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Lean On Me

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One - Mistreatment

Sherlock did not grace Mycroft and their parents with his presence during dinner.

Which was nothing out of the ordinary. The boy rarely attended meals willingly, deeming the need for nutrition annoying and the interaction with staff and family alike tedious. A complete waste of time. Which, according to the five-year-old, could be spent much more reasonably by tending to his various experiments or watching the bees in the estate's extensive gardens or commandeering the library for his pirate shenanigans. The options were infinite to his imaginative, youthful mind.

Honestly, Mycroft would have been significantly more surprised if Sherlock had shown himself at the table. He wasn't overly bothered by his brother's absence, the curly-haired ball of manic energy being a downright pest most of the time they were forced to spend together.

Under normal circumstances, Mycroft would have enjoyed the half-hour of calm and quiet, although it seemed the circumstances were far from normal this particular evening. For all that Sherlock struggled and fought against being made presentable and paraded in front of their parents in order to ensure Mr and Mrs Holmes that their youngest was, in fact, still among the living and not lying dead and bloated on the ground of the pond after an unsuccessful attempt at collecting tadpole specimen, the boy rarely managed to get around the whole procedure and generally ended up propped up on a chair next to his older brother, scowling and glaring but otherwise ignoring everyone in the room.

So while Sherlock's reluctance to participate was only to be expected, his actual absence was somewhat disconcerting.

Mycroft frowned down at the trout on his plate, grimacing while poking a fork at the fish's eye and shuddering. He buried the disgusting thing under a layer of even more ghastly mashed up Brussels sprouts and concentrated on figuring out the mystery of the missing brother instead.

Had Sherlock fallen ill? It would hardly be a shock, Mycroft had overheard the cook whispering to one of the maids about catching 'le petit démon' sneaking around down in the wine cellar with a handful of vials from his chemistry set, attempting to steal samples from the family's renowned collection of reds. Mycroft wouldn't put it past his brother to cook up something with the alcohol and upset his stomach or something equally moronic.

But then again, it was highly unlikely that Sherlock would suffer in silence and on his own. Surely he would ensure that everyone in the house - if not on the whole estate - was aware of his misery and demand that Mycroft stay at his side and entertain him. That was how the days Sherlock was confined to his bed always went down, after all.

The questions - Where? What? Why? - were on the tip of his tongue when Mycroft glanced up from one parent to the other and froze, clipping his mouth shut and pressing his lips into a thin, white line.

Mummy seemed listless, leaning back heavily in her chair at one end of the large, oaken table, her eyes unfocused and glazed. She had yet to start eating, merely the assortment of pills and tablets were gone from the edge of her plate. The wine glass was almost empty as well, though Mycroft knew better than to point out that medication should be taken with water rather than Chardonnay. He had voiced his concern once, only earning himself a mocking sort of snort from Father and a dismissive pat on the head from Mummy.

At the head of the table, things weren't faring well either. Father had been eerily quiet apart from a bit of mumbling and grumbling, not asking about Mycroft's studies or commenting on the food or even belittling the staff as he usually did. It was easy to read the tension from the lines around his eyes and the irritation from his tightly clenched left fist and his still boiling anger from his rigid posture.

No, today was decidedly not a good day.

Mycroft finished his dinner in silence, glad when the offending and untouched fish was taken away and back to the kitchen, and excused himself to investigate. He ventured up the stairs and swiftly made his way to the east wing of the manor, stopping in front of Sherlock's room and rapping his knuckles against the white wood of the door.

"Sherlock?" he asked, knowing not to expect an answer. For all that his brother could be an uncomfortably loud and demanding presence, he never actually spoke. Mycroft hadn't witnessed the boy uttering a single word in the five years since Mummy and Father had brought him home from the hospital. Oh, he did laugh and cry and shout and throw rather impressive temper tantrums, but Sherlock did not speak.

Countless numbers of therapists and child psychologists had constantly been prodding and poking at him for the last three years, frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with the otherwise healthy and thriving boy. Sherlock simply ignored them all, only huffing and rolling his eyes whenever the fuss got too much for him to bear.

