It had been somewhat challenging pretending that Mycroft thought his brother wasteful enough to take his own life. (Not as difficult as ensuring Sherlock did not actually die while gallivanting about the continent, going after hardened criminals who Mycroft was sure would have an alarmingly long criminal record had they ever been caught – but he digressed. It had become an irritating habit of his, lately.) The easiest part of the whole charade had been letting John believe the worst of him – he was already predisposed to mislike Mycroft, for whatever reason. He didn’t much care about John’s opinion of him; it was easier to work with a flatmate of Sherlock’s who would willingly give up information, but John was a stereotypical, macho soldier and thus not terribly difficult to manipulate. The (predictable) way he acted made Mycroft feel ill sometimes – all that testosterone and aggression. Really, where was the finesse?
A little bit of aggression, perhaps, was necessary in some cases – even to be encouraged. One only had to think of Gr…
(His mind faltered for a split second, and he was seized by terror at the thought of having his thinking faculties impaired by emotion, of all things, as well as the startlingly clear memory of having Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary L-Z thrown at his head, which had bounced off the wall instead and shattered the frame of a vaguely admired landscape.)
…egory to see an instance where it was not undesirable. But he, too, had shown a hither to unknown level of aggression.
It wasn’t that Mycroft didn’t see what the fuss was all about, unlike Sherlock, who had come to him nursing a fractured cheekbone and a stunned look, and had expected sympathy. No, Mycroft understood Gregory’s upset but, as he had pointed out so reasonably during their little fight, he hardly saw why the man was choosing to punish him for something which could not have been helped.
That was the point at which the dictionary had been thrown. Then Gregory had stormed out; Mycroft had presumed – never, never presume; you’ve become slack, over-confident, comfortable – that he was merely going back to his cesspool of a flat to mope for a while before eventually conceding to Mycroft’s superior logic. Strangely, that had not transpired. He had not seen Gregory for some time.
Being constantly ruled by emotion would be such an exhausting state, he thought. It was a lot cleaner, a lot easier to be done with them, to stop feeling, to stop caring. Most of the time he was convinced of this truth, knew exactly that this was how things should be. Anyway, no amount of remorse would change the outcome. Having a dictionary aimed at one’s head tended to signal that peaceful relations were well and truly concluded. It was for the best – he had even weighed up the variables and calculated that this statement was 93% true.
Sometimes, however… sometimes he wasn’t sure if he wanted things to be cleaner.
It was possible that the 7% he would have normally dismissed as negligible was, in fact… not so very unimportant.
That would mean admitting he could possibly be wrong, when, at present, he could not afford to be wrong. But he couldn’t help the feeling…
His mind narrowed down on that concept with sharp disdain. Feeling. Every fibre of his being scorned the very idea – what use was feeling? What possible benefit could come from admitting he could be in the wrong? That perhaps the 7% probability was correct? That maybe it would do better to not ignore the problem, and wait for it to inevitably vanish?
‘Perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ were all well and good for the common man, but he would have none of it.
Lestrade – for he was Lestrade now, not Gregory… he had to be – was not a suitable person to be engaged with. Mycroft had recognised that from the start, of course he had, considered all the possible variables and decided to throw caution to the wind regardless. Now, naturally, it had come back to haunt him, as he had predicted it might – what had it been, a 71% chance that they would split due to… character flaws? He had never been more correct. Lestrade was an honest kind of man, who allowed himself to be too easily led and who could not understand – even worse than not abiding, in Mycroft’s view – the purpose of lying, even when it was to save his own, ungrateful skin. Mycroft knew his own flaws and faults intimately. He’d been somewhat surprised when Gr… Lestrade had pinpointed them so accurately, if a little crudely. You fucking manipulative, controlling arsehole. You Holmeses think you’re so fucking above it all, don’t you? Yes, he did, but merely because it was true.
Had been true. He frowned at the cup of tea sitting on the desk in front of him. When had that gone cold? He was spending far too much time thinking about his non-existent ‘love life,’ as the gutter press called it. Work was strenuous enough without slipping into idle daydreams and quiet laments about ‘what might have been’s and ‘what if’s.
They’d started asking questions, again, about that little plane debacle. The three months he’d spent off the radar in Central Europe had, obviously, not gone unnoticed. He’d known that it wouldn’t have, that there would be these sorts of questions to neatly side-step (or, if worst came to worst, actually answer) when he returned. But it was vexing; he thought he’d quashed any curiosity about the failure of Bond Air at the time. Evidently not.
He was very glad his assistant was a private contractor; otherwise he might have ended up being found as a skeleton at the bottom of the Thames in twenty years time. As it was, Sherlock’s little problems had put him once more on the edge between useful and disposable. Mycroft knew the truth of it; he was virtually indispensable to the continued smooth running and application of the country’s foreign and internal policy. Whether the higher ups remembered it before they requested he be quietly removed from the land of the living was another matter entirely.
