Work Header

A Little Competition

Work Text:

The world is trying its level best to sweep humanity away in a terrible flood. Or at least that's what it feels like as John makes his way home in the dark. The rain is falling so heavy and so fast that he can't see more than a foot in front of him. It's running through the gutters almost ankle deep in rushing streams, and even this far away from the curb he's absolutely soaked. It's gone all the way through his jacket, his jeans, his boots. Every inch of him is cold and sore and has wet fabric stuck fast to it. He's fairly sure he's not getting a taxi either, since the entire population of London has decided it has a sudden and desperate need for one. Not that he could see to find one anyway, since he's been walking into the rain for the last ten minutes, eyeballs stinging like buggery.

So much for a cold but dry Halloween. John's never listening to anyone proclaiming to be a weatherman again. Judging by Mrs Hudson's 'better take a brolly, dear' this morning she was a more reliable source of information. He might as well just start asking her what the weather's going to be like before he goes out.

Lightning briefly outlines the sky overhead in jagged flashes. The echoing grumble of thunder comes roughly six seconds after it. If John's very lucky he'll make it home before he's deafened or struck by lightning. Which is a nice, comforting thought.

He continues to splash through what used to be the pavement, tread heavy - and squelchy, god how he hates that familiar squelch on every step. It's almost impossible to get into a good rhythm when water is sloshing around temperamentally inside your boots.

He's so far beyond wet when he reaches the front door that he's not entirely sure he's going to be able to get his key in the lock. Though that apparently doesn't matter, because he barely has it half raised before the door opens anyway.

John squints curiously at Sherlock's narrow frame between the rivulets of rain water coming out of his hair and eyelashes. Because John had thought that opening the door for people was a skill Sherlock hadn't mastered yet. That had always been one of those things other people were for.

Sherlock's perfectly dry, and judging by his hair and the fact that he's not wearing any shoes, he hasn't even ventured out today. He'd probably spent most of it sprawled artistically on the sofa watching things he hated on TV because he couldn't be bothered to get up and change the channel.

"You're late," Sherlock says. Which might - if stretched a little - be Sherlock speak for 'I was worried' or it might just as likely be Sherlock speak for 'there was no one around to make me tea.'

John can't really see his watch beneath the mess of water and sleeve, but he thinks it's about eight o'clock.

"Not by much - are you going to let me in or am I going to have to soak you?" he threatens.

Sherlock grunts and moves back so John can step inside out of the rain. It's still almost as loud when he pushes the door shut as it was when he was standing outside in it. John can hear it drumming on the door and the windows, and possibly still the inside of his own head. The flash of lightning is almost immediately followed by the heavy shake of thunder.

"I'm lucky I made it back before the storm was right overhead."

"The chances of being struck by lightning -"

"Don't tell me," John says and then carefully pushes off his soaking wet coat and shakes it, hard enough for Sherlock to draw back a step and pull a face. "I don't want to know how close I came to being fried on my way back, thank you very much."

He hangs his coat up downstairs, because he'd rather not have Sherlock throw it on the furniture in the flat. Not that the furniture hasn't had worse, but it's the principle of the thing. They don't need exciting cultures of mould to add to their collection. There's already an experiment in mould going on under the sink that John has so far resisted asking about. He's not entirely sure whether it's on purpose on not.

John eyes the wet umbrella in the stand.

Something occurs to him.

"We have an umbrella stand, since when?"

"Mycroft's here," Sherlock says tightly, as if that's the far more important observation than how long they've had an umbrella stand. John's still amazed how Sherlock can make his brother's name sound like some sort of horrible plague.

"He's insisting that he can't leave until it stops raining."

"Seems sensible enough, it's pissing down out there." John's tempted to shake his head as well but it's probably not going to do much but make his brain hurt and Sherlock's probably too quick to be caught in the shower of second-hand rain anyway.

Sherlock pouts, he honest-to-god pouts. "It's an excuse, and I told him he has an umbrella."

"There's lightning, Sherlock, that's not nice."

"With all the choice spires in London to ground itself on it's unlikely to pick one ridiculous umbrella."

"Don't sound so disappointed," John says and then heads upstairs, because much as Sherlock would probably like to stalk the front door and ignore his brother until some fiendish and dramatic crime happens, John's not that impolite.

He squidges his way into the flat proper. More than aware that he's running water and everything he's wearing is stuck flat to him. He suspects that isn't a flattering look for him at all. Diminishing, and he's not exactly working with extra there to start with.

Mycroft's seated in his usual chair, which is normally John's. He's also managing to make near-perfect posture look like careful relaxation, one leg folded over the other. He turns his head at the sound of shoes squelching.

"Ah, John, it's still raining I see."

"'Raining' is certainly one word for it," John agrees.

He's making a small wet pool on the carpet around his shoes.

"Yes, well, I'm just going to - dry off," he offers, before remembering, belatedly, that he doesn't actually need Mycroft's permission for that.

Sherlock follows him upstairs, quietly complaining all the way. When John pointedly walks him outside the bedroom door again and then shuts it, he continues his complaining through the wood at a slightly louder volume.

"Mycroft likes you better, because you offer him tea and biscuits."

John peels off his jumper and shirt and drops them in a soggy heap, leaving sad dribbles of water everywhere. "And you tend to throw things at him if he stays too long. Like a small child having a tantrum."

He can feel Sherlock glaring at him through the door. There's a sigh which doesn't forgive him in the slightest.

"Overly insulting, if strictly true."

John's jeans and boxers come off in a handful of very unpleasant shoves. He really is soaked all the way through. He knew he shouldn't have gone out today.

"You'd think with all your vast intelligence you'd be able to think of a more mature way to get rid of him."

There's a thud and John knows Sherlock has just leant back against his door, probably in some sort of dramatic pose that's currently completely wasted on him.

"Why, when I've already accomplished the end goal. He's gone."

"Not today," John points out. Because Mycroft is quite clearly still here.

There's a thud of angry shoulders against the door.

"I was working on that."

"You can live with your brother until the rain stops, Sherlock."

Sherlock's strangled noise says clearly enough the fact that he 'can' is irrelevant. And John is being unnecessarily difficult in refusing to be a distraction. As if Mycroft is likely to be distracted away from his original purpose with whatever random or shiny thing Sherlock throws in front of him.

"Fine, but you can entertain him," Sherlock says, with the air of one talking through his teeth. He probably has his arms crossed as well.

It's worrying that today John seems to be the random and shiny thing.

"I'm not entertaining your brother. In fact I'm fairly sure Mycroft's old enough not to need constant entertainment. Which makes one of you at least."

"Maybe he thought there was entertainment to be had here," Sherlock grumbles.

John can hear the 'at my expense' that he doesn't say out loud. "Or maybe he thought you'd killed me and hidden the body."

Sherlock answering noise is loud and rude, which John knows means Sherlock would never do anything so stupid.

"My mistake, killed me and alreadydisposed of the body," John corrects.

"I doubt I'd be able to concentrate if you were decomposing under the floorboards." Sherlock sounds petulant but John thinks there's a sort of honesty there too. Sherlock-speak is sometimes difficult to translate into English.

"It's sweet that my mouldering corpse would disturb you," John says at last, digging for a clean jumper and failing to find one. "And I'm surprised you left Mycroft alone down there. He could be doing anything."

"That's a hideously transparent ploy to get rid of me," Sherlock complains. "I expect better from you."

John's too busy trying to find another pair of jeans to worry about whether he's capable of making Sherlock go and sit with his brother using complex psychology.

Or reverse psychology.

Some sort of psychology.

"Uh huh," he offers instead.

There's silence from the other side of the door - and then the sound of narrow feet heading hurriedly back downstairs.

John shakes his head and finishes getting changed in peace.

When he's dry and dressed again, he throws his wet clothes in the bathroom and heads downstairs. His hair's going to dry looking absolutely ridiculous and he's pulled out an old jumper that's a few sizes too big but he doesn't care.

Sherlock and Mycroft are now eyeing each other from opposite chairs, like jungle cats trying to decide the best time to go for the throat.

"Who wants a cup of tea?" John offers, to break the tension if nothing else.

"Yes," Sherlock says without looking up.


Mycroft turns far enough to look at him, mouth stretching slowly into a smile. "That would be very nice, John, thank you."

John finds some cups which haven't been contaminated, or anywhere near any of Sherlock's recent experiments. Especially since he's fairly sure that Sherlock's last experiment involved pig intestines.

He even opens new milk and new sugar. Just in case.

Sherlock and Mycroft are talking in half-sentences and facial expressions. In a way which is, frankly, terrifying to watch. Neither of them seem to be winning at the moment, though John knows subtle, protracted warfare when he sees it.

He carries all three mugs back to where the both of them are sitting.

"Thank you," Mycroft says when he slips his free with no trouble at all, giving the impression he juggles scalding mugs all the time. Sherlock manages not to spill any of his, even though he's slouching, and barely looks up when John hovers into range. John can't help but wonder if he was ever hauled up by the collar as a child.

Probably not. Or at least only ever once. He's clearly developed a fierce hatred for sitting up straight either way.

John takes his own tea to the other chair, pulling it out and sinking into it. He runs a hand though his damp hair in the vain hope of leaving it something that isn't the latest in 'escaped mental patient.'

"I don't know how long you're planning to wait for the rain to stop, Mycroft, but I don't think you're going to get lucky anytime soon."

"Though you have an umbrella," Sherlock reminds him flatly.

"Sherlock," John says again.

"I'm simply pointing out that it's an option -"

The entire flat abruptly goes dark.

There's a moment of pointed silence, and a flash of lightning that leaves the room briefly illuminated. Just long enough for John to catch the expression on Sherlock's face.

"I told you I needed a back-up generator." Sherlock's voice is irritated in the darkness.

"It's just a power cut," John insists, before Sherlock can start planning for the apocalypse in his own over-excited way. "It probably won't last long."

The tiny noise from Mycroft somewhere to his left holds a wealth of disagreement that John can't help but read into.

"Or maybe it will." John leaves his tea by the side of the chair where he's sure no one's going to kick it and finds his way to the kitchen. He manoeuvres round one of Sherlock's mountainous and questionably important stacks of paper. He's doing fine until the paper on the floor moves under him - threatens to send him sliding suddenly sideways. His flailing hand finds another one, surprisingly strong, and he manages not to crash into anything or end up on the floor in the time it takes to right himself. He assumes it's Sherlock. Until he remembers that Sherlock doesn't wear a ring.

Also, Sherlock is making unhappy noises three feet behind him.

"Thanks," John says awkwardly, mostly to the darkness.

"Where's my phone?" Sherlock demands.

John nearly walks into the edge of the table. It's ridiculous, he's walked through the flat a hundred times, negotiating Sherlock's experiments and Sherlock himself, and now suddenly he has no idea how far away everything is.

