3rd September, 1939
‘You haven’t heard, have you?’ John said the second he stepped through the door of their flat, taking his hat off and dropping it carelessly onto the table where they kept their telephone.
‘Heard what?’ Sherlock was lying on the sofa in one of his thinking poses, hands together as if in prayer, fingertips brushing the underside of his chin. His eyes were closed. He was still in his nightclothes.
Sighing, John shrugged out of his coat and strode over to the wireless, flicking it on. The usual light entertainment broadcast in the early evening had been replaced by a repeat of Chamberlain’s speech, and Sherlock frowned as the prime minister’s thin voice filled the room.
‘In all day, no clue we’re at war, for God’s--’ John muttered under his breath and shook his head as he went into the kitchen and filled the kettle for tea. A saucepan of what looked an awful lot like bile was sitting on the stove, and, shaking his head again, John moved it to the counter before he lit the ring for the kettle.
...a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war--
The hissing of the gas and the ticking of the clock sounded remarkably loud in the silence that resulted from Sherlock roughly twisting the dials of the wireless to turn it off. Sherlock appeared in the kitchen doorway.
‘At least it might keep Mycroft busy for a while,’ he drawled. John managed a laugh and rinsed out two mugs under the tap, spooning sugar into both. He poured that morning’s tea out of the pot and gave that a rinse, too, measuring out fresh leaves. The kettle began to whistle and Sherlock moved to take it off the heat.
‘You’ll have to go, won’t you? You’ll want to go?’ Sherlock murmured, his fingers tightening around the handle of the kettle.
‘We’ll both have to go,’ John replied, just as quietly, pushing the pot towards Sherlock, who poured the water into it. ‘Only they’ll have you doing something terribly clever somewhere or other and they’ll ship me off to the continent with my medical bag.’
They were both silent while the tea brewed. Sherlock pulled his cigarette case out of his dressing gown pocket and bent to light one of his fags off the hob that neither of them had turned off yet.
‘Your lighter’s on the table. You’ll singe your eyebrows clean off doing that,’ John said.
Sherlock huffed a short laugh as he sat back to lean against the edge of the kitchen table. He sucked in a lungful of smoke and held it for longer than he usually did before blowing it towards the ceiling. ‘Tea should have brewed by now,’ he said with a nod towards the pot.
‘Give it a minute yet,’ John replied. ‘You know I can’t stand weak tea.’
Rolling his eyes fondly, Sherlock took another drag on his cigarette. He rested his free hand on the back of John’s neck and rubbed at the knots of muscle there that never seemed to go away. John sighed and tilted his head forwards as Sherlock’s cold fingers eased the tightness of the muscle.
‘Hang on a second,’ John said a few minutes later, waiting until Sherlock stopped before pouring the tea into their mugs. ‘Get the milk out.’ He nodded to the refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen and Sherlock did as he was bid, handing the bottle to John.
‘Stop thinking about it,’ Sherlock mumbled, wrapping his left arm around John’s waist, pressing his front to John’s back. He pressed several warm kisses to the back of John’s neck, resting his nose and chin there with a sigh for a second before taking a drag from his cigarette again. He stubbed it out in a saucer that lay amongst all the other clutter on the table before accepting the mug that John gave him.
‘I’ll try,’ John promised.
Mycroft appeared at the door of 221b late one evening a fortnight later. John was holding one of Sherlock’s feet, which were resting in John’s lap, as he read the new edition of the British Medical Journal. Sherlock was lolling across the sofa, running a pencil across the backs of his fingers, thinking.
At the sharp knock at the door, Sherlock glowered and sat up straight, drawing his knees up under his chin. ‘That’s Mycroft’s knock,’ he muttered, already sulking as he usually did whenever he and Mycroft met.
‘Child,’ John said, flicking the back of Sherlock’s head as he went to open the door.
‘Doctor Watson. Good evening,’ Mycroft said with a thin smile.
‘Evening, Mycroft,’ John replied, stepping back and motioning Mycroft inside. ‘Uh, come in, would you like a drink?’
‘I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a glass of water?’ Mycroft asked in his plummy tones, stepping inside the flat. He took his hat off and moved towards the hatstand, wrinkling his nose when he saw that a life-size skeleton model had been wrapped around it as though the two were embracing. John bit back a smile and held his hand out for Mycroft’s hat, which he handed over with a withering look.
‘If you’re here to try and recruit me for your silly little war, Mycroft, you can bugger off,’ Sherlock said, his nose buried in John’s medical journal that he was pretending to read. ‘I’d sooner have your chums at the war office send me a white feather than go and rot in a trench somewhere.’
John shook his head and went to try and find a glass that didn’t have mud or sand or soil in it for Mycroft. When he returned a minute later with the cleanest glass they owned, filled with water, Mycroft had taken the armchair next to the sofa, one long leg crossed over the other.
