Mycroft Holmes was an unlikely hero.
But when it came down to it, he always had and always would come to the rescue of his baby brother. Even when said brother did not want to be rescued. Especially then, probably, because that was when action was most necessary.
Of course, he would never claim that his actions were inspired by anything even approaching a noble gesture; to the contrary, he always insisted that he acted only from the most selfish of motivations. Such as, keeping his own life placid, which often meant putting out small fires before the flames caught the attention of a certain maternal figure and probably then becoming a roaring conflagration.
A perfect example of that fire-tending was the morning he unexpectedly turned up at St. Barts to confront Sherlock. His brother had just walked into the canteen for a cup of tea that was bound to be dreadful. Mycroft’s gaze swept over the fatally wrinkled suit, the tangle of curls that had clearly not seen either shampoo or conditioner in far too long and the under-eye dark circles that were painfully obvious against the other man’s pale skin. He thought about asking where Sherlock had been sleeping for the past fortnight, but, probably wisely, decided to just get down to the reason for his presence. At any rate, now that he could see Sherlock for himself, he knew the answer. One of the benefits of having a young woman who was foolishly enamoured with oneself working in the morgue, Mycroft supposed. For himself, he did not think that passing his nights amongst the dead would prove very restful. But, then, Sherlock had always been odd.
“I cannot bear watching you and your ‘friend’ dancing around one another any longer,” he said irritably. “It annoys me.” There was no reason to ease his way into the conversation with polite platitudes. Neither he nor his brother had the patience for such common courtesies. To the unending consternation of Mummy, of course.
Sherlock only looked at him for a moment and then paid for his tea.
“Dr Watson is being discharged tomorrow, I understand,” Mycroft continued, watching as Sherlock added a splash of milk and far too much sugar to the utilitarian white mug, which had a small chip on the handle. “I will send a car to collect you both.”
“Not necessary,” Sherlock replied immediately; his usual acerbic disdain was so muted as to be almost indiscernible. Perhaps he did not find sleeping on a cold slab surrounded by the deceased very restful either.
Mycroft felt a sudden stab of something which might have been sympathy, but he dismissed it as swiftly as Sherlock would have done in the same circumstance.
They sat at a small table near the door.
Mycroft took care not to let any bit of his person come in contact with the sticky table-top, ignoring Sherlock’s faint sneer at his fastidiousness. “Oh, so you have a plan, then, for where you and your…companion will go upon his discharge? A place where he can recuperate fully?”
When Sherlock said nothing in reply, Mycroft knew that the skirmish was over, although he took little pleasure in the victory. At the moment, his brother was like a wounded creature that lacked the adrenaline to engage in any battle.
Taking sudden and unexpected pity on the tired, vulnerable man sitting opposite him, Mycroft did not gloat. Instead, he merely checked his watch and tsk-tsked. “I must go. Her Majesty gets so tetchy when one is even a minute tardy.” He stood and then paused just for a moment. “I am very glad that Dr Watson is recovering from his injuries,” he said quietly.
Sherlock continued to stare into his tea. “You never liked John,” he pointed out.
“On the contrary,” Mycroft replied. “Admittedly, I did not always believe that the relationship was to your benefit, but that was as much your fault as his. But I am willing to accept that you have both finally grown up enough to behave as adults. Hence the car.” He leaned down closer to Sherlock and spoke softly. “Time to stop the dancing, brother mine. Decide finally what you want and act accordingly.”
Before Sherlock could reply, if he were even inclined to do so, Mycroft swept from the canteen as if he were exiting Buckingham Palace itself.
So it was that the next day, when John Watson was finally set free from hospital, a ridiculously long and shining black limousine was waiting at the curb [in a spot clearly marked as No Standing/Waiting, of course.] Sherlock sighed a bit, but knew that there was really no choice, so he just opened the door and let John slide a bit awkwardly into the backseat. He watched as John stashed the hated cane out of sight on the floor and then slid in after him.
The car moved slowly away through the traffic.