"Did you charge your phone?" he calls back.


John nods where no one can see him. "Then it's still on the sofa, where you threw it in disgust when the battery died."

John hears Sherlock get up and stride over to the sofa, seemingly without a problem. Of course Sherlock has memorised exactly where everything is. Of course.

The kitchen is completely dark and it occurs to John that he should have brought his phone to at least reduce the risk of giving himself a head injury on one of the cupboards. He manages to flail around with a hand and smacks his knuckles against at least four things.

"Sherlock, tell me we have candles?"

"First drawer on the left - "

John's fumbling in the depths of it looking for the familiar feel of wax when something thumps in the living room. Though thankfully not loudly enough to suggest Sherlock has fallen over the furniture.

"No, the second, the ones in the first drawer are experimental and prone to causing hallucinations."

John stops reaching, withdraws his hand with the caution of a man who expects to suddenly find far worse things than candles inside.

"Sherlock, what did I tell you about dangerous, experimental things and the helpful art of labelling."

"They're not dangerous," Sherlock protests from somewhere further away than before. John assumes he's getting the lighter off the mantelpiece.

When John stumbles his way back his flailing hand finds a narrow waist and his chin finds a bony shoulder.


Sherlock's hands come up and find his upraised hand and his chin.

"I thought your night vision was supposed to be good?"

"Good night vision takes roughly twenty minutes. And you were blocking out all the visible light," John accuses, smacking his hands away. "Stop prodding me."

There's a faint but audible laugh from John's left that suggests Mycroft is finding this all very amusing.

John manages to find his chair without falling and Sherlock flicks the lighter on and provides illumination to get the candles on the table. Sherlock lights them with an expression of deep unhappiness. While John spends a moment fixing them to the table with little pools of wax.

"I have several experiments in the fridge that are now likely to be completely ruined," Sherlock complains. "A reliable temperature-controlled environment really isn't much to ask."

"You wanted to keep the generator in the bathroom," John points out. Because anyone who can't see that that isn't an acceptable place for vast amounts of electricity isn't as clever as they think they are.

Sherlock's pouting via candlelight and John has never seen anything so ridiculous.

"It wouldn't fit in the kitchen."

"This is why we can't have nice things," John mutters under his breath. Then slightly louder "At least I managed to make tea before the power went out."

He reaches down the side of the chair and picks his mug up again.

"If I was with anyone else I'd suggest someone tell a story."

"Suggesting that we're not ordinary people," Sherlock says huffily, throwing himself back into his chair.

"No, Sherlock, you're not ordinary people, and don't even pretend you're insulted by that." John knows damn well that Sherlock's irritable 'take offence at everything and act like a five year old,' mood is almost certainly a protest at Mycroft's presence.

"So why did you even suggest it?"

"I thought it would be an alternative to sitting here watching you two glare at each other like vampires in the dark until the rain stops."

"Still, John, a ghost story at Halloween, during a power cut, in a thunderstorm. The terribly predictable cliche of it all." Sherlock slides down in the chair until his chin touches his chest.

"Has it ever occurred to you that they're cliches for a reason?"

"Laziness," Sherlock offers. "Why tread a new path through the jungle when one has been helpfully hacked out for you."

It occurs to John that trying to tell any sort of story in a room with two men who can probably see every moment of it coming is a little ridiculous.

"You're probably right," John says, and stares at the steam coming out of his mug.

"Contrary to his own opinion Sherlock is not, in fact, always right," Mycroft offers. He still has his tea balanced in one hand, grey suit oddly luminous in the candlelight. He looks rather more like a vampire than Sherlock at the moment.

"Being right all the time would be an exceedingly unpleasant way to exist," Sherlock concedes. Which is surprising enough considering Mycroft was the one who suggested it. John would have expected him to protest just to be contrary.

"You only need to be right 95% of the time," John explains. "The other 5% you're happy to be wrong as long as everyone else is more wrong."

Mycroft hums in his throat in subtle agreement.

Sherlock pouts at them both but doesn't argue against the truth of it.

"John," Mycroft crosses his legs again. "I for one would be interested in hearing something that you consider strange and unusual."

"I don't want to bore Sherlock," John says, and he's half aware how ridiculous that sounds.

Mycroft turns his head back to his brother and there's a brief, complicated and completely wordless argument, which ends with Sherlock looking both irritated and chastised.

"Fine, I bow to the occasion, John, by all means, please tell your situationally appropriate ghost story."

John folds his hands round his mug, feels the warmth of the tea seep into his fingers.

He squints at the pair of them, but they're both silently watching him. Sherlock's even steepled his fingers like he's actually paying attention. Or willing to fake it.

It's more than a little unnerving. Though John supposes he's the one who brought it up, even if he is a little sorry that he had done now. He decides the only way to avoid cliches that both Holmes' will see a mile off, is to share something that's true.

John clears his throat.

The Three Knocks

"One of the men I joined the army with, Steve Finch, he had a sister, Heather, who was only a couple of years younger than him. He was always roping her into things, like older siblings tend to do. But she adored him, so it wasn't really that hard. One evening when their dad was out they decided they were going to copy something they'd seen on TV."

John drags one of his feet up under him and glances sideways at Sherlock. He's still watching him with a lazy sort of curiosity, all flickering shadows and untidy hair.

John takes a breath and continues. "There was a hypnotist, I don't remember the name of the program but I knew which one he meant at the time. Steve managed to convince Heather to let him hypnotise her - on the understanding that he didn't make her do anything stupid, of course. She had her friend Katie there just in case, probably because, adoring little sister or not, she understood that fifteen year old boys are going to take any opportunity to make their younger siblings do stupid things."

Sherlock glares at Mycroft with quiet venom.

"So, yes, Steve and a couple of his friends, Martin and Ben, decided that hypnotising his twelve year old sister would be a fantastic idea."

"I thought you said she was two years younger?" Sherlock says, he's dragged both his feet up in his chair, heels crushing the cushions.

John frowns at him. "I said a couple."

"Which is two."

John exhales

"Alright then, a few," he says stiffly. "Are you going to interrupt constantly?"

"I can't help it, if you're not going to be consistent."

"I think ghost stories are allowed a little flexibility for artistic interpretation," Mycroft says quietly.

Sherlock scowls at his brother in a way which suggests his opinion doesn't, or shouldn't count.

"They are if they're completely made up. If they're based in truth, as we're clearly supposed to believe this one is, then they should endeavour to be coherent."

"I never said it happened to me, and I heard it a long time ago," John protests. "I can't be expected to get everything absolutely right."

Sherlock throws up a hand. "So now it's hearsay?"

"Sherlock, do shut up," Mycroft says calmly.

Sherlock glares at him, and then sighs theatrically and sprawls back in the chair. "Fine, carry on with your inconsistent ghost story."

John sighs and honestly wonders again if it's worth it.

"John, please do carry on," Mycroft says quietly.

John drinks a mouthful of tea and exhales.

"Steve's friend Martin had gotten a book from the library -"

"The Young Adult's Guide to Hypnotism, no doubt," Sherlock says snippily.

John raises both eyebrows meaningfully at him. Sherlock sighs and then waves a hand for him to continue.

"I can't remember what it was but I'm fairly sure it wasn't the Young Adult's Guide to Hypnotism. It gave a fair enough account of the basic procedure. They sat Heather in a chair in the middle of the room, brought the ticking clock in close. Steve said that his friends kept breaking into laughter and no one could quite make themselves sound serious enough to do the whole 'you're getting sleepy' bit. I don't think they really expected it to work, hoped it would definitely, but actually thought it would, absolutely not."

John drums his fingers on his mug, tries to remember the details exactly. Because it's been a hell of a long time since he's last shared this particular story.

"But it did work, Steve said it took a few minutes, but then Heather was gone. She was staring into space, completely unresponsive. Martin, Ben and Heather's friend Kate thought she was pretending, which is an understandable assumption to make when you're a kid doing something silly."

Sherlock's legs stretch out on the carpet. Feet a glint of pale skin in the darkness. "The most logical assumption, if you're going by convention would be that she kills someone while in a hypnotised state."

"She doesn’t kill anyone, Sherlock." John doesn't quite sound irritated but only just.

"Slightly below murder, possibly higher if we're assuming a supernatural twist to your supposed true story, is that she ends up possessed," Sherlock tries.

John sighs through his nose.

"Sherlock, would you please stop guessing how it's going to end."

Sherlock grumbles something and slumps lower in his chair. "I don't know how I can be expected to make a sensible guess at the probable conclusion if you're allowing for the supernatural anyway."

John's quiet until Sherlock stops making noise.

"They went through a few things, made Heather touch her nose, make animal noises, repeat sentences. Steve thought it would be funny to get her to answer every sentence with the phrase 'answer the door.' It was some sort of in-joke in their family. Something her parents always said to her because she was always nosy about visitors, always had to get to the door first. But mostly there was apparently a lot of laughter. That sort of half scared, half excited and half nervous laughter you get when you know you're doing something you shouldn’t."

"That's three halves." Sherlock feels compelled to point out.

John glares at him.

"Steve eventually worked out that there are only so many things you can make a hypnotised person do before it all gets a bit silly."

"Clearly he wasn't very imaginative," Sherlock offers. John realises that that wasn't directed at him. Mycroft raises an eyebrow at his brother in a way that manages to be agreement and feigned innocence all at the same time. John hadn't even known that expression was possible.

"Yes, well, Steve was clearly very normal and didn't harbour any secret desires to take over the world or build his own zombie army." John makes a note somewhere in his head, 'never let either of them hypnotise me, for any reason, at all.'

Then he drinks his tea and tries to get the details straight in his head.

"She was supposed to come back on three knocks. That was the signal for her to wake up again. The whole 'you'll wake at the sound of three knocks.'"

"Only she didn't," Mycroft offers casually.

John eyeballs him, but there's no smugness there, just quiet, patient interest.

"No, she didn't. Steve tried the wake up command followed by the knocks, a dozen, two dozen times. Heather just stood there like a blank doll repeating the phrase 'answer the door' whenever anyone spoke to her. The book had told them that people couldn't get 'stuck' in a hypnotised state, that it was impossible. That even if they were unresponsive at first, they'd come out naturally within a few minutes. They waited twenty minutes, then half an hour.

Steve said that's about the time he started panicking. They splashed water on her face, shook her, took her out into the fresh air, made her lay down, put loud music on. When they hit an hour Steve even slapped her to try and bring her out of it. She didn't even react to that. He said he wasn't exactly gentle about it either. He was scared and he swears he didn't mean to but he slapped her hard. It did absolutely nothing though. 'Answer the door,' was all she'd say, for an hour, over and over. Like she'd gotten stuck in a loop. Staring at them and barely blinking." John takes a second to remember how Steve had sounded when he'd told the story, voice thin and unsteady with a sort of half disbelieving bewilderment. It had genuinely felt like he'd been scared telling it. That it still had the power to scare him even years later. One of those situations it even felt wrong to look back and try to laugh at.

