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Pub Night

Chapter Text

"Care to grab a pint," Gregg Lestrade offered, stepping back to John's side as Sherlock and Donovan traded what in only the kindest terms could be called 'banter', but more often favored verbal evisceration.

In normal circumstances, he would have stepped in a put an end to it by this point, but it was more than a bit of a relief to see a reduction in the egg-shell crushing awkwardness that had been the standard between his team and Sherlock since the consulting detective had been 'reinstated' after returning from the operation to take down the remainder of Moriarity and Moran's network, so Gregg briefly turned a blind eye. Anyway, Sherlock seemed to be holding his own, and John could be counted on to rein his husband before things got too vicious.

"On me," he offered, "after the paperwork's over, of course." It had been a while since he'd bought the man a pint or two, and his show of appreciation for keeping Sherlock's involvement in cases manageable, was a bit overdue.

Besides, Gregg had been itching to take his friend out and get him pissed enough to talk; it couldn't have been an easy time for John, what with thinking his husband had died, then getting over it and going on with it, finding someone else and marrying her, then finding out the hubby hadn't really died but gone undercover to take a go at an international organized crime syndicate, then pop back into his life. Gregg hadn't been surprised when the second marriage hadn't lasted; Mary had seemed a nice, normal enough bird, but Gregg had wondered - even before knowing that Sherlock had survived- how long someone who could get on with an insane git like Sherlock could take 'nice' and 'normal' before getting bored.

"Sorry, Gregg, can't tonight. The Regimental reunion's this weekend, and some mates from the section are coming in early. We're planning on meeting up tonight for a couple of rounds and driving down tomorrow."

"Well, then you'll owe me the pint." Gregg joked, making a mental note that he needed to dig up some cold cases when they got back to the office to keep Sherlock occupied while John was with his mates in Somerset.

"Sorry, I don't follow..." John answered with a slightly confused expression and appeared about to ask something, but was cut-off by Sherlock.

"Oh, Excellent! You will come, won't you Lestrade? John and I would ... What?" Sherlock read something in either his or John's expression that caught him up short. "Weren't you inviting him?"

"I hadn't... yet, but of course, Gregg. You're welcome to join us. Well be headed to the Volunteer at half eight." John's smile was congenial, and Gregg couldn't detect any sign that he wouldn't be welcome, even if John hadn't intended to invite him. But then again, it sounded like Sherlock was going too, and the invite - even if he hadn't thought to or meant to make it- might just give John an extra buffer between Sherlock and the squaddies. If so, Gregg was happy to do it. Lord knows John had done it enough times for Lestrade - stepping between Sherlock and the yarders before Gregg had to.

"I'd enjoy it." Gregg answered honestly; if nothing else, it would be fascinating to see Sherlock at a pub, as long as they could manage to keep him from getting on the last nerve of an inebriated Royal Marine and putting John in the unenviable position of defending his husband in the inevitable brawl.

His smile might have gotten a tad rueful at the possibility, Gregg suspected; because as they were walking away, after Sherlock offered what leads he could, Gregg heard Sherlock murmur to John, "I suspect Lestrade believes he was only invited to play sitter."

Gregg missed most of John's answer, but the last bit, "... that he doesn't know..." made Gregg wonder. Still, It was bound to be an interesting night.

It wasn't until he turned to see Sally Donovan smirking that he began to have a niggling feeling of dread.

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"You heard?" Sally asked Ferguson as soon as the Inspector turned back to the scene. His warning glare had been hardly enough to turn her off the thought. For some reason, Lestrade seemed to have a soft spot for the freak.

"Heard what?" Ferguson asked, and god, the man was almost as thick as Anderson had gotten.

Sally honestly didn't know what had gotten into Phil, but his defense of the freak after the man's sham death had been the final straw to break them up. Sally could have and had handled Phil sticking with his wife for the sake of their brood and his career (cheesing off a Chief Superintendant by breaking it off with the man's daughter would have been a sure way to end his and Sally's career both), but to stand up for the freak who was as bad if not worse than most of the lags they took away in cuffs... Well that was it, wasn't it.

"The freak! He's headed to a pub tonight.. to get bladdered with a bunch of Royal Marines."

Ferguson stared at her for half a minute in disbelief before snorting and turning back to sketch the scene in his binder.

"Best not let the inspector catch you nipping on on duty."

"Ah belt up!" Sally practically snarled at the man. Bad enough he was near worthless as a partner- taking hours to go over every detail of a case ad naseous before filing the report, but he didn't have the common sense to know a lag, jumper, or blagger when he saw one - going on and on about 'the benefit of the doubt' and wotnot. "I know what I heard, and it'll be a right round of dinner theater - fight night and lagers all tucked up."

"You're a bit of a nutter, you know?" Ferguson scoffed, but Pruce and Colby had started watching and looked like they were interested, so Sally kept going.

"Come on, Marc, even you've got to admit it'd be funny seeing that twat pissed." She argued and smirked with Pruce and Colby started to grin as well.

"Not my idea of fun, but I'd be up for a pint, if you're paying." Ferguson finally gave in - if no other reason than to get her off his back, Sally thought, but she didn't really care when it came down to it. With three others in the know, especially Pruce, word should spread about the impending freakshow, and there'd be little the inspector could say about their unit going out for drinks after work.

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Noticing the uptake in sarcastic chatter and amused/expectant glances shot in Sherlock's direction by they time they'd gotten back to the office, Gregg finally decided to pull John aside and give him a bit of a heads up. It was easier said than done though with Sherlock waiting impatiently for John to finish 'their' reports for him to sign. Lord knew the man had the patience of a saint... but Gregg finally managed it with a request that Sherlock check the body over one last time before they wrapped the matter up while he got John's advice on a gift for his ex's birthday.

Sherlock's arched brow and amused smile was a pretty clear indicator he knew what Gregg was up to, but thankfully, he complied with comment.

"Okay, Gregg, what's up, and don't try to say you want to get something for Lindsey; even I didn't buy that."

"Listen, Mate, you know that, for the most part, I think the best of Sherlock, right?"

"Okay..." John answered in a drawl that didn't really say whether he believed Gregg or not, but after the whole arrest and hunt for Sherlock, Gregg knew he was on shaky ground to argue further.

"I may not always show it, but I do." He tried anyway, before continuing, "Anyway, the thing is, I'm not convinced that taking Sherlock to the pub with you is the best idea."

John started to say something, probably in Sherlock's defense, but Gregg, not really wanting to argue about it, hurried on before John could get it out.

"See, it's like this, Sally's got the boys all stirred up about going to the pub and watching Sherlock get pissed, which I guess isn't so bad; he can be a bit of a twat some times, you know, but with the blokes from your section coming... well, I didn't know if you'd want to have to deal with the lots' comments and jeering in addition to how they're likely to take Sherlock."

John stared at him oddly for a few minutes before he smirked softly and seemed to try to reassure Gregg. "Gregg, seriously, don't worry about it. Sherlock can handle Sally and anyone else from the yard that shows up."

"But, your mates..." Gregg started to argue but realized that with John and Sherlock having married, it stood to figure that they probably knew Sherlock at least in passing.

