The thing that Mycroft Holmes always remembered most about his mother’s funeral was that it rained that day and he didn’t have an umbrella.
It was unrelenting, single-minded rain, and it flattened Sherlock’s unruly curls onto his head, forming rivulets, impromptu cascades over the topography of his hair. They were, the both of them, soaked through by the time they dashed from the doorway of the house in London to the car waiting for them, and they were even more soaked through by the time they dashed into the church, and Sherlock had water dripping from his too-long hair into his collar, and Mycroft wondered why he hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella and vowed never to be caught without an umbrella again in his life. Mindful of all the people waiting in the church who were much older and considered themselves much wiser and who were waiting to say things like Oh, dear me, he couldn’t even remember to bring an umbrella to cover Sherlock’s poor head, Mycroft pulled Sherlock into a dark corner and tried to find a handkerchief. He thought that surely he had brought one of those handkerchiefs Mummy had had monogrammed for him.
Sherlock stood silent and still, his eyes fixed on a point on the wall to his left, where memorial plaques lined the church. Sherlock had been silent and acquiescent for days, and Mycroft was half-relieved for the reprieve whilst he tried to get his feet under him and half-terrified that Sherlock was never going to speak again.
He found a handkerchief and shook it out and passed it hastily over Sherlock’s sopping-wet hair and wondered why he hadn’t thought to insist that Sherlock get a haircut before the funeral. When do you think the boy last had a haircut? What is Mycroft thinking of? He could hear the disapproval floating up from the congregation toward the vaulted ceiling high above.
Sherlock didn’t move, not even as Mycroft rubbed the handkerchief a bit more energetically into his hair, and Mycroft frowned and thought how he was happy Sherlock wasn’t throwing a sulk about this and sad that Sherlock wasn’t throwing a sulk about this.
“I can’t have you catch cold,” he said, by way of explanation, and passed the now-damp handkerchief over the back of Sherlock’s neck.
Sherlock shivered a little bit, as if proving Mycroft’s point, and then did something he hadn’t done for days. He spoke. “The Latin is wrong,” he said.
“What?” said Mycroft, startled to hear his voice after all this time.
“The Latin is wrong on that grave. You would think someone would have thought to be intelligent enough to check what they were going to carve into stone. How can people be so stupid?”
Mycroft looked at the grave Sherlock was looking at. The Latin was wrong. “Sherlock,” he said, on a sigh. “I’m afraid that is one of the very mildest examples of how very stupid people are.”
Sherlock took a deep breath and fidgeted with the tie around his neck.
“Please don’t,” Mycroft said to him, and straightened it back into place.
Sherlock looked at him. Somewhere deep in those bottomless, colorless eyes he had, Mycroft could see that the gaze being pinned on him was baleful, but it was very, very deep in there, not anywhere close to the forefront. The forefront of Sherlock’s gaze was cool and detached and disinterested, and Mycroft said, hoping it would help, “It isn’t going to be much longer.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Mycroft,” said Sherlock, dully. “It’s going to be the rest of our lives.”
Sherlock retreated back into silence. Mycroft tried to see him through the eyes of the judgmental congregation. Tall for his age, but far too skinny, emphasized by the fact that Mycroft hadn’t had time to have the suit properly tailored for him and it didn’t fit well. His hair was drying into cowlicked clouds of black frizz that begged for a comb, and Mycroft thought again how he should have had Sherlock’s hair cut at some point. But when had there been time? In between receiving an abrupt phone call that one’s mother had died and the day when one managed to have orchestrated an unexpected funeral for her, when was one supposed to have time to worry about a mundane thing like a haircut? Mycroft knew the whole idea of it was silly, the the idea was only being entertained by the idiotic people ranged behind them in the church, but he also knew that it was these same idiotic people who would make decisions about his fitness to take care of Sherlock from this point onward, and they would be questioning the state of Sherlock’s hair, because people—Sherlock was right—were stupid.
