Christmas is approaching, and, like most adults after the shine’s worn off, John finds himself slightly excited, very stressed, and definitely apprehensive. While these are all fairly standard for him, this year the reason is less related to the prospect of a day in an enclosed space with his family – Harry twitching at the memories of what she associates with this holiday, their mother absent, their father awkward – and rather concern the consulting detective currently sulking on the sofa. Sherlock’s short a case, yet again, but more than that, a letter arrived a few days ago which threw him into an even worse strop than usual.
John tries, he really does. Nobody can say that he doesn’t – in fact he gets more sympathy than anything else, almost always alongside relief that nobody else has to do the job anymore. But at times like this he does wonder whether this relationship isn’t slowly bleeding him dry, since Sherlock has these moments (or days, or weeks) and when he does, it’s hard to remember whether he gives John anything in return.
The thought’s unfair. Hopefully John’s just irritable, what with all the flu and coughs and colds he’s dealing with on a regular basis. Generally he likes kids, but illness does not bring out their best side, and especially not when the parents are too exhausted themselves by the season to really control them.
And then he comes home and he’s got his own child to deal with.
(Except that thought’s more than a little bit disturbing, so he edges away from it very quickly.)
The letter in question is still on the mantelpiece next to the skull, stabbed through with more than the usual enthusiasm.It can’t be that bad.
No. It’s worse.
Apparently if John doesn’t look forward to family gatherings, that’s nothing compared to Sherlock.
(They’d had this argument before, four years ago – Christ, that long ago? Back then, though, it was still their first Christmas in Baker Street, and Sherlock had wheedled a ‘yes’ out of him, if only by playing the ‘Watson Christmas’ card – something to be avoided at all costs.)
He’d tried arguing it out, if only out of curiosity about what other mad men-and-women are lurking in the branches of the family tree, only this turned out to be one of the issues where Sherlock was not willing to play along. Less shouting and more stony silence. Which left the matter where it was now: hanging in the air, filling a space already tense with the baffling lack of murder in the Christmas season.
The text almost comes as a relief.
“Mycroft,” John says, just to hear Sherlock’s scoff at the obvious announcement. Annoying him with obviousness has always had a soothing effect on John, transferring his own frustration through the medium of being smug. He can tell why Sherlock enjoys it so much – not that that gains the man any sympathy whatsoever.
He glances down at his phone, and then feels his eyebrows rise in surprise. “I guess it does run in the family,” he mutters to himself. Then, raising his voice again, he informs his inevitable audience, “Apparently you’ve had a murder.”
“Say it was the Sackvilles.” Despite the news in his hand, John can’t help but roll his eyes at the theatrical sigh weighing down Sherlock’s words.
“It doesn’t say who.”
“Not interested,” Sherlock bites out, enunciating every syllable, and if anything manages to collapse even more into the posture and attitude of a fictionalised Victorian consumptive. It’s like he can just liquefy his bones with the sheer power of his disdain. John’s vindictive side eagerly awaits the day Sherlock’s back problems finally kick in.
Another beep. John sighs before reading it out.
“Mycroft says you will be.”
“My brother says a great deal of things. He’s a politician; he assumes he’s right.”
“And you say that you never take an interest in politics.”
That earns him a smile: a success slightly undermined by his phone going off for a third time. Not that multiple texts are all that unusual when your life encounters either of the Holmes brothers, let alone both, but it does make John wonder sometimes whether they think ‘send’ is text-talk for a new paragraph.
Then he reads the bloody thing.
An instant later, he is apparently the centre of Sherlock’s world. “What,” he states, in that way of his that suggests he will not even show courtesy to the common question mark.
John points out, “I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You made a noise.” The ridiculous phrase is only made more so by the use of Sherlock’s intensely serious give me the case now
voice. “What did Mycroft tell you?”
John already knows how this conversation is going to end. He’s not sure if he likes it. But then again, it is Christmas, or it will be soon, and a sulking Sherlock guarantees that it won’t be a pleasant one.
“Apparently there are suspects.”
