The whole thing seems to come out of an episode of Doctor Who and Mycroft knows Sherlock would mock him ruthlessly for his choice of reference if his brother were not off in Europe tearing down Moriarty’s criminal webs, but he can’t think of anything else that could possibly describe the current situation.
The thought of his brother makes the ice of Mycroft’s heart melt a layer. Sherlock had recently come back to life after his supposed suicide. Mycroft had opened the door to his flat one day and found him, looking like he’d cut out his own heart and eaten it. With the guilt for the part in his brother’s fall and the relief he felt at seeing his baby brother alive, he couldn’t possibly have turned him away. They worked together for once; using their brilliant minds to dig up the pieces of Moriarty’s remaining organizations. Sherlock had taken their information and headed out, taking his fight across Europe. While Mycroft knows Sherlock can take care of himself, he can’t help but worry.
It has been four months since he’s last seen his brother and he is still worrying. Constantly.
Though he has been rudely interrupted from his worrying by the unwelcome visitor standing in the middle of his office. A unkempt looking fellow with a scruffy appearance that tells Mycroft he has been traveling for a while now and dark rings under his eyes that show he has not been sleeping a wink in all that time. The general impression strikes Mycroft as slightly mad.
Strangely enough, this man reminds him of his little brother. Perhaps it is the way he eyes his surroundings with sharp narrowed eyes or that he seems entirely unruffled, if slightly irritated, by the fact that he has just unceremoniously come through a hole in Mycroft’s wall. More specifically, a worm hole that had not previously been there before. A method of travel that should be physically and scientifically impossible.
However, just because it is impossible doesn’t faze Mycroft Holmes. Where a lesser man would gape, Mycroft merely gives the disheveled figure a lazy once over as if the appearance of interstellar worm holes were just an everyday occurrence.
“English. Victorian Era specifically, judging from the fashion. Age thirty five to thirty six. Insomniac from the rings under your eyes. Violinist by the line markings on your hands. Possible drug addiction from the white powder of cocoa leaves on your fingertips.”
That gets the stranger’s attention; dark brown eyes come around to lock onto his. He just raises one eyebrow and crosses his legs casually behind his desk as if he is merely making small talk over afternoon tea, though the intensity in the other man’s gaze unnerves Mycroft.
The low, hoarse voice that replies makes Mycroft wonder just how long it has been since it was last used.
“High class born judging by the expensive material of your clothes and the easy comfort with which you wear them as if you have all your life. Government official by the official British seal of the documents on your desk. Obviously brilliant, but lazy due to the lack of a physical reaction even when I came flyng out of your wall and your reluctance to leave your chair despite the fact that I might be a possible threat. An unhealthy obsession with umbrellas from the bin full of them beside your desk when it is typical to only own one, it isn’t even raining outside, and the design of your tie.”
The man’s stare is just as searching as his own, if little more smug. He seems satisfied at finally gaining back some of his bearings.
Mycroft smirks. He mentally reconfigures the original assumption of insanity. This seemingly haggard looking beggar dressed as if he has just stepped out of the Industrial Era is more intelligent than he had first suspected.
Most interesting indeed.
He has no doubt that if his brother were present he would want to pick the man’s brain himself. Unlike his brother, however, Mycroft is not one to get distracted from the matter at hand.
“What is your name?”
The man’s face closes into a calculating expression. He seems to have remembered the vulnerability of his present predicament.
Mycroft pauses. Strange, that is the same alias that his spies have told him Sherlock is currently working under. What a coincidence.
Mycroft does not believe in coincidence.
“Your real name, if you please, or I will be forced to call in reinforcements.”
The stranger frowns, but comes to a decision.
His answer makes Mycroft’s blood freeze.
His mind races in several different directions before coming to a screeching halt. He gives the intruder a look so sharp, the man backs up, confused at the sudden hostility. Mycroft comes up with theories, possible evidence for those theories, anything to prove that the man in front of him is not his brother, but no matter how many times he runs through the available facts; there is nothing to say that the man is lying.
The only people who know Sherlock is alive are Mycroft, Molly Hooper, Moriarty’s remaining henchman, and Sherlock himself. The world thinks his brother is dead. Sherlock saw to that and Mycroft made the necessary arrangements to assure it. John Watson and others have their suspicions but there is no evidence to prove otherwise. To everyone else, Sherlock is as dead as the dead can be.
So why is there a man, who looks nothing like his brother, standing here proclaiming himself to be someone who is assumed to be lying in his grave?
A worm hole appearing in his wall is crazy enough, but this?
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
This is a lesson that he has drilled into Sherlock’s head from the age of eight, but never did he expect such compelling proof of its validity.
