Mycroft Holmes was settled in his chair with a nightcap of brandy, carefully sorting through the events of the day and setting them in their right place in his mind, when his younger brother burst into his sitting room, followed by Mycroft's valet.
“Mr. Holmes, please wait!” Harrison was saying. “Let me announce you, at least!”
Mycroft felt himself twitch at the invasion into his routine as Sherlock lurched to a halt on the fireplace rug in front of him.
“No time for such trivialities,” he said. “Mycroft, I need your help. Urgently.”
Mycroft sighed but gave Harrison a nod to convey his acceptance of the situation. Harrison was an excellent servant, but no one could be expected to try and restrain Sherlock when he was in this sort of mood.
Harrison conveyed his apologies with a half-bow and then left the room, shutting the door behind him.
“How can I help you, dear brother?” asked Mycroft, allowing his tone to convey just how dear Sherlock was to him, given the interruption.
“It's Watson,” said Sherlock, flinging himself into the chair opposite Mycroft's.
That explained his agitation. There was very little that could affect Sherlock's emotions enough to leave him in such a state, but Doctor Watson was at the top of the list.
“He's sick,” added Sherlock.
“Then I suggest a doctor,” said Mycroft. “I'm afraid there are none here, but I can recommend Doctor-”
“One has already been,” said Sherlock. His hands opened and clenched into fists, and then he threw himself up and out of the chair in order to pace across the carpet. Mycroft noticed that the chair's antimacassar was now askew and fought the urge to straighten it. Later, once Sherlock had been calmed somewhat.
“It's cholera,” said Sherlock abruptly and turned violently to stare at the fire.
Ah. That was more than enough to explain the agitation. “I am sorry, Sherlock,” said Mycroft. “Doctor Watson is strong though, he may yet-”
“He's not,” interrupted Sherlock. “He does a damn good job of hiding it, but the fever after he was shot destroyed his health. It takes him nearly twice as long to get over coughs and colds than it does me. He is not- he is not strong enough to fight this off. The doctor said as much, and that the disease had struck particularly harshly. It is-” He stopped short, his whole body shaking with the tension it was under. “He has very little time,” he finished in a harsh whisper.
An unexpectedly strong wave of sorrow passed over Mycroft. Not so much for Doctor Watson, although he liked and respected the man, but for Sherlock. His brother had never been the type to make friends, but he was not suited to a solitary life in the way that Mycroft was. Doctor Watson's arrival, and the attachment that had grown between him and Sherlock, had been an extremely welcome turn of events.
“I am sorry,” Mycroft said again.
Sherlock took a deep breath before spinning around to fix Mycroft with a look. “I need your help.”
Mycroft shook his head. “What can I possibly do?”
“You have something,” said Sherlock. “Or, rather, the government does. Something that can cure people of the incurable. Something they keep secret and hidden.”
Mycroft kept a careful control over his facial expression. “Sherlock, what on earth can you mean? You can't seriously be suggesting that the government is concealing some sort of universal elixir from-”
Sherlock interrupted him again. Mycroft began to feel irritation at not being allowed to complete his sentences, but he supposed it was understandable under the circumstances.
“Four years ago, you were coughing constantly, with occasional droplets of blood. I saw it. You began to get thin – well, thin for you – and you became even quicker to tire than usual. I waited for you to tell me that you had consumption, but instead you disappeared for a fortnight on what you claimed was a holiday, which was ridiculous; you never take holidays. When you returned, you were entirely well.”
Mycroft held himself as still as possible. “I have no idea what you can be talking about. That holiday was merely to recuperate after a particular stressful period of work, during which time, I admit, I became run-down and suffered from a particularly tenacious cold, but-”
Sherlock scoffed. “Please, Mycroft. You can't possibly think that I would confuse a cold with consumption. I'm not one of your dull-witted minions. You were dying, and then you were cured. Whatever happened to affect that change, I demand you provide it for Watson.”
Mycroft allowed his feelings at that to show on his face. “You demand?” he repeated. “Sherlock, even if such an impossible thing existed, what on earth makes you think that you have the power to demand the use of it? It would be kept for only those who are indispensable to the well-being of the British nation. You can hardly claim that of Doctor Watson, for all his sterling qualities.”
Sherlock's eyes blazed with fervent emotion. “Then I shall make him so,” he said. “If you do not cure him, Mycroft, then I shall do everything in my power to work against this nation. I shall go to Germany or Russia or somewhere and work for them. Or perhaps I shall stay here and foment the common man into a revolution. Or the Irish, they seem ripe for violence. Or perhaps all at once – how long could this nation survive if all her enemies, internal and external, were to work in concert?”
Mycroft's teeth clenched together. “How dare you come into my house and suggest such treason? You cannot honestly expect me to believe that you would do any such thing. This is your nation as well as mine, after all.”
“I have no interest in belonging to a nation that will not save Watson,” said Sherlock. “He is the best of men – the best of British men, I should say. He is exactly the type that has made this country great.”
“And how do you think he would feel if he heard you swear to destroy it?” asked Mycroft.
“It doesn't matter,” said Sherlock. “If he dies, what does it matter what his thoughts are on my actions? If he were to have a miraculous recovery, however, imagine then how grateful I would be. I would feel honour-bound to help the nation in any way I could – any tiny, dull intrigue that you decided you need my assistance with.”
Mycroft pursed his lips. “This conversation is absurd, Sherlock. You cannot seriously imagine that we truly have the power to work medical miracles, and if we did, we certainly wouldn't hand it over to anyone who to decided to blackmail the government in such a manner.”
“Not to anyone, no,” said Sherlock. “But to me, perhaps.” He stopped and sighed. “I do not like threatening you, Mycroft. I wish I could believe that appealing to you as my brother would be enough but I know that in such a matter, you think as the British nation rather than as an individual. This is the only leverage I have over that.”
Mycroft considered. There seemed little point in denying that such a thing existed. What Sherlock said was true; he was not the kind of man who could be persuaded that he only imagined the symptoms of consumption. Mycroft could, perhaps, claim that it was only effective for consumption patients, or that it could only be used once, but he could tell from the way Sherlock's muscles kept flexing that he was not in the best state to listen to such rational arguments, let alone be convinced by them.
It was also highly likely that if Doctor Watson did die, Sherlock would hold true to every word of his threat. Grief did strange things to a man; their father had proved that rather well after their mother died. Sherlock was the very last person Mycroft would want to see become an enemy of the nation.
It was only after he had considered those factors that he let himself look at Sherlock as his brother, and not just as a man threatening the British nation. He was pale and twitchy, with his hair in the closest to disarray that Mycroft had seen it since he was a small boy. He had clasped his hands together so tightly that Mycroft's fingers hurt just to look at them. He looked the very soul of despair. Mycroft wondered, not for the first time, just how deep his feelings for Doctor Watson ran.
“Please, Mycroft,” said Sherlock, and his voice was twisted as tightly as his fingers.
Mycroft bowed his head. “Very well,” he said, and wondered how he was ever going to explain this at work. Perhaps it would be best if he didn't have to. Ah, yes, a change of location. “There is such a thing, but it is not as easy as an elixir. It will take time to prepare it, and then I will bring it to your rooms. It will be up to you from there.”
Sherlock froze for an instant and his jaw slackened. Mycroft realised, belatedly and with some irritation, that he had been fooled and Sherlock had not been as completely convinced by the existence of such a thing as he had claimed. Or perhaps he had not thought that Mycroft would give in.
“Mycroft,” he said with a gasp of relief. “I- Thank you.” It was restrained, but the look in his eyes gave him away as much as if he had fallen to his knees before Mycroft and wept over his slippers.
Mycroft hid his distaste at the emotion and reached for the bell to summon Harrison. “Get home and make sure your doctor stays alive for the next hour or two,” he said. “I will be there as soon as I can be.”
Sherlock jerked a nod and dashed out, past a disapproving-looking Harrison.
Mycroft met Harrison's eyes after he had pulled them away from glaring at Sherlock's retreating back. “I am afraid that I shall need to go out again tonight,” he said. “Please fetch my coat, and hail a cab for me.”
Harrison nodded. “At once, sir,” he said, and disappeared.
Mycroft finished his drink, and then stood up. He straightened the antimacassar on the other chair and went to put on his coat.
Sherlock shifted his head on the arm of the sofa but otherwise didn't move as John tried to type up the denouement of the thing with the trained cormorant last week without resorting to just hammering out STOP BLOODY STARING, SHERLOCK.
It had started a month or two ago. Almost overnight, Sherlock had gone from staring at the ceiling or the wall when bored, to staring at John with such a fixed look that John could tell he was taking in every minor detail and defect. Probably counting my grey hairs, he thought gloomily.
Outside, a lorry was backing up, making a beeping noise. John glanced up, distracted from the sentence he was trying to form.
“Delivery of soft drinks for Speedy's,” said Sherlock, which was the first thing he'd said in hours.
John glanced over at him to see he was still staring. “Right,” he said. “Thanks.” As if he cared what the lorry was doing, other than breaking his concentration.
“They're half an hour late,” said Sherlock. “The traffic on Marylebone Road must be terrible again.”
“Or the driver got lost,” suggested John.
Sherlock made a face. “What kind of a driver can't find Baker Street? Besides, you can hear that he's made it into the space first time. He's been here before – new drivers never manage to line up properly without a second go.”
The lorry went quiet, and then a door banged and there was a loud shout of greeting.
“See?” said Sherlock. “He knows Mr. Chatterjee. Rather over-friendly, though. I wonder if he knows that Mr. Chatterjee has slept with his wife.”
“Okay,” said John. “Um, well done, I suppose. Are you really bored enough to be deducing delivery drivers now?”
Sherlock let out a groan and rolled onto his back, rubbing at his eyes. “Yes! Nothing is happening, John! Why can't something just happen?”
“Plenty of things are-” John started to say, but was interrupted.
The whole building shook, there was a blinding flash and then a pop, as if a balloon had burst. John blinked against the light, and when he opened his eyes again, there were two men in the middle of the room.
He sprung to his feet, discarding his laptop and wishing that his gun was closer to hand. “Jesus Christ!”
One of the men was dressed in a three-piece suit, complete with cravat, as if he was going to a wedding. He was supporting the other, who was wearing a rather Nöel Coward dressing gown and wrapped in a blanket. His face was so white that he looked almost ghostly and, as John watched, his knees buckled and the other man had to cling on to him to keep him upright.
“Good evening,” he said, despite the fact that it was ten o'clock in the morning. “I apologise for the suddenness of our arrival, but could we put the pleasantries aside until my friend is in a bed?”
John shot a wild-eyed look at Sherlock, who for once looked just as surprised as John felt.
“Right,” said John. “Uh, of course.” No matter how completely inexplicable this whole thing was, he was still a doctor, and there was a sick man who needed his help. He hurried forward.
“Stop!” commanded Sherlock, darting to prevent John from reaching out for the sick man. “Don’t touch him until we know what’s wrong with him.”
“Nothing that is contagious through contact,” said the man in the suit. “It’s cholera.”
“Cholera?” repeated John, shaking Sherlock off and taking some of the weight of the sick man. “You’re sure? How long has he been ill? Sherlock, call an ambulance.”
The man stilled and turned to stare at Sherlock, giving him an intense look for a split-second before he shook his head and looked back at John.
“No. No ambulances, no hospitals. We cannot leave this flat. You must heal him here. You are a doctor, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” nodded John, taking a closer look at the patient and noting the signs of dehydration from his sunken eyes, clammy skin and chapped lips.
The man’s eyes fluttered open with a look of panic in them. “Bucket,” he croaked.
“Sherlock!” John commanded.
There was an irritated sigh from behind him but Sherlock moved fast to grab a bowl from the kitchen. He probably didn’t want vomit on the carpet any more than John did.
He got it to the patient just in time to catch the thin, watery vomit that came up. The patient groaned once it was all out.
“Keep your spirits up, Watson,” said the other man, stroking a hand over the invalid’s back. Huh, John shared a surname with him. That was a coincidence. “You will be fine now.” He fixed John with a fierce look. “This doctor will make you well.”
“Of course I will,” said John. “Come on, let’s get you into bed and then we’ll sort you out.”
“John,” hissed Sherlock. “These men appeared out of nowhere! You can't seriously be meaning to ignore that!”
“You can’t seriously expect me to ignore a patient,” returned John. “You’re the detective, you can deal with the unexpected appearance. I’ll deal with rehydrating this man so he doesn’t die.”
“A detective,” murmured the man. “And a doctor. You share the rooms? Yes, of course you do, look at the chairs.”
John ignored him. “We need to get your friend to a bed,” he said. “Sherlock’s room is closest. Through the kitchen.”
The man turned to look at the kitchen as if seeing it for the first time.
“Oh no,” said Sherlock quickly. “You can’t put him in my bed. Do you think I don’t know how much bodily fluid is involved in cholera?”
John glared at him. “We’ll buy you a new bloody mattress,” he said. “Go and open the doors for us. And get some binbags.”
Miraculously, Sherlock actually followed his orders. John and the man in the suit carried the patient through to Sherlock’s room and settled him in the bed, over a layer of binbags that John was hoping would work as a temporary mattress cover until he could work out a better solution. This would be so much easier in a hospital.
“Right,” he said, rolling up his sleeves. “Sherlock, get my kit. You-” He glanced at the man with a frown. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
The man paused. “You may call me Holmes,” he said as John took the patient’s wrist and began to time his pulse.
Sherlock, on his way out of the room, paused and turned back to look at him. “Holmes and Watson,” he said slowly.
“Yes,” said the man. He twitched his eyebrows in a manner that might have meant amusement. “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, to be precise.”
John turned to stare at him as well, losing count of his patient's pulse. “What?”
Sherlock made an irritated noise. “There’s no point in playing games,” he said. “Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson live at 221B Baker Street – the media have advertised the fact extensively. What are you really called?”
“That is what we are really called,” said the man. “I will explain it to you, but please, help my friend first.”
John shook his head and turned back to his patient. “Right,” he said quietly. “John Watson, then. We’ll get you fixed up, don’t worry. Sherlock, my medical pack, please. And you – Holmes – wash out this bowl and then bring it back.”
There was a long pause as both Sherlock Holmeses ignored him in favour of giving each other a long look, the new one with an air of amusement. John huffed a sigh.
“Now!” he snapped out, and Sherlock sent him a glare before disappearing.
Holmes gave a little laugh as he picked up the bowl and followed him. “That tone from Watson works as well on me,” he said.
John ignored him. He had a patient to deal with. Everything else could wait.
The doctor came out of the bedroom that Watson had been ensconced in, frowning to himself, although the look cleared off his face when he spotted Holmes.
“Don’t worry about scrubbing it too thoroughly,” he said. “He’s only going to get it dirty again.”
He grabbed a glass from a cupboard and filled it with water, then dug a spoon out of a drawer and added something from a small pot to the water. He stirred it and then pulled out a tub from a cupboard and added a few measured spoonfuls from that as well.
Holmes didn’t know enough about the probable path of the future of medicine to even guess what a doctor from this time might be intending to give Watson. If he'd had to guess based on the appearance of the substances, he would have said salt and sugar, but those were unlikely to cure a disease as serious as cholera. They were far more likely to be some kind of unknown drugs, ones that hadn’t yet been discovered in the world Holmes and Watson lived in.
Footsteps came down the stairs and the other detective came in carrying a bag – Sherlock, Holmes supposed he should be calling him, although it felt exceedingly strange to do so. Holmes hadn’t yet managed to get his head around the fact that there was another Sherlock Holmes, let alone one with such unruly hair. His fingers itched to offer him some hair cream to get it into order.
The doctor took the bag from Sherlock and went back into the bedroom. He should be John, although that was even stranger. John was a name kept for the dark quiet of the middle of the night, when endearments could be breathed against skin without fear of being overheard.
Holmes followed him back to Watson’s side, taking the bowl with him and settling down where it would be within reach of Watson if he needed it. Watson looked, if anything, even worse than he had a few minutes ago. His skin was a pallid, lifeless colour, and he could barely open his eyes when John carefully raised the glass to his mouth and encouraged him to drink.
