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Half a loaf (1/4)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 12 (preslash, violence)

Summary: In a world full of deranged Belgian diplomats, dodgy accountants and Sherlock playing the trumpet, John is just trying to find love and a few decent meals

Many thanks to Gayalondiel for betaing

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

 

 

John had known, right from his first meetings with them, that the Holmeses wanted something from him. The only question had been exactly what. Sherlock was relatively easy to deduce: the first meeting at Bart's suggested that he wanted not only a flatmate, but someone to show off to. If John hadn't been in a state in which he welcomed thinking about anything that wasn't the mess of his own life, he might have sheered off at that point. He didn't normally go for exhibitionists.

He'd pigeon-holed Mycroft immediately as another exhibitionist, after the security camera tricks. He hadn't really believed he was threatening; it was only after Sherlock had called Mycroft 'the most dangerous man you've ever met' that he'd wondered if he'd accidentally wandered into a minefield. But by the end of the Pink Lady case, it seemed clear enough to John what each of the brothers were after.  Sherlock might want someone to boost his ego, but he also wanted, needed, a genuine if peculiar kind of friendship. Mycroft wanted information about Sherlock, and some kind of control over him. John had chosen his side in Holmes v Holmes even before realising there was a side to choose, and he resigned himself to being a partisan in the brothers' peculiar civil war.

Though it was hard to feel that Mycroft was on the opposite side to him after the swimming pool. Mycroft had saved both their lives, and John still wasn't quite sure how he'd managed it. The semtex hadn't been real, but something had promptly blown up at that stage in the proceedings, and six snipers had managed to shoot one another dead rather than their targets. When John had finally got out of hospital he made sure to go to Mycroft's office. He had a debt of honour to fulfil.

Mycroft had received his gratitude with a slightly stunned look, and John wondered, for a bemused moment, what the normal reaction was of people Mycroft had rescued from their own folly. If it was Sherlock, possibly he just told his brother to piss off. But then Mycroft slipped smoothly back into gear.

"The windows in 221B have been repaired now, and there are one or two other replacement items. If you let me know what emergency supplies you'll need, food and so on, someone can deliver them this afternoon. I gather that Sherlock is detained in hospital till tomorrow?"

"The consultants were saying next week at the earliest, but I'll give it till tomorrow afternoon before they crack and send him home. He'll have to be careful of the arm, of course, so the pin stays in."

"I'm sorry about that," said Mycroft, "but we had to react at very short notice, and the blast calculations were a fraction off – problems with calibrating the model, I believe. By the way, could I make a request, John?"

Here it came, thought John.

"No," he said, tilting his chin up. "Well, you can make a request, but it's no use."

"You haven't heard it yet," Mycroft said, beaming down at him from his perch on the desk.

"I won't spy on Sherlock, or report on him to you."

"I could point out, my dear John, that if I'd known you had the Bruce-Partington plans, we could have started setting up the rescue at the pool several hours earlier."

"I didn't know Sherlock was going to meet Moriarty there."

"Well, it was fifty-fifty between there and the London Eye. When you have two men meeting, both with a taste for melodrama, there are only a limited number of venues they might choose.  Especially with London's only planetarium out of action."

"So you knew what was going to happen?" said John, and then realised he was getting perilously near to "piss off" thinking.

"We might have been able to rescue you five or six minutes earlier with more notice," Mycroft said, and added blandly, "It's surprisingly hard to practice securing a public building without someone noticing."

"I'm sorry," said John. "I thought-"

"Miracles do take a little longer. And while I'm glad Sherlock finally realised his concern for your well-being, I would have preferred to get the whole thing wrapped up with fewer...exciting incidents. Bombs make me nervous, especially when someone's strapped to them."

Glad to know it wasn't just me who was scared shitless, thought John, and said. "You saved my life. I know I've said it before, but...thanks."

"I'd prefer it if I didn't have to do that too often. It's rather an expensive process, for one thing, April's budget gone in a rather large flash. I need to have a word with Sherlock."

There was something else behind that lofty facade, but as usual, John wasn't sure what.

"So is the request that I don't get myself killed again?" he asked. Mycroft raised his eyebrows. "Try not to get myself killed at all."

"No," said Mycroft, smiling. "The request is that next time you come to see me, you don't wear a suit. Frankly, you look so uncomfortable in it that it's unsettling."

"Am I coming to see you again?"

"I hope repeatedly."

"I've already said-"

"Not to inform on Sherlock, dear me, no, but..." Mycroft paused. "Shall we call it debriefing? If you inform me of events after the fact, I can sort out loose ends before anything comes unravelled. And logistics as well, if you need any equipment of an unusual kind. I have something for you here that might come in handy, by the way." He picked up some papers stacked neatly on his desk , and handed them to John.

