Twenty minutes later, the mess had been cleared away, a new tea set had appeared, and the party of friends had arranged itself in a semi-circle around Sherlock. Pompey had taken up vigil next to his master and sat beaming with pride, showing his appreciation by wagging his tail and gazing up dreamily at Sherlock.
John surveyed the small group: Mary had engaged both Lestrade and Mycroft in conversation, and Mrs Hudson was chatting with Molly, who had buttoned up her cardigan to hide her rumpled dress. Sherlock was lounging in his chair, one hand loosely on the nape of Pompey's neck; his gaze found John's eyes, and his lips quirked into a tiny smile. He looked tired and far too frail, John thought, but despite his obvious exhaustion, there was an air of contentment about him he had never before detected on his ever-restless flatmate. For a few precious moments, he seemed perfectly happy.
Nevertheless, John decided, it was time for bed. They hadn't reached the one hour limit he had promised himself yet, but the whole excitement around the dog easily made up for it.
"Okay, off to bed with you," he said to Sherlock, and got to his feet.
"Not yet," Sherlock said and looked to Mycroft.
His brother gave a world-weary sigh. "It seems my brother insists on some entertainment. Would you all please excuse me for a moment," he requested with the slightest bow, "I shall change into more suitable clothing." He strode out of the room, leaving Lestrade, Molly and Mrs Hudson puzzled.
"Um, he's going to, uh," John waved a hand in the air and didn't know what to say.
"Dance on the table," Sherlock added.
"What?" Three startled voiced echoed around him.
"Well, it's quite simple, actually," Sherlock stated drily. "A while ago, my brother asked me to acquire some secret data for him, a task he deemed quite difficult to fulfil; as an incentive, he promised me to dance on the table, should I succeed." He folded his hands in his lap, the perfect image of complacency.
"And you succeeded," Lestrade said, gaping.
"Of course I did," Sherlock retorted, with the smuggest smile on his face John had ever seen in his entire life.
"And he actually meant it?" Lestrade blinked. "Mycroft said he'd dance on the table and meant it?"
"Lucky he didn't say he'd go to the moon," John muttered, uncomfortable with the prospect of Mycroft doing something that had to be light years out of his comfort zone. John still could not imagine him swaying his hips to a disco beat. Come to think of it, he didn't even want to imagine it.
"Mycroft is going to dance for us?" Mrs Hudson exclaimed in surprise.
"On the table, yes," John confirmed with a sigh.
Lestrade's mouth fell open. "Bloody hell, and my phone's battery's dead – I'd love to film this!"
"Oh, I'm sure Mycroft will make a wonderful job of it," Mrs Hudson declared.
"Please, guys," John interjected with a pained grimace. "No filming, no pictures, no gossiping. Remember, we're talking about the British government, and that deserves some dignity."
Sherlock snorted. "Calm down, John."
"Yeah, well, it's just-" John broke off when the door opened and four footmen entered, carrying a heavy oak table between them that might easily have dated back to Tudor times. They deposited it in front of the guests, placed a footstool next to it, and stepped back. After them, the butler entered and approached the table. A moment later, two footmen followed, each handing a sword to the butler. The man placed the weapons carefully on the table, forming a cross. The servants then lined up behind the table, standing to attention.
John swallowed and couldn't help but think of an execution. The only thing missing was the block. He shot a glance at Sherlock, but he was watching the whole scene with detached interest, a smirk on his face.
"Sherlock," John said warningly, "I don't think-"
A drum beat echoed from the hall, followed by the low whine of a bagpipe getting ready to play.
"What the bloody …" John trailed off, mouth agape.
All heads turned towards the door, and in marched a Scottish drummer, followed by a piper, both in full traditional garb, as if straight from the Highland games. Behind them, walking with measured strides, came Mycroft, dressed in kilt, doublet, and bonnet, ghillies on his feet.
"Jesus," John muttered and looked at Lestrade, whose mouth was hanging open, too. Molly, Mary and Mrs Hudson were leaning together, whispering excitedly.
Both the piper and the drummer stopped a few feet away, but Mycroft walked on, stepped onto the table, took up position, put his heels together and gave the typical stiff-backed bow.
And then the dance began. John could only sit and stare in wonder when he realised that Mycroft wasn't just dutifully performing a century-old tradition, but that he was a master at it: his leaps were surprisingly high, legs perfectly straight, toes pointed, back rigid, head held high, arms never wavering; he seemed to spend more time in the air than on the ground, and his feet never touched the swords.
Towards the end, the music sped up, and the intricate footwork became so fast, it was difficult to follow with the eye. The dance ended with a final jump and another stiff-backed bow.
