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Swan Upping

Coming home to Baker Street and seeing Mycroft in the sitting room was always disconcerting. It was worse with Sherlock flitting about, nervously. Whatever the genius read in his brother frightened the daylights out of him. John shook off the traditional July rain, greeted the brothers and continued to the kitchen to put away groceries.

He wasn’t surprised in the least that his ‘bum’ hand was rock solid steady.

“We’ve been investigating Daniel Williams,” Mycroft announced. Somehow, he had silently moved to the kitchen as well.

John wasn’t surprised, though Sherlock’s squawk of dismay was amusing. Since Mycroft wouldn’t have confronted John without some sort of confirmation, the doctor confidently corrected him, “Danny. He goes by Danny.” He started tea. It was going to be one of those conversations.

“You know him!” Sherlock exclaimed. Even Sherlock was obsessed with the Man Who Could Fly.

“I went to his wedding.” John was sure there was record of that somewhere. John also had been the sole recipient of a panicked early morning phone call ‘Rachel’s not a swan, she’s an egret!’. It had taken John an hour to calm the American down and remind him not to judge based on something the woman couldn’t control. John was proof that swan wings didn’t always indicate monogamous. They had no proof that Rachel would be open to a different mate once Grace was older.

Except that she had.

“He’s a distant cousin,” Mycroft stated.

John didn’t answer. There was no need. He remembered the summers when two boys could hide in the woods and commiserate on being different. He poured his tea and glanced at the clock.

“I’ve never seen your wings.” Mycroft had months of footage to comb through, but John was very, very careful.

“It’s not like we’re in Africa,” Sherlock sneered, “where they wear their wings like shirts or America where they flash them every time they get into tiff.”

Mycroft cocked an eyebrow. “What color are John’s wings, Sherlock?”

“Light grey,” he lied.

John could appreciate the effort even if it proved fruitless.

“Interesting. His service record indicates otherwise.”
Sherlock glanced at John, hoping for a clue. John tapped the uncolored portion of mug.

“White, grey, what does it matter?”

“It matters if he can fly. And more importantly, if he can teach others to fly.”

John took a sip of his tea. And grimaced, he had forgotten milk. Before he could get up, Mycroft -Mycroft- was already returned to the table with the milk. John poured a bit into his tea. He knew that both of the Holmes brothers saw his tremor-less hand.

“Can you fly, John?” Mycroft wasn’t entirely the government official when he asked. A tiny bit of Sherlock-like excitement at something new slipped through.

Sherlock was torn between demanding an answer from John and demanding Mycroft leave (and not
take John with him). “What’s it worth to you? Would you leave him alone?”

The look Mycroft sent his brother was obviously ‘have you lost half your IQ points?’ Mycroft would take John for the betterment of England.

“I can’t affect others’ wings like Danny,” John finally said. That was the truth… he was reasonably sure.

“Can you fly?” he asked again.

John rubbed his scarred shoulder and both sets of Holmes’ eye zeroed on the motion.

“There’s a note in your Army file,” Mycroft mused. “They don’t have an exact GPS location on the place where you were shot, because your footprints vanished when they back-tracked you.”

John remembered the pain, the distance, the desperate attempt to fly to safety, the piss-poor landing that injured his leg in a way doctors couldn’t understand and that last stretch of walking when his wings couldn’t keep him aloft a second longer. When his wings had faded into shadows, never to be solid again. That had been a loss he hadn’t been able to share with his therapist. “I can’t fly anymore,” he admitted.

Mycroft was disappointed.

Sherlock had so many emotions flitting across his face John couldn’t keep up: anger, excitement, betrayal, happiness that John didn’t have what Mycroft wanted, desire to experiment and conclusions stacking on conclusions.

Mycroft said his farewells and Sherlock slammed the door after him. John took another sip of tea, completely expecting Sherlock to appear at his elbow with the demanding, “Show Me!”

“There’s nothing to see, Sherlock.”

“How long has it been since you last checked? Weeks? Months? You could have recovered. You’ve recovered from most of your other injuries.”


“Show me. Please.”

It was the please that got his attention (as intended). “They’re just white shadows, Sherlock. Nothing more.”

“They say that the solid wings resemble birds native to the human’s country.”

“They?” John teased.

“Mycroft’s secret files.”

“How long ago did Mycroft let you see them?”

Sherlock wanted to deny it, but Mycroft had probably been hoping that his brother would deduce John’s heritage. Loudly. “Twenty days ago. What kind of wings do you have?”

“A mute swan,” John admitted.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “The royal bird of Britain, of course.”

“So says the raven,” John shot back, remembering black plumage highlighted with iridescent violet.

“How do you know that?” Sherlock demanded.

“Please. With your shadows, they can’t be anything else.”

Sherlock tried to spot the lie, but in this one area, John was better trained. John had some medical journals to read and Sherlock to ignore. Sherlock was going to nag and whine and bluster all day. John was going to enjoy yanking his chain.

That night, long after he had laid face down on his bed, John listened to the angry violin in the sitting room. Sherlock in place, John took the gamble and flexed his wings. The sheet on his back lifted. His wings had volume. John peeked. He could see through the feathers, but they were much more solid than the last time.

Maybe someday, but for now, he was safer without. John didn’t want a cage, no matter how gilded Mycroft could build it.


Author’s Note: Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial and practical activity in Britain in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, marked, and then released.
Traditionally, the British Monarch retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries.