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Manfred

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hear me, hear me--
Astarte! my belov'ed! speak to me;
I have so much endured-- so much endure--
Look on me! the grave hath not changed thee more
Than I am changed for thee. Thou lov'edst me
Too much, as I loved thee: we were not made
To torture thus each other, though it were
The deadliest sin to love as we have loved.

- Extract from Manfred by Lord Byron.

 

 

The evening they arrive back, it is raining. Water is sluicing down from a disheveled, broken drainpipe by the front door and the gates on the driveway creak ominously like wailing ghosts.

Mycroft admires the gothic in it, but wrinkles his nose at the downpour.

"Hurry up," Sherlock complains as he searches for the key, "I'm freezing." He is restless after the drive and annoyed to be away from London, possibly displeased at being without John Watson for a weekend. Mycroft hasn't lived tolerably with Sherlock in many years, but some things never change and thus he is sure their relationship is entirely platonic, despite the frequent suggestive comments he makes. Sherlock would, but for one person, still be a virgin, and it is only the stimulation of equal intellect that inspires his almost non-existent flicker of sexuality, certainly not slightly portly ex-army doctors.

A small rattle of the key in the lock (door stiff, jammed after all this time) and then they're inside, standing in the - once grand - entrance hall. It smells of mothballs and must and traces of Mummy's old perfume.

"How tiny it looks," Mycroft sighs. "It always used to appear cavernous when I was a boy."

"You used to appear cavernous when you were a boy," Sherlock replies, and steps off the mat, brushing rain from his hair.

In the many years since either of them were last here, many things seem to have gone to seed; in the corner a faux plant has wilted, leaves gone yellow with age and frayed at the edges, opposite one of the grand windows either side of the door the tapestry on the wall appears to have faded almost completely in patches, ruined by the sunlight. It's a sad sight really, a house left to loneliness, and Mycroft feels the briefest of twinges that the people, along with the furniture, have worn away and gone.

"This place is utterly disgusting," Sherlock calls, heels snapping noisily on the polished wood flooring as he comes back through from the dining room. "There's been a leak above the fireplace, the hearth is completely destroyed."

It will be, Mycroft fears, a very long weekend.

 

 

 

 

When their bags have been brought in from the car (Sherlock, protesting) and a fire lit in the drawing room (Mycroft, agonisingly) there comes a quiet moment of triumph in the two green leather wingback chairs that Father always used to reserve for himself and Mummy; this, more than any signing of deeds, feels like a succession. The house is theirs to decide what to do with, but it is only upon drawing the chairs up to the fireplace that Mycroft feels it, sharing a swift, tight upturning of the lips with Sherlock, who clearly feels the same thing too. Here, back in the place that it was always possible, it feels easier for them to read one another like this, silently.

"Mummy's room seems to have been raided by her nurses, all the jewelry is gone and her nightstand packed up."

"You've been up to Mummy's room?" Mycroft's eyes are wide, surprised. He hadn't seen Sherlock go, thought he'd been unpacking their small food supplies in the kitchen. Never practical, always off on a treasure hunt.

"I thought it was only best I checked the upstairs floorboards before letting you stand on them, testing them with your weight."

Mycroft squints. "How kind of you."

"Yes, I thought so."

For a moment they sit in silence, then Mycroft drags his mind away from Mummy's things long enough to speak. "I think Aunt Edith took them, after the funeral; she had the keys before we did and took a few reminders."

Sherlock says nothing, untouched by either the financial loss or the depth of sentiment. He still looks cold despite the fire and Mycroft watches the echo of flames flicker in the curve of his sherry glass. "It's much too late to attack anything now, of course, but I suggest we get Father's room done first thing tomorrow morning and move on to the attic after lunch - the library will have to be left until Sunday. Does that suit?"

There is a narrowing of the eyes, a tightening of the mouth. "Nothing suits me about this, Mycroft; you've taken me away from London during a very busy time and appear to require me for nothing more than the heavy lifting - maybe you were hoping for a removal man instead? Or just too cheap to pay for one?"

As usual he takes a moment, counts to at least five before answering. Civilly. "I happen to know that quite the opposite of it being a busy time for you there has been a distinct lull in cases recently, possibly brought on by the upcoming festive period. Also I assumed you'd want to be here, as had I not invited you it would invariably have descended into a bitterly laboured point that I did not involve you in the sale of the family estate. Would you really rather me have simply deposited the money in your bank?"

