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Stands The Church Clock

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PART I:

i.

The helicopter ride back to London was as surreal as a war zone. Mycroft was beyond exhausted, the guttering adrenaline in his veins leaving him too shaky for deep sleep, too dazed to even keep his jaw from going slack, his head from bobbing. The noise was a godsend, a false privacy that he badly needed. His headset was dead — just pillows over his ears that did little to ease the pummelling of wind and mechanical vibration. Even so, he slipped in slow blinks from waking to doze and back, traversing the border of air and shallow water, both equally murky and shot through with horrors.

Surfacing from the tarry darkness of the tranquilizer into excruciating blue-white light.

Blink.

On his back, pinned. The weight of Euros straddling his hips.

Blink.

Her mouth unsmiling, big eyes bright, and pupils dark. Nothing visible behind her mask. The face of death.

Let it be quick, he thought, and, turning his head to bare his throat, he saw Sherlock, still unconscious, being dragged away. His brother’s face was soft in sleep, damp lashes fanned across his cheeks, lips parted.

Eurus had leant forward then, the long curtain of her hair falling across his vision as she spoke softly in his ear.

“Thank you,” she said, the warm puff of her breath making him shiver. “He’s perfect

Then the weight was lifted off him and Euros was standing over him.

“We can’t stay,” she said. “But you can. You will.”

He had. Hours had passed, lying on his back, remembering every conversation, every word between them. All her clever tricks...

How had he ever thought he was immune?

Silly, she said. Because I told you so.

He started fully awake at that, heart thundering, half-expecting to find her at his side. No, just his Royal Coast Guard escort offering a kind smile as the helicopter banked. He shuddered. Not memory, just dream. But,when he closed his eyes again, he thought he felt her at his back, chin on his shoulder, icy hands flat against his chest, leaking cold into his heart. It didn’t feel like sleep at all.

The cottony haze of it lingered, even after they’d landed, although he managed a moment in the toilet to dab at his face with a damp handkerchief, smooth his hair, fix a less shell-shocked expression on his face.

Stepping out the door of the toilet, he was greeted by a familiar face.

“Mr. Holmes — Mycroft,” said Lestrade, his open face perfectly readable, his open hand hovering by Mycroft’s elbow, ready to guide him to… an interview room? No, his office. Friendlier. Sherlock had said something. Mycroft did not step forward to be guided.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to answer your questions, Detective Inspector,” he said, formality barely giving him the needed distance.

“That’s…not a surprise,” Lestrade said. Wearily, he rubbed at the back of his neck, his inner monologue visibly taking place in real time as he laboured over his options. Abruptly, he switched gears.

“Otherwise, you’re okay?” he said, looking Mycroft over. “You look like you could use a cuppa.” Mycroft’s hand tightened minutely on the handle of his umbrella. He could imagine Sherlock telling Lestrade that he’d need hand-holding, that he’d fallen apart. It was intolerable.

Lestrade was looking at him with sympathy and concern.

“The experience was not pleasant,” he said. “But I’ll manage, I’m sure, thank you, Detective Inspector.”

“All right,” said Lestrade, dubiously. “I’ll get someone to drive you home.”

“No need,” Mycroft said, flashing a cool smile. “I have a car waiting.”

It should have been a dismissal, but Lestrade hesitated again. Mycroft felt the hollow sensation opening up in his belly and pushed it down.

Damn it, Sherlock,he thought, angrily Wasn’t it enough to see me crumble? Must I be publicly flogged as well? Apparently, something of that showed in his face. The DI nodded, the tension bleeding out of him. One less crazy Holmes to contend with was obviously a relief.

“‘Course,” he said. “I'll take you round to the lifts.”

Finally in the shadowy back of his own leather-and-night-scented car, Mycroft dared a deep and ragged sigh and let his head fall back. He skimmed the surface of the of the seat with his left hand, slid two fingers down into the gap in the cushions, pulled out a crumpled package containing two cigarettes and a slim metal lighter. He shook free a cigarette, lit it, and pulled smoke deep into his lungs. The nicotine was instantly calming, chasing away the ghosts of adrenaline and barbiturate from his blood.

If it did nothing to stop the funhouse swing of his unanchored thoughts, he wasn’t surprised. There was nothing to anchor them to. Euros had cored and hollowed him in careless slashes, taken things, left things behind. His own mind was an unknown quantity, a traitorous ally, and all he could do was put the facade back up until he could work out how he would rebuild.

He chain-lit the second cigarette the instant the first was done, and savoured its rich and cancerous bouquet — it was a ridiculous, destructive gesture that would likely make him sick for the rest of the night, but at least it was one he’d chosen for himself.

*

He couldn’t face either the flat or the house right now, nor the thought of an hotel, but the Diogenes had a room available for him any time, and, he thought, if anything could soothe him now, it was that. He asked the driver to take him there.

The private accommodations were on the third floor. He considered for a moment taking a drink in the lounge, but he was literally shaking with fatigue. The steward, Prater, met him in the foyer. He could see Prater’s expression go still as he took in the wrinkled, stained suit, the smell of sweat and nicotine, his shaking hands. He flinched internally, wondering if he might actually be turned away, but no, the old man only pulled a key from the rack on the wall and bade him follow to the lift. They rode up in silence and in silence walked down the long, carpeted hallway. This was the best part of the Diogenes, Mycroft thought. He could literally walk through the door, present his key, and not speak a word to anyone for a week, and all of his needs would already be known and discreetly catered to. They stopped in front of one of the dark wooden doors. A small brass plaque read Fourteen.

Prater opened the door and handed the heavy iron key to Mycroft. He could safely assume that the bar was stocked with his preferred brands, the closet would contain a clean suit, tie, shirt, and shoes, the drawers, socks and pants to suit him. A spare set of his own cufflinks would be sitting in the safe, toothbrush and paste in the bathroom cabinet. As well he knew that the wifi would be fast and strong, the telephone unbugged, and that the dining staff would be ready to bring up food for him at any hour. There would even be an ashtray hidden under the bathroom sink. Still, he hesitated.

“Something else, Sir?” Prater asked.

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “I’ll put out a laundry bag tonight. Please have the contents burnt. And Prater?” The old man raised an eyebrow. “Absolutely no calls.”

“Not even—?”

Mycroft huffed a humourless laugh.

“Especially not my brother,” he said.

“Excellent, Sir,” Prater said, a little more heartfelt than was truly politic. Mycroft didn’t begrudge him.

When the door closed behind him, Mycroft allowed himself a moment to lean against it and breathe. The room was perfectly soothing, with its shades of mustard and cream, flocked wallpaper, silk damask bedspread, Victorian aesthetic. The air smelled faintly of bergamot.

He felt filthy outside and in. The political fallout from today’s disaster would have already begun, but he simply could not face it in this state. He hadn’t slept, not counting bouts of forced unconsciousness, since Sherlock staged his little panto fifty two hours ago, and, while he needed very little in the way of rest, “none at all” combined with repeated unpleasant shocks, both mental and physical, had overtaxed his resources.

He should have sent a coded text to Love to say he hadn’t simply run off screaming into the night, but the moment for that had passed. Tomorrow would have to do. He felt filthy. Wasfilthy. He pushed himself upright. Then discarded his clothes and shoved them, shoes and all, into the canvas sack left by the door and carried on naked into the bathroom.

The hot bath filled quickly, but the water was clear as glass, and he didn’t think he could relax so exposed. He tossed in a handful of tea-scented foaming salts and gratefully slipped in under the cover of bubbles. He’d intended to relax there, worried only that he might fall asleep and wake sputtering, but, in fact, the soothing heat only made him more aware of his miserable state. He scrubbed himself thoroughly with a flannel and rinsed off with the handheld spray. Then he did it again and, starting a third time, he suddenly had to throw the cloth down with a horror that, if he continued, he might not be able to stop. Shakily, he pulled the plug and let the bath run out.

Shivering, he wrapped himself in towels, padded out to the kitchenette and poured himself a drink. That, at least, was warming. He found clean pyjamas in the very drawer he would have chosen for them, and then, still shaking, he turned off all the lights and crawled into the drum-tight envelope of the sheets.

*

To his great surprise, he slept, deep and dreamless, and yet, waking, he felt no more rested than if he hadn’t slept at all. The sinking hollow feeling was still with him, overriding his thought processes. He should rise, wash, dress. He should listen to the news, check his messages, perform his exercises. He should consider his report, write his report. He should…

He didn’t. Unbidden, he remembered the sweet scent of Euros’s breath, its warmth on his neck. He remembered the lingering sourness of his own bile. The tastelessness of Sherrinford’s recycled air. He could feel the swell of the ocean waves under the solid frame of the bed.

In his mind’s eye: Sherlock’s bent head, the dark curls, his right arm hanging floorward, weighted by gun and guilt and gravity.

Shoot me, you idiot child. Why won’t you shoot me?

It wouldn’t have been enough, said Euros. I thought it would have, but it wouldn’t, would it?

No, he thought, it wouldn’t.

Euros’s look was brief and bright.

It’s over now, he told himself. It’s done. This belated sentimentality, this indulgence. There was still a storm outside! He listened to the low, contented hum of the tiny bar fridge.

Get. Up.

With effort, he threw the covers off and sat up. Less than half an hour later, he was up and drinking coffee, reading from a new laptop, and listening to Anthea’s voice as she caught him up. A special oversight committee had been convened for an emergency session that would happen in forty-five minutes. He would be there, he assured her. The paralysis was gone, at least. His voice was clear again, his hands steady. The floor still seemed to rock a little bit under his feet. Sea legs. No, that wasn’t quite right.

He smelled the sea again and, for a moment, felt the giddy wash of letting go the rope ladder, the unexpected jolt of the boat coming up on a swell to meet his feet. For all that he knew how terrible this plan of theirs was, he’d been having fun.

“Sir?” Anthea was saying. “Are you still there?”

“Yes, yes,” he answered. This could not stand. He couldn’t be seen to float off into a fugue state the way Sherlock did when the data was coming together in patterns. Unlike his brother’s bedazzled clients, hisemployers would bench him in a second if they thought he was becoming unstable. He was not planning on giving them that idea.

“Everything will be fine,” he told Anthea. “I have one small errand to accomplish but I’ll see you in,” he pretended to consult his timepiece, “fifteen minutes.”

“Thank you, Sir,” she said, and rang off.

Fifteen minutes. A perfectly adequate amount of time for him to streamline his story and consider word choice and tone of voice. He’d do it on the move, stopping only to pick up some cigarettes… and perhaps a bar of good chocolate as well.

It was purely weakness to indulge his own addictions, but he needed to be solid just now. Scaffolding was never pretty, but, if the masonry had crumbled, it was not only ugly, it was dangerous. To hell with vanity. He’d do what he had to do.

*

The special oversight committee was to meet in one of the smaller sub-basement conference rooms in the Cabinet Office in Whitehall. Mycroft arrived early and seated himself in the examinee’s chair. The room was cold, sound-baffled, low-lit. Relaxing, for certain values thereof. He tried orienting himself in the geography. Whitehall was his turf; the cabinet office, familiar ground. And his place here was assured. Presenting facts, or better yet, “facts,” was something at which he excelled. Would excel slightly more at if his brain would stop skidding off the rails.

Even this room—it was almost immediately parallel to the one in the Diogenes where, not so long ago, he and Sherlock discussed how they were going to deal with the Moriarty problem. Another fiasco. Like the mission before it and the one before that. A veritable string of near disasters—Magnusson. Bond Air. Irene Adler. He’d thought he’d been so very clever, the way he’d pulled each one out of its respective fire, worked it around, saved Sherlock from terrible fates.

He felt something cold slither down his spine. Euros trying not to laugh.

Had any of those been his own ideas? He hadn’t seen her hand in it at all. Why should he have? He’d clearly stopped factoring her into any real-world events once she was secure in Sherrinford—but was it really like him to be so careless? The data should have revealed her, if only as a singularity, reshaping space and time by her very existence.

Even if the data was incomplete, or corrupted—whether by human error or design, given the sheer volume of information he was able to process, it should have allowed him to sense her hand moving among the pieces. Unless, of course, it wasn’t the data that was corrupted…

His hand came up to cover his mouth, fingers icy against his lips.

Of all of them, he’d had the most exposure. Years and years of it. And he’d known even from childhood: Things she’d done. Things she’d known. His face flushed with remembered shame. She’d caught him at it one night in his room at Musgrave. Caught. Watched. He hadn’t known she was there until she’d started speaking, asking questions, and by then it was too late to stop. She’d wanted to see it again. He’d almost…

No. NO. That was ridiculous. She didn’t have magic powers, for God’s sake. She was just a very clever psychopath. A psychopath who’d taken over the very prison—

“Mycroft?”

Years of self-control kept him from jumping out of his skin. His flinch was physically minute, but it reverberated through him like a small tectonic shift.

Elizabeth Smallwood was gazing down at him, her hand resting weightless on his shoulder. It was another few careful breaths to stop himself from cringing away from it.

He wasn’t sure he recognized the expression on her face. Small smile, slight contraction of the procerus muscle, not enough to be a frown.

“All right?” she asked. “I heard you had quite the ordeal.”

“Oh?” he asked. “Who from?”

It was the wrong question. The wrong tone of voice. He sounded querulous. He watched all the little ripples of emotion flit across her face, was only grateful that she decided to share none of them with him. The squeeze of her hand on his shoulder was so very slight, he barely connected the sensation to the movement of small muscles in her forearm. He noted that her perfume had changed from Clair de Lune to something similar but more…green. Still Visconti though. Esprit Libre, perhaps — she’d have found the name pleasing now that Magnussen was dead. Citrus suited her, yes, but this — he recalled the scent, picked out the notes. Recalled the Clair de Lune from memory. There had been something cloying in it that he’d disliked. Some overbearing sweetness. Sandalwood perhaps, but there was no trace of that now. This had an an evergreen forest at its heart. Old, rich, almost honeyed — amber.

Fleur de Lis, if he recalled correctly. Fleur de Lis. Now what would be the resonance of that? As if he’d commanded it, doors begin slamming open in his mind palace: whole libraries of heraldry and history and hagiography, perfumery, botany, vexillology, semiotics — images spliced together and blurred like filmstrips pulled too fast through a projector. The information seemed significant, compelling. Enough so that he didn’t register that Elizabeth had moved away or that the rest of the committee had arrived until quiet settled around him. He looked up, tiny fleur-de-lis spilling off his shoulders like a shower of gold and red confetti, and wondered if someone had spoken his name.

The sense of expectancy in the room indicated that someone had. With effort, he pushed away the dazzling internal nexus of his thoughts and tried to focus in on the drab, grey box that was his report. Thinking about his words, the nuance of tone needed, two new libraries cropped up. He ignored them. Pulled his focus down and in.

In real time, it must have taken a whole second, maybe two. Long enough for even goldfish to notice. And these were people whose minds he actually respected, given their limitations.

Report, he told himself sternly. He pulled the first words out from under some tremendous weight.

And yet, once he had begun to speak, the words came easily. No effort needed to string the narrative together. It was mostly true, after all; he didn't even hide his own mis-steps, only angled them a little to better take the light.

They had questions, of course. Rough edges he’d left by design, for which his answers were already prepared. Clarifications, explanations, recommendations. Tedious but necessary, he’d found, for maintaining professional goodwill. But, through it all, he gained more than he gave. The one thing he needed to be sure of — his great omissive sin, so immense it shaped the very frame around it — remained unobserved.

When they were done, he felt a lightness touch him. His best result seemed to have been achieved. The committee was not exactly pleased, but ultimately they could only agree that he’d managed to contain the mess with minimal exposure, a result nobody else could likely have obtained. The tragic loss of lives was given lip service, his recommendations for new security protocols would be passed on to MI5, and in the meantime…

“What?” he blurted, so unexpected was the very idea. “I don’t take ’time off’.”

“Mycroft,” Sir Edwin said, with grating sympathy in his voice. “You most certainly have earned it. This last little barney with your sister — things like that take their toll. Not to mention that you’ve been working top of the game for a very long time. These last three years alone have been…” he trailed off, spreading his hands in a universal gesture.

Mycroft felt a livid rage bubbling up in his chest.

“Have been what?” he asked icily.

“Well, I would say…with the involvement of your brother, and now your sister…”

“Yes? What exactly would you say?”

“Mycroft,” Elizabeth cut in. “Nobody is impugning your judgement.” She looked quite pointedly at Sir Edwin for some purpose Mycroft was unsure of.

“Not in the least,” Sir Edwin said placatingly. “But…the stress…”

“Is my concern.” He was on his feet, not sure exactly when he had stood. “I’ll be taking this up at the highest level.” Sir Edwin made an unhappy grimace, and Mycroft suddenly realized. Of course, that’s where the order had come from. It almost cut his legs out from under him. He steadied himself against the table but did not sit.

“I see,” he said, tightly. “And for how long am I expected to…vacate?”

“Don’t be dramatic,” Sir Edwin said. “Three weeks. Rest, recover. Go up to Norway, see the Northern Lights…”

Sir Edwin’s lips continued moving, but Mycroft couldn’t hear him over the surging rage that filled his head with a kind of static. Blindly, he shoved his files in his briefcase, grabbed his coat and walked out the door. He hadn’t gotten ten strides down the long carpeted hallway when he heard someone exit the room after him.

“Mycroft, wait,” Elizabeth said, firmly. He took another step, then stopped, his hands curling into fists. He relaxed them forcibly, didn’t turn around.

“I told them it was a bad idea,” she said. “That you’d take it badly.”

“Very astute of you,” he said

“They wanted to send you through TRM.”

Trauma Risk Management: the very idea.

“I suppose I should be grateful.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” she said, without heat. “But, Mycroft, it comes from a place of genuine concern. Herself is quite fond of you, you know.”

Mycroft had no answer to that. He knew he was only proving their point for them, but he was well and truly gutted. It almost felt literal. He sensed that Elizabeth had come closer, the delicate citrus and pine scent intensifying. Any closer and it would be nauseating, but she stood pat. He waited another moment.

“If that’s all,” he said. “I have holiday fun to plan.”

“Just…keep that thought with you.” She said. He half-expected her to give his arm another squeeze, but thankfully she didn’t go that far. He nodded once, simply to acknowledge that he’d heard her, and continued walking down the hall to the lift.

*

The idea of returning to his violated and empty home seemed more horrifying than ever. But back at the Diogenes, all he did was smoke and fret.

He fretted about the meetings that would be cancelled, projects derailed. No, the free world wouldn’t actually collapse. Probably. But he knew for a fact that, in his own area, he was irreplaceable. There were situations — important ones — that would undoubtedly devolve or go sideways simply because he wasn’t there to mind them.

Sherlock was one of them. He’d been using his position to keep tabs on his brother for so long he hadn’t bothered to cultivate any outside networks in years. He supposed he could manage to get himself unsanctioned access to CCTV through any number of backdoors to the security system he’d noted during past forays, but the very thought exhausted him.

He left his smoky room only to purchase cigarettes or, if he were feeling strong enough, to take tea in the Grotto. But there he fretted more about his “time off.” For all that Elizabeth had said it was an act of kindness, the likelihood that it was an interdepartmental coup was not insignificant, and her internal network had never been the best. He could think of at least three people with a vested interest in having him out of the picture either temporarily or permanently. He’d been too distracted, obviously. The Euros situation, should anyone have become aware of it, would have been the time to act. Tea arrived while he was thinking about it. He drank it absently and just as absently ate all the biscuits that came with it. The empty plate disgusted him so much that he had to leave.

Reading the paper was torture. The radio was torture. The telly had always been torture, but it seemed more so now. He wished he could lose himself, even for a moment, in one of his films. He supposed he could arrange some kind of access, but he couldn’t bring himself to make the calls that it would require.

He went outside only when he ran out of cigarettes, walking through the chilly night until he found a corner shop. He bought the cigarettes and, on impulse, a package of Jammie Dodgers, which he dropped in the trash unopened on the way back.

Back in the room, he thought that, if the next three weeks were going to be like this, he was going to have to slit his wrists in the bath. The initial thought was wry, but the image that it threw across in his mind makes him queasy. All that blood.

Just like it had in the morning, something about the thought impelled his brain to explode with connections. Blood in all its myriad forms, every scraped knee, cut finger, mass grave, operating theatre he had ever seen. Sherlock’s blood by the gallon. The slashes of the governor’s blood dripping down the glass, the pattering of it audible in the silent, vibrating aftershock of the gunshot...

He found himself dry-heaving over the sink and wondering if he’d been drugged, even though he knew it wasn’t that. Eventually, the retching stopped. He rinsed out his mouth and staggered, still dizzy, to the bed, curled up on his side atop the covers. His throat was tight and there was a half-familiar ache in his sinuses, not quite pain.

Which one is pain? Adult Euros’s breath buzzed against his ear, while in his mind’s eye he saw her self-vivisected forearm: pink muscle, white tendon, yellow fat and blood dripping, sliding, pooling....

Eventually, sleep took him. He didn’t remember any of his dreams.

Prater stopped him the next morning as he passed the desk.

“Something arrived for you this morning, Mr. Holmes.” He handed over a small bubble-mailer decorated with cartoon-character stickers. As Mycroft took it, it began to vibrate.

“Been doing that every 15 minutes or so since it arrived.” The sight of the precise handwriting across the envelope enervated him instantly, as if a plug had been pulled.

Mycroft considered having the man simply throw the package in the trash, but he knew it would only engender another and another. Inescapable. He picked up the buzzing package with finger and thumb and returned to his room.

He cut the card-stock with a tiny blade that snicked out of his lighter and removed the cheap phone inside. It had stopped buzzing by then, so he placed it on the desk and waited. Within 15 minutes, it buzzed again.

“Having a nice lie-in this morning?” Sherlock’s voice at the other end was pitiless.

“I believe that is what vacation is traditionally for,” he answered.

“You don’t take vacations,” Sherlock said.

“Don’t I?” Mycroft replied, blandly. “Is there something I can do for you this morning?”

“In fact, there is not,” Sherlock said. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m having lunch with Mummy and Dad today.”

“Oh?”

“I’m going to tell them about Euros.”

For a moment, it felt as if the ground had rocked sharply under his feet, and he pressed his hand against the nearest wall to steady himself.

“You can’t,” he said, his mouth gone bone dry. Fear and fury warred in his roughened voice.

“Actually, you’ll find that I can,” Sherlock said, smugly. “Thought I’d give you a heads up because they’ll probably want to have a chat with you afterwards, and you seem to have misplaced your phone.”

“I’m serious, Sherlock.”

“So am I. Secrets were what brought us here. It has to end.”

“Have you given a single moment’s thought to how this will affect them? The pain of those missed years? The guilt?”

“Why would they feel guilty?” Sherlock said. “They didn’t lock her in an oubliette. You did.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sherlock. I was twelve. And I don’t remember them having a problem with your wiping her from your memory. Do you think I was the one who tore up all the old photographs? Do you think I forbade them from mentioning her name in your presence?” He winced. Sherlock did not need to know that.

Silence on the other end a few seconds too long. Mycroft wished, stopped himself from wishing.

“You sound a little worked up, brother mine,” Sherlock said after a while. “Has Lady Bracknell become Lady Macbeth at the last?”

Mycroft shoved down another wave of blood-related imagery and forced himself to think. Mitigate. Control the situation.

“All right,” he said, after a moment. “If you are determined.”

“I am.”

“Then don’t tell them at lunch, let them enjoy their fry-up. Come up to my office at the Diogenes afterwards and, if you still haven’t seen reason, we’ll tell them then.”

“Acceptable,” said Sherlock, and he rang off without goodbye.

Mycroft looked down at himself. He needed different clothes and a better shave and a manicure. They’d understand it had been a kindness, wouldn’t they? Of course they would. It was what they’d done for Sherlock, after all.

ii.

After the somewhat confusing meeting with Mycroft and their parents, Sherlock dropped by John’s flat.

He’d been staying in 221a while the structural repairs were going on, which was fine, but John’s flat was warmer and it had a sofa and Rosie in it which, as long as she wasn’t tantrumming, was better. The babbling from the living room indicated that today was a good day to visit.

“How did it go?” John asked.

Sherlock shrugged.

He wasn’t really sure how to classify it. At the time he’d arranged it all, his only thought had been Euros and how bringing her home meant, first of all, giving her back her family. When he thought of Mummy and Dad’s reactions, he supposed he expected something like the reactions of clients to whom he’d returned a kidnapped child or found an errant husband. At first, there’d be a certain amount of family drama: Mummy being cross with Mycroft, Dad trying to calm everybody down, Mycroft being condescending and sarcastic. But, in the end, he guessed he’d expected they’d be happy.

He hadn’t been prepared for…that. Raw emotion. Mummy had been so bitter, and he couldn’t remember ever seeing his father that deeply angry. If he had, he’d deleted it along with the rest, and good riddance.

He picked Rosie up out of her playpen and tucked her into his side, mirroring the expressions that passed over her face because he liked the way they felt on his own.

He wondered if he’d ever done that with Euros. No, he’d have been too young. Mycroft might have done, but he had no memory of Mycroft doing anything with Euros but watching her, the way one watched a spreading fire. John came back in with tea, and they sat.

“Do you think I’m the grown up?” Sherlock asked, after a while.

Thegrown up?” John looked dubious. “As in ‘of the family.’”

“I presume so.”

“Sherlock, I don’t think you’re a grown-up half the time.”

“Exactly,” Sherlock agreed. He took a sip of tea. Rosie banged her hands together in an attempt to grab the cup. He put it down, dipped his finger in the tea, and held it in front of her lips. Glanced up a moment later to see John giving him a meaningful look. He took his finger away from Rosie and sucked the tea off it himself.

“How exactly did that come up?” John asked.

Sherlock told him. Then he told him about the whole thing. When he got to the part where they yelled at Mycroft, John looked down and the corner of his mouth curled up.

“I would have paid money to see that,” he said. Sherlock grinned back automatically, but he remembered thinking at the time that it would have been better if Mycroft had sputtered in indignation or just looked arch like he often did when he thought people were wrong, instead of just… apologizing. He’d been surprised to learn that Euros wasn’t speaking to anyone, not since she’d spoken with him. He wasn’t certain what that signified as yet.

He remembered the feel of her in the circle of his arms: bird-boned and shivering. Lost over the North Atlantic. Deep water.

“Do you think they’ll be all right eventually?” John asked.

“Probably,” Sherlock said. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

The sketch of the music that had been playing in his head off and on came back. It was incomplete, just a phrase at this point, but it had good roots. “I have an idea.”

“Good,” John said.

Rosie made a complex and determined face, as if trying to bring the tea back by telekinesis. Sherlock tried to emulate it, but, without a mirror, he wasn’t sure he’d quite got it. A moment later, the scent of a full diaper wafted up from her. He handed her back to John.

“I have to go,” he said.

John and Rosie shared a look. John said, to an imaginary audience:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: The Grown Up.”

Sherlock just rolled his eyes and bounded off down the stairs.

The idea had actually crystallized while he wasn’t listening to Mummy go on. A little skirl of fast-bowed notes. Something that felt almost familiar, but wasn’t anything he’d heard before. It made him think of Euros.

He still felt a little bad about promising to bring her home. He hadn’t intended to lie, exactly. He’d even thought at the time that he could do it, but he’d been so very focused on John, and the terrifying thudding of the water in the mystery well at the time, that he supposed he hadn’t thought it through.

It was only after he’d gotten to lay hands on John — wet, cold, angry, but still alive John — and saw them taking a forlorn-looking Euros back into custody, that it struck him that he really couldn’t bring her literally anywhere outside of Sherrinford.

It was the kind of thing that, in the past, John would have insisted he examine. That he take into account the feelings of the other person, just as if they were as important as the case itself.

John hadn’t really done that in a while, though. Sherlock thought back. Janine had been the last time.

Sherlock, she loves you…

But he hadn’t really followed it up, had he? That wasn’t usual for John, and Sherlock wasn’t sure he liked it. He hadn’t seemed to care too much about Euros’s feelings either, but perhaps he wasn’t…supposed to?

At any rate, that had been ticking away in the background of his thoughts, and it was only when Mycroft told them that Euros wasn’t speaking now...

How odd that was. She’d wanted to talk to him so very badly. Talked and wept and crooned into his ear while he held her close, while he held on to John in his other ear. Her hands moved all over his back and neck and arms, like she couldn’t get enough of touching. He doubted he’d be allowed to hug her once she was back under lock and key, but he could still touch her.

Play you, she’d said. He could. He could play himself and he could play John, he could play their parents. People he knew and those he deduced, they could all be in the music. He could play the whole world for her, and she wouldn’t be so very alone anymore.

John would have to approve of that, wouldn’t he?

It is what it is.

He banished the annoying tautology. What he needed to do was get access to her at Sherrinford. Mycroft would resist that, of course. He was so possessive of her. Keeping her locked away in secret for all these years. Using her intellect to solve terrorist puzzles while he took the credit. Cutting her off from everyone, everything. Of course he was terrified of her.

Just the memory of Mycroft cowering and cringing in his own house at the very thought of her escape made Sherlock chuckle. It made him feel a little sick as well, though that made no sense.

Mycroft still wasn’t answering texts, and now calls were going to straight to voicemail. Perhaps a bit of a public fuss was in order.

He spent a few minutes going through waterlogged folders, looking for a contact number for Mycroft’s assistant, and eventually, out of desperation, stole it from John’s phone. He’d worked up a nice head of righteous indignation, but, when he called, the person who answered the phone was not Anthea, and whoever it was would only say that Mr. Holmes could not be reached, and did he want to leave a message.

“I’m his brother,” Sherlock said, expectantly.

“Ahh…” the assistant said, and put him on hold. Annoyed, Sherlock rang off and called back.

“Who is in charge of Sherrinford now,” he said, without preamble. There was a long pause that told him he wouldn’t get what he wanted this way, and he rang off again.

A few moments later, while he was contemplating the prospect of breaking in on Mycroft at the Diogenes Club, his phone rang.

“Sherlock, this is Edwin, Lord Gowan,” the caller said. “I am currently heading the Sherrinford Oversight Committee. I’m afraid Mycroft isn’t available at present.”

