Chapter 1: Ten Things
Where I'm from, pathologists are MDs, so I am assuming a medical school background for Molly which I think is at least possible if not necessary in the UK. If that is not working for you it's a relatively minor detail so feel free to gloss over it. I am also assuming some knowledge of clinical anatomy on Sherlock's part which I don't think is necessarily unfair.
Sherlock knew where he was before he opened his eyes. At first, his mind foggy from waking after who knew how long, he was simply aware that he was in a bed that was not his own; the same basic elements were present but the smell, the feel… none of it was quite right. He took a slow breath and tried to focus on each element individually. The sheets – crisp, freshly laundered probably. They smelled of laundry soap and felt as though they had been ironed, though he had bunched a fair portion of them in his arms as he slept. The pillows – soft, deep, expensive. The mattress – old. Not uncomfortable but incongruous with the luxurious bedding. Stiff, though with some give. Slightly lumpy. An old bed in a done-up room. Guest bedroom, probably, rarely used for actual overnight company. The room – window open slightly, light breeze, birds – birds, and fresh air also. Definitely not London then. Definitely not Bart’s then. Troubling. He hated ending up in places other than where he’d intended. That was the difficulty in bringing another person into his plans. He thought for a moment and then amended his evaluation. Not troubling, annoying. There was only one reasonable explanation for why he’d woken up in a rarely used guestroom presumably located in an old house in the country instead of in the morgue where Molly was supposed to be keeping him.
“Mycroft.” He said it aloud and with complete conviction, though he did not necessarily expect that anyone was present to hear him. In response he heard a rustle of newspaper. Interesting. He wondered how long his brother had been holding vigil at his bedside.
“You’re awake.” Mycroft’s tone was even and controlled but even so he sounded distinctly tired. “And alive,” he added pointedly after a pause.
Sherlock opened his eyes slowly, still trying to decide whether to respond to the fact that his brother was stating the obvious in meaningful tones, as if there was anything to say except to acknowledge that yes, in fact he was alive. Without even shifting his head he found that he could identify his location. His family home. The Blue Room, a spare bedroom that had once been permanently reserved for Mummy’s sister. The walls were the same colour still, and the same lace curtains hung in the window, but the elaborate blue bedspread that had once given the room its name had been replaced with a soft and surprisingly voluminous white coverlet. Raising his head slightly off the pillow he saw that the little feminine knickknacks – antique perfume bottles and willow-patterned china cats – had been removed from the windowsill and the top of the dresser. Easier to clean, probably. Sherlock knew his brother employed far fewer people to maintain the house than his mother once had. He tried to raise himself up further on his elbows but it was more of a struggle than he expected – he felt heavy and stiff. It was to be expected, he supposed, after the fall. And he’d been sedated for a while too, evidently. He and Molly had discussed this possibility, if his injuries from the fall were making it difficult for him to keep properly still in the morgue before the time when he could slip out safely and unseen. But they had not discussed anything about involving his brother.
He was frustrated to have ended up here, but his intention to be petulant died away as he turned to Mycroft, who had risen from the armchair by the window and come to the bed, shifting the pillows around so that Sherlock could sit up a little more without so much effort before retreating a few paces. It wasn’t the look on his face, although there was a Look – searching concern where Sherlock would have expected exasperation – rather, it was as though he could sense that neither of them had the energy for a fight.
He sighed. “Why am I here?” he asked without any true challenge.
“You know why, I think.”
“How. I know how,” he corrected. His mind, sluggish at first with too much sleep and a surprise in surroundings, was moving more quickly now. “Next of kin, they called you to identify the body. I knew they would, there was nothing for it. You must have come quickly though. I thought there’d be time to switch back. No need to rush out of your office in the middle of the day for a corpse.” He paused, eyeing his brother suspiciously. Why had he come so quickly? Sentiment? He shook his head. He’d think about that later. “I know how to play dead. I could have taken you in as well, but we needed a real body to be declared by the doctors. Can’t fool them and the monitors all at once.” He cleared his throat. “You came to identify the body, it wasn’t me, you questioned Molly about it and she told you the truth. Maybe not right away but you could tell she knew something, she isn’t good at lying outright. You then convinced her to tell you where I was. Then, I don’t know. You got me out of the hospital somehow and brought me here.” He frowned. “I hope you were very careful about it or you’ll have ruined everything.”
Mycroft nodded. “I was,” he assured him softly. But he didn’t offer any further information. When it became clear that he was not going to elaborate, his brother continued.
“But that doesn’t explain why. I had a plan. You could have just left to it. Stepped back, pretended I was truly dead, spied if you had to, ineptly attempted to subtly manipulate my environment from afar.” Like he had before. They could carry on as they had across all these years, except that Mycroft would have an advantage. As long as he couldn’t read it on Molly, there would be no way for Sherlock to know or suspect that Mycroft knew he was alive and was watching, at least at first. And as much as he would like Mycroft to think he believed otherwise, Sherlock knew that his brother was, in fact, excellent at influencing the details around someone without their knowledge. It could have taken him weeks, maybe even months to realize.
He had not expected Mycroft to smile. It was an odd smile – partly satisfied, partly a little sad, perhaps, but even so, a smile. Why? Was he pleased? Was it simply that he was satisfied that he had finally found a way to mother Sherlock to his heart’s content? He wouldn’t have the chance for long. Sherlock would get dressed, perhaps help himself to whatever meal was most appropriate for this time of day (and really, why shouldn’t he as long as he was here), and be on his way.
Mycroft’s response betrayed nothing. “What sort of brother would I be if I left you to handle all of this on your own?”
“The same kind you’ve always been.”
“You underestimate me if you think that.”
“I had a plan, Mycroft.”
“It was hardly an elegant plan.”
“Time was a limiting factor.”
“You didn’t think it all the way through.”
“I thought it through.”
“Fifty feet, Sherlock. It doesn’t matter what your precautions were, you’re lucky you aren’t dead or very seriously hurt. You thought it through? Tell me. Ten things.”
It was not the first time Sherlock had made a list like this for his brother. Somehow it seemed to reassure Mycroft after the fact to know that Sherlock could list some of the major risks associated with a particular reckless behaviour, despite the fact that this knowledge obviously did nothing to alter the risks themselves. Eight possible negative outcomes of the recreational use of cocaine. Six things that could happen to a person who ran off on his own unarmed after murderers.
Ten was the most he’d ever been asked for, but then he wasn’t sure he’d ever shaken his brother up quite this much. Mycroft was normally unflappable, but today he looked a little... flapped. Sherlock breathed deeply, thinking. There was no reason not to indulge him.
“Calcaneal fracture,” he began. “Talar fracture. Navicular fracture.”
“Yes,” Mycroft cut in with a slight nod. “Those all count as one. Foot and ankle fractures. You’re getting caught up in the minutiae.”
Sherlock frowned. Surely they should at least count as two. Especially given their likelihood relative to other risks – he had purposely fallen on his feet, after all. But he ceded the point and continued, giving greater detail to each item to make it more difficult for Mycroft to group them together. “Forced dorsiflexion on landing leading to tearing of the Achilles tendon. Tibial fracture, risk of compartment syndrome or possible osteomyelitis if the fracture is open. Fibular neck fracture with risk to the common fibular nerve. Hip dislocation with rupture of the ligamentum teres, risk of recurrent subluxation and future osteoarthritis. Femoral neck fracture, risk of osteonecrosis of the femoral head if associated with torn ligamentum teres. Brachial plexus injury, risk of atrophy and permanent disability in the arm and forearm. Vertebral fractures, risk of paralysis or respiratory failure. Hemorrhage with possible hemorrhagic shock.” He paused, pressing his lips together. “Traumatic brain injury.” He’d been saving that one – it was the possibility that had most frightened him before he jumped. He’d have avoided bringing it up at all – there were plenty of other options – but he knew Mycroft would mention it if he did not. He was unspecific with the consequences of this particular injury because he didn’t want to think about them; it wasn’t as though they both didn’t know already how devastating that could be.
Normally these lists were what it took for Mycroft to accept what had happened and move on, at least in cases where the danger had passed. But this time he continued to look thoughtful.
“I have resources at my disposal. Your bank accounts will need to be closed, you don’t have the necessary documentation to get an honest job or a proper flat. You can’t go home, so you’ve nowhere to live. You don’t have the means to travel or a valid passport. You couldn’t kip in the morgue or on Miss Hooper’s sofa forever. How were you going to live?”
Sherlock frowned. His previous interest in behaving petulantly was renewing itself. “Dishonest job,” he answered as though this option was obvious, and in fact it was. False papers, payment in cash under the table, petty thievery if it came to it – there were plenty of people who were able to live and work without the express permission of Mycroft’s precious government, and a large city like London was likely an excellent place to find such opportunities. “Improper flat.”
His brother sighed and sat cautiously at the foot of the bed. Sherlock eyed him warily. The last time Mycroft had sat on the edge of his bed they’d been in this house but not this room, and Sherlock hadn’t been more than twelve years old. It had been the beginning of an ill-fated attempt at a heart-to-heart after Mummy had expressed concern that Sherlock had become more withdrawn since his elder brother had gone away to school. It hadn’t felt quite right then, with Sherlock eying his brother with the sullen eyes of a frustrated child, and it felt even stranger now that he was looking back at Mycroft with the suspicious stare of an untrusting adult. To the credit of both, however, after a long pause during which each brother privately considered to himself that this felt rather strange, it was silently decided that, for now, they would go with it.
“You’re in no state for that,” Mycroft informed him gently (too gently), breaking the silence. “You had it on the first go. Calcaneal fracture. You’re lucky – it’s a closed fracture, the doctor was able to achieve good alignment, and it’s the only thing that broke. But you won’t be able to bear weight on it for at least six to eight weeks, and if you plan to run around London after criminals again when all of this is over, you’ll need physical therapy. It was more than Miss Hooper could have managed.”
Sherlock’s grew thoughtful at this news. Damn. One couldn’t plan for everything, but he’d hoped he’d worked things out well enough to avoid the need for healing anything very complicated after the fall. He tried to move his legs again and realized that the heaviness he’d experienced before was more unilateral than he’d realized. He ran the toe of his other foot along the edge of affected leg. Slab cast – they must be waiting for it to stop swelling. “Six weeks…” he repeated in almost a whisper, a faraway look on his face. Six weeks. It wasn’t the worst that could have happened. There was a great deal to do before he would be able to return to his former life. People he had to track down before he could know that his loved ones would be safe. Comparatively speaking, a few months was negligible, perhaps even a good opportunity to take a breath, re-collect himself, make plans for after. And everyone should remain safe as long as no one knew that he was here and alive. As long as no one knew…
His attention snapped back to Mycroft. “Doctor? What doctor?”
“My own physician,” Mycroft soothed, maintaining his infuriatingly gentle tone. “I trust him implicitly and I paid him handsomely for his discretion.”
“I already had a doctor,” he shot back, raising himself up off his pillows with more conviction this time. He was suddenly furious. Yet another person involved. This whole thing was getting muddy very quickly. “You had no right to bring in another person without consulting me first.”
“Miss Hooper is a pathologist who has not treated a live patient since medical school. I was unwilling to risk your foot healing improperly due to lack of experience. Frankly, when I explained this to her, she seemed relieved. You were asking too much of her, I think. As for consulting you,” Mycroft’s brow furrowed softly. “I was concerned that waiting without properly reducing and immobilizing it would make it worse. Especially as we were moving you here. If that has made you unhappy then I apologize.”
“Of course it’s made me unhappy!” He was beginning to raise his voice now. “I –“ Before he could elaborate, Mycroft placed a hand on his calf. The gesture was so unexpected that his words died on his lips. He stared at his brother, his mouth still slightly open.
“Sherlock. I promise that Dr. Graham is the only one. I will not bring anyone else here without your express permission and I won’t tell a soul that you are alive. I’ve asked the staff to take holidays for a while so that I could be alone with my recent bereavement. I rarely entertain visitors here, and if I need to see anyone while you are here I will meet them in London. It’s not my intention to take control of this situation away from you. I just want to make sure that you are well. I think that if you will let me take care of this for you, you may find you have more energy to devote to tying up whatever loose ends may need your attention.”
With these words he stood and moved toward the door. “I think perhaps you may need some time alone to come to terms with all of this. I’ll be back in about an hour with some dinner, if you’d like. The laptop on the bedside table is for your use, and there are some books in the drawer as well if you’d prefer. The bell pull still works, I checked it, so you can ring if you need anything else” He gave his brother a wry smile. “In the meantime, I have your funeral to plan. Do let me know if you had any specifics in mind.”
A moment later he was gone, and Sherlock was left alone to ponder his situation. He sat for several minutes in stunned silence, trying to decide how angry he was or wasn’t to be with his brother and how best to show this anger once he decided how much of it there was. Once he’d decided on appropriately-timed silent treatments as the method but had also decided to wait and see how the rest of the day progressed before determining the level of anger itself, he thought he’d better spend some time considering how he could best make use of this forced respite period.
Which he fully intended to do as soon as he’d seen which books his brother had left for him – he found he was inexplicably and insurmountably curious as to what Mycroft had imagined he might enjoy. The table was well within his reach, and he slid the drawer open without trouble. On top of the short pile was a very worn copy of Treasure Island, the greying white cover patterned with green palm leaves and red parrots. Inside, the front page was inscribed with his own name in careful, deliberate, oversized writing. Sherlock was not a nostalgic or sentimental person, but somehow having this book from his childhood was… good. Suddenly it became apparent that, at least until after dinner, his brainwork didn’t stand a chance. Turning to the first chapter, he settled back against his pillows, feeling suddenly very comfortable. His situation was hardly going anywhere – there would be plenty of time to consider it later.
Chapter 2: Seventeen Minutes
This chapter occurs before the first one chronologically but somehow it feels better here - I promise not to mess with timelines so much in future chapters.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He’d been on his way to a minor meeting when he received the call from the hospital. He changed his route immediately. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do. Yes, it was true – life goes on, the word does not stop spinning simply because one’s brother has been lost. But equally, meetings are ineffective when one spends them imagining one’s brothers grey eyes suddenly gone dull and lifeless.
He was grateful for the partition in the car, glad that his assistant had not accompanied him. Feeling safe behind the tinted windows, Mycroft allowed himself a moment to slip out of his usual stoicism. His eyes crinkled, his mouth curled into a miserable grimace. He covered his face with his hands and rested his hands on his knees. He was overcome with a deep sadness and overwhelmed with a sense of having failed his brother in a very final and permanent way. He tried to mentally shake himself. He thought he’d prepared himself for this moment. Somewhere in the back of his mind, in a place he didn’t often acknowledge, was the knowledge that he’d been likely to outlive his brother. It was a simple equation involving lifestyle risks. As such he’d sometimes imagined what this moment might be like. How it would happen, how he might feel. It was everything and nothing like he’d expected.
Exactly one and a half minutes later, he was a picture of stoic calm, as if his earlier show of emotion had never happened. Seventeen minutes after that, they arrived at St. Bart’s.
He knew the way to the mortuary. As he made his way there with brisk, sure steps, he thought he overheard people speaking about someone jumping from the roof. No one seemed to know many details. A man had jumped, everyone knew. His friend had seen it, someone said. Someone else had heard that the friend had had to be admitted as well, in the end. Psychological shock. Mycroft was no fool, but the possibility that this could be how his brother had met his end did not occur to him. Sherlock thought too much of himself to commit suicide.
As he rounded the last corner, fighting the urge to slow down, to delay the inevitable, Mycroft was reminded of the last time he was here. With his brother – he’d given Sherlock a cigarette because it was the only way he could think of to provide some small comfort over a loss that Sherlock was refusing to acknowledge. Who was going to offer comfort this time? Perhaps this was why people liked to do this in groups, or at least in pairs.
