Summary: Mycroft Holmes has always revolved his life around that of his little brother, whether he wishes to do so or not.
Author's Notes: I decided I needed to work on writing BBC!Mycroft, because damn if he isn't a hard one to get down, and somehow five hundred words turned to one thousand into three thousand into SEVEN THOUSAND WORDS, where is my self control, I ask you. Going to go work on Big Bang now, kthxilu all.
EDIT (9/29/2010): Another explosion of gratitude for shezan, for pointing out a few more mistakes that have been rectified. Thank you so much for the help. Words cannot express my appreciation.
EDIT (9/22/2010): A great and hearty thank you to pudupudu for pointing out that there were some Americanisms here, after which I changed 'flashlight' to 'torch.' Also to pandarus, who espied a few other errors which have been corrected, and to patchworkwounds, for being the final quality-checker via chat. And another big cheer for pandarus, and cybel, for making and archiving absolutely lovely audiofic, for which I am eternally grateful.
The entire manor is being swarmed over by people, so many of them, too many, far too many, like ants in number and mindless movement. Sherlock has barricaded himself into his room to avoid them, and is doubtless blissfully conducting experiments on whatever unfortunate small animal he’d come across earlier in the day, his behavior put down to ‘youthful caprice.’
Mycroft has no such excuse to his favor, and so finds himself standing next to his mother in the main hall, fingers numb from the amount of handshakes he has been forced to engage in. The chatter is mindless and dull, and he soon finds himself dropping the words automatically—“Really now, oh how wretched… Yes, Oxford, come autumn… Congratulations, my, my…”
He plays the part of the courteous young man quite well, all things considered.
Things only get worse as the evening progresses. It is almost a quarter to nine when an airy voice wafts across the room.
“Mycroft, darling.” His mother is tinkling towards him, trailing a wisp of lavender-scented perfume. “Mycroft, why don’t you play for us on the piano?”
There is an all-around titter of enthusiasm. Moments later, a long-nailed, ghost of a hand is set in the small of Mycroft’s back, and he is being guided stiffly over to the instrument. He’s no choice in the matter. He’s never any choice in the matter.
“Of course, mother,” he finds himself saying. Anything for you.
The room is far too bright, the chandelier sending off a harsh, yellow glow that bounces off of fluted glasses filled with champagne and the tasteless jewelry all the women have decked themselves out in. Everything is neat and everything is tidy and everything has a price tag.
He sits down on the bench and gets it over with as fast as he can, mechanically droning out Bach—formulaic, polite, they’ll like that—less of a work of art, more of a business meeting.
There is a vast difference between playing as a duty and playing as a labor of love.
Last chord. Stand. Bow. Before beating a hasty retreat from the urbane, mild applause of the crowd.
“Amusing boy,” he hears someone say as he exits the hall. “Wonder what’ll become of him.”
Their laughter tinkles.
Mycroft makes a beeline Sherlock’s door as soon as he’s clear from the gathering, part of him seeking solidarity and the rest of him simply worried. He is surprised to find that it is unlocked, and so steps into the room, navigating his way through the maze of discarded clothing and half-baked experiments to find his brother perched on the windowsill, the warm night leaking in through the open shutters.
“I thought you’d come up,” Sherlock says, all knowing and imperious. He has a glass balanced neatly atop his pale, slender fingers, half-filled with their best sherry. Mycroft darts his hand out and jerks the tumbler away, before sloshing the liquid out the window.
“You’re ten years old, Sherlock,” he says, gentle but furious all the same. “Ten.”
“I know. Isn’t it lovely?” Sherlock blinks. “You played Bach. How tasteful of you.” He turns, long, white neck craned and glowing pale in the moonlight. Always such a pretty little child. People who meet him for the first time often have the predilection to think him frail. Slight and thin, takes after their mother.
Mycroft sighs. “You’ll be raiding the cigar cabinet next, I suppose.”
“What makes you think I haven’t done so already?”
“Oh, I know you haven’t.”
Sherlock’s eyebrows slant up. “Only because you have. I thought you smelled distinctly Cuban last Thursday,” he says, laughing at his own cleverness. He is barefoot and droopy, angles softened by the lighting. “Why did you choose the partita?”
“It was the first thing that came to mind. You reek of sherry. How much have you had to drink? Was that your first glass I threw out?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer. He merely leans his head back to rest it against the window frame and sighs. “Listen to them,” he says, gesturing loosely towards the smattering of polite conversation and airy laughter coming from downstairs. “Listen to how very dull they are.”
Mycroft Holmes is seventeen and far too intelligent for his own good. He’s a slender enough pair of hands, the one physical attribute he managed to inherit from his mother, but the rest of him is starting to bulge at the seams. He doesn’t mind all too much. It is what it is.
