John is expecting the visit, but that doesn’t mean he likes it.
“Mary?” John calls as he pushes the door open and drops his dripping umbrella into the stand. “Can you put the kettle on, love? I’m soaked to the - Jesus, Mycroft.”
Mycroft looks up at him and presses his lips together in what he apparently believes to be a smile. “Dr. Watson.”
John glances around his living room. “Where’s my wife?”
“She’s popped out to do the shopping,” Mycroft says.
“Well, make yourself at home,” John says, because it can’t be helped. “Tea?”
“Why not,” Mycroft says.
John’s sure his surprise registers on his face. “Is this a social visit, then?” he asks, busying himself with the kettle and hoping the milk’s not gone off.
“Of a sort,” Mycroft says.
“Is he all right?” John says, his voice even. Not that he thinks it will be Mycroft who comes to tell him when something terrible - if something terrible were to happen, but -
“He’s fine,” Mycroft says. “In a sense.”
John releases a breath that shakes more than he’d like. “What’s he done now?”
“Terrorized a minor government official, botched a fascinating locked room burglary, and made an arse of himself in front of half of Scotland Yard,” Mycroft says, smiling rather nastily. “Take your pick.”
“No,” Mycroft says. “He’s not.”
“Can’t be sure,” John says, slamming two of his least-stained cups down on the worktop.
“Oh, John, you underestimate me,” Mycroft says. “No, he’s clean, but I fear he won’t be for long.”
John snorts. “That’s an addict for you.”
There’s a long pause as John watches the kettle, which, surprisingly, refuses to boil.
“Might I ask,” Mycroft says finally, “why it is that you have stopped seeing him?”
“My wife’s about to have a baby, you know,” John says. “Been a bit busy.”
“Ah, yes,” Mycroft says. “Collecting nappies, putting together the crib. Bachelor Watson no more. It’s funny, though. Just a few months ago you were happy to join him on his little adventures. Happy to let him commit murder for you, even.”
The kettle whistles conveniently. John lets it whine as he sniffs the milk and pours it into a pitcher, then brings it all over on a tray. God, he hates that he does this for Mycroft. The man breaks into his house and here he just brings him his tea, like a bloody servant; he hates to think what Sherlock would say if -
John clears his throat. “What’s your point?”
“When he stopped by last week you had Mary tell him you were out,” Mycroft says. “Despite her rather formidable expertise in lying, he didn’t believe her.”
John drops entirely too much sugar into his tea. “I’ve got my reasons.”
“I’m sure that you do,” Mycroft says.
“He’s an addict, you realize,” John says. “I can’t have someone like that around my daughter.”
“Certainly not,” Mycroft agrees. “You must keep dangerous characters away from children. My, she will be lonely.”
“Oh, fuck off. Mary and I aren’t - ”
“I do wonder,” Mycroft interrupts, “how long it will be before one of you commits another murder? Do you think it will be you first, or Mary? I’d put my money on Mary, but perhaps you’ll surprise me.”
“This isn’t going to work, Mycroft,” John snaps.
“No, I suppose it isn’t,” Mycroft says. “My brother has loved only two things in his life, John. Do you know what they are?”
John looks down at his tea.
“The first is the work,” Mycroft says. “Without it, he is disconsolate, and purposeless, and entrapped in a world that does not understand him. It is the only thing that keeps him breathing on days when he would just as soon not bother.
“The second, of course, is you.”
Against his will, John looks up. Mycroft’s face is - not kind, exactly, but not cruel either.
“If the work is his sun then you are his unexpected moon,” Mycroft says. “He didn’t need you until you arrived, and now he cannot seem to function without you. His tides fade away. His nights are much darker than even he remembered.”
“It’s a piss-poor metaphor,” John mutters, looking out the window at the lashing rain. “He doesn’t know anything about astronomy.”
“If he knows anything about it at all, it is because of you,” Mycroft says, taking a polite sip of tea and placing the cup back on the tray. He stands up slowly, his umbrella tapping once against the floor. “Good day, Dr. Watson. I imagine we’ll see each other soon.”
“Somehow we always do,” John says as Mycroft lets himself out.
When Mary arrives home, John’s tea, untouched, has gone cold.
The oddest part of it all is that Mycroft comes back.
