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Mycroft Holmes had never been so glad to sink into the butter-soft leather seats on the private jet. An entire month of his life devoted to containing this American problem, and he could claim only partial success. Still, things were well enough in hand that his personal touch was no longer required.

The British Government rolled his neck slowly, easing tension. It had been a horridly stressful month, and he had left word with his minions at home that he was not to be distracted for anything less than a death in the family. Now that he was on his way home, though, he could catch up on the doings of his frequently errant sibling. Hopefully, the ridiculous boy had managed to stay out of trouble.

He opened his laptop and started scanning reports. Watching him, Anthea saw a slight frown crease his brow, followed by a narrowing of the eyes. His lips pursed a bit then settled into a tight, thin line. One eyebrow raised, and the eyes grew hooded. Finishing, he drew a short, sharp breath, in and out through the nose. When he closed the laptop and laid it on the seat next to him so delicately it made no sound whatsoever, Anthea bent over her phone and started clearing her calendar.

Mycroft Holmes was furious and heads were going to roll.

The rapping at the door was loud and insistent, and John scurried to answer it before it could wake Rosie from her nap. He was a bit taken aback to see Mycroft Holmes on his doorstep, umbrella in one hand, thick manila envelope in the other. The great man neither spoke nor awaited an invitation; he merely strode right past John into the sitting room.

"Do come in," John muttered ironically.

Mycroft's gaze swept the room, cataloging and deducing, then he turned and subjected John himself to the same scrutiny. The silence lengthened, the tension in the room heightening until John felt compelled to speak.

"Ah, look, Mycroft..."

"I've just seen Sherlock." The harsh, clipped tones steamrolled right over John's voice.

Seen him, John realised. Seen his eye, and the bruises, and the way he moves, still in so much pain...oh, this is going to be bad.

Mycroft continued, "He's fresh out of the hospital -- again. Odd, how it's always a Watson who puts him there."

John drew himself up, automatically defaulting to parade rest. "I understand you're angry, but Sherlock and I--"

"Oh, quite. He's made it quite clear; he's forgiven you." Impossibly, his glare grew even icier. "I have not."

The doctor replied quietly, "With respect, sir, it's not your business."

"Is it not? Am I given to understand, then, that if someone were to inflict grievous bodily harm on Miss Harriet Watson, that you would shrug it off as not your business, as long as she forgave the perpetrator?"

Well, no. John had to concede the point. Anyone who did to Harry what he had done to Sherlock would have to face his wrath, and it wouldn't be pretty.

Revision: This was going to be VERY bad.

"I understand. But..."

Once again, Mycroft steamrolled over him. "Dr. Watson, you continue to draw breath only because my brother begged for your life."

"Sherlock doesn't beg."

"For you, he did. For you..." A frown puckered Mycroft's brow, and he swept his deductive gaze up and down John. Whatever he saw was apparently found wanting. He raised an eyebrow dismissively, then held out the envelope. "This is for you."

John put his hands behind his back and took a step back. "Uh-uh, just spit it out. What's it to be? Outer Mongolia?"

The Iceman lifted his chin. "The Mongolians have never offended me, Dr. Watson. I have no reason to inflict you upon them." He waggled the envelope insistently.

John shook his head slowly. "Sorry, not interested."

"Very well." Mycroft leaned his umbrella against a chair, tucked the envelope under his left arm, and proceeded to remove his right glove with great precision. "We'll do this in reverse order, then."

Do WHAT in reverse order? John wondered. The expression of mild curiosity was still on his face when Mycroft Holmes made a fist and planted it in the middle of said face.

It was a tremendously powerful blow. John went down like a marionette with its strings cut, his vision greying out as he struggled not to choke on the blood which gushed from his nose. He curled on his side, uncomfortably aware that six foot two of extremely angry, overprotective brother was towering over him.

If he kicks me while I'm down, like I did Sherlock...what was the tally? Three fractured ribs, lacerated kidney, more bruises than they could count...If he does...

If he does, you'll lay there and take your medicine, Watson.

He's entitled.

"That was meant to be my parting shot," Mycroft mused, eyeing his bruised knuckles with distaste. He replaced his glove and dropped the envelope by John. "For your information," he sneered. He collected his umbrella, turned on his heel, and left. It was long minutes after the door snicked shut before John could gather the wherewithal to stagger to the bathroom and tend to his injury. Miraculously, the nose was unbroken, although swollen and painfully tender.

Got off lightly. He pulled his punch, for Sherlock's sake. He returned to the sitting room, scrubbed the blood out of the carpet as best he could, and gathered up the envelope. What's in here? A letter reinstating me into the Army, and a ticket to Afghanistan? Nah, way too bulky...

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Watson perused the last report, carefully stacked the photographs he'd forced himself to look at, then went to the bathroom and threw up.

This changes everything...

Sherlock took one look at John and sprang up from his chair, eyes blazing. "Mycroft!" he growled and grabbed for his phone. John forestalled him with a hand on his wrist.

"No, Sherlock. Please.'

"Did he threaten you?"

"No." John settled himself in his chair and waited for Sherlock to take his seat across from him. "He did something much worse, actually: he told me the truth." He sat forward earnestly, dark blue eyes searching crystalline ones. "Why did you never tell me about Serbia?"

The detective shrugged. "Why did you never tell me details about Afghanistan? Neither of us is a fan of rehashing difficult times."

"No, that's not it. You were tortured." John could barely make himself spit out the word. "You stopped just barely long enough to get patched up before you were bouncing around in front of me wearing a fake moustache, acting like it had all been some lark. Why didn't you tell me the truth?"

"Damn Mycroft!" Sherlock exploded from his chair and paced a tight circle. "You weren't to know..."


"Because I didn't want you to feel...obligated."

"Huh." John sat back, mulling it over. "I don't, you know. Feel obligated. I feel grateful, which is not the same thing." Sherlock tried to wave this off dismissively, but John wasn't having it. "No, listen. I've got something important to say and I need you to really listen, all right?" John waited for his friend to sit and give him his full attention, then he started:

"You let me beat you because you said I'm entitled. Which is bull, by the way. But I want you to understand there are some things you're entitled to:

"You're entitled to our gratitude. Not just me, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade, but the victims and families of victims you've helped, the police who have benefitted from your assistance, all the people whose lives you saved or bettered by taking down Moriarty's web -- there are so many people on this planet who owe you a debt of gratitude, Sherlock, and you're entitled to accept it.

"You're entitled to your life. This life that you keep -- sacrificing. Please, you've got to stop dying for us. You've got to see that you're entitled to live, and it's our privilege if you consent to include us in your life. You're entitled to friends, Sherlock: friends who are loyal and supportive. I was that kind of friend once, and I want to be again, if you'll have me."

Sherlock had listened to this speech with tears prickling his eyes, and as John finished, he couldn't fight them anymore. He blinked hard, releasing them, as he choked out, "More than friends, John. So much more than friends." He extended a hand. "Family."

John took his hand, and through some silent signal, both men stood and met in an embrace. After several long moments, Sherlock chuckled. "After the rubbish hand I got dealt the first time, I think I'm entitled to choose a brother."

"Can't argue that." Suddenly, they were laughing together, as easily as though there had never been a separation. They laughed themselves breathless, then threw themselves side by side on the couch.

"Crap telly?" John asked, grabbing the remote.


So they settled in for the evening, Sherlock yelling at the TV, and John obligingly clicking channels when His Nibs deemed something too stupid or boring to continue with. God, I have missed this. I came over tonight unsure if I even had a friend anymore, and now I'm sitting here with my brother.

Family, by choice.