"No, Gregg, don't worry about that, Blackwood and Henn were in Sangin with us, so they've seen Sherlock at his best and worst... and probably know more about him than even Mycroft, though that's only speculation."

Gregg nodded in relief before John's word's sunk in, and he jerked his head up, "Wait, what?"

Before John could answer, Sherlock swept in, pulled John by the arm, and dragged him out, calling over a shoulder that he'd see Gregg at half-eight.

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Sherlock lifted his lips from the back of John's neck with an irritated sigh and dropped his forehead against John's shoulder, taking care not to disturb the uniform jacket's decorations. Right up until that moment, he had been quite enjoying helping John into his dress uniform for their night out... anticipating with vivid fantasies the evening's end when he could help John out of the uniform.

In retrospect, they had probably been lucky that he had never had the opportunity to observe John in his 'mess' dress uniform during the Maiwand affair (John preferred to call it the 'Sangin engagement', but to Sherlock the odds they'd faced in Sangin were depressingly reminiscent of the fruitless battle not only lost but at such a high cost to the British Empire). If he had seen John in the closely tailored scarlet short-coat that favored his honey-blond hair and ruddier complexion and almost skin-tight navy slacks adorned with the decorative and figure defining 'lightening conductors', Sherlock was certain that his distraction would have been complete and - considering the high cost they had paid- most likely fatal.

"What is it, Love?" John questioned, a smile warming his tone.

"Mycroft's decided to pay us a visit."

Even as he spoke, Sherlock could tell that John had picked up his brother's umbrella accompanied gait.

"Well, go say hello and see what he wants." John answered with an indulgent smile.

It didn't escape Sherlock's notice that John didn't tell him to 'be nice' and filed the observation away. He suspected that something had happened between John and Mycroft during the final operation to destroy Moriarty and Moran's network, but he was leary of discussing the matter with John for stirring up any lingering anger.

"Well," John prompted.

"I don't want to." Sherlock complained, knowing that he probably sounded sulky and childish, so added, "Your uniform offers a measure of discretion that my current attire does not" with a self-explanatory rub of his groin across John's backside - drawing a sympathetic chuckle from John.

Not able to go in the 'mess' dress that John and the others would be wearing, Sherlock had opted for the sleekest, skin-tight midnight blue slacks and polo-neck tailored jumper that could still be considered fitting if tightly so that were available... wanting to ensure that John's eyes were on him the majority of the evening. He wasn't concerned -per se- about John's eyes wandering nor about anything happening between John, Blackwood, or Henn, but despite the time he'd spent with John since both returns to London and the time spent with Blackwood and Henn on assignments for Mycroft (who had promptly recruited them after the Maiwand affair), there was something to the symbolism of their being a unit or a team Sherlock wasn't a part of that made him the slightest bit territorial of John's attention when they were together, and making certain that he looked like sex on the proverbial platter was the mildest way Sherlock knew of for securing John's attention without offending their friends... And if it happened to make John just the slightest bit territorial of Sherlock's attention as it frequently did, all the better.

"Fine, fine," John laughed, "I'll see what he wants while you take care of your ... bit of indiscretion" - turning Sherlock's own phrase back on him.

"Thank you." He sighed.

"Not at all," John answered with a grin and an unsubtle rub of his backside across Sherlock's groin, which did absolutely nothing to ease his arousal.

"Don't take long, though," John commented as he straightened his short coat with a final glance in the mirror and swept out of the room in a fashion that Sherlock was certain John had learned from him.

Deciding that his brother's observational skills would too easily identify the fact if he dealt with the matter in the most expedient manner, Sherlock instead ran through the small mental archive of memories he had preserved specifically for the purpose- easily bringing to mind Sally Donovan's sneering expressions in their many variations; Phillip Anderson's self-righteous tone as he tried to read a crime scene, coming to all of the wrong conclusions, sometimes even contradicting his own statements; Michael Stamford's constant inanely amicable acceptance of everyone and everything in a manner that screamed to Sherlock - what no one else seemed to recognize about the man - that he truly cared about nothing; and Anthea's often-silent, automaton-like obedience to his brother's whims.

Finally feeling sufficiently... composed, Sherlock checked the mirror to be sure that his flush had died down as well, pulled a bit at his shirt cuffs to adjust them, and straightened his shoulders, preparing himself to confront Mycroft and reject (at least temporarily) whatever errand or task his brother wanted of him, pulled open the door with a flourish, and froze.

Standing so that they would be framed by the doorway, Anthea, Henn, Blackwood, Mycroft, John, Murphy, and Mrs. Hudson were obviously waiting for him with various expressions of amusement, encouragement, and excitement - particularly from Mrs. Hudson.

Quickly scanning for evidence as to the purpose of their obviously coordinated front, Sherlock immediately ruled out any form of intervention as he had been notably restrained in both his indulgences and his risk-taking behavior since his second return to London. Noting first, that Anthea's blackberry was -for once- not in evidence, Sherlock was tempted to make some imprecation toward it being one of the signs of the apocalypse, but restrained himself and instead visually measured the hand-stitched leather medal presentation case she held in it's place... as roughly twelve centimeters by twelve centimeters... so carrying more than one medal or pin. The box bore the Royal Navy insignia, as did the top of the three suit bags that hung beside his Belstaff on the coat rack. Presumably the others did as well. Blackwood, Henn, and Murphy's grins were anticipatory while both John and Mycroft's were tinged with pride.

Before he could comment on his deductions, however, Mycroft interrupted, "Brother Mine, do join us if you will."

"Mycroft," Sherlock began, before dismissing the first three comments as too obvious to make: Mycroft was not there for a case, nor to check up on him; the uniforms and medals or medallions were clearly for him, and not related to a case or John and Mrs. Hudson's smiles would not be nearly so approving; Blackwood, Henn, and Murphy were clearly in the know and not simply early for their night out.

"Come, come, Sherlock," Mycroft interrupted before Sherlock could decide on the comment he did want to make, "you are holding up your companions, and I am quite certain that you would rather spend the evening in their company than mine."

Mycroft's intent may have been humor, but Sherlock couldn't quite suppress a wince at the reminder of the on-again-off-again fractious tendency that crept up in their recent years, even with the mellowing that had started in the the Sangin Army Hospital and continued through the whole Moriarty, Moran, and Magnussen episodes. Mycroft's eyes softened apologetically as his brother, of course, noticed and correctly interpreted the wince, so Sherlock refrained from the sharp response that had popped to mind before Mycroft's comment had even finished - deciding that the small barb would not be worth dimming the others' enthusiasm or enjoyment and moved to join them.

When he was standing in front of their uneven half circle, Sherlock nodded to Mycroft, who - framed at their center- was clearly meant to... what... officiate... or bestow, yes bestow sounded closer ... who was to bestow the expected intercession and favors... for lack of a better phrase. Mycroft, taking the nod at face value, began immediately, perhaps hoping to rush off to a state meeting or intrigue directly after.. or simply to return Anthea to her blackberry before a space-time vortex were created by the anomaly."

