The first visit from Mycroft is very unexpected and entirely unwelcome. He's not surprised that Mycroft knows his new address. He's not surprised that Mycroft managed to get into his flat without alarming the neighbours. He wouldn't be surprised if the entire place is bugged.
After all, this is Mycroft Holmes. The man is the British Government and, as Sherlock once said, the most dangerous man John has ever met.
He certainly isn't surprised to find Mycroft sitting comfortably in the armchair, a cup of tea in hand (and John is certain that he doesn't have nice china like that and for a second is bemused at the idea that Mycroft brought his own teacup for the visit) and reading the book John had attempted to concentrate on earlier. It is so calm and domestic that it makes it even more dramatic. Mycroft Holmes had always loved to be dramatic but it still catches John off guard.
Mycroft and Sherlock are different in many ways, but similar in so many others.
John stares at him blankly for a full minute, unable to bring himself to feel the level of anger he probably should at the man's intrusion, before striding into the tiny kitchenette to make himself a cup of tea. Of course Mycroft didn't make John any tea when he helped himself. Bastard.
"You don't seem frightened," Mycroft says from the doorway.
John flinches; he hadn't even heard the other man move. Mycroft pushes on, insistent as always.
"You come home to find someone has broken into your flat but you don't seem frightened."
"You don't frighten me."
"No, I don't, do I?" Mycroft seems intrigued by this, studying John with a cool expression. "I never have, even after you found out who I am."
"Maybe you're not as intimidating as you think you are," John suggests harshly.
"Maybe you're not as average as some would presume," the oldest Holmes brother retorts calmly.
John snorts at this, filling a mug with boiling water. "Right."
"A doctor and a soldier, wounded at war and sent home to London where he befriends an odd and frankly infuriating man. He solves crimes with him, risking his life on a regular basis without seeming to care about it." Mycroft murmurs. "No, you're hardly average."
John turns on him, his expression hard. "Why are you here, Mycroft?"
"To see how you are."
John laughs at this, but the sound is a warning more than anything. "Why would you care?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"You didn't seem to care about the welfare of your own brother when you sold him out to Moriarty," John states coldly, seething betrayal lurking behind every word. "So why take time out of what I'm sure is a busy schedule for the British government to check on me?"
He searches for any sign of guilt, remorse, sorrow, anything, but the taller man merely gazes back, his face vaguely pleasant but distant. He knows Mycroft isn't simply hiding the emotion. It's just not there.
The Iceman indeed.
"I made a promise," Mycroft finally answers.
John doesn't expect him to elaborate and isn't surprised when he doesn't. He grabs milk from the fridge, waiting for Mycroft to leave. He doesn't want him in his flat. He doesn't want another area of his life invaded by this arsehole.
"You've relapsed," Mycroft states, studying him. "The limp is back and your left hand is trembling. I'm willing to bet that the nightmares have also returned."
"So?" John snarls, clenching his left hand.
"I didn't think my brother's death would affect you so much."
John's incredulous. For a long moment he can't think, can't react, only stare at the other man as his mind tries to comprehend that statement. Finally, he turns his back, shaking his head.
"At least someone is affected by his death, Iceman."
Mycroft doesn't reply. But he lingers and John hates it.
"Get out of my flat, Mycroft."
To his surprise, Mycroft obliges without comment.
After that, Mycroft visits become frequent but difficult to predict. They're all unexpected but he doesn't give up. Sometimes he doesn't speak, merely acts as company on John's loneliest days. Other times he pushes John into idle conversation. They don't speak about Sherlock or John's welfare anymore. He knows Mycroft is trying to help and he can't understand why. Guilt? He's not sure. He knows if Sherlock was around he'd deduce Mycroft's motives in an instant and the thought of his dead best friend makes his heart ache.
On the really shit days Mycroft is there. Those are the only times John can predict Mycroft's visits. He never says or does much but he is there to keep him safe, and that is enough.