"Yes," Sherlock replies immediately. He looks surly, but Mycroft knows this to be a lie from the way his left eyebrow twitches and from the simple fact he is here. No one forced him into the Bentley, held him down and drove him here against his will. Sherlock merely likes to rebel at any available opportunity and the boring fact is that he sees any interaction with Mycroft as one such sparkling chance.

"More sherry?"

Sherlock holds out his glass and Mycroft pours, watching the rich red swirl like silk. "I also brought mince pies, if you would like one?"

Mycroft still remembers the day when, four years old and demanding yet again to do everything the adults were doing, Sherlock was given his first mince pie. Were he capable of such a thing, Mycroft would call it a life long love. The only one he has, of course, other than making a constant show and point of his difference. He's torn between finding it admirable and annoying.

"Yes." Then he thinks, adds, "Please."

Leaving the warmth of the fireside is hardly pleasurable and the walk down the long corridor to the kitchen manages to undo whatever warmth his body may have stored up, leaving him shivering beneath his best suit as he locates the food bags he brought (dumped) and retrieves the mince pies. He is halfway back to the drawing room when he passes the door to Mummy's day room and happens to glance in, finding it left almost as though she had just stepped out, gone for a moment.

Not a great one for sentiment himself but always curious, Mycroft crosses the threshold and goes inside. There is needlework left lying on the side table and a small pack of cards - probably for whist - lying neatly nearby. The thin layer of dust covering everything is the only clue that this room has been left uninhabited for many months now and there is a distinct air of suspended use. Every other room in the place has dust sheets thrown over the chairs and main furniture but not this one; it deepens the unsettling sensation that Mummy could fly around the corner at any moment, scolding him for not being ready for dinner.

Over on the fireplace, along with two dishevelled looking books (marks in each one, keeping pages) there are portraits - four in all and sat in matching, ornate frames that Mycroft imagines Mummy took great pride in. The first is old - shades of grey but surprisingly clear - is of she and Father on their wedding day, standing beside the car that dates the photograph somewhere in the mid fifties. They are both smiling politely at the camera, but neither exude any form of real emotion and Mycroft feels this rather fitting, given the careful formality with which they conducted their marriage. Practical and entirely sensible but never anything more than useful.

Beside that, with the swirling edge that seems to characterise all Victorian photographs, there is the image of a woman with the unmistakable curve of his mother's nose; maybe a grandmother? He was never particularly interested in genealogy, not something they spoke of. She has the faraway look of all subjects of that time and were it not for the subtle, aristocratic light in her eye it would be an utterly unremarkable image. Mycroft smiles tightly at her, wondering who in the world she must be.

The two remaining photographs, however, are by far the most interesting. The first, taken just before Mycroft left for Oxford in his eighteenth year, shows the entire family, sat at the edge of the lake in the garden. Sherlock - the one to whom Mycroft's eyes immediately first go - is lying back on his hands, arms stretched straight and taut, showing the set of his shoulders. It was before he quite grew into his body and there is an air of something distinctly childish about him, but Mycroft doesn't remember feeling anything like that at the time; he has always been, and always seemed, far beyond his years. His hair was shorter then, but no less wavy, set closer to his head in something austere and tailored and for a moment Mycroft tries to remember their interactions then, so greatly changed by time and circumstance in the intervening period.

As for himself, he looks arrogant and proud. And portly. It doesn't do to look too long at himself, frankly.

The last photograph, angled in slightly on the mantelpiece towards Mummy's favourite chair, was taken five years later than the last in Sherlock's equivalent final summer before departing for Oxford. This time it is simply the two of them, an unusual informal snap taken in the drawing room - now so hollowed out by cold and time but back then stifling from some of the warmest weather on record. Mycroft is sitting lazily on the long bench that used to be just below the window and there, half lying and half perched, is Sherlock.

An unusual posture but then they had, Mycroft remembers, just been disturbed kissing.

Mummy clearly had no idea at the time what the noise of her footsteps had just interrupted, but at other points in the future Mycroft could never help but wonder if she did know, somehow. She was the kind of woman wonderful at keeping a secret, but possibly the knowledge that her sons had a rather individual relationship escaped her.

Too late now, of course, to ask.

Not that he ever would, not really. But long gone, either way.