John rubs the back of his neck, the back of his jumper's still slightly damp.

"Steve tells the story better, since he was there when it all happened. He still remembers what it felt like. He still remembers being scared while it was all happening. He was absolutely convinced that he'd broken her."

John sets his empty mug down on the floor.

"Steve's friends weren't even sure they wanted to be there any more. So now Steve's terrified, and Katie's crying her eyes out. And then Heather starts bleeding. It just starts running out of her ear and her nose."

"From the slap, no doubt," Sherlock offers, though there's no eye roll to accompany the opinion this time.

John nods. "That's what Steve thinks now. But then, while it was happening all they knew was that she just suddenly started bleeding in front of them. So now they have his twelve year old sister that they've hypnotised and they can't get her out of it - she's completely unresponsive, keeps repeating the same phrase over and over. And now she's bleeding with no obvious cause.

There's an argument about whether to call an ambulance and whether that will get Steve in trouble. Though I don't think they had any idea what they were going to tell them when they got there. Martin thinks she's possessed at this stage, which I'd imagine is exactly the sort of thing you want to suggest to a group of already hysterical teenagers."

The rain briefly tries to drown out all sound with a thunderous rush against the windows. As if it's decided suddenly to make an attempt at invading the flat. John's honestly surprised that neither of the Holmes' use the silence to make an observation, or tell him how bored they are.

"They have an argument about what exactly they're going to do, when they realise Heather's not there any more...and the front door's open. Steve nearly dislocates his own shoulder getting out of it. They find Heather standing in the middle of the road, right in the middle of it at gone seven at night - and to this day Steve has no idea how she got out there - he swears they looked away from her for a minute at the very most. Though I'm willing to believe it was longer. Time can get away from you in situations like that. They were lucky they didn't live on a busy road, she could easily have been hit by a car. But they manage to take her back into the house and Steve said he actually felt physically sick at this point. At half seven their older sister Vicki gets home from work, knocks on the door -"

"The knocks wake her up, obviously," Sherlock says.

John glares at him. "Sherlock, are you telling this story, or am I?"

Sherlock sighs and throws his arms out sideways.

"Fine, fine, continue."

"Honestly, you must have been absolutely impossible to read bedtime stories to."

"Oh, he was," Mycroft says. "Always trying to turn the page to see what happened next."

John can't help the surprised cough of laughter at that. Sherlock does nothing but roll his eyes at the pair of them.

"Anyway, Heather didn't snap out of it when Vicki got home." He spares a glare for Sherlock. "Instead she gets worse, I don't remember who noticed it first but now her pupils had started oscillating back and forth."

"Nystagmus," Sherlock offers, like there was a medical index in his head that was just waiting to be rifled through. "Most commonly caused by drug use, a brain tumour or seizure. Which, under the circumstances, suggests some sort of epileptic event rather than true hypnosis."

"Yes, thank you, I came to that conclusion myself, eventually," John says. He can't even be bothered to be irritated any more. Sherlock's compulsion sometimes feels as involuntary as a nervous tic.

Mycroft clears his throat, quietly.

"But I'd imagine they almost certainly thought she was possessed then," Sherlock adds, reluctantly. John's fairly sure that he's just witnessed the Mycroft Holmes equivalent of a swift kick in the arse. It occurs to John that if Sherlock learned subtlety from Mycroft then it's no wonder the rest of the world seems so loud and obvious and obnoxious.

"Yes," John continues. "Steve admitted that they were all pretty much useless by then, they wanted to call an ambulance, or a priest - though none of them were quite sure where you got a priest from - Vicki wanted to call their dad, though he was due home from work about then anyway. God knows what their dad eventually came home to, but he probably assumed the worst."

John shifts in the chair.

"That's when she came out, though she didn't just snap out of it. She came out fuzzy and confused, tired. For a minute she didn't know who any of them were. They took her to the doctor, but as far as I know, nothing like that ever happened again. Though Steve still calls it 'that time I broke my sister.'"

The rain has a moment of enthusiasm against the windows and the candles flutter when Sherlock shifts his legs.

"That was a terrible story," Sherlock says. "Badly structured with questionable conclusions. You omitted important details and it definitely lacked a certain amount of dramatic tension. Also, there was no unexpected twist ending, I'm disappointed in you, John."

John raises an eyebrow at him. Because he'd almost been expecting that.

"Real life tends not to have twist endings," he says. "Sometimes creepy things just happen for no reason. People are funny like that. Also, there's not always a Scooby Doo moment at the end where the villain is dramatically unmasked."

Sherlock looks blank.

Mycroft shifts in his seat. "Though, the one thing it did tend to get right. The villain is almost always human at the end."

For some reason, John honestly hadn't expected Mycroft to know who Scooby Doo was either, and he's laughing before he realises it. It's a quick, surprised laugh which makes the candle flames flicker.

Sherlock scowls at both of them.

"And there was no ghost in your ghost story," he adds. There's something in his voice that sounds almost smug at the fact that he's discovered a flaw. Like someone was going to be disqualified for it.

"I never said there was, you assumed because I said it was creepy and it's Halloween, that there would be a ghost. What do you always tell me about working on assumptions?" John tuts at him for effect.

Sherlock's face is a thing of beauty, John thinks perhaps he'd just won a rare and precious point off of the great detective.

Sherlock surprises him by letting him have it with a huff and a roll of his eyes.

"I suspect the moral of the story is 'don't experiment on your younger siblings,'" he grumbles and John doesn't miss the look he shoots across the room.

Mycroft sighs very quietly. "Are you still holding a grudge over that? It was a very long time ago, and, as I recall you did volunteer for it."

Sherlock's heels rock on the floor in a way that's clearly angry. "You left out pertinent information."

"Which would have voided the results if I'd told you."

"My right hand was numb for a full day. I could conceivably have chopped my fingers off and never noticed."

"And yet here you are with all your fingers intact," Mycroft points out.

Sherlock narrows his eyes. "You continue to protest that you never had an 'experiment on small animals stage.' I will continue to disagree, you simply didn't use animals."

Mycroft sighs and tips his head forward in something that's almost amusement but not quite. As if Sherlock hasn't just accused him of being a sociopath too.

John shakes his head.

"I'm going to consider myself lucky that Harry didn't have any sort of interest in science or engineering. So, y'know, normal, boring sibling rivalry. No one got experimented on. Nothing ever blew up."

There's a very brief, almost unnoticeable twitch and a sidelong glance from Mycroft. John really isn't surprised at all that Sherlock is the one that had a callous disregard for chemical reactions. Though he's tempted to wonder what Mycroft got caught doing. If he ever got caught. That would explain a lot actually.

Harry had once threatened to put John inside a tumble dryer when he was younger. He can't remember for the life of him what had brought that on. Possibly that happened the time he'd gotten marmalade all over the hair of her favourite Barbie.

"I never actually blew it up," Sherlock says tightly.

"I believe the correct term is 'firebomb,'" Mycroft says. "But to an inexperienced observer there's really very little difference."

"A minor miscalculation," Sherlock says, half to John and half irritated, giving the impression this is something he's already protested a number of times, and will continue to protest every time Mycroft brings it up.

"I think I'd like to hear that story." John thinks he's says that mostly under his breath but Sherlock twists his head round.

"No, you wouldn’t, it really isn't very interesting at all."

"It's quite interesting," Mycroft says, all half smile and threat. Two expressions which really shouldn't go together and certainly not so well.

"If you tell him about that I shall tell him about the library incident," Sherlock says stiffly.

Mycroft spreads his hands and leans back, surrendering gracefully. John knows those sort of stories well. He and Harry have a few of them.

"And thank you for the story, John," Mycroft adds.

"Even though it wasn't very exciting." John should probably be annoyed how much that sounds like an apology. But now he thinks it's only fair that someone else tell a story, since he told a story. Especially since it's still heaving it down, with the occasional rumble of thunder and bright fork of lightning off in the distance.

Sherlock shakes his head.

"Oh, the story doesn't matter. Because it's not the story itself so much as the way you tell it. Where you pause, the emphasis you place on words, the detail or lack of detail, moments that affect you personally opposed to moments where your voice doesn't change at all. How you tell a story gives away a surprising number of things about the person you are."

John realises he's waiting for the punch line, waiting for Sherlock to tell him something he's discovered about him during the storytelling, something he doesn’t know about himself yet. Sherlock raises an eyebrow, like he knows exactly what John's thinking and he's not going to be predictable for once. Which means he'll probably tell him later, at some more inappropriate time, probably in front of the police. Or someone he's trying to ask out.

John wonders if it's at all possible to make that not happen. Decides probably not.

For all that Sherlock seems oblivious sometimes he appears to have paid special attention, and possible underlined the word 'cock-blocking' in the dictionary.

"Stop looking at me like I'm an exam paper," John says.

"Why do I get told off for looking at you? Mycroft's looking at you too."

"Not so much in that 'I'd quite like to cut you open and see how you work' way."

"Oh, he looks at people like that too," Sherlock protests. "It's just how he normally looks, that's why you don't notice it."

John catches himself turning to look at Mycroft and then stops, because he's not rising to the bait.

"Also, I don't have to clean up after him, or find his phone, or fish things out of his pockets at a moment's notice, or remove his disgusting experiments from the kitchen appliances."

"That wasn't disgusting it was a time-lapse experiment in desiccation."

Which Sherlock had had a truly epic flounce over when he'd realised John had thrown it away.

"It was a dried frog," John says flatly, because there's no getting around that fact.

"It was important." Sherlock insists. He'd insisted that at the time as well. John hadn't quite believed him. At the time it had seemed more like one of those things Sherlock did because he was curious and because he could, rather than something that was essential to solving a mystery.

"And it ended up in the food processor."

"Oh, but of course Mycroft would keep his experiments in an appropriate place," Sherlock snaps and folds his arms.

"In a secret laboratory under the stairs, perhaps?" Mycroft offers.

"There isn't room under the stairs," Sherlock says, like that should be obvious to anyone. He frowns and looks up, gauging ceiling space.

"That would be my room - " John shakes his head the second Sherlock opens his mouth " - and no, you're not building a secret laboratory in my room. Neither of you are building a secret laboratory anywhere in the flat."

Sherlock sighs, throws his feet up on the table again, candles juddering and throwing odd shadows everywhere.

"I need more tea," Sherlock decides.

"Power's off." John almost adds a 'genius' to the end of that, but he suspects Sherlock will choose not to hear the sarcasm.

"If we had a generator that wouldn’t be a problem."

"Not until you can learn how to follow basic safety procedures," John says calmly. He suspects this is an argument they're going to be having more than once.

Sherlock simply grunts. "There's a mini blow torch in that basket of paper, boil the water with that."

