Sherlock decided not to start John out at Christmas. He said they made the day morose and dreadful and he hated most of them—and most of them hated him right back (especially Great Aunt Vicky, who had never forgiven him for spiking her wine with vinegar when he was seven). The whole rabble only coalesced for Christmas, and Sherlock had been very successful at avoiding them for five years, six if he could manage to pull off a disappearing act this year.
"It's kinda dodgy, though, don't you think?" John asked, folding his arms as he stood in the doorway and watched Sherlock pack.
"Hm?" Sherlock replied, half listening as he compared neckties.
"Taking your flatmate to see your parents."
"My father died when I was nine," Sherlock answered blandly. "It's only my mother."
John sobered quickly. "Oh. Sorry. You never—"
"I never said anything because it never mattered. It still doesn't. Black or blue?" he asked, holding both ties up for John to see.
"Er," John waffled, "blue."
"And what, exactly," Sherlock continued, placing the tie carefully in his things, "is so dodgy about taking you to meet her?"
John shifted. "Well, it's just—You said you hadn't—"
"I haven't told her, but she'll find out anyway."
"Isn't it better to, I dunno," John shrugged and winced, "prepare her?"
"No," Sherlock said, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "Why? Is that something people do?"
"Most folks tell their parents who they're shagging, yeah." Even after three months, John still went a dark red.
"Have you told yours?" Sherlock asked, finally setting his things aside to stare plainly, staring John down with knowing eyes (he loved to ask questions he knew the answer to).
"Well, no," John began.
"Ha," Sherlock proclaimed dryly, and he turned back to his bag. "Telling her now will only give her time to build defenses against you. She bore Mycroft, that should tell you exactly what she's capable of."
John laughed. "You make her sound like some sort of criminal."
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Sherlock said flippantly.
"Wh—" John started in shock. It was only when he caught the mischievous smirk crawling to the corners of Sherlock's mouth that John buckled into another laugh, finishing with, "You bastard," before moving in to capture his mouth.
John hadn't known about the country estate belonging to the Holmes name until about two weeks ago (which was a miracle in and of itself; Sherlock never, ever planned ahead if he could help it when it came to anything but a case. John was surprised he knew anything about the trip beforehand, fully expecting Sherlock to thrust the obligation on him with a day's notice). He would hardly have known Sherlock had a family at all, if not for the forced relationship with his brother and the occasional oblique references to a shared mother (despite Mycroft's jabs assuring Sherlock he could dig up papers proving otherwise), let alone an entire estate nestled in the Yorkshire Dales.
Sherlock certainly didn't look the part of a country squire, all bundled up against the November rain in his scarf and coat and flap hat (which John tugged snugly down over Sherlock's ears with a fond grin, despite Sherlock's annoyed huff—less so when John applied a kiss to the end of his nose where the raindrops slid away), John even less the sort a squire would escort across the threshold into that manor house. They bundled up together on the train (Sherlock always tried to tuck himself into John, rather not caring that physics and anatomy constantly thwarted any attempt at comfort at such angles, stubborn against science), John fell asleep and Sherlock watched with a deepening frown as his mobile signal disappeared.
When John woke, it was to hills dotted with sheep and the persistent rattle of rain.
"If this trip gets me sick, I'm blaming you," John said, throwing a scarf around his neck.
"I always do."
John chuckled warmly and settled into the crook of Sherlock's neck.
To further John's apprehension, there was a cab waiting at the station for them. The man in traditional uniform with a wide black umbrella nodded his head in imitation of a bow as he intercepted the two of them, covering both their heads from the rain.
"Good evening, Mister Sherlock," the man said. "Your mother has ordered supper put on. If we press on, and the roads aren't much affected, we will arrive in time for the first course."
"First course?" John hissed when they were firmly in the back of the (frankly luxurious) cab. "You don't eat your takeaway, how are you gonna get through multiple courses?"
"Like you do everything here," Sherlock replied, his mouth a pale line. "Fake it."
John frowns to match him. "Do..." He stopped himself, but knew that Sherlock expressly hated unfinished sentences. "D'you think she'll like me?"
Sherlock examined him as the cab sloshed through road half-paved and half-mud. "Do you want her to?"
"Well, yeah," John huffed, exasperated. "She's your mum. I'd like to think I'd leave a nice impression, as the man who's swept her little boy off his feet."