His brother is the one with the boundless energy.
“I would’ve played Scriabin,” Sherlock snaps. He sticks his tongue out and wags it at the noise. “Put all their knickers into a twist.”
“Yes. Yes you would have.”
Sherlock’s mouth curls up in a petulant smile as he stretches his arms out and laughs victorious.
He watches her watch Sherlock, his eyes peering over the top his book to observe his mother at the window, half her face sunlit and the other plunged into dusty shadow.
“Why is he so wild?” she says mildly. Mycroft can indistinctly hear screaming from outside, the poor gardener being accosted once more, caught up in one of Sherlock’s worse fits. The weather is warm and he is young and temperamental.
“I can only imagine,” Mycroft says, licking his index finger and noisily flipping the page.
“You were never like this as a child.”
“Yes, well, I’m not him.”
Mycroft’s mother smiles fondly at this, but her eyes are still fixed onto her youngest son. There is always a warmth to her when she watches him, a satisfaction that at least one of them has broken out of complacency to become wild and thoroughly untamable.
Heir apparent, is Sherlock Holmes, whose mother gazes at him with a hope, a benediction.
“No, you’re not, are you,” she whispers.
Mycroft returns to his reading.
The night he turns eighteen, he goes down to the summerhouse with a bottle of Bordeaux in each hand and picks the lock on the door. The moon is high and full, the air is warm, it is summer, it is lovely.
Everyone forgot. Or in Sherlock’s case, pretended to forget.
It’s all the same to him, however.
There is a piano, tucked away into the corner, a Christofori that’s older than time, whose keys are yellow with age and smells of sweet wood and is perpetually out of tune. Mycroft closes the door behind him, sets the bottles of wine atop the piano, removes a candle from his left pocket and a match from his right. Strikes it. Lights the candle. Places it on the ground.
The objective is to get smashed. He might as well do it in high style.
POP goes the cork, and the smell of cheap wine wafts into the air. It’s a mediocre vintage, far too sweet for Mycroft’s taste, but he figures that once he’s downed enough of it, it won’t make much of a difference. He takes one long swill straight from the bottle and sits down on the piano bench, staring at the keys as if they hold the answer to everything.
B. G-sharp. A, B, D-sharp, E…
“Opus sixty-two, number two,” Mycroft declares flatly to no one in particular. Another swallow of wine. He’s never actually been drunk before, but he hears it does terrific things to one’s ability to remember the worst in oneself. His head spins in circles, revolving around a sharp flick of a pale, bony wrist or bright, colorless eye or the echo of a tremulous scream. Thinking about Sherlock digs a cold hole into Mycroft’s chest; this combined with the wretched, aimless longing of the music and the burn of alcohol down his throat is enough to make him groan audibly.
“What are you doing?”
Mycroft rises and pushes the lid of the piano down. “I might ask you the same thing, little brother.”
Sherlock comes slinking out from the shadows, smug as ever. “Is that Bordeaux? Mummy will be quite cross with you, Mycroft.” The shadows fall over him, sharpen him, make him look far older than he really is.
“Kindly leave, Sherlock.”
As ever, as always, Sherlock does not listen to him. “At least let me have some,” he snips, pointing at the wine.
There’s something altogether dangerous about his fascination with intoxicants.
“You should be in bed.”
“So should you.” Sherlock lifts the piano lid again and hits the high C, over and over, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting. “How pathetic of you,” he says, “Spending your own birthday like this.”
Mycroft is silent and patient. He lets Sherlock toy with the Christofori a little longer, small hands darting across the upper register, one moment playing a snippet of Gershwin, the next tapping out atonal nonsense, the bones of his hands so small as to be likened to those of birds’ wings.
He finishes with a mockery of Beethoven’s fourth, then pulls away and shrugs. “How boring,” he says. “I much prefer the violin.”
“I am sure you do,” Mycroft sighs, jaw aching with frustration and a unique brand of anger that is only ever stirred by Sherlock. He reaches out and grabs the bottles of wine, before nodding towards the door. “Come on, then. Let’s away.”
Sherlock grins cheekily and springs through the door, onto the lawn.
Mycroft blows the candle out and follows shortly.
In the morning, the groundskeeper finds the two bottles of Bordeaux lying in the grass.
It doesn’t happen often, this running away business. Once every few months, perhaps, although their mother prefers to call them ‘expeditions.’
Sherlock is happy, unhappy, miserable, elated… He is all that, and then some. And sometimes, his straightforward, single-minded fist of a brain sees only one way out and takes it.
The wind has picked up to a violent scream. The woods surrounding their sizeable estate turn haunted at night. A sort of ideal setting for lurid Gothic novels and horror stories. Mycroft picks his way through the trees, wet soil slathering his galoshes, the rich, organic smell thick in the air.