“Any idea where we’re going?” John asked, seeming fatigued even by the short journey to the car.
“Not a clue,” Sherlock replied, smirking a bit. “Certainly not my place on Montague Street. The landlord and I came to a rather acrimonious parting of the way just before…” He glanced quickly at John’s shoulder, the bandaging obvious under the faded RMAC tee-shirt he wore. “Just before,” he repeated more softly. “Mycroft put his enormous nose in, of course, and cleared out all of my things while I was waiting for you to wake up.” Sherlock frowned. “Which you took an exorbitantly long time to do, John.”
“Sorry,” John replied lightly. He smiled at Sherlock, who just frowned again.
There was a pause.
Then Sherlock’s face took on a woebegone expression. “I assume all my earthly goods are in his box room by now.”
John leant his head back against the plush leather and closed his eyes. “I imagine Mycroft’s box room to be decorated in gold gilt and velvet wallpaper,” he said.
Sherlock snorted inelegantly.
“So you really have been sleeping in the morgue?” John asked, without opening his eyes. “I thought that was your idea of a joke.”
“It was very quiet,” Sherlock said in his own defence.
John just shook his head, another small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“And while I know very well that it has been a very long time since we saw one another, surely you remember my infamous lack of any sense of humour.”
“On the contrary, you are one of the funniest people I have ever met,” John said.
With that, they surrendered to an inevitable ignorance regarding their destination and just settled in for the ride. Before long, the car was gliding along the M23.
Sherlock’s hand edged along the seat until it bumped against John’s where it lay. He did not breathe, waiting to see what would happen, half-fearing that John would jerk away.
He did not. Instead, he wrapped his fingers around Sherlock’s.
Neither man spoke.
Not speaking was, for them, far from a new thing, of course. They had yet to even mention the words that Sherlock had finally spoken in the hospital room soon after John awoke. Although John had not said as much, Sherlock was convinced that he had heard the quiet “I love you” that had been whispered into the air. Apparently, they were just pretending that the words had not been said.
If he were inclined to give his brother any credit at all, Sherlock might even concede to the ‘dancing around’ that Mycroft had mentioned.
Annoyingly, Sherlock actually found himself hoping that whatever dark scheme his brother had put into place might actually succeed.
As Sherlock had deduced less than halfway through their journey, although he said nothing to John, their destination turned out to be a cottage that might well have come off the lid of an old-fashioned chocolate box. Weathered brick, faded white-washed wood. Even a bloody thatched roof. It also enjoyed a most advantageous position, poised as it was on a high point of the Sussex landscape, with the ocean in one direction and the Downs in the other.
Even after the car had driven off, they remained standing side by side at the gate. Before leaving, the driver had handed Sherlock a key and then removed two obviously new leather suitcases from the boot. Sherlock recognised them as being Ghurka luggage, from Fortnum and Mason’s. Apparently someone had done the shopping for their country holiday. “Also,” the driver said as he got back behind the wheel, “the kitchen is fully stocked.” A moment later, the car had vanished down the road.
Mycroft had always been an annoyingly methodical planner.
John was still staring at the two suitcases. “Those look expensive,” he said softly.
“Oh, they are,” Sherlock assured him. Mycroft was such a poncy idiot.
They contemplated both the luggage and the situation for a moment.
Again, it was John who broke the silence. “What the fuck is going on here?”
“I suppose this is Mycroft trying to…ease our way,” Sherlock responded, choosing his words carefully. He only hoped John did not ask what he meant. Or maybe he hoped that John would ask.
John, as was his inclination, chose to evade, although his gaze was thoughtful when he turned it to Sherlock. “Does he own this place?”
Sherlock bent to pick up the bags, frowning fiercely when John moved as if to help, and they moved towards the door. “It’s a family place, has been for generations. I’ve not been here in years. Since I was about seven, I think.” They reached the door and Sherlock glanced at John, one brow lifted. “I believe my parents honeymooned here, which does not bear thinking of.”
John could not help the laugh he gave at the expression of horror on Sherlock’s face.
