Chapter 1: A Difficult Relationship
Mycroft Holmes was far from impressed. Having left the remnants of his family behind in Hertfordshire three and a half years ago in order to pursue a career in parliamentary tea-making, he had thought that this sort of nonsense would have remained behind with them. He had left the second it had been prudent to do so, as much to escape the complications of family – particularly those caused by his younger brother – as to find a foothold in the British Government. Mycroft prided himself in his patient disposition; God knows it hadn’t been easy being cast into the role of negotiator between the hopelessly tactless Sherlock and their widowed father, but Mycroft had recognised very early on the futility of a lost temper and had always worked hard to maintain at least the illusion of absolute control and self-discipline.
Sherlock- who was Mycroft’s junior of seven years- on the other hand, had no such concerns; he demanded an infinite amount of patience from everyone with whom he came into contact and everyone tired very quickly of giving it to him. The Holmes patriarch, unfortunately, was particularly intolerant of his youngest’s peculiarities, possessing next to no patience at all, even in the most accommodating of circumstances and at a complete loss to understand how his late wife could find their youngest so endearing. And so, after their mother had passed away six years ago, Mycroft had taken the role of Sherlock’s defender upon himself, which involved attempting to teach him how normal people were supposed to behave, steering them both around their father’s impossible constitution and yet still encouraging Sherlock’s insatiable thirst for knowledge, just as their mother had done. Not that Sherlock appreciated Mycroft’s efforts in the slightest – if anything, he seemed to relish conflict and actively sought out trouble in the most tedious of places – but at least Mycroft felt that he had done his duty and obeyed their mother’s wishes as best he could.
But this was too much. This strained even Mycroft’s perfectly assembled patience. To be called out of work for a telephone call informing him of… Well, suffice it to say, his little brother should not be expecting to get away with this without an earful. Not that he had any idea what he would say to Sherlock or what was an appropriate way to handle the situation or what to do in the aftermath…
Mycroft sighed deeply, half wishing that he was a smoker, and rubbed his forehead- the initial stages of what promised to be a particularly bad migraine encroaching threateningly.
On the grounds of personal health, both mental and physical, he had been sorely tempted to dismiss the phone call out of hand; Sherlock was not and should not be his responsibility. If he was old enough to do stupid things on this scale, he was old enough to deal with the consequences on his own.
Patent leather shoes, polished within an inch of their lives, paced up and down the room as Mycroft’s frustration mounted, hands clasped together behind his back, jaw clenched so tightly it ached. Only Sherlock had the power to ferret out this side of him, this side which he worked so damned hard to repress, and Mycroft despised him for it.
And yet, infuriatingly, he could not simply dismiss the fact that Sherlock was, and would always remain, his baby brother and, as his mother had impressed upon him thirteen years ago, it was his duty to mind him.
Let it be known that Mycroft Holmes was never one to shirk his duties, no matter how odious the task.
With another sigh, even deeper than the last, he popped two ibuprofen from the packet he always kept in the inside pocket of his jacket, swallowed them dry and retrieved his coat, gloves and umbrella from the coat hook before leaving his office in search of 221 Baker Street.
A pair of size seven black leather school shoes kicked rhythmically against the dark wooden legs of the high-backed chintz chair in which their owner was sitting, slouched and scowling. The kicking the chair was receiving, however, was nothing compared to the one Sherlock Holmes was inflicting upon himself mentally.
“Stupid stupid stupid…” he muttered in time with his feet, a heavy frown set into his dark features. Of course this outcome was inevitable. If he’d just taken ten seconds to think…
Sherlock’s irritation climaxed in a particularly vicious blow to the chair.
“Hey, no need for that!”
The boy’s scowl deepened even further as he directed it towards the woman who had just bustled in carrying a tea tray. His captor. She smiled pleasantly, pointedly ignoring the death stares she was receiving, as she poured tea into a delicately patterned cup and placed it on the side table by his chair. Sherlock eyed the biscuit tin with an equal dislike, determined this time to resist temptation, more to prove a point to himself than anything else.
“It’s for the best you know, dear,” the woman twittered, settling down with the biscuit tin in the opposite chair, arranging her skirts around her. “Your poor mother must be going out of her mind! I know I would if my boys were running around London with those sorts of people, getting up to God knows what… Not that I have anything against them, mind, lovely men, but not the company I would want impressionable young boys to keep. Teach you all sorts of bad habits…”
Sherlock turned away, not even pretending to listen. His eyes and thoughts wandered out the window, watching the people and cars pass by; scarves tied up tight in defence against the December wind, windscreen wipers erratic. In the tiniest recesses of his mind, Sherlock Holmes was glad not to be out there. Next time, he would definitely wait until the weather was more amicable.
The sight of a familiar black umbrella caught his eye further up the street forcing a myriad of emotions to spring up unexpectedly, all of which were told to bugger off immediately. Sherlock sat up and watched the umbrella progress down the road, considering what part to act once the doorbell rang.
The woman was still chattering. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t uttered a word since she had brought him here yesterday evening, she talked more than enough for the both of them. Perhaps she would keep twittering at the door so he’d have time to slip away. The bathroom window would be the best option. But, even as he considered it, Sherlock knew that this particular game was over. Not that he was going to go easily…
On the steps of the house, the black umbrella collapsed to reveal its carrier; a tall, well-dressed young man with hair the exact colour of Sherlock’s own, if a little more sparse..An angular face regarded the front door for a moment, a slight frown of mild disapproval creasing his brow, before tightening his lips and raising a hand to the doorbell.
The woman started as the bell rang shrilly through the house, almost dropping her cup as she jumped to her feet with a little, “Oh!” and hurried to answer the door.
“Come in, come in. Go through and I’ll get the tea on.”
Mycroft’s cool gaze swept languidly about the dark hallway as he followed Mrs Hudson through into the heart of the house, discarding his umbrella by the door at her request. The walls were too close together for his liking, making him feel almost claustrophobic. A hand wandered idly to his tie, as though to loosen it, but Mycroft caught himself in time and forced it down by his side. Composure was crucial when it came to dealing with Sherlock.
Mrs Hudson gestured vaguely to a doorway before hurrying further down the hall, presumably to where the kitchen was. Mycroft removed his gloves finger by finger as he followed her direction and stepped unhurriedly over the threshold, grey eyes sweeping disdainfully across the chintz-filled room. The large bay window which looked out over the usually bustling London street from which he had just come flooded the room with soft pale light, warmed by the beige covered bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was from the armchair in this alcove that his mother’s piercing blue eyes glared up at him beneath a dark frown. Not a warm welcome, to say the least. Sherlock had always carried a particularly gaunt look about him through years of refusing to adhere to a particular eating pattern and having an even less regular sleeping one, but as Mycroft’s grey eyes swept critically over him now, he looked positively ill. Whether it was through his own doing or otherwise was yet to be established.
With an arched eyebrow, Mycroft crossed the length of the room, throwing the leather gloves carelessly down on the glass-topped coffee table as he passed it, a force of habit more than anything else. He stood above Sherlock, poised to grab should the boy decide to run.
But Sherlock showed signs of neither a desire to escape nor provide a rationale of any kind without prompt.
Folding his arms across his chest, Mycroft looked down his nose to meet his brother’s stare squarely. “An explanation, Sherlock, if you please.”
A sullen silence, with just a hint of petulance, was the only answer he received.
His already diminished patience thinning, Mycroft shifted his weight onto his other foot, long fingers flexing with impatience. “I did not leave work prematurely and travel half way across London to be ignored,” he said tightly. “An explanation. Now.”
Unmoved by his brother’s annoyance, Sherlock’s blue eyes narrowed. Then, tersely, “I didn’t ask you to come.”
It took Mycroft a remarkable quantity of self-restraint to resist the urge to slap the insufferable boy. He was beginning to feel quite drained.
“You are intolerable,” he informed Sherlock quietly. Then, as an infuriating smirk crossed his brother’s lips, “I presume Father has no idea that you’re here?”
The smirk faltered but did not disappear entirely. Pulling his legs up beneath him, Sherlock shrugged, “I don’t suppose so, unless school’s told him.” The intensity of his gaze strengthened, becoming almost challenging as he added, “I don’t expect anyone cares much anyhow.”