John twists his head until he can see behind him. The basket is a blur in the darkness. The fact that he half expects it to be on fire isn't funny in the slightest.

"Why is there a mini blow torch in a basket of paper - no, sorry, I'm going to repeat that, why is there a mini blow torch in a basket of paper?"

Sherlock stretches a foot out and pokes John in the leg with his bare toes. Which he seems to think is the universal signal for 'that is not important, tea is important.'

"Oh for heaven's sake." John pulls himself up out of the chair and collects their mugs. Then goes down on one knee and digs in the dark mess of files and envelopes and paper until he pulls out the cold curve of metal and plastic. He flicks it on to prove it works. Then he tugs one of the candles off the table with his other hand and carries it to the kitchen, grumbling complaint all the way.

He fixes the candle to the side so he can see while he looks for a small enough saucepan that it isn't going to take him hours.

"Is this thing even going to last long enough to boil water?" he calls.

"Probably," Sherlock decides. "I was using it the other day."

John looks at it, but there's no suspicious marks on it.

"What were you using it for?" Because it's Sherlock and so he has to ask. Whether he comes to regret it or not.

There's a rather incriminating sort of quiet from behind him.


He turns around and Sherlock is frowning.

"I'm fairly sure you wouldn't approve," he says, nose wrinkled up. Though there's a suggestion that he'd quite like to tell John what he was doing with the blow torch because it was something fascinating and marvellous.

John frowns and shakes his head and turns it on. He spends what feels like an irritatingly long time standing in the kitchen with a blow torch held against the bottom of a saucepan while Sherlock complains about the inefficiency of the National Grid, and Mycroft makes the occasional agreeable noise and weathers the odd carefully barbed insult. Mycroft seems to be resisting all Sherlock's efforts to lure him into conversation, or verbal warfare. Instead he retrieves his phone and gives it his full attention. Rescheduling meetings, or possibly ordering assassinations. John assumes running the country - or possibly the world, honestly he wouldn’t be surprised - is a full time job, no matter how much rain or lightning tries to ruin your evening.

Though the full moon was on the twentieth so no glorious horror movie hat trick for them tonight. Or would a black cat make a hat trick. Does a black cat trump a full moon? Or would they need a pumpkin? John's never been all that interested in Halloween. A pumpkin, he decides eventually. Because if they had a black cat Sherlock would probably just experiment on it.

The water is boiling, half-heartedly but boiling nonetheless. John finds the tea and the milk in the dark and does his best to work around the temporary collapse of modern society. Before carrying all three cups back to the table.

Mycroft clears his throat, expression thoughtful.

"Oh, not you as well," Sherlock says, sounding somewhere between frustrated and disbelieving. The candlelight gives his tilted down head a sharp, sinister quality.

"The weather still seems disinclined to let a sane man out in it. And since John has generously attempted to pass the time I thought it couldn't hurt."

"You don't know any ghost stories, you're hideously pragmatic," Sherlock says snippily. "No imagination at all."

"Oh, it's not a ghost story. But then that isn't the point, is it -" Mycroft turns his head to look at John. " - it's simply the inexplicable, the disturbing or the unnatural that's required. Whether you find the story unsettling or honestly frightening is completely subjective. But I have some experience with a case that fits all of the above."

Sherlock rolls his eyes and utters something under his breath about 'unnecessary drama.'

"I'd like to hear it," John says, because Sherlock's too far away to kick in the shins - not that he would do something so aggressively childish, but sometimes it's a nice thought.

"I'm not sure I've ever attempted to structure the events of that day in a way that would be considered entertaining -"

Sherlock's irritated noise cuts Mycroft's sentence in half.

"Oh, get on with it if you must, Mycroft, preferably before you bore us both to tears."

Mycroft raises an eyebrow at his brother, but doesn't comment.

James Phillimore

"Very well, then I shall share the story behind the curious disappearance of James Phillimore."

Sherlock grunts. "That case is still unsolved."

Mycroft simply smiles at him, in a way that makes Sherlock's eyes narrow. John can see the quiet clench of his teeth.

"Who's James Phillimore?" John asks.

Mycroft leans forward, just a little, and the light draws a line of shadow down his nose.

"On the twelfth of April 2004 James Phillimore left his home for work at exactly seven forty eight in the morning. There were six witnesses, one of whom was his sister. However, upon realising that he'd forgotten his umbrella he re-entered his house to collect it. And was never seen again."

Mycroft folds his hands together on his raised knee.

"People rarely disappear without trace. No matter what the police seem to think, whether under their own power, or the coercion of outside forces. There's always a chain of events that will lead to either their person, or their remains. People don't simply disappear into thin air. Yet, by all accounts, that was exactly what Mr Phillimore had managed on that wet morning in April. In less than four minutes he had simply ceased to exist."

There's a rather appropriate flash of lightning.

"I had no real interest or connection to the case other than the fact that I knew Sherlock had briefly reviewed the evidence and remained baffled."

"I never said I was 'baffled,'" Sherlock says huffily.

Mycroft tilts his head to one side, as if in apology.

"It was, nonetheless, written in the police file, 'Sherlock Holmes, baffled by disappearance.'"

Sherlock grumbles something unflattering and John suspects he's going to find the police file at the first opportunity and burn it. Possibly with his mini blow torch.

"I suppose that my curiosity was piqued," Mycroft admits. "Sherlock does so hate to let things go if there's still a mystery to be solved."

"There was no evidence," Sherlock says tightly. "Unless I was supposed to start making wild assumptions."

Mycroft tips his head back. "Sometimes it's necessary to start at a wild assumption and work backwards."

John can't help himself.

"And what was your wild assumption?" he asks curiously. Then immediately winces when Mycroft smiles at him, because now he's the one interrupting. Sherlock is catching.

But Mycroft laughs, like he doesn't mind the interruption at all, as if John's questions are interesting in their own way. John suspects he isn't going to answer though. At least not yet. Mycroft's seems like the sort of person who knows that a story has to be told in the right order.

"There were no more than four minutes between his entering the house and his sister realising that something was amiss. The gardens on either side were both occupied at the time, one by a woman feeding the birds and the other by two children collecting their bikes for school. Mr Phillimore did not exit via the back door or any of the windows."

Sherlock sighs and swivels around until his head hangs over the arm of the chair, legs flung up the other end.

"Perhaps he was teleported into space," he offers.

"That, naturally, was the first possibility that occurred to me," Mycroft says dryly.

John's actually surprised to hear Sherlock snort amusement at that.

"The first opportunity to spirit Mr Phillimore away via the back would have been at roughly ten o'clock. The first opportunity to take him via the front is harder to judge, but we shall consider it roughly the same time. Either way he would have had to have been in the house at least two hours. By all accounts while it was being searched by both his sister and a neighbour."

Sherlock exhales in a way that's unimpressed, legs gently thumping against the side of the chair. John continues to be amazed by the childlike contortions he can get into and still manage to give off an air of arrogant disdain. It's a strange and unusual skill and John can't help but wonder where he learned it.

"I've seen the so-called enthusiastic searches of friends and family members," Sherlock says with a snort. "Which seems to consist solely of running wildly from one room to the next calling the person's name like they're a lost pet. Certainly nothing I'd call thorough."

Mycroft's slight nod actually seems to be in agreement.

"My thoughts exactly, when I found myself absently perusing the case some four months later. I found it unlikely, but not completely impossible, that James Phillimore was still in the house, somewhere. Though he'd almost certainly be dead after four months. And unless he was somewhere extremely dry and cold, or dry and hot, someone would have complained about the smell of a rotting corpse."

"It's hard to miss the smell of a rotting corpse," John agrees.

"The police had already searched the house, and I'm willing to believe that their search was indeed conducted thoroughly."

Sherlock's disbelieving huff gives the impression that Mycroft is more generous than him.

"To their standards at least," Mycroft adds and John raises an eyebrow. Mycroft gently tilts his head to the side, a refusal to apologise for their own arrogant perfectionism.

John just snorts amusement and drinks his tea (which isn't all that bad.) Sherlock and Mycroft are more alike than is probably good for the world in general. If they didn't fight, they'd team up and John's not quite sure what would happen then. Explosions probably.

"However I was curious enough to decide on making a brief observation of the premises myself. The house was early Edwardian, I thought at the time that it was a rather unremarkable. It was badly maintained, one of the walls at some point having been reconstructed. It was suffering from both woodworm and damp. It was a little too well ventilated, the floors uneven."

"We're not intending to buy the house, Mycroft. The tour is tiresome."

"I'm simply sharing my first impressions," Mycroft says slowly. John suspects he's actually rather enjoying telling the story.

"You don't have to spell everything out for John, he's quite clever you know."

"Thank you, I think," John says with a squint. Because he really isn't sure if that's a compliment or not.

Though a second later he catches Sherlock smirking in his direction.

"The house had a number of peculiarities but that's really not so strange. Houses were built and rebuilt quickly and cheaply, short cuts were taken, things didn't always fit neatly."

"You assumed a space inside the wall." Sherlock manages to make it sound like only an idiot wouldn't have assumed as much.

"Naturally," Mycroft says with a small nod. "Though a brief investigation revealed no hollow spaces in either likely or unlikely places. I continued my examination of the house and James Phillimore's possible movements that morning. The man I had with me, Patterson, I left by the front door, an acceptable substitute for Mr Phillimore in height and weight. And it was almost exactly the same time in the morning as his sudden disappearance."

John realises he's leaning forward in his chair, because the cushion behind him is very slowly falling off the arm.

"On my way back through the house I believe it was the distribution of my weight which caused it - I was aware of a very faint noise, perhaps of metal rearranging itself, a draft of air where none had been before. Nothing I could absolutely build a picture out of - and yet I took one step back."

Mycroft frowns, like he's unwilling to admit to ever doing anything by instinct rather than logical thought processes.

"The entire right wall was abruptly pierced from behind by a collection of seven inch steel spikes. I escaped with a superficial tear to my left sleeve, but Patterson was not so lucky, and ended up pinned to the wall. He didn't die immediately, though there would have been no hope for him had we managed to pry him free. The spikes were rusty, many had broken on their trip through the wall and had taken a great deal of Patterson's internal organs with them."

John realises he's spilling his tea and abruptly rights his mug. Because he hadn't been expecting anything like that.

"Jesus, that's - that must have been horrific."

"I would imagine it was," Mycroft says slowly, like he's agreeing with a concept rather than admitting to actually being horrified.

Sherlock snorts.

John blinks, briefly confused.

"Remembering the way he felt about things is usually completely irrelevant, so often Mycroft chooses not to," Sherlock explains.

John raises an eyebrow because that's...that's a little bizarre. Though he thinks he vaguely remembers something like that happening in a TV series.

But he's fairly sure they were lizard aliens. So he doesn't mention it.