“Well, that’s cowardly of him,” Sherlock said. “But if you’re now in charge, I need access to my sister again.”

There was a long pause on the other end, the blankness that told Sherlock the mute had been engaged. Probably Mycroft was there, just hiding from him.

“All right.” Sir Edwin said, finally. “I’m listening. Tell me why I should?”

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Not that he found anything remotely pleasant about Sir Edwin, but at least his hold over Euros wasn’t personal.

Sherlock told him.

“Intriguing,” said Sir Edwin. “This musical therapy you’re proposing. How far do you think it could go?”

“You mean will it get you back your Terrorist Plot Detector?”

“Will it?”

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” Sherlock said.

“No, of course not,” Sir Edwin said. “Your motives are estimable. However, I think our immediate goals are the same. You wish to build a connection with your sister. We would be pleased if you succeeded.”

“I’m not going to mould her to your political needs,” Sherlock said.

“Not necessary,” he said. “My only concern is that the new security protocols be stringently followed. I’m sure you understand why.”

“Assuming they’re not idiotic,” said Sherlock.

“Well,” Sir Edwin said. “We’re only ordinary geniuses here. I’ll send over a copy, and you can give us your feedback.”

And that was that.

So much easier than dealing with his brother and yet, phone silent in his hand, he felt a wormy uneasiness. Something missed or missing. He reached for his violin out of habit, then smiled when he remembered that it wasn’t just *his* violin in the case. It was Euros’s Strad.

Play *you*.

Sherlock could almost hear her voice in his head. He picked up the instrument, and began to play, the music filling up any remaining pockets of doubt.

*

Sherlock jittered on the flight over the water to Sherrinford. The Strad felt like a tight-strung cat tucked next to him in the bucket seat. The music shivered in his chest and fingers like a trapped bird.

The protocols were tedious, every small step forward arrested and checked, over and over, but some of the guard staff were pleasant enough.

When he finally arrived at the ultra-secure cell, however, Euros was anything but. She gave him only her back, but he could feel her anger in the rigid set of her muscles.

Well, of course she was angry. He’d made promises and broken them, just like everyone had done before. He thought about trying to explain in words that he was new to this “caring” thing, how it had taken time, how things were complicated, but he had a feeling it would be useless. Words were made to lie with.

It was still a bit intimidating to take out the violin, tuck it under his chin.

Sherlock’s mouth was dry as salt as he plucked at the tuning. No reaction from Euros at the sound of it. Finally, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and then he played.

After a while, he had to look.

She hadn’t turned around, but he could tell she was listening. He played the whole thing through, watching the rise and fall of her shoulders as she breathed, the minute shaking of her pulse. He was close. He could do better.

He’d spent two weeks after that reworking the melody, expanding on the theme, but the second visit was no better. Another two weeks and, with the exception of a long sigh at the end, the result was the same.

“Don’t fret, Mr. Holmes,” said one of the control room guards who’d introduced himself as Kiefer (Mother: Irish, Father: American: single, straight, enjoyed sci-fi and indie music, had a feral cat from a previous girlfriend that he still hadn’t gotten over). They chatted as Sherlock waited for the helicopter to finish refuelling.

“She likes your playin’. She’s always in such a good mood afterwards.”

Sherlock let only a brief smile quirk his lips but, in truth, it made him feel better.

The fourth time he’d visited, she had picked up her bow and joined him. The relief was drenching. It slaked his thirst, fed his bottomless hunger. When the vibration of her playing merged into his, he felt like a mainsail set against a fast cold wind.

*

If John sensed this new elation, he didn’t question it. They were both trying so hard to build something out of the ruins of their friendship. It felt fragile to Sherlock, the glue unset, and yet it seemed the pieces still fit together. The way Rosie fit into the shelf of his hip. The way Mary’s words smoothed and sanded away the rough edges they’d left on each other.

They worked together on resurrecting 221b. He texted pictures of its former glory to his homeless network, and they straggled back with identical old lamps they’d rescued from the recycling and boxes of old books. The rugs all smelled of cat urine and the picture frames stunk of mould, but it was good. He sent the dirty things out to be cleaned and, without being asked, Bill Wiggins mixed up something that actually worked on cat urine. Gas fitters came.

John came. Without Rosamund between them, it was awkward. John was brittle as a glass bubble. When he caught Sherlock watching him, he’d force a smile and Sherlock would make one back like a reflex. It was as insubstantial as sunshine in winter, and Sherlock wondered how they used to do it. How they used to be easy together and right. Now he felt like everything he did with John was wrong, and yet he knew now he could never walk away.

He thought this was the thing that Mycroft had always tried to keep him from — not the distraction of caring or the way it made you weak or vulnerable, because it didn’t. Caring… no, It was love. Love made you invincible, capable of superheroic acts, sacrifice, bravery. Love made you strong enough to face your own death.

The price was heavy, though. He wasn’t sure exactly what love had cost him, but he’d paid for it at least in blood and tears. A fair deal, nevertheless. Thinking about it, it became a phrase of leitmotif that started out in a major scale and trickled down to minor 7th. He could see it winding through his and Euros’s duet and knew that, when he added it in, she’d know exactly what it meant.

Maybe she could explain it to him.

His phone buzzed, and he glanced at it. Incoming call, not text. But not Mycroft, which was annoying, because he could use a poke at Mycroft right about now. Usually his brother’s timing was exquisite. Instead, it was the floor people wanting to know if the underlay was dry. Sherlock instinctively held the phone out towards John, but John was looking at something in a pile of broken-looking trash. Sherlock snatched his hand back quickly. He’d learned that fobbing off tiresome chores to others was one of the things that was wrong now. Instead, he told the woman on the other end of the phone that he didn’t think so, she should call back in a week.

John looked up at him and smiled approvingly. Sherlock felt relieved. John would stay a bit longer.

*

John called for him and Sherlock went. John looked shocky as he held up the DVD from Mary. Sherlock sat beside him on the bed and they looked at one another.

Mary’s face on the tv screen, her smile, the curl of her hair — it hit Sherlock like a kick to the chest. He could smell the bergamot and sandalwood of her perfume. Her voice was an ache. He turned to John instinctively, but John was far away, and Sherlock wouldn’t break the moment. He turned back to the screen and felt so much love for her, he couldn’t breathe.

Afterwards, John poured them each a drink of whiskey.

“Are you all right?” Sherlock asked. “I mean did that..?”

“She’s always in my head,” John said into his glass. “I mean, I know it’s not real, but it’s comforting.” Sherlock nodded along. “But that…” John raised his glass to the tv screen where Mary’s face was frozen in a knowing half-smile.

“Mary wasn’t about comforting,” Sherlock said.

“No,” John replied and downed his drink and snapped off the telly. “How are the renos coming?”

Sherlock told him and they talked for a while, about the flat. About Rosie. They made plans for John to come by Baker Street the next day. They didn’t talk about the other things again, even though Sherlock had been thinking about telling John about the music off and on for days. Eventually, they ran out of unimportant things to talk about. Sherlock stood to go.

At the door, just across the threshold, as Sherlock was leaving, John said :

“I miss—” and Sherlock thought of Mary and said: “Me too” just as John finished “—us.” They stopped and looked at one another, looked down.

“I just…” John made an inarticulate gesture. Sherlock waited, but John didn’t elaborate and he didn’t know how to ask. The moment made Sherlock want to back away, lest in his clumsiness he broke something else irreplaceable. But John just stood there helplessly. Sherlock took a chance. He reached out and squeezed John’s arm. John smiled tentatively.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sherlock said . “We’ll get Baker Street put right.”

John nodded. Sherlock gave another squeeze, and then he had to go.

Walking through the chill afternoon, he felt another musical phrase unfold inside his head — this one green and fresh as the first tendrils of a vine. It wrote itself in bright major fifth flourishes in the third movement. They didn’t repeat, but they made the music feel warm.

*

He played the new additions on his eighth visit to Sherrinford. Played with his eyes closed, so as to make certain he got every nuance. He wanted her to see what he saw, know what he knew. With the last note still shivering in the air, he opened his eyes.

Euros was staring right at him, right into him. His pulse leapt in his throat, but he forced himself to hold her gaze, made himself open for her to read and know. It was important that she knew.

And she did. She knew so easily. He could tell she’d known it from the first moments. She had always known him. He had always been naked in front of her, but now he could feel it, like the sun on his skin. His breath hitched. She knew him and he made her happy.

(Micro-expression, his brain droned on in the background. Her face was as blank as when he came in, as blank as it was when she wore Faith’s face, the face of the little girl on the beach, the voice of the other little girl in the falling plane.)

But now, oh now, he could see it.

It wasn’t all of her, of course. There was so much more there. Her mind would fill more than a palace. Maybe a city. Maybe an incandescent world.

(a big enough hard drive…)

And this? This was an invitation. She would let him in. With all his strength, all his weakness; the secrets and mistakes. What he’d felt, in the damp smoke smell of Musgrave’s ruin, they could be closer than skin on skin. All he had to do was let himself fall.

He shivered.

“I can’t,” he said. It came out rough, too low.

I’ll disappear, he didn’t say.

He’d disappeared before, submerged himself in work and drugs and in his own ghostly afterlife. He wasn’t even sure he’d come all the way back from the last one. From any of them. He couldn’t do it again. Not to John.

(But was John even really there now?)

Euros started to turn away. He caught only a flicker of expression on her face.

...ordinary, just like all of them... The light faded.

“No, wait,” he said sharply. She stilled. He thought about John, shut away inside his anger and his pain, of Irene, brave in her armour and so very far away. Of everyone he knew, locked inside their skins, sending encrypted messages through words and coded looks and pressing as close as skin would allow before running as far away as possible.

He was so very tired of being alone.

He looked up to meet her gaze and found it full of compassion, the glitter of unshed tears in her lashes. She knew. How had he thought she wouldn’t? She’d been alone more than anyone he’d ever met. Of course she understood how terrifying it was to reach out and take the hand that was offered. She was just as frightened offering it for him to take.

But there she was, alone and scared and so much braver than he. Her gift of herself was all she had and all she had to give, but there she was, offering.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and let himself fall.

Euros smiled him then, a real smile, shy like Faith’s and all for him. Then she tucked her violin into her shoulder and began to play something new.

*

Sherlock’s brain felt packed full. Sitting in his refurbished chair in refurbished 221B, he had this sense that the formerly empty spaces in his head — the vaulted caverns that gave his mind room for wild parabolae of deductive reasoning, the hollow chambers of nothingness that threatened to fill with horror — had all been filled up instead with dusty sunshine, music, and the pleasant minutiae of human interaction.

He always seemed to know, for instance, who was in the room with him, what they were doing, saying, wearing. How they looked, sounded, smelled.

Not everyone, of course, but his circle, his… family. John, for example, at this very moment, wearing an oatmeal jumper, not washed in the last two days, on his knees navigating a squadron of Sopwith Mushy Peas into the Aerodrome of Rosie’s mouth, and Mrs. Hudson, downstairs, on the phone, cup of suspect tea at her hand, wearing skirts, smelling of patchouli. Lestrade, when he was about, Molly (tender as a deep blue bruise but miraculously still in their lives) and Rosie most of all, not because he loved her best, John’s words, but because… and here he grimaced because all the other reasons he could think of infuriatingly seemed to mean “because he loved her best.”

The feeling was less immediate with “family” family, he supposed, because he’d always been aware of them in that way. Mummy and Dad out of necessity, Mycroft because he’d never allowed himself to be ignored — but the intimate knowing of them lacked the warm curl of pleasure he took from knowing the others.

Euros was something altogether different. Incandescent, Mycroft had said, and Sherlock couldn’t disagree. She too was impossible to ignore, but not because of anything but her nature. She was a hot flare on a camera lens, a flash of something burnt upon the retina, too bright to look at directly. It was as if Euros were a tesseract, a blur in places where her extra dimension poked into the human world.

And she was here with him now, always, running through his veins like blood, through his head like a melody line that he never tired of hearing. She’d moved into his mind palace, too. He’d find her unexpectedly everywhere, in rooms kept locked for ages, or sitting in a balcony above his stage and watching. It was terrifying and thrilling to be known. Always known.

And yet. And yet.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t think. He was at the top of his deduction game. Secretly, he thought that short hop he’d taken back into the clear-cut madness of heroin and cocaine and methamphetamine had, combined with his burgeoning emotionalism, kicked him into higher gear. He’d never tell John, but he was considering how he might make further, more controlled, experiment of this. Perhaps when Rosie was older and didn’t need so much constant attention.

It was just… He picked up his violin, put it to his shoulder, fingered the frets. He’d been trying to compose something new, something to challenge Euros that was still within his range of skill. He played a bit of it, the part that was working. He’d had a vague idea of “three” — two parts for Euros, to be played simultaneously with him taking the third, but this had happened instead and he couldn’t quite merge the ideas.

“Sherlock!” John said, loudly and impatiently enough that Sherlock guessed he’d been saying it for a while.

“What?”

“What’s that you’re playing?” John was trying to wipe smears of green off Rosie’s face with a damp flannel while Rosie grabbed at the flannel and applied pea mush everywhere else.

“It’s nothing yet,” Sherlock said, fascinated. Deducing babies wasn’t anything he’d ever thought he’d do. Also, it was impossible.

“Is it something for…for Euros?” John went on. He always sounded strangely shy when he said her name.

“Mm,” Sherlock said.

John nodded. “I’d love to hear you two play together sometime.”

“Would you?” Sherlock frowned. The very thought of John in the cell with them made him feel uneasy. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” John said. “It’s a thing friends do. Take an interest in each other’s lives.”

“Ahh,” Sherlock said, relaxing a little. “Not necessary.”

“I know it’s not necessary,” John sounded faintly annoyed. “It just…the music is pretty. I like it. Rosie likes it.” Sherlock looked more closely at Rosie. She was still trying to grab the flannel, now forgotten in John’s hand. He played the bit of Euros’s second part he’d been working on. Rosie laughed her quick, raspy baby laugh and then mouthed a tiny lump of peas that remained on her fist.

Inconclusive.

Sherlock shrugged. “It hasn’t gelled yet anyway. Might come to nothing.”

John sat Rosie on the carpet and stood, inspecting himself for peas.

“You know who should see the two of you play,” John said. “Your mum and dad.”

Sherlock considered the idea. That might make up for a few of those missing years. Mycroft should come too. Let him see what a little humanity could accomplish. He could include them all in the piece. Little bright points of each of them. Not Rosie, though. She was too young to see the inside of Sherrinford.

“That’s actually not an entirely terrible idea, John.”

John made that face that looked like he was peeved, but really meant that he found Sherlock charming.

Sherlock was already texting Mycroft’s number. Still no reply That was 30 texts unanswered. Still sulking, he thought, but it didn’t feel as certain as it had the last 29 times he’d thought it. Maybe he’d drop by Lestrade’s later. He put his phone back in his pocket and went to pick up the instrument again, then changed his mind. He wasn’t going to get any farther with it today, anyway.

And how could he, with Rosie in pink pull-ups and a black anarchist A t-shirt, smacking her lips and making pea-muted, A-flat chirps of discovery and delight not five feet away? Sherlock rolled his eyes and put the bow away, resigned but not unhappy. There’d be no work done on the new piece while Rosamund Mary Watson was on the throne. Her most loyal and devoted subject blew an enormous raspberry, and, when she laughed, all other thoughts were banished.

*

“You should take a break sometime and walk down the north end of the island, “ Sherlock said. He hadn’t been there himself, but he’d seen the beaches under the cliffs as they banked.

The helicopter pilot’s name was Barry. He was thirty-two, gay, no one special in his life right now, partly because of the job, which he admitted to, and partly because, who did he need besides his Mum? — which he most certainly would not. Barry hated complications. He loved flying helicopters, deep diving, and anything that involved speed, risk, and salt water. He learned to fly when he was 18, got his helicopter pilot license when he was 20, and joined the Coast Guard when he was 22. He’d only been doing the Sherrinford route since the week before Sherlock started visiting. He’d never set foot in the prison and had no interest in doing so.

And the hilarious thing was that Sherlock knew all of this, not because he’d ever bothered to observe Barry in anything more than a cursory way, but because Barry’d had three hours once every two weeks to chat him up.

Actually, the really hilarious thing was that Sherlock didn’t particularly mind. It was soothing in its own way. The tinny peeping of Barry’s voice under the roar of the rotors gave him something to anchor himself, so he didn’t fall too deeply into his thoughts. Staying alert was essential. Especially today.

Euros was already stony-faced when he arrived. He’d broached the idea of a recital on his previous visit but one. The same visit where he’d brought her the new piece. She’d liked the music, but when he’d told her about John’s idea, she’d stopped playing, put her violin and bow down on the floor, and walked away from him. Last visit, he’d played the new piece for her all the way through twice before she’d consented to pick up her bow. He hadn’t dared bring it up that time.

But then there had been a not at all casual phone call (phone call — why was the whole secret service trapped somewhere in the twentieth century?) from Sir Edwin.

“Just looking for a quick update,” Sir Edwin had said. “The new governor said you’ve been playing up a storm together. Has she spoken?”

“I didn’t realize I was working for MI5 now. Or is it MI6? Do I get to carry a gun?”

Sir Edwin had taken his meaning gracefully enough, but the threat was in the air now. He had to push.

The minute she saw him, she turned her back and walked to the far end of the cell, so he had to resort to words.

“Euros,” he said. “I know you don’t like the idea, but just hear me out.”

There was no response, but he could tell she was listening.

“You know they won’t just let me keep coming here indefinitely,” he’d said. “They wouldn’t have let me come at all if they didn’t want results. I mean, fuck the results, I’m not Mycroft. I’m never going to ask, you know that. This isn’t about them. But…look at the other side of it. Don’t you want Mum and Dad to see who you really are now? To show big brother what he missed all those years? I know how much family means to you.”

Euros made a dismissive gesture with her head.

“Of course they didn’t abandon you,” he’d said. “If they’d known…If *I’d* known. Euros, would I be here now if I didn’t care?”

He’d waited, hoping, but she still hadn’t moved.

“It wouldn’t just be you they’d see. They’d see me too. They’d see *us*.”

She turned her head to look back over her shoulder, a question.

“All of them. The family. Mummy, father, Mycroft…”

Raised eyebrows, expectant look.

“I don’t know about John,” he’d said. “He has R—” he’d started to say “Rosie,” but changed it at the last second to “responsibilities.”

Petulant frown.

“I’ll try,” he said. “But for now, at least this. Just to stop them whinging. You know we’re ready.”

She had rolled her head on her neck, rolled her shoulders one by one.

“They’ll see how beautiful, and how strong…” he’d said, knowing she knew it was flattery and that it was true. “So could we? Euros? Please?”

He’d seen the assent in the way she let go of the tension. The way she turned around and nearly skipped back toward him. Happy.

This time, they played the whole piece through, with Euros playing both her parts. It sounded exquisite in her hands, and Sherlock almost forgot how to breathe.

Getting onto the helicopter in the afternoon, Barry greeted him effusively. He’d had an “awesome” walk on the beach. He grinned at Sherlock as if he’d had a revelation. Sherlock, who was still euphoric from the music, grinned back.

iii.

After three weeks of “vacation,” Mycroft returned to work refreshed, unbowed, and unburdened by humility.

That performance lasted until he was in his own office slumped back against the closed door. He could only hope that practice would make it less exhausting. He forced himself not to think about Euros or Sherlock or Sherrinford.

Instead, he immersed himself in the piles of work, both digital and analog, that had accumulated in his absence.

At least he tried.

Flow eluded him. Noise distracted him. Quietdistracted him. Worrying about being distracted distracted him most of all. He slogged his way through the pile, feeling like he was going at it with pick and shovel.

He wanted very much to see this as nothing more than sleep deprivation and, perhaps, stress. He’d been taking poorer care of his health than usual, drinking a bit more, resuming his pack-a-day cigarette habit. Relying on caffeine and sugar to keep his energy up. None of it was conducive to the zen-like calm he usually associated with his work. But secretly he feared otherwise.

Since he’d realized that she had affected him, he could almost feel Eurus moving around in his head, running her fingers over his well-kept mental filing, moving things around when he wasn’t looking. It filled him with self-loathing and a kind of visceral horror of his own befouled brain.

Then there were the infuriatingly regular texts from Sherlock, which kept his phone buzzing like an angry bee in his pocket. He didn’t read them. Elizabeth would tell him if anything went awry at Sherrinford, and he found that, at the moment, he was a bit prickly where family was concerned.

The meeting with his parents had been…

He might have said “painful,” but what he had felt was more akin to numbness than to pain. He supposed that, in a way, it had been revelatory. Personal truths were occasionally hard to face, but good data was good data: therefore, it was good to know, to truly know, where one stood in the family hierarchy. Or, in his case, just outside of it.

That didn’t make it pleasant, however, and the unpleasantness created a barrier to the necessary incorporation of the data. And that was why, he would tell Sherlock, were he ever inclined to speak to him again, emotions were the enemy.

In truth, he was getting little done. He found himself unable to focus, forgetful, bleary-eyed. Shackled to his own body, unable to escape its demands. His head felt as if it were encircled by band of thick iron that made it slow and heavy work to lift it, to read, to look around. His temples throbbed all the time. His gut burned, his mouth tasted bitter and foul.

Sometimes he drifted, forgot he was not in Sherrinford anymore, and simply sat, waiting for a grim judgment to fall. Then, some sound would stir him, and he’d find himself alone in his own office, stunned and blinking, wondering for a too long instant whether thiswas the dream, and the other, the reality.

He spent two weeks in this miserable state, slinking between work and the Diogenes, avoiding all human interaction. It might conceivably have continued on this way indefinitely if Anthea hadn’t intercepted a memo from Sir Edwin to the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and slipped it into his inbox.

He read it, a growing sense of icy horror trickling through his tissues. A wave of unreality so strong he had the bizarre thought that the paper had been impregnated with some kind of hallucinogen.

He dropped it, face down, on the desk and rubbed his palms on his thighs, then flipped it over with the point of a pen and read it again.

“…to allow this exploratory meeting… still unable to communicate via… potential for music as a therapeutic intervention…Sherlock…”

It couldn’t possibly be real. Surely they weren’t giving Euros access to Sherlock again. Even if Sherlock had instigated the meeting, as the memo claimed. Even with his enormous ego, he had to realize that Mycroft had made the best, most secure arrangement possible with Euros, and that, even then, the results had been disastrous.

But there it was. He had. Replaced Mycroft with Sherlock, who he seemed to believe had convinced Euros to meekly surrender herself to custody. Replaced Mycroft’s injunction against any personal contact with a series of double- and triple-checked steps which would have worked a charm to secure any other prisoner who couldn’t simply convince people to let her go. And, worse, he’d replaced minimal reward for information with access to the one person with whom she wanted to commune above all others.

Anger had replaced the horror. Without thinking about it he pulled his phone out and dialled. He was only a little surprised to be connected instantly and directly to Edwin.

“Calm yourself, Mycroft,” Edwin said. “Are you sure you’re quite all right?”

“No, Edwin,” Mycroft said. “You are about to willfully recreate a disaster, my disaster, as you were so gracious as to point out once. I am not all right.”

There was a longish silence on the other end, and Mycroft could almost hear the machinations in Edwin’s head.

“Look, Holmes,” Edwin said, finally. “I’m not unsympathetic to your concerns, but this overt interference will not be tolerated. I’m warning you.”

Mycroft covered his eyes with his free hand. What was he doing? Edwin was right, of course. One couldn’t be overt from a position of weakness. He stood on shaky legs and walked around to the other side of his desk, trying to calm his breathing. Damn it. Where had his equanimity gone? Or at very least the ability to fake it.

“I’m…I apologize,” he said, biting down on the anger and adopting a contrite tone. “As you know, I’ve been under some stress.”

“Yes, you have,” Edwin replied. “And look, in this case, it came to nothing in the end. We were weighing our options, vis a vis your sister’s remarkable predictive skills in the face of this sudden apparent catatonia. Your brother called me with this, I’ll admit, rather hare-brained idea of musical therapy. I wasn’t overly optimistic, but we had nothing else and, risk to benefit, it seemed worth a try.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “Of course it would.”

“Your brother was flown to Sherrinford, put through the visitor protocols, played the violin to the prisoner’s back for an hour, packed up, and flew home. There was no measurable change in the prisoner’s behaviour afterwards, for good or ill. We allowed two more attempts, with the same result and so…” The shrug was almost audible.

“My brother agreed to let it go?”

“I rather doubt it,” Edwin said. “But…”

“And you’re positive there was no response from Euros?”

“As much as one can be,” Edwin sighed. “You can look at the footage of the three visits yourself if you like.”

“I would like to, yes,” Mycroft said.

“Fine, I’ll have it sent over, but, look, Mycroft, this has to be the end of it. There is already too much talk about your…about this kind of behaviour. You know it would devastate the organization if it was thought you couldn’t be relied upon. I’m a competitive bastard, but you know how highly I respect your work.”

“Yes, of course,” Mycroft said, absently. His head was buzzing. Sherlock had been back. He’d visited Euros. Her fondest wish, the one he never would have granted. And nothing?

No way to know. He’d watch the footage, of course, but it wouldn’t tell him anything she didn’t want him to know.

Whatever damage she’d done to Sherlock was done. The truth of his situation had finally sunk in.

There was nothing he could say, there was nothing he could do. Euros had run rings around his best efforts. His *best*. Not because the efforts weren’t good enough, but because he wasn’t.

Limited. Well of course Mummy had been angry, he’d even understood that some of the harshness she’d thrown at him had come from her grief, her own sense of failure, when it came to Euros. At least he hoped…well, no, No, he didn’t. It would be foolish to presume.

Whether she was willing or not, some things could not be forgiven.

The irony was that she probably didn’t even realize how right she was.

For many years, there had been a trend towards denigrating the concept of intelligence as being the expression of one’s knowledge of the world and the ability to codify and use this knowledge. Nowadays, to be considered intelligent, one needed to be more than exceptionally knowledgeable about the material world, one needed also to be experientially prodigious and emotionally adept. Moreover, it was felt that a purely intellectual intelligence was sterile and innately flawed.

He had never been convinced that this argument was anything more than a slightly more organized form of anti-intellectualism. The exaltation of the common man. His own experience had shown him that sufficiently wide-ranging knowledge was equivalent to the widest range of human emotion and experience, given that the source of same—--the “human” itself—was inherently limited.

But, by his own hypothesis, Euros did not necessarily have any flaws in her mental processes, since there was theoretically no upper limit (or that her upper limit was so much beyond even his own that it might as well be infinite) to how much she could know about everything.

He, on the other hand…

Are you going to cry? I can help you cry.

He made it back to the desk before his knees buckled. Carefully, he tore up the memo and tossed the pieces away.

He opened the next folder in the pile and stared at the first page. He had no idea what he'd wanted it for. It was more than not being able to call the memory up. Obviously, it must relate to something he’d been working on, but reading it rang no mental bells, and no amount of the mechanical drudgery of moving abstracts around in his head opened a single data stream.

He stared at it blankly, waiting, he eventually realized, for his brain to do what his brain usually did. That he’d only realized what he was waiting for by its absence was appalling. The text remained simply words on a page representing ideas. The ideas remained sequestered in his consciousness. The words, the letters, black marks on the page still coalesced into thoughts — he hadn’t lost the ability to read, or to understand a wide variety of highly complex concepts. He could still observe, deduce, make connections on a mundane level.

He just couldn't think.

That was what wasn't happening. Hadn't been happening for too long a while.

Of course, it wasn't just thinking. That he could do, although it was glacial and confusing to put information together that way. The thing that made him “remarkable” and “irreplaceable” as an analyst wasn't just thinking. It was more like a mental “jet stream” somewhere above or around more ordinary brain processes, where accumulated data was never lost, never shelved, and never stopped being processed. Put new data in, and it was immediately incorporated into the flow.

Only now, it wasn’t.

The folder before him should have required no mental effort beyond taking the information in, to launch into the analyses where it would fill in gaps, or replace placeholders, or blossom into branching connections that he didn’t have to follow to understand.

He suddenly had no idea what he even meant by all that. It was gone.

He closed the folder and rested his fingers lightly upon it. He was horribly aware of the sounds from inside his skull: of his own breathing, short, harsh pants that seemed to contain no oxygen, the high pitched whine of tinnitus, a remnant of being in that small, airtight room when the gun went off. He’d managed to edit it from his awareness for the most part, but, of course, it was nerve damage, and most likely permanent. With nothing much else in his head to distract him, it felt almost cutting, a garroter’s wire pulled through the matter of his brain.

But...how?

Euros gave him a cheeky wink.

Not possible.

The memory of the warm cell floor beneath his back seemed to indicate otherwise.

He briefly allowed himself the indulgence of considering suicide. Non-existence sounded so… restful.

But the doing of it. There was no option that did not create a spectacle of one sort or another — a body, a mess on the carpet, a funeral…and, unlike Sherlock, he had no desire to leave a lingering impression. He shuddered internally. No.

Not to mention that being unable to think didn’t excuse him from his responsibilities, any more than would going blind or deaf. Especially now, with what he could no longer doubt was his own taint of corruption. And, oh, how it horrified him to think he’d let Euros’s hand slip into his *work*. Nearly thirty years in Her Majesty’s service meant far too much potential damage had been done for him to simply walk away. Picking out the stitches of his life’s work would be just, if inadequate, punishment for his hubris, but he could count on his peers to fill in the gap. Public excoriation, private contempt, or worse: they could simply ghost him.

They’d have to put him in Sherrinford.

He could feel Euros’s cheshire cat smile open up against the back of his neck.

He’d be captive audience to Sherlock’s emotional dismantlement, and his resurrection as her creature.

His next breath caught in his throat, the sound it made, raw and helpless. He covered his mouth with both hands to stop it happening again.

That could not be allowed. But what then? Continue on, and let himself be her tool for ever more depraved machinations? Run, and never know if it wasn’t Euros’s plan for him to run in the first place? Take responsibility and be damned?

Oh, she had flanked him beautifully. Of course, what else did she have to think about for thirty years? Or, really, who else? Had she not been securely contained in Sherrinford, the world would have been her playground, the people in it just collateral damage, but, as it was, her world consisted of only two others, himself and Sherlock.