A wealth of remarks ranging from the snide to the sympathetic presenting themselves to Mycroft as responses. Dismissing them all as inappropriate, he instead selected the most prudent question, “Why?”
The shrug was repeated. “Bored.”
“Bored?” The extent of Sherlock Holmes’ arrogance caused incredulity to even Mycroft. “Boredom is no reason for such erratic behaviour, as we have discussed many times before. Too many times, Sherlock.”
Sherlock scowled. “I don’t see why not. It seems as good a reason as any to me. I thought you would understand...” The note of sardonic resentment did not escape unnoticed.
“Just because I understand it,” said Mycroft stiffly, “does not mean that I endorse your behaviour. You are still required to function in normal society in a normal manner. If I can do it, you can do it,” he continued abruptly as Sherlock opened his mouth to protest, “Otherwise you will find yourself in a juvenile detention centre before your fourteenth birthday. And I will put you there myself.”
Hatred flared up like a magnesium spark in Sherlock’s eyes. “Well, why don’t you just stick me in there now and have done with it? At least then you can stop pretending to feel any semblance of responsibility-”
“Stop being obtuse, Sherlock, it doesn’t suit you,” Mycroft cut in smoothly, forcing back the pang of hurt that his brother’s words had caused. Sherlock was only doing it for effect; it had always been his way, knowing precisely where to aim in an argument for maximum impact. Ultimately meaningless, of course. And yet, somehow this time felt minutely different... As though there was some significance in Sherlock’s accusation. Mycroft stood a little straighter, shifting his weight to his other foot. “If that had been the case, I would not be here now.”
“I didn’t ask you to come,” Sherlock repeated coldly. “I was fine until she started interfering.”
“And how did she know to contact me if you had no desire for me to come?”
It was a rhetorical question and one that Sherlock had hoped would not surface. His pale complexion coloured slightly as he turned his face away from his brother. “I didn’t ask her to. I didn’t tell her anything.”
“I know.” Mycroft’s tone had softened ever so slightly. “She went through your pockets whilst you were sleeping and found my address.”
“Coincidence,” said Sherlock with a dismissive toss of his head. “I forgot to empty my pockets before I left.”
A sceptical eyebrow was raised. “You had the foresight to remove anything bearing your name and the name of your school and yet you didn’t think to get rid of something with an address on it? Forgive me if I am not convinced...”
“What’s your point, Mycroft?” Sherlock snarled; defensiveness had finally made him snap. “I don’t need you. Leave me alone!”
Experience had gifted Mycroft the ability to see through his brother’s subtext, but by god he didn’t make it easy! Mycroft was half tempted to call Sherlock’s bluff and walk away then and there.
“For god sake, Sherlock-”
“Here we go, a nice pot of tea!” The sudden arrival of their host put an abrupt end to the brothers’ bickering. Sherlock slouched back in his seat broodingly as Mycroft turned towards Mrs Hudson with a pleasant smile, accepting the delicate china cup and saucer with a murmur of thanks.
The two adults settled down in adjacent chairs and sipped tea, the air of resentment radiating from the young boy converting into unbearable awkwardness. As their conversation over the phone earlier had been short and to the point, Mycroft still had a hundred and one questions that needed answering. He certainly wasn’t going to get them from Sherlock and protocol dictated that it would be discourteous to talk about him as though he wasn’t there. But then, with the ridiculous mood the brat was in, Mycroft felt that circumstance really gave him no alternative.
“I must apologise for any inconvenience that my baby brother has caused you,” he said to Mrs Hudson, leaning forward to set his cup down on the coffee table. “He has never been particularly adept at taking others into consideration when embarking on his little adventures.”
Mrs Hudson batted his apologies away as though they were a gnat. “Don’t be silly, it’s been no inconvenience really. We couldn’t have him running around London by himself when there are people worrying about him, could we? I have boys myself, Mr Holmes, so I know the anxiety your mother must feeling not knowing where-”
Unable to bear the prolonged mention of his mother, decorum was abandoned as Mycroft interrupted her stiffly, “Our mother is dead, Mrs Hudson.”
There was probably something more practical that could have been said but at the time it had seemed the only thing suitable.
The predictable awkward silence followed this declaration, then the conventional, “Oh I am sorry, dear, I had no idea. That’s terrible! You poor boys!”
Mycroft winced inwardly. Why their mother’s death meant endless patronisation, no matter how old they were, was beyond him.
He coughed and shifted in his seat. “Yes, well, it was...it was a long time ago now.”
“But one can never really recover from the loss of a parent,” Mrs Hudson persisted sincerely, “Especially at such an impressionable age.” She nodded her head meaningfully towards Sherlock, whose loud surliness had quietened dramatically since the painful shift in topic.
Mycroft knew that she was right; Sherlock had only been seven and the sudden loss of the only person to encourage his eccentricities was something he had never fully come to terms with. Mycroft had always tried to take over his mother’s role in regards to Sherlock as best he could, not simply out of a sense of duty but a genuine affection he rarely felt for other people. However, a conflicting desire for some semblance of normality meant that it was never quite enough. It had been easier before he had left home for university, when he had been actively able to watch out for his brother and give him the attention that Sherlock was so desperate for. Since departing, there hadn’t been a day that had passed when Mycroft hadn’t felt guilty for leaving Sherlock on his own, predominantly caused by the barrage of unhappy phone calls that had accompanied his first year at Oxford.
The phone calls were better than the bitter silence that came with the second and third.
“Yes, well,” now was not the time for this discussion and Mycroft was keen to move the conversation on to something a little more tangible, “we manage. Life goes on, as they say.”
“Your father must’ve had a terrible time of it,” Mrs Hudson continued absently, apparently unaware of the shift in mood. “Still, grief brings people together, doesn’t it? I expect you’ve all become very close.”
There was absolutely no advantage to be gained in correcting her, so Mycroft simply nodded and reached out a hand for a chocolate digestive. “So how exactly did my wayward brother come into your possession?”
“Well, it just sort of happened really,” Mrs Hudson said vaguely, as though it were the most normal thing in the world to find strange boys roaming wild in the streets. “I do the Greenwich soup kitchen on Thursdays-”
‘Greenwich! It’s a miracle he’s still alive!’
“-keeps me busy when David’s away. He’s in Africa at the moment, you know, although for the life of me I couldn’t tell you exactly why...” A contemplative frown creased her brow and her voice tapered off as she pondered this momentarily. “Anyway,” a shake of her head brought Mrs Hudson back to the point, “I was passing out soup to the usual lot, leek and potato I think it was, when I noticed this one following after Daniel and William. They aren’t bad fellows, as far as that lot go, but they’re no company for young boys and he didn’t look as though he belonged there, as some of them do, so I thought I’d offer my assistance. Everyone seemed quite happy with the suggestion, even...” she turned suddenly to Sherlock, “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I still don’t know your name, dear.”
Sherlock ignored her, leaving Mycroft, mortified by his brother’s appalling manners, to answer for him. “This is Sherlock and I am ashamed to admit that he is always like this.”
“We all have our funny little ways,” said Mrs Hudson charitably. “Anyhow, he came willingly enough. I suppose it was due to the cold more than anything. Not that I’d generally approve of following a stranger unquestioningly, but under the circumstances I thought it would be safer than the streets.”
Mycroft nodded approvingly. “Indeed.”
“When I came across your address, Mr Holmes, I assumed that Sherlock had been looking to find you and had got lost on his way. Although given his response to your appearance...”
“No one can ever hope to know what goes through my brother’s head, and I am no exception to this rule,” Mycroft informed her gently. “However, you may be assured that you did right by contacting me, despite Sherlock’s purported denial of the fact.”
“It is a peculiar age,” agreed Mrs Hudson with feeling. “My boys were just the same, always running about here and there. I could never keep track of them! Still can’t really...”
“Some sort of realignment of the circumstances will hopefully help,” Mycroft sighed, giving his head another rub; the thought of the countless conversations that were sure to follow made his temple throb. “Well then,” he slapped his hands onto his knees and rose purposefully. “Thank you very much for the tea, Mrs Hudson, and for safeguarding my brother. Once again, I can only apologise on his behalf for the inconvenience caused.”