Sherlock gave a rather undignified snort. John elbowed him until he shut up. Sherlock straightened himself, carefully gathered, and the smirk died away.
"Well, if she doesn't."
The detective frowned. "I don't know. I hadn't considered it."
Not knowing what to expect, John was a bit surprised that they weren't announced when the man driving the cab threw open the big, heavy door of the manor house to let them in. John had never been inside a manor house, looked at them from the road before and wondered who might live inside. Certainly never thought he'd be dating one of them. The smell of supper practically radiated to the high ceilings, filling John with the sort of resolve he knew that he would need for the meeting. Sherlock handed their bags off to a footman (who even had footmen?), fastidiously smoothed his hair down, and checked John's collar.
"Don't call her Mrs. Holmes," Sherlock said quietly, closely. "She legally needs the name to retain the manor, but she hasn't gone by Holmes since my father died." He narrowed his eyes in self-scrutiny. "I'd never considered her as anything but Mummy."
John smirked, batting Sherlock's hands away. "I think I'll work my way up to Mummy. First name?"
"Kitty," Sherlock answered with a persistent smile. "And don't worry about all the forks, I hardly bother with them."
"Hm," John replied in noncommittal. "Hold on," he cut in as Sherlock attempted a move away. "Good luck?"
Sherlock darted in for a kiss. "Good luck."
The dining room was open and intimate at the same time. Large French doors lined the east wall, the curtains drawn for the evening (but it would look right into the sunrise in the mornings, and John just knew the view would be breathtaking), and a crackling hearth took up the center of the west wall. In the center there stood a long, ancient wooden table clothed in an array that would make a country lord blush. Or so John assumed. It certainly had all the trappings he imagined a family with this grand a house might roll out for a respected guest. John hardly thought he deserved the good silver. And then his eyes rose to the head of the table at the far end of the room.
The lady of the house was already waiting for them. Her place had been set, but she hadn't touched a thing. John instinctively reached for a hat to remove in her presence. She looked regal. Back straight, eyes half-hooded as she inspected the two of them just entered. She must have been over sixty, but she could have been twenty for the vigor that shone bright in her crystal-blue eyes. The lines at the edges of her eyes crinkled when she smiled, and when her gaze flicked between her son and his guest, smile she did. Not the stiff bureaucrat smile John was used to seeing grace Mycroft's face. Soft, patient, curious. John reflected it instantly.
"John," Sherlock said, a hint of uneasiness in his throat. "I'd like you to meet my mother."
"John Watson," Kitty Holmes said, her tone even but hiding a sprightly edge. It had all the high-society pomp to it, but none of the circumstance. "I've been expecting you."
The doctor fidgeted on the spot. "Oh, well I—The roads were in a state, and—"
He ceased when the woman began to laugh. He hadn't expected such a cheerful sound, and his mouth stuttered into silence. Sherlock hadn't raised his eyes from his shoes.
"Sherlock hasn't stopped talking about you for hardly an instant," she said, folding her hands on the table in front of her and smiling knowingly. "Well, sit down, both of you. It'll go cold if you dawdle."
John took the seat offered to him by Sherlock, at Mummy's left hand. Sherlock took the right hand. They locked eyes once, across from one another, and then their dinner was set out for them. John waited until the lady had had her first bite, and then dug in with enthusiasm. The world was cold and wet, and the road had been long.
"Tell me about your last case," Mummy said to John once dinner was on its way. Sherlock remained silent and stony.
John fumbled with his utensil and his mouth for only a moment. "Oh, it was brilliant, actually. Not that they're not usually brilliant. I mean to say, this one was really interesting."
"It was no more than usual," Sherlock entreated.
John almost said Bollocks! but managed, just in time, to refrain (even if the sparkle in Mummy's eyes showed that she knew precisely what he was going to say). "He's being modest."
"I'm really not," Sherlock muttered.
"Well you see, there was this actress named Violet Hunter," John began (unreasonably comfortable talking to the woman he had worked himself up to impress), "and she wanted to ask Sherlock if he thought it'd be safe for her to take this gig."