Luckily, no one mentioned the state of Sherlock’s hair to him. They mentioned Sherlock, constantly, time and again. How is he taking it? Poor boy. It must have been quite hard for him, having found her like that. Has he talked to you about it? What has he said? Mycroft wanted to say that of course Sherlock had not talked to him about it. Why would anyone with half a brain want to talk about something like that? And Sherlock had so much more than half a brain. He wanted to say that, even if Sherlock had talked to him about it, the entire situation was private amongst the Holmeses, not an object of voyeurism. But Mycroft had unerring social instincts. He had been told this. He took after his mother. He spoke platitudes fluently, one of many languages that came easily to him. He clucked sympathetically and shook his head dolefully and hated every single person in what was now his and Sherlock’s house. At least, he presumed it was his and Sherlock’s. Who else’s would it be? But it seemed like another revelation would not surprise him. He had trusted his mother more than any other person in his life, and she had rewarded him by dying without so much as a single word of warning. It seemed to him it would be in keeping with everything if her will left all their possessions to some long-lost seventeenth cousin and Mycroft would have to find a way to get Sherlock to Eton and keep himself at Cambridge on his own.
He lost track of Sherlock, but everyone seemed to lose track of Sherlock that day. Everyone wanted to know about him, but no one wanted to actually try to approach him. Sherlock was not the sort of child—boy—young man—Mycroft gave up classifying him, but whatever he was, he did not invite conversation. He was standoffish and aloof under the best of circumstances, and these circumstances were far from the best. Mycroft realized that he’d disappeared from the gathering within thirty minutes, and Mycroft decided that was the best thing he could have done. Sherlock wasn’t going to run away or disappear, Sherlock would hide, and he would emerge when it was worthwhile for him, which would likely be when the house was empty and he was hungry enough.
The house was eventually, thankfully, empty. Mycroft had refused to allow anyone to stay in it, although he had had ancient aunts try to impress upon his social courtesy for such an invitation. Mycroft needed to feel the cavernousness of the house without his mother; he couldn’t bear to play host at such a time, and eventually the butler saw the last guest out and turned to him questioningly, as if Mycroft was supposed to have an idea what they were to do next. Mycroft knew what came next. Tomorrow would be the reading of the will, his mother’s solicitor had said so, and several distant family members had insisted they must be there. That was what would come next. It was everything after that that left Mycroft feeling out of his depth, and that was not something Mycroft ever felt, so he didn’t much appreciate his mother doing this to him.
Mycroft looked at the butler and said, wearily, “It’s freezing in this house.” Partly, Mycroft knew, this was the chill he’d caught from the rain earlier, which was his own fault. He wondered if Sherlock wasn’t well on his way to dying from pneumonia at this very moment.
“I’ll set a fire in the library for you, sir.”
Mycroft was relieved that the butler offered the library, because his mother had seldom used the library, and Mycroft, at the moment, could not bear the drawing room. They’d had to use it for the gathering by necessity, and it had been ghastly. There had been a row with the butler earlier over the placement of his mother’s chessboard, the butler fearing it would be knocked over and offering to remove it altogether, and Mycroft in dread over taking the pieces out of the positions his mother had last played. He knew he would have to do it eventually, and it was illogical of him to refuse to do it when they had needed the space, but he had insisted, and there had been a compromise where it had been moved carefully to a corner and Mycroft had spent the entire afternoon watching it.
Mycroft glanced into the drawing room now. The fire had been banked, and the lights had been shut off, and everything in the room looked…abandoned. Mycroft walked over suddenly and pulled the pocket doors out. They fought against him, because Mycroft could not remember the last time they had been used, and they didn’t want to budge, and he jiggled at them energetically until they’d finally pulled closed and he didn’t have to look at the drawing room anymore.
Then, satisfied, he turned and walked to the library, meeting the butler coming out of it. “Bring me a tea tray,” Mycroft said, and the butler nodded at him, and Mycroft sat on the couch by the fire and looked into it as it started to catch and wondered where Sherlock was and if it would make things better or worse to go in search of him.
The butler arrived with the tea tray while Mycroft was still considering, and Mycroft shook himself out of his contemplative stupor to thank the butler, who merely said, “Shall I close the door?”
“Yes,” said Mycroft, because he didn’t want the press of the rest of the house intruding on him at that moment. “If you see Master Sherlock, though, tell him I’d like to see him.”
