There were days when Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes acted so impossibly normal that John had to check if the world was ending. It usually involved a few clicks around Google, but once he had determined it wasn't ending (or wasn't about to just yet), he would sit back and watch as the two brothers acted like proper siblings, holding all out wars that would rival his own with Harry.
This time, it was a series of letters and packages to one another.
Last week, Sherlock had phoned a delivery service and had twenty wedding cakes delivered to Mycroft's flat.
This week, John received a package from Mycroft. He didn't want to be included in this mini-feud - it was more fun to be a bystander than a fighter in this one, and was planning on handing the envelope over to Sherlock because he didn't really want a part in it, and certainly wasn't going to volunteer to be on anyone's team.
But he had to admit, he was curious.
So he opened the envelope.
Everyone thought that Sherlock couldn't hear them when they talked about him during those meetings with his teachers. He was four years old, not deaf. A very precocious child at that, and he knew how to spy on people like in those films Mycroft liked to watch and his vocabulary was uncannily good, far better than his peers.
So when someone said that he was a 'difficult' child, a word he heard from one of his teachers, he knew that he would never go back to that school again. That was a bad word to describe someone. His mum immediately took him to a new school, one with nicer children who actually played with him and even joined his pirate and scientist games sometimes. He liked chasing them and playing ball as well, but he thought that, as fun as it was, he wanted to play something new.
That was where he met his best friend, James.
James would always kick the ball back to him and lend him the toys after he used them, unlike his classmates.
They would play secret gun games (which wasn't allowed but it was more fun to have guns as a pirate) and sword-fighting. They made matching pirate hats in their own classes and used the long balloons left over from a party as their swords. Sherlock would sometimes pretend he was a scientist who was making plant medicine for James' stuffed dog named Gladstone, and James would pretend to be a doctor who would buy the medicine from him.
James would also follow Sherlock around as they explored around the lawn of their school, finding grasshoppers and ladybirds and fireflies and butterflies.
Even though James was six and liked to remind Sherlock that he was older, James let Sherlock be the leader in their games and would just keep Sherlock out of trouble. They weren't in the same class because James was older, but they always met each other during playtime outside in the school playground.
It used to be that Sherlock's favourite time during school was reading time.
Now he couldn't wait for play time to come.
During art time, Sherlock drew stories, and James was always in them.
They would be pirates or pilots or astronauts or aliens or doctors or policemen.
Yellow for the hair, and the clothes for whatever James would be wearing that day, whether it was that funny jumper with smiley faces or that flag shirt that James always seemed to wear.
Sherlock would grab orange for his hair and other colours for his clothes.
He should ask to borrow Mycroft's colouring set. He had more colours, with funny names like turquoise - turkoys? - too. And they would look better because he could use the new colours.
So one day when Mycroft was away he used them without permission. He knew Mycroft wouldn't let him borrow the colours so he snuck them out. He was really careful not to break any, too.
He drew James and him as pirates. There was a huge pirate ship complete with cannons, sails, and a jolly roger. He scribbled their names underneath, crossing out his nickname and scrawling his first name afterwards. James showed him how to spell James once, and Sherlock got it on the first try.
But before Sherlock could give his drawing to James, he was gone.
He asked the teacher where James went. The teacher said James had to leave because his dad was a soldier and they needed to move somewhere else. He asked if James was coming back, and the teacher explained that they had to go somewhere far away.
Sherlock didn't feel good that day. He didn't feel good for the rest of the week, either. He kept expecting James to come during play time and help him on the tall slide. But he knew James wouldn't come back because the teacher had said so. He just wished that James didn't have to leave. Ever.
There was a small drawing of two pirate children and their ship, and their names were scrawled underneath in four-year-old handwriting.
James and Sherly, with the name 'Sherly' crossed out and corrected with a painstakingly written 'Sherlock'.
John was staring at the picture when Sherlock came flouncing in the den carrying a plastic bag filled with acorns and dead leaves.
"Where did you get that?" Was his greeting, and John could hear his horrified expression before he could see it in Sherlock's face. "Did Mycroft send that to you?" And, before John could even protest, Sherlock had grabbed the drawing and the envelope, gingerly slid the paper back into the envelope, marched into his room, and slammed the door shut.
John stood up, and followed Sherlock to the door. John knocked.
"Sherlock, did you draw that?" He asked quietly, his voice carefully modulated, refusing to let any emotions spill. "Did you?"
Footsteps approached the door and it flew open. "Yes, John, isn't it obvious? Mycroft would never send any of his childhood drawings to you.” Sherlock scoffed and turned, his coat billowing behind him. He shrugged it off and threw the coat on the bed. “We had agreed that friends and the past are off-limits, but it seems like my brother has decided to cheat."
John blinked at Sherlock, and started laughing. And laughing. And laughing.
He found that he couldn't stop even if he tried. He did try, a couple of times, but he ended up choking on his own spit and just laughing again.
Sherlock looked at him with something that was a cross between confusion, concern and annoyance. "What?"
"Sherly?" John managed, and he started laughing again. He clutched at his sides, and managed to get a bit of a breather.
Sherlock huffed, affronted. "It was my nickname when I was a child."
John stared at Sherlock with the sort of scrutinizing gaze that he got from the detective all the time. Sherlock met it with a confused look of his own.
"I knew a Shirley when I was a child. I asked him why his name was Shirley, because it was a girl's name." John said, his eyes darting away. A huge grin formed on his face from the pleasant memory.
"What did he say?" Sherlock asked.
John turned to glance at Sherlock again. Sherlock's expression was unreadable, and John gave up on trying to read it. "He said that his mum told him that a long long time ago, boys had the name 'Shirley', and it was a boys' name." John smiled. "That was you, wasn't it?"
Sherlock's eyes lit up. "You're James? But - "
John grinned. ""My middle name is 'Hamish'. It's a variation on James. Mum liked calling me James after my grandfather, rather than John. I used it when I was a child."
John laughed. "Yes." He grabbed Sherlock by the shoulders, and drew him in a hug.
Sherlock responded with one back.
"You're James?" Sherlock repeated in disbelief. "You're James?"
"You sound like a broken record." John laughed. "Yes. Yes, I'm James." He stepped back, and leaned against the door jamb. "I remember that we almost fed a puppy one of our concoctions before a teacher stopped us, telling us that we might end up killing the thing." He grinned at the memory. He looked up at Sherlock, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry I had to leave. Dad got moved to Edinburgh, and my mum didn't tell me until we had to leave. Believe me, I threw a really bad tantrum then. I’ll never forget throwing all my toys at her."
Sherlock smiled, a genuine one that lit up his whole face and the whole flat. "I still have the pirate hat."
Laughter through the whole flat, and hurried stories of childhood and past were shared well into the evening.
Mycroft watched the video feed as it streamed into his laptop. It had been quite some time since Sherlock had smiled like that, he knew, and it was nice to watch his brother genuinely happy.
He knew he wasn't following their 'rules', but it was worth it to stop the fight before it escalated into something more...expensive. He didn't quite know what to do with twenty wedding cakes and ended up surreptitiously sending them to random weddings all over London, and he had a week's worth of red velvet cake and dark chocolate chiffon in his fridge.
The moment he saw John's files, he knew exactly who John was. It seemed that the whole of the universe was determined to get the two friends back together.
Mycroft just thought it would help to let the both of them know this. Besides, it drew the attention away from himself.
And he wouldn't tell Sherlock this, of course, but there were just some days when he wanted to see his brother smile.