Mycroft isn’t at all surprised when John doesn’t turn up at Sherlock’s funeral. In a way, he’s glad. He didn’t actually think he would be able to face it. Face John, that is. His brother’s heart. Completely shattered. He wouldn’t have been able to take anything emotional. Not because John Watson would have broken down and made a scene; no. There was too much of a soldier in him for him to do that. No; it was because of what John wouldn’t do. Mycroft has seen men broken when they have just lost a war. And unlike all the other wars he has helped orchestrate, Mycroft was emotionally invested in this one.
It certainly isn’t that Mycroft cares. When he apologised to John, and the poor man didn’t even realise, Mycroft didn’t care. But he is sorry. He’s truly sorry. He was emotionally invested in this war, and it has been a Pyrrhic victory.
The funeral is a small affair, meaning that only a few of the guests actually know Sherlock. Gregory Lestrade helps carry the coffin. He feels guilty. Ridiculous. As if he could have prevented anything. Besides, he was on Sherlock’s side. He has clearly dragged Donovan and Anderson along to rope them into the guilt and make them show their respects; they do indeed have the grace - or the stupidity - to look a little remorseful. Mycroft supposes it is justified, but still just as irrelevant. Mrs Hudson, sobbing into her shawl, how sentimental; but Sherlock was fond of the old lady, he supposes, and old ladies always sob into shawls at the funeral of people who were fond of them. Molly Hooper, looking nauseatingly devastated for someone who knows the truth (for he knows she isn’t putting it on).
A few other police officers and some government officials who know Mycroft, even some of Mycroft’s school-friends (god knows Sherlock didn’t have any) - morbid curiosity. No journalists allowed, but the police officers will do. Some people Sherlock helped, some who didn’t lose faith, more who still cling onto their gratitude, not for Sherlock but for the fact that it wasn’t their career or children or life that he chose to use for his alleged final act. Some of the anonymous faces from the homeless network, recruited to keep up the pretence of Sherlock’s death, to crowd the body, to stop John getting too close.
And finally, oh. Someone interesting. A woman in her early forties, wide-eyed, a little bewildered, and on the point of bursting with anger. The woman’s anger seems to be directed alternately at the coffin standing at the front of the church and at Mycroft himself. He gives her a once-over. Transparent. This is his counterpart. Harriet Watson, who has also come on behalf of her little brother. Mycroft had better make this good then.
He knows, as he looks at the grim, steeled figure of John Watson’s older sister, that here he is going to say fewer words, but many more truths, than people will think. Than Sherlock will expect. Than he expected himself to say. But they are there, ready, waiting, in his brain, and he is going to say them.
‘All of you sitting inside this church at this moment will be asking yourself who Sherlock Holmes was, and why he took his own life,’ Mycroft begins. His days at the Oxford Union begin to come back to him. ‘You will be hoping that what I say now will tell you if you really knew him. Yet I put that question to you. Do you know who he was to the point of recognising him? All of you did. Did you know him in the sense that you may have greeted him? Some of you may have done. Did you know his habits? Fewer still. Did you know the man beneath all of that?’ Mycroft clenches his jaw and sighs. ‘I am not sure that any of us here can say that. But I can say that I raised the child that became that man.’
Curiosity. Murmured glances. Some of them viewing him as the poor, beleaguered guardian who tried his best and just couldn’t rein in their psychotic ward. Some of them wondering what kind of monster could have raised a psychopath. Those people are more accurate, but for the fact that Sherlock is not a psychopath, nor a sociopath, no matter how hard he tried to look like one. Sherlock is gifted. Too gifted.
Gregory begins to look suspicious, about the newspaper articles, no doubt. How is he so stupid and so clever at once? Rightly suspicious. Wrong to think Sherlock didn’t expect it. Mrs Hudson sniffles, resigned to the fact that Sherlock was an enigma. Harriet Watson bows her head, fists clenched. Interesting. Molly Hooper looks pensive.
‘My brother Sherlock wanted to be a pirate when he was younger,’ Mycroft declares. Amused, slightly cynical murmuring. ‘In some ways that’s what he became. Sherlock made a name for himself as the only consulting detective in the world. Independent. So many people depended on him, but few of them he actually allowed to do so. The others didn’t depend on him, but on his mercenary trade.’ Mycroft pauses, and when he next speaks, his voice is laced with genuine pain. ‘It is lonely at the top of a pile of treasure that no one else knows about. One must find someone with whom to either share it or fight over it.’
