift had saved the rest of his hair from following suit. His arms had never been hirsute, but now even the fine hairs he’d had were quite gone. And both arms and face tingled with what promised to be a truly spectacular sunburn once his skin got over the initial shock.
His ears were still ringing from what had truly been a spectacular fireball. The petrol must have been a higher octane than he’d assumed. He should’ve tasted it, rather than relying on smell alone.
Worst of all, he had no idea where John was, and he was stuck in this tiny room with no one answering the questions he shouted through the door. He still had his stolen pack of cigarettes, but no lighter.
John had been there at some point. He had a distinct memory of John holding his face and turning it from side-to-side, saying, “Well, that’s one way to make the sunburn worse. Was it not enough to skip the sunscreen?” Only for all that the words were meant to be humorous, his voice had that worried little catch that meant he thought Sherlock had needlessly endangered himself.
But John was elsewhere now, and Sherlock had been dragged here and left to wait, after the most basic of medical examinations (prematurely ended when he’d finally snapped at the man with the first aid kit). The shrapnel from the tripod tipping over onto the hoover had not done that much damage (or at least that what he suspect had happened, since fireballs tended to blind their observers as well as melt cheap hardware), and he was sure the injuries caused were minor.
When the door opened, Sherlock rose, saying, “John!”
“Don’t,” John warned, his eyes burning angrily as he stumbled in, having been given a little push. “I thought it was an accident, Sherlock!”
“Obviously it was a miscalculation —”
“What did you do?”
Sherlock had never been one to give in to fear. It was an animal response that had no place in a life ruled by facts and logic. His hip hit the corner of the table hard enough to leave a bruise as John advanced on him.
“John, I was helping,” he began in a perfectly rational tone.
“Helping. Helping! You caused an explosion on foreign soil!”
“It’s not like you’ve never done that!”
“Sherlock,” John growled, low and dangerous.
It was the first and likely only time in Sherlock’s life that he’d ever been grateful to hear Mycroft’s voice. He stood poised in the doorway, chin tucked, looking sternly at them both. “Can you not attend a simple barbecue without causing an international incident, dear brother?”
Sherlock sat down, hip giving a twinge of protest, and folded his arms over his scorched T-shirt. He glared at the plastic table and asked, “Finished the dessert buffet already, Mycroft?”
Mycroft just sighed in response. Out of the corner of one eye, Sherlock saw him turn that patronizing gaze of his on John.
Not that John would tolerate that from either Holmes brother. He answered with the same fierce glare that had driven Sherlock back, and Sherlock didn’t bother to hide his smirk when Mycroft took the very same prudent step away from the furious soldier.
“Don’t,” John warned. “Don’t even think of expecting me to watch over him every minute.”
“My dear doctor, I wouldn’t dream of it,” Mycroft said, recovering offensively quickly. He was too good at weaseling away from being the target of any unpleasantness. “You’ll both be pleased to learn that the Americans are willing to overlook this little incident. All in good spirits, wasn’t it?” he suggested, beaming at them benevolently like a guardian angel come to rescue them.
“I’d rather go to prison,” Sherlock said.
“We’re both grateful,” John growled in a tone that implied anything but gratitude. He was glaring at Sherlock, though, not Mycroft.
Smiling, Mycroft said, “Well, then. They have asked you to leave the grounds, and Sherlock, I’m afraid your ban has been a bit extended.”
Sherlock rose, mustering as much dignity as he could, his skin already pinking from the burns. He glared at Mycroft from under his scorched, stubbled eyebrows and swept off the American flag bandanna that had preserved his hair. “Come, John,” he said, ignoring Mycroft entirely.
John took a very deep, loud breath. “Thank you, Mycroft,” he said, the words still clipped with anger. But he followed Sherlock out, so that was all right.
John was never going to be able to face his friends. He’d never be able to meet them at the pub or chat about visiting the States someday. God, in four hours, Sherlock had managed to cause an incident that probably had gone all the way to the American Ambassador himself. Herself? John had no idea, and right now, he couldn’t be arsed to care.
He was mortified to find they had an escort to remove them from the Embassy grounds as quickly as possible. Thank God he didn’t recognize any of them. That would have been too much to bear. Not that he wasn’t debating punching Sherlock anyway.
“How did you manage to — No.” He cut himself off and glared up at Sherlock. “Never mind. Don’t even think of it, ever again.”
Sherlock sniffed haughtily, somehow managing, despite how ridiculous he looked, to make it seem like the escort was an honor guard. “I’ve already determined where my calculations went wrong.”
John gritted his teeth and resolved to never permit Sherlock to have even a small hibachi. And charcoal briquets were right out, on the same list as radioactive material and biohazard 3+ waste.
A sudden shout caught his attention, and his first thought was to wonder what Sherlock had even had time to bollox up now. But the guards continued their forward drive and herded them into the guardhouse before he could piece together what he’d heard. There was another form to sign, in addition to those Mycroft had placed in front of them both: ‘Acknowledgement of Inadmissibility’, or ‘Undesirable Status’ or whatever the name had been, declaring his awareness that he was not welcome on any American-owned diplomatic grounds in all of London, and possibly the entire world. He hadn’t been quite sure on that. Idly he wondered if he could travel to America or if that was out, too.
Then they were being escorted through the building. Guardhouses always had those lovely windows that let the guards see out but no one could see in, but there were too many bodies in the way. No. It wasn’t that there were so many people inside the glass. It was that there was a mass of bodies outside the guardhouse, and insanely, he wondered if they were going to be walking out into a riot.
They were unceremoniously shoved out the door, and though the immediate area of the door was clear, beyond was not. Before John could quite believe it, the marines of Camp Dwyer swarmed Sherlock, clapping his back and demanding to know how the fuck he’d managed it, and if he could show them how. The noise of the crowd grew, and individual voices were lost, as a crescendo grew, words that John had to struggle to comprehend before he caught it, “Holmes, Holmes.”
John stared in horror, just waiting for Sherlock to assert himself, to snap and slice with that sharp tongue of his, reclaiming his personal space and driving them all away.
He never expected to see pure delight blossom in Sherlock’s expression, lit by a genuine smile that John had, to date, only seen in rare private moments between the two of them.
Beaming, he looked over at John and said, “See? Your friends do like me.”