She’d wanted Sherlock. He’d given her Moriarty.

He let his head slump forward against his hands, until his eyes were covered as well. Uncle Rudy would have known what to do. Well, no. No, he wouldn’t have, or Mycroft would not be here, playing out a wretched endgame in a hopeless attempt to save his knight.

It still would have been nice to have an adjunct opinion.

He dropped his hands, finally, breathed cautiously.

That wasn’t, in fact, a terrible idea. It wouldn’t have to be someone the mental calibre of himself or Sherlock, just someone with a basic knowledge of the kind of work he did, with whom he had neither quarrel nor strong alliance.

The list was not long. In fact it contained one name only. Two, if one counted the alias she occasionally used for non-work-related occasions.

He took out his phone, and tapped an icon on the screen.

“Anthea,” he said, in a voice that was admirably strong and level. “Clear my afternoon, would you please? And see if Lady Smallwood is free.”

*

An hour later he was seated across from his female colleague in a small, windowless room in the Diogenes.

“You do realize,” Elizabeth was saying. “That I had something quite different in mind when I accepted your offer to make things up to me.”

“Yet this was far more in character for me,” he said, with a wry twist of his lips. “Don’t you think?”

She gave a little laugh of agreement.

“So it is,” she said. “Now, please, tell me what we’re doing here.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “The business at hand.” He had to drop his gaze.. “The fact is…” He took a calming breath and forced himself to meet her eyes. “The fact is, I think I have been compromised.”

Elizabeth’s expression didn’t change, even minutely. Mycroft had to admire that. After a moment she said :

“You think…”

“If I knew for certain I would have called Protocol 19.”

“Of course you would have,” she said, but without rancour. “And you’d like me to interrogate you and give you my expert assessment.”

It wasn’t a question, and he was pleased that he’d chosen her. He nodded.

“This has to do with what happened at Sherrinford?”

“In part, but I believe it may have begun some time before that.”

“How much time?” A lifetime, he thought , but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. It sounded so… foolish. “Before you joined the civil service?” He looked down at his hands. Had her plan been that extensive?

“Euros is your sister, correct?”

“Yes. She is the youngest Holmes sibling. I am the eldest.”

“And when did you become aware that she was prodigious at manipulating people?” He thought about Victor Trevor quietly drowning in the cistern that apparently everyone had forgotten existed. Had it really happened that way? It sounded as sloppy as one of Sherlock’s premature ejaculations of “the Truth.” He felt suddenly mortified, laid bare, and it paralyzed him. Had she done this too? Silenced him?

Love is a kill shot, Euros whispered. Hate is a hungry little worm that eats your brain.

He shuddered at the image, at the remembered feel of her weight on him, her breath in his ear.

“Mycroft?” Elizabeth’s voice sounded far away. He closed his eyes.

“This is rather more difficult than I’d anticipated,” he said.

“I can see that,” Elizabeth said . “I think a change of venue—“

“No!” It came out shockingly loud, so he tempered it. “I mean, it’s not...not necessary.”

“Well,” said Elizabeth, getting to her feet. “You’re not in charge of this investigation. I am.”

*

Mycroft seated himself cautiously in the firm, but comfortable, embrace of the wingback chair. Lady Smallwood’s townhouse in central London was decorated in modern classic, and gave an impression of stylish intimacy. Warm light pooled pleasantly around the gas fireplace.

“You do realize how obvious this is,” he said, reluctantly accepting the heavy, cut crystal tumbler of whiskey she handed him.

“Is it?” she said, unperturbed. She had a glass of her own. She seated herself on the sofa angled towards him and tucked one stockinged leg under her.

“Have you ever known me to relax and let my guard down in a social situation?”

“I have never known you to do either of those things, ever, Mycroft,” she said. “And this isn’t a social situation.”

“What, then?”

She raised her glass.

“Enhanced interrogation technique,” she said. Mycroft allowed himself a roll of the eyes and lifted his glass to her in a sardonic toast. They sipped. The whiskey was very good.

“Now,” she said. “Tell me about Euros.”

It was much easier to do that than to talk about his own failings, and yet he felt a niggling sense of impatience. Time was of the essence! Only it wasn’t, really. However long it took to uncover whatever wrongs he’d done, it would be months uncovering it, maybe years setting it right if it could be done at all. If he thought about it, the weight of it threatened to crush him into silence.

So he played along with her, speaking of his family’s darkest secrets as if they were merely background intelligence for an operation. He told her all he knew about Euros, her strangeness, her brilliance. His growing uneasiness at all the little cruelties and the way she seemed, unlike him and Sherlock, to actually lack human feelings.

“‘Antarctica’,” Elizabeth mused. “You admired that quality,”

“I most certainly learned its value,” Mycroft said. “Although I could only hope to emulate it.”

“Was she able to manipulate you back then?” He thought about it. He’d told his parents about his concerns then — how she’d pinch Sherlock until he bruised, put gravel in his porridge. Even when they dismissed them as simply childish brattiness, he’d come back with evidence. Even after he’d begun to fear her, he still feared for Sherlock more. Even after that night when she’d…caught him, hinted at things, terrible lies she might tell their parents, that didn’t change. Nothing she ever said or did made him stop trying to protect Sherlock.

He kept all this to himself but said, “No more than any other little bully.”

Elizabeth poured them each another two fingers of whiskey. Mycroft didn’t even pretend to demur.

They moved on. She knew what his post-Sherrinford report told of Redbeard, the disappearance of Victor Trevor, and the fire that took Musgrave. He filled in the details of what happened after the fire, after the police investigation. They’d been put up in a local hotel. Mother and father sharing one bed, Sherlock and Euros the other, and a cot for him. He told her how Uncle Rudy came one night in a black car with two other strangers and how his father had taken everyone but Mummy and Euros to dinner, and how, when they came back, Euros was gone.

He stopped for a moment then, his chest filling with that strange emptiness. The knowledge that everything was gone now — Victor and the house, their things, the simple happiness that had once been Sherlock’s gift to share, and it hadn’t mattered how much one cared about any of it.

All lives end, he’d told Sherlock. All hearts are broken.

Euros popped up in his mind, but apparently she had nothing to add. Elizabeth stretched, excused herself. Mycroft covered his face with his hands, felt dampness in his eyelashes and brushed it carefully away.

Elizabeth returned not long after with a tray on which were crackers, cheese, and olives. Mycroft was suddenly ravenous. He ate some of the cheese, a cracker, a few olives, but didn’t dare fill up. Queasiness lay just across that line.

He told her of Billingham Forensic Psychiatric Hospital where Uncle Rudy - yes, that was Rudolph Madsen, former medical-intelligence director for MI5 - had had her sectioned.

Mycroft’s parents had brought him along with them exactly three times and had spent most of their visits consulting with the doctors. Mycroft had nothing to do but sit in the visitor’s room with Euros. He remembered the way she had stared at him - a bone-thin creature with an institutional buzzcut and a calculating glitter in her eyes. Most of what she said during those visits, when she spoke at all, was nonsense. Phrases. Word salad, the professionals called it. But sometimes…

“Sherlock,” she’d said once. It felt like a demand.

“No,” he’d replied, and when she said it again, more firmly, he’d answered, “Never.”

She’d laughed.

Once she’d glided her hand through the air like a plane, blowing out a breathy whine as she snaked it around his head and shoulders.

“What?” he’d asked, flatly, finally, annoyed.

“I’m the East Wind,” she’d said. “I’m going to get you.” Over and over, until he’d had enough.

“Stop it,” he’d said.

“I’ll stop when I’m ready,” she said. “Then…” And then she’d grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked. Orderlies had run over, but she’d let go by the time they got there. She’d gone with them easily, looking at Mycroft over her shoulder, all eyes.

“And this was when you say that Sherlock rewrote his memories.”

“Yes, it started then.”

“But…how was that possible?”

“Elizabeth, I truly don’t wish to be insulting, but I suspect the technique is beyond your understanding.”

“No, what I mean is — weren’t there reminders of your sister in the house? Family photographs? Mementos? Her room?”

“No, of course not,” he said. “They thought she was dead. It was too hard.”

“But Sherlock erased her before they thought she was dead. You were still going off to visit her.”

“Oh, Sherlock never went. That would have undone him. Deleting her was the best thing he could have done.”

“I’m still not clear on the mechanics of this,” Elizabeth said. “When the family spoke of the past…”

“We didn’t,” he said, anger bubbling up. He remembered suddenly an afternoon at the new house, boxes left packed. He’d looked for Euros in just that way, but the photos and home movies were already gone, and the past rewritten—for all of them, it seemed, but him. When he’d asked, his father had said,

“Just leave it, Myke. You know how it upsets Mummy. And Sherlock is finally coming out of his shell. It’s better that we leave your sister in the past, do you understand?

“Yes, Sir,” he’d said, but, really, he didn’t. The idea of re-imagining the past on the scale of an entire person seemed dangerous. He’d found a cracked camcorder cassette at the bottom of his own boxes when he moved out. He’d had it transferred to digital. He’d watched it a few times, remembered that day on the beach, before Victor’s disappearance, but he’d never intended it to be seen by anyone else. By then, of course, he’d known how very real the danger was.

“Obviously, Sherlock ferreted it out for his little prank but I don’t know that he made the connection,” he said. “Certainly once we’d thought she was dead, she’d ceased to exist in anyone’s public reminiscences.”

In fact, by the time Euros ghosted into Sherrinford, she’d already been something worse than dead to her own family for years. It was as if she’d never existed at all. The knowledge felt significant somehow — why *hadn’t* he remembered that? But the thought went nowhere, connected to nothing in his disconnected brain.

And of course, after that, there’d been the other fire. The one Euros had supposedly died in. He’d been so relieved. He had still been young enough to feel bad about that. Later, he felt worse about the twenty-one staff and patients who had actually died.

“When did you find out she still lived?”

“On my eighteenth birthday,” Mycroft said. “I’d already been recruited by then and had, apparently, the minimum necessary clearance to learn about Sherrinford. Uncle Rudy had kept her ghosted there all that time. When he died, her handling came to me.”

This time he held out his glass for more whiskey. If there ever was a time to permit himself the indiscretion, it was now.

“Why ghost her?” Elizabeth asked, pouring. Mycroft made a face at the flash of recent memory the question brought. He looked down at the whiskey. Appreciated its smooth surface. The craftsmanship good whiskey required. The investment of time. The history of its casks. He turned the glass in his hand and downed half of it. Smooth as liquid amber.

“His explanatory letter suggested that he had been hoping to make use of her extraordinary intellect,” he said finally. “And I had always thought…” He looked at the whiskey again, the fluid dynamics and surface tension giving it the appealing velvet appearance. He looked up to see Elizabeth watching him.

“You’re not recording this,” he said, surprised that he’d not realized it before.

“No. If it becomes necessary, you’ll have to tell it all again for the record anyway. All we’re after here was the truth.”

“Truth,” he was surprised at how bitter the word felt on his tongue. Elizabeth gave him a rueful half-nod, imparting a complex set of opinions of her own on the subject.

“You were saying,” she said. “You’d always thought…?”

Mycroft shrugged, drank the rest, put the glass firmly on it’s coaster on the leather coffee table.

“I’d always thought it was a kindness on his part.” He braced himself for her reaction, but, if she had one, it wasn’t anything he could read. “And I still don’t disagree. It was very stressful, keeping her contained, and, frankly, all evidence indicated they wouldn’t have coped with it any better than they had the first time. Forgive me the selfishness of wanting my family not to be destroyed every time she managed to murder someone. And then, of course, Sherlock became his own catastrophic breakdown, and lo and behold, they were off to America to follow their passion for line-dancing.” He sighed. “I don’t mean to complain. Sherlock on drugs was a horror. No one could be expected to cope.”

“You managed.”

He shook his head.

“I managed to keep him from killing himself, barely. DCI Lestrade was the one who gave him the hand up, and he pulled himself out the rest of the way by his own means.”

“I’ve read those reports,” Elizabeth said. “Numerous but pithy.”

“What was there to say? He was a whirling disaster of planetary proportions, but his indiscretions were largely lost on his audience.”

“Except for James Moriarty.”

Mycroft groaned and dropped his head into his hands. The name itself was like a physical weight across his shoulders. Marley’s chains and treasure chests. It felt like every tainted decision he’d ever made began and ended with Moriarty. With his eyes closed, Mycroft could feel the room revolving slowly around him. Perhaps he’d had enough alcohol.

“You know I did oversight on Bond Air, and on Lazarus,” Elizabeth said.

“How I loathe that designation,” Mycroft said into his hands.

“It was rather on-point,” Elizabeth said, dryly. “As I said, I did oversight on both those projects. Lazarus went spectacularly well. Bond Air was a disaster, but it wasn’t your disaster.”

“I put Sherlock in Irene Adler’s path. The outcome was foreseeable.”

“You didn’t foresee it,” she said. “None of us did.”

“Therefore, it was my disaster.”

“You seem very keen to own it,” Elizabeth said. “As I recall, it was a group effort.”

“I hold myself to a higher standard,” Mycroft said. “Would you have me do otherwise?”

“I might,” she said. “You’re the best analyst among us by an impressive margin, Mycroft. The best I’ve ever seen, in fact. But human behaviour is still impossible to predict with 100% accuracy. Do you disagree with that?”

“Flattery seems an odd conversational gambit in a discussion of personal failure.”

“Is that what we’re discussing, Mycroft?” He lifted his head, blinked at her. Couldn’t read the expression on her face. “Because I thought we were investigating treason. If what you’re looking for is a performance review, you might ask your direct superior. But if we’re talking about whether or not we must call for Protocol 19, I need you to show me at what point in any of your projects you made decisions in the best interests of our enemies.”

“I was rather hoping you could tell me that.”

“I can,” she said. “There’s nothing. The most questionable choices you’ve made have concerned the profligate use of state resources to protect said state from the actions of your — let’s call it ‘extraordinary’ — family.”

Mycroft felt something dangerous uncoil in his belly. She didn’t believe him. Was, in fact, humouring him and had been this whole time. How did no one but him understand the danger?

“I have spent more time in Euros’s company,” he said, “than any other person, living or dead, Counting only her time in Sherrinford, I have spent eleven hundred and eighty-four hours and fifteen minutes in her immediate presence, listening to her voice, breathing her air. Please tell me how…*how* I remained unaffected by manipulations that have caused other, perfectly sane human beings to happily commit acts that betrayed their basic humanity?” His volume had risen as he spoke and the last sentence came out a shout. He could feel heat in his face.

“Mycroft.” Elizabeth’s voice was level and calm. “Unless you are telling me that your sister has magical powers of mind control by which she can alter reality at will, I can’t see one thing that you did that gave her any kind of advantage whatsoever. And if you *are* telling me she had magical powers, I’m going to recommend you be sectioned to a very good, very private mental health facility right this minute. *Is* that what you’re telling me?”

Was it? At times it almost seemed that way, but people said that of his ability to make predictions based solely on accumulated data. So, no. More likely it was just that she was magnitudes smarter than he was, and it wasn’t just the trick itself that looked magic, it was the masterful speed and efficiency with which it was performed.

“No,” he said, finally. “No, of course not.”

“In that case you are going to have to tell me how, with her admittedly excellent manipulative skills, which I would remind you were one of the defining features of organized psychopathy — how she had had you under her thumb for all this time and she never persuaded you to help her so much as escape.”

“But I did,” Mycroft said. “I brought her Moriarty.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said, ruefully. “Not our wisest decision, but may I remind you that it was a decision we all signed off on.”

“On my advice.”

“True enough,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully. “I will give you half the credit for that mistake.”

Mycroft inclined his head.

“But let’s unpack it a bit, shall we?”

His mouth felt a little numb from the alcohol, his thoughts loose and slippery. Putting them together was something of an effort. “Five minutes unsupervised time with Moriarty. Possibly the longest five minutes of my life. And the most destructive.”

“Destructive?”

“It woke her up,” he said. “I’m quoting the late Governor here.”

“So, all the time you’d been exposed to her, she’d been asleep?”

”Metaphorically, I suppose,” he said. “It certainly seemed to be the start of things.”

“Five minutes,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully. “I’m sure you’ve thought about it. What do you think they got up to that led to her escape?”

“Most likely he gave her an encryption key of some kind. Perhaps a data point on the dark web. Something she could get to quickly and pick up or leave coded information in the brief periods we gave her online access.”

“But you never found it.”

He shook his head, no. He could mentally call up every keystroke she’d made he’d been over them so many times.

“Nevertheless, she has shown herself capable of keeping things from me.”

“Fair enough,” Elizabeth said. Her feet were tucked up under her on the sofa, and she shifted to rearrange her skirt. “How did that help her?”

“Again, as the full investigation is ongoing, I can only speculate, but I assume this was how she got access to transportation off the island, how she got the materials she needed to redecorate the rooms in which we played her little game.”

“And Moriarty’s people got her out of her cell?”

“You did say you’d read my report,” he said, churlishly.

“I have,” she said. “Have you?” She swung her legs around so her toes were pointed and resting on the carpet.

Her feet, Mycroft noted, had a sculptural beauty to them. She had been a gymnast. Competitive, though not Olympian. He’d seen footage. She was exceedingly strong.

“The Governor, as you well know,” Mycroft said, “had been under Euros’s influence.for some time, and—--”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “Apparently he ignored explicit safety instructions from the world’s leading expert on care of that particular and unique prisoner. And if I recall correctly, from that expert’s report he’d done it, not because he’d been coerced or brainwashed, but because he was a clever and ambitious man who saw an opportunity and took what he believed was a calculated risk.”

“You seem determined to plead my case for me,” Mycroft said, coldly. “I was hoping for a little more objectivity.”

“I’m pleading your case, Mycroft, because, for some reason, you seem determined to ignore facts in favour of a rather unsophisticated narrative of your own inadequacy.”

“What *facts*?” Mycroft knew he was raising his voice, but he didn’t seem to be able to stop. “This is all terribly convenient speculation on your part.”

“Fact:” Elizabeth said, firmly. “Euros Holmes was a resource used by MI6 to predict terrorist attacks and save British lives.

Fact: The resource had a price, and it was deemed, by a well-informed committee, that the price was not too high for the service to be rendered.

Fact: Euros Holmes was compensated, and delivered her prediction, which saved British lives.”

Mycroft sighed. “I don’t see the point…”

“Are we agreed that these are facts?”

“Yes, fine. They’re facts.”

“Good,” Elizabeth said. “I have two more.

Fact: the Governor broke protocol in order to further his career, exposing himself to Euros’s manipulations, which compromised him, utterly. And, finally:

Fact: By gaining control of the Governor, Euros Holmes was then able to control all of Sherrinford, allowing her to move freely and bring her plans to fruition without a need for external assistance.

Tell me again what role Moriarty—who at this point had been dead for years—played?”

“Obviously, he was her inspiration," Mycroft said, bitterly.

Elizabeth shook her head, gently disbelieving.

“Fact,” she said softly. “Euros Holmes was a multiple murderer and a rapist before Moriarty came to Sherrinford. Her fixation on Sherlock began thirty years ago and apparently hasn’t lessened in the slightest. How much more inspiration did she need?”

Mycroft rubbed his forehead with trembling fingers. He felt unanchored, unreal. His hearing faded in and out with the throbbing of his heartbeat in his ears.

“It has to be my fault,” he said, but more to himself than to Elizabeth. “If I hadn’t kept her existence a secret… If I hadn’t brought her gifts… If I hadn’t kept her isolated in Sherrinford…“

“You didn’t lock her up there, Mycroft. Rudolph Vernet did,” she said. “And he instigated the lie. But I agree with you, he was wrong to do that. He should have chosen the kinder option.”

“He couldn’t have let her go free,” said Mycroft.

“No,” she said. “He couldn’t.”

Mycroft frowned, momentarily puzzled. Then, he sighed..

“Of course he considered it,” he said. “Not as a matter of kindness, mind you. It was another option on the table and he felt that she had proved herself to be too valuable to be destroyed as long as she could be contained. He had great faith in Sherrinford’s security.”

“And you?”

He had to look away for a moment, his composure unstable enough to fail with a careless word. He’d thought about it, of course he’d thought about it. The “kindness” of it. If it were he who faced a lifetime at the mercy of his enemies, without hope of release, well…

But empathy was a dangerous folly in his business, where any personal preference he might have, by definition, mattered less than the needs of the nation. Once she had been secured, the choice was out of his hands.

And yet now that she had shown that her containment could not be assured, was her value so much greater than that of those she’d killed or might kill in the future? Even if they were all just so many goldfish in comparison? And what if one of them was Sherlock?

He could never get past that.

“I have found that decision contains too many variables to allow for a consistent answer,” he said at last.

“Be that as it may,” said Elizabeth. "And guilty as you may feel, you neither lit this fire, nor poured petrol on it."

"I suppose you're going to tell me it was burning when I lay down on it." He meant it to indicate his disdain for this line of thinking, but it actually sounded rather silly. He grimaced, but then the grimace was interrupted by a powerful yawn that made the hinges of his jaw crack. A second yawn followed, and suddenly his eyelids were too heavy to open more than half way.

“Apolo—,” he started to say, but yawned again in the middle of it. His vision blurred, making the room a warm, yellow muddle.

“I’ll just go and see if the guest room’s been turned down," she said. Mycroft yawned again, obstructing any effort on his part to refuse her offer or thank her before she was out of the room.

He didn’t remember moving over to the sofa before she returned, or slipping off his shoes, and laying his cheek upon the cool silk upholstery.

Seeing him like that, mussed and soft-mouthed, Lady Smallwood couldn’t quite decide whether the strong urge to kiss his pale forehead was maternal or otherwise, but she resisted all the same, and settled for covering him with the cream angora afghan before she headed upstairs to her bed.

*

Mycroft woke up mid-morning of the next day. He was stiff, slightly hungover, and rather embarrassed, but, for the first time in a very long time, he felt like himself. There was a pitcher of water, a tumbler, and three paracetamol tablets on a little plate on the coffee table. A plain white note card stood beside them. Mycroft sat up, scrubbed his hands through his hair, and downed the pills.

He picked up the note.

”Protocol 19 not invoked,” it read. “Subject isn’t compromised, just having a bit of a hard time remembering he’s not actually made of ice.

-E. Smallwood”

He couldn’t help but smile. It was, perhaps, within the realm of possibility that her opinion was not without a gram or two of, if not truth, then something rather like it. His head was not entirely clear, but, now that the crippling guilt had shrunk to a less monumental size, it was manageable. The distant, hollow sensation was only that, a sensation, not the entirety of his existence. He could sense the flow again.

What an extraordinary thing that was, to learn this new, previously unsuspected, aspect of emotion — the way it could simply rise, like flood waters, not in a great wave, but in a slow, invisible creep one barely noticed even as it closed over one’s head.

The metaphor was strained, and the new solidity of mind, fragile. He could easily begin to doubt himself again. He could almost feel the fog of it hovering just out of sight. He’d have to be on his guard

He freshened up as best he could, still a bit leery of meeting his own gaze in the mirror. When he was ready, he called for his car.

“Diogenes, Sir?” the driver asked, once he was settled in the back.

“No,” Mycroft told him. “It’s time to go home.”

PART II:

i.

Mycroft was still not pleased that Sir Edwin had taken over the Sherrinford oversight on a permanent basis, but he didn’t take any direct action. Instead he simply asked, oh so humbly, to be kept in the briefing loop, while also strategically employing Anthea to get access via less straightforward channels. In the meantime, he began to pick up the threads of his dropped projects.

Now that his brain was working more or less properly again, he found it a relief to spend his time in introverted speculation about the affairs of strangers. It was unfortunate that he’d dropped the ball when he had. Apparently, in his absence, Britain had decided to amputate itself from the body of the continent, and the Americans had gone completely mental.

He did take a bit of time for himself. He had the house scoured, steamed, and smudged for good measure. The damaged paintings were beyond repair, but he had others in storage that would do for a time. He consulted with some MI5 security experts and replaced the dismantled security system with something significantly better.

He even visited the MI5 weapons-master to see if he could replace the umbrella-sword-gun that had been such impressively high tech in the late nineteenth century with something a bit more compact. Perhaps the early twentieth century had something to offer. The weapons-master was delighted with the challenge, as always, and had several suggestions for Mycroft to choose from.

On his way home one evening, on a whim, he stopped off at his second-favourite antiquarian bookshop. It was serendipitous, as there he found the perfect thank-you gift for Lady Smallwood. He was a little alarmed at the enthusiasm of her “yes” when he called to ask if she was free to join him for dinner the following Thursday. He chose to assume it was because she was pleased he’d come out of his funk, and not for other, potentially mortifying, reasons.

The next six days passed uneventfully. He slept as well as he ever did, five dreamless hours a night being his default; cut out the chocolate and down on the cigarettes. He decided not to risk weighing himself until he’d gotten back on the treadmill at least a dozen times. He re-immersed himself in the tricky undercurrents of global affairs and touched base with several assets who had apparently been a bit concerned.

On Thursday, he arrived early at Roux and consulted briefly with the chef and sommelier. The restaurant was noisy, but blissfully politician-free. Despite its relatively modern look, it had a wonderfully staid menu. Service was appropriately respectful and, with the minimalist decor, it was reassuringly not likely to be mistaken for a date-restaurant. Lady Smallwood arrived on time and they ordered: hogget for him, lamb for her, both perfectly prepared and delicious. Over cheese and Remy Martin XO, he gave her the small, wrapped package.

She laughed when she saw the book, a first edition of South! by Shackleton (“Oh, it’s marvellous!”), and he found himself smiling. A moment of pleasure which was cut short by the all-too-familiar sound of commotion at the front of the restaurant, and its inevitable reveal of Sherlock, striding toward him, wreathed in outrage.

Sherlock stopped short when he reached the table.

“Really, Mycroft? A woman?”

“Miraculous deduction, indeed,” Mycroft said, coolly.

Sherlock’s smile did not bode well. He pulled a formal-looking white envelope out of his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him.

Mycroft picked it up, examined it cautiously, then slid out the card and opened it.

“Sherlock,” Lady Smallwood said, feigning hurt. “I would have hoped you’d remembered my name, what with our intimate relationship.”

“Intimate?” Sherlock looked at her sharply.

“I was a client,” she said. “You so kindly rid me of a disgusting worm and I helped you avoid a death sentence for it. Is there anything more intimate?”

“Not...anything I’d care to consider,” Sherlock said.

Mycroft barely took in the exchange. He could feel the blood draining out of his face as if a plug had been pulled.

Please join us for a musical salon

with

Euros Holmes and Sherlock Holmes

Saturday, 2 pm to 4 pm

Section L, Sherrinford

“What is this?” he said. “Another prank?”

“Hunh,” Sherlock said. “I thought the rumours of your demotion were exaggerated. You really didn’t know?”

He hadn’t. Of course, it took no thought at all, now, for his brain to pull everything together.

Edwin had lied. The visits had continued. The music…of course, that was her conduit. Direct line to the emotions, unprocessed through speech. Brilliant. But he’d accepted Edwin’s lie at face value. Why?

He forestalled a reply from the Euros in his head, and read the invitation again.

“This is insane,” he said. “I won’t allow it.” He took his phone from his pocket.

“That was exactly what Euros said you’d say.”

Mycroft choked off a gasp, which engendered a coughing fit that seemed to give Sherlock some smug satisfaction.

“She’s… she’s speaking?” Mycroft finally managed.

Sherlock shrugged.

“She makes herself understood.” He turned to leave.

Mycroft grabbed his arm.

“Have you rewritten things already?” he said through gritted teeth. “She’s dangerous. Do I need to show you photos of the last five people she murdered?”

Sherlock looked down at Mycroft’s hand and then back to his face, meaningfully. Mycroft released him. Sherlock shoved his hands in his pockets and pivoted on his heel.

“This event won’t take place,” Mycroft said to his retreating back. Sherlock half-turned, still in motion, calling over his shoulder:

“Mummy’s bringing Dad,” he said. “Lady Smallwood, could we expect you as Mycroft’s plus one?”

He didn’t wait for a reply.

Mycroft’s hands shook as he inputted a text to Sir Edwin. He saw Elizabeth pick up the invitation, read it, and lay it back on the table.

“Your brother,” Lady Smallwood intoned, “is still a horror.”

“Did you know about this?” Mycroft asked, not hiding the sudden spike of suspicion. Elizabeth shook her head.

“No,” she said. She was angry, but not with him. “It seems I’ve been shut out as well.”

*

Sir Edwin was not available to meet with him until the next morning, and, by then, Anthea had provided him with the briefings that somehow still hadn’t arrived by official channels.

He was so angry that he had a visceral desire to break things that he hadn’t felt since he was an adolescent. He found the half-box of stale cigarettes sitting in his bottom drawer and took himself outside for a walk and a slightly nauseating smoke. They’d condemned him for giving Euros five minutes unsupervised time with a criminal slightly smarter than a golden retriever, and then went and gave her upwards of thirty hours of unsupervised time with the second smartest man in Britain? Why not just hand her a dirty bomb and a cupful of VX and have it over with?

“I kept it from you precisely because I knew you’d react emotionally,” Sir Edwin said, a gram too patronizingly, after Mycroft had delivered a somewhat toned-down version of this concept. “The truth is, Mycroft, she was our best terror analyst, and, if there was a chance of regaining her equilibrium, it had to be taken. And, in fact, your brother has things under control.”

“As, we thought, did the previous Governor.”

“But, unlike the previous Governor,” Sir Edwin replied, “your brother seems to have the same ability to resist her that you possess.”

He found himself leaning forwards, wanting nothing more than to throttle Sir Edwin with his bare hands, and wondered why Sir Edwin wasn’t rearing back in his chair in mortal terror.

Because he is an idiot,Mycroft reminded himself. He forced himself to calm.

“That has not yet been proven,” he said. “At least hold off on this recital until we can get a better idea of whether my brother’s been compromised.”

“Out of the question,” said Sir Edwin. “The Minister of Defence and representatives are coming specifically to see her perform.”