Harriet swallows a lump in her throat and looks resentful at the fact that it’s there. Gregory sighs his exasperated, affectionate sigh reserved for Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies. Molly, strangely enough, looks like she understands exactly what Mycroft means.
‘In any case, the demise of a pirate captain means that the treasure is lost… either lost, or kept in a very safe place that only one person can find.’
He knows that is ambiguous and he did it on purpose. The person he wants to hear him now is Sherlock.
‘I won’t trouble you with tales of Sherlock’s life,’ he goes on, in a lofty tone. ‘I won’t tell you that it isn’t true that he did all of the things people say he did. Because it doesn’t matter.’ Barely stifled horror. ‘Whether he was a fraud or not, it is clear that Sherlock was a genius. How he used his genius, to me, has always been irrelevant.’
Reluctant acceptance of sibling prerogative. He clears his throat.
‘I will tell you two things. The first: I can assure you that Sherlock Holmes was indeed his real name.’
That gets a bitter laugh from the congregation; with Mrs Hudson, it turns into a wail that Molly manages to quell with a skilful handkerchief and a pat on the arm. She smiles slightly. Gregory puts his head in his hands. Harriet Watson rolls her eyes in a way that almost reminds Mycroft of himself.
‘The second.’ Mycroft has to remind himself that this is an act, because he really feels his eyes burning, and Mycroft Holmes does not cry. ‘The reason… the reason none of it matters to me is because there was only ever one thing that our parents and I wished for my brother to do. Just one.’
He pauses for a second but in that second an eternity passes as people speculate as to what that one thing could be. Molly tilts her head expectantly. Gregory looks confused, as if he knows the answer but doesn’t want to commit to it because it seems obvious. Mrs Hudson is just sobbing incoherently but, thankfully, noiselessly. Harriet Watson’s eyes widen coldly and she shakes herself, looking up at him, daring him to say it.
He knows Sherlock is listening.
‘For most of his life I wondered if he would ever do it, because his genius took over everything, and I suspect my wondering led to him rejecting it entirely. Pirates do not like regulation.’
Disbelieving laughter at his extended metaphor. He doesn’t care. This isn’t for them. He’s speaking to Sherlock. In terms he might just understand.
Mycroft takes a deep breath and goes on, ‘But what does a pirate do when the very nature of the treasure he guards… changes?’
‘I never wished for Sherlock to choose the fighting,’ Mycroft says darkly, ‘but the fighting was necessary right from the beginning. And it was such a hard fight that he almost forgot about what he was guarding. It wasn’t worth it, but it was too late to stop.’ Despite all his rhetorical tricks, his true feelings are rushing up at him now, because this is not fair, it just isn’t fair and he wants to curse every form of higher power in the universe.
Except he is every form of higher power in the universe. If there’s anyone who should have killed himself, it’s him.
‘But at the same time my greatest wish was that one day treasure would be worth it. Worth dying before losing it.’ He coughs and feels tears behind his eyes. This isn’t fair. ‘One can only run for so long… before falling, flat on one’s face.’
Head over heels, his mind supplies, knowing the congregation thinks he is referring to Sherlock’s leap to his ‘death’. That’s it. He’s going to make a right idiot of himself now. ‘I made you run, Sherlock,’ he confesses emotionally, ‘because I never thought you would want to stop. I’m sorry.’
He sighs, thinks to hell with it, and reaches up to wipe his eyes. ‘There was one thing I wished for my brother to do. You ask why he took his life. I would postulate that it was because I made him unable to deal with the fact that he had succeeded.’ A single, treacherous tear escapes his hand and rolls down his cheek. He straightens up, and looks directly at Harry Watson. ‘He left us a better man than I made him, and he couldn’t comprehend it. I hope that those who matter… do understand.’
Harry starts crying. Like Mycroft, she does understand, on behalf of her little brother. Mycroft knows that John doesn’t; and that like Mycroft, Harry will be unable to explain.
Mycroft and Sherlock sit across from each other, drinking tea by the fire. Mycroft almost feels as though they are children again, and he is reading to Sherlock. Clever Sherlock, who could understand too much. Now he doesn’t understand enough.
‘That was very poetic,’ Sherlock drawls, but there is no venom in his voice. ‘You can desist from your emotional facade at this point,’ he adds.
