"Mummy wants to see you at her birthday!"
John almost turned around when he heard Mycroft's voice coming from their flat. Mycroft and Sherlock together in close space was never a good combination. Especially not for John's nerves, after he had already spent an eight hours shift at the clinic. He only wanted a nice and peaceful evening at home, preferably with Thai take away, crap TV and Sherlock next to him on the couch. And damn Mycroft if John didn't get what he wanted!
Squaring his shoulders, John marched up the seventeen steps to their flat. He hoped that his presence would be enough to chase Mycroft away, before Sherlock's mood reached the lowest possible point and instead of cuddling on the couch, John would only get angry scratches on the violin. Not that they were actually cuddling, John thought with a wry smile as he reached the top of the staircase. Sherlock would sneer in disgust if he learned in which terms John thought about them sharing space on the couch, in the evenings... and never fall asleep with his head on John's thigh ever again. And that was the reason, why John would never mention to Sherlock how much he enjoyed their closeness in such moments. Sherlock wouldn't only withdraw from John - physically - but he would also figure out John's feelings for him and that just wasn't on. Not because John was ashamed of how he felt for Sherlock - how could anyone ever be ashamed of this brilliant man? - but because Sherlock wasn't interested in such pedestrian things as romantic relationships. And how awkward would their friendship become, if Sherlock knew... No, it was much better to leave everything the way it was. Sherlock was much too important to John to risk driving him away with his feelings.
"I`m not going to her birthday and I`m certainly not wearing that!"
Sherlock's angry voice snapped John out of his haze and he blinked foolishly at the closed door. Right, standing here and musing about his feelings for Sherlock, wouldn't chase Mycroft away and John needed the elder Holmes gone if he wanted a relaxing evening.
Determined, John grabbed the handle and pushed the door open with more force than necessary to announce his arrival to the Holmes' brothers, although he was almost certain that his presence hadn't gone completely unnoticed. Nothing got past Sherlock or Mycroft and John prepared himself for coming under the focus of two pairs of analyzing eyes, when he entered the living-room, only to be ignored completely.
Obviously, Sherlock and Mycroft were busy with a private staring contest, as none of them even so much as blinked in John's direction. At least, that gave John the opportunity to observe the situation and to judge if the evening could still be saved. He felt like back in his days as a Captain in Afghanistan, when he nodded Sherlock's defensive posture as he leaned back against the window sill - arms crossed in front of his chest - while Mycroft tapped his umbrella impatiently on the floor. The cold eyes of the elder Holmes' were boring holes in Sherlock's head, while Sherlock's eyes flickered between his brother's face and... a dress.
John squeezed his eyes shut in disbelief and then opened them again slowly, but the dress was still draped over the backrest of Sherlock's armchair. A beautiful dress, in dark blue and - judging from the reflections of the light on it - obviously made of pure silk. It wasn't, that John wasn't used to strange objects in their flat - skulls, fingers, mould cultures - but so far a dress hadn't been one of them. At least, none that hadn't been needed for the sake of a case or an experiment.
"Don`t be childish, the dress was tailor made for you, Persephone. You will look fantastic in it and you know how happy Mummy will be to see you wearing it. At least, let her believe that your phase..."
"It's not a phase!" John almost jumped back at the sound of Sherlock's fury filled voice. If looks could kill, John didn't doubt that Mycroft would have combusted in flames right where he stood. As it was, the elder Holmes didn't even so much as flinch at Sherlock's outraged declaration. If John had to guess, he would rather suspect that a smug smile was hovering at the corner of Mycroft's lips.
"No," Mycroft replied in a smooth voice that made John's flesh crawl in disgust. "It's probably all a game for you... or some kind of experiment. Though, if you wait for the day, when I`ll believe that you are..."
"Get out!" Sherlock's snarl reminded John of a wounded tiger, they had found in Afghanistan on one of their patrols. Dangerous and vulnerable all at once and John hated to see this combination in Sherlock. And he hated Mycroft for provoking this feelings in his brother, although John wasn't entirely sure how the elder Holmes had managed it. The parts of the conversation, John had overheard, didn`t make any sense at all.