Holmes wanted, more than anything, to be able to reach out for Watson’s hand but he was too aware of the observant gaze of Sherlock, who had settled against a wall and was watching the proceedings with a great deal of interest.
The water was not a success. Watson could barely manage more than a mouthful before his stomach rebelled and brought the whole lot back up. John frowned, but didn’t give up.
“He’ll only vomit it up again, John,” Sherlock pointed out as the doctor coaxed Watson into drinking more.
“Then we’ll just keep pouring it into him until he doesn’t,” said John. “This is only a stopgap measure, anyway. I need you to go to Boots and get some oral rehydration mix.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave you alone with these men,” said Sherlock.
John glared at him. “Don’t be ridiculous, Sherlock. I’ll be fine, but he won’t be if I don’t have the necessary supplies. Get some rubber sheeting as well, and we'll do what we can to protect your mattress.”
Sherlock scowled, but stalked out without more than a glare that John ignored.
Holmes hovered by Watson’s bedside, watching as John took a number of readings from Watson, using instruments that looked different from the ones in Watson’s kit back home, but which clearly had similar functions. John listened to Watson’s heart and took his pulse again, with a little frown on his face that made Holmes’s heart want to stop. Then he pulled out a device that was enough like a thermometer for Holmes to recognise that he was taking Watson’s temperature. His expression changed to reveal that the results from that, at least, were more encouraging.
“You can cure him,” Holmes said. “That is why we are here, because you would be able to cure him.”
“Don’t worry,” said John. “Cholera is curable, but it would be much easier if we were in a hospital where I could run IV fluids into him.”
Holmes shook his head. “We cannot leave the building,” he said. Mycroft had been extremely clear about that. The device Holmes had used to transport himself and Watson to a different time and, if he had understood Mycroft’s explanation properly, a different universe, only extended to the walls of 221 Baker Street. If they attempted to move beyond them, they’d go spinning into the ether and be lost forever in the void between the universes.
“Of course not,” said John. “Fine, we’ll do this the low-tech way, then.”
He pulled out another device and took Watson’s hand. “This may pinch,” he said, and then pricked his finger. Holmes twitched but restrained himself from interfering. Surely medicine had moved on from bleeding patients?
John held a device to Watson’s finger, there was a high-pitched noise and a number appeared on the machine as if by magic.
“What does that signify?” he asked as John frowned at it.
“His blood sugar levels,” said John. “Not great, but about what I’d expect.”
Watson made a small, distressed sound and Holmes was distracted from asking for further details. He leant forward to put his face into Watson’s eyeline. “Be strong, old boy,” he said. “You are going to get better.”
Watson rolled his eyes. “You must think I am an idiot,” he choked out, and then his eyes fluttered shut as if the effort had wiped him out.
“You really will be fine,” said John. “We just need to get fluids in you. As a doctor, you must know that the most effective treatment for cholera is oral rehydration therapy.”
“There is no effective treatment for cholera,” said Watson in a drowsy voice. “You just do your best while watching hundreds die.”
John frowned. “Not any more,” he said.
Ah, dangerous. Holmes interjected. “I’m afraid I’m a complete layman when it comes to medical terminology,” he lied. “Could you explain oral rehydration therapy to me?”
John glanced at him. “It’s a fancy way to say that I’ll be adding salt and sugar and a few other minerals to water and then pouring as much of it down his throat as possible,” he said. “To treat his dehydration; with cholera, it’s the massive loss of liquid that kills you.”
Holmes considered that for a moment. “You are saying that the epidemics that have killed hundreds could have been prevented by salt and sugar water?”
“Basically,” said John. “Decent sanitation would have helped as well, of course.” He picked up the glass he had set on the bedside table and handed it to Holmes. “Do you want to do the honours? Get him to take in as much as possible – small sips.”
Holmes just looked at the water in the glass for a long moment. Could it really be so simple? They had travelled through time and beyond their universe only to be given a glass of sugar water?
Watson made a faint, pained noise and Holmes recollected himself. “Come on, my dear man,” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed so that he could help Watson sit up a bit. “Time for you to take your miracle cure.”
Watson made an unhappy face, but dutifully took a sip when Holmes held the glass to his mouth.
“Leave it for a minute before he takes another,” said John.
Holmes nodded and settled next to Watson to wait. If this was what it took, then he would happily spend hours feeding Watson an entire bath of the stuff, sip by tiny sip.
He kept well back as John organised Holmes to help his patient out of bed for long enough to replace the bin bags with the rubber sheeting Sherlock had bought. He saw no point in getting that close to unpleasant bodily fluids if it wasn't going to help him solve a case.
“Right,” said John, after he'd wrapped up the soiled bin bags in several layers of clean ones. “disinfectant. Sherlock, could you get some made up in a spray bottle?” He looked at Holmes. “And we should both wash our hands in it before we carry on.”
Holmes made a sulky face, but complied. Sherlock took the bin bags away and put them in the biological waste bin that John had insisted he got not long after they moved in, and then went to sort out disinfectant.
He didn't often get to see John like this, competent and in charge, snapping out orders and expecting them to be obeyed. He rather enjoyed it, if he were to be completely truthful, but he couldn't let John know that. He'd have to start grumbling the next time John ordered him to do something.
After the patient was settled and John was content that he and Holmes had been adequately disinfected, they settled back in to feeding Watson constant sips of water.
Sherlock spent twenty minutes carefully observing the other Sherlock Holmes. If that was his name; it seemed unlikely that any other parents would be cruel enough to saddle a child with ‘Sherlock’. He was wholly focused on his companion, following John’s directions about feeding him slow, careful sips of liquid to the letter, and then stroking his back as he brought it all up again into a bowl without showing any frustration at the pointlessness of the task.
Using his phone, Sherlock carefully narrowed down the details of his dress.
“The late 1880s,” he announced. “Or early 1890s, but it’s hard to give a specific date.”
The man turned to look at him with narrow eyes. After a moment, he gave a little nod. “1891,” he said.
“What?” said John.
Sherlock sighed. “You must have realised that they’re from the past. Look at his clothes! Not to mention the looks he keeps giving your equipment.”
“They’re time travellers,” said John in a flat voice. “Right.”
“Almost correct,” said Holmes. “There was a device that was set to take us to a time when someone who lived in this house would be able to cure Watson, and it brought us here. However, although it could not move us in space, it did move us between worlds. You see, there is not just one Universe, but several-”
Sherlock waved a hand. “Yes, yes, parallel universes, we’ve got that. Your device moved you to a universe and a time when a doctor lived in the house you were in. Very clever, but that doesn’t explain the names.”
“No,” agreed Holmes. “That does seem a little peculiar.”
“Try another sip now,” said John, and Holmes’s attention immediately turned back to Watson.
“Oh god, do I have to?” muttered Watson as Holmes raised the glass to his mouth.
“Most definitely,” said Holmes. He cupped his hand around Watson’s shoulder as he sipped and then helped him lean back against the pillows, his fingers lingering after Watson was settled. He looked back at Sherlock and noticed the direction of his gaze, and immediately pulled his hand away.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Sherlock. “It’s not a crime anymore.”
Holmes’s expression was like stone. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Of course not,” said Sherlock, giving him a smirk. “Well, how about I just give you the information that John’s sister used to be married to a woman, and you can draw your own conclusions?”
Holmes’s eyes darted to John just as Watson’s stomach gave another heave. John held the basin for him as he vomited, ignoring Holmes’s wide-eyed stare.
“Your sister was married to a woman?” he asked. “Actually married? In the eyes of God and the state?”
“Harry’s not really one for God,” said John. “But yeah, the state recognised it.”
He didn’t bother explaining about civil partnerships, which Sherlock thought was wise. No point in complicating matters.
“So, if you want to offer your companion whatever comfort you want, don’t worry about us,” said Sherlock.
“I see,” said Holmes, but he made no move towards Watson. Well, that was his choice. To be fair, the man was covered in vomit and other, less agreeable substances. Sherlock wasn’t sure he’d touch him either.
He took a moment to imagine that it was John in the bed, and that he was actually allowed to touch him in ways that went beyond friendship. He’d been wanting to do so for the last seven weeks, after he’d glanced over at him one morning and realised he wanted to thank him for the tea with a kiss. To his annoyance, he realised that he’d take any chance to be allowed to kiss John, regardless of vomit. This whole thing really was not good for his self-respect.
It took two hours before Watson’s vomiting tailed off and John was able to breath a sigh of relief. The treatment was finally starting to work.
Holmes was working on getting the tenth glass of oral rehydration solution into Watson, sip by careful sip. John had offered to take over a couple of glasses ago, but Holmes had glared at him and refused his help in the most bitingly polite manner John had ever heard. He was rather impressed with Holmes’s patience – proof that although they shared the same name, Sherlock and Holmes were nothing alike. John couldn’t imagine Sherlock spending hours at a sick person’s bedside like that, not unless there was a crime involved.
Sherlock had remained in the room the whole time, but he’d brought in a chair from the kitchen and sat there on his phone, looking up god-knows-what. John was reasonably certain he was just waiting for Watson to get better so that he could ask Holmes a thousand questions.
“You could probably start drinking a bit faster,” said John to Watson, who was looking more alert, although still as weak as a kitten.
Watson let out a tiny sigh. “I’m rather bored of drinking now,” he said, but he did take the glass from Holmes and manage a gulp of it. His hand was shaking slightly. John could see Holmes watching it carefully in case he needed to grab the glass before it fell.
Even if Sherlock hadn’t decided to announce their visitor’s relationship status, John liked to think he’d have been able to tell on his own. Care and worry was in every move Holmes made and Watson had barely been able to drag his eyes from Holmes’s face to focus on the glass whenever he took a sip.
“He is getting better,” said Holmes in a voice filled with immense relief and obvious disbelief. “Watson, you are getting better.”
Watson gave him a little smile, then drank a bit more. “Well, if the Afghanis couldn’t end me, a bit of bad water isn’t going to.”
Holmes snorted, shaking his head. “That is not what you were saying twelve hours ago.”
Watson looked embarrassed and ducked his face, taking another gulp.
“The Afghanis,” said Sherlock in a low voice. His thumbs darted over the keyboard of his phone. “The Second Anglo-Afghan War. 1878-1881.”
Watson looked up at him as if only just realising he was in the room. “Yes, that’s right,” he said. “I was shot at the battle of Maiwand.”
“An Army doctor,” said Sherlock.
John drew in a sharp breath. He’d been too focused on his patient until now to really let himself think about how insane it was that two men with the same names as them had travelled through time from a parallel universe in order to reach medical aid.
“Maiwand,” he repeated. “I was shot about 75 miles further west.”
Both Holmes and Watson turned to give him wide-eyed looks. “We are still struggling to retain our grip on that part of the Empire?” asked Watson.
John let out a bitter laugh. “Not quite,” he said. Christ, how to explain over a hundred years of politics that had apparently changed nothing?
“John,” said Sherlock sharply. “This may not be the same as their universe, but we cannot risk letting them know how the future pans out.”
“Why not?” asked Holmes. “What does it matter if Watson and I know what wars the nation is fighting decades after we are likely to be dead?”
“For one thing, it's rather complicated and entirely pointless,” said Sherlock. “I’d much rather hear more about how you travelled here.”
Holmes shook his head. “I made a solemn promise that I would speak of that to no man,” he said.
Sherlock let out a long sigh. “Of course,” he muttered.
Watson downed the last of the solution in his glass and held it out to John. “I suppose you’ll want to refill this,” he said. John was rather impressed with how neatly that ended the conversation, as Holmes grabbed the glass from Watson’s hand.
“I have observed you mixing this solution often enough to manage it myself,” he said, and strode out to the kitchen to do just that.
Watson watched him go with a rueful smile, and then looked back at John. He hesitated at the look he saw there, then said, “He does not do well when there is nothing he can do.”
John snorted. “I know what that’s like,” he said, and cut his eyes to Sherlock, who huffed and looked offended, although John was sure he wasn’t.
“Right,” he said to Watson. “Are you feeling well enough for us to change the sheets and get you clean?”
“God yes,” said Watson, with feeling.
“Right then,” said John. “We’ll run you a bath, and while you’re in it, we’ll change everything in here, get it all clean for you.”
Holmes returned with the glass to hear the tail end of that statement. “No,” he said immediately. “Look at him! He is far too weak for us to risk such a thing just yet.”
Watson sighed and took the glass from him. “Holmes, please. Don’t be difficult. I am disgusting and wish to be clean; I know you can sympathise with such sentiments.”
Holmes’s eyes narrowed. “You will drink that glass first,” he said.
John gently cleared his throat. “Sherlock, go and run a bath. Holmes, I hope you won’t mind me pointing out that I’m the doctor here, and I’ll decide what my patient is ready for.”
Holmes glared at him and opened his mouth with a glint in his eye that John recognised from just before Sherlock verbally eviscerated someone.
“Holmes,” interrupted Watson. “Do not try my patience. I am ill and not in the mood to have to soothe any feathers you ruffle.”
Holmes shut his mouth and turned his glare on Watson instead, but he sat down by his side without further argument. “Just keep drinking,” he said.
John let out a sigh and glanced over his shoulder at Sherlock, who hadn’t moved. His eyes were darting between Holmes and Watson as if reading an entire book of information there. “Sherlock, said John, suddenly feeling tired. “Please, run a bath.”
Sherlock blinked and looked at him, then nodded without further argument and disappeared into the bathroom. A moment later, the sound of water filling the tub began.
At the present, it felt as if it might, although he was aware that whatever miracle the doctor had worked had pulled him through the worst of the crisis. If Holmes had not dragged him off to wherever they were, he would likely be lapsing into unconsciousness by now, if not already dead.
He had only confused, hazy memories of what Holmes had done. He remembered being pulled from his bed and kept upright more by Holmes’s strength than his own, while Holmes promised him in a voice rife with desperation that he was going to get better. After that, things became very confused and all Watson can remember is a sort of swirling blackness, and Holmes’s arm holding him up as if it were the only solid thing left in the universe.
The next time Watson had been completely aware of his surroundings, he was in this bed, being ministered to by a doctor he had never met before, while Holmes sat at his side and forced water on him. He’d caught bits and pieces of conversation, but he wasn’t sure how much he could trust to be real. Had Holmes really brought them to a different time just to find a doctor who could cure him? Watson wasn’t sure what to make of that, although he supposed that if anyone was stubborn enough to defy the laws of time, it was Holmes.
The scowling man that Watson was meant to believe had the same name as Holmes came back into the room.
“Bath’s ready,” he said. He eyed Watson with an intensity that made Watson think that there really must be some sort of kinship between him and Holmes. “He’ll need to be carried.”
“I can walk,” said Watson. He pulled back the covers and moved his legs around to prove it, and then found that he had to take a bit of a rest after that level of movement.
Holmes huffed out a sigh. “There’s no shame in accepting help,” he said. He put his arm around Watson and then glanced at the doctor. “On the count of three?”
John nodded, getting into place on the other side of Watson, and between them they got him to his feet and helped him the few feet to the door while Watson did his best to pretend he was managing it under his own steam.
The room they entered was clearly a bathroom, although it was unlike any Watson had seen before. All the fittings were recognisable and yet somehow alien, as if designed by someone from another world.
“Right, straight in the bath,” said John. “We’ll sort out your, uh, nightshirt in a minute.”
The bath was large enough for Watson to stretch out in and made of shining white porcelain. It was filled with hot water and as Watson sank down into it, he marvelled at how quickly Sherlock had been able to prepare this, with none of the tedious bucket-carrying that accompanied a bath back home. How wonderful it must be to have such a room in your own home.
“Right,” said John. “Off with your shirt now and we’ll get it washed.”
“I’ll do it,” snapped Holmes, as John reached to strip Watson. He gave John a glare that Watson had seen him give before to the occasional woman who had shown interest in becoming a doctor’s wife.
Watson couldn’t help from laughing at it, although he kept his thoughts to himself. John met his eyes for a moment, displaying the same amusement, but he moved back.
“If you want,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Here, you can use this flannel to clean him, and here’s soap. I’m going to change the bed.”
He gave Watson one last amused look and then left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Watson raised an eyebrow at Holmes. “You see what you get for snapping at my doctor? Now you will have to play my nursemaid.”
Holmes snorted. “As if I mind doing that, when it involves getting my hands on your naked body.” He knelt beside the bath and together they managed to get Watson out of the nightshirt, which Holmes dropped, sopping wet, on the floor.
“Oh yes, I’m extremely desirable like this,” said Watson, relaxing back against the edge of the bath with a sigh.
“You’re always desirable,” said Holmes in a quiet voice. He picked up the strange container that John had indicated was soap and frowned at it. “It calls itself ‘shower gel’. It claims to be ‘ocean fresh’.”
“Does it?” asked Watson. “Well, the doctor did say I needed salt as well as water.”
Holmes snorted as he sought to open the thing up. “I may not be a medical man, but I am sure that the ocean is far from fresh, and not at all suitable for sick people.”
“If that were true, what would be the benefit of a seaside holiday for convalescents?” asked Watson.
Holmes ignored that. He drizzled soap onto the cloth and started to wipe Watson’s body, and Watson relaxed back into the sensation of being washed clean. Holmes’s hands were gentle and from that Watson could tell how much he had scared him. Truth be told, he had scared himself as well. He had not expected to survive this.
And yet, here he was, and it was solely thanks to Holmes. He had truly achieved a miracle, and all for Watson’s sake. Watson tilted his head to watch the look of concentration on Holmes’s face, as if the task of washing Watson clean was worthy of all his considerable brainpower, and felt a wave of affection and gratitude wash over him.
Holmes glanced up and caught Watson’s eye, no doubt reading all he was feeling in an instant. He let out a long breath and for a split-second, all that he had been feeling broke loose of his iron control to show on his face, where Watson could read the remnants of his desperate worry and panicked fear. A moment later, he had ducked his head in an attempt to hide such things from Watson, as if he ever could.
“Holmes,” said Watson quietly, raising a wet hand to rest on top of Holmes's. “Holmes. I am fine.”
Holmes managed a nod. “I know,” he said. “I am- I am exceedingly grateful for that fact.”
They were silent for a moment, because Watson knew Holmes enough not to laden the moment with too much sentimentality, and then Holmes returned to his task.
“Are you going to help?” asked John.
“God, no,” said Sherlock. “I’m not touching that.”
John let out a loud sigh. “At least get me some clean sheets, then. And some clean pyjamas to put him in while we wash his nightshirt.”
He bundled everything up and took it through to the washing machine in the kitchen, to be washed with yet more disinfectant. Probably a good thing that John insisted on stockpiling the stuff for use after some of Sherlock's messier experiments, or Sherlock would probably have found himself being sent down to the shops again, like some sort of menial slave.
He turned to his wardrobe and contemplated which of his pyjamas he liked least. Not for the first time, he wished that John was just the tiniest bit taller, this time so that it could be his pyjamas that they sacrificed.
“Hurry up,” said John, coming back in. “If it helps, I’ll buy you new bloody pyjamas as well.”
Sherlock snorted, finally pulling out a set. “You couldn’t afford my pyjamas.”
“How much could pyjamas possibly be?” asked John.
Sherlock handed the ones he’d selected over. “These were two hundred and thirty pounds.”
John nearly dropped them with surprise. “Jesus! What- why?” He looked down at the pyjamas as if expecting them to be made out of gold.
Sherlock couldn’t keep the smile off his face. There was nothing quite like offending John’s middle-class sensibilities.
John rolled his eyes at the look on Sherlock’s face and then turned away with a muttered, “Git.”
He opened the door to the bathroom and exchanged the pyjamas for Watson’s sodden nightshirt, which joined the sheets in the washing machine, and then made the bed up with clean sheets. This involved him bending and stretching rather a lot, so Sherlock just quietly stood back and enjoyed the view.
“Right,” said John, standing back once it was done. “Let’s get him out of the bath and back into bed, before he turns into a prune.”
“Indeed,” said Holmes’s voice, and Sherlock looked away from John to see that he had appeared in the doorway of the bathroom. How long had he been there? Had Sherlock really been so wrapped up in watching John that he had failed to notice his arrival? That was rather worrying.
“I was wondering if I might bother you for assistance helping him out of the bath,” said Holmes.
“Of course,” said John, and he and Holmes disappeared into the bathroom together.
Sherlock let them go. No point in filling the bathroom up with unnecessary people, and it wasn’t as if he had any interest in helping a sick man get dry and dressed. Instead, he went into the kitchen. John had now gone without a cup of tea since breakfast, which had been four rather intense hours ago. If Sherlock handed him a cup now, he’d got a heartfelt expression of thanks and a smile. That was worth the hassle of putting the kettle on.
John and Holmes had Watson settled back in bed by the time the tea was made. Sherlock took John’s tea through to him and was rewarded with exactly the response he’d wanted.
“You’re a life-saver,” said John. He glanced at Holmes. “How do you take your tea?”
Ah. Yes, you were meant to offer guests tea as well, weren’t you? Well, there was more water in the kettle.
“I’m fine,” said Holmes, waving a dismissive hand and settling back down on the edge of the bed. His eyes were fixed on Watson still, as if he was the only thing he could see. Sherlock fervently hoped he was not as obvious about his feelings for John as Holmes was about his for Watson. But then, Holmes didn’t have to hide from Watson. It was obvious from every exchange between them that they were as settled and content together as any couple could be.
“Holmes,” said Watson in a weary voice, slumped back against the pillows in a way that made it clear that bathing had exhausted all his strength. “When did you last eat or drink?”
Holmes shook his head. “Unimportant.”
Watson made a frustrated noise and then looked at John with appeal in his eyes. “He takes it with a little milk and two spoons of sugar.”
“Right,” said John with a nod. He glanced at Sherlock pointedly and Sherlock sighed, but turned back to the kitchen anyway.
He was still faffing with mugs and teabags when John and Holmes came out of his bedroom, John practically herding Holmes out.
“He’ll be fine,” he was saying, “but he needs rest. Leave him to sleep for a while, and eat something before you keel over and we have two invalids on our hands.”
“I am perfectly capable of going without food for much longer periods than this,” said Holmes snootily.
“Don’t care,” said John. “Wash your hands again, then sit down and drink your tea.”
That was the tone of voice he used when he’d lost his temper with Sherlock and was going to railroad over all his protests. Sherlock frowned at the fact that he had turned it on someone else, but wiped his face clean when he realised Holmes was looking at him with faint amusement.
“Very well,” he said. “If you are sure that Watson will be fine.”
“Very sure,” said John. He hesitated. “Do we need to worry that you might get ill as well? Have you been drinking the same water?”
Holmes shook his head dismissively. “Not at all. I was not the one foolish enough to fall in the river and then swallow half of it.”
John nodded. “Good, then. Just keep making sure you wash your hands often, then. Last thing we need is another lot of vomiting, just after we’ve washed everything.”
Holmes glanced down at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. “If you think it will help,” he said, but he sounded dubious. He headed to the sink.
John let out a sigh. “Okay, good,” he said, moving to the fridge. “Sherlock, do we have anything we can- Oh.” He stared into the fridge, let out a long sigh and shut the door. “Takeaway, then.”
“We didn’t have much food in there anyway,” said Sherlock. “Certainly it wasn’t enough for four.”
“Three,” said John. “I don’t think we should risk giving Watson anything more than water just yet.” He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face, looking exhausted. “You order it, Sherlock. I need clean clothes. And probably a shower.”
Sherlock couldn’t agree more with that statement. John had been the one manning the bowl while Watson was still vomiting regularly, and there had been a certain amount of splatter.
“Go on, then,” he said. “I’ll sort the food out.”
John gave him another grateful smile and then disappeared into the bathroom. Sherlock couldn’t help watching him go, wondering what else he would willingly volunteer to do in order to win that smile.
Sherlock watched John leave before turning to Holmes. “Chinese or Indian?” he asked.
Holmes blinked. “I beg your pardon?” Was that some kind of coded personal question?
“To eat,” clarified Sherlock. “Do you want Chinese food or Indian? Or pizza? I'm not sure what other menus we have.”
How could you offer an entire culture’s range of cuisine as if it was one meal? Holmes shook his head and sank down into a chair. “It does not matter to me,” he said. “Choose whichever you favour.”
Sherlock made a face. “Eating is such a hassle,” he complained.
Holmes felt his mouth twitch with amusement. “My sentiments precisely. Watson always insists on it, though. I suppose yours does as well.”
“Endlessly,” Sherlock said in tones of deep suffering.
Holmes let his smile bloom fully. “And you always acquiesce,” he said. “But only for him.”
Sherlock shot him a look that said it all, before pulling out the black device he had spent so much time fiddling with while Watson had been suffering. Holmes took that as meaning Yes, but I will not say so.
He nodded. “How long have you been together?” he asked.
“Seven years,” said Sherlock.
“A long time,” noted Holmes. “And yet you are not married?”
Sherlock glanced up with a startled expression and then his eyebrows lowered. “We're just friends,” he said in what was almost a growl.
“Surely not,” protested Holmes. “If you have deduced the truth of mine and Watson's relationship, you must admit that I can observe the same between you and John.”
“Just friends,” repeated Sherlock. “He's straight.”
Holmes frowned. “Not crooked?”
Sherlock huffed a sigh. “Not bent,” he said, as if that were a significant difference. “He's not gay – not a homosexual. He's only attracted to women. Clear enough?”
“Ah,” said Holmes. He considered that. “No, I am afraid I do not accept that either. He clearly feels attraction as well as affection for you.”
“You've known him less than a day,” said Sherlock. “Don't presume to understand him.”
“It's my job to understand people and their motivations, often in far less time than that,” said Holmes.
Sherlock made a face. “Mine too,” he said sulkily. “I'd know if he did.”
Holmes allowed himself a disbelieving hum. In his experience, noticing that kind of attention turned towards yourself was very different from recognising it turned towards a third party, particularly when it was an emotion you strongly desired and yet had resigned yourself to never having.
Sherlock scowled. “Shut up,” he hissed. “It's not- he's not. We're fine.”
“You are not fine,” remarked Holmes. “You desire more.”
Sherlock looked away, back at his device. “More is unnecessary. I've got enough.”
Holmes could remember thinking that as well, before he was given more than he could have dreamed of. He flicked his gaze towards the door that hid Watson, wondering if he was managing to rest, or if he was suffering again. Perhaps he should check on him.
“If you go in there and disturb John's patient, you'll regret it,” observed Sherlock.
Holmes glared at him. “Very well, then,” he said. “Entertain me. What is that device?”
Sherlock glanced at the black box in his hand. “It's technically a telephone,” he said.
Holmes felt his eyebrows raise. “Without wires?”
“Yes,” said Sherlock. “I suppose I could say that it works on the same principle of a radio signal, but that's-”
Holmes shook his head. “I don't know what a radio signal is,” he admitted.
Sherlock let out an impatient sigh. He looked down at the device again, his thumbs tapping at it. After a minute, he looked back up. “Given the level of technology at the time you are from, I think I shall have to settle for telling you it's a magic box,” he said. “It links to a vast store of information that I can then read from the screen.”
He held the device up for long enough for Holmes to read History of Radio on the device.
“Incredible,” said Holmes. He spared a brief moment to consider how much easier his work would be with such a device. “And yet you called it a telephone?”
“Yes, yes, it phones people as well,” said Sherlock impatiently. “Incredibly handy, very useful, everyone should have one. Well, almost everyone does have one. Still, boring for me and irrelevant for you, moving on.”
“You are not an easy man to have a conversation with,” observed Holmes.
Sherlock made a face. “Conversation,” he muttered. “Pointless.”
“I have often considered it so,” agreed Holmes. “However, I do have a question, if you wouldn't mind answering?”
Sherlock gave him a wary look. “Go on.”
“What is the current date?” asked Holmes.
Sherlock blinked and then laughed. “I'm not sure the precise date, but I'm pretty sure it's late August, 2017.”
2017. Holmes allowed himself a moment to consider that. He was one hundred and twenty-six years in the future.
“It's September, Sherlock,” said John, coming back into the room wrapped in a robe and rubbing a towel over his hair. “September the seventh. How do you lose track so badly?”
Sherlock shrugged. “Dull,” he announced, as if that was reason enough. Holmes could sympathise. He could remember occasions when he had been surprised by the month and, occasionally, the season.
“What food did you order?” asked John.
Sherlock paused. “Ah, we were still discussing-”
“You forgot,” interrupted John. He let out a long breath and then snatched the telephone device from Sherlock's hands. “One day I'll remember I can't trust you with anything.” He held the device up to his ear and spoke into it. “Yes, hello, I'd like to order takeaway, please. One medium meat feast, one medium Hawaiian, and-” He paused, looking over at Holmes. “What would you like on your pizza?”
Holmes had eaten pizza only once, whilst in Naples on a case. He hesitated, not sure what sort of answer was expected. “Cheese?” he suggested.
John stared at him and then spoke into the telephone device again, “And one medium Margherita. The address is 221B Baker Stre- Yes, that's right.” John's eyes flicked to Sherlock's with a look that was equal parts amused and annoyed. “No, don't worry, he won't be answering the door.”
He pressed something on the telephone and handed it back to Sherlock. “They recognised my voice and told me they wouldn't deliver if you answered the door. We order too much takeaway, and you need to be more polite to the drivers.”
Sherlock made a face. “I merely informed him that his girlfriend had-”
“No,” interrupted John. “No telling anyone about their girlfriend, unless she's a murderer.”
Sherlock sighed. “You ruin all my fun,” he muttered.
“Not true,” said John, heading back towards the bedroom where Watson lay.
Holmes didn't bother hiding his amusement at the exchange when Sherlock glanced over at him. “Oh, shut up,” muttered Sherlock. “I should imagine you and your Watson are just the same.”
“Largely,” agreed Holmes. “Except, of course, he would have softened the instruction with a kiss.”
It felt so strange to say those words out loud, as a jest, and Holmes felt a frisson of danger run down his spine. He wondered what it would be like to discuss such things openly, rather than constantly fearing that every small look might lead to discovery and ruin.
Sherlock responded only with a sneer and a glance in the direction that John had gone. He fears being discovered just as much as I do, thought Holmes.
He left Sherlock's bedroom and headed upstairs to his own for clean clothes, ignoring the silent glaring match that appeared to be going on in the kitchen. It was enough to deal with one Sherlock Holmes, he wasn't sure he had the patience for two, not when he had a patient as well.
The doorbell rang as he was putting on his socks and he immediately ran downstairs.
“Don't get it!” he shouted to Sherlock.
“Wasn't intending to!” came the response.
John paused in the sitting room to grab Sherlock's wallet as revenge.
Sherlock and Holmes were still staring at each other when he got back upstairs with the pizza, but now Sherlock was looking annoyed and Holmes was looking amused. Yeah, John wasn't going to get involved in that.
“Food,” he announced. “Sherlock, get plates.”
“You're rather missing the point of takeaway pizza,” said Sherlock.
John glared at him. “We have a guest.”
“No, we don't,” said Sherlock. “'Guest' implies an element of invitation. What we have are invaders. They didn't even knock.”
“I apologise for the manner of our arrival,” said Holmes. “I am sure you can understand that there was no other way.”
“Don't worry about it, Sherlock's just being a dick,” said John. He looked at Sherlock, who hadn't moved. “Plates!”
Sherlock sighed, but managed to get to his feet and head to the cupboard.
John set the pizzas down with a sigh. “Why didn't I get the polite Sherlock Holmes?” he asked.
Holmes looked startled, and then let out a silent laugh. “I fear that none of my acquaintances would agree with that descriptor.”
“He's just trying to make me look bad,” said Sherlock, putting down the plates.
“He doesn't really need to try,” said John. “You do that all on your own.”
Sherlock sent him a false wounded look that John ignored.
They didn't get further than a few slices into their pizzas before the doorbell rang again, hard and insistent.