The sound of his name drew him out of his reverie. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head to clear it, he turned his attention to the man before him. “Mycroft Holmes,” he repeated in confirmation. His voice didn’t sound quite right. He cleared his throat softly and tried again. “I’m here to see about my brother, Sherlock Holmes.”
The man nodded sympathetically. “Of course. My name is Dan Parsons, I’m one of the pathologists here.” He hesitated. “Did you bring anyone with you for this, Mr. Holmes?”
Mycroft shook his head. “Thank you, but I can manage this on my own.”
“All right,” Dan nodded again. Mycroft suspected that at some point in his training someone had told him this was reassuring rather than irritating. He offered him a tight-lipped smile that did not meet his eyes, hoping that this would make him stop. It did.
“In that case, if you’ll just follow me.” Dan led him into a small room containing a single stretcher covered with a white sheet. He stopped at its head. “Okay, Mr. Holmes, I’m just going to lower the sheet so you can see the face. I just need you to tell me if this is your brother. There are some marks on the face but we’ve cleaned him up well. Are you ready?”
Mycroft thought he was ready. But as he opened his mouth to confirm this, another question slipped out instead. “How did it happen?” Dan’s eyes flicked up to meet his. The pathologist seemed to be confused. “They didn’t say much on the phone,” Mycroft explained.
Dan cleared his throat. “Didn’t someone speak to you before you came up here?” Mycroft shook his head. “I must have missed them. I knew the way here. I came straight up.”
“Oh. Okay.” It was clear that Dan had not been expecting to have to give Mycroft the full story. “Well, he was brought in this morning after he fell off a roof. This roof, actually, he was on the roof of this building. According to the people who witnessed it, it seems that he jumped. There will be an investigation, I think. The doctors did all they could, but unfortunately he was gone even before they got him into A&E. I’m sorry.”
Mycroft’s mind was racing. That wasn’t right at all. Had he misunderstood this whole business with Moriarty? Perhaps his brother was more fragile than he’d thought. Even so, could anything truly have driven Sherlock to jump to his death? He took a deep breath. He would make sense of this, but now was not the time.
“Thank you. I’m ready now.”
Dan nodded (again) and then he slowly drew back the sheet.
At first Mycroft thought that grief was hitting him harder than he’d anticipated. So hard, in fact, that he could no longer even recognize his own brother. That concern, however, subsided with the realization that he did not recognize this man as his brother because his man was not his brother. Once the shock of unrecogniztion had passed he was certain this was the case. However quickly he’d been thinking before, his brain was surely doubling that now. What was happening? Where was Sherlock? What was he meant to do? Should he be relieved or concerned or angry? He brought his hand to his mouth, hoping that it might make his confusion look more like grief.
After what seemed like hours but was really less than a minute, some force inside him reached up and nodded his head. “That’s him,” he heard himself saying, though he couldn’t recall actually forming the intention to say it. He was still staring at the unfamiliar face.
He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again. Still not Sherlock. Dan was already moving to cover the face again. Right, he needed to speak to someone who might know what was going on. John, surely, was the friend he’d heard someone mention. Apparently he was out of commission. But there must be someone else – Mycroft doubted even Sherlock’s ability to pull this off without someone on the inside.
A face and corresponding name suddenly came into clear focus. He looked up at Dan, his distraught expression only half contrived. “I hate to trouble you with this, but by any chance is Molly Hooper working today? I… well, I seem to be having more trouble with this than I’d anticipated and Molly is a good family friend.” It was not the most convincing performance – Mycroft was not the actor his brother could be – but it seemed to do the trick. Perhaps people showed such a variety of emotions when bereaved that any self-reported feelings were taken at face value.
It was clear as Molly entered the room (not the room with the body, he’d been moved to another down the hall that was furnished in a way – with comfortable chairs arranged to facilitate direct eye contact across a coffee table with a box of tissues on it – that suggested it’s main purpose was for breaking bad news)
that she had been informed that he was the one asking for her. Her mouth was shaped into something resembling the lower half of a sympathetic expression, but her eyes showed pure, unadulterated nervousness. Her movements too, betrayed nerves – a tension so great she was practically twitching. If he hadn’t been sure before that she was somehow involved in all this, he was now.
“I, um, I just heard this morning, when I came into work,” she said as she moved to take a seat opposite him. He was struck by how uncomfortable she seemed even with those words in spite of the fact that she must have been rehearsing them in her head on the way to the room. “Dan says you’ve just been in to identify him? I’m so, so sorry for your loss.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Miss Hooper, I have only lost my brother in that he seems to have been misplaced. I was hoping you might be able to help me with that.”
She paled slightly at this but, bless her, she continued to give it a good effort. “What? Um, no, this sometimes happens, it’s all right, actually, I mean, it’s a normal part of grief, denial, but you can’t, I mean, he wouldn’t want you to…” She frowned, trailing off, then tried again. “It’s just that sometimes, when people come to identify a body, they don’t want to see their mum or their brother or whoever, so they don’t recognize them even when they’re looking right at their face. And it makes it really difficult because you can’t really, you know, move on if you can’t convince yourself that it’s happened. No, sorry, not that you should be moving on yet. But, well, later. When you want to.”
In his years with the government, Mycroft had learned the value of silence in a conversation. The long pause that made the other person uncomfortable enough to try to fill it without choosing their words as carefully as they had done previously. It could be very revealing. He fixed Molly with a polite but expectant stare, now, and waited. And of course it worked. It nearly always did.
“You, um… Dan said that you identified it as Sherlock. Don’t you think that deep down some part of you knows it’s him? I mean, if you didn’t think it was him at all I could check the paperwork, make sure they showed you the right person, show you again if you wanted, just to be sure. But you said. You said it was him.”
All right, that was enough. “Miss Hooper, I am an intelligent man and you seem like a very bright young woman. Surely you can surmise my reasons for falsely identifying a strange corpse as my brother and then immediately seeking out the single person in this hospital most likely to be aware of where he might actually be. Our time is better spent in explanations than in hollow charades. I have played along thus far for the sake of preserving whatever plan Sherlock may be attempting to carry out, but you must bring me to him now or I shall find it difficult to remain cooperative.”
Molly stared at him a moment, the nervousness in her eyes momentarily blossoming into full-fledged panic. After a pause, she seemed to make a decision. She lowered her eyes to her hands, which were twisting together in her lap, and nodded slowly.
Sherlock’s stand-in had been removed from the smaller viewing room and returned to a larger room within the mortuary where the rest of the bodies were also being stored. Sherlock himself was there as well – sedated, Molly explained, to ensure that he didn’t move and attract the attention of Dan before the other man’s shift ended at noon. After Dan left, the plan was for Molly to return the stand-in to wherever he’d come from, complete with his own paperwork, and show Sherlock, awake by then but playing dead, to Mycroft when he came. The rest would be easy – Sherlock would simply wait in the morgue until the end of visiting hours when he would slip out of the hospital with the crowd of departing family members and go to Molly’s flat, where he would remain until he could sort out something else.
“He didn’t think you’d come before noon,” Molly told him as she selected the proper stretcher and wheeled it out away from the others. “He said you’d be too busy to come before your lunch at the earliest. Guess he underestimated you,” she added with a quick, nervous laugh. Her eyes had shone with clear admiration for his brother and his brother’s plan as she described the logistics of it. Mycroft, however, remained less than convinced of the brilliance of the whole thing. Too many risks, too great a margin for devastating error. Also, he still didn’t understand why Sherlock had faked his death in the first place.
Sherlock, like his stand-in, was also lying on a stretcher and covered in a sheet. He also looking a little worse for wear, but he was unmistakably more alive than the previous body. Seeing his face, Mycroft felt like an enormous weight that he hadn’t quite noticed before had been lifted from his shoulders. He smiled to himself very briefly when Molly’s back was turned. Then frowned. He could certainly be relieved that his brother was alive and still be irritated with him for pulling this in the first place. He placed a hand firmly on his brother’s shoulder, as though willing him to stay put, then spoke. “For how long, exactly, is it possible to keep him out like this?”
Feeling suddenly energized now that the source of his grief had been removed, Mycroft sprang into action. Cleaning up his brother’s messes was, after all, his specialty. And with Sherlock asleep for a little longer still, he was free to stick to whatever solutions he considered most appropriate.
Calling the funeral home for transport arrangements was perhaps the most interesting test of his improvisational skills. “Yes, I’d like to transport my brother’s body directly from the hospital to our family home. Yes, well we thought it might be best to wash and clothe the body ourselves. Family tradition, you understand, we have prepared one another for burial for generations. No, I do not wish for the body to be embalmed. My brother… my brother was an environmentalist. Yes, I can’t tell you how many times he spoke about how terrible embalming chemicals are for the environment. No offence, of course. Yes, I am aware, we don’t intend to put him on display.“ After several more lies, including an elaborate one about a same-day funeral (which was why refrigeration would not be required) at a made-up family chapel and estate cemetery for which yes, he did have permits that he would be happy to present and for which there would be no need for further services from the funeral home because graves were traditionally dug by the family groundskeeper, he had arranged for a hearse to pick up and deliver Sherlock to their childhood home in the country. It was much more complicated than having him leave with the hospital visitors, but Mycroft thought it might also be safer – if he was trying to disappear for the sake of anyone in particular, it would be much more difficult to identify and follow him this way. Also, if Sherlock left the hospital while conscious, there was no way he’d agree to coming home. And somehow Mycroft was completely certain that home was the best place for him.
In the meantime, Molly brought down a portable x-ray and confirmed that while Sherlock seemed to be relatively fine in other respects, he had fractured his foot. One more quick phone call from Mycroft and his physician had been secured to reduce and cast it. Molly had barely protested at all. She seemed pleased that someone else was taking charge in Sherlock’s absence. Dr. Graham was there by half twelve. By a quarter past one they'd placed Sherlock in a body bag, which they zipped completely once the funeral home arrived at one-thirty. When lifting Sherlock for transport, Molly and Dr. Graham took the feet, effectively keeping anyone from feeling the cast through the bag, and Mycroft lifted near the head, keeping it still and protecting Sherlock's neck. The two workers who took the middle suspected nothing. Mycroft paid handsomely for their services and the ready-to-use coffin just to be sure.
By three o’clock that afternoon Sherlock was home. Home and safe.
Lots of thanks to isasolan who pointed out the need for an edit related to cast-concealing. Enormous apologies if the body bag is a cop-out - to be honest, I had a tough time coming up with an alternate solution, but I am thinking that will be okay.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three, Verse Two
“Not Danny Boy,” Sherlock insisted with surprising vehemence. He was sitting on the bed, still in the Blue Room, with the laptop open next to him. Mycroft had relocated his funeral planning to the room when it occurred to him that his brother, who had abandoned Treasure Island with a discontented sigh after several chapters, might be bored there on his own. He was. Bored enough to be both completely dismissive of and completely fascinated by the idea of planning his own funeral. This ambivalence allowed him to pick at little details without concerning himself over the infinitely more tedious overall picture, a position he was rather enjoying. He only wished he had his violin; he had the sudden urge to compose a dirge. Instead, he was reading about burial at sea. Mostly in hopes that Mycroft would see what he was doing, think he was considering it as a viable option, and be irritated.
His hopes had thus far gone unrealized, however. Mycroft, focused and methodical as always, was directing all his attention to several short stacks of papers which he had spread across the room’s small writing table. He was not currently looking at music, as it happened, but Sherlock knew what was coming. He remembered how the saccharine tune had irked him at Mummy’s funeral.
Mycroft sighed and Sherlock mentally awarded himself a point. “Why?” his brother asked without looking up.
“Why?” Sherlock repeated as though it were obvious. “Because… because it’s nauseatingly sentimental. Because there is nothing lovely about death, and I will not sleep happily because I feel the gentle footfalls of my loved ones warming my grave or whatever other nonsense. Because I jumped off a building and playing music about summer and roses while they all wonder what I must have looked like squashed on the pavement makes it all ridiculous.” As he spoke he found he rather regretted that he couldn’t stand up to make his point. Something about ranting from a bed felt much more childish than ranting and pacing would have done.
“People prefer to spend funerals idealizing the person they remember,” Mycroft explained dismissively. “They don’t typically wonder about how they looked when they died, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
Sherlock could not imagine. He didn’t think he’d be able to help himself, at least after a violent death. He could, however, concede that this might not be a typical response.
His brother pressed his lips together in almost imperceptible exasperation. “Anyhow, I thought you didn’t care what happened at the funeral.”
Sherlock frowned. “I don’t. Much.”
Mycroft shook his head. “The couple who sang it at Mummy’s funeral were close friends of Father’s. If they offer again I shall have to accept. I suppose your best hope is that, ties to our family notwithstanding, they will shy away from associating themselves with a disgraced narcissistic criminal.”
Sherlock considered this. “Well. It’s about time we came across an upside to dying in disgrace,” he muttered.
They both fell silent for a time, Mycroft working and Sherlock thinking until Sherlock broke the silence again. “You could always tell them that you don’t want them because I was an embarrassment. You know, you don’t want people to think of Mummy at my funeral because she’d have been so disappointed, and in fact you’re not even having a funeral, just a quiet burial and so forth.”
“I suppose I could tell them that, if it comes up,” Mycroft agreed without truly committing. He set aside a letter from the church detailing their requirements for burial on the grounds. “What do you want instead?”
Sherlock knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted Partita 1 in B Minor, and he wanted the violinist to stop before the end because he wasn’t finished. But he quickly chased the thought from his head. The only person who would truly understand the allusion was dead anyhow, he’d seen to that himself, more or less. Besides, it was unforgivably obvious, an idea like that. So instead, he shrugged. “I don’t know. Something grave and instrumental.” He considered his answer for a moment, then changed his mind slightly. It was his funeral, after all, and he could bloody well be obvious if he pleased. “Bach probably has something that’s appropriately gloomy,” he added with feigned casualness.
In response, Mycroft fixed him with a penetrating stare. Sherlock knew it was irrational, but he looked away all the same, fixing his gaze out the window, as though Mycroft was able to read his thoughts in his eyes. Of course Mycroft couldn’t possibly know why he wanted Bach, but he’d obviously sensed something in his tone or his timing. Damn. His brother had always been more difficult to fool than most, and though Sherlock was relatively guarded by nature, more effort was required to keep Mycroft from seeing through him.
After a moment, though, Mycroft seemed to let it go. Suddenly he was all business again. “That’s fine,” he said with a quick nod. “Decide on a piece that isn’t too dark and I’ll make arrangements for someone to play it. Anyhow, the music is the least of our worries at the moment. I’ve arranged a plot for you at St. James near Mummy’s, but we need to find a funeral home that will allow us to hire a hearse without being involved in all the rest. And we need to arrange for pallbearers. I imagine before all of this your friend the Detective Inspector could have rounded up a few reluctant volunteers but I don’t suppose that’s possible in light of everything. If it comes to it I could try to arrange for some people at work, though it seems a trivial thing to call in a favour over…”
It was interesting, Sherlock noted, how easily his brother seemed to slip into this out-loud stream of consciousness. He wondered if Mycroft did this when he was on his own; suddenly he could picture him, in the middle of his large, empty flat in London, talking to himself. Sherlock did this as well, of course, or he had done in his own flat. Did Father or Mummy ever do the same? He couldn’t remember. He listened for a bit, then decided to head it off. For some reason he couldn’t quite place, he didn’t like to be reminded of all the extra work he had created for his brother, even if Mycroft did seem to be in his element with all this planning and control.
“What will you say to the funeral home?”
Mycroft paused in his ‘to do’ list and shrugged. “That there was an issue with the business we were previously dealing with. I’ll say that while they have taken care of everything else – the coffin and the preparation of the body – I simply cannot bear to have them present on what will surely be a very difficult day for the family, which is why we are looking for an alternate provider this far into the process. I’ll create the necessary paperwork, and we’ll close the coffin before they arrive. It shouldn’t be a great trouble.”