Sherlock nods impatiently, positively twitching with the need to launch himself across the room and seize the phone from John’s hands. That he doesn’t shows what a long way they’ve come. “Yes, and?”
“And they’re all dead.”
He can practically hear the click in Sherlock’s head.
“I’ll start packing, shall I?”
Sherlock’s home is as massive and ostentatious and showy and everything else as John had cruelly envisioned in his more stereotypically-inclined moments.
That’s slightly wrong, though. This isn’t Sherlock’s home; it’s just where he came from.
John can tell because when he looks from the soaring stone walls looming outside his window and the glimpses of sprawling intricate grounds to the man slumped against the car door, he doesn’t see the place where his flatmate, colleague and occasional boyfriend (if they’re using that term this week) belongs.
They finally reach a pair of magnificent wrought-iron gates, which reluctantly open despite nobody reaching for the intercom (John recognises Mycroft’s hand), and somehow Sherlock finds a way to sink lower.
“It can’t be that bad,” John says, because he thinks that will go down better than extensive swearing at the sight of the place. (What do you even do with a house that big? Host reality shows?) Only a moment later does he realise he’s echoing himself from the first sight of the invitation.
Which might be why, rather than debating the point, Sherlock just turns towards the window and glares out – at the mansion or the various cars (couple of Bentleys and definitely an Aston Martin, but John takes comfort from the mud-splattered Land Rover at the end), John isn’t entirely sure.
John is rather ashamed to realise that he’s so busy gawping at the mansion like the state-school lower-middle-class ex-soldier he is that he actually doesn’t notice the body for a moment.
(In his defence, the entrance hall – or whatever the right name for it is – is even larger than he’d been expecting, ornate staircases and impressive paintings and, he’d noted with more than a little hysterical glee, even a suit of armour at the back. Although the last feature seems a rather bad idea in a house which saw a young Sherlock, so either there are some decapitation stories John hasn’t heard yet, or this is Mycroft trying to impress/intimidate again.)
She’s pretty, he thinks detachedly (becoming all too familiar these days), focusing on the person because God knows Sherlock won’t. Pretty, but apparently didn’t think it was good enough, judging by the make-up caking her face. If he had to guess from here, he’d say she was in her late twenties, and there’s that other thing he’s starting to get a lot, where he thinks something – in this case, trying to look older
- and he’s not entirely sure where it came from. He doesn’t say so because in no way does he need to secure Sherlock’s approval like a six-year-old with a finger-painting.
“Ms Jaime Lewis.” Mycroft makes the introductions, as if his brother isn’t already crouched by the bed and peering at her corpse like a painting in the National Gallery. As per usual, it’s left to John to make the polite responses, appreciating, now that he’s looked and confirmed anything he wanted to see for himself, the opportunity not to look at a woman with a large hole blasted through her chest. “Cleaner. Usually only with us during daylight hours, of course, but last night she stayed with us due to a rather charming threat from her lover.”
John considers the text that brought them here. “He’s dead too?”
“Poisoned,” Mycroft confirms with the same polite smile he’s worn since Sherlock came charging up to him in front of the door and demanded to be taken the ‘only thing of interest around here’. If John isn’t mistaken, it looks a little more strained than usual. Normally he’d say it’s Sherlock’s fault, or possibly the whole ‘dead body in respectable home’ business, only if anything Mycroft had looked relieved to see his brother – always strange and never a good sign – and now that they’re ensconced with the corpse he doesn’t look nervous.
In his notebook, to the side of the case notes, he scribbles, Family?
“Anything unidentifiable?” Sherlock asks, naturally more concerned for the moment with details concerning murders than Mycroft’s moods.
“Hardly,” Mycroft sniffs. “Cleaning products in various food and drink items around the house.”
Sherlock grabs Jaime’s hand and smells it. “Taking the initiative,” he judges.
John winces. “Sherlock.” He doesn’t have to sound so approving.
“Difficult circumstances, simple solution.”
“Except she’s dead.”
“Not something she’d planned,” is Sherlock’s defence. “Look at her: all dressed up, fancy make-up; she wanted to celebrate.”
Sherlock diverts his attention for a moment to narrow a laser-eyed glare at John. “With whom
,” he corrects, in the voice he usually employs for making women cry. John smiles steadily back.
Mycroft clears his throat pointedly. From some hidden pocket in his suit jacket he produces a notebook, as if either of them are supposed to believe that he doesn’t have all of this in his head already.
“The local police service,” he enunciates smoothly – always a sure sign that he’s pissed off about something – “based on the evidence presented to them, have elected to accuse Mr Slater, our beekeeper. Given that both Mr Slater and the other obvious candidates are now deceased, the point is rather a moot one, wouldn’t you say?”
Sherlock does not say. Sherlock clearly thinks that the very idea is moronic.
John is distracted by other details. “I’m sorry, did you say you have a beekeeper?”
“How did Slater die?” Sherlock asks, ignoring him.
“Shot himself in his home – very tragic, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“Who has a beekeeper?”
Without looking at him, Sherlock replies, “People who keep bees. Dead before this one?”
“Afterwards, by a different gun. I presume the locals assumed he liked to compartmentalise.”
There’s something about the way Mycroft says the word ‘locals’, every inch the stereotypical upper-class gentleman, which suggests the police don’t get called in very much around here.
John comments, “I’m surprised you didn’t call in Lestrade, if you hate them that much,” because he’s never been able to pin down exactly what the relationship there is exactly, only that there is one. Mycroft merely sighs, and might have even looked wistful if his facial muscles worked the right way.
“So, three dead,” Sherlock mutters from where he’s still squatting on the floor. “The rest?”
“A Mr Edward Davies – brother, no doubt entirely by coincidence, of Mr Stephen Davies, our poisonee – found in the grounds along with some small portion of our silver; and also Ms McReady, our beloved housekeeper.”
Because he is once again the only human being in this room, John says, “God, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Sherlock mutters. Mycroft looks disapproving but says nothing, suggesting that the look is more for appearance’s sake. John has a brief, giddy vision of some sort of Enid Blyton novel where the two brothers spent their young lives getting into scrapes and avoiding some sort of harsh matron figure. Then the other childish part of his brain observes that if a matron figure is needed, Mycroft can fill the part, and he has to turn away to hide a grin.
As it goes, a thought occurs to him, regarding where they actually are right now. “Wait, I thought you had family over?”
Something about the words seems to physically lower the temperature in the room.
“Oh.” John looks at Mycroft’s disturbingly neutral face – more telling than Sherlock’s, since Mycroft actually acts like a functioning adult most of the time – and asks, “Not good?”
All Mycroft will offer is “The same as usual,” but his face looks a few seconds away from muscular spasms from the effort of maintaining his usual calm. Given that Mycroft occupies some sort of role in the British government (up to and including being it) and hence voluntarily spends large amounts of time around politicians, John is suddenly surprisingly scared. Mycroft seems to take a moment to calm himself, before addressing Sherlock, “You should know that in the time of your absence matters have not improved.”
“Not surprised,” Sherlock mutters, in the same voice that means, not interested
“You should know that Laetitia in particular has never stopped believing you were guilty.”
At that, John sees Sherlock visibly freeze – even his eyes stop scanning the room, coming to an angry rest. John sees this because he is suddenly very eager to find something, anything
else to focus on than punching unknown women in the face.
“And Laetitia is…?” he asks, ignoring how his left hand is very steady indeed.
“Laetitia Sackville,” Mycroft tells him, “Mummy’s sister. A charming woman, I’m sure you’ll find.”
“Surprised she isn’t in here already,” Sherlock mutters to the corpse, something dark and not exactly pleasant in his voice.
“Oh, she would be,” Mycroft assures him, “but I fear her performances of grief might have distracted her momentarily from your arrival.”
For the first time, Sherlock turns to face his brother, expression incredulous. “Grief?” he repeats, in a voice that suggests the very idea is laughable. “For whom?”
“Algernon,” is the answer, and despite being in the presence of a Sherlock and a Mycroft, John has to fight hard not to laugh. “Hardly the favourite son, you’ll remember, but apparently a cardiac arrest on Holmes soil cures all ills.” He eyes Sherlock, far too casual all of a sudden, and adds, “Laetitia seems to think our father is in a murderous mood.”