"As you wish," Mycroft hooked the handle of the umbrella over his arm and turned around. "Oh, Doctor Watson!" Even John could tell that Mycroft's surprise at noticing his presence was faked. Just as easily as John was able to read the absolute horror in Sherlock's eyes - when his gaze met John's - and gathered from it, that for once, something had slipped past Sherlock's observation skills. "I was just on my way out, but maybe," Mycroft stopped on his way to the door and directed a cold smile at John. "You could try your luck and convince my dear sister to wear the dress to Mummy's birthday." With a last nod to Sherlock, Mycroft exited the flat and John listened intently to his heavy steps on the stairs and then to the opening and closing of the front door.
He only allowed himself to relax, when he was sure that the elder Holmes wasn't going to come back and then focused his attention on Sherlock. He still leaned against the window sill, but now Sherlock's arms hung down loosely at his sides and his expression was a far cry from the cold stare, that had been directed at Mycroft. Instead, there appeared to be a whirlwind of emotions in the depths of Sherlock's orbs, that made it impossible for John to grasp even one of them. Admittedly, he wasn't feeling much better himself. Mycroft's words were still swirling through his head, without John being able to make sense of them, and the tense silence in the living-room didn't help matters at all.
John sighed quietly and then turned towards the kitchen. "I'll make tea," he announced over his shoulder and wasn't surprised, when that didn't get him a reaction from Sherlock. His friend was still staring silently into empty space and John hoped that a good brew would revive him. After all, tea was a cure for everything, right?!
John put two mugs on the kitchen counter - together with milk and sugar - clicked on the kettle and then waited for the water to boil. The soothing motions of preparing tea were enough to calm his racing mind and John felt himself relax minutely. Enough, to allow himself to speculate about the topic of Sherlock's and Mycroft's argument. Obviously, it had something to do with their mother's birthday and that Sherlock should wear a dress for the occasion.
John snorted at the thought. Sherlock in a dress... right, that appeared more than strange. No wonder that his friend had been furious with Mycroft for even suggesting it. But then, what had brought up Mycroft's idea in the first place? John drummed his fingers on the kitchen counter, while he tried to come up with an answer to that. It was out of the question that Mycroft had merely wanted to rile up his brother, since the argument had appeared much too serious to be considered brotherly banter. Besides, John doubted that Mycroft was even capable of making jokes like that. Therefore, the whole incident must have a more serious background.
John frowned at the kettle. Could it be that there was a third sibling? A sister? It seemed likely, although that didn't explain why Sherlock had to dress up as her. Maybe, the mysterious sister didn't want to come to their mother's birthday and Mycroft wanted his brother to fool their mother. Still, that presumed that the mother in question wasn't mentally fit anymore and from what he had heard about her - when the brothers chose to speak about her - that wasn't the case. So, maybe it really was Mycroft's ill attempt at a joke, although that didn't explain the random choice of the name Persephone for Sherlock. If Mycroft only wanted to mock his brother, wouldn't he have called him Sherly or Sheryl or something along these lines?
"The water his boiling."
John jerked and almost knocked the mugs over, when Sherlock's voice interrupted his train of thoughts. "Christ, Sherlock, you," John started as he turned to his friend and then stopped mid-sentence as his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing. Sherlock's shirt - the sexy, purple one - had been unbuttoned and hung loosely from Sherlock's slim frame. Seeing the chest of your male flatmate, shouldn't be anything unusual, after sharing quarters for almost a year and yet, it was. When John thought back, he couldn't remember a time, when he had seen Sherlock in less than his dressing gown. All this time, John had assumed that Sherlock was trying to be modest for John's sake - Sherlock had never appeared to be bothered by nudity - but now, confronted with new evidence, John realised that he had been entirely wrong.