Mycroft knew his brother was above average intelligence. It was hardly a wonder, if one looked at the rest of the Holmes family, all of them absolutely brilliant and marvellously bright. No one shared his assessment, however, the adults just smiled indulgently at him if he tried to reason with them, showing Father Sherlock's little notebook filled with pages and pages of neat and extremely detailed documentation of his experiments, or telling Mummy how he had found Sherlock reading the nanny's bedside lecture - in Spanish. But, according to everyone Mycroft tried to convince of his brother's genius, a boy who could not even form the simplest of sentences or call his family by their names at age five was nothing but strange and 'not right'.

Wasn't it obvious to them what Sherlock's problem, if one could call it a problem, was? That he simply couldn't be bothered, preferring stay and play in the perfect little world the two brothers had created for themselves, because reality was just so. incredibly. overwhelming?

Mycroft did poke his head out of their bubble every once in a while, if social interaction was required, but he didn't like it anymore than his brother, oh no. And Sherlock was so young still, fragile and delicate even. Where Mycroft understood the need to follow certain rules and norms, the younger boy was struggling to get the hang of why he should do anything he didn't want to do, why it was sometimes necessary to leave his comfort zone. Which is where Mycroft came in as the big brother, protecting and guiding and helping Sherlock to find his way and place in life.

Their system worked, there was no necessity for Sherlock to speak and Mycroft couldn't, for the life of him, figure out why everyone was losing their minds over it. His brother could write in two languages and read in at least one more, he'd never had a problem communicating his needs non-verbally and had taught himself sign language after one of the therapists had left a book on the subject for Mummy and Father. The only thing he did not do was use his words and Mycroft firmly believed that this was perfectly all right.

Sherlock would talk, in his own time. Just the way he had done with everything else.

"Sherlock, I'm going to come in now, so if you are doing anything you shouldn't be doing, stop it," Mycroft announced, waited for a moment to give his brother the chance to hide whatever inappropriate thing he was currently slicing up or pouring chemicals over, and pushed open the door.

Sherlock was nowhere to be seen, the curtains were drawn and all the lights were off, causing Mycroft to frown as he stepped further into the room. "I'm not in the mood for hide and seek right now," he sighed, loudly enough for his brother to hear. Predictably, Sherlock didn't answer and Mycroft went looking for him anyway.

The usual spots - a five-year-old was only marginally unpredictable, after all - were worked off first; the wardrobe, the big laundry basket in the far corner, behind the curtain, under the desk and the narrow space between the bed and the wall. Sherlock was nowhere to be found.

Mycroft pursed his lips, worry for the other boy quickly being replaced by annoyance. "Stop being a prat, Sherlock! I came up here to check on you, the least you could do-"

A soft, barely audible whimper stopped Mycroft mid-rant and he went quiet, straining his ears for another sign of his wayward brother. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he whirled around just in time to see a bare foot being pulled back up on the tester above the four poster bed.

Heaving another, long-suffering sigh, Mycroft climbed onto the bedside table to be able to reach the edge of the tester and pull himself up, coughing a little when the motion swirled up some of the accumulated dust. "What are you doing up he-"

Sherlock was a picture of absolute misery, causing his older brother's words to die on his lips. The little boy sniffled pathetically and proceeded to bury his face in his hands, knees pulled close against his chest, trying to hide himself away.

"Lockie, what happened? What's wrong?" Mycroft gasped and crawled closer in the confined space between wood and ceiling, placing what he hoped was a comforting hand on Sherlock's shoulder. He fully expected to be shrugged off and screamed at - Sherlock almost always had a difficult time accepting physical contact - but the boy took him by surprise when he practically threw himself at his brother, clinging to the back of his dress shirt and refusing to let go for the better part of a quarter-hour.

Baffled, Mycroft hugged him back, tightly wrapping his arms around the trembling boy and only wrinkling his nose the tiniest bit at the snot being rubbed into his neck. Once Sherlock's pitiful sobs had quieted down and been replaced with a sort of sigh-hiccup-sniffle noise, Mycroft moved back to properly look at the five-year-old.

