After being led like an innocent into Mycroft's study John sat patiently with his arm chair pulled closed to Mycroft's.
"Sherlock said you wanted to talk to me?"
Mycroft looked vaguely unsettled, a sort of peeling around his edges. There were twelve men sitting in the study, some playing cards in the study, some seated with them by the tea service, one was reading on the widow seat, a few more were chatting by the door.
"Certainly John, I wanted to get you know better, we don't really know each other well do we? Facts and figures maybe, but that's hardly the same is it?"
Looking at the men, the twelve of them, spread around the study, John turned his dark eyes back to look at Mycroft and let the cup and saucer he was holding, with both hands like a school boy, shift. "What do you want to-?"
Three things happened then:
First, John's head jerked to the left.
Second, John gasped and let go of the cup and saucer which both slipped off his lap leaving a tail like a comet in its wake, if comets perhaps had tails made of tea.
Third, John became furious.
The next thing that happened was that Mycroft wrapped his long fingers around John's tense wrist.
After that twelve men reached to have their guns at the ready.
"John, John you need to stay with me."
In response John bared all of his teeth and growled so that Mycroft felt it travel through his fingers up his wrist and his arm and his shoulder and his chest and all through the rest of his body so his face paled and his eyes widened and his teeth chattered together. One, twice, again his teeth clicked in his head, but he didn't look go. If any of the twelve men lost control of their bladders no one mentioned it to anyone else.
When John tried again to pull his wrist free again Mycroft opened his mouth so a croak came out before he collected himself, "Stop John, stay here. You need to stay here."
"Sherlock's hurt. Someone hurt him."
"He's fine John, he's okay."
"He's not!" John shouted, pulling.
"What would Sherlock say if you hurt me John, wouldn't he be disappointed? Wouldn't he be upset if you killed me, even if it was accidentally?"
John hid some of his teeth, eyes narrowed. "He's. In. Distress."
"He's okay John, he's fine, it's alright. Sit down John."
John pulled Mycroft's hand up to his face so he could set his teeth on the elegant conglomeration of bones at Mycroft's wrist. He set his teeth there and Mycroft could feel how very, very, very, very, very sharp John's teeth were set against his wrist. He trembled, sitting in his three piece suit and his twelve men and his confidential government files hidden in the walls staring into the face of the thing that killed Moriarty.
Mycroft had never been afraid like this before.
Never stared his death in the face and known there was nothing he could do to fight back; this was not something he could shoot or stab or hit. This was nothing he could reason with, it was unsympathetic to rhetoric and debate. He was nearly powerless.
He had never known this before.
It was terrifying to be so small.
"Everyone leave," he croaked and gripped a fistful of John's jacket. "And close the door behind you."
"Sir?" someone said, he wasn't quite sure who his heart was going too fast. All twelve men filed out quickly, frightened and trembling.
He surged up to his feet, stood looming over John, using every inch to get right into John's face, "You bite my hand off John Watson, bite right through. Take my whole arm, but you are not stepping one foot outside of this room until my brother comes for you because if you run to his rescue and pop up in the middle of New Scotland Yard everyone is going to know about you and then they will take you away and what will happen to my brother then? A life of running because you have to rip the throat out of everything that looks sideways at him?" he narrowed his eyes and growled back. "If keeping my brother safe means losing my hand, take it. Rip out my throat while you're at it, because that's the only way you're leaving. Do we understand each other?"
John bared his teeth around Mycroft's wrist and smiled a small secret smile. His teeth sprung open, releasing Mycroft after what seemed like so long. He stumbled back into his chair, suddenly soaked in sweat, trembling and weeping a little hysterically.
"Are you crying?"
"Yes," Mycroft gasped. "But you're still not leaving."
Sherlock showed up with a fantastically growing bruise on one impossible cheekbone. He looked at the men sitting very quietly in the hall and then at his brother with his pink, tear tracked face drinking tea with his flat mate and chatting about Arsenal.
"What happened?" John said quickly, up on his feet to mind Sherlock's face.
"Lestrade. I'm glad you didn't kill my brother. And everything can go back to normal. Back to the way it was."
"I wish you had taken me with you."
"I thought it best you didn't murder Lestrade in front of the Yard."
John growled, but smiled a little, "Probably did you good anyway. I hope he won't try it again."
Long arms looped around John's shoulders and squeezed him tight, "I'm okay John. I'm glad you didn't kill Mycroft. After some thought at least."
John snuffled once and hugged back tightly. "You're officially alive again then?"
Striding over to pour himself a cup of tea and add half the sugar bowl, Sherlock tilted his head to he and Mycroft met eyes. His pale fingers flicked out to pull back the edge of Mycroft's cuff and reveal a rosed bruise in a narrow half-moon shape. Taking a deep breath, Mycroft shook his head. "Good," Sherlock breathed, then, "Yes John, everything can go back to normal now. Cases and running about London."
