Laughter drifted across the restaurant.
It was a crowded, busy night, and nobody seemed to mind. Besides, it was the kind of merry, hearty laughter that lifted spirits rather than grated nerves, the kind of laughter you heard at a wedding. And it was a casual, well-lit place where the tables were close together and the menu was simple. This wasn't a place for quiet conversations anyway.
Neither man was a habitual drinker. John because he had seen what havoc it had wrecked on Harry's life, and Sherlock because his personal poisons were more exotic and beer offended his palette. But tonight was a night for celebration and drinks were in order. And so the laughing began. Hearty, merry laughing.
It carried on for longer than it should. The hours dragged on and the patrons trickled out until the "closed" sign was turned on the door and most of the chairs were on the tables. But Sherlock and John remained, kept pouring the wine. Sherlock, it seemed, had it in good with the owner. Another named cleared, so it seemed, which amused John to no end. Everybody in the respectable world hated Sherlock and called him a psychopath. But the petty criminals, the homeless, the drug addicts, even the crooked restaurant owners with shady gambling pasts; they all spun stories about the legendary Sherlock Holmes, about the favors he'd done them. He was their patron saint, the saint of freaks.
They'd just wrapped a damn hard case. Ugly, too. John's first serial rapist. Corpses in various stages of decomposition was one thing. But looking at a living body as it looked back at you was something else entirely. All at once, he envied Sherlock's callous disregard for human suffering. John even mimicked it. And he'd hated himself for it.
But now the case was solved. A rapist was in jail. All those bottled up feelings came out in a rush. The relief was tangible. Two men who hadn't let one emotion escape for nearly four weeks now laughed so hard that nervous tears streamed down their faces. John was surprised to see even Sherlock weeping as he laughed, face red, anxiety released, and he privately wondered if Sherlock's psychopathy was a talent he'd learned and perfected over time rather than a condition he was born with.
In any case, they didn't really know why they were laughing. They weren't telling jokes, but the laughter bubbled up uncontrollably, the secret language of homo sapiens; Oh, hello fellow human being. I am a human being, too. Reach out and touch me and reassure me that everything is okay. There is no danger. It is time for play. We are safe.
The endorphins released made them high. They were soaring.
Vulnerable, yet feeling deceptively secure, Sherlock suddenly asked John about his sister Harry. He asked, quite directly, how he felt when she came out as a lesbian.
John knew that, with Sherlock, a conversation could take off in any of a million directions at the drop of a hat. He didn't even blink at the question, and still feeling quite merry, he related the story to his flat mate: "Not my proudest moment," he confessed.
"You?" Sherlock asked, breathless, thinking back on their first visit to Angelo's. "Not 'Its all fine' John Watson? I don't believe you. You don't have a judgmental bone in your body."
John nodded, brushing the crumbs from his chest. He'd over eaten. One of the other traits he'd adopted from Sherlock during their last case was eschewing food. Quite frankly, the grisly details robbed him of appetite anyway. Now his hunger returned at full force. "You don't know Harry. Always making fool decisions, always breaking mom and dad's hearts. Rebellious and stupid. And my parents were very, very conservative. I was stuck in the middle. I had progressive values and I liked to think I was forward-thinking, accepting and non-judgmental, but I thought my sister was a scrubber."
Sherlock poured himself another glass of wine, smiling. His face was slightly damp from tears and sweat. His hair was tousled. He couldn't remember when he had last taken a shower. "They must have been thrilled when she came out as a lesbian."
At that, John didn't laugh for once. He smiled, bitterly. "They still don't speak to her."
Sherlock blinked. "How long ago…?"
"She was nineteen."
Sherlock swirled the wine stem in his fingers, the wine sloshing lazily behind the glass. "But she's been married and divorced since then. Surely they…?"
"Didn't object too much that I walked my own sister down the aisle," John finished abruptly. "Just so long as they were absolved of their own obligation to be there. They sent a nice card."
Sherlock pursed his lips.
John tipped back the last of his wine. Some of it gathered in the corner of his mouth. His tongue lapped out to catch it. "When Harry first came to me and told me she was a lesbian, my first, instinctive, gut-reaction was, Oh, great. Yet another thing she can throw in mom and dad's face, another thing she's doing for attention. She made it so easy for my parents' world view to look normal, even though I know it was oppressive. I could have just written her off, right then and there. I was so sick of her constant drama."
"But you gave her away at her wedding," Sherlock said. "You got over it."
