"You bastard," growled John, beside himself with rage.
"You don't understand!" cried Harry, lifting the bottle to his lips.
John swiped the bottle aside and it crashed against the kitchen wall, smashing to pieces, the whisky dripping down the wall in lines. Harry's hands drifted in mid-air as if he were still holding the bottle, had not quite realised it was gone, as John yelled, "You fucking stole her from me, Harry, you stole my fiancée and married her, and what, now she's just not what you wanted after all? So you're just going to throw her aside?"
"It's not…." Harry stopped, waving his hands helplessly, "It's not just her, John."
"What?" snarled John, "What do you mean?"
Harry's shoulders were hunched, defeated, "I don't want any of them."
"You bastard, what do you mean? Have there been more women? Did you cheat on her as well?"
"No… I don't mean… Jeez, John, I'm so sorry."
"Sorry? Sorry? Damn it Harry, you know what you did to me. To us. To her!"
"I know, I just didn't understand… she was the only one I ever felt anything for. You had others…"
"I was engaged to Clara, Harry!"
"But she was the only one I ever felt anything for! You had a string of women before her!"
"Not like her. Not that…." John was going to say 'good' but the word stuck in his throat. Clara was brilliant, beautiful, the love of his life… until she dumped him for Harry. Which was not 'good.'
"I tried, I really tried…." moaned Harry, "You have no idea how hard I tried."
"Yes I do," spat John, "Not hard enough. It's as simple as that, Harry."
"What? What do you want me to say, Harry?"
"You could have her back. I think she still loves you, you know…"
John hit Harry.
John approached the coffee shop, walking slowly. Clara was waiting outside, tall, raven haired, and beautiful. Every man that walked past slowed and looked, but she didn't see them.
She turned and saw him coming, and smiled weakly.
"Hello John," she said, and his heart hammered against his ribs.
"Hi," he muttered, opting to wave an arm out in invitation towards the interior of the shop and stand back a little, pointedly not inviting a hug.
She turned and walked into the coffee shop, and John closed his eyes so that he didn't see the grace of her walk. 'She still walks like a thoroughbred' he thought, looking up to the glossy black curls, 'and I'm still smitten by her, after all she did to me.'
She sat and the waiter pounced. She ordered black coffee, two sugars, and waited for John to order. The waiter tried batting his eyelids, but Clara was looking at John and didn't notice.
When their coffees arrived John looked at her expectantly, "Well? You wanted to see me?"
"John," she sighed, looking at him, looking a little lost and nostalgic.
He thought frantically to himself, 'don't fall, don't fall, don't let her get under your skin' but he knew she would always be there, always had been.
He shook his head, "You know I can't take you back."
"I know," she hung her head, looking at him from under the dark curls, "I know you can't do that."
"Then what did you want to see me about?"
John scowled, "Don't give me the 'he's your brother' talk, please."
"Well, the thing is, John, he won't be for long."
John's eyes widened and he finally looked up into the crystal grey eyes, "What?" His heart was thumping in his chest, "He's not-"
"He's not dying or anything, no, no, that's not what I meant," she smiled reassuringly.
"Well, what the hell did you mean?"
She looked at him appraisingly and said, "Remember that yelling match that you and Harry had when he took me to Spain?"
"Yes," the reply was terse.
"Well, do you remember him saying then that I was the only woman he'd ever felt attracted to?"
"Of course I do, Clara, how could I forget?"
"Well, John, it seems that that attraction to me even, was destined not to last."
"Yes, he explained that to me. So, here we are," stated John icily, "That still doesn't explain why you wanted to see me."
"He doesn't like women, John."
John sat back and stared at Clara, stupefied.
He stood up without a word, and left the café, and found himself heading for the nearest Army recruitment centre.
His head was swimming. Clara, beautiful, brilliant Clara, and Harry. The great tragedy in John's life. And now to find out that it shouldn't have happened at all. John's head was fuzzy, and he started to hate Harry a little bit. Quite a lot, actually.
It was only weeks later, when Harry asked to see John before he shipped out, and turned up in a dress, that John realised how deeply disturbed he was by his brother's behaviour. And actually, how kind of sweet and small and blonde and helpless Harry looked… why hadn't John ever noticed that?
Harry had his therapist with him, a strange woman with big hands, and John realised half-way through the conversation that she was trying to tell him that Harry was actually going a bit further than 'gay'… Harry was going to be living as a woman from now on, and would like to be called Harriet.
John rubbed his eyes and realised two things… one, Harry was a helluva lot more confused over his (or her) sexuality than John had ever been. Two, Harry was probably going to do a much better job of being female than his therapist. Harry was quite pretty in the dress and had much smaller hands.
John hugged Harry awkwardly at the end of the conversation. It was the most awkward hug John had ever had in his life…. hugging his brother in a dress. It was made even more surreal when Harry's five-o'clock shadow scratched across John's cheek. John made a quick escape, and sat sobbing in the taxi as he drove away.
Afghanistan was so much easier.
But one of his first visitors in the hospital when he came back from the war was Harriet. She was really pretty, now, with soft skin and no stubble… and breasts (and didn't that give John an added dimension to his nightmares for a few weeks!) and a higher, softer voice.
Trouble was, they had little in common except Clara, and that was an impossible subject. The conversation died, and John begged exhaustion. Harriet stood up to leave, but then impulsively shoved her mobile phone into John's hand as she left.
It wasn't until he noticed the engraving on the back that he wondered why Harry hadn't wanted to keep it. Apparently Clara and Harry were on quite good terms still. How that worked, John did not even want to begin to think.
No wonder poor Harry drinks, thought John.
Harry would text John pretty often, not expecting him to forgive her or reply. John texted back occasionally, and eventually came to accept Harry's decision, if not forgive him… her, over the thing with Clara. He kept the phone, though.
And a few months later, when Sherlock Holmes called Harry his brother, John found himself telling Sherlock, "Harry… " he hesitated, tossing around several explanations in his head, then settled for, "..is short for Harriet."
After all, though John, it must have taken a lot of courage for Harry to do what he… she… had done. The least John could do as her brother was to support her choice. John did not examine his own reasoning too closely, because every time he did, he felt his eyes drawn inexplicably, but inexorably, to Sherlock Holmes.
Who reminded John uncannily of Clara.
And didn't that mess with John's head.