Mycroft Holmes turned the handle of his bone china teacup ninety degrees, the base of the cup making a scraping sound against its saucer. The heavy curtains shifted minutely in the barely-there summer breeze from the open French doors that led onto the balcony. Mycroft remained out of sight, just inside the hallway that came to a stop with the doors, but with a clear enough view of the large, deep fountain on the lawn. He lifted his teacup to his lips and watched as his brother approached the fountain, gripping an Erlenmeyer flask at its neck. A bead of sweat rolled down the back of Mycroft’s neck as he tilted his wrist and sipped his tea, which scalded his throat on its way down.
‘You’ve been avoiding me.’
Sherlock glanced up from where he was leaning over the fountain, his flat stomach pressing against the hot stone that formed its raised edge. He frowned and went back to fishing around in the water, the rolled-up cuffs of his shirt sleeves growing damp.
The morning sun beat down on the Holmes residence and its impressive gardens. John Watson, twenty-three, seated himself on the fountain’s edge, a few feet away from Sherlock, one tanned hand spread across the sun-warmed stone. ‘First chance I’ve had to talk to you in nearly a year.’ John brought his right arm across his body and dipped his hand into the water, his eyes flicking between where his wrist disappeared underneath the water’s surface and Sherlock’s face, where perspiration beaded at his temple. ‘And that’s even with the both of us being at Oxford together during the term--’
‘I’ve been busy.’ Sherlock glared before rolling onto his side, reaching down in the water all the way to his shoulder, his shirt sleeve sodden, clinging to his arm.
‘I see.’ John rubbed a waxy water lily petal between his finger and thumb.
Sitting up, Sherlock held the few inches of water the flask now contained up to the sunlight, squinting at its clarity. ‘Mycroft informs me you’re training to be a doctor.’ Sherlock threw the water back into the fountain, his grip on the flask slipping. Eyes drawn to the sudden movement, John reached out to steady Sherlock’s hand. He caught Sherlock’s damp wrist between his fingers, the index and middle of which slipped automatically to take Sherlock’s pulse. ‘Although I’d thank you not to practise on me,’ Sherlock snapped, jerking his wrist out of John’s gentle grasp. His hold on the flask faltered once more and, fingers fumbling uselessly after it, Sherlock watched as it fell into the water with a quiet splash.
Sherlock’s face twisted into an ugly expression, the skin at the bridge of his nose furrowing, his slightly crooked teeth bared. ‘You idiot! That was a present from my friend!’
‘Was it indeed?’ John smiled, Sherlock growing more indignant.
‘You can’t just--’ Sherlock cut himself off and snarled, hands going to where his fine leather braces rested at his shoulders. He thumbed them off and hastily began to undo his shirt, his eyes locked with John’s.
‘Sherlock, what are you doing?’ John murmured as Sherlock’s pale chest slowly revealed itself, his small, dark nipples a pleasing juxtaposition to his English rose skin. Sherlock threw his shirt to the ground and began to fumble with the buttons on his trousers, which he shoved down his legs. Straightening up, he stared at John, daring him to say something. John swallowed and remained silent, keeping his gaze locked with Sherlock’s.
They had been half-clothed in front of each other before, of course, back when they were boys. Somehow, though, somehow this felt different; the challenge in Sherlock’s eyes was unlike anything John had ever seen before, the pounding of John’s heart was new and other and different, the rush of heat he felt at the sight of Sherlock was strange and frightening. Flustered, John sighed and shifted his weight, folding his arms as he stared off to one side rather than watch as Sherlock slid into and underneath the water in the deep fountain, his dark hair fanning out on the surface like a lilypad before he disappeared entirely.
A bead of sweat broke at John’s temple and ran down his face, curving around his jaw as the seconds elapsed. A splash was heard from the fountain, Sherlock’s rear cresting over its surface as he dove down to retrieve the flask.
John closed his eyes and counted in his head. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty...
The crashing sound of the water as Sherlock re-emerged drew John’s attention back to the fountain, where Sherlock’s feet stumbled on the hot stone of the fountain’s edge as he fell forwards, over-estimating the amount of force he’d needed to propel himself from the water. He was still coltish and graceless, still not used to the long, thin limbs he’d developed. His hair clung to his pale neck, his forehead, water dripping onto his shoulders and down his wiry arms, droplets jumping off his fingertips onto the ground below.