Niceties were exchanged, although with much more sincerity than Mycroft was generally accustomed to; Mrs Hudson shook his hand warmly and seemed genuinely insulted when he tried to offer money in exchange for her help. She scurried into the hall and returned quickly with Sherlock’s coat, still damp from the previous day’s rain, and a small card which she pressed into the younger Holmes’ hand with clandestine whisper, “In case you happen to run away to these parts again.”
Sherlock accepted it, as mute as ever. His manner had shifted from sullen to suspicious, although the way his long fingers curled around the small piece of cardboard containing an address and telephone number momentarily betrayed his appreciation of the gesture.
Then his blue eyes flicked to his brother, who was putting on his gloves with an unconvincing amount of concentration. “Where are you taking me?”
If either Mycroft or Mrs Hudson had been surprised by Sherlock’s sudden vocalisation, neither showed it.
“I am taking you to my flat for the time being,” Mycroft replied languidly, attention never shifting from his hands. “I think after this particular ordeal, a period of quiet is in order, don’t you think?”
Relief softened Sherlock’s sharp features and he stood, shrugging on his coat as he did so and slipping Mrs Hudson’s card safely into the pocket beside the envelop bearing Mycroft’s address.
It was still raining when the Holmes brothers stepped out of 221 Baker Street, very cold, wet rain which managed to find its way into all the annoying little crevasses that normal rain would avoid.
Sherlock turned up the collar of his coat in a useless effort to ward it off as Mycroft deployed his faithful umbrella and they set off down the street side by side.
Aware of the drips running down Sherlock’s nose out of the corner of his eye and knowing that the boy would rather die than admit to wanting shelter himself, Mycroft reached across and dragged a protesting Sherlock under the cover of the umbrella, putting a long arm around his shoulders and drawing him close. For practicality’s sake, of course.
They walked like this for the length of several streets, footsteps in perfect synchronicity, harmonising and realigning themselves with each other before normal relations between the brothers were restored and a certain tranquillity had wrapped itself around the confines of the umbrella.
“I did come looking for you,” Sherlock said, unprompted, on the corner of Dorset Street and Manchester Street.
It had always been this way; sentiment in itself was a waste of time, but if carried out when doing something else simultaneously, it was just about permissible.
“It had seemed like a good idea until I got off the train.”
“And then it didn’t.”
They stopped to let a stream of black cabs wash past, followed by a particularly drenched looking cyclist. Once they had passed, Mycroft steered Sherlock across the road before continuing their conversation.
“You should’ve rung me as soon as you had arrived.” It was almost an admonishment.
“I wasn’t sure that you’d want me here,” said Sherlock quietly, watching the paving slabs disappear beneath his feet. “I thought you’d be too busy.”
“I came today.”
“I didn’t expect you to.”
“So you decided that it was safer not to ask the question than to risk an undesirable answer?”
Mycroft felt Sherlock nod by his side, shoulder tensing slightly beneath his touch.
“My reluctance to return home is no reflection on you, Sherlock,” he murmured, glancing sideways at his brother who was looking stoically ahead. “You do know that, don’t you?”
For a moment, Sherlock did not respond and Mycroft feared that the resentful silence would kill the first chance of a real conversation they had had in a long time. Then, flatly, “She told you to look after me.”
It was like a blow to the back of the head – unexpected and unwarranted. Mycroft winced. “I do look after you,” he all but snapped. “Look at where we are right now.”
“You left me.”
“I did not leave you, I went to university.”
“You wouldn’t come back.”
“I have a life.”
They had stopped by this point and they stood, in the middle of the street, facing each other. Thank god for the rain, at least there was no audience.
The reproachful glare had returned to Sherlock’s blue eyes. “I need you and you don’t care.” The statement was given with such conviction that it was clear he believed it wholeheartedly.
Mycroft surveyed him down his long nose, determining the most appropriate response to such an accusation. “You are being irrational,” he responded flatly. “You do not need me, you are not dependent and you know perfectly well that if you were in any sort of real trouble-” considering Sherlock’s love for all things maverick, the emphasis on ‘real’ was necessary, “-I would be there in minutes. Why you insist upon this ridiculous line of dispute is beyond me...”
“I do need you!” Sherlock persisted furiously. “I feel like I am going out of my mind! I told you, I ran away because I was bored and when you’re there I don’t get bored!”
“I do not exist solely for your entertainment, Sherlock! You have got to learn to function as a normal human being. I admit, I had hoped my absence would force you to conform, at least out of necessity if not desire.” Mycroft sighed and held out his arm to Sherlock, indicating that they should keep walking. They boy allowed it to slip around his shoulders without protest and they resumed their journey at a slightly slower pace than before. “If I had come back,” Mycroft continued, “I fear it would only have encouraged your eccentricities.”
“You’re exactly the same...”
Sherlock scuffed the toes of his shoes against the concrete pavement. “Why do you want me to pretend to be like everyone else? I don’t see what could be so good about it.”
“It makes life easier.”
“Easy is unbearable. I don’t know how you can stand it.”
Mycroft’s lips curled into a smile, amused by the passion in Sherlock’s voice. “I suppose that is the difference between us.”
“I suppose.” There was a definite lilt of disappointment.
“Perhaps if you tried harder to fit in, you wouldn’t clash so frequently with Father or your teachers or-”
“Or everybody. Yes, I know. That isn’t the problem. I don’t care whether they like me or not but they are all so repetitively tedious, it makes me want to bash my head against a brick wall.”
“I have a feeling that that would be counter-productive.”
“At least it would make the boredom stop.”
“Melodrama is not an attractive attribute. You employ it far too often for it to be effective.”
“I don’t care,” replied Sherlock petulantly. “It’s true.”
“Indeed. Ah, here we are.”
They had stopped in front of a building in a street of about thirty identical ones, red-brick and unassuming with black doors and brass numbers. Mycroft rummaged in his breast pocket, pulled out a key and let them into number twenty-two, ushering Sherlock ahead of him as he dismantled his umbrella and shook off as much of the rain as possible.
Mycroft’s flat was not at all what Sherlock had been expecting. In fact, he had assumed that the term ‘flat’ was being applied in the very loosest sense of the word, in a more ‘penthouse’ sort of way, whereas- in actuality- it was, genuinely, a flat and one made up of only the most basic of living requirements. Containing nothing that was not absolutely essential, which happened to include corridors and hallways- everything was connected to the small living room, even the front door. Sherlock estimated that the whole area added up to less floor space than their drawing room at home. It was with a critical eye that Sherlock now surveyed his brother’s sparse lodgings; the same eye, in fact, with which Mycroft had assessed 221 Baker Street. It was a habit more than a judgement, as very little could live up to the expectation which came with growing up on their Hertfordshire estate. As Sherlock looked around him, the rift between Mycroft and their father was as plain to see as if it had been written in red paint upon the wall; if he had swallowed his pride and accepted the financial support he had been offered upon turning eighteen, Mycroft could’ve afforded something much more in keeping with the quality of lifestyle that they had been taught to become accustomed to, rather than settling for this pokey little bedsit. There was nothing to give any indication of Mycroft’s life before London; there were no books or pictures or trinkets of sentimentality of any kind, only piles upon piles of newspapers stacked in convenient places as sort of make-shift side tables
Sherlock smiled to himself; it was all the evidence he needed to know that his brother had been telling him the truth when he had said that his absence was nothing to do with him.
It was strangely reassuring, he thought as he unbuttoned his coat, to find the respect he had once felt for Mycroft returning for more warranted reasons rather than simply because he was his older brother. There was even a certain amount of admiration there this time round. All Mycroft’s share of their mother’s will had been put towards paying off his students debts- theoretically unnecessary, but essential for the sake of ethics - leaving him with nothing that could be considered ‘money-to-play-with’. Sherlock was impressed; as a Holmes himself, he knew that frugality was not something that would have come naturally and that it must’ve been a particularly hard discipline to master. Sherlock wondered idly if he would have the diligence to follow Mycroft’s example when the time came. It was certainly an attractive thought theoretically...