"A firearms certificate for you, and licensing for any ammunition you need to use. I've also, rather against my better judgement, included a firearms certificate for Sherlock. I'd prefer it if you didn't let him use your Sig again, but if he does, we might as well cover that."

"You can't get a license for a handgun nowadays," said John. "Which is why-" He stopped abruptly.

"It's merely extremely difficult to have a handgun officially licensed," Mycroft replied. "There are certain exceptions to the normal prohibitions, and you now fall under those exceptions. But I'd prefer it if there was not too much gun use, it does make the police unhappy."

"I'll try and remember that," said John.  His firearm certificate, he suddenly realised, had been retrospectively dated, so in theory he'd been holding it when he'd shot the cabbie. He wondered if he should check with Mycroft whom he was allowed to shoot, and then realised that would be rather undiplomatic.

"There is one other thing I might be able to offer," Mycroft said, and there was a sudden cautiousness in his voice, "but I'm not quite sure how to phrase this..." His voice tailed off, almost as if he was embarrassed.

"You're not talking about drugs, are you?" John said, with sudden concern. "You don't...supply Sherlock, do you?"

"Good God, no, not after the effort it took to get him clean. I meant for you, no, not drugs of course," said Mycroft, with a wave of his hand. "If you need help."

"What kind of help?" John asked, wondering how much more unreal the conversation was going to get.

"Your therapist has proved to be sadly inadequate," said Mycroft, staring hard at him. "I do not pretend to any kind of psychological expertise myself, but I am rarely shocked, especially where Sherlock is concerned, and I am very discreet. If you wish to discuss things, my door is always open."

"Thank you. I think," said John. He stood up, reached out to shake Mycroft's hand, and somehow got the impression it was better not to. As he left, he wondered if he had just sold his soul without even noticing. Or if he had, whether Mycroft would collect on the bargain.

***

It wasn't like that, in the end. It was more that Mycroft ended up being on the rather short list of people John could go and talk to when he was fed up with Sherlock. Sherlock was amazing and wonderful, of course, but he could also be peculiarly wearing. It helped to have someone normal to talk to: Mrs Hudson, Sarah, sometimes Lestrade. Especially in the aftermath of a case, when a triumphant Sherlock would collapse into lethargy, ignoring the chaos left behind him.

Mycroft wasn't normal, of course, but he was good at picking up the pieces, tidying away wreckage. Sherlock had lost interest in the John Oppenshaw case when his murderers had died in a car crash in Savannah before they could be apprehended. Mycroft had taken the incidental information they'd gained about white supremacist groups and got several other arrests organised. He'd also been a big help dealing with Mrs Ronder, who'd had her face half-torn off by a lion. John had been convinced she was at risk of harming herself when they'd interviewed her. Sherlock had talked about the rationality of suicide; Mycroft had conjured up private psychiatric help at extremely short notice.

And it was astounding just how often when Sherlock was at a loose end, a message from Mycroft would arrive. Train and ferry tickets to the Scottish island of Uffa, with a flyer for the Grice Pattersons' bed and breakfast establishment, or a National Trust guidebook to Hurlstone Manor in Sussex and its curious history.

Taking to Mycroft was also...entertaining, John was starting to find. He didn't have Sherlock's peculiar charm, of course, but the quick-wittedness and the suave irony made him surprisingly good company. In small doses, of course.

***

What changed things was the Belgian, though under the circumstances, it was odd that John felt any gratitude towards him. He'd turned up at Mycroft's office as arranged, only to find that Mycroft wasn't there, not for the first time. Anthea apologised with cheery insincerity.

"He had to go the Belgian embassy urgently," she said. "He hoped it wouldn't take long, but according to his last text, there's been a minor diplomatic incident, so he might be delayed."

"If he's texting, it must be serious," said John. "But I might as well wait, I've got nothing else on. How are you, Anthea?"

"Much the same as when you asked me last week."

"I'm trying to make conversation."

"I know," she replied, smiling. "I can find you something to read, if you're that bored."

"I brought a book," John said, fishing it out of his coat pocket. He was used by now to waiting around for the Holmeses.

Anthea was mentally logging the book, he knew, as an extra data point for Mycroft: 'John Watson was last seen reading George MacDonald Fraser's The Pyrates'. Probably also looking down at him for choosing something so frivolous. He'd noticed a month or two ago that she was simply reading things on her BlackBerry, rather than typing, staring in absorption at the screen. Cheekily, he'd craned his neck to have a look, and to his surprise she'd let him see what she was reading.