John glanced at Sherlock with a frown. “Client?”
Sherlock shook his head, “No, it's-” There was a thump downstairs as if the door had been forced open.
“Christ!” said John, standing up.
Sherlock looked at Holmes. “Get in the bedroom,” he commanded as footsteps started up the stairs.
Holmes hesitated, and Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “Now! You can't be seen.”
Holmes's mouth twisted into a sneer, but he disappeared into Sherlock's bedroom just as the flat door opened.
Mycroft stepped through, shooting a glare at Sherlock before looking around the flat as if searching for something. “Where are they?” he asked.
“Who?” asked Sherlock.
Mycroft let out an aggravated sigh. “Don't play games, Sherlock. I am endeavouring to keep this incident from reaching the ears of others in the government. Your cooperation would be advisable.”
Sherlock looked confused and gave his head a little shake. “I really don't-”
“For God's sake,” snapped Mycroft. He gestured at the table. “Three plates, Sherlock!”
John glanced over the table at the obvious signs that there had, until recently, been three diners.
“John was hungry enough for two,” said Sherlock. “I think his eyes are proving bigger than his stomach, though. Would you like some? Oh no, of course not, no carbs this month, isn't it?”
Mycroft shut his eyes for a moment as if seeking for strength. When he opened them again, he fixed Sherlock with a resolved look.
“Three hours ago, I was notified that an extremely top secret device had been activated. This device has only been used a total of six times in the last century. Imagine the reaction when it was ascertained that it was not activated at the location specifically designed for it – an extremely advanced set of treatment rooms in The Royal Free Hospital. Imagine, further, my reaction when I was finally able to narrow down the location where it had been activated, and found it to be my own brother's residence. Now, enough games. Who is your patient, Doctor Watson, and why have they avoided the official channels in this matter?”
There was a moment of silence while John tried to work out what response he should be giving. If what Mycroft was saying was right, then why had Holmes and Watson arrived in 221B instead of The Royal Free Hospital? Was their use of this device been illegal?
Sherlock's bedroom door opened and Holmes stepped out. “Sherlock's brother,” he said. “And you work for the Government.”
Mycroft turned to stare at him, taking in the details of his dress with a sharp look. “Indeed,” he said.
Holmes nodded. “I suppose your name is Mycroft Holmes, then,” he said. “That appears to be the pattern of the day.”
Mycroft frowned. “My name is not important,” he said. “Yours, and your purpose in abusing this device in such a way, is.”
Holmes pressed his lips together, considering for a moment. “There is a man in my, ah, world who holds what I imagine to be the equivalent of your position,” he said. “I have some small amount of emotional leverage over him, and so was able to secure his assistance when my intim-” he hesitated for a moment, and then his chin rose slightly, “-my beloved companion became gravely ill. Now that the situation has been resolved, we will return and remove your problem.”
“No,” said John, before Mycroft could respond to that. “No, he's not going anywhere yet. I want to keep him under observation for a bit longer to make sure he's recovering properly. It's not as if he can pop back if there are complications.”
Mycroft's jaw tightened. “It may be that I have to arrest your patient for treason,” he said. “If this device has been misused, that is a matter of gravest consequence.”
Holmes sighed. “It exists to ensure that those who are critical to the nation do not die prematurely,” he said. “Is that correct?”
Mycroft nodded. “Broadly.”
“It is critical to my nation that my companion survive,” said Holmes. “I explained that to the man who holds your position, and he agreed enough to secure me the device. I did not use force of any kind to get hold of it. When we return, I shall give it back immediately, without any intention to use or even speak of it again. What further reassurances do you require?”
Mycroft stared at him for a very long time and then made an unhappy face, before turning to glare at Sherlock. “I don't know why you always have to be involved in these things,” he said.
“Just to upset you,” said Sherlock with a flash of a false smile.
The effect was slightly ruined by the look John gave his plate when it was empty and his comment of, “We should have Mycroft around at meal times more often if it means you actually eat.”
Mycroft gave Sherlock a concealed smirk and Sherlock glared at him.
“You always did enjoy having a nanny,” said Mycroft, which earned him a glare from John as well.
“That's enough of that,” he said. “If you're going to hang about, you're going to have to play nicely with your brother. I'm not having you upset my patient.” He went back into Sherlock's bedroom.
“I'm sure my nanny said precisely that to me several times,” remarked Holmes.
“Ours certainly did,” said Mycroft.
Sherlock scowled at him. “She was an au pair,” he corrected, and stalked away from both of the insufferable bastards. God, he couldn't wait until he was the only Holmes in the flat again.
He followed John into the bedroom to find him sitting beside Watson on the bed, taking his blood sugar levels. He glanced up at Sherlock and twitched an eyebrow in a query that Sherlock ignored. He wasn't about to tell John that his brother and his- his counterpart from another universe had chased him out of their kitchen.
“Is he still recovering?” he asked.
“Yes, very nicely,” said John. He smiled at Watson. “I think we might try you on something more substantial now.”
Watson looked unsure. “I am not sure my stomach would appreciate that.”
“Just soup,” said John. “I think you'll find it okay, once we've started. I'll get Holmes to give it to you, if you like. Maybe he'll reward you with a kiss for every mouthful.”
Watson looked startled for a moment but then relaxed into a weak laugh. “Holmes is far too generous with his kisses for that to be an incentive, I'm afraid, Doctor. He would give them to me even if I didn't eat, just so long as I asked.”
“Sounds like you're lucky to have him,” said John.
“Oh yes,” said Watson with a level of contentment that Sherlock thought should be banned. “Is your Holmes not equally generous?”
Watson's eyes flicked over to Sherlock with an amused smile. Sherlock concentrated very hard on not letting his face display any of his emotions and watched as John's shoulders tensed up.
“I wouldn't know,” said John, in the terse tone he always used when having to correct someone's erroneous assumption about his relationship with Sherlock. Sherlock's teeth began to ache from how fiercely he was clenching his jaw.
I would be, for you, he thought. I would be so generous with my kisses. I would bathe you in them.
“Oh, are you not...” asked Watson, his eyes darting from John to Sherlock and back again. “I apologise. I had assumed that the pattern of similarities would continue that far.”
“It doesn't,” said Sherlock as heavily as he could.
“I'll get you that soup,” said John, getting up. He left the room without meeting Sherlock's eyes and Sherlock had to push down all the emotions that threatened to break loose. He turned his glare on Watson once John was gone, thinking that it really would be a huge relief once the flat was empty of all these Victorians, with their little insinuations and far too obvious happiness.
To his surprise, Watson was glaring back. “That was unnecessarily harsh,” he said.
Sherlock blinked. Had he missed something? “What?”
“You may not reciprocate your friend's feelings, but there is no need to be so callous about rejecting him,” said Watson.
Sherlock just stared at him, unable to hide his surprise at the accusation. “John doesn't have those kinds of feelings.”
Watson let out an exasperated noise. “Of course he does. Do you not see how he looks at you? I am not expecting you to return them, only to show some consideration.”
“I think you are misinterpreting modern body language,” said Sherlock. “Things are rather different than they were in your time.”
The door opened and Holmes entered. His eyes went immediately to Watson and a relieved smile broke across his face. “You are looking much better,” he said. “We'll have you up and chasing after criminals in no time.”
“Holmes, support me, please,” said Watson. “Tell this man that the doctor is in love with him.”
Holmes spared a split-second to glance at Sherlock before his eyes returned to Watson. “I already have,” he said. “They are both idiots, however.” He went to sit next to Watson, right where John had just been.
Sherlock let out an annoyed sigh. “I am not an idiot,” he started.
“Yes, you are,” said John, coming back in with a bowl of soup.
Sherlock subsided into an irritated huff, ignoring both Holmes and Watson's amusement. This was insufferable.
“Go and entertain your brother, will you?” said John. “I'm afraid that if he gets bored, he'll start planting spy cameras, or start a war or something.”
“Entertain him?” repeated Sherlock with disdain. “I'm not a performing monkey, John.”
“You're not far off,” said John. “Go on, off with you. Dance, monkey, dance.”
Sherlock left the room before he did something regrettable, like inform John that he'd only dance if John danced with him.
Mycroft was in the sitting room, reading the inscription in the front of one of John's books: the dictionary his grandmother had given him for his sixteenth birthday. Sherlock already knew what it said and didn't see why Mycroft should as well, so he pulled it from his hands, shut it, and set it back on the shelf where it belonged.
“You just can't help sticking your big nose into everything, can you?” he said, throwing himself into his chair.
“I was just checking to see if there were a photo of you underneath the definition of infuriating,” said Mycroft, moving to sit in John's chair. “I am not enjoying being here any more than you are enjoying having me here, Sherlock, but you must see that I cannot leave while those two men are here.”
Sherlock didn't bother responding to that.
Mycroft sighed. “I don't suppose you're going to tell me who they are,” he said. “It has not gone unnoticed how careful you all are not to use their names in front of me.”
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. “Not important,” he said.
“If it wasn't, you'd tell me,” said Mycroft.
Sherlock sighed. “They're called Charles Donaldson and Michael Harris.”
“Those are the names of two boys who were in your primary school class,” observed Mycroft.
Sherlock scowled at him. “Why on earth have you remembered that?”
“Merely to upset you, I'm sure,” said Mycroft. “Why have you remembered that? I'm sure I remember you announcing your intention to delete every single person you had known at primary school when you were twelve.”
Charles Donaldson had been the first person Sherlock had considered a friend, until it turned out that a truce over sharing colouring pencils did not translate into a long-term association, and Michael Harris had been the first person to call him a freak, gleefully repeating the word he heard his mother use after the incident with the dead rat.
Sherlock had no intention of telling Mycroft that, of course, so he merely shrugged and said, “I keep a stock of fake names handy. I couldn't tell you anything about the original owners of them.”
“Of course not,” said Mycroft with enough smoothness to advertise his scepticism.
He had come so close to leaving this wonderful, charismatic man behind. He could remember lying in his bed in their rooms, losing control of every bodily function he had, and knowing he was going to be dead within a day or two. He had tried to say goodbye to Holmes. He'd patted his hand and tried to gasp out words of thanks and love between fits of vomiting, but Holmes hadn't had any interest in listening.
You are not dying, Watson. I will not allow it, he had hissed, and then disappeared off somewhere. Watson had thought he'd decided he couldn't bear to watch Watson die, which he found understandable but upsetting. If those had been his last few hours on the earth, he would have wanted Holmes beside him. He would have wanted Holmes's face to be the last thing he saw.
Instead, Holmes had dragged him to another time, another universe, to find someone who could cure him. Was there any man more blessed in his companion than Watson?
“Right,” said Holmes. “The doctor is insistent that you attempt this, but we will take it slowly. Do give me enough notice to pick up the bowl if you begin to feel ill.”
“Of course,” said Watson. “I would never endanger your clothes, except in an emergency.”
Holmes held out the spoon to him as if Watson was incapable of holding it himself. Watson swallowed the contents without complaining. He did not mind being treated like an invalid by Holmes if it meant he was able to have him sat so close to him.
He leaned back after the mouthful to wait and see what impact it had on his stomach. He looked at the worried line that still creased Holmes's forehead, even now he was recovering, and thought again how lucky he was.
“Those two are first class fools,” he said.
Holmes did not need further explanation to know what he meant. He snorted. “Doubly fools. We are in a time where two men may marry, Watson. If we lived now, we could be as open with our affection as any couple. And yet they, who have this luxury, are too cowardly to reach out and take advantage of it.”
Watson could not hold in his stare. He had realised from the words and actions of those around them that he and Holmes had no need to hide here, but he had thought that was because their hosts shared their proclivities. To live in a society that treated two men who loved one another as it would a man and a woman seemed too fantastical and outlandish to believe.
“Marriage?” he repeated.
Holmes nodded. “They said John's sister was married to another lady.”
Watson felt his eyes widen. “Two women?” he said, and found himself picturing that.
Holmes humphed, and forced another spoon of soup on him. “Yes, all right, Watson,” he said. “Contain yourself.”
“No need for jealousy, old boy,” said Watson with a smile. “You know you are the only one for me.”
He used a teasing tone rather than a sincere one in order to avoid Holmes's inevitable reaction to such sentiment, but it was not enough to keep Holmes from pressing his lips together and looking down, away from Watson's eyes.
It was not that Holmes objected to such statements, or even that he did not return them, as Watson had thought when they first started on this road together. It was purely that he had no scope on how to handle them. It was as if every time Watson expressed his feelings, they came as a surprise to Holmes that his brain could not handle. Watson had hoped that time would cause him to become accustomed to such things, but it was obvious that it had not.
What will it take for him to accept and even expect such things from me? he wondered as Holmes fed him more soup. Surely it must be obvious to a great brain like Holmes's that Watson's feelings ran very deep, and were set to remain so for the rest of their lives.
“We could be respectable here,” he said, moving the conversation on. “That is an odd thought.”
Holmes snorted. “I am not sure I would ever be respectable,” he said. “Or that I would enjoy such a thing if I were.”
“No?” asked Watson. “Not even if you were married to a doctor? That's a very respectable position, you know.”
Holmes dropped the spoon back into the bowl. “You would marry me?” he asked.
“Of course I would, if you wished it too,” said Watson. The surprise in Holmes's voice hurt him. Had he really not made his position on this clear? “In a heartbeat. You must know I intend to spend my life with you.”
Holmes reached out to clasp tightly at Watson's hand. He looked as if he was suffering an emotional storm and Watson worried that he had gone too far. He clung to Holmes's hand in return and tried to manage a smile.
“Marrying a consulting detective would not be very respectable, of course. I'm sure my mother would be concerned at your lack of consistent income.”
Holmes did not appear to have heard him. He stared at Watson's face as if he could see through it into the reaches of his mind. “I would be honoured to marry you,” he said, just as the pause started to become uncomfortably long.
Watson went so far as to pull Holmes's hand up to where he could press a kiss to the back of it. “Well, that is settled then,” he said. “May I have more soup?”
Holmes collected himself and complied. They sat in silence as he fed Watson a few more careful spoons of the soup and Watson tried his best not to give Holmes a besotted smile between each one.
As the bowl began to grow empty, Holmes cleared his throat. “I have never put much stock in the importance of paperwork,” he said. “A signature on a page is not the crucial part of a wedding ceremony.”
“No,” agreed Watson. “It is the statements made by the relevant parties that is the essential element.”
Holmes nodded, staring into the soup. “Which we have already done,” he said quietly.
Watson reached out to touch his knee, unable to keep himself from touching Holmes, even with the bowl of soup between them. “May I have a kiss then, my husband?” he asked.
The look Holmes turned on him was one of the single most wonderful things that Watson had ever seen. The soup got carelessly pushed onto the bedside table and Holmes took hold of Watson's face in both hands, and kissed his forehead with every bit as much emotion as if they had just made vows to each other in front of a church full of people.
We made those vows a long time ago, thought Watson, bringing one hand up to smooth over Holmes's hair. There was something to be said for the verbal acknowledgement of them, however, especially if the feeling in Holmes's eyes was anything to go by. How had he not realised that Watson intended to spend his life with him? Watson would have to take care to make sure such things were more obvious.
“God, can't you two just get on for five minutes?”
“No,” said Sherlock, without looking away from trying to burn a hole in Mycroft's skull with his best glare.
“I apologise for my brother's behaviour,” said Mycroft. “We did our best to civilise him while he was growing up, but I'm afraid he was rather resistant to the process.”
“You're both as bad as each other,” he said to Mycroft, and then turned back to the kitchen to make tea. Maybe if he wasn't in the same room as them, he wouldn't give in to the urge to crack their heads together.
While the kettle was boiling, Mycroft's phone rang. He went out onto the landing to answer it and John let himself relax. If Sherlock and Mycroft weren't in the same room, there was a lot less likely to be a nuclear war.
Sherlock sidled into the kitchen a moment later, looking sulky. “When will those people be out of my bedroom?” he asked. “There's nowhere for me to hide from Mycroft.”
For a brief split-second, John thought about offering his bedroom and then he realised what a horrific mistake that would be.