Having attended to the essential task of sticking the kettle on, Mycroft took a minute as the water was boiling to observe Sherlock from the kitchen counter as the boy sniffed around his flat like a terrier exploring new territory. As far as properties in Central London went, it was neither one end nor the other; living as an impoverished student for three years had worn away the edge of Mycroft’s natural fastidiousness. He did, however, have certain requirements which he would not, under any circumstance, do without – a bath (for when the world became too much), a television (for his Countdown addiction) and a second bedroom.
It was into this second bedroom that Sherlock had now wandered, evidently confused by its presence as it certainly did not fit into the conclusion he had deduced from the rest of the flat. It wasn’t a large room; in fact it was less than half the size of Mycroft’s own, containing only a single bed and a small desk, but was not being utilized as anything other than a spare bedroom, not even as storage. To Sherlock, for there to be such wasted space did not seem logical.
“I suppose you’ll be going back to work soon?” he said tentatively, swinging around the door frame between the living room and kitchen in time to see his brother spooning sugar into two striped mugs.
Mycroft’s grey eyes flicked briefly towards him. “No.”
“Hang your coat up, Sherlock. Don’t just leave it on the sofa like that.”
Mind too busy to protest, Sherlock obeyed, standing on tiptoe in order to reach the row of hooks placed conveniently by the front door. Having refused to ever take a day off, either in sickness or holiday, Sherlock was not surprised that Mycroft felt no qualms about doing so now, from a practical position – he must be owed at least a month’s worth of leave. What did surprise him, however, was that he would choose to do so for his benefit. A niggle of guilt suggested that, perhaps, Sherlock’s condemnation of his brother had been a mite unjust. Perhaps an apology? Sherlock dismissed that particular train of thought quickly, deciding that that would be taking the niggle just a bit too far.
Compromising with himself just as Mycroft appeared holding the two mugs, he said awkwardly, “I like your flat.”
The compliment sounded clumsy to both their ears, but Sherlock’s meaning was plain.
Mycroft smiled and pressed one of the mugs into his brother’s hands. “It’s convenient.”
“When’re you going to tell everyone you’ve found me?”
They sat down, side by side, on the corduroy sofa – the only piece of soft furnishing that Mycroft owned – their legs drawn up beneath them in a mirror image of each other.
“No one seems to have made a fuss so far,” said Mycroft with a spark of Sherlock’s own mischief. “I think we can afford a couple of days before real life needs to catch up with us.”
“Do you think,” Sherlock suggested slowly, looking sideways at Mycroft, “that, for those couple of days, we could just be normal?”
Mycroft looked highly amused. “I thought you despised normality?”
“I do. I mean you-and-me normal, like we used to be before normal became abnormal.”
It was a strangely configured request but it made perfect sense to Mycroft. Although their own private ordinariness had been precisely what he had been trying to steer clear of, at that moment it seemed unavoidable and even desirable. Whilst it would aid Sherlock’s interaction with other people, Mycroft was beginning to wonder whether perhaps that was not as crucial as he had first thought. Perhaps the persistent pursuit of the ordinary was causing more complications that it was helping. Perhaps, for the time being, it would do them both good to sink back into the old, familiar ground that their mother had furrowed for them and stick two fingers up at the rest of the world.
Cake was purchased, Countdown switched on and the brothers bickered relentlessly about who had achieved each solution first. Truth be told, it was, more often than not, Mycroft; although Sherlock persistently maintained that he had most definitely thought it first, even if he hadn’t said it. Sometimes Mycroft humoured him, as the Law of the Older Sibling dictates, but such instances were few and far between; rightful victory was not something he was happy to relinquish, especially to Sherlock.
They also attempted to sit through an episode of Midsummer Murders – another of Mycroft’s more guilty pleasures – but Sherlock became so incensed by the ridiculousness of the whole scenario that they gave up after fifteen minutes and promptly turned over to something less offensive to the younger Holmes’ relentlessly analytical brain. Even Sherlock couldn’t find fault in Master Chef.
As the evening wore on, they ordered Chinese- with only minimal grumbling from Sherlock, for appearance’s sake more than anything - attempted and failed to eat with chopsticks and finally dozed in front of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The atmosphere was hazy with mutual contentment; they lay in disarray at opposite ends of the sofa, lazily digging the other in the ribs with their toes every now and then. It was not the usual image one conjures when thinking of the Holmes brothers but, as Sherlock had said, it was their own sort of ordinary and it suited them perfectly.
A thought occurred suddenly to Mycroft after the second wedding. He nudged Sherlock with a foot. “Why now? You’ve been complaining about being bored for years, what’s different?”
Sherlock hesitated, the question knotting his stomach despite its inevitability. Then, very softly, “They want me to have therapy. Father and school. They say I need fixing.”
Mycroft pushed himself up, frowning deeply down the length of the sofa. “What? Why?”
“So I can learn to ‘relate to other people’,” the sneer in the boy’s voice was audible, although not quite enough to mask the hint of worry. “Apparently I have psychopathic tendencies.”
Mycroft observed his brother, troubled not by this new information but by the fact that Sherlock actually seemed to be bothered by it. As far as he was aware, Sherlock had never given much thought to what other people thought about him before. They had never been what anyone would call normal, the two of them, but it was something that they had always been aware of, something that had always been encouraged by their mother before she had died. It was that particular lesson she had impressed upon Mycroft as something to nurture – a gift, rather than a disability – and encouraged, particularly in Sherlock who had never been as self-confident as his brother.
A cold sense of failure rushed through Mycroft as their mother’s eyes searched his own, wordlessly seeking reassurance. It had taken long enough, but finally they had arrived at the point; this was why Sherlock had come; looking for confirmation that he wasn’t a freak. Mycroft was acutely aware that he was not saying anything, that his silence was, at that moment, being interpreted in the worst possible way.
He coughed, trying to dislodge whatever it was that was trapping his thoughts inside his head. Finally, stiffly, “You do not have so-called ‘psychopathic tendencies’”, he told Sherlock with the same bluntness he would’ve used had he been asked if two plus two equalled five. “Just because you choose not to lower yourself to form relationships with people who do not deserve it, does not mean that you are unable to do so.” ‘Look at us,’ he was about to say, but that seemed like a bad example. “People fear what they cannot understand; it is their problem, not yours.” Feeling Sherlock watching him with increasing scepticism, Mycroft sighed and leaned forwards, long fingers knotting together as he tried to explain. “Look, we are the same, you and I, and no one has ever suggested that I have psychopathic tendencies. The only difference between us is that it suits me to get along with people in a way that, apparently, does not suit you. That is all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, Sherlock.”
Narrowed blue eyes searched Mycroft’s face, suspicious of the sudden passion his explanation had kindled in his usually placid brother. “You have obviously given this subject a lot of thought,” suggested Sherlock frostily.
Mycroft’s expression hardened under the implication. “In the sense that your behaviour has always concerned me, yes of course I have given the matter a great deal of deliberation. However,” he cut in as Sherlock scoffed triumphantly, “as I said, I believe whatever social problems you possess are entirely self-inflicted. If you were truly bothered by it, you would take action to remedy the situation. As you clearly have no desire to do so, you must remain confident in your decision and not allow others to force you to doubt yourself.” Mycroft glanced over at the television screen, onto which the film credits had now appeared, and threw up his hands with an exclamation of despair. “Oh, for God’s sake!”
“Stop complaining,” Sherlock grumbled, settling back into the comfy corner of the sofa, secretly pleased by his brother’s assurances. “You’d have fallen asleep before the end anyway.”
This earned him another dig in the ribs. “Shut up.”
Under normal circumstances, Sherlock was a wretch when it came to ‘bed-time’, no matter what time that actually happened to be, rivalling even the brattiest of toddlers. This, however, could in no way be considered ‘normal circumstances’. Mycroft had never intended to even broach the subject, expecting instead to just slope off when tiredness overcame him and let Sherlock do his own thing. There had been too many fights that day for such a trivial one to be worth it. It came as a surprise, therefore, when – unprompted – Sherlock slid gracelessly from the sofa and dragged himself into the spare room without a word. Mycroft watched with slight puzzlement from where he lay unceremoniously sprawled, although he hadn’t the energy to follow his brother. Presumably, several nights’ sleeping rough was taking its toll on the normally nocturnal Sherlock.