“Yes, sir,” said the butler, and closed the door, and Mycroft looked at the tea tray.
He actually didn’t want tea, but he went through the ritual act of preparing it and then looked at the result and felt that the last thing he wanted was to drink it. Part of him wanted to curl into the couch and sleep his way through everything in his life that was about to happen.
One of the doors leading to the back garden opened and closed, and Mycroft sighed. “Have you been outside this whole time?”
Naturally, Sherlock didn’t answer. He walked over to one of the chairs by the fire and collapsed into it, radiating waves of displeased belligerence. He glared at Mycroft accusingly, as if everything were his fault, which, other than the lack of umbrella that morning, decidedly wasn’t true.
Mycroft stood and walked to the back of the library, behind the desk that had been their father’s more years ago than Sherlock had been alive, really. He tipped the book that he had seen his father tip, all those years ago, and the bookcase swung easily out toward him, as if it had just been used the other day.
Sherlock, as Mycroft had known he would, sprang up immediately and raced over. “How did you know that was there?” he demanded.
“Father used to use it,” said Mycroft, and considered the bottles of alcohol gleaming along the shelf.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Why didn’t you discover it on your own?” rejoined Mycroft, lightly.
Sherlock frowned and said, “That alcohol cannot possibly still be good.”
“What does it matter?” asked Mycroft, selecting a bottle of Scotch and holding it up to the light as if he knew what he was doing. “Anyway, alcohol gets better with age, not worse.”
“Properly stored alcohol,” said Sherlock, pretending he wasn’t interested in the rest of the contents of the shelf.
“You can explore this to your heart’s content another time,” said Mycroft, nudging Sherlock out of the way so he could close the door. “And where did you learn so much about alcohol?”
Sherlock made a noise that loosely translated to, I do know how to read, Mycroft, you utter pillock. He followed Mycroft back over to the fireplace, where Mycroft took a fresh teacup from the tea tray and poured some Scotch into it. Then he took another teacup and poured more Scotch into it and held it out to Sherlock.
Sherlock looked at him in astonishment that quicksilvered into suspicion. “What do you want?”
Mycroft sighed and sat and put the teacup back down on the tea tray, picking up his own. “Nothing. It was the sort of day that called for a drink.”
“But I’m eleven.”
“Yes, which is why it’s only a small drink. I thought you’d want to be scientifically thorough on the effects of ten years of abandonment on the taste of Scotch. Anyway, you’ve caught a chill and supposedly Scotch helps ward off a cold.”
“That’s an old wives’ tale,” said Sherlock, taking his seat again. He picked up the teacup cautiously, sniffed at it, and then stared into it, and Mycroft watched him catalogue all of his impressions to write down later. Then he took a tiny sip and considered it for a very long moment before announcing, “It’s terrible.”
Mycroft half-smiled and put his own teacup down without taking a sip, suddenly having lost interest in it. “Sherlock—”
“You’re not really worried I’ll catch cold,” Sherlock told him, putting his teacup down.
“Of course I’m worried about that,” Mycroft replied.
“You’re just worried what people will think if I catch cold.”
“Why can’t I worry about both?” Mycroft asked, after a second.
“If you were that worried about it you should have brought an umbrella.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” he said, because it was true.
Sherlock put his feet up on the chair, hugging his knees into his chest, looking lost and little-boy-ish. Someone had told him, during this interminable day, that Sherlock was never going to be a little boy again, but the truth of the matter was that he was so achingly young that Mycroft was terrified of him. If Sherlock were no longer a little boy, this would all be much easier, but eleven was a terrible age, caught between everything, and Mycroft was at a loss as to how he was supposed to navigate it.
“I should have gone with you to the church,” said Sherlock, looking into the fire.
“You did go with me to the church,” Mycroft pointed out.
“Not today. Before. When you were planning, and you asked me to go, and I didn’t want to.”
“You didn’t have to, Sherlock.” Mycroft had been exhausted enough making himself do all the things that had to be done; there had been no reason to subject Sherlock to all of them if he didn’t want to be involved.
“But I would have noticed the Latin on the grave,” said Sherlock, setting his chin stubbornly. “You didn’t even notice it. Mummy would have hated that.”
