Three days after the Study in Pink, Anthea picked John up off the street and delivered him to a modest little caf in Bloomsbury. Mycroft sat outside, at a table laid for tea.
"What do you want?" John said, not sitting. He'd already determined that he wanted no part of whatever was going on between Sherlock and his mysterious brother. He had enough family squabbles of his own to deal with, and those didnt even involve getting snatched off the street in broad daylight by a henchman. Henchwoman.
"Oh, nothing much," Mycroft said offhandedly. "I just had a few questions about the shooting that you were involved in the other night."
"That I was--" Johns throat dried up. They'd fooled the police so easily, it hadn't even occurred to him to worry about Mycroft's possible connections to law enforcement. Why hadn't it occurred to Sherlock? He sat down, automatically. "I wasn't involved. I came by later, when I heard they'd found Sherlock."
"Mmm," Mycroft said. "Perhaps I misspoke. Or perhaps I am in error as to the type of gun used in the shooting, your marksmanship record in the service, and whether you appear on any security camera footage in the vicinity of the shooting before the time of your supposed arrival." He eyed a scone with great wistfulness and sighed. "I'm not infallible. As Sherlock would be the first to tell you. Do have some tea."
John's hands as he poured himself a cup were perfectly steady. "What do you want?"
"Was he really about to take the pill?"
Mycroft's eyes were keen. John was taken aback. He'd been expecting an arrest, blackmail--anything but a civil question about Sherlock. "Yes, he was."
"Out of sheer curiosity."
"Or idiocy," John offered.
Mycroft considered for a moment, then nodded. "Then you've already given me what I want."
John blinked. "I have?"
"Oh, yes." He got up. "The timestamp on that footage must be in error. It will all need to be erased, I suppose."
"You...do." John had the feeling that he'd missed a lot, but he wasn't about to reject that sort of offer.
Mycroft leaned over him confidentially and murmured, "And don't let him play with the gun. It'll only lead to property damage, and I gather you're not a wealthy man."
He'd gotten this much. "Sorry, what gun?"
"Good," Mycroft said, and ducked into the waiting car.
II. The deep end
After everything that had happened, it stood to reason that Mycroft would appear in the hospital in the middle of the night, though the neat little white box he was carrying was a puzzle.
"Is Sherlock--?" John half-sat up in the hospital bed, and subsided at the protest of his ribs.
"Sleeping. Finally," Mycroft said, placing the box on the bedside table and revealing a diminutive tea service. Where, John thought a little muzzily, where did he get the hot water? "I thought you and I might have a chat."
"I already told the police everything I could remember about Moriarty."
"Yes, I've read the reports." Mycroft pushed the plate towards him. Little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Still, better than hospital food. "Actually, it was you I wanted to discuss."
"Me?" John said, around a mouthful of cucumber and cream cheese.
Mycroft regarded him with a cocked head, looking for all the world like one of his old schoolmasters. "Getting yourself strapped to a wodge of Semtex wasn't exactly clever, now, was it?"
Ah. That. The point that the police and Sherlock had assiduously avoided, until it had started to become downright embarrassing. "Not really, no," he said, and the admission felt like a relief.
"Of course, you don't bear full responsibility. To be caught between Sherlock and this fellow Moriarty can't be a pleasant position. Not at all, Id imagine, what you were anticipating when you became Sherlock's flatmate. If you would like a way out--"
"What, you want to put me into witness protection?"
"Something like that," Mycroft agreed. "I think we can make it a little more comfortable, though. I'd need to take you out of here tonight."
"Absolutely--" Johns violent movement was arrested by the sharp pain in his side. "Absolutely not," he said after a minute, blinking away the involuntary tears.
Mycroft sighed. "I thought not."
He needed to be completely clear, to deter potential kidnappings by Anthea. "I'm not leaving Sherlock to deal with Moriarty alone. Not now."
"That's not very clever, either, is it?"
"Well," he said, exasperated, "I guess we can't all be Holmeses."
"No." Mycroft flashed him a sudden smile, one that was only nine-tenths ironic. "Thank goodness."
III. The woman, and three men
This time, tea was in the flat. Sherlock would be coming home from the hospital the next day. Mycroft studied John as he poured and passed.
"Miss Adler has escaped apprehension. Given her connections, I doubt she's still in the country."
"Ah," John said. He wasn't sure what to think of it. He had no idea what he felt about Irene. None at all. It was too vast, and too complicated.
"If I should have the ballistics checked on the bullet they dug out of Sherlock's thigh--"
"Calf," John corrected him without thinking.
Mycroft arched a brow. "Oh, was it?"
"Yes. I mean, I'm pretty sure."
"Thank you for the correction. If I were to have the bullet dug out of his calf checked, I wouldn't be very happy, would I?"
John looked down into the milky depths of his tea, which had suddenly taken on a rather ominous cast. "That depends."
"How smart you are. How well you know your brother."