Mrs Hudson was the first to break the spell. "Lovely, Mycroft!" she exclaimed, clapping wildly. "I didn't know you had Scottish ancestors!"
The others joined her applause, Molly and Mary cheering loudly.
Mycroft blinked in surprise, then gave another bow and stepped off the table. He was bright red and panting, but the glow on his face did not come from exertion alone.
Sherlock grinned openly at his brother. "You might consider taking it up again – would spare you the diet." He raised an eyebrow.
"I will think about it," Mycroft conceded, and accepted a towel handed to him by the butler. "If you'll excuse me again," he addressed the still cheering group, "I'll change my attire if you don't mind." He strode out of the room, and John could have sworn his back was even straighter than before.
"Sherlock," John turned to his friend. "What was that all about?"
Sherlock looked at him innocently. "My brother fulfilled his promise, I told you."
"You made him gleam with pride," John protested. "You never intended to humiliate him. You knew he'd enjoy it."
"If you say so." Sherlock just smiled vaguely.
"Oh, don't be so enigmatic," John snorted.
"I'm not being enigmatic," Sherlock stated. "Mycroft learned the traditional dances from an early age on and even competed quite successfully."
"What made him stop?" John asked.
"Well, I think he just grew out of it," Sherlock said. "Literally."
John frowned. "When he became overweight?"
Sherlock didn't answer. John pursed his lips. "Well, he's not overweight anymore."
"Indeed," Sherlock drawled.
John suddenly noticed Molly and Lestrade giggling wildly. "What are you two on about?"
They instantly looked guilty.
"Nothing nasty," Mary patted his arm. "They've just won the bet."
"Bet? What bet?" John looked confused, but did not receive an answer.
"It's obvious, John," Sherlock said straight-faced. "The colour of his underwear."
"What?" John was at a loss.
"They had a bet running on what the colour of his underwear would be. Under the kilt, John, do keep up."
"Oh." John looked around, frowning. "What was it?"
"You didn't notice?" Molly grinned.
"Uh … no. I was focusing on the dance, for God's sake!" When the girls just giggled, he looked at Sherlock, seeking help.
"Same pattern as the kilt," Sherlock smirked. "Perfection in every detail."
"Okay." John blinked. "What about-" he turned to Sherlock. "If your brother learnt to dance – what about you? Did you learn it, too?"
Sherlock's face was an unreadable mask. "I will leave that as a challenge for your deductive skills."
"Oh come on!" John complained.
Sherlock struggled to sit up, suddenly looking completely drained. "John, I'm tired."
"Yeah, Oh God, yeah, I'm sorry," John blurted and jumped up. "Off to bed with you." He stopped for a second. "Though I'm perfectly aware that you're just trying to avoid answering my question."
Sherlock just smiled innocently.
"Okay, here we go," John pulled the blanket over Sherlock and took back the glass of water he had made him drink. Sherlock looked a lot better in the soft light of the bedside lamp, he thought, and he was still radiating with a kind of half-suppressed joy John had never seen on him.
"Right. I just hope Pompey behaves and stays out of bed." He gave the dog a stern look, but Pompey just blinked innocently. He had entered the room and instantly jumped on top of the large chest at the foot of the bed, as if it were there solely for him to occupy it. "A big overeager dog sniffing at all and sundry and then slobbering all over you isn't exactly the best thing when you have a surgical wound."
Sherlock just smirked and watched Pompey yawn, exposing an impressive row of teeth. "It's true, I suppose," he slowly said. "Pompey will be very useful."
John huffed out a laugh. "Mary's idea. Though I still think a neat, compact Scottie would have been easier to handle."
"And useless to me. No," Sherlock, shook his head. "He'll do just fine. A guardian dog, as Mycroft pointed out. Very protective of their families."
"Yeah, don't ever let him get close to Anderson. He'll have him for breakfast."
Sherlock chuckled softly. "You were right, you know."
"Right about what?" John asked.
"About the surprise. In the long run, I did like it."
"Told you so," John smiled, pleased to no end.
"Though I still don't like surprises," Sherlock was quick to add.
"Yeah, they make you feel insecure." John chuckled.
"I only said that to make you tell me what it was."
"Nope," John grinned, "you meant it. And I like surprises."
"You do?" Sherlock sat up slightly, giving him a keen look.
"Yeah, well, if it's a nice surprise," John hurried to say. "Not something like Moriarty back on the streets. God, what that bastard has done to us …"
"Something good might still come of it, though," Sherlock remarked enigmatically. "If you like surprises, John," he added with a sly smile, "then I might just have one for you."
"Really?" John's face lit up.
"Yes," Sherlock confirmed, smirking again.