His eyes flew to the skin-colored binder that covered Sherlock's chest and three possible theories to explain its existence came to John right away. Gynecomastia - male breast enlargement - was dismissed a second, after the idea had crossed John's mind. It would explain the binder, but not Mycroft's words and John wasn't dumb enough to believe that this wasn't about the conversation he had overheard. Second guess: Sherlock was actually a woman and was disguising his gender, because he wanted to be taken seriously by the police. John considered that for a second and then dismissed it as well. Sherlock wouldn't allow his gender to get into the way of his chosen profession and John assumed that the Yarders would have accepted a woman as a consulting detective as well - if she was as brilliant as Sherlock. That only left one explanation for the binder and John felt a surging rage bubbling in his veins as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and Mycroft's insults suddenly made sense. John gritted his teeth and ignored the whistling noises of the kettle as he took a deep breath to calm down the seething fury that was painting red spots in his line of vision. God, how dare he...
"You are angry."
John's head snapped up at the simple statement. Sherlock's expression was perfectly blank and somehow the absence of any emotions helped John to smolder his own rage... at least for now.
He took a shaking breath and reached behind himself to switch the kettle off, although he didn't make any move to prepare their tea. Instead, he closed his eyes for a second and nodded in reply to Sherlock's earlier question.
"I see." The words were pressed out in a strained voice and when John glanced up at Sherlock, he almost gasped in pain. The blue eyes of his friend were filled to the brink with hurt. Rare, unmasked hurt that cut straight through all of John's defenses and inserted itself in his heart, like an especially sharp knife.
"Sherlock," John started helplessly and took a step towards his friend, who stumbled back against the kitchen table and averted his eyes. "No, it's fine, John. I understand... it's not easy to accept what I am." Confused, John blinked at Sherlock's words, even as another wave of anger rose within him, although John couldn't say at whom it was directed this time. At Mycroft or at other nameless bastards, that had made Sherlock believe what he had just said.
"So, you want to make me believe that it's easier to go through transition than to accept that someone else is transgender?" John delivered the question in his most innocent voice and prayed at the same time that he hadn't made an error in his deductions about Sherlock's binder. It would be truly mortifying if John had gotten it wrong, although it would save Mycroft from a punch in the face - maybe.
"No, but," Sherlock looked bewildered at John, who returned his gaze calmly. "You just said... that you were angry."
Finally, the penny dropped and John would have slammed his head into the wall, if he hadn't thought that he would need his senses intact for the following conversation. It was rare that Sherlock missed something, but obviously the most important part had slipped past him this time. "I'm not angry at you," John clarified and switched the kettle back on. "I'm angry... No, scratch that. I'm furious with Mycroft for how he treated you and I would love to punch him until the superior smile vanished from his bloody face."
Sherlock gaped at John as if he had grown a second head and a sinking feeling settled down in the pit of John's stomach. Could it be, that no one had ever expressed to Sherlock how wrong it was of Mycroft to treat him like that? John was aware that narrow-minded people existed everywhere in the world - he had met his share of them - but he couldn't believe that Sherlock had only been confronted with such arseholes. No, that wasn't true... John could believe that Sherlock had had bad luck in these regards, but he didn't want to consider it.
God, he had witnessed how hard it had been for Harry to find her way in the world, after their parents had made it clear to her that they wouldn't accept her sexuality. Still, John had always been there for his sister and their parents hadn't been able to stop her from seeing her - monthly changing - girlfriend. If he took a moment to imagine how it must have been for Sherlock - obviously no support from any member of his family and probably unable to transition in any way, before he had left home - John wanted to weep and scream in rage all at once. More so, when Sherlock's next words hit him. "So, it's... fine?"
John hated the way, Sherlock's voice cracked at the last word and how he kept averting his eyes from John's. Sherlock wasn't supposed to look so insecure and vulnerable. He was a mad, brilliant and utterly gorgeous genius and John hated every faceless person, who had made him feel lacking for his gender identity.
"Yes, of course, it is," John pressed out and then busied himself with preparing tea for both of them, as not to betray the countless emotions that had to be written all over his face.
By the time, John placed both mugs on the kitchen table and took a seat, Sherlock had buttoned up his shirt once more and was sitting in his usual chair. They sipped their tea in silence and John felt the calming effect of the godly brew on his raw nerves, until Sherlock placed his elbows on the table and fixed John with a assessing look. "I assume that you have questions about," Sherlock gestured to his hidden binder and John's grip on his mug tightened. Judging, from Sherlock's behavior, people hadn't only not accepted his gender identity, but had also pried into what wasn't their business. Still...