Six weeks later, John is nodding off in the rocker with the baby in his arms. She is fed and burped and warm and hates more than anything to be put down, and so John is here, holding her and praying for sleep in the way that new parents do, and the footsteps are nearly silent on the carpeted hallway but John hears them and, he realizes, recognizes them immediately.
“Mycroft,” he says, his voice rough from sleep, “you’re very lucky I’m holding a baby instead of a pistol.”
“The one’s nearly as dangerous as the other, I imagine,” Mycroft says, stepping into the room, his face lit only by the nightlight by the door.
“Come to bring a casserole for the new mum and dad?” John says.
“Hardly,” Mycroft says. “I’ve come to thank you.”
John snorts, and Lillian stirs, just for a moment, before smacking her lips and settling down. “I didn’t do it for you.”
“Even so,” Mycroft says. “He was - happy - to be included.”
“He told you that?” John says, arching an eyebrow.
“My god, no,” Mycroft says. “I haven’t spoken to him in weeks. But I can tell from the surveillance video.”
“You two have the barmiest relationship of anybody I know,” John murmurs, looking down at Lillian.
“He’s been practicing changing nappies on a doll,” Mycroft contributes.
John presses his lips together to stop himself from bursting into laughter, or perhaps tears. “Go away, Mycroft.”
“Sleep well,” Mycroft says airily as he retreats down the hallway.
In the morning, John finds an entire roast chicken in the fridge.
John’s pushing the pram toward Tesco with one hand and texting Sherlock back with the other when the voice says in his left ear, “Might I be of assistance?”
John holds the phone out to Mycroft. “Tell your idiot brother that I don’t care how many babysitters he’s researched, I’m not leaving Lillian to go off to Surrey for some case about bees. Bees, I tell you. What’s so fascinating about bees?”
“Why can’t Mary take care of her?” Mycroft says lightly.
“She’s busy,” John says, which is his way of saying that she’s told him she’s gone off for a ladies’ weekend even though they both know she’s probably assassinating someone in Albania by now.
“Ah,” Mycroft says, which is his way of saying that he knows exactly who she’s assassinating in Albania and quite possibly ordered the assassination himself. “As you know, I prefer not to text, but I’m happy to push the pram so you can shout at Sherlock yourself.”
John raises his eyebrows. “You’ll push the pram?”
“I run several governments,” Mycroft says. “I’m sure it won’t be too much of a challenge in comparison.”
“Can I get a photo?” John says, falling into place alongside Mycroft as he thumbs several different versions of “no, and leave me alone you annoying bugger” out on his phone.
“You could,” Mycroft says, “but I would not advise it.”
“Mm,” John says, pressing send.
John comes home from work one evening to find Mycroft sitting in his living room and staring at Lillian, who is rocking back and forth slowly in her swing. He’s not wearing any shoes.
“Er,” John says.
“Mary had to run an errand,” Mycroft says, without breaking eye contact with Lillian. “I offered to watch the baby.”
John spends a few moments wrapping his head around that and decides not to pursue it further. “Has she been fed?”
“Yes,” Mycroft says.
“By you?” John says, lifting Lillian out of the swing and kissing her on both cheeks.
Mycroft raises an eyebrow. “We won’t speak of it.”
“And she’s not wet,” John says. “Will wonders never cease.”
“I cared for Sherlock when he was small,” Mycroft says.
“That’s exactly why I’m worried. Here, can you hold her while I put dinner on?”
“No,” Mycroft says, but accepts the baby into his arms. She giggles and pokes her finger into his cheek.
“Smile,” John says, pulling out his phone.
“If you send that to Sherlock, I will have you arrested for treason,” Mycroft says, but he does, in fact, smile.
He arrives late to Lillian’s first birthday.
“You,” Sherlock snarls. “What are you doing here? Why must you ruin celebrations with your presence? Some people actually enjoy things, you know, hard as it may be to imagine.”
“I was invited,” Mycroft says, smiling widely and placing a pristinely wrapped gift on top of the pile.
Sherlock closes his mouth and whirls on John. “He was invited?”
John shrugs. “I bet he brought something expensive for the baby.”
“I did,” Mycroft says, accepting Mary’s kiss on his cheek.
“What is he threatening you with?” Sherlock says. “Do you want me to kill him for you?”
“Keep it down,” John says, glancing at the other guests, who have all politely averted their eyes as the infamous Sherlock Holmes throws a tantrum. “I invited him, all right?”
Sherlock narrows his eyes. “You’ve changed, John.”
