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Mycroft Holmes’ evening routine rarely varies. One of a fleet of identical black cars pulls up to his Georgian townhouse in Belgravia. Simons, his bodyguard/butler, opens the door. Beside his armchair waits a single glass of very good scotch, which he drinks whilst listening to classical music and reading through the papers he’s brought home to review. Dinner at seven, a second scotch and dispatches from his sources at the Times and the BBC, so he knows what he’ll be dealing with in the morning. Then sleep, in a bed four generations old (albeit with a top-of-the-line mattress that is replaced yearly).

Tonight there are two glasses of scotch, and Sherlock is holding one, his feet up on the ottoman. Mycroft has decades of practice at schooling his features, so neither surprise nor relief show in his expression. He allows himself a small smile, and raises his glass.

“Finished, then. All Moriarty’s assassins safely in the ground.” He looks at his brother’s relaxed posture, his cheekbones more prominent than ever under a very short haircut that doesn’t quite conceal the last traces of a cheap dye job. Sherlock has lost at least a stone and a half, and he’s pale and tired-looking. It’s unpleasantly reminiscent of his cocaine days, but his hand is steady on the glass, lacking any telltale quiver.

“Yes.” Sherlock smiles. “Well, except for the one safely at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But I assume you already knew that.” Mycroft didn’t, in fact, but he merely smiles back. An aura of omniscience is an advantage that must be maintained.

“I suppose you have a plan to restore your reputation, so the Great Consulting Detective business can resume. Are you here to ask for my assistance? Your little quest has incidentally solved a small problem for the Home Office, so you have some credit to draw upon.” That’s true, but Mycroft would help even if it wasn’t.

“No.” Sherlock tilts his head back and swallows the rest of his scotch in one gulp. He puts the glass down, folds his hands on his knees, and doesn’t quite meet Mycroft’s eyes. “I do want something from you, but the late Sherlock Holmes must remain dead and discredited.”

This is a genuine surprise. His brother’s ego is perhaps his most consistent personality trait. “Why?” he asks. Then he thinks for a moment, and knows the answer. Just as well, since Sherlock isn’t replying.

“This is about John Watson, isn’t it.” A statement, not a question. Sherlock’s silent, but his brother knows him well enough to read the tension in his jaw. When he speaks, his words are barely above a whisper.

“He would hate me. Hate the fact that I lied to him. I’ve got used to being alone again, so it’s just as well. He’ll be happier thinking I’m dead.” He sits up, recovering his usual arrogance as easily as he’d put on a scarf and a long coat. “So as soon you can arrange a passport and a new identity for me, I’ll be going to America. Please make sure I’ve got at least a green card, if not citizenship. Dealing with the immigration authorities would be boring in the extreme.”

Mycroft can’t resist rolling his eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you be more stupid. Did you get a head injury in your travels?” Sherlock glares, but before he can speak, the clock strikes seven.

“We’ll talk over dinner.”

 

But they don’t. Sherlock doesn’t speak, and after a few pointed questions, Mycroft gives it up, knowing that his brother’s stubbornness is second only to his ego. He also knows this is a deadly mistake, this plan to disappear into America. It’s a shabby, transparent cover for the real plan, to disappear into addiction again. He won’t survive this time, and that’s most likely part of the plan as well.

Mycroft chews on the problem as he eats excellent roast lamb and new potatoes, noting that Sherlock actually consumes almost half of what’s on his plate. It is an ethical problem, really, he decides, a matter of divided loyalties. John will feel betrayed, rightfully, and that is regrettable. But weighed against his brother’s life? He comes to his usual conclusion. Once again, the ends justify the means.

They return to the dark-paneled formality of the study, and Mycroft pours them each another drink. Sherlock stares at him, with those catlike narrow eyes, their mother’s eyes, as he takes the glass.

“Are you going to help me, Mycroft? As you said, you and the Home Office are currently in my debt.”

Mycroft nods. “I shall. On one condition.” Sherlock sighs, watching as Mycroft swings a mediocre hunting print away from the wall and opens the safe. He removes a laptop, boots it up, and after a few moments, the printer discreetly hidden in a cubby under the desk begins to hum.

“Read this.” He holds out a sheet of paper. “Once you have all the relevant data, we can talk about your plans.”

Sherlock settles into a chair, all bones and angles, and holds out a hand, making Mycroft come to him. Mycroft crosses the room, hands over the page, and takes his own chair. There are a few moments of silence before a cut-crystal tumbler crashes and shatters, splashing expensive scotch on the wall.

Sherlock is standing before his brother, his lips a tight, grim line, face pale with fury. “How did you get this? How could you, you bloody bastard? He never meant anyone to see this, much less you.” The spin on the last word makes it sound like an obscenity.