"What is it?" John asked eagerly. When he saw Sherlock's face, he groaned. "Okay, you won't tell me now, right? You're teasing me."
"Patience is a virtue, John," Sherlock declared with a straight face.
"Yeah, thank you, I can quote myself. Though you do have a surprise, don't you?" John folded his arms. "You've been all smug and smirking and - I don't know – so completely pleased with yourself. It's got to do with Mycroft being upset, doesn't it?"
"Hm." Sherlock narrowed his eyes at him, the smirk on the verge of breaking into a grin.
John groaned. "OK, go on, enjoy yourself, and leave me to stew in my own juice, thank you," he scolded, but it was light-hearted.
"I don't intend to leave you stewing John, but you will have to wait a considerable amount of time anyway. Roughly seven months, I'd say."
"What are you on about?" John put his hands on his hips, face screwed up in confusion.
Sherlock just looked at him, all innocence.
"Listen, Sherlock," he sat down on the bedside and put on his serious doctor's face. "I really don't know what to make of this. If you were a patient coming to see me in the surgery, beating about the bush like that," he cleared his throat and leaned towards Sherlock, "and if you were a girl, I would say to you," he abruptly lowered his voice to a confidential whisper, "Sweetie, is there something you need to tell me?"
Sherlock's face remained completely neutral. However, he drew in a sharp breath, and retorted, "Then I would say to you, doctor, this is a poor choice of words, an inappropriate way of addressing a patient, and an unfounded presumption based on a prejudiced attitude towards young female patients."
John pouted. "Yeah. That's exactly why I would never say that to you." He cleared his throat. "But then again, I would never ask you Are you pregnant, honey?"
"Since this is biologically impossible, it would be an exceedingly stupid question." Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
"Right," John declared. "Are you?"
Sherlock glared at him. "John, I may be able to achieve a lot of things, the magnitude of which the average human cannot even conceive in their dull minds and boring lives, but I cannot change my physiology. Therefore: no."
"Right." John put his hands on his knees. "You're not pregnant. OK, enough of the banter. You need to sleep." He got up and reached for the glass to refill it.
He dropped the glass. It landed on the carpet with a dull thud.
"What?" John's eyebrows shot up all the way to his hairline, and his eyes seemed close to popping out of his head.
"Irina is pregnant," Sherlock repeated matter-of-factly.
John stared at him blankly, his lips forming sounds that never left them, the movement alternating with the blinking of his eyes.
Frowning, Sherlock added, "You do remember Irina, don't you? Surely, John, not even your memory is that short. She is the wife of the Russian businessman, Michail, whose data I stole. I had sexual intercourse with her in order to-"
"I KNOW!" John blurted, forgetting to close his mouth. "But how?"
Sherlock gave John a stern look. "John, you are a doctor, I assume you know how the natural conception of a human child takes place."
"No, no – hang on a second," John held up his hands as if trying to keep some lunatic at bay. "Let's not jump to conclusions, right? She's pregnant, okay. By whom?" he asked, forcing himself to remain calm.
"Me, it would seem." Sherlock regarded him with a decidedly self-confident expression.
John's mouth gaped like an open barn door, but no sound came out. After several failed attempts at forming a coherent thought, he burst out: "How can you possibly know that?"
"Mycroft has surveillance on her. She's been to her gynaecologist, and they've only just found out."
John sat trying to grasp the news, his thoughts doing a spin cycle. "Wait a moment." He blinked. Then blurted, "You had unprotected sex with her?"
Sherlock quirked an eyebrow. "Obviously."
"No, no-" John pinched the bridge of his nose. "Slow down. Let's be rational about this. OK." He swallowed and cleared his throat. "How can you be sure you're the father? I'm mean, she can't be far gone, and a DNA test is usually not performed before the fifteenth week-"
"Michail is infertile."
John gaped at him. "But if she knew, why did she risk-"
"She didn't know. He had successfully blamed her all those years. Probably even paid her doctor to lie to her."
"And you thought so, too?"
"What?" John spat.
"I suspected it was not her fault. None of Michail's mistresses ever got pregnant."
"Why the hell did you then – oh, God, you knew; you risked it – scratch that: you hoped she'd get pregnant!"
"Although the chances were very slim, it did present itself as an opportunity." Sherlock shrugged, but the nonchalance of the gesture was nullified by the grin developing on his face.
John looked up at the ceiling. "I can't believe it. That – that's just you, isn't it? You – you have sex once in your life, and bang! Bull's eye." He giggled. Then sobered instantly, and suddenly a horrified look appeared on his face. "Michail will find out – you said he'd skin her alive!"