Mary laughs. “Can I get you a piece of cake, Mycroft?”
“I would be delighted,” Mycroft says. “Is that chocolate?”
“This is repulsive. Lillian,” Sherlock snaps, and Lillian looks up at him with wide, adoring eyes, just as she always does. “Come. We’re leaving.”
“Sherlock,” John groans as Sherlock lifts Lillian into his arms and heads for the kitchen.
“Don’t follow us,” Sherlock snaps.
“Are we sure it’s not his first birthday?” Mary says, handing Mycroft a fork.
“I’m starting to feel like you’re stalking me,” John says as he steps out of the surgery at dusk to see Mycroft staring down at his phone just outside the door.
“Only starting?” Mycroft says. “Would you like a ride home?”
“Am I being kidnapped?” John asks, climbing into the black four-door and sliding over so Mycroft can join him.
“You’re a rather willing victim,” Mycroft says. “I was in the neighbourhood.”
“I’ve got a new case going up on the blog tonight,” John says conversationally when it becomes clear halfway home that Mycroft has no intention of looking up from his phone. “About a bunch of catfishers preying on redheaded guys on Facebook. D’you know, they had one thinking he was going to marry a swimsuit model? I think I’ll call it the Society of Gingers.”
“Creative,” Mycroft says. “Sherlock purchased cocaine this morning.”
John turns toward him so fast he nearly gets whiplash. “What?”
“I had his previous stash removed last week,” Mycroft says. “He’s replenished it.”
“His stash - has he - ”
“No,” Mycroft says. “Not yet.”
John leans back. “Why? He was - when this case wrapped up, he seemed fine.”
“He keeps it around just in case.”
“Just in case what?” John snaps. “God damn him.”
Mycroft is quiet as the lights of London in the evening drift by. John fidgets in his seat, drums his fingers along the expensive leather interior. He is angry, he is furious, but Mycroft just stares straight ahead and John wants to smack him for it.
John finally breaks. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
Mycroft sighs. “I don’t know, John. I’m afraid that he - that he is finally coming to terms with having lost you.”
John opens his mouth, then closes it. “Excuse me?”
“He had no idea, for a very long time, that he was in love with you,” Mycroft says. “It was painfully obvious to me, of course. But then, I am the clever one.”
“I don’t know what you’re - ”
“I’m still not entirely sure he knows, but even he can feel it. No matter how hard he tries not to feel anything at all,” Mycroft continues. “You have Mary, and Lillian, and he has no one.”
“He doesn’t want anyone,” John spits.
“He wants you,” Mycroft says. “In a way he cannot even articulate. So he stays busy, and hardly sleeps, and throws himself in the way of danger, and keeps it around in case there is a moment when he hurts more than he can bear - ”
“What do you want from me?” John interrupts. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”
“Yes,” Mycroft says. “I would do anything to keep him alive. You know that.”
John stares out the window. “And you know I can’t give him what he wants. If that’s what he wants, which for the record I very much doubt - ”
“Forgive me, but I notice that you said can’t, not don’t want to.”
“Fuck you,” John says. “Pull over, please. I’d rather walk.”
“John,” Mycroft says.
“No,” John says. “No, I won’t be part of this. I won’t be one of your puppets on strings. I said pull over.”
“Anthea,” Mycroft says, and Anthea immediately puts on her blinker. “You may be right about me, but all I have ever asked of you is that you look after him, and that is all I continue to ask for. Nothing more. And if you don’t see that, I’m afraid you’re not nearly as bright as Sherlock thinks you are.”
“Sherlock thinks I’m an idiot,” John says, grabbing the door handle.
As he slams the door behind him, he hears, “Wrong again, Dr. Watson.”
This time, Mycroft is on the floor - on the floor - when John gets home. He’s got a cup of tea in his hands, and Lillian is patiently shoving a doll into the sleeve of his jumper.
“My god,” John says faintly.
“Don’t stare, John, it’s not a good look for you,” Mycroft says without looking up from Lillian.
“I don’t accept your apology,” John says, hanging up his coat and joining them on the carpet.
“I didn’t expect you to,” Mycroft says.
John knows it’s bad when he answers the door and it’s Mycroft. Mycroft doesn’t ever knock, Mycroft just walks in, uses the key he stole somewhere along the way and makes himself comfortable on the sofa.
