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All The Towers Of Ivory Are Crumbling

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Mycroft sat by the fire with a glass of 2000 Niepoort, occasionally raising it to his lips to fortify himself with its rich sweetness. He’d made a point of bringing his own supplies to Baker Street for the evening, even though for the first time in living memory Sherlock’s kitchen appeared stocked with substantial quantities of leftover cake, assorted nibbles, and wine. Their individual scorecards were still pinned to the notice board in descending order. Beside him on the part-cleared side table, a stack of glossy magazines rubbed shoulders with the decanter; Mycroft had glanced through them with bemusement. He’d planned international covert operations with substantially less bother, but then he hadn’t had to concern himself with whether his operatives’ outfits were sufficiently flattering, or ensure that the surveillance equipment complemented the target site’s décor.

He sat up straighter as his ear finally caught the sounds of a cab drawing up outside, followed shortly after by Sherlock’s cautious tread on the stairs – clearly he’d seen the lights on from below and realised he had a visitor. Given that the house was deserted, Mycroft hadn’t bothered with the usual polite show of knocking; he’d simply used his duplicate key, and relocked the door considerately behind him.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Sherlock said, when he eventually appeared in the doorway. “Under the circumstances, I had hoped for someone a little more interesting. What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you, obviously,” Mycroft said, setting the glass down. He glanced pointedly at his watch. “Nearly half-past ten. I’m impressed. You held out for far longer than I expected – I’ve been sitting here nearly an hour now.”

“Ruining my chair.”

“It does have the better view of the door.”

Sherlock peevishly shrugged off his overcoat and flung it over the top of him, narrowly missing the decanter, but Mycroft only gathered it up neatly and put it to one side.

“So, whatever can have kept you from fleeing the joyful celebrations sooner?” he continued. “Some last-minute crisis? Insufficient supplies of champagne? A delayed deejay?”

“If you must know, there was a minor case of attempted murder that came to light during the reception. That sort of thing does tend to disrupt timetabling a little more than you’d think.”

“Not for longer than 20 minutes, surely, although judging from your recent disposition and the state of your cheeks you may have had some difficulties concentrating. Whatever happened?”

“Oh, so you can’t figure it out?”

“Neither you nor your clothing show evidence of blood having been spilled, nor are there signs of physical struggle or violence having been inflicted upon you by another party. Your boutonniere is missing, but without damage to the fabric, so unpinned with care and precision and likely unrelated to the incident. Despite the interruption, it is also obvious that the reception continued on more or less according to plan, hence the only moderate delay in your arrival home. So it was all handled quite discreetly, and at arm’s length, I imagine. Other than that, my abilities do not extend into the psychic realm.”

Sherlock scowled at him, but pride quickly overcame resentment and he sat down in the chair opposite to fill Mycroft in on events. A novel enough crime, it seemed, even if Sherlock had been a little slow in making the connections. Then again, he hadn’t been at his best these past few months, his focus seemingly taken up with seating arrangements and fabric swatches and a host of similar trivialities. In Mycroft’s private opinion, it was something of a blessing he’d worked it out at all.

“Then the police took him into custody, of course, and we could all get back to the reception.”

“Sounds delightful. A truly memorable occasion for everyone concerned. Well done.” Mycroft leaned back in Sherlock’s chair and took a renewed sip of port.

Sherlock waved away the offer of a matching glass and was studying him once more, eyes narrowed. “Yet you still haven’t told me why you’re here. It’s clearly nothing urgent, or you wouldn’t have let me bore you with all the investigative details. So whatever it is can surely wait until tomorrow.”

“No, actually, I don’t think it can. You put so much time and effort into today, didn’t you Sherlock? Helping your dear friend John Watson get married. All that planning and fuss and organisation, long hours spent in discussion with the two lovebirds. And now you have to face the fact that it’s all over, and he’s gone. For good.”

“He’s newly married, Mycroft, not dead.”

“As far as you’re concerned, is there really a difference?”

Sherlock was silent for a moment, and then pushed himself out of the chair and began pacing the room. Occasionally, he stopped to grace Mycroft with another glare.

“So you thought – what? That someone had better come over tonight to keep an eye on me? I’m not in need of a babysitter, and especially not you.”

“You misunderstand me, Sherlock. I thought you might welcome a distraction. Or at the very least, an extra ration of cigarettes. Decent ones, for a change.”

He gestured to the gilt-edged package he’d left on the mantelpiece, but was ignored. Instead, Sherlock came to a stop by the far window, such that Mycroft had to turn his head uncomfortably far to see him. He seemed to be staring out into the night at nothing in particular. Mycroft set down his glass once more and rose from the chair, first moving to close the set of curtains directly behind him. Then he came up behind Sherlock, near enough to feel the tension radiating from him. He reached an arm around him to pull those curtains shut, too.

