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Half a Loaf (2/4)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 12 (preslash)

Betaed by Gayalondiel

Summary: John may have become friends with Mycroft, but there are a still an awful lot of things he doesn't know about him.

Note: some of the backstory here is inspired by my Bodies in the Library, and Stellary's Four Minutes to Save the World

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4


Something had shifted between John and Mycroft, although it was difficult to pin it down. The next time Mycroft had found John sitting, waiting for him, reading a book, he'd smiled and said: "Have you ever tried Saki?" And at John's puzzled glance added: "An Edwardian short story writer, wrote rather black comedy. I know you don't have much time for reading, but he's really better in small doses."

"Sounds interesting," said John. Two days later a parcel arrived at the flat, but it hadn't been quite what he expected. Not a beautiful leather-bound volume, which he would have been embarrassed to accept, but a small, slightly battered paperback. The note inside read: Waterproof pages would be best, of course, but it won't matter if you get bloodstains or mud on this. I suggest starting with 'The Stampeding of Lady Bastable'. Mycroft. When John did, he realised that someone had imagined the more chaotic side of Sherlock 100 years early. It was hilarious, but he did wonder how Mycroft could bear to read it.

***

He'd asked Mycroft that, the next time they saw him, because the 'debriefings' had gradually moved beyond just discussing cases.

"It's surprising how appealing a good author can make fictional characters who in real life would be intolerable," Mycroft had replied. "I can't imagine that living with Edward Rochester, or indeed, Juliet would be enjoyable."

"At least Juliet wouldn't keep heads in the fridge," John said. "But wouldn't she have rather too many poisoned drinks around?" He always felt uncultivated next to Mycroft, and he sometimes suspected Mycroft was surreptitiously trying to educate him. A lot more subtly than Sherlock's demands that he urgently read up on Chinese porcelain or Sudanese cuisine, of course. But it probably irked both of them that he was so ignorant, so ordinary. Though he did at least know who the current Prime Minister was.

***

Despite their friendship, he'd still been a bit surprised when Mycroft had invited him out for a meal a few months later.

"What's this in aid of?" he enquired when Mycroft phoned.

"I've had the restaurant reservations for a while, but unfortunately Mr Melas was advised to give up meat by his doctor last week, and Simpson's would be distinctly uncomfortable for him under the circumstances. It seemed a shame to waste the table, and I suspect Sherlock won't have taken you there."

"I should warn you," Mycroft said, smiling, when John arrived, "that this meal is officially on record as being entertainment for an informant. You are therefore required to be entertained, and I am required to gain some useful information."

"I'm not going to be able to tell you anything you didn't know already, unlike your Mr...Melas, was it?"

"Yes. He's an interpreter, has some very useful contacts within the Cypriot community. I assisted him in a rather confidential matter a few years ago, and since then he's proved very helpful."

"More than I can be, probably."

"Well, if you really want to help, there is one thing you can do. I would recommend the beef, by the way, it's the second best in London." Mycroft's dieting was obviously in the off phase, thought John, which would make the evening easier.

"What would you like me to do?"

"Tell me about Afghanistan," said Mycroft quietly.

"You, I...you must know everything there is to know about that, far more than me," John protested.

"Yes, but I've never been a soldier. I haven't started wars, as Sherlock claims, but I have advised those who have. I don't need to know about strategies or chances of success. I need...I would ask you to tell me what it is like to go to a far-away country to fight, and perhaps to die."

***

John wasn't sure afterwards whether he'd told Mycroft the right things, or even if Mycroft knew quite what the right things were. He'd softened it, of course, you had to for civilians. But he could see Mycroft absorbing not just the information, but something of the feel of army life. Mycroft's sudden stillness when John talked about how Trooper Paul Carter had died protecting John's convoy, as the terrifying thought crossed Mycroft's mind: Could I have stopped this somehow? Was it my fault that man died? John recognised the expression. It was one he'd seen in his own mirror too many times.

He changed the subject deliberately onto the food at that point, because it wasn't just Mycroft who found some things hard to talk about. Though the really good Pinot Noir they were drinking did encourage openness.

"Why does no-one give me decent wine when they want to interrogate me?" he found himself enquiring of Mycroft a little later. "All they ever do is tie me up and hit me."

"Very unimaginative of them," Mycroft replied smoothly. "But criminals are limited like that. And they're cheap as well. You couldn't get this quality of revelation with a five pound bottle from Sainsbury's."