John is too distracted by the abrupt and entirely new allusion to Holmes senior to register Sherlock’s reaction, or anything but sheer surprise. That is, until a snide voice fills the room – the sort of voice that runs fingernails down the back of your neck
“Well well well, what a surprise. Might have guessed the prodigal son would head straight for the corpses.”
John slowly turns around.
Framed in the doorway is a woman who looks about sixty, with red hair that is painfully obviously dyed and eyeliner that looks more like war paint. She looks unpleasantly like she’s been sucking on a lemon, and judging by the direction of her gaze, said expression has more than a little to do with Sherlock. A glance tells John that she is receiving one of Sherlock’s very finest glares and not wavering for a moment. Despite a creeping suspicion regarding identity, he can’t help but be momentarily impressed.
“Laetitia,” Mycroft greets, smile looking suspiciously like his teeth are gritted. “Speak of the devil, as the old saying goes.”
Laetitia Sackville ignores him, homing in on Sherlock. “Disgusting,” she announces, with a voice that sounds like she’s trying hard to cover up a distinctly northern accent (John’s not sure where exactly). “Bad enough you coming back here, but corpses over family? It’s not right.”
“Strange,” Sherlock says, quietly, the calm before the storm if John is any judge, “I thought you were the unwelcome guest here.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Bad as your father: cutting decent people out so you can lord it over us all.”
“Decent?” John recalls the far-off memory: Who cares about decent?
To be fair, this isn’t the first time he’s sensed an exception. “I can only assume you’re not referring to a line which has produced nothing but greedy opportunists. You must have had at least two husbands to pay for a frankly appalling dye-job and a facelift that’s not fooling anyone, not to mention that jewellery – unless your lawyers have substantially improved since last we met.” Barely pausing for breath, his face abruptly alters into a parody of concern as he adds, “So sorry to hear about Algernon, by the way. Heart attacks do come quickly to useless wastes of space.”
Throughout his speech, Laetitia’s face has grown whiter and whiter. When Sherlock smiles in his fake way at her, John’s surprised she doesn’t launch herself forward and try to rend his flesh with what look like rather terrifying nails.
Then she suddenly calms; returns the smile in a wholly unpleasant way. “Better a useless wimp,” she declares, and John notes the added insult, “than a criminal.”
“I’m sorry?” he hears somebody ask; realises it’s him.
Needless to say, Laetitia looks less than impressed at being interrupted. “And who are you supposed to be?”
John can feel the comforting calm settling over him; by his side, his left hand lies still. “Dr John Watson,” he tells her, wondering immediately if he should have included the ‘Captain’.
“Oh,” she says, as if she’s found something unpleasant on the bottom of her almost definitely horribly expensive shoes, “Yes. His faithful dog.”
“Boyfriend.” He returns her gaze as steadily as if it was a sniper rifle. “Actually.”
No doubt Sherlock and Mycroft are reacting, but John’s world has narrowed to nothing but Laetitia.
Laetitia, who after a moment of shock smiles poisonously, shooting a sideways glance at Sherlock before speaking. “So proud, I see.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“I wonder if you really know anything about this family. Say, for example, their father.”
“What about him?” John says before he can stop himself, and instantly recognises it for the mistake it is, by the way that her face lights up.
“Oh, you don’t know?”
“Nothing was ever proved,” Mycroft says, and his voice is terrifying calm. “I would thank you, Laetitia, to take your accusations and hearsay elsewhere.”
“These things do run in the family, you know. You can’t cover it up forever.”
“You don’t mean you still think Sherlock’s a fraud?” John asks, because he’s heard this before, but, perhaps rather naively, hadn’t expected it here.
“I’m supposed to trust anything with his meddling brother in charge?” She snaps out a finger like a knife, jabbing towards Mycroft, who returns her glare with the icy indifference only he can manage. “Took him a while, I’m sure – the truth always does.”
“Believe what you like,” John tells her. “I trust both of them.”
He hadn’t meant to let the ‘both’ out, but there it is, in the open. Mycroft actually looks rather flattered. Laetitia looks furious.