”My? Sherlock’s disembodied voice carried through the open doorway.
“What is this room for?”
Mycroft closed his eyes wearily, covering them with one arm. “I’d’ve thought that was obvious.” He would never admit in so many words that he had been prepared for this sort of situation to arise for the last three and a half years. If he really cared, the boy could work it out for himself reasonably effortlessly.
Sherlock’s curly head peered around the doorframe, forehead furrowed in thought. Then, as though he had reached some sort of satisfying conclusion, “Ah.” And the head disappeared again, the door shutting in his wake. “Good night!”
“Good night, Sherlock.”
Mycroft considered hauling himself into his own bed, but that entailed exertion, which was something he detested even during the best hours of the day. It was hard enough just to raise a hand to loosen his tie, so he decided it was probably for the best to resign himself to a night on the sofa. Besides, he reasoned, fluffing his cushion, if sofas were not meant to be slept on, they shouldn’t have made them so comfortable. He listened vaguely to the sound of Sherlock settling down just a hundred or so metres away; in a peculiar way, Mycroft found that having his brother there relaxed him in a way he had not felt since leaving Hertfordshire. He had assumed the low-level anxiety was caused by new responsibilities and becoming independent but now, he realised, it was much more basic than that.
Mycroft let out a long sigh, one that felt like it had been held in for years; he’d always known that the extra fifty pounds a week would be worth it in the end.
Chapter 2: The Most Dangerous Man
Phonecalls always signalled trouble, in Mycroft's opinion. Especially when they concerned his little brother.
Travelling on the London Midlands Service between Euston and St Albans was never pleasant, particularly at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning when flocks of City commuters packed themselves into the cramped carriages in small hordes, each separating themselves from the rest through pride and costume. Mycroft smiled to himself from his vantage point amongst them. Whoever said class no longer existed in British society had clearly never used public transport; the brief-cased office workers guarded themselves against the common labourer with lofty disdain, whilst the common labourer warded off the brief-cased office workers with the complacent smugness found only in the man who has no need for airs and graces. None of it was real of course, a cliché is a perfect mask to hide the fact that they were all the same in the end – desperate to return home for the weekend and willing to accept a couple of hours of hot discomfort in return for a home-cooked dinner. They were used to it. Mycroft was not.
On the rare occasion that he did grace Hertfordshire with his presence, it was during an off-peak time when peace and quiet and space to complete The Times’ crossword was assured. On this particular journey, there was barely room to open a paperback due to the especially well-built middle-aged man who had squeezed into the aisle seat beside Mycroft and had spread The Sun’s sports supplement across both their seats without a murmur of consideration. He was obviously entirely oblivious to everything and everyone around him, so Mycroft decided to amuse himself for a moment by indulging in the game he and Sherlock used to enjoy playing together – the ‘How Much Can One Deduce About a Stranger Just by Looking at Them’ game.
The man’s age was obvious to even the most untrained eyes; early forties according to his hairline and permanent lines crossing his brow and beneath the eyes. The calluses on his hands revealed his occupation as a construction worker, but had only been one for the last decade. An indent in the middle finger of his right hand explained that he had previously been some sort of academic but, presumably, after he had married...twelve years ago, it would seem, his wife had told him to go out and find a proper job to pay for her idyllic home in the country and the comfortable middle-class life she was accustomed to. The nature of their marriage was demonstrated by the man’s shirt – clean, white, uncreased and a fraction too tight for comfort (he fidgeted every few seconds), clearly not something he wore out of choice, it was an article saved especially for his return home each week which adhered to his wife’s image of how a husband ought to look. But it wasn’t simply a case of a browbeaten husband; he was willing to live up to this image and the state of his wedding ring showed that he still felt a desire to impress, regardless of the length of their marriage. Despite the man’s obvious physical discomfort, he did not appear melancholic – he was content with sacrificing his own happiness for hers. Mycroft doubted very much that the affection was mutual. It rarely was.
The fact that Mycroft had managed to procure a seat at all when even the aisles were crammed with people who had not, did nothing to make him feel any happier about the situation and, as the train pulled away from the station and gathered speed, the young man turned himself away from the overpowering stench of sweat and cheap aftershave, resigning himself to an hour of his own company. The close proximity of each seat to the one in front did not lend itself kindly to people over five foot eight, and it took a great deal of crossing and uncrossing his legs and cursing the decision to wear his smartest trousers before Mycroft finally settled into a half comfortable position, his nerves in a significantly more fragile state than he would have liked.
Taking a long, slow breath and shutting his eyes, Mycroft rested his forehead against the cool glass of the window and concentrated on the rhythmic sounds of the engine rather than the chaos around him, forcing a certain amount of calm through his body. Thank god the journey only took an hour, all being well.
Trouble always began with a telephone call, he decided, twisting the gold band on his right hand absently. Of course, he was entirely aware that it was his own fault; having returned a reluctant Sherlock to the custody of Haileybury School, Mycroft had slipped in a quick meeting with his brother’s resident tutor – a young man, just slightly older than he, and charged with the pastoral care of the six boys in Sherlock’s dormitory – and insisted that he receive regular updates on the younger Holmes’ activities. As it transpired, this simple request served only to put Mycroft in the picture marginally earlier rather than soften the impact of Sherlock’s erratic behaviour in any way.
The road to absolute indispensability was long and arduous however and, consequently, the distraction of the weekly phone call was most welcome.
Although Mr Carter had been even more vague than usual, the phrase ‘a serious matter’ had been repeated at regular intervals and Mycroft was just about able to ascertain that their father was being summoned in for a meeting at some point the following day. Therefore, the next morning Mycroft had jumped on the first train from Euston (it was completely impractical to own a car in the city.) Since the few days that the brothers had spent together three months ago, a new sense of responsibility had rooted itself firmly between head and heart – a connection that Mycroft was still trying to adjust to.
Long fingers drummed impatiently upon the plastic fold-down table, grey eyes followed the changing landscape as it rushed by, tall buildings dissolving into fields, cars turning into sheep and terraces of houses melting away to reveal blossoming trees. The young man shifted in his seat, praying that ‘serious’ was meant in relation to normal standards rather than Sherlock’s own brand, which was significantly more concerning.
The dissonant chord of the overhead speaker pierced abruptly through Mycroft’s thoughts and there was a collective groan running the width and breadth of the carriage as it was announced that, ‘We are sorry to inform passengers of the London Midlands Service to Birmingham International that we are delayed by approximately thirty-six minutes. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.’
The jarring irritation returned with renewed vehemence and Mycroft seriously considered forcing the doors open, jumping off the train and walking the rest of the way. But, calculating precisely how much legwork that would entail, Mycroft sighed, recrossed his legs with a wince and settled with eavesdropping on the conversation two women were having in the seats behind him. Audio deductions were a fraction more challenging than visual ones and would have to do as a replacement for his crossword.
The almost overwhelming combination of nostalgia and displacement rose up from Mycroft’s stomach as the taxi turned through a pair of wrought iron gates and drove up the long winding driveway towards his former school just after eleven o’clock. He held no particular feeling for the place, either positive or negative, having constantly reminded himself throughout his time there that it was merely a stepping stone along the way to liberty. Mycroft had always known how to play the game to achieve maximum success and neither people nor sentiment was going to jeopardise that.
It hadn’t been easy though – secondary school never was, even to the most average of students – and it wasn’t difficult to understand his younger brother’s trouble adapting to the place and its inhabitants. Initially, Mycroft recalled, Sherlock had been excited at the prospect of leaving their home and gaining some degree of independence – it been unanimously decided that Sherlock would board during the week, whereas his brother had chosen to remain at home – and Mycroft, who had left for university the previous year and fretted for the majority of it, had been relieved that Sherlock would finally have something new to entertain himself with, away from their father and in an environment which was sure to push him to be sociable. Mycroft had sincerely hoped that the school would be able to teach his brother the lessons that he could not.
No such luck.