But this time he knocks and waits, white-faced, on the front step, and then Mary is handing John his coat and telling John she’ll be there as soon as the sitter arrives, and then they’re in the black car and Anthea is driving much too fast, and then they won’t let him in even though he’s a doctor, he’s a doctor and they slam the door in Mycroft’s face because they don’t care who he is, because the patient’s an OD and there’s a procedure and it doesn’t matter if he’s the bloody queen of England, he can’t come in.
“I prefer it when he gets shot,” Mycroft says.
John grips his paper cup tighter. “Was there a list?”
“Naturally,” Mycroft says.
“I don’t think he was trying to kill himself, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mycroft says archly.
“It wasn’t,” John lies.
“He wouldn’t do that to you. Again.”
Mycroft leans back in his plastic chair and steeples his fingers under his chin. “No, I don’t think he would. He cares for you too much, a fact for which I am immensely grateful.”
“I thought love was a weakness,” John says.
“It is,” Mycroft says. “Believe me, I am more ashamed of myself each day.”
Mycroft leaves before Sherlock wakes up, and John is there alone at the end of his bed when he opens his eyes, grumpy and groggy, and John is furious and terrified and so in love with the idiot he can hardly speak, and perhaps the worst part of it all is that Mycroft was right all along.
Christmas is at the Holmes’ again, a surreal tradition that Sherlock agrees to only because his mum and dad spoil Lillian rotten. Sherlock is still on his best behavior, which in Sherlock’s case doesn’t mean much, but in any case it’s clear that he’s not eager to have it out with John again and John intends to enjoy it while it lasts.
On the other side of the parlor door, Sherlock and his mother are arguing over whether or not Gray’s Anatomy is acceptable bedtime reading for a toddler. Sherlock is, surprisingly enough, the against, though mostly because Gray’s Anatomy is outdated and he’d prefer to start Lillian on something with more of an emphasis on 21st century corpses. Mary suggests they table the discussion until Lillian learns to read, which Sherlock reminds her is hardly the point.
“No input from Lillian’s father?” Mycroft says, his fingers clacking away at his laptop.
“If you think I’ll be able to stop him showing her pictures of dead bodies, you have overestimated me,” John says. He opens the oven and peers inside at the browning turkey, hoping that the thermometer buried inside it wasn’t brought from 221B. He knows far too much about what Sherlock does with kitchen instruments.
“You’ve no one to blame but yourself, Mycroft,” Mr. Holmes says as he peels potatoes over the sink. “You’re the one who got Sherlock started on all that science when he could barely tie his own shoes.”
“We usually wore loafers,” Mycroft reminds him.
“Oh, how he loved it,” Mr. Holmes continues. “He was so angry when I couldn’t quiz him on the periodic table, do you remember? I’ll admit, I was relieved when we sent him off to primary school a year early. Gave me time to study up for him during the day.”
“Do you have any photos of them?” John says, quite suddenly. “When they were children, I mean?”
“No,” Mycroft says.
“Of course,” Mr. Holmes says.
“I’ve had them all burned,” Mycroft says.
“He’s lying,” Mr. Holmes says, and Mycroft frowns down at his keyboard, and it is the very best Christmas ever. “I’ll dig them up for you after dinner - d’you know, nobody’s ever asked? Well, except those reporters, back when Sherlock was getting all that attention. I nearly gave one to one young woman, she was so persistent! But then I thought Mycroft probably wouldn’t appreciate it, no matter how darling they looked in their matching pajamas.”
“Dada,” Lillian says, toddling into the room and saving Mycroft an aneurysm. She holds up a battered copy of On the Origin of Species upon which she has clearly been chewing. “Book!”
“Yes, book,” John says, turning her around and aiming her back toward the door. “Go back to Mummy now, Daddy’s cooking.”
“It’s wonderful, really,” Mr. Holmes says, smiling distractedly as the door swings shut behind her. “We never thought we’d have grandchildren.”
“You don’t have grandchildren,” Mycroft says.
“Shut up, Mycroft,” John says.
On the ninth day of Mary’s “holiday” on the continent, Lillian is up half the night with a cough, and John oversleeps, and the nanny is late, and John misses his first appointment of the day and can’t seem to catch up. Sherlock texts him just after lunch that he thinks he’s found nude photos of the nanny online and follows up with several of the photos in question, which John looks at only to confirm that they are not the nanny and then texts Lestrade to please invent some sort of horrific crime for Sherlock to investigate because his boredom is getting in the way of John’s ability to not strangle him.