“I don’t think I need the word of some jumped-up soldier to tell me what to think!”
John is about to call her something very rude indeed, when suddenly Sherlock stands and leaves, without another word.
John considers whether or not he really wants to stay in this room, let alone this conversation, and follows, trying not to slam the door too pettily behind him (he fails).
“Sherlock, what the hell – ”
Sherlock interrupts him (not in itself unusual) by turning around and kissing him (more unusual), almost hard enough to bruise. John has a brief second of surprise and confusion, before he fully registers what is happening and kisses back, reaching out to grab handfuls of Sherlock’s coat, pulling him in closer, trying to take control out of instinct if nothing else. Sherlock’s response is to open his mouth, and, well, there’s no way John’s not going to take advantage of that.
It’s sharp and abrupt and, perhaps most of all, short. Just as suddenly as it started, it’s over, and when John blinks his eyes open, he finds Sherlock looking
at him, still only a few millimetres away.
Then he turns and he’s gone, stalking down the corridor, coat flaring as dramatically as ever behind him.
In the dazed post-kiss/post-Sherlock state of mind, John finally realises that Sherlock hasn’t taken his coat off inside his childhood home.
“Bloody hell,” he hears, “now why can’t I ever get my husband to kiss me like that?”
Slowly John turns to see a woman maybe a few years older than Sherlock, with mousy hair but unmistakeable cheekbones, next to a balding man with eerily familiar eyes. She returns his horrified stare – he feels about thirteen – with a gleeful grin.
Old habits come to a rescue, of sorts, and he tells her, “He’s not my husband.”
“Yeah, laws are a bitch, ain’t they?” And before he can go on, “Agatha. Agatha Westfall. Don’t worry though, I’m from the Holmes side.”
“John Watson,” he says, holding out a hand, and is a little nonplussed when she laughs out loud.
“Don’t worry, I’d already figured,” she tells him. “I see Sherlock of all people kissing somebody like that, it’s a pretty short list of who you might be.”
He’s not entirely sure what he should think about this, but saying anything would just prolong the conversation.
“Oh, this is Geoffrey. Historian, poor bugger.”
“I’ll have you know that the study of our heritage is one of the finest pursuits to – ”
“Yes, thankyou, Geoff,” she interrupts, “John here was just leaving.”
“I was?” he asks, and she widens her eyes significantly, as if he is apparently the key to her own escape. Which presumably he was, because at his hesitation Geoffrey starts again on a completely different sentence.
“I was just telling young Jeremy about the long history of this glorious house. Did you know, John, that I have managed to trace our ancestry back to the Civil War? Before would be preferable, I know, but the sources, you see, there was a fire, so many precious documents simply up in smoke. That’s why, I was telling Arabella, why it’s so important to explore this house, find the secret passages, as it were, there could be anything, not that she wants to, of course, all she has left of him, but surely that should mean she wants to find everything she can, it is hers and his after all – ”
The words keep coming. John is very aware that he’s staring, yet Gabriel doesn’t seem to notice, going on and on and barely pausing for breath. Uncannily John’s reminded of Sherlock’s deductive monologues – the ones that don’t seem to require air. Of all the inherited traits, he thinks.
Agatha lets it run on just long enough to ensure John appreciates her valiant attempts, before cutting across and saying conversationally, “So, murder.”
“Yes.” There’s a slightly awkward pause as she raises her eyebrows and he wonders just what the hell else there is to say. Then it comes back to him. “I just met your, er, aunt?” He’s really not sure of any of the relations here. “Laetitia?” he offers, and watches as Agatha’s face turns stormy and even Geoffrey becomes suddenly tight-lipped.
“Bloody she-hag,” is Agatha’s verdict. “She wants this house, you know. Only reason any of the Sackvilles come to these things, when they hate the lot of us. Trying to elbow their way into the property market.”
“Preposterous,” Geoffrey agrees. “There has been a member of the Holmes family in residence here for centuries, as far back – or as far as I’ve found – as – ”
“Point is,” Agatha interrupts again, “ever since Arabella married into this family – gorgeous northern lass that she is – we haven’t been able to shift them.”