"It's really good stuff. I don't normally go for red, don't go for wine that much actually, but this is good. And the meal's amazing. So where do you get the best roast beef in London? Because I can't believe that anything can be better than this stuff."

"The Diogenes Club."

"That weird...um, unusual club? Sherlock mentioned it to me."

"I'll take you there some time," Mycroft replied, smiling benevolently across at John, "but obviously, not when I'm trying to get information out of you."

"So it's true that you're not supposed to talk to people there?" John asked, grinning. "When Sherlock told me that, I couldn't believe it."

"It's true. I only go there occasionally now, but there are times when it is refreshing. Strangely calming, helps one focus. Of course, I have only ever taken Sherlock there once." The edge in his voice suggested that that had been the occasion of another one of the great Holmes v Holmes arguments.

"Though presumably, if you did take him there," John said hastily, "you could interrogate him by blinking in Morse Code and he could reply by miming the answers."

"Oh, we both know sign language," Mycroft replied more cheerfully. "Though Sherlock is prone to putting in Americanisms, just to irritate me."

"There are different dialects of sign language?"

"I only know British and American, but Sherlock can sign in French as well."

"French sign language has more shrugging, presumably," John retorted. OK, maybe slow down on the wine a bit, he told himself. There was silence for a while, as they worked their way through more of the meal. It was very...civilised being with Mycroft, John thought. No-one to chase, no-one likely to throw stun grenades at them, the expert but unobtrusive service...

"You know what's good about Simpson's?" he said. "Two blokes can have a meal together, and they don't assume you're dating. Why is it waiters don't pay any special attention to me when I'm on a real date, but the minute I go somewhere with Sherlock, they think it's serious?"

"If you consider the matter logically," Mycroft replied, in a portentous, but very slightly blurred voice, "then the variable is clearly Sherlock. And the reason, John, is that he looks like the kind of man who can not only drive straight women mad, but also turn straight men gay."

He was not going to say anything, thought John. He was just going to give a calm, polite smile...while the blood rushed to his face.

"Observation or deduction?" he said at last, in a slightly choked voice.

"Hypothesis," Mycroft said smoothly. "You have strong emotional ties to one another, an urge for...physical closeness on your part wouldn't be unheard of."

"It was one time and I was pretty damn drunk. But I sobered up very, very quickly. I should have realised that when Sherlock says he's not interested in something he means it."

"Not all of us share the same tastes. But your friendship has clearly survived."

"It, it doesn't bother me if someone's like that," said John. "Really it doesn't. I just didn't understand, that was all. Now I do." He wanted to say more, to tell Mycroft that he'd worked out about him being asexual as well, but he couldn't think of how to say that diplomatically. Still, at least he could reassure Mycroft that he was over Sherlock.

"Sherlock was a complete aberration, don't know what came over me," he said. "Though maybe I'd be better off if I was gay, given my abysmal lack of success with women."

"Oh dear," said Mycroft, slightly stiltedly. "I'm sorry to hear about that."

"Don't pretend you didn't know," John replied, grinning at him. "I presume that somewhere in MI5's files or your own private ones there's a huge folder detailing the failures of my love life back to the first girl I ever kissed."

"Not quite that. But it does have a few details about both your marriages."

"38, two failed marriages, invalided out of the army, no permanent job," John said, and found himself reaching for his glass again. "And I wonder why women aren't rushing to meet me."

"Two failed marriages? I thought it was widowed once, divorced once? Officially."

"Mycroft, I'm sure it's in my files that my marriage to Mary was dying before she was. We were talking about splitting up just before she got ill."

"But then you stayed with her."

"I couldn't walk out on her then, could I? Besides, it wasn't that we didn't love one another. It was just that she couldn't stand the thought of me joining the army, and I knew by then that I had to. So, next time round, I found myself someone happy to be an army wife. No worries about that, Pat could cope with me being away on tours of duty just fine. Principally by having affairs, it turned out. And since I got back from Afghanistan, well, things haven't really worked out, have they?"

He expected sympathy at this point, possibly even wanted it, even as he dreaded the banalities. He'd had lots of tripe from Harry every time a date hadn't worked out, about there being lots more fish in the sea, and how he needed to get back into the game. None of it helped. Mycroft just sat there silently, but there was a quality of sympathy in his silence that was refreshing. John drained his glass, and then the words suddenly came tumbling out of him, that he'd thought more and more often.

"Don't expect I'm going to find anyone now," he said abruptly. "You couldn't...there isn't space in my life, with Sherlock around. Even if he didn't wreck half my dates, who would want to get involved with me? My life's too dangerous, too crazy, not normal enough."

