Sherlock started to get impatient around four. John had said he would be done with all his pointless celebrations by four. Fourish. Around four. Well, this morning John had almost trampled down the stairs, reminded Sherlock Roost was on holiday from school, ordered Sherlock to eat, and then disappeared out the door. That had been long hours ago, which was no problem when Sherlock had an experiment to do, but the experiment was over now and his notes typed up (he had disproved his hypothesis, but the result was fascinating anyway) and now was left with nothing to do but wait.
When John’s infinitely extraordinary genius of a father had entrusted the boy to his care John had been so… small, wounded, so deeply unsettled under his determined confidence. It was something Sherlock didn’t comment on, didn’t think about, couldn’t think about. John’s early life as an experiment. The sort of manufacturing it took to turn out a child soldier. Little hints of things in the Watson sons. The way John still screamed sometimes at night, how military straight he stood with his hands behind his back. How viciously protective (first generation with a tendency toward violent psychosis) John’s eldest brother was at times, how hungry he was for a family. Grasping hold of the Cubbits with both hands. The way Roost had been shattered into gentle fragments he was still patching back together, the wide eyed startled way he looked at the world. Mycroft called them an interesting study in nature versus nurture, although Sherlock thought that was mainly due to Roost’s poor misguided fondness for the fat lout.
It was half past four and Sherlock started to debate the underhanded teasing he’d get from Mycroft at requesting John’s location, not to mention John’s capability, with the fact it was half four. He had gotten so far as opening up his contacts when he heard John clumping up the stairs in a decidedly stroppy fashion. His phone was only just tucked back in his pocket when John came marching into the kitchen, sighing at the tea kettle, and at Sherlock before marching out again. Sherlock was the last person to deal with a stroppy John, but it looked for a moment like he didn’t have a choice until Rooster fluttered in and stopped his brother’s progress by draping himself over John’s grumpy face. “Don’t be cross,” Rooster said into his little brother’s hair around the slight snuffling from his swollen nose, proto-bruising starting at the base of his left eye. No doubt the source of John’s distress. His hands curled around that vulnerable dip of at the top of John’s neck, fluttering there.
Sherlock looked in confusion at John, no bruised knuckles, no tightness in the joints from after battle adrenaline, no scuffs in his shoes. How patently unlike John.
“There was no scuffle?” he asked. Immediately John shrunk back into the grasping arms of Roost. This whole quasi-parenting thing was harder than it looked.
“I couldn’t,” John replied with curious flatness into Roost’s chest. “They were just kids.”
Ah. Yes. Early combat training had set John at a pointed advantage, it would go against his moral fiber, against his father’s moral fiber, to engage in a fight in which could very easily prove fatal to his opponent. In which he would so completely overwhelm them to a degree which would interfere with his sense of justice. He’d try on an opponent double his size and three times his physical strength, but a child- Sherlock sighed and turned in the kitchen chair to face John. “Come here a moment, John.”
Obediently enough the boy came close, released reluctantly by his almost brother. He looked disgruntled and ashamed, and that John place under Sherlock’s ribs suffered through that familiar tugging pull. Sherlock considered the frown lines creasing John’s forehead before smoothing them down with his thumbs, then resting his hands on John’s shoulders.
“You look more like your father every day,” he tried. Something he had heard on the telly, and something that was true. Some nights Sherlock still had maybes and might have beens trailing after the exhausted pleasantness of W’s face, his fury, and his joy at seeing Sherlock work. John would grow to be a little taller than his father - although Sherlock had a hypothesis that had more to do with nutrition – but in every other particular was incredibly similar. “He would be proud of you. I’m not a moral authority, and I’m not particularly seeking to be. But he would be proud of you for holding back. It seems the sort of thing he did. Being merciful. Being kind. I don’t suppose you want me to go and terrify someone for you to make you feel better? This experiment is getting boring. The results weren’t nearly as exciting as I was expecting.”
Breathing out a laugh, John shook his head for a moment, leaning into Sherlock’s hands. “No, as much as the thought of you terrifying bullies appeals, I couldn’t ask you to scare children. I-” He tucked his mouth closed, looking to the side.
“You’re important to me, John. You know I wouldn’t mind. I’m supposed to help you, I want to help you.”
Something wounded showed its pale vulnerable belly through the gaps in his easy, everyman armor before he girded himself up again. Pulled the cracks closed. “I know.”
“It’s hard to-” Sherlock paused, thought for a moment about channeling W, or Lestrade, or Mycroft and deciding speaking as himself would be alright. “It’s hard sometimes to live with the decision we make about who we want to be. When it’s lonely. Or it hurts. You’re strong enough though, if you have decided to be kind, I know you’re strong enough to do it.” He looked expectantly at John who stood there with his huge blue eyes and the little changes to the angles of his features. The tick up at the inside corner of his eyebrows, the slight crease on his forehead, the degree of drop in his mouth, the tight ghost of a flinch across the bridge of his nose.