"Brother, I am quite certain of your awareness that, under the auspices of the position I hold, demonstrations of nepotism, favoritism, and familial preferential-ism are to be strictly and diligently avoided; however, it was recently brought to my attention that eschewing the appointment upon you of the benefits customarily provided to others who have provided the crown similar or even lesser services in the name of avoiding nepotism was unnecessarily dogmatic."

"Shite was the word I used." Henn broke in proudly, ignoring Anthea's glare and Blackwood's subtle elbow to the ribs.

"Let it not be said that Mr. Henn lacks his own brand of eloquence," Mycroft continued in good humor, "Setting aside the small distinction in wording, however, it is my pleasure to inform you that in conjunction with Our Majesty's custom of providing conventional military backgrounds and rank to operatives from branches whose true training, experience, and service to crown and country can not be publicly acknowledged so that these operatives may receive even a token of the recognition and appreciation due from a grateful - if unknowing nation - it is my honor to extend to you the rank and commission commiserate with your training, experience, and service -- of Lieutenant in her Majesty's Royal Marines, 40 Commando Brigade, Echo Company. Formerly of the Two Two One Bravo Baker section but reassigned of late to Her Majesty's Cross-Border's Rapid Reaction Force with Captain Watson, Warrant Officer Blackwood, and Sergeant Henn... Should, of course, you accept this commission.

Sherlock recognized that he was expected to agree at this point, but even though he had known their intent, from the moment he saw the insignia on the medal case, he found it suddenly impossible to speak due to the unprovoked tightening of his larynx. The irony wasn't lost on him that he would have berated any of them for a similar bout of doe-eyed speechlessness, but the irony did nothing to ease the tightness in his throat, and he stared at them un-speaking- watching their amusement grow at the fact that he'd been so affected.

Thankfully, Mrs. Hudson intervened with a gentle, "this is where you say, 'I do', Dear," drawing a chuckle from Blackwood and an outright bark of laughter from Henn, but it gave Sherlock the moment he needed to recover his composure, so he parroted a polite but heartfelt, "I do', with a grateful smile to her and a softer not-quite smile to Mycroft when he turned back to his brother and repeated, "I do".

"Excellent," Mycroft's voice was positively warm as he continued, "Then if you will accompany Mr. Blackwood to get you suitably attired in your 'mess' dress for the evening, I may bestow the accouterments and accessories attendant to your rank and retire to permit you gentlemen the enjoyment the remainder of your evening." (Sherlock thought he saw a bit of a glint in his brother's eye at the word bestow as if his brother had known he thought that exact word, but dismissed the thought. Mycroft probably had; there were only so many words in the English language for that specific concept, and Mycroft would have expected him to use the proper phrase as much as he would have expected Mycroft to use it.)

"John wanted to help outfit you, but we voted him down." Henn teased, "We'd never have gotten out of here if we'd let that happen."

Sherlock tried to pretend to ignore the comment but Blackwood's chuff of amusement at the slight blush he could feel warming his cheeks was enough to tell him he wasn't successful as they retreated to the room he shared with John.

Despite the encouraging smiles they'd offered before, when Blackwood closed the door behind him, Sherlock had to ask, "Are you ... okay with this?"

Blackwood shook his head at the question, his smile becoming the less public smile that Sherlock recognized as the fond-half exasperated smile he reserved for his team members, as he pulled Sherlock into a one-armed hug, and answered, "For a brilliant man, sometimes you are a bit slow on the uptake, yeah? Yes, I'm okay with it, and Henn's okay with it, and Murphy's okay with it, and John's okay with it. Henn suggested it in the first place, and if your brother hadn't stepped up and taken care of it, I was planning to go over his head - if I could figure out, who - if anyone- is over his head.

"If you do figure it out, do let the Queen know, please. I think she's been wondering." Sherlock laughed, relaxing.

Blackwood smiled his agreement, hooked the suit bag over the dressing hook, and began to unzip the bag - teasing Sherlock kindly when he noticed how Sherlock's eyes followed the expanding v of scarlet and blue: "Shall I give you two a moment?"

When Sherlock stepped up and ran a reverential stroke over the mess uniform, Blackwood smiled, remembering his own reaction the first time he put on the uniform and knew himself to 'officially' be a commando. The memory was thick in his voice as he prompted, "Let's get you ready, then."

Sherlock nodded, not able or needing to say anything else.

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Sliding an icon to open the retinal signature application, Mycroft added his signature to the remaining packet of reports before encrypting the batch and securing it for upload when they reached the office. As he finished, a rattling chime sounded across from him, announcing that he'd received a text from his brother.

After a brief pause, Anthea read, "The Volunteer Pub, 245 Baker Street, 8:30. Come if not dabbling with WWIII."

Anthea's amused sniff was cut off by a second chime that drew a surprised, barely suppressed snort from Anthea as she scanned the message.

Intrigued, Mycroft questioned her reaction with an eyebrow-raise."

"If facing WWIII, come with expedience, libations may prove beneficial. SH." Anthea read, mirth evident in her voice.

Mycroft shook his head with amusement; Sherlock often had such a quaint - if pointed- sense of satire that Mycroft - on occasion - could enjoy, even if he frequently found himself the target of said talent.

"Shall I reply?" Anthea questioned, which Mycroft answered with a flick of his fingers.

Her fingers skimmed the screen sending his response in a flurry of little gestures that seemed a brief abrupt tremor, more than formalized typing of a message.

"I informed him that World War three has been postponed to Monday next, for his convenience, and you will join him as time permits." She reported before returning to reviewing his agenda for the upcoming Japan trip."

He appreciated, without saying, without needing to, her inclusion in advance of an excuse to depart should Sherlock's satirical humor turn sour despite his brother's seemingly sincere attempt to reach out.

Anthea was interrupted a third time by the rattling chime, and read, "Anthea, stop reading Mycroft's messages, and give him the night off."

"How ever did he know?"

"That you are the true taskmaster? Or, that you are responding to my messages?" Mycroft deigned to tease, finding himself in unaccountably good spirits, even as another text followed immediately on the previous.

"Don't tell her, Mycroft."Anthea read with an amused scowl, "She needs to learn to think."

"Well, My Dear, have you intuited it, yet?"

Anthea stared at the screen with a look of calculation, her eyes flickering intermittently as she seemed to check off possibilities, until she finally answered, "barring undetected monitoring devices on your person, the speed of my response seems the most likely cue."

"Quite." Mycroft agreed; while they neither one would put it past Sherlock to plant a listening device, even during a moment of being truly affected, as he had been earlier, Mycroft was well aware that Sherlock personally found such devices distasteful, preferring the hunt for information in a person's actions to their words and was most likely the wiser for it."

Flicking his fingers with his permission to respond back, Mycroft watched the single-word response entered with what appeared to be a flattened swirl of his index finger.

The answering chimes surprised no one.

"Mycroft, give her my compliments, Sh."

Almost before Anthea finished reading the previous message and another followed.

"And, take back the phone. SH."

"Well, it appears I have my orders." Mycroft offered as he took the phone from her and reached behind her to tap on the window between them and the driver.

"Downing Street, Please."