“Just like old times,” he said softly, tentatively. His right hand reached forward for Sherlock’s, and he tilted his head to press a small kiss to Sherlock’s jawline. Overlaying Sherlock’s sharp, familiar scent was a disconcerting mix of assorted food, wines, transferred perfumes and hints of second-hand smoke. However, he continued to kiss and nuzzle, feeling the muscles in Sherlock’s jaw tense under his lips. Then Sherlock exhaled a long breath and relaxed again, leaning into his touch. It was enough of an invitation for Mycroft to bring both arms to wrap more tightly around him. The heavy black cloth of the suit was rough against his wrists, Sherlock’s hair far softer against his cheek.

“Old times.” Sherlock echoed, sounding vague and dispirited. Nevertheless he turned his head far enough to meet Mycroft’s mouth, and opened sweetly to him. Mycroft deliberately shut off the part of his brain devoted to analysis, let himself enjoy the kiss for what it was.

When it concluded, Mycroft turned towards the dining table, which was still littered with pencils and erasers and composition sheets bearing discarded scrawls of music.

“I saw the makings of your waltz, earlier,” he said. “It really is quite lovely. I hope they appreciated it.”

Music was one of the few areas Mycroft had always implicitly conceded to his brother, along with physical agility and unearned charm. Mycroft had been encouraged to play the piano, and had dutifully done so to a competent standard, but without any great love for the instrument. However, he’d always felt music was woven into Sherlock’s being, an often unacknowledged yet essential part of him. In his life it had served as comfort, stimulation, consolation.

When Sherlock didn’t respond, Mycroft pushed a little harder. “May I hear it?”

Sherlock still looked slightly lost, confused. “Oh, I… I must have left my violin at the reception.”

“Yes, I thought as much.” Further evidence that Sherlock had been unequivocally shaken by the events of the day. Of course, Mycroft wryly reflected, for normal people, the attempted murder would have been the unsettling bit, not the wedding itself. However, the former was likely the only part Sherlock had truly enjoyed.

“Although I do have it recorded.” Sherlock was pulling his phone from his jacket pocket. “If you’d like.”

“Please.”

Sherlock docked the phone, then stepped back a pace when a soft ambient hiss began to emanate from the speakers. The waltz had already been played at the reception, its purpose successfully served, but Sherlock’s face still looked set and anxious as its first notes pierced the stillness. Mycroft wanted to reassure him that he only wanted to enjoy, not to critique, but feared that in Sherlock’s current state it would only sound like a reprimand. Instead he took off his jacket and waistcoat, draping them over one of the dining chairs, and loosened his tie. He indicated that Sherlock should do the same, moving in closer to help him.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock said, but obediently shed his unbuttoned waistcoat as Mycroft worked at his tie.

“Come here.” Mycroft held out his arms over the plaintive swell of the music, and after a moment’s hesitation, Sherlock stepped into them.

It was the resurrection of an old ritual. While they had both been taught the basics of formal dance at school, in later years Mycroft had needed to refine his skills for work-related events. Sherlock had proved a surprisingly willing partner, despite the necessity that he always play “the girl”. They had never done anything more than dance, not then, but the intimacy of it had seemed something they’d both longed for. Perhaps, in hindsight, even where it had all begun.

Now it still felt sweetly familiar as Mycroft’s hand came to settle around Sherlock’s waist, Sherlock’s own resting lightly on his shoulder. They fell easily into time with the music, and with each other, moving slowly but smoothly around the limited space. Mycroft wanted only to look into Sherlock’s face and listen to his composition, but Sherlock remained distant, abstracted. While he danced as beautifully as ever, it was clear he wasn’t here at all, but back at the reception watching John Watson spin his new bride gracelessly about.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said sharply.

“Yes.” Sherlock’s gaze snapped back to him at last. “Yes, I’m sorry. I just…”

Mycroft sighed. “I know. It’s all right.”

He drew Sherlock closer, then, breaking with form entirely, and for the last few bars he simply held Sherlock in three-four time, embraced the trembling warmth of him in his arms. When the music came to a stop they stood for several heartbeats in silence until the next track started, some thumping monstrosity that thoroughly shattered the mood. Mycroft grimaced even as Sherlock pulled quickly away to turn it off, the ghost of a smile on his face. However, Mycroft did not miss the glint of dampness in his eyes, the quick swipe of Sherlock’s fingers across the bridge of his nose as he turned away.

“The waltz was exquisite. Your taste in popular music decidedly less so.”

“That playlist wasn’t my choice,” Sherlock said, and stopped abruptly.