“Sherlock Holmes” drags Mycroft from his shocked reverie. “It is only customary that when someone introduces themselves, to introduce yourself in return.”
Mycroft debates (never hesitates because Mycroft Holmes does not hesitate no matter how off balance he is in this whole situation) before replying in his usual, aloof drawl that he uses when dealing with his younger brother.
Holmes (he can’t bring himself to call the man by his brother’s first name) breathes sharply, eyes wide as saucers. “Mikey?”
“Mycroft will do.” He cuts in sharply, not used to having a nickname and puzzled at the lack of hostility in this version of his brother’s tone.
He is greeted with the same deducing scrutiny, but twice fold. Once he has been thoroughly scanned, Holmes seems less suspicious of him, but still maintains the same look of perplexity as if he simply cannot believe the man in front of him is really Mycroft Holmes.
Then, Holmes asks, “Career?”
Mycroft recognizes it as the game he used to play with Sherlock. A series of questions only each of them would be able to answer. Sherlock had come up with it while Mycroft was at uni, to make sure the man who returned was really his older brother as well as for Mycroft to make sure that the man he had returned to was really the same boy he’d left behind.
“’A minor position in the British Government’. Initial choice of profession?”
“Piracy. Mother’s designated title?”
That stops them both. Mycroft knows Sherlock, though having a few problems, has quit cold turkey, restricting himself to nicotine patches. Even when he was, he never used a pipe (it reminded him too much of Father), preferring cheap cigarettes wherever he could find them.
Holmes seems to come to the same answer.
“I am in another world.” Holmes says in conclusion. “One like mine, but different. As per your reaction to the revealing of my name, the fact that you look nothing like my older brother, the small differences in our histories. The fact that I cannot see any signs of deception says that you genuinely believe yourself to be who you say you are. Delusion is possible, but unlikely as you do not look like the kind of man to use hallucinogens and you seem to be in your correct state of mind. Then there is the strange method of travel that I took to get here.” He glances at the wall behind him. “The only possible solution is that this is an entirely different world. And years in the future according to the calendar behind you that dates the year as 2012 and the various strange devices that occupy this room.”
He analyzes a small phone that Mycroft realizes is missing from his right front pocket.
Mycroft snatches the phone out of Holmes’ hand. “I believe the term you are looking for is parallel universe, but, yes, it seems to have a logical ring to it.”
“Interesting.” Holmes takes on the familiar, frightening expression of his brother conducting an experiment. “Tell me, what is your brother like?”
Mycroft’s response is immediate. “Consulting detective. Brilliant but utterly insufferable, thinner, and infinitely more arrogant.”
“Watson would find that hard to believe as he has stated that my ego would encompass all of Europe and beyond.” Holmes chuckles lightly. His laugh is different from Sherlock’s deep baritone; higher in pitch but just as smooth.
Mycroft can’t help a small smile. “John would say much the same of Sherlock. What of your brother?”
“He is more rotund in form but just as brilliant. If not more so than myself.” And Mycroft is almost shocked speechless because it is something that his Sherlock would not admit to in a thousand years let alone so casually. “Though, he is a tad more eccentric when compared to you.”
More eccentric than Sherlock? Impossible. “How so?”
Holmes coughs nervously, eyes flicking to something fascinating stuck on the ceiling. “He has a, ah, rather odd habit of walking around his home in the nude.”
“In just his-“
“Well,” Mycroft feels his face go a bit red of his own volition, “Parallel universe, indeed.”
Holmes’ face suddenly alights with fascination. “This is brilliant!”
A nostalgic pang of sentiment clenches at Mycroft. He has not heard that statement since his brother’s supposed suicide. Sherlock has never been quite the same since he faked his death. Even more bitter and withdrawn. Most likely due to the lack of Dr. Watson.
So it is a pleasure, seeing the familiar curiosity burning in this man, a man who is so like his brother but not. “You are my brother but not my brother and I am your brother but not your brother. Different versions complete with their own distinct characteristics but in essence the same person just different circumstances.”
“It would seem so.”
They both go silent, taking in the repercussions this situation brings.
At last, Mycroft rises from his chair and makes his way around his desk toward Holmes. Holmes looks surprised at the gesture, considering his initial assumption of Mycroft disliking any form of effort on his part.
“Tell me something, detective.”
Holmes is silent, looking at him with interest.
“What is your relationship with your brother?”
“Relationship? We are on good terms, a bit competitive at times, if that is what you mean. Why do you-” Holmes makes an insufferably knowing expression. Mycroft can clearly see the man’s resemblance to his younger brother now. “Ah. I see.”
