Notes: So, I wrote two mirror-image stories, "Heritage Trust" and "Trust Heritage" that gave John a wealthy upbringing but where, in one, his father disowned him and, in the other, he did not. In both, John still made his own way, still joined the army, was shot … all the rest of the show's canon that made him Sherlock's flatmate.
Well, here's yet another go at this "What If" kind of AU. What if all that were still true—the upbringing, the army, the rest—but what if one thing were different? What if John's father had been the Earl's older son, rather than the younger one?
"I'll see you Sunday, Father. You just worry about getting Grandfather to a doctor he'll actually listen to. Maybe he'll believe it if someone else scolds him about his cholesterol."
There was a laugh at the other end of the line, a few more exchanges, and then John ended the call and stuffed the phone back in his pocket, turning toward the kitchen. "Tea?"
"You were talking to your father," Sherlock said.
"You really are a brilliant detective, aren't you?" John asked, teasing. "What gave it away? My saying 'father'?"
Sherlock gave a small smile. "No, it's the way your face relaxes—no-one else you speak with elicits quite that response from you. Certainly not Harry. You're fond of him."
"Well, of course I am. He's my father," John said.
"That doesn't always follow, John. I had a father of my own, you know, and fond is not a word I would ever have used to describe our relationship."
John gave a nod as he rooted through the cabinets for the tea things. "True. We have a better relationship than most, even if we don't understand each other very well."
"I'll have to meet him some day," Sherlock said.
John laughed, thinking about his family and all the things Sherlock didn't know about them—about him. "That will be an interesting day."
They were just finishing their meal at Angelo's when his phone rang. John glanced at Sherlock who was riveted by something outside the window. Shrugging, he pulled it out to look at the screen. It wasn't a number he recognized, though, so he denied the call. They would leave a message if it was important.
It rang again as he was pulling on his coat, but by the time he'd maneuvered his arms through the sleeves and dug the phone back out from under the gloves, the call was gone.
He met Sherlock's eyes and shrugged. "I'm awfully popular all of a sudden."
Stepping outside, they turned and started walking home, making fast work of it in the steady drizzle.
They were just about to turn onto Baker Street when they saw the blue flashing lights burning through the fog and both John and Sherlock's phones rang. "Oh, Christ," said John, breaking into a run.
"John! Thank God," Greg greeted them moments later.
"Mrs Hudson? Is she…?"
"She's fine," he hastily reassured them. "But I'm afraid it's bad news, John."
His phone rang again, vibrating against his hip, and John felt a chill run up his spine. He reached for it as he said, "Tell me."
Greg's eyes were warm as he said, "Car accident. A truck slid through a red light and blindsided the car. It looks like a combination of wet road and bad brakes, but … the Earl of Undershaw was killed instantly. You're listed as the emergency contact, and you know—these days, anytime your name comes up in the system, it lands on my desk."
John nodded numbly, and glanced down at the caller ID, almost fumbling the phone as he hurried to get it to his ear. "Father? What happened? Are you all right?"
"No, I'm sorry this is St Marys Hospital. You're listed as Jonathan Brandon's emergency contact?""
The ice in his stomach grew huge, jagged edges. "Christ, yes. How is he?"
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "You might want to get here as quickly as possible."
"Right." He said as the hand holding the phone went limp. His friends were staring at him with concern and he could only imagine what his face looked like.
He could feel Sherlock's steady presence behind him, and he didn't even protest as John asked, "How quickly can you get me there, Greg?" and climbed into the back of the police car.
"Are you all right?" Sherlock asked him as Greg, lights flashing, steered around a Volkswagen.
John could feel his friend's concern but was too busy feeling overwhelmed to do more than nod. Of course he was all right. His grandfather was dead and his father apparently dying. Why wouldn't he be fine? Especially considering…
He could almost feel the weight of generations of responsibility settling on his shoulders as the car neared the hospital, and wasn't sure how he was going to do this. He was no stranger to duty, but … he hadn't expected this, not for years yet.
"Sherlock, I need to tell you…" His voice trailed off. "Never mind."
How was he supposed to explain this? His phone was buzzing, ringing away in his pocket again. He reached down and stared at the screen for a moment. He sent a single text message, and then turned it off, staring out the window, trying to think, trying to absorb the fact that everything had just changed, and he didn't know how he was going to cope.
He spared a thought to wonder how much Mycroft knew about his family.
He wondered if he knew that, with the death of his grandfather and (oh, god) his father, John Hamish Watson Brandon was the new hereditary Earl of Undershaw.
How on earth was he going to tell Sherlock?
Lestrade let them off, barely coming to a halt by the A&E doors before John was running, Sherlock right behind him.
He had never seen John so distraught before, though he supposed that was to be expected … this was obviously devastating news. He wondered how well John knew the Earl. He had barely been able to contain his surprise earlier at learning that John was his emergency contact. It seemed so unlikely. Judging by the other phone call, though, his father had apparently been with him in the car. The driver, maybe?
Considering John's lack of support when he'd come home from Afghanistan, his family was a mystery to Sherlock—did they get along, or didn't they? It couldn't be both, could it, even if he did seem fond of his father? Sherlock didn't entirely understand the dynamics in John's family. He rarely saw them, but talked on the phone with his father fairly regularly. He knew John had been planning to see them this weekend and had been looking forward to it.
John was leaning on the desk at the nurse's station now, shoulders tight and looking tense as a coiled spring. Sherlock watched as he was pointed down the hallway and blinked as, without a backward glance, John disappeared down the hall.
Sherlock wavered … should he follow him? Wasn't it good to lend moral support during situations like these? Or was it better to stand back and give him some space?
While he hesitated, Lestrade hurried in. "Where's John?"
"Down that way. I don't know…"
Lestrade gave him a sharp glance and then walked over to the nurse's station. "My friend John Watson just came in, two minutes ago, looking for his father. Would you tell me where he's gone, please?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I can't give out that kind of information…"
Lestrade held up his badge. "I'm not going to interfere. I just need to know where he is."
"Mr Brandon is in room 214, though I'm afraid it doesn't look good," she said.
Sherlock blinked. Brandon? She meant Watson, surely? But there was no time to ask as he and Lestrade hurried down the same hallway John had dashed down earlier.
They paused outside 214—more a cubby than a room. It was obviously meant to be a temporary stop rather than a room for a long-term stay. John was at the bedside of a man who looked just like he was going to in another thirty years. It was obviously his father.
And judging by the look on John's face, he was dying. Sherlock could imagine nothing less that would have put that look of abandonment on the face of his ex-war zone army doctor friend. John had seen countless people die and was the epitome of stoicism at crime scenes or when providing aid to the most horrific injuries.
Nothing but losing a beloved parent could make his face look like that.
Sherlock blinked, unsure what to do. He glanced at Lestrade who seemed reluctant to enter the room and break whatever communion was occurring between John and the unconscious man in the bed.
After a few moments, though, John looked up, face calm again but with wounded eyes. "It's not the way I would have wanted you to meet, but … come in." His eyes were back on the man's face as he spoke, as if he couldn't bear to look away. His voice was thick as he said, "Father, this is my flatmate and best friend, Sherlock Holmes, and my good friend Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade. Sherlock, Greg—this is my father, Jonathan Brandon." He paused to swallow. "Earl of Undershaw."
John just nodded, eyes bright. "Yes. He inherited the title when my grandfather died in the car crash … an hour ago, or whenever that was. He won't hold the title for long, but for now, it's his."
He watched his father's still face for a long moment.
"And probably before morning, the title will be mine."