“Sherlock,” said Mycroft, thinking somehow that this might make things better, “it really doesn’t matter to Mummy anymore, any of it.”
Sherlock stared at him in horror, which momentarily surprised him, because, church funeral notwithstanding, they had not been raised with any sense of religion, and it had not even occurred to him that Sherlock might be harbouring some idea of an afterlife in that fiercely scientific brain he had. Science tempered with philosophy, his mother used to say, and Mycroft realized his mistake.
“Oh,” he said, stupidly, because he could think of nothing else to say.
Sherlock inhaled and exhaled an angry, disapproving breath at him and then said, staunchly, “I am never wearing another tie again, and you are never going to make me, do you understand?”
“I don’t care if you ever wear a tie again,” said Mycroft, honestly. “But you have to wear one to school—”
“Why do I have to go to school? I know everything there is to know already.”
“What do you propose to do instead?”
“I could be a pirate.”
“Surely you are not still taken with this piracy idea,” sighed Mycroft.
“I don’t understand why you think pirates are from a bygone era. The sea is the last great frontier on this planet, the last place without laws.”
“I assure you there are laws that govern the oceans. If you went to school, you could even learn that for yourself.”
Sherlock scowled. “I mean that the laws aren’t easily enforced.”
“Sherlock, don’t say things like that.”
“Because it makes you sound like a budding master criminal.”
Sherlock considered. “I bet master criminals don’t go to school.”
“Clever ones do. Look, let’s not have the school discussion right now.”
“I don’t want to talk about Mummy,” Sherlock said, instantly, his feet sliding to the floor as he sat up straighter.
“We won’t,” said Mycroft, who didn’t much feel like talking about her, either. “Let’s not talk at all. I had to talk all day.”
“But you like talking. You like the sound of your own voice.”
“Said the pot to the kettle,” said Mycroft, and Sherlock smiled at him, and for a moment it was almost as if none of the past few days had happened at all. “Did you really spend all day outside? It’s cold, and you were already wet from this morning.”
“I only spent some of the day outside,” said Sherlock. He slid off the chair and moved to sit directly in front of the fireplace.
“You should go change into something dry,” Mycroft told him.
“What will happen tomorrow?” Sherlock asked. There was a thread of anxiety in the question that no one but Mycroft would ever have heard.
“Nothing,” said Mycroft, because he didn’t want Sherlock to worry about it. “Absolutely nothing. I promise.”
He wasn’t sure how much longer his promises were going to carry weight, but apparently they were still effective, because Sherlock nodded, once, and then turned to face the fire, presenting Mycroft with his back, and Mycroft watched him and tried not to worry.
Mycroft could not sleep. He had wanted the will to be read early in the morning, because he wanted it over with, and he was relieved he had made that decision because it meant that it was perfectly acceptable to give up on the idea of sleep quickly in favour of carefully selecting a tie. Mycroft felt as if he couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t worn a suit, because, during this whole debacle, he had found it made an enormous difference if he looked older than eighteen, and he was sure that would be even more important on this particular day. He wondered if he was ever going to stop wearing suits every day, ever going to stop worrying about looking older and more competent than he might in fact be.
He decided to go down for breakfast, even though he wasn’t the least bit hungry, just because it was proper and he wanted to say that he supported three square meals, that was just how responsible a human being he was. Before he went, he poked his head into Sherlock’s bedroom just to make sure he was in fact there, because he thought he really didn’t need Sherlock to disappear while under his care on the very day he was planning to have to have an argument about his ability to take care of him.
Sherlock was in his bedroom, thankfully, although he was asleep at his desk instead of in his bed, with the remnants of some sort of experiment around him. Mycroft supposed this was the type of thing he really shouldn’t allow; he really should have insisted that Sherlock go to bed at a reasonable hour and in a bed, but it seemed rather late in Sherlock’s life to start insisting he behave normally.
Mycroft crept into the room and turned down Sherlock’s bed and then walked over to Sherlock’s desk and pulled him to standing. He was pliant with sleep, and he only blinked himself half-awake, just awake enough to cast Mycroft a disapproving look and make a meagre protest before Mycroft had already managed to guide him into tumbling into the bed. He pulled the blankets up over him and Sherlock snuggled into them even as he slurred out, “I was fine at the desk.”