The remainder of the drive passed with a pleasant banter of texts between Sherlock and himself.

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Suitably attired in his own RAF 'mess' ensemble, Mycroft scanned the pub until he spotted D.I. Lestrade sitting alone at a table clearly intended to hold eight others. Dismissing his guard to the shadows with a nod Mycroft made the minute but long-practiced shift of shoulders and spine that restored his short-coat to order after the ride from Downing Street then approached the table.

"Detective Inspector, am I remiss in assuming that you are waiting for my brother's party?" Mycroft asked, settling his hand on the back of the closest chair in silent request.

"I thought they'd beat me here, for sure, but then," the inspector glanced down at himself with a grimace before clearly scanning Mycroft's uniform, "John hadn't said anything about it being black tie, and it being here at the pub, well... I didn't stop to change. Probably should have. Just came right from work, but..."

It was clear that the detective inspector was clearly rethinking the decision and about to leave to remedy his lackluster appearance, which uncharacteristically, Mycroft decided was unnecessary, and spoke up to forestall him.

"No doubt, my brother and his partner did not mention any standard of dress because they were more interested in your companionship than your attire. While it is, of course, up to you, I do not believe that either they or Messers Blackwood or Henn would find your lack of a uniform sufficient reason to leave. It is not, after all, a formal function."

"Er...Well, alright then." The inspector answered with a wry if more comfortable smile. "Thanks for that, I guess."

"Of course," Mycroft agreed, "As far as the arrival of my brother's party is concerned, I shouldn't wonder that they will be here almost immediately. Even on foot, the distance from the flat is quite minimal, and they no doubt intend to come by foot, in lieu of leaving a car behind at the end of the evening."

"Right." Lestrade agreed, before standing and offering, "Can I get you something?" with a wave of his mug.

Considering the options he noted on the pub's menu, Mycroft quickly discarded the prospect of an Armagnac and answered, instead, "a Stassen, I think."

"Cider? You're headed back to work after, then." Lestrade's tone asked for him.

Mycroft's sole reply was an upraised eyebrow. Lestrade, if anyone, should be familiar with the stunning amount of paperwork that it took to ensure even the inefficient running of governmental functions, and Mycroft prided himself (and always had) on the efficiency of the offices under his purvue.

"Been there myself." Lestrade offered sympathetically, before confirming, "A Stassen it is, then."

When Lestrade returned three minutes later, Mycroft was given a rather rare experience: being surprised by someone who was not Sherlock... as the Detective Inspector set down two 'sharer' boards loaded with bread cubes; a variety of olives peppers, nuts, and cheeses; chicken skewers; brisket cubes; small cups of au jus, quinoa salad, olive oil, and dressings; two scotch eggs, and a set of two hors d' oeuvres forks.

"Like I said," Lestrade answered Mycroft's curious gaze, "I've been there before. The snacks might be better at White Hall, but only if you've the energy to get up and get them. For me, the taller the stack of paperwork, the less getting up for food seems worth the time it wastes."

"Quite." Mycroft agreed, appreciating the understanding and the thought.

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"Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock called out quietly as they were passing the pub's window, and he caught a glimpse of Mycroft and Lestrade sitting, with a small separation, at an empty bench-type table. Backing up slightly, he threw his arm out to the side to stop John and Henn, who were about to step into full view.

"Yes, Dear." His landlady responded, retrieving her arm from Blackwood's support, as she joined Sherlock. It had taken quite some cajoling to convince her to join them, but now Sherlock was doubly glad that they had succeeded.

Gesturing for her to join him, he held her shoulder to steady her as he guided her the quarter step forward that would let her see his brother and the inspector waiting for them, chatting amiably. When she turned back to him with a knowing smile, he asked, "considering the long walk from the flat, tell me, don't you think the bench they've reserved for us, might be a bit uncomfortable... say compared to those couches?" He pointed to the sturdy over-stuffed three-seater couches near the wall, and continued, "there is your hip to think about."

"You are so considerate." Mrs. Hudson agreed, apparently happy to go along with the matchmaking. Henn choked off an amused comment in a derisive-sounding cough, but Sherlock ignored it. Unlike New Scotland Yard, Henn's comments were rarely directed toward insult or exclusion, and even when they were, were generally well-intended, which made all the difference. That and Henn would mock himself as much or more as he turned his humor outward.

"Sherlock," John's voice had a note of warning as he stepped around to see what Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson were conspiring over, but his lips curved in an indulgent, barely-there smile as soon as he realized what Sherlock was about. He did warn, though, "leave it at that, or your brother'll suspect something."

"I do know how to be subtle, John." Sherlock answered, shamming mild offense.

John appeared about to answer, probably in the negative, when a familiar - and unwelcome- voice cut in with distaste in her tone as she denied, "No, you don't. I mean just look at you. You know that's not legal, right?"

Recognizing Donovan's desire to start a fight and not wanting to ruin John's night out, Sherlock decided to not even acknowledge the officer, whom he had suspected from that afternoon would show up and rabble rouse. Considering her presence, the move to the couches would offer a double advantage of putting some distance between their party and the five... no seven... other yarders she'd brought... judging by the sound of footsteps of others joining her.

"Let's get Mrs. Hudson in and seated before her hip troubles her, shall we?" Sherlock commented, slipping her hand over his arm and moving up to pull the door open. For a moment, from John's clench-jawed expression, he thought John meant to pull back and intervene with Donovan, but that seemed to pass as they stared at each other, and John led them in, moving over to the bar to request a table change with the explanation of Mr. Hudson's hip.

Passing his brother and Lestrade with Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock leaned in and gestured toward the couches with his head, as he explained. "I know it's an inconvenience, but we're moving tables to those... for Mrs. Hudson's hip, you understand." Sherlock was careful not to look at his brother as he asked, "Henn give them a hand, will you?"

By the time Mycroft and Lestrade were able to join them, with Henn's able, if somewhat awkward assistance, Sherlock and Blackwood were already taking up two of the seats on one couch with John easily half-sitting beside Sherlock on the couch's broad wood frame in a way that made it look like that was exactly what the arm was made for, and Henn's appointed position was clearly the other arm, beside Blackwood - leaving two open if close seats on the couch beside Mrs. Hudson's much smaller person. Lestrade read the seating with a quick glance before visibly coming to the decision that Mycroft would probably prefer to be on the outside and sliding in to take the seat by Mrs. Hudson. Mycroft only spared Sherlock as millisecond's suspicious glance before following suit.

Almost unseen, but noticeable in Sherlock's extended periphery, Donovan and the other 'yarders' were consigned to the bench they had just vacated as the only other table that would hold that big of a party. It was closer than they would have liked, but far enough he supposed.

It was only when the silence had settled over their party for several seconds that Sherlock realized something was amiss, and he turned his attention back to the people beside and in front of him who were staring at Lestrade ... who was staring at him... intensely, so much so that Sherlock was tempted to glance down and see if a shirt button was gaping or a pin was broken and hanging, despite knowing that there wasn't. Thankfully, before Sherlock fell into his tendency of making rash remarks when discomfited, Mycroft intervened.