John Watson again, of course. It would always be John. The man who had seemingly sprung from nowhere to take over his brother’s affections so completely. John undoubtedly held his own particular set of attractions: he was generous of spirit, a skilled marksman, loyal to a fault. Yet it still bewildered Mycroft that such unthinking devotion could ever be enough to truly satisfy his brother.

“I have missed you, you know,” Mycroft said at last.

He was referring not only to the recent past, but to the time leading up to Sherlock’s move to Baker Street, as well. The years since Sherlock had first begun pulling away from him, begun speaking of renting a flat, venturing out on his own. Mycroft hadn’t argued, or tried to stop him; had only bowed gracefully to the inevitable and let him go. He didn’t think Sherlock had ever realised how difficult that had been.

Indeed, Sherlock looked momentarily taken aback, puzzled, as though unable to decipher the words. Then he frowned, and his face abruptly hardened. “Oh, that was really very good, Mycroft. I almost believed you.”

Mycroft blinked at the unexpected venom. “I’m sorry?”

“I suppose you’ve just been waiting around all evening for the chance to drive home your point. So, tell me. How exactly do you do it?”

“Do… what?”

“Keep from getting involved, of course. It must be so nice not to need anyone. So you can stay all nicely wrapped up in your cocoon of self-reliance, looking out smugly upon the world.”

“I thought I just said…”

“Oh, but I know you, Mycroft. The way you are, the way you think. You never say or do anything that doesn’t have an end game to it.” His voice rose mockingly. “Must keep an eye on Sherlock, must make him feel wanted, mustn’t let anything bad happen to him or there’ll be hell to pay with Mummy. Story of my life, really. Is it fun? Manipulating people in spite of themselves.” Sherlock paused as though awaiting an answer, but there was really nothing Mycroft could say. “Yes, all right, I did – do – care about John, enough to want things back the way they were before, and the past six months have been beyond endurance. Happy? So yes, you were quite right warning me not to get involved. But then, you’re always right, aren’t you? Spare me your pity.” He spat the last word as though it were poison.

“For god’s sake, Sherlock. I don’t know what this is about, but it’s the simple truth. I have missed you.”

Sherlock snorted. “You wouldn’t know simple truth if it paraded in front of you wearing a signboard. You needn’t worry about me, Mycroft. I’m absolutely fine. I’ve been fine without you and I will be fine without John.”

They regarded each other for a long moment before Mycroft spoke. “You don’t believe me.”

“Oooh, incredible, as incisive as ever. It’s just so terribly convenient that you come out with such a display of concern now, isn’t it? The surprise visit, the dancing, the sentimental declarations. You didn’t say a word when I moved out into Baker Street, or when I met John, or even after I spent two years being dead. No, you wait until the precise moment you calculate I most need to hear it, and then expect me to be abjectly grateful. Well, it’s not going to work this time. All I want to know is how it’s done. How you manage to live your life so utterly indifferent to humanity.”

Mycroft stared at him with a growing sense of shock. “You really are unbelievably slow, aren’t you?”

“Clearly. You’ve said so often enough.” A familiar darkness stole over Sherlock’s face and he began to turn away, but Mycroft held him by the shoulders and would not let go.

“The years we spent together – what do you make of those?”

That was something you only agreed to in the first place because it was convenient for you. Because you could trust me never to betray you, for family’s sake. Because you found me… not unattractive. Or so you claimed.”

“And that made perfect sense to you. That I only entered into our previous – arrangement – because it was convenient.”

“Yes, of course. I made the case to you that we were physically and psychologically compatible, and that I would be both suitably incorruptible and discreet. You agreed. We went through it all quite thoroughly at the time. Why else?”

It might have been a trick, this refusal to understand the glaringly obvious, but Mycroft had always found Sherlock’s moods perfectly transparent. The bitterness in his voice was genuine.

“It couldn’t have been because I truly desired you,” Mycroft said. “In spite of myself.”

“No, don’t be absurd.” It was Sherlock regarding him suspiciously now, as though Mycroft were trying to put one over on him, when in fact he had rarely been more sincere in his life. “You’d certainly shown no sign of it before. And you’ve told me countless times how badly that sort of thing disrupts the thought processes.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “It does. And therefore it would have been far more sensible to refuse you.”

“Except that you knew I would never let it go, so it would only have been a pointless exercise on your part. Besides, having me emotionally – attached – to you only made me that much more useful. Saved you from all that tedious legwork.”

They stood and glared at each other in fraught silence. It really was just like old times, except, perhaps, that Mycroft was now all too aware of what he had already forsaken.

“You give me far too much credit, Sherlock,” he said at last. “Have you considered that maybe I wasn’t even listening to the finer details of your proposition? That the only thing I cared about was that I’d spent so many years watching, and waiting, in the hope that when you reached some kind of maturity you would one day desire me as much…”

Mycroft found himself suddenly unable to continue. He glanced away to his left and pressed his lips together tightly, swallowing hard. When he looked back again Sherlock was staring at him, wide-eyed.