His left cheek was reddened, indicating at what would turn into a massive black eye by morning. The stubby little nose was slightly swollen, traces of dried blood still sticking to Sherlock's nostrils and lips. It wasn't a pleasant sight, not at all.

"Who did this?" Mycroft demanded, carefully dabbing at Sherlock's tear-streaked face with the sleeve of his shirt. This was no accident, the older boy was sure of it, the angry red print of a hand was still slightly visible on his brother's face.

Sherlock shook his curly head and took a shuddering breath, leaning into Mycroft's comforting touch.

Mycroft knew, of course he did. The tense atmosphere during dinner and his brother's mysterious absence from it. Father's flared temper and Mummy's sedation, indicating they had been arguing earlier. Mycroft knew, but he needed the confirmation. Because if what he believed he knew was in fact true, Mycroft had failed utterly and completely in protecting the most important person in his life from suffering the same harsh fate as he himself.

"Sherlock, please. I won't tell, I promise," Mycroft urged gently.

The little boy bit his lip, chewing at it while he considered. Mycroft saw the uncertainty and fear flicker over his brother's face, but in the end he conceded. Sherlock held out both hands with his index and middle fingers extended and tapped his secondary hand with his primary hand.

Father.

As soon as the motion was complete, Sherlock curled himself into a small ball of misery and began crying again in violent, body-shaking sobs.

It proved quite difficult, but Mycroft managed to manoeuvre his brother down from the tester and onto the bed itself without either of them receiving any additional injuries. Sherlock was positioned under the covers and Mycroft climbed in after him, pulling the fabric over both their heads in an attempt to keep out all the unwanted hurt and confusion and restore the balance of their little two-boy-world.

"It's going to be all right, Lockie," Mycroft murmured into Sherlock's hair, pressing his lips against the crown of the other boy's head. "I've got you. You're going to be okay."

Sherlock struggled in his brother's embrace and pushed away briefly to hold his hands across his chest before resuming his former position, cuddled up close to Mycroft's chest.

Love.

"I love you, too. More than anything," the older boy said fondly and held on a bit tighter.

Chapter Text

Two - Bullying

The house was eerily quiet as Mycroft stepped into the entrance hall, only one of the maids there to greet him and help with his luggage.

"Thank you, Meghan," Mycroft sighed, handing off one of his bags with a slight pang of guilt. The woman was nearing sixty and his books did weigh quite a bit.

Meghan seemed to read him with ease, though, even after months of neither seeing him nor talking to him due to his studies taking him away to Oxford. "Don't be silly, I am perfectly capable of taking care of my boys," she chastised lightly and squeezed his upper arm, smiling fondly with the usual friendly twinkle in her eyes.

Mycroft answering smile was automatic and equally warm. He had missed home, much to his surprise. "You are a star, Meghan," he grinned, pleased at the woman's blushing cheeks and spluttering as she ushered him through to the sitting room and a waiting tray of tea and biscuits.

He sank into one of the plush armchairs and closed his eyes, stretching out his legs with a satisfied sigh. At age eighteen, he was too tall and just a bit on the heavy side, making sitting in a cramped train compartment for the better part of two hours an annoyingly uncomfortable and unpleasant affair.

"Mrs Holmes won't be joining you, I'm afraid," Meghan informed him, pouring a single cup of steaming tea. "She is feeling under the weather, but she instructed me to inform you how delighted she is to have you back for the holidays."

Mycroft hummed vaguely. 'Feeling under the weather' had become Mummy's standard excuse for almost everything from a mild headache to being strung-out on painkillers, the latter scenario being much more likely as of late. He kept staring at the singular beverage, a frown beginning to wrinkle his brow.

"Meghan, has Sherlock not returned home from school yet? I was under the impression that his term had ended on Wednesday?"

Meghan sighed and sadly shook her head. "He is upstairs. Stormed in without so much as a hello two days ago and immediately vanished in his rooms. No one has seen him or heard of him since. We would be terribly worried if the biscuits and tea we place in front of his door didn't keep vanishing in the middle of the night."