"Detective Inspector, is there something the matter?"

It was very likely obvious to them all what was troubling the inspector, but most of their party was too amused by his impending reaction to make a comment.

"Bloody Buggering Hell." Lestrade finally breathed out, still staring. "I mean, they both told me... or at least implied it, but I didn't see it."

"See what, Dear?" Mrs. Hudson thankfully picked up the slack. Sherlock wasn't certain he could have kept a straight face if he'd been forced to ask. For various reasons that Sherlock was, for once, appreciative of, Mycroft had decided that the D.I. was not to be read in on Sherlock's all too recent commission.

"Sherlock, he's a bl--" seeming to remember who he was speaking to, Lestrade noticeably paused to tone down his language when he continued, "I never realized that he was in the Royal Marines. John had said Sangin, but it didn't mesh until just now. I mean he doesn't carry himself like..." Lestrade broke off, when the John, Blackwood, and Henn erupted in laughter and Sherlock's expression became rueful. Mycroft's expression suggested he knew what was going on, but Mrs. Hudson's looked just as confused as Lestrade's.

"It's one of his talents, Gregg." John explained kindly, and Sherlock smiled at the pride in John's tone as he felt a hand slide across his shoulders when John stood up.

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"Up you go, Lock." Henn ordered, "Show 'em how ya hide a Royal Marine in plain sight."

Lestrade watched as Sherlock shook his head, amusement shining in his eyes, as he looked back toward the man still sitting beside him.

"It is uncanny." Blackwood offered mildly, nodding him up toward John.

Sherlock's gesture in response was almost eloquent in it's ability to communicate his concession to the request with the same casual tone Lestrade would have expected if he'd actually said, "Okay, okay."

The hand he'd been waving dropped to the couches wood frame and gripped it lightly as he pulled himself up and over the arm of the couch before he stiffened his back and stood straight. Except standing straight was far too simplistic a description for the movement Lestrade watched Sherlock make.

Instead, it was as if the fluid move was restringing Sherlock's muscles in a new configuration on his spare frame - the configuration of entirely another person ... a person built for combat: ready tension in every muscle waiting to be sprung; a stance made for nothing so placid as walking but made instead for stalking and surging, leg sweeps and kicks, chases and the sprint to finish the hunt. As his spine straightened, Sherlock's frame seemed to solidify almost as if he were wearing an unseen suit of armor, his arms and hands curved slightly over his body as if accommodating the unseen weapons that they seemed made to hold and use.

Uncanny was exactly the word for it, Lestrade decided as Sherlock's transformation was suddenly complete, and the man who stood beside John for the briefest of seconds gave Lestrade the impression of being someone he had never met before that moment. But looking at the man who stood by John, it was all-too-easy to imagine Sherlock in battle gear-

The fingers of his right hand ...half-curled, the etched muscle-memory of thousands of hours on a rifle’s pistol grip. His combat clothing and armor seem[ing] to find their proper places on his frame, everything pulling into long, parabolic folds. His expression smooth[ing], and at the same time tighten[ing] slightly – composed, but faintly wary, and [his] eyes habitually narrowed from long days of too bright sunlight glaring on pale ground. (TTOBB)

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"Disturbing is what that is." A familiar caustic voice reached them from the table where the yarders had been watching the change - some with stunned expressions, others with amusement, and derision clear in Sally Donovan's expression. "I mean it's bad enough that you're even letting the freak in here wearing that get up, but the way he can sham it... well, it tells me you've been letting him play dress up a lot, haven't you John? Just shameful the things you let him get away with. I'd have thought that you of all people would draw the line at that."

The nearby customers had all gone silent in surprise, while the yarders stared on in awkward embarrassment at having been party to the scene, much less sitting at the same table, and quickly shifted away as if hoping they could avoid being caught up in Sherlock's expected response.

Chapter Text

All eyes are on Holmes in the silence that followed, before switching to John Watson as his nearly silent growl still cut across the distance between the couches and the yarders at the table. Before he could even twitch a muscle in the yarders' direction though, one of the other Marines, whom Holmes had introduced as Blackwood, interrupted:

"Freak... that's not what most people say about Victoria Cross recipients, but I'll grant you he is an unusual bloke: best shot I've ever seen, can find a stash of weapons in a hut that three patrols doing daily-checks missed, and practically walked the sandals off our Pashtun guides crossing the K-G Pass. No denying he can be a posh git at times; just comes from being born with a silver spoon, doesn't it? But he buffs up well for all that and look at him now." he paused looking over at Holmes as if curiously looking for any signs of the traits that would make up a freak and shook his head. "Can't see what you're thinking's off."

"The Victoria Cross?" Donovan challenged, "What a load of bollocks! He probably bought that medal..." causing everyone at the couches to stiffen in offense, or at least everyone but Holmes who seemed startled by their reactions... as if he'd never had anyone offended for him before, which made Marc Ferguson wonder. Given the way the man acted, you'd think he'd be well used to criticism from the yard and elsewhere.

Well-familiar with his temper, the yarders waited with evident tension for Holmes to catch up and go on the attack, so much so that when the other Marine, introduced to the D.I. as Henn, commented it caught them doubly by surprise - as much for the warmth directed at Holmes as for the snide humor directed toward Donovan:

"See Lock, this is why you don't say no when a bint wants to get in  your pants."

"Henn," John growled warningly, not surprising the yarders who were familiar with seeing him rein Sherlock in, until he continued, "Sherlock is MINE..." the capital letters in the word made obvious by his tone and irritation ... "and WILL NOT BE laying with or performing any other act of congress with anyone else - regardless of whether or not that person desperately needs to find something to do with a mouth she can't seem to keep shut."

His tone sounded for all the world as if he was warning her off, and the yarders' eyes turned to Donovan, speculatively.

"Hey now!" Ferguson finally spoke up, reluctantly, in his partner's defense.

More than once, he had fleetingly wondered at some point or other if Donovan hadn't been acting the bit of the scorned woman... but to have it laid out so bluntly and publicly was, well, just a bit cruel... even if he thought she was bringing it on herself.

"It's not like he's not given us a reason to wonder that it's an act. How many times have you seen him on crime scenes or at interviews, an' he's never been like that?"

His question was directed at the Detective Inspector, as the only person in the party who would be likely to listen. Across from him, he could see August Colby nodding his agreement and heard a couple of "too right's" and other agreements muttered behind him as they waited for the Detective Inspector to agree.

To their surprise, though, the DI dropped his forehead to his hand, shaking it with obvious exasperation and disappointment. More surprisingly the man beside him, who Ferguson thought he recognized but wasn't quite certain from where, leaned closer to him and asked in a voice quiet enough to not to carry to the audience beyond the table, but still loud enough to be heard by the yarders, "Is this the common calibre of officers, whom you have been assigned with?"

"Well they are what they are: solid workers and generally honest." DI Lestrade offered in their defense, sounding tired though as he did. There was no doubt in their minds that he was referring to some of Sally and Anderson's indiscretions, which numbered high among the worst kept secrets of the yard and most of them seemed to think nothing else of Lestrade's weak support.