Wet leaves. Wet branches. Wet torch.
He doesn’t bother shouting. Sherlock would not come even if he did. No, no.
Mycroft pauses and sighs and wipes his face with the back of his hand, smearing the water over his brow and away from his eyes. He flicks the torch upwards and lets the beam illuminate a column of raindrops, fly all the way up into the thick clouds above.
“My dear boy. There you are.”
There’s a damp sniffle. Sherlock is standing under a distant tree with an umbrella over his head. Wet-cheeked and surly, mud-smeared, filthy, a whiplash cut across his cheek leaking one thin rivulet of blood. Mycroft gestures up and away. “Come on, then,” he says.
“Listen, Sherlock, it’s all the same to me whether you stay or go, but mummy’s beginning to worry and as a result has postponed dinner.” Mycroft arches one eyebrow. “You know I loathe missing my meals.”
Another sniffle. Sherlock draws closer, allowing his soiled self to be lit up by the torch. “I hate it at the house,” he declares fiercely, with a sharp toss of his wet head of hair. “It’s dull and I’ve run out of things to do.”
“Oh, I agree entirely. But I also believe boredom is preferable to dying of pneumonia; don’t you?”
Sherlock purses his lips. “No,” he snaps, the honesty in his voice unnerving.
Mycroft steps forward and wraps his arm around Sherlock’s shoulders, ducking under the useless umbrella. He can feel the thin frame beneath his arm stiffen and attempt to shrug him off, but Sherlock needs the warmth of another body, pride be damned.
“You don’t seriously intend to walk me back to the house like this,” he points out. A flash of lightning lights his face up, makes his scowl effervescent. “I’ve thought about killing myself before; does that scare you?” Sherlock continues, trying to tug away again. “I nearly did it with a knife once. And there was that other time with mother’s scarf in the attic.”
Mycroft’s response is to not respond at all.
“I’ll bet you want to know why.” Sherlock sounds so pleased with himself. Mycroft shakes his head. He knows already.
Sherlock’s face is angry but his eyes are begging for a reason, any reason, any one at all, for him to simply keep going.
Another attempt at escape and Mycroft digs his nails into Sherlock’s arm. This pain is alright. This pain is nothing compared to the one he knows his brother brings upon himself daily. What Sherlock suffers through bouts of boundless activity and wild anger, Mycroft suffers in lonely silence.
The lightning cuts the sky into fragments again, and steadily, steadily, the rain pelts down.
The morning is misty and absolutely glorious, grass still dewy, trees all starting to turn gold. Mycroft packs his things himself and takes them down to the front hall. Kisses his mother on her cheeks.
“Yes, yes,” she says. “Be good. Have you said goodbye to your brother?”
He hasn’t. He tells her so. She makes a face and goes, “Oh,” and shames Mycroft back up the stairs and into Sherlock’s room.
The boy is sprawled across his bed, flipping listlessly through a gargantuan tome that’s propped against his pillow. The moment Mycroft steps through the door, he makes a small noise in the back of his throat and rolls his eyes.
“Goodbye, then,” Mycroft says.
“I’ll be back for winter holidays.”
Mycroft hadn’t expected him to. He nods and turns around, treading down the corridor, down the stairs, down the front hall, down the gravel driveway. Gets into the waiting car.
He doesn’t look back.
But if he did… If he’d taken the time to turn his head ever so slightly and glance at the top right window of the manor…
He’d have caught the flicker of a pale and inquiring face as it peered through the curtains and watched its ballast roll away.
Late autumn at Oxford, which is an island in and of itself, academic and sheltered. Late autumn and there are no young, ferocious siblings to drag him away. Late autumn and he finds himself shaking hands with the sons of Important People in Important Places, making connections, forming alliances. In the world Mycroft strives to belong to, there are no such things as friends.
“You want the spotlight, do you?”
He wouldn’t have put it in a manner quite as shallow as that, but yes.
“I think you’ve a shot. You do.”
Really, really, they think he does.
At the tail end of his third year, when spring has finally begun to chum forward with aplomb and Oxford has dressed itself in spindly green, Mycroft gets a letter in the mail.
But not the sort he’d always wanted. Anticipated, even.
…we have observed you possess certain skills that would prove beneficial…
Three days later, he finds himself seated in a coffee shop, staring at a cup of cold, bitter tea while the rawboned man across from him details the assignment. “You’ve shown predilections for someone who’s rather good at a more furtive breed of control,” the man says smoothly. “There’s a demand for this sort of thing.”
“Really. I’ve often heard it said that the best puppet master is the one whom no one ever sees; do you agree?”
Mycroft leans forward at this. “I might.”
“I should tell you now, however…” And here, the man offers a bleak smile— “You’ll never find your name in the paper. You most certainly won’t be making speeches on the floor of Parliament. You would not be doing this for the glory.”