Mycroft is drinking in every detail of Sherlock in that photograph - his eyes, revealingly blown and hazy, and his hair, ruffled either by the breeze from the window or by the indecent drag of Mycroft's hand through it - when there is suddenly a noise behind him, the creak of a floorboard.

"What's taking you so long?"

Mycroft turns and realises Sherlock is much closer than he originally thought, able to look directly over his shoulder in fact and now proceeding to do so, eyes on the photograph that at some point Mycroft took down, wrapped his bitterly cold fingers around. He watches Sherlock's face as he takes in the details, remembers the afternoon. He doesn't expect what comes out of his mouth.

"We both look horribly guilty."

They don't reference it. Not overtly. Mycroft feels a spike in pulse, though possibly this is from the closeness of Sherlock's breath upon his neck.

"We were both horribly guilty."

"Probably you were but I remember being far too aroused to care, frankly."

This new openness, Mycroft thinks, is possibly the influence of John Watson. Sherlock says things now, things he would never normally say. The humanisation of his brother.

He glances back once again, notes the perfect bow of Sherlock's top lip, not even vaguely smiling. "Yes, that was something of a feature, if I recall."

Just as he threw himself into a bottomless exploration of cocaine and his recent utter immersion in the role of 'consulting detective', Sherlock was once totally fascinated by the sexualisation of his own body. Only once, of course, for a matter of nearly two months, but it was just as desperately investigative and impishly thorough as his other phases - though this one, Mycroft suspects, was largely driven by pure hormones and a willing partner, the culmination of something else entirely. His interest in sex has been vague and sporadic since then, almost non-existent and never quite so driven by body, more by mind.

"She wouldn't have kept it if she'd known."

He moves away now, walking around Mummy's things and Mycroft frowns. "What do you mean?"

"When you were looking at the photograph you were wondering if Mummy knew; of course she didn't, Mycroft."

He doesn't question how Sherlock knows; they have no need to question one another so instead he looks back down at Sherlock's eyes once again, heavy and dark and so young. Those short few weeks when everything stopped - work, school, outside - solely for Sherlock have always been something of a microcosm in Mycroft's mind, set apart and existing within it's own walls. It's unsettling to see a photograph from the middle of that world thrust into this.

"You're being awfully dull," Sherlock says. "Are you caring?"

When Mycroft looks up he finds something derivative on Sherlock's features. "Would you rather I didn't?"

"Entirely. Please don't confess you've gone all human on me, Mycroft."

This, at least, is familiar and he finds himself smiling. "Of course not. Shall we retire?"

"Only after you relinquish the mince pies," Sherlock replies.

After making up two separate beds in their old rooms, they go to sleep. Separately. Mycroft never expected anything more.

 

 

 

 

"What in heaven's name is this?"

Sherlock is holding up a slightly twisted piece of piping, frowning at it despite the several curls sticking to his forehead with heat. He is in shirt sleeves, something blue and magnificent rolled up around his forearms after working hard most of the morning. Mycroft has barely broken a sweat.

"You discovered it at the bottom of the garden one day, refused to let Mummy throw it away."

Without thought, Sherlock throws it in the rubbish bag.

They have been working steadily all morning to clear the debris from each of the most important rooms, things that have to be looked through rather than simply packed up and shipped on to them as the contents of the library will no doubt be, shared (un)equally. Father's room took them the best part of five hours, starting immediately after breakfast at nine and since lunch time they have gravitated to the attic. Up here it is unusually warm compared to the rest of the house and they are barely through one section of floor space, picking through boxes and moving inwards where they can.

Mycroft is currently perched a beam, hardly at one with the precarious positioning whilst Sherlock moves carelessly between pillars, unthinking. He envies him such grace.

"Where did you put the Wedgwood?"

They have been getting along almost amicably all day and Mycroft feels a strange sense of lightness that he would never have expected last evening. Possibly Sherlock is working up to something, some display of temper, but if so he has not yet shown the first signs of it. The atmosphere is quite refreshing.

"In the box by your feet," Sherlock replies, but his voice is already distracted by something else. When he looks up, Mycroft sees what.

"Where did that come from?"

"I tore away the dust sheeting and found it here, propped up against the eaves. Do you know what it is?"

Covered in a thick layer of protective brown paper, the object is over large, creating one full wall in the attic behind which they had imagined more boxes. Now without the dust sheet it is clearly thin, like a canvas. Mycroft shakes his head. "No."

