John walked calmly into the warehouse, as usual, more annoyed than curious at having been plucked from a London sidewalk and whisked away to an audience with the man who, according to his younger brother, was the British Empire. He turned round a corner, stopped, stared, and blinked. "Um... Were you expecting someone else?"
"Oh, come now, Dr. Watson," said Mycroft Holmes, with a slow creeping smile that God Himself couldn't have possibly meant to be reassuring, "don't be stupid. This isn't a secret assignation."
"Yeah, don't know why I might've wondered about that. Couldn't be the crystal and the fine china." John glanced at the crisply tuxedoed man holding the wine who stood patiently to one side, and who was undoubtedly the one of the three of them to look most out-of-place in the middle of the abandoned power station. "And the butler."
Mycroft shrugged primly and sat down at the immaculate table.
The two men sat through oysters, turtle soup, and sole—Mycroft ate placidly, clearly enjoying his meal, while John chewed his lip and crumbled a roll and tried to keep his leg from bouncing impatiently. He knew the futility of trying to hurry a Holmes. The two brothers had their own particular way of doing things, and nothing good ever came of trying to jostle them out of their habits.
Didn't mean John had to like it, though.
At last, Mycroft speared his final piece of fillet mignon and brought it to his lips, chewed luxuriously, and swallowed, washing it down with a red wine that John couldn't identify but which smelled like more money than his life was worth. The elder Holmes brother patted his lips with a napkin and slid a thin file across the tablecloth to John. "It was brought to my attention that an up-and-coming police sergeant in the country has been poking her nose into this case. I've put a stop to it, but troubles, as they say, never come singly. I thought it best to make you aware of it."
The file contained two printed sheets of a sparse, single-spaced account of the death of a youngish woman in the late 1980s, who had been found with her skull smashed on the front walk of her home. Her bedroom window was directly above her body. She had obviously fallen, or been pushed. Her young son had apparently witnessed the event, but the police could make little sense of the boy's responses. General consensus was that the child was in shock, and a wash as far as information went. No husband was mentioned in the report. There was a reference to an older son at the bottom of the second page.
"Seems like a fairly straightforward suicide," said John.
"Yes. That was the conclusion the police on the case came to as well."
"There's not a lot of detail here. What does the rookie think she's going to find?"
"The energetic young woman believes--or believed--that the child might have seen someone push Violet out the window. Perhaps even pushed her himself." Mycroft smiled colorlessly. "Her opinion has since been corrected."
Of course it had. "Violet?"
"The deceased lady."
John frowned. Mycroft's voice sounded oddly strained. "Did, um, did you know her?"
"Rather well, yes. At least, I thought so. In reality, perhaps not as well as I should have."
A personal case. John felt a little reassured, and a little unnerved, to know that Mycroft had personal attachments outside of Sherlock. "Well," he coughed, "I don't blame you for wanting some random cop to keep her nose out of your business."
"You want Sherlock to investigate her death."
"On the contrary. I want Sherlock to stay as far away from this case as possible, for as long as possible." The spy master's face suddenly closed off even further, and his well-bred voice dropped into something resembling emotion. It didn't quite get there. "That woman was our mother."
John didn't know whether to clutch the papers harder or drop them like a red-hot stone. Sherlock had never talked about his mother, or his father, for that matter. And from the way the brothers sparred, he'd always assumed that they were orphans, and that Mycroft had more her less raised his younger sibling. Sherlock had talked about his first case once before, but even then, John had had some difficulty imagining his brilliant, brittle roommate as a child. And trying to picture Mycroft in a school tie was even harder. They just seemed like isolated phenomena, like they had sprung up out of the earth fully-formed.
"I'm sorry," said John, very subdued.
Mycroft let out a huff through his long nose, but he managed a polite smile. "It was over twenty years ago. It's best to let the dead lie quietly. Which is why I stopped the sergeant from investigating our mother's death. Besides, she was making inappropriate insinuations. She seemed to have become enamored of the theory that Sherlock pushed our mother out that window."
"Because she was completely bonkers, obviously," John grinned. But the smile slowly faded from his face. "Mycroft?"
"I stopped her because I want to keep her from uncovering whether or not her suspicions are correct."
John stared at Mycroft in mute shock. "You believe that? You honestly believe that Sherlock murdered his own mother when he was twelve?"
"Of course not. Well. I don't want to believe it," Mycroft amended, deliberate and delicate. "But that is irrelevant. And in any case, it wouldn't have been outright murder."
John frowned. "Then what?"