“For what would I be doing it, then?”
“Well, England, of course. We’ve all a duty to our country, all things said and done.” Another smile, this time far brighter. “If that’s not quite enough, however, there is also a considerable amount of power that comes into the bargain.”
Mycroft says he’ll think about it, which for him is as good as yes.
The dead of winter:
When rooftops sag with snow and streets glitter with ice and Sherlock Holmes clambers through Mycroft’s dormitory window like it’s the most natural place in the world for him to be.
“What did your professors say to anger you this time?” Mycroft asks, ramming a mug of scalding tea into his brother’s pale, trembling hands, only to see it tossed viciously onto the ground.
“Shut up,” Sherlock hisses. “Shut up n’ tell me the truth. You’ve been offered a position, haven’t you? There isn’t any other reason why you haven’t called home in three weeks. Who was it? MI5?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mycroft scoffs. “Nothing so flashy as that. A minor post in the British government.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll just bet.”
There’s a pause given, during which Mycroft bends and silently picks up the dropped mug and sets it onto the table, eying the stains with irritation in his eyes. “You should inform mother where you are,” he says. “She’ll be worrying.”
“Mummy always worries. It’s nothing new.”
“And your school?”
“School can go to hell.”
Mycroft lets out a long, weary breath of stagnant air. “My dear boy, you really must stop expecting the rest of the world to bend to your every whim and eccentricity,” he says.
“Why shouldn’t they?” Sherlock spits. “I’m better than the rest of the world.”
Quietly, Mycroft tips his torso forwards and says, “No. You are not. Neither of us are. We are not ‘above it all,’ Sherlock, we are smack in the middle of it.” He curls his eyebrows and frowns. “You are still a human being, after all.”
Sherlock sneers and stuffs his hands into his trouser pockets. A princeling with one eye on the throne and the other in the clouds. His expression is dark and Mycroft knows it all too well. “You’re just jealous,” Sherlock says. “Because I’m not afraid to be me and you’re too afraid to be you.”
A strange and hollow ripple runs from the top of Mycroft’s head to the tips of his fingers. He swallows and blinks, swallows. And. Blinks.
“Being human sounds dreadfully dull anyhow,” Sherlock continues. “What are people good at other than eating and shitting and having sex with each other—”
“It’s true and you know it.”
It is, and he does, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.
Mycroft sighs. “I’ll give you change for the bus back to school and a phone call to mummy,” he says, stepping over to his desk and opening one of the many drawers. “I had better not hear of you spending it on other things, Sherlock.”
Cigarettes. Dangerous chemicals. The like.
“Mmnh,” Sherlock mumbles emptily. He flops down onto Mycroft’s bed, rumpling the sheets as he drags his hand over them, before bending over to bury his nose into the fabric. A quiet huff of satisfaction later and he lays down, stretching his thin little body across the entire mattress.
“I don’t think I can ever love anybody; can you?” he asks the ceiling.
It’s meant for Mycroft, however, who doesn’t answer. He lays the change onto the dresser, makes it carefully exact, and watches his brother stare at the white-washed ceiling with a pair of white-washed eyes.
Oh, Sherlock always was good at asking all the right questions.
“Don’t tell mummy about the job yet, by the way,” Mycroft says. “It wouldn’t do for her to find out.”
“What happens if I do tell?”
“My dear boy, sometimes the act of committing treason is its own punishment.”
Sherlock clambers out through the window ten minutes later with the coins in his fist with not a single promise made.
Mycroft expects little otherwise.
Sarah Nedlin is one year older than Mycroft and in his maths class. She sits in the middle of the front row, right where the professor can see her, right where everyone can see her, and watch her blond hair glow in the fluorescent lighting and see her quick little hands flutter about as she scribbles her notes.
As far as Mycroft can tell, she’s as brilliant as an ordinary person can come. Detached and calculating and quick-witted; a perfect specimen all around to test Mycroft’s little hypothesis on.
He catches up to her on the green on a Friday afternoon and wraps one hand about her arm.
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
“Well, I’d like to ask you something.”
He lays out his plan for her. All the while she watches him with a pair of serious, brown eyes and nods.
“Would the situation be amenable to you?” he asks.
It takes her two point five three seconds to formulate a response, and one point oh three seconds to give it. Nine minutes to get to his room. Three hours and forty two minutes and twelve seconds to copulate in as many ways as either of them can come up with on the fly.
They finish and clean up and dress brusquely, before Sarah reaches out and shakes Mycroft’s hand and says, “Same time next week?”
For two whole months, they do this. Two months spent shagging the living daylights out of each other every Friday at three.
Two months and still Mycroft can only look at her and see five feet, six inches of curvy, blond-haired, brown-eyed female, who happens to have a name.