Silhouetted against the paper, Sherlock looks back at him quizzically before stepping any closer. He has his best shoes on and finely tailored black trousers; utterly unsuitable for cleaning out a dusty loft but really quite stunning for casting shadows. Mycroft nods at him to go ahead.

Then stepping forward, Sherlock buries fingers in the thin tear at the corner and rips the sheet away, exposing the painting underneath.

Mycroft shivers.

There is silence for a minute whilst Sherlock - hands on hips, making even more of a play of his body - takes in the scene. "I remember this; it hung from the top of the stairs, looking down over the landing."

Mycroft says nothing. Perhaps this is why Sherlock eventually turns around, squints hard at him in the poor attic lighting. "What's wrong? Why aren't you speaking?"

Perhaps silence is not the best way to reply to this, but Mycroft finds he doesn't really have anything to say. As with the photograph last night, the painting before him is a piece of that strange summer thrust once again into his ordered world. In the short space of time he has taken trying to find something to say, however, Sherlock has given full scrutiny to his features.

"You moved it," he says slowly, piecing it together. "Or more likely had it moved. You feel guilty; why?"

Summoning his most emotionless expression, Mycroft finally finds his voice. "Utter nonsense."

Still standing there, clean lines and pale forearms, Sherlock tightens his jaw. "You've always been a particularly useless liar, Mycroft, especially to me. Artwork - even appalling artwork, which this very much is not - is never so horrifying as to warrant the look currently bastardising your features."

And of course he's right - Sherlock is always right, Mycroft taught him carefully to be that way - so he merely stands up, brushes a few crystals of loft insulation from his trousers and raises his chin. In defiance. "The painting is called Manfred On The Jungfrau, completed by John Martin in 1837 and you're right, it did used to hang over the landing; Mummy replaced it with a Vermeer several years ago, I do believe. It is based on a gothic text with a similar name by Lord Byron, which you will find in the library, should you wish to read it."

He makes his way towards the step ladder. "Now, would you like some tea?"

 

 

 

 

The drawing room is cold again, chilled despite the fire and Mycroft suspects that perhaps it's a sign that it is finally the time to leave; even the house has closed itself off to them, refusing to warm for love nor money.

He hasn't seen Sherlock since this afternoon and nor does he wish to, having dined alone. Perhaps they can avoid one another until late tomorrow morning and complete the drive home without speaking of any ugly business. He does so hate to show feeling.

Though perhaps it wasn't quite feeling, exactly, more the echo of something, a hatred long gone. Many years ago he used to stare at the figures there, Manfred and his unspecified fellow, gazing into the chasm before them and feel an awful, bone-deep empathy. Seeing it there suddenly, once again, was something of a shock to the system after many years of not exactly deleting, but rather sectioning it off.

Now that it's gone again he's quite content to sit here and eat mince pies, ignoring it for a second time.

The fire crackles but still gives off no heat; were he to move any closer he would be in the blasted thing, so instead he takes another sip of brandy, hoping to warm himself another way. There is a lull about the place, and Mycroft is just starting to feel pleasantly drowsy when the door swings open, dramatically wide.

Sherlock is holding a book aloft.

"This is disgustingly long."

Mycroft doesn't need to look to find that said book is a volume of Lord Byron's works. The more subtle, delicate things in life have always passed Sherlock by somewhat. "Excuse me?"\par

"I was ecstatic when he finally died, moaning on endlessly about guilt." Sherlock drops into the chair opposite him, narrowing his eyes when Mycroft smiles politely. "Maybe Mummy did know, if you ordered her to take the painting down."

"I have no idea what you're - "

"Lying!" Sherlock announces, loudly and with some considerable glee. He drops the book down on the arm of the chair as he does so, supposedly for further dramatic effect. Mycroft sighs. "The poem on which the artwork is based deals chiefly with the frankly boring struggle of a man riddled with guilt about engaging in an incestous relationship." The look Sherlock gives is withering. "You're so predictable, Mycroft."

"You, however, are wholly fresh and original every time."

They scowl at one another, practicing at being enemies.

"When did you order it to be taken down?"

"I didn't order..."

"Instruct, then," Sherlock says, rolling his eyes. "I refuse to believe you asked, because that's not the way you work."

Mycroft summons a shred of dignity, takes another sip of brandy. "I advised Mummy that perhaps we should have a slightly more cheerful piece looking over the landing; I do believe it was a month or two after you left for Oxford."

