Sherlock wasn't entirely sure where or when this entire business of "caring" started, but at this point, it was becoming far too difficult to ignore. It stared him in the face; bit him in the arse—whatever witty phrase the rest of the world would find the need to use applied to this very situation.

As a child, when given a fact he knew was true but disliked, he would stick his fingers in his ears and hum "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" until his throat went numb or Mycroft gave up and walked away. In some ways, he felt like repeating that action this very moment. But mainly he sat, his eyes adjusting to the golden light caused only by the rising sun trickling through the hospital window, debating whether or not he liked the fact that they cared.

The three of them all lay sleeping at different angles in the glow of the room—Lestrade, Mycroft and John. Lestrade looked as he always did; his shirt creased and crumpled, tie long discarded and hair sticking up at awkward angles, only this time lying on his side on three plastic chairs pressed against the plain beige wall. In fact, if his eyes weren't closed, Sherlock would've thought his to be relaxing on the couch at Baker Street while the rest of his "drug squad" searched the flat for evidence.

Mycroft was even worse. He sat on the ground—likely uncomfortable, he thought gleefully—with his back pressed to the wall directly in front of the bed. His brother's chin pressed to his chest, causing his face to fall back into shadow; forcing the already sharp angles of his expressions to become more dramatic. The lack of movement hinted towards sleep, but he half expected a sentence to escape the firm line of a mouth that was painted across his jaw. His hand lies on his knees, umbrella beside him, utterly still save for the rise and fall of his chest.

John, on the other hand, felt no need to mask his sleep. He lay above the covers on Sherlock's bed, his head buried in the side of Sherlock's chest, nose tunnelling into the cheap hospital fabric clothing his torso. His hair, like Lestrade's, was fluffed, but his typical neutral expression was swapped for one of bliss. A small smile fluttered on his lips, a butterfly emerging from its deep slumber and shaking the residues of dreariness off its wings. What surprised Sherlock was his own position—arm wrapped under and around John's lower back and waist, fingers running along the lines of firm muscle beneath a previously pressed shirt borrowed from him. Sherlock barely realised his cheek pressed against the soft duckling hair until John shifted closer to him, sighing happily after extending his arm around the pale upper body beneath him. Warm breath ghosted his slightly exposed skin, reminding him to breath out the captured air in his chest.

It felt good, he decided. Maybe it was just John, though.

But when had it started?

With Lestrade, he supposed it never really had a precise date it had started, it had just been. It was the deep, dark aspects of their personalities that had allowed them to clash the way they did; two rocks rubbing against one another, the friction of their hard exteriors creating sparks. Nothing romantic, not with their age gaps, but the force of the collision causing them to be carved into shapes to fill the spaces left by others. For Lestrade—a few months before his divorce—Sherlock was never a freak so much as he was someone to protect, to shepherd. A child. His wife had never been inclined towards starting a family, and when they'd attempted, he'd been still born, without a name. Nothing to inscribe on a tombstone, and a body too small for a casket. It had ripped him apart, never being able to call himself a father, to love someone outside himself and the woman that later took everything else in his life. He'd been desolate, and had retreated into himself, forming his hard, grey exterior. The elements waged war against his skin, muscles and what someone emotional like him would call his "soul" until he was thoroughly aged.

Then, of course, he'd met Sherlock—a cocaine addict and smoker with a mind brilliant enough to set the world alight. He'd lashed out at Lestrade with all the poison his tongue could manage to spew out and shoved him back, week by week. Lestrade pushed forward still, getting past layer after layer of the ice shield the young man had built between him and the rest of the world. It was a tug of war between the loneliness of Lestrade's life and the loathing of Sherlock's, Lestrade learning that the best way through to Sherlock was the parenting he'd been deprived of.

Sherlock would never admit to Lestrade "saving" him, but he became less bitter. It wasn't like all of a sudden he'd stopped doing drugs or smoking—yet the fire that glowed within him became less of a burning that seared him from the inside out. He would never thank him for giving him a purpose, a job instead of pulling himself apart. Being the conductor to the orchestra that was his mind, allowing it to rise to the top of its potential as an alternative to the uproar it had been. Holding his hand as he went through hours of withdrawal, finding an appropriate rehab when Sherlock decided to give up the only crutch of his genius. For filling the roll of the father he'd never had.

No, Lestrade had cared from the beginning, and he'd simply neglected to notice. Not unlike Mycroft.

He switched his gaze to the crumpled figure of the proud man; a slayed lion. Mycroft, who watched over England and its people with a silent eye, but his own brother with one about as quiet as a hurricane. It would be a lie to say he didn't care—he had lurking forces all over London watching Sherlock protectively in case he strayed in the slightest. Unfortunately, Sherlock took to Lestrade's method of caring far more than he did Mycroft's forcefulness. He wouldn't be involuntarily made to do anything—especially from his big brother.

"Don't make me force you, Sherlock."

"I'd like to see you try."

It'd always been like that, and the only thing that had changed from then to now was their age.

"Sherlock?" Mycroft called into the gloom of the seven-year-olds room. "What are you doing in there?" He thought he could see the outline of the dark curls belonging to his brother under the pile of toys and books Sherlock had built as a thick wall surrounding his fortress (his bed, from which he had strung sheets so as to make it more majestic).

"Sherlock?"

"Shark!" Came the sharp reply.