Sherlock nodded with begrudging approval, though his faraway expression betrayed the fact that he was still running it through in his mind just to be sure. He was used to doing this with other people, though Mycroft, careful as he was, rarely made mistakes that needed catching. And surely he was adept at telling elaborate lies to strangers, Sherlock thought, smirking to himself. He was in politics, after all.
“Good,” he said vaguely after he’d decided he was satisfied with the plan. “It’s good that it won’t be too much trouble.”
Mycroft was busy dialing one of the funeral homes on his list and didn’t hear.
The discussion about readings was slightly more difficult. “I simply don’t think a biblical reading is truly appropriate, Mycroft. We’re both above that, aren’t we? I should think that anyone who elects to come to my funeral will have known me well enough to know what I think about bedtime stories about living forever.”
This time, at least, the comment was precipitated by an actual discussion. Mycroft, brandishing a positively ancient-looking bible he’d tracked down in the library, had offered to take care of that particular detail with an offhand, “I’m assuming you’re not interested in discussing the reading?” When he’d left to find the bible, Sherlock had been almost contentedly working out the problem of how to fill the coffin with something so that the weight distribution would be convincing and stable enough once it was closed and being carried. It was the perfect task to occupy him, and Mycroft had been counting on him being too engaged with this to care about any more details with the service. As it turned out, however, Sherlock had solved the problem of the weight already and was not without opinions on this subject.
In retrospect, he should simply never have mentioned the it – it wasn’t as though Sherlock would be in attendance to actually hear what was or was not being included in the service. Mycroft, however, felt a vague but nagging obligation to include Sherlock in whatever aspects of the day he considered worth his time. So here they were, discussing the relative merits of feigned religion.
“It isn’t that simple,” Mycroft explained. He felt like he’d been giving some version of this explanation all evening. Nothing was that simple when social protocols and Sherlock both came into play. “Your grave is in a churchyard. For that to be acceptable, your funeral needs to be in the church. For that to be acceptable, there needs to be a reading during the service.”
Sherlock frowned and set the laptop aside. Mycroft glanced at the screen and noted a large picture of a coastline, but could make out nothing more. He didn’t bother to wonder what it was about – websites about funeral planning seemed to believe that picturing any lovely scene at all was a reasonable idea. “You should have had me cremated,” Sherlock declared. It was unclear from his tone whether he was serious, though Mycroft suspected that this was a move on his brother’s part to avoid acknowledging the rationality of what he’d just said.
He raised his eyebrows and didn’t answer. The logistical impossibilities of cremating no one and pretending it was someone hung in the air between them until finally Sherlock, evidently annoyed to have his objections countered by pragmatism, broke the silence.
“You filled an entire airplane with bodies. Surely there’s no shortage.”
“We all have an allotted number, I’m afraid,” Mycroft replied smoothly, “I used all mine up on the Bond Air flight.” Humor had never been Mycroft’s strong suit. Appreciating humor had never been Sherlock’s. He breathed a deep, exaggerated sigh. “Fine. But I want to choose it then.”
Taking this compromise as a small victory, Mycroft handed the bible to his brother, who began to casually flipping through the pages. “Not Revelations,” he instructed, fearing that without this condition Sherlock was likely to choose something wrathful and inappropriate. He was pleased to see that his brother had open to somewhere near the latter third of the book. What was the worst he could get into in the Jesus stories? Mycroft could vaguely remember an incident with flipping tables, but that was the most scandalous thing he could call to mind.
It took Sherlock less that three quarters of an hour to find Jesus Curses the Fig Tree. It was, he explained with an entirely straight face, an appropriate metaphor for a funeral because sometimes plants, and by extension people, died suddenly and for reasons that seemed petty and ridiculous. Mycroft’s face was a mask of indifference but only because he was actively keeping it so. Maintaining this façade was important; this, he could sense, like Danny Boy and all the other small objections, was a test. Sherlock felt bored and trapped. Although he would have been in a similar situation anywhere, given his state, Mycroft had brought him here, the site of his current confinement, and so he was now trying to get under his skin in order to regain some sense of control over his environment. Predictable. He’d behaved the same way when Mummy and Father spoke about sending him to boarding school. Mycroft had simply to wait it out. He was confident that once Sherlock decided that this strategy was ineffective he would stop.
In the meantime, there was the issue of the fig tree. “You forget, Sherlock, that people must believe that I have planned this service. Having gone to this much trouble to make everyone believe that you are dead, I cannot imagine that you aree actually willing to risk sowing doubt into the minds of those closest to you over something so trivial.”
Sherlock huffed, though he seemed to be turning this idea over in his mind. “John would think it was funny,” he said. Comparison to John Watson normally implied a dig at Mycroft’s character or his abilities as a companion to his brother, but this time there was a wistfulness to Sherlock’s voice that suggested something simpler. For the first time since they’d begun planning together, Mycroft was reminded that his brother, too, had suffered a great loss. When he spoke again, his voice had lost its edge.
“I don’t think that Dr. Watson is in a state to find very many things funny at the moment.”
Sherlock’s dark eyes were on him in a flash. His brother’s gaze was searching, his expression lost but expectant. Mycroft immediately recognized the chink he’d found in his brother’s disaffected exterior. “I can’t imagine he’s been taking any of this particularly well,” he continued after a pause, deciding not to mention the whispers he’d heard the previous afternoon about John’s own admission to Bart’s. “Losing his best friend in such a dreadful way. I think perhaps he’d appreciate some comforting words at a time like this.”
Sherlock continued to stare at Mycroft without speaking for what felt like ages. Mycroft could sense his thoughts racing. Feeling he’d said what needed to be said to make his point, he made no further effort to fill the silence. Eventually, Sherlock drew in a deep breath and seemed about to speak. Mycroft thought he knew what he wanted to say. He was just preparing to inform his brother that unfortunately he hadn’t heard anything about how John was doing but he would find out what he could at the funeral when Sherlock apparently decided against saying anything at all and instead picked up the bible again. He began nearer the beginning this time, and somehow he seemed as though he was leafing through it with far more care.
They worked in silence, near each other but without interacting, for over an hour this time. The passage Sherlock eventually chose was from the third chapter of the book of Wisdom and included the words “in the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die.” Mycroft could sense the pleasure that this small detail gave his brother. For his own part, he was pleased that the selection was completely funeral-appropriate. He smiled when Sherlock read it to him, though he looked down at his hands as he did so; there was something about smiling so sincerely in front of his brother that made him feel vulnerable.
He took a deep breath and nodded. “Good. That’s good.” He stood and straightened some of his papers. “Perhaps that’s enough for now. Would you like a cup of tea?” Sherlock, who was looking very thoughtful again, nodded vaguely. Mycroft hesitated. “I haven’t heard anything about how John is doing, unfortunately,” he said, giving voice to the answer he’d previously gone over in his head. “But I will find out what I can at the funeral.”
Sherlock frowned, then nodded again, this time with more purpose. “I would appreciate that.”
The specific fig tree passage Sherlock refers to is in Matthew 21:18-19. There is a similar passage in Mark (11:12-14) but the tree dies more explicitly in Matthew. I completely acknowledge that while this is a weird passage when taken out of context, it is actually much more meaningful than this story gives it credit for, but Sherlock in this case is definitely okay with taking it out of context for his own purposes.
The text from the book of Wisdom is 3:1-9, which is definitely seen a little more often at funerals.
ALSO, I just wanted to completely acknowledge that Mycroft is pulling off an awful lot in terms of getting funeral homes on board with stuff that probably wouldn't fly under most circumstances (I do not know the exact requirements of a lot of things, to be sure, and internet research only gets one so far). My assumption is that he is forging some documents and over-paying people to overlook boxes that would normally need to be ticked. Feel free to assume along with me.
Chapter 4: A Few Good Days
The funeral was a quiet, uneventful affair, and for that Mycroft was grateful. As Sherlock had become rather infamous in death, he’d worried that some might see his funeral as a good forum to voice their anger or their disgust. Even if no one was that bold, he hadn’t wanted the papers to be there. He’d sent the details of the service to the people who he thought might like to attend, but had avoided any further announcements or even an obituary. He wondered whether he ought to put something in the papers after it was over, some small thing buried deep in the death notices. Died suddenly in his thirty-sixth year, will be deeply missed, donations to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in lieu of flowers, etc. etc. Probably not.
The church was small, but it easily contained all the mourners. Sherlock’s landlady was in attendance, as were the Detective Inspector, Molly Hooper and one or two other people that Mycroft didn’t recognize who had, he assumed, been invited by one of the others. A few friends and acquaintances of Mycroft’s were there also. John Watson hadn’t come; Mrs. Hudson arrived alone in the car Mycroft had sent for both of them. Initially tearful but becoming more animated as she gathered momentum, she informed him that while John had, in fact, only spent a few hours at St. Bart’s (“Just enough to calm down a bit, you know, a shock like that… well, it’s shaken all of us up, hasn’t it?”) he still had not felt up to attending the funeral.
“He’ll be by in a few days, I should think,” she assured him, her tone confidential, “But I think he wanted to do it on his own, poor chap. He’s so stoic, isn’t he? They often are, aren’t they, soldiers? I think he’s worried what people might think, seeing him upset like he is. It’s silly, isn’t it? At a time like this. That’s what I said to him, but of course there’s no accounting for how everyone deals with his own grief, and I didn’t want to push him too hard, not when he’s like this. Anyhow,” she added delicately, “he’s got it in his head that there will be people here he doesn’t want to see, too. I don’t know what that’s about, the newspapers, I guess. He’s taken that very hard. They were so close, those two.” Mycroft was only half-listening to Mrs. Hudson’s speculations. He was fairly certain he was the person John hadn’t wanted to run into. He didn’t know how to feel about that.
After the service he did the obligatory rounds with his own friends and co-workers, then stopped to speak to Molly for a bit. It was somehow nice to talk with someone who knew exactly what was and was not real about the whole situation, even if neither of them could actually say anything about it. This was not his only reason for speaking to her, however; he also wanted to give people the impression that the two of them could possibly become close at some point in the future. In case it one day became necessary to create reasons for her to visit the house, he wanted people to look back and think, "Well, they did seem to be getting on well at the funeral." She seemed, at least subconsciously, to have picked up on this idea. She was much less nervous speaking to him this time; in fact she seemed amazingly sure of herself. It was clear as she spoke that she'd had experience in handling bereaved families. Their conversation was mainly the normal kind words and fond stories (really, what else was there to be said at a funeral?) but her expression was sincere and her presence was warm without being cloying, and he was impressed.
After they had spoken for some time, Detective Inspector Lestrade joined them. He shook Mycroft’s hand firmly and met his eyes as he told him how sorry he was for his loss. Then he mentioned that a few people were getting together at a nearby pub to have a few drinks and, presumably, commiserate with retrospective fondness about the ways in which his brother had made their lives more difficult. Molly agreed to go along, but Mycroft, with a gracious smile, explained that unfortunately he had other things he needed to attend to. He didn’t want to leave Sherlock on his own for much longer.
With a last word of thanks to both of them for coming, he returned to his car. It was on the way home that he realized that he hadn’t truly been alone in days. It was nice, this relative quiet. He asked the driver to take a longer route home, then put up the partition. It wasn’t the Diogenes, but god, it was a relief to have a quiet moment to breathe.
In the days after the funeral, a sort of calm routine settled on the house, both brothers apparently deciding that their situation could be, if not always good, then at least relatively fine. Mycroft made breakfast in the morning and Sherlock ate it with minimal protest, convinced by the argument that he needed to eat properly so that he could heal quickly. He was clearly eager to move on – the list of people he wished to investigate once he was able to physically track them down was growing slowly but steadily, and he’d begun to fill the margins of this list with erratic little notes regarding things he suspected about the subjects’ personal and professional lives, all to be confirmed later. That he was not satisfied with the information he was able to glean about them via the internet was punctuated by his frequent use of such phrases as “When I am able to start the real work.” Nevertheless, he would have been forced to acknowledge, had it been asked of him, that having the time to do the necessary research before jumping into the more active phase of his work was really quite valuable.
After breakfast, each brother spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon absorbed in the tasks he had set out for himself. Sherlock, convinced that this was the strongest clue he had for linking anyone to Moriarty, was researching snipers, looking for men with experience and some questionable aspect in their moral character or personal history that might have led them to be bought. Mycroft was attempting to complete his usual government work (and a few rather crucial side projects) from the house. This was inconvenient – normally he would divide his time more or less equally between his office and his London flat, as it was infinitely more efficient to be closer to where things were actually happening – but until he was convinced that his brother was going to be all right on his own for full days, he was reluctant to leave him.
That Sherlock was now allowed some measure of ambulation was very helpful. On the fourth day of his recovery, Dr. Graham had advised that some limited, non-weight bearing movement would be beneficial, and Mycroft had dutifully acquired a pair of crutches for him. As a result, Sherlock could now make short trips on his own to nearby rooms. He was still confined to the first floor and typically remained in the Blue Room during the day while he was doing his research, being unable to carry much with him to other locations. Nevertheless, the ability to change his scenery slightly when it suited him seemed to please him. On the second day with the crutches, Mycroft even found an old rucksack in a closet in a second-floor hallway in case Sherlock wanted to carry his things around the house with him, but Sherlock seemed to dislike it, and it remained in the Blue Room, stashed in a corner beside the writing desk.
As with everything, they’d had to be clever about acquiring the crutches. Mycroft called Dr. Graham’s practice and requested to be seen during lunch. This was not unusual for him; it was a well-known fact to Dr. Graham’s receptionist that Mr. Holmes, due to a combination of an inflexible work schedule and a distinct discomfort with being in the company of other sick people, preferred to meet with the doctor outside of normal appointment times. He arrived, limping, shortly after twelve and reported to the receptionist and then to a nurse that he had twisted his ankle quite badly while gardening. Doctor Graham did not keep the nurse in the room when he examined the ankle. “I would hate to keep you from your lunch,” he said kindly and she, with a look of gratitude, left them to it and thus never saw that the ankle was neither bruised nor swollen. They chatted for a while about Sherlock’s progress until enough time had passed to convince the receptionist (who typically lunched at her desk) that an actual examination had taken place. Dr. Graham then wrote a prescription for crutches (“Just for a few days,” he assured him clearly enough for the receptionist to hear; luckily Mycroft had more than enough work to keep him indoors until a time when it would not be inappropriate for him to be seen out and about without them), which Mycroft filled on the way home. After lunch, the doctor asked the receptionist to call in a referral to the physiotherapist who had already agreed to work with them. (“I’d like for Mark to see Mr. Holmes a few times at least, just to be sure. He will require home visits, I think, you know how his schedule can be. Can you make sure that won’t be a problem?”)
Somewhere around two or three in the afternoon, Mycroft generally came to the Blue Room and offered lunch, which Sherlock rarely accepted. There was not a discussion when this occurred – two meals a day, breakfast and supper, was the agreed-upon amount. An accepted lunch was a bonus but not a requirement. Mycroft then made himself lunch, which he typically brought back to the Blue Room even if Sherlock was not eating. Occasionally Sherlock could be persuaded in the moment to have a bite or two off his brother’s plate. After lunch, Mycroft would return to work in his study, and Sherlock would either continue with his research or lie on the bed, thinking and plucking at the air in front of him the way he used to pluck at his violin.
They both took dinner at seven o’clock sharp in the dining room – Sherlock was responsible for arriving on his own, now that he could, which seemed to somewhat satisfy his need to feel independent. Mycroft, who had learned quickly that it was easier to ensure that Sherlock ate enough if he didn’t allow his brother to serve himself, set the dishes out already filled. Although there were other chores he had taken on that he didn’t care for – washing the dishes, for instance, and taking in his own cleaning – Mycroft found that he was rather enjoying cooking for his brother. He didn’t dare tell Sherlock this, though, lest he get an eye roll and a muttered jab about domesticity for his troubles. Sherlock rarely complemented the meals, but he did say thank you when he received his plateful and was never critical of the food, which was possibly a larger victory anyhow.