He enjoys himself, of course. He gets the feeling she does, as well.
The whole thing goes to bollocks however when she sits up one day and instead of cleaning up and dressing brusquely and shaking his hand, she asks if he’d like to go and have a drink with her the following afternoon.
And that’s when he knows. That’s when his brain forces itself to realize that little Sherlock was right.
It takes him three point two nine seconds to formulate his response and less than one for him to deliver it. Eighteen seconds for her to dress and march out the door. Twelve hours for him to erase the feel of her body from his.
Sherlock figures it all out at Christmas dinner, when the family is at the long, formal dining table and their mother asks ever so innocently, “Anything new at university, Mycroft?”
Mycroft replies with the usual bibble-babble of lies, this, that, classes are wonderful and the teachers are brilliant. Sherlock watches him talk from across the table, a predatory look in his eyes as he raises another mouthful of turkey to his mouth.
He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t have to.
Later that evening he brushes past Mycroft with a sneer on his face and whispers at a volume near-inaudible, “Told you so.”
Five minutes later Mycroft’s mother knows everything and is quietly weeping as she asks him why, why throw his life away to work for the government of all things, oh, must he take after his father.
He listens to her cry with half a mind. The other is fixed on the slip of pale skin that is watching in the doorway, grinning and flush with victory.
The office he works in is done up in the way of old, with wood paneling and leather seats and exemplary copies of paintings done by Stubbs hanging on the walls.
Mycroft is given an assistant four months into his employment. Aiden Pawn is just as old as he is, not nearly as brilliant, and altogether too chipper, dogging after Mycroft with such pathetic persistence that it starts to get downright distracting.
“Say, Mr. Holmes, you’ve a free slot at four this afternoon, and they’ve just opened this new restaurant around the corner—”
Mycroft sighs and lets his papers slide smoothly from his hands to the tabletop. “Mr. Pawn,” he snips, putting on his most acerbic voice, “You are one of my staff, not my… ‘chum.’ Kindly return to your desk.”
Pawn lasts for another year, that foolish smile never fading from his face.
Then one day Mycroft sets a folder on his tabletop and says, “Deal with it,” and Pawn takes one look and says he can’t and Mycroft demands to know why.
“It’s not right,” is the sod’s paltry response. “I won’t… kill these people!”
“You’ll do it and you’ll do it quickly, quietly, and efficiently. It is your job, Mr. Pawn.” Mycroft lifts his eyebrows. “And if you won’t execute your duties I will find someone who shall.”
And he does just that.
There’s simply not the time nor the space to argue about morals.
Do you see?
Sherlock is twenty when Mycroft first starts to have him tailed. Innocent things, really—is he still maintaining his joke of a drug habit? Is he keeping up in his studies?
By day he sits in his office and tugs at the strings which control the world. By night he curls his body before an array of CCTV cameras and quietly watches his brother get by.
November fourth: Purchased cocaine in an alley three blocks from the university.
November twelfth: Skipped chemistry exam to perform his own experiment on medical school cadavers.
November twentieth: Bitten by bulldog. Got into fight with owner. Taken to hospital.
November twenty-fifth: Went out with drinks with owner of bulldog.
November twenty-sixth: Ditto.
November twenty-seventh: Ditto.
November twenty-eighth: Ditto.
Victor Trevor is two years Sherlock’s senior, blond-haired and hearty and full of vibrant energy. Mycroft finds himself silently watching the two young men get into a myriad of situations one would hardly deem seemly, but they enjoy themselves, they enjoy each other.
December tenth: Disappeared with V.T. behind public house. Returned with him to his dormitory. Did not emerge until morning.
December twelfth: Invited to V.T’s family residence in Donnithorpe, Norfolk.
Mycroft refuses to allow himself to be happy for Sherlock.
It’ll end, these things always do.
By New Year’s, Sherlock is alone again and more bitter than ever. It is what comes out of proving one’s own hypothesis on oneself; it is the result of a boy determined to find out just how many ways he can make himself hurt.
The telephone call comes at two-forty-three in the morning, his mother’s voice terrified and borderline hysterical on the other end as she blubbered out a string of needless details. Mycroft finds himself dressing despite himself as he attempts to calm her down.
Now he is standing on the street, in the middle of January, no less, with his hands in his pockets and his eyes trained upon the building in front of him, hating himself and hating his brother with every fiber of his being. Hating Sherlock, loathing him, for dropping out of university, for ripping their mother’s nerves to shreds, for becoming what he’s become, for being insanely brilliant and savagely beautiful and for ever being born.
He heaves a dark and heavy sigh, before stepping forward and ringing the doorbell.
Sherlock answers in exactly twenty-two seconds. Tall, thin, translucent. Starved. High. A cigarette in one hand. Sleeves rolled up, all the needle-pricks bared for the whole of the world to see; he’s no shame at all, how does he even do it.