"Once the appropriate steps were taken to remove Mr Patterson I resolved to stay in the house and explore further, though I was aware I would have to use caution since it had proven itself...more temperamental than I'd first thought."

"Uncharacteristically hands-on of you," Sherlock says. He sounds genuinely surprised.

"I imagine I was intrigued enough to be momentarily reckless," Mycroft offers. "However, it was no longer such a puzzle as to where James Phillimore was. If he was living in a house with hitherto undiscovered traps, he may very well have been the victim of one. The question now seemed to be, where was he, and how exactly had he gotten himself killed?"

"I've already thought of five ways it could have happened," Sherlock says and when John turns to look at him he's actually tilted sideways in his seat a little. Like Mycroft has his attention now. Or more likely the mystery does.

"I'd already thought of nine, but it's bad manners to skip to the end of a story."

"Or to tell people how it ends," John says tightly, with a glare that he sincerely hopes Sherlock understands.

"Quite," Mycroft agrees and he's definitely amused. "I immediately acquired the plans of the house, of course."

"Cheating," Sherlock decides instantly, pulling a face at him under his eyebrows.

"You would have done exactly the same thing," Mycroft says smoothly.

"True," Sherlock allows, and waves him to continue.

"The original plans contained a significant number of discrepancies, nothing an ordinary tenant would uncover, of course, but there had clearly been changes made. Though nothing had ever been filed. No architects employed - at least none that ever admitted to it. Or were around to admit to it afterwards."

Mycroft smiles, uncrosses his legs and leans forward in the chair until he can set his empty mug on the table.

"I discovered that the occupant of the house between 1904 and 1916 was one Mr Edward Sullivan, who was generally considered to be..."

Mycroft stops and seems to be searching for a word.

"Distasteful," he settles on finally, dragging it out to give a sense of unpleasantness that John's fairly sure he can feel all the way down to his bones.

"Nice," John offers.

Mycroft shifts sideways and leans on the arm of the chair, ignores Sherlock's muttering in the background about the unreliable narrator.

"There was clearly a period of construction that lasted at least a year, suggesting that the trap within the hallway most certainly wasn't the only modification the unpleasant Mr Sullivan had managed to put inside the house."

"Why would anyone do that?" John asks.

Mycroft raises both eyebrows.

"I'm afraid I couldn’t say what his original motives were. A thorough search into his background could probably provide some insight but record-keeping in the 1920's wasn't exactly a priority. Perhaps there were disreputable people that wished to do him harm, or perhaps he just liked the idea of gruesomely murdering people that came into his house."

"Perhaps he was sick of surprise visits from irritating relatives," Sherlock cuts in.

John glares at Sherlock in a way that he hopes manages to convey exactly what will happen if Sherlock even thinks of booby trapping their front door.

Sherlock rolls his eyes at John's expression like he's reading it perfectly.

"Please, if I thought Mycroft could be taken out by a spike pit I probably would have tried it before now."

"Sherlock," John says warningly.

"I seem to remember you electrifying the kitchen floor once," Mycroft says carefully.

Sherlock wrinkles his nose up. "That wasn't a man trap, that was an experiment in conductivity."

"It was an experiment which came very close to having an unpleasant ending."

"Mr Phillimore," Sherlock prompts. John honestly isn't sure whether he wants to know how the story ends or whether he wants to shift attention away from what, or who, exactly he managed to electrocute in his youth.

Mycroft spreads a hand on the arm of the sofa, taps his shoe on the floor and looks for all the world like he's re-ordering his thoughts.

"I managed to extrapolate, via careful examination where several of the traps were. Though they acted in such a way that Mr Phillimore would have ended up in either a variety of messy pieces or a long stain on the floor. He would certainly not have disappeared without a trace. I was clearly still missing something."

"I bet that was vexing," Sherlock says, drawing out the word with a smile like it has some sort of meaning.

Mycroft takes a moment to glare at him, then gives in and admits the truth of it with a tilt of his head.

"It was vexing, until I realised that I was working on a false premise. I assumed that he'd been somewhere between the front door and the kitchen, naturally. The man had returned for his umbrella. I considered what else he could have meant to collect in those few minutes and one of my conclusions was for a coat more suited to the weather. Mr Phillimore's coats were hanging on coat hooks beneath the stairs."

Mycroft looks at his nails. Which Sherlock clearly considers a blatant pause for effect.

"Get on with it, Mycroft."

If John had a cushion he would have thrown it at him.

"I wouldn't have touched them," John admits. "Not a chance in hell if there was any possibility of being run through by hidden blades, or spikes."

Sherlock looks tragically disappointed that John is in any way interested in Mycroft's attempt at dramatic tension. As if he expects better from him. John really wishes he had a cushion to throw at him, immaturity be damned.

"Oh, I had no intention at all of getting close enough to fall prey to whatever had caused Mr Phillimore's abrupt disappearance," Mycroft says. "I was however, quite prepared to lose an umbrella for the cause."

He taps the arm of the chair, which suggests that he finds the fact that his current umbrella is downstairs briefly irritating.

"I tested several of the hooks, the back wall, the ceiling and finally, the floor." Mycroft's shoe shifts on the carpet, a quiet rush of sound. "The entire left wall shifted sideways, and at some speed. My umbrella was, unfortunately, snapped into several pieces. If I had been fractionally closer I would have been flattened against the second wall and entombed in a space barely four inches wide, perhaps never seen again."

"An ignominious death," Sherlock decides. He sounds significantly less interested now the mystery has been explained.

"Indeed," Mycroft agrees. "I had the small false wall rendered harmless and opened up. And inside was the crushed body of Mr James Phillimore."

"God," John says quietly.

"The mechanism would have taken less than a minute to slowly crush him to death. He was almost certainly dead before anyone even registered that he was missing."

"That's horrible," John says quietly. "Really, really horrible."

"As to why a series of antique traps had suddenly decided to start working after almost eighty years of rust gathering inactivity -" Mycroft shrugs, slowly, and the movement looks oddly foreign on him. "I suppose an expert might have some explanation for it. Though I'm given to understand that Mr Phillimore had recently decided to look for a smaller house, closer to his work."

Mycroft spreads his hands as if the explanation could be found there.

"Perhaps the house simply chose that day to kill James Phillimore."

"Preposterous and overly dramatic," Sherlock says flatly.

John takes a moment to imagine exactly how the man must have felt that morning, being slowly crushed to dead inside a wall of his own house.

"That was...a good story," he says at last. Because someone would have to be seriously disturbed to want to fill their house full of traps.

Mycroft inclines his head, he seems genuinely pleased to have creeped the hell out of John.

Sherlock makes a rude noise.

"Your delivery was dry and it lacked emotional depth."

"I thought you told me stories didn't need emotional depth," John accuses. "You told me it was pointless to dwell on the emotional significance of things."

Sherlock gives a strangled noise and tips his head back to look at him. "It's a story, John. The purpose of which is to involve the listeners. Your characters need to be sympathetic, we need to care what happens to them."

Sherlock shakes his head at Mycroft.

"I personally didn't care whether you were horribly crushed by pre-war mechanisms," he says with a shrug.

"You're horribly biased," John points out. "I was rather invested."

"Thank you, John."

"Don't encourage him, he'll be impossible if you encourage him," Sherlock snaps. He huffs noisily and drags himself round in the chair until he's sitting upright again.

John pulls his mug out of the way before one of Sherlock's feet kicks it halfway across the room.

Sherlock tosses his head like an irritated horse. "I wasn't going to lower myself to providing entertainment but since I do, in fact, have a story that fits the criteria, it would be lazy of me not to throw it out there among your own offerings."

"You have a ghost story?" John says in disbelief.

"I have a story that's disturbing and inexplicable. Whether it contains a ghost or not is a matter of personal opinion and suggestibility. I shall present the evidence and let people make their own conclusions, which I'm given to assume is a style of the genre."

John raises a dubious eyebrow.

"If you're going to tell a ghost story, then I need more tea. Where did you put the blow torch?"

"It rolled under the chair," Sherlock says, seemingly without any sort of worry at all.

John glares at him. "I've been sitting on a blow torch this whole time and you didn't think to say anything."

"It wasn't on. I think you would have noticed if you'd caught fire, John."

"Still, safety procedures. Christ, Sherlock, you're supposed to be intelligent." John gets off the chair and kneels down, reaches underneath it in the dark and feels around for that hard jut of plastic and metal. Hoping to hell that there's no chance of burning his fingers off.

When he drags it out he glares at Sherlock again.

Which is the exact moment the power comes back on in a harsh click of sound, and painfully bright light.

"Christ." John shuts his eyes and winces. Because the world is much too bright, even through his eyelids. John didn't even know the flat was capable of producing this much light.

He's officially blind.

Well, no alright, but his night vision is shot to hell.

Sherlock makes an irritated noise. "Well that solves one problem I suppose."

"I'll put the kettle on as soon as I can see," John says irritably.

"John, stay where you are. We have power now. Mycroft, make yourself useful."

"Sherlock, guests don't make tea," John's still blinking away spots and even Mycroft is squinting unhappily. Sherlock's noise of protest suggests that calling Mycroft a 'guest' is an exaggeration he disapproves of. He seems to be happy enough peering through the hair that's managed to fall untidily in front of his eyes.

"No, Sherlock's right," Mycroft decides, unfolding himself from the chair and pushing himself upright. He holds a hand out for John's mug.

"You really don't have to," John says.

"It's the least I could do."

John's still half trying to hang on to everything - because honestly the idea of Mycroft doing things is frankly bizarre. But Mycroft manages to slip the mug out of his hand while he's still trying to think of some quiet and clever way to protest.

Sherlock doesn't quite throw Mycroft his mug but he's definitely less than careful passing it over. Mycroft drifts past the table in a waft of grey suit and expensive aftershave. John's left floundering. He's not quite sure how Mycroft Holmes ended up in their kitchen making tea with their temperamental kettle and dubious and often surprising sugar/coffee/tea arrangement. He feels like he may have failed in some way as a host and his mother would be so disappointed.

Sherlock can obviously see his guilt, which is irritating.

"Don't discourage him, if politeness can get him off his arse doing something useful then let him."

"Still, guests aren't supposed to make tea,"

"He's not a guest, he's Mycroft, though you shouldn't leave him near the cupboards for long -"

John glares, because completely ignoring the height difference Mycroft isn't all that far off of being the same size as him.

"If you make one crack about biscuits, so help me I will hide your skull somewhere even you won't find it."

"Ha," Sherlock says, like that's a dare.

Mycroft looks far too amused when he rejoins them, and John doesn't fail to notice that he gets his tea first and with a smile rather than a disturbing looking raised eyebrow.

"Thank you." John takes the mug and is briefly surprised to find it exactly the way he takes it. Though he's fairly sure he's never had cause to mention that to Mycroft.