"Perhaps," The man agreed somewhat dubiously, "but it is a wonder you have maintained the closure rate that you have, with so many lacking such basic observational skills. I have at my office the dossiers of several currently under-used 'consultants' that could be called in to supplement and perhaps provide training to the officers currently in your command. If you would like to consider them?"

Despite being associated with Holmes, the man's offer seemed sincere and was all the more insulting for it.

"Oh, look at you trying to paint over the fact that we can see through your brother's act by talking shite and acting like we're the dim ones." Sally's snide tone was even irritating to Ferguson and made him wonder why he'd even bothered.

The older woman who'd been sitting in the corner of the couch suddenly stood and marched back over to the table, surprising everyone, both with the speed she'd moved and the almost intimidating - if grandmotherly- glower on her face.

"If you'd rather not be treated as dim, Dear," she addressed Sally. "you really shouldn't act it. Simply because the boy you fancy doesn't fancy you back is no reason to behave as crudely as you've been behaving. Your mother, I'm sure would be ashamed... You do have a mother, don't you, Dear? It's so hard to tell from your unseemly behavior. If you don't, well, do get my number from Gregory, you clearly need someone to talk to help figure matters out."

Turning to Marc, she continued, "and in answer to your question, Dear,  of course, Sherlock doesn't seem like this when he's involved in an investigation. Dear me, he'd be so intimidating, and I can't imagine anyone would answer his questions. Hmm. It's rather silly to think he would be the same at home as he is on the job, so to speak. Surely, you can't tell me that the way you behave at crime scenes and during interviews with victims and criminals alike is the same way that you would behave in the grocery or at home or elsewhere?"

She studied him with a disarmingly sympathetic gaze seeming to take the possibility seriously, before continuing: "If it is, Dear, well .. perhaps you should consider looking into counseling. I'm given to understand there are some excellent counselors out there. They've done wonders for my sister's oldest son. He's stopped sleeping all day and actually has a part-time job at the local post station. She never thought she'd see it."

Sally shook her head in irritation, opening her mouth to reply with what undoubtedly would have been an insult when she looked up and drew their attention to the fact that Holmes had appeared beside the older woman without anyone seeming to notice. Still in his military stance, he really was quite intimidating, and Ferguson knew he wasn't the only one taken aback. The man practically radiated silent menace as he glared over the older woman's head at Donovan even as he spoke in a kind and warm tone to the older woman, "Really, Mrs. Hudson, this isn't necessary. Whether or not the detectives of Scotland Yard recognize my skills is rather irrelevant. I have a good working relationship with Gregg, and I am quite capable of investigating any thing I need to with or without their approval." Despite the mildness of his tone, the threat was implicit, and the quick pallor that came over Donovan's face suggested to Ferguson that not only did she recognize the threat but had reason to worry about it.

 Holmes continued on without seeming to notice or care about their reactions, "So please, let's not spend any more of our evening on trying to win it."

"Of course, Dear, my apologies. I didn't mean to upset you or add to the unpleasantness. I do hope this is over, though. I'd hate for your visit with your friends to be spoiled."

"Don't worry, Ms. Hudson, it is." Lestrade answered from their side with a glare that swept across the table. "Pack it up, you lot. That's an order."

"Wait a minute, you can't tell us to pack it in. We're just out for a drink after..."

"Do you really want to test me on what I can and can't do, Sally?"

Ferguson wasn't surprised to hear ire in the inspector's tone and silently cursed the woman under his breath knowing whatever penalties and assignments the DI was going to lay on her for her disrespect would be his to share, whether or not he agreed with the woman's attitude.

"Sally, belt up before you have us on dumpster checks for the month." Ferguson tried to cut her off, grabbing her elbow and trying to pull her toward the door.

Obstinate as ever, Sally stiffened, lifting her chin defiantly, and Ferguson grimaced certain that the next words out of her mouth would be making weeks worth of unpleasant work for the both of them. Instead, though, a long, thin hand cut across his vision laying the tip of an index finger across her lips as Holmes's voice interrupted her, "We can continue this next crime scene; it's not the time now."

Holmes's gaze shifted pointedly to Lestrade whose expression was growing livid before sliding back to Ferguson, who took the cue, grabbing Sally's arm and pushing her toward the door as he called over his shoulder, "Night Inspector."

As he turned away, he glanced past the older woman to Holmes, noticing for the first time, not only the Victoria Cross and the Afghan campaign pins  he was familiar with from his seeing his brother's uniform pinned with them, but several other pins as well. It hadn't been something he'd considered before, with the odd public fall of the man before his triumphant return with the down fall of the Moran Syndicate; but now, looking at Holmes' medals and pins, he couldn't help but wonder why he had never considered the question of what kind of background the man must have had to successfully take down a syndicate almost single-handed. Holmes noticed his gaze and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, though it seemed to Marc that the man's lip might have quirked slightly at the corner as Marc was turning away.

As Holmes turned and was walking away, Ferguson was surprised to hear the usually haughty man murmur, "Thank you,  Ms. Hudson, I couldn't have asked for a better defender." in an almost unrecogniably warm voice and wondered how much of the man behind the mask he had missed seeing.

Chapter Text

"Shall we?" Sherlock asked, gesturing back toward the couches.

"Yes, let's do." Ms. Hudson replied, shamming to lean more heavily on his arm as if needing his support.

"Ms. Hudson, I do believe my brother is quite on to our maneuvering." Sherlock offered fondly amused at her attempt to continue match-making.

Well, of course he is, Dear. Your brother really is quite intelligent... Intelligent enough, in fact, to recognize an opportunity when it's 'set beside him' shall we say - as long as it's presented properly."

"So you're limp..."

"For Gregory's sake, Dear. He needs a bit of woo-ing, Sherlock, and someone taking care of him for a change. Don't you think?"

"Indeed, he does. Mrs. Hudson, you are wise beyond your years." Sherlock hugged her gently and pressed a kiss onto the top of her head, as much for her defense of him to the yarders as for her acceptance and kindness towards his brother, Lestrade, Blackwood, and Henn.

"Shush, you," she laughed warmly, "Get me settled, then fetch the drinks for your brother and your friends. I think they've waited quite long enough don't you."

"Yes, Ms. Hudson, I do." Sherlock agreed readily, reminded of a comment from Henn that Sherlock owed them several rounds of drinks for missing his 'official' wetting down.

After getting her seated back into her chosen corner and smiling at her blush when she was roundly complimented for her 'fiesty' (Henn's description) attitude and 'complete shredding of the bint' (again Henn), Sherlock took their drink orders and started toward the bar, but found himself oddly pulled to provide Donovan some defense if slight: "I trust you realize that the cause of the friction between Detective Donovan and myself is the result of purely professional differences, not... " Sherlock broke off, not quite certain how he wished to continue the sentence other than to deny that she was responding to being scorned at least in the manner their comments had suggested.

Sherlock felt John's hand slide across his back in a slight half-hug before releasing him - at the same time as he noticed the others of their party smiling at him with amusement... particularly Lestrade, whom he'd expected at least some irritation from. He was saved from trying to deduce the unexpected lack of antipathy by Ms. Hudson's, once again, timely intervention.