“What a splendid way to start World War Three, Edwin. Let’s expose the Minister by all means.”

“You’ve had your chance at it, Holmes,” said Sir Edwin. “This is my operation now. The Minister and I will be watching discreetly from the control room. You’re welcome to join us, if you can manage to be civil.”

“I already have my invitation, thank you,” Mycroft said. “And I’m not leaving this alone. Using Euros Holmes to prevent terrorist attacks is one thing. Using her to improve your political position is so astonishingly stupid even you should be able to see it.”

“Are you trying to tell me you weren’t trying to do the same?”

“In fact, I wasn’t,” Mycroft said. “I was trying to protect the world from my sister.”

*

He wasn’t about to stop. He reached out both high and low, but no matter what strings he tugged at and what favours he attempted to call in, the answer was the same: with the United Kingdom now on its own in a newly-hostile world, there was a vested interest in having Euros Holmes available for teasing out terror threats again, and, while his concerns were noted, he was no longer considered to be entirely reliable on the subject, and so no one was willing to risk their neck on something so near and dear to the interim Prime Minister’s heart.

The recital would go ahead as planned.

Given that, Mycroft made his own arrangements to attend. He took a separate helicopter to the island, and spent the entire flight in what Sherlock would call his “mind palace” — ridiculous name — reviewing his memories of Euros, in order to ground himself against further attempts at manipulation.

He still wasn’t sure how she’d gotten so completely under his skin this last time, so close to reprogramming him.

Part of it had been his state of mind before he’d even gotten to the island. He’d been quite sleep-deprived, what with Sherlock’s slide back into drug use.

”For a case!” — always for a case. Or has it become your investigative approach of choice for some other reason, brother dear. That and other suicidally dangerous gambits. The Culverton Smith business had sent his blood pressure through the roof, leaving the inside of his head throbbing like an over-inflated balloon for a week afterwards.

He’d already fallen back on bad habits by then, letting go of years of rigid self-discipline for whatever would most quickly douse his anxiety.

It was impossible to tell how much of his exaggerated panic at the idea she’d gotten out was via her suggestion or simply from being unexpectedly shoved back into a childhood state of helplessness. He could see some basis for this kind of thing in modern psychological models, regardless of how necessarily shoddy the science was.

Or perhaps she’d got hold of Project H.O.U.N.D. and had him dosed with it.

There were still too many ifs, ands, and buts for his comfort and so: Recall and review.

He went right back to childhood, where, except when it came to Sherlock, she was more often than not successful at nudging him to her will—mostly, at getting him to accept some story or lie of hers over fact, until later, when her spell would seem to wear off, leaving him utterly baffled as to why he had believed her in the first place.

Going with Rudy to see her at the hospital as an adolescent, he could almost see her doing it, but she still managed to send him home with a number of mortifying post-visit suggestions for him to carry out. He hated to admit how many of them he’d done unthinkingly. And how lucky he was that none of them had left permanent damage to his body or his soul — although he could still recall them all in grotesquely accurate detail.

Once he’d gone on to uni and got recruited, spent some time outside of their insular little family, it was harder for her to get to him. Thanks to MI5’s training, he could easily recognize the tricks of neurolinguistic programming in her technique. Of course, what made her particular brand of NLP so much more effective than that of the average pseudo-counsellor was the massive intellect behind it. Her chains of associations and visual/kinetic dissociation were intricately woven with many self-reinforcing aspects. She had developed flawless vocal control and was able to produce mood-altering over- and undertones at will. The greatest advantage her brain gave her, though, was the ability to quickly and accurately correct for fluctuations of a subject’s mental state. This trait made it difficult even for him, at times, to stay alert to changes in his own thinking.

That’s likely how she’d gotten him this last time. He’d already put himself, or been put—had she perhaps, suggested the most affecting elements of the clown-prank to John, during his therapy?—into a fearful and indecisive state before he’d arrived on the island. By the time they’d been through her “tests,” he was ripe for letting someone else take the pilot’s chair.

Or perhaps he really was out of his depth, still deluded by his own ego into thinking he could resist her.

The popping in Mycroft’s ears told him of the helicopter’s descent. He wasn’t sure if he felt more or less reassured by his exploration.

It’s nothing dire, a voice, not unlike Elizabeth’s, in his head. It’s just what happens when you’re human. Perhaps he should have asked her to come after all, as a buffer against Mummy’s disapproval.

He shuddered a little, at the thought of that dynamic. Nevertheless.the imaginary words buoyed him enough to put a pleasantly false smile upon his face before they landed.

*

In the way through to Euros’s cell, he stopped in at the control room. He managed to be civil to Sir Edwin and the Undersecretary of State for Defense Procurement (not the Minister himself, as promised) and retinue.

His real agenda, however, was to get a look at his family on the security monitors. He found they were already seated in folding chairs in the foyer of the cell. His mother and father sat side by side, his father casting uneasy glances toward Euros. Sherlock was chatting with Mummy, his violin in his hand — was that the Strad? The volume was turned down, so he couldn’t actually hear the conversation, but he could see Sherlock’s impatience, and read the words: “make an entrance” on his lips.

Euros herself was standing with her back to them as if unaware of their presence, a pointless sham. Of course she was aware.

His own seat was right next to his mother’s. A generic modular chair, likely slippery and uncomfortable.

“You’d better get down there, “ Sir Edwin said, over his shoulder. “Don’t want to hold the curtain on this.”

Oh, how wrong Sir Edwin was. Mycroft headed for the elevator.

*

The new security protocols were indeed thorough. He cringed as he waited for the cell airlock to cycle him through, and, when it opened, there was his loving family.

“You’re late,” Sherlock said. “Clearly on purpose.”

Mycroft ignored him.

“Mummy,” he said, trying not to look too closely at her expression. “Father. Sherlock.”

There was a pause. Sherlock gestured pointedly, with his head, at the cell behind him.

Ah, yes.

“Sister,” Mycroft said, blandly polite.

Euros flinched as if the sound of his voice frightened or hurt her. It was one of her favourite little tricks. Poor little Euros. As always, he found it shocking that others didn’t see it. Particularly Sherlock who, if he were forced to be honest, had developed exceptional observation skills when it came to studying people.

He took his seat. His mother’s gaze was straight ahead. He decided against making conversation.

Sherlock checked his tuning, and Mycroft turned his attention to him instead. He had clearly dressed with great care, suit cut trim, dark grey, rich purple accents. He’d paid attention to his hair, had a manicure. It was possible—--Mycroft sniffed surreptitiously—yes, he was wearing cologne. A little roiling pit of horror opened up in Mycroft’s belly at the implications.

Finally, Sherlock was ready. He placed the violin between chin and shoulder and raised his bow. He stood like this for long seconds, the whole of him poised, yearning towards the sullen, rejecting figure in the cell.

Mycroft knew, suddenly, just what was about to happen. He saw it the instant before she turned and, when she turned, he saw that he’d been right.

It was like the sun had come out for Sherlock. He turned his face to her, all eyes and fascinated attention. And she knew it too. She was the sun.

And then the music....

It was beautiful in a way that gave Mycroft chills. He kept his eyes on Sherlock’s profile, watching the emotional content of the music play across his face. Reading it in the synchronicity between them. Non-verbal call and response.

Sherlock had written the piece, but Euros had guided his hand. It was a very clear rendering of Sherlock’s circle of intimates and the hierarchy she was building. Sherlock and Euros: the main themes, beautiful, powerful, amoral, intertwined. Then John, an echo of Sherlock in a major key, various others here and there. Mycroft thought at first he was missing altogether, but then found himself in a somewhat clownish flourish. How nice. He was concentrating so hard that the touch of a soft, papery palm over his fingers took a moment to register. His mother’s hand. Offering forgiveness, obviously. He looked at it resting there on his hand, then at her profile, her expression rapt in the music of her beautiful monsters. He looked away quickly. If he thought about it too much he’d have to pull his hand away in horror and he didn’t want *that* on camera. He focused instead on psychiatric reports he’d read back in the day that said that his mother was at risk of both schizophrenia and dementia. His father a candidate for arteriosclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. He had already noted the fine tremor in his father’s hands. Perhaps their metaphorical blindness to this was physiological after all.

The piece ended, and there was applause. He wondered what they made of it up in the control room. Nothing, most likely. It was obvious to him because, he realized, it was written with him in mind as audience. The prettiness was all that anyone else could see.

The rest of the program was variations on a theme. Mycroft gleaned every bit of information out of it that he could, fully aware of the possibility that he was being deliberately misled.

When the last note faded, Mycroft found that his back was tight and he was sweating under his light wool suit. Their parents had risen in a spontaneous ovation, and there was hugging and hand clasping. Sherlock was flushed and actually seemed to be enjoying the parental affection that flowed around him. Euros had put down her violin, definitely not the Strad. She’d given that to Sherlock for good, apparently.

Now she sat cross-legged on the floor, watching through the thick glass. Parental affection and approval flowed her way also, Mummy clasping her own hands and holding them out to Euros, who looked up, a little shyly, through her eyelashes. Her eyes were still flat and watchful as a shark’s.

Mycroft remained seated, watching Sherlock put the Stradivarius carefully away. Mycroft’s automatic thought was: Must get him a proper case for it, but he stamped that down ruthlessly. Sherlock didn’t want his gifts before, and he certainly wouldn’t want them now.

“Not to your taste?” Sherlock asked, archly, not turning around.

“It was beautiful,” Mycroft said, simply. “Masterful, in fact.”

Sherlock seemed slightly fuddled by his answer. Mummy, having overheard, beamed approval down at him.

“Will you come back with us?” she asked. “We’re taking Sherlock out for a celebratory drink after.”

“I’m afraid not,” Mycroft answered with a forced smile. “I have a bit of business to take care of.”

Sherlock looked at him and then glanced back at Euros, who had apparently turned back into a stone carving.

“I’m going to stay too,” Sherlock said. “I’ll fly back with Mycroft.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” Mycroft said, getting to his feet. “I’ve promised my other seats to Sir Edwin and his party.”

Sherlock’s nostrils flared, and Mycroft braced, as if for a physical assault.

Mummy inserted herself.

“Please come back with us, Sherlock. I’m not done celebrating you yet. And you as well, Euros dearest. We’ll be back to see you as soon as we’re able. Thank you for such a gorgeous performance.”

In the end, Sherlock went with them, looking back over his shoulder as the automatic door closed behind him.

After they’d gone and the door was shut, Mycroft turned to face Euros, fully.

Brava,” he said. “Molto bravissima.” Euros seemed to shrink in on herself like the cooling remnant of a fire. Her eyes receded into shadow. “This was some of your best work. So many threads in play.” He frowned at her. “Not enough praise? I particularly love the Commedia flourishes. So pleased to be cast as el Capitano in an otherwise Wagnerian opera.” He lowered his head, rubbed the side of his nose to keep his lips concealed from the cameras as he mouthed at her. “Never think that I do not see you, sister. Never think your tricks will stop me.“

He stepped back and raised his voice to a normal level again.

“And thank you so much for such an edifying afternoon.”

She still said and did nothing, and it took most of his remaining nerve to turn his back on her and indicate they should cycle him out. The door had just begun to open, when he heard her violin. Just a little skirl of notes that was both creepy and familiar. Mycroft didn’t turn back around, but the tune stuck in his head all the way back across the water.

*

Sherlock fumed in the helicopter all the way back, grateful for the headphones that he could shut off. He could see his mother’s lips moving, but he didn’t have to do anything but nod along, which was good, because he needed to think. Sir Edwin hadn’t come to Sherrinford for the music, obviously. He wanted to know how Euros was progressing, when she could be useful to them again. Which was…dammit. He didn’t know what it was.

No, that wasn’t true. It was a feeling he knew well.

A kind of overarching possessiveness. The wish for something to be his and his alone. He thought he must have felt that way about Victor. Victor was *his* friend and he didn’t want Mycroft or Euros to play with him. Mycroft wasn’t interested. Mycroft never wanted to play with anybody, just watch and think and watch some more. But Euros. She’d wanted to play with them — or, no, with *him*. That’s why she’d been so angry, because she felt that Sherlock was hers and Victor had stolen him away. Which was why she’d stolen Victor away. Which made it at least partly his fault that Victor had died.

He hadn’t felt it again for a person until John. The idea that John was *his* had changed him so fundamentally that he almost didn’t remember a time when the world was just a cold and boring purgatory, made bearable at times by drugs or puzzles. That John had made him better, more solid—more real—was unquestionable. But he’d learned the hard way that, just because someone was the most important person to you, didn’t mean that you were the most important person to them. He might have taken it as a betrayal coming back to find that the most important person in John’s life was now a woman named Mary. If it had been anyone else, it would have been.

But Mary just made them both better and more real. Mary had made them a family.

And what had he done but gone and destroyed that? Nearly destroyed John in the process. Not quite, and he hadn’t lost him completely yet. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again, though. Even if he had to wall himself off the way Mycroft had.

Creatures like us, Euros had told him, with her strings and bow and the ribbons of sound from her violin, were dangerous for the health of people like John and Mary and even Irene. We want what they have, that spark of warmth, the breath of their love and understanding on our faces, but they are so fragile. Breakable. We are water, Sherlock, we are wind. If we curl too close around them, we tear them apart.

But it didn’t mean they had to be alone.

He hadn’t quite believed her at first. I’m not a creature like you, he wanted to shout at her. But, she segued into call and response, and at every marker, it seemed, he was. Cruel, hurtful, careless with people’s bodies and their hearts. A liar, a user, a murderer. It was true. He could dress it up in nicer clothing, adorn it with the false philanthropy of crime-solving and occasional gestures of magnanimity, but that just made him a more effective predator—one who’d managed to stay free of both prison and the perfect isolation of madness.

They were alike. Perhaps not like pieces of a puzzle that clicked together as soon as they’d discovered one another, but more the way a violin and bow, two complete parts, came together to make something greater.

And yet, there was Sir Edwin, grubby little paws reaching to pluck at them. To pick at Euros’s brain like it was a chest of gold coins to be plundered at will.

The helicopter landed, and he shook off his parents with a claim of exhaustion and a vague promise of a night out in the future. They understood, of course, hugged him, kissed his cheeks, and got into the cab he’d hailed for them before he’d even made his excuses.

The exhaustion was only half a lie. He hadn’t slept, but the live-socket thrill of connecting with Euros left him with a thin, but seemingly boundless, energy. He walked until he could bear the thought of being still again, then he took a cab back to Baker Street.

John and Mrs. Hudson were waiting for him, bright-eyed and excited. Bottle of champagne, already open on the kitchen counter.

“How did it go?” they wanted to know. “Was the music wonderful? Were his parents pleased?”

He tried to be civil, or maybe he didn’t really, because it was still too much. He had nothing left for them. He snapped. Apologized. Snapped again. Mrs Hudson gave up first. He’d have to apologize again tomorrow. John stayed a bit longer, corked the Champagne, and opted for something stronger, even though he’d be leaving to pick up Rosamund in less than an hour.

“Can you tell me what happened?” he asked.

Sherlock shook his head. It didn’t feel right talking to John about Euros, any more than it did talking to Euros about John.

“Big Brother was there,” he said. “Holed up in the control room, watching.”

“He’s a piece of work, your brother is,” John said it so vehemently it was almost a snarl.

“Not Mycroft,“ Sherlock said. “Sir Edwin.” At John’s puzzled look he added: “Same line of work, significantly less brainpower.”

“Right,” John said. “The British Government. But Mycroft was there, wasn’t he?”

Sherlock nodded. In truth, he was a little taken aback by John’s strong emotion regarding Mycroft. It seemed strangely out of proportion to his own dull anger. He flashed suddenly on the feel of John’s fists, heavy and, somehow, sharp. His head had begun pounding at some point.

“He didn’t seem to have enjoyed himself,” Sherlock said. “But then, I expect, that was the point.”

After John left, Sherlock headed for his bed, dragging off his clothes as he went until he was naked on top of his covers in the dark of his bedroom. The Edwin problem had turned out to be somewhat less tractable than he’d expected. The scrutiny greater. He understood Euros’s unwillingness to co-operate. The occasional gift didn’t approach making up for the loss of an entire life.

Damn it.

There was really only one person that he knew of with a full grasp of the workings of the underbelly of government. It seemed unlikely, however, that Mycroft would be receptive to the idea of helping him at this point. He had been a bit hard on his brother recently, and for no particular reason other than that he was Mycroft, and, as such, was innately annoying. Except Mycroft hadn’t been particularly so lately, except inasmuch as he was annoyingly unavailable.

Sherlock sighed. He supposed he could make the effort. He picked up the phone and sent Mycroft a text to meet him on the Hungerford Bridge, the next afternoon, at one. To his surprise, the reply came back instantly.

“Make it 12:45. -MH”

Sherlock shut off the phone with a pleasant sense of satisfaction, and was nearly instantly asleep.

ii.

The first thing Mycroft did when he got back to work was to set Anthea to discreetly get him all the new files on Sherrinford—the staff reports, the new security features, and the recordings of Sherlock’s visits. She actually had the video feeds ready for him, and he took them down to his cabinet office where he’d have a little privacy. He was, after all, hacking his own government.

He was careful watching the feeds. The music was definitely trance-inducing, especially the speedy little things Euros played in between pieces, and Mycroft stopped frequently to check his reality. He knew that, if Euros started making sense, it was time to walk away. It wasn’t easy, though.

Watching them together was like watching water snakes, things unnaturally beautiful and deadly. They were both so alike in many ways, and so different from himself, that he had occasionally, in dark moments, quietly wondered if he wasn’t the offspring of an unfortunate affair of his mother’s. Not seriously, of course, but it almost seemed plausible until he’d secretly had his father’s DNA matched to his.

It might indeed have been a preferable state, if one were going to be an outsider to one’s family, to actually be one.

By the time Anthea came down with a cartful of interviews, personnel dossiers, blueprints, schemas, and rosters, his eyes were burning and his stomach was clenched like a fist. How had he let this happen? It was all that self-pity and self-indulgence, of course. There he’d been —woe is me—for nearly two months while his mad sister had spun Sherlock into her web and was slowly eating him alive. No mistaking it now. She’d taken her time. It must have started early on, when Sherlock had collected her from the ruins of Musgrave. God only knew what story she’d concocted. Damsel in distress seemed most likely…

Mycroft smacked his forehead hard enough to sting. The little girl on the plane. Oh, he was an idiot. A moron. How could he have missed it? She’d thrown it in his face, and he’d been too wrapped up in his own little nightmare to see anything except the blurred outlines of the cage they were trapped in.

So, yes, that was how she would have pulled him in. He would have had to pass that final test alone to climb the castle walls and rescue her from her lonely tower. And then…and then what? The emotional context—that would have been John in the well, like poor Victor, just a point to be made. Who do you love more, Sherlock? Sherlock had been too innocent as a child to know that there was only one right answer. He’d learned that lesson only recently, in fact, from John.

After that, she would have wanted him in her presence, close enough to touch and tap, anchoring him in the state she wanted. She would have primed him for the music then too. However that was done—a code, a cipher, something he’d recognize. That horrible little nursery song she sang to taunt them about Victor was the most likely candidate. And once he was properly primed and ready, she’d switch to radio silence. Sherlock couldn’t have let that stand. He’d still need to “save” her, and the answer would come to him in a flash. He would, of course, be unshakeable in his belief that he’d thought up the idea of playing the violin together on his own.

As if she hadn’t handed him the bloody Stradivarius, and outright demanded he play with her.

No telling how long ago she’d conceived this particular notion. Long before she asked for Moriarty, clearly. Probably before she’d asked for the violin. Maybe from the moment it became clear that the Redbeard gambit had failed. It was impossible to measure how many moves ahead she could extrapolate, in how many chess games, over how many years. More than he. Many more than Sherlock. It was immaterial. What was mattered now was her endgame.

What did she intend to do now?

His phone chirruped to tell him it was half past noon. He stood and circled his shoulders a few times to get the stiffness out of them. Just enough time for a quick bite of lunch before his car came to drive him the short distance to the pedestrian footbridges off the Queen’s Walk. He hoped it hadn’t started raining. Sherlock would insist on striding around under the open sky, and Mycroft so hated to get his umbrella wet.

*

The sun was trying valiantly to make itself seen behind the thick grey overcast. The chill wind off the river smelled pleasantly rank. Mycroft walked a short way along the footbridge before he saw Sherlock, leaning on his forearms, at the guardrail. He was looking down at something with intense focus.

It was a familiar pose for Sherlock, location notwithstanding, and, try as he might, Mycroft couldn’t see Euros’s hand on him. Not at a distance. Which was astonishing, because he could read Sherlock better than he could read himself. Even now, he could see where Sherlock had spent his morning, the lack of sleep, the restlessness under the stillness. Sherlock was a coiled spring, and more tightly coiled than usual. The music had worked as a conduit for that sizzling energy the night before—that, and the effort of reading and sending the messages underlying while undoubtedly hiding that little fact from himself. It was a brilliant strategy for managing Sherlock’s excesses. If only Euros herself were manageable, or at least less murderously inclined, she might have been good for him.

If only…

When he reached the spot where Sherlock was standing, Mycroft looked over as well. Down below in the opaque blue and brown ripples of the Thames, stood a concrete footing, part of the support structure for the complex harp-like pylons and steel deck-stays that supported the bridge. The deck of the footing, about ten metres below, was littered with dozens of broken skateboards.

“Not much of a memorial,” Mycroft said.

“Hmm?” Sherlock replied absently.

“I thought you were contemplating the Skateboard Graveyard.”

“Is that what that is?” Sherlock said. “It did seem an oddly specific rubbish tip.”

“I’m surprised you don’t remember the murder, but then I don’t suppose it was clever enough for you to save.”

Sherlock looked up at him from the railing.

“I didn’t come here for the Walking London tour, Mycroft.” He straightened his arms, pushing himself away from the guardrail and stood.

Mycroft sighed, let his shoulders drop. He had a sudden fierce urge for a cigarette, but he wouldn’t show that kind of weakness in front of Sherlock again.

“What was it you wanted, then?” he asked.

“You know very well.”’

“Sir Edwin?” Mycroft said. “Not my doing. You made that devil’s bargain on your own.”

Sherlock opened his mouth, as if he were going to say something, then stopped, abruptly. He turned and they started walking toward the farther north bank. Over the side, the waters of the Thames slid out from under the bridge. He could see the glitter of Sherlock’s eyes watching him covertly through his longish curls. It was discomfiting.

“Ask whatever it was you were going to ask,” he said, bracing himself. There was a long moment of silence where Sherlock seemed to be perplexed by the question

“Did you really get your wrist slapped over the Sherrinford business?” he asked, finally. Not at all what Mycroft was expecting, and he took a long moment himself to think before he replied.

“Everybody answers to somebody.”

“Even the British Government?” Sherlock’s tone was oddly mild, reminiscent of happier times, before his wry “Archnemesis” designation became something more sinister than a half-affectionate term for a bossy older brother. Mycroft turned his head to peer at Sherlock. His expression was…open. For a moment. Then he looked away, embarrassed.

Mycroft felt something softer than an ache under his breastbone If it was a trick of Euros’s, then she had grown, by a magnitude, in emotional sophistication since she had pitted them against one another in her little game. But the fact that he longed for that earnest playfulness between them only made him more suspicious.

“Sir Edwin, no matter how misguided, was only looking out for the interest of the British public.”

“Bullshit, Mycroft,” Sherlock spat, with much more familiar contempt. “If you can’t recognize a political power play that obvious, then maybe you have lost the plot.”

He felt a momentary spike of the old paranoia. He supposed it was inevitable that the rumour had been floated in certain circles, probably by Sir Edwin himself. If Euros had managed nothing else with her most recent shenanigans, she’d done irreparable harm to his reputation as an eccentric but otherwise reliable analyst and consultant.

Well, that and the deaths of five more innocents, the emotional deconstruction of nearly half the prison staff, and whatever new damage she was inflicting upon Sherlock’s already rickety sanity. And to what end?

That was the question.

Possible scenarios branched out in his thought stream with too many potential goals. He needed more data.

“Tell me something,” Mycroft said. “What is it you think you’re doing with her?”

“What I think I’m doing—” Sherlock again stopped himself from making a combative response. Regrouped. It was impressive, Mycroft had to admit. “What I think I’m doing is treating her like a human being, rather than a dangerous animal.”

“And if she’s both?”

“I’m not breaking her out,” Sherlock said. “Is that what you’re afraid of? That this is an elaborate scheme for her to escape?”

“She tends to work that way, so, yes.”

Sherlock shook his head.

“You didn’t see her in the ruins of Musgrave, Mycroft,” Sherlock's eyes went soft. “She was lost. Just…She’d taken one wrong step and found herself falling right through her life. All those years in institutions without a loving face, a kind word. You’ve never been lost, Mycroft. You have no idea what it’s like.”

And now he saw her, peeking out of Sherlock’s eyes. He had no desire to counter the argument with his own recent bout of emotional dissolution. Nor was there any point in rehashing the list of the other truths Sherlock had skirted.

One wrong step, indeed. One wrong step over Victor Trevor's pale and bloated little body. Over Sherlock's broken heart. It made his gorge rise.

“So then your plan is to—if I understand this correctly—to hug the psychopathy out of her.” It was, of course, the second worst thing to say.

Sherlock stopped dead in his tracks. His expression was coldly furious.

“It shouldn't by now,” he gritted out. "But it astonishes me how very little you think of me. Of us. Or is it just everyone on the planet. All of us inconsequential goldfish floating in the giant ocean of your intellect.” His voice was raw.

Mycroft understood his mistake instantly. He had, as usual, not taken Sherlock’s inferiority complex into account when framing their discussion. The problem was that he had never thought Sherlock was inferior; yes, slower—and he’d certainly harped on that too much when feeling petty—but qualitatively, in his chosen field, equal. Superior, even, though it both stung his ego and filled him with pride to admit it.

“That’s not the case,” Mycroft replied, “I assure you.”

“Oh well,” and now he was almost shouting, spreading his arms as he turned in a dramatic circle. “Your assurance was all I needed, what with you being so forthcoming with salient details and the truth and so on.”

Mycroft sighed again, but internally. This was not how he’d intended things to go.

“Look,” he said sharply, before Sherlock could really get rolling. “As I’ve said, I have no direct influence on Sir Edwin’s decisions, but…” He paused to ensure he had Sherlock’s attention. “I could tell you the minimum amount of information you’d need to satisfy him for a longish time.”

“Why?” Sherlock asked, suddenly suspicious of his change of heart.

“Consider it a peace offering,” Mycroft said. Because he did want peace between them, for however long he could make it last. The fallout that would come when he shut this dangerous endeavour down would leave permanent scars on their relationship. It might even be fatal. Yet for all that Sherlock was a constant source of worry, for all that he saw Mycroft in the unkindest light possible, for all that Sherlock rejected his brotherly concern, or even, should such a thing exist, his love…for all that, Mycroft loved his little brother very much. Losing him would hurt in a way that he wasn’t sure he could recover from.

He could not let Euros win in this.

Sherlock must have seen some of that on his face, because the aggression faded out of his stance.

“All right,” Sherlock said, grudgingly. “Tell me.” And, as they walked back toward the South Bank, along the upstream side of the footbridge, Mycroft did.

PART III

The guard on the 7th Subfloor, Section L guard station, on Thursdays was Ifeoma Blake, nee Scott, who went by Iffy. Mother, Nigerian. Father, Scottish. Ex-husband, twat-ish. She was thinking of going back to her maiden name, but say it out loud a few times fast like they did in school and, well…

They’d never had kids, and she was glad of it now. She liked the money she made in this job, and, truth be told, she liked the freedom of being single. Sherlock agreed on principle, but told her there was something to be said for having a partner in crime. She’d found that very funny, and now they were friends.

“Yellow’s a good colour on you,” Sherlock said as he slid his Visitor ID card through the reader. “Very…lively.”

“Smooth,” she said, and they smiled at each other. The reader beeped and turned green.

“She’s quiet today,” Ifeoma said as Sherlock went to stand in front of the door. Sherlock didn’t know if that was good or bad, but he didn’t ask. The door opened and he was inside.

They started with etudes. Always. She was always teaching him something new — technique, attack, position. Even if he thought it was something he already knew. Usually, he enjoyed the challenge of it. She expected perfection, and quickly, and, if he didn’t get it the first time, it was stop and repeat, stop and repeat, until he did. He pushed himself harder to avoid that particular agony. Sometimes he hit that level where he was fully engaged, and it was bliss.

Today, he was impatient. The music was everything, yes, but there were things that had to be done in order to play the music; things he had to tell her. But every time he raised his bow, or opened his mouth to speak, she would start another piece, playing faster or harder, driving him on. They played until his fingers hurt, and then went numb and raw on the strings, until his bow hand cramped and his neck burned. Study after study. Nothing of his own. The ones that she’d composed herself were agonizing, painful to the ear, punishment for the fingers. They played until he understood that this *was* punishment and that she was angry, although he didn’t know what for.

Finally, he couldn’t keep on, and he fumbled the bow. It flew from his hand and clattered across the floor. One of his callouses had split, leaving a small smear of blood on the tiles, and he was sorry, so very sorry…

Euros kept playing, eyes hard and unforgiving, until the last stabbing note of the piece and then she stalked away, threw instrument and bow down on her bed in disgust.

“I’m sorry,” he shouted. “I’m trying…”

The wall of her back screamed You’re not. You don’t care. You’ll fall away and leave me alone again.She looked back over her shoulder, her eyes already dull and hopeless.

“I won’t,” he said. “You know I won’t, because I promised.”

His stomach was acid. He wondered why he didn’t have one memory of her looking happy. In every fragment that floated to the surface of his mind, she looked distant and strange, her eyes dark, or turned away, like now. How could he help her if she wouldn’t even look at him?

“Please,” he said. “Play with me, Euros.”

The silence went on until he despaired, and, as soon as he did, the tension melted out of her back. She didn’t look at him as she retrieved her violin and bow, nor when she sat and checked the tuning, not even when she started to play. It was the song he wrote for them, their three-part duet, but she was playing it too slowly, with strange sliding glissando and odd harmonics. Your song on psilocybin. He lifted his own instrument, but the movement caught her eye and she gave him a warning look. He lowered his hands again, and listened.

