Title: How You Survive the War
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Warning/Spoilers: No spoilers. Contains sensitive subject matter (explained beneath the cut.)
Word Count: 2100
Summary: John thinks Sherlock is beautiful. Sherlock prefers he didn’t.
Notes: Since I accidentally de-anoned myself on the meme, I figured it was time to post this more widely.
Based on this prompt from : Sherlock freaks out and withdraws whenever John calls him beautiful. It turns out Sherlock was sexually abused when he was younger and the abuser called him beautiful.
John thinks Sherlock is beautiful. Sherlock’s elegant hands, his thoughtful eyes, his long limbs, the way his curls brush about his face — beautiful, all of it, and John loves to steal a moment and run his thumb over Sherlock’s cheekbone in appreciation, or let his hand rest on Sherlock’s knee.
While Sherlock is bemusedly tolerant of physical affection, he’s enthusiastic in bed, but John still gets the feeling sometimes that he’s stumbling over a rock in his path that only Sherlock can see.
He’s whispering to Sherlock, kissing down his stomach, when he feels Sherlock stiffen between his hands and Sherlock pushes on his shoulders with a quiet, “Stop.”
John sits back on his heels. “What?” he says, watching in confusion as Sherlock untangles them and flicks on the light. “What did I do?”
“Nothing,” says Sherlock and pulls on his satiny blue robe. He sits on the edge of the bed and shoves his hands through his hair a few times, and John wonders if he should put an arm around Sherlock or leave him alone.
He says instead, “Tell me what I did and I won’t do it again.”
“I just need a minute!” Sherlock snaps and then gets out of bed and stalks out of the room, and John is left lying there, awkwardly aroused, wanting to comfort his lover and with no idea how.
Sherlock returns with glasses of water and gives one to John. He says, clipped, “You called me beautiful,” and has a swallow, throat muscles rippling in a way that makes John forget everything for a moment but his desire to sink his teeth into them.
“Of course I’m going to call you beautiful. You are beautiful.”
“I need you not to,” says Sherlock. “I need you not to question me about this, John, please? There are things –” He stops, rubs his forehead, and gives John a look that’s more naked and vulnerable than even the ones he has in the midst of orgasm.
John moves closer and hesitantly kisses his shoulder. “All right, Sherlock,” he whispers and wraps an arm loosely around his neck. “All right.”
John is not at all surprised to see the familiar black car waiting for him outside the surgery the next day, the driver holding the door open. John nods to him, gets inside, sliding across the seat to join Anthea and her Blackberry. “What’s he want this time? Is it Sherlock or is it another lost missile plan?”
“Mm,” says Anthea.
It’s a far longer drive than any previous, and John looks at Anthea without hope of explanation when the car leaves the city for the countryside. No damp warehouses or backstreet restaurants for this meeting — instead they pass a red-roofed village and then go up a long, oak-lined drive. They stop in front of a manor house, the Holmes seat Sherlock has mentioned once or twice in an offhand manner.
“He’s waiting in the garden,” says Anthea, not looking up from her Blackberry.
“Right,” says John and gets out. He follows the house around to a proper English garden, and a lawn where a pair of children, boy and girl, are playing with a badminton set and shouting at each other in a way that would sound belligerent if one didn’t know how their father and uncle got on.
Mycroft is there, of course, watching them from a white wicker chair. He stands when he sees John. “Dr. Watson.”
“Mr. Holmes.” John stands at ease. “I wasn’t aware you had a family.”
Mycroft smiles at them. It makes him seem almost human. “Yes. Let’s walk, shall we?”
“Lead on,” says John.
Myrcroft takes him away from the badminton pitch, toward the hedges that line the flower garden. “Sherlock called me this morning. He has asked me to explain something to you that he cannot, and it’s a matter far too personal for Baker Street.”
“Or anywhere else you conduct business,” says John.
“Precisely.” They walk on for a bit. “I knew you would be the making of my brother from the beginning. This development is not wholly unexpected.”
“Which development?” John says and Mycroft cuts him an impatient look.
“Let’s not play that game, Dr. Watson. You and my brother are lovers. I accept this. I think I even approve. Anyone who can keep my brother stable is someone worth keeping.”
That is not what John is expecting, but he says, “Thank you,” anyway. “Not that we need your approval.”
“Of course not. But it is good to have the family’s blessing, isn’t it?” He smiles tightly at John. “Now. The purpose of this visit. You understand that what I am about to tell you does not leave the grounds without Sherlock’s permission.”
Mycroft nods. He takes a breath. “Sherlock … was an extraordinary child. Clever, curious, energetic. And beautiful. He was always the beautiful one. People would remark on it all the time. With that face and that hair — Mummy couldn’t bear to cut his hair and he wore it almost as long as my Georgiana’s. He was thoroughly spoilt, of course, and we let him get away with anything because we could hardly bear to punish him. He was as much a delight as he was a terror.”
“Sherlock in embryo,” John says, trying to picture Sherlock as a boy, running about these grounds, climbing the trees … it’s quiet easy, actually, though his imagination insists on giving him Fauntleroy collars.
“Very good. Sherlock in embryo. After a few disastrous attempts at boarding school, Mummy decided to bring him home and educate him here until he was better able to interact with other children. She hired a tutor. This tutor, after a few months, asked if she’d be willing to hire his brother as a gardener. He’d fallen on rough times and needed a fresh start.”
John walks without seeing the path, watching only Mycroft. Dread creeps into his stomach.