The greater the wave of excitement grew as Sherlock approached the start of term, the harder the crash of disappointment that came with knowing he had been wrong – that there was, in fact, not an abundance of people of the same disposition as he had hoped. His peers either thought him too peculiar to bother with at all or had tried, and failed, to forge some sort of friendship which ultimately ended either in Sherlock inadvertently insulting them beyond redemption or revealing a terrible personal secret to an inappropriate audience. Sherlock’s teachers proved to be even less tolerant; after a week of constant argument and impertinent questions from the new Holmes boy, it was collectively decided amongst the academic faculty that it was probably best for their sanity and his physical safety to simply ignore him unless absolutely necessary. Suffice it to say, Sherlock – with his unquenchable thirst for attention- took this as a personal challenge and, rather than conforming in the way that everyone had hoped, proceeded to become even more relentlessly insufferable than before, relishing the frustration that it caused until it ended in a stern referral for therapy.
Mycroft’s hand tightened around the Malacca handle of his umbrella, steeling himself in preparation for the hours to come. It was infuriatingly simple to see how this point had been reached in one followed the chain of events accurately. Why could no one else see it?
He did not announce himself – confidence was as effective as any disguise; Mycroft had learnt quickly upon beginning his life in London that as long as you gave the impression that you had every right to be somewhere, nobody would question you.
The secretary, in any case, was far too immersed in a mountain of unfiled paperwork to pay Mycroft any attention as he marched through the main doors, across the welcome foyer and down the hall, barely even slowing to input the code for the security doors which guarded the entrance to the borders’ section of the school. Nothing had changed.
Being a Saturday, the majority of borders had either gone home for the weekend or were enjoying the opportunity for a lie in and, consequently, Mycroft passed through the school unheeded; black brogues carrying their owner swiftly and silently across the cheap polyester carpet – the cause of many burnt knees and static shocks.
The distinct pizzicato of Vivaldi’s Spring ghosted through the second-to-last door on the left, sign posting the end of Mycroft’s journey.
The room was small, square and perfectly symmetrical, containing two single beds, two uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs pushed under two cluttered desks and two adolescent boys on their respective sides; the mousey haired one on the right sat up and leaning against the head bored with a book in his lap; the one on the left lay horizontally, dark curly hair in disarray as he stared up at the ceiling and plucked away at his violin, long legs hanging off the side of the bed.
His presence completely ignored by his brother, Mycroft addressed the other boy who had already put his book down and was looking up expectantly, “Forgive my intrusion, Victor, would you be so kind as to leave us for a moment?”
With a nod, he hopped from the bed and scurried to the door, casting one last regretful look n his roommate’s direction before making himself scarce.
“Good morning, Mycroft,” Sherlock greeted his brother in a bored, drawl.
The welcome was no less than Mycroft had been expecting. “You don’t seem particularly surprised to see me,” he observed, leaning his umbrella against the wall and unbuttoning his coat.
Sherlock turned his head lazily to look at him. “That’s probably because it’s not particularly surprising.”
“Indeed.” Long fingers moved deftly from string to string. “Really, Mycroft, if you’re going to have someone spy on me, at least choose someone half-capable of subtlety.” A slight smirk flickered in the corners of his lips as he took in his brother’s appearance, “Pinstripes? I see you’re wearing your armour. It must be serious...”
Mycroft shifted under the intensity of Sherlock’s penetrating stare. “I’m lead to believe so, even though the details have not yet been made clear to me.”
“So all your spying and snooping hasn’t really paid off, has it?” There was a definite lilt of smugness.
The elder Holmes sniffed and allowed his own deductive eye to sweep across his brother, determined not to let Sherlock get the better of him. It did not take long and, with a smirk mirroring Sherlock’s own, he lowered himself into the small chair and fixed the boy with a triumphant gaze.
Sherlock arched an eyebrow as though to say, ‘Well?’
“Don’t you think marijuana is a little predictable?”
Rather than being annoyed at the discovery, Sherlock chuckled and paused in his pizzicato to push himself up into a sitting position. “Well done. What gave it away?”
“Your fingers. Tobacco stains beneath your nails. If it had been regular tobacco, you would simply have received a detention. Obvious so far, but why? What was your intention?” Mycroft’s grey eyes narrowed as he pondered it further whilst Sherlock watched him with amusement. “You have shown no desire to smoke before, so it has not developed from that. It is quite clear that you are not addicted, that you only dabble occasionally and yet... it would not be an easy substance to acquire around here, you must have gone to considerable lengths to procure it so it is important to you. Not peer pressure – that has never been a concern, why should it be now? – Curiosity, then. An experiment. Because...Ah.” Mycroft was actually marginally surprised by the conclusion he reached. “This is my fault.”
Sherlock shifted his position, crossing his legs beneath him. Spring started up again, the tempo a little quicker than before. “Well,” he said coolly, “you did tell me that I should try to find my own way to make it easier.”
Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, Mycroft said tightly, “Whilst I am pleasantly surprised that you considered my advice worth taking, I had hoped you would choose something less... illicit.”
The light blue of Sherlock’s eyes darkened. “I suppose it doesn’t reflect particularly well on you, does it, Mycroft? To have an underage junkie for a brother.”
Mycroft sighed with impatience. “We have spoken about your tendency towards the superlative before, Sherlock.”
Scowling, Sherlock changed key.
“Anyway, what time is this meeting scheduled for?”
His brother’s response was sharp and petulant, “Why should you need to know?”
“There is very little point in having a trial without the defence,” replied Mycroft stiffly. “You ought to have at least one person there to represent you.”
“Represent me?” Sherlock echoed scathingly. “And how exactly do you intend to do that?”
“Considering how effectively I have been kept out of the loop,” said Mycroft, fiddling with his ring absently, “I have absolutely no idea. More to the point, Sherlock, in the unlikely event that that I can, in some way, influence the outcome, it would be beneficial to know precisely what outcome I am looking to achieve.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Well, they intend to expel you, don’t they? Considering the stringent rules regarding drugs and the fact that they have involved Father, it is obvious that that is their plan. However, I am sure that I could... bring them round, so to speak, but would that be the most beneficial conclusion I wonder?”
“Considering the alternative is to go home-”
“Obviously. But let us suppose for a moment that it isn’t.”
Sherlock searched his brother’s expressionless face with a confusion only ever caused by Mycroft. Then, cautiously, “That is a very vague supposition.”
The maple-wood instrument was laid down and Sherlock leant forward, hands placed together palm to palm. “What do you mean?”
The intensity of his brother’s expression forced Mycroft to hesitate in the explanation of his plan and take one step backwards. It would not do to get too ahead of himself. He forced a quick smile, “Nothing, of course. I was merely thinking aloud. Now,” he sat up a little straighter, suddenly business like, “unless you are certain that you do not require my assistance, I really do need to know the time of this meeting, Sherlock.”
Despite his obvious suspicion, the younger Holmes decided to answer his brother, “They told Father to come in at twelve.”
Their grandfather’s gold pocket watch was pulled out of the pocket of Mycroft’s waistcoat and checked with the slightest crease of the brow. “Well,” Mycroft rose, closing the watch with a snap and replacing it, “I’d best be off then. It would be better to get this over and done with before he arrives.” He glanced casually over at Sherlock, “Want to come?”
“Not particularly. I know what they’re going to say.”
“Isn’t it usual for the accused to be present on occasions such as this? I thought it would be obligatory for you to attend?”
A sparkle of mischief flashed across Sherlock’s eyes. “For some reason, they don’t want me there, although I can’t imagine why...”
As the understanding passed silently from brother to brother, Mycroft’s lips quirked with interest. This looked as though it was going to be considerably more interesting that he had originally thought.
The headmaster’s office had not changed in the slightest in the last three years; the books lining the wall were still meticulously regimented in alphabetical order in mahogany cases; the drapes framing the large bay windows were still the same faded red-velvet; the portraits of head teachers past still glared disapprovingly down from their frames and the present headmaster still sat fortified behind the vast desk, and sheltered by stacks of paperwork and boxes of stationary. Mycroft noted with interest that he had aged much more than he should have during the course of three years – deep set lines crossed his face and permanent frown marks made him appear closer to late sixties than a man in his mid-fifties. But, then again, what else would be the result of spending thirty years dealing with obstinate boys who would rather be anywhere else? Mycroft fervently hoped that children would never have any significance in his life. A younger sibling was proving to be about as much as he could handle as it was.