He was so contrary, thought Mycroft, and then, quickly on the heels of that thought, it occurred to Mycroft that he had never actually asked Sherlock who he wanted in charge of him. Sherlock, difficult and obstinate and troublesome, Sherlock would not necessarily agree to Mycroft’s decision on the topic, and Mycroft didn’t want to force him into it.
“Sherlock,” he said, keeping his voice low because it was such early morning and he thought discussing this in loud tones seemed melodramatic. “Is there anyone you want to live with?”
“Stephen Hawking,” answered Sherlock, readily, voice still blurry with sleep, turning his head into his pillow.
Mycroft suppressed his sigh. “I meant anyone other than me.”
“You’re not Stephen Hawking,” Sherlock pointed out, and yawned.
“Excellent,” said Mycroft. “Good observation. But is there anyone realistic you’d rather have in charge of you? Anyone in the family? Or anyone else you know?” This seemed ridiculous. They didn’t really know anyone other than each other; it was why Mycroft had assumed this.
Sherlock’s eyes opened abruptly, staring at him, and Mycroft immediately wanted to backpedal. “Like whom?” Sherlock demanded and sat up. “Who are they trying to send me off to?”
“No one,” said Mycroft.
“It has to be you,” Sherlock informed him. “If it is anyone other than you I will run away, and no one will ever find me.”
“I would find you.”
“Eventually. Maybe,” Sherlock allowed, reluctantly. “I thought it was going to be you. Why would it be anyone else? I’d just about resigned myself to you. I know how to manipulate you. I don’t want to have to start over.”
“That is very touching,” Mycroft said. “Thank you for your vote of confidence. It’ll be me. I’ll make sure it’s me.”
Sherlock regarded him dubiously, and Mycroft could see him waking himself up, clicking his mind into action. “Do you need me to—”
“I don’t need you to do anything. I’ll take care of it. I promise. Go back to sleep.”
Sherlock hesitated, then slowly lay back down and settled the blankets back around him. “Why would it be anyone else, Mycroft?”
There were a million reasons, and Mycroft knew Sherlock was blindingly intelligent and couldn’t understand how Sherlock didn’t see all of them. He wanted to list them for Sherlock. I am barely of age. I’m in university. I don’t have anywhere for you to live with me. I have no idea how to raise an eleven-year-old boy. I don’t know the state of the finances, so I’ve no idea if there’s money enough to get you the things you deserve while keeping me in the things I’ve expected. And, if there’s not, I have no plan for what I’m supposed to do to earn money on my current qualifications. And you are not an easy child, you need guidance and discipline, and I’d just let you run amok because you’re cleverer than everyone else I know. Mycroft said none of that, because he saw that to Sherlock it was all irrelevant. Sherlock considered himself all grown up, and the fact that the law did not see him as an adult was a troublesome irritation, nothing more. A formality he assumed Mycroft would agree with. There was no child-rearing to be done to Sherlock Holmes—he was past that point. In Sherlock’s mind, he needed someone to make sure there was food on his table when he was hungry and nothing more, and Mycroft was the person for that. Mycroft did not need to be more than the age he was to accomplish that, and, to an eleven-year-old, eighteen was ancient anyway.
Mycroft said, instead, “It won’t be anyone else. I promise. Go back to sleep, and don’t run away, and try not to tell other people that you want me in charge of you because you know how to manipulate me.”
“I’m not an idiot, Mycroft,” said Sherlock, but his eyes were already closing and he was already falling back asleep, which Mycroft found astonishing, because his own stomach was tied in knots of nervousness and sleep had been impossible for him. But Sherlock was abruptly sleeping peacefully, as if he hadn’t a care in the world, because Mycroft had promised that he didn’t.
Bloody hell, thought Mycroft. Maybe I should find someone else to do this.
He looked around himself at the scattered mess of Sherlock’s room and thought of anyone trying to tidy up this manifestation of genius, and dismissed the idea of it immediately. Sherlock was right. It absolutely had to be him.