The only truly disconcerting aspect of Uncle Rudy's penchant for feminine apparel was its sheer variety. Mycroft never knew what would tickle the old man's fancy from one day to the next – it could be a Marilyn Monroe-style coquette, all wasp waist, bullet brassiere under a tight angora jumper, and a fitted skirt, complete with fluffy blonde hair, or a Jazz Age flapper with a beaded drop-waist dress and Louise Brooks bob and aigrettes, jewelled armbands clasping his muscular biceps, silk stockings clinging to his thick calves. Other days he went full-on Marie Antoinette, or Cleopatra, or La Goulue. The house was huge, though, with attics and cellars; Mycroft supposed there was plenty of room for wardrobes upon wardrobes of costumes of all sorts. And through it all, Uncle Rudy was Uncle Rudy, steadfast and utterly reliable. Thank God for that.
Today he was relatively subdued in a mauve silk gown that looked like it might have suited someone in a Tolstoy novel, ropes of pearls, and heaps of high-piled brown hair. "Come in, come in," he said genially, gesturing toward his battered sofa. "Sit. I expect you've got good news for me." He seated himself in a wing chair, leant forward, and poured milk into Mycroft's cup.
Mycroft cautiously lowered himself onto the bit of the sofa that wasn't sagging in the middle and accepted the cup Uncle Rudy proffered. "Yes, sir. I heard from O&C."
Uncle Rudy raised one bushy eyebrow. "Well?"
"Splendid!" He wrung Mycroft's hand. "Obviously, I never expected any other result, but it's marvellous to hear just the same. I'm damned proud of you, my boy. Damned proud!"
Mycroft couldn't help beaming with shy pride. "Thank you, sir. It's a relief."
"Have you told your parents yet?"
"No, I wanted to tell you first." They would be pleased, Mycroft knew, but their approbation didn't mean as much as Uncle Rudy's. Perhaps that was disloyal, but it was the truth.
"Well, they'll be bursting with pride too, no doubt. Their eldest off to Cambridge. Marvellous." Uncle Rudy took a sip of tea, grimaced, and set the cup down. "So now the only question is what course of study most interests you."
"I was hoping to follow in your footsteps, sir."
Uncle Rudy smiled and nodded. The tendrils in front of his ears bobbed gently in time with the gold earrings swinging from his earlobes. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that. Of course you'll have all the support I can give you." He picked up a plate of shortbread. "Biscuit?"
"No, thank you," Mycroft said with real regret. He'd eaten far too much waiting for his O&C results, and Sherlock, that snotty little bugger, had noticed. Mycroft was determined to lose at least a stone before summer's end, possibly two.
"So then – political science? Economics with a side course of history?"
"What would you recommend, sir?"
"Mm. We'll think about that in the next few weeks, but ultimately your interests should prevail, Mycroft. Keep that in mind." Uncle Rudy took a biscuit and nibbled on an end, then set it on his plate and sighed. "Look here, I might as well tell you straightaway – I asked you to come for more than your A-level results. I've got a bit of difficult news."
Mycroft sat up straight, frowning. "What's wrong?"
"Well, I hardly know where to begin," Uncle Rudy said, rubbing his chin. Mycroft heard the faint rasp of fingertips against masculine skin. "Bollocks, that's not true at all. I haven't been feeling quite myself, so I had a visit with my GP. He sent me to a specialist, and then to another, and so on, and…well, the end result is that I'm afraid I haven't got very long to live."
A strange static fizz accompanied Uncle Rudy's last words. Mycroft shook his head, feeling foolish. "You…."
"It's cancer, you know. Pancreatic cancer. Nothing they can really do about it."
"I don't –" Mycroft took a shuddering breath. "I don't understand."
"When did you…."
Uncle Rudy smiled again. "Just a few weeks ago. I've been mustering the courage to tell you. "
The static fizzed in Mycroft's head again.
I just got my bloody fucking A-levels.
"And I suppose I wanted to hear that you'd got into Cambridge first. Some good news to offset the bad."
Tears sprang to Mycroft's eyes, and he clamped a hand to his mouth to stifle the braying sob that wanted to leap from his chest.
"Mycroft. Mycroft." Uncle Rudy's hand found Mycroft's free one and grasped it firmly. "Come on, lad, don't let's be…maudlin, all right? We've got quite a lot to discuss, you and I."
Mycroft nodded, but couldn't speak. Tears blurred his vision.