John’s eyes travelled to where Sherlock’s chest was heaving up and down, before flicking his gaze back up to Sherlock’s parted, reddened lips.
The white underwear Sherlock wore had turned see-through, the material clinging to the visible outline of his cock. He clutched his flask in his right hand, his knuckles whitening around the neck. John glanced at Sherlock’s face once more then averted his eyes, cheeks pinking as he wet his lips.
Face hard, Sherlock breathed out heavily through his nose as he stepped down from the edge of the fountain, placing the flask on the ground as he pulled his trousers back on, then his shirt, leaving it unbuttoned, snapping the braces back on to his shoulders. He grabbed the flask and began to stride back up towards the house, sun-warmed grass sticking to his bare feet.
Out of sight, upstairs, just inside the hallway before the balcony, Mycroft watched.
John remained still for a moment, staring at the calm-again surface of the fountain’s water as the sun beat down upon it. ‘Sherlock,’ he called, jogging to catch up. ‘Sherlock, I’m sorry.’
‘What for?’ Sherlock remained facing forwards, his sodden hair curling at the tips. His voice was dismissive.
‘I shouldn’t have laughed. I’ve heard about... about your new friend. He sounds really rather nice.’
‘Yes. He is.’ Sherlock thrust a tin out of his pocket towards John, his pace slowing. ‘Roll me a cigarette, won’t you?’
John took the tin and sat down on the winding stone steps at the side of the house once they reached them. The scent of the climbing passion flowers hung heavy in the air. Sherlock sat next to John and turned the flask over in his hands.
‘He’s got a terrier.’
‘Who has?’ John prised the lid of the tin open and folded a cigarette paper out, sprinkling some tobacco onto it.
‘Victor.’ Sherlock reached out and tugged one of the elaborate passion flowers off the vine, bringing it to his nose and breathing its cloyingly sweet scent in. ‘My friend.’
‘Ah, yes.’ John rolled the paper tightly and licked the edge, folding it down to seal it. He lit the cigarette with the lighter in his own pocket before handing it to Sherlock. ‘I heard about your run-in with the dog.’
Sherlock took the cigarette and inhaled, holding it between his lips as he rolled his trouser leg up. ‘Bite’s only just healed,’ he said quietly, gesturing to the patches of skin that were slightly reddened, in the shape of the bite pattern of a small dog.
John touched Sherlock’s leg, his warm hand wrapping around Sherlock’s thin calf. Sherlock’s breath hitched and he coughed as he expelled his lungful of smoke.
‘You ought to take care of that,’ John murmured, glancing up at Sherlock briefly before returning his eyes to Sherlock’s leg. ‘Wouldn’t want it to scar.’
‘No,’ Sherlock agreed, taking John’s hand off his leg and holding it by the wrist, seeking out John’s pulse. ‘I didn’t mean to be horrid, earlier.’
‘You were horrid,’ John said, pushing the fountain and the feeling of Sherlock’s hand on the inside of his wrist to the back of his mind.
Sherlock’s lips twitched. ‘You’ll make a fine doctor. You always did want to be one, didn’t you, when we were boys?’
John laughed and nodded. ‘I did, yes. I seem to remember Mycroft saying quite seriously that he was going to rule the world. I know I was going to save lives and sometimes shoot wrongdoers and you... oh, what was it you wanted to be?’
Sherlock smiled. ‘A pirate,’ he said. He let John’s hand go and placed the passionflower in the flask, where it rested on top of the flask’s rounded lip.
‘A pirate, that was it!’ John said, grinning. ‘How about it, then? We steal Mycroft’s car, drive to the coast and take over the first ship we see. We’ll be in the Caribbean in a week, India in two if you fancy it.’
‘That’s a very bold estimation of both the speed of our stolen ship and our sailing abilities. The Caribbean and India are also in entirely different directions. Normandy would be far more reasonable.’
John smiled. ‘I could always take you out on the lake after you’ve finished with dinner. Find you a wooden leg and a parrot from your grandmother’s taxidermy collection.’