“…as I desired you.”

His memory of the first time, as sharp as ever: naked, aroused, terrified, pressing Sherlock gently down onto the bed. Aware above all that Sherlock would look to him, take his lead, and so forcing himself to calmness, to the unassailable confidence he knew Sherlock would expect. Being able to caress Sherlock freely at last, the long curve of his neck, the planes of his stomach, the fullness of his cock, touching and tasting and storing every moment away as though he might never have a second chance. Sherlock’s face, trusting, defiant, masking his own innocence beneath the wanton arch of his body, the insolent demands issuing from his beautiful mouth. In the end Sherlock had conceded, sobbing breathless cries against Mycroft’s shoulder as Mycroft gritted his teeth and closed his eyes and let his orgasm shudder through him in silence.

Mycroft had continued to keep his guard up as much as he could, since it would be a disaster to let Sherlock think he could have his own way in everything, but he was only human. On occasion he would insist on burying his face in Sherlock’s hair despite Sherlock grumbling that he was hot, sticky, bored, or hold Sherlock a good deal longer than he strictly wanted to be held. At work, he had habitually rearranged flights and meetings in order to leave later, or return earlier. Far too often he’d simply let Sherlock distract him, turn his thoughts away from more important matters in favour of whatever Sherlock wanted from him at the time. Small signs, but with inescapable conclusions for anyone with half a mind to notice. Obvious.

The strength of recollection must have coloured his expression; Sherlock’s face finally revealed a flicker of uncertainty. Suddenly Mycroft was furious, although whether at Sherlock or at himself it was difficult to say.

“Now, I trust that’s all finally clear enough for even a moron like you to understand. Other people have never mattered to me because I’ve never wanted anyone but you. If you hadn’t come to me that night, if you hadn’t pushed me into doing what I’d always wanted to do, I would have simply resigned myself to being alone. The way I have been ever since. You mean everything to me, Sherlock, you always have, and I won’t have you pining stupidly over John Watson as though he’s the only person who ever truly cared for you.”

“You… you’re jealous.” Sherlock’s voice held a note of wonder.

Rather than dignify that with a response, Mycroft pulled Sherlock roughly towards him, and kissed him in a way that left little room for doubt. When he finally let go, Sherlock looked shaken, but thoroughly present.

“I never thought you really…” Sherlock said, and then stopped. “But then… when I said I was moving out, I thought you were pleased to be rid of me. You never even tried…”

“What good would it have done? You would have only claimed I was trying to manipulate you, and in any case nothing would have stopped you once you’d made up your mind to go. As you’ve noted yourself, an entirely pointless exercise.”

“Not necessarily,” Sherlock protested, but without much conviction. They both knew it was true.

Mycroft’s hands were steady again as he retrieved his waistcoat, and then began straightening his tie.

“Sherlock… I know I can’t ever be what John Watson is to you,” he admitted, with reluctance. “Perpetually surprised, perpetually impressed, always one step behind, both literally and figuratively. But there are still, perhaps, other consolations I can offer.” He settled his jacket around his shoulders as though it were armour, and met Sherlock’s eyes squarely once more. “Come home with me. At least for tonight. Please.”

Sherlock stared at him in silence before visibly collecting himself, regaining some of his usual air. “Oh, all right. If you insist.”

“I do.”

He might have received the glimmer of a smile, but moments later Sherlock’s eyes had narrowed again. “You’re still doing it, though, aren’t you? Do you really want me to come back with you, or are you just making sure I stay out of trouble?”

Mycroft finished adjusting his cuffs and smiled, close-mouthed. “The two aren’t mutually exclusive, Sherlock. They never have been.”

“See? Always an end game,” Sherlock complained, but went to retrieve his coat from the floor anyway. Instead of straightening his own tie, he pulled it off completely and threw it onto the chair already bearing its matching waistcoat.

“You’d only be disappointed in me, otherwise,” Mycroft said.

Sherlock slipped into the coat, already turning up the collar against a non-existent draught. He shook his head. “You mean relieved.”

Having already secured victory, Mycroft prudently held his tongue.

They put Baker Street to bed for the night, Sherlock spreading the coals out in the fireplace to cool while Mycroft extracted his personal belongings from amidst the wedding debris. Sherlock repocketed his phone, but left the gilt-edged pack of cigarettes lying on the mantelpiece. Finally, they were ready to leave. As Sherlock switched off the last of the lights, Mycroft put an arm around him, and they shared a small, tender kiss by the doorway. Then they crossed the threshold together, side by side, and the door shut firmly behind them.