"I got over it in ten seconds." John tapped his temple. "I remember. In the time that it took for the words to leave her mouth, travel to my ear, register in my brain…by the time my jaw and my tongue and my lips began to move, I had this exact thought process: If I say what I really think, she's going to call me a bigot. A heartless bigot. And I'll never hear the end of it. And all her sympathetic little followers will say 'There goes John Watson, a cruel prick, just like his parents.' So, I'll be nice. I'll be nice because that's what is expected of me, even though I know damn well this is going to crush mom and dad for good. But we shouldn't judge people if they are thoughtless, if they are spiteful, if they are impulsive and immature and have no perspective or tact or manners because fuck everyone else, its all about ourselves these days, and why should anybody give a shit about anybody else? Go on, keep missing school, keep waking up at parties with no memory of what happened the night before. Get strung out, I promise not to interfere with my oppressive 'concerns' that apparently insult you. Really, I don't care if my idiot sister is a lesbian. I just wish she had a fucking soul. That's all I want, just some decency for once. So. I guess it doesn't matter that Harry is a lesbian. I just don't like Harry's destructive habits. Which is entirely separate from what she just told me. What is wrong with me? Am I really going to sit here and pretend smile and reassure my sister that I accept her and still love her…because…this progressive, liberal society I've grown up in has reinforced it upon me that we should embrace people when they come out as gay, not because I'm actually happy for my sister? Wow. That's terrible. God, I am terrible. It's the 21st fucking century and here I am, sitting in this room while my own sister spills her guts to me and all I can think about is how inconvenient this is going to make Christmas from now on. I guess I'm really the one with no perspective. And I'm her brother. For God's sake, if I can't accept her…how the will the rest of the world? Who is going to have her back, if not me? This was who she is. Maybe…well, maybe all the other bad choices she's made are related to this. Maybe she's felt so mixed up for years that all those other experiments were just her way of coping with pretending to be straight. Oh god, no, that's equally stupid. One thing doesn't have anything to do with the other. Her sexuality doesn't define anything about her other than her sexuality. She isn't about to become some other person. She is still Harry. Just like the old Harry, but new. But the same. Different. This is the Harry I've always known, but it's like we're just shaking hands for the first time. Fuck. I love my sister. I should say so. Right now."
Sherlock's attention was completely fixed. He'd leaned forward in the seat, silently absorbing the story, for once refraining from interrupting with his own perspective or observations.
John barely noticed the honor he'd been given and continued on; "And I did. I told her I loved her and I meant it, and there was nothing forced or fake about it. And Harry didn't stop drinking or partying and she didn't become a different person. But she did meet Clara and Clara was very sweet and the two of them were happy for a while and I was happy for them, even while my parents weren't. And yes, you were right, Sherlock, as always. When I came back from Afghanistan and I found out Harry and Clara were divorcing, I was disgusted and I didn't take up Harry's invitation to stay at her place. But it wasn't because I 'liked' Clara. Well, I did, but not in the way you were suggesting. I was disappointed in Harry for still being thoughtless and spiteful and immature. But I've never been disappointed that she's not straight. I haven't dwelled on it since. Not once." John sat up and propped his elbows on the table, ruffling his hair. His scalp inched. He was also long overdue for a shower. "Anyhow. Why did you ask me about Harry?"
Sherlock sat still for a moment, his clear blue eyes especially sharp. "Oh." He glanced down at the wine stem in his fingers. "I forgot why I asked." Bringing the glass to his lips, he drank the last of his wine and exhaled, letting all his stress escape in one tense sound, his head tilted back and his eyes sliding closed.
John cocked his head at Sherlock. It wasn't like Sherlock to forget. Yes, currency exchange rates and solar systems, yes, that was all fine and good to delete from the hard drive. But his own train of thought? That was very difficult to derail. John was tempted to point it out. But John was also drunk and he knew better than to call out Sherlock Holmes on a battle of deductions when he didn't think he had the mental faculties to find his way to the men's room without a compass and a guide. So instead, he just shrugged.
Leaning back in his seat, glazed eye skyward and hands folding lazily in his lap, Sherlock asked, "I liked that story. You can tell it to me again when we're sober."
John picked at his plate. He was full but dinner had been very good. "It wasn't anything but human beings living their lives."
"Well, it doesn't matter. I thought it was spectacular."
John said, bringing his fork to his mouth and taking another bite.
"Spectacular," Sherlock repeated, enthralled.
John nodded, chewing thoughtfully. Then his chewing stopped. He glanced over at Sherlock curiously.
Sherlock kept looking up at the ceiling, his body limp and relaxed in his seat. He wasn't smiling anymore, lost in thought.
John swallowed his food and it was more audible than he wanted. "Okay. Spectacular." Except Sherlock didn't think anything was spectacular except cold trails and blood stains.
Sherlock hummed in approval. "You're a good brother."
"Oh. Thank you," John said, congratulating himself.
"A very good brother," Sherlock praised. "I think I would very much like to have you for a brother."
