Note: I own nothing but my own plot, everything else is the BBC's, Stephen Moffat/Mark Gatiss's, and Arthur Conan Doyle's. I just like to play here. Not beta'd or Brit-picked. This is the eighth story in my "Heritage" series (where I take one fact, change it, and then watch as it alters every aspect of the story. In all of them, John is the grandson of an earl but is still an invalided-home army-doctor who decides to share a flat with Sherlock Holmes).
Here, what if John's father had disowned him (like in the first story), and when he takes the title, decides to make life difficult for his estranged son? Just a one-shot….
John stared at the letter from the bank, fingers tightening on the paper. "I can't believe this. A surcharge for bouncing a cheque? But I haven't written any bad cheques! I'm always careful…"
He reached for his phone, dialling the customer service number off the letter. "Yes, this is Dr John Watson and I've just been told you bounced my rent cheque? Why would you do that? There was plenty of money in the account." He gave his account number and waited while the girl at the other end punched in the information.
"According to our records, your address was flagged as invalid, so we put a hold on your account in case you'd moved without telling us."
"Moved?" John all but stuttered. "But I'm holding a letter that you sent me, through the post, right here in my hand. Why would you do that if you thought I'd moved? And in the meantime, my landlady was charged twenty quid for depositing a bad cheque—which Was. Not. Bad. This is not only terribly unfair to the nicest landlady under the sun, but totally ridiculous."
"I'm sorry, sir. Let me just confirm your address…"
John sighed as he went through the information with the bank. It seemed like he'd been having a string of bad luck lately. Mail not being delivered, his bank card being declined for no good reason, his pension check being delayed, and now this? It was like he'd fallen under an evil fairy's curse, or something. Because, naturally, trying to make ends meet and surviving the insanity that was life with Sherlock Holmes wasn't challenging enough. He needed this kind of bureaucratic nightmare, too.
He managed to resist throwing his phone across the room when he ended the call, but it was a close thing. Really, he couldn't understand it. He had spent almost twenty years in the army and he knew how much bureaucracy could ruin a day, but this constant stream of problems? It was like he was being harassed…
"Sherlock?" he asked after a moment.
"You don't know of any reason Mycroft would be unhappy with me, do you?"
His flatmate's brow crinkled, but he didn't bother to look up. "Believe me, John, you would have no doubt if he were. Why?"
John glared down at the bank's letter again, and just sighed. "No reason. Probably just being paranoid. I'm going to call for some Chinese, do you want some?" He hit the power button on his phone and was met with a "Service Disconnected" message. Good God, what next? "Er, can I borrow your phone? Seems mine's been deactivated."
"Really? Wasn't it working a minute ago?" Sherlock actually peered over his microscope. "Weren't you just using it?"
"Yes," John said with a weary sigh, trying not to think what a hassle this was going to be. "Yes, I was."
Mycroft looked up in surprise as his brother stormed into his office.
"Don't you think you've gone too far, this time, Mycroft? No-one knows better than I that you can be petty and vindictive, but I thought you liked John? Approved of his living with me? Why would you try to drive away the only flatmate who has ever willingly chosen to stay? Why? Do you dislike me that much?"
Mycroft's forehead had pre-emptively creased when Sherlock entered, but now the lines deepened. "I don't know what you're talking about, Sherlock."
"John! The oh-so-frequent disruptions to his mobile service, to his automatic deposits at the bank. He's not the only one suffering, you know. When they turned the power off the other day, it affected me, too. They claimed his cheque had bounced, but you and I both know that while John may not be wealthy, he's careful. One mistake might slip through, but so many of them? Not possible. So, what have you done?"
Mycroft leaned back in his chair. "I promise you, Sherlock, I haven't done anything to the good doctor or to his bank account. If anything, I would be supplementing it, you know that."
"Yes, your long-standing habit of trying to buy me friends is well known," Sherlock spat out as he paced back and forth in front of the desk. "But he turned you down, didn't he? And you've never forgiven him for it."
"Quite the contrary," Mycroft said, leaning forward for his phone, "I honour him for it. Anthea? I need a current credit report for Dr Watson, if you would? I need to know if there are any unusual flags or odd behaviour."
Sherlock was staring at him. "It's really not you?"