In the background is Beethoven’s marcia funebre. Typical Sherlock, so melodramatic. Mycroft takes him in, takes the whole picture in. “I can see you’ve been looking after yourself,” he says, tone clipped.
“Sherlock, call mummy. She’s worried.”
One pale and bony hand is raised, run through that mess of dark hair. “In the morning,” he murmurs.
“It is already ‘the morning,’ Sherlock. When was the last time you ate?”
“Do you know what day it is?” Mycroft presses.
“Stop it, Mycroft,” Sherlock groans. “Just… go away? Please? Don’t you have a job or something?”
“Why do you do this to yourself?” The question is gentle and kind, genuine, earnest. If only the intentions behind it were so well inclined.
And Sherlock can tell. Oh, can he tell.
There’s a sharp, bitter scoff before the door slams shut in Mycroft’s face, cutting off the funeral march just as it reaches its sour climax. The wind picks up, fiercer than ever. Montague Street waxes diabolic at this time of night. Mycroft turns his collar up and walks solemnly back to the street, arm raised as he tries to hail a cab, furious at himself for ever pretending to care.
“Where is he?”
His mother is a corpse already, ethereal and near weightless, held down by one last, persistent thread. Mycroft stands at the foot of her hospital bed with his hands folded over each other and stares grimly. “In London, mummy,” he replies.
“I need to speak with him. Important.”
“We’ve tried to contact him.” He watches her blink dazedly, listens to the dull blip of the monitor and the faint drip of her IV. She takes a sharp breath and shakes her head.
“Have you searched down by the brook?” she whispers. “Or in the grove of sycamores, he does love to play there so…”
“Mycroft, go fetch me your brother, it’s… I want to see him.”
Her hand floats about through the air, grasping, searching for a slender, pale little boy of ten and failing pathetically. Mycroft steps forward, reaches out, grips her fingers with his own and tries to hold on, only to be batted away in anger.
“Your brother. It is imperative… Oh, why must you two fight so.”
If only the dear woman could know she’s ten years and one son too late.
She sighs wearily and closes her eyes.
Sherlock does not go to the funeral.
It is a testament to the state of their relationship, the fact that Mycroft is not surprised in the slightest.
They play Elgar as they lower her body into the ground, cold wailing of a cello deep and throaty and heavy as the clay beneath, and Mycroft doesn’t even bother with saying goodbye.
The nurses are more than a little nonplussed to see him walk wearily into the ICU and droop over the counter with an irritated expression on his face.
“Well?” he grunts. “What has he done to himself this time?”
The girl stares at him with large, flat eyes and stammers, “He… Your brother’s nearly died, Mr. Holmes. It’s a miracle he’s—”
“Yes, yes. What was it? Heroin?”
“I… No, morphine.”
“…listed you as next of kin. Very adamant about us calling you.”
It is Mycroft’s turn to be surprised. He stiffens his face, however, and taps the tip of his umbrella against the tiled floor. “Very well. May I see him?”
He’s led down whitewashed hallways, the smell of antiseptic swirling through his nostrils. He can pick out a thousand other odors, blood, vomit, alcohol prevalent among them.
“Here he is.”
Paler than ever and out cold. Mycroft listens to the nurse click-clack back the way she came. He stares at his brother for a long, lingering moment, noting the needle holes that stand out livid and red against white, otherwise unblemished skin. Sherlock looks anything but at peace; his brow is darkened, eyes sunken. As frail in appearance now as he was when he was but ten. Mycroft remembers a muddied child in the woods, rattling on about killing himself, and shudders.
If only their mother could see him now.
A long, drained sigh later and he turns on his heel and leaves.
“Aren’t you going to stay with him?” he’s asked on his way out. “He’ll want to see you when he wakes up.”
“No. He won’t.”
“You should think about getting him into a rehab program, Mr. Holmes. At the rate he’s going—”
Mycroft spins around, eyes hardening until they’ve reached the quality of tempered steel. “You do not tell me how to run my family,” he says, softly, coldly. “He is my brother and I will deal with him as I see fit, not according to the whims of an airheaded little nurse who’s conducting an affair with her married superior, who, by the way, will not be leaving his wife any time soon.”
So this is how Sherlock feels all the time, he muses to himself as he watches her storm away biting back tears. A sick satisfaction curls around his stomach and refuses to let go.
He swallows it down and marches brusquely out the door.
He’ll fix this; he always does.
“Be honest with me, Detective Lestrade. How bad is it?”
The policeman still has a hint of shock lingering about him. He toys with the ashtray on the table, which bears the smoking remains of two rapidly smoked cigarettes, and Mycroft can see he’s still aching for more.