“Behind the curtains?” he suggested. “Maybe under the sofa? I'm not sure how good Mycroft's hide-and-seek skills are, but beneath the coffee table is probably a bit obvious.”
Sherlock shot him a dark look. “His seeking skills are excellent,” he said, slumping into one of the kitchen chairs. “His hiding was never as good – too fat to fit most places.”
“Right,” said John, putting Sherlock's tea in front of him and then sitting down opposite with his own. He left Mycroft's and Holmes's on the side for now. “I suppose you used to find all kinds of improbable places to crawl?”
Sherlock looked briefly smug. “It took them seven hours to find me once,” he said. “I got out of a visit to Aunt Gladys's. She had fourteen cats.”
John winced. One cat was one too many, as far as he was concerned. He took a sip of his tea and for a few minutes there was the pleasant kind of silence that he and Sherlock had always found so easy to fall into. He felt some of the tension of the day begin to roll off him.
He was about halfway through his tea when he realised that Sherlock was staring again. He tried staring back for a bit, but that had no noticeable effect except to make his eyes burn, so in the end he settled for snapping, “What? Do I have something on my face?”
Sherlock blinked as if only just becoming aware that his gaze was resting on John's face rather than somewhere less intrusive.
“What do you know about the differences between Victorian and modern body language, particularly as pertains to two close male friends?” he asked.
John was completely taken aback. “Uh, nothing, I don't think,” he said.
Sherlock made a face that expressed how badly John had let him down with his ignorance, but also that he should have expected it all along. John was impressed with the eloquence of his facial muscles.
“Watson is convinced you're in love with me,” Sherlock announced. “I was wondering what cultural change might be responsible for that.”
John felt ice seize around his guts. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god. Seven years of keeping this buried deep so that Sherlock would never have even the slightest clue, and he'd been outed by a Victorian with cholera. How the hell should he react?
He thinks Watson is wrong, he thought. I just need to make sure he keeps thinking that.
Sherlock was frowning at him, obviously waiting for a response. John managed a shrug. “I don't know. I wouldn't have said we'd been very touchy-feely since they'd arrived. Or that we ever are.”
Sherlock shook his head abruptly. “No, no, it can't be that. You've been completely wrapped up in your patient. Perhaps there used to be some secret signal that you're unwittingly displaying.”
He pulled out his mobile and started jabbing at it.
John tried to imagine what possible secret code the Victorians could have had for 'I'm in love with my flatmate'. Morse code in knots on your pocket watch chain? Some sort of special way of tying your cravat? He wondered how Watson and Holmes had managed to sort themselves out, given the risks attached to confessing your love to someone when it might not only end a friendship and mean you needed to find a new place to live, but result in you being arrested. Somehow, he didn't think secret codes came into it.
“Google is being useless,” announced Sherlock, throwing his mobile down in disgust.
“Good thing you don't need to know how to flirt with any Victorians then,” said John, picking his tea up for another sip and wishing his hands were steadier. He needed to pursue that aspect of this topic and get away from the other part of it, and then he'd be safe. Probably.
Sherlock made a face. “Flirting,” he said with some disgust. “I've never understood the point of flirting. If you like someone, you just need to ascertain whether or not they return your feelings and then either keep quiet, or make a direct statement. Anything else just leads to confusion.”
“Flirting is 'ascertaining whether or not they return your feelings',” said John. “We can't all guess who's in love with who based on cravat knots or whatever.”
“With whom,” corrected Sherlock. “And don't be ridiculous, a knot doesn't signify anything. You merely-” He got out of his chair and moved to right in front of John, crouching so that they were at the same eye height. “-observe closely,” he said, leaning in and staring deeply into John's eyes.
John's thoughts went very slow and fuzzy as he found himself trapped by the closeness and intensity of Sherlock's gaze. A moment later, fingertips brushed against his wrist, right over his pulse point.
“For example,” said Sherlock, and his voice sounded as if it was coming from a long way off, “I can tell that Watson was wrong, because you are displaying none-” His voice broke off, and he frowned.
Shit, thought John. He desperately tried to collect himself, trying to squash his sudden and intense arousal back down so that he could present a purely friendly reaction to Sherlock. He wasn't very successful, particularly not when Sherlock leaned in even closer, so that John could feel his breath against his lips. Sherlock's eyes were still fixed on his, staring deeply into one and then the other.
“I'm pretty sure most people would count this as flirting,” John tried to say in an amused, jokey tone, but it came out as a rough whisper. Fuck, fuck, this was a fucking disaster.
A heartbeat that seemed to last forever passed while Sherlock stared at John with a face wiped blank of everything except surprise. John tried to brace himself for the inevitable rejection.
“Maybe it is,” said Sherlock in a voice just as hoarse as John's had been, and then he leaned forward the tiny distance to brush his lips against John's.
It felt as if John's mind had been wiped of all logical thought, until there was nothing but white noise left. Sherlock's mouth lingered on his for less than a second, putting barely any pressure on John's before he moved back, his eyes wider than anything John had ever seen, filled with a kaleidoscope of fear, hope, regret and something more, something John could feel reflected in himself.
“Sherlock,” tumbled out of his mouth, and then he put his hand around Sherlock's neck and pulled him back in. The kiss lasted longer this time, both of them moving in closer until Sherlock was kneeling between John's legs and John was leaning down so that he didn't ever have to let Sherlock's lips go again. He tried to pour all seven years of his repressed emotions into the moment, just in case this was it, the only chance he ever got.
Sherlock seemed just as desperate to get close to John, if the way his hands were holding his head in place were anything to go by, but John couldn't help fearing that this was some sort of misunderstanding.
From what seemed to be a very long way away, there was a long-suffering sigh. “Oh, good lord, Sherlock. Must you?”
Sherlock twitched and pulled away from John to turn and glare at Mycroft. John itched to pull him back in, but he let his hands fall, sitting back to put some distance between them. If Sherlock were going to reject him, now would be the most painful time to do it.
“Piss off, Mycroft,” said Sherlock. “Can't you see how very busy I am, and how extremely unwelcome you are?”
Mycroft managed a thin smile. “Indeed,” he said. “I suppose I should congratulate you both on finally coming to this conclusion, but I fear seven years is an excessively long time to take and does not merit any compliments.”
“Go away,” repeated Sherlock, sounding as desperate as John felt. “Leave us alone!”
Which, naturally, was when Holmes walked out of the bedroom. Apparently they weren't going to get enough privacy to actually talk about this.
John looked at him, eyes glancing down to the empty soup bowl he held, and a look of resignation passed over his face before his doctor's persona took over.
“Did he eat it all?” he asked, gently moving Sherlock back from between his legs so that he could stand to take the bowl. “Any bad effects?”
“Nothing more than brief discomfort,” said Holmes. And, apparently, enough sentiment to agree to marry a man who did not deserve it in the least, but Holmes was not willing to announce that.
Sherlock let out an irritated noise and stood, turning to glare at Mycroft. “I hope North Korean terrorists put a thermonuclear device in your cellar,” he snapped, and stalked out to the sitting room, where he threw himself onto the sofa and curled into a ball.
Mycroft let out a long sigh. “Juvenile,” he tutted. He moved towards a pair of tea mugs that sat on the side. “Is one of these mine?” he asked.
John gave him a more mature version of Sherlock's glare. “The blue one,” he said. He turned to Holmes. “The other's for you.”
Holmes gave him what he hoped was a commiserating look. “I am very much obliged.”
John managed a nod and put the soup bowl in the sink. “I'll just check on the patient,” he said, and disappeared.
Holmes took his tea – served in a mug, which seemed rather vulgar for a doctor, but apparently the world had changed in a myriad of small ways, as well as the big ones – and followed Sherlock into the sitting room. He settled down on a chair and wished, fervently, for a pipe. He patted his jacket and found that he had his cigarette case on him and felt a wave of relief wash over him. Not quite a pipe, but close enough.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asked, forcing the obligatory pleasantry out for the sake of maintaining good relations. He pulled the case out and opened it as Sherlock sat up with a jerk.
“Not at all,” he said. “Do go ahead, please.”
There was an air of desperation in his voice that made Holmes pause. “Would you like one?” he offered.
Sherlock's eyes lit up.
“John would not approve,” remarked Mycroft, crossing the room with his tea to settle in the other chair.
Sherlock glared at him and then deflated. “I'm fine, thank you,” he spat out at Holmes, as if the words were physically painful.
Holmes turned a questioning eyebrow on Mycroft.
“Mummy would not approve,” said Sherlock.
Mycroft appeared not to notice him, but he did refuse the offer. Holmes put his case away and lit his own cigarette, noticing with amusement how both brothers followed his first draw with avid eyes. He wondered what leverage from John and their mother could be enough to prevent them from indulging in the occasional harmless smoke.
John emerged from the bedroom. “The soup did him good,” he reported as he moved around the kitchen, mixing up more solution for Watson. “He's definitely on the road to recovery.” He turned to go back into the room and caught sight of Holmes's cigarette. He paused for a moment and his eyes flicked to Sherlock.
“Don't panic,” said Sherlock. “I'm being good.”
John gave him a warm, affectionate smile that Holmes was almost embarrassed to look at, given how much of his heart it gave away. “Good,” was all he said before he turned back to the bedroom.
Holmes glanced at Sherlock to see his reaction and caught the faintly disbelieving look of happiness just before Sherlock wiped his face clear of expression. Holmes took another drag of his cigarette to hide his amusement.
“I suppose I shall have to expect this over-the-top level of sentimentality every time I visit now,” said Mycroft.
“No one said you had to visit,” said Sherlock. “In fact, I've said the opposite. Several times.”
“Sherlock,” said Mycroft in serious voice, leaning forward in his chair as if to punctuate the importance of what he was about to say next. “Do not allow yourself to become taken over by this emotion. Retain some level of rationality, or you will regret it.”
Holmes allowed himself a bark of laughter at that. “No, you won't,” he said. “If your John is anything like mine, then the more you indulge in this emotion, the greater the rewards.”
Mycroft turned a condescending frown on him. “The practice of logic does not allow for the vagaries of emotion,” he said. “If it cannot be avoided, then it should, at least, be minimised.”
“That's what I used to think,” said Holmes. “And then I discovered that emotion has little or no impact on logic, but that attempting to repress what comes naturally into your heart is an exercise doomed to failure, one that clutters up your mind with unnecessary barriers. That has a far more detrimental effect on a brain than the original emotion.”
“This has nothing to do with either of you,” said Sherlock. “Leave it alone.”
Holmes shrugged and took another drag at his cigarette.
“Sherlock,” said Mycroft with a sigh. “This is-”
“Mummy did all her best work after she met Father,” interrupted Sherlock. “Stop offering advice on subjects that you have no practical experience with, it makes you look like an idiot. No, on second thoughts, keep doing it. Looking like an idiot suits you.”
Holmes took one last drag of his cigarette and glanced around for an ashtray. The flat was surprisingly void of them, so he tossed it into the fireplace instead and stood up. Time to get back to Watson. Back to his husband. He allowed himself the tiniest smile at that thought. It seemed incredible that Watson should have agreed to such a thing, let alone suggested it himself. It filled Holmes with a level of emotion that he would once have feared would impair his intellect, but he was certain now that nothing about Watson could ever have a negative effect on him. Nothing except his absence, at any rate, and it seemed now that Holmes would never have to experience that.
He shut his eyes and let himself pull up the memory of John's face earlier, the look of desperate desire in his eyes that he'd been unable to hide. The stutter of his pulse as Sherlock had moved closer, the undeniable evidence that Sherlock wasn't as alone in his feelings as he'd thought. And then that kiss – not the first one, when Sherlock had been so afraid that he was making a mistake that he'd barely been able to bring himself to touch his lips to John's – but the second one, the perfect one when John had given himself over to Sherlock as easily as if it was something he'd always wanted to do.
Perhaps it had been. The look on his face could have indicated as much, but could Sherlock really believe that he'd managed to miss something this big and important for seven years? Something he'd wanted so badly that he'd lain awake at night thinking about it?
Emotions really were excruciatingly difficult to navigate. He needed to get John alone, he needed to kiss him again and find out how much more John was willing to give him. He needed to force out a confession of his feelings in the hope that John would return it with his own, and he needed to do it all without bloody Mycroft in the way.
Mycroft cleared his throat. “Sherl-”
“No,” said Sherlock. “Enough. You've given your opinion, now you can shut up.”
Mycroft sighed but didn't speak, thank god.
A moment later, John came out of Sherlock's bedroom, looking amused. “Apparently I'm superfluous.”
Sherlock leapt to his feet. “Excellent,” he said. “In that case, I need a moment of your time.” He glanced at Mycroft. “In private.”
John smiled at him. “Come up to my bedroom, then,” he said, and there was a note of invitation in his voice that threatened to make Sherlock's heart pound out of his chest.
Mycroft made a pained noise. “Do try to keep the noise down,” he said.
John shot him a look and then glanced at Sherlock with a smirk of pure mischievousness that Sherlock wanted to kiss off his lips. I can now, he thought.
He followed John out of the room and up a flight of stairs which had never seemed quite as long as it did then. When they reached John's bedroom, Sherlock shut the door behind them and then looked at John, not sure what to do now. Was there something he should be saying, or could they jump straight to the kissing?
John stared at him for a moment, looking just as confused as Sherlock felt, but then a smile creased his face and he shook his head ruefully. “Yeah, I'm no good at this bit either,” he said.
Sherlock blinked. “Which bit?”
“The talking bit,” said John. Ah, Sherlock was meant to be saying something. John took a deep breath. “Look, Sherlock, this is- this is a big deal to me, okay? If it's not to you, then we can just- just pretend it didn't happen, but I don't want to lose-”
That was enough talking, Sherlock decided. He stepped forward and took John's hands, shocking him into silence. “It's an extremely big deal,” he reassured John. “It's seven years of big deal.” John gave him a surprised look that morphed into pleasure and Sherlock couldn't stop himself from kissing him, just as he hadn't been able to in the kitchen.
That stopped the talking bit rather nicely, particularly as there was no irritating big brother to walk in on them this time. Sherlock kissed John just as he'd been wanting to ever since his epiphany several weeks ago, letting his hands wander over John's back, tracing the lines of his shoulder blades and then dipping to take in the dimensions of his waist. He couldn't imagine ever being able to stop kissing him, kiss after kiss, lips and tongue exploring John's mouth while John melted into the embrace, his own hands clinging to Sherlock as if afraid he'd disappear.
“God,” exhaled John in the brief gap between kisses. “Why is the flat full of bloody Victorians?”
“And Mycroft,” Sherlock reminded him, taking John's face in his hands so that he could run his thumbs over his temples, up into his hair.
John giggled. “Sherlock, he wears waistcoats. He is a bloody Victorian.”
That was a rather excellent point, so Sherlock rewarded him with another kiss. He was achingly aware that there was a bed only two steps behind John. Two steps, and he could have him spread out on his back, pressed beneath Sherlock's body. Or the other way round, Sherlock wasn't picky. He just wanted it to happen soon.
He let his hands fall to John's arse, cupping his hands around it and pulling him in closer, to where their hips slotted together and he could feel John's erection pressed against his thigh. God, yes, he thought.Please.
John moaned into his mouth and pushed against Sherlock's thigh, then made an irritated noise and pulled away. “God, we really can't,” he said. “I've got a patient.”
“You said you were superfluous,” said Sherlock, trying to distract him with another kiss.
John put a hand on his chest to keep him back and took a step away. “I'm not superfluous until he's well again.”
Sherlock sighed, but relented. “And how long will that take?” he asked. “When can we send them home, and get rid of Mycroft?”
John hesitated, and then made an annoyed face. “I wish I could say soon, but I should probably keep an eye on him until at least tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” repeated Sherlock. He ran his hands into his hair and clung on with frustration. “That means they'll be here over night! All of them – Mycroft as well.”
John frowned. “Christ, where are they all going to sleep? I suppose Holmes will want to be in with Watson. Do you think Mycroft will mind the sofa?”