"Come on now. I haven't told your mother yet, and that's going to be one hell of an ordeal. God only knows how she's going to react. You know how she is – she could display that iron backbone of hers, or she could fly off the handle altogether. It's anyone's guess." Uncle Rudy pulled a dimity handkerchief from a pocket and handed it to Mycroft.
Mycroft looked down at the fragile, embroidered handkerchief and let out a noise trapped between laughter and sobbing. "You never miss a trick."
Mycroft wiped at his eyes and blew his nose, but the tears kept coming. Thankfully, Uncle Rudy didn't admonish him further, but simply watched him, one hand still grasping his. "How can you be so calm about this?"
"I've had a few weeks to think it over. But I don't know that I'm all that calm. Christ, I'm not ready to go yet. I'm only fifty-four. I'd have liked to think I had another good twenty years or so. Would have liked to see you and Sherlock grow into men." Uncle Rudy sat back, gently disentangling his hand from Mycroft's. "And your sister become a woman." He stared hard at Mycroft. "That's another thing."
"What?" Mycroft swiped angrily at his nose.
"What about her?" Mycroft asked, shrugging dismissively. He didn't want to think about her, not now. She was safely tucked away thanks to Uncle Rudy. Uncle Rudy had taught Mycroft to ease Sherlock out of his nightmares and into some peace of mind. If he'd also eased him out of the truth, what of it? The truth was far uglier than any child, and certainly Sherlock, deserved to suffer. Mummy and Dad had agreed. And Sherlock was perfectly fine now: no adverse responses to the coded keywords he and Uncle Rudy had devised, no dreary visits to therapists or doctors, no unnecessary medication. And it was a further conspiracy, a sort of folie a deux…. "Oh. Christ."
"That's right," Uncle Rudy said softly. "You've got to shoulder that burden alone now, my boy. I'm sorry for it. If your parents ever learn that she's alive, they might never forgive you."
"I don't care about that."
"You did it for Sherlock's sake," Uncle Rudy said. "And theirs. Remember that."
Mycroft nodded. "Uncle Rudy…."
"Wait." He pushed himself to his feet and left the room, moving more slowly than usual, the train of the mauve gown whispering behind him. Mycroft watched, paralysed with shame. How thin and pale he is. And I never noticed until now. It couldn't be true that there wasn't anything the doctors could do. There had to be something – private physicians, stem cell injections, clinics in Switzerland, something. It wasn't fair, it wasn't bloody fair.
Uncle Rudy came back with a thick blue folder. He sat next to Mycroft and handed the folder over. "Have a look at this."
"What is it?"
"Well, you'll see if you do what I suggested and look at the bloody thing," Uncle Rudy said with a flash of humour. "But briefly, it's a summary of your sister's activities at Sherrinford for the past few years. I haven't shown you because it wasn't necessary. But I'm afraid the duty of Eurus' custodianship has fallen to you, Mycroft. I didn't think it would happen so soon."
Mycroft stared into Rudy's overbright eyes. "How soon?"
"How soon, for God's sake?" Mycroft's voice shook. "How long did they…."
Uncle Rudy chuckled. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Mycroft. They don't give you a timetable, you know. It could be six months, it could be a year…."
"Yes, but they must have some idea. You can go to see other doctors. Somewhere on the Continent, or America, perhaps. You needn't spare any expense –"
"No." Uncle Rudy shook his head. "There's no cure for pancreatic cancer, my boy. Christ knows I wish there were. Don't worry, though. I'm not going to be turning up daisies tomorrow." He looked down at the folder and patted it briskly. "Come along, I want you to read this."
He's lying, Mycroft realised. It's soon. Horrible, helpless rage ate into his chest. Unwillingly, he opened the folder. "Am I looking for something in particular?"
"Just scan it."
"All right." Listlessly, he began to read, but soon, his breath hitched in his throat. He picked up a sheaf of papers and held it close to his nose. "What in God's name…?" He looked at Uncle Rudy for confirmation.
Obediently, Mycroft read to the end. Blanching, he closed the folder. "Five people? This year alone?"
"It seems so."
"How? She's just a child, and she didn't leave the cell. It said so in the report."
"According to the governor's verbal report, the guards turned on each other. But as to how she convinced them to do it…." Uncle Rudy shrugged. "I've been lax, Mycroft. She's just a child – at least that was what I told myself. A psychopath, yes, but child psychopaths are not unheard of. That she burned down Musgrave Hall is without doubt; that she disposed of Sherlock's friend is a near certainty. I hesitate to say that hiding his body as well as she did is evidence of near diabolical cunning, but this report almost puts paid to that doubt, wouldn't you say?"