After dinner, Mycroft cleared up the dishes and the two of them sat together for a few hours in the main floor sitting room. As it was still cool in the evenings, they typically had a fire. This was a time they both secretly valued; there was a sense of familiarity and warmth to it that extended beyond the fire and the fact that they were in their childhood home.
On the first night Mycroft told Sherlock about the funeral. He did not tell him that John had not been there – indeed, he lied outright. “I didn’t get the chance to speak to him personally, but he looked relatively well,” he said thoughtfully. Sherlock was looking into the fire rather than at him, but he could tell that his brother was hanging on his every word. “A bit shaken, of course, and sad, naturally, but that’s to be expected. Mostly he was very stoic,” he assured him, thinking of Mrs. Hudson’s wording. “You know how soldiers are.” Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “He’ll be all right,” he said quietly, maybe to Mycroft or maybe to no one.
They chatted a little more about who else had attended and the kind things that they had said, but as the conversation continued on Sherlock seemed to slowly lose interest. So, after complimenting his choice in music for the service, which had been fine but which he said had very moving and very fitting, Mycroft changed the subject. “Mrs. Hudson was mentioning your things,” he began. “I said I would drop in sometime in the coming week to pick up a few things, so if there’s anything you’d like…”
“My violin,” Sherlock said quickly without looking up. It was apparent that he’d been missing it a great deal. “And the skull. No, not the skull… well, see if John wants the skull. I’ll have it if he doesn’t. There are a few books, if you can get them without it being suspicious, I’ll write down the titles. And some clothes, if it’s convenient.” He’d been wearing some old things of Mycroft’s since he arrived, and although Mycroft had not been particularly heavy when he'd worn them, they still practically hung off Sherlock. The clothes he’d been wearing when he jumped had made it through relatively un-damaged, all things considered, but they were still at the cleaners.
“I’ll say I’m taking them for charity,” Mycroft agreed. It wasn’t as though John or Mrs. Hudson would get much use out of those. He paused and glanced sidelong at Sherlock, whose gaze hadn’t shifted from the flames. “I thought perhaps Dr. Watson might like to go through some of your things as well. In case there are any mementos he would like to keep.”
Sherlock nodded. “He can have whatever he wants. In fact, tell him I want him to have –” Sherlock drew himself up short and made a face. He looked at Mycroft, checking to see if his brother had caught what he’d been about to say. Mycroft gave him a sympathetic sort of grimace. How difficult it must be, always remembering that one is meant to be dead rather than simply indisposed, he thought. Sherlock cleared his throat softly and then continued. “There is a notebook in the bottom of the wardrobe. It contains my notes from some of the cases I took part in before we met. He may find it interesting.”
“I’ll make sure that he’s aware of it,” Mycroft promised, thinking he could pretend to come across it when he was collecting clothes. He’d give it to Mrs. Hudson to give to John. His intention was to go to the flat when the doctor was out.
Sherlock nodded, apparently satisfied. “Mrs. Hudson won’t know what to do with the cadaveric specimens. Perhaps Molly could collect them for her and take them back to Bart’s. It’ll be too late for them to be of use by the time I get back anyhow, and I don’t have time to use them now. The rest should be all right as long as she doesn’t need it out in a hurry?” This was a question, directed at Mycroft. Was there any talk, this close to the event, of his being replaced by a new tenant?
Mycroft shook his head. “I sent her a cheque yesterday afternoon. The rent is paid in full until the end of the year. I thought it might be easier if there wasn’t a rush to get things cleared out.”
“I would think he is in no hurry to find another flatmate.” Mycroft hoped, as he said this, that he was managing to sound reassuring rather than patronizing. He was. Sherlock’s mouth did a quick little twist that could not quite be described as a smile, then he clasped his hands in front of him, looked up at the ceiling, and changed the subject.
“Did you know there’s a flask of gin in the Blue Room behind the headboard?” he asked with a smirk. “I found it yesterday when you were out. It could be one of the staff’s but honestly I think Auntie Ida may have left it there. It would have been easy enough to miss with the cleaning and everything about it practically screams Ida. You know what she was like.”
Mycroft smiled in spite of himself, pleased to be included in the find even if he did feel a little bit guilty speculating about poor Ida. “You’ll have to show me tomorrow.”
On the second night, Sherlock ran some ideas by his brother about how he might track down the gunmen whom he suspected may have been involved in Moriarty’s crimes, then Mycroft read the newspaper while Sherlock again stared thoughtfully into the fire. After some time had passed in comfortable silence, Sherlock said, “Do you remember the summer that Mummy tried to make preserves out of the blackcurrants?” Mycroft did. It was the summer before he’d left for school. Something had gone wrong in the process and the whole house had smelled of overcooked blackcurrants for days. More than that, though, Sherlock had somehow gotten into one of the jars and had left purplish fingerprints over everything in Mycroft’s bedroom, where he had subsequently been snooping. He hadn’t thought about that in years.
On the third night, they did a crossword together. Neither of them had done one in ages but despite being rather out of practice they made excellent time. They were lucky, though, Sherlock remarked afterward. Although between the two of them they possessed a great deal of out-of-the-way knowledge, a few unluckily placed questions about sporting heroes or popular films could have bested them hopelessly. After the crossword was finished Mycroft made tea and Sherlock wondered aloud for a time about how an average person might be placed in contact with a consulting criminal in the first place.
After a few hours in the sitting room, Mycroft typically went to bed or returned to his study to make overseas phone calls. Sherlock, whose sleep habits were erratic as ever, remained in the room, thinking and planning, until the need for a computer forced him to return to the Blue Room. The next day started over again with breakfast. He found the predictability almost calming. It was comfortable and nice, this whole arrangement.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
Chapter 5: One Trivial Thing
It was inevitable that there would eventually be a row. Their situation was more comfortable than it had been, it was true, but not much had actually changed very significantly. The relative freedom of moving from the Blue Room to the sitting room was all very well, but Sherlock was still frustrated about being cooped up. His foot hurt. He was uncomfortable with the profound sense of loss he felt from being away from his flat and his things and the familiar faces and patterns of his former life. Also – it was funny how small things still seemed to matter even when large problems ought to be overpowering them – he found the house to be distractingly quiet, and longed for the sounds of traffic outside his window.
Mycroft was frustrated because his ability to complete his work as efficiently as he liked was compromised when he had to work from the house. He was deeply bothered by the notion that his associates no doubt considered it weak of him, taking so much time at home to mourn when various foreign and domestic affairs were demanding England’s full attention. Also, although it was a trifling thing, he missed having someone else to make him tea during the day while he was working.
Perhaps it was equally inevitable that the argument would be over something ridiculous. To voice any of the larger things would have required one of the brothers to admit far more about himself than would have made either especially comfortable.
“I’m thinking of taking up smoking again,” Sherlock announced apropos of nothing in particular on the fifth day after his funeral. It was the early afternoon and Mycroft had come by the Blue Room to offer lunch. Sherlock was sitting in a chair at the writing desk, plucking absently at the violin which Mycroft had retrieved for him only the day before. In addition to the violin, he’d brought back some clothes, which were hanging in the wardrobe, several books which were piled next to the writing table, and the skull, which John had not expressed a great interest in and which Mrs. Hudson had wanted out of the flat as soon as possible, explaining that in truth she found it rather spooky.
At first, Mycroft’s response was relatively mild, though not particularly accommodating. “I don’t think that now is a terribly opportune time for that.” He turned his brother’s statement over in his head. Was Sherlock being sincere or was trying to start something because he was bored? He’d forgotten in the past few days how difficult it could sometimes be to tell the difference.
Sherlock frowned. In fact he was quite serious. “It’s the perfect time. It is impossible to smoke properly in London anymore, therefore it became necessary to quit or to leave. I initially chose to quit but as the leaving has, since then, been rather forced upon me, it seems to me an excellent opportunity to re-visit an old habit, especially when there is so much work to do.”
“You’ll have to work without it, I’m afraid. All the plans you’re making won’t help you if you can’t walk properly. Dr. Graham has informed me that if we would like your fracture to heal without complications then one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to hold off on smoking for at least the first two weeks.”
“What good will being able to walk do me if I’m killed in my sleep by a rogue sniper before I get the chance to go anywhere because I couldn’t bloody think?” Sherlock balled up his fists in frustration. He knew that as long as both he and Mycroft continued to be careful and did not make a hash of things (as neither were typically wont to do), the chances of his being targeted by anyone while he was here were incredibly unlikely. In fact there was no reason for any of Moriarty’s people to suspect that he was alive at all. More than that, he didn’t even truly need the cigarettes. He couldn’t even say what had made him think of them. But he resented the notion that Mycroft got to make these decisions for him and the threat of snipers seemed to carry more weight in an argument than ‘because I want to and you can’t tell me what to do.’
God, Mycroft thought, his brother could be so over-dramatic. “Honestly, Sherlock. You and I both know that no one is coming here to kill you in your sleep. In a week you can do whatever you wish, but as I am the person to whom it falls to be your supplier, the timing of the supply is ultimately my decision. And as I am also your caregiver and have an interest in seeing you recover fully from your outrageously reckless little trick, I am electing to wait until such time as is deemed medically appropriate.”
“Medically appropriate?” Sherlock repeated loudly, his words filled with outrage. “So never then, as long as you’ve taken it upon yourself to be my nurse.”
“In one more week, as I have just said,” Mycroft clarified, frustration beginning to creep into his own voice. How could speaking with someone who was meant to be so intelligent feel so much like speaking with a child? “I have exerted a great deal of effort to keep you safe and well, and while you are in this house I will not see you undermine those efforts.”
What he meant was “Your health and safety matter to me and while it is none of my business what you do what you leave here, it would pain me if you did not take this time to truly try to get better.” What Sherlock heard was “I have earned the right to tell you what to do on account of the incredible effort I have employed on your behalf and I forbid this because I do not want anyone smoking in this house.” It was a calamitous misunderstanding.
“Oh, yes, I see,” Sherlock said shrewdly. “Not in her house, you mean, isn’t that right? God forbid I should feel at home here, because Mummy would have hated it if her drapes smelled of smoke. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? You, keeping this house as a bloody shrine to Mummy and now you have to protect it from the wretched influence of her prodigal son.”
Mycroft tsked unnecessarily loudly. The accusation had hit home in spite of the fact that Sherlock had missed the mark about his motivations. The fact was he did find himself hesitating to change much here from what his mother had left behind. He’d packed away little decorative knick-knacks here and there, and perhaps replaced some of the linens and even brought in a new desk chair for the study, but by and large he’d kept it the way it had been left. It felt like the right thing to do, all things told; after all, he didn’t really see this as his own house. It all seemed perfectly reasonable to him usually, but something about being called out by his younger brother, the implication being that he couldn’t make decisions of his own without wondering what would please Mummy, made him feel self-conscious and silly. Already he could feel himself flushing. It was a feeling he despised.
So he engaged. It was almost inevitable that he would. Mycroft was generally one to avoid arguments – to calmly discuss a compromise or to remind everyone that there were more important things to worry about or, if all else failed, to shoot his opponent the sort of look that made them question their own reasoning and did not encourage further discussion on the matter. But these strategies had a limited efficacy with his brother. Sherlock did not back down from an argument, he was singularly skilled at drawing people into arguments when he wished, and he hated to fight alone.
“How on earth would you know what Mummy would hate?” He was speaking a little more loudly than was usual, though it could certainly not be called yelling. It was the first time he’d raised his voice since Mummy died. “It’s not as though you ever paid her much attention.”
“Just because I didn’t go running for her approval for every little thing I ever accomplished does not mean that I didn’t pay attention, Mycroft.” Sherlock was actively shouting now. Mummy was a sensitive topic for both of them.
“Oh yes, forgive me, I forgot about all the times you showed her just how much you cared. Was it the time you didn’t turn up at Christmas or the time she had to send me to post your bail that made her proudest, I wonder?”
This seemed to throw his brother for a loop, or else make him angry enough to cause him to lose his immediate train of thought. He began to say something several times before he actually got any real words out. Somewhere deep down inside himself, Mycroft found it very satisfying to watch Sherlock, usually so quick with his words, sputter like this. “She’d have blamed you for this,” he finally retorted.
For a moment, Mycroft was confused, though he hid his confusion behind righteous indignation. “For this?” he repeated with a sweeping gesture that encompassed most of the room. “For what, exactly? For taking you in? For bringing you your things? For feeding you and caring for you and keeping you safe? Oh yes, what would she have to say about that?”
“No,” Sherlock corrected firmly, “for selling my life story to Jim Moriarty.” It was the first time either of them had mentioned this. Mycroft had been waiting for the right time to confess and atone for his role in the whole business. Sherlock, for his part, had at no time expressed any curiosity as to how Moriarty had discovered so much about his past, nor had he indicated that he had any suspicions that Mycroft had been involved. Apparently he’d simply been saving it for a time like this.
Mycroft wasn’t sure what to say. Under calmer circumstances he would have apologized. But not at this point. It didn’t matter anyhow, because Sherlock gave him only the briefest pause before he continued.
“Of course that’s what happened, did you think I didn’t know? He must have loved hearing it all from you. Brother unwittingly betraying brother, how charming, like a Greek tragedy unfolding before his very eyes. How kind of you, to have made him so happy.”
“When you elect to play games with criminal masterminds as you have done, brother, you are bound to suffer losses eventually,” Mycroft cut in, having found his voice again. “That it has happened now and by this means is immaterial. I did not force you to engage with Jim Moriarty, I did not make you the perfect target for slander, and I did not push you off a roof. I am not interested in accepting blame for your situation now simply because you do not like where you have ended up.”
With these words, he found he had no interest in discussing this further, so he turned and left. Sherlock began to shout something after him, but before he could get much out, Mycroft had closed the door behind him. So he satisfied himself with throwing a book at the door instead. He could tell from the pause in his brother’s footsteps that Mycroft had heard.
Mycroft called for a driver from his study; he was perfectly capable of driving himself, but he disliked doing so if he could help it. It took the car less than half an hour to arrive. He thought of his brother while he waited, but he didn’t go looking for him. It didn’t surprise him that he had not been followed to this end of the house. In the car, he stewed. It was either that or reexamine the guilt that, in truth, he still felt about his own interactions with Moriarty, and this he was not presently prepared to do.
The silence in the Diogenes Club was like a soft blanket. Some of the other members, whom he had, after all, not seen since his the occurrence of his apparent family tragedy, gave him sympathetic looks when he met their eyes, but of course they could do no more than this. This in and of itself was a comfort; people behaving exactly as expected was refreshing, and not having to actually speak to any of them about the tragic end of his brother while both parties pretended to have forgotten the scandal surrounding his false detective work was a godsend.
Mycroft had for years kept an eye on some of the lower-brow newspapers at the club. In his position it was valuable to know what information was travelling down to the average citizen. He found, when he took his usual seat, that a stack from the past several days had been saved and left on the adjacent table for him. It was a touching gesture, and he found he was rather moved by the evidence that someone at the club had thought of him in his absence.
It did not occur to him that the issues with articles about Sherlock had been saved especially, although it was the case that several of the papers contained stories of varying length on the topic of his brother’s life and death. At first, finding he was too irritated with Sherlock to care to be reminded of him, Mycroft skipped these articles. After a time, however, he returned to them. He forced himself, for reasons he would not have been able to explain had he been asked, to read every word of every article. Somehow it was a source of pride for him that by the end of the next to last one he felt nothing at all.
It was after five o’clock before he even thought to return. It was six before he left. He could have stayed for hours longer, but for the nagging voice in the back of his mind that kept reminding him that it was nearly time for dinner. As frustrated as he was with his brother, he didn’t want to be the one to break this routine.
After Mycroft left the room, Sherlock’s affect quieted down fairly quickly, although he was still seething. He retreated quickly into his own thoughts, examining the circumstances that had brought him here with an aim to hold Mycroft responsible for as much as possible. In truth, he knew that his brother could not have known what he was handing to Moriarty when he told him all that he had. He knew, also, that Moriarty could have gotten to him without Mycroft’s help, one way or another. Still, as long as Mycroft was not willing to admit his own faults, he could not be held blameless.
The sound of the car arriving and then leaving stirred him. In spite of himself, he was surprised that his brother had actually left the house. He felt a twinge of something resembling guilt for having made Mycroft quite so angry. He quickly suppressed it by reminding himself that he’d been right
It was a biography of Hemmingway that he’d thrown. It was forty-five minutes later that he got up to retrieve it. The book was relatively unharmed – a few of the pages were slightly bent but the spine was not damaged and nothing had been torn. He flipped though the pages carefully just to be sure, although he didn’t know why he cared. For whatever reason, the bent pages bothered him, and after smoothing them out he placed the book under a large, heavy-ish pile of other books in an attempt to press out the creases. When he had done this, he opened his window and stared out of it for a time.
The flowers were beginning to bloom. Although the beds near the house had been largely cared for by Mummy herself for as long as he could remember, they did not seem to have suffered much in her absence. He wondered if Mycroft tended to them now himself or if, more probably, he had hired someone. He briefly tried to picture himself in the flower beds, sleeves rolled up, tearing out weeds and spreading mulch. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would hold his interest for long. He had a passing interest in the aspects of botany that might prove useful to him, but by and large he couldn’t fathom deriving pleasure from simply growing plants for their own sake. Were he responsible for this house, he’d probably leave the flowers to more or less fend for themselves. But of course Mycroft derived some strange sort of pleasure from keeping things up, even if they were rather dull things. This realization gave him an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach. So he stopped thinking about it.
Dinner that night was a simple affair. It had to be – by the time Mycroft returned there wasn’t time to make anything terribly complicated for seven o’clock. As it turned out, he needn’t have rushed. Seven came and went and Sherlock did not appear. Determined not to seek him out, Mycroft waited until a quarter to eight, then ate without him. At half eight, he put Sherlock’s portion in the refrigerator and left a note on the counter telling him where it was, just in case. He spent an hour or so in the sitting room, but he did not light a fire. Then he went to bed early.
The next morning, the door to the Blue Room was locked when Mycroft arrived to ask about breakfast. He knocked and was answered by the shriek of a violin played with deliberate ineptitude. When eventually the piercing noises died away, Mycroft cleared his throat. After a good night’s sleep and some time out of the house, he felt less inclined to anger than he had been the previous afternoon. All the same, he wasn’t going to try to wheedle someone who so obviously didn’t appreciate his help into accepting it. He was above that.
“You know where I will be,” he announced to the still-closed door. “When you are prepared to grow up, I look forward to seeing you.”
His words were met with silence. Seeing no reason to linger, he turned on his heels and left. In the kitchen, he saw that Sherlock had not come for his dinner during the night. So Mycroft ate these leftovers for breakfast, then crumpled the note and threw it away.
Chapter 6: A Little More Than Twenty Minutes
It took days rather than the hours Mycroft had expected for Sherlock to come out of the bedroom in search of a change of scenery and something to eat. His seclusion was something that they both noticed very much initially and then stopped noticing very much at all. At first, every small sound made Mycroft look up from what he was doing, and when he was met each time with an empty corridor leading to a door that was no doubt still pointedly closed, he felt a twinge of irritation. By the middle of the afternoon, however, he’d given up caring, and had stopped checking. It was amazing, he quickly realized, how much more he was able to accomplish when his mind wasn’t half-occupied with wondering about his brother.
Sherlock, originally finding it difficult to concentrate on other things, spent the early part of the first day fretting and making a mental list of the good reasons he had to resent his brother. He then imagined what arguments Mycroft might present against his premises and came up with counter-arguments to these. For a time he found this activity completely occupying, but after a few hours it became rather boring, and by the afternoon he had returned to his research. Slowly, the charged atmosphere that had seemed to surround the house since their argument dissipated, and the silence that fell was, if not as comfortable as it had been before, then at least not quite as heavy as it had felt for the last day.
When, three days later, Sherlock finally emerged, he found that Mycroft wasn’t there. Sherlock hadn’t expected to run into him, exactly. He’d come out and gone straight to the kitchen despite it being well after the time when they normally ate breakfast specifically because he’d been unable to decide whether he wanted to speak to his brother or not. His plan had been to make a bit of toast or else scavenge something from the refrigerator (for he had grown rather hungry) and to do so noisily enough for Mycroft to hear from his study. In this way he intended to force Mycroft to decide whether to ignore him or to come in and make some kind of amends, ideally by offering to prepare breakfast for him even though it was nearly lunchtime. In truth, he was prepared to admit to no longer being angry (at least in action – he didn’t actually want to have to say it) if Mycroft was willing to make the first move. Well, the second move if he counted the other morning. It wasn’t any one thing, or at least any one thing that he could put his finger on. It was just that, even after the dust had settled somewhat, he was growing progressively uncomfortable with their new situation.
With few exceptions, Sherlock was normally quite pleased to be alone, to think without interruption for days on end and not worry overly much about what was going on around him. Normally once he was in his own head his location didn’t matter; the Blue Room might as well be Baker Street and Baker Street might as well be the moon. But this puzzle was complicated, with far-reaching implications and only a little to go on (for Moriarty was far better at covering his tracks than most), and at times he found himself growing rather frustrated. When this happened it drew him out of his thoughts, and the Blue Room became the Blue Room again, with all its distractions and its confining qualities. That was why he had come out, and why he was willing to patch things up with his brother, or at least implicitly accept some responsibility without having to talk much about why they had actually rowed in the first place and how they could show each other respect in the future and so on and so forth (his one solace in taking this step toward a resolution was that Mycroft, like him, had no patience for talking things out if it was instead possible to simply move on and stoically ignore what had happened). The change in environment had become an absolute imperative. Also, he was hoping that if he and Mycroft were speaking again he might eventually be able to work the difficulties he’d been having into conversation, at which point Mycroft might choose to voice some of his own ideas about what to do with the information that Sherlock had amassed.
As he entered the kitchen he realized rather quickly that his plan to simply make his presence known and then wait for a response would not work. There was a note on the table which he might have missed except that it was held down with a rather impressive paperweight – a brass owl that was slightly larger than his fist and wore a stern expression. Sherlock sat down rather gracelessly, leaning his crutches against an adjacent chair, and slid the note out from under the owl. It tipped over as the paper shifted beneath it, leaving a small dent in the table, and he cursed in a harsh near-whisper. He lifted the owl back up and placed its base over the mark, covering the evidence before turning his attention to the note.
It seemed to be the revised version of an earlier message that Sherlock had not come out in time to receive. That seemed odd at first, but after a quick look around from where he was sitting revealed that there was no other paper immediately visible, he concluded that either Mycroft had been in a rush when writing the second note or the note had been an afterthought. Either way, the end result was that his brother had not bothered to go searching for another piece of paper, which was fine. Two notes would probably provide more insight than one anyhow.
An unavoidable engagement has come up, read the first draft of the note. I’ve gone for dinner. You can expect me back by half nine. I’ve left a plate for you on the side. Tea bags are in the third cupboard from the left. There isn’t any loose-leaf left. The coffee maker is broken. Please don’t try to use it anyway. -M The alterations to the original note were written in the same ink but the pressure was different, the lines slightly thicker and darker. Mycroft had crossed out “for dinner” and written “to my office” above it. “Half nine” had been replaced by “six o’clock,” and “plate,” in what was probably the least necessary of the modifications, now read “sandwich.” A demonstration of his brother’s need to be precise, he supposed. Sherlock glanced at the sideboard. A sandwich was waiting there as promised. Mycroft had probably thought better about leaving out anything that could spoil after Sherlock had failed to eat the aforementioned plate from the previous evening. In addition to the revisions, there was an addendum to the note: If you need anything urgently, my mobile is on the side. Please send the text saved in drafts exactly as it is.
Interesting. Sherlock moved with relative speed to the sideboard. He retrieved the phone and slipped it into his pocket. He paid the sandwich only the attention necessary to decide whether it was worth the trouble of transporting back to the table. Tomato on brown bread, cut into fours. He considered this for a moment before a low rumbling from his stomach made the decision for him. He had come for food in the first place, after all.
The plate was tricky to manage, but with some effort he managed to carry it rather awkwardly back to the table. Sitting down again, he bit absently into the sandwich and turned his attention to his brother’s phone, navigating easily to the saved text. Dinner last night was very enjoyable. I hope you’ll consider stopping by today. Let yourself in if I am not back yet – the key is under the flower pot. MH.
Sherlock checked the number but didn’t recognize it. It was saved in Mycroft’s contacts, but rather than a first name and surname it had been given only two deeply unhelpful initials – MH. Infuriating. Did Mycroft have a second phone? That would be rather foolish, what if someone saw that he’d been apparently texting himself? But of course that didn’t make sense, not when one considered the business about dinner, not to mention that being sent texts from one’s own phone was barely any less suspicious than receiving them from one’s dead brother. But if it wasn’t his own phone then who was Mycroft having him text, and how could he be so careless as to ask someone else to come to the house?
Oh. Of course. As the answer dawned on him, Sherlock was secretly pleased that no one was there to see how slow he’d been to catch onto it. Molly Hooper. Had she and Mycroft gone for dinner, then? Sherlock tried to imagine the two of them having any semblance of a comfortable conversation over wine and mains with fussy garnishes and deliberately unusual vegetables. He found he couldn’t imagine what they might talk about. With Molly’s atrociously awkward attempts at humour and Mycroft’s general air of condescension, he could only picture the two of them staring each other down uncomfortably from opposite sides of a well-dressed table after a short and ill-fated attempt at something more natural, being altogether entirely unconvincing should anyone see them who needed to be convinced. He grimaced.
He considered sending the text just to see what would happen but decided against it. Then he considered simply calling the number and insisting that Molly tell him all about what had happened, knowing that he could easily talk her into it, but he quickly decided against that as well. Instead, he disappeared into his own thoughts for a time. He wondered if Molly was working today and what excuse Mycroft had expected her to make in order to leave Bart’s should she receive a text. He wondered if she knew about this possibility of being summoned. Then he began to think about what other arrangements his brother might have been making behind the scenes while he’d been whiling away his time in the Blue Room. He tried to decide whether this extra initiative was something that should evoke feelings of gratitude or annoyance. Had it been almost anyone else, he might have been irritated that plans had been put into action without his knowledge. People could be very artless, after all, and it was of greatest importance to be careful in this situation. But Mycroft was neither foolish nor hasty, and as much as it was in some ways a great bore to admit it, he knew he could trust that his brother’s plans were safe.
When eventually he was drawn out of his musings, he found that he’d finished the rest of his sandwich. The mobile was still in his hand. He set it aside. The food and the text and the note had all combined to give him the feeling that perhaps his plan of simply making himself available and waiting for Mycroft to extend an olive branch was both insufficient and egregiously belated. This idea sat rather uncomfortably with him. Perhaps some of it was guilt, but more than that he hated to admit that he’d been wrong, which he would have to do, at least implicitly, if he was going to make the next move. Bother.
Well, there was nothing for it, at least not until Mycroft came back. That gave him a little over seven hours to decide what to do. Which meant it gave him twenty minutes to decide what to do and just under seven hours to continue thinking about snipers. After all, how long could a person truly contemplate the right course of action after a relatively inconsequential row?
The Blue Room was still too constricting to be borne, so he decided, now that he was not actively shutting out his brother, to relocate to the room opposite. It took him several trips to move across all the things that he wanted, and he was forced to make use of the rucksack which had up to that point remained unused in a corner. He thought he might like to think a bit about his Moriarty problem before he thought about Mycroft, but as he set about considering whether the bomb on the blind woman from Yorkshire could have been detonated by anything other than a sniper shot and whether there were any other instances where the skill of this supposed gunman had been demonstrated, he found that his thoughts kept wandering back to the bloody sandwich of all things. The thing he’d barely thought about before he had eaten it, let alone after.
He hadn’t had a tomato sandwich in a very long time; he, as a rule, did not buy fruits or vegetables even when he bothered to purchase any groceries at all. They spoiled too quickly and not in an interesting enough way to make them worth it. He also hadn’t had a sandwich cut into fours since he was a child, though at that time it had been his preferred presentation. But only if the sections had been made from corner to corner to create triangles rather than from the middles to make squares. He couldn’t remember why now, although he knew that when he was young this had been vitally important. Mycroft was either also fond of this method of cutting sandwiches or he had remembered that Sherlock was partial to it even when Sherlock himself had all but forgotten. Which made the gesture either interesting or meaningless, though which made it which was not entirely clear.
Eating the sandwich had not made him feel anything in particular, but thinking about it now made him feel… well, not nostalgic exactly, but it did make him think about how things had changed since he’d grown up. While he was rather partial to his adult self, there were some things that had perhaps been rather nice when he was a child.
He sighed deeply, and considered his next course of action for a full minute before rising from his chair and hobbling back down to the kitchen. The note, of course, was still on the table where he’d left it. It was no longer under the owl – given that there was no draft in the kitchen anyhow he hadn’t seen the point. He stood near the table and stared at the note for what felt like a long time before apparently talking himself out of his previous decision. He left the kitchen, heading back down the hall to the room across from the Blue Room. He was halfway there when he reconsidered this new course of action and returned to the kitchen. He repeated this back-and-forth wavering once more, though he did not make it quite as far down the hall the second time. Had there been anyone there to witness it, he must have looked quite the sight. All things told he was glad that he was alone.
When he returned once more to the kitchen he found he was feeling rather tired after this extra exertion. How tedious it was to be an invalid. He sat down heavily and reached for Mycroft’s pen, which sat next to the paperweight. He clicked it nervously in and out for a few seconds before sliding the note closer. He made a face, then quickly scribbled his own addition to the bottom of the note with the air of someone trying to rip off a bandage quickly in order to get the process over with.
After he’d written his message he was rather keen to escape the kitchen, and after a few deep breaths taken while he simultaneously drummed his fingers impatiently against the surface of the table, he stood and returned to the room where he was working. Satisfied that he had taken the appropriate steps to bring about a resolution to his problem with Mycroft (even though in the end it had taken slightly longer than the allotted twenty minutes), he was able to settle much more completely into the other task he had set for himself. Deciding that this was a time for thinking rather than researching, he left his papers and computer on a chair near the door and moved to settle by the window with his violin. The room faced the front of the house and so he was able to see the drive from where he was sitting. When Mycroft arrived, he would know. For some reason he felt good about this. He plucked aimlessly at his violin strings and tried to focus.
For the first hour it was difficult not to think about the note, and on one occasion he had to talk himself out of returning to the kitchen to scratch out what he’d written. After a time, though, his mind settled and he was able to remain on task with a level of concentration that had eluded him for the last two days. Soon the violin lay silently beside him as he stared out the window without really looking and considered the layout of the pool where Carl Powers had died and John Watson had stood covered in Semtex and small red lights.
He sat like that for nearly six hours. By the time the dark car pulled into the drive he felt as though he’d made some rather satisfying progress. Once the car was out of sight, for he couldn’t see the front entrance from his position at the window, he took up his violin again. Finding that deliberate nonsense sounds no longer suited his mood, he played actual music instead.
I can only apologize for how long it has take to update this story (I didn't quite realize how long until I looked at the date of the last comment - time really flies!). Life got really busy but things have quieted a bit now and I'm hoping to get back to this more regularly. Also, the next bit is already half-written because it was meant to be part of this chapter but it got a bit long, so I have high hopes for another update very soon!
Chapter 7: Enough Food for Two
The decision to go into work had been rather spur-of-the-moment. The dinner he had planned more carefully, although neither could in absolute truth be referred to as ‘prior engagements.’ After the practice of going about his day without worrying about what Sherlock was up to had begun to feel normal rather than forced, it occurred to Mycroft that his brother would probably be just fine with being left on his own a little more often. So he’d made arrangements.
He called Molly on the second day and asked her to dinner. On the phone she seemed surprised, but she graciously accepted his invitation. He picked her up at her flat, and they had not been in the car together for more than a minute or two before she glanced at him knowingly and asked, “So, a bit trying to live with all the time then, is he?”
It was a relief to spend time with someone who actually knew the truth about his brother, even if they could not discuss it at dinner. Instead Molly began to tell him a story about working in the mortuary before catching herself and switching to talking about her cat. He smiled politely and pretended that it hadn’t been inappropriate to discuss post-mortems at dinner. Then he told her about a trip he had once taken to Austria and she asked if he knew how to ski before admitting that she did not. It was all polite, appropriate, and completely beyond suspicion. Just to be sure, he threw in a comment about Sherlock, in the past tense and with feigned dolour. She, catching on quickly, said, “You must miss him,” and he agreed that he did.
Once they were back in the car, he explained what he actually needed from her – someone to be a go-between so that he could return to his office during the day without worrying about leaving Sherlock by himself. It was too risky for Mycroft to get Sherlock a phone of his own in case anyone was watching him or monitoring his purchases. Likewise, he could hardly accept calls to his office telephone from his own mobile without raising suspicion. But if anything went wrong and Sherlock texted Molly a message from Mycroft’s phone – not about the actual problem, obviously, but any sort of casual message – then she could either go to the house herself if she was free or make some excuse to call Mycroft at his office. She listened carefully as he outlined his plan, although she seemed to agree rather quickly for someone who had given the idea serious thought. Mycroft was so pleased that she'd consented that he scarcely noticed. He made arrangements to go into his office the next day.
When he awoke the next morning and went into the kitchen, he found his brother’s dinner sitting once again untouched on the sideboard. The habit of making these dinners and then subsequently discovering them the following morning was one of the few things left in his day that reminded him that Sherlock was there. For a moment he wavered, but then he reminded himself that Molly was on hand should anything go wrong. In fact, he added, nothing had gone wrong so far and as long as Sherlock remained in his room, sitting and thinking, this was unlikely to change. He composed and saved a text, choosing his words very deliberately, then left his phone on the side. He felt strange without it, but really it was a small price to pay.
He felt almost cheerful as he binned the dinner. He considered making breakfast before he left but instead decided to make himself a sandwich and eat it on the way. He put together an extra one for Sherlock, deciding that it could stay there until he came for it. On his way out the door he realized he’d almost forgotten to compose a new note. For a brief moment he considered simply leaving without bothering, with the working assumption that Sherlock was no more likely to come out today than he had been the previous two days anyhow, and that he’d manage to figure it out for himself if he did. But he found he couldn’t do it – the responsible thing was to leave a note, and Mycroft Holmes was a responsible man. Anyhow, how was he meant to know the business about the texts? It would be silly to render the whole endeavor pointless for wont of a note that would take seconds to write. He moved swiftly back to the kitchen and, finding that the paper he’d written on the previous day was the only paper immediately to hand, he edited his earlier note rather than composing a new one before whisking up his things and heading out.
As he stepped into the building, everything felt comfortable and familiar and right. He moved through his morning, and with every small step it was reinforced to him that it was good to be properly back at work. Others may have found it tedious, so much predictability and routine, but to him it was wonderful. When he wanted tea, he had an assistant to make it for him. When he wanted peace, he closed the door and no one bothered him. After leading a rather complicated existence for the past few weeks, this alternative was deeply satisfying.
He was tempted only twice that day to call his own mobile from his desk phone to see if Sherlock answered. The first time was around ten o’clock. He’d been very productive right up until a moment when he found himself waiting for a call to be connected. The waiting allowed his mind to drift inconveniently, and it seemed to want to drift in a very particular direction. The second time was at lunch. Again, the brief time in which his mind was allowed to wander sent his thoughts back to the house.
Both times he’d thought to himself that it would not be much trouble just to check. If anyone asked what he was doing he could simply say that he’d lost his mobile and was seeing if it rang so that he could find it. He knew people did this. But he didn’t. Mycroft had never misplaced a mobile phone in his life. It was this realization that he’d used to talk himself out of it. No use coming back to work only to behave out of character. And anyway, of course Sherlock was fine – he was an adult, no matter how he sometimes behaved, and he was perfectly capable of caring for himself for this length of time. For all Mycroft knew he was still holed up in his room and hadn’t even noticed that he was alone. In both instances it took him less than ten minutes to decide against calling. All the same, after the second time he had his assistant bring in a newspaper so that he could occupy his mind with other things in these short moments.
That afternoon, instead of calling his own phone, he made several rather more important calls and engaged in some rather important negotiations. He felt in his element again. At two o’clock someone brought him tea. He barely noticed. There was too much to be done.
His largest setback that day had little to do with a desire to call his mobile, and could not be overcome with the distraction of a newspaper. Around three o’clock his assistant called in to tell him that the Greek embassy was on the line. As he reached for the receiver he suddenly heard, with vivid recall, his brother’s words from three days ago. Brother unwittingly betraying brother, how charming, like a Greek tragedy unfolding before his very eyes. How kind of you, to have made him so happy. Something tightened hard and fast in his stomach, and he found it necessary to lean on the desk for a moment and take a slow, deep breath. Several unpleasant recollections slowly worked their way to the surface of his thoughts. The look of barely-concealed delight on Jim Moriarty’s face as he foolishly began telling him about Sherlock’s past. The sinking feeling he’d had when their data analysis people reported back to tell him that the key code was meaningless. The way his breath had caught in his chest for just a moment when Sherlock revealed that he knew it was Mycroft who had given Moriarty all the information he’d needed.
With haunting clarity he realized for the first time since their fight that he had never expressed his remorse, at least not to his brother. And of course John Watson would not have passed on his regrets. He’d meant to apologize to Sherlock, of course. His intention had been to wait for the right moment, then come completely clean about everything and ask for forgiveness. Had it happened this way, he felt certain that Sherlock would have given it. Now it was difficult to say because of course none of this had gone as planned. Instead of a calm discussion, the information had come out, heavy with implications and vehemence, near the end of a quarrel. Instead of him telling his brother, Sherlock had been the one to voice it, allowing for the possibility that Mycroft may have intended never to mention it. Finally, instead of apologizing as he’d meant to, he’d been so angry by the time they came round to it that he’d explained it away. He’d excused himself from the implication that he had ruined his brother and then left. The realization made him feel still and cold. He drew his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes, the weight of what had happened suddenly hanging very heavily on him.
By the time he remembered what he was meant to be doing the people from the embassy were no longer on the line. When he called them back shortly after a quarter past three he didn’t sound quite himself. This did not go unnoticed, and after she’d rung off the woman he’d spoken to mentioned it to a coworker. “Mycroft Holmes?” the man repeated, “Didn’t he recently lose his brother?” Comprehension dawned on her face as he described an account he’d read in the newspaper. “Oh,” she said. “I didn’t realize he was related to that Holmes.” With that, the incident was forgotten by the embassy but not by Mycroft.
He felt a little better after he’d sorted things out with the embassy, but even so it took Mycroft a fair stretch of time to shake the daze that seemed to hang over him. Once he’d convinced himself that he had not been completely foolish to attempt a return to work while things were still rather rocky at home, he managed to put in just under an hour more of solid work before calling for a car. On the ride home, having nothing else to think about, he decided he might as well work out what he might do to make amends with his brother. This was difficult; apart from his previous strategy of attending to Sherlock’s needs and ensuring that he got better, it was difficult to think of what he might want. In case small gestures had any place in this whole business, he had the car stop once on the way back so that he could make a quick purchase in a small shop near the edge of the city.
When he arrived home, the first thing he noticed was the music. Actual music, which he had not heard in many days. He thought about this as he hung up his jacket and removed his shoes. It seemed like a very good sign, and it buoyed his spirits a little. The piece was not particularly cheerful, but that was neither here nor there. The sound was carrying better down the hall than he thought he remembered it previously doing. Could it be that the door to the Blue Room was open? That seemed like a little too much to hope for. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by what he perceived to be a meaningful change within the house.
Once he’d deposited his briefcase in the study he moved to the kitchen, working under the hope that Sherlock had found the energy for playing his violin because he’d finally had something to eat. He was pleased to discover that this was the case; the plate from the sandwich sat on the kitchen table, empty except for a few crumbs. There were other signs that Sherlock had been there as well. His mobile was missing from the side (he guessed that Sherlock, upon finding it, had elected to carry it with him. This struck him as a sensible decision and he felt reassured), and two of the chairs had been pulled out from under the table. The note he’d left was still on the table, but it was no longer held down by the paperweight. For the moment, Mycroft didn’t spare it another thought – it was obvious from the fact that the sandwich had been consumed and the mobile retrieved that Sherlock had read it.
It occurred to him that he could go immediately to the Blue Room and perhaps have a word with his brother. Sherlock would likely be more receptive now than he had been for the last few days, and it would allow Mycroft to get a better sense of his mood. At the same time, though, he was still unsure of exactly what to say. Like Sherlock, he disliked speaking about arguments after they had occurred any more than was strictly necessary, and much preferred to press on and simply avoid whatever issues seemed to have caused the problem in the first place. And if they weren’t going to talk about the fight, what was there to say? It wasn’t as though he could simply go in and tell Sherlock about his day, after all. It wasn’t that kind of relationship. So he elected to make dinner while he thought about what to do. After rearranging the chairs, clearing the plate and setting his package from the shop on the sideboard, he set to his task. Encouraged by the consumption of the sandwich, he made enough food for two.
It was not until he had finished cooking and was meting out the food, a task he normally performed at the kitchen table before transferring the plates to the adjacent dining room, that he noticed that Sherlock had added something to his note. The message, written in his brother’s usual quick scrawl, was simple, though in another way it was not simple at all because nothing ever really was between the two of them. Thank you. I’ll be across the hall. There was a thorough bit of scribbling after this that looked like it might cover the beginning of an additional part of the message that had been reconsidered. Looking more closely, he thought he could make out ‘If you’ at the start of it, but nothing more was legible.
For a moment, Mycroft considered the note. He regretted not having noticed the message sooner, but there was nothing to be done about that now. He picked up the small package from the side and slipped it into his pocket. Then he made his way down the hall. Sherlock needn’t have said where he was – Mycroft could easily have tracked him just by following the music. But in this case, the additional information seemed like it might serve as an invitation as well as a helpful fact. I’ll be across the hall. Come and find me. When he reached the room, the door was ajar. Sherlock was facing away from him, looking out the window as though he did not know that Mycroft was there, though Mycroft suspected that his brother must have heard his footsteps. He knocked on the side of the doorframe.
At first Sherlock was disappointed when his brother did not come to the room directly upon his return to the house. He was worried about what this might mean - that Mycroft was indifferent regarding the possibility of reconciliation or that he had miscalculated in terms of how big a step was necessary to play his part in returning things to their previous state. Finding that the waiting was once again hampering his ability to concentrate, he decided to wait until dinnertime and then seek Mycroft out for himself. As it was, he simply needed to be patient. Well, good. That made things a little easier. When he heard the knock, he paused in his playing. Inexplicably, it took him a moment to find his voice. He didn’t turn around until he had. “Come in.”
He watched his brother as he entered the room, paying particular attention to his expression. He looked… perhaps a little tired and maybe slightly concerned, but otherwise the same. He did not appear to have come to add any other grievances to those that had been aired a few days ago. That was promising. Sherlock could feel himself relax a little. He could tell by the way that Mycroft looked at him, appearing to see parts without seeing the whole, that he too was being analyzed. His mouth twitched into something that was meant to resemble a smile but didn’t really. Realizing it didn’t feel right, he let it drop. He didn’t say anything. Neither did Mycroft. Silence hung between them for several minutes. Then Mycroft spoke.
“I was thinking that you might like to come for dinner,” he said simply.
Sherlock hesitated, pressing his lips together and picking a bit of something off his bathrobe. He found that he both wanted to and didn’t want to come. “I had lunch,” he offered, which wasn’t really an answer.
“But you didn’t have breakfast,” Mycroft pointed out. Sherlock wondered briefly how long it would be possible to have a conversation made up entirely of neutral statements of fact. He hesitated again before nodding. “All right. I’ll come in a minute.”
Mycroft nodded, apparently satisfied with this outcome. He turned to leave and then turned around again. “I…” he began, then reached into his pocket and held up a packet of expensive-looking cigarettes. “If you still wanted them.” He gestured vaguely and set the packet on the arm of the chair by the door. “It’s your decision,” he added meaningfully before retreating to the dining room. Sherlock, feeling slightly astonished, watched him leave before arranging a few of his things and then making a move himself.
On his way out he paused briefly by the door to examine the packet. He wasn’t about to get sentimental about a silly package of cigarettes, but he did take a moment to acknowledge, somewhere in his mind, that of course they represented more than just an immediate chance to undermine his own healing process if he so chose. With a wry smile, he noticed that Mycroft had not left a lighter. Apparently his willingness to enable only extended so far. He shook his head almost fondly before continuing on down the hall.
Dinner that evening was quiet but relatively comfortable. A slight awkwardness lingered initially, but soon it more or less dissipated. Sherlock picked at his food without eating much, but neither of them mentioned this. Mycroft, hungry from his day at work, ate well. After about ten minutes of relative silence, Sherlock cleared his throat. “How was your day?” The question sounded strange coming from him, but Mycroft was more than happy to accept it. “Busy,” he said, then elaborated, though he left out the part about the Greek Embassy. It wasn’t clear that Sherlock was actually listening very carefully to what he was saying, but he seemed to nod at appropriate moments and he didn’t interrupt.
When they finished eating, both brothers found that they were feeling very tired all of a sudden. Mycroft offered to help Sherlock carry his things back across to the Blue Room, but Sherlock insisted that he could manage on his own. They wished each other goodnight and parted ways. Sherlock left with a nagging feeling that perhaps there was something more he ought to say, but as he couldn't put his finger on what it was, he suppressed it. Mycroft paused for a moment on the stairs and wondered if he shouldn't go back and tell Sherlock more explicitly how sorry he was about what had happened with Moriarty, but as he considered this he heard the door to the Blue Room close softly and decided not to disturb him. Perhaps in the morning.
Chapter 8: Five Shelves
Mycroft was generally an early riser, but the next morning he woke up early even for him. On descending the stairs, he realized that Sherlock was also awake and out of bed in spite of the hour. He could hear the thump of crutches and the creak of floorboards as his brother, with relative purpose if his pace was any indication, carried more things across the hall in many small trips. He paused for a moment, wondering if he ought to offer to help, but Sherlock sounded like he was managing all right. Anyhow, it was probably important to begin to allow his brother to manage on his own where he could; this forced state of dependence was no doubt frustrating for Sherlock. Even with this in mind, though, he had to talk himself out of making a pot of tea and checking up on his brother under the pretense of offering him a cup. Easing Sherlock’s way every now and again came more naturally to him than thinking about how Sherlock felt about having his way eased.
Finding that he had a new energy about him this morning (the source of which he suspected but elected not to think about), he decided to use it to improve their surroundings. Almost two weeks had passed since he had given the house’s small staff an indefinite leave of absence and the place was in sore need of at least a rudimentary cleaning. He wasn’t looking forward to it particularly, but it had to be done and there was no one else to do it. A week or two more and he could probably wait it out, but four or six more weeks was far too much to allow.
He began in his study. There was no point in concerning himself with the barely lived-in rooms. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, the study, the hall, the dining room and possibly the main floor sitting room if there was time. Anything beyond that would still be there weeks from now when his cleaning lady was finally allowed to return, and until then he was happy to keep it out of sight and thus out of mind. Rolling up his shirtsleeves, he spent some time rearranging and re-stacking papers and books, then wiped down the bare surfaces with a cloth and some polishing spray he’d found in the cupboard reserved for cleaning supplies. He skipped the hoovering, deciding he’d do all the rooms at once when he was finished everything else. The room would definitely need it, though – there were small slivers of paper scattered behind the desk that he knew would drive him mad the next time he tried to work in here. Sherlock must have been in earlier using the scissors from the top drawer – he had no idea what he would have needed them for, but after all there was no one else to suspect.
His mind wandered as he tidied and dusted. He thought about a trade agreement his office was attempting to influence, about whether he ought to give work another go after the weekend, and, as had been the case nearly constantly for the last two weeks, about his brother. The physiotherapist was due to come on Monday morning – an earlier appointment had been cancelled and so this would be his first meeting with Sherlock. He really should make sure that he was home for that, both to support the idea that the therapist was coming for him and to ensure that things ran smoothly; Sherlock had a checkered history with healthcare workers, and the only thing that kept it from being an entirely bad history was his rapport with the people who had given him run of the lab and the mortuary at St. Bartholomew’s. And John Watson, of course. He had a feeling that Sherlock might be rather resistant to some of the therapist’s recommendations and that this resistance might create a rather hostile atmosphere unless someone else was there to diffuse it. So the office on Monday was out, at least the morning. He’d call his assistant later on and let her know he wouldn’t be in.
A little over an hour had passed when he found himself standing in the doorway and looking back in on the room, satisfied with his efforts. He set his cleaning supplies on the desk, deciding he’d come back for them, and headed toward the kitchen with the intention of starting on breakfast.
Far from getting up early, Sherlock had in fact never gone to bed in the first place. He’d tried to sleep, sort of. He’d settled down on the bed for a time anyhow, although he’d been on top of the coverlet rather than beneath it and had propped himself up almost to sitting with pillows. With the room quiet and dark, he’d found himself alone with his thoughts rather than alone with his dreams, a not altogether unusual situation. At first he thought about Irene Adler, the only person he could think of who might be both able and willing to answer some of his questions about how Moriarty had operated if only he could track her down. Thinking of her led to thinking about the Bond Air flight which led to thinking about Mycroft. Finding this to ultimately be too much to lend itself to falling asleep, he attempted to distract himself by thinking about mould instead. After a few minutes of this, however, he heard Mrs. Hudson clearly in his head talking about black mould in an apartment she’d taken when first married. Which made him think about the pink phone, which made him think about Carl Powers and Jim Moriarty. At that point he gave up trying to sleep altogether.
To his relative surprise, he found as he got out of bed and exchanged his blue bathrobe for a shirt and trousers that what he most wanted to do at the moment was seek out his brother. Not for companionship per se, but rather for intellectual stimulation; he told himself this until he believed it, which did not take long. He needed someone with whom to discuss his theories. The skull was fine but after living with John he’d become rather accustomed to a conversation partner who answered back. Also, there was Carl Powers. It was to Mycroft that he’d expressed his suspicion when he read about the death as a boy, Mycroft to whom he’d complained when the police refused to take him seriously. Now that Carl was hovering in the periphery of his attention again, he wondered if his brother might recall any details that he had discounted. It could be a useful endeavour, thinking about Carl again and this time knowing how and by whose hand he had died. This moment in time might prove to be a good place to find Moriarty and track his progression forward, noting his successes, his methods, his friends and allies.
But of course he couldn’t go to Mycroft now. For one thing, he likely wouldn’t be awake. And even if he was, things between them were still only freshly mended and far too tenuous to allow for unsolicited midnight visits. Not to mention that only small children went running to older relatives in the middle of the night, and he did not want to give his brother any excuses to begin treating him like a child again. Then of course there was the most obvious and literal stumbling block – to reach Mycroft in his upstairs bedroom would mean physically climbing the stairs, requiring a nearly herculean effort. So he decided to get as far along as he could on his own and then perhaps ask Mycroft for his opinions in the morning. Or maybe Mycroft would offer them himself and he could pretend to resist before finally giving in and accepting his input with some recalcitrance. That would be even better.
Finding himself to be once again dissatisfied with the Blue Room as a space to think after only about twenty minutes, he relocated to the room across the hall. This too he found lacking, however. He managed to begin all right but he kept getting distracted from one train of thought by another, by other possibilities and other aspects of his research. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the arm of his chair. He needed to be able to examine his data more visually. A mind palace was all very well but at the moment it was almost too much. He felt ungrounded.
He used the printer in Mycroft’s study. He had to use the hated rucksack in order to transport his laptop there, but he knew that it was worth it as soon as the printer produced the first greyscale picture of a man bearing a striking resemblance to one of their more recent neighbours from Baker Street. As he stared at it his mind raced with renewed vigor. He’d thought that the man was one of the assassins lured to Baker Street by Moriarty in search of the computer code until, thinking back, he realized he’d seen his face before – from the witness stand, among the spectators at the Old Bailey. Of course it was possible that someone attempting to get information from him would turn up to watch him testify, but it was also possible that the man had shown up because he had an actual stake in the continued well-being of Jim Moriarty. A lead worth pursuing anyhow. A bit of digging – some of it using borrowed passwords to gather information that ought to have been inaccessible to him – gave him a name as well as a few photographs, some personal information, and a glimpse of the man’s history, which included, to his satisfaction, a short military career that ended rather abruptly. It wasn’t much, really, but it was enough to make the man a favourite of five as the subject of his suspicion.
Thirty-five minutes later Sherlock returned to the room across from the Blue Room, his rucksack filled with papers featuring information on this man and the four others, Kitty Riley’s exposé (acquired online from The Sun), and newspaper articles reporting his own death (some found online and some clipped from a small stack of newspapers he’d found in the corner of the study). He had to return for a second stack of papers featuring accounts of the work and public performances of Richard Brook as well as the laptop and a roll of masking tape pilfered from a drawer in the kitchen. In the room, he removed all the books from a tall set of shelves along one wall and used the tape to affix pictures, articles, and a few of his own handwritten notes about each of his five suspects to the back wall of each shelf. The man who had garnered his greatest suspicion received the place of honour – the shelf at eye-level. The accounts of his suicide were arranged along one side of the shelves. Richard Brook’s information, requiring too much space for a place on the bookshelves, was spread out and taped down rather messily across the surface of the room’s low table.
He’d had to convince himself not to simply pin these items directly to the wall using the brass tacks which he’d found in the same drawer as the tape. At home in Baker Street he wouldn’t have given the tape a second glance – why risk having one’s papers falling down simply for the sake of sparing the wall a few small holes? But this house was different. It wasn’t that he cared much about it himself – it was only a place, after all – but Mycroft would care. While he had on several occasions gone out of his way to irritate Mycroft, he was in no mood for such things today. And so he instead went out of his way to spare the wall not only small holes but also the sticky residue of tape. As for the bookshelf, most of what he was doing could easily be covered by the books themselves should he leave any marks.
Once everything had been properly affixed to the appropriate surfaces, he stood back and surveyed his work. Something about seeing everything laid out in this way made him feel very content. There was only one other thing – the piles of books from the shelves were in the way. So, employing the rucksack once more, he moved back and forth from this room to the Blue Room, taking several books at a time and piling them haphazardly in a corner next to the writing desk where they could be effectively forgotten about. As he was making these transports, he heard Mycroft come downstairs, but as he was no longer in need of a distraction, he didn’t give his brother’s presence much thought.
After the books had been moved, it was simply a matter of settling in. For a time he stood before the bookshelf, leaning heavily on his crutches, but this quickly became tiring and his foot, used to some degree of elevation, began to throb. So instead he took up a lounging sort of position on the sofa. For an hour he was perfectly still, his attention fixed on the shelves, experiencing a vague sense of well-being that was the result of finally being able to think properly.
Mycroft’s sense of purposefulness, which had stuck with him as he prepared their breakfast of fried eggs on toast and some tomato slices (included because there was half a tomato left from the previous day’s sandwiches that was just on the verge of going unsalvageably soft), wavered slightly as he entered the room where Sherlock sat. He realized he was still not quite sure how to act around his brother. Feeling slightly self-conscious, he nevertheless pressed on, advancing into the room without breaking stride and offering Sherlock a “good morning” that sounded only slightly wooden. It didn’t matter anyhow – Sherlock sat facing the room's large bookshelf, apparently lost in thought, and did not seem to hear.
For his part, Mycroft was so focused on behaving normally that at first he did not notice that the books that usually occupied the shelves had been displaced in favour of dozens of haphazardly-arranged sheets of paper. When he did notice he frowned almost reflexively at the chaos and wondered where the books had gone, but it took him only the span of one deep breath to decide to be pleased by Sherlock’s obvious productivity rather than being irritated by the disarray. It was a good sign, seeing him settled in like this.
He moved to the low table to set down the tray before noticing that it, too, was covered in papers. Jim Moriarty’s face grinned back at him over the top of an absurdly ornate storybook. And from under a pair of wide-rimmed glasses. And from in front of a serene outdoor scene. There were dates scrawled along the bottom of each picture in Sherlock’s rather untidy hand, and next to the last picture was a note, again handwritten, that simply read ‘Montford Agency’ with an address. Next to that were what appeared to be copies of several theatre reviews, but Mycroft did not look closely enough to tell for sure. Instead he looked away from the table, his eyes finding the window for a moment before he turned to address his brother.
The clink of forks against plates must have drawn Sherlock out of his musings, for when Mycroft turned to face him he found that Sherlock was watching him with some interest. He drew in a breath. “Shall we eat in the Blue Room?” he asked, his voice calm and even. There was nowhere else in this room for the tray. Sherlock seemed to hesitate, his gaze flicking from the bookshelf to Mycroft to the table (where it lingered for a longer moment) and back to Mycroft again before he shrugged and reached for his crutches.
Mycroft led the way, placing the tray down on the writing table and pulling the armchair slightly closer so that Sherlock, who preferred it to the desk chair, would be able to rest his plate on the corner. A moment later Sherlock appeared and sat down. He looked at his plate and blinked a few times, as though his mind was still elsewhere, then muttered something that sounded like a relatively unintelligible word of thanks. Mycroft offered him a small smile and then began to cut up his egg with a knife and fork. Sherlock picked up his own fork and used it to stab thoughtfully at a tomato slice.
For a few silent minutes Mycroft ate and Sherlock alternated between poking at the tomato and casting longing glances across the hall. It would have been apparent to anyone that he was not terribly interested in breakfast. Luckily Mycroft knew better than to take this personally. Thinking he might be able to draw Sherlock’s attention back to the meal by first drawing his attention into the room, he decided to make an attempt at conversation. “You were up early.”
Sherlock shrugged “I haven’t slept.” Mycroft raised his eyebrows at this and gave his brother a surreptitious inspection. Hands still. Posture erect. Eyes slightly red but sharp. No puffiness, no dark circles. Pale, but no more than was usual. He didn’t appear to be any worse for wear, which was reassuring. Mycroft was aware of his brother’s habits, and he knew that Sherlock could stave off sleep in a way that was not possible for most. But all the same, he’d have to keep an eye on him.
“Working?” he asked simply and Sherlock nodded, then cast another look back to the room across the hall. His actions spoke so plainly that Mycroft couldn’t help but think that they must be at least partly involuntary. He generally knew his brother to be slightly more guarded. He let his own mind wander back to the room, thinking about the way that Sherlock had arranged it, done up like a rather grim collage. His thoughts fell quickly back to the pictures of James Moriarty on the table. The man to whom he’d given the perfect ammunition. Perhaps this was a good time to say something about all of that. He cleared his throat. When he was satisfied that Sherlock was at least listening, if not making eye contact, he spoke. “Sherlock.” He could hear the hesitation in his own voice and paused with a grimace. He sounded weak.
It was clear that Sherlock could tell from his tone that he intended to discuss a matter of some gravity. He looked up quickly and when he did, Mycroft could see frank curiosity in his brother’s eyes. Also, unless he was mistaken, there was a hint of anxiety. Perhaps that was understandable – Sherlock shared his own aversion to conversations of this nature. Some part of him seemed to be silently willing Mycroft to reconsider what he was about to say. To stop before he’d started. It was a tempting idea; although he wanted to say something about Moriarty, and although he wanted to do it sooner rather than later, with such a fragile reconciliation only just behind them he found that he was rather hesitant to remind them both of what had happened. In fact, as Sherlock watched him expectantly, he decided it was too soon. For both of them. The decision made him feel cowardly but also correct. He cleared his throat again as a method of stalling while he quickly cast about for something else to say, finally settling on “Won’t you have any breakfast?”
Sherlock looked surprised, and perhaps slightly relieved. He gave Mycroft a shrewd look that seemed to last a long time and to see everything. Then he shrugged again. “I prefer not to eat when I am working,” he said plainly but without any particular defiance. It was only for the briefest moment that Mycroft considered reminding Sherlock of their previous agreement of two meals a day. If there was anything to learned from the past week it was that they could not allow minor issues to spark arguments, not when they still had to live with each other for at least a month.
He could not help the look of disapproval that crossed his features for only a second. But then he nodded to indicate his acceptance. “Will you have the tea at least?”
Sherlock, apparently satisfied by the lack of resistance, considered this for a moment before nodding and reaching for his cup. Mycroft watched until he’d taken a drink of it. He didn’t know why. Sherlock didn’t seem bothered by this. He held the cup in both hands for a time before putting it back on the table. After he’d set it down again he furrowed his brow in consternation as though something had just occurred to him. He looked up at Mycroft, then gestured at the plate in front of him. “It’s not that I don’t…” he began, then paused as though searching for the words he wanted. He licked his lips self-consciously and tried again. “It’s nice. This is all… good. Of you.”
Mycroft nodded in understanding and Sherlock looked relieved. He closed his mouth tightly and nodded back resolutely, apparently satisfied that he'd been understood. He picked up his cup again and sipped at it pensively, staring at Mycroft in a way that would have been disconcerting to someone who was not used to being read by him. Then his demeanour seemed to change, as though he’d quietly decided something. When he spoke again a minute later, it was with an energy that had been absent before.
“I have been having some difficulty fathoming exactly how Moriarty managed to create the identity of Richard Brook so convincingly if the computer code was not real,” he admitted, his tone more sure and his manner almost business-like. He looked expectantly at Mycroft, as though wishing to inform him that it was now his turn pick up on this change of topic.
Mycroft regarded his brother carefully, slightly puzzled by the abrupt turnaround. But after a moment’s reflection, he realized that he was grateful for the change of mood and subject. He considered the question. “I suppose that depends on how extensive Brooks’ records and history are,” he said without commitment, although this was not because he was dismissing the question. Already he was thinking. Would he have required the services of someone else in order to pull it off? Had that person been bought and were they still alive? It was an interesting starting point but he needed more information
“I have notes in the other room,” Sherlock offered, perhaps a little too quickly – he seemed to withdraw for a few seconds after that and Mycroft suspected that his proud brother was reproaching himself for appearing too eager. Not that it mattered much – to Mycroft the intent of the offer was clear. Either as a kindness or for some other purpose, it was meant to provide a means of inviting him over to the other room. It was almost inconceivable that Sherlock did not remember every point on every one of his notes. But he nodded anyway, because it was the right thing to do when Sherlock kindly invited one to view his research.
“I’m very interested to see them.”
Sherlock did not smile, but it was nevertheless evident that his mood had been brightened somewhat by the success of his invitation. He popped the slice of tomato into his mouth without seeming to notice that he was doing so, then he led the way across the hall. Mycroft, pausing only to stack Sherlock’s otherwise neglected plate on top of his empty one, followed close behind him, pleased by the turn the morning had taken.
Sorry for another delay - this chapter just did not want to cooperate for the longest time. Again, I promise this is not for lack of commitment to the story!