Mycroft slams his cup into his saucer. ‘This is not a facade, Sherlock,’ he says sternly. ‘Everything I said today was true.’
Sherlock stares at him pensively, innocent and impressionable, just as he was when he was a child.
But now Sherlock’s heart has begun to catch up with him. Too fast. Mycroft nurtured the brain, but could never manage the heart and brain at once. He had always thought that it would be okay, because they would stay separate… Until John Watson.
Mycroft sighs. ‘I truly am sorry, Sherlock.’
Sherlock shifts in his chair and gazes at him with a demanding curiosity. ‘What was it I did? That you always wanted me to do?’
‘I’m not telling you,’ Mycroft replies firmly. ‘You always did reject anything I wanted for you. I think over the years you shut this one off. Told yourself that I didn’t want it. Or that you didn’t.’
‘Please, Mycroft,’ Sherlock insists.
Mycroft shakes his head. Sherlock looks desperate, and he almost gives in. Instead he stands up, approaches his brother, kneels in front of him and puts his hands on Sherlock’s arms. ‘When you come back,’ he says sternly, as if he is once again speaking to the child he raised, ‘you can tell him.’
Sherlock returns Mycroft’s stare for a few seconds, and then he promptly bursts into tears. They are hot, innocent sobs, a catharsis. Mycroft places Sherlock’s head on his chest. His little brother tenses, initially unwilling to accept being pulled into an embrace, but his confusion wins out and he clings onto Mycroft’s waistcoat angrily. Mycroft knows that later he will pretend this never happened, that he will resume the emotionless mask he wore before… before John. But for now, he is trying to deal with it, and Mycroft will help him. And hopefully not screw up this time.
‘I know,’ Mycroft says quietly.
‘Do you think he misses me,’ Sherlock whispers, ‘like I miss him?’
Mycroft feels a terrible pain rip through his chest. This is not fair. ‘More than anything,’ he replies, ‘more than anything.’
‘I’d die for him,’ Sherlock sobs.
‘You just did, love,’ Mycroft says sadly.
‘He doesn’t know!’ Sherlock cries. ‘I tried to tell him, I told him it was all a magic trick - but he doesn’t know! He thinks - he thinks he saw me fall and - ’ He breaks off.
Mycroft sighs bitterly and lifts Sherlock’s chin to look into his brother’s grey eyes, which are laced with pain. ‘Well then,’ he tries to say comfortingly, ‘you’ll just have to tell him, when you come back, that that wasn’t when you fell.’
Mycroft is sitting in his office in the Diogenes Club when he walks in. Mycroft looks up, genuinely surprised. This is one visit he was definitely not expecting.
‘You’ve been paying the rent,’ John Watson accuses.
‘I have been following my brother’s instructions,’ Mycroft says coolly.
‘I don’t need anyone to pay the rent,’ John protests painfully, ‘especially not you.’
‘It is what he wanted me to do,’ Mycroft replies.
John inhales shakily and looks like he wants to punch him - Mycroft wouldn’t actually blame him if he did, but he just closes his eyes for a moment and lets out a long breath that trembles more than ever. ‘Well, that’s very nice of you,’ he growls insincerely, ‘but I’m moving out anyway.’
‘Moving out?’ Mycroft can’t hide the fact that he is genuinely aghast.
‘I can’t stay there,’ John snarls. ‘He’s everywhere.’
Mycroft almost tells him, Yes. He watches you constantly. But he just quells the burning voices in his chest that scream This isn’t fair, and grimaces sympathetically. ‘I understand.’
‘No, Mycroft, you do not understand,’ John yells. His voice breaks. ‘Why would he do that?’
‘I cannot claim to know my brother’s motivations,’ Mycroft says carefully.
‘I can,’ John protests. ‘I knew him. I - ’ He stops. ‘No. I can’t. Not yet. Not to you,’ he snaps. ‘The Sherlock I - the Sherlock I knew wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t - kill himself. It’s something you could understand better than he could.’
Oh, poor, emotional John. He does understand, on a certain level, what Sherlock is feeling. Mycroft almost wishes he didn’t, because the word he didn’t say is hovering around Mycroft with daggers of injustice.
‘You may have lost your brother,’ John continues. ‘But you can’t understand what I’ve lost. You don’t - you don’t even have a soul.’