As he watched his assistant enter the room with her usual silent grace and enquire as to his general wellbeing and whether or not he wanted that file on current active agents in the local area, he thought, time to ride out the storm. He simply could not afford to not come out the other side, both for his sake, and his brother’s sake.
“Yes,” he replied and added, “I’ll need you to stay late tonight.”
“Of course.” She even looked up from her omnipresent Blackberry for a moment, pursing her lips before adding, with uncharacteristic feeling: “It’s good to have you back, sir.”
He would feel very put out if the day ended with her attempting to poison his tea, he thought, and said as much.
“You pay me too much for that, sir.”
That was the prelude for a mildly straining day at the ‘office’, so to speak, although he spent his time at about four of them, so ‘offices’ was perhaps more appropriate. Negotiating so that his position in the secret civil service, as he liked to think of it, would remain both secret and civil almost caused him to stop thinking about his little problem, and, for five glorious seconds, pushed it to the back of his mind. Then, in a disgustingly maudlin display, he’d heard a siren blaring in the distance and idly wondered what Lestrade was doing at the moment. The foreign secretary had been in tears by the time he finished unleashing his frustrations upon the man.
It was another day before it occurred to him that Lestrade had most likely been fired, and was currently unemployed even as Mycroft wasted time being coldly indignant on his behalf. This time, it was the secretary for defence that left one of his many offices weeping like a small child.
He made his way through several more of them throughout the week, and moved swiftly onto ministers who came to complain about the excess of sobbing secretaries. The minister for sport went so far as to have a panic attack out on the pavement. Really, it was their own fault for being so gormless, so weak… for individually having grey hair, smiling too easily, staring at him with chocolate brown eyes, being roughly five foot and nine inches, wearing cheap cotton shirts, making awful small talk about the football like he cared, drinking black-no-sugar coffee, using the same brand shampoo and laundry detergent…
Merida, her name for this week, had the temerity to raise her eyebrows at him and give a condescending, “Yes, sir,” when he declared the truth: that the universe was conspiring against him in a most insidious fashion. Well, the universe did not know him very well if it thought being reminded of Lestrade everywhere he went would in any way make Mycroft remorseful or repentant.
None of this was his fault, after all.
“Fine,” he snapped at Merida’s bored and standard enquiry as to his health. She glanced up, startled, and he realised he had never deigned to answer that particular question.
But he was fine. Perfectly fine. The universe would eventually get over this brief period of maddening remembrance. In the meantime, the earth would continue spinning, politicians would continue to be difficult, and he would continue to be just fine.
His visits to 221B in the weeks after the Return, as he privately dubbed it, were met with the usual childish enmity from Sherlock – although he kept casting furtive (and, nauseatingly, worried) glances at Mycroft whenever he thought his older brother wasn’t looking – and slightly more controlled hostility from John. Needless to say, Mycroft did not visit his brother as often as he used to or even ought to. If he wished to delude himself, he could provide several work-related reasons as to why he stayed away. However, it was more due to the fact that he would use his umbrella for wholly unsanctioned and violent uses the next time he caught Sherlock looking at him with furrowed brows as if he were a particularly problematic scientific experiment. It appeared that Sherlock had forgotten who had taught him the art of discretion – well, attempted to, anyway. He used it whenever it best suited him, which was all Mycroft could hope for.
Really, he thought irritably, ascending the stairs to the flat and making sure to firmly place his umbrella down on each of them so as to annoy the irascible Sherlock, when did the word ‘hope’ – or ‘feeling’, for that matter – enter my vocabulary? It is an inexcusable waste of space—
Later, in attempting to defend his subsequent action (or lack thereof), he would remind himself that his performance had been substandard for some weeks now, and that he had slipped back into his old habit of sleeping poorly. It served to explain why he only realised someone else was in the flat when he reached the step just before the landing, and why then he unthinkingly froze in place.
Unfortunately, Lestrade was standing over by the window facing the door and was able to spot Mycroft immediately.
“Fucking Christ,” the man said, with admirable sentiment. (Mycroft made a mental note to erase the word ‘sentiment’ from his vocabulary, or to only use it in situations requiring a certain level of scorn.) Lestrade did not look as good as he normally did, but still a damn sight better than anything Mycroft had seen for a while… salt-and-pepper stubble and black bags under his eyes aside. “Tells me he’s just popping down to Tesco’s for a bit and he’s gone for fucking twenty minutes and now you’re here. Jesus, what the fuck do you want?”
Mycroft would have attempted to answer, if he could have somehow opened his mouth. It took him five seconds to eventually croak, “Please don’t throw another dictionary at me,” which was possibly the most idiotic thing he’d uttered since he was three.