Played that way, the music sounded like a wheel driven over uneven ground, bumping over the bits that were him and the bits that were her, grinding a little over the John parts. The comic flourishes sounded metallic, shredded by their own sharpness, and there was something he hadn’t heard before. She played to the end and then stopped, and looked at him. Looked impatient when he admitted that he had no idea what he was supposed to hear. She played it twice more at different tempos, and, as she gradually sped up from allegro to prestissimo, he finally heard it.

Not a thing, but its absence. A hole cored through the melody, only knowable by the effects its unseen presence had wrought on the music. God, he hadn’t realized how obvious it was. No wonder she’d taken it as an insult.

She had stopped playing and was observing him, hands poised over the instrument.

“It’s nothing,” he tried.

She shook her head. Sherlock tried again.

“It’s just she’s so little, there’s really nothing to play about.”

Her eyebrows went up, she tilted her head to the side.

“John’s daughter,” he said, finally. It made him uncomfortable to bring her up there. “Rosie. She’s a baby. Not much to write about yet, and it just seemed to clutter things up. I wanted a strong line for us, and it just didn’t seem that important.”

Her eyes went hooded. She lowered her bow, played the piece back at normal tempo and normal tone. He could hear it now, so clearly, as if an important melody line had been arbitrarily ripped away. It sounded awful and empty, and he had to admit she was right. The piece needed Rosie.

“Okay, I made a mistake,” he said. “I’ll fix it.”

Euros shrugged and played the song again. It actually hurt to hear it now. Something unfinished, and thus unknown.

“Okay, stop. Stop. I’ll write her into a new piece. But, if you want us to be able to play it together, I’ll need something to give them.”

She stopped playing, but she was smiling now. The storm had passed. Her eyes were brilliant. She held her instrument up at the ready.

“I don’t know,” he said . “Give him something the public likes to shout about. Terrorists. Pedophiles.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

Then she started playing. To Sherlock, it sounded like a series of random notes, pizzicato on an 8-tone scale, that made no musical sense whatsoever. It took Sherlock six tries to get it right, and still she made him play it over until it stuck in his head. It was blocky and uncomfortable in there, but he could bear it for a few hours, which would surely be enough to hack its code. Eurus seemed very pleased.

“Thank you,” he said, at the end of their visit. He was exhausted and sore, but satisfied. This would work. As he packed up, Eurus played something else, so softly he almost missed it. His song again, just the bits around the missing lines.

“Yes,” he said, his frustration bleeding through. “By next visit. I promise.” Her smile was big then, and sunny in a way he’d never seen before. It made him smile back, even though he wasn’t sure what he was smiling about. He smiled all the way to the helicopter, smiled at Barry, at nothing until his cheeks ached, and, although he’d never been motion sick in his life, he was sick into a bag twice before they landed.

At least it got the ridiculous grin off his face.

*

The code was a punishment, too, it turned out. Six hours to figure out the cypher and another solid three to decrypt it. And, all the while, playing and replaying that painful antithesis of a melody. It was the kind of purely mathematical exercise that Mycroft would have probably loved, utterly devoid of anything resembling humanity.

Eventually he ended up with several IP addresses, and a double handful of what looked to be alphanumerical passwords. He put it all on a memory stick and texted Sir Edwin on his way out the door. The taxi dropped him in front of the Cabinet offices on Whitehall. Sir Edwin looked at the small blue rectangle Sherlock dropped on his desk.

“What is it?” he asked.

“No idea,” Sherlock said. “Euros seemed to think you’d like it.”

“She spoke?” Sir Edwin asked. He reached for the stick, attempting to appear casual, but Sherlock’s long index finger got there first, pinning it.

“Don’t ask again,” Sherlock said. “When we need something, we’ll let you know.”

Sir Edwin bristled at his tone.

“It would be to your advantage,” he said coolly, “to remember that I’m not your brother.”

“Lucky you,” Sherlock said. “I’d also like two extra visits a month at my discretion, unless you have a problem with getting anti-terrorist information…?”

“Your requests will be considered,” Sir Edwin said. “If this information leads to something useful, I’ll get back to you.”

Sherlock held his gaze a moment longer, then gave a sharp nod, and released the memory stick. As he turned to go, Sir Edwin spoke again.

“Sherlock,” he said. “If it doesn’t, there will be consequences.”

Sherlock didn’t turn around, just wiggled his fingers goodbye over his shoulder as he went.

For a second, he considered turning left to the lifts that went down to Mycroft’s office, but it was just a reflex. He turned right instead and headed out.

*

Sunday afternoon found Sherlock no closer to finishing the new piece of music than he had been when he left Sherrinford. Nothing he did sounded or felt right, but, more than that, he was...restless. Bored.

Without really intending for it to happen, Sherlock found that he had settled into a kind of routine. He and John saw clients on Wednesdays and Fridays. Aside from the ridiculous cases he could solve in under a minute, usually it was 3s and 4s that took a couple of hours of research or legwork (more if he got John to do it). John also had his work at St. Barts the rest of the week, and every other Thursday was Sherlock’s Sherrinford day. Sunday, John liked to do something with Rosie, and, more often than not, Sherlock went with them. So far, they’d been to the Park four times, the Zoo twice, the Little Gym twice, and the ghastly level of Hell known as Kidzania once.

Occasionally, he met Lestrade for dinner, where they would eat something unbearably spicy, drink a little bit too much beer, and talk about crime in all its myriad forms. Twice now, he’d managed to get Molly out for coffee without crushing her.

He’d enjoyed the routine for a while.

That stability.

John had needed it. Rosie needed it. And, for a while, he supposed, he’d needed it too. This thing about getting older, the body not able to shake off the damage so easily. He was still taking bloody pills for his ridiculous bloody kidneys. When he remembered. It was a challenge not to delete it all; it was all so tedious.

And that was the thing. He didn’t hate it. It just wasn’t enough. His brain felt like it was churning mud. The music…

He tried. He played.

For hours. Played, practiced, adjusted, tuned, re-tuned, rosined, re-strung and composed. Failed to compose. Erased, crumpled, kicked things, smashed unwary mugs, paced. The new piece remained out of reach, and Sherlock didn’t know why. The challenge of it alone should have been engaging. Why wasn’t it engaging?

There was a bit that had just bloomed in his fingers one day, before any of this. Before Mary died, before John had…he didn’t follow that thought. It was just a bit of melody but it was beautiful. It was right

It was still there. He hadn’t deleted it, but he’d let it fall away. And he felt strangely reluctant to continue it. He’d tried starting afresh with something new, but it was like using nicotine patches, when you had a lit cigarette in your hand. Pointless.

He was idly bowing it when he heard John’s tread on the stairs. It was Sunday, of course, the second Sunday after he’d seen his sister last. Sherlock couldn’t remember if they’d made plans.

“That was amazing, Sherlock,” John said as he came in the door. He was laden down with coat and diaper bag and bottle and Rosie. Rosie clearly had a head cold.

“Hm?” Sherlock said. He was distracted by the shiny slime trail on Rosie’s upper lip.

“That bit you just played when we were on the stairs. What was it?*

“It’s not really anything yet,” Sherlock said. “Are you sure she should be out…mingling?”

“It’s just a cold, Sherlock.” John said. “I don’t understand how a man who grows mold on old pieces of pork fat can be squeamish about a little bit of snot.”

He divested himself of his burdens, sat Rosie on a blanket on the floor, and then gave her nose a quick wipe with a tissue, that, as far as Sherlock could tell, merely spread everything around. Then he went into the kitchen and clattered around making tea. He stuck his head out the kitchen door after a minute.

“Is it yours, then?” he asked. “Something for your...for Euros?”

“Mm,” said Sherlock, noncommittally. He played the bit again, and then once more, a bit slower.

John came out with two mugs that had escaped Sherlock’s wrath.

“It’s gorgeous,” he said. “What do you call it?”

“Rose of the World,” Sherlock mumbled, feeling caught out.

“Really?” said John. He sounded so pleased. “Can I hear it again?”

Sherlock felt a small shiver of unease. The violin was abruptly oily and metallic under his hands. He put in in the case and snapped the lid shut.

“Actually,” he said, on his feet, “I’m going out.”

“Sure, but we just...” John started to say. But Sherlock had grabbed his coat and was already halfway down the stairs.

He didn’t wait to hear the end of the sentence.

Outside, he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked until he was out of sight of Baker Street. Then he slipped out his phone and texted:

“Make yourself available. SH”

A minute later the answer came back.

“Always 4 u shezza.-BW”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. He dropped the phone back into his pocket and stepped off the kerb to hail a taxi.

*

Two a.m., and Mycroft was still in his office. He had finished watching all of the tapes of Sherlock’s visits to Sherrinford. Additionally, he had watched hours of tape of Euros before and after those visits. What he found in them filled him with the same kind of dread he’d felt the last time he’d discovered Euros plotting.

Sherlock was under. Deeply under. He watched with a sinking heart the progression of her control. Some of the despair of the previous few months settled in his chest. It was the same feeling, he realized, that he had when Sherlock, newly dead, went off on his own to take down Moriarty’s empire. The same feeling as he had whenever he failed to stop Sherlock from throwing himself away. Which was almost always. Perhaps, he hated to think it, but perhaps it was inevitable that he would outlive his little brother. Perhaps there was a loathsome being that called itself God who could not bear that there was a creature alive that was its better. Or maybe it was just that Sherlock had been too damaged by Euros’s and his own meddling throughout his life and didn’t know how to stop throwing himself at death.

That thought was unbearably sad. And unacceptable. He couldn’t just let it happen, no matter how angry it made his brother to be thwarted. No matter how much easier it would be to just admit she’d beaten him.

And...Euros was making sense again. He flicked the monitor off and stood up, stretched, and rubbed his eyes. He wanted fresh air, a cigarette, and a tumbler of Chivas 18-year scotch. Instead he did a couple of deep knee-bends, which he instantly regretted, made himself a cup of builder’s tea, and started in on the personnel files.

He found what he was looking for just before dawn. An odd turn of phrase in one of the new hire’s interview transcripts seemed familiar, although the name and photo did not. He mentally ran through the 300 or so transcripts he’d already looked at and, yes, it was not just familiar, but identical, although applied to a completely different person. He sat back, steepled his fingers and looked at the files again, comparing stats of old and new hires. And, yes, there were more — a handful of employees who shared identical stats with some of the personnel who were now being deprogrammed at various safe houses around Britain.

Statistically, it was just inside the realm of coincidence. He cross-checked against records of known Moriarty underlings, found two matches. Statistically significant. Just. Enough, he hoped, to get Sherrinford locked down at least temporarily while they reevaluated the new staff. And until he figured out how to deprogram Sherlock.

That was sure to go over well.

He printed out the relevant files, used the ensuite to freshen up a bit, and settled back in his chair to contemplate a problem from his actual workload: the likely strategies of a pair of warlords in South Sudan who had been giving certain people a lot of difficulty despite their seemingly low place in the international power structure. He set his phone to alert him to 9 am, when certain senior bureau chiefs ambled in to begin their day.

He brought the file to Sir Edwin personally. He reacted predictably.

“This was inappropriate, Holmes.”

“I would say that missing the overlap was more so,” Mycroft replied from the doorway.

“Would you?” Edwin said . “I’d say your obsession with your siblings was over the borderline of pathological. I willsay so when I speak to the next meeting of the directors.”

“Do what you must,” Mycroft said. “But I trust your professionalism won’t allow you to ignore the problem.”

They glared at one another, and Sir Edwin exhaled noisily and shook his head. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a file of his own.

“I’m doing this as a courtesy,” he said, opening the file and flipping over a page to look at the page behind it. “First of all, my people have missed nothing. The people in question have been noted, and their movements were being tracked. So far, not one of them has been in contact with the prisoner #132, let alone in the same room with her. And furthermore, despite her continued nonverbal state, your brother has managed to glean some information out of her that has proved very helpful. Lives have been saved. Do you understand?”

“I understand why you think the gamble was worth the risk,” Mycroft said. “I’m here to tell you it’s not.”

“You’re crossing a line, Holmes.”

Mycroft hesitated, not because he thought he’d crossed a line, but because he was about to.

“I believe my brother may be…not entirely in control of his faculties.”

Sir Edwin laughed outright.

“He said as much of you, Holmes, and I’m inclined to start believing him. But, no, he had the same immunity to being manipulated that you’ve always claimed to possess. He’s absolutely scrupulous about following the new protocols, and we’re watching his every interaction with her. He’s barely said ten words aloud to her in all his visits.”

No,Mycroft thought. He wouldn’t have to.

“So,” Sir Edwin went on. “If you’re still dissatisfied with how my department is handling the oversight, feel free to put in a request for an audit. And keep in mind that if you continue to harass me or anyone in my department, I will take that to the board as well.”

“I doubt the board will be interested in how unhappy you are with my interference, if they can’t hear them over the screams coming from Sherrinford when my sister gets out again. Perhaps I’d better warn them in advance.”

Edward feigned a cold, indifferent stare, but Mycroft easily read the petty, personal rage beneath it. He could only hope, as he headed back down to his own office, that the rage motivated the idiot to at least pull the dirty staff from the active duty roster.

Unfortunately, Mycroft’s threat of going to the board of directors was not what it might have been a few months ago. Back then, he would have gone in with confidence. Now, Edwin was right, he had little to no credibility in this area. There was, he suspected, a good chance that he’d be sectioned if he tried.

He’d simply have to find another way.

*

The case was perfect, and Sherlock was delighted. It had been awhile since they’d worked on something this good. This meaty. This fun. No Moriarty, no Culverton Smith, just a dead husband and his clearly innocent wife, who wouldn’t defend herself against a charge of murder. It had been just twisted enough to catch his interest, and had had just enough deadly threat to be exciting.

The fact that solving the mystery had lead to a good outcome was the heartwarming cherry on top.

Apparently, it was just what he and John had needed to shake off, at least for the moment, the last clinging remnants of mutual unease, and a celebration was in order.

They stopped by Waitrose on the way home to pick up a few things and then swung by Molly Hooper’s to get Rosie.

Sherlock still felt his face go hot at even the thought of facing Molly, although she had said that she understood and that she had forgiven him, even though: “There’s nothing to forgive, Sherlock, you were trying to save my life!” He still didn’t believe his debt to her was paid, or that it was even payable.

She rarely joined them for get-togethers anymore, and, when she did, her smiles were warm, but her eyes flitted often to her phone, or the door, and she didn’t stay long. She had other friends now that she didn’t mention. She’d moved her life out of the dangerous circle of his.

It was so much better for her that he wasn’t even sure that he felt bad about it, except when he caught the deep grief under the fragile brightness of her smile.

But then there she was, handing over Rosie and laughingly refusing John’s invitation, and his babysitting money, and giving them both solid hugs goodbye, and they were off again. They picked up wine, dropped by Baker Street for a few of Sherlock’s things and then, finally, lugged everything back to John’s.

It was a bit early for dinner, but they were both ravenous, and Rosamund didn’t care to stand on ceremony, so Sherlock put the food out on random plates while John changed the Dunwich Horror that was her diaper.

Rosie was in a talkative mood, and chattered at them in such an animated, eloquent way that Sherlock felt he was on the verge of understanding her secret language.

When he mentioned it aloud, John laughed and asked him if he was high. It was meant jokingly, of course, but, as soon as he said it, they both realized it was never going to be a subject for jokes—not to John anyway.

“You can check me any time,” Sherlock said, solemnly. And he meant it. It had been a week and John hadn’t noticed a thing.

“No, no, no,” John waved it off. “I wasn’t thinking. It was a thoughtless remark.”

“I know,” Sherlock said. “But I meant it. Anywhere, anytime. I am an open book to you now, John.”

He held John’s gaze while he said it, trying to impart how important this was to him. John got it. His eyes were bright as he leaned over to grab Sherlock’s hand across the table and squeeze it, hard. Sherlock squeezed back. It felt like a real moment, for all that it was all a lie.

Whatever else he was, Bill Wiggins was an artist. The mix was perfect — he wasn’t euphoric, nor stupefied, nor manic — his pupils were of completely ordinary size. It didn’t even eliminate that scratchy edginess he got when he thought of the Rosie piece, it only softened it enough that he could write. And that he could be easy again.

Sherlock reached over to his bag and pulled out his violin case.

“Hey, is it finished?” John asked, voice full of excitement.

He took his old violin out of the case, tucked it into his shoulder, and adjusted the tuning.

“You tell me,” Sherlock said, and played “Rose of the World” for Rose, of the world.

He could see the music as he played, a narrow ribbon of gold cutting through the heavy minor morass of the first duet. In fact, it could be played along with it, so exact was the shape of it. But it was better on its own, more joyful, bringing the paler pastels of the counterpoint into focus and then letting them fade. It might be the best music he’d ever made.

The audience and critics seemed to agree. Rosie got so excited that John picked her up and waltzed (or possibly jigged) her around the living room. When he was done, John bent down and bestowed a big, smacking kiss on Sherlock’s forehead, giving Rosamund the opportunity to grab two big fistfuls of his hair.

The resulting tussle didn’t lessen his satisfaction.

“Mrs. Hudson liked it too,” Sherlock said, rubbing his head while John pulls two long, curly strands out of Rosie’s still-clenched fists. “She still managed to refrain from scalping me.”

“She’s back?” John asked and then: “Yes, you did just say as much. How is she?”

“Not sure,” Sherlock said. “Think she was mad at the builders over something.”

“That’s always the proper response.”

Sherlock leaned back against the chair and just basked in the lack of pressure driving him forward. It was done.

After a while, John said, “When are you playing the song for her?”

“I just said I did. She said she liked it, but she hates the violin, so I can’t see as it’s true.”

“Not Mrs. Hudson. I mean Euros.”

Sherlock felt a little spike of adrenaline in his gut. “Tomorrow.”

“We should be there.”

Another spike, and this one was too big to be pleasant. He wanted to put his hands over John’s mouth. “Why?”

John picked Rosie up, and she laid her head on his shoulder, sleepy now.

“Because,” John’s forehead wrinkled. “Because it’s… It’s Rosie’s song. And she should see…Euros should… She should know what she’s…” He flailed his hand around desperately, held Rosamund tight to him, and buried his face in her soft, dark hair.

“Because it’s important,” Sherlock said. “Because family’s important.”

“Yes,” said John.

“You should come too,” Sherlock said. “Can you beg off work?”

“Yeah, we’ve got our own locum now.”

“Do it,” Sherlock said. “I’ll arrange it.”

“You hear that, Rosie?” John said softly. “We’re going to go in a helicopter and fly across the ocean.” Rosie squirmed a little in his fierce embrace, fussed, turned her face away, and slept again.

“I should go home,” Sherlock said, packing away his violin. “Make the arrangements. I’ll text.”

“Sure,” John said, but his eyes were squeezed shut, and his cheek was on Rosie’s head. He was holding her and rocking her gently from side to side. The sight of them made Sherlock feel like an intruder, so he didn’t say anything more as he put his coat on, grabbed his bag, and headed out the door.

*

Sherlock texted Sir Edwin a couple of times as he walked to the main intersection, but there was no immediate response. He rolled his eyes, hailed a cab, and rang the phone number from the back seat. Instead of a person, he got the automated recording telling him that Government Offices were closed after 4 pm, although if he had the exchange of the person blah blah blah… He rang off.

Back at home, he ran up the stairs, discarded coat and bag, and woke his laptop. Sir Edwin was a dinosaur’s dinosaur. This was so much easier with Mycroft.

Hunh.

He trolled around, found a mobile number and a home phone. Mobile number first — straight to voicemail. Home phone rang five times before it was picked up.

“What,” said a teenaged girl.

He asked for Sir Edwin, heard “Grandad! Man on my phone asking for you” called from across the room. After a few minutes, Sir Edwin came on.

“Hello?”

“I’m bringing John to Sherrinford tomorrow and I need clearance.”

There was silence on Sir Edwin’s end for a moment, then. “Sherlock.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “Clearance?”

“Where did you get this number?”

“Internet,” Sherlock said. “Clearance?”

There was another silence and then a heavy sigh and he said. “Let me call you back on a secure line.”

Sherlock got up, clicked through e-mail, a couple of news feeds, through “20 Celebrities Who Vanished Without a Trace!”, solving as he went. He’d reached #7, Randy Quaid (not vanished, Canada) before his phone rang again, this time from a blocked number. The line was clearer. Absolute silence in the background.

“Has something happened?” Edwin asked, without preamble.

“Not that I know of,” Sherlock said. “I just need a security clearance for John so he can hear a piece of music.”

“John,” Sir Edwin said. “Watson.”

Sherlock fisted the phone, considered throwing it at a wall.

“Yes, our arrangement. I presume the information was useful?”

“Oh, it was extremely useful. Thank you. And thank your sister very much. She saved many lives with it.”

“Then I don’t see the problem,” Sherlock said.

“Look,” said Sir Edwin. “It’s come to my attention that there have been some irregularities with the new staff. Do you know anything about this?”

“Why would I?” Sherlock asks. “And why are you telling me about it?”

“We just…we want to err on the side of caution, given recent events, you understand.”

“I understand we made an agreement,” Sherlock said. “And that we held up our end.”

“Yes of course, and of course once we’ve looked into it and can be sure your sister and Sherrinford are secure…”

“No,” Sherlock said. “I need it tomorrow. Look, I’m not asking to take her for a shopping trek to Knightsbridge. It’s simple. I have written a piece of music for my sister. I wish to play it with her, and I want John Watson to hear it.”

“Look, Sherlock. I don’t like this any more than you do, but the information comes from a…from a legitimate source and must be followed up on through official protocols.”

Sherlock gritted his teeth. “Did this legitimate source happen to be a pompous arse who thinks he knows everything?”

Sir Edwin chuckled.

“I can’t confirm or deny,” he said.

Fuck! thought Sherlock. “You know he’s only doing this to stop me seeing my sister. He’s obsessed.”

“One does rather get that impression, yes.”

“Well, then, you know it’s spurious,” Sherlock said. “He lives to thwart me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was using some Machiavellian trick to humiliate you as well. And get back to having control over Euros.”

There was another silence, but this one had a thoughtful quality and Sherlock relaxed.

“You’re most likely correct,” said Sir Edwin. “Unfortunately, the investigation has already begun and it would look a bit suspicious, don’t you think, if we just stopped it and started handing out security clearances? A week Thursday next I’m sure it will be cleared up, but tomorrow is out of the question.”

“Right,” Sherlock said, ringing off. A wave of rage flooded him. If Mycroft had been standing here, he would have throttled him. He threw the phone hard onto the sofa, then picked up the nearest moveable object—his bag, it turned out — and threw that across the room where it crashed into some dirty coffee cups and plates on the dining room table.

He followed it over and smashed it down a few more times and then used it to sweep the broken crockery, papers, books, and anything else onto the floor.

The rage left suddenly and, for a moment, he just stood there with the bag hanging from his hand, panting a little.

Then he had an idea.

*

Sherlock arrived at John’s flat the next morning to find a slightly frazzled John Watson in the process of getting things packed up for the trip to Sherrinford. John had the infant carrier in one hand and his phone pressed to his ear with the other as he motioned Sherlock in, apologetically, whilst alternately repeating instructions to and reassuring his locum.

The room was organized chaos. There was a spread of baby-related things still to go into the ubiquitous diaper bag: diapers of course, toys, small containers of dry cereal, airsickness tablets, towels, wipes, creams, ointments, bottles, formula… Sherlock picked up the small box of tablets and read the dosing instructions.

Rosamund, meanwhile, sat in the middle of the floor in nothing but her diaper, attempting to tear apart her vinyl alphabet book with chubby fists and shiny gums. Her blue party frock was laid out on the sofa, along with a pair of tiny white tights and matching knotted headband. As she played, she babbled a little song, not unlike the liquid strands of “Rose of the World” that ran through his head.

John was excited. Sherlock could tell by the way he kept flashing little grins at him between trying not to yell at the locum and apparently attempting to re-thread one of the straps on the infant carrier that had come loose. There was a cold mug of tea on the arm of the sofa.
Sherlock forced himself to smile back.

They had approximately thirty-one minutes, eleven seconds left to make the eighteen-minute taxi ride to the heliport when John finally rang off.

“Did the NHS send you an orangutan in a white coat?” Sherlock asked, without turning around.

“What?” John asked, frowning as he took in what remained to be done. “Oh, the locum. He’ll do all right.” He sounded distracted and a bit pissed off. Sherlock could feel the look being aimed at the back of his head.

“The party frock has spit up on it,” he said. “And they’ll never let that lot through security so there’s no point in packing it. Also, you’re threading the strap wrong.”

“Right,” said John, slumping down onto the sofa beside Sherlock. “I’m a bit shite at this.”

“You’re nervous,” Sherlock said, tentatively.

“Of course I’m bloody nervous,” John said. "We're going to visit a top-secret prison where some pretty bad things did happen."

“You don’t have to come,” Sherlock said.

“I know,” John said. “But you think it will help her, yes?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock.

“And it’s safe this time,” John said. “It is, isn’t it? Safe? She is, in fact, actually locked up?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said. “The security is much tighter now.”

“All right, then,” John said, getting to his feet with determination. He scooped up Rosie, grimaced at the soiled party frock and handed the infant carrier to Sherlock.

“You deal with that disaster,” he said. “And I’ll deal with this one.” He smooched Rosie’s head fondly and headed back to her room.

Sherlock picked up the infant carrier and rethreaded the errant strap. Then adjusted the apparatus for his longer, slimmer body and put it on. He could hear John humming faintly as he changed and dressed Rosie. Sherlock took the cold mug of tea to the microwave and put it on reheat. While he waited, he emptied out the diaper bag, replaced everything but one blanket, one diaper, one bottle, the air sickness pills, and the alphabet book.

The tea dinged, and he took it out, took an experimental sip, and grimaced. Still closer to tepid than warm, and far too sweet.

John came out holding a newly spiffed Rosie in a blue flannel onesie and matching jumper. His eyebrows shot up when he spotted Sherlock.

“Are you sure?” John asked, looking both surprised and pleased. Sherlock held out both arms, the mug still in his hand.

“Give me my god-daughter,” he said, “and finish this, it’s disgusting.”

John laughed, popped a laughing Rosie into the carrier and took the tea. Rosamund cuddled up against Sherlock’s chest, her head resting warm and heavy over his heart. The weight of it made something slightly painful unfold there and prickle behind his eyes.

“When should we give her the sickness pills?” he asked.

“Just when we get to the heliport,” John said. He picked up the nearly empty diaper bag, peered into it and shrugged. “They make her right dozey.”

“Excellent,” said Sherlock. “Well, come on, drink up. I’ve got a taxi waiting outside.”

John gave him another pleased and surprised look.

”You’re really taking this on,” he said, sounding almost proud, and downed his tea in two swallows.

Sherlock sighed.

“I’m sorry, John,” he said.

“What for?” John said, he frowned suddenly, blinking rapidly.

“I couldn’t get the pass.”

“You bastard,” John said. He started to sway and Sherlock gently pulled him toward the sofa and then guided him down so that he lay on his side.

“Wha’ th’ fuh’,” John slurred, flailing with one arm to catch Sherlock’s coat. Sherlock gently dislodged his hand and tucked it under John’s head.

“You’ll be fine,” Sherlock went on. “And we’ll be back before you know it.” John’s eyes closed, his breathing evened. Sherlock waited until even the frown melted away, then he took off the infant carrier and took Rosie out of it. He poked one of the “meltaway” tablets out of its package and held it up in front of her.

“Here comes the airplane,” he said and Rosamund opened her mouth as he flew it in. A moment or two later she was right dozey, indeed. Sherlock unzipped the now roomy diaper bag, and laid her gently on her back inside it and zipped it up just enough to leave a generous gap for air and so he could look in on her. Then he hefted the bag and its cargo onto his shoulder.

He felt a little sick, but then he hummed a bit of “Rose of the World,” and the song opened up inside his head and he knew again that this was right.

There was, in fact, no cab waiting outside, so he had to walk a short block to the busier street. The bag on his shoulder was heavier than he’d thought it would be, but no burden. It only took a moment to get the attention of a cabbie, and then they were on their way.

*

Barry gave Sherlock a thumbs up when he got in the Sikorsky. Cautiously, he reached into the back to put a set of earphones on Rosie to protect her ears. He tried to be clandestine, but Barry caught him, nonetheless.

He was delighted.

“Little stowaway!” Barry said. He loved kids.

“My god-daughter,” said Sherlock. That got another thumbs up. The helicopter rose with a swoop, and they peeled away into the wind.

He hadn’t thought he was worried, but now that they were safely on board, he could feel his stomach tense and relax. Usually he spent part of every trip deep in thought about the music, but today his mind didn’t wander far from the blonde, curly head and the way the music twined like a wreath around it.

*

Mycroft was deep in thought when his phone buzzed. He ignored it. He’d had no success teasing out connections that might allow him to bypass Edwin and was still trying to think of another way, short of appealing to Herself.

The phone buzzed again. With a bit of effort, Mycroft pulled his focus away from the problem at hand and stared down at it. The call was from Reception.

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. He was really not in the mood, but the amount of bother John could cause when he wanted something was not insignificant, and he wanted that even less. He picked up.

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Holmes, but Dr. John Watson is here without an appointment to see you.” Mycroft could hear raised voices in the background, John sounding angry and frantic. “He’s quite agitated,” the receptionist went on. Mycroft caught the word “urgent” in John’s voice.

Is it ever not? Mycroft wondered.

“That’s fine,” he said, resigned. “Send him down.”

A moment later John Watson came through his door, wound tighter than a watch spring.

“What can I—” he began, but John slammed the remains of a crumpled infant carrier onto his desk, catching Mycroft’s knuckles on it’s way down.

“You have to find them,” said John. He had that tight-faced, cold-eyed look Mycroft was so accustomed to seeing on him since Sherlock’s “fall.” Thoroughly unpleasant, and not at all the man he’d met in his “garage” office so many years ago.

“Find…?” He rubbed his stinging knuckles.