"No, Sherlock," he said wearily. "Believe it or not, I really do not want to drive away the best thing that ever happened to you. You say his cheques are bouncing … you do know about his gambling issues?" He kept his voice as delicate as possible.
"Of course, but that's not it—that was only ever a problem in Afghanistan when he was bored between shifts. I don't believe he's touched a deck of cards since he moved in with me. And no, he doesn't have a new girlfriend, either."
"His sister? Perhaps she's needed some help…?"
"He would have said—or at least, he wouldn't be ranting at the bank for making mistakes if he knew where the money was going," Sherlock said, slouching into one of the chairs now. "John doesn't blame other people for his problems."
"Unlike some people we know," Mycroft said, giving Anthea a nod as she walked in and handed him a file. He laid it on his desk and opened it, unsurprised when Sherlock came around to look over his shoulder. "My, he has had some problems, hasn't he?" There were at least five flags on the account just from the last month, and the credit rating had dropped dramatically.
"How did this happen?" Sherlock asked, "If it wasn't you?"
Mycroft opened a new window on his computer and tapped at the keyboard. "I'm almost impressed," he said after a moment. "As well a planned campaign of harassment as I've seen in years—outside our own work, at least."
"Do you know who?"
"No, I … there are several layers, here, but I recognize this name. It's a foundation for the Earl of Undershaw. If someone is using their resources, it would be at his behest."
"The Earl of Undershaw?"
Mycroft nodded, refraining from teasing his brother for his total lack of knowledge of anyone not actively committing crimes. "Jonathan Brandon. He's held the title for less than a year. Not a pleasant man—any graciousness in him curdled years ago. It's a shame the title passed to him—his younger brother would have been so much more responsible. I seem to remember he had a son, too. God knows how he turned out, if he's anything like his father…."
"But why would he be persecuting John?" Sherlock asked. "They can't possibly know each other, can they?"
"It seems unlikely," Mycroft said, reaching for his phone again when Anthea walked back in, heels clicking softly on the floor, as she handed him another file. Mycroft smiled. There was nothing quite so satisfying as a well-trained, efficient staff. "Ah, Brandon's file," he told Sherlock as he opened it, picking up the first sheet of paper. "Perhaps there's a link we miss…"
"What? What is it?" Sherlock reached over to grab the rest of the file as Mycroft stared at the photo. The resemblance to John Watson was uncanny. "How is this possible?"
"I don't know, Sherlock," Mycroft snapped. "You're the one holding the file."
"It says that he had a son, John Brandon, who disappeared when he was eighteen," Sherlock said, voice almost faint. "John Hamish Watson Brandon. There were no successful attempts to find him, and apparently the man has lavished all his fatherly attention on his daughter Harriet." He looked over at his brother. "I had no idea."
"Nor did I," Mycroft said, automatically re-categorizing everything he had thought he knew about John Watson. "He shows no signs that he was raised in an Earl's household. Even his accent … one wouldn't think a stint in the army would enact such a radical shift to one's vowels…"
Sherlock still looked stunned. "When do you suppose he was going to tell me?"
Mycroft tipped his head, thinking. "What makes you think he was planning to? He certainly has separated himself from his family—or they've excised him—quite thoroughly. After twenty years, he likely doesn't think much of his upbringing at all."
"Lucky," murmured Sherlock, staring down at the Earl's file. "You say Brandon is sour … vindictive, perhaps?"
"I would think very much so," said Mycroft. "Does it say how his … son … disappeared?"
"Just that it was shortly after his mother's death from cancer and that Brandon insisted a search was unnecessary, that he knew where his son had gone. He apparently disowned him, though, removing him from the line of succession—is that even legal?"
"Questionable where blood inheritance is a requirement," Mycroft said thoughtfully. "It seems extreme, don't you think? No contact in the last twenty years?"
"Would that I could be that fortunate," Sherlock said, flipping through the papers. "It's as if he wanted him to stay as far away as possible."
"And now John is back in London …"
"Suddenly he is having bureaucratic problems." Sherlock dropped the file back on Mycroft's desk, as if unwilling to touch it any longer. "If his father is an Earl, and therefore presumably not just vindictive, but vindictive with power…"
"I think we've found the source of John's problems."