"Some jobs require you to be married to them," said Mycroft, and there was infinite understanding in his voice.

"I know, but I still can't help feeling she's out there somewhere," said John. "The woman of my dreams." There was a strange expression on Mycroft's face now, he realised: some weird combination of understanding, pain...embarrassment, perhaps. Perhaps the most alarming part of the expression, however, was John's distinct sensation that there was more than one version of Mycroft expressing it...

*** 

Sherlock, who could move noiselessly when he chose, decided to spend the next morning stomping around 221B as loudly as possible. John cursed silently, his head aching, and tried not to react. Which, of course, simply led Sherlock to increase his level of provocation.

"I'd suggest cocaine, next time," he announced as John forced himself to drink some herbal tea. "Far fewer after-effects than a drinking bout with Mycroft."

"It wasn't a drinking bout, it was a civilised meal."

"Well Mycroft may have civilised when he brought you back, but you were a drunken, emotional mess," said Sherlock. "I told you Mycroft was a dangerous man. Still I suppose you got off lightly. I'm surprised you didn't wake up to find yourself chained in a dungeon somewhere."

John sighed and decided it was his turn to go and sulk on the sofa.

***

There was a certain unspoken coolness to Mycroft when John turned up for their next meeting, so John decided that he'd better know the worst.

"I'm sorry I got so drunk a couple of nights ago," he said. "I hadn't realised... no, really I just screwed up, OK?"

"My fault," Mycroft replied smoothly. "I overestimated your...capacity slightly."

"I don't drink much nowadays. Not with how Harry is. I suppose I've lost my tolerance."

"It's hardly the worst social misdemeanour."

"OK," said John, because diplomacy was clearly not going to get him anywhere. "What did I say and how did it offend you?"

"You said nothing that I didn't know already from your file," Mycroft said blandly, which John mentally translated as: You've upset me but I'm not telling you why. He sighed and changed the subject.

There were times, he thought afterwards, when he really understood why the Holmeses didn't have many friends.

***

Things were back to normal by the next time he saw Mycroft, but the sniping between the brothers was particularly bad for the next few months. It was all conducted in code words of course. John knew that you never mentioned the word 'Norbury' to Sherlock, and he'd finally worked out the hidden meaning behind references to 'Basingstoke'. But there was a new name that got mentioned now, along with Irene Adler and Gloria Scott. Sherlock had taken to dropping the name 'Graham Henderson' into conversations with Mycroft, in a way that made Mycroft go suddenly quiet. Anger, distress? John wasn't sure. The obvious thing to do was to ask Sherlock what he meant, so John did that. Sherlock smiled and replied: "I suggest you get Mycroft to explain."

John could recognise a set-up when he saw one, so he decided an indirect approach was needed. The name didn't ring any bells with Lestrade, but when John mentioned it to Anthea, she was distracted enough to look up from her Blackberry.

"You know the name then?"

"Yeah. I believe he used to be in the Service. But that was before I came to work for Mr Holmes."

"So you don't know the details?" said John. "Or should I ask Mycroft?"

She looked at him, for once really noticing him, as if he wasn't simply a minor logistical problem.

"It would be better not to," she replied. "Let's just say that if Graham Henderson ever came back to this country, he'd be looking at a treason charge." She returned her focus to her keyboard.

So that was it, thought John. One of Mycroft's failures; no wonder he flinched when Sherlock brought it up. He went back to Lestrade then, asked him if he could dig up any details about Henderson's crimes. Because...because if Mycroft had been badly upset about this, was still upset about this, he needed to know exactly why.

***

"You trying to get me into trouble with this Graham Henderson thing, John?" Lestrade asked semi-belligerently, when they met in the pub a week later.

"God no, I'm sorry. It was just personal interest, not for a case. So you found something about him, did you?"

"A bit," Lestrade replied, sprawling back in his chair. "I found an old paper file back from 1997. A report of a civil servant called Henderson going missing. His sister hadn't heard from him when it was her birthday, got worried. A constable got sent round to talk to the neighbours, got told about a colleague of Henderson's called Holmes who might know something."

"And?"

"And at that point the investigation was very firmly stopped by someone higher up. Not clear from the paperwork exactly who. And a couple of hours after I'd got the file up from Records, they were phoning me up saying they needed it back, and I shouldn't have been allowed to see it in the first place." Lestrade paused, running his fingers through his hair. "If it's really serious, I can dig deeper, but I'd prefer not to tangle with the spooks for fun."