"I'll see to it right away," Mycroft promised and the maid relaxed fractionally, hurrying away with the excuse of having to tell the cook to start dinner.

Sherlock's behaviour had grown steadily stranger over the last couple of months, ever since Mycroft had left for university. At first, the older boy had been convinced that this new reticence was a reaction to his own departure, one of Sherlock's sulky moods that would be over and done with the instant he found something more stimulating to occupy his time with.

It wasn't unheard of, after all, for the younger Holmes to throw a tantrum of massive proportions whenever something did not go the way he'd wished it to, several broken windows, flustered staff members and, on one memorable occasion, a burning library only being the most recent after-effects of Sherlock's disastrously hot temper.

But it had been almost half a year now and Sherlock was still behaving oddly, which was longer than ever before and starting to worry Mycroft a great deal.

The eleven-year-old's letters had grown sparse over the last few weeks when before, there had been at least one every other day, telling Mycroft about his newest experiments, about the tediousness of school or about the total and utter lack of intelligence and common sense in the general public. Sherlock would write about the books he'd been reading, sending summaries and essays of the most interesting ones for Mycroft to correct and comment on for him. He would request copies of the older boy's coursework and exams and send them back solved quicker and better than some of Mycroft's classmates had managed. And, most importantly, he would ask, at least once in every single letter, just when exactly Mycroft was returning home to London.

The separation had been hard on the two brothers, both of them used to spending most of their spare time in each other's company. While Mycroft had carefully, step by step, ventured outside of their little two-boy-world and found his place among his peers and in society over the years, Sherlock had remained stubborn and secluded.

'There is absolutely nothing of interest to be found out there, Mycroft,' he had told his brother at age six, shortly after having finally started using his words. 'All I could ever wish to know can be found in books and texts or learned and acquired by experimentation.'

Mycroft had asked him about people. About human contact, about correspondence with other children, about friends. That had earned him nothing more than a tilt of the head and a confused look.

'I have you,' Sherlock had said, then asked, in a small, doubtful voice, 'Don't I?'

And Mycroft had been quick to reassure him, to cradle him close, to smooth back a strand of wayward curls and hold on to him tightly.

'Yes, always,' he'd said and Sherlock had smiled, brightly and honestly the way he seldom did, the way that was reserved especially for his older brother.

They had carried on in their usual fashion, with Mycroft handling everything Sherlock didn't feel comfortable doing himself, guiding him through the situations that would, on his own, have overwhelmed him and providing intellectual stimuli and company. The younger boy had been happy with their arrangement and, therefore, so had Mycroft.

His studies, his own interests and hobbies had never seemed a fraction as important as his brother's wellbeing. From the day Mycroft had realised that no one understood the little boy's peculiar nature and genius mind, he had taken it upon himself to provide for him, to be the one person who did understand. Sherlock had always been, was right now and would always be Mycroft's highest priority.

The one thing Mycroft had no doubts about whatsoever was that he loved his baby brother, unconditionally and more than anything or anyone else in the world.

What he hadn't taken into consideration, however, were the consequences his protectiveness, his sheltering of Sherlock would have once he wasn't around to care for him anymore. Not once during the exhausting months of preparing for his A-levels or during the tiring process of applying to the country's top universities had he thought about what was going to happen to his brother when the time came for him to leave home.

An unforgivable oversight on his part, one he had to fix as soon as possible.

Ignoring his tea, Mycroft got up, wandered through to the kitchen and switched on the coffee machine. In order to appease Sherlock in the state he was, apparently, currently in, he would need some sort of incentive. Apples were peeled and sliced with practiced movements before being dipped in chocolate spread and peanut butter alternately while the mild yet rich scent of freshly brewed Blue Mountain steadily filled the air. After neatly arranging the now not-so-healthy-anymore fruit on a plate, strictly sorted by their new topping, and thinning down Sherlock's coffee with a generous amount of cream, everything was loaded on a new tray so it would be to the boy's satisfaction.