"The way it should be," John grinned at him, his mouth back to the proper shape.
"The way it is."
There was an actual press conference, where John wore very large sunglasses and smiled very kindly, where it came out that Sherlock never died. Only dismantled the empire of the Hitler of crime. "It took," Sherlock said, standing with John close by, "unorthodox means to fight an unorthodox criminal. Sometimes we must become a bit shadowy ourselves if we must fight someone in the shadows. I'm glad to be home in a safer London, and even a safer England. And glad that my efforts to destroy his organization, as well as the efforts of international police forces has paid off."
After that there were pictures and Lestrade said a lot of things, but John and Sherlock snuck out the back door and invaded one of Dimmock's crime scenes. John was very handy to have along Sherlock discovered. Whenever he wanted someone stupid to go away he just made John go stand by them. It was a unique experience for Sherlock, having such a tremendously useful John again, at crime scenes and also because he had to decide to withhold, to keep secrets forever, to not mention things that were curious or unusual. He couldn't afford to borrow certain kinds of trouble anymore. Such as when Dimmock stood unperturbed right next to John and chatted about bloodyminded detectives, and how nice it much be for John to have Sherlock back, and about the Arsenal game.
Dimmock talked about his friend, also a police officer who he had grown up with, part of the reason he had joined the Yard "And so I kind of know what it's like to have a good mate you worry about. I'm just glad the great git is back again. I don't know what I'd do if Mike ever died."
Sherlock looked at the two of them, both smaller, dense men, sweet faced with a firm gaze much more searching than one would first think. He thought maybe the reason Dimmock had joined the Yard didn't have to do with the fraternal admiration he felt for Mike. The same way John didn't join the army to travel. Sherlock thought he might know what Dimmock might do. He looked back at the corpse and let his eyes unfocus as he selected the mental mp3 of Dimmock and John's conversation in his mind, right clicked and hit delete. Sometimes things just weren't important.
The only thing that was important now was John and the Work.
Sherlock blinked back, he wasn't sure what he had been thinking about, but he knew who the killer was, "It was the cook."
"Mind the integrity of the scene!" Dimmock barked at him.
Two days after the press conference John woke suddenly, his ears perking up, his teeth bared. Sherlock shifted above him, the mattress murmuring and sighing.
"What do you intend to do?" Sherlock asked, sounding entirely like a prince. Calm and cool as a stone in a shallow stream.
"Not like that. He shouldn't have died like that; you had no right to have him killed like that." The man sounded steady as iron, dangerous and fierce, John's soft growl vibrated up through the frame of the bed where his back is pressed. John could feel Sherlock's smile. Here the sound of the paper cover of the book slid against the night stand, he could hear everything, here in the dark.
He could hear Sherlock's bare heel drag along the sheet as he raised his knee, the pass of skin on skin as he stacked his hands on his knee. He could hear the man, the bad man, breathe, his lung moving, his shirt shifting with each breath. He could hear the man's fist tighten and shift around the handle of a very big knife.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Sherlock said and it was the voice of warning, a solemn one and soft, "There's a monster under my bed."
"Stop fussing," John told Sherlock who was sticking a plaster to the tiny cut across his cheek. "I've been in a war; a little cut isn't going to kill me."
"It was a big knife."
"If you had told me Moriarty had a pet henchman, someone who actually cared enough to avenge him we wouldn't have had this problem in the first place."
"But then you never told me what it was like inside Moriarty's head, what he did, what he said to you while you were fishing around in there."
"I didn't think you'd want to know."
"Of course, why would I want to know Moriarty had a little pet who'd break into our flat to kill me in my sleep?"
"The insides of people's heads, even bad people's heads, it's private. It's not something to be shared. Sherlock stop, if that plaster is any more secure I won't be able to get it off again. Sherlock, stop, you're trembling, you're going to give yourself a fit."
"It was a very big knife," Sherlock said in a very small voice.
"I'm perfectly fine."
"Yes, yes of course. You have some breakfast; I'll get rid of the rest of the body."
"Are you alright now Sherlock?"
"Yes, you're not allowed to ever be hurt again John. It alarmed me more than I anticipated."
John sighed, his hand against Sherlock's shoulders, "I can't promise I won't be, things happen, that's just life. But you have to know I'll never leave you."
Sherlock trembled and he looks so sad.
There were a few more years, half a decade more in the streets of London, a few criminals that disappear mysteriously when they draw a gun on Sherlock with a little too much intent. After folders Mycroft delivered with names in them with the assurance that they all belonged to Not Very Nice people. And if a few mysterious heart attacks work for the good of the British nation, who was to complain? It was finally decided by all parties that the best thing to do is go to the country. People would start to notice soon that Sherlock wasn't aging, wasn't changing. At first he traveled with John to places where no one knew him and worked cases there, but that got to be too much. Sometimes Sherlock would do experiments on John (sheep, rabbits, cats, chickens, small children and cows were afraid of John; horses, snakes, spiders, hunting dogs, bees and the injured hawk Sherlock found were not afraid of John; John wasn't sure that insects could be tested for fear but he sat patiently through all tests, the same way he patiently fetched tea and patiently insisted that Sherlock still needed sleep). The rest of their time was spent out playing with bees.