Sherlock smiles, mouth twisting like a feral cat. "I knew it. Didn't she think it strange?"

"I gave her the Vermeer as a gift, she merely came to the same conclusion as I about where best to put it."

For a moment Sherlock watches him, face still triumphant, then carefully leans forward. As he does so, the entire angles of his face change and Mycroft wonders if this is merely just a mask rather than sincerity. "Did you really feel guilty?"

He tries to look for a spark of something genuine in the eyes before him but that's the thing about Sherlock's masks, they're always so damn good. "Didn't you?"

"No." Instant, firm. It's hard to fake that kind of reaction. "I can also say it didn't trouble me on any of the occasions after that, either. Doesn't trouble me," he adds, and Mycroft feels, quite against his will, a thrill of promise.

"Perhaps it was just having the abominable thing hanging there, suggesting the need for guilt."

Sherlock considers this, eyes raking Mycroft's features for signs of weakness. It's a familiar feeling, comforting almost, and Mycroft lets it happen. "Byron slept with his sister, you know," he eventually goes on, sitting back and relaxing somewhat. When he curls his feet up underneath him Mycroft is reminded of other winters spent here, before the fire.

"Half-sister."

"A nugatory point; they had a child together."

"It's all rumour, Sherlock."

His voice sounds exasperated even to his own ears. The worst thing, he finds himself thinking (not even for the first time) is that it's all so precarious, his interaction with Sherlock. All at once life-long and yet also precarious. A contradiction.

"Anna knew, that horrible cleaner Mummy got to help Mrs Whitstable when we were all home."

The sudden flip back in topic takes Mycroft momentarily by surprise; Sherlock is still sitting curled up though, for all the world at home and conversational - such changes. Mycroft sometimes wishes he didn't have to keep up.

"Whatever makes you think that?"

Eyes reflecting flames from the fire, he brushes a thoughtful finger over his lip. "Do you remember the morning after Aunt Hilda's party? You were due back in London for an evening and you were soaking in the bath."

Images come back to him surprisingly swiftly; first colours, then feeling. The drive back from the party the previous evening had been achingly long, both comfortable, sated, sharing something. A secret like that - something so utterly dangerous - can be worryingly powerful, can create it's own bubble existing almost like another entity in the room. The drive had been filled with that - the summer had been filled with that.

With surprising sense memory Mycroft remembers the bath, yellow sunlight on cream walls and the noise of Sherlock still in bed a few steps away.

"The calm before the conference with the French minister, yes."

"Well she came in, that morning, to change our sheets."

Sherlock speaks precisely, chooses his words with the greatest of care; Mycroft notes then that he uses 'our' rather than 'yours'.

"And found you looking dishevelled in my bed."

"Slightly worse than that, she woke me."

There is a second or two between them and then at the same moment, they both smile. Twisted, unhealthy, shared.

"The scandal of a shocked maid."

"Was she shocked?" Mycroft asks, caring not a jot. He could trace her, if he needs to.

"Possibly, she looked sort of... broken."

He takes another sip of his brandy, drains the glass. "She had the most appalling crush on you, of course."

Sherlock shrugs, as though this is natural. Perhaps it is, Mycroft thinks. The image of the photograph on Mummy's mantelpiece appears in his mind, Sherlock pale, beautiful and clear eyed, just realising what his body is for. "What did you say to her?"

"She told me she'd come for the sheets, I told her we were still using them."

The picture of this forms easily in Mycroft's mind, pieces here and there of his bedroom at the time, soaked in stifling heat despite the windows open and curtains billowing. He can see Sherlock's hair spread out upon the pillow, the starkness of his obviously naked body beneath the pure white sheets. The room, he realises, must have smelt like sex. How shameless they were.

"You were completely brazen."

Sherlock looks at him closely for a moment, continues. "So were you; you kissed me at the end of Mummy's bed whilst she was downstairs saying goodbye to dinner guests." The combination of this story, the lowness of Sherlock's voice and the focus in his eyes should possibly wrack Mycroft with guilt.

But they do not.

"How long did it last - six weeks?"

"Seven," Sherlock replies.

A sudden shock of rain, loud and unrelenting against the window like a fresh storm breaks the quiet atmosphere in the room. Looking down at his glass and the bottle, Mycroft realises he has a little more brandy than he should have, though at least now the core of him appears to be warm, the freezing has stopped. Like a lazy spun web has been collapsed, he sits up in his (Father's) chair and looks across at Sherlock, still curled.