“What the tutor neglected to mention, though perhaps he honestly didn’t know, was that the brother had been imprisoned for exposing himself to schoolboys. He took one look at Sherlock and decided — well, whatever it is that child molesters decide.”
“God,” John whispers and closes his eyes. The dread in his stomach becomes something worse, heavy as regret.
“The brother told him all the usual lies: if he told no one would believe him, everyone would think he wanted it, if he told the brother would kill Mummy and me. Sherlock believed him, of course. He was a clever child, but he was still a child.”
“How old was Sherlock?”
“God,” John says again.
“Mummy was occupied with the family business, and our father had passed on by then. I don’t know that I blame the tutor, really. Family is always the last to see. I like to think if I’d been there this man would never have dared to touch Sherlock, but I suspect it’s one of those lies we tell ourselves in order to feel better.”
“You would have been barely more than a child yourself.”
“I was a young man. I was still the head of the family,” says Mycroft quietly, and they walk in silence for a while. Eventually Mycroft takes a deep breath and goes on. “When I came home for summer hols I saw something was different about Sherlock right away. The joy was gone. The light was dimmed. He was still a terror but there was an anger to it that troubled me.”
“It took most of the summer for him to tell me what was going on with his tutor’s brother. To hear those filthy words come from his mouth, the things that man called him, made him do …” He stops, anger twisting his mouth.
“He called him beautiful,” John murmurs.
“Among many other things. Things no child should hear.” He inhales. “When he finished telling me he wept. I think the relief to finally have it out in the open was overwhelming. It was the last time I’ve seen my brother cry.”
John nods. He’s only seen Sherlock weep when an investigation called for it, and he turns it on and off as easily as he does any other persona.
“The brother was arrested and the tutor fired. Perhaps unfairly, but he had brought this monster to our house and Mummy found it unforgivable. The story was kept out of the papers due to Sherlock’s age as much as the influence of the family, and the brother pled guilty so there was no need for a trial.”
“What happened to him?” John says quietly, because he knows even teenaged Mycroft would not have let the man who harmed his brother just rot in jail.
“Oh, he died,” says Mycroft mildly. “About fifteen years ago. Stroke.”
John nods and does not point out how easy it would be to bribe an official to write stroke instead of bullet or poison. “And Sherlock?”
“Sherlock … became what he has become.” He stops walking and says, intently, “Dr. Watson, no matter what he may think or tell you, I do love my brother. I want him to have his happiness. When he began with the drugs as a teenager one of his therapists said it was a method of self-medication, and Mummy and I realized he had not yet stopped suffering over this. He may never stop.” He steps closer to John. “If there is anything you can do to help him, do it.”
Of all the things Mycroft has asked him to do and will ever ask, this is one he can do with a clear conscience. “I will.”
Mycroft steps back, and the face of the worried, loving brother is replaced by the familiar public mask. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to play with my children. The car will take you to your lodgings for the night.”
John starts to protest, but knows it’s futile. And perhaps for the best, so he can digest this information away from Baker Street for a night. Besides, Mycroft is already striding across the lawn, his arms open as his children run into them.
Anthea informs him he’s to sleep in a place called the Bentley Arms, and everything he needs is waiting in his room. “How do you know my size?” says John and Anthea does not say that the stupidest question he’s asked her out loud, but visibly thinks it.
He gets his room key from the innkeeper just by giving his name, and climbs the stairs without enthusiasm — and then more rapidly when he hears the familiar strains of a violin. The heavy door is unlocked and ajar, and John stands in the doorway, his hands in his pockets, to watch Sherlock playing at the window in the setting sun.
He is still beautiful. He is still a work of art. His hands are still graceful as make the soft, yearning notes, and his eyes are half-closed with the pleasure of creation. When he plays like this, he seems more than a man — more like a gift.
Abruptly the notes stop, and Sherlock takes the violin from under his chin. “You spoke to Mycroft?”
Sherlock stands a little straighter. “And?”
John steps inside and closes the door. “And I love you.”
Sherlock’s jaw works a moment. “Don’t you dare to pity me.”
“I don’t pity you,” says John, calm. “I — I grieve for you, I think. Yes. I think what I feel right now is grief. But never pity.”
There’s a seat in the deep window and Sherlock takes it, the violin forgotten in his arms, his gaze distant. John sits beside him and takes the violin and bow, tucking them safely in their case, and then weaves his fingers through Sherlock’s. “I couldn’t tell you,” Sherlock says quietly after he’s watched John do this. “I’ve never told anyone but Mycroft, not anyone who mattered. I didn’t — I’ve been afraid of what you’d think of me, if you knew.”
“I think you’re strong,” John says. “I think a terrible thing happened to you and you lived through it. The best revenge is a life well-lived,” he offers and Sherlock huffs with a tiny smile.
“It’s improving,” he says softly.
John says, “I still think you’re beautiful,” and Sherlock’s fingers tense. “Hear me out. I desire and lust for you. I get so much pleasure from your body. But none of that matters, not really, not so long as we always have this.” He holds Sherlock’s hand more tightly. “You believe I’ll never harm you?”
“Yes. I know it.”
“I won’t say you’re beautiful if you absolutely hate it, but may I think it? Because I don’t think I can stop thinking it.”
Sherlock whispers, “Yes, you can think it,” his eyes closed, and John kisses his flyaway hair.
He whispers fiercely, “You have never been anything less than extraordinary,” and Sherlock’s fingers finally relax in his hand.