Sometimes Mycroft doesn't visit the flat. Sometimes he turns up at the clinic or even on the street when John is out for a walk or shopping. Occasionally a sleek black car is waiting for him. The places are always different and random. A museum, an antiquated tea shop, a beautiful manor, gardens, on the roof of a tall, gleaming building, once even a zoo. They're all pleasant places but John doesn't understand why Mycroft meets him at a different place all the time. Sherlock isn't around to deceive. Maybe Mycroft is trying to distract him. Offer him something other than the miserable days he's been struggling through.
Maybe there is a heart in that iceman after all.
After a while the visits aren't really unexpected anymore. They can never be predicted but they're not surprising. He knows Mycroft isn't going to give up or tire of whatever it is he's doing.
After a while he comes to accept the visits. He smiles slightly when he sees the familiar man waiting for him, wordlessly makes tea and they either talk or John reads while Mycroft works. It is comforting, a constant in his mind numbing boredom, something to look forward to even if it isn't quite what he wants.
Eventually, John comes to enjoy the visits.
He's certain he hates Mycroft. He knows for sure he hasn't forgiven the man for his part in Sherlock's fall and he never can forgive him for it. But it is a step forward on both sides.
One visit came quite unexpectedly at five in the morning. Maybe Mycroft is trying to be a tosser or maybe he couldn't sleep and sought out the doctor. But John isn't asleep either. He doesn't want to sleep – knows that it would be a Bad Night – so he stays up working.
He has a shower and when he emerges Mycroft is sat in his chair, reading the medical research he's been doing with interest. At some point John was promoted, took over the medical clinic, earned more money. And then he suddenly had his own lab for his research. At first he was angry, then embarrassed, and then he point blank refused to accept the charity, his pride forcing him out of it. Mycroft simply looked at him and John was reminded that for someone as powerful as Holmes, the acts of 'charity' (and John isn't certain it is charity, perhaps just boredom on the other man's part) are just another flick of his fingers at the right people.
He's dressed in pyjama bottoms, his torso bare. He pauses slightly when he sees the other man in the dim light before throwing the towel he'd been using to dry his hair onto the sofa.
"Tea?" he asks, but doesn't wait for the answer he already knows.
He's waiting for the kettle to boil when Mycroft appears in the doorway, gazing at him with something like curiosity in his eyes.
John looks at him in confusion before realising Mycroft's gaze is fixed on his scar. Coldness settles in his stomach and he turns away. He hates the scar, what it represented: vulnerability. Sherlock was the only other person (aside from one night stands) to see it. It's too personal and he doesn't want someone like Mycroft the iceman studying it.
"Show me," Mycroft repeats, giving him an exasperated look.
It reminds him so much of their first meeting when Mycroft demanded to see his hand that John almost laughs. He refuses the urge, instead glaring back at the other man. Mycroft looks slightly abashed, a new and bewildering concept to John.
"May I see it?" Mycroft amends.
John restrains a smile that he managed to make the great Mycroft Holmes be polite and ask rather than demand for something and nods, turning to face the other man and relaxing. Mycroft gazes at the scar for a moment before lifting his hand to touch it.
John doesn't move, not seeming to care about it being touched, and Mycroft smiles. The first time they'd met when he'd demanded to see John's hand the soldier had resisted. Trust issues, of course; he didn't like to be touched. But now he seems perfectly fine with the concept of Mycroft touching him, even the scar. Is it a sign that he trusts Mycroft or possibly that he no longer had trust problems?
Mycroft gently probes the shiny, twisted tissue of John's scar, intrigue clear on his face. John waits patiently for the other man to be content with his examination. It always felt unpleasant to have his scar touched – even when it was his own fingers touching it – but not intolerable. He's more bothered by the coldness of the kitchen.
"I'm sure you've seen war wounds before," John drawls, bemused by Mycroft's obvious curiosity.
Mycroft looks up then, his hand retreating from the scar. "You got this fighting and protecting your country, John."
There is something like respect in his eyes that surprises John. He always saw Mycroft as condescending and, frankly, a prick. Respect wasn't something he expected to find in the other man, especially towards someone like him.