It’s dark by the time John gets home, and when he opens the door, it’s quiet in a way that is both welcome and mildly frightening.
On one end of the sofa is Lillian, clad in pajamas and curled around an iPad that John’s never seen before. She’s slowly poking away at the touchscreen, her head dwarfed by a large pair of headphones. On the other end of the sofa is Mycroft, who is rapidly scrolling through text on his own iPad. The umbrella leans against the wall.
“Please tell me you haven’t killed the nanny,” John says.
“Really, now,” Mycroft says without looking up.
John presses a kiss to Lillian’s hair. “I suppose it’s good to know that she’ll abandon my daughter with any strange man that shows up at the door.”
“I had a key,” Mycroft says. “And I paid her a rather large sum of money.”
“It’s probably for the best, anyway. Sherlock thinks she’s a porn star,” John says. “Why are you here?”
“Can’t I drop by to visit my favorite Army doctor?” Mycroft says.
“You need something from Sherlock,” John deduces.
“I need something from Sherlock,” Mycroft admits. “There’s a leak within my own ranks. I have my suspicions about its source but cannot, for obvious reasons, confirm them. Nor can I trust anyone else with what I know. He refuses to take the case.”
“And you think I can get him to do it?”
“You can try.”
“He’s bored out of his mind, he’s practically begging for something to do, but he won’t try to solve what I’m sure is a genuinely fascinating case just because you’re the one asking him to do it. Christ, Mycroft, what did you do to him growing up?”
John means it as a joke, but he realizes as soon as he sees Mycroft’s face that it didn’t come out like one.
“I failed him,” Mycroft says. “He wasn’t enough like me, and I couldn’t understand why. So I pushed him away.”
“You were a child yourself,” John mumbles, pulling a box of pasta from the cupboard. “You’ve made up for it over the years. In your own creepy way.”
“Probably,” John says. “Do you want macaroni and cheese?”
“If I have no other choice,” Mycroft says darkly.
Mary’s been dead for three weeks before Mycroft shows up.
John is sitting in the living room, staring blankly at the television. Lillian is napping, and Sherlock put on his coat and whirled out without a word half an hour earlier; he’s probably deducing the living hell out of everyone at John’s local Tesco. He’d shown up just as John was receiving the news and hadn’t, so far as John could tell, gone back to 221B since. When John had put in a load of laundry the night before, he’d found several pairs of Sherlock’s socks balled up with Lillian’s pajamas, and thrown them in with a shrug.
Mycroft doesn’t knock, for which John is grateful. John couldn’t take a knock right now. It might, he reflects, be just the thing that pushes him over the edge.
“John,” Mycroft greets him, his voice deep and calm.
“Hallo,” John replies, because there’s nothing for it.
Mycroft doesn’t sit; he stands with his umbrella hanging by his side, his gaze fixed on the side of John’s face. “You have my sympathies.”
“Fat lot of good that does me,” John says.
“Indeed,” Mycroft murmurs.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know what she was doing,” John says. “I know you knew. Sherlock didn’t even have to tell me. I’m not a complete idiot, you realize.”
“I do,” Mycroft says.
John turns to look at him, fury and pain curdling in his stomach. “Tell me. Were you the one who sent my wife to her death?”
“No,” Mycroft says. “But I wish I had been. At least then I would be able to tell you she died for something worthwhile.”
“Go to hell,” John says, fisting his hand into the sofa cushion. “Go to hell, Mycroft. D’you know, I thought we were friends? Stupid, isn’t it? But we’re not friends, because you don’t have friends. You only have pawns.”
Mycroft stands quietly, the sinking afternoon sun falling across his face. He glances at the stairs, toward Lillian’s room. Lillian, who is just barely three years old and has John’s eyes and Mary’s smile and Sherlock’s wicked sense of humor.
“Lillian will be taken care of,” Mycroft says. “In any event.”
“I don’t want your bloody money,” John snarls.
“Luckily, it is not up to you,” Mycroft says.
John takes a deep breath. “Get out, Mycroft. Just - get out.”
“Give Lillian my best,” Mycroft says, and closes the door firmly behind him.
There’s no getting around it: the nursery school Christmas play is horrible.
