It came out of John’s mouth before he even knew he’d said it. One of those simple little endearments that develop in the first months of a romance that never really fade. One small word, four little letters, and what trouble they caused!
‘Wait – what did you say?’ Anderson’s eyes were practically bulging.
‘Babe? Seriously?’ Lestrade could barely contain his giggles.
They were both looking from John to Sherlock and back.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ Sherlock growled, getting up from where he had been crouching over the tyre tracks. He treated Lestrade to a particularly vicious glare. ‘It’s hardly saccharin. I’m sure my brother calls you far worse things when you’re in bed.’
Suddenly all the eyes that had been focussed on John and Sherlock were fixed on the Detective Inspector. If John had been less intimately involved, he might have described Lestrade’s ensuing eruption as magnificent. Unfortunately, he was rather too close for comfort.
‘Out! Get out!’ Lestrade actually shrieked. ‘Get out of my sight this instant!’
Bundled out into the main thoroughfare and far from the crime scene a minute later, John turned to his lover.
‘Think we could have handled that better,’ John said.
Sherlock’s phone rang.
‘You know who that is,’ John pointed out.
‘I’m not answering it,’ Sherlock scowled, and hailed a taxi. It rang three more times on the way home. Outside the Baker Street flat, a large black Mercedes was drawn up.
‘He doesn’t hang about, does he?’ John observed.
Mycroft got out of the car with a face like thunder.
‘I would like to speak to you,’ he said, and John could tell he was only just managing to keep his rage in check. Sherlock looked sullen, while John unlocked the door and ushered them in.
Significantly, Mycroft did not sit down when they got upstairs. He always sat in Sherlock’s armchair to annoy him. He made a point of it. Today, he didn’t even bother.
‘Do you have the first idea how much trouble you have caused?’ Another indicator of fury, John noted: Mycroft’s knuckles were white as he gripped the curved handle of his umbrella. His face was carefully schooled too, not a tiny twitching muscle to be seen. To John’s eyes, that was the most terrifying thing.
Sherlock flopped full length on the sofa, still in his Belstaff, and crossed his ankles, resting his shoes on the arm. ‘I don’t know why you are making such a fuss, I really don’t.’
‘You are only too well aware! It is crucial for Greg’s career that his position as my partner is not known, not merely so that he is promoted on his own merits, and without suspicion of my hand in it, but also because of the prejudice-‘
‘Oh, come on, Mycroft! No one in the Met is allowed to be homophobic these days! It’d be all over the papers in minutes!’
Mycroft rolled his eyes. ‘If you believe things change that easily, you are far more naïve than I ever gave you credit for being, little brother.’
‘This is my fault,’ John tried to interject. ‘It was me that-‘
‘You used a simple term of endearment,’ Mycroft snapped. ‘What you did not do, because you actually have some social nous, is to out my lover in front of half the Serious Crime squad!’
‘You really are over-reacting,’ Sherlock huffed, turning his back, and wiggling his plump arse suggestively for John’s benefit. ‘But if you really want, I will apologise to Lestrade. Just to please you. I shan’t mean it, of course. I don’t believe in all this staying in the closet rubbish.’
‘Some of us don’t have a choice,’ Mycroft barked. ‘You’ve wrecked the man’s career! I hardly think an apology will suffice!’
Sherlock sprang up, a blur of limbs, dark curls and vividly bright eyes. He stalked over and faced his brother, nose to nose.
‘Do you really so underestimate Lestrade’s capacities? You know damn well he is an excellent detective who will go far. It is you who is afraid to admit your position with him! It is you who are afraid that making your relationship public will require you to make a permanent commitment to him, thus making you emotionally vulnerable. You are afraid of commitment. You are afraid of your own shadow, brother!’
It felt to John was if the world held its breath.
The corner of Mycroft’s eye betrayed a minute spasm. Then he turned on his heel smartly, and left.
Two days later, Sherlock got a text from Lestrade, inviting him to inspect the site of a newly discovered murder.
John and Greg stood together, shoulder to shoulder, whilst Sherlock examined the kitchen of a chippy in Leytonstone, where a man had been found head down in a deep fat fryer.
‘Forgiven him, then?’ John ventured.
‘I may even have to take him out to dinner,’ Lestrade said out of the corner of his mouth.
‘Mycroft’s asked me to move in with him.’
‘Yep. Don’t know what Sherlock said to him, but it definitely solved the ‘failure to commit’ problem.’
Sherlock was grovelling on his hands and knees, trying to see under the steel kitchen cabinets. Greg and John watched appreciatively for a while.
‘Jesus, that’s a prize arse. How do you stand it?’ Greg observed presently.
John shrugged and grinned. ‘It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it.’ And then he thought he’d try his luck.
‘So what does Mycroft call you? Not Babe, I’m assuming?’
‘Come on,’ John urged, nudging him in the ribs.
‘Shagbeast,’ Greg muttered. ‘But don’t tell the consulting bastard.’
‘Just because my head is under the oven, doesn’t mean I’m deaf,’ Sherlock called, from underneath said cooking equipment.
And then he added: ‘Shagbeast.’