CHAPTER 1: THE PUPPET MASTER
Mycroft's rise through the ranks of the Civil Service had been so meteoric that it had been a while before even he appreciated where he was heading; not MI5, or M16, but the small, select, rarely acknowledged section who coordinated the work of the Intelligence services, the government, and the civil service.
Because brilliance allied to youth was rarely taken seriously by those who mattered most, Mycroft slowly developed his own style both in dress and manner that added gravitas and the impression of age to his appearance, although he thought he must have been born looking middle-aged. He learnt to adapt to the expectations of those with whom he routinely dealt, in the process learning more than he gave away. As he continued along the crooked path to power, the role he had chosen to play subsumed him - but then he had always excelled at the roles selected for him; the only difference was that this time he got to choose.
The work was complex, demanding and more satisfying than anything he had known. Chess with human pieces was so much more agreeable than the board game because human beings were so delightfully unpredictable, even in their predictability. The 'average' man could behave in the most unexpected ways; trying to anticipate every eventuality, especially when politicians' egos were involved, was particularly interesting, not least because he had never thought of himself as a 'people person'. He even developed social skills enough to ensure his work did not suffer, an achievement which brought him a degree of sardonic amusement.
Unfortunately those skills were of absolutely no use when it came to dealing with his brother but as Sherlock was safely occupied at Pembroke College, Mycroft felt free to concentrate on work.
The news that Sherlock had abandoned Cambridge at the beginning of his final year, and that the Master had made it clear he would not be welcomed back, gained Mycroft's full attention.
It took only a short time to ascertain that Sherlock had come to London, and that he was now addicted to cocaine. But not with the 'smart' set, with their silver accoutrements for cutting lines, Sherlock was injecting the wretched stuff. He was also, for reasons best known to himself, living on the streets instead of in one of the properties available to him via the Vernet Estate - second only to the Grosvenor Estate in the number and quality of properties it owned and managed.
Then the private investigators Mycroft had hired lost track of Sherlock, who disappeared into the twilight world of the homeless addict.
Quite how Sherlock was supporting his habit, given the size of his overdraft, was a mystery. Mycroft cleared the overdraft and made substantial payments into Sherlock's bank account above the usual monthly allowance from the trust. He could only hope it would be enough to save Sherlock from a life of crime, prostitution or both, although the former seemed more likely given Sherlock's lack of interest in sex.
There had been no activity in Sherlock's account for sixty-seven days. Mycroft found private investigators unsatisfactory but the only alternative was to use the security personnel who had just come under his command; he rejected that option because it would put Sherlock on the radar and Mycroft didn't want him caught up in his shadowy world. Sherlock had never played well with others and regarded rules as something to be tested to their limit, then broken. If he possessed a sense of duty, Mycroft had never been able to tap into it. Far better to keep him safely away.
On the other hand, if he couldn't trace Sherlock those dangers paled into insignificance with what he was facing on the streets.
Had he been inclined to panic, Mycroft would have been panicking. As it was, he took up smoking again. And because he could not bear to leave the task of finding Sherlock to strangers, in the little free time his work allowed, he walked the less salubrious areas of London, becoming familiar with the haunts of the homeless. His inexperience was such that it was four nights before he appreciated he had been kept from harm by the security detail he hadn't known about. It was just another small humiliation to add to those Sherlock routinely inflicted on him.
But at least it accustomed Mycroft to the fact his career was about to enter into a stage from which there could be no turning back. If he decided to go on, perhaps to the very top, his private life would be under scrutiny twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, until the secrets he was accumulating were no longer dangerous. Or until his death.
It seemed ironic that with all the increased power at his disposal, even he couldn't flout the anti-smoking regulations. And because it really was impossible to cut short a meeting just to satisfy his nicotine craving, he went cold turkey. By the time he could call himself a non-smoker, with some degree of truth, a number of years had gone by, Sherlock had been in rehab five times and relations between them were worse than they had ever been - which was saying something.
A cold, mean drizzle had been falling all day and London was sodden beneath it. After a thirty hour day of some complexity Mycroft knew he needed to unwind before he could hope to sleep. He had never found it easy to sleep during the day, even when exhausted, and while it was dark already, it was only four in the afternoon. Of course, sex was the obvious way to relax, it would have certainly been his first choice, but uncomplicated sex for a few nights with a partner compatible with his security rating wasn't easy to find. It wasn't as if he had much time for 'dating', let alone the inclination, but unlike Sherlock he had a healthy libido and no desire for celibacy. Paying a professional would really have been so much simpler, he mused wistfully, as he left Green Park, traffic hissing wetly past at a respectable ten miles an hour. And the young men were so much more attractive.
Perhaps they should consider setting up an Establishment...
The fantasy saw him pass the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason's; with no clear destination in mind, he continued to head towards Piccadilly Circus. It was cold enough to mean he was losing feeling in his ears and the tip of his nose and while it was only drizzling he was becoming quite damp. He made a note to buy an umbrella - the old-fashioned kind, with a crook handle. Quite apart from keeping him dry during his walkabouts - the only exercise he took apart from sex - an umbrella could have an added advantage as a prop to distract the attention. Umbrellas were affected; no one took a man with an umbrella seriously. It would be just the thing. A considerable portion of time and effort went to ensuring that he continued to slide under the radar while he went about his work.