“Sherlock,” John said. “He’s taken Rosie. He’s taken her.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t keep up with your domestic arrangements, John. Perhaps family court?” He saw John’s hands clench into fists and almost flinched, but then he noticed John’s pupils, huge and black.

“For God’s sake, John,” Mycroft said, angry himself now. “Have you taken something?”

“Given,” John said. “I was given. He drugged me and took her and I don’t even…” He seemed to run out of steam all at once. “I don’t,” John clamped his lips together trying for control. “I don’t know. We were going to visit Euros.”

Mycroft felt a sudden burst of fear.

“We?” he asked.

“Me and Rosie. Sherlock wrote a song about...about Rosie and I thought…I thought we should be there when he played it for her. For Euros.”

Of course, Mycroft thought bitterly. This was what she’d been after all along. Why, he didn’t yet know, but he was sure of it. John, her Victor-surrogate, and his daughter. Everyone Sherlock loved who was not her.

“And you thought this was a good idea?” Mycroft said.

“Well, better than keeping her isolated for her whole life,” John said, sharply. “Jesus, Mycroft, what do you think that does to a person?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s been very inconvenient for Euros,” Mycroft said. “But I was thinking, rather, of the safety of your child, whom the two of you seem to be cooperating to deliver to a cold-blooded murderer. How long were you unconscious?”

“I—” John began, and stopped. Mycroft watched the glacial progression of realization across John’s face.

John shook his head, finally.

“I don’t know,” he said, helplessly. “None of this is making sense.”

“Think,” said Mycroft, feeling the urgency even more as John seemed to be crumbling. “With your small brain, think: he drugged you. He left you behind and took your child to...Sherrinford?” John nodded. “You had a flight arranged. What time was it for?”

“10:17,” John said.

Mycroft glanced at his pocket watch.

“Two and a half hours ago. Dammit. They’ll be there by now.” Mycroft called Anthea, who picked up instantly.

“Get the latest security reports from Sherrinford,” he said, and then with a sigh added: “And locate Sir Edwin for me please.”

He pushed past John who had both hands over his face, rubbing to clear his head. Mycroft was getting his overcoat off its hanger when Anthea called back.

“Sherrinford said everything’s green. All prisoners accounted for. No aircraft arrived or left in the last twelve hours. Also, Sir Edwin left for a meeting in Kent fifteen minutes ago. Should I contact him?”

Mycroft quickly flipped through a dozen possible scenarios before he answered.

“Not yet. I’ll let you know when. And order a helicopter and a car to the heliport.”

Even if it was too late. He should have seen this. He’d known this day would come eventually.

He put his coat on, patted his arms taking inventory. It would have to do.

“I’m coming with you,” said John, standing. He sounded a bit more like John Watson than he had a few minutes ago. Mycroft knew it was probably a bad idea, but he was seriously short of back up.

“Yes,” he said. “Of course.”

*

Barry took Sherlock and Rosie round to the north end of the island without comment and landed them on a flat patch of sand between the rocks. They were met by Faiyaz, who walked them round to a maintenance tunnel with a keycard lock. There was a CCTV camera that followed their approach. Sherlock glanced up nervously, but Faiyaz touched his arm and gave the camera a thumbs-up.

They followed Faiyaz through the tunnel, which, he realized, must run under the entirely of the prison and from, the warmth, must provide geothermal heat.

At the end of the tunnel was a service lift. Faiyaz motioned him in, pressed the correct floor, and stepped back out again.

The door closed, the lift moved silently up. Sherlock checked the diaper bag for nineteenth time. Rosie was a still, quiet bundle. Sherlock touched her chest, to be reassured by the slow, steady rise and fall.

Finally the lift stopped and the door opened on a familiar control room full of people looking at their screens.

Nobody looked up as they passed through. If there were guards about, he didn’t see them. He took the familiar lift down to the underground level where Euros’s cell was.

Iffy greeted him in the anteroom.

“She had a bit of a dust-up yesterday, but she’s been all sunny smiles since this morning.”

“Good,” said Sherlock, absently, as the airlock door cycled through.

*

It was a fifteen-minute drive to the London heliport. The driver made it in ten, and they were met by the concerned pilot who went over the route with Mycroft twice because he was pretty sure there was nothing but open sea at the coordinates he’d been asked to fly to. They were in the air shortly after that.

Staring down at the opaque, wave-etched surface of the sea below them, Mycroft felt a kind of icy certainty settle in the pit of his stomach. Across from him, John was bent over from the weight of his new guilt, clutching at his own head as he tries to work his way through the mental fog of the last “three, no six, no eight — no, Christ, how long?” weeks.

There was a time when he might have felt some twinge of sympathy for John. Such an inverting of one’s own reality was agonizing, as he well knew, but perhaps his own experience of it was too recent and his anger was apparently still fresh, so when John looked up at him and asked:

“How did she do it?”

He took some small mean pleasure in saying: “I don’t know, did the two of you talk more when she was your therapist or your girlfriend?”

John’s face went raw, wounded, and Mycroft rolled his eyes dismissively and went back to staring out the window.

When the island finally appeared, small in the distance, Mycroft gave the pilot the necessary instructions for making contact with Sherrinford and, when they did, asked to be put through to the Governor. This new Governor was former military. He was blunt and not rattled by their sudden appearance, and he reminded Mycroft that he had been expressly advised that he, the Governor, reported only to Sir Edwin and that, without prior confirmation of authority, they would not be permitted to land.

The pilot and John looked to Mycroft with some alarm, but Mycroft had no more patience for justifying his actions, even for the sake of civility and just shook his head, motioned to keep on.

A few minutes later, Sir Edwin was on the line, icy:

“What is this, Holmes?” he said.

“You have a containment problem, Edwin. I believe I mentioned.”

“You’re out of your mind,” Edwin said. “It’s the Governor himself who called me.”

“Compromised,” said Mycroft.

“On what evidence?”

The island was looming twice as big now. Mycroft was not particularly hopeful, but he took a shot.

“If you allow us to land, I would find you all the evidence.you need and you are most certainly welcome to all the credit. If I don’t…well, if I don’t, it won’t matter, will it?”

“You’ve gone right round the twist, Holmes. No, you may not land. I’ll have my own people come down and investigate, but you must turn around now and not attempt to enter Sherrinford. If you do, they will treat you like any attacking force.”

Mycroft considered.

“You promise you will investigate?” he asked. “You have to be quick about it. She’s already enacted plans. There may be a civilian infant involved.”

“Yes, of course we will,” Edwin replies. “I don’t want another disaster any more than you do. We’ll have a team assembled within a day.”

“Good,” said Mycroft and cut the radio.

“Turning back,” said the pilot, relieved. John looked at him, horrified.

“Actually, no,” said Mycroft. “You’ll keep on.”

“Sir…” the pilot said. “I’m not military, you can’t order me into danger.”

Mycroft could, and was about to say so, but...

“Well, then, I’m ordering you,” John said, bringing up his hand which held his Sig Sauer pistol, safety off. The pilot looked from him to Mycroft, who shrugged and then back at John’s gun.

“Fuck,” he said and turned to face ahead, flying on.

Fuck, indeed, Mycroft thought and hoped that by the time they were over Sherrinford proper, he’d have thought of a scenario that didn’t end with the helicopter shot down in fiery shards of metal and dropping all three of them straight down into the cold Atlantic sea.

Euros was perched cross-legged on her bed, radiating delight. At the sight of Sherlock and his bundles, she clapped her hands together like a child and stood, biting her lip in anticipation. Sherlock felt a wave of relief at the sight of her. He put down the diaper bag and his own, smaller bag, which held the Stradivarius. Then he took off his coat and spread it out on the floor to make a little mat for Rosie — who was still asleep. She fussed a bit groggily as he unzipped the back and lifted her out. He put her face-up on the coat and she flailed a little helplessly on the slippery fabric of the lining, slid back into sleep.

When he looked up, Euros had wandered over and was looking at Rosie with an expression Sherlock couldn’t quite decipher.

“She’ll probably sleep a bit more,” he said. “Air sickness pills.” He took out the violin and fussed over it a bit, did a quick warm-up exercise. Euros was still watching Rosie intently. Sherlock frowned. He closed his eyes, let “Rose of the World” fill his head and began to play.

He was six bars in when he peeked out from under his lashes and found that Euros’s attention was back on him. His heart rate picked up. Usually being the focus of her attention felt like being able to breathe, but today there was a tightness to it. He played through the Rosie piece, and then Euros joined him and they played it together. A third time, and he played Rosie and Euros played the recital piece he wrote for her. Together they sounded greater than the sum of their parts — the one piece picking harmonics and syncopations out of the other.

Euros seemed elated and ready to play it again, when Rosie began fussing. Euros put down her violin and ran over to look through the glass. She crouched down so she could see more closely. Sherlock put the Strad away carefully. He picked Rosamund up and fit her in the hollow of his hip. She looked up at him, slightly dazed, and then smiled. Sherlock couldn’t help but smile back.

He took her over to the three-foot line.

“Rosamund,” he said solemnly. “This is my sister. Her name is Euros.”

“Sa sa eee,” said Rosamund, a phrase Sherlock had heard her say before. He wasn’t sure what it meant in this, or honestly any other, context. Rosamund was largely a trembling uncertainty to him. Everything could mean diaper needs a change, or hungry, or tired, or hurt or happy…the list was surprisingly long. Clearly, she had more concepts than she had sounds for them, and her language was tonal and complex.

Euros mouthed the sounds and looked at Rosie with such clear yearning that Sherlock felt compelled to bring her closer to the glass. When he got there, he touched cautiously with his fingers. Still glass, not emptiness. It felt oddly like he and Rosie were the ones trapped by it, but then Euros was there putting her palm on the glass and Rosie reached out to her.

They touched on either side of the glass. Euros traced Rosie’s tiny, perfect hand, then leaned in to kiss her palm. She caught Sherlock’s eye. He could see by the look there that she felt it — that gentle waft of sweetness off Rosie that was somehow the best of John and Mary.

He wished he could remember feeling it from Euros when they were young. He thought he’d felt it from Faith, but he’d been very high then and everything had been limned with purple and gold.

“Ba,” said Rosie, slapping her palm on the glass. “Ba ba bah.” But when Euros slapped her own hand against the other side, hard, Rosie startled. She looked up at him uncertainly, and her face began to crumple.

Euros tried to mimic the face, but on her it looked terribly wrong. Rosie decided that crying was, in fact, called for. Sherlock tried walking her around the small anteroom, bouncing her at what he had determined was the preferred cadence for calming, but to no avail. He checked, it wasn’t the diaper. He offered the bottle, but she wasn’t interested in that either.

There was a soft tapping on the glass, just loud enough to be heard over the crying. Rosie looked up. Euros did something complicated and quick with her hands and Rosie’s crying switched instantly, as it sometimes did with him, from crying to laughter.

She had a hearty laugh for such a little thing. Euros did the hand thing again, and Rosie laughed some more. And then Euros was looking yearningly at Rosie and hugging herself tightly.

Rosie reached for her, little hands grasping the air. Euros held out her own arms, her desire clear. It started up an ache in Sherlock’s chest.

“I can’t,” he said. “The glass.”

Euros turned her head to look at something near the floor. Sherlock followed her gaze to the little hatch, by which she had given him the Stradivarius. He felt the hollow swoop of fear in his gut. He wanted to help her, he did. But, Rosamund...

Euros.

He crouched down and opened the little hatch door with his free hand. It was a small space. Dusty. Rosie’s hands and knees would be black. It would be dark with the doors closed. She’d be afraid. But Euros had never had anyone to hold. Had never felt the warm weight of a trusting head heavy on her shoulder.

He gently placed Rosie down on her belly in front of it. Let her make her own choice. He wouldn’t push her in, but he wouldn’t stop her if she wanted to go through.

“Go on, Rosamund,” he said. “Go see your Aunt Euros.” And when she hesitated to belly crawl into the small dark space, he knew he couldn’t leave it to her choice, and gently pushed her the rest of the way inside. He looked up at Euros, pleading, although he didn’t know for what. He got his answer in her slow, creamy blink and closed the hatch door behind her.

*

As they swung around from their westerly approach, their view of the island and Sherrinford prison became clearer. The rise of the island was high and impossibly steep. Its profile was long, and deep-cut fjords made the outcroppings into the limbs of a rough beast, dying as it emerged, moss-topped and bones protruding. The prison was like a saddle on its back. As they swung around again, they saw a helicopter landing on a tiny beach as the island’s north end. Maintenance tunnels there, Mycroft’s brain served up. Any doubts he might have had of the situation were entirely dispelled. No more than three months after her first takeover, Euros was, once again, in control.

The very thought of being in her domain made Mycroft queasy, and he had to swallow and breathe in long shallow inhales and exhales to keep his gorge down.

With a squawk, the radio came to life, and the voice of the radio operator followed.

“Sherrinford Island control to aircraft Alpha Charlie November one seven nine one five, you have entered a secure air space. You do not have permission to land, repeat, negative permission to land. Change your heading by one eighty, or we will consider ourselves under attack, and defend accordingly. Do you copy?”

The pilot, radio in hand, looked a question at them over his shoulder, his face livid with either anger or fear. Mycroft took one last calming breath and held out his hand for the radio, leaning far forward to accommodate the length of the cord.

“This is Her Majesty’s Representative at Large,” he said, to John’s raised eyebrows. “Stand down. Your security has already been breached. We are here to negotiate for hostages.”

“Mr. Holmes,” came the new Governor’s voice over the radio. “You have no authority here. If you don’t turn around immediately, we will be forced to open fire on your aircraft. Surely you don’t want to be responsible for even more loss of life.”

Mycroft made a moue of displeasure and crossed off another ten strategies from his mental list. He was down to his last three, and this was a ridiculous idea, but it was the least ridiculous of those.

“But, Governor,” he said, with as much warmth as he could muster. “I’ve brought John. You know how much she wanted to see John…” He held up a hand to stop John’s sharp forward movement.

There was time enough to panic in the long silence that followed. Time enough to order the pilot to turn them back around to the mainland, time enough to argue with himself until he was catatonic with indecision. He did none of these things. Nor did he pray. He only concentrated on not vomiting on his own shoes, and waited to learn whether he’d gotten it right or not.

Of course he had.

“Alpha Charlie November, please air taxi to the helipad. We’re so glad you decided to join us for the celebration.”

It didn’t make the nausea any less.

*

The moment Sherlock closed the hatch door behind Rosie, he felt a shift in his consciousness. It was an odd sensation, and, for a moment he was distracted by it, chasing it down, but unable to put his finger on what it meant. Only that when he heard the opening of the hatch on the other side of the glass, he felt that he was suddenly on the brink of a pit, a deep well of fear that he desperately tried not to acknowledge.

He couldn’t help feeling its influence, though. He was breathless with it as he watched Euros reach down and pluck Rosie from the little box.

“Careful!” he warned, a little too loudly. But Euros was being careful, holding Rosamund close as she stood, cradling her lovingly in the cage of her arms. She brushed her nose across the top of Rosie’s head, taking a deep sniff of the sweet baby smell. Rosie laughed and grabbed a tiny fistful of Euros’ hair. Sherlock stifled a gasp, but Euros only laughed happily and gently pulled Rosie’s tiny perfect hand free.

She put it to her lips, and Sherlock couldn’t help the flinch. He was pressed right up against the glass now, as if he could transit directly through it with enough proximity and will. When Euros kissed the hand, sucked the tiny fingers into her mouth, he couldn’t help himself.

“Don’t,” he said. “Euros, please.” He wasn’t even entirely sure of what he didn’t want her to do, only that he very badly didn’t want her to do it.

“Oh, Sherlock,” Euros said. “Don’t be such a baby. We don’t need two babies, do we?”

He’d been hearing her voice in his head for so long that it came as a physical shock to realize that she’d actually spoken aloud.

*

The helicopter touched down on the helipad with a gentle lurch. There were guards dressed in Sherrinford yellow, armed with military assault rifles, around the port and lining the upper walkways, but the gun barrels were pointed at the ground. As soon as the engines shut down, John had the door open and was on the ground. Mycroft followed more slowly, but thankfully the first brisk smash of sea air in his lungs eased some of the nausea. Enough to think, anyway, something, it was clear, that John Watson was still not doing.

He caught up in a few long strides and gripped John’s arm. John looked at the hand on him and gave him a deadly glare.

Mycroft was feeling a little deadly himself.

“Recklessness is not called for,” he yelled over the noise of wind and rotors winding down.

“My daughter…”

“Yes!” Mycroft said. “Your daughter. For her sake. Think.”

He could almost see the wheels trying to turn in the emotional magma flow behind John’s eyes, and he didn’t know how Sherlock managed not to spend every minute trying to shake awareness into him. But then, John was nodding, jaw muscles tight and twitching.

“What then?” he said. “Do you have a plan?”

Mycroft looked over his shoulder reflexively before he spoke. He noted that some of the guards had now trained their rifles on the helicopter, trapping the pilot inside.

He did, in fact, have a plan, but it wasn’t a particularly clever or intricate one, simply the most expedient. They would go in. He would go in, he would do…something. The “something” was entirely situation dependent, within the given parameters, some of which were narrow, others of which were extremely broad. The ultimate goal was what it always was: equilibrium. He had no plan for John.

He shared none of this.

“Follow my lead,” he said.

They walked into the control room, and no one even turned around to look at them. Even the Governor only nodded at them politely and handed John a keycard. Then they were running down a long hallway to a bank of lifts, one of which went down to the subfloors on which the most dangerous prisoners were kept. John’s keycard opened the lift doors. It seemed to take eons before the lift stopped on sub-level 3. The door opened at last, and they stepped out. The halls were silent and empty.

They ran down another long, greenly-lit hallway until they reached a T-intersection. Curving to the left was a short corridor ending in the lift that went directly to the Special Unit. The guard posts were unoccupied. Curving to the right was a somewhat longer corridor leading to a maintenance and service passageway. Mycroft stopped John at the intersection.

“Your daughter’s through there,” he said, pointing at the airlock door. “Give me your gun.”

“Why?” said John suspiciously.

“So when you go in there to negotiate for your daughter’s release, my sister won’t tell you to do something with it that we would all deeply regret.”

John grimaced, and Mycroft did feel a twinge of sympathy after all.

“And where will you be?”

Oh, for God’s sake, could he really not wrap his head around the concept?

“If I tell you,” Mycroft asked, feeling the seconds slip away, “do you think you could keep it from her?”

John glared at him furiously, like he’d rather pistol-whip him than give him the gun, but then he put the safety on and shoved it into Mycroft’s hand.

“If you fuck this up...” he said, leaving the threat unspoken. Mycroft closed his fingers around the gun and refrained from saying that, if he did, none of them would ever know.

“Go,” he said to John, and when he did, Mycroft headed off in the opposite direction.

This hallway was longer, steeply down-sloped, and if his sense of direction had not failed him, he should be able to find the entrance to the rooms through which they travelled for their trials. Of course, it was likely they’d been blocked off. He could only hope they hadn’t filled them in with concrete, as they should have done.

When he got to the approximate place, he began feeling around the edges of the wall panels, looking for any variation in colour or texture that might indicate new construction. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, and then the fourth panel — the smells of formaldehyde and ammonia were still strong — thus the paint was dry, but still off-gassing. He put the gun down, dug his fingers under the new join, and pulled. With effort, a corner of the panelling came away, and he could see that the rooms were just as they’d left them.

Bravo for quality British workmanship, he thought, as he pulled the entire panel free. He stepped through into the room where he should have, by his own faulty analysis, died. He was surprised to feel nothing, no frisson, just the reflection that it was an ugly room. The panel to the next room was easy to remove — no sign of the splintered coffin, but the glass-topped table remained. The next room, bright with daylight, was bare of files and blunderbuss, and then he was faced with a door.

A real door with electronic lock — he should have taken John’s card, as well, but the chances of it working on any other lock were small, and John would have argued that, too. There were algorithms he could use to come up with the security number passcode, but, without knowing how many digits it contained, it would take too much time.

He frowned at the lock, brushed his fingers over it. The door swung inward silently, not even latched. Mycroft’s mouth went dry, his heart rabbiting up inside his chest.

Of course, she knew they were there, and, from that, would have seen this scenario. Not all of it, he hoped. He took the safety off the gun.

The door had opened on a small area defined on four sides by light-blocking curtains. Inside the area, there was a steel toilet and a half-sized shower, no curtain. There was also a shelf of books. He recognized them as the ones he’d given her over the years: the classics in English, Greek, Latin; language books, Newton’s Principia, a few modern plays he’d found worthwhile, poetry. She’d liked that a surprising amount.

On the other side of the curtain he could hear…her voice. Her voice. Turned away from him and pitched low, so he couldn’t make out the words, but the oddly lilting rhythm was unmistakeable.

Oh, he thought, and stepped inside, and closed the door behind him.

*

The light turned green in the cell, and Sherlock heard the sound of the door cycling through. He didn’t dare take his eyes off Euros. She was being a very good auntie right now, setting Rosamund on the bed with her, playing peek-a-boo through her hands. He thought that maybe, if he kept looking at her, talking to her, she wouldn’t…no, there was no conclusion to be made. There was not enough data in the world to make sense of Euros.

He heard the sigh of the electronic door opening, and the light turned white behind him. He knew who it was, without turning.

“Stay where you are, John,” he said. “Better yet, get back in the lift and go back up to the surface.”

“Well, no, that’s not going to happen,” John said.

Sherlock heard the tightness in his friend’s throat. Knew it. Hated it. He’d made John sound like that again. It hadn’t taken him long this time at all, had it?

“Please, John,” he said. “She doesn’t want to hurt Rosamund. Isn’t that right, Euros? You don’t want to hurt her?”

Euros looked up from their laughing, giggling game and shrugged.

“Maybe a little,” she said. “Everything would be so much less complicated, wouldn’t it? Without the little girl. Let’s just get rid of her. Let’s lock her away! Let’s wipe her from our memories!”

“Euros,” he cried out, torn between anguish present and past.

“Well, I never wiped you from my memory,” John said. “Me and Rosie, we’ve never done anything to you—“

“John, don’t!” Sherlock said. He wanted to cover John’s mouth with his hand. Get him out of here. Shut him up. Too late.

“Haven’t you?” Euros asked. She got up off the bed, carrying Rosie with her, and came towards the glass. “Haven’t you been by Sherlock’s side, day in and day out, for years and years? Haven’t you seen him at his best and his worst? Haven’t you hurt him, been hurt by him, loved him, been loved in return? Hasn’t he told you all the secrets of his heart, John? What haven’t you gotten from Sherlock Holmes? What have you got that you haven’t stolen from me?”

He heard John’s nostrils flare with anger. Clearly, he knew the answer and knew not to speak it aloud. That’s perfectly right, Sherlock thought. Stay quiet.

At that moment, Rosie noticed John through the glass and reached for him. “Dash,” she said, dislodging herself a little in Euros’ grasp.

“Awww,” said Euros. “Look at the little sweetheart. Wanting things. Stuck on the wrong side of the glass. Nobody wants you, Rosie. You are too much trouble.” She punctuated the last three wordssyllables with a finger tap to Rosie’s nose. Rosie’s lips twitched downward and began to tremble. As Euros walked back toward the bed with Rosie, Sherlock whispered:

“Get out of here. You’re only making it worse.”

“Making what worse? What the hell is happening? What does she want?”

“Don’t tell secrets,” Euros sing-songed over her shoulder. “Don’t tell lies.”

“No lies,” Sherlock said. “If you want me, you have me. I’m here. I’ll stay here.”

“Promises, promises, Sherly,” Euros said seating herself and Rosie on the bed with a small bounce. “You promised you’d always be my brother, and look what happened to that.”

Rosie made an unhappy sound and squeezed up her face as if she were going to cry.

“No, no, don’t cry, Rosie,” John said desperately. “Daddy’s here. Please, for God’s sake, let me comfort her. I’ll give her right back, she prob-probably just needs changing.”

“John,” Euros said in the voice of the murdered therapist. “Must you be so boooring.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw something. A ripple of movement in the wall behind the bed and then, silently, incongruously, Mycroft was there in the cell holding John’s gun, pointing it at Euros.

For a breathless second, Sherlock hoped.

“And speaking of boring…” Euros said without turning around to see him. Sherlock swore.

“Euros,” Mycroft said, the stentorian effect of his “command” voice diminished by the slight quaver. He was trembling. “This is your last chance. If you put down the child and let her go free, you will remain unharmed.”

“Oh, Mycroft,” Euros said, rolling her eyes. Rosie, distracted by this new turn of events, sniffled and subsided. “Unharmed?”

“Yes, unharmed,” Mycroft said. “I don’t want to hurt you, Euros. But I can’t let you hurt these people, either. Please.”

“So sentimental, brother. About everyone but me. Sherlock’s hurt people. He’s taken human lives. Why haven’t you put him in here? And John, he’s killed hundreds! Why am I the only one who has to be alone?”

“Because you won’t stop, sister,” Mycroft said. “Because you have no control.”

Euros laughed. It sounded genuine and it made the hair stand up on Sherlock’s neck.

“But I have all the control, Mycroft. You remember. You know.”

Mycroft seemed to sag where he stood, the hand holding the gun lowering. Sherlock looked from one to the other. There was, he realized, a history there he’d never asked about. Couldn’t know.

Mycroft seemed to pull himself together.

Euros was carding her fingers through Rosie’s dark curls.

“You don’t,” Mycroft said. “You know how to perform a clever trick. But the only one who’s ever fooled me, is me. Now put the infant down, or I will sh-shoot you.”

“Will you?” she said. “Go ahead then. Shoot me.”

His hand was shaking so badly, he used his other hand to brace it. It made very little difference, as far as Sherlock could tell.

“Oh!” Euros said. “Are you afraid you’ll shoot the baby by mistake?” Mycroft swallowed. Sherlock could hear the click of a throat too dry. “Well, come closer then.”

Mycroft took a step. Stopped.

“No,” Mycroft said. “I don’t want your help.”

“Of course you do,” Euros said. “You need my help. Remember?”

All the colour drained out of Mycroft’s face.

“Mycroft,” Sherlock shouted, alarmed. “You know what she’s doing.”

Mycroft nodded.

“I do,” he said. Sherlock wasn’t sure which of them he was talking to.

Strange bits of information were floating around in his head. He could see the madness in Euros now, not grief, not loneliness, but the bright blade of a brilliant mind with no attachment to the world or the people in it. Mycroft had felt himself a man among goldfish, but Euros saw herself as a shark, feeding, feeding. A hunger without a conscience, kept starving, in an empty tank.

“Oh, God,” said Sherlock, clapping his hands over his mouth. He turned away, took a step toward the door, forced himself to turn back, more bits of knowledge around them, swarming like bees. He heard John murmuring “fuck, fuck, fuck” under his breath. His eyes were locked on Rosie as she squirmed in Euros’s tightening grip.

Sherlock turned his gaze back to Mycroft who looked...

He couldn’t tell. Mycroft was mentally there and not-there. Contradictions almost flickering in and out of focus around him.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock whispered.

“What’s he doing?” John hissed at him. “He said he was immune.”

“Then let me help,” Euros said in the background. “Come closer.” Her voice was gentle, but her face was a blank mask.

Mycroft didn’t answer, but, behind her back, he nodded. Shook his head.

“Fighting it,” Sherlock said.

“Well?” Euros said impatiently. “Come here…”

“Wha…?” Mycroft’s voice sounded blurry, now. His sharp eyes went vague, and he blinked a few more times. Then he slowly began to walk toward the bed.

Sherlock slammed both his palms on the glass, but the sound was easily absorbed.

“Wake up!” he yelled as loud as he could. “Mycroft! For God’s sake...”

No reaction from his brother. He felt sick, the way he had when she’d shot the Governor’s wife, and when the two innocent men dropped away from his sight into the sea.

Mycroft stopped beside the bed when he was even with Euros’s shoulder. He still had the gun pointed at her, but Sherlock could see that his grip was loose.

Euros pointed meaningfully at the floor. Mycroft blinked some more but slowly, stiffly, knelt by her feet.

“Euros, stop this,” Sherlock said, desperate to hold her attention. “This is me, keeping my promise. Bringing you home. You’re off course.”

Euros looked back at him, her expression filled with sorrow and compassion.

“I’m really not,” she said. “Trust me. I know the way.”

“Not this way,” Sherlock said, his voice cracking. “Leave them here. We’ll go away. Just you and me. We’ll play…”

Euros smiled Faith’s tender smile.

“It’s a beautiful story, little brother. But it’s not our story.” She made “gimme” motions with her fingers at Mycroft. He looked at her hand, looked at the gun and, with a puzzled expression, took his finger off the trigger and placed the weapon in her palm. She flipped it around with the precision of a trained assassin, and pointed it at his head, finally turning to look at him.

“Poor Mycroft,” she said. “You don’t get to come along this time. Do you know why?”

Mycroft, eyes cast down, muttered something Sherlock couldn’t hear.

“No,” Eurus said, her voice strained with rage. “It’s because you LIE!” She screamed the last word so loudly, they all flinched back, except for Mycroft, deep in whatever well he’d fallen into. And Rosie, who began to cry in earnest.

Euros looked at her blankly, then, with the arm holding her, crushed Rosie’s face into her shoulder, muffling her cries. Rosie’s feet kicked frantically. Sherlock felt John’s knees try to buckle beside him.

“Now,” Euros whispered, almost tenderly. “Come here, big brother. Let’s have a look inside.” Mycroft leaned forward so his forehead was pressed against the barrel. Euros cocked the gun.

“No…” Sherlock said.

And he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. His hands curled into fists and he brought his arms up to cover his face. He felt John grabbing his coat, holding him steady.

The gunshot cracked flat through the air.

Sherlock felt John’s flinch within his own. But…

That was not the right sound at all. Not the dense crunch of the Sig. Not the sound of a bullet exploding a skull (he was far too familiar with that particular sound). He had to look.

Euros still had the muzzle of the gun to Mycroft’s head but as he watched, it fell away and a tiny spot of blood formed on her left side, under her arm. The blood stain on her side grew as her eyes, wide with surprise, lost the spark of life, and she slowly toppled over, sideways on the bed.