From time to time Mycroft would send John another list of names. John thought of Sherlock and never asked who the people were. Mycroft visited them too sometimes, he had lost some of his height and a lot of his hair; he was elegant and authoritative as ever. A regent in all but title, calmly engineering foreign policy, domestic government and the public lives of King William's children as well as no doubt losing sleep over That Mess In Africa again. He's growing whiter by the year, skin going paler, and eventually papery, the whiteness in his hair was attacking the darker strands first, turning him increasingly ginger, which Sherlock teased him about now, rather than his weight. The aging really started on the cusp of what was promising to be World War III but ended up merely blooming into a swath of warmongering across Asia and a nasty cold that never reached as far as France and probably wasn't a biological weapon. The deaths due to heart problems of several leaders had nothing to do with anything.
The inescapable truth was Mycroft was growing older. His job wasn't helping. While Mycroft bent the world to his will, tying everything together with little knots of information his little brother still appeared thirty three years old and looked mournfully at the shoulders that once carried him slowly slope with care and the iron grip of time pressing down on him. When he came to visit Mycroft put his long fingered hand on John's graying head and smiled at him with something like real affection. "Take care of Sherlock."
"Always," John replied fervently. "Always."
Sherlock put few wide streaks of white in his hair, so there was only a little black left, for the funeral and never not too close to anyone, hiding behind his collar and sloping himself so he appears to be aging. Watching Sherlock bent over and creaking, John could almost imagine he was in his very early seventies, Sherlock always was a good actor. They had planned, for Sherlock a glorious fake death that everyone thought was real (as opposed to his real death that everyone thought was fake) on the ride there to keep Sherlock's mind off things. The brothers had become very close in later life. John looked at the painted on age spots on Sherlock's hands and was sorry for him. It was a very grand funeral, several PMs speak and Antigone, who was once Anthea, stared hard at the two of them for half of the ceremony. They had gone to Lestrade's funeral as well, watching his son, who looked like he could be his father's twin stand and very carefully give his speech. Laying each word out like pebbles on a beach.
"I wish you hadn't made me see this," Sherlock had hissed in his ear, voice odd from the funny teeth prosthetics he was wearing to change the shape of his face.
"You would have anyway," John whispered back.
"But not like this."
The whole world was aging around Sherlock who flew to Paris and Houston and Rio and did what he loved but could never stay away for very long. John worried terribly, and so did Sherlock.
Sherlock didn't leave their little cottage anymore, he sat in the living room as regaled John with the details of his experiments laid out on the workbench facing the garden with its for cheerful beehives, The rows of honey jars turned the window seal golden in the morning sun and Sherlock had a habit of randomly taking a jar and sticking his finger in to suck up the honey. He was young and healthy, his hearts beating strong, he could stand the sugar.
He brought John his tea, even when John insisted he could do it himself and helped him out of bed some mornings when he was very stiff. John hobbled around the house, a very small man with a cane with springy white hair and very large glasses he often forgot on the top of his head. Sherlock always patiently reminded him. His mind was still sharp though, sharper than a tack and he could still move faster than one would assume, Slipping in and out of the shadows so he didn't have to take the long steps down the hall when his leg was acting up. He still got out in the garden, hands down in the dirt, giggling his sweet little giggle while Sherlock swanned around reading posts from his forum.
It was like John knew he was dying when the time came. He hunted every night, and during the day too, a small crumpled mousy figure in his armchair. Snoring soft old man's snores while his mind zipped as quick as a woodchipper. He hunted a glut, like he was saving up for the winter. Saving up Sherlock. He thought that Sherlock would like for him to leave it be, but he couldn't.
Sherlock was very kind and held John's small wrinkled hand in his long fingered one as John died. Staring quietly down as him, so young, crying soft tears like bits of glass or ice, like a child's tears, clean and clear.
He didn't know what to say to Sherlock. What would be suitable, he was just a dried out old hunting dog, gone soft around the edges. He was John's best friend, John wanted to be remembered well.
Sherlock long fingers stroked slowly over his forehead, "You've done well John. You need to rest now. You need to sleep and stop dreaming."
"Will you be alright Sherlock?"
Sherlock bowed his head against the duvet, hiding his face. "Go, just go John. Stop worrying, just be at peace."
His old soft hands, large and calloused for guns and garden shears stroked gently over Sherlock's thick soft hair. "Don't cry, please don't cry."
"You're my best friend John. I never had a friend before you." His voice is so small it could fit in the smallest dip of the bowl John's cupped palm. A tiny pearl in the cup of his old and calloused hand.
Sherlock buried him in the back garden, beside the bees.
He sat, leaned against a hive and was very quiet.