Mycroft leans back on the edge of his desk, arms folded with one hand pinching the bridge of his nose as if just the thought of it gives him pains. “We are not, as you would say, “on good terms.””
Holmes looks him up and down. “Something happened between you. Something that hurt him.” When he sees Mycroft’s brief flash of pain, he gets his answer. “Correction, you did something to hurt him.”
Mycroft smiles tightly, trying desperately not to let the bitterness show. “You are my brother’s counterpart. Absolutely no tact.”
Holmes merely raises an eyebrow, not falling for his act in the least.
Mycroft sighs. “I assume that you have a James Moriarty in your universe as well?”
Mycroft regales Holmes with tales of his brothers’ and John’s misadventures with the mastermind known as
Jim Moriarty and the games they play from The Study in Pink to the Pool incident where his brother and his flat mate barely escaped with their lives. Holmes tells him of the case of Lord Blackwood, a smoke and mirrors magician who miraculously rose from the dead and almost killed all of Parliament and how Holmes met his own version of Moriarty in the form of a professor with an inventive handgun.
John has a wife in this other universe it would seem. If Holmes is as possessive as his brother, the temper tantrums must have been horrendous. He’s amazed that Watson even got him to attend the wedding though it turns out that Holmes was the one who dragged Watson, with a hang over no less, instead.
When they get to the subject of Irene Adler, Mycroft scrunches his nose in distaste. He tells the story of the dominatrix who brought Britain to its knees and Holmes comments on how similar it sounds to the husband snaring, money snatching woman that is his version.
“You even have your own Miss Adler. Why am I not surprised? Did she twist you around her little finger as well?”
Holmes does not deign to answer, but the grief that passes across his face makes Mycroft regret his phrasing.
Holmes eyes the thread of the carpet. “A rare form of tuberculosis. She died in seconds.”
So, in his universe, with no Sherlock there to save her, she perished after all. Mycroft has only been
recently privy to the secret of his Irene Adler’s survival. One of the first things Sherlock had told him
upon his surprising arrival at Mycroft’s flat was the survival of the Woman and his rescue of her. Mycroft was not exactly thrilled, but instead of being angry, he twisted it to his advantage and ensured that Adler repaid the favor she owed his brother. She had been invaluable towards the demise of Moriarty’s second in command, Sebastian Moran, thanks to her contacts in America.
The pieces are starting to come together.
Mycroft can see it all in his mind. Holmes’ odd tone whenever he mentions Moriarty’s name, his wince at Adler’s, his wistfulness at Watson’s, and the air of general loss about him. Moriarty has taken everything from Holmes, just as Jim has taken everything from Sherlock. Sherlock’s and Holmes’ stories overlap much more closely than he realized.
So if his theory is correct…
“You faked your own death.”
He doesn’t need to ask how. They both know.
Holmes smooths his face into polished stone, blank of any expression, but Mycroft recognizes the reaction as Sherlock’s attempt at shutting out his emotions.
“He would have killed them.”
Dr. Watson and Mrs. Watson, of course. Sentimentality is his brother’s weakness no matter what universe he is in and Moriarty is always willing to take advantage, Irish criminal mastermind or British mathematics professor.
Then they come to the subject of the fall. Sherlock and Holmes’ fall. Mycroft describes the three gunmen, the three targets, and the sacrifice Sherlock made to keep them safe. Holmes describes the chess match, Moriarty’s defeat, his own defeat, and the tumble that he took to ensure that his own friends were safe.
Holmes makes no facial reaction, but Mycroft can see the whiteness of his knuckles and the hardness of his eyes. The loss of his doctor during his cross country travels has had its toll on this version as well.
He trudges on, the familiar protective instinct rearing its stubborn head. Holmes needs to hear what he has to say and Mycroft will say it because he knows he will never be able to hear the words himself.
“He’ll forgive you.”
Holmes’ gaze snaps up in surprise and Mycroft feels a brief flutter of amusement at the way his mouth opens and closes without a sound.
“You were more clever, you beat Moriarty at his own game.” Mycroft stresses the conviction in his voice, meaning every word of it. Irritation that his brother would even think of blaming himself seeps through.
“Thanks to you, the good doctor still has his life as well as his wife. You sacrificed your life, your reputation, and your career for him. Do you think that is not price enough? Do you have so little faith in your dear Dr. Watson that you think he would disregard it?”
Holmes still looks as if he is prepared to argue. Childish stubbornness, it seems, is universal if you are Sherlock Holmes. Somehow, this irks Mycroft because no matter what version of Sherlock he tries to reason with, it never gets through any of their thick heads. He has pictured this conversation a hundred times, trying to find some way of conveying to Sherlock how sorry he is. How, with all his power and influence, he just wishes he could turn back time and make it so this whole thing never happened. He never expects to have to convince Sherlock of his own guiltlessness.