"Arabic?" he'd asked, staring at the unfamiliar script.

"Persian," she'd said, "It's Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. The Iranian national epic."

"Right," he said. There was nothing else he could say that wasn't going to sound completely and utterly stupid.

Anthea read Persian poetry for fun, and was invaluable to Mycroft, and that was almost all he knew about her, even now. No, he did also know that her real name was Mary. She'd let that slip at one point.

"Too ordinary," she'd said. "My parents' imagination didn't extend to names."

"It's a nice name," he'd replied. "My first-" He'd stopped abruptly.

"Your first wife's name was Mary Morstan. She died of bone cancer in 1996. You'd been married three years." She rattled out the facts with complete lack of interest.

"Yes," he'd said. There wasn't a lot else he could say. It was strange telling people about Mary nowadays; it was so long ago that it scarcely seemed part of his own life anymore. He was used to embarrassment when he did talk about her. He wasn't used to indifference.

As John started trying to read his book, conscious of Anthea still watching him, he wondered again why he kept on trying to make friends with her. Well, because that was what you did. Tried to get on with people, get to know them, be friendly. Mycroft understood that, even if Anthea and Sherlock didn't.  Though of course, Mycroft's friendliness was just a facade.

No, that was wrong. He was being unfair and grumpy. It had been a tough couple of weeks, and he hadn't slept much, and Sherlock was being impossible, and he'd been looking forward to talking to Mycroft, it'd help him to unwind a bit. But Mycroft, the poor sod, was probably having a hell of a time sorting out Belgium, if not the whole EU. It put several severely charred tea towels into some kind of perspective. Still, he might as well hang around. Maybe Mycroft would have some entertaining stories about famous Belgians.

It was at that point that Mycroft came into the room, a blood-stained handkerchief covering most of his face.

***

“What the hell?” John said, jumping up. “What happened?”

“I’m fine,” Mycroft said in a muffled voice. He looked to John’s experienced eyes as if he was about to collapse, and he bustled him off to the building’s first-aid room. Not anything really serious, he thought as he and Mycroft followed Anthea, maybe a nasty fall? But there was something not quite right. Mycroft was moving as if his legs had been filleted of bones, so John got him lying on the couch once they got to the first-aid room. As he suspected, Anthea promptly disappeared off back to her BlackBerry, but at least if Mycroft did faint now, John wouldn’t have to manhandle him off the floor.

“Right,” he said, rapidly grabbing a bowl of water and some wipes , “Let’s have a look at your face.”

Mycroft slowly removed the handkerchief. Messy, thought John. Smashed lip, bit of a nose-bleed, cut near the eye, red marks on the cheek. Oh God, he suddenly thought…

“Mycroft,” he blurted out, “has someone been beating you up?”

***

So that was what could come under the heading of a diplomatic incident, thought John. A Belgian attaché losing the plot and attacking someone.

“Why did he do that?” he asked.

“His brother was caught up in the Tournai carousel fraud case Sherlock cracked last year." Mycroft's voice was slow and slightly blurred.

“Another circus case?” said John.

“It involved VAT and carbon trading permits,” Mycroft said. “Technically fascinating. It took...a lot of work to get M. Ganshof and his associates in jail.”

“And his brother decided to take it out on you. Good job he didn’t know much about fighting,” said John. “OK, try to relax, Mycroft, all I’m doing is cleaning some of the blood off. Just lie still.”

Mycroft was actually shaking, he realised, his breath rapid, his pupils wide. Particularly bad stress reaction, thought John, probably attacked unexpectedly and not used to physical aggression. He was as quick and gentle as he could be, and fortunately there was nothing too serious, as far as he could see.

“Your teeth are OK, are they?” he asked, once he’d finished on Mycroft’s face. “And there’s no bleeding from inside your mouth?”

“No.”

"He was targeting your face, obviously, but did he hit you anywhere else?"

"I'm, I'm not sure. Shoulder, chest...I can't remember."

"Take your shirt off and I'll check if there's any bruising or cuts."

"I, I...no," said Mycroft, and he was blushing, John noticed. Embarrassed about his body, was he? Probably best to leave it.

"Fine," John replied, "if you'd rather not. But if you do find you're bruised or in any persistent pain elsewhere, make sure you get checked out. I don't think it's likely there's any internal damage, but you don't want to take chances."

"It's nothing, you really needn't bother," Mycroft gabbled. There was a kind of desperation in his voice now.