"Oh, Sherlock, you dear silly boy, we are all quite aware that you can be... taxing... under the best of circumstances. That was simply the most effective insult to use with her. Women like her - well, most women really- but especially women like her wish to be admired for their intelligence and skills instead of their other traits and don't really handle suggestions to the contrary very well... especially from other women... and most especially from other women who are older, more experienced, sympathetic, and in no way competitive with them -women, like myself, who are likely to be believed.

"Ms. Hudson..."

Sherlock wasn't certain what to say as he stared at her slightly astonished. It hadn't occurred to him that she had put any thought into her defense, instead just picked up on Henn's comments.

"Takes no prisoners!" Henn crowed, finishing the sentence for him.

"No, I don't, Dear. And you should probably remember that." She warned Henn with gentle humor drawing another round of chuckles, before reminding Sherlock, "Our drinks, Dear."

"Of course, Ms. Hudson." He took the order amiably, too affected by the events of the day to let himself slip into his normal habits and attitudes.

By the time he returned to the couches laden with a tray full of drinks and another 'sharer board' loaded with pub snacks, in lieu of dinner, they were playing a round of 'The moment I realized...' a game based on sharing often embarrassing anecdotes where each person tried to top the other's claim in context to the topic. John, Blackwood, Henn, and the others of Two Two One Bravo Baker had played it at odd moments, on patrols, when they just generally wanted to pass the time or distract themselves from the tension of preparing for dangerous patrols and poor odds.

The game's current topic seemed to be 'The moment' they 'realized' Henn didn't have a brain to mouth filter, and it was John's turn.

"The first day's introduction. He came up to me after I'd been introduced to the fire team, held out his hand as if to introduce himself normally, and said, "Ello there, pleased to meet you. I'm the camp bike. Care for a ride?"

Surprisingly, Mycroft seemed less shocked by this than Sherlock would have expected and took the next turn.

"The day I was visited in my offices by Her Majesty who was touring White Hall with a foreign diplomat, whose name is irrelevant the current conversation, and before being introduced, Sergeant Henn asked Her Majesty if she had ever considered having the Royal Corgis trained to bite diplomats she didn't like."

"Mr. Henn," Ms. Hudson gasped with a startled laugh.

Lestrade groaned slightly under his breath and seemed to give Mycroft a sympathetic look.

Sherlock suspected the sympathy had come from the number of times that Lestrade had been addressed by his superiors after Sherlock had made a possibly injudicious -but completely true and accurate- comment to one of the influential idiots they had been so often called to assist in the course of their investigations.

Blackwood had tipped his face into his hand, shaking his head ruefully.

"Blackwood..."John drawled with a tone that sounded disappointed, surprising Ms. Hudson, Lestrade, and Mycroft, who apparently hadn't deduced, until that moment, that it was the company's unspoken protocol not to let Henn go out alone or unsupervised to public functions or important locations (locations where feathers could be ruffled easily).

"John," Mycroft interrupted in a very dignified tone. "I believe the blame lies with me for disregarding Warrant Officer Blackwood's reluctance to leave my office when I requested that he assist Anthea with a certain matter."

"Hey," Henn protested. "I'm old enough to mind my ..." but quickly trailed off as Sherlock reached the table.

"You were saying," Sherlock prompted as he handed out their drinks and settled the sharer board on the table between them.

"Actually, I think I'd better leave it there. Too much evidence to the contrary, and I don't want to be called a liar. Anyway, it's your turn."

Deciding to give in to the impulse to catch Lestrade off-guard again, after John stepped back with a knowing glance, Sherlock leaned over the arm of the couch and half-turned into the overstuffed cushion, rolling slightly into a sitting position, and -between breaths- let every trace of tension fall away - returning to the proper, but definitely non-military posture that Lestrade was familiar with... enjoying as he did, the surprised widening of the detective inspector's eyes and his murmur of "uncanny".

"Pass." Sherlock refused Henn's shift of the turn to him, explaining "Filter's are boring. You possess a filter, but - like myself- see little need to use it."

"You would say that." , "Don't encourage him.", "I am less than surprised to hear you say that.", "Only you, Sherlock," Lestrade, Blackwood, Mycroft, and John answered, unintentionally speaking over each other.

"Well, Mycroft's takes that one, I think. Her Majesty pretty much trumps everyone." John decided, glancing around the party checking for the others' agreement.

At everyone's nod, he lifted his glass in silent toast to Mycroft and ordered: "next topic is yours."

Mycroft tilted his head in a mute inquiry to Sherlock. Sherlock snorted softly but nodded. His brother might as well have asked, "might I use you as the the target of our sport, Brother Mine?', as if it wouldn't have been the height of hypocrisy for Sherlock to refuse. Sherlock lifted an eyebrow in return prompting Mycroft to continue, "well then, perhaps the moment you realized that my brother has a unique interpretation of 'personal safety'?"

"Oh yeah, that'll work," Henn laughed. "Who's first?"

"I'll have a go." Lestrade answered, lifting his Pilsner to Shelock and taking a drink.

"First time I met him was my second case as a detective. We were hunting a mugger who'd been using the tubes to get away and we weren't having any luck following him on cctv to see how he was getting away. Sherlock had apparently been calling the tip line and wasn't happy they were disregarding the obscure tips he'd given like certain food wrappers found yards away from two of the crime scene, different size boot prints, and the like."

"My tips were only obscure to idiots. You understood what I was saying, immediately."

"Not actually, but we weren't getting anywhere, and I was half-thinking of tapping a psychic if you didn't work out."

"What?!?" Sherlock demanded, scandalized at the thought.

"Lucky, I never came to that, wasn't I? Well, as I was saying, Sherlock was none too happy that the yard wasn't taking his tip, so he followed the lot of them back to the field hut of their old secondary. Sherlock had figured out that it was half a dozen punks who'd just graduated the year before and decided to have a bit of an adventure before going on their way. So what does he do? He calls up the yard, say's he's the school's night watchman and that he saw someone fitting his own description messing with petrol and cleaning supplies near the field house were the prats had met to divy up that night's pull. "

"Sherlock." Mycroft chastised with resigned amusement.

"Well, it got them to drag their head out of their ..." Sherlock defended, briefly before letting the crass finish pass in deference to Ms. Hudson's presence, and continued, "...to show up. If they had just checked the mud patterns left behind by the.."

"Oh, that it did." Lestrade agreed, cutting off what he suspected would be the start of an 'evidence rant', remarking: "Three Special Operations Units were all sent out to track down a suspected bomber, conveniently fitting you description."

Henn and Blackwood were bumping against each other companionably as they pealed wit laughter. Their raised voices prompting nearby diners to raise their own voices even as they glanced over with amused expressions.