“Meddling arsehole,” Lestrade muttered, continuing to voice his dissatisfaction at the current situation, “Thinks he suddenly knows how to have healthy relationships because John’s a fucking saint. I don’t want to talk, all right? Didn’t you get that from not returning your calls? Jesus Christ, you fucking Holmeses.”
Mycroft had put up with quite enough. Had been putting up with quite enough for the past few months; not just from his ex… boyfriend, but also from the idiotic meddlers at work, his irritating younger brother, and even the snide remarks his assistant was making about his current attitude. Diplomacy could only take one so far, after all. Sometimes it was best to get straight to the point, without flair or embellishment.
“Oh, go and shove it, you pernicious ingrate,” he snapped back, moved to the first stirrings of genuine anger. He was almost certain it would give him indigestion, and resolved to have it all out now in order to preserve his future health.
“Pernicious ingrate…?” Lestrade repeated, staring at him with wide eyes. His voice rose furiously. “Pernicious ingrate?”
“Read a dictionary, you illiterate sod, that’s what they’re there for.” Good God this was making him feel slightly light-headed. Was this how normal people fought? It was both exhilarating and awful.
“I know what pernicious ingrate means,” Lestrade snarled, “for your fucking information. So, so you think it’s fucking ungrateful of me to be so selfish as to not take you back with willing fucking arms after I found out you’d been lying to me for this whole fucking time?”
“I think it a testament to your individual weakness that you can’t accept that I was doing so to save your thankless skin.”
“It wasn’t your fucking decision to make, did you ever think about that?”
“Frankly,” Mycroft continued, ignoring that little jab, (because no, he hadn’t,) “I’m astounded that you can forgive Sherlock for throwing himself off a building, but admitting that I was doing this for your own benefit is somehow beyond you.”
“He didn’t come to me the night after the funeral looking for comfort! He didn’t fucking leave me stranded for three fucking months without so much as a text while I was left here couch-hopping! He didn’t come back and give me a pat on the fucking head and say, ‘there, there,’ like nothing had happened and want to pick up where we left off as if I’m a bit of rough you can fucking chuck about as you like. You – weren’t – there! Didn’t it fucking occur to you that maybe I needed someone to hold me and tell me everything was going to be just fucking peachy?”
It was easier to become angrier than think too deeply about that. He did so, feeling an almost beatific sense of righteous fury. “Do you think that the three months I spent away were somehow easy? What do you imagine I was doing – sitting on a beach in Spain, idly passing the time away?”
“I didn’t have a fucking clue what you were doing!” was the shouted reply. “For all I knew you might’ve just decided to up and kill yourself, for God’s…” Lestrade stopped, mid-rant, startling Mycroft out of forming his own, vociferous response. He shook his head, clenched his jaw, and said, in a terribly level voice, “You know what? Fuck it. Tell your brother to stop messing with things that aren’t his problem, will you? I want the both of you to leave me the fuck alone.”
With that pithy statement, he walked past Mycroft, rattling down the stairs and out the door.
Fuck, Mycroft thought, in an uncharacteristic display of fatalistic vulgarity. It wasn’t enough, so he thought it again, feeling none the better for having done so. His next resort was tea, so he strode into the kitchen, heroically ignoring the repulsive décor that he had offered on several occasions to redesign.
He made tea. He resisted the impulse to swipe his umbrella along the table and violently clear off all the dusty equipment. He instead cleared a neat space by pushing a Bunsen burner to the side, and sat down, and drank the tea with supreme calm.
When Sherlock came bounding up the stairs three minutes later, he felt almost in control of himself. When Sherlock began to complain about him scaring Lestrade away, he felt the control slip infinitesimally and allowed himself to voice an irritated exhale.
Because John was nowhere to be seen, Mycroft felt relatively comfortable about discussing the unfortunate events that had just transpired. “I hardly see how you’ll force us back together by arranging accidental meetings,” he remarked, calmly. He was calm, so very, very calm, like an iceberg drifting in the serenity of the ocean, as the ocean was being bombarded by nuclear bombs from the French testing—no, no, that was not calming him down, back to the serene ocean...
“Not when you don’t want it to work.” Sherlock crossed his arms, as if daring Mycroft to find fault with his analysis of the situation.
His fingers tightened ever so slightly on the handle of the gauche, green mug he’d been forced to drink out of. “Is that so.”
“Don’t play dumb, Mycroft; it’s common. And you know what Mummy would have said.”
“She never said anything,” he replied tersely. “Don’t bring her into this.”
“Touchy,” Sherlock muttered, restlessly picking up a measuring cylinder containing God-knew-what. The mysterious substance was neon blue, however, which narrowed it down to about two-hundred-and-thirty possible things. “You’ve been insufferable without him,” he declared finally, setting the cylinder down again only to fiddle with an electron microscope. “John would say that you’re letting your happiness go or some romantic nonsense like that. The basic idea applies, however.”