"I've got you cleaned up," said John, "so I'll give you some painkillers and then you can just lie there till you feel a bit better." Don't overreact, he told himself. But it was surprisingly off-putting to see Mycroft's composure completely destroyed, like seeing a statue weep.

"Are you sure you didn't lose consciousness?" he asked.

"Positive. I called out when  I was attacked, a secretary came in and then M. Ganshof stopped the attack, and just stood there. I obviously wasn't going to get anything out of him at that point, so I left and came back to the office."

"And the embassy staff, your driver, they didn't do anything to help you?"

"I told them I was fine, there was no need."

What kind of world did Mycroft live in, John thought, where someone bleeding just says they're OK and everyone ceases to worry?

"I didn't lose consciousness, John," said Mycroft. "There's really no need to concern yourself. My staff can handle the rest."

"Fine," said John resignedly.

"Thank you very much for your help," said Mycroft. "I'm, I'm sorry you had to see this. It's not...ideal."

"Don't worry," said John, "but just take care of yourself, OK?"

***

"Can you keep an eye on Mycroft? Or maybe he ought to go home?" he said to Anthea on the way out. He presumed Mycroft had a home to go to. "He sounds really shaken."

"Right," she said calmly.

"Did you know he'd been attacked? Did he say that when he texted you?"

"Oh yeah," she said, "but he's obviously not badly hurt."

"It's not just the physical side," said John. "Some people can be very affected psychologically by being the victim of a crime."

"I hardly think Mr Holmes would consider himself a victim, John," Anthea said. "Is there anything else you need to tell me?"

"No," said John. "That's it."

***

That explained Mycroft's embarrassment, John thought as he went home. He'd been letting the side down, hadn't he, not taking it like a man? And, oh, that was why he was so freaked out by John in particular, because John was an army doctor and Mycroft hadn't been a brave little soldier. He'd been unexpectedly attacked and he'd frozen. No marks on his hands, so he hadn't hit back, been too shocked even to defend himself properly.

He should have told him it didn't matter, that it was quite normal to react like that. That being able to fight someone off didn't come automatically to everyone - it took training, perhaps a certain natural stupidity, not to panic in those circumstances. That it was fine for Mycroft not to be James Bond.

***  

"There's blood on your cuff," Sherlock announced from his position on the sofa about thirty seconds after John came into the flat. "Interesting time?"

"It's Mycroft's," John replied, on the odd chance that Sherlock couldn't deduce that immediately.

"Excellent. I hope he's lost a lot."

"Sherlock!" John said, advancing on him crossly. "That's a horrible thing to say. He got attacked by some mad Belgian diplomat."

"Ferdinand Ganshof, you mean?"

"You knew about him?"John demanded, sitting down on the coffee table, before he was tempted to start shaking Sherlock.

"I knew he was based at the Belgian embassy," Sherlock replied, closing his eyes. "Did he give any useful information before attacking Mycroft? I hadn't thought he was worth investigating, but if he's turned violent, he's rather more interesting."

"Since you ask, Mycroft's not badly hurt. Oh I forgot, you didn't ask."

"If anything serious had happened, someone would have informed me," said Sherlock, "and, of course, I'd have spotted it immediately in your demeanour. So, minor injuries only, but he'd be distressed, no doubt. It's one of the reasons Mycroft doesn't like 'legwork', as he puts it, he's a terrible coward."

"Anyone would be upset at getting attacked unexpectedly." Sherlock gave him a quizzical glance. "OK, you'd think it was fun. Normal people don't. It's not surprising he was so stressed out."

"Well, I'm sure you being there was a great comfort to him," Sherlock said sardonically. John sighed and went off to get himself a cup of tea. It really wasn't easy to cope with Sherlock sometimes. No wonder Mycroft was a bit...odd.

***

It wasn't Mycroft's asexuality that John considered odd. Once he'd found out about Sherlock, and read up a bit on the topic in self-defence, it seemed pretty clear to him that Mycroft was asexual as well. No current relationship, no trace of any interest in one. And the general sense John increasingly got around Mycroft of someone running away from something, the hairline cracks in Mycroft's flawless facade. The awkwardness about physical contact probably fitted in somewhere as well, he suspected. Mycroft had long since given up shaking John's hand, and he was always a bit twitchy around Lestrade. Anthea, of course, wouldn't voluntarily touch anything that didn't have a keyboard, and Sherlock always kept his distance, literally, from Mycroft. John wondered how Mycroft coped with other people, but it wasn't really his business.