Lillian knows enough of the words to stumble through, grinning widely all the while, the wire and tinsel halo over her head bent just enough to be endearing, and John catches himself smiling from his seat on the aisle in the second to last row. It’s only after the play has ended and the children have come out for their bows and everyone has fled to the other side of the classroom for cookies that John sees Mycroft, standing near the door with his hands in the pockets of his black coat. Your brother is here, John thumbs quickly, and Sherlock sends back a stream of profanity so protracted that John deletes it just in case Lillian gets ahold of his phone in the car on the way home.
“Enjoy the show?” John says, joining Mycroft in the back of the room.
“Lillian performed admirably despite a somewhat lacking supporting cast,” Mycroft says.
“She’s been singing nothing but Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for five weeks,” John says. “I’m going spare. What are you doing here?”
“I regret that I haven’t been by in a while,” Mycroft says, watching as Lillian accepts a cookie from a friend and stuffs the entire thing in her mouth at once. “She’s getting very tall.”
“Children do that,” John says.
“Is she well?”
“She’s learning to ride a bike. She likes books. She asks about her mum sometimes.” John shrugs. “She’ll be all right.”
“And you?” Mycroft glances at him, one eyebrow raised.
John shrugs again. “I get by.”
“I imagine that you do,” Mycroft says.
“Hi Uncle Mycroft,” Lillian says, bouncing up to him through the sea of legs. “Do you want a cookie?”
“No, thank you,” Mycroft says primly. “You made a very nice angel.”
Lillian shoves the cookie in her mouth. “Sherlock says angels aren’t real.”
“Sherlock says a lot of things,” Mycroft says. “You mustn’t believe all of them.”
“Go and get your backpack now, sweetheart, we’re going home,” John says.
“I’m getting more cookies first!” Lillian cries, disappearing into the crowd of pint-sized classmates.
“We’ll see you at Christmas, then?” John says.
“If you’d like,” Mycroft says, glancing at his watch.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that if you’d prefer I not attend, I’m sure I have other invitations,” Mycroft says.
“It’s at your parents’ house.”
“If it’s between my presence and yours and Lillian’s, I know who everyone else would choose,” Mycroft says.
John stares at him for a moment. The anger he’d felt toward Mycroft all these months, the mingled rage and betrayal, seems a little more hollow than it did last time he checked on it. “You didn’t kill her,” he murmurs under his breath, hoping none of the other parents are listening.
“I know,” Mycroft says. “But if there is still doubt in your mind that I could have saved her - ”
“Ready, Daddy?” Lillian says, appearing from no where and grabbing John’s hand.
“Just about,” John says, squeezing her hand. “Come to Christmas, Mycroft.”
Mycroft presses his lips together. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” John says. “Say goodbye, Lillian.”
“Goodbye!” Lillian says.
“Goodbye, Lillian,” Mycroft says. “Oh, and John? He’s gotten you a Christmas present.”
John turns around. “He who?”
Mycroft doesn’t call him a moron aloud; his raised eyebrow does it for him.
“Sherlock?” John says. “No.”
“You’re wrong,” John says. “In ten years he’s never gotten me a present. Not once.”
Mycroft smiles. “As they say, there’s a first time for everything.”
John opens his mouth, then closes it. “Bugger all.”
“Daddy, that’s a bad word!” Lillian says.
When John wakes up, the bed is empty.
He’s a bit disappointed. He had hoped he would wake to Sherlock’s curls on his pillow, to a warm expanse of Sherlock’s skin splayed out on his cotton sheets. But he’s not surprised, not exactly.
He had been surprised the night before, when their kisses, hitherto tentative, turned urgent, searching. He’d been surprised when he’d taken Sherlock’s hand and pulled him toward the bedroom, and Sherlock had whispered, “Lillian?” against his lips, and John had murmured back, “Sleeps like a log,” and Sherlock had followed him, their fingers tangled. He’d been surprised when Sherlock hadn’t bolted immediately afterward, had instead curled up in his arms and breathed deeply, not slept, exactly, but stayed still and quiet until John drifted off.
But the fact that Sherlock had taken off early, well - he’d never figured Sherlock for much of a morning cuddler anyway, and he wouldn’t mind some time alone to think, himself. But. John sighs, runs his hands through his hairs, pulls his pants off the floor. Thinking would have to wait: there was breakfast to be made for a chatty, demanding four year old. It was a wonder she hadn’t already barged in demanding toast and orange juice -
“Oh, for the love of god,” John mutters as he enters the kitchen. “Is nothing sacred anymore?”