Mycroft refrained from saying that he didn’t care a whit for what John Watson thought. Sherlock was ever so defensive when it came to his… friends, if one could call them that. “You think I would be…” he sneered, “happy with your pet policeman?”
“I’ve observed that you’re unhappy without him.”
He took a sip from the mug, set it down gently, adjusted it so the handle was facing 90°, and said, “Indeed?”
“You agree?” Sherlock asked sharply, glancing up from the microscope.
“Not in the slightest.”
“Oh.” He slumped with what Mycroft presumed was relief, and knew to be ghastly posture. “But I am right,” he argued a moment later, absorbed in the world of the miniscule once more.
“Sherlock, strange as it may seem, it is not a crime to occasionally be incorrect.”
“So you admit that you’re treating Lestrade incorrectly?” Sherlock had an infuriating ability to twist Mycroft’s words back in on themselves. He would have made a fine diplomat, had he been at all diplomatic.
“You have forgotten the family principle,” he said patiently. “Things must be considered over the space of a year. Present… upset may, in fact, turn out to be a benefit in the future.”
“I didn’t forget it, I just choose to ignore it. It’s a stupid principle, encourages sloth and indolence, doesn’t take into account the fast-paced nature of the world today. Do you want me to go on?”
“No, that’s quite enough. I meant it,” he added when Sherlock opened his mouth to continue ranting. “My memory is as sound as it ever was the last three hundred times you told me this.”
“Three hundred and four.”
“If you must be petty, by all means.” Sherlock simply huffed in response. The elder Holmes took one last sip of tea, before adding quietly, “Not every couple has a fairytale ending, Sherlock. Consider yourself fortunate.”
“If you’d been this resigned when I came to you looking for help, I wouldn’t have had the chance,” Sherlock snapped. He was rather unreasonably irate, in Mycroft’s view. “You’re being your usual fat, lazy self, and I hope he finds someone else more deserving.”
Mycroft felt very cold all of a sudden. Early winter, it must be, as well as Sherlock’s damned cheap heating. “Thank you for your input. It was so nice to talk; expect me sometime again next year.”
Ignoring Sherlock’s bewildered, “Where the hell are you going?” he made his way swiftly down the stairs and out into the crisp November air. Sherlock poked his head and most of his torso out of the upper storey window and shouted, “And you call me childish, you miserable git.”
To top it off, John Watson had just stepped out of a cab, and was staring, open-mouthed, at the pair of them.
“What…?” he began eloquently.
“Good day, John,” Mycroft said frostily, striding away with purpose. “Do enjoy my brother’s company, won’t you.”
As a general rule, Holmeses did not shake, quiver, tremble, or move in any sort of violent manner. Sherlock was, of course, one exception to this rule, as his principle form of movement was throwing himself at things, but Mycroft was nothing if not fond of tradition. He was not shaking by the time he reached his car. If anything, it was merely a very brisk breeze that had only affected his hands. They were especially susceptible to inclement weather.
Everything would be fine, he told himself. Completely, utterly, absolutely fine.
Everything was not fine.
Possibly because he was sitting on the floor of his office drinking Vintage Dom Pérignon straight from the bottle. Possibly because he was unable to think straight, or to focus his attention on anything for more than five minutes. Possibly because he’d been involved in an entirely too vicious argument with two people he considered quite important. Possibly because he had researched a remembered accusation – couch hopping – and discovered that Lestrade had been evicted from his flat some months ago. Mycroft was left wondering what else he may have overlooked, and feeling the icy fingers pinched around his mid-chest region grow tighter and tighter.
Possibly because it was quite clear Lestrade had no intention of coming back, ever. Ever, ever, ever.
Oh, of course he’d known; he always knew. But understanding the theory and having it shown to him in practice were two completely different things.
He should be over this by now. It had been a… a while. How long? Two months since the dictionary and the screaming and the slamming of doors. Five months since the night after the funeral. He’d read the books and the Internet articles; lot of fucking good they did him. Complete Idiot’s Guide to Healthy Relationships. Handling a Breakup. The Best Ways to Cope with a Breakup. On and on the list went until the books became so saccharine and so idiotic they made him want to order a flash raid on the publishing houses.
But he would find the key to fixing this if it necessitated him reading every self-help book in the field, and if it brought down the entire fucking Commonwealth in the process.
How Sherlock had managed to worm his way back into John’s good graces was a complete mystery as far as he was concerned. Mycroft was meant to be the brother who could function like a normal human being and interact in society as if he were, not Sherlock. Especially not when the whole situation was his darling little brother’s fault in the first place. Mycroft wanted to hate someone. Wanted to hate Sherlock.
Mycroft pressed his fingertips to his mouth, digging his nails into the skin just above, and hated himself instead.