"There are worse things than a leg wound."
Many worse things. Disgrace. Exile. Heartbreak.
Mycroft was eyeing him steadily across the table. "And you get to decide, do you?"
John shrugged and began investigating the biscuits in what he hoped was a casual way. As usual, Mycroft had left the plate untouched. "I was there."
"Yes," Mycroft mused, "yes, you were."
Suddenly, his hand darted forward, fast as a cobra striking, and blocked the biscuit John had been about to pick up. "No, no, those are dreadful. Try the lemon instead."
"But strawberry's my favorite," John said.
Mycroft smiled genially. "Nonetheless."
"Tell me the truth, though, John. Weren't you a little disappointed it wasn't an actual hellhound?"
John looked at Mycroft, who sat perfectly composed in his chair, a picture of respectability, as unsuspecting Christmas shoppers streamed past him. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him.
He also wondered why Mycroft always insisted on providing tea when he wouldn't touch the food himself.
"Yes," he admitted, and grinned.
"Pity about the beast, though."
"Yes." John had had a moment to reflect on that, as hed run up to the body, and from the brusque way Sherlock had pulled their client free, hed suspected that Sherlock hadn't cared for it, either. Not that they'd ever discussed it. "It wasn't exactly its fault."
"No," Mycroft mused, and then executed one of those abrupt changes of subject the Holmes brothers were so prone to. "I do so enjoy your blog, John. And so does Sherlock. Don't ever let him tell you differently."
"Well, thank you," John said, not entirely sure whether that was complimentary. Sherlock enjoyed a nice night in with the Annals of Decomposition. He didn't even want to think about Mycroft's leisure reading.
"And in this case, it's even helped me solve a specific and pressing problem."
John became aware of Anthea approaching their table, wearing an expression of slight distaste. She was carrying a half-grown bulldog. With a red ribbon around its neck.
"Oh," John said. "Oh. Oh, no."
But the dog was snuffling towards him, and before he could think about it, he was holding his hand out for him to investigate.
"His name is Wellington," Mycroft said placidly.
The dog sniffed his hand curiously, then gave it a huge lick.
"Your problem being what to get Sherlock for Christmas?" John said, unable to resist Anthea's silent but rather insistent proffer of the puppy. After all, his hand was already damp.
Wellington was small and dense and warm, a comforting weight in Johns arms. He smelled like...dog. A good, honest smell. Once he was settled in his lap, it was really no great step at all to start scratching his ears.
"Oh, no," Mycroft said. "The problem being getting him to take it." He contemplated the two of them. The dog was lolling in Johns lap as if he'd been doing it all his life. "Mission accomplished, I'd say."
The drawing room was very cool and quiet and modern, the sunlight filtered through sheer panels. John still wished he wasn't there. His head was heavy and his throat ached. The last thing he wanted was tea.
But, then, it was probably the last time he'd ever see Mycroft. He felt he owed him that much. Mycroft's expression was fixed, as if his normal supple mask had simply dried out. He seemed to have forgotten how to blink.
"You yourself are quite well, John?"
It probably wasn't meant to sound like a reproach, or if it was, Mycroft couldn't help it. "Fine," he said shortly, then drew himself up. "Yes. I mean, as well as I can be."
"Good," Mycroft said absently, then leaned forward, focusing. "You kept the note.
Of course he'd kept the note. Hed keep it forever. But he found he couldn't say that. Or, abruptly, anything.
Fortunately, Mycroft didn't need a confession to deduce something so simple. "I need to see it."
He had it carefully tucked away in an envelope in his bag, but he hesitated. There had been no mention of Mycroft. None at all. No matter how he felt about him, John didn't fancy being the bearer of Sherlock's last little act of familial unkindness.
"I already know the contents, John," Mycroft said impatiently. "They aren't going to bring me any further grief. I simply need to see the paper itself."
"All right," John said, and reluctantly handed it over.
Mycroft immediately bent on it the fiercest scrutiny John had ever seen. For the first time ever, as he held it up to the light and frowned, John saw the resemblance to Sherlock, in every responsive movement of his mobile features, all the intensity pouring from the dark eyes. How had he never noticed it before?
"I see," Mycroft said, lowering the paper. "I don't think--"
His eyes fell on the lower right corner of the note. A strange sound escaped him--half giggle, half sob. In a flash, he had his handkerchief out and pressed against his mouth, clamping down against the sound until his shoulders subsided. He dashed the kerchief briefly against his eyes, exhaling, before slipping it back into his pocket.
"Do excuse me, John," he said, dropping the note on the table, apparently suddenly uninterested.
"Mycroft, your brother's dead. I think you have a right to be..." John sought for the right phrase. Broken up about it didn't quite seem to fit.
"Yes," Mycroft said thoughtfully, and now he met John's eyes. "My brother is dead, isn't he?"
To John's everlasting astonishment, he snatched up a biscuit and bit it right in half.