He nimbly slipped between buses, taxis and cyclists and having navigated Piccadilly Circus, headed up Shaftesbury Avenue.
The smell coming from a kebab shop made his nose wrinkle with distaste, while conversely reminding him that it had been twenty hours since he had last eaten.
At least he wouldn't have to worry about his diet for a while.
He would give a great deal to hear Sherlock twitting him about it again. Since Sherlock had 'escaped' from rehab two months ago there had been no trace of him. Over the years he had become increasinglyt skilled at vanishing. Unless he was already ...
The idea was unsupportable. Besides, Sherlock had demonstrated unexpected resilience during his previous times living on the street. Not that some of his flats had been much better, though none had lasted long; Sherlock would be a trying tenant, even without the experiments.
If only he knew how to harness that formidable intelligence; he had never known what Sherlock wanted.
But then he suspected that was Sherlock's problem, nor had he.
Two of the best minds in the country and between them their list of friends totalled zero. At least he had acquaintances. God only knew what Sherlock had. Dealers, other junkies...
His brilliant brother lost in every way possible.
Mycroft ignored the craving for a cigarette as he passed the depressingly seedy strip clubs while cutting through the streets of Soho to emerge on the Charing Cross Road.
A garish sign and bright lights caught his eye and he glanced in the window of the fast food emporium only to stop dead. Sherlock was huddled in a corner, picking fastidiously at what passed for food in these places.
Mycroft paused to secure his work phone and credit cards, then went inside, an inconspicious gesture of his hand telling his security detail to stay outside.
It was a mark of how low Sherlock had sunk that he didn't notice the man approaching his table until Mycroft sat opposite him with two beakers of coffee.
"Sherlock," said Mycroft placidly, his bland expression betraying none of his relief. No sores, no bruises, no signs of attack...
"Piss off," mumbled Sherlock, stuffing something greasy into his mouth.
His fingernails were broken and stained. At least he was still working on his experiments. Which meant a laboratory, which meant he wasn't living on the streets. At least some of the money leaving his bank account was being spent on something useful.
"I see you're as eloquent as ever." Mycroft set his scarf and gloves on the table top. "What are you eating?"
"I've no idea, beyond the fact it contains the three main food groups of grease, salt and sugar."
"Delightful, I'm sure."
Sherlock's visible hand shook slightly and for one ridiculous moment Mycroft could have wept at the waste. He studied the fluid in the beaker in front of him until he was confident he would not betray himself.
"I wonder if you have given any thought to my suggestion that you take some courses that interest you. Forensic medicine, perhaps?"
"I'm gaining plenty of experience."
"I'm sure you are. My only concern is doing what."
"Afraid I'll embarrass you?" mocked Sherlock, looking up suddenly, his stare spearing Mycroft where he sat.
Sherlock was too thin, too dirty - it was always a bad sign when he neglected personal hygiene - and he looked as if he hadn't slept for a week.
"Oh, that ship sailed some years ago. You've been vocal enough about what you don't want. So tell me, brother dear, what is it you do want?"
"You to leave me the fuck alone," said Sherlock venomously.
Several heads turned. Mycroft ignored them. He took such incidents for granted when he was with Sherlock and had never cared what strangers thought - unless required to do so by his job.
"The Trust expires on your thirtieth birthday - eight days from now." It was only then that Mycroft remembered today was his own birthday - not that he could ever recall much cause for celebration.
"And I'll finally be free of you. It must be eating you up to think that I'll be able to squander what's mine without you interfering. Presuming you haven't embezzled the funds, of course."
"What a pity I didn't think of it," murmured Mycroft but a muscle jumped in his jaw.
Sherlock noticed of course. He always noticed.
"I see you've moved from cocaine to heroin," added Mycroft. "Start sharing needles and you won't live long enough to squander anything." He saw that touch a nerve. So Sherlock was less sanguine than he appeared about his ability to stop the pernicious habit. Fuck.
Sherlock launched to his feet, leaning over the table to invade Mycroft's space. "Go walk under a bus," he hissed, and then he was gone.
Mycroft half-rose, then sank back onto the plastic seat. Sherlock was already lost in a sea of faces outside and he knew from experience that his security team would refuse to leave him unguarded.
Mycroft wondered at his sentimentality in permitting Sherlock to steal his wallet and the mobile phone he had bought and carried for just that purpose. But he regretted the loss of the scarf and gloves. Still, needs must.
Exhaustion washing over him, he saw it was now pouring with rain and used his work phone to summon his car. Unable to bear the smell of the place any longer, he pushed himself to his feet, pulled up the collar of his coat and went out onto the street. Sluiced by the rain, he raised his face to the deluge, as if trying to wash away the thought of Sherlock on heroin.
It could be cut with anything from powdered milk to rat poison.
Tired and preoccupied, Mycroft saw his car on the other side of the street; eager for this day to be over, he began to cross the road. While he noted the number thirty eight bus heading towards him, he failed to spot the motorcycle which sped around it to bear down on him.