"I've always respected you, Doctor Watson," Mycroft announces as if reading his thoughts. "You're a doctor and a soldier. You saved the lives of many soldiers and you did your part for this country. Aside from that, you weren't frightened of me. Very few things frighten you, in fact. You always stood by my brother, even when everyone else doubted him. I can admire you for that." A small smile touches his lips. "You're either incredible brave or incredibly stupid."
"I'd venture brave," John murmurs. "Sherlock would argue stupid."
"I say both."
They gaze at each for a long moment and John feels grudging respect towards the other man. He won't ever forgive him but he doesn't think he hates him anymore. It isn't friendship, either, definitely not. But it is something. It's progress.
So when John's in the hospital after being almost blown up the same day Sherlock returns from the dead, so to speak, it is no surprise to Mycroft that it is his name the doctor murmurs as he tosses and turns, clearly in pain even in his sleep.
He hasn't said Sherlock's name in a long time, not even during his dreams. He still had nightmares but they were becoming more and more sporadic. And occasionally, very rarely, it was the older brother's name that was hissed, not the flatmate's.
Sherlock's gaze snaps up to Mycroft, surprise and a hint of betrayal flashing across his features. He's only been back in England for twenty four hours. He hasn't spoken to Mycroft. He didn't keep in contact during the years he was gone, either; too busy and Mycroft was too unimportant. He checked in on John through Molly. He had no idea what had occurred between Mycroft and John but it was clearly significant. After all, it was Mycroft's name John said, not his. And Mycroft was actually here, at the hospital, checking on John.
"You asked me – made me promise, in fact – that I would do everything in my power to keep John alive during your absence." Mycroft's voice is calm, pleasant even, as he answers the burning question in Sherlock's eyes.
"And you've done a remarkable job," Sherlock's eyes narrow. "What, you decided to befriend him? Just how often have you been checking in on him?"
Mycroft is silent but that is answer enough. Sherlock laughs harshly.
"I die and you befriend him," Sherlock shakes his head, looking pitying. "Are you so desperate for company that you would delude yourself into believing the two of you friends?"
Mycroft knows it is true. He has friends but John has made an impact in his life few people have managed before. But though John tolerated him, accepted him, enjoyed his company, he hadn't forgiven Mycroft and that would prevent them from truly being friends.
"Are you so lonely that you would steal my friend the moment I'm out of the way?"
Mycroft somewhat understands where Sherlock is coming from. He'd had difficulty forming attachment to people all his life. He neglected his own family, not out of vindictiveness but out of incomprehension of how to trust people. He didn't do sentiment. John was his first and only real friend. The fact that John had swept into his life so suddenly and Sherlock could trust him, could be friends with him so quickly had embedded itself in Sherlock's mind.
There was one single fact brandished in Sherlock's mind forever, and it was a fact definitely not to be meddled with: John Watson was his friend.
And Mycroft had meddled.
But he'd be damned if he'd cater to Sherlock's childish views on sentiment.
"You're not a child, Sherlock, so stop pouting like one. Sulking won't help matters." Mycroft's angry and he shows it, towering over his younger brother and folding his arms. "Yes, John is your friend. But that doesn't make him yours entirely.
"You asked me to check in on him, to take care of him. I did exactly that. He was broken, he still is, so I tried to help him. He hasn't forgiven me and I doubt he particularly likes me, but you can stop sulking right now. Any anger you may feel towards me, any betrayal or envy, you can get over it, understood? Because no matter what you think of me, the fact of the matter remains: I was there for him when you weren't."
Sherlock opens his mouth to protest, his eyes like flints of ice, but Mycroft silences him with a stern look.
"You didn't want John to know the truth. You didn't want to put his life in danger by letting him know you were alive. I respected that decision, Sherlock, and I stuck to it despite how difficult it was sometimes. But John needed someone – not a friend, but someone – and I was there. I have not stolen him. He wasn't something to steal." He gazes down at the youngest Holmes, letting his words sink in. "You're my baby brother, but do try to act like an adult."