Sherlock’s lips twitched in a tiny smile. He used the key to unlock the door and stood aside to allow John to precede him in.
It was a clear indication of just how their journey from the hospital to the cottage had exhausted John that he raised no real objection when Sherlock immediately shepherded him into one of the bedrooms and ordered him to rest. “You are just out of hospital and I promised the doctor that I would see to it that you followed his orders. Plenty of rest was first on the list.”
John’s glare was half-hearted at best. “Sherlock Holmes, consulting nurse,” he muttered, while at the same time, he was already slipping off his shoes and stretching out on top of the bed. Even before Sherlock had retrieved a quilt from the top of the wardrobe, John’s eyes were closed and his breathing had slowed to the rhythm of sleep.
Sherlock carefully covered him with the quilt, which he unexpectedly remembered had been made by his French grandmother. With one hand, he smoothed the soft fabric over John’s shoulders and then, almost of its own accord, that hand moved up to push the over-long hair from John’s forehead and back into place. It was a moment before he realised that John’s eyes had opened again, although his gaze seemed vague. Sherlock almost jerked his hand back, but instead he smoothed the hair again; whether the gesture was made in defiance or supplication was unclear, even to Sherlock himself.
Whatever the motivation had been, John’s only reaction was to smile dreamily and then to slip into sleep again.
Sherlock left him to rest.
John, I only ever kicked that silly ball around because you wanted to and I like spending time with you.
Subtext: You are too busy for the annoying public school boy.
Stage lights and beautiful music. That was not really me. I’m just a freak with a racing brain and a drug habit.
Well, you’re the hero, aren’t you? I’m just the freak who gets high.
John, I love you.
He woke with a start.
John had no idea how long he had been sleeping, but it must have been several hours, because the room was almost dark, only a pale grey light coming in through the window. Dream images still crowded his mind and they were all of Sherlock, the good and the bad.
The five-year-old with the lisp lecturing him on pirates and the uses of a cutlass. The young and gangly boy afraid that his love of ballet would cause his only friend to abandon him. The rebellious teen, the perpetual Silver Cut hanging from his lips in search of a bad boy reputation. The addict.
John realised that his whole life, all that he had been, was and would be, was tied up in that name, that man. Enough time had been wasted and enough opportunities had been thrown away for stupid, stupid reasons. Maybe they didn’t even deserve a bloody happy ending by now, but if John Hamish Watson had anything to say about it, they were going to have one. And it was going to start tonight.
Slowly, stiffly, he shifted his body to first sit up on the bed and then stand. He realised that there was an ensuite, so he went into the small, but immaculate room to piss and then splash some cold water in his face. It was an awkward task using only one arm. For just a moment, John stared at his reflection in the mirror, wishing that he looked less haggard, while realising at the same time that it did not matter. With a sigh, he reached for the cane again.
The cottage was quiet as John made his way to a cosy sitting room. Sherlock was standing at the window, apparently lost in thought as he gazed out at a garden only dimly visible in the descending night. Clearly, he had finally showered and tended to his curls properly; now he was wearing what looked like a silk dressing gown over pyjama trousers.
John walked over and stood next to him. There was no hesitancy left in him. “I love you, too,” he said quietly.
Sherlock was as still as marble for a long moment, but finally he turned his head and met John’s gaze. “That’s very good,” he said.
“I think so.” John moved just a little so that he could clasp Sherlock’s hand, much as he had done when they were five years old and venturing onto the dangerous battlefield of the schoolyard together.
They stood in silence for a time, watching as the last of the daylight leaked away and a small rabbit scurried across the garden, seeking the sanctuary of its warren.
“They say this cottage is haunted by a couple of ghosts” Sherlock finally murmured, his thumb slowly, carefully, caressing John’s palm. “Supposedly by my great-great uncle. He lived here with a friend, apparently. for years. I’m actually named after him.”
Sherlock nodded. “He raised bees and I found his apiary journal in the attic once. It was fascinating.”