“Who’s Arabella?” Besides yet another relative with an appropriate name. John is considering defaulting to Watson, Doctor or even Captain for the rest of this; even in his head his name’s sheer undeniable normality is starting to fall with a loud hollow thud.
Both of them stare at him. John hopes Arabella isn’t dead.
Geoffrey is the first to recover. “My dear boy,” John fights the instinctive violent response with a reserve of army experience on top of further time on the Holmes front, “Arabella is Mycroft and Sherlock’s mother.”
John’s only ever had the experience of being punched full in the face by one time before this: “Dr Watson – John – he’s alive.”
“Their mother?” he repeats.
Agatha nods encouragingly, looking a little alarmed by his reaction. “Yeah. She runs the place – Mycroft just takes over when the family shows up. Don’t think she likes all the company, to be honest – well, certain bits of company.” She turns and looks pointedly at the closed door, from behind which raised voices are starting to leak through – impressive, considering Mycroft’s commitment to teeth-grinding levels of infuriating calmness.
“She said something about their father,” John says, and if he thought he was the centre of their attention before, it was nothing compared to now.
“I just bet she did.”
“Well, she – ” John stops himself, because really, what’s he supposed to say? “She called Sherlock a fraud,” he hazards, because that part is still laser bright in his mind, “and said there was something I should know, and that Mycroft couldn’t cover everything up?”
At his words, Geoffrey looks carefully neutral – too carefully neutral – while Agatha’s face goes white, and then begins to redden alarmingly quickly.
She utters a few words any of John’s army mates would have been proud of, and then stalks into the room.
Both John and Geoffrey beat a hasty retreat down the corridor, the sounds of screaming following them.
“It is rarely a good idea to provoke Agatha,” Geoffrey observes, showing that at least one member of this family is capable of stating the obvious. “Oh dear,” he adds, “reinforcements.”
John follows his gaze to see a man and a woman – siblings, judging by the shared flaming red hair – hurrying towards the room.
“Max and Belle,” Geoffrey informs him, “or rather, Maximilian and Isabelle Sackville. To war, to war, I fear.” He leads John very carefully away – pausing only to point out some more from the Holmes side, Geoffrey’s daughter Guinevere and a stray niece named Josephine, an unmistakeable trace of pride in his voice. “It is a shame,” he reflects wistfully, watching them hasten on towards the battle. “Such a wonderful house, and yet it is constantly filled either with silent mourning or the raised voices of family warfare. Did I tell you it has a long history?”
“You did,” John tells him quickly, and adds, “You said Ara— Sherlock’s mother doesn’t want to know more?”
“Very few of them do,” Geoffrey sighs. “I managed to engage poor departed Algernon for a short while, but I fear he was only scouting for his mother. They’re searching for loopholes, you see: Ulysses – oh, their father – ” he adds, ensuring John’s further silence as he tries to cope with his brain trying to crack open at not just a name but that
name “ – he had the lawyers draw up a rather fascinating contract. In short, no Sackville can gain ownership of this house until every member of the Holmes line is dead. A tad irregular in this day and age, but I understand his influence was more than enough to ensure it’s recognised.”
John shakes his head. He thinks of the awkward Christmases spent with the Watsons, one seat always empty, the drinks all the more obvious by their absence, and while he certainly doesn’t miss it, he thinks he appreciates it a little bit more.
“Is that all they’re arguing about?”
“Oh, they’ll cover any number of things, and all at once. However,” and here Geoffrey’s dreamy academic eyes suddenly narrow into Holmesian sharpness, “if you are alluding to the subject I suspect, then only those two brothers have any right to tell you the story.”
John finds Mycroft an hour later in the library. He’s looking for Sherlock, but in favour of an actual explanation, he’ll make do.
Finding Mycroft here isn’t all that surprising – the real challenge was looking for the quietest place in the mansion. For all that they’d not exactly seen eye to eye before, John understands silence is Mycroft’s home away from home.