Dr Thayer raised his head wearily at the sound of his door clicking shut, bushy grey eyebrows shooting up in surprise as he recognised the newcomer. “Mycroft Holmes! What a surprise,” he said, standing. “I’m afraid I haven’t been expecting you.” The inflection implied the question.
“Good afternoon, Doctor,” said Mycroft with a pleasant smile, crossing the Persian carpet and reaching across the desk to shake the hand offered to him. “I apologise for the unexpected nature of my call, I hadn’t known that I was coming myself until yesterday evening.”
The implication was not lost on Dr Thayer. He swallowed, lips twitching with evident unease. “And what is it that I can help you with?” an old hand was waved towards the empty seat opposite him, “Please, sit down, dear boy”
Refusing not to allow himself to be moved by the older man’s affability, Mycroft stood a little a straighter, raising his chin. “I won’t, thank you,” he said stiffly. “I don’t intend to be long. I merely stopped by to inform you that, should you and your staff choose to continue to persecute my brother in the disgraceful manner in which you have been doing, you will be shortly receiving a visit from Scotland Yard’s drug squad. Most likely next Wednesday at about five o’clock. I believe you will be holding a parents evening that day?”
Dr Thayer stared at him in astonishment, twisting the gold cufflinks of his shirtsleeves unconsciously. “I-I don’t know what you are trying to insinuate, Mycroft,” he spluttered with the discomfort of a guilty man, neatly confirming Mycroft’s theory.
The young man smiled genially. “I am not insinuating anything, Sir. I simply thought it was fair that you were informed of the facts.”
Anger flashed across Dr Thayer’s face previously affable expression. “The fact, Holmes, is this; your brother, aside from being an intolerable know-it-all, who insists upon disobeying his teachers and refuses to conform to the laws of the school, has been caught – red-handed, no less – committing a criminal act!” He sat back in his seat and turned his attention back to whatever it was he had been doing before Mycroft’s arrival, the temperature of the room considerably colder than it had been only minutes before. “There is nothing further to discuss regarding. Good day.”
“When you say ‘criminal act’,” said Mycroft conversationally, ignoring the dismissal, “are you referring to my brother’s newly acquired recreational habits or to the fact that he accumulated the substance from you? Believe me, Headmaster, I’d advise very strongly against that particular line of argument.”
Dr Thayer’s already pallid complexion paled even further. He opened his mouth as though to reply, decided against it and shut it again, before responding with a forced calm, “I do not know what nonsense your brother has been feeding you, Holmes, but I assure you that it is just that – nonsense. I have never in my life partaken in-”
But Mycroft stopped him midsentence with the raise of a hand. “Please, Dr Thayer, let us not waste both our time following this line of conversation. It is far too predictable to be worth entertaining. Let us assume, for the moment, that we have spent an hour or so going around the circle you seem to keen on following and that we have ended up precisely where we are now. Now, let’s move on constructively, shall we?”
Dr Thayer’s mouth rounded into the question he had become so used to addressing the younger Holmes but the sardonic look being thrown at him made him change his mind. He sighed, defeated. “What do you want?”
“For you to admit that you have been waiting for this opportunity,” Mycroft’s tone had grown icy. “I know as well as anyone how...difficult my brother can be, particularly to those with inferior intellect, who can’t stand the fact that a child is more intelligent than they. He has been making fools out of you, of course he has, highlighting the mediocrity of what is allegedly one of the best schools in the country. You have wanted rid of him since the moment he arrived but, so far, beyond the odd detention, there has been nothing you could do – jealousy is hardly grounds for exclusion, is it? You have resorted to inflicting therapy on him in an underhand attempt to make him believe he is abnormal, make him doubt himself in order to impose your own pathetic version of normality. Of course, our father approved of this course of action – he has always been intimidated by our brilliance, especially Sherlock who has no sense of self-restraint and, like our mother, questions everything he knows to be ordinary – but that doesn’t make it right, in fact it makes it decidedly wrong. You disgust me, you all disgust me – you can tell our father that when he arrives – and I will not leave my brother here to be subjected to this perverse practise you call education for one moment longer.” Any gracious facade had gradually disappeared until only disgust remained. “What I want from you are signed documents releasing Sherlock from your custody and any evidence of his latest transgression destroyed, along with the fairy stories conjured by the therapist and anything labelling my brother as a psychopath. In short, erase your pathetic lies and I will not pursue this further. Failure to do so will result in unimaginable disgrace.”
Dr Thayer sat back and surveyed his former student with a furrowed brow and the faintest air of regret, not as impressed by the threats as Mycroft had hoped he would be. “I always thought highly you, Mycroft,” he said slowly, “you seemed to have a good attitude and both feet rooted in reality, which is why I have tolerated your imposition so far. Unfortunately, my patience has reached its end and I think it is best if you leave at once. I don’t know what you think gives you the authority to come in here, casting unfounded aspersions and making absurd threats, and if you think I will fall for it, you are even more delusional than your brother.”
Mycroft shrugged with a nonchalance he did not feel, “Take that risk,” he winced inwardly as the words came out in Sherlock’s most petulant voice.
Dr Thayer nostrils flared. “Thank you, I will. Ah, Mr Holmes!”
Still reeling somewhat from the sudden shift in control, the arrival of his father – in Mycroft’s opinion – could not come at a less opportune moment. He turned stiffly and was met by an identical pair of grey eyes and identical set of impassive features hardened into an identical expression of dislike. Mycroft noticed with mild interest that he now stood nose to nose with the man in the brown tweed suit, when the last time they had stood together he had been a good few inches shorter. He had always been envious of the fact that Sherlock had inherited their mother’s looks whilst he had been given their father’s, but never more so than at that moment – it was like looking at a picture of himself in the future, and not an attractive one.
Mr Holmes looked his son up and down, lips set in a thin contemptuous line. “What are you doing here?”
Mycroft forced a sardonic smile. “I am representing our mother,” he replied coolly, meeting the hostile gaze with equal loathing. The sight of the man made Mycroft’s skin crawl and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; nothing and no-one could provoke such a physical revulsion in him and it was all he could do to keep himself still when all he wanted to do was grab Sherlock and run. Mycroft glanced towards Dr Thayer, “I believe I have made my position clear, Headmaster. If you would be so kind as to inform my father of the situation, I will collect my brother and we will not trouble you further.”
Mycroft made to leave but he had barely taken one step towards the door when a hand had shot out and grabbed his arm, preventing any further movement. A wave of revulsion washed through the young man’s body at the touch. He tried to wrench himself free but his father’s fingers tightened even further.
“Mycroft.,” Mr Holmes warned, adopting the same quietly threatening tone Mycroft favoured with Sherlock.
- “I did not come here to have a conversation with you,” Mycroft hissed through clenched teeth, every muscle in his body rigid with tension. “I want nothing to do with you and I want Sherlock to have nothing to do with you.”
His father’s frosty eyes hardened even more. “Sherlock’s wellbeing is no concern of yours,” he informed Mycroft in a low, condescending voice. “Leave it to the adults, Mycroft.”
“It is my concern when it comes to light that the so-called ‘adults’ are motivated primarily by their own self-interest rather than his.” Mycroft allowed the volume of his voice to be raised slightly for the benefit of Dr Thayer.
“Your brother has been granted every opportunity,” said Mr Holmes firmly. “It is for the good of all concerned that Sherlock is transferred to somewhere with the facilities to give him the proper treatment-”
“Excuse me?” Confusion was not a sensation Mycroft Holmes was accustomed to and the distinct feeling of missing a crucial detail was a most disconcerting one.
An infuriating smirk of triumph appeared on his father’s face. “Is that not why you are here?” he was asked with unconvincing innocence. “I was under the impression you were completely aware of everything that was going on...”
“It is irrelevant,” Mycroft snapped back, raising his chin with a coolness he certainly did not feel. “I have enough information to know that my intervention is necessary; that this is an unsuitable environment for my brother to be.”
“I quite agree.” This was not a reassuring thing to hear. Mycroft shifted uneasily as Mr Holmes continued in the same reasonable tone, “No, it is clear from Sherlock’s wayward behaviour that this is not that best place for him to be. It is obvious that the boy would benefit from proper psychological help in surroundings befitting his condition. We have decided that Nightingale Hospital will be a suitable place for Sherlock to be transferred to.”