Sherlock smiled. The sunlight was not as bright where they sat, in the shadow of the house, but Sherlock’s strange eyes still shone brilliantly.
‘We’d look the pair,’ he murmured, turning the passion flower over in his hands.
John smiled, huffing a laugh through his nose. ‘You’d look magnificent as a pirate.’
Sherlock ducked his head, looking like an overgrown schoolboy rather than the young man of twenty he was. ‘Not exactly the career choice Father has in mind.’
‘I don’t imagine that’s the case, no. Why don’t you see if you can use your... your deductions in your line of work? Is there a profession where you could do that?’
‘If there were to be one, I’d probably have to invent it.’
John smiled again. ‘You’d be brilliant at whatever you set your mind to.’
‘Well.’ Sherlock winced when his unsmoked cigarette burnt down to the quick, the heat biting his fingers. He threw it down the steps, ash scattering onto the wind. ‘I ought to go. My cousins have been running Mummy ragged.’ He turned to face John, resting his hand on John’s shoulder and then leaning in fractionally.
‘I really ought to go.’ Sherlock jumped to his feet, grabbing the flask again and running up the remainder of the steps, through the doors into the big house. John sighed and ran after him.
‘Sherlock!’ he called. ‘Sherlock, wait!’
‘John,’ Mycroft said as John stumbled into the big house just in time to see Sherlock’s heels disappearing up the enormous carpeted stairs. John stuttered to a stop, eyebrows raising. He hadn’t been expecting Mycroft to be there, but then, Mycroft was usually where you least expected him to be. He looked as put together and serious as ever in his three-piece suit, despite the blistering heat both inside and outside the house. He turned to listen to Sherlock run up the stairs. Sweat had beaded on his brow. ‘I don’t suppose you can shed any light on why my brother looks as though he fell in the lake?’
John frowned minutely. It wasn’t like Mycroft to have not deduced everything about the situation with barely more than a passing glance at Sherlock. ‘He fell in the fountain,’ John replied. ‘Well. Jumped in.’
‘...I see.’ Mycroft sniffed and dabbed at his brow with a handkerchief. ‘You will join us for dinner, won’t you?’ There was an odd look in Mycroft’s eyes.
‘I insist.’ Mycroft smiled his smile that wasn’t really a smile at all, just the slightest hint of gritted teeth behind stretched lips.
‘Very well then.’ John fiddled with the cuff of his sleeve, which was rolled up by his elbow.
‘You can tell me about your medical ambitions,’ Mycroft said, rocking up onto the balls of his feet, his fingers occupied with re-folding his handkerchief and placing it back in his breast pocket.
‘Oh, they’re not very interesting. Rather like me, I suppose.’ John laughed.
‘Sherlock finds you interesting.’
John’s eyes snapped to Mycroft’s. ‘He does?’ He looked away, embarrassed at his eagerness. ‘I rather thought he’d made avoiding me his life’s work of late.’
Mycroft’s lips twitched in a way John didn’t like. He walked a few feet to the door that led to one of the many drawing rooms the house held. John followed. ‘I’ve a friend coming to dinner. Giles Gilchrist, have you heard of him?’
‘Uh, the name’s familiar--’
‘He played rugby for one of the Oxford colleges until a couple of years ago. I know you’ve continued with it whilst at university.’
‘I’ve probably played against him at one time or another.’
A hot, stale breeze blew through the hallway.
‘Quite the bright young thing. He inherited a substantial gambling debt from his father and managed to pay it all off within a year of leaving university. Made a fortune in the gold mines in South Africa.’
John raised his eyebrows, attempting to look interested. For all his skill with reading people, Mycroft had always - and still did - carry on far too much about those people he found impressive. Sherlock, who couldn’t care a whit about power or money or influence, loathed him for it, and John found it rather tiresome. ‘It’ll be a pleasure to meet him. What time should I arrive?’
‘Drinks at half past six, dinner at half past seven--’
‘As usual, then.’
‘I ought to go.’ John smiled. ‘Ah... tell Sherlock that I hope his flask’s alright.’
Mycroft’s face was blank, but he nodded once. ‘We’ll see you at six thirty then, John.’
‘Half past six,’ John agreed, turning his back on Mycroft and walking out of the house, back down the path that led to the far more humble cottage he and his mother shared.