‘...endless amounts of cyphers for you to crack,’ he was saying. ‘Horrendously difficult, of course, the codes change most days, lots of new machinery and technology for you to, ah... experiment with. Everyone working there will be of a similar ilk to you and I. More than enough to keep you occupied whilst Doctor Watson is... otherwise engaged,’ Mycroft said, his gaze raking over John as he took the glass of water, arching one eyebrow.
Sherlock’s grip on the magazine tightened. He glared down at its pages. John sat down at the other end of the sofa, very pointedly nowhere near Sherlock.
‘When am I due to be otherwise engaged?’ John asked Mycroft, his mouth set in a firm line.
Pulling out a notebook from the breast pocket of his suit jacket, Mycroft shifted in his chair as he turned to a page that had its corner folded down. ‘Owing to your medical expertise, John, January.’
‘October,’ Sherlock said immediately, finally putting the magazine down.
‘Sorry?’ Mycroft said.
‘October. Push it back to October. Then I’ll go and break your codes.’
‘Sherlock, I cannot possibly delay Doctor Watson’s conscription by ten months--’
‘Yes you can, I know you can,’ Sherlock replied haughtily, glaring at his brother. ‘One more year and I’ll go.’
‘Sherlock,’ John said, ‘be fair. Everyone’s got to do their bit and you can’t--’
‘Oh, yes, I can,’ Sherlock said, his sharp gaze snapping to John. ‘That’s the deal, Mycroft.’ He looked back at his brother. ‘One more year else I shan’t go at all.’
Mycroft sniffed and set his jaw. ‘Very well,’ he said, his tone clipped.
A tiny, triumphant smile appeared on Sherlock’s lips. Mycroft put the glass down and stood, leaning on his umbrella.
‘Do call on Mummy some time this century, Sherlock, won’t you? This nasty business isn’t doing anything for her nerves.’ He took his hat off the model skeleton’s skull, where John had put it, with an irritated sigh. ‘I’ll see myself out,’ he said when John went to stand. A moment later, the door to the flat clicked behind him, then the front door of 221.
‘Horrid creature,’ Sherlock muttered, sprawling across the sofa again, resting his head in John’s lap, closing his eyes. John stroked the backs of his knuckles across one of Sherlock’s cheekbones before playing with Sherlock’s curls. ‘Don’t start worrying that you’re shirking your duty, either, Mycroft only said you were being called up in January because he wants me to go and solve his little puzzles for him then. Your occupation’s reserved, anyway, you wouldn’t have to go if you didn’t volunteer, which I know you will even if I don’t want you to because you’ll go mad if you don’t.’
John smiled. ‘Especially if you’re off being clever somewhere,’ he said, cupping Sherlock’s jaw, stroking his cheek with his thumb.
‘Well, exactly,’ Sherlock said, eyes still closed. ‘You’d die of boredom if it weren’t for me.’
‘That’s one way of putting it,’ John said with a quiet laugh.
They were quiet for a while. The clock downstairs struck nine.
‘Does Mycroft... does Mycroft... know?’ John asked, frowning as he thought about it.
‘Know?’ Sherlock said, opening one eye, looking up at John. ‘Oh, yes, that, of course he knows, he caught me and one of my schoolmates going at it in the organ loft when he visited me at Harrow one term.’
‘But he’d just write that off as you experimenting, surely--’
‘And he caught me at it with my friend in my rooms at Oxford.’
‘You were still young then, and you know boarding schools and the old universities have got a reputation for--’
‘He knows, John,’ Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. ‘He used to hire men to follow me before you and I took up together. I seduced at least one of them and there was one tailing me that night I came home with you. And besides, he’s many things, but he’s not stupid.’ He closed his eyes again.
‘Oh,’ John said.
‘Him catching me doing things he doesn’t want me to be doing is something of a tradition, really. Smoking, drugs, gambling, buggery. I’d let him catch us in bed together if I didn’t know you’d throw a wobbly at me.’
‘Throw a-- bugger off, I’ve never thrown a wobbly in my life!’ John exclaimed, laughing incredulously.
‘You appear to be throwing one now,’ Sherlock said, smirking, opening one eye to look at John.
Shaking his head, John shifted and bent to press his lips to Sherlock’s. ‘You are absolutely incorrigible,’ he murmured, trailing his mouth down Sherlock’s neck and throat.
‘Would you have me different?’ Sherlock turned onto his side so that they were stretched out on the sofa together, their chests touching.
‘Of course not,’ John whispered. ‘Silly thing.’
Sherlock smiled and rested his hand on John’s waist. ‘I wish you didn’t want to go at all,’ he said quietly. ‘Sometimes I wish you were more selfish.’
‘Stop thinking about it,’ John said, tugging Sherlock closer.
‘I’ll try,’ Sherlock promised.
The downstairs clock chimed quarter past.