"We should really be in bed."

His eyes are dark, mouth already curving. "Is that an offer?"

Stillness. Seriousness. "Would you like it to be?"

"Entirely, yes."

Something in him relaxes; intuitive, instinctive. "Come on, then." Mycroft stands, tidies his glass away briefly for the morning. Sherlock unfolds like an origami figure.

They kiss lazily, open mouthed and unashamed in front of the fire. As though the last time they did this was yesterday rather than months ago. Sherlock's body is already warm, receptive where Mycroft's palms touch him as Lord Byron falls to the floor off the edge of the chair. This, despite it's growing infrequency and it's difficulties, is never anything but expected, unforced, normal. Guilt - and society - be damned.

Mycroft knows he would walk on by passed that chasm, leave Manfred wailing there. Perhaps that is why truly dislikes the picture.

They go up to Mycroft's bedroom (always their haunt, never Sherlock's) and there is a firm eagerness to the unclasping of the buttons on his waistcoat, a mouth always warm, demanding. Sherlock's body underneath the sheets moves like water slipping over his, a knee between his thighs grazing skin along skin, arching into gasps.

His knowledge of other bodies is gratefully limited but Mycroft can easily tell the difference between the give and take of those encounters and the seamless nature of these ones, with a body that feels like it belongs to him anyway. Sherlock guides his fingers down and Mycroft complies, slipping inside him until their room - their house - is filled with the noise of soft, quick breaths against the warmth of a neck, the sanctuary of a shoulder. Sherlock moans, quite delicious and utterly unselfconscious, nails digging into the delicate flesh of a forearm to convey the pleasure, delay the inevitable.

When Mycroft rolls him over, holds him down until Sherlock stops squirming and looks at him with dark, lost eyes, they start again. Slowly, this time, to even out the fast, desperate heat Sherlock bombards him with every time, shocks him out of his comfortable routine of life with where nothing is ever this fast paced, this urgent. The body now beneath his arches gracefully as he enters it again with his fingers, Mycroft watching Sherlock's eyes as he does this to him, world suddenly so small, so intense. The empty old house is the only one that can see them, but then it's nothing it hasn't seen countless times before, trustworthy confidante.

Sherlock reaches for the side of his face, pulls him down into a kiss as a cool calf buries itself between Mycroft's, pulling him nearer, pulling him in. Their mouths are familiar, practiced at this particular art and they breath together, aligning and moving away as Sherlock starts to shake slightly, overcome with sensation to one specific spot inside him until the stimulation is drawn away with calculated knowing.

The air in the room around them warms, heats by degrees as Mycroft sits back, lets Sherlock touch him whatever way he wants to, leaving him with bites and marks and bruises.

Possessive. Always overtly and meticulously possessive when he remembers what he wants.

They fuck - in every meaning of the word - until Mycroft aches lazily in a way he had slightly forgotten he could. Sherlock buries himself inside and then just stays there like lack of movement is the purpose of this exercise, just getting close. He bites gently at Mycroft's fuller bottom lip when they kiss and then their eyes both flash open, hands splayed down on the base of Sherlock's spine.

"Do you think we should keep the place?" Sherlock asks, out of breath despite not moving. Mycroft arches his hips, difficult in this position.

"Getting sentimental?"

Sherlock nips at him, thrusts once, quickly and at just the right angle. Mycroft gasps a breath. "Perhaps I just find the artwork inspiring."

He moves then, finally, in just the same way each time until Mycroft is thoroughly messy, then pulls out to lick him clean; base in a way he never would be with anyone else - bare. He comes to the touch of his own fingers, with the help of Mycroft's mouth.

By the time they sleep the room is almost stifling, a touch of summer in the dark of midwinter.

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later, rainy London in the middle of that awful time between Christmas and New Year, Mycroft arrives home to find a postcard on his doorstep.

He is just back from the solicitors - withdrawing the sale of the house - and shakes a light fall of snow from his shoulders, stamps his feet on the mat. The back of the postcard is empty but for his address, hastily scrawled with a tattered stamp attached, torn across the corner. It looks bare, unloved, but Mycroft knows the handwriting.

When he turns it over, the front scene raises the smallest of smiles to his lips.

Manfred On The Jungfrau, 1837.