They managed to avoid each other for four hours of familial mingling, but a confrontation inevitably happened over the petits fours.
Sherlock set his plate down. Mycroft brushed invisible lint from his black suit.
"How is university?" Mycroft asked in a genteel, condescending tone.
Sherlock shifted his gaze to the wall behind Mycroft. That painting was obviously fake. "It's dreadfully boring. I may quit."
Mycroft sniffed. "Waste of money."
"Like you care."
"Really, Sherlock. Think of Mummy and Dad."
Sherlock shot the coffin a look. "Don't think Dad cares anymore, either." He brushed past Mycroft with a bump to the shoulder, heading for anywhere else.
"Sherlock!" Mycroft's voice was tinged with steel, and stopped him in his tracks.
"I'll have my wallet back, please."
Sherlock sighed and dropped it on the end of the table. He just missed a cheesecake. Pity.
The will reading was interminable.
"And to my dear sister Ivory, I leave my entire collection of Englebert Humperdinck records," the solicitor read.
Aunt Ivory dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and nodded sadly.
Sherlock slumped further down in his chair. It had been over an hour and he wasn't allowed to leave till it was finished.
"Finally," said the solicitor, "the matter of the peerage handed down to our family by Her Majesty Queen Anne of Great Britain, the title of Baron Chesterford."
Sherlock shot a sideways look at Mycroft and smirked a little at his misfortune. Mycroft had ranted many times throughout their childhood about the unfairness that he would have to become a baron without having a say in the matter. He viewed it as cheating at getting ahead. Sherlock was never gladder to be the youngest.
"Whomever of my two sons, Mycroft and Sherlock, weds first shall inherit the peerage."
"Pardon?" said Sherlock. His palms were clammy; he wiped them discreetly on his trousers. Mycroft was hiding a smile, the stuffy prick.
The solicitor looked at him. "It says right here. Your father the late Lord Chesterford states in his will that whichever of you gets married first will inherit his peerage." His voice was aggravatingly patient, never mind that of the two of them, the solicitor was clearly the stupid one.
Sherlock and Mycroft shared a look. Sherlock cleared his throat. "What happens," he said, "if neither of us gets married?"
The solicitor looked back at the will. "Ah, here it is: if neither of you is married by Sherlock's thirty-fifth birthday, then Mycroft will inherit the peerage as the eldest son."
Mycroft cocked his head thoughtfully. "Interesting," he said.
Sherlock had a definite sinking feeling.
To call the following ten years a cold war would have been an understatement.
Sherlock's initial instinct was to go for the jugular, as it were, and marry off Mycroft as soon as possible to neutralize the threat to his freedom. But Mycroft was in and about Parliament so often by then that he'd probably forgotten where his own flat was, so setting a trap to lure him into a long-term relationship was excessively difficult.
Sherlock nearly succeeded with Sophia, though. After meeting her at uni and judging her almost clever enough and certainly pretty enough to distract Mycroft for ten minutes or more, he engineered a 'chance' meeting between them. Mycroft invited her for drinks all by himself, and after that Sherlock had only to launch a careful letter-writing campaign on Mycroft's behalf. It was all very Cyrano de Bergerac and Sherlock had to copy letters from novels and translations of Neruda poetry, which made him feel emotionally poisoned, but needs must. A six-month relationship was all he managed to milk out of it, however, before Mycroft fucked off to the States on some pretext of work with the CIA and left Sophia no forwarding address.
After considering the odds of further success, Sherlock changed his stratagem. He merely had to wait out Mycroft's tenacity and his own thirty-fifth birthday; while Mycroft could be clever enough, Sherlock took the prize for stubbornness.
"I will simply," he told the cracked bathroom mirror of his first flat, "refuse all relationships with any potential for me to wind up married." He only had eleven years to wait, at that point. Child's play.
Not that Mycroft was above using Sherlock's own tactics against him; the man was shameless. Sherlock had only to walk down the street and women would seem to appear out of walls, rise from the street, fall from the sky, and then begin to make passes at him. It was dreadfully tiring.
"My sources tell me," began Mycroft during one Christmas dinner at home, with a disaffected swirl of his wineglass, "that you've taken up with a new girl."
Sherlock, aged twenty-six (nearing his birthday), took a long swallow of his own wine. Their mother seemed, wisely, to be ignoring them. "Your sources are rubbish. I've been seeing no one."
"Well, who's Chelsea then?"
With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Sherlock deflected. "I met your new secretary the other week," he said. "Rhea? She seems quite lovely."
Mycroft snorted. "She told you her name was Rhea? That girl." He looked slightly admiring of her and Sherlock decided to push his luck.
"You didn't hire her because you fancied her, did you?"
Mycroft arched an eyebrow. "She's magnificent at filing and asks no questions. Types at speeds heretofore unknown to mankind."
"Sounds like your sort of woman."
"Bugger off," muttered Mycroft into his glass.
Sherlock decided to count that display of naked aggravation as a win, regardless.
By the time Sherlock was twenty-nine and Mycroft was at some sort of clearance level so high that MI-5 denied his very existence if anyone tried to leave him a message, things had gotten rather dire. Sherlock had paid a staggering number of hoodies and homeless people to tail Mycroft and his secretary (whose name was definitely not Rhea), suspecting strongly that something there was untoward. Given that it was bloody Mycroft he was having tailed, though, his spy network turned up not a thing. Even more suspicious, but he couldn't act properly without evidence.
Mycroft's assaults seemed to be getting more desperate with every birthday card that appeared in Sherlock's post. Having learned his lesson the hard way via Chelsea, Marie, Rosalina and Denise, Sherlock had simply given up on sexuality as a chink in his armour and thrown himself into his new work as a consulting detective (the name was still under review).
'Happy birthday, Sherlock,' said the card that arrived with the post for Sherlock's thirtieth birthday. 'Working on a new law to enable marriage to the concept of celibacy. Regards, Mycroft.'
Sherlock allowed himself a chuckle before pitching the card into the bin.
Mycroft Holmes believed he was a patient man; he had learned in his ascent of the political ladder that patience need not necessarily be virtuous but did occasionally pay off in allowing one to get what one wanted. This was what he kept in mind when he personally scribbled a message into a card for Sherlock's thirty-first birthday.
"Have that sent tomorrow," he said, dropping the envelope into his secretary's in-tray on his way out of the office.
"Certainly," she said, momentarily ignoring her Blackberry buzzing its way across her desk blotter. "By the way, have you set eyes on your brother's new flatmate yet?"
He stopped in the doorway. "Not yet. Should I be concerned?"
She shrugged, finally grabbing her mobile off the desk. "I doubt it; he has a military background. He's a bit of all right, though," she said with a grin as she began emailing someone back.
Mycroft considered this for a moment. "I want a meeting," he said.
"Yes, sir," said the secretary (whose name was neither Rhea nor Anthea).
The crime scene was freezing but Mycroft was warmed from within as he watched Sherlock and Doctor John Watson walk away side-by-side.
"What're you so happy about?" murmured his secretary.
He smiled up at the dark sky for a moment. "Make a note for when we get into the office tomorrow," he said. "A new bill regarding the peerage will be introduced to Parliament as soon as possible."
Mycroft began walking back to the car with a definite spring in his step. "Provisions for civil partnerships."