Sherlock's peering into his, as if trying to decide if Mycroft is above obviously poisoning him. And whether he cares particularly given his current desire for tea.

Mycroft folds himself neatly back into his chair, hand wrapped round his mug.

It takes John a moment before he realises how quiet it is. It's stopped raining outside, and the storm appears to have moved on. Though no one else seems to have noticed - no, that's ridiculous, of course they've noticed. They notice everything.

Sherlock must eventually decide that tea wins because he's drinking it the next time John looks at him. Seemingly without the slightest care whether Mycroft's poisoned him or not. John's not surprised, it's probably impolite to poison someone when you're a guest in their house after all.

"You were about to tell us a ghost story," John reminds Sherlock over the steam of his own mug.

Sherlock wraps both hands around his tea and puts his feet up on the table, toes shifting bare inches from the candle flames.

"Yes, I was."

Dagenham Hall

"Two years ago I received a letter from the custodian of Dagenham Hall, just outside Sussex. Built in the seventeenth century by John Hampton. It's an obscenely ostentatious building, most of it completely unnecessary. And it had long had a reputation for being haunted. The request was simple enough, the man wanted an explanation for some of the more lurid stories of 'encounters with the supernatural' that people had been reporting. "

John can feel the air quotes in that sentence.

"I thought people wanted their old manor houses to be haunted," he says. "Isn't it good for tourists and things. Why would they want you to prove it wasn't haunted."

Sherlock shrugs." I don't remember, possibly they'd had enough of sightseers and gawkers, or maybe they were hoping to let the house out for the filming of some dull period drama or another."

"Still, looking into a haunting, that doesn't sound like you."

Sherlock grunts in a way that suggests he's done a lot of things that would surprise people.

"In the last two hundred years there had been at least twenty disappearances and nine deaths in mysterious circumstances inside the house."

John laughs under his breath. "My mistake, there was a seething underbelly of subtle horror and possible murder, of course you'd be interested."

"Exactly," Sherlock lifts his hands like he'd been given the most fabulous present, and narrowly avoids throwing tea everywhere. "Two hundred years of grisly murders and baffling disappearances pinned on ghosts. Ludicrous."

"Naturally you had to explore the concept," Mycroft says.

"Naturally," Sherlock agrees, and he seems to miss how widely he's now smiling at his brother. "I was shown around the Hall by Mr Duncan? Dobson? Dodson! Yes, that's it, Dodson. His brother, who'd been custodian before him had invited in a TV crew from some irritating television show trying to commune with the dead, in a bid for ratings and cheap thrills no doubt."

John groans.

"Yeah, I've seen those on Living, the one with - oh god, what's it called - with the screamy woman and the annoying psychic." John frowns over his mug of tea. "All that unnecessary excitement over bits of dust."

Sherlock gives an irritated shake of his head, like the name of the show doesn't matter at all in regards to his story.

"Irritating, and loud and generally prone to overreact at a moments notice," he offers though. "Mr Dodson didn't approve of all the noise and publicity. His brother had drowned in the bedroom a few years before."

John frowns, absolutely certain that he'd heard that wrong.

"Sorry, the bedroom?"

"Hence the phrase 'deaths in mysterious circumstances' that I used before," Sherlock says slowly and clearly. Then he waves a hand dismissively. "And he's not important."

John frowns and wonders if Sherlock is going to offer them any details that he doesn't consider of vital importance.

He catches Mycroft's brief, sympathetic expression.

So does Sherlock, and he narrows his eyes at it.


John's starting to understand how these two argue. It's all insinuation, interpretation and micro expressions. Until Sherlock is pushed to be loud and obvious and offensive almost in self-defence. They're too alike and too opposite at exactly the same time. Christ, it really is amazing that they have the self-control to be in the same room as each other at all.

"You do know how to ruthlessly tell a story don't you," Mycroft says curiously, though there's a tone of amusement there.

Sherlock glares at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Mycroft folds his hands in almost exactly the same way as Sherlock had done a minute before.

"Some people have difficulty follow a string of pertinent details to their conclusion. I believe there needs to be a human interest element to the story."

Sherlock looks briefly at John with an expression that he can't quite read.

"This story is about me, I was there, I'm the human interest," Sherlock's tone clearly thinks this is obvious, while at the same time being offended at the suggestion he's not interesting enough to carry a story.

John clears his throat and distracts Mycroft by stealing his empty mug. Which gets him a brief but genuine expression of surprise.

"It's fine, you're fine, Sherlock, carry on please."

Sherlock folds his hands, takes a breath.

"Dodson was a quite irritating man, always following me around, asking if I wanted cups of tea and determined to regale me with tales of his lurid but not particularly interesting family history, telling me how nice it was that I'd agreed to come."

"He sounds nice," John says. Because Sherlock's obviously attempting to add details he thinks John might appreciate rather than details he thinks are relevant.

"Does he?" Sherlock honestly sounds surprised. "I found him annoying - wouldn't stop talking."

John tries to hide a laugh behind the empty mug. Mycroft doesn't bother with subterfuge.

Sherlock gives them both stern looks until they stop.

"He'd given me a room upstairs, which I immediately checked thoroughly for speakers, wires, connections to other rooms, any sort of devices which might be helpful if someone was planning to fabricate the most commonly reported symptoms of a so-called haunting. I was eventually satisfied that the room was exactly as it seemed.

I visited the house's library, examined the stair carpet. Searched the most obvious places if someone were inclined to fake audio. I was rewarded, amusingly enough, with proof that the house's occupants in the forties had indeed seen fit to make their own ghostly sounds, probably voices. Though the equipment was unusable by then, having fallen prey to mice and damp. The sounds upstairs could have been explained easily enough, since they were both starlings and bats in the roof.

In the interests of brevity I shall refrain from explaining all that I discovered that first day. Though before the end of the first night I was confident that I had successfully refuted roughly sixty percent of the claims pertaining to a so-called atmosphere or emotional disturbance and even spontaneous bleeding to the interference of infrasound due to the configuration of pipes and an old organ in the hall downstairs. I'd also found explanations for several of the more lurid murders and solved at least three of the disappearances. "

"It sounds like a very successful night," John tells him.

"I thought as much," Sherlock presses his hands together, fingers touching his chin. "I was confident at the time that all the disturbances would have perfectly rational explanations. Even if, due to time, or other circumstances, I never managed to find them all. Dodson followed me, of course, so I couldn't work quite as efficiently as I would have liked. The man seemed completely immune to my desire to avoid him."

John winces, he's seen some of Sherlock's attempts to avoid people. He knows from experience that they're never anything close to subtle. He's starting to feel sorry for Mr Dodson.

"The man seemed compelled to attempt distraction in the form of family history, or food, or other meaningless nonsense. A habit, I surmised eventually, rather than genuine loneliness or a desire to watch the process I employed."

John can picture the two of them all too well and now he's definitely feeling sorry for this Mr Dodson, who had clearly been making friendly overtures.

"So you didn't experience anything you couldn't explain?" John asks.

Sherlock's eyes drift sideways to find his.

"Something which appears to resist all possible explanations at the time does not immediately mean supernatural entities," he says over an unimpressed eyebrow.

"That's not a no," John says.

Sherlock sighs.

"I was at no point harassed by full-bodied apparitions if that's what you mean."

John can't help laughing at Sherlock's expression.

"Be quiet and let me finish," Sherlock tells him.

"Of course, sorry." John gestures for him to continue.

"I spent the second night inspecting the paintings, and doing a little tedious but necessary investigation into Dodson's family background. I assumed he'd be as interested in this as he had been the day before, but he seemed content to wander around downstairs this time, while I did most of my research. I can't say I objected, since he'd already established himself as a distracting individual. This way, at least, I knew where he was all night and could rule him out as a suspect, should I hear anything."

Sherlock stretches his legs out, clears his throat.

"The next morning I came downstairs and I found Mr Dodson hanging from one of the support beams."

The empty mug John's holding hits the cushion.


Sherlock frowns. "There was no ladder, no system at all that would explain how he'd found his way up there. The doors and windows were all locked and no one had interfered with them."

John shakes his head. "He was just -"

"Hanging," Sherlock says again with a flick of his hand. "Very irritating. I've never been able to work out how he ended up fourteen feet in the air without assistance. The police suspected me, obviously, since I was the only one in the house at the time. When they managed to get him down they concluded that he'd been dead at least twelve hours. Which I protested, obviously. Though the rope had seemed unnaturally worn, I was surprised it had managed to hold out that long under the weight of him. Clearly there was a very important and glaring point of contention. Exactly how I'd managed to walk through that room any number of times without noticing his corpse. Which I would consider an absolute impossibility. I have been known to miss important details. But I like to think that a corpse swinging overhead is not one of them."

He presses his hands together again.

"Which leads me to also wonder exactly who I'd been listening to all night. Someone who was roughly the same height and weight as Mr Dodson, though clearly not Mr Dodson, as he had been dead since not very long after dinner."

Sherlock scowls at the opposite wall, like his inability to unravel the mystery still irritates him.

"Christ Sherlock," John says quietly. "Talk about your very own ghost story."

Sherlock huffs like he disapproves of the insinuation.

John can't help but ask though. He just can't. "Do you think -"

"Do I think ghosts had a hand in putting him there, really, John? Really?"

"What is it you always say, once you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains -"

"However improbable," Mycroft adds with a half smile.

"Must be the truth," John finishes.

"Oh shut up, both of you," Sherlock tells them, and stares into his empty mug to see if it can somehow provide more tea. "I didn't mean interference from beyond the grave. "

"Was the floor wet, or warped in any way?" Mycroft asks curiously.

"No," Sherlock says flatly. Then raises an eyebrow. "But that would have been very clever, very clever indeed."

"The space above -" Mycroft starts.

"I walked through several times. I would have seen his body if it was hidden anywhere there."

"The curtains -"

"Tapestries," Sherlock corrects.

"How were they hung?"

Sherlock's eyes narrow and then his eyes suddenly widen and he stares at his brother.

"Hmm," Mycroft says simply.

"Stupid," Sherlock says. "I should have looked."

"The rope," Mycroft adds

"I know!" Sherlock throws his hands up. "And the brother."

John's just going to accept the fact that he's completely lost. As is often the case.

"We could probably find out," Sherlock decides suddenly, looking for all the world ready to explode into action

"No,” John says stiffly. "We are not going to Sussex at midnight to explore your theories on a murder in a haunted house."

"Tomorrow," Sherlock insists, looking like a child who's been promised presents.

"Maybe tomorrow," John relents.

"Mycroft can come too."

"Sherlock -" Mycroft starts.

Sherlock waves a hand at him, dismissing whatever he's about to say.

"You're only busy when you want to be and you know it. Besides, you're always protesting that I avoid spending time with you. Here I am, offering to spend time with you. You'll look disingenuous if you refuse."