Mycroft shrugged elegant shoulders. "He may simply have wondered what would happen if he pushed her over the edge." He gestured with one hand, and John hastily handed the thin file back. "I'd appreciate if you didn't mention this to Sherlock. He is, understandably, still rather sensitive about the issue." He gestured with the other hand; the butler removed John's unused plates and cutlery, and John knew that the interview was over.
He followed Anthea out to the car, for once forgetting to flirt with her. He was beginning to enjoy the sensation of being mercilessly shot down before he'd even gotten off the tarmac, but today the thought didn't even cross his mind.
He pondered how to act when he returned to the flat. It was pointless to pretend to Sherlock that nothing had happened. John decided the best thing to do was to tell the truth: that Mycroft had issued a summons from on-high, that the discussion was classified. Hopefully that would set Sherlock on his brother's heels instead.
Sherlock was lying on his back on the sofa with a newspaper over his face when John walked in. "Hello, John," he yawned. "Had a nice little chat with my brother, did you? I suppose Mycroft told you I killed my mother?"
John had long since stopped exclaiming over his friend's ego or his lack of a functional emotional range. But hearing that oh-so-calm question put the hair up on the back of his neck. "He told me how she died," he corrected carefully. "But he asked me not to mention it to you, actually."
"You didn't mention it—I did." Sherlock sat up with a snap. "What's he bothered about now? The anniversary of her death coming up? A case he wants to give me has got him nervous that I'm going to revert to my twelve-year-old self?"
"What were you like when you were twelve?"
"An experienced chemist and pyromaniac."
"Yeah, that sounds about right... Look, how's you know that's what he wanted to see me about?"
"Sergeant Donovan came round to harass me while you were gone." He leaped up from the sofa and began stalking haphazardly around the room, rifling through piles of papers as he went. "Apparently some overly energetic desk jockey with more ambition than brains decided to reopen my mother's case file."
"And your name came up."
"Yes, my ridiculously unusual name—and now, thanks to you spreading your electronic fertilizer across the Internet, my stupendously recognizable name. She called New Scotland Yard, spoke to Donovan—"
"So Sergeant Donovan came by to, what? Accuse you of pushing your mother out a window?"
"Naturally. According to her, it sounded like the sort of thing I would do."
John sucked thoughtfully on his lower lip. "Did you?"
Sherlock froze. "Did Mycroft tell you I did?"
"Strange. He's always thought I did." The moment passed, and Sherlock shrugged. "My brother can be a remarkable arsing moron when he wants to be. Usually, it's either about me or about our mother. Now it's both. Leave it to Mycroft and his chronic efficiency."
"Sherlock. Did you?"
His friend turned sharp, dark eyes on John. "Do you think I did, John?"
"Good. I didn't, as it happens. Although I think Sergeant Donovan would have happily put me in thumbscrews if she thought I would confess to it."
"Well, you do treat her like shit, Sherlock."
Sherlock frowned. "Do I?"
The consulting detective thought about this for a moment. "Eh. She brings it on herself."
"No, seriously. All that stuff about her and Anderson? It's this close to blackmail."
"Blackmail implies that I want something from them in return for my silence. I've neither made demands nor offered to keep silent." Sherlock's lean hands were absently twisting his newspaper into a complicated paper airplane. "Mum did it herself. I was asleep in the next room. I didn't see anything, but as soon as I heard the sound... I went into her bedroom, and... Well, it was obvious to anyone who had eyes."
"The police report didn't seem to know what to make of you." Although as soon as he said it, John fancied he knew why.
"I tried to explain things to them. But they were more interested in making me tea and wrapping me in blankets and alternately comforting me and accusing me of hiding who the culprit was. Mycroft still thinks I'm shielding someone."
John frowned. "Who?"
"Oh, a mysterious lover or a jealous wife—a phantom. A figment of my brother's guilty imagination. Someone who doesn't exist."
"What should Mycroft have to feel guilty about?"
Something flashed in Sherlock's eyes. "Not being there."
"Our mother was clinically depressed, John—a fact Mycroft seems pathologically incapable of accepting. But why should he have ever noticed? It's not like he was home to see how miserable she was. No, he was busy off in Jakarta or Vienna, learning how to be mysterious and smug and how to open Chardonnay under fire, never bothering about his weird little brother or how our mother was slowly dying inside."
"Ah," John said again. "And, um... And your father?"
It was funny, the Holmes brothers looked very little alike, but when they decided to shut down, it was with the exact same facial expression. "Father? What's that? Never heard of it."