"Actually, there are a few things which are unclear to me," John started and suppressed an angry snarl, when Sherlock tensed in his chair. Good, that John didn't have his gun handy or he might have considered hunting down everyone, who had ever hurt Sherlock - starting with his family. "Why did Mycroft call you his sister to my face? I gathered that he is an intolerant bastard, but until today, he has always referred to you as his brother, when I was around."
Really, that was the only thing that was unclear to John - and the only topic he felt was fine to ask a question about - since he was able to puzzle together all the other parts. For example, that their Mummy believed that Sherlock's gender identity was only a phase - utter nonsense - or that Sherlock had been given the name Persephone - terrible choice - as a baby.
Sherlock blinked down at his steaming mug of tea. "It was a threat. He must have noticed you before I did - a regrettable oversight - and he made sure to drop enough hints for you to figure out that I'm transgender." Sherlock took a large mouthful of tea and then cradled the mug between his hands. "He wanted to make it clear, that he would tell you about me, if I didn't agree to come to Mummy's birthday as her... daughter." The last word was spit in distaste and John couldn't blame Sherlock for it. Hell, John had thought that Mycroft was smart, but he obviously wasn't able to understand how damaging his attitude towards Sherlock was... or he just didn't care. John didn't know what was worse and he didn't have the time to analyze it any longer, when Sherlock continued speaking. "I will never again pretend that I'm someone, I'm not and therefore... I decided to tell - or rather show - you that I'm transgender. At least, this way, it was on my own terms."
John felt new fury rise - it appeared to be a constant occurrence today - when it registered in his mind just how much Mycroft had forced Sherlock's hand. Obviously, Sherlock wouldn't have told John yet - or at all - and his goddamned brother had taken the decision away from Sherlock.
John gulped down the last of his tea and reminded himself that it wouldn't help matters if he lost his temper now. If anything, Sherlock would only misinterpret John's reactions once more and he had been dealt with enough for one day, already.
"You were still afraid of how I would react," John stated calmly and without accusation.
Sherlock fidgeted with the mug in his hands, but then looked up and met John's eyes. "I didn't have any data on how you would react to a coming-out. I have never seen you interacting with trans people and I... feared that you would take it badly." Like everyone else, Sherlock didn't say, but John knew him well enough to read between the lines. He took a forceful breath to push away the pain at the thought of Sherlock being on his own for years and then reached a hand across the table. John eased Sherlock's hand away from his mug and interlaced their fingers on top of the table. A small smile turned up his lips at Sherlock's surprised look and he gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm sorry - and angry - that this decision was taken away from you, but it's fine now. I'm not seeing you any differently and I promise that I'll keep on nagging you about your eating and sleeping habits."
Sherlock still stared at their intertwined hands, but his shoulders dropped as he relaxed his posture and allowed relief to show on his face. "Thank you, John."
"There is nothing you have to thank me for, it goes without saying." Sherlock nodded, but it was obvious that he wasn't truly believing that last part. Still, Sherlock didn't argue the point with John and kept on sipping his tea with his free hand, while John watched him in silence.
Maybe, the knowledge that Sherlock was transgender should have changed how John viewed him - as an ex-army doctor - but this wasn't the case. When John looked at Sherlock, he still saw the brilliant genius, who had left an amputated leg in the bathtub last week. He also still saw the beautiful man, that Sherlock was and if possible John's admiration for Sherlock had even increased after learning how hard he had had to fight for the life he led now. No, John's feelings for Sherlock hadn't changed at all.
"Do you have any other questions?" John frowned, when Sherlock pushed the mug aside, his all-seeing eyes fixed on him. "No, I don't think there is anything else."
It was Sherlock's turn to frown and John could almost hear the wheels turning in his brilliant mind as he narrowed his eyes at John. "You don't want to know why I bind my breasts, instead of getting them removed? Or if I had any surgeries at all? Or if I can feel like a real man, merely by taking testosterone?"