Her arm still held Rosie, even as her body draped across her, pinning her to the bed. Rosamund’s feet had stilled.

Sherlock heard John speaking, but his eyes were on his brother, who hadn’t moved. Time seemed to slow as Sherlock puzzled out what he was looking at. Mycroft on his knees, left arm extended, left hand holding a small, fat-barrelled gun attached to some kind of mechanism that disappeared up inside his sleeve. Replacement for the discarded James Bond umbrella; his brain provided the images of Mycroft, sans umbrella, piling up in his memories of the last few months.

Then John was yelling at him, and they were shoving through the door to the lift, and then he was following John down a long, spiralling ramp to a break in the panelling, and through the rooms to the back door of the cell.

The air in the special room had the acrid quality of spent gunpowder and the heavier scent of blood.

Sherlock pushed Euros onto her back, and John dragged Rosie out from under her. Little Rosamund Mary came out screaming at the top of her lungs and very much alive. John hugged her tight, his whole body curled around her. Sherlock squeezed them both, once, hard.

Then he knelt on the bed beside the body of his sister and looked down into her face. Her eyes were still open. He put his fingers on her eyelids and slid them closed, but they only stayed at half mast… Ptosis, his brain supplied, uselessly. Resulting from post-mortem relaxation of the orbicularis oculi muscles.

He was aware of feelings hovering just out of reach, but he didn’t reach for them.

“Is she dead?” Mycroft’s voice was hoarse and flat of affect.

Sherlock nodded. He turned his head to look at his brother who was half collapsed against the far wall, arms crossed protectively over his chest. The little gun had disappeared. Now Sherlock could see the subtle line of it under the jacket sleeve.

“You’re—” he began, feeling suddenly breathless. “I thought…”

“I know what you thought,” Mycroft said, pushing himself violently off the wall. “Since you learned to speak, Sherlock, I’ve never lacked for knowing exactly what you think of me.” He brushed himself off, straightened his waistcoat. “I trust the infant was unharmed?”

Sherlock nodded. Something was wrong with Mycroft, the jerky way he moved, his too bright eyes. Shock.

“Wait,” he said. “Are you—”

But Mycroft talked over him as though he hadn’t spoken at all.

“Good,” he said. “Reinforcements should be arriving shortly. I’ll be up in the control room.” He turned and walked toward the curtaining behind the back wall. Sherlock leapt up to stop him, grabbing his arm. He wasn’t prepared for the violent response: Mycroft grabbed two of his fingers and bent them back, with intent. Sherlock let go, shocked and hurt.

Mycroft just stood there, breathing hard, eyeing him in a way he never had before. Like Sherlock was nothing more than another adversary, an obstacle to his forward movement. That hurt, too, and he took a step back, waiting for the angry words that were sure to come. But Mycroft just turned then, and walked out behind the curtained wall, leaving Sherlock in the cell with his dead sister and his live John, the flywheels of his brain spinning free.

*

Mycroft couldn’t get out of there fast enough. In the lift he collapsed against the rail, too dizzy to stand, and then he really was sick. By the time the lift doors opened on the organized chaos of a military shutdown, he could stand upright, but he felt strangely light, like a numb balloon floating just above the floor. He hung his ID from his jacket pocket and walked to the control room.

“Mr. Holmes?” A vaguely familiar lackey in a suit — Sir Edwin’s military liaison, his brain supplied—approached him, attempting to cut off his exit. He could see the ocean in the distance, through the large windows.

“Sir Edwin asked that you remain here until he arrives,” the young man said.

“Sir Edwin can go fuck himself,” Mycroft answered, continuing to walk forward. The young man reached out to put a restraining hand on his arm as he walked past. Mycroft stiffened, thinking of the two rounds left in the miniature sleeve-pistol. He wouldn’t get far, he supposed, but it would feel wonderful. He barely managed the bubble of laughter that threatened. He felt quite mad.

Perhaps something showed in his face, because Peter’s hand dropped away without making contact.

Mycroft continued into the second lift, up to the roof. The doors opened on a magnificent view of the sea. The wind off the ocean was stiff enough to push him back. So cold it sucked the breath out of his lungs. He turned his face into it, let it scour him.

It’s over, he told himself. Over. He knew it would take a long time for it to reach back into the past, to his twelve-year-old self, and wondered if the nightmare feeling would ever leave him, but the message was on its way. It was over.

He stepped into the helicopter, gave the harried-looking pilot instructions to return to London, and sat back in his seat. He let his head fall back against the cabin wall and closed his eyes, not opening them again until they were safely back in the center of London.

PART IV


i.
In the chaos of getting out of Sherrinford, Sherlock kept track of John and Rosamund, even though it seemed the goal of everyone they encountered was to present an obstacle to that exact thing. There were armed soldiers everywhere, chivvying them like cattle, making them stop, move, turn here, turn there, and pulling them aside for questions. There was a gauntlet of medical people who wanted to check their vitals, check their heads, and hold them for tests. John refused to let Rosie out of his arms. Sherlock ran interference there. He could see how near John was to the breaking point.

There were men in suits, who had questions of their own. Sherlock interceded and intervened, keeping John and Rosamund safe and together as they negotiated their way through to the helicopter at last.

Part of Sherlock half-expected to be taken to where Mycroft was, or have Mycroft appear and try to spirit them away through a hidden side door, but there was no sign of him. When the helicopter pilot started the rotors, and he finally asked where his brother was, the pilot had no idea who he was talking about.


They didn’t talk beyond a few necessary words, and not at all on the helicopter. When they arrived back in London, Sherlock hailed a taxi for John and Rosie.

“Will you be all right?” he asked, with his hand on the door. John just stared at him, no anger in his gaze. No anything in his gaze.

“Right.” Sherlock said, mortified. “Stupid, stupid question.” He had been going to tell John to call him if he needed anything, but that was ridiculous now. “I know it doesn’t mean much, but I’m sorry. Truly.”

John just shook his head, vaguely, then shut his eyes and rested his cheek on Rosie’s head. Sherlock closed the taxi door, and gave the driver the address of John’s flat. He watched the red tail-lights merge into the traffic sea.

Then he just stood there, no idea of where to go or what to do with himself. An excellent example of the utter uselessness of genius in the face of honest human emotion. Or fatigue was catching up with him. He texted Mycroft:

“Where did you disappear to?”

Then he put the phone back in his pocket, not expecting an answer. He thought about getting high. He thought about it a lot. The rush, the twilight dreaming, all of it sweet and empty and light. But to what end? He wasn’t bored, he didn’t have a difficult mystery to solve, there would be nothing to catch him when he crashed except another high. It all sounded so useless and repetitive and dull. The whole rest of his life laid out in low-amplitude monochrome waves.

He found himself walking, realized at some point that he was recreating part of his walk with Faith. God, he’d liked Faith. She’d seemed so… human. But Faith was dead now, along with John’s fake therapist, and his “bit on the side.” Along with the little girl on the plane he’d tried so hard to save. And Euros.

He didn’t think, now, that he’d liked Euros very much. Now that her programming was undone (was it? How could he ever know?), it was hard to connect her to the intense feelings she’d given him: that sense of belonging, of being exactly the right shape piece that was needed for completion. Absolute acceptance. But Euros herself, without the glamour, was entirely empty. It hurt.

Sherlock’s phone buzzed in his coat pocket and he pulled it out.

Not Mycroft but Lestrade.

“I just heard. Where are you?”

Sherlock looked around, a residential street in central London. Consulting his inner map, he found the name of the street and texted it back.

“Stay right there,” Lestrade texted. “I’m coming to get you.”

Why? Sherlock wondered. And why hadn’t Mycroft just told Greg where he was? As he recalled, there was most definitely enough CCTV along here...The memory of that convoluted insult rose in a bubble of laughter. He wished he could have seen Mycroft’s face that night. Then he frowned, catching up with something that had been niggling at him. There were two cameras within his sight—one nearby, the other two blocks northeast and neither of them were trained on him. He moved a little back and forth on the sidewalk, but not even the near one whined to life. A quick mental review of his walk here confirmed it. Not a single camera had tracked him specifically since he’d left the heliport, and that meant…No, he didn’t know what that meant. Yet. His brain was definitely shutting down. He catalogued the signs: absence of agency, euphoria, distraction, melancholy, and a kind of grinding mental gridlock, not at all the same as mental quiet.

More than just post-manic fatigue catching up with him, then. He tried to keep his focus on that and the need to tell Greg when he got there, but instead his mind rickrolled through random, pointless thoughts until all he could remember of the original was that Greg was coming.

So he stayed where he was, ignoring the irritated looks of the occasional pedestrian who had to take a step to the right or left to avoid him, costing them precious, precious seconds. Sherlock found it a bit funnier every time it happened, which was why, when a car pulled in beside him and Lestrade leaned over and opened the door, he was laughing too hard to explain it.

Lestrade didn’t ask, just got out of the car, put his arm around Sherlock and maneuvered him with infinite gentleness into the passenger seat. The sense memory of all the times he’d been in this car, feeling this lost, with Lestrade tired but steady behind the wheel nearly overwhelmed him.

“Don’t take me home,” Sherlock said, his head lolling back against the headrest, too heavy to hold up by himself.

“Alright,” said Lestrade. “We’ll go to mine.” Sherlock was so grateful that, if he could have forced words out, he would have said so, but all he could do was sigh and let the warmth from the car’s overactive heater seep into his chilled bones.

*
The last thing he remembered clearly was watching Lestrade pull the convertible bed out of his sofa, already made. Those pale green sheets, that baby blue blanket were familiar. It was like he was going back in time. After that, things got fuzzy.

He woke, he dreamt, he slept. All of the edges between were blurred and it felt an awful lot like withdrawal. Perhaps part of it was, Bill’s wonder mix burning out of his veins. But he heard Euros’s voice too. Her adult voice, her child voice, the voice of her violin like flash floods of music catching at him, trying to drag him into the swift, cold current.

There were flashes too of Greg wrestling him back down into the bed, bringing him water. A brief lull of lucidity where he realized John must have been going through something like this, all on his own.

“Taken care of,” Greg told him. “Molly’s got the baby.”

“Who told you?” he asked, his voice hoarse and gummy. “Was it Mycroft?” But he was already slipping back under, then, and didn’t hear the answer over the feverish arco of the violin.

*
It took three days for Sherlock’s brain to decide which reality he wanted to inhabit, but the first night was the worst. It turned out, he learned later, that many of Euros’s victims came back with varying degrees of Stockholm Syndrome that, without further exposure, tended to unravel into cognitive dissonance, auditory hallucinations, depression, anxiety, and, in his case, a touch of drug withdrawal as well.

By the third day, Sherlock managed to get himself up, showered and dressed. Greg wasn’t in the flat, it being a weekday, but he’d left a note for Sherlock to give him a call if he was up and about. He did, and they arranged to meet for coffee at Speedy’s.

*


The cafe was crowded and loud and Greg had snagged a table by the wall. He had a coffee and an egg butty, which he was eating hurriedly.

“Have you heard from John?” Sherlock asked as he sat down.

It took a moment for Greg to chew, swallow, and then gulp down some coffee before he answered. Sherlock could feel tension winding up in him like an air raid siren.

“Yeah,” he said, finally. “He had one rough night—not as bad as yours, but still he called Molly to take Rosie. She stayed over and helped out. Good lass, Molly.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock, solemnly. “She is.”

“And you? You look almost human.”

Almost human,” Sherlock repeated.

“You sure you’re all right?” Lestrade squinted at him.

Sherlock had no useful answer to that question, so he went on to the next pressing matter.

“Did Mycroft contact you?”

Lestrade gulped down the last of his coffee. “No,” he said.

“You need to text him,” said Sherlock.

“I do?” Greg looked dubious.

“He’s not answering my texts, and his phone goes straight to voicemail, which is full. MI6 says he’s out of the country. His PA is on vacation, and the temp they’ve hired is either a moron or a moderately skilled actor pretending to be a moron.”

“You’re worried about him,” Lestrade said.

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “Is none of this obvious? You need to go to his club, and if he’s not there, you need to go to his flat, and if he’s not there—--”

“Sherlock,” Greg said. “He’s fine. Well, probably not fine, but in good hands.”

“Ah,” Sherlock said. “Lady Smallwood called you. Acting on his behalf. She has a small flat here in London.”

Greg wiped his mouth with a napkin, and then sighed.

“Listen,” Greg said. “Your brother really is out of the country. No, I don’t know where, or for how long, I just know he’s ‘off the grid’ for a while. Needs a bit of peace and quiet—her words. So… let it be, yeah?”

“Let it be,” Sherlock echoed. “On Elizabeth Smallwood’s say so.”

“Yes,” said Greg.

“I see.” Sherlock tapped his fingers on the ugly plasticized tablecloth. “I could find out where he is.”

“I suppose you could, yeah,” said Greg.

“I wouldn’t have to disturb him,” he went on. “I’m quite skilled at covert surveillance.”

Greg gave a nod of acknowledgement and scratched his jaw with the side of his finger.

“Or…you could wait until he comes back and let him get in touch with you in his own time,” he said.

Sherlock shook his head, sighed heavily.

“He won’t want to talk to me,” he said. “He was, understandably, livid the last time I saw him.”

“Oh, come on, Sherlock,” Greg said. “This is Mycroft we’re talking about. He’s been badly shaken. Sometimes it hits people that way, taking a life. And he… well, it was your sister. But it’s not the first time he’s been angry with you, believe me.”

That was true, Sherlock had to admit. But it was the first time he’d taken off all the surveillance. And it was also the first time that he’d turned his personal attention to someone—anyone—else.

It gave him a strange, hollow feeling. Sherlock had spent the last twenty-three years of his life kicking and tearing at Mycroft’s overbearing blanket concern, and now, finally, he was free of it, and it felt like a loss. It wasn’t that he didn’t want that, he truly did, he just wished it had been granted on the basis of Mycroft finally realizing that he was a fully-functioning adult, and not because he was just...done with him.

It seemed to be the thing these days, though. Mycroft. John. Molly, although she pretended not to be. All done with him, all well-deserved. He looked up at Greg, who was patiently waiting for him to answer, and felt terribly, horribly grateful.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said and fished a fiver out of his pocket to drop on the table. “I have to go home and think.”

Greg just stared, apparently the living embodiment of the word “gobsmacked.” Despite his inner gloom, Sherlock felt a bit of a smile tugging at his lips as he walked away.

*
Repairs and renovations on 221B were finally finished, and Sherlock was comfortable enough and bored enough that he resorted to clearing up Lestrade’s cold-case drawer—all the 2s and 3s. By working on them all at the same time, he found he could occupy enough of his brain that the craving for drugs (and musical triggers) was mostly drowned out. He spent several days tracking down persons of interest and interviewing those that were still alive and still lived in the city. In addition to solving a number of crimes, he gained a disturbingly practical insight into the degradation of the human body and mind over time. How people coped with it—no, why people coped with it—was beyond him and he made a mental note to ask Mrs. Hudson at what point in her decline she wanted to be euthanized.

He was reading a text from one of his homeless network when the cab dropped him off at Baker Street, so it wasn’t until he was nearly standing on him that he noticed John Watson sitting on the low stoop in front of the door.

“Oh,” he said, blankly. “Hello.”

“Hello,” said John, squinting up at him under the shade of his hand. “Mrs. H. isn’t home.”

“Gone to see her sister again,” Sherlock said. He reached past John and unlocked the door. “Did you want...?” He indicated the door.

“Yes, thanks,” said John, getting to his feet as Sherlock unlocked the door. “I was hoping we could talk.”

“Oh,” said Sherlock again.

They walked up the stairs in silence that was somewhere, Sherlock thought, between comfortable and a trip to the gallows, and all dependent on the feelings as yet to be ascribed to it.

The flat was relatively tidy, except for the manila folders spread over every surface, newspaper clippings, statements and photos fanning the spaces between them.

“Big case?” John asked, taking in the volume of data on view.

“No,” said Sherlock. “Twenty-two small, cold, boring ones. Tea?”

“Sure,” said John, heading for the kitchen. “Have you got milk in?”

“I meant…” Sherlock began. John raised his eyebrows. He remembered the last time he’d given John tea and winced. “No, you go ahead.”

John continued into the kitchen. Sherlock hung up his coat and then sat in his chair, taking refuge behind the nearest manila folder. After a few minutes John came out with two mugs of tea, put Sherlock’s on the space left by the folder, and took his own to his own chair and sat down as well. Sherlock waited, pretending to read, but John stayed silent for so long that eventually curiosity got the better of him and he peered over the top of the folder. John was watching him, his face serious but not grim. He closed the folder and put it on his lap.

They both sipped their tea. It was all horribly awkward, and Sherlock didn’t know what to do about it because he didn’t know, couldn’t deduce, couldn’t even guess, what John was going to say to him. All of the things he wanted to say to John were the kind of things he wouldn’t actually want to say aloud to anyone. It went on so long that he almost startled when John cleared his throat.

“Greg said you had a couple of bad nights,” John said.

Sherlock nodded.

“You too,” he said. “You’re better now?”

“Who knows?” John shrugged. “But I’m not hearing voices now, so yeah, I guess that’s better.” Sherlock cringed at the thought.

“And Rosamund?” he asked. “Was she...?”

John shook his head.

“She’s fine. Apparently you can’t mind-whammy a baby.”

“Good,” said Sherlock. “That’s good.”

“So,” said John. “What I wanted to say. Things haven’t been so great between us. Not since—”

“Mary,” Sherlock said.

“I was going to say not since you came back.”

Sherlock nodded.

“You had a right to be angry,” he said.

“Yes,” said John. “I did.” He took a deep breath “The thing is. In the tube carriage, with the stupid bomb you pretended you couldn’t defuse, when I said that I forgave you?”

“Yes?” said Sherlock, feeling the bottom of his stomach drop out.

“It’s not that I was lying,” John said. He was hunched over his tea like it hurt just to be there. “I was just…I was a bit mad, really. Proposing to Mary, and you coming back and everything was…I was over the moon. I wanted it to be true.”

“But...” Sherlock said.

“I never stopped being angry.”

Sherlock didn’t know what to say. He gulped a mouthful of tea. Cold, but it gave him something to do with his face. John wasn’t looking at him anyway, staring intently into his mug as he went on.

“I couldn’t stop being angry, but, as long as things were going well, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. I kept thinking it would go away. It didn’t seem to interfere with our friendship, or the work, and it just seemed stupid to tell you after a while.” John looked up and met his gaze. “I’d already said I’d forgiven you.”

Sherlock nodded, numbly.

“But then when things began going wrong again. Magnusson and AGRA and the drugs and all the…all that shite.” John sniffed wetly, wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve. “Even after you nearly died trying to keep me from drowning in self-pity.”

“I—” Sherlock began, but John held up a hand, and he subsided. Which was good, because Sherlock had no idea what was going to come out of his own mouth. He watched as John took a deep breath, forced himself to sit up straight.

“After I nearly… I wanted to, you know, just in that minute, I wanted you dead, Sherlock.” He looked up and his eyes were so open and bleak that Sherlock knew it was true. He’d already known but it was different to hear it like that, from John’s mouth.

“You’re not the first,” Sherlock said, trying for wry.

John looked away, squeezed his eyes closed hard.

“I was your friend,” John said, very quietly. “I was supposed to be different. And I should have bloody told you then.” He shook his head, let out a heavy sigh..”But I didn’t, and off we went to Sherrinford and nearly died again and Euros did whatever she did to our heads and, I don’t know. It just...faded away. I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t angry anymore. We were putting this place back together, and Rosie loved you. There were cases to solve. It was just really good.”

“But it wasn’t real,” Sherlock said. This was good. This was…it was good to get it out in the air and get it over with so he could get back to the work. He’d given feelings a good go, and now he knew.

The work would be enough.

“The thing is…” John went on, “the reason I’m telling you all this…” John pressed his lips together and shook his head again. “Look, I just…I liked that. Just being ourselves together without the baggage. My baggage. Even if it was just mesmerism and silly buggers, it beat the hell out of walking around with all this festering inside me. And I was hoping...if I was honest about being a bit fucked in the head that maybe we could, you know, try to make it real.”

Oh! thought Sherlock. There was something happening inside him. It felt tectonic in scale. Everything cold and jagged and dead inside him breaking up and raining down everywhere. There was something behind the avalanche of feelings—--something newly alive and unbearably tender.

“Sherlock?”

“Oh,” he finally managed to say aloud after what might have been a bit of a while. “That would be… absolutely brilliant.”


*

“You need to tell your parents,” John said, out of the blue.


It was four days later, and John and Rosie were at Baker Street playing with soft, cotton-filled building blocks in the middle of the carpet. Things had been going very well indeed.

“Why?” Sherlock said, not looking up from the laptop screen. He was researching neurolinguistic programming and was disappointed to find that it was largely considered to have been debunked. He was idly wondering if that was Euros’s doing, when John said his name again, loudly.

“What?” he snapped, glaring and running the last few minutes back through a slightly more present filter. “Oh, tell my parents. Why?”

“Because their daughter is dead, Sherlock, and I doubt MI5 will be showing up at their door with a wreath and an explanation any time soon.”

“Couldn’t I just not tell them, then?” Sherlock asked. He grimaced at the memory of the last time news of Euros was given to their parents. “Maybe they already know?”

“Sherlock, they would have called.”

Sherlock sighed and snapped the laptop closed.

“Fine,” he said, bringing up the phone and pressing the relevant icon. Then he quickly rung off before the call connected.

“What now?” said John.

“What do I say?”

“I don’t know, they’re your parents.”

“Well, this is usually Mycroft’s job,” he snapped. He thought about that for a moment. “Maybe not this time.”

“Maybe not,” said John. “Maybe…” He grimaced. “Maybe after everything...after saving Rosie’s life. Maybe he shouldn’t have to do everything else.” Another grimace. “I suppose I ought to thank him properly for that. Do you think he’d--”

“I think he would rather be flung directly into the sun than let you hug him, John.”

He stifled a smile. “Right. But my other point still stands.”

The thing was, he didn’t know how Mycroft did it. It would had been easier five years ago, before he met John. He would have just called and told them: Hello, Mummy, Euros is dead. Mycroft shot her. I’m a moron. Ta! But no, he wouldn’t even have done that. He tapped his fingers on his thigh, then thumbed in a message. Got a reply.

“Right,” he said. “I’m going out.”

“Sherlock…” John said and Sherlock put his hands up in surrender.

“Means to an end, John,” he said. Then, halfway down the stairs, he called up. “Back in time for dinner,” and he was off.

*

He met Lestrade, comma Greg, at Nando's and talked at him while Lestrade tried to eat his 1/2 breast peri-peri and chips.

“What about particular words or phrases that ease things along?” Sherlock asked. Lestrade wiped his mouth and his fingers with the shredded, greasy paper napkin remnant he had left and sighed.

“There are, but there’s really no good way,” he said. “You’re telling people what is probably the worst news they’ll ever hear, and they’re going to have feelings.”

“If only they’d keep them to themselves,” Sherlock muttered.

Greg looked at him in a way that made Sherlock think he’d said something a bit not good, but Greg didn’t have the energy to explain it to him. That was fine. Then he had a brilliant idea.

“You should do it,” he said.”You’re the professional after all. Tons of experience.”

“Yeah. That doesn’t actually make it easier. I mean you get a bit used to being the bearer of bad news, you have some words ready, ‘Sorry for your loss’, ‘Is there anybody we can call?’ but it’s never a job well done. And they always hate you a little afterwards.”

Sherlock nodded, stole a cold chip, chewed slowly.

“Listen,” Greg said. “Here’s what you do. You call them, you give them a bit of warning that it’s bad news, you tell them the bare facts and none of the gory details and then, this is the most important thing. You stay on the line. Doesn’t matter if they cry, or yell at you, or don’t make any noise at all. You just say that you’re still there, and you never hang up first. You got it?”

“Got it,” Sherlock said . “Stay on the line.”

“Good lad,” said Lestrade. “I’ve got to get back. Glad you called me.”

He got up and put his coat on. “You’ll be okay,” he said. And then he went.

*


In the end, it went as badly as he expected it to. His mother screamed and dropped the phone. He could hear her choked sobbing in the distance and his father’s questioning tone. Then his father picked up the phone.

Sherlock tried again. Unlike his mother, his father just seemed baffled at every turn.

“But why was the baby there?” he asked, and “Couldn’t you just call the guards?” and “How could he?”

“Well, he had a gun to his head,” Sherlock snapped finally. “And I was fucking useless. He didn’t really have much of a choice.”

“Sherlock!”

“Look, you weren’t there,” he said. His father didn’t answer, and the sound went muffled. His father had put the phone down on a soft piece of furniture. Sherlock knew the line was still open, because his mother’s sobs were still audible in the background. He let his head fall back so he could stare at the ceiling and sighed loudly.

John came up beside him: “What’s happening?”

“I’m not ringing off first,” Sherlock said. John looked like he was going to say something for a moment, but then he deflated, sat heavily in his chair. Sherlock was about to comment on that when the phone was picked up again.

“I have to see her,” Mummy said. “I won’t be fooled again. And I want to talk to whoever is in charge of the investigation. You make the arrangements, Sherlock.”

“Will do,” he said, flipping back to his email, scrolling through distractedly

“Sherlock?” his mother said sharply.

“Yes, Mummy, I’ll make the arrangements.” There was a brief moment of silence and Sherlock’s finger hovered over the call disconnect, only Lestrade’s words preventing him from tapping.

“And Sherlock,” his mother said, finally. “I don’t want to see your brother there.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. He doubted Mycroft would want to come anywhere near the morgue, let alone when Euros was in it, but he didn’t see why she had to make a point of it. He was still mulling over whether he wanted to argue this point when his Mum said:

“I have to go. Your father’s out in the garden in the pouring rain.” The line went dead.

“Are they going to be all right?” John asked when Sherlock put the phone down.

“How would I know?” Sherlock said absently. This was the exact kind of emotional treasure hunt that Sherlock hated most. He didn’t even care whether his parents wanted to see Mycroft or not. Except that he did. He threw himself back down on the sofa and brooded.

*

Elizabeth, Lady Smallwood, met them in the chill, familiar corridors of the morgue at St. Bart's and introduced herself as the Acting Head of Intelligence Analysis.

“Mr. Holmes,” she said, extending her hand to each of them in turn. “Mrs. Holmes, I’m sorry for your loss.”

It made very little sense to Sherlock, this strange formality, the statement of grief and apology. He wasn’t sure that what he felt about Euros actually was “grief” in any way. It wasn’t at all like the heart-crushing totality that he’d felt when Mary died, nor the soft, tear-wet pang of remembering the loss of Victor. What he felt, mostly, was anger and confusion, the constant worrying of unanswerable questions at the back of his brain. He would never have come here on his own for this — for the autopsy, yes, although no invitation had been extended — but his mother had insisted and, having been designated the summary “grown-up” of the family, he apparently didn’t have the luxury of not bothering.

His mother hadn’t mentioned Mycroft at all.

“You understand,” Lady Smallwood went on. “That as your daughter had already been identified to Her Majesty’s satisfaction, there was no need to see her here. You could wait another day and view her in more sympathetic surroundings.”

“I need to see her now,” Mummy said, her eyes bright with tears. “I’ve been lied to about her death before.”

“Of course,” said Lady Smallwood. “Just through here. Miss Hooper would be glad to assist you.” Sherlock’s Dad nodded and put his arm around Mummy, who was holding herself very straight. Lady Smallwood opened the door to the morgue and ushered them in. The door closed slowly behind them. Sherlock remained slouched against the wall.

“Going in?” she asked him, her tone clipped. He shook his head. She shrugged minutely and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Sherlock said. She waited, arms folded across her chest, disapprovingly. Her face wore the same arrogant blandness that Mycroft’s often did. He’d never thought of it as an occupational hazard before.

“How is he?” he said, keeping his voice low.

“Bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“You’re angry with me,” Sherlock said, slowly. “On Mycroft’s behalf. Why?”

Lady Smallwood shook her head.

“The fact that you’re confounded by that is reason enough,” she said, and this time, when she turned to leave, he didn’t stop her. The smart tapping of her heels on the marble floor rang loud until it faded away.


*

Thirty minutes later, they sat in chairs across from Lady Smallwood at her desk.

“I understand you had some questions,” Lady Smallwood said, directing her deceptively neutral gaze at Mummy.

“I have one question,” Violet Holmes said. Her eyes were red and wet, a little halo of smudged mascara lined her eyes. “How did this happen?”

“You have read the report that was brought around to you.” It was barely a question.

“The one that was mostly thick black lines of redaction, yes.”

“I’m under the same security restrictions, of course,” Lady Smallwood said. “But perhaps I could clarify in a more general sense.”

Sherlock huffed a bit of a laugh into his collar.

Lady Smallwood opened her laptop and tapped the keys briskly.

“Ah, here it is.” She read quickly, scrolling, scrolling. Finally, she looked up.

“Well, the summary conclusion is that specific instructions given by our Special Consultant to the Secure Unit at Sherrinford were once again ignored, which allowed Euros Holmes to circumvent security and endanger civilians. The Special Consultant learned of the breach at the last moment and took swift action to contain the problem with the least number of casualties and at significant personal risk.”

“What she means,” Sherlock said, tiredly, “is that I screwed up and Mycroft fixed it.”

“Don’t be stupid, Sherlock. This was Mycroft’s doing from beginning to end. If he hadn’t locked her away from us, she would have had at least the chance to get well again.”

There was a moment of silence following that declaration.

“You do realize,” Lady Smallwood said flatly, “that Euros Holmes is untreatable.”

“You don’t know that,” Mummy said. “You’ve barely even tried, from what I’ve read in that report. And of the few psychiatrists who’ve been allowed to see her, not one came to that conclusion.”

“True,” said Lady Smallwood. “On account of her having broken or murdered them all before conclusions could be reached. After the last one was manipulated into suicide, we — and by ‘we’ I mean the current oversight committee — were advised that it was likely that any further attempts at traditional psychiatric evaluation and treatment would be counterproductive to the health and safety of all.”