That hadn't been Sherlock's point at all, but he was distracted from pointing that out by a thought. “If Mycroft's on the sofa and the Victorians are in my bed, where am I sleeping?”
John blinked, and then his eyes skittered over to his own bed. “Oh, I thought- That is-”
“Yes,” said Sherlock immediately. “Yes, that's- that would be good. Very good.” God, maybe there was a point to Mycroft after all, if his presence meant Sherlock got to share John's bed.
The door of Sherlock's bedroom opened and the visitor emerged, carrying an empty glass. He glanced around at the room.
“Where are our hosts?” he asked.
Mycroft allowed himself a moment of displeasure. “They have retired to John's room, briefly.”
The visitor let a smirk cross his face before he set about refilling the glass with the mix that John had prescribed for his companion. “Good for them,” he said.
Mycroft did not agree, but he did not voice his opinion. He had long ago accepted that his opinions on romantic attachments were at odds with the rest of the population. He had thought that Sherlock, at least, was intelligent enough to share them. It was rather disappointing to find that he was one of the plebeians on this matter after all.
The visitor went back into the bedroom with his full glass and Mycroft returned his attention to his phone, and the latest report from his agent at the UN.
Not long passed before the visitor emerged again, shutting the door quietly behind him. “He has fallen asleep,” he announced, as if Mycroft had any interest in the state of the patient.
The visitor came into the sitting room and sat down, pulling out his cigarette case. “Can I tempt you this time?” he asked, taking one out for himself.
Mycroft hesitated, but he had been so very good today, with all of Sherlock's teasing over the pizza. He held out a hand. “Very kind of you,” he said.
As the visitor took another cigarette from the case, he moved it to an angle from which Mycroft was able to see the initials engraved on it. A deduction that he had been seventy-three percent sure of became a ninety-eight percent near-certainty.
Mycroft took the cigarette and lit it, and then relaxed back in his chair to observe the visitor. “I've met your brother,” he said.
Sherlock Holmes flinched and stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”
Mycroft allowed himself a small smile. “A man in my position who you hold emotional leverage over?” he said, repeating the man's earlier words. “I don't believe that emotional leverage alone would be enough to persuade Mycroft Holmes – any Mycroft Holmes – to allow you access to this device.”
Holmes relaxed back, although his eyes were still bright and wary. “That is true,” he acknowledged. “However, a brother knows what other leverage might tip the balance. It took less than I thought to gain his acquiescence. He was here with consumption, I take it?”
Mycroft nodded, allowing that piece of information out. “For six months,” he said. “I visited often, to monitor his condition and the use of the device, and I grew to know him rather well. I am not sure what other leverage might have any effect on a man of his calibre.”
They had played a great deal of chess together, which Mycroft had enjoyed more than he'd expected. It had been extremely interesting to have an equal intellect on the other side of the board, stretching his abilities beyond anything he had experienced since he was very young. Sherlock, naturally, had started to refuse to play chess as soon as he realised how much Mycroft enjoyed it.
Holmes ignored the unspoken question. “Six months?” he repeated. “Ah. He was only gone from my world for two weeks.”
Mycroft waved that aside impatiently. “It is a time machine. It can deliver you home at any time you wish. It was felt two weeks was long enough to explain the improvement in his health without risking your nation being too long without him.”
Holmes nodded. “He is rather vital to our government,” he agreed.
“And your companion?” asked Mycroft. “I suppose he is called John Watson. Is he also vital to your government? That is not how I would describe the John Watson of this world.”
“He is vital,” said Holmes, heavily. “I do not pretend to know the details of your world, or the ways in which it differs from mine. Other than the obvious,” he said, glancing at Mycroft's mobile.
That was not a solid yes. Mycroft wondered just how badly the other Mycroft had allowed himself to be manipulated by his younger brother's desperation, and what he would do if Sherlock came to him in a similar situation. He thought he would be able to hold firmer than the other Mycroft had. Mycroft had very much enjoyed his company, and had especially appreciated the ways in which their thoughts turned in the same direction, but he had noted that the other Mycroft had a tendency to sentimentality that was deeply-buried, but none-the-less stronger than anything Mycroft himself had ever felt.
“I wondered if I might ask a favour,” said Holmes.
Mycroft indicated, with a raised eyebrow, just how unlikely it was that he would ever deign to do a favour for someone who was misusing government property. Holmes continued speaking anyway.
“I do not understand much of this world and I wanted to, ah, procure something before our return. I was wondering if you could help me. I am sure you know the limitations imposed by the device.”
The device would not allow travellers to leave the immediate confines of the building they were in. That was the reason why the Government had built an exclusive treatment facility at The Royal Free Hospital in order to house the device, and any patients that came from the past via it.
“You should not take back any anachronistic items,” said Mycroft, wondering just what it was that a Victorian might want to take back with him. Some form of technology? Without the facility to plug it in to an electrical socket, that would be rendered useless within hours. A history book, detailing all the events yet to happen in his world? Possible, but Holmes couldn't possibly imagine that Mycroft would agree to such a thing.
“It is nothing that I could not procure when home,” said Holmes. “Although, if I did, it would leave me open to a considerable scandal, which I wish to avoid.” He hesitated, and then firmed his jaw and gave Mycroft a resolute look. “I require two gold rings, with a small amount of engraving.”
Mycroft let out a groan and put his head in his hands. “Is this whole flat saturated with unnecessary sentiment?”
“I do not feel any of it is unnecessary,” said Holmes. “However, I don't intend to argue with you over it. Merely answer me this: how difficult would it be for me to procure such a thing?”
Mycroft glanced at the time. “The jewellers will still be open, so as long as you don't mind paying extra for a rushed job, it would be rather simple.” He returned his gaze to Holmes. “If you had any modern currency and were able to leave the house to do so, of course.”
Holmes frowned to himself and then locked his eyes on Mycroft's. “You could use your telephone to arrange the matter,” he said.
“I could,” agreed Mycroft.
Holmes nodded. He took a deep breath. “What would you ask in return? I am willing to do almost anything, within reason.”
Mycroft thought about that for a minute, regarding the man opposite carefully. He allowed himself a smile. “I'm sure we could come to an arrangement,” he said. Yes, this could work out very well.
“Good God,” said Sherlock. “Mycroft, you've finally found a friend. What did you do to talk him into that?”
“Just because you've never truly appreciated the pure intellectual challenge of this game,” said Mycroft.
Sherlock snorted. “Watch out,” he said to Holmes. “He's an exceedingly bad loser.”
“I am sure I will be fine,” said Holmes, not taking his eyes off the board.
John shook his head and left them all to it in favour of checking on his patient.
Watson was asleep. John was pleased to note that the glass by his bed was mostly empty and that he looked much better. John was confident that he would recover well now. That said, he still didn't want to expose him to a trip through time and between parallel universes until at least the next morning. After all, he hadn't actually covered the effects of that on a patient in his medical degree, so who knew what it might do?
Watson stirred as John was taking his pulse, blinking his eyes open to look at him.
“Sorry,” said John. “I'll leave you to sleep in a minute.”
“It is fine,” said Watson. “I understand that you need to monitor my condition.”
John smiled. “It's always nice treating another doctor,” he said. “None of this quibbling over why I need to do so many tests, or 'forgetting' to take medication.”
Watson let out a dry laugh. “I think treating doctors creates its own set of problems.”
“Well, that's true,” agreed John. “You've been pretty good, though. Thanks for that.”
Watson shrugged. “In this situation, I am as ignorant as any layman,” he said. “I do not understand how you managed to turn my condition around so completely. I should have died.”
John patted his shoulder. “It's amazing the effect that a hundred years of medical advances can have,” he said. “I'm sure if you went back from your time a hundred and thirty years, you'd have enough knowledge to make contemporary doctors feel equally ignorant.”
Watson considered that. “Perhaps,” he said. “I would at least be able to point to the source of the choleric outbreak, although that would not cure those already afflicted.”
“The best medicine is preventative,” said John. “Keeping people from getting ill in the first place may not look as flashy as a miracle cure, but it's a lot better for them.”
Watson nodded his agreement. “Indeed,” he said.
“Right,” said John. “You're pretty much solidly on the road to recovery, but I'm going to keep you here overnight just to be sure. Keep drinking as much as you can, and I'll bring you some dinner in a bit. The more you eat and drink, the faster you'll regain normal digestive function. If you're as well as I think you'll be tomorrow, I'll let your Holmes take you home.”
“My Holmes,” said Watson with a smile. “Yes.” He hesitated, then added, “I am sorry to have imposed on you like this. I hope my presence has not created a problem with the sleeping arrangements.”
“No, it's fine,” said John. “If you don't mind Holmes spending the night in here with you. I'll bring in one of the chairs for him – if he's anything like Sherlock, he won't be interested in sleeping.”
Watson smiled. “That is true,” he agreed. “Although, sharing a bedchamber would only be appropriate.” He hesitated and then gave John a small, almost shy smile. “We agreed that we consider ourselves to be married,” he confessed.
John couldn't keep himself from grinning back. “Congratulations,” he said, patting Watson's shoulder. “I hope you're very happy together.”
“Oh, we will be,” said Watson with certainty. “Well, for the majority of the time. I daresay he'll manage to stir me into blinding rage about once a week.”
John laughed. “Sounds just like my Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “Still, if they were less infuriating, they wouldn't be as much fun to be around, right?”
“Oh yes,” agreed Watson. “Don't tell them that, though, or they'll just find new levels to strive for.”
“God, yes,” said John. He glanced at the glass, mentally tallying how much liquid he'd managed to get into Watson over the course of the day. It should have been enough to balance out the effects of the vomiting and diarrhoea, but it didn't hurt to be certain.
“My Holmes said it appeared that you and yours had come to, ah, an understanding,” said Watson tentatively.
John couldn't keep in his smirk, remembering how Sherlock had kissed him upstairs with just as much desperation and want as John felt. John had come very close to giving in to the lure of the bed, despite the fact that he had a patient downstairs, as well as two other guests. “Yeah, you could say that,” he said.
“Good,” said Watson, with satisfaction. “I hope you are just as happy as Holmes and I are. It will be nice to think that somewhere in the future, there is a marriage certificate for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, even if it is not in our universe.”
God, that was moving a bit quick, wasn't it? “Ah,” said John. “I'm not sure- I don't know if he's the marrying type.”
“He is,” said Watson with conviction. “He is very like my Holmes, you know. My Holmes needed the reassurance that I intend to spend my life with him. I suspect yours will too.”
John just made an agreeing sort of noise and changed the subject. “I'll top up your glass,” he said. “You still need to be drinking as much as possible.”
“Of course,” agreed Watson, with a look that said he knew exactly why John was prevaricating.
As he left the room, he heard Watson murmur, almost to himself. “I suspect you need the reassurance as well.” John steadfastly ignored him.
“Again,” said Mycroft as Holmes conceded his king.
Holmes started to reset the board, reflecting that this Mycroft's appetite for chess was also as insatiable as his brother's was.
Sherlock, who was pretending not to watch from the sofa, snorted. “Really, Mycroft, give the poor man a break.”
“It is fine,” said Holmes. An evening of being beaten at chess was more than worth getting to present Watson with a ring at the end of it. Besides, he thought he was beginning to recognise Mycroft's usual strategies, and so would soon be able to counter them.
It was his turn to play as white, so he made his first move. A few minutes of game play continued, until Sherlock let out a long sigh and moved to perch on the arm of Holmes's chair so that he could see better.
“You'll never beat him like that,” he said. “You're trying to attack all the time, but he's not giving you a chance to get started on that. You need to-”
He paused, glared at Mycroft, and then bent to whisper a suggested strategy in Holmes's ear. It was an extremely sound plan, although after a moment's consideration, Holmes decided on a minor alteration, to avoid the most obvious weak point within it.
“I'm not sure it's fair for you both to play against me,” said Mycroft.
“Nonsense,” said Sherlock. “You love it. You've been trying to get me to play you for decades.”
Mycroft made an exasperated face but Holmes could tell that Sherlock was telling the truth.
John came out of the bedroom and Holmes looked around to check that he didn't look concerned. He gave Holmes a smile and came into the sitting room to settle on the sofa. “He's asleep again,” he said.
Holmes nodded and looked back at the game.
“Oh god,” said John, glancing down at it. “Please tell me this isn't going to end with the board skewered to our wall.”
“Don't worry, John,” said Sherlock, leaving the arm of Holmes's chair to collapse beside John. Holmes noticed that he left no space between them but didn't reach out to touch, despite the twitch of his fingers that betrayed how much he wished to. “I'm not playing, and those two are both too polite to destroy someone else's wallpaper like that.”
John gave him a blinding grin. “Thank god for that,” he said, and his hand crept out to settle over Sherlock's with an element of hesitation that was unwarranted, as Sherlock immediately grasped John's fingers in reply and gave him a beaming smile.
“Lord, save me from the 'honeymoon stage',” muttered Mycroft, making another move.
The rest of the room ignored him. Holmes considered his choices and what Sherlock had suggested, and made his move in response, earning a faint eyebrow raise and an exhalation from Mycroft. Excellent, he had him on the run.
“If you're not playing, you can go to Tesco, then,” said John to Sherlock.
Sherlock gave him a horrified look. “What? Why? I've already gone to Boots today, you can't seriously expect me to put up with the nightmare of retail twice in one day.”
“We need something to feed people for dinner,” said John. “I can't leave my patient, Mycroft refuses to leave and the Victorians can't leave the building. No one else can go.”
The Victorians, noted Holmes. Well, he supposed that was an accurate descriptor, although he had never thought of himself as such. Being viewed as an historical figure was an interesting experience.
“If I may interrupt,” said Mycroft. “I have taken the liberty to organise the delivery of a meal for us all, as recompense for my presence. It will be delivered in an hour or two.”
“Oh,” said John. “That's very kind of you, Mycroft.”
Sherlock snorted. “No, it isn't,” he said. “He's just terrified about what he might be served here, and what it might do to his waistline.”
Mycroft finally responded to Holmes's move with what looked like the start of a rather interesting defence. “You do seem to survive entirely on saturated fats,” he said. “One wonders how many of the near-by takeaways would go out of business without your custom.”
“Okay, that's enough,” said John. “Thank you for the thought, Mycroft. I wonder – I need a few things for my patient. Could I ask you to have them delivered at the same time?”
“Of course,” said Mycroft. “Make a list.”
“Right,” said John, and he pulled away from Sherlock to do so. Sherlock made an unhappy face and then stood to come over and look at the game again. He bent to whisper another suggestion in Holmes's ear.
“Yes,” said Holmes, making his move. “I had already decided on that strategy.”
Sherlock gave Mycroft a smug smile. “Excellent,” he said.
A moment of worry passed over Mycroft's face as he looked at the board, and Holmes allowed himself to copy Sherlock's expression.
John handed his completed list to Mycroft, who ran his eyes over it and then turned to give John a look. “You are quite sure you need all these things?”
“Yes,” said John with a decisive nod. “All of them. If you want me to pay for them, that's fine, of course.”
Mycroft looked at the list again and then pulled his telephone device from his pocket. “No, that will be fine,” he said. “I'm sure we can merely call this a favour, to be repaid at another time.”
John flinched slightly, but nodded.
“John,” said Sherlock, “don't make deals with the devil.”
John laughed. “I'm sure I can pay Mycroft back for the equivalent of a couple of toothbrushes,” he said.
Sherlock made a vague, unconvinced humming noise. Holmes just hoped that whatever John required for Watson wasn't some sign that things had taken a downturn again. He found himself glancing over his shoulder towards where Watson was. Perhaps he should check on him after this game.
“He's asleep,” said John. “I think it would be best if he stayed asleep until dinner time.”
Holmes made a face, but nodded and returned his attention to the board. Whatever Watson needed.
“You don't have to keep playing,” Sherlock said after the eleventh game. “No point in being polite or whatever it is, not to him.”
“It is no bother,” said Holmes, resetting the board. “It keeps my mind from worrying over Watson.”
That was obviously a lie, if the way Holmes's gaze strayed towards Sherlock's bedroom roughly every seven minutes was any indication, but Sherlock didn't bother arguing. It was Holmes's decision whether or not he allowed Mycroft to drive him insane with endless, tedious games of chess.