Sherlock glares at him balefully but doesn't argue. Mycroft knows that, though his brother will never admit it and certainly not to him, his words have hit home. He gives Sherlock another firm look and returns to his seat, retrieving his phone from his pocket.
"When he wakes up," he asks after a moment. "Will you be here?"
"I was on my way to Baker Street when Molly informed me about the explosion," Sherlock replies quietly. "Granted, I'd hoped to deal with this under better circumstances, but I'd rather John find out now."
"And what about Jim Moriarty's network?"
Sherlock's gaze is steady on him, almost challenging him as he answers, "I took care of them."
"Clearly not all of them," Mycroft points out calmly. "Otherwise Doctor Watson wouldn't be in a hospital bed."
A muscle twitches in Sherlock's jaw but he works to control his anger. "One escaped, I am aware of that now." At Mycroft's look his expression hardens. "They've already targeted John. They know I am alive. I slipped up at some point and now someone knows. My return will not put John in any further risk. In fact, my presence will lessen the danger."
"Because you can protect him."
Sherlock leans forward. "So can you."
The brief moment of an almost-truce between the brothers in interrupted by a low groan from the bed. They both stand, cautiously watching as John stirs, roused from his unconscious state.
His eyelids flicker and then blue eyes are settled groggily on Mycroft. Surprise flashes across John's face.
"Iceman, you're here," he croaks. "Slow day at the office?"
Mycroft doesn't reply. How does he inform John that he is here out of concern? It is a somewhat foreign emotion when applied to someone other than his immediate family but it is there nonetheless.
John's gaze flickers to Sherlock who tenses, waiting for the reaction. Mycroft is certain Sherlock has calculated all the various possible responses from the doctor and is prepared for each one. But when John simply stares at him for a long moment before sighing, he sees surprise in Sherlock's eyes. Clearly, this was unexpected for the former consulting detective.
"What happened?" John asks, shutting his eyes.
"There was a bomb in your flat timed to go off at seven o'clock precisely. Thankfully no one was inside when it did go off; apart from you, there were no other casualties." Mycroft pauses, shifting slightly. "You're incredibly lucky, Doctor Watson. Had you not deviated from your usual routine and gone straight home rather than buying some biscuits, you would have been blown up with the flat. As it was you were outside when the bomb went off."
"Yes," John was smiling slightly. "I was there for all of that, thank you, Mycroft. I meant what happened in regards to Sherlock being alive and stood right next to me?"
Mycroft eyes him speculatively. "I must say, you're taking this remarkably well."
John's eyes snap open and he shoves up slightly. "I've come within an inch of being blown to pieces. I'm trapped in a hospital bed so I can't punch him or hug him or anything like that. My lungs burn too much to shout and getting emotional will only make me feel worse right now. I can tell I've been out for a long time so fainting isn't an appealing idea right either. So what other way can I take this other than well?"
Silence follows his outburst before Mycroft clears his throat.
"You can still hug me, John," Sherlock points out. "I'm sure I can lower myself to your height."
"Piss off," John snaps. "I'd rather punch you, you complete arsehole."
Mycroft smiles slightly but Sherlock looks relieved. Clearly this is the kind of reaction he was anticipating.
"I know this is a shock, John, especially so soon after your flat being blown up. But I promise to tell you everything later."
John stares at him for a few minutes before shaking his head. "Get out."
"Go, Sherlock. I'll talk to you later."
Sherlock pauses before nodding. "Very well." He shoots Mycroft a pointed look before leaving, closing the door quietly behind him.
John is quiet for a while before asking, "What did the doctors say?"
"You're a doctor, John. What's your assessment?"
"Nothing is broken and I doubt anything has gone wrong internally, else I wouldn't be here right now, I'd be on an operating table. My knee is sprained – probably from hitting the pavement so hard – but everything else is just sore...bruises."
Mycroft nods, appreciative of John's good medical evaluation. He and Sherlock were alike in deducing, just in very different ways. John was a doctor and knew how to spot injuries, even ones from years ago, with one glance. Sherlock glanced at someone and could tell them their life story. They made a good crime solving pair.