The journey up to his brother's quarters was made quickly, Mycroft growing more anxious by the minute now that he was about to see just how poorly Sherlock was really doing. He shifted everything to one hand when he reached his destination and extended his free hand in a polite knock.

"Sherlock?" he asked as he rapped his knuckles against the wood, trying and failing to push aside his anxiousness. Him being nervous would not help sorting out his brother, Mycroft scolded himself and took a few deep breaths to calm himself, at least outwardly.

There was a crash on the other side of the door, followed by some cursing and rustling of clothes before the lock clicked and Sherlock's curly head appeared in the narrow space between frame and door.

"Mycroft," he breathed, barely audible, and practically flung himself at the older boy, arms around his neck and feet dangling in the air somewhere by Mycroft's knees, sending his brother staggering a few steps back into the hall.

Relief flooded through Mycroft's system as he wrapped his free arm around Sherlock's waist and held him close for a long moment. He pressed his nose into the wild, dark mob of hair tickling his face, inhaling the familiar scent of formaldehyde, matches and tea that always seemed to surround the boy.

"I missed you," Sherlock mumbled, voice muffled against Mycroft's skin, and refused to be set down. He clung to his older brother with desperate, worrying strength so that Mycroft had to balance the tray in one hand while manoeuvring the both of them into the room - preferably without spilling hot coffee on either of them or tripping over his own feet.

The earlier feeling of ease vanished instantly once Mycroft laid proper eyes on the other boy, darting a quick, assessing gaze over his features. Sherlock's face was flushed, several beads of sweat stuck in his eyebrows, and he appeared ruffled with his clothes rumpled due to being thrown on hastily. The first conclusion Mycroft arrived at was embarrassing if not downright mortifying, but was dismissed after the discovery of a few small droplets of blood on one of Sherlock's bare feet.

"What did you do?" he demanded as he set down the snacks and drinks, noticing the faint tremor of Sherlock's hands and the thin, linear dents pressed into his fingertips on his second round of inspection.

"Nothing," Sherlock snapped defensively, his rigid posture and guilty expression betraying the lie.

Mycroft reacted quickly, grabbing the smaller boy by the wrist and turning over his arm, peeling back the fabric of his pullover with shaking fingers only to reveal pale, unharmed skin. The second arm was identically intact.

"See, I told you it-" Sherlock began, his sentence cut off with a surprised "Hey!" when Mycroft pushed him backwards until his knees connected with the edge of the bed and forced him to lower himself into a sitting position.

Divesting the shouting, complaining boy of his trousers was an act of several long minutes, hindered by Sherlock's sharp nails and kicking legs which resulted in a soon-to-be bruise on Mycroft's chin and a row of smarting scratches on his cheek. Mycroft had a seven year height, weight and fighting advantage, though, managing to pull the clothing down enough to expose exactly what he had feared to find; two thin thighs littered with a terrifying amount of cuts varying in age from at least two or three months ago to brand new and still bleeding.

For a long, awkward minute Mycroft simply stared, horrified at the sight of his baby brother's self-mutilation. Sherlock, in the meantime, had stopped struggling, sitting there defeated with his eyes pressed shut and lower lip trembling dangerously. Then Mycroft shook himself out of his shock and got up, pacing in deep thought for a moment before dropping to his knees and fumbling around under the bed until he was able to pull out the soiled tissues and bloody razorblade. He strode through to the bathroom and dropped everything in the toilet, flushing it down and waiting for a couple of seconds to make sure it would stay down.

"Mycroft," Sherlock croaked when the older brother stepped back into the bedroom, the one word all he got out before the tears began to flow. Mycroft resumed his former position, their heads on eye-level with the taller boy kneeling in front of the bed.

"Tell me everything," he ordered even as he closed his arms around the trembling Sherlock and held him close, stroking one hand soothingly up and down his back while the other was busy running comfortingly through sweat-damp hair.