John smiled big and wide at that. That was a surprising and very touching compliment. Wine, John decided, really suited Sherlock. "Ready to trade in Mycroft?"
"Years ago," Sherlock said, returning John's smile. "Can't rely on him for anything. Prick."
"You are demanding in unreasonable ways," John said. "Fetch me my own phone that's in my own pocket even though I'm clear across London and what not."
"Well, whatever," Sherlock scoffed. "I'd rather have a brother who loves me than reliable assistant."
John's smile drooped a bit. "I'm sure he loves you. He spies on you enough."
Sherlock dismissed the statement with a petulant wave.
John asked, "What went wrong between you two?"
"I don't want to do that tonight. Mycroft will spoil my good mood." Sherlock sighed. "I just want…to bathe in how…gloriously magnificent you are right now. You said it wasn't your proudest moment. I can't imagine why. Oh, well. I know why. You feel guilty that it took you ten seconds rather than five seconds to do the right thing. You should be proud and you're not, and that's the fantastic thing about you. You're incredible. Quietly. All the time. It must be exhausting."
John nearly choked on his food.
Sherlock was not lost on John's reaction. He looked down at himself, as if he had just spilled something all over his shirt. "Oh," he said critically of himself. "Excuse me. I'm drunk."
John wiped his mouth, his smile re-emerging. "Apology accepted."
"Hmm," Sherlock said, considering it. "Rotten of me, I suppose. Can't compliment a friend. One, it sounds unnatural coming from me. Two, I'm terrible at it."
"You should compliment me more often," John suggested. "For practice."
Sherlock looked over John. "I wish you were my brother. I wish I knew you my whole life. I wish you were around when I had difficult, frightening times so I could run into your room and spill my guts to you and listen while you say something spectacular and effortless and know in my heart you have my back. Because that's all I would ever need. I could do anything if you loved me. I could tell my mother and father how it really is. I could carry my head up high, tell every rotten kid who called me a freak that I'm not ashamed and mean it. Because I wouldn't be a freak. I wouldn't be a freak if I could just be myself for a minute. I bet I could laugh like this all the time if you were my brother. I bet it would always feel as good as it does right now."
John held Sherlock's gaze, shocked.
Sherlock held his breath. John could tell by the way his chest had stopped moving.
John offered, slowly, "You know. I don't have to be your brother to keep your confidence. You can tell me anything."
Sherlock still didn't breathe.
John added, "Anything."
Sherlock exhaled loudly again.
"There's no point," Sherlock said at last. "Nothing will be different. It will be exactly as it is. Won't it?"
"Of course," John assured him. "Nothing at all will be different. One thing has nothing to do with another, after all. I imagine you'll always be thankless, tactless. Messy. The other thing…well, it's not something I dwell on."
"You might feel different," John said. "Like you said, maybe you won't feel like a freak."
Sherlock shrugged in response. "Like you said; one thing has nothing to do with the other. I think I'm a freak for life. And I've gotten used to it. Unfortunately, I didn't have you for a brother growing up and I had to adapt in my own way. This is it."
"Well," John sighed, putting his napkin on his plate. "I like you just fine the way you are. And by the way, your compliment was very good. Magnificent."
"It was exhausting," Sherlock admitted, putting his own napkin on his plate. "I don't know when I'll be able to eek out another nice thing to say about you."
They left together quietly. It was cold outside and they buttoned their coats up to their chins and hailed a taxi while their breath fogged around them. They didn't say anything on the way home, not out of awkwardness, but out of wonder. When they arrived at 221b, they made their way up the stairs together, acutely aware of their drunkenness as one or the other managed to keep missing the steps. They clutched each other's forearms for support and suddenly, the laughter returned. The merry, hearty laughter that, despite the late hour, no one complained about.
Inside the flat, John took both their coats and hung them up while Sherlock flopped on the couch. John took his place in the arm chair and rested his head back and was asleep within a few minutes, but Sherlock remained awake, looking up at the ceiling.
At three in the morning, Sherlock sat up, courage gathered, and nudged John awake so he could introduce himself. John sat up and listened intently without interrupting. When he was done, John shook his hand like they were meeting for the first time, and it was a firm, welcoming handshake that caught Sherlock by surprise. The consulting detective, who hadn't let one tear escape for years, now wept so hard that nervous laugher erupted from him. The relief was tangible.
After that, John got up and made coffee. When he sat back down with two steaming mugs, Sherlock's trembling hands reached out and took one and they both sipped in silence while bathing in each other's glorious magnificence. Then the laughter started again and neither man knew why, but it was spectacular.
Author's Note: Candid feedback, criticism, praise and flames all greatly appreciated. Be as ruthless or as kind as you like.