"Shark? Sherlock, it's dinner already, so would you—"

"It's Shark, not Sherlock! Please refer to me by my secret identity so as not to tip off my arch enemy Mycroft!"

Then his small, pale head jutted up, gave a gasp when he saw his brother, then dove back down into the piles on the floor.

"Yes, well, your arch enemy would like know whether or not you'd like to join Mummy and I for dinner?"

"Did you poison it?"

"No—"

"Are you poisoning it now?"

"No! I just want you to come downstairs!" Mycroft shouted, the latter half of his fourteen years (the years Sherlock existed) kicking in. He was twice Sherlock's age; did he really have to laugh along to his pretend reality he would lose himself in?

The room fell silent; with only the dust stirring to indicate where Sherlock was hidden .His breathing was barely audible in the sudden stillness. Mycroft felt guilt build up in his chest—really, he wasn't their father, and he had no right to yell—

"Mycroft?" Sherlock asked timidly into the calm.

Great, thought Mycroft, now he felt even worse. "Yeah?"

"Can't you play with me? Just this once?"

"…" Mycroft paused. To play, or not to play? That was the question.

"Please?"

"Maybe, just maybe, I'm plotting to take over the world downstairs."

Sherlock gasped. "I knew it!"

Mycroft gave his best evil laugh, running downstairs. Five minutes later, Sherlock was at the dinner table, stark naked save for the pair of pants he'd pulled on his head.

Sherlock smirked at the memory, then hiding his face in the soft hair, losing himself in the reassuring smell—tea and fresh air, now tinged with hospital. He inhaled and exhaled, letting his muddled mind focus on the two actions, comforted by the notion he was breathing in John. Mycroft had never stopped playing since then, only the game had changed. Even in his late thirties, he'd introduced himself to John as Sherlock's arch enemy looking to pay him money to spy on him.

His relationships with Lestrade and Mycroft were complicated to say the least, just as the rest of his life and the cases he liked to work. That was how he liked it; a thoroughly wound ball of string, impossible to unwind unless you find the end string, which would be hidden. Everything was a puzzle, decoding who he hated and who he simply put up with. Except John.

Was there a certain point in time when John had twisted the dark bitterness within him into a human being? Was it a moment in time, or a process? Obviously it had started at some point, but when?

Without acknowledging the movement, he found his lips lost in the ash-blonde mess that was John's hair, humming snippets of various tunes into his scalp, and then his fingers disappearing into the folds of the shirt. It didn't fit him right, thought Sherlock—far too big. Why hadn't he noticed earlier?

He hadn't been looking, a rarity for someone like him, someone who made his living noticing all details. This was probably very bad, this lack of sight on his part, but then again, he could've easily been distracted. He tried to recall the details of the case, or as to why he was lying in the hospital, but he found he didn't care. All he felt was the warmth of the body lying in his arms.

Was it on their first meeting, when John still limped around London in that way he found endearing—focus, Sherlock, focus—and he had lent him his phone? That was a bit premature to change him into the man he felt was at this very moment. Perhaps it was when he'd been crouched over the woman's body or in the taxi on the way there—when John had first called him extraordinary, amazing. He'd been refreshing, new—meeting him was like plunging into an abyss, forgetting he was human and allowing himself to be sculpted into a hero. John's hero.

And when they pressed their backs to the plastered walls of Baker Street, panting and laughing hopelessly from the chase, he knew if John had been just an inch closer, he would have pressed his lips to the other man's. It didn't make sense at the time, it was just an urge; yet if John could read minds he would've found—

I want to kiss you.

That thought hadn't just occurred once. Sometimes it appeared out of anger, too, like when he'd asked John to pull his phone out of his jacket pocket. Sherlock had complained with a "Careful!" but then John and his scent were so close, touching, brushing. It was intimate, he'd known, and throughout that case they'd both been total arseholes to one another, and there was that thought.

You are really pissing me off right now but I want to kiss you. You make no sense.

It wasn't a difficult puzzle. He adored John, wanted to lose himself in shapeless jumpers and sleepy smiles every day for the rest of his life. John could fully extinguish the flames within him that Lestrade could only mildly dampen and Mycroft could only watch from a distance until they burnt themselves out.

It was John, and John alone. The second he wasn't in Sherlock's presence a bullet would be in the wall, or when he left Sherlock for a date he would be followed. Sarah was boring, Sherlock knew. He wasn't. And even if they did get married, with the divorce patterns in England he found the idea of them staying together for far too long improbable.

Maybe that was what proved he cared—he was willing to wait until John got married and then later divorced to be with him. He would wait, year after year until his better half realised he was still only half without him.

John shifted, murmuring a half -finished sentence in his sleep.

"Wait up, Sherlock, I'm coming…"

Sherlock chuckled softly, the warm exhale moving pieces of John's hair, pressing his lips against his friend's head.

They'd always cared, all of them, from the first day they met him. Sherlock did too, surprisingly. His heart had always been some strange, beating creature in his chest, a machine he failed to understand. It had just taken John to remind him that it was still working. Still beating. Not like he'd ever let them know it, though.

OoOoO

Just brief character studies, helping me get over some writers block involving another Sherlock fic. Reviews = love = more one shots.

Credit goes to my editor D, who was the original person to come to the dinner table wearing nothing but pants on her head.

Disclaimer: if I owned Sherlock, I would be sitting on a chair in the dark, stroking a Persian cat and plotting how I would hook up our favourite boys. But I don't, and I'm allergic to cats.

Thanks!