Sherlock talked, between shuddering sobs and hiccupping breaths. He told his brother about the taunts and the insults, the isolation and the loneliness far away at school with boys who did not understand his curious nature and brutally honest way of expressing himself. He showed him the bruises and marks where he'd been assaulted physically once the verbal attacks had stopped being satisfying for his tormentors. And he made a confession.

"I know that I'm different, Mycroft, I'm not an idiot," Sherlock sniffled, rubbing at his red-rimmed eyes. "I know that I'm wrong, everyone thinks so, even Mummy and Father. I tried being like the others, but it didn't work."

"Why this, though?" the older boy asked, lightly brushing a finger over the edge of one of the inflamed wounds. "Why are you doing this to yourself, Lockie?"

"I thought it would help," Sherlock stated matter-of-factly. "I thought that if I punished myself whenever I did something 'weird' or 'inappropriate' it would help. I just want to be normal and not wrong," he stuttered before another wave of tears crashed over him, sending him to lean limply against his brother's shoulder.

"No," Mycroft said firmly, lifting the pliant boy up and settling them both on the bed, he himself propped up against the headboard with Sherlock sprawled across his chest, his head tucked under Mycroft's chin. He wound his arms around him again, not sure anymore which of them needed the contact and the reassurance more. "You are not wrong, Sherlock. You are clever and brilliant and absolutely amazing," he whispered, lips pressed against Sherlock's temple.

The smaller boy frowned against him in confusion. "But-"

"Hush," Mycroft silenced him and reached for the covers, pulling them up and tightly around them. "Anyone who can't see how wonderful you are doesn't deserve to know you. You are perfect the way you are, don't let them tell you otherwise."

"Don't make me go back," Sherlock pleaded, voice rough from crying. "Please don't make me go back, Mycroft."

"Never," Mycroft promised and Sherlock burrowed closer, pressing his face into his brother's neck with another chocked-off sob.

"Don't leave me again," the shivering boy whispered desperately, curling his hands into his brother's clothes as if afraid he would vanish this instant if he let go of him. "I need you."

Chapter Text

Three - Coming Out

Mycroft hummed happily, floating in that blissful state of mind between sleep and wakefulness where everything is warm and fuzzy and wonderful. The sheets felt extra soft on his skin and the cool breeze drifting in through the tilted window and gently ruffling his mussed hair was heavenly.

The bed dipped ever so lightly and Mycroft immediately rolled towards the body stretching out beside him, finding the sandy-blonde curls to nuzzle his face into without bothering to open his eyes. He inhaled deeply, letting the familiar scent of old, slightly mouldy paper, expensive body wash and the faint traces of menthol cigarettes wash over him in soothing, somewhat dizzying waves.

"Hey," Christopher whispered quietly and tilted his head so Mycroft only had to crane his neck a tiny bit to close the distance between their mouths. "I didn't mean to wake you, love," he breathed against the redhead's lips before moving on to press feather light kisses to his eyelids.

"'s fine," Mycroft slurred, waving one hand dismissively while the other moved to Christopher's nape to prevent him from pulling back just yet.

The blonde chuckled and dipped down for another lingering kiss, hands roaming freely until they settled on Mycroft's hips, squeezing gently. "You have no idea how much I missed you," he sighed and pulled them flush against each other, causing them both to moan at the sweet friction.

They rocked lazily against each other, alternating between long, sensual slides of lips and tongues and quick, teasing nips to earlobes and jaws. There was no need for hurry, no urgency or rush, and it was glorious.

Until the doorbell rang, very rudely interrupting their snugly snogging session.

Mycroft's eyes finally snapped open, brows drawn together in confusion. "What's the time?"

"Just after three," Christopher frowned, then shrugged one shoulder and grinned slyly. "Probably just some kids thinking they're funny. Ignore it," he murmured huskily and quickly sucked the other man's bottom lip into his mouth to prevent any potential protests.

And Mycroft would have been perfectly happy to continue with their current activities if it hadn't been for the knocking that started up a moment later. Not just a single knock or a series of knocks, no. Irregularly timed raps at their front door, varying in volume and intensity.