For a second, John was dumbstruck; did people really ask such offending questions? Even if Sherlock hadn't been his best friend, but a random stranger, John would have never asked such invading questions. He didn't even think that they could ever come up in a medical context at work... at least not in this wording and certainly not if there wasn't any necessity to ask them. John didn't voice any of his thoughts, but merely shook his head. "No, it`s your body and what surgeries you get or don't get, is your decision. As long as you feel comfortable in your own skin, everything is fine. No one has the right to ask such questions, if you don't want to share the information of your own free will." They stared at each other - John willing Sherlock to believe the sincerity of his statement - until a brilliant smile lit up Sherlock's face and he squeezed John's hand, before letting go of it.
John mourned the absence of Sherlock's warmth, although he was relieved to see his friend openly happy once more. And John couldn't hide his grin, when Sherlock marched - there was no other word for his purposeful strike - into the living-room and came back with the blue dress, which was thrown onto the kitchen table.
"Sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid?" Sherlock winked conspiratorial at John, who hurried to secure the mugs and then retrieved a bottle of concentrated sulfuric acid from the cupboard. "It works faster, but... if you etch the table, you are going to pay for a new one."
Their fingers brushed, when John handed the bottle over to Sherlock and the smile was mirrored in both their faces, before Sherlock put on his safety goggles and John left him to his work. In half an hour he would ask about take away, since it was unlikely that the kitchen table would be in any shape to prepare anything edible on it.
"Are you watching this strange Doctor series again?"
"It's Doctor Who and yes, I'm watching it again."
John frowned at the television screen. Usually, Sherlock either had a cutting remark about John's tastes in crap TV - not that Doctor Who was crap in any way - or he would merely huff and then use John's thigh as a pillow on the couch. That Sherlock did neither of it, was a little unsettling to tell the truth.
Sighing, John looked up from the screen - it was a rerun after all - and took in Sherlock's nervous posture as he stood next to the couch and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. John had already opened his mouth to tell Sherlock to get over there or let him watch in peace, when his eyes fell on the chest of his friend and he closed his mouth with a click. Sherlock was in his pajamas and dressing gown- the latter hung freely from his shoulders - and two small bumps were visible under the well-worn fabric.
John's mind froze. He couldn't remember a time when Sherlock hadn't worn a binder - although he hoped that he took it off at night - and he wasn't sure what it meant that Sherlock wasn't wearing one now. Was it some sort of test for John or had Sherlock just been uncomfortable and had decided that he didn't have to wear a binder anymore in his own flat? John really hoped for the latter, although he wouldn't begrudge Sherlock the former either, after what John had gathered about his history with people that knew about Sherlock's gender identity.
"I thought," Sherlock's tentative voice interrupted John's thoughts. "It would be fine without... Now that you know, but if you," Sherlock coughed quietly and John finally noticed the blush in the usually pale cheeks. "If you are uncomfortable, then I can just put it back one."
John shook his head vehemently, before Sherlock got the chance to take his silence the wrong way and gestured towards the couch in invitation. "This is your home, Sherlock. You can wear or not wear whatever you feel comfortable with, although I would prefer if you didn't do any chemical experiments while in the nude. Chemical burns are terribly to treat." A nervous smile flickered over Sherlock's face, but he crossed the space to the couch and sat down... almost at the other end of it.
John rolled his eyes and sighed. "I told you that everything is fine and I certainly don't have any fear of contact with you." Hell, John would jump at the chance to be allowed to touch Sherlock in more than a friendly manner, but that was for another day if John got the impression that Sherlock returned his affection in kind. For today, it was enough to feel the weight of Sherlock's head on his thigh and hear the content sigh of his friend, when John placed an arm over his chest - he made a point of neither avoiding nor searching contact with the small bumps there - and carded the fingers of his free hand through Sherlock's messy curls.
No, it wasn't merely enough, John corrected himself - when he stole a glance at Sherlock's relaxed face and noticed the closed eyes and the slightly upturned lips of his friend - it was perfect in its own way. And if they stayed like this forever... John could certainly live with that.
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