Mycroft pulls a face and sighs, leading John to believe Sherlock has scored a point. John's tempted to complain about Sherlock planning a day trip without consulting any of them. But he's saving the complaining up for when he thinks it might actually make a difference.

"Three stories and not a single ghost," John says. "I don't know whether to be disappointed or amused."

"Of course, if this were a proper ghost story you would have died somewhere out there in the storm and we'd have been talking to your ghost all evening," Sherlock says.

"I had died out there I think I would have been less irritated by the fact that my sock has only just dried. I don't think ghosts have to worry much about damp socks," John argues.

Mycroft's legs shift, then cross again.

"Or perhaps we're confounding expectations and we would be playing the deceased in this story, and you the only living party unwillingly playing host to us, John," he offers.

John eyeballs them both. "It does make sense that you two would continue to argue your way through the afterlife. But I think dead people generally require less tea."

"You're always complaining that you never get a day where nothing strange or unexpected happens in the flat," Sherlock points out.

"Oh, I don't know. You've both been sitting here talking almost civilly to each other for four hours, that's both strange and unexpected I should imagine."

Mycroft and Sherlock both look at each other, a curious eyebrow raised on each side. It's much more disturbing when they both look at John though. As if he might have in some way been the cause of that.

"Don't look at me, I just made tea - most of the tea."

"Your tea was superior," Sherlock offers, though John's fairly sure he's just saying that so he doesn’t have to pay Mycroft any sort of compliment. Possibly because the universe might swallow itself.

"One day maybe we'll find out what your tea's like," John says with a pointed look.

Sherlock rolls his eyes.

Mycroft lays his hands on the arms of the chair.

"Interesting as this has been, John has made a good point. I really should be going. November is going to be very busy, very busy indeed."

"Are you alright to get home?" John asks. "It's gone midnight."

Sherlock snorts, like the idea of Mycroft being lost or otherwise stranded is the most entertaining thing he's heard for months.

"I'm fine thank you, John, absolutely fine." Mycroft slides his phone out and sends a very brief text.

"Eight o'clock tomorrow morning, Mycroft."

"Nine," John complains. "It's a Monday and I refuse to get up early on a Monday if I don't have to."

"Nine," Sherlock agrees reluctantly.

Mycroft looks between then with something like a smile on his face. Something like it, but not quite.

"I suppose I can spare one day," he says with a sigh. Then he pushes himself to his feet and this is the first time John has seen creases in his immaculate trousers. It's apparently a night of strange firsts.

"It will give your cowering minions a break, if nothing else," Sherlock tells him.

Mycroft tuts. "My minions don't cower, Sherlock. Since I am not, in fact, a super-villain."

Sherlock glares up at him. "You'd probably be more interesting if you were."

"Perhaps I'll attempt to take over the world for your birthday," Mycroft says tonelessly and John honestly couldn't swear whether he was joking or not.

John gets up as well. "I'll see you out."

Sherlock frowns and drags his legs off the table.

"He knows the way out. He's unlikely to get lost between here and the front door."

John glares at Sherlock over his shoulder and drifts after him anyway.

Mycroft retrieves his umbrella from the stand, and he makes a small noise when his fingers curve round the handle. Like he'd been vaguely lost without it.

"Thank you, John, for the tea and the company."

"No, it was good, it was interesting, thank you for the story. We'll both see you tomorrow, I guess."

"Tomorrow," Mycroft agrees with a smile and then disappears out into the street, where a black car is lurking somewhere in the darkness.

John can hear Sherlock grumbling to himself as he makes his way back upstairs. He steals Mycroft's seat opposite him - no his seat opposite him.

"Look at you, spending a whole Halloween with your brother and not murdering each other, it's just like a horror movie."

"I believe I agreed to spend tomorrow with him as well," Sherlock says darkly. "I think I may be possessed."

"Desperate to be proved right somewhere where he can be a witness to you being smug about it more likely."

Sherlock doesn't dignify that with an answer. He's busy noticing something else pertinent though.

"The powers back on, I need tea."

"You can't live on tea you know," John says with a frown. He hopes the unspoken 'I am not making you tea' comes through as well.

Sherlock pokes at his knees with his toes, like he's investigating new ways to compel John into tea-making.

John catches Sherlock's foot and tightens his fingers.

"Promise you won't behave like a five year old tomorrow. I refuse to sit in a car with the both of you for two hours if you're sniping at each other like small children."

"If he starts it -"

"Then you will be the mature adult for a change and won't let him draw you into world war three."

"Mycroft can be infuriating." Sherlock's voice is a low curl of frustrated honesty.

"You can be infuriating, only in a way that's louder, messier and more obvious than your brother. That's what tends to get you in trouble."

"Do you really find me that obnoxious?" Sherlock says. It's half complaint and half genuine question.

"Oh for heaven's sake, no, do you want me to tell you that I like you best, is that what this is?"

Sherlock says nothing, but there's a petulant tilt to his chin which is particularly incriminating.

"God, you do, don't you? You're an idiot sometimes, you know that."

Sherlock tries to drag his foot away and John holds onto it, digs his fingers into Sherlock's ankle and pins it in his lap.

"I like you best, happy. If only because you're the sort of unpredictable crazy that I have to like as some sort of strategic self-defence." It's true as well, as insane as it sounds. Sherlock is...he's Sherlock and there really is no better explanation than that.

"I should probably be insulted by that but I don't think I am." Sherlock sounds confused about that.

"You're also brilliant and reckless and inventive and insane and - and I'm going to stop saying nice things about you now because your smile is just getting smug," John decides.

The smile doesn't fall either, it stays on Sherlock's face. It's lopsided and real and it suits him.

John abruptly realises he's still holding Sherlock's bare foot, and the skin is impossibly smooth under his fingers. He lets his hands fall away.

"I should go to bed, you should go to bed too, since you roped us into an adventure with your brother tomorrow. Thank you for that by the way."

Sherlock doesn't bother to pull his foot free, he leaves it rocking on John's knee instead. John pushes it until it drops. Then he licks his thumb and finger, reaches forward and pinches the candles out.

"Don't stay up all night. You'll only end up prowling around tomorrow like an irritated leopard - starving for caffeine and talking a mile a minute."

Sherlock snorts at the description and moves his feet so John can get up.

John must be tired, because it's a long way upstairs. He can hear Sherlock clanking about downstairs, probably putting his phone on to charge; since John had failed to do it and Sherlock would probably break out in hives if he had to go without his phone for too long. The clanking sounds move to the kitchen and John hopes he's not going to wake up to some sort of noxious experiment. Because there are better starts to the week than potentially poisonous fumes invading the flat.

His wet clothes are still in the bathroom and he ignores them in favour of getting ready for bed with the least amount of effort possible.

Sherlock catches him coming out of the bathroom, or rather he almost runs straight into him. John's halfway through an exasperated version of his name when Sherlock curls a hand in his jumper and tugs him into his own personal space, tilts down, and kisses him.

John's left hand is still wrapped round the handle of the bathroom door. One of Sherlock's bare feet is pressed down onto his own, and there are fingers tangled in his jumper, knuckles close enough to dig uncomfortably into his chest. It's a confusing mess of sensations, but the most important is definitely the warm and completely unexpected crush of a mouth over his own.

John's muffled noise of surprise doesn't sound as much like an objection as it probably should. It certainly doesn't stop anything. Leaning away would probably stop it. But for some reason he's not doing that.

There are cold fingers on the back of his neck, the ends just pushing into his hair and Sherlock is curved over him, blocking out most of the light. It's dark and it's warm and there's an intimacy to it which feels almost unbearably strange.

"Sherlock." It's all that comes out when John eventually gets a hand up - much too late - gets a breath of space between them.

Sherlock seems to have forgotten his own name, because rather than forming any sort of coherent answer, he kisses him again. It's warmer and softer than it has any right to be. John thinks he could work up some sort of resistance to roughness, to pressure. But this is almost polite, gentle - very un-Sherlock-like. Sherlock is almost certainly taking advantage of the fact that he's surprised him.

"Stop kissing me," John says against his mouth, which is possibly the most ridiculous thing he's ever said. Though he can't quite decide what wouldn't be under the circumstances.

Sherlock's sigh is irritated, and suggests he fully expected John to be difficult about this.

"What are you doing?" John tries instead. It isn't quite as loud or as strident as he expects it to be. It sounds more like an amused chastisement than anything else, and John doesn't mean it to sound like that at all.

"Tell me with absolute certainty that we were never going to end up here," Sherlock says firmly. "That you hadn't thought about it at all." His expression is too focused and too intent and John doesn't like feeling like an experiment at all. Though the has the feeling it's rather too late for that.

"Of course I've thought about it," John manages through a dry throat. He licks his lips and Sherlock watches the movement with a strange sort of fascination. "You do realise you have personal space issues, obvious and distracting personal space issues."

Sherlock ignores that part of the conversation, like it's not important. "It makes sense to confront this before it becomes a problem."

John shakes his head, because...what?

"It wasn't a problem, it wasn't even on the horizon until today -" John stops, scowls and leans back until there's a few inches between them. Because things are starting to make an odd sort of sense in his head. "Are you kissing me because I was nice to your brother?"

Sherlock stills, not long, it's just a second of tension, but it's more than long enough to be incriminating.

"Oh my god, you are, aren't you?" John's irritated noise of refusal doesn't quite manage not to sound hurt, and he's trying to get out from the brace of Sherlock's arms without actually pushing him off.

"This isn't some sort of contest," Sherlock rushes out all in one go. "I'm not competing with him."

John stops trying to extricate himself. He folds his arms and glares at him.

"Well good, because let me tell you right now that neither of you are winning that one."

"Mycroft has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I wanted to kiss you," Sherlock insists.

John swallows at the admission, even if the tone of it doesn't betray anything.

"Well forgive me for thinking it's out of character. This is you after all. People and their emotions, getting in the way of important things like facts and details and -"

"You're misquoting me again," Sherlock accuses.

John nods. "But I think I got the general gist of it."

Sherlock's eyes are still sharp enough and close enough to be disturbing. "You're the exception, it seems."

John frowns. "You don't like exceptions, they make things difficult, unpredictable."

"Yes," Sherlock agrees, and he doesn't look happy about it. He looks irritated and confused and not happy at all. John doesn't have a clue why that makes it better.

"I thought you didn't do relationships?"

"We seem compelled to have one, whether we like it or not."

John's not sure how Sherlock manages to make it all sound so sensible. Though it's hard to protest when you've thought the same thing a time or two. But John still wants to complain, especially after Sherlock's just admitted the reason he started this in the first place.

"That's not a good reason - look you don't kiss people because it's expected, or because you think it'll happen eventually anyway," John tries, and that sounds sensible enough. "It's not like buying bread, or tomatoes."