Which was spectacularly annoying. And very Sherlockian.

"I believe that's my brother," Mycroft stated, already pushing himself up into a sitting position.

Christopher sobered as well, blinking up at his partner from beneath still heavy lids. "At this time of the night? Is he in trouble or something?" The man sounded genuinely worried and Mycroft quickly bent down to brush his lips over the endearingly wrinkled forehead, his heart picking up speed at the honest concern in the blonde's eyes.

"Knowing him; probably, yes," he sighed, pulling on a dressing gown over his pyjamas. He looked down at himself and grimaced. There were certain states in which he definitely did not want to greet his baby brother and sporting an erection was on the very top of that list.

"Imagine the smell of sulphur or how Thatcher'd look in nothing but her knickers," Christopher suggested, laughing when that only caused Mycroft to pull another face at him. "Just trying to help, hun."

"Yes, well. Stop it, would you?" Mycroft shuddered, but finally managed to get enough control over his body to walk downstairs and open the door, indeed revealing a drenched, shivering Sherlock.

Sherlock, who took one good, long look at his older brother's dishevelled hair, rumpled clothes and flushed cheeks, grunted out a disgusted "Ugh!" and pushed past him into the warmth of the house without caring in the slightest that he was carrying half of England's water reserves inside, probably ruining the parquet floor in the process.

Mycroft rolled his eyes at the typical teenage petulance and started pulling out towels to soak up the worst of the mess, throwing one of them in his brother's general direction as well. "What are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

"Father disowned me," Sherlock shrugged indifferently, shaking his head and sending droplets of muddy water flying everywhere. Mycroft scowled at the brown flecks now decorating his foyer wall while Sherlock began rubbing the towel over his hair and face. "Apparently I'm 'a disgrace to the family name', 'an unbearable nuisance not worth the trouble' and 'an ungrateful brat without manners', to quote some of the less colourful expressions," he sniffed, voice muffled under the thick, fluffy fabric.

"What did you do this time?" Mycroft demanded, pinching the bridge of his nose. It wasn't overly unusual for the fifteen-year-old and their father to get into an argument, throwing vicious words and threats at each other; they shared a hot temper which boiled over quickly and often without warning. Normally, however, one of them would stalk off and slam a couple of doors, causing the other to waltz away in the opposite direction and do the same to the doors down that way. And that would be that. Not this time, apparently.

"I didn't do a fucking thing!" Sherlock snapped and oh, that was new. Contrary to most people his age, Sherlock very rarely used profanity, having deemed it childish and useless and dull.

"Sherlock-" Mycroft tried, gentler now with regard to his brother's obviously distraught state, but was interrupted by the teen's continuing rant.

"Why do you always assume it's me who's done something?" he yelled, frustration and desperation clearly audible in his voice. "It's always me, isn't it? The trouble child, the black sheep. Fuck!" the boy cried and finally threw the towel away, giving Mycroft a first good glance at his now clean face.

Freed of dirt, the dark purple bruise around his left eye stood out in dark contrast to his pale skin and the angry red gash across his brow drizzled blood again after the rough drying.

"What happened?" the older brother gasped and stepped closer only to have Sherlock jerk away and out of his reach.

"What do you think happened?" Sherlock sneered, but then faltered, shoulders sagging, and dropped his gaze to the floor with a heavy sigh. This time, Mycroft was allowed wrap his arms around him, to pull him close and hold him tight. Sherlock let out a single, shuddering breath and buried his face in his brother's shoulder, eyes clenched shut and fists curled into the man's clothes.

The very first thing Mycroft noticed was the pliancy. Under normal circumstances, Sherlock would rage and shout and kick at things until he'd tired himself before collapsing on the next flat surface to sleep for hours, completely and utterly dead to the world. He needed to get rid of the anger, the fury, to clear his head and calm the thoughts whizzing around in his brain and making everything loud and unbearable and ARGH! Sherlock's words, not Mycroft's.

Today, though, Sherlock was different. Quiet. Compliant. Defeated? It scared Mycroft more than any fit of violence or malevolence ever could.