"Yes, a sprained knee, a few nasty burns and cuts, some bruising, and it'll be a while until you can breathe without it hurting. Other than that, you're in good health, Doctor Watson."
John nods, but it is evident from his expression that his mind is already on something else.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Mycroft," he says slowly. "But iceman or not, surely you'd be more surprised than this by your brother's sudden return from the dead. Unless, of course, you knew all along that he was alive."
Mycroft had hoped for a little more time before John pieced it all together, but he'd once again underestimated the doctor.
"I'm sorry, John."
"Really?" John asks scornfully. "Do you even do remorse, Mycroft?" Before he can reply John pushes on. "All that time, Mycroft. Every single time you visited me and saw how bad it was but you still kept the secret from me. I thought we were friends."
"I thought we were," John seethes. "But of course you don't have friends. You just have minions and enemies."
"Was it all just further manipulation?" John demands.
"Bloody hell, I can't believe you and him actually worked together on hiding this. All this bloody time he's been alive. And you knew, you bastard."
"John!" Mycroft says sharply, finally gaining the doctor's attention. "You are my friend. That is the truth. I did not tell you because I knew it would hurt you."
"I can't tell you much. I'll leave Sherlock to explain everything to you. It's his place, not mine. But I will tell you this: Sherlock did it to keep you safe. And all the time he was away he was protecting you. He did not want you to know and I adhered to that decision, at first because he asked me to but soon due to loyalty to you."
"If I'd told you that Sherlock was alive somewhere and in danger trying to protect you, would you have accepted it and moved on?" Mycroft challenges.
John looks down, silent.
"Exactly, no. You would have gone after him and probably been killed before you even found him. I'm sorry, John, but in case you've failed to notice I've been trying to keep you alive and safe from the start. I knew telling you the truth would be putting you at risk and I couldn't allow that, so I kept Sherlock's secret."
John exhales sharply, closing his eyes. "Bloody hell, Mycroft. This is..."
"Yes," he smiles slightly. "I know."
"That is two things I can't forgive you for now," John warns. "And you can bet whatever obscene amount of money you earn that I'm furious with you. But I'm just about ready to kill Sherlock."
"Just...let him explain."
"I will," John promises. "But I doubt I'll forgive him for it."
"You will," Mycroft can't help the touch of sadness to his voice. John has always forgiven Sherlock and always will. But he can't forgive Mycroft.
"Hey," John suddenly looks at him, raising an eyebrow. "I'm your friend."
"I guess you're my friend too," John chuckles, looking puzzled by this. "You've been more of a friend to me than Sherlock has, since he was supposed to be dead and everything."
Mycroft smiles but doesn't say anything. John studies him for a moment.
"I'm your friend," he repeats. "It's odd. I never would have expected you to attach sentiment to anybody. I doubted you even knew what friendship is."
Ah, sentiment, Mycroft thinks. It all comes down to that in the end.
"My brother and I are alike in many ways, Doctor Watson, but we're also very different. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart."
"Presumably, you have one and he doesn't."
"We both know Sherlock has a heart. He just doesn't know how to use it properly. Sentiment is a foreign concept to him. But not to me. I protect what I can but when necessary, I know exactly how to use my heart."
John looks surprised by this but slowly nods, as if understanding what he means.
"If it all comes down to matters of the heart..." he trails off, considering his question before asking, "You once told me Sherlock used to want to be a pirate. What did you want to be?"
"Me?" Mycroft smiles, lightening the mood. "I wanted to be a king."
John laughs. "I'm not surprised."
"Get some rest, Doctor Watson. I'm sure Sherlock will be here to pester you soon." Mycroft stands.
"Mycroft?" John looks up at him, expression serious as he says, "Thank you."
"Not at all," Mycroft nods and retreats to the door, but pauses before saying, "Do keep an eye on my brother, Doctor Watson. I worry about him...constantly."
John grins, shaking his head as Mycroft leaves as dramatically as he normally arrives. Once he is alone again he slumps back down, still smiling. Keep an eye on Sherlock for him?