Sometimes, modern life is too much. Mycroft had told John that silence prevents arguments, but it is, in reality, much more than that. Modern life is full of noise -- phones, voices, paperwork, clothing rustling, footsteps on tile, static in the carpet, the squeak of a chair, cars, buses, bells, whistles, music…there was never much of an end. The Diogenes was Mycroft's refuge from modern life, a place where everything was silenced and he could ease the never ending assault on his ears. (To say nothing, of course, of the soothing lights and colours one found in most of the rooms at the Diogenes.)
“I suppose,” Mycroft said smoothly, not bothering to look up, to pretend that he needs to see John to know that he’s there, “that you’re wondering as to my dearly beloved aunt’s words.”
Carefully, John says, “I’m trying not to jump to any conclusions.”
“Then, as ever, you are a rarity in this family.”
There it is again: the implied inclusion of John in ‘this family’. Once upon a time, it might have bothered him. Mycroft might not assume without data, but his way of predicting things can often be grating. A few things have changed now, though – anything from John’s tolerance of Sherlock’s brother through to the newly discovered family feuds, and, of course, most of all, John and Sherlock themselves.
“Perhaps two decades ago,” Mycroft begins, as if he expects John to believe that he doesn’t recall the exact length of time down to the second, “people used to vanish from this area. Young, old, male, female: anyone. Their bodies were never found.
“It wasn’t long before the accusations began – well, you know people. They do love the scent of scandal.”
John does know. Possibly he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to forget.
“I won’t bore you with the details – ” a blatant lie “ – but suffice to say gossip pinned the blame on a local doctor: our father. Of course, the help were more than willing to fan the fire; to discuss his secretive habits, his experiments, his long nights of frenzy – a familiar picture, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
And now John feels slightly ill.
“In the end, he died before an investigation could develop – a tragic accident, by all accounts – and given our family’s position – ”
Mycroft only smiles.
“It was decided to let the matter rest. Unfortunately,” he went on with a sigh, “the seeds of suspicion had already been sown; particularly once it was noted that the disappearances ceased around the same time.”
“Maybe the killer needed a scapegoat?” John offers, with an encouraging smile that falls flat.
“Perhaps,” is all the response he gets.
He can tell though; tell by the way Mycroft holds himself, the fact that he’s here at all. Despite Laetitia’s poisoned words and Sherlock’s exit and the outbreak of a far less cold war between the two halves of the family, Mycroft, the diplomat’s diplomat, hadn’t said a word.
With Mycroft, silence is as good as a confession.
That’s why he’s here.
Mycroft thinks that their father is – was – a killer.
A memory stirs, and John finds himself asking, “Was that what upset your mother?”
For a moment, he watches as Mycroft’s brain ticks over, flicking through its index for the incident. Then comes the twitch John accepts as a smile.
“From time to time, John,” he commends, “you do display some deductive skills of your own.”
From Mycroft, that’s the highest praise John can hope for.
I upset her? It wasn’t I who upset her, Mycroft!
John winces as the words come back to him, since they mean he doesn’t have to ask the other question that had been on the tip of his tongue. At the time all he’d been concerned about had been the fact that this madman’s arch-nemesis was an overprotective older brother. (More innocent days, he used to curse, staring up at a cracked ceiling in a featureless room.) Now they cut in a way he would never have expected.
It’s not just Mycroft who thinks that he’s the son of a murderer.
“Sherlock’s never mentioned your father. Ever.”
“Nor will he, if he is allowed any say in the matter.”
The silence falls again. John wonders what he’s even supposed to do with all this. Whether he should try to talk about it, if it’s such a big thing around here; whether he should say anything at all. Mycroft’s right, Sherlock won’t talk about it, but then, Sherlock doesn’t always get things like this right. That’s what John’s for. He’s supposed to know.
“Do you know,” Mycroft says, unexpectedly breaking his spell of protection, “there is one thing that gives me comfort.”
Whatever it is, John reckons he needs it too. “What?”
A twirl of the umbrella towards the far end of the library, the second floor (Christ, their library has floors
, every time he thinks he’s almost over it they throw something else at him). “We found Algernon’s body there.”
And people think that Sherlock is the brother who delights in the morbid.