"You told me I couldn't be trusted to buy tomatoes."

There's a second of confused silence.

"I think you just derailed my metaphor," John accuses finally and exhales.

He pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Look I've done this before, obviously, because you know everything and you've probably read that already in my sleeves or my ears, or the way I part my hair or something equally ridiculous. I've done this -" he waves a hand to indicate, in some awkward way, how close they're standing and the kissing and everything else " - but I've never actually had a relationship. I've never wanted a relationship with another -"

Sherlock's staring at him, one eyebrow raised.

"Christ," John decides on finally.

Sherlock's bare feet look so naked and John wishes, for once, that he could read something helpful in them.

Sherlock mutters something about 'finally being on the same page.' John is confused, but not quite confused enough to miss the way Sherlock tugs his jaw up again. John knows he should be protesting, knows why he should be protesting, but Sherlock's kissing him again before he can decide how to go about that. He's walking him back into the wall with a thump, and now there's leverage, and balance and somewhere to brace and all of John's arguments are derailed. Because he'd never actually given serious thought to what kissing Sherlock would be like, really kissing him. And contrary to what he might have thought Sherlock is really very good at it. He's really, stupidly, incredibly good at it. Even though it's immensely irritating having to tip his head back so far, because Sherlock is so blastedly tall. John thinks Sherlock quite likes it and he knows he should be annoyed about that. But Sherlock has very rarely, obviously liked anything, so he lets him do it.

It's dangerous thinking about the things John might let Sherlock do if he just shows that he wants them. He manages to pull away, to stop Sherlock's fingers from derailing his train of thought where they're moving restlessly on the skin of his arm and the back of his neck.

"I don't want to be an experiment," John says stiffly.

"Everything is an experiment," Sherlock protests.

"Then can I at least be an important one," John says huffily, before he thinks about it, then wonders if that sounds a little too needy and ridiculous. Because he didn't mean it like that at all. Probably.

"Yes," Sherlock says simply, as if it's that easy. "If you like."

John can't help the way his hand strays up inside the purple shirt, and Sherlock is warm and smooth and slender under his fingers in a way he's not used to. But it's still good, more than good, in a way he's fairly sure he shouldn't be allowed.

"I think you enjoy turning my entire world upside down." It sounds like an accusation because it is, because that's exactly what Sherlock's been doing since they first met, carefully overturning his preconceived ideas about almost everything.

Sherlock snorts. "I think it's only fair considering."

"It's different for you, you're brilliant. I can't always keep up." John hates admitting it, but he's thought it often enough. Being around Sherlock is like being alive all the time and it's not always nice. But John's starting to worry that he couldn't go without it.

"Don't be ridiculous, of course you can." Sherlock forestalls any attempt to reply to that by pushing long hands inside John's jumper and working it up his chest and over his head.

"This is insane," John says when he's free. But then he can't talk at all, because Sherlock's kissing him again, long hands curling round his ribs and pulling them in the direction of his room. A noise escapes his throat at that, something messy and half strangled. It's followed by a low, heavy jerk of arousal, because kissing is one thing - kissing is one thing but going to bed together, having sex is something else entirely. Something that can't be shrugged off so easily.

But he's not stopping, in fact he's fighting with the tiny buttons on the purple shirt until it's open and then abruptly on his bedroom floor. Sherlock's arms are long and smooth and suddenly spread out on John's bed and he really can't remember why this was a bad idea. Why he ever thought this was a bad idea.

The slow sinuous way Sherlock lifts his hips leaves John swearing and tugging open his trousers with more force than strictly necessary. He slides his hands under the material, finds the warmth of Sherlock's bare skin under them and almost gets distracted there. He almost gets tangled up in the awkward, cramped fight to get them closer together rather than get them undressed.

But eventually he has sense enough to grasp and pull at Sherlock's trousers and shorts, he tugs everything down his thighs and off. Which leaves Sherlock naked on his bed, long and pale and fucking breath-taking. Which John thinks is completely unfair. It's completely and totally unfair that Sherlock is all curves and dips and hollows that he just wants to taste. Only Sherlock's a greedy, demanding, infuriating, impossible man. He's already snatching John's wrist and sliding to a sit and pulling him close again, pulling him against all that skin and heat, hands pushing his jeans down at the back with what feels like an aggressive distaste for the material. Long hands and fingers sliding down and grasping and pulling.

John's bed is too small and he has no choice but to cover Sherlock's body with his own. Destroying any hope of this being in any way a sensible and measured exploration. Because Sherlock is all narrow limbs and sharp hipbones and impatience. He's already developed an obsession with tugging John's hair when he wants a kiss, and it's never a request and John can't quite tell him to stop. There's a low, deep shudder of heat in his stomach every time Sherlock's fingers decide to be demonstrative in the short strands. John suspects it's far too late to hope Sherlock hasn't noticed, because he knows he's going to shamelessly take advantage of it.

"You're going to kill me." John already sounds out of breath.

"Ludicrous," Sherlock counters and then his own breath stutters out of him when John presses down, dick sliding warm and hard against the weight of Sherlock's. They fit together so easily, which should be impossible, Sherlock would probably have an explanation for it, something that makes sense.

"Oh." Sherlock sounds lost for a fraction of a second. Though it doesn't last long. "You should let me go on top, I'll have better leverage."

"No," John says and maybe there's a little greed there - or a lot, because now Sherlock's laughing and sliding warm naked thighs against his own in a way that tugs all the air out of him and leaves his hands pressing and catching on every inch of skin they can reach. John wants - he needs to learn how to distract Sherlock, before the man owns him completely.

"Are you going to admit that you wanted this now?" Sherlock says instead.

"Stop talking," John hisses and pulls Sherlock's head back by his hair, fingers tangling and digging and dragging it away from his face. John kisses him until the mumbled noises of affront stop. Then there's just breath and the unsteady pushes up against him, all warmth and quiet aggression that shove John closer and closer to mindlessness. It's good, it's really good, messy and imperfect in a way he didn't expect it to be. It all feels completely and utterly genuine and Sherlock's fingers are sliding over his back and digging in. John can read the demand, the impatience without needing any words. But he can't get enough leverage on the sheets the way they're lying and Sherlock's laughing an 'I told you so,' into his mouth.

But it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter at all.

Sherlock loops a foot round the bottom of his own and presses his hand against the wall behind him - and oh, Christ, it's perfect and he can push as hard as he likes.

Sherlock appreciates the enthusiasm, and John learns that Sherlock Holmes does not object at all to being bitten. He doesn't think he's ever randomly discovered anything so glorious in his life.

John's mumbling out something about how Sherlock may be the best thing - may in fact kill him. But he thinks it's mostly breath and appreciative noises and nonsense. There's a rough shudder of air and Sherlock's groan is soft and deep and John digs his thumbs into Sherlock's hipbones and pushes up just enough to watch. His hips are still moving but Sherlock has tensed into stillness, fingers tight enough to hurt on his neck and waist. It's impossible to watch Sherlock come and not react to it. Not to abortively thrust and swear and lose it completely and make a mess of both of them.

When John can see straight again he's breathing into the hard jut of Sherlock's collarbone, though there's been no protest against his weight yet. Sherlock's just breathing, body completely limp. One of his hands has slid sideways and is now hanging off the bed.

Sherlock does eventually mumble something unhappy.

John rolls away and feels the prickling drag of cool air across his damp skin.

Sherlock fishes something off of the floor, wipes his stomach off with a faint noise of disgust before dropping whatever it was somewhere near what's left of their clothes.

"Was that my shirt?" John asks.

"Yes." Sherlock's now sprawled haphazardly but artistically across most of the bed, and John feels messy and strangely uneven in comparison. But he's too relaxed to care much right now. One of Sherlock's legs slides over his, a press of weight and muscle that could be an afterthought but feels like something else entirely.

"Well, now we've changed our relationship irrevocably," Sherlock offers, like it was something he intended to cross off his list at some point.

John wouldn't be surprised if Sherlock had a list.

"You started it," he accuses lazily.

"I didn't see you resisting very hard." Sherlock's voice is easy and so deep in his throat it's more vibration than sound.

John shuts his eyes and tries to breathe normally. "All that talk about how it was going to happen eventually. You confused me."

Sherlock's snort of amusement is louder than it has any right to be.

"That's really not that hard." John should be offended by that, but Sherlock rolls over and there's considerably more than the slender length of his leg touching him now. There's a curve of chest and the side of an arm and - oh, now a leg draped carelessly over his own.

He forgets what he was supposed to be offended about.

It's raining again, John can hear it drumming against the window and Sherlock is quiet and it's all strangely surreal and nice. He never expected anything like this at the start of the night. Or an hour ago when he was drinking tea and listening to stories about killer houses and hanged men.

Though it occurs to him that he's going to have to face Mycroft in roughly eight hours and the man's going to know everything.

"Stop thinking about my brother," Sherlock complains, though more with amusement than genuine annoyance this time.

"I wasn't," John protests and then realises that's not entirely true. "I was just thinking about how I certainly didn't expect this when the night started out."

"Still, I'm naked in your bed, it's bad manners."

The admission may or may not provoke a prickle of satisfaction everywhere they touch.

"What do you know about manners?"

"I know about manners," Sherlock says haughtily. "I've read extensively about manners."

John has something to say about that too. That knowing about manners and seeing fit to use them are two different things entirely. But before he can even open his mouth Sherlock's thigh slides between his own, a press of skin and hair and promise. John wonders, for a brief and startling second, if he's going to manage two orgasms in one night. Because he hasn't done that for...a while.

Probably not.

He drops a hand and finds the warmth of Sherlock's skin, slides his hand higher, just because he can and pins it still. John's fingers are drifting, squeezing just a little, though Sherlock doesn't seem to mind. His brain is apparently sufficiently appeased by the endorphins not to try and escape. He wonders if he keeps his hand there whether Sherlock will be forced to stay.

Sherlock's irritated exhale drifts warmly over his ear.

"Of course I'm staying. I really can't be bothered to get up and travel all the way back to my own room. Also, you're pleasantly warm."

John stares at the ceiling.

"Are you going to have sex with me just because it's convenient now?" John can't help but ask.

"Probably," Sherlock admits.

John's fingers still on his thigh, he gets as far as a frown before Sherlock makes a noise in his throat.

"But that won't be the only reason," Sherlock adds.

After a pause Sherlock's arm stretches over him. For a second John thinks Sherlock intends to slide it round his waist, which is a genuine surprise. Though one he doesn't intend to object to.

But then Sherlock's long fingers find John's phone on the table beside his bed and drag it over, fingers casually flipping it open on his chest.

It's chilly against his skin.

"I don't know why I put up with you," John says with a laugh.

"Because I'm brilliant," Sherlock says into his throat, and John thinks he can feel the curve of a smile.

"That you are," John agrees. "That you are."