"I'm sorry," said John. "Thanks for what you've done. I didn't mean...sorry if I got you doing something stupid. I was just trying to find out a bit more about Mycroft, that was all. He intrigues me."

"Bloody terrifies me."

"I didn't think anything scared you," John replied, looking across at the burly figure.

"Not much does, no, but Mycroft could get me thrown out of my job if he really wanted to. And I'd...miss the Met. You're lucky you're with Sherlock. Mycroft's not going to touch you."

"He's not that dangerous," John said, "I'd count him as a friend."

"Yes, well you have a bloody weird taste in friends, Dr Watson." Lestrade paused, and then added: "But there's two other bits of information I have about Mycroft Holmes that might interest you, that won't be on file."

"Go on."

"Officially, I first met him in 2005, shortly after Sherlock started helping me with cases. Typical Holmes two for one offer. Unofficially, I met him once before that. Must have been ten years ago, no more than that. Fairly soon after this Henderson bloke disappeared, perhaps. He was at a pub on New Year's Eve and he was completely plastered, looked like he'd been drowning his sorrows for hours. I took him home so he didn't get mugged, and he passed out. I hung around for a bit, made sure he was OK, and then left him. He lived in a big house not that far from Baker Street then."

"Are you sure it was Mycroft?"

"Yeah. You don't forget that face easily, do you? But he never said anything when we met, maybe he didn't remember."

"You think his drinking might have something to do with Henderson's disappearance?"

"It's possible. The other thing is equally weird. Three years ago there was a bloke picked up for loitering outside Whitehall offices, looking for someone. They thought he was a terrorist at first, and then they decided he was a nutter, and somehow I got landed with him. His name was Petros Marangakis and he was some kind of hush-hush research scientist. He said he was looking for a man who'd recruited him into defence work at Oxford. He had a twenty-year old photo of a man called Martin Hughes. Only it was Mycroft in the photo, I'd swear to it."

"What happened?"

"Again, nothing. They decided he'd had some kind of breakdown, nothing criminal had happened, etc, etc."

"So how does that fit with anything?"

"It doesn't," Lestrade replied, ruefully. "Not claiming it does. But what I reckon it shows is that Mycroft Holmes has been involved with the spooks for a very long time, maybe even since he was a teenager."

"And?"

"And that kind of work does something to a man, changes him. Same as being a copper or a soldier does. You don't react to things normally. And the Holmeses aren't normal to start with. I, I like Sherlock, but I wouldn't get too close to him. Same with Mycroft. Friendship with either of them's a dangerous business." He shook his head abruptly. "Fuck it, I'm getting morbid. If you can put up with 221B, you can probably survive anything Mycroft throws at you. But watch your back, John."

***

John had long since got used to warnings about his friendship with Sherlock, but this was the first time anyone had warned him off being friends with Mycroft. Still, if he could deal with Sherlock, Mycroft was a lot easier to cope with. It did remind him, though, that he needed to sort out something about Christmas.

You couldn't associate with the Holmeses for long without realising that Christmases were particularly sticky. John would happily run into a burning building with Sherlock, or spend hours talking to Mycroft, but the thought of a week with them and their mother in the depths of Sussex terrified him. It'd be like that Noel Coward play that Mycroft had once given him spare tickets for. What was it called? 'Hay Fever', that was it. Only with more references to putrefying corpses, of course. Besides, if Harry was going to stay sober this Christmas, as she was planning to, she needed Big Brother watching her. So when Sherlock invited him down to Sussex, he cheerfully explained that he wasn't free.

He hadn't expected to get an invitation from Mycroft as well, and he was oddly touched. Mycroft had been so tentative about it, retreating into the formality of phrases like 'if you happened to be free', and 'I wondered if you might enjoy seeing Lamberley'. Maybe he wanted a buffer against Sherlock, John thought. Or maybe he knew what it was like to be on your own for Christmas.

"I'd like to," he said, and felt genuine regret, "but as I told Sherlock, I'll be at Harry's for the whole ten days."

"Ah. I hadn't realised that Sherlock had discussed the matter with you already," said Mycroft, in the too casual voice that suggested another fraternal bust-up approaching. Better warn Sherlock about that, John thought, rapidly turning the subject onto the logistics of protecting royal wedding presents.

***

"Mycroft invited me down to your mother's at Lamberley for Christmas," he told Sherlock, when he got home. "Why didn't you tell him I would be with Harry?"

"He invited you in the end, did he? How...inappropriate." Sherlock said, not looking up from his microscope.

"You invited me down as well."