“I… Mmhm.” Lestrade sighs and runs his hand through a mess of prematurely graying hair. “Straight up? It’s a bloody nightmare.” A pause, as if expecting Mycroft to say something, to react, but Lestrade is quick enough to tell that the man across from him intends to keep his mouth shut and continues. “He’s brilliant, I’ll give him that. And he’s never shown up at a crime scene while… under the influence. But, erm.”
A nod. “But?”
Another pause, another heartbeat of frustration.
“Fuck,” Lestrade says at last. “I swore I wouldn’t get myself involved. Keep it strictly business, you know?” He jabs his thumb against the table. “Fat lot of good that resolution did. Christ…” A pair of bleary eyes flicker up. “You probably wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m positive I do not.” Mycroft smiles warmly as he lies through his teeth.
“I think he’s killing himself,” Lestrade mumbles. “And the worst damn part is, I think he knows and doesn’t even care.” He finally gives up the battle between cigarette and no cigarette, fumbling back into his pocket and pulling one out, lighting it quickly, ashamedly, with chagrined glances in Mycroft’s direction as he takes his first drag.
“I know I should quit,” the detective says. “Probably sound like a great, bloomin’ hypocrite, don’t I? Yeah, it plays out that way in my head, too.”
“I’m not here to judge you, Detective.”
“Sure you aren’t.” Lestrade grins. “Everyone judges everyone. It’s not like we can help it.”
A thin trail of smoke drifts lazily to the ceiling. Humming and ghost-like.
A decision, made.
Sherlock is screaming.
The bedroom door is being viciously put under siege, things hurled at it in blind and groping anger, from useless pillows to hard, desperate fists. “Let me out, Mycroft! You bastard, you son of a bitch, you disgusting old fuck, let me out! I’ll kill you! I’ll rip you apart with my bloody hands, you fucking wanker!”
Outside, seated calmly on his chair with a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other, Mycroft nods indulgently. “Will you now,” he says. “How motivated of you.” He glances calmly at his watch. “Nearly ten hours, my dear boy.”
Another ragged roar. Another whump, far heavier than the last. Mycroft sighs.
“It’s for your own good, Sherlock.”
There’s a stretch of silence, followed by a loud retching sound, and then a solemn ‘thunk.’
“Please.” It comes out as a whine, a whimper, a keen. It is Sherlock Holmes, laid low, desperate, begging, pitiful. “Please, Mycroft, just… I promise to be… Please…”
Mycroft tilts his head to one side, eyebrows curled.
There comes a painful, choking sob from the other side of the door that makes Mycroft’s stomach twist in an unfamiliar manner. He sighs and snaps the paper open. “Almost there, little brother,” he mutters.
The quiet is even worse than the screaming.
Mycroft calmly takes a sip of his coffee and checks the time.
He is never going to be forgiven for this.
He tells himself he doesn’t really mind.
Rain patters down softly against the windowsill, forming small rosettes of water, frail and soon gone.
The stereo is on, volume turned low.
“I abhor Mozart,” Sherlock drones from the sofa.
“You are in my house. We will listen to whatever I choose.” Mycroft stares at his brother with tired eyes and twists one corner of his mouth down. “I am anticipating a full refund for the spectacular damage done to my undeserving bedroom, by the way.”
Sherlock snorts, but only because they both know he’s poor as a church mouse and a thousand times less faithful.
The music rolls on.
“‘Confutatis… maledictis…’” Sherlock chants along with the choir. “They’re singing about Hell.”
“‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here,’” Mycroft quotes automatically.
Sherlock’s gaze flits to his brother, then back away. His closeness is strange and unusual, body oddly foreign in this context. “How true,” he says, before letting his eyelids fall shut.
“Don’t go to sleep,” Mycroft murmurs smoothly, unable to hide the berating tone from his voice. “You’ll miss the lacrimosa.”
“I’ve enough tears to last me a lifetime, thank you,” is Sherlock’s barely audible reply. As ever, as always, he disobeys, and promptly drifts off.
Smells of bile and tobacco and himself. Mycroft feels the odd hollowness of old worm its way into his abdomen.
For once, he fails to push it away.
…Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis Requiem… Amen.
“There isn’t any getting around it, Mr. Holmes. We’re finding you a new assistant before you work your own head off your shoulders.”
The grunt Mycroft provides in response is noncommittal at best. Ever since the disaster that was Aiden Pawn, he’s rather given up on letting someone handle his trivial affairs for him. Sleep is for the weak, after all.
He doesn’t take the secretary’s statement in any form of seriousness until he walks into the office the following Monday and finds a dark haired, grinning woman standing smack in front of his door with one hand extended and the other clutching a mobile to her chest.
“Good morning,” she says.
“Good morning,” he replies.