Mycroft stared at him, horror causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. “Nightingale the mental health institution?” he whispered, praying that he was mistaken in his conclusion.
“The most prestigious in the South,” said Dr Thayer, reaching into a drawer and rummaging about before pulling out a brochure. “It has been decided that Sherlock will undergo six months of intensive correctional therapy as a resident of the hospital and, after that, he will either return here or remain there. Depending on the success of the treatment, of course.” He leaned across the desk and handed the pamphlet to Mycroft.
He couldn’t even bear to look at it. “Why didn’t you inform me of this earlier?” the young man demanded, throwing it down in disgust.
The headmaster shrugged. “Confidentiality.”
“As I have previously said,” added Mr Holmes smoothly. “It is no concern of yours.”
Rational, reasonable thinking had never come so hard to Mycroft in his life; every instinct was roaring in his ears to just take Sherlock and run. It was only the vague knowledge that that would be counterproductive that was keeping him in one place and grasping for the logical. “They will take one look at him and send him back,” he told them with complete conviction. “They will tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with him.”
“Doctor Monaghan has been consulting with Sherlock’s therapist and they have managed to, ah... pull a few stings in order to acquire a place for Sherlock. You remember Doctor Monaghan, don’t you, Mycroft?”
The cold sickness sinking into the pit of his stomach at the sound of that name reminded Mycroft just how much he remembered Doctor Monaghan.
“Now,” Mr Holmes concluded, “it is simply a matter of paperwork and logistical planning.”
It felt as though the world was imploding around him. In order to deal with this efficiently, he needed time; exclusion was simple enough to counteract, but this... this was underhand and required tactics of an equally underhand nature.
“You always resort to this, don’t you?” Mycroft hissed, almost quivering with absolute loathing for this man. “The moment you realise that you cannot control someone, this happens!” He gave a dry, mirthless laugh, “I’m surprised you haven’t had me sectioned yet!”
“If I had known how much you were going to take after your mother, how similar to your brother you are, then I would have,” Mr Holmes hissed back, rigid with barely contained anger. “But then you always have been the better actor. My fault, I should’ve known that insanity runs in the blood.”
“I know what you are and what you did,” Mycroft responded evenly, sounding significantly calmer than he felt. “And I will die before I watch you do the same to my brother.” From anyone else’s lips, this would have sounded ridiculously melodramatic, but it was quite clear that he meant every word. Sherlock was the theatrical one.
His father flushed heavily and took one step closer to murmur, “I will not discuss this with you here.”
“There is nothing to discuss,” Mycroft snapped back, lip curling in disgust. “Sherlock is coming with me and that is the end of it.” He gave Dr Thayer a quick, curt nod, “Good day,” before pushing past his father and striding out the door, heart hammering uncomfortably beneath his shirt, weak with adrenaline.
He had barely made it twenty feet down the corridor before his father’s voice called after him, “Your mother was ill, Mycroft. We did everything we could for her, you know that.”
Mycroft froze. In six years, this was the first time he had mentioned her, the first time The Incident had been alluded to out loud. Even though he had thought about it every day since it had happened, the force of all the repressed emotions surfacing from actually hearing the words spoken made Mycroft reel with the same sickening dizziness that he had felt all those years ago, as though time had not passed.
This was the reason why he had never pursued the subject of his mother’s death, why he had always discouraged Sherlock from talking about her openly, why he always tried to push the inescapable thoughts to the back of his mind... Why Mycroft was determined that Sherlock never learn the truth of The Incident.
He could hear his father’s footsteps coming up behind him, feel the hand on his shoulder. “Mycroft-”
“I did not come here to have this conversation with you!” The words came out as a snarl and he jerked away from the hand.
“You need to understand-”
“Do not patronise me! I understand perfectly. I have always understood.”
“No you haven’t,” Mr Holmes persisted. “Even if you knew all the facts of the matter, you would still not understand because you have made up your mind not to. She was going to leave you-”
“She was going to leave you!” A shooting pain through his heart made Mycroft wince. He turned abruptly to look his father in the eye. “She was going to leave you,” he repeated with a strained calmness, “and you stopped her. You and Monaghan lied, told everyone that she was ill with Spanish Flu. Not the most inspired cover up, but nobody was going to question a grieving widower or an acclaimed doctor.”
Mr Holmes searched his son’s face, then, softly, “I didn’t kill her.”
“It’s your fault she died.”
“I never meant... it wasn’t supposed-”
“It is irrelevant.”
“I did it for you. For you and your brother.”
“No.” Mycroft held up a shaking finger. “You will not put this on us. It was your fault, through your failings that our mother is dead and I swear to you that should you ever attempt to interfere with me or Sherlock, every newspaper in the country and every contact you have ever made will know you for what you are.”
Mr Holmes listened impassively, unmoved Mycroft’s threats. “I wonder,” he said serenely, “were your mother still alive, would you be so keen to defend her? Would she still be the deity you and your brother have made her into? She only ever cared for herself, Mycroft. She gave no thought to you or to Sherlock when she made the decision-”
He was cut off mid-sentence by a forearm to the chest and a hand to the throat as he was slammed up against the wall, too startled by the sudden attack to put up any sort of defence.
“And if you ever speak of my mother in such a way again,” Mycroft snarled, nose barely an inch shy of his father’s, “be assured that I will kill you myself. Do I make myself clear?”
Dazed, Mr Holmes opened his mouth to reply but the hand curled around his neck made any attempt at speech impossible. He gave a quick, desperate nod as the fingers tightened at the lack of response.
With a curl of the lip Mycroft released his father roughly, as though it repulsed him to have any physical contact at all.
Mr Holmes staggered slightly, struggling to regain his breath, glaring up at his attacker with equal loathing as the young man turned his back and walked languidly away. “It’s a dangerous game, the one you’re playing, Mycroft.”
Mycroft decided it was not worth dignifying that with a response.
Sherlock sat up as soon as the door to his dormitory was opened, blue eyes fixed expectantly on his brother, significantly more receptive than he had been an hour ago. “Well?”
Mycroft barely glanced at him, critical gaze sweeping across Sherlock’s section with a slight frown. Then, quietly, “Pack up your things, Sherlock, I’m taking you home.”
“What?” Sherlock slid off the bed, confusion flickering across his features. “Why? I thought you were going to sort everything out? What happened?”
“Nothing happened,” Mycroft bit back, sharper than he had intended. He averted his eyes quickly, turning his attention to the books stacked on his brother’s desk; the crease between Sherlock’s eyes had already deepened with suspicion and he was in no mood for conversation. “Do as I ask please.”
Sherlock immediately froze at his brother’s tone – Mycroft’s secret weapon and only to be deployed in emergencies. It was the signal for Sherlock to stop and remember their hierarchy; that Mycroft was older and wiser than he would ever be and that it was in his best interest to bear that in mind. It was the agreement between the brothers that Mycroft would only use it when absolutely necessary and in return Sherlock would always obey when he did.
As Sherlock bustled around throwing the few possessions he kept at school into two small suitcases, Mycroft took a moment to regain his composure; the tension that had been gradually tightening its hold on him was now starting to ease and the fog of emotion that had been clouding rationality and reason was clearing. He shrugged on his overcoat and hooked his umbrella over his arm with a sigh that could almost be mistaken for relief as he began to feel himself once more.
Sherlock watched his brother out of the corner of his eye as he worked, careful not to let Mycroft notice. If he had been in his normal state of mind he would have noticed in an instant. Only their father could trigger such a reaction from the older Holmes, it was obvious that their paths had crossed, but there was definitely something more... Sherlock could not recall a time when he had seen Mycroft as upset as he seemed now. There was nothing to compare it to, no clue to unearth, and there was no point asking questions now...
Snapping the clasps of his violin case shut, Sherlock stood and looked over at his brother with a tentativeness he rarely felt the need to exercise, “You okay?”
Grey eyes narrowed at once. “Yes, of course.”
The quirk of an eyebrow.
The slight inclination of the head.
Sherlock smiled to himself and bent to pick up a suitcase, handing it to Mycroft before loading himself with the second case and his violin. “Good. Let’s go.”