"That's entirely different," Sherlock replied, and his pale eyes came up to scan John. John waited for the implausible but logical explanation, but Sherlock simply smiled a secretive smile, and said: "If you can't deduce why, there's no point in troubling your tiny mind about it."

***

Staying with Harry was a lot better than John had expected; he'd forgotten how entertaining she could be when she wasn't drunk, or arguing with their father. They ended up having a particularly good time at New Year, even though it did just involve sitting in her flat looking at old photos, watching crap telly, and drinking bizarre non-alcoholic cocktails.

"Right," Harry announced, when it was nearly midnight. "I need to make your New Year's resolutions." She grinned cheekily at John.

"Don't you mean your resolutions?"

"No. It's much better making New Year's resolutions for someone else. You can be far more realistic then. OK, John. so presumably your New Year's resolution for me is that I stop drinking."

"I thought I was supposed to make it for you, not you for yourself."

"So what it is then?"

John's mind suddenly went still, as he tried to put into words what he hoped for her.

"Not...it's not just the drink," he said at last. "I want you to remember every day that you're interesting, even when you're sober. Likeable, worth knowing."

"That was sweet, John," Harry said, and she suddenly hugged him. "You know, you may be a pain, but I'm quite fond of you, really."

"Fine," he replied. "OK, tell me the worst. What's your resolution for me, because I'm sure you've been planning it for ages."

"That you stop dating."

"Thank you. Any particular reason? That I'm too old, or too unappealing or what?"

"That you end up looking for the wrong thing," Harry said firmly. "You fall for pretty faces, and don't pay enough attention to what someone's like underneath. Don't look at me like that, John Watson, you know that's why it went wrong with Mary and Pat, never mind all your other girlfriends. What you need to do is get friendly with someone, and only then worry about the sex side."

"It's not easy making friends in my line of business."

"Sarah's really nice. I hoped you and she might get back together."

"She got put off by Sherlock in a big way, which is hardly surprising. Anyone I get involved with has to be able to cope with him, and most people can't."

"Maybe you should date Sherlock."

"He's not interested in sex. And I'm not interested in men."

"Sexuality is intrinsically fluid," Harry announced.

"So you'd consider sleeping with a man, would you?"

"Ugh, no," said Harry, her face screwing up. "But maybe your New Year's resolution should be to be more open-minded."

"And maybe yours should be to stop trying to sort out my love life," John replied. "OK, now, tell me. Is that red stuff in the jug really drinkable? Because I don't drink things with beetroot in them on principle."

***

The other really good thing about Christmas was that Harry had given him a bread making machine, as he'd suggested. John wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. They got through large amounts of bread, especially now he'd persuaded Sherlock that sandwiches weren't proper food, but necessary fuel during cases. But they were always running out, and ending up with horrible sappy stuff from the corner shop. Time for some better breakfasts, John decided.

The bread maker lasted three weeks and then Sherlock destroyed it. At least it no longer switched on, and nothing John did could change that. He swore copiously at Sherlock, which was satisfying, but didn't improve the quality of the toast. Then a few days later, a courier arrived with a package. The note attached simply said: He can be so careless. Accept the apologies of our family. Mycroft. It was, John noticed, exactly the same model as Harry had got him. Mycroft was, in so many ways, a thoughtful man.

Sherlock wasn't. John was incensed when this machine ended up smashed on the floor after less than two months. Sherlock made dismissive noises about a scuffle with a neo-Nazi, but John couldn't help wondering if he'd deliberately lured his opponent into the kitchen. It would be just like Sherlock to aim for a bit of extra destructiveness to spite his brother.

It was that thought that had him marching along to Mycroft's office to yell pointlessly about Sherlock. It wasn't as if Mycroft could do anything, and he probably had foreign governments to subvert. John knew he just had to resign himself to a future of unsatisfactory sandwiches, along with late night violin practice and no dating.

"There's one obvious solution," Mycroft announced, having listened with frankly incredible patience.

"They make ruggedised, armour–plated bread machines?" John asked, giggling, despite himself. It was just so stupid, he suddenly realised, to expect the British government to solve your bread supply problem.

"An ordinary bread making machine will be fine," Mycroft said. "It just needs a secure location. I'd be happy to have it in my kitchen."

John tried very hard not to blurt out: You have a house? Instead, he managed to say: "You live in central London?"

"I live at 187 North Gower Street, in fact."

"But that's just the other side of Regent's Park-" John began.

"Fifteen minutes walk away from you," said Mycroft. "It's a very handy location. Shall I take you there this afternoon, show you how to get in?"