Sherlock pursed his lips. "Not if Mycroft can persuade him to agree to a deal, which is precisely what my dear brother is doing right now." He settled himself into the pillows more comfortably. "Michail is a businessman, he'll rather sell his wife at a profit than be exposed as a cuckold. It's just a matter of what Mycroft is willing to offer."
"And I bet he's willing to offer a lot," John sighed, relieved. "So that was what the taunting was all about," he muttered. "The, um, practising on Pompey, and him being a guardian dog and so on." He looked up. "That's what upset Mycroft, right? That he has to make a deal with the Russian now?"
"That, too," Sherlock agreed, "but he was a lot more upset at the idea of me fathering a child before him."
"Huh, yeah," John chuckled, "sibling rivalry. Huh." John stared at him, then barked out a laugh. "I never thought you were the father type."
"Well, I, uhm," Sherlock cleared his throat, and John was struck by the realisation that Sherlock was lost for words – almost.
"I assumed it would be a challenging undertaking to raise a child, and since Mycroft is desperate to have an heir but cannot find the time to marry, and you were – engaged as well in the meantime, I thought it would be a shame to waste an opportunity that presented itself in such a convenient manner."
John frowned, digested this, then smiled. "A challenge. You can bet on it. And I was engaged – hang on, you thought you'd come back to an empty home? Sherlock," John blurted, suddenly suspicious, "were you thinking that I wouldn't spend time with you anymore? That our friendship's over?"
"No," Sherlock declared firmly. "I know you, John."
"But you're planning to raise the child?" John asked curiously. "Yourself, I mean, at Baker Street?" he added hastily.
"Of course. Who could do this better than I?" Sherlock dismissed the subject with a flick of his wrist.
John quickly shut his mouth before he could say something clearly classified as 'a bit not good'. He thought about the notion of Sherlock having offspring, and with a sigh came to the conclusion that he could not imagine him with a child – in fact, he could picture this scenario far less than Mycroft dancing. Yet, the Holmes brothers kept surprising him.
Pondering, John's frown deepened so much, his eyebrows threatened to knot themselves together. Sherlock having a child. Jesus. What would that be like? Jesus, if all went well, he would actually find out! A slow smile began spreading across his face as he tried to envisage Sherlock bottle-feeding a baby, changing nappies, singing a lullaby – hang on, he'd probably play the violin … it still seemed alien. But then again, when Sherlock was focused on a task, his hands working on a delicate experiment, and his big brain calculating all possibilities at break-neck speed – if all of this was transferred to caring for a child, it didn't seem entirely impossible anymore.
And anyway, his sleeping hours were erratic at best, a child could hardly disturb them. Now, thank God Sherlock hadn't deleted all the nursery rhymes in his brain.
John's grin became so wide, the corners of his mouth almost met his earlobes. "Sherlock, you do know, though," he warned, "that a child just might interfere with the Work?"
"Well, obviously I won't have time for Lestrade's more tedious cases any more – nothing under an eight, at least," he huffed.
John quirked an eyebrow. "I'll be more blunt, then. All that matters to me is the Work – Sherlock," he shook his head, "that's off the agenda. Definitely."
"That's been taken off the agenda a long time ago, John," Sherlock just said, closing his eyes and exhaling a deep breath. He seemed to virtually melt into the pillows, for once entirely relaxed.
"Hm." John smiled. "I thought the only thing that matters to you is the thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins …"
"Yeah, well," Sherlock waved a hand dismissively. "We'll still have plenty of that. And anyway, there are other things that matter."
"Such as?" John asked quietly.
"Friendship," Sherlock murmured, sounding sleepy. "Friends, brothers, wives … and, of course, just the two of us against the rest of the world."
John couldn't help but grin. "Plus a dog, and a child."
Sherlock smiled serenely. "I hope so."
~ 0 ~
~ 0 ~
Dear readers and reviewers,
I want to express the biggest possible THANK YOU to you - I never expected the story to attract so many readers! My head's still in the clouds …
I was startled and absolutely thrilled that people not only read the story, but read it in-depth as well – therefore, an extra big thank you to my faithful reviewers – you have no idea how much confidence you have given me, and how much I have learned from your responses.
Until about one and a half years ago, I didn't even know that such a phenomenon as fanfiction exists (yes, I'm a bit of a country bumpkin …), and when I came across it, I couldn't believe my luck – that there were so many wonderful stories out there, just for me to read! I almost felt guilty … and I guess that kicked me into writing as well.
I hope I'll find time to write some more Sherlock, maybe something shorter – but then again, Firestorm was originally meant to be a ten-chapter piece. ;-)
And now I can lean back and wait for series 3 – and I'm sure it will be completely different and utterly brilliant and we will all enjoy it!
Dustbunny (romping about happily)