Mycroft gasps aloud, and the daggers take the opportunity to pierce him at once. Why this? Why now? He knows Sherlock, in typical pessimistic Sherlock fashion, thinks he is nursing an unrequited passion. But Mycroft has to admit that he couldn’t previously have contradicted him, as much as he might have wished to, because he never dreamed it would be possible to do so.
Now he can’t contradict him even though he knows the truth. It is killing him.
This isn’t fair. Mycroft, whose job it is to know the truth, is, for the first time, almost wishing he didn’t. He’s used to speaking the truth and people hearing when he wants them to. And more importantly, he is accustomed to hearing the truth when it isn’t spoken.
Now, he hears the truth Sherlock and John both understand, and try not to say, not to him, especially not to him. But more importantly, he hears what they don’t understand. And he can’t tell either of them. He doesn’t want to. And he knows they won’t hear him.
Sherlock has dreamed and dreamed of someone like John. For John, Sherlock was a miracle he never imagined. And neither can fathom how the other feels. Mycroft, meanwhile - he knows, and he can’t tell them.
The first people in the world who won’t hear him. They would only hear each other.
Mycroft has been waiting all his life for someone who might hear Sherlock. It isn’t fair.
John has stormed off, following Mycroft’s lack of reply. He is deliberately making a racket as he goes through the silent rooms of the Diogenes Club. But without Sherlock, it is only half an effort. Mycroft smiles as he hears the state of his brother’s love in every single footstep the doctor makes: each one makes half its usual force. The smile is a bitter smile.
He follows John into the main room, where everyone is glaring at him. John clearly doesn’t care. He is making his way over to the main door, and any minute now, he’ll be gone.
He would never admit it, because he’s always been looking after Sherlock, but it is his own crippling fear of not being accepted that led Mycroft to make Sherlock run. It is for Sherlock. It is has always been for Sherlock.
It is for Sherlock that Mycroft now swallows everything he has ever known and tries his hardest. ‘John,’ he calls.
Several heads look up at Mycroft, ablaze with outrage. John turns around, his face contorted in cynical bewilderment, a single beam of curiosity lighting up each eye.
Mycroft gestures to John weakly. ‘There were things… I didn’t think Sherlock was capable of,’ he ventures.
John misunderstands. In the worst possible way. Mycroft can see it right away. ‘Yeah. I know he wasn’t, Mycroft,’ John says quietly. ‘That’s why I don’t understand.’
The word no is on the tip of Mycroft’s tongue. No, no, that’s not what I meant. This isn’t fair.
‘John,’ he croaks, ‘my brother l—’
‘Don’t do this now,’ John snaps. ‘I thought you couldn’t talk in the Diogenes Club?’
Every barrier that Mycroft just broke is hitting him in the face with weapons made of his failure. He wonders if it is a coincidence that it’s on that word that John stopped him. Unable to hear it? Not now, now that it’s too late, or so he thinks - and certainly not from Mycroft? Or just a subconscious reflection of what he can’t construe?
John Watson walks across the room to stand in front of Mycroft. He is remembering something, although what it is, Mycroft can’t tell, for all the shooting pains running through his skull. John smiles without mirth; it is almost scary. Then he slowly lifts his left hand and holds it out.
It is shaking. Mycroft can’t help but flinch.
John narrows his eyes, but doesn’t care enough to question Mycroft’s reaction. Instead, he pulls away and nods to him. ‘Goodbye, Mycroft.’ It is final, and the most heartbreaking thing Mycroft has ever heard.
Mycroft stands there in silence. John’s departure means the prevention of any more talking, so the glaring members of the Diogenes Club are prepared to let him off. When he hears the front door shut, the migraine increases and he retreats, feeling smaller than ever, back to his study.
On his desk is a newspaper from a few weeks ago. Reichenbach hero is the first thing he notices. The second is a picture of Sherlock and John. Standing together. Mirroring each other - no, not mirroring each other. Illuminating each other, bringing out the colours. John refracts Sherlock’s light, as Irene was only ever able to reflect it, making it hurt them both; Moriarty only to fan to the point of explosion; and Mycroft only to shield it, because it was so bright, too bright for anyone else.
Not too bright for John. They are happy. They smile contentedly. Before the Reichenbach Fall.
Before they both fell, and left Mycroft to pick up the pieces of something he has secretly always dreamed was able to shatter.
It isn’t fair.
Mycroft gives in, sits down at his desk, clutches the paper on his knee, and cries.