Men Without Women
A divorcee, a widower, and a consulting detective walked into the pub and promptly joined the British government at a table in the very back of the room. Mycroft Holmes was already sipping a whisky and judging by the supercilious arch of his left brow, the particular blend served at the Prince Albert Pub on Cromwell Road left something to be desired.
Lestrade offered to get the first round in for everyone else and headed for the bar as Sherlock and John took their places at the table.
Mycroft, a firm believer in the exercise of the social niceties, at least when compared to his younger brother, looked benignly at John. “I trust that your daughter is keeping well?” he said politely, with only mild disinterest obvious.
John simply nodded and so it was Sherlock who actually responded. “Rosie is fine,” he said. “Mrs Hudson is minding her this evening. They get along well. Rosie has discovered that she loves apricots.”
Now Mycroft was definitely amused. “Thank you for that report, Sherlock,” he said drily.
Lestrade arrived, balancing two lagers and a red wine, which he handed to Sherlock. “Best on offer,” he said cheerfully.
There was a slight sniff from Mycroft.
Sherlock only took a sip and then shrugged. “When in Rome.”
A brief silence descended. It always took a bit of time for their fortnightly pub night to get up to speed and, while not one of the men could have exactly explained why he kept showing up, no one ever missed it.
“So, Detective Lestrade,” Mycroft said finally. “How is your pursuit of the Hyde Park Slasher progressing?”
The story had been all over the news for a month. Five people stabbed in the park, three dead. All of the victims had been tourists, which meant that the city leaders were frantic and pressuring the Yard to solve the case.
Lestrade just sighed and took a big gulp of the lager. “It isn’t progressing much, frankly. Even Sherlock is baffled.”
“I am not baffled” Sherlock replied sharply. “If your idiots hadn’t messed up the evidence at the most recent killing, I would no doubt have solved it by now.”
“He is working on it,” John put in softly.
Sherlock looked at him, not quite frowning, but…concerned.
“And you, John? How is the new surgery working out?” Mycroft already knew, of course, but it was polite to ask.
John leaned back in the chair and took a gulp of the lager. “It’s working out fine. Only three afternoons a week, but I like keeping my hand in.” Everyone at the table knew that he didn’t need the pay cheque. Mycroft’s people had uncovered close to a dozen accounts in as many names around the world, all belonging to the woman he had married. It had taken Sherlock only asking once why John wasted his time at the downtrodden surgery instead of just being in 221B when Sherlock needed him to learn never to do that again.
Even Lestrade had noticed that John seemed somewhat off his game this night. But he didn’t mention it, of course. His reticence was only in part due to his distraction trying to figure out what was [possibly] going on between him and Mycroft Holmes. Rather than wonder too much about that, he stood. “A match?” he said cheerfully.
Mycroft, who had revealed a surprising aptitude for darts at one of their earlier gatherings, stood as well, removing his jacket and beginning to roll up his sleeves. “I admire a man who can rise from his earlier defeats and face the challenge again.”
Lestrade had learned to take Mycroft’s words in the proper spirit; possibly his years of dealing with the other Holmes had prepared him to do that. They walked to the nearby dartboard.
Sherlock sipped his wine and watched John, who was watching [or at least staring at] the football match on the muted television over the bar. For three days now, the doctor had been in a mood. Not that being in a mood was a rare thing amongst the residents of 221B. But usually John’s moods, at least, involved rather more shouting.
Although admittedly there was overall somewhat less shouting these days, which was probably down to the presence of a baby. But Sherlock, honestly, preferred a noisier John Watson to this silent version.
The question, though, was always whether to speak up about it or keep quiet as well.
But it had to be said that muteness between them had not proved very helpful in the past.
Sherlock set his wine down [it really was quite mediocre] and cleared his throat, unnecessarily. It was meant as a warning to John that he was about to say something.
John, judging by the sudden slight tenseness in his shoulders, got the message. But his eyes stayed on the television screen, even though it was halftime in the match.
“Are you unhappy, John?” was what Sherlock said, although he was not altogether sure those words were what he had intended to say.
It was a moment before John turned to look at him. “There was a time,” he said slowly, “when you asking me that question would have seemed strange. Funny, maybe.”
Sherlock could not disagree with that. An inappropriate quote appeared from somewhere in his palace. But that was another country and besides the wench is dead. Luckily, he did not say that aloud. “That was a long time ago,” he said instead.
“But the question remains,” Sherlock pointed out.
“I am not unhappy,” John said.
Sherlock watched the darts match for a moment, as Lestrade scored a bulls-eye, and wondered, fleetingly, what was going on there.
John, also looking towards the other two men, actually chuckled. “Wouldn’t it be bloody annoying if those two figured it all out before we do?”
There was a long pause.
Sherlock took a rather too-large swallow of the wine, which suddenly tasted somewhat better. “That would be extremely annoying,” he agreed. “My brother would be even more unbearable than he already is.”
“Then maybe we should get on with it,” John said.
Sherlock gave a slow nod. “I suppose you want to talk about it.”
“Seems like a good idea.”
“I suppose,” Sherlock said with a sigh.
After a moment, John stood and walked over to the darts area. He spoke for a moment with Lestrade, who only nodded. Mycroft shot a glance at Sherlock, who raised his glass in a toast that did not come off nearly as mockingly as it might have.
A few moments later, Sherlock followed John out of the pub. Without speaking, they decided to walk for at least a while. Also without speaking, John suddenly took Sherlock’s hand as they turned towards Baker Street and home.
It was a rare starry night in central London and they both kept glancing upwards to take in and appreciate the sight. Sherlock’s hand tightened on John’s.
The conversation, important as it was, could wait just a bit.
It was nearly an hour later before the divorcee and the British government left the pub together and got into the black car that just had glided silently to the kerb.
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