One of Mycroft's minions turned up at around seven with a ridiculously large stack of things. Not just dinner for them all, but also an overnight bag and a suit cover for Mycroft, which he insisted on hanging from the curtain rail, cluttering up the place. There was also a bag of supplies for John, who glanced inside it and then took it straight in to Watson.
The food Mycroft had provided was irritatingly healthy. Sherlock was still rather full of pizza, so he didn't bother eating any of it. After dinner, John took some toast and soup to Watson, and Holmes and Mycroft settled down to yet more chess. Sherlock lay on the sofa, wishing furiously that there was some way to fast forward the rest of the evening so that he could get to the bit where he was in bed with John.
In bed with John. The idea seemed so strange and yet so obvious at the same time. He couldn't decide if he was more surprised that they'd actually come to a point where it was possible, or more surprised that they hadn't done it before. It felt like it should be as familiar to him as the expression Mycroft made when he was about to close a trap in around his opponent's pieces.
When John emerged, he looked at Holmes. “Watson will probably fall asleep again soon. He wanted to see you before he drops off.”
“Of course,” said Holmes, abandoning the game to disappear into Sherlock's bedroom.
Mycroft regarded the half-played board with a sigh, and then glanced at Sherlock. “I don't suppose you'd like to take over from him.”
“God, no,” said Sherlock.
John wandered over to glance at the board. “I would, but-”
“That won't be necessary,” interrupted Mycroft, wrinkling his nose. “I only enjoy the game when there's a challenge.”
John gave Mycroft the false smile he used when he was restraining himself from punching someone. “Right,” he said, and turned to the sofa. He patted Sherlock's legs. “Budge up.”
Sherlock sat up enough to curl his legs in and John collapsed beside him, a lot closer than he would have in the past. His hand curled around Sherlock's ankle as if it was designed to do so.
Sherlock glanced at the clock. How early could he persuade John it was bedtime?
Not nearly early enough was the simple answer. Even after Watson had gone to sleep for the night, releasing John temporarily from his role as caregiver, there was still all the endless faff of making sure Holmes and Mycroft had all they needed for the night. Completely pointless in Sherlock's opinion; it was clear that Holmes was used to surviving in far worse situations, and who cared whether or not Mycroft was comfortable?
Matters were simplified when Mycroft finally decided that he had played enough chess and let Holmes go.
“Thank you for the challenge,” he said, and then handed Holmes an envelope. Holmes took it with the briefest glance and slipped it into his pocket before Sherlock could get a good look at what might be in it.
It was only then that Mycroft revealed that his minion had brought him an air mattress, so John's worrying over the comfort of the sofa was irrelevant. Blowing the thing up took an eternity, and then there seemed to be a need for sheets and pillows and other such rubbish, followed by the hassle of moving John's armchair into Sherlock's bedroom for Holmes to spend the night in, and then more blankets and pillows.
Sherlock eventually gave up. “I'm going to bed now,” he announced with his eyes fixed on John. “Do try not to be too much longer, I'd quite like to have sex with you sooner rather than later.”
Holmes made a noise that could have been either surprise or amusement and a look of disgust crossed Mycroft's face, but Sherlock was only interested in John's reaction. His eyes widened slightly, then flickered down Sherlock's body for a moment while the tips of his ears went pink.
“Patience is a virtue,” he said, in a voice that was steady despite the undercurrent of embarrassment.
“My brother has never been a particularly virtuous man,” remarked Mycroft.
Sherlock sneered at him and turned to go upstairs. Waiting in John's bed for him would be a great deal more bearable than watching him witter about down here. Sherlock was growing dangerously close to giving in to temptation and just pulling John to him for a proper kiss, regardless of Mycroft and Holmes. Which wasn't a problem as far as he was concerned, but he didn't want to risk upsetting John at this stage.
Once upstairs, he found himself unsure how to proceed. Should he have recovered some pyjamas for himself from his bedroom? That seemed pointless given the high chance that he'd end up naked very quickly once John turned up, but just crawling into John's bed naked seemed rather presumptuous. Should he just sit on the bed fully clothed? No, too hesitant. He needed to display his certainty about this change in their relationship.
He ended up taking off all his clothes except his pants and then getting into the bed. There was further debate at that point - should he be sitting or lying? Under the duvet or on display? Why was this so difficult?
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that it was just John and therefore there was no need to get wound up about it. He sat back against the headboard, pulled the duvet up to his waist, and borrowed the book on John's bedside table to keep himself distracted while he waited.
That was a mistake. He found himself so furious with the so-called 'detective' in the book that he was muttering angry things about his intellect when John came in. Sherlock immediately put the book back on the bedside table and then found himself caught, not sure what to do with his hands. Should he get up and kiss John or wait for him to come to Sherlock? So many options! If only Sherlock knew this kind of thing as well as he knew solving crimes or playing the violin.
John just looked at him for a moment, and then let out a breathy laugh. “God, the times I've dreamed of coming up here to find you naked in my bed,” he said.
“I'm not naked,” Sherlock felt the urge to point out. Damnit, he'd already made a mistake. “I'm wearing my pants.”
John grinned. “Oh, can't have that,” he said, undoing his shirt buttons as he headed towards the bed. “Let me help you out of them.”
He had his buttons undone by the time he got to the bed and pushed the shirt off his shoulders as he knelt down next to Sherlock. He reached for Sherlock's head rather than his pants, pulling him into a deep kiss.
Sherlock took a firm grip on John's shoulders so that he could pull him in closer, feeling all the nervous tension of the evening dissipate. This was going to be easy, of course it was. When had anything between them been anything less?
“Good morning,” said Watson with a smile. He remembered the previous day's events and added “Husband.”
Holmes blinked as if coming out of a deep reverie and then returned the smile. He took his hand out of his pocket as he moved to sit on the bed beside Watson. “Not something I ever thought I'd be greeted as.”
Watson stretched gently, feeling the aches of illness in every part of his body. He gestured vaguely at the room. “Is there anything about this situation that you could have predicted?”
“Staying the night in a flat that is not only one hundred and thirty years in the future, but also owned by an alternate universe version of myself?” asked Holmes. “Not to mention that we are able to be open about our relationship to the extent that I can wake up beside you without any fear for our reputations? No, I could not have foreseen any part of this.”
“Wake up beside me?” commented Watson with a pointed look. “Are you expecting me to believe you slept?”
Holmes let out a short sigh. “Fine, I can watch you wake up, then. Pedant.”
Watson couldn't help from laughing at that. If either of them could be accused of pedantry, it was surely Holmes rather than himself.
“How are you feeling?” asked Holmes.
“Much better than yesterday,” said Watson, pulling himself into a more upright position.
Holmes huffed a sigh. “That is not a helpful statement. This time yesterday you were dying. Be more precise.”
“Very well,” said Watson. He took a moment to take stock. “I ache in all my limbs, and my digestive system is still rather unhappy, but I do not feel as if I will suffer more than that from it. Indeed, I am rather hungry. I hope a good breakfast is still part of proceedings in this world.”
“Even if it isn't, I shall ensure you get one,” promised Holmes. He took Watson's hand in a tight grip. “We will be going home today, and we must have your strength up for the trip.”
“I don't remember it being that strenuous,” said Watson. “But then, I suppose I was not in the best condition to observe.”
“You never seem to be in the best condition to observe,” said Holmes, and Watson knew that he must be looking much better than he had yesterday, if Holmes was in the mood to insult him again.
“Nevertheless,” added Holmes, “there may be some truth in that. I must admit I was rather fixated on other things at the time we travelled here. It will be interesting to experience it without any other concerns clouding my facilities.” He nodded at the glass beside the bed. “Drink something. The doctor said you should keep drinking as much as possible.”
Watson sighed, reaching for the glass. He could foresee a few days of being forced to consume liquid every few minutes, at least until Holmes got distracted by a case. Holmes watched him drink with rather more attention than it warranted.
Watson put the glass back on the table and gave Holmes a look. “If you are going to stare at me like that every time I drink, I shall begin to suspect that you find the sight arousing.”
Holmes blinked and then let out a rusty laugh. “I find most of what you do arousing, my dear Watson. On this occasion, however, I am afraid that it is merely that I am marvelling at how something so simple could have saved your life.”
“It was being brought to this world's doctor that saved my life,” pointed out Watson. “I hardly think we can call travelling to another world 'simple'.” He hesitated, wondering if he should restate his gratefulness to Holmes. He did not want to incur the man's usual impatient response to sentimental gestures, but he also did not want him to not realise just how immensely awed Watson was by the lengths he had gone to for Watson's sake.
Holmes must have read his thoughts off his face, without any need for words, because he pressed his lips together and then looked down to avoid Watson's eyes. “I could not have done less,” he said in a quiet voice. “Believe me when I say it was far more simple than watching you die would have been.” His hand slipped back into his pocket.
Watson was overcome by a wave of affection and he reached over to grip Holmes's arm. “I count myself exceedingly lucky to have you by my side.”
Holmes looked at him for a long moment and then straightened his posture as if steeling himself for something. “Watson, I have done something hopelessly sentimental,” he said, as if confessing to a murder.
Watson raised an eyebrow. “I am sure I can forgive you for that.”
Holmes gave him an exasperated look. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, his fist clenched around something small. “I asked Mycroft – this world's Mycroft – to provide me with these.” He opened his hand to reveal two gold wedding bands.
Watson was completely taken aback. He stared at the rings for a long moment and then glanced up at Holmes's face to see a profoundly uncomfortable look on it.
“Say something,” Holmes demanded.
Watson reached for one of the rings. “This is incredible, Holmes,” he said in a voice that could have been steadier. “I would not have thought you would...” He caught sight of something engraved inside the ring and his voice faded away as he read it.
28th January 1881
It took Watson a shamefully long moment to place it. “The date we met,” he said.
Holmes nodded. “I thought our initials would be rather too indiscreet. As it is, we will not be able to wear them where they can be seen.”
“A chain around the neck will do me,” said Watson. He could not seem to take his eyes off the ring, off this symbol that he and Holmes truly were pledged to each other.
When he did raise his eyes to Holmes's face again, it was to find a small, rather self-satisfied smile on it. “I thought you would like them.”
“They are excellent,” said Watson, and then could not restrain himself any longer. He reached for Holmes and kissed him, trying to put all his joy at the gift into the gesture, as he knew he would never find words for it.
Holmes kissed him back just as soundly. When he pulled away, he kept his hand on Watson's shoulder. “Of course, we can wear them in this world,” he pointed out.
Watson looked back down at the ring he was holding. “Is this yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Holmes, and he held out his left hand for Watson to slide the ring onto.
Watson kept hold of his hand once the ring was on, unable to take his eyes away from the strange sight of Holmes's hand being adorned in such a way. It felt as if there should be words to accompany the moment, and he searched his mind for something appropriate.
“Till death us do part,” he said.
Holmes's hand twitched, and then his fingers gripped at Watson's. “Yes,” he agreed. He pulled at Watson's left hand. “My turn.”
Watson offered his hand and Holmes carefully put the ring on his finger. It fitted perfectly and Watson wondered how Holmes knew his ring size when he himself was ignorant of it.
“Till death us do part,” repeated Holmes, in a solemn voice. “And may that be a long time off yet.”
Watson couldn't keep himself from kissing Holmes again, keeping hold of his hand so that he could feel the ring on his finger.
“I have something for us as well,” he said when they had pulled back far enough for him to speak, although their foreheads were still resting together. “I mentioned something in passing to John, and he procured it for me – for us. I had thought you would laugh at the sentimentality, but-”
“You catch me at a moment when I seem to have a great deal of patience for sentimentality,” said Holmes. “I suspect it will not last, but at this moment, I am still so grateful to have you alive that I am prepared to stoop to unprecedented depths.”
“I would have said they were heights rather than depths,” said Watson. He pulled away from Holmes to reach beside the bed, where his nightshirt and dressing gown had been put in a carefully folded pile. He had not quite been able to get his head around John's explanation of how they had been cleaned and dried so quickly, other than that some sort of machine was responsible.
Hidden in the folds of the dressing gown was a piece of expensive, stiff paper, which he pulled out and handed to Holmes.
Holmes held it for a moment and then let out a quiet laugh. “A marriage certificate.”
“A blank one,” said Watson. “We will have to fill it in ourselves and it won't be official, of course, but-”
Holmes shook his head. “No, it will be as official as it needs to be.” He leaned in to kiss Watson. “We shall sign it together when we are home, I think.” He looked at it again and made a rueful face. “And then I shall have to devise a hiding place for it.”
The reminder of the secrecy that was necessary to preserve their reputations - and their liberty – was like a dash of cold water. Watson gave a nod and then sat back against his pillows with a sigh. He wanted to be able to celebrate his happiness publicly, like Barnard at his club had only a week or so before Watson had fallen ill. He'd come into the club glowing with pride and happiness the day after he returned from his honeymoon, and all there had slapped his back and congratulated him, and more than a few had bought him drinks. Watson would never have that. Instead, he could look forward to at least another decade of subtle pity over his bachelor status and offers to introduce him to unmarried sisters and cousins before he was considered too old for such things.
Holmes must have been able to read the thoughts from his face because he gave Watson's hand a careful squeeze. “As long as we know, what does the rest of the world matter?”
Watson gave him a smile and another kiss, but he could not wholly agree with the statement. He wanted to let all know his incredible luck at gaining the affections of a man like Holmes.
Sherlock was still asleep, his head resting against John's shoulder and an arm flung across John's chest, as if Sherlock was afraid he might try to get away. John couldn't imagine anything less likely.
Last night had been- well, the whole of yesterday, really, had been a series of surprises. That Sherlock might feel more than friendship for John should probably be less of a shock than the appearance of two Victorian time-travellers, but it was the thing that John was fixating on. How long had they both been wanting this but not saying anything out of fear of losing what they already had?
Sherlock let out a slightly longer breath and his fingers twitched against John's skin. A moment later, his eyes opened.
“Hello,” said John.
Sherlock raised his head and gave him a wide smile. “Hello,” he returned, and then kissed John.
There wasn't even a hint of sleepiness in it and John wondered how anyone could go from asleep to wide awake so quickly, before his thought was derailed by the feeling of Sherlock's mouth against his.
Sherlock shifted to move his body over John's without breaking the kiss, nestling one of his legs between John's.
John pulled his mouth away. “We need to get up,” he said.
“Not yet,” said Sherlock, seeking to recapture his mouth.
John avoided him. “We have guests,” he reminded Sherlock. “And I have a patient.”
“They can all wait twenty minutes,” said Sherlock. “Don't be difficult, John, you know none of them would have noticed if we'd slept a bit longer. We can easily use that time for something much better than sleeping.”
John gave in. Even if he could have argued against Sherlock's logic, he wasn't sure he wanted to. The feeling of Sherlock's naked body resting on top of his was as good an argument as anything Sherlock might say.
When they finally made it downstairs, Mycroft was fully dressed and drinking tea in Sherlock's chair. All signs of the airbed he'd slept on had disappeared.
He looked at them both for a split second before wincing. “I was about to wish you a good morning, but I can see that it already has been.”
John refused to let himself be embarrassed. “Morning, Mycroft.”
Sherlock gave his brother one of the smuggest smiles John had ever seen and collapsed onto the sofa. “It was fan-tas-tic,” he said, over-enunciating to lend emphasis. “John, bring me tea.”
“No,” said John. “I'm going to check on my patient, you can make the tea for once.”
Sherlock made a face and didn't move. John headed for Sherlock's bedroom, thinking that he was almost certainly going to end up making the tea himself.
He opened the door without knocking and then regretted it. Holmes had his hand gently curved around Watson's head as they kissed, both of them looking so caught up in each other that John doubted they'd had any idea of his approach.
They jumped apart as the door opened and Watson gave John a horrified look for a moment before taking in who he was.
“Sorry!” said John. “Sorry, I should have knocked.”
“Not a problem,” said Holmes, sounding far more composed than Watson looked.