John was finding the slow, gentle movement of Sherlock’s thumb against his hand almost hypnotic. “Is that what got you interested in bees?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I suppose.” They leaned into one another. “Mycroft told me about the ghosts the last time we were here. He thought it would frighten me.”
“Mycroft is an idiot,” John pointed out. “I imagine you really wanted to see those ghosts. Did you sit up all night hoping for a visit?”
John kissed him.
The earth did not tremble nor were fireworks visible in the sky; it was much quieter than that. The kiss was a soft homecoming after a journey that had lasted far too long. They crossed the threshold and finally rid themselves of the baggage they had carried all that time. When the kiss ended, neither of them moved away. Instead, they stayed as they were, close enough to feel the other’s gentle exhalations, taking them in as if those breaths were necessary for life.
Finally, Sherlock rested his forehead against John’s. “You need to eat,” he said. Second on the doctor’s list of rules was that you take in appropriate nourishment. I will prepare something. You sit.”
John poked a finger in Sherlock’s ribs. “You need to eat as well,” he pointed out.
Sherlock, already heading for the kitchen, just gave a careless wave.
John smiled faintly as he turned to study the room. There was a fire burning beneath an oak mantel that was crowded with framed family photographs that seemed to cover several generations. John determined to examine them later to see if a young Sherlock appeared, as his own photographs of their childhood had been in his mother’s attic for several years. Scattered amongst the photos were seashells and other detritus that he couldn’t make out. The furniture was of good quality, worn and comfortable looking. A few watercolours hung on the walls, only dimly visible in the light of the fire. John moved towards the sofa, pausing to turn on the lamp. Just before his fingers touched the switch, he was startled to see [or imagine, probably] two figures sitting in front of the fire, men dressed in old-fashioned suits, smoking pipes and holding brandy snifters. As John watched, they lifted the snifters in what appeared to be a toast while smiling at one another.
John blinked, but the image did not vanish as he had expected. He watched them for another moment and then his fingers, almost without intention, turned on the lamp and the figures were gone.
He could hear Sherlock moving around in the kitchen, the sound of dishes and silverware being set on the table. John smiled and finally sat on the sofa, which was as comfortable as it looked. Maybe over the meal he would tell Sherlock about the two figures.
In the end, he did not mention what he had seen as they ate their simple meal of cold gammon, salad, and lemon tarts. They drank too much tea and carried on a languid conversation about nothing in particular. More than with words, however, they spoke with lingering glances and an occasional brushing of fingers.
When the meal was over, Sherlock did a quick tidy of the kitchen, as John watched and then they went to bed. By silent accord, instead of returning to the room where John had napped, they went into a larger room, with a larger bed. Still not talking, John undressed down to his pants, as Sherlock removed the dressing gown. Because the room was a bit chilly, Sherlock pulled a couple of tee-shirts from the wardrobe. Clearly he had unpacked while John slept and just as clearly he had anticipated that they might be sharing this room.
It seemed so simple as they slipped under the duvet, almost ridiculously so. They had shared beds before, of course, beginning with sleep-overs as children, so there was nothing odd about lying so close. But still it felt new. The pain med John had swallowed with their meal was already making him drowsy. Sherlock moved even closer and draped an arm across him carefully. “Sleep, John,” he whispered. “There is time for everything now. Time for you to heal and even time for us to heal.” Then he kissed John.
Feeling his eyes starting to close, John smiled into the kiss and snuggled down into the comfortable mattress, only then remembering what he had meant to say. “I saw the ghosts,” he said, his voice already thick with sleep.
“Did you?” Sherlock replied lightly.
John wanted to tell him all about it, about the two men sitting in front of the fire, and especially about how it made him feel that those two spirits had somehow given them a blessing. But sleep overtook him before the words could emerge.
Sherlock lay awake for a very long time, listening to John’s soft, steady breathing, daring to imagine that it might be the soundtrack of the rest of his life. If he also imagined the murmur of a muted conversation coming from the darkened sitting room, he did not mind.
Finally, he pressed one more kiss into John’s hair and then he slept as well.