"Indeed. The question now is what do we do about it?"
"We?" Mycroft asked.
"Did you not just say that John was the best thing that ever happened to me? It might be hyperbole, but that doesn't mean it's untrue, Mycroft, and either you help me strike back on John's behalf, or I'll go over to the Earl's house right now and do it myself."
Mycroft almost chuckled at the fierceness in his brother's voice. It was true that John Watson was a valuable addition to Sherlock's life, substantially reducing Mycroft's worries for his brother. If the man was coming under attack, it seemed only just to provide the man some cover. Lord knew his life was difficult enough already, dealing with Sherlock. If they let him be driven from London by this vindictive abuse … it didn't bear thinking about.
Besides, he hated when people misused their power for petty grudges.
(And, no, he did not find that to be at all contradictory with his own behaviour regarding his brother. Obviously, where Sherlock Holmes was concerned, extreme measures were necessary.)
"I don't think that will be necessary," he told his brother. "I think perhaps the Earl should endure a taste of his own medicine, don't you?"
Several days later, Sherlock reclined on the couch, listening to the steps climbing the stairs. "I swear," John said as he reached the top, "Sometimes I don't know why I even bother. With the way things have been going, I might as well pay them to let me work there."
"Really?" Sherlock asked, his voice as flat and disinterested as possible. "Well, there's another letter from the bank for you."
"Oh, God," John said with a groan. "What now?"
There was the sound of paper tearing, the crinkle of a letter being pulled from its envelope. "Wait, what?"
"More problems?" Sherlock asked with a drawl. "I do hope they're not going to cut off our internet next, John."
"What? No," John said absently, as if he were busy reading. "Apparently they've found some fraudulent activity on my account which has been causing all these problems. They're instituting new security features—and about time, since I've been complaining for months now—and are crediting my account for a hundred quid as an apology."
Sherlock sniffed. "Hardly seems enough. The additional bank fees alone … hasn't that affected your credit rating?"
"Yeah," John said, sitting heavily in his chair. "They said they're covering those so I won't be out of pocket, and are doing something … technical … to put my credit back where it belongs. Amazing."
"A bank giving away money? I agree," Sherlock said, eyes still closed, but inwardly smirking. "Do you have any idea why they finally got around to fixing things?"
"No idea," John said, voice thoughtful. "Maybe they just got tired of me constantly calling them. Anyway, hopefully that will take care of things. Tea?"
"Please," said Sherlock and, after John had started the kettle, lifted today's paper.
Earl's Fund Victim of Identity Fraud
"It seems yours wasn't the only account hacked. There's an article here about how even an Earl was affected, so you're in good company, at least."
"Yes, well, that's a relief," John called from the kitchen. "Except I'm sure the Earl, whoever he is, has a staff to deal with the inconvenience, instead of doing it himself."
"Unless all their paycheques bounced and they abandoned him," Sherlock said, relishing the snort of laughter from the kitchen. "I hear he's not very well-liked. It's Undershaw, by the way. The Earl affected."
The rustling noises of tea-making suddenly stopped. Then, "Undershaw? That's … well … it's not like I have anything to do with him, is it?"
"It's just as well," Sherlock said, keeping his voice casual as he turned the page in the paper. "Mycroft told me once that the man was quite unpleasant. 'Curdled,' was the word he used. Sharing a bank is probably about as close as you'd want to come to the man."
"Yeah," John said as Sherlock heard some motion from the kitchen again. "All things considered, maybe I should change banks anyway."
"Oh, I don't know. It sounds like they're taking steps to make sure your account is secure. Going by the paper, though, the Earl has some nasty financial tangles to undo, and he's alienated most of the people who could usually be relied upon to help."
He wasn't sure, but he thought he might have heard John mutter "Good" under his breath before carrying in the tea.
Really, Sherlock had to give Mycroft credit. When properly motivated, he really was quite good at tormenting people. (Years of practice on Sherlock, after all.) In this case, though, Sherlock was glad of it, and had no sympathy for the Earl at all. He did hope that John would come clean about his past at some point, but for now? He would take his satisfaction at the slight smile as John carried in the tea. His flatmate put up with a lot, after all, but if he could help watch his back? Well, wasn't that what friends were for?