Watson let out a breathless laugh. “For a moment I forgot where we were,” he said to Holmes. “I thought we had been discovered.”
“Don't be ridiculous, Watson,” said Holmes. “If we were at home, I should have been paying far more attention to our surroundings. I will not let harm come to you, you must know that.”
Watson smiled and patted his hand. “Of course I know that.”
He was leaning back against his pillows in a way that gave away how tired he still was from his illness, but his colour was much better than it had been.
“Right, well, I need to examine my patient,” said John to Holmes, moving forward to the bed and noting that the level of water in the glass had fallen, but not by very much.
Holmes stood. “Of course,” he said. “I think I shall take advantage of the excellent bathroom here before we return home, if you don't mind.”
“The towels in the cupboard are clean,” said John. “Ask Sherlock to show you how the shower works.”
Holmes paused. “The shower?” he repeated. “I have heard of such things, but never tried one.”
John grinned at him. “I think you'll like it,” he said. After a lifetime of baths, he imagined a shower would be like a revelation.
Holmes looked intrigued and left the room without further comment.
“Right,” said John. “How are you feeling, then?”
“Much better,” said Watson as John started his examination. “Weary and achey, and my stomach is not yet settled, but I am well on my way to recovery.”
“Good,” said John.
He had just about concluded that Watson's self-diagnosis was correct when the shower started up in the bathroom next door. There was a minute or two of silence and then Holmes's voice called out, “Watson! This is incredible! You must try it!”
Watson gave John a wide-eyed look. “What on earth?”
John smiled back. “I'm afraid you probably aren't up to a shower yet. You need to be able to stand up without support for several minutes, and I think you're too weak for that yet.”
“If the experience is as wonderful as Holmes seems to think, it might be worth it,” said Watson.
“Well, keep drinking and we'll see,” said John.
Watson made a rueful face that said everything about how much interest he had in drinking more, but he reached for the glass anyway. As he did so, John caught sight of a golden glimmer on his hand that hadn't been there before.
“Is that a wedding ring?” he asked.
Watson beamed, taking the glass in his other hand so that he could display his ring finger to John. “Holmes got them for us,” he said. “We have both rings and a marriage certificate; we are properly married now. Or as properly married as we can be, at any rate.”
John grinned back at him. “Congratulations,” he said. “I'm very happy for you.”
“And you?” asked Watson. “Did you and your Sherlock have a good night?”
He raised an eyebrow and John couldn't seem to stop himself from blushing. “Jesus, I'm like a teenage girl,” he said, to hide his reaction. “Yeah, it was good. Brilliant, really.”
Watson grinned back at him. “I can remember the happy surprise of such a night,” he said. “I hope you have many more such.”
“Me too,” said John. He cleared his throat. “Right, well, I'm going to sort you out some breakfast, then I think you'll probably be okay to go home.”
“Breakfast sounds lovely,” said Watson.
John immediately flashed to the state of their fridge. Crap, he hadn't asked Mycroft to have something for breakfast delivered along with everything else last night. They might have to rely on Speedy's to provide something.
When he eventually emerged, feeling as shiningly clean as if he had been bathing in a Swiss waterfall, he found that breakfast was available, although it looked as if it had come from a near-by café. Holmes thought that, despite the presence of a kitchen in this flat, Sherlock and John seemed to do just as little cooking as he and Watson did.
Mycroft gave him a rather sly smile as Holmes perused the selection of food and wondered if he were interested in any of it. “Another game of chess before you leave?” he suggested.
Holmes rather felt that the twenty-eight games they had played the previous evening were more than enough payment for the ring currently on his finger. “I'm afraid not,” he said, and escaped to see how Watson was.
Watson was sitting up and eating what appeared to be an egg roll with great enthusiasm.
“Holmes!” he said with a smile, as if they had been separated for far longer than half an hour. “I thought you might stay in there until you drowned.”
“I thought about it,” admitted Holmes, sitting on the edge of the bed. “We must see if we can find a public bathhouse in London that has one.”
“I wish I were well enough to try it,” said Watson.
“We will have Mrs. Hudson draw you a bath when we are home,” said Holmes. “Did the doctor say you were well enough to travel?”
“He seems to think so,” said Watson. “I just need rest now, and drink endless amounts of water, and there is no reason to do that here.”
“Good,” said Holmes. That meant there was no danger of getting roped into more chess.
After Watson had consumed breakfast, the doctor checked him over and announced that he was well enough to be sent home. Holmes chased him out of the room and helped Watson change from the pyjamas he had been lent back into his more familiar nightshirt and dressing gown.
“We'll need to be in the sitting room again,” he said.
Watson nodded. “I'm sure I can manage that,” he said. “I did yesterday, and I felt far worse then.”
“Yes, but both and I and Mycroft – my Mycroft – were helping,” said Holmes.
Watson frowned. “Your brother was there? I do not remember that.”
Holmes was not surprised. By the time Mycroft had finally made it to 221B with the device, and then spent an unnecessary amount of time messing about with the controls of it, Watson was barely-conscious and clearly incapable of perceiving what was going on around him.
“He was persuaded to do some legwork,” he said. “Come, let us not keep these people waiting too long. I'm sure they have things to do.”
“I'm sure Sherlock and John have urgent plans,” remarked Watson, with a smirk that gave away exactly what he meant.
“I must confess to having similar plans,” said Homes. “Although they are rather less urgent.”
“Yes, I think I shall need some time before anything like that,” said Watson with regret.
Holmes helped him stand up, but was then waved away as Watson made his way towards the door. Well, Holmes couldn't fault him on wanting to be independent in this when it was precisely what he would have done, but it was difficult not to step forward and assist. He turned his mind to the conversation to distract himself from the urge.
“What a terrible choice of husband I made,” he said. “To think I'll have to wait so long before consummating the marriage!”
Watson snorted. “I think we consummated enough prior to the marriage,” he said.
That was rather true. Holmes found it hard to believe that many married couples engaged in such relations as often as he and Watson were wont to do. Certainly none of his observations had led him to believe they did.
“Does this mean the passion died as soon as I put a ring on your finger?” he asked, opening the bedroom door and holding it as Watson moved through. Ah, rings. They would need to remember to remove those before they activated the device.
“Yes,” said Watson. “You will have to start buying me flowers and other gifts in exchange for such things now.”
In the sitting room, Sherlock and Mycroft were glaring at each other while John sat back in his chair with a cup of tea. He stood up when he saw Holmes and Watson.
“Come and sit down for a moment,” he said.
Watson made it as far as the sofa and then collapsed down with a sigh that said rather a lot about how the short trip from the bedroom had exhausted him. Holmes settled beside him but didn't touch him. Watson wouldn't want to have his weakness pointed out.
“Remove your ring,” he said instead, taking his own off. He put it away and patted his jacket to make sure that the marriage certificate was also safely stowed away.
“Ah, of course,” muttered Watson, and he pulled the ring off his finger to be tucked in his dressing gown pocket.
Content that they both looked as they should, Holmes turned to the doctor who had saved Watson's life.
“I must thank you for your care and attention, particularly given the unconventional manner of our arrival,” he started.
“Oh god, no,” interrupted John. “No need to thank me. I'm a doctor – I just did what I'm trained to do.” He looked at Watson. “Just continue to make sure you drink lots and have regular meals, and you'll be fine. And, obviously, avoid any more contaminated water.”
“I shall,” said Watson.
“Right, well, this is all very touching, but some of us have things to do,” said Sherlock impatiently. “Goodbye, goodbye, a thousand times goodbye, all that rubbish.”
“Sherlock!” said John. “Be polite.”
Sherlock huffed. “We're wasting valuable time when we could be having sex, John.”
Watson started, and then let out a jagged laugh. Holmes could sympathise; he hadn't quite got used to how casually these men mentioned sexual intimacy, particularly that which was between themselves.
“Sherlock,” said John again, closing his eyes for a moment with exasperation. “Please, just- shut up.”
“Yes, do,” said Mycroft, standing up. He looked at Holmes. “Pass my regards along to your brother, and ask him to make sure this does not happen again. I'm afraid I will be clearing up the mess at this end for rather a while.”
Holmes was not going to apologise to him for that. His actions had saved Watson's life; he would never apologise for that. He did give Mycroft a nod as he stood and pulled the device out of his pocket, and then looked at Watson.
“You'll need to be standing, I'm afraid. That's not where our sofa is placed, so you will end up falling to the floor if you stay on it.”
“Yes, yes,” muttered Watson, rising to his feet. He nodded at John. “I will not add any more unwanted thanks, but I am truly grateful to you.”
John gave a little, deprecating shrug.
“And,” added Watson, “I wish you the best of luck in your romantic endeavours. Don't let him get away with too much.”
Sherlock made an aggravated noise, but John just grinned. “I won't. Enjoy married life.”
Watson beamed and Holmes realised that these were the only people who would ever say that to them. The only people who were ever likely to know just how much he and Watson meant to each other, and who accepted it whole-heartedly. It felt strangely like a gift to have had that at all.
The rush of emotion that accompanied that thought was too much, especially after the last two days of constant, wearying worry over Watson and the other emotions associated with it. Holmes pressed the button on the device to avoid wasting time on more words or indulging in more emotions.
Everything went black, as it had before. This time he did not have Watson hanging from his arm like a dead weight, or panic crawling at the edges of his mind, and so he was able to observe the way it felt as if they were travelling very fast whilst staying still and the occasional flickers in the corners of his eyes, as if some bright world had flickered into existence for a split-second and then disappeared again.
Their rooms at Baker Street appeared around them barely moments after they'd left the other world, but somehow it also felt like years. Watson let out a grunt and staggered for a moment, and Holmes reached to catch him.
“Did you have to, Holmes?” he muttered, shaking Holmes off so that he could move to sit in a chair. “I hadn’t finished saying goodbye.”
“Sentimental tripe,” said Holmes. He eyed Watson carefully, but the journey didn't seem to have worsened his condition.
He glanced out of the window and then at the clock. Quarter past four in the afternoon. He wondered if it was the same day they'd left, or the next day, and went to call Mrs. Hudson.
“Mrs. Hudson! Tea, please!”
There was a crash from downstairs, followed by scurrying footsteps. Rather an over-reaction, Holmes thought, but then she had been rather upset by Watson's illness yesterday. Holmes had told her that he was taking Watson away for medical treatment from a specialist. She must be rather eager to see if there had been an improvement in his condition.
Footsteps thudded up the stairs far faster than Holmes would have guessed Mrs. Hudson could move, and then she burst in the door and went white as a sheet.
“Mr. Holmes! Doctor Watson!” she exclaimed, pressing her hands to her chest. “Oh! Lord save us, when did you return?”
“Just now, Mrs. Hudson,” said Holmes. “As you can see, Watson is much better, but we could do with some tea.”
She stared at him as if he were a ghost. “Oh! Oh, you! Mr. Holmes, you are the only man I know who could disappear for three years and then return as if nothing had happened, wanting tea!”
“Three years?” he repeated. That couldn't be right. Why would the device have returned them so late?
“What?” said Watson, and Holmes turned to see his eyes wide.
He swiftly turned back to Mrs. Hudson. “As you said, tea,” he said. “And if you could be so kind as to telegram Mycroft and let him know we've returned.”
“Oh, you can be sure I'll do that,” she said. “Honestly, going off for so long without leaving word with either me or your brother – it's just rude, is what it is.”
“Yes, yes,” agreed Holmes, turning away from her and back to Watson, who was now glaring at Holmes as if this could somehow be his fault. “And if there's such a thing as a copy of today's newspaper in the house, have that sent up with the tea.”
Mrs. Hudson made a frustrated noise, but did go back downstairs.
“Three years?!” hissed Watson. “Holmes!”
“Yes, yes, I know,” snapped back Holmes, his eyes darting over the room and taking in all the signs of time passing that he had previously missed. There was no dust – Mrs. Hudson must have been regularly cleaning - and none of their things had been moved. Mycroft must have taken over paying the rent for them and instructed her to leave it as it was.
“How on earth could your device have gone wrong by three years?!” insisted Watson.
“It's not my device, it's Mycroft's,” Holmes reminded him. He remembered the way Mycroft had fiddled while setting the device, claiming it was someone else's job to understand the operation of the thing. “And he is the one who set it up wrong,” he added.
Watson let out a quiet groan. “Three years,” he said, yet again, as if his mind could not fathom such a thing. “How will we explain this?”
Holmes dropped into the chair opposite Watson's. He waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, easily enough. A very complex case – a master criminal. We have been hunting down his gang – an international gang, so we were never in the country. If any further questions are asked, we will just grow quiet and mention national security, that will do it.”
“Good lord,” said Watson. “I suppose it will, and your brother will provide us with the necessary support.”
“Oh yes,” said Holmes. “He will be over here the moment he gets that telegram, despite his dislike of leaving his realm. After three years, I should imagine he's desperate to regain his device.”
“Three years,” said Watson again, wonderingly.
Holmes just looked at him and thought that the loss of three years was a price he would willingly pay for Watson to be well. If he had died, then Holmes would have spent those three years without him and would be facing the rest of his life spent in the same manner. He couldn't imagine anything worse.
“Buck up, Watson,” he said. “I am sure we didn't miss anything of importance.”
Mycroft let out a withering sigh, but collected his coat and umbrella. His other belongings had already vanished, probably picked up by one of his minions while Sherlock was still enjoying being in John's bed.
“Really, your manners leave a lot to be desired, Sherlock,” said Mycroft. “I do hope you manage to restrain your natural abrasiveness enough to prevent alienating Doctor Watson and reversing the recent change in your relationship.”
Sherlock glared at him, but it was John who replied.
“I think you can assume I'm a bit thicker-skinned than that,” said John. To Sherlock's delight, he was also glaring at Mycroft. Good, that should make sure that the bastard realise just how entirely unwelcome he was.
“If you say so,” said Mycroft, in a voice that revealed his doubt.
“Out!” repeated Sherlock, sick of the sight of his brother. An overnight visit was far too long. “John and I have things to do, and your excuse for hanging around like a vulture has gone.”
Mycroft gave him a bland smile. “Goodbye, Sherlock. A pleasure as always.”
Sherlock didn't bother replying as Mycroft left, and pushed the door shut behind him. As soon as it was shut, he could already feel himself relaxing. It was just him and John again, the way it should be.
John seemed to be having exactly the same thought if the way he was looking at Sherlock was anything to go by. He stepped closer to him and rested his hands on Sherlock's waist, as naturally as if they'd done this a thousand times before, as if this wasn't less than twenty-four hours after their first kiss.
We should have done this before, thought Sherlock. He should have made a move far earlier. Years ago. Why had he waited so long?
He bent down and kissed John, putting his arms around him and pulling him in closer, until John's arms encircled him and they were locked together.
“I think,” said John quietly against Sherlock's lips, “that this has been a very stressful couple of days, and we should go back to bed to recover.”
Sherlock was about to whole-heartedly agree when a thought struck him. He pulled away. “No,” he said, reaching for his coat and starting to put it on.
John stayed where he was, hands dropping to his side. “Oh, okay,” he said, sounding disappointed but trying to hide it. “Got plans, then?”
“Yes,” agreed Sherlock. John didn't seem to be moving, so he pulled John's coat off its peg and threw it at him. “You said I could buy a new mattress if I let you put your patient in my bed.”
“Oh, right,” said John, holding his coat. “And I'm coming?”
Sherlock gave him an exasperated look. “Of course you're coming,” he said. “You'll want to give your input.”
John started to put his coat, but without much enthusiasm. “Will I?”
Sherlock wondered if John was suffering from some kind of intellect-sapping disease. “Well, you're going to be sleeping on it too.”
John blinked and stared at him for a moment, and then a grin broke out on his face. “Right, of course I will be,” he said. “Come on then, let's get the best one we can find.”
“And quickly,” added Sherlock, opening the door and putting his hand on John's back to usher him out. “Before Mycroft realises I've got his credit card.”
John laughed, and Sherlock felt something in his chest glow with pleasure as he followed him downstairs. Time to start making up for lost time.