He goes on before Holmes can respond. “Not your fault you were backed into a corner. He was clever, clever enough to pull the rug out from under you and you couldn’t help the decision you had to make. Even though you feel as if it is a decision you should have never had to make. For the greater good, you thought. One life over millions. The only logical choice, you tell yourself. And in the end, you throw your only brother away for a few lines of computer code that don’t even exist!” He ends up shouting, carefully cut lines breaking free.
He isn’t even talking about Holmes anymore, so lost is he in his own words. He never loses control, never. Not Mycroft Holmes, the most indispensable man in the British Government. Not the Ice Man.
He struggles to keep his mask from slipping off completely. He can’t bring himself to meet Holmes’ eyes. A thousand reactions flip through his mind. Anger, shock, sadness, pity, disgust.
What he doesn’t expect is for Holmes to pull him into a firm embrace. It is a bit awkward because of height difference. Only now that he stands directly pressed against this man, does he realize that he has a good three inches on the detective. Two more than his six foot brother.
“You told him.” Holmes’ voice is soft in the shell of his ear. No hidden accusations in his voice as Mycroft expects, just the statement of a simple fact.
Always calm. Always aloof. Always in control. Mind at the wheel. Heart under lock and key.
“Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.”
Except Sherlock. Always Sherlock.
His brother had always been an excellent lock picker.
He wraps his arms around the man, clenching Holmes’ half beaten waist coat with trembling hands. He wants to beg for forgiveness. To spill his heart to this man who is his brother but not. But he can’t seem to form the words. Can’t seem to break through his own façade.
“I forgive you.”
Mycroft’s face twitches. He feels Holmes bury his face in the lapel of Mycroft’s suit. Mycroft shakes like he’s out in the cold without a jacket. A lone leaf blowing in the wind.
"He went to you first." The argument has just as much conviction as Mycroft's did. "I did."
Mycroft still doesn't answer. Sherlock didn't know. He would have never spoken to Mycroft otherwise. He would never trust him again if he'd known the sin Mycroft had committed.
Holmes seems to feel the continued doubt in Mycroft's tense form and his voice is slightly muffled by the fabric of the older man's suit as he says, “Do you know how I survived my fall at Reichenbach?”
Mycroft's hands clench a bit tighter to the waist coat.
Holmes presses on. “My brother’s personal supply of oxygen. I stole it before I left to face Moriarty.”
Mycroft’s inhibitions are stripped away. He can’t help it. It’s just such a Sherlock thing to do that he finds himself laughing into the shorter man’s hair. A guttural sound filled with self-pity and hatred, but somehow it feels relieving to let it all out.
An echo of his previous words are whispered in his ear. He can hear the smile in Holmes’ voice.
“He’ll forgive you.”
And this time he believes him.
~ O ~
Anthea, or Natalya as she has decided to name herself today, walks into her boss’ office, a tray of tea and biscuits balanced in one hand and her signature blackberry in the other. She has long since refined the art of texting with one hand.
“Sir, your usual 3pm afternoon tea is here.”
Mr. Holmes is not seated at his desk in his usual, dignified poise but actively upright and positioned near the window, looking out at the bleak, grey sky.
He does not look, but acknowledges her when he speaks. “Natalya, what is the definition of a parallel universe?”
The secretary blinks because Mr. Holmes has never asked her to explain anything to him. The man seems to be omniscient all on his own.
Nonetheless, she quickly taps the term into her phone and recites her findings. “A parallel universe or alternative reality is a hypothetical self-contained separate reality coexisting with one's own.”
He says nothing. She eyes the expanse of the room. Years of working for her boss have made her eyes keener and her mind sharper, so she knows when something is amiss. It seems off somehow. Different.
There is a scent of tobacco in the air, but Natalya knows Mr. Holmes doesn’t smoke.
“Had company, sir?”
“Observant, Natalya.” From Mr. Holmes, this is high praise. “He’s just left.”
“Who was it, sir?”
His eyes seem to crinkle slightly, a sign of amusement. “An old friend.”
She wonders what kind of friend would be confident enough to smoke in the office of Mycroft Holmes, but knows better than to ask. Instead, she sets the tray on his desk and turns to leave.
She stops in the doorway and turns to face him. “Yes, sir?”
“Make a phone call.”
She already has her list of contacts open. “To who, sir?”
There is determination and, to her surprise, nervousness on her employer’s face. “My brother.”