John did wish he could reassure Mycroft, though, that it didn't matter to him what he did or didn't do in his private life, the way he'd told Sherlock. But Mycroft, unlike Sherlock, didn't give you a chance to make that kind of comment, to ask, even think, that kind of question. Mycroft ate – John knew that – and presumably he also slept, and did other things that normal people did. But the thought of him even having a home, rather than simply being locked securely away in an office safe at the end of each day was hard to contemplate. He was a brilliant man, but he didn't seem to have much of a life. Which was a shame.

***

John found himself thinking a lot about Mycroft in the next few days. Worrying about him, whether he  was OK. But there was no point in phoning or texting, he'd just get bland answers. He needed to go and see him himself. He phoned up and eventually persuaded Anthea to give him an appointment for the week after. (Mycroft was allegedly busy with Swedes till then. Or just possibly swedes.)

Mycroft's face was still bruised and swollen from the attack, but his manner was back to normal.

"So glad you could come to see me. I gather that Sherlock made rather a mess of the Munro case, slow at working out the African-American connection. Though I'd have thought that would have been immediately obvious from the wife's taste in music."

"Sherlock would have got there eventually," said John. "It was just...well, anyhow, that one is really not going on the blog ever. He didn't speak all the way back from Norbury. Or for most of the rest of the week."

"If there's anything I can do..."

"He'll be fine. But I really wanted to check that you were OK, " John said, aware he sounded foolish. "After the... incident at the embassy." God, now Mycroft had got him talking in euphemisms.

"As you can see, impressive but superficial injuries," Mycroft replied. "Fortunately, diplomats aren't trained in unarmed combat."

"Nor are you," said John abruptly. "Maybe you should be."

"It's unnecessary," said Mycroft. "And I really don't think we need to dwell on this unpleasantness. Is there anything else we ought to be discussing?"

John was suddenly angry. It was just typical bloody Holmes behaviour, pushing you away when you got too close, spotted their vulnerability. He'd once only realised Sherlock was wounded when a dog tried to lick blood off his shirt.

"Mycroft, you got injured!" He was almost yelling by now. "You could have been quite badly hurt, and you're not used to that kind of thing."

There was a sudden tension in Mycroft's body, a frozen wariness. Was this what he had done when Ganshof was about to attack, his way of bracing himself? How was it going to help if John got angry? He took a breath, forced his temper down, and said, as slowly and calmly as he could: "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have shouted. It's just...you're a friend, Mycroft, and I don't want you getting into situations you can't handle."

It was probably the most unexpected statement he'd ever made about Mycroft. From the stunned look on Mycroft's face, even he hadn't foreseen it.

"Thank you," Mycroft said at last. "I'm honoured that you consider me as a friend...." He ground to a halt.

He was a Holmes, John remembered, they weren't used to friendship.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you. I just wanted to say, it's fine if you don't like violence, if it worries you. I, I don't think any less of you because you're not James Bond."

"Or Sherlock," said Mycroft. "Who doubtless pointed out how much he would have enjoyed being attacked by M. Ganshof."

"Did you know that he knew that Ganshof was on the staff of the embassy, and the connection to his case?"

"So did I," Mycroft said calmly. "That's why I agreed to meet him. But I was expecting his assault to be verbal rather than physical."

"You deliberately went to talk to him when you knew it might turn nasty?" said John.

"I'm used to it," Mycroft replied, "And there was a small chance that I might get useful information."

He had his own peculiar brand of courage, thought John.

"I'm afraid my distress was as much at my own miscalculation as the assault itself, "Mycroft went on. "I made rather an idiot of myself."

"It happens," John replied, smiling. "Look at me. I can kill a man with my bare hands, or I can save his life. But I still can't get a vending machine to give me a coffee with milk and one sugar."

"Such are the trials of life, John," Mycroft said, giving an answering smile. "And talking of trials, is it really the case that Sherlock is now practising mime?"

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
flowright
May. 19th, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
I love the premises ! Can't wait to read the next chapter
2ndskin
May. 19th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
You do John's voice and Mycroft's so beautifully here. I also can't wait for more chapters--please post quickly!!! The creation of the friendship --and both men's surprise at it--is wonderful. And John's interaction with Anthea is a delightful surprise.
fengirl88
May. 20th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
enjoying Mycroft's reaction to being patched up by John - very promising...

and of course Anthea reads Persian poetry for fun, though I would never have guessed her real first name!
fanbot
Jun. 11th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
Good stuff!
sookail
Jun. 11th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC)
Love the fic - especially the awkwardness & reality of it. Hope to see new developments soon :)

marysutherland
Jun. 11th, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
The complete 4-part fic is now up, in case you only found part 1 - I just carelessly forgot to stick links through to later sections, but I've now updated it and put those in.
sookail
Jun. 11th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )