Mycroft does not usually find himself in public with Sherlock, but lately he’s had such difficulty running his troubled brother to ground that he’ll engage him wherever he can find him. Even if, as today, that means getting out of his car and walking up to him on the street near the Camden Lock Market.
Sherlock tenses and whirls around. Obviously expecting someone else: expecting trouble. A bad sign. As soon as he recognizes Mycroft, he throws on a look of indifference tinged with contempt and keeps walking.
Trying not to feel too desperate, Mycroft pursues him, umbrella in hand. When he catches Sherlock up, he doesn’t bother with pleasantries. Instead, he says, “You didn’t cash the last check I sent.”
“I don’t need your money,” Sherlock says without looking at him.
“You’ll be thrown out of your flat on Friday if the rent’s not paid.”
“Stay out of my affairs.”
“I’m concerned, Sherlock. When you-- ”
Sherlock stops, plants his feet, and gives Mycroft the full force of his disdainful glare. “Go away.” He turns and ducks down another street: smaller and more sparsely occupied.
Mycroft briefly considers letting him go, but remembers to appalling condition of the flat when he’d stopped by earlier. Something is clearly not right with his brother, and if he were to let a little tantrum deter him from helping, he’d never forgive himself. He pursues Sherlock. “I can provide another flat, if you’ve grown tired of Lambeth.”
“I don’t need you to provide me anything,” Sherlock sneers. “I am capable of securing my own lodgings, thank you.”
“Sherlock!” a voice rings out from the end of the street.
This time, Sherlock and Mycroft both turn, and Mycroft sees Sherlock tense as if to run or fight. A muscley man with a handsome face and a confident swagger sidles up to them. He has hunched shoulders, and hands shoved deep in his pockets, and Mycroft counts five clues about his cocaine use before turning his attention back to Sherlock.
“I’m busy,” Sherlock snaps, imperious as ever. “And I’ve nothing to say to you.”
“Well you don’t get to choose when a conversation’s over, just like that, love.” The stranger takes two long strides and stops well into Sherlock’s personal space. “You haven’t been returning my texts, but I trust you to behave in public. Well, relatively behave.” The man’s sexual interest is obvious in the way he shifts his weight, in the residue of lubricant on the back of his left wrist, and in the way his eyes linger on Sherlock’s mouth as he speakers. Mycroft’s agile mind can easily picture them together, and he quickly shuts down that avenue of thought before he can give too much thought to his response to such a picture. The man’s eyes flick briefly to Mycroft and rake him up and down, doubtlessly missing any truly important clues. “Didn’t know you had a new friend.”
“He’s not a friend. And neither are you, Hugh,” Sherlock says, with a degree of venom Mycroft’s only ever heard directed at him. “Now piss off.”
Hugh smiles a smile that should be charming, but manages—perhaps by virtue of the dangerous glint in his eye—to look alarming. “That hurts my feelings, Sherlock,” he says. “Considering what we shared, I’m certain I rate as more than a friend.” He pets a hand down the lapel of Sherlock’s coat. Sherlock takes a quick step backwards, shaking Hugh’s touch off like an affronted cat.
Mycroft sees the man’s expression brighten as he scents Sherlock’s fear. Sherlock hasn’t displayed fear of any man, to Mycroft’s knowledge, since Mummy fired the tutor who’d switched a six-year-old Sherlock for marking corrections in his chemistry textbook. To see his brother’s carefully cultivated persona of absolute confidence marred in this way wakes a depth of instinct Mycroft hadn’t known he possessed.
He switches his umbrella smoothly to his left hand, reaches his right hand around Sherlock’s body to wrap around his hip, and pulls Sherlock tight to his side. Ignoring Sherlock’s huff of confusion, Mycroft turns to Hugh. “I believe he said he’s no longer interested in associating with you, young man,” he says, with all the derision he’s soaked in during years of government service. “I encourage you to respect his decision.”
Hugh backs up a slow step and looks them both over before narrowing his eyes at Sherlock. “Didn’t know you were looking to become a kept boy. You only needed to have said. I’d have taken good care of you. Given you what you needed.” He reaches out a hand to touch Sherlock’s face.
Mycroft pulls Sherlock back, out of reach. Sparing a quick thought for the man’s probable opinions about ownership and deference, Mycroft slides his hand up to squeeze the back of Sherlock’s neck and swings him in to shelter him against his chest. To Mycroft’s surprise, Sherlock allows it, and even slings his own arm around Mycroft’s waist and drops his head against his shoulder. Mycroft tears his attention away from the feel of his brother pressed against him to deliver Hugh a calm glare. “The boy belongs to me, young man, and I don’t share.”
“Christ,” Hugh says in disgust. He spits on the pavement and backs up a few steps, casually, as if he’d been headed that way from the first. “He only needed to have said. You’re welcome to the prat.” He smiles at Mycroft, and this expression looks no kinder than any of his others. “Word of advice, friend. Get him on his knees whenever you can. Best use for his smart mouth.” Hugh tips an imaginary hat at Mycroft and saunters off.
Mycroft watches Hugh until he’s a safe distance down the road. Then he turns Sherlock and crowds him against the wall. Sherlock lifts his head, but won’t meet Mycroft’s eyes.
“What have you been doing with yourself?” Mycroft asks. He realizes as he says it’s a tactical error, and that Sherlock won’t confess anything to him, but the fighting instinct roiling in his gut won’t let him ignore this. Drug use and willful self-neglect, perhaps, but not this. Not something that puts him under another’s power. The thought that this man or any other might have hurt Sherlock, might have caused him distress, sends Mycroft’s brilliant strategic mind short-circuiting with the need to atone for what he’s missed. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock’s eyes snap back to Mycroft. “He’s watching.” Sherlock tugs his hand against the back of Mycroft’s neck and pulls him into a kiss. Thoughts of surveillance, of propriety, of the thousand continuous threads that encompass the entirety of state affairs flee Mycroft’s mind entirely as Sherlock’s tongue delves into his mouth. And oh, of course Sherlock is as brilliant at this as he is at everything he tries. Mycroft presses into Sherlock, who is warm and pliant against the wall. He fists his hands in Sherlock’s jacket, dropping his umbrella to the pavement.
It’s several glorious seconds before Mycroft manages to pull himself away. His eyes catch on Sherlock’s for a moment, but he drags his gaze away to check down the lane for Hugh. The whole street is clear; Hugh isn’t watching. Perhaps he never had been.
Mycroft turns back to Sherlock, who’s observing him with an unreadable expression.
“Off,” Sherlock says, and Mycroft takes three quick steps backwards. Sherlock tugs his jacket straight. He bends down to pick up Mycroft’s umbrella, and holds it out to him.
“Sherlock. I didn’t—“
Sherlock shakes his head briskly to cut him off. “Don’t meddle in my affairs, and I won’t meddle in yours.” He holds out the umbrella again.
Mycroft takes it. He taps it against the ground once, to give himself time to re-gather the calm that had slipped when that man had leered at Sherlock, and had fled entirely when he’d felt Sherlock’s mouth on his. “Right,” he says. “Do, please, cash that check. I worry about you.”
“Yes, fine,” Sherlock says without looking at him. His breathing is shallow, and quicker than usual, though if that’s relief at having escaped danger, or something else, Mycroft couldn’t say.
Mycroft nods, and turns back to the street where he knows his car will be patiently waiting.
“Mycroft.” Sherlock steps up behind him. He touches his fingers to Mycroft’s shoulder without actually resting his hand there. “Thank you.” Sherlock withdraws his touch, and by the time Mycroft works up the courage to turn around, he sees only the swirl of Sherlock’s coat disappearing around the corner.