And John was very careful. He didn't mention their sleeping arrangements (they'd moved to the second floor, because the flat was old and they didn't want to give Mrs. Hudson an earful every night), didn't mention how Sherlock had politely declined Miss Hunter's advances on account of the fact he was perfectly happy with his flatmate, certainly didn't wrap up the tale how it had ended in reality (with a congratulatory shag in the hall, thank god Mrs. Hudson had been out of town). Mummy had listened politely, nodded her head and smiled. Congratulated Sherlock on a case well solved. But even John knew that Sherlock and Mycroft had got their brains from this woman. She was reading him like a book.
Dinner was long over when she asked: "And your family, John?"
"Mummy," Sherlock cut in, though it was hardly loud enough to hear from the opposite side of the table.
"No, it's all right, Sherlock," John intercepted. "Mum and Dad live in Blackpool. She stays home, he works nights. He smokes too much, sometimes. I don't see them much, anymore. A couple weekends, holidays, mostly. I've got a sister, Harriet; she lives and works in Guildford, and I don't see her much, either."
"Is it so much better, living with Sherlock?" she laughed. "Don't sugarcoat anything, dear, I raised him. I know how difficult he and his brother can be."
John almost joined her in laughter, but stopped at the sick, pale look on Sherlock's face. That hurt. John swallowed something that pricked his throat, clearing it shortly and bringing a smile back for Sherlock's mother. "He's not bad as all that. Up at all hours, sure. And I'll tell him right off when he lets an experiment go. But he's all right, for the rent."
Her eyes were on her son. And he hadn't lifted his face, almost as if he knew what she was thinking without having to see her think it.
"He's utterly transparent," Mummy said, at last eying John over the top of her spectacles. "Why don't you tell me how you really feel about my son, Mister Watson?"
Sherlock nearly dropped his fork.
John looked up, and he held the woman's gaze. Her eyes weren't so unlike Sherlock's. They were bright, full of the force of knowledge behind them, and knowing. She knew precisely how John felt about Sherlock Holmes. This wasn't about the underlying truth of the matter. This was about what John was going to say about it. The doctor's smile ticked up, and his eyes never dropped away. Never showed weakness for a second. Because John Watson had his convictions, and he stuck to them as long as he was able.
"Well, Kitty," John said rather strongly, "I love him."
Sherlock did drop his fork.
At first, she didn't say a thing. For the briefest moment, John wondered if he had said the right thing. But it never crossed his mind to correct it. And she smiled. Small, at first, but it broadened softly.
"Do you?" she asked.
"Definitely," John answered, and he smirked plainly.
The woman stood, and both Sherlock and John rose to match (one sunlit, the other shocked stone cold and staring). "Thank you for coming, John," she said brightly. "I do hope I'll see the two of you for breakfast, though," and she fixed John with a knowing look, "I know that my boy has his odd hours." The footman opened the far door, and the lady was gone. For a moment, the room was entirely still and quiet.
And then John collapsed into his chair with a hopeless string of breathy laughter. Hand over his eyes, just melting out of the tension and into relief. Sherlock finally broke from his marble stare to hint at a smile (those eyes normally so cold and searching suddenly gone hopelessly warm watching him). "She liked you," he managed after listening to the sound of John's laugh.
"Did she?" John asked, and he gave himself a moment before levering back out of the chair and (with a glance for any lingering staff) practically falling into Sherlock. Thankfully, the detective caught him, held him close and tight.
"Definitely," he murmured into John's hair. He placed long, lingering kisses there as he ran the thoughts over and again through his head. "Did you mean it?" he asked, and it was very low (almost too low to hear, but John was very close).
John laughed, quick but quiet, shuffling his fingers through Sherlock's curls. "D'you think I'd lie to your mum?"
Sherlock's smile tried twice before it held, eyes locked in permanence with John's, leaning forward until his forehead knocked softly with his doctor's. "Good. Well, I mean," he struggled briefly, and John didn't interrupt (impossible smile hurting at the edges, but it was all fine). "Me too."
"Close enough," John giggled, and he pulled Sherlock the rest of the way to his mouth.
AN: I needed more fluff in my life. I apologize for nothing. I don't have much to say here, other than I was going to write a whole bit with Mycroft and Sherrinford, but I lost the story somewhere in there, and it wasn't important so I cut it. And maybe I'll get around to writing the Violet Hunter story someday (Copper Beeches really is one of my favorites). Anyhoo, thanks so much for reading, leave us some love, and don't forget to STAY AWESOME!