She is Eliza when he meets her first, and Rachel the week after that, and Juliet the week after that, but it turns out to always be the same pair of bright eyes and reliable presence.
“What’ll it be today, then, my dear?”
“Tiffany, I think. I’ve always fancied that name. Meeting with the Home Secretary at two, by the way.”
Mycroft forces himself to remember Sarah Nedlin for all of thirty seconds, before forcing himself to forget.
This one, her, she’s different. Comes oh-so-close to understanding him, even. Every Thursday night she brings him his tea and a bundle of CCTV footage and watches it with him, and he tells her about Sherlock, in his own way, with a little anecdote here or there.
She stares down at him and one time even says, “Well, you must love your brother very much.”
For one of the few times in all his years of living, Mycroft Holmes is well and truly gobsmacked. He stiffens in his chair and finds himself unable to rip his eyes from the black and white screen in front of him—the one Sherlock is milling about on, living, breathing, alive and as well as he’ll probably ever be.
Brilliant, all too brilliant. Mycroft bites his tongue.
Behind him, she makes a little noise of apology.
“No, no,” he murmurs at last. “That’s quite possibly…”
He turns to see her looking at him with an expression of utmost curiosity upon her face.
Then he smiles and nods and feels that little twist of pleasant pain in his chest all over again, the one that he’s finally been given a name to, and switches the monitor off.
He visits his mother’s grave at midsummer and tells her she was right to treasure Sherlock more, because he was the one who needed it most.
Then he leaves, leaves and never goes back, leaves and resolves to keep all the promises he’s ever made, to her and to everyone else.
“I thought you’d come up,” Sherlock is saying, all knowing and imperious. He has a glass balanced neatly atop his pale, slender fingers, half-filled with disgusting sherry. Mycroft titters and tisks.
“You’re thirty years old, Sherlock,” he says. “Thirty. I would’ve thought you’d have grown some taste by now.”
“How lovely for me.” Sherlock crinkles his nose. “Do you want anything?” There’s a cigarette between his pale fingers. He’s kicked the cocaine. Nicotine will be another battle, Mycroft supposes. He sighs.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
Sherlock takes another puff of his cigarette and stares out the window. “Listen to them,” he says, gesturing loosely towards the humdrum of the city, the shouting, the laughter, the life. “Listen to how dull they are.”
Mycroft Holmes is thirty-seven and cherishes his intelligence, for it’s one of the only true assets he’s got in his own favor. He’s lost any slenderness he ever possessed, and so it is possible a diet would do him good, but for the moment, he’s far too busy taking care of Sherlock to take care of himself. It is what it is.
“You’re quite the trouble-maker these days,” Mycroft says. “New Scotland Yard complains about you often.”
“Good! Good.” Sherlock grins, obviously pleased with himself. “I’m getting there.”
Mycroft sighs. “Still playing Scriabin when Bach would suffice, I see.”
“Always.” Another puff. “Why are you here?”
“Can’t I visit you without an ulterior motive?”
A pair of translucent eyes flicker heavenwards. “Good grief,” Sherlock mutters. “You’ve always got an ulterior motive. What do you want?”
Mycroft settles down on the sofa and crosses his legs at the knee. “I rather like this place,” he says. “Far better than that old one. Can you afford all this?” He gestures at the room about him, the clutter and chaos that follows Sherlock wherever he goes.
“I don’t need your money.” Sherlock blows smoke rings at the ceiling. “I can take care of myself, Mycroft.”
No he can’t. He never could. He doesn’t realize the only reason he’s alive is because he’s always had someone to watch him, look after him, open the doors that are good and lock the ones that aren’t.
He’s better. He’s so much better than he ever was before; now if only he could let himself go every now and then, give a part of himself to someone else of his own free will—
I don’t think I can ever love anybody; can you?
“How are you?” Mycroft asks, after a long and naked silence. “You seem lethargic. Are you keeping yourself occupied?”
“I do have a job, Mycroft,” Sherlock snaps.
“Yes. Business is clearly booming.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you,” Sherlock sniffs. “Let me guess. You want me to come and work for you. Well, that’s very kind, Mycroft, but my answer is no, and you can take it and ram it up your—”
“Thank you, Sherlock.” Mycroft smiles softly and steps across the room. “Very well. I’ll just be on my way, then.”
Sherlock jumps to his feet, cigarette ash falling and slowly starting to smoke through the carpet. “That’s it?” he cries. “You’re not going to… threaten me with proper rehab or something equally unimaginative?”
“No.” Mycroft slides his jacket on. “No, we’ll save the ultimatums for another time. It was good to see you—”
“—as always. Take care, Sherlock.”
“Eat some celery, Mycroft.”
Mycroft grins on his way out the door, turning back just in time to see Sherlock’s mouth curl up in a petulant smile as he stretches his arms out and laughs victorious.