Lillian is perched on the sofa, watching cartoons and munching distractedly on a triangle of toast, and Mycroft is next to her, a second plate of toast on the table beside him and his nose buried in his phone.
“Good morning, John,” Mycroft says, not looking up.
“What have I told you about surveillance and people who are supposed to be your friends?” John says, pouring himself a cup of tea from the kettle that is, at the very least, already on. “They don’t mix.”
“I wouldn’t have needed it today anyway,” Mycroft says. “He arrived home like a tornado.”
John looks up. “A tornado?”
“A good tornado,” Mycroft soothes. “I assume you intend to call him today?”
“No, I thought it was clearly a one night stand,” John says, rolling his eyes. “Why, d’you think he misunderstood?”
“Forgive me, John,” Mycroft says. He smiles thinly. “I believe I’ve gone about this the wrong way. He’s - when I saw him leave, I became concerned. He’s not good at this. But then, I suppose I’m not either.”
John softens. “You don’t have to explain for him, Mycroft. I’m not upset. He’s Sherlock. He runs off all the time. I expected him to run off this morning. Hell, I never expected him to stay at all. He’s exceeded my expectations as a boyfriend already.”
“I shouldn’t use that word in front of him,” Mycroft says, picking up a slice of toast.
John snorts. “Too serious for him?”
“Oh, no,” Mycroft says. “Not nearly serious enough. I believe he’d prefer life partner. He does favor the dramatic.”
“We’re not having this conversation,” John says.
“Can I be of assistance?”
John heaves the box off the lorry and turns around. “Thanks for the offer, but this is the last one.”
“Pity,” Mycroft says, smirking. “How’s the move going?”
“If you’re asking whether or not I’m already regretting it, the answer is perhaps,” John says. “How did I survive all those years living with him before?”
“I’ve often wondered that myself,” Mycroft says.
“Daddy!” Lillian shouts, bursting out of the front door and nearly running into John’s legs, “Daddy, where are the spare microscopes?”
“The ones Sherlock keeps in the kitchen?” John asks.
“Er,” Lillian says. “Yes.”
“They’ve been moved to the cupboard in the hall and replaced with your cups and plates and things,” John says.
“Oh,” Lillian says, and disappears back up the stairs just as quick as she came.
“I don’t think he realizes what he’s gotten himself into,” John says, shifting the box onto his hip. “Children come with quite a lot of stuff.”
“Given the option between the two of you and everything he owns, I know what his choice would be,” Mycroft says. “But wouldn’t it have been simpler to move him into your place?”
“Extract him from 221B, simpler than this?” John says. “God, no. At any rate, my place - my old place - it’s - well, it was Mary’s, really. I think it’s best for Lillian to have a bit of a fresh start.”
The door slams open again, and Lillian emerges, slightly out of breath. “Daddy, Sherlock and I think four and three quarters is old enough for regular plates and so Sherlock will be putting the plastic ones in the bin,” she says carefully.
“Old enough for regular - Sherlock, she’s not a messenger!” John shouts up at the open window. “And nobody needs eight microscopes! Sweetheart, tell him we’ll discuss this later, all right? And say hello to your Uncle Mycroft.”
Lillian glances at Mycroft and lifts a disdainful eyebrow. “Sherlock says I’m not to waste any of my fleeting youth on you.”
“All right, back upstairs with you,” John says, and Lillian grins and runs off. “Jesus. Are you sure she’s not his?”
“I’ve considered the possibility,” Mycroft says wryly.
“Well,” John says haltingly. “I suppose that all this worked out rather the way you’d planned.”
Mycroft presses his lips together. “I do hope that you don’t think so little of me. I would never have wished any of the last several years upon you. Not even for him.”
“I know,” John says. “I just - ”
“And anyway,” Mycroft says, a smile flashing across his features before disappearing. “There are some things even I can acknowledge must come in their own time.”
John hefts the box higher in his arms and nods toward the door. “Do you want to come inside for tea? Sherlock will throw a fit, but I think I’d rather enjoy it at the moment. Or have you come to give me a stern talk about what you’ll do to me if I hurt him?”
Mycroft chuckles. “Dear me, John, no. I’ve come to give it to him.”
John blinks at him, then hitches up the last box and follows him, shaking his head, back into 221B.