Mycroft begins with the first, easiest question. “He deleted it after he wrote it, wiped the laptop and told Mrs. Hudson to donate it to Oxfam. I didn’t want anyone else getting their hands on it, because as you well know, it’s not all that difficult to restore data that’s been deleted from a hard drive. So I took custody of it.”

“And you read it.”

“Dear brother, you were the one who insisted I make sure he believed you to be dead. Well, there’s the evidence that he did. And how it affected him.” He met Sherlock’s glare. “You’ve done a wonderful job of hiding, these last two years. But you can’t hide from yourself, and you can’t hide from me. I’ve seen you both, together and separately, and if you believe staying dead is better for either you or Dr. Watson, you are very wrong.”

Mycroft’s voice has risen, the anger in it surprising even himself. He knows, better than anyone, why and how Sherlock became the man he is. It infuriates him to see his younger brother so resolutely turning his back on what is likely to be his only chance for—happiness? comfort? love? Something better, in any case, than the Holmes family legacy he has accepted for himself.

The sheet of paper trembles in Sherlock’s hand, and he turns away. “Don’t you understand?” His voice is choked with emotion, and that’s disturbing, unfamiliar and sad. “No matter what I do, I will hurt him. I hurt him again and again and he’s the one person, the only person, who doesn’t deserve it!” He whirls to face Mycroft. “When did he write this?”

“Nearly a year and a half ago.” A pauses. “I’ve maintained his security detail, as you asked. The reports tell me he is working extremely hard and not taking care of himself. I don’t believe that Africa has been the miracle cure he was hoping for.”

“Shut up. Just shut up, Mycroft.”

“I will not shut up, Sherlock. Not until you understand that he still needs you, and you need him just as much.” The other man’s cheeks are flushed, and he’s biting his lip. Mycroft knows how humiliating it is for Sherlock, to reveal any emotion. It’s the same for him, and so he turns away and leaves the room without another word.

 

Dear John,

If you were here maybe I could make sense of my thoughts. I could talk to you about trivialities and somewhere in my back-brain the pieces would fall into place and I would know the answer. But if you were here, I wouldn’t be writing this, trying to use the crude tool of language to organise such contradictory, confusing data. So I’m doing what you did, writing a letter, simply because I don’t know what else to do.

Yes, I knew you craved danger, that mortal peril suited you in ways that ‘normal people’ would never understand. You are broken, and so am I, but we’re less broken when we’re together. I don’t know how that works but it does. When I’ve found a solution I delete all the irrelevant details, and why you made me less broken, more human, even when I didn’t want to be, was irrelevant when you were beside me.

Yes, I knew you desired me, and that wasn’t irrelevant, just impossible. Giving you what you wanted wasn’t in my capacity. I don’ t mean sex, bodies are simple enough, but—I’m just too damaged, and I didn’t want to hurt you that way. You were in danger every moment we spent together already, and because I am a bloody selfish bastard, just as you said, I wanted your company more than I wanted to protect you. I did what I could to keep you at arms length, insulted you and took advantage of you and used you, and you stayed in spite of me.

Then Moriarty threatened you, and I knew I would die to keep you safe, and that was— Damn you for making me feel, John, you broke me, broke all my defenses, tore down every wall I had, and I could almost hate you for that.

Except that I cannot hate you.

I died to keep you safe, and I didn’t die because you couldn’t really be safe until Moriarty’s organisation was as dead as he was. I lied to you for your own good, and you’ll despise me for that, I’m certain. It was cruel and condescending and unforgivable and you always, always deserved better from me.

Mycroft says we need each other. He’s a devious bastard, he got his hands on your letter and gave it to me to prove his point, and I hate him for it. Is he right? I don’t know. I’m all brain and no heart, I’ve been told, and it’s true. If I do have a heart it’s a foolish organ, not to be relied on, and I don’t speak its language.

I don’t like being stupid. I’m not used to it. But I’m stupid about you, stupid for you, stupid with you, and I want to hate you for that, too, but I can’t. All I know is that I don’t want to hurt you, and that’s all I seem able to do. All my choices are wrong, John. I would give you anything you wanted, everything you wanted, if I had it to give. But I don’t think I have it, and so the fact that I’m yours, in ways I can neither understand nor deny, is of no good to either of us.

You have always been far more intelligent than I ever gave you credit for, and you were right, this is a stupid, useless idea, this letter, because I still don’t know what to do.

Yours all the same, for what it’s worth (not much),

Sherlock

 

He watches the handwritten pages curl, edges blackening, tendrils of smoke writhing into the darkness of the chimney, until suddenly the flames rise up and consume them.