John was growing taller, much too tall for Sherlock tuck close like he once did, too tall for Sherlock to argue that carrying John was simply a matter of convenience. Soon he’d be up to his shoulder, higher, perhaps there’d only be a few inches separating them. Sherlock still had nights where the two of them would sit in the warm light of 221B quietly experimenting or having an impromptu violin concert or watching Doctor Who. Time was so precious, time with John, Sherlock was so jealous of it.
Under Sherlock’s hands John trembled so slightly. “I can never manage to say the right thing,” he admitted in his usual brusque irritation. John surged forward, wrapping his arms around Sherlock’s neck. He didn’t know what else he could do, what people normally did in this sort of situation, he hugged John back, of course, and released again as soon as John retreated away to the safety of his lanky, avian brother.
Eyes large, Roost smoothed down John’s hair, then didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. Hummed. Picked up a pit that had been left on counter and looked at it for a while, puts it on the other kitchen chair, and then kissed John on the head. “It’s fine,” Roost said from the other side of John. “I just told a classmate his girlfriend was sleeping with his brother. He didn’t like that. They seldom like that. John likes it, he thinks it’s wonderful and I get confused. It didn’t really hurt. I was surprised, mostly, because he didn’t like it.”
“They never do,” Sherlock agreed.
Silence fell on them again, the two brothers turned, murmured at each other in their half medical twin-language. They rambled into the living room and out of the corner of Sherlock’s eye as he hovered over his petri dishes. There were book bags, gift bags, the narrow brown paper bags they hunched over and peered into and muttered at, pleased with themselves. Piles of things they tucked into John’s chair in a pile before he tilted Roost’s face this way and that, fingers gently testing his nose bone, his optical bone. Fussed over him with sensible fingertips.
Pale hands lifted, Roost framed John’s face, touched his shoulders, touched his hands. Roost was nearly as selfishly jealous for John’s praise and attention as Sherlock was, unfair considering how much more time Roost had. As a result Sherlock bore up under a poorly fitting empathy watching the two of them try to hold onto each other, the way the gangly boy too smart for his age clung to not being alone, to being befriended, and sane. Enough so that when Roost cobbled out deductions Sherlock didn’t mind terribly correcting him. Pointing things out Roost had missed, it certainly wasn’t for the admiration Roost poured out on him.
Sherlock watched them and wondered if this is what being a parent meant. Parenting. Becoming a piece of furniture young people emoted near for comfort.
“Your experiment,” Roost wandered back into the kitchen, dragging John behind him, tapping a line over John’s shoulders as if the boy were something handy he feared misplacing, “It looks about over. You said it was over. Not terribly interesting results. Do you want to walk? For a walk. We can look at things. John likes to walk when he’s sad with himself. He doesn’t like to remember I can take it.”
Sherlock felt hot, then cold at the absent certainty in Roost’s voice, the nonchalance. He’d caught quick glimpses of the scars on John’s body, he wondered at the scars on Roost’s and then hated that he wondered. John made a face.
Murmuring again, Roost patted John’s cheek, “It’s okay baby brother.”
The resulting scowl was fierce, “Just because Davey can get away with that doesn’t mean that you can. I’m not a child. I mean I was never a child, but I’m especially not a child now!”
“Hmm,” Roost answered distractedly and disappeared into the living room.
John looked at Sherlock and then away again, fingers twiddling together. “Roost doesn’t do as well with violence as he likes to pretend. It doesn’t make sense to him.”
“I thought he was less mad now.”
“That is less mad. He just,,, he’s tender. He forgets the wrong that’s done to him and remembers the good.”
“That doesn’t seem realistic.”
“It’s a choice as much as anything, and what sort of brother would I be if I wanted my brother to be miserable so I’d feel vindicated for being angry all the time? Not that I-”
Sherlock waved him off. “You’re approaching adolescence, it would be expected for you to be angry. I’d rather you be honest then gracious.
John stood so tall. So determined. But he’d hugged Sherlock earlier all by himself. When he turned to look at Sherlock he saw something that made him smile and relax. Made the tragedy pour out of his limbs.
“Walk!” Roost proclaimed from the other room.
“Some of a walk,” Sherlock sighed. “For as long as I can stand it. I might as well or he’ll start discovering my cigarettes again.”
Roost appeared at the doorway with his hands behind his back, “I don’t suppose you have any matches for reasons that don’t have to do with anything?”