“Advised by Mycroft, no doubt,” Mummy went on. “With his limited understanding.”

“Well, yes,” said Lady Smallwood. “Limited to using facts in his analyses rather then happy thoughts. Of course, there were others on the oversight committee who shared your view that there were other, less traditional, avenues of healing that could be tried, as well as your claim that Mycroft had lost the ability to remain unbiased in the case of his sister. They had him removed from the committee altogether.”

“I suppose you objected to that,” Mummy Holmes sneered.

“Unfortunately, I did not,” Lady Smallwood said. “I allowed my personal concerns to dictate my decision. Something I deeply regret, because it led indirectly to our current predicament and your daughter’s death.”

“But I thought Sherlock was doing all right with her,” his Dad said, still a few steps behind. “He was forging a connection.”

Lady Smallwood directed her gaze at Sherlock, and his parents followed suit.

“It’s so obvious,” he snapped. “Do I have to explain it in small words?”

“Sherlock!” Dad said, sternly.

“I think you do, actually,” Lady Smallwood said, sweetly.

“Fine,” Sherlock said. “She did the same thing to me that she did to everyone else, using her own modified versions of standard brain reprogramming techniques, most particularly repetitive music in the 45 to 52 beats per minute range, voice rolling, metacommunication, and controlled approval, all of which, though otherwise scientifically debunked, she managed to make effective, probably because her phenomenal intellect permitted her to respond dynamically and quickly to changes in the subject’s response.”

“In other, smaller, words,” Lady Smallwood cut in smoothly. “She hypnotized you. Made you do things and think things without realizing she was manipulating you.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, darkly. He slouched even lower in the chair.

“Sherlock,” Mummy said, putting a comforting hand on his knee. “Why didn’t you say?”

“Because it’s humiliating. Because I almost got Rosie killed.”

“You didn’t mean to,” his mother said.

“I’m sure that would have been great consolation to John.”

“To return to the matter at hand,” Lady Smallwood said. “Does that answer your questions, Mr. and Mrs. Holmes?”

Violet Holmes wiped her eyes and shook her head.

“No, it does not,” she said, fiercely. “Mycroft didn’t have to murder her. He could have called the guards in or used a taser. You seem to think he’s some kind of self-sacrificing saint, but he was always a sneaky, sullen, jealous little boy. He couldn’t bear that Euros was smarter, and Sherlock happier. He couldn’t bear that they were so close. He tried so hard to keep you apart from her, Sherlock.“

“Actually, he was trying to keep her from killing me.”

“You’re blind to it, Sherlock. You always idolized him, although I’ve no idea why.”

“The relative virtues of your children would be an interesting debate, but it's a bit off-topic...” said Lady Smallwood. “Why don’t we end this for now and, if more questions occur, we can take it up again later.”

“That’s enough for now, eh Violet?” his father said, laying a comforting hand on his wife’s shoulder, and she seemed to collapse in on herself, all fight suddenly gone. She nodded. For all that she seemed totally irrational to him, Sherlock couldn’t deny the fact that her grief was genuine. His father took his mother’s weight and helped her to her feet.

“It’s a long drive home,” he said to the room. “Lady Smallwood, thank you for seeing us.”


Sherlock and his father left Mummy sitting in the foyer with a paper fan and a glass of water. Then they went to retrieve the car.

“This wasn’t Mycroft’s fault,” Sherlock said, after they’d walked in silence for a while. “Why does Mummy insist it was?”

“She’s hurt and grieving,” Siger Holmes said. “As am I.”

“Do you blame Mycroft?”

Siger Holmes considered.

“I am angry with him, yes,” he said. “He had no right to lie to us, and for so long. It makes me wonder what else he’s lied about. He’s always kept things very close to the vest, your brother. You never knew what was going on in that head of his.”

Well, that hasn’t changed, Sherlock thought. Then he thought of something else.

“Dad? Did you know? That Euros was capable of killing?”

Siger Holmes shook his head.

“To be honest, I never could wrap my head around it. She was a child, Sherlock. An odd child, to be sure. She had her moods and her tantrums, but she could be so charming, too, with her rhymes and songs.”

Sherlock shuddered.

“She loved you so much,” his father went on. “She used to follow you everywhere. She taught you to play violin—really play. You’d already been for lessons, but you were quite uninspired, as I recall, until Eurus took it upon herself to tutor you.”

“She told me that,” Sherlock said.

Sherlock’s father stared off into the distance for a while.

“I suppose there were signs. We knew she was...different. Strange. But then so was Mycroft.”

“Not me?” Sherlock asked, surprised.

“You were a sweet boy, Sherlock. Full of mischief,” he smiled at the memory. “Do you really remember none of it?”

“Flashes,” Sherlock said. “Bits and pieces.”

“There were good times,” his father said. “Christmases, picnics. I hope you remember those.”

“Me, too,” said Sherlock, meaning it.

“When little Victor disappeared, the police suspected Mycroft at first.”

“What? Why?”

His father shrugged. “He was big for his age, and…secretive. When the police questioned him about Victor, he told them it was obvious what had happened and refused to explain himself.”

“Typical,” said Sherlock Then another thought struck him. “You didn’t suspect him, did you?”

His father was silent. Sherlock didn’t usually observe his family the way he did clients, but, looking at his dad, he could see the signs of long-held inner conflict.

“It became obvious soon enough that it was Euros’s little game,” he said. “But yes, for a short while, we did.”

And Mycroft would have known it.

“And Mummy never really stopped,” Sherlock said, quietly.

“Euros was just a little girl,” his father said. “A very ill little girl who did a terrible thing, but she still needed our love and our protection. If I blame anyone for what happened, it’s your Uncle Rudy. We should never have let him take charge, but we were so distraught. Obviously, he had his own agenda. But Mycroft didn’t have to follow it. He had the choice to change things at any time, and he chose to put the needs of his sister and his family second to his idea of the ‘greater good’. That’s hard to forgive.”

“He saved our lives,” Sherlock said, quietly, trying for the simplest counterpoint. “He’s saved my life more than once.”

“Then I hope the two of you can work it out,”

“Work what out?” Sherlock asked.

“Everything.” His father shrugged. “Anything. Violet and Rudy’s personal war never ended, but she cried at his funeral.”

“Mycroft didn’t so much as sniffle at mine.”

His father laughed out loud, and Sherlock couldn’t help but smile a little. They had reached the car.

“You’re a good boy, Sherlock,” his father said, going in for a hug. “A good man.” Sherlock stilled his instinct to twist away, patted his father’s back with both hands. His father was not a small man, but his shoulders felt surprisingly fragile under the tweed jacket. “Cheers to John and his sweet baby girl, who I am very glad is still alive. I’d better get Mother now.”

He got in the Volvo and drove off. Sherlock watched as the car disappeared, then checked his phone. A text from John asking how he was getting on. He texted back: Going back on the heroin.

A few seconds later John replied: Hilarious. Pick up Thai.He smiled and sent a thumbs up. But the lightness didn’t last.

Dad had a very uncomplicated idea of his and Mycroft’s fraternal relations. They might bicker like children, but their real conflicts played out on a much larger board. Or so it had always seemed. He wished he could remember more about their childhood on either side of Victor Trevor. He didn’t know that he really remembered the picnic in that Super 8 clip he’d spliced up, and yet sense memories had bubbled up while he’d watched it. The superficial heat of the sand, ocean-cold beneath, the grit of the wool blanket against the grains. The smell of mustard from the sandwiches. The solid bulk of Mycroft’s shoulder bearing him up.

He’d been angry with Mycroft for so long. His brother was like a sea wall that he’d battered himself against for years without making so much as a chink in the mortar. He remembered how dire it had felt to want to be seen as an independent force of his own, how wretched to.be instead protected, coddled, and worst of all, rescued, time and again. He’d gone from wanting to prove himself to wanting nothing more than to break that calm surface, drag Mycroft down to his level, and watch him crack open, red-faced and spitting with rage. Which, of course, had never happened.

The heat of his anger had faded over time, as the work became its own reward. When he found himself seen at last, in John’s eyes, as something more than Mycroft’s fucked-up little brother who dabbled in solving ridiculously obvious crimes. It was so satisfying not to need Mycroft’s gaze on him anymore, and to let him and the rest of the world know it.

And even that had not broken through. Mycroft had merely stepped back into the shadows, just out of range. Infuriating. It was the implacability Sherlock had never forgiven, and he’d always felt his anger to be righteous.

But Euros had done what Sherlock had never been able to, and it had been far from satisfying to see Mycroft brought down to sweat and fear and bile, to see him human and hurt

Sherlock felt tears pricking at the back of his eyes and winced them away savagely. Not sentiment.

It was that moment when Mycroft had given up the pretence of pointing him at John and offered himself up to be shot instead. Sherlock had been too distracted to realize it at the time, but he remembered afterward. He’d been able to read Mycroft at that moment, something he hadn’t been able to do in years, and he didn’t think it was because Mycroft had particularly wanted him to see.

There had been fear there, some, but there had been a sense of relief as well, and pride. It had angered him anew to think of it, oh so proud of his little self-sacrifice. But something about that hadn’t rung true, and, for the first time, Sherlock opened himself to the idea that it hadn’t been that at all.

Because Mycroft wouldn’t have let himself be sacrificed for his own self-image or even for Sherlock’s peace of mind if there was even the smallest chance that doing so would leave the Commonwealth at risk.

Which meant… Which meant what exactly? That he’d had some other plan in place? That his death would trigger the cavalry’s wild ride? Or something that Sherlock, even now, could not accept? That what had been left unvoiced because it was obvious, was that Mycroft believed that Sherlock was enough. That the world, or this tiny, dangerous corner of it, was safe in Sherlock’s hands, and that the pride that he could see in his brother’s upraised chin...was for him.

It stopped him in his tracks, the truth of it. Like the moment when his hand passed through the absence of glass in Euros’s cell—he had to wait while the world rearranged itself around him to accommodate the new data. When it had, he looked around. A glare-y patch of sunlight had pierced the overcast.

Fuckhe thought, when he saw it. And, then, because it had to be done:

“Fuck!” he said aloud, to the startlement of several passers by.


*

Ordinarily a place like Seville provided the exact kind of travel experience that Mycroft despised: hot sun, tourists, walking. But life at the moment was anything but ordinary, and Elizabeth had been correct. It was, in this circumstance, sufficiently diverting.

The sun made him languid, the walking required just enough of his attention that he couldn’t entirely withdraw into brooding, and, at this time of year, the tourists were outnumbered by the locals who were content with the shallowest of pleasant interactions.

The city had its own charms, as well. The architecture was opulent, but organically so, arising from its deep roots. The Alcaźar was an ornate wood and gold puzzle-box of a castle, unfolding on a scale of centuries. The long structure of La Cartuja, despite having been gutted and cored several times, and now housing an unfortunately modern art collection, still had the reverently hushed quality of its monastic origins. And this, the Parque de Marìa Luisa, harkened back to the days when nature was something to be curated and arranged, rather than left to its own unruly devices. Mycroft appreciated the calm.

He sat on a prettily-tiled bench in the shade by the Fountain of the Frogs, let his eyes rest on the rippled reflections on the water. His mind was very still.

He’d spent his first several days here cloistered in his hotel room, reassembling the ruins of his ”mind palace.” (Sherlock’s name for the conceit. Mycroft had learned of it as a boy reading Cicero’s “De Oratore,” from which he translated it as the “method of loci.”) His own “palace” had started off simply as the library at Musgrave and had eventually, by necessity, scaled up through various incarnations into his own version of the Bodleian Library at Oxford and its offshoots.

The strange synesthesia produced by the traumatic events of the last few months had jumbled its contents wildly, into overwhelming and artificial collections of facts sorted by colour and scent, or clustered, out of context, around some emotionally charged nonsense like pools of blood or the idea of fear.

He had hoped that simply deleting the extraneous collections would be enough to return things to normal, but it had not. The task of rehoming so much information in its proper place had seemed daunting, even knowing the whole concept was his own mnemonic device and he wouldn’t have to do more than think each bit back into place to have it done.

For some reason, however, his brain had decided that the actual thinking must be done consciously, and so he focussed his considerable attention inward, spending hours imagining himself in shirtsleeves, clambering around the towering stacks of books and folios and ancient scrolls—yes, he was that much in love with the old traditions—bringing his internal world to some kind of order.

It had not been an unpleasant exercise, but, having finished, he was seized by an uncharacteristic desire to get out, stretch his legs, do something outside his own mind for a change. Hence, the castles, the park, and, ultimately, this bench and…waiting.

Waiting for it to crash into him like a wave—the guilt, the horror, the shame… He had taken a life, his own sister’s life. What he wouldn’t do for the Governor, for Sherlock, for Victor Trevor or any of the people whose deaths he might have prevented, he had finally somehow managed when his own life was on the line.

Worse, he had gone in there knowing what he was going to do. Planned for it. That ridiculous shirt-sleeve gun he’d been so delighted with. Of course, that’s why he’d wanted it. On some level, he’d known, he’d always known that this is what it would come to, his caretaking of Euros Holmes.

And if he’d known it, deep down, hadn’t she?

These were not new thoughts, just a strangely calm iteration, unaccompanied by pain. It was done.

Oh, there would be an endgame. Investigation, castigation, a shuffling of the pieces on the board, but, ultimately, he didn’t even need Elizabeth’s assurance that his actions would be seen in the best possible light.

Then they would disappear.

Done.

The piping voices of children interrupted his thoughts and he watched them, a group of friends, three boys, two girls—all bare knees and teasing and laughter as they crossed the boulevard.

There would be someone, a boy or a girl, on their street or in school (or at home in the room two doors down from their own). Someone who was left behind, heart full of longing, forever outside their circle. Maybe they’d find a circle of their own, maybe find that solitary was their preferred state and take pleasure in the idea that those they loved were happy. Maybe their hearts would burn and blacken into murderous hate.

Perhaps they had been born with coals for hearts, and it was nobody’s fault.

Each of these things seemed as plausible as the other, utterly context-dependent. Euros seemed to have reached the same conclusions:

Good isn’t really good, evil isn’t really wrong, bottoms aren’t really pretty.

But seeing through the facade of human interaction was only useful if one could still use the facade as an interface. Otherwise, one was just an airplane without a pilot, threatening to crash into whomever happened to be so unlucky as to be underneath when it hit the ground.

Which was…

Which was to say…that he didn’t feel as bad as he should have about not feeling as bad as he should have about killing his sister, but he knew enough to keep that fact to himself. And he could live with that.

As for the solitary life...

It was mid afternoon and he’d had nothing to eat since his early breakfast of tea and a boiled egg. The Sevillanos had one other custom to endear them to his deeply suppressed hedonistic soul—la merienda, afternoon pastry and coffee in the open air terrace of La Campana.

Today’s pastele was a ridiculous pile of flaky pastry, custard and cream.

Although he’d been blissfully solo for the last six days, he was unsurprised when Elizabeth joined him at his table.

“That looks delicious,” she said to the white-shirted waiter who tucked in her chair. “I shall have the same. And the coffee as well, con un poco de brandy, per favour.”

“Difficult flight?”

“Not at all,” she said. “Just catching up on relaxation. You look well.”

“I look fat, ginger, and freckled,” he said, but the corner of his mouth turned up as he savoured another decadent forkful. The rich, sweet cream was soothing in a way nothing else could be.

“You look perfectly Alec Guinness,” she said, gazing with admiration at his crisp white cotton suit and rakish fedora. She smiled. “You look better.”

Mycroft put his fork down.

“I feel,” he said, covering the remaining pastry with his napkin and taking a sip of bitter coffee. “That if one must continue to exist as a murderer, then this seems to be a tolerable way to go about it. “

“Mycroft…!”

“I’m not being facetious,” he said, thoughtfully. “I use the word as a way to monitor how I’m processing the experience. I’d prefer sororicide for its accuracy, but it lacks the visceral effect required to measure a response against.”

He glanced over to find she was watching him, narrowly. They were interrupted by the return of the waiter with another miljohas con nataand coffee for Elizabeth. She sipped at the coffee and smiled slyly up at the waiter.

“Perfecto.” Her eyelids dipped appreciatively, and the young man’s lips curved in a smile that was confident above his station and very white. After he left, Mycroft asked:

“Tonight’s entertainment?”

Elizabeth shook her head, laughing a little.

“Not for me, no.” She gave him a speculative look. He pretended not to notice until she turned back to her pastry. She closed her eyes and hummed with pleasure at the first bite. He knew she had wondered about him from time to time, what he’d like in bed, who he’d like…

He’d sat across from people thinking those thoughts before. When he was younger, he found it shocking, because it seemed so blatant. Mostly now it was just distasteful, like seeing someone hawk spit on the sidewalk. But Elizabeth’s interest wasn’t entirely prurient. She really did seem intent on making sure he had everything he needed. He supposed Woody had needed a lot of that kind of surrogate mothering, and he guessed it wasn’t beyond the pale that Elizabeth missed that and saw him as a potential replacement.

Sadly, his sexuality, such as it was, was one area in which he was going to disappoint her on all counts. He could thank Euros and her “curiosity” for that. The memories had never lost the power to mortify him, and he found it more discomfiting to be intimate than he had, as yet, found it to be worth. When he was younger, that had been a sharper pain. Now that he’d found other comforts, he supposed he had some regret. Perhaps one... He wished he had not cut off the pastry so quickly. He supposed he’d have to say something, but when he glanced back at Elizabeth it seemed she'd read him well enough and turned her thoughts elsewhere.

“Is it tolerable enough that you’ll be able to go back?” she asked quietly.

He gave that some thought. Go back to work, yes. Go back to London, yes. Back to his house? Perhaps with some judicious renovating. Back to his family? That was a bipartite question. It was unlikely he’d ever be welcomed back into the family home. Again, it hurt less than he might have expected.

Sherlock, though, was another matter, and one that was no simpler than it ever had been.

He had once thought…No, he had once known with absolute certainty that Sherlock loved him That despite the competitive nature of brothers; despite the family trauma; despite Sherlock’s anger at him for interfering in his headlong rush toward suicide or death by misadventure at the very least; his disdain for the trappings of small ‘c’ conservatism and the shadowy tactics of whatever organization Sherlock believed him to be at the helm of — that underneath all that, he and Sherlock were family.

And he no longer knew if that was true. It no longer felt, had not felt in awhile, that there was anything under Sherlock’s anger but more anger, more contempt, and a very real desire to have him gone.

Without that bond, that love, he didn’t think he could bear the surface animosity any more. From anyone else, yes. From Sherlock…no. And, truly, Sherlock was too old for a minder who was not of his own choosing. Mycroft had ultimately been unable to shield him from himself and his own choices.

If that was now the only thing between them, he was willing to let it go.

In order to do so, however, he would have to cut contact entirely, something that would be impossible if he stayed in London. Barely possible, at least at first, even if he took an embassy post somewhere sufficiently dull that Sherlock would have no call to contact him.

He didn’t know if he was ready to commit to that.

“I suppose I shall have to find out,” he said, rubbing the tired inside corners of his eyes. He found he was in no hurry at all to test this hypothesis. “Perhaps in another day or two,” he went on. “Hopefully while I can still fit into my clothes.”


*

Sherlock’s father called him later that night to say that the funeral would be held at Highgate cemetery the following Monday afternoon at 3 p.m.

“Do you want me to come with you?” John asked.

“Why?” Sherlock asked absently, scrolling down through another annoying philosophy paper. A moment later he became aware that there had been no answer. He looked up to see John giving him the “look.” Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“I’m not sad, John,” he said.

“Are you sure,” John said. “I mean, look, I’m not Euros’s biggest fan but…she was your family. You have a right to grieve her loss.”

“There’s nothing to grieve,” Sherlock said. “I don’t think we ever really met her. We just met whoever she needed to be at the time.”

“Even the music?”’

Sherlock looked away sharply, his eyes automatically skating over the place where the Stradivarius used to sit, and he had to drop the steel doors around his mind-palace to stave off the barrage of the music that threatened to fill his head. The clanging made thought impossible for a second, and he had to take a long slow breath before he could open his eyes.

“Especially the music,” he said. It was true. He didn’t know if he’d ever trust himself to play again. If there was any loss to grieve, it was that, but it only made him angry and ashamed.

Feelings, it turned out, were ridiculous and exhausting. A part of him wished he could go back to being oblivious to them, but not really. That hadn’t been true, after all.

“I appreciate the offer,” Sherlock said. “But no. I’ll be fine on my own.”

The funeral party consisted of Sherlock, his mother, his father and a C of E cleric who knew only what they’d told him about Euros and whose platitudes were so off the mark, Sherlock felt as they were burying yet another secret sister — one who had been troubled but loving and who had accepted the grace of God’s forgiveness and now lived forever in his embrace.

Mycroft did not attend the service, which was no surprise, although Sherlock did note a black town car with dark tinted windows that drove past but did not slow. Once the slim, brown casket had been lowered into the ground, the commitment delivered, and the handfuls of dirt thrown, the three of them went out for a nearly silent cup of tea together, and then his parents headed back out of town.

He took out his phone, but none of his texts had been answered. None of his calls returned.

He brooded about it more over the cup of tea John handed him when he got home.
Time didn’t strike him as the important variable here. There was a qualitative difference in this radio silence. Mycroft had been angry with him before, frustrated, fed up. During his junkie years especially, before he had a good chemist to look after him.

For someone so devoted to the scientific method, Mycroft had no tolerance for the vagaries of experimentation. Overdoses in particular. Mycroft would go off and sulk for days or even weeks — let texts go unanswered, let Anthea screen his calls. He might even pretend to go out of town. But he’d never shut down the lines of communication so completely. Sherlock himself had, but whenever he’d needed something from Mycroft, there he was.

He’d never thought of it as odd before, but, in light of recent epiphanies...

The idea of Mycroft waiting for his call, always ready to drop everything — and he had to assume that Mycroft had things to drop as part of his oh-so-important job — but it made Mycroft seem more like an eager Alsatian than an authoritarian overlord. Sherlock really wasn’t sure how he felt about that. And there was that word again: felt, feel, feelings. He had never thought that of all things he’d one day have to consider “feelings” in regard to Mycroft.

But, apparently, he’d been wrong about that too.

*

Standing in the eerie dark, Mycroft palmed his pocket watch. It would had been too dark to see its face, but it was a comforting weight in his hand; he was well aware of the time. The Devil’s Hour, 3 a.m. What more appropriate time to visit the grave of his most terrifying demon.

He waited for his eyes to adjust enough that he could see his feet and the pale rectangles of grave markers between the darker gravestones, and then he walked, counting as he went.

Euros’s grave still had new cut edges around the rectangle of sod. Mycroft resisted the brief urge to stamp them flat. Instead he stood, head bowed, gloved hands clasped around the handle of his firmly planted umbrella and waited.

Well, he thought. I am here.

Here I am.

He waited some more. There was a chilly night breeze whispering across the grass. He closed his eyes and breathed it in, smelling upturned soil and grass and the river. On the exhale, he opened his eyes again. Waited. He wondered what “regular” people did at graveside. Prayed, he supposed, if they were religious. Remembered, mourned, cried, conversed.

He had no wish to do any of those things. He felt…nothing. No remorse, no residual anger, no fear. Perhaps still a little sadness at the bloody waste of it all. The meaninglessness of the ruins left in their wake.

He wondered if he was to be spared, then, the torment of the unconfessed sinner. That would be…nice. He waited some more, listened to the rustling of some small night creature in the grass, the distant rumble of traffic. He’d give it another eight minutes then. A full quarter of an hour. An appropriately respectful amount of time, even though no one would know what he did here except himself and the ghost of Euros in his head, who’d lately been very quiet.

And of course the not so ghostly presence lurking in the doorway of a nearby mausoleum. Of bloodycourse. Let not one moment be his alone. He waited until the fifteen minutes were up, snapped his watch closed, and put it in its pocket.

“Do come out, Sherlock,” he said. “Unless you’d prefer to wait until I walk by so you can shout ‘Boo!’ in my ear?”

“I suppose I deserve that,” Sherlock said, as his tall shadow detached itself from its surroundings.

“Not least because of your misinterpretation of the concept of concealment to include ‘being obviously there.’ What do you want?”

There was a long moment of silence, and Mycroft braced himself.

“I’m trying to work something out,” Sherlock said. Mycroft could feel his presence now as a place of slightly less cold air just behind and to the right of his shoulder.

“Oh dear,” Mycroft said. “I’m not dressed for a marathon.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “Hilarious. Perhaps you can help speed up the process then.”

Mycroft considered his answer carefully. He wasn’t angry at Sherlock, not per se, but he had no desire to resume his former role as oracle and emotional punching bag. Yet the idea of saying so would require an amount of effort that he suspected would leave him gutted, particularly as the likelihood of being heard was virtually nil. It was not an uncommon situation in his work, but, in his work, his decisions could be made unilaterally and determined by the needs of the situation, not those of his psyche.

The most judicious course of action then was to simply go along and then, should things turn in an unpleasant direction, walk away, take that post in Azerbaijan or Beijing or, God knows, Ulaanbaatar. He had known this, he just hadn’t expected it would come so soon. Nevertheless, a decision had to be made.

“All right,” he said, resigned. “Ask your questions.”

“Thank you,” said Sherlock. “I have three: First, when did it happen?”

Mycroft frowned. When did what…he felt the tiny bits of information fly up out of their files like starlings to become a murmuration, a single, coherent thought. Oh. That. Had Sherlock really not known? Good lord, he was slow.

“Precision, Sherlock,” he said. “Do you mean: when did I stop thinking of you as a spoiled, self-involved child who needed to be stopped from sticking his hand in the fire to grab the pretty coals? Or when did you actually stop being one.”

“The former,” said Sherlock.

“I’ll give you both,” Mycroft replied. “I believe the first inkling I had was after that business with the Chinese antiquities.”

“Really? That long ago.”

“Well, it was hardly a certainty at that point.”

“When were you sure, then?”

Mycroft sighed.

“When you came to me with the plan to eliminate Moriarty’s network.”

“You hated that idea.”

“Of course I did. It was brilliant,” Mycroft said, remembering the sick feeling it had given him the moment he realized it. “A bit rough when you brought it to me, of course, but it had scope, it embraced a picture larger even than your own ego and it showed a new willingness to accept the consequences of your actions. It also put you at tremendous personal risk for undeniably valid reasons. I loathed it.”

“I wish I’d known,” Sherlock said.

“How could you not?” Mycroft said. “I helped you put it into action.”

“You weren’t overly forthcoming with the praise,” said Sherlock. “But I take your point. And you don’t have to tell me about when you think I actually did mature, I suspect the answer, is ‘still pending’.”

Mycroft allowed himself a small smile.

“And your second question?” he asked. There was another, longer, hesitation. Mycroft listened to the windblown rustle of leaves and the surprising and melodic singing of a song thrush. When Sherlock spoke again, his voice was low.

“Did I blow it?”

“Well,” said Mycroft, thoughtfully. “I suppose the answer would be, yes. And also, in fairness, no.

Yes, because you were, as usual, arrogant and over-confident and smug, but, for the first time in a while, it was it was for the wrong reasons. You had, I understand, recently discovered ‘feelings,’ and since I, your archenemy, eschewed them, you had decided that ‘feelings’ must be superior to, I don’t know...rational thought? And, of course, you wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say on the subject of Euros, even though, of the two of us, I was the one who actually knew who and what she was. And this on the heels of the new round of drug addiction…I have to say, Sherlock, I’ve had my doubts.”

He heard Sherlock take a long, shaky breath.

“I can’t argue with that,” he admitted. “So how is there a ‘no’?”

“Because it was Euros,” said Mycroft. “Because she was so much smarter and madder than either of us, and, if the best I could do against her malevolent genius was to barely confine her to a cage and then give her access to the tools she needed to get out, then it would hardly be fair of me to hold you to a higher standard.”

“So I have another shot at it?”

“Perhaps,” said Mycroft.

“In retrospect,” Sherlock went on. “Some of the things I’ve done or said to you in the recent past might have been a bit unfair.”

“Do you think so?” He didn’t mean to sound ingenuous. He wasn’t entirely sure which things Sherlock was referring to. He knew he’d been less than encouraging over the last few years, whether through fear of encouraging the wrong behaviour or simply by not realizing that perhaps Sherlock didn’t understand how much he was…valued.

“I do,” said Sherlock. “You are not, for example, a particularly rubbish big brother. And there have been times when I have been unnecessarily, even deliberately, careless with my life and the lives of others. You were, perhaps, not entirely wrong to point these out.”

“Thank you for saying so,” said Mycroft, somewhat cautiously. “And what is your current position on housebreaking and vandalism?”

Sherlock ducked his head in embarrassment.

“Rather childish,” he said, sheepishly. “And, um, very, very wrong. Perhaps some restitution could be offered?”

“I’m…I’m glad to hear that,” Mycroft said. He flexed his fingers on the handle of his umbrella and looked up at the sky. The moon had acquired a slight, twinkly aura. He blinked it away.

“Well,” said Sherlock after a moment. “That’s everything I needed to know. I’ll leave you to your…mourning.” He turned to walk away.

“Actually,” said Mycroft. “I’m finished here. I thought I might stop for a light breakfast on my way to work. Can I offer you a lift?”

“Why not?” said Sherlock. “Assuming you have a breakfast place that’s open at half three in the morning and makes decent coffee. Which, being you, of course, you do.”

They walked back towards the car in companionable silence.

“What was your third question, by the way?” Mycroft asked as they slipped into the back seat of the town car from opposite sides.

“Oh,” said Sherlock. “I just wondered what this thing is between you and Lady Smallwood.”

“There is no thing, Sherlock, we are friends.”

“Well, good,” Sherlock said. “That’s really…Friends are good.”

“But? You disapprove?”

“I’ll just have to get used to not having 100% of your personal attention,” Sherlock said. “95% will be a bit hard to tolerate after a lifetime.”

Mycroft leaned back against the soft leather seat, allowing a smile out under cover of the dark. The sky was already greying, losing the sharp edge of night.

“You’ll manage,” he said, and patted Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock didn’t pull his hand back, but instead turned it over and briefly squeezed his.

Soon it would be dawn and day.


(the end)