Also, just in case anyone feels particularly affected by this, the last chapter has received some minor edits (I think I did them last Tuesday-ish so if you read it after that they already happened). Upon reflection, I just thought that the Mycroft guilt was a little heavy-handed. It's still there and is pretty much the same, just tempered a tiny bit.
The next edit may be to the summary (just so you know, I guess?) - I think it has become less accurate as things have been drawn out.
Chapter 9: Twenty-Six Cumulative Minutes
Of course he’d known what Mycroft meant to speak to him about – it was obvious, really, far more obvious than Mycroft would normally have allowed himself to be. This in itself was disconcerting – he had always known his brother to be very careful, very deliberate, and very controlled. The hesitation in his voice, the hint of something unreadable in the corners of his expression, the way he kept clearing his throat, these were not typical of his brother, and it alerted Sherlock immediately to the fact that Mycroft intended to discuss something serious. The business with Moriarty sprang to mind relatively quickly as he ran through a mental list of possible subjects. As soon as he’d accepted it as a strong possibility, he felt himself willing Mycroft to leave it alone.
It was frankly a great relief when his brother seemed to think better of the whole endeavour. At the root of this relief was a key truth: they did not talk things out, he and Mycroft. There was no point – both of them were clever enough to infer any small thing that would have been important enough to state outright, and actually addressing the issues plainly, followed by a troublesome discussion about feelings or the past, would have served only to make both of them very uncomfortable. Thus, serious issues between them had always been discussed implicitly as part of a conversation about some mundane subject, addressed quickly and efficiently in one or two throwaway comments, or disregarded until some breaking point made ignoring them impossible. When something did surface, it was generally in the context of a row, and when that happened it was understood that the issue was not to be revisited after the argument was over. Anything more than this was surely beneath them.
Anyhow, it was all hardly relevant anymore; he was fairly sure that he didn’t actually blame Mycroft for what had happened, now that casting blame was no longer a convenient way to gain the advantage in an argument. Of course he hadn’t foreseen the damage that could be caused by the information he’d provided; Jim Moriarty had known how to play them both at one time or another, even if Sherlock had eventually gained the upper hand. To expect Mycroft to make it through their encounters with no errors while he himself had misstepped once or twice struck him, in retrospect, as rather unfair. In fact, although it had been satisfying to mention in the heat of the moment, he was beginning to regret it ever having brought the whole business up. He had a feeling that the accusation had struck more deeply than he’d intended.
Over the next few days, Mycroft thought about addressing the whole business twelve more times when they were together. Sherlock knew this because it was obvious as long as he was paying attention, which he had been doing because he’d been keeping track rather carefully. He had taken to watching Mycroft when things grew quiet, and had become familiar with symptoms of this particular train of thought. He’d tried not to be obvious – he had taken to watching out of the corner of his eye while pretending to look out the window or at the carefully arranged chaos on his otherwise empty bookshelves or at his food. After a time, Mycroft would suddenly appear overly contemplative. He would write or read or eat with a slow deliberation, sometimes pausing altogether. His eyes would dart only for the briefest of seconds toward the table full of Richard Brook’s information, and on their return his gaze would fall momentarily out of focus, as though his mind was somewhere far away from where his eyes actually fell. After a few seconds he would remember himself, and at that point Sherlock would look away lest Mycroft sense that he was being watched.
For eleven of the twelve times, this was as far as it went. Mycroft only seriously attempted to say something on one occasion after the first day. In his defense, it had been a rather trying morning for them both, and it was fair to suppose that the events of the day had provided him with more cause than usual to ruminate. It was Monday, but Mycroft had remained at home to work from his study because the physical therapist was due to come. It was necessary for him to be there in order to give the correct impression about who the therapist was there for should anyone be paying attention to the comings and goings at the house. Also, he seemed to have anticipated the dynamics of Sherlock’s interaction with the therapist, as evidenced by the way he took it upon himself to supervise the appointment from a chair in the corner of the Blue Room.
It wasn’t that Mark was a particularly difficult person, and Sherlock was certain that if Mycroft had enlisted his services he was likely exceptionally good at his job. The trouble was that there was an inherent sense of vulnerability to an encounter like this, especially when this man whom he did not know was not only telling him what to do but also was touching his leg, pulling on his foot, and asking him questions (questions which he would later describe to Mycroft as “frankly accusatory,” though Mycroft would calmly counter that they had in fact been “purely professional”) about how careful he had or had not been, how active, how healthy. This exposure and its accompanying badgering made Sherlock uncomfortable, which in turn made him irritable.
After the initial introductions and apart from answering a few questions directed to him regarding what accommodations might be made for Sherlock around the house, Mycroft said very little during the encounter. This must have been something of a challenge – Sherlock could imagine an earlier version of his brother intervening quite comfortably throughout the appointment. He would have cast a warning glance at him and sharply intoned his name, for instance, when he snapped at Mark, who’d been refusing to drop the issue of whether he’d been getting enough cardiovascular exercise and how they could ensure that he had enough in the future. He then would have attempted to smooth the whole thing over with a wry smile and some apologetic pleasantry that began with the phrase “I believe what my brother means to say is…” After the appointment, particularly if Sherlock had not responded well to this warning, he would have had a good deal more to say about manners and openness to suggestions that would, after all, only help him to get heal more effectively.
This Mycroft, though, the Mycroft who existed after their argument and who had so far spent approximately twenty-six cumulative minutes contemplating where he had gone wrong in his encounters with a master criminal, simply coughed softly and then grew thoughtful. As it turned out, this made Sherlock feel far more chastened than the former response would have done. Perhaps because it reminded him that he and Mycroft were still meant to be careful around each other, and that he had failed to do his part. After that he made more of an effort with Mark, which was a struggle. He cast frequent glances back at his brother to make sure that his efforts were not going unnoticed, but it was unclear whether Mycroft was paying much attention to the appointment any longer.
When Mark was finished, Mycroft saw him out. Sherlock did not move to join them in the short walk to the front door. There was no point, and anyhow he had the distinct impression that Mark was rather keen to leave him to it, in spite of his delayed efforts at compliance. Mycroft did not return for several hours after Mark’s departure, which was also fine; now that he’d had the chance to talk through one or two particularly problematic ideas with his brother, Sherlock was more than happy to resume working alone. He moved to the room across the hall, dutifully propped his foot on a chair (feeling only the slightest twinge of resentment toward the physical therapist, who had emphasized the importance of this at great length, as he did so), and quickly lost himself in the contemplation of his shelves.
When Mycroft did reappear with two cups of tea around four o’clock, he was surprised by how much time had passed. As they sipped at their tea, Sherlock easily drew his brother into a discussion about the relative ease of long-range shooting alone or with a spotter. They had just covered what he considered to be the most important points of the issue and were half-heartedly bringing up more secondary ideas as they occurred when Mycroft once again began to exhibit the telltale signs of someone who intended to say something rather important – a lingering look at the table, the deliberate folding of his hands in his lap, the soft clearing of his throat.
“Sherlock.” His voice was steadier than the last time. Sherlock turned, taking some pains to mask the mild concern that might otherwise have shown on his face. Mycroft looked out the window as he spoke – perhaps it was easier to begin without the added exposure of eye contact. “When James Moriarty was in our custody, it seemed as though it would be impossible to convince him to talk to us,” he began, his words so deliberate and careful that they seemed almost rehearsed. “Until I discovered his interest in you. I never imagined that –”
Sherlock cast around quickly for something to say that would change the trajectory of the conversation. Had any words of forgiveness immediately occurred to him he likely would have used them, probably with great success. But apologies and forgiveness did not come especially naturally to him. What instead surfaced first was an inclination toward productivity. “You know,” he interrupted, stringing in a conversation that they had in fact already had to near-completion two days previously, “We assumed, John and I, that Jim Moriarty was able to create a believable amount of documentation for Richard Brook because he could access key databases using his computer code. If the code never existed then his ability to establish a completely separate identity was remarkable. I think it must have taken a great deal of previous planning. Of course, the clearly less attractive alternative is that he managed it through bribery and threats in the same manner that he managed the break-ins, but I think that would have posed too much of a risk, counting on so many people to keep to their end of the bargain.”
Mycroft frowned slightly, clearly taken aback at having been interrupted in this way. Ultimately, however, he accepted the change in subject. “And how do you imagine that he managed it using previous planning?” he asked, allowing Sherlock to outline in more detail a theory that he had touched on earlier, one that involved Moriarty spending at least some of his time for several years actively living as Richard Brook in order to develop a compelling back-story and paper trail. They discussed this theory rather weakly for a few moments, both deeply cognizant of the fact that this discussion amounted to little more than lines recited for the purpose of moving away from the previous topic. Then they lapsed into silence.
When Mycroft rose to leave some time later, explaining that he wished to finish a few things off in his study before dinner, Sherlock didn’t take his eyes off the shelves. He did, however, after a moment of very quick deliberation, speak. His voice was barely loud enough to be sure that Mycroft had heard, and his tone was flat. “Of course you didn’t know.” Mycroft paused for a moment in his steps, and Sherlock imagined that he’d nodded, although he couldn’t see him. Then he carried on his way.
At seven, Sherlock joined Mycroft in the dining room. Things were perhaps slightly awkward at the beginning of the meal, and the pauses in conversation felt thick and meaningful. After a time, however, they both seemed to find themselves again, and things were only as awkward as they ever were between the two of them; as awkward as one might expect between two grown brothers who knew too much and too little about one another. Though neither explicitly said so, this was considered by both of them to be a relatively pleasant state of affairs.
Mycroft returned to his office the next day, and kept more or less regular hours there for the rest of the week, which suited bother of them quite well. As the two of them were now actually speaking rather than communicating in sometimes-read notes, they had taken the opportunity the previous Sunday to discuss their contingency plans should Sherlock require something from Mycroft while he was at work. The discussion had not been particularly productive to start with.
“I’m not going to need you while you are at work,” Sherlock said, shrugging rather dismissively when Mycroft first brought it up. “I’m not a child,” he added for what appeared to be good measure.
“You probably won’t,” Mycroft agreed in the interest of moving things along smoothly, “But suppose that you do – we’d be better off having a way for you to get in touch just in case something should happen.”
Sherlock scoffed, but Mycroft noted that there was little actual scorn behind it. “What on earth could possibly happen?”
Any number of things, Mycroft wanted to say, though what quickly flew through his mind when he asked himself this question was more reasonably qualified as an abstract fear of disaster rather than a list of concrete examples. It wasn’t rational, but the truth was that his need to make sure Sherlock was all right stemmed more from the unease of being unable to check in with him than the fear that anything could actually happen. When Sherlock had not been at the house with him – when he had not spoken to him daily and known at all times exactly where he was and what he was working on, he had been required to resort to other methods in order to check in on what Sherlock was doing. He’d made use of several connections and his own rather important position in a way that allowed him to watch Sherlock run around the city solving crimes on CCTV or access the confidential medical files of his new flat-mate – any number of little things that provided him with brief glimpses of his brother’s life and small hints as to how Sherlock must be faring. Now, though by comparison he knew in staggering detail what was going on with Sherlock at any given moment and could be almost completely assured of his brother’s safety, it felt strange that his office, once the place where he could sit at his desk and review a file devoted to his brother’s activities, was now the place from which he could no longer check in or exercise his abilities to ease Sherlock’s way with an invisible hand.
How to convey this in a short answer to his brother’s very objective question? He couldn’t really, not in a way that would produce a favourable result. Instead he examined his folded hands for a moment, then shrugged. “I only thought that perhaps you might find it useful.”
In the end, Sherlock allowed himself to be convinced, although Mycroft suspected that his agreement was largely a concession rather than a true change in attitude. It was decided that the system of texting Molly, who could then act as a go-between, contacting Sherlock for details and subsequently telephoning Mycroft if he was needed, would work rather well. Both to thank her and to continue to visibly maintain the possibility that she and Mycroft had grown rather closer since Sherlock’s accident, arrangements were made for him to take Molly for dinner and to the theatre the following Saturday.
With the exception of Saturday, their previous dinner routine had been largely reinstated. Sherlock found this very comforting in a way he had not anticipated. Unlike his brother he had not been one for a well-ordered life, not since he’d moved out of this house in the first place and embraced a certain level of chaos and disarray. Just now, however, this bit of order to his day was good. Perhaps it was the company, which he was able to enjoy without being seen to seek it out. Perhaps it was that the house itself commanded a certain degree of structure. Either way, it made for a nice little habit.
While they had returned easily to the actual dinner part of the whole thing, however, the sitting room where they had previously spent a few hours each evening after eating had yet to be revisited. It was one thing, apparently, to dine together, but something about actively choosing to sit together in a place where neither of them otherwise passed much time felt too forced, particularly when it was readily apparent that both of them could easily spend the few hours more productively elsewhere. The sitting room had to be worked up to again in a slow but steady progression that lasted a little over a week. On Tuesday, the brothers took longer than was strictly necessary to finish the last few bites of their meal. On Wednesday Sherlock asked Mycroft about his day just as Mycroft had begun to clear away the plates. On Thursday Mycroft waited until the end of dinner to ask Sherlock about his work, and then about the music he’d been playing earlier, which turned out to be a piece of Sherlock’s own composition.
It continued in this way until Monday. It was a fortuitously chilly evening. They’d finished eating, and had lingered at the table for a time talking about bees. When Mycroft stood to clear the plates, Sherlock took a few moments to study his hands with great concentration while imagining himself first in the sitting room and then in his own rooms, trying to decide which situation would make him more content. Then he said, “Would you care for a fire in the other room? I was thinking of starting one.” He’d tried to sound casual though in reality he knew that he had not fooled either of them. Mycroft pretended not to have noticed. He nodded. “I’ll be along in a minute,” he promised.
Once in the sitting room, conversation did not come quite as easily to them as it had done moments before in the dining room, but the silence was comfortable rather than awkward. For a long time they sat together without speaking, both of them staring into the fire, lost in their own thoughts. It was almost nine when Sherlock spoke. “What did you see the other day?”
Mycroft roused himself. “Hmm?”
“At the theatre.”
Mycroft coloured slightly, but Sherlock, sitting closer to the fire, didn’t see. “Oh, I don’t remember.”
This answer delighted Sherlock, who deduced immediately and correctly that in fact Mycroft did remember what he’d seen. Mycroft remembered nearly everything; if he wasn’t mentioning it, it was because he’d allowed Molly to choose the show and she had selected something that was not up to his usual standards of taste and class. Something silly and musical, probably. “Yes you do,” he insisted with a pleased sort of grin.
He could hear Mycroft’s own, perhaps rather embarrassed smile in his voice when he replied. “Yes, I do.”
Sherlock half-suppressed a low chuckle. “Enjoy it?”
“As much as could be expected,” Mycroft answered with relative good nature.
It was nearly ten by the time Mycroft had finished describing the production to Sherlock – the comical plot, the acting, the musical merits and demerits – all were outlined in great detail and to his brother’s great amusement. Sherlock was particularly delighted by a tangential discussion regarding the logical flaws in the plot of this and then other productions that Mycroft had seen.
It was only near the end of the conversation that Sherlock grew thoughtful. “She didn’t happen to mention how anyone else has been?” he asked after Mycroft had described the rather charming conversation he’d had with Molly during the interval. There was really no need for him to clarify who he meant. Mycroft regretted very sincerely that he could not say yes.
Sherlock shrugged. “It doesn’t matter,” he assured his brother before falling back into his own thoughts. It might have been his imagination, but Mycroft thought his brother looked suddenly more guarded than he had moments before.
Sherlock didn’t speak again except to excuse himself shortly after half ten when he returned to his rooms. Mycroft lingered in the sitting room after he’d gone, thinking. The idea occurred to him just before eleven; an oddly familiar solution to a deeply unfamiliar situation. Shortly after that he went to bed, very pleased that he had not yet thought to remove John Watson’s Grade 3 Active surveillance status.