"Jesus Christ," Mycroft breathed. He covered his face, remembering her tinkling laughter, Sherlock's terrified screams.
"You've got to watch her, Mycroft, as best as you're able. Who knows, perhaps…perhaps you can form some sort of bond with her. It may be too late, but we can always hope. More importantly, you're the only one clever enough to ensure her containment."
Fear etched itself, lace-like, down Mycroft's spine. "Do I have to see her? Speak to her?" She's a child. A child, for God's sake.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
Before the burning, before Victor, there had been a day, a sunny, almost hot day at Musgrave Hall. They'd picnicked on a blanket near the graveyard, and played hide-and-seek among the tombstones. Sherlock, stuffed to the brim with sandwiches and Jaffa cakes and lemonade, had fallen asleep in a patch of tall grass, his curly head bereft for once of its tricorn, pillowed on his jumper. Mycroft, bored with his book, had gone in search of Sherlock, and had found Eurus standing over him, measuring him with her tiny hands.
--What are you doing?
--He'd fit perfectly in Sarah Collison Holmes' grave. They were smaller two hundred years ago.
Mycroft shuddered and bowed his head. "All right. I'll do it. Whatever you say."
"Thank you." Uncle Rudy seemed to sag inward for a moment. The doorbell rang distantly, and he brightened. "Ah. Clemens will get that. I might as well tell you something else, my boy. I'm leaving you this house."
Mycroft gaped. An entire house in London. "But…Mummy and Dad…?"
"Oh, trust me, they don't want it. They're perfectly happy in the back of beyond. I'm leaving them a bequest, and to Sherlock as well of course, but this house…." Uncle Rudy set the folder aside and began to heave himself to his feet. Mycroft hastened to stand and help him. "Thank you, Mycroft. I seem to tire easily these days – it's a bore. At any rate, I trust you to look after this house. You can dispose of the contents any way you see fit. I hope you'll consider donating the contents of the wardrobes to a theatre company or something like it. I've invested quite a bit of time and attention to all that – it'd be a shame to just bin it."
"I promise to donate it appropriately."
"Unless you'd like to wear it yourself, of course."
"No, I don't think so."
"No, I didn't think you would," Uncle Rudy sighed, and pushed open the door to the corridor. "Which brings me to the next thing. You're going to need an appropriate wardrobe for Cambridge, and I've asked my tailor Lee to help sort you out." He nodded toward the drawing room. "He's going to get your measurements, and we'll have some shirts done, two suits, tails, that sort of thing. I hate to say it, but your parents dress you like the ragpicker's child."
Mycroft blushed. "I was going to wait until I lost a bit of weight to buy some decent clothes."
"Nonsense. There's no excuse to dress shabbily at any time, unless you're painting a house or mucking out a stable." Uncle Rudy smiled fondly at Mycroft. "You're going to do splendidly, Mycroft. I trust you. I trust you implicitly."
"Thank you, sir."
Uncle Rudy reached out with one blunt finger and pressed it against Mycroft's chest. "About Eurus – guard your heart and soul. Do what you must to protect yourself and Sherlock."
"Let's get those measurements."
Mycroft placed a hand on Rudy's arm. "But you're still –" He gestured at the mauve silk.
Uncle Rudy laughed. "Why do you think all this stuff fits so brilliantly? There are no secrets between a man and his tailor. Come on."
Everything felt too tight, but it was just that for the first time in his life, everything fitted perfectly, Lee had assured him. He listened to his own footfalls echoing down the corridor, polished leather and wood against polished stone. Nodding at the guard who checked his identification, he shot his cuffs, running his fingertips briefly over his cufflinks (remade from one of Rudy's subtler pairs of earrings) and waited.
His heart beat fast, faster, triple-time as the door slid open and he moved toward the glass. He was raw all over. Cambridge begun and Rudy dead within six months, and the absence from Sherlock stung more than he'd anticipated. Too, Uncle Rudy had made Mycroft the executor of his complex and sprawling estate. What had he been thinking?
Mycroft had done his duty, though. He'd seen to the estate, all the bequests, down to the last pair of handmade kid gloves, all whilst coping with the beginning of his political science programme. He was living at Cambridge, but occasionally he'd come to the grand house to potter about and think about the future, in London, at Whitehall.
Until then, though, he had obligations. His heart quailed, but he enclosed himself in a carapace of frost as the little girl on the other side of the glass turned to face him. She smiled, angelic, a nightmare in white.
"Mycroft. You look beautiful."