In contrast, Mycroft looked ready to pinch the bridge of his nose in exasperation, but a very, very slight nudge to his elbow from Greg seemed to forestall the gesture even as Greg brought the story to its finished: "So, by the time I got to the site, the Special Operation Units had the rugby field, the field-house they'd seen Sherlock rush, and the stands surrounded and were shouting to "give yourself up... and out trots the little ring of thugs half-pissed and ready to wet their pants at the sight of what they were walking out to. When the field house was searched, himself was nowhere to be found, but the loot from the fifteen - sixteen odd muggings was laying out on the benches where they'd been partying. With not a trace of anyone fitting a phony night watchman's description, it didn't take much to convince them to take credit for the arrests and drop their search for an unknown assailant that the real watchman seemed to know nothing about."

"Sounds like the man I know." Blackwood agreed, taking the next turn, "The 'moment' I realized Sherlock has, as you said, a unique interpretation of 'personal safety'...."

"He means the moment he knew you were just as much a maniac as John," Hen cut in wryly.

"...was after John was shot in Sangin." Blackwood went on as if Henn hadn't spoken but then paused for a moment, glancing between Sherlock and Mycroft until it was clear they did not intend to interrupt or cut him off.

He continued, "The mission wasn't finished yet, we were behind enemy lines, and what was left to do was all on Sherlock. The rest of us were just back up and support, but when John was shot,.. well, it was clear to all of us that if we didn't get him back to the base hospital he'd be coming home draped in the Union Jack. Well, I was all for sending Henn and John back to camp, to have Sherlock's six, when what does he do... Sherlock decides to up blackmail me with and threaten... no, it wasn't a threat. I could see that in his eyes; he promised that if I didn't go with them and do 'the driving and soldiering' while Henn took care of John, that he'd turn the mission on it's head and intentionally turn himself over, even knowing he'd be tortured and killed in the end. Given the two choices and what I saw in his eyes... well, John's here isn't he?"

Their previous humor settled into something more contemplative and - at least on Sherlock's part - somewhat awkward feeling as he realized how much it conveyed about his dedication to John. The way John was staring at him didn't help diminish his feeling of awkwardness - at all. When Mycroft started to speak, Sherlock initially thought it would be to break the awkward, exposed feeling, knowing that his brother - like himself - had a distinct disdain for sentiment.

"The moment I realized that my brother's definition of personal safety was directly relational to his associations occurred less than twelve hours after the event you are referring to. With that in mind, shall I take the next turn?"

Everyone but Sherlock lifted their glasses in agreement. For his part, Sherlock stared at his brother in surprise as Mycroft - for the first time in Sherlock's memory- dropped his tendency to be obscure to the point of inscrutability: "You must understand first that given circumstances we cannot discuss at the moment, Warrant Officer Blackwood and Sergeant Henn's assigned task of ensuring John received medical treatment was not possible until the Sherlock completed the mission and neutralized the target. To that end, rather than taking any of the strategic but time delayed approaches available to him at the time, Sherlock did, indeed, permit himself to be captured for the sole purpose of triggering then planting a targeting device and beacon, colloquially known as a suicide chip, on the target's person with the full knowledge that he would not have the time or opportunity to escape the area before an airstrike that was to be launched on standing order in response to the triggering of the issued device."

"Bloody Hell!" the exclamation escaped the Detective Inspector before he remembered Ms. Hudson's presence and quickly apologized before continuing. "I expected you were going to say he'd jumped in the boot of a serial killer's car or the like... but nothing like that." Lestrade turned to stare at Sherlock with a gaze that reminded Sherlock of a phrase he'd always thought of as ludicrous: 'eyes as big as pie plates'.

"Well, yes, he did that as well, when he was nine, but the scope of an airstrike seemed somehow more apropos to the current conversation."

"Oh, bloody..."Lestrade caught himself the second time and apologized again.

"Oh, that is quite alright, Dear," Ms. Hudson kindly offered. "It is quite liberating to hear someone else expressing my exasperation at times."

"Do tell Ms. Hudson, I can only imagine that you have an ample supply of anecdotes on the subject." Mycroft encouraged with a certain wry tone that Sherlock rarely heard. It was hard to remember sometimes that despite Mycroft's generally tedious aristocratic manner, Mycroft had actually been quite mischievous as a child.

"I'm not quite the gossip you might imagine, Young Man," Ms. Hudson answered tartly, drawing a relieved smile from Sherlock. The things that Ms. Hudson had seen in the refrigerator alone would have no doubt drawn ignorant revulsion and commentary from the nearby diners who were doing a poor job of subtly eavesdropping..."But I can that that like your Mr. Henn, Sherlock can make quite the first impression. For instance, the moment that Malta and Conrad (my other renters - now in 221A) realized that Sherlock had an eccentric idea of personal safety was after I offered to let 221A to him, but he was quite insistent that I let 221B... Didn't listen a bit when I tried to explain that B was rented."

Sherlock shifted, glancing away, uncomfortably as John, Blackwood, Henn, and his brother - of course - turned to stare at him with varying expressions amusement and fondness.

"Just tromped right by up the stairs, pounded on their door - now his own - and went about convincing them that 221B was 'ridiculously easy to break into'. I don't know if they believed him or not - at first- but after Sherlock climbed up the drain pipe to their bedroom, then climbed to the roof with the fire escape and swung in through the window upstairs bedroom, and came down through the chimney into their sitting room - well, I half think they gave it to him because of the show he put on." Ms. Hudson went on oblivious to the growing flush on his cheeks.

The laughter, when it came was kind, and accompanied by friendly pushes from Henn, a gentle shake of his shoulder from Blackwood, and an indulgent smile from Mycroft, so Sherlock did his best to take their jibes with grace until their gaiety settled. Of course, Henn wasn't content to let the laughter die just yet, and prompted, "Come on, John, you have to have a tale or ten."

"Well, maybe a few." John agreed, but didn't seem ready to continue, until Sherlock himself prompted, "And..."

John chuckled, and half-raised his hand in a way that made Sherlock think John had been about to ruffle his hair but he stopped, shook his head, offered, "Almost too many to count, really, but the craziest thing you might have done, in my mind, was ask me to marry you."

When the resulting chuckles faded, Sherlock and the others bickered a bit over who's tale took the round before the next round was dedicated to convincing Ms. Hudson with only marginal success that John wasn't always the mild-mannered 'young man' she thought him to be. Blackwood took that round with a story about an incident with an SUV in Musa Qala, explaining:

“There’s a regular barrier on the road, into Musa Qala, and then there’s about two hundred feet of road with walls on either side, and there’s a blast barrier at the end of that. This SUV just ran through the regular barrier, and Doc and me and another guy were inside the blast barrier... Doc yelled at us to get out and he just start[ed] shooting straight at the SUV, didn’t run, didn’t even back up, just kept pumping away at that thing while we f-- [effing] dived over the barrier.” [from Putting the Brave in Baker Bravo]

... and bought the next round of drinks when the others called him on being tipsy enough to let his language lapse around Ms. Hudson. Normally, the tall, gruff warant officer, was quite careful not to cuss in her presence - in the past.

The happy party continued for some time before Gregg and Mycroft (and his mostly unnoticed henchman) offered to accompany Ms. Hudson home, and said their goodbyes, leaving the remaining men of 221 Bravo Baker to remember their missing comrades with toasts and tales - telling Sherlock parts of their company's history that only one of their number ever heard.

Fin