Then there were the bones and the bones were never a good sign, always a herald of bad times and dark moods. The teenager had lost weight again, a significant amount of it, too, from what Mycroft was able to discern through several layers of coat and jumper and pyjamas. It was an ongoing battle, this. The eating issue.

'If I can't make myself beautiful and right on the inside, at least I can try and be it on the outside for everyone to see,' Sherlock had yelled at him at the delicate age of twelve. And then he'd stopped eating. And started smoking. And because Sherlock was Sherlock, he'd refused therapy and laughed at Mycroft's pleas and attempts to make him better, to help. Until one day, Sherlock's body had had enough and decided that if it wasn't getting anything out of this being alive deal, well, then that deal was off.

Collapsing in the middle of the street, almost getting run over in the process, and spending the next four months in a clinic - three days of which he'd been in an actual coma due to his malnourished state - had finally done the trick. More or less. Sherlock ate the bare minimum to keep himself up and running and had mostly switched from cigarettes to nicotine patches, delighted to discover that it was possible to get his rush and have his hands free at the same time. The situation was far from perfect, but it was an improvement and, therefore, something Mycroft was willing to go along with. As long as Sherlock stayed above a mutually agreed weight, which didn't seem to be the case at the moment.

"Upstairs, dry clothes, food," Mycroft ordered when they pulled apart, keeping his hands on Sherlock's upper arms to keep him from whirling away. "And then we talk."

The teen pulled a face but gave a curt nod, vanishing up the stairs and into the guest room the moment Mycroft let go.

"That," Christopher scolded lightly ten minutes later, leaning in the kitchen doorway and waving a hand at the plate of Jaffa Cakes, a glass of green olives, several pieces of toast with strawberry jam and a small bowl of cheese cubes, "is the weirdest midnight snack I've ever seen. Including the ones my sister used to eat when she was pregnant."

"It's not midnight," Mycroft countered swiftly, smiling back as the blonde's eyes crinkled and his lips turned up at the corners. "Besides, I really don't care what he eats as long as he does eat it."

Christopher's eyes widened knowingly before checking the now closed guest room door down the hall. "Is he okay?" the man asked quietly and stepped closer, stroking his hands down Mycroft's arms and linking their fingers. He gave them a gentle, comforting squeeze before bringing one set of their joint digits up to his lips to brush a soft kiss over the redhead's knuckles.

"What are you doing?"

The two men startled and almost flew apart at Sherlock's angry, hissing voice. He must have been quite shocked to ask such an obvious question, Mycroft realised, rubbing at his forehead. He hadn't meant to keep his relationship or sexuality a secret from his brother, but he hadn't exactly been open about it either.

Sherlock's gaze darted from one man to the other, his expression strangely pinched. "But... what about Anna? And Miranda?" he demanded frantically, clenched fists trembling at his sides.

Mycroft had to swallow several times until he was able to speak around the lump in his throat. He hadn't expected Sherlock to have such a negative reaction to this, had pictured him being indifferent about it like he was about most other things. It hurt, to see he had been wrong.

"Anna was a childhood infatuation. I was ten. That doesn't even count," Mycroft said after a few tense, awkward seconds of silence. He gave a little shrug and a weak smile that wasn't returned. Well then. "And I cared for Miranda, we were together for nearly two years. But we weren't right for each other, so we decided to part ways. It was amicable. She still sends Christmas cards every year. And now, now I'm with Christopher," he finished, looking over at his partner, who had backed away a little to give the brothers some space.

"Are you gay, then?" Sherlock wanted to know, slowly walking closer until they were almost chest to chest. His eyes were shining as they met Mycroft's, shining with tears and utterly unreadable.

Mycroft shook his head. "No. There's more to it than straight and gay, Sherlock, there's-"

"Because I am."

And the pieces all fell into place. There were reasons Mycroft had never talked to his parents about any of this, waited until he was financially independent to even dare enter a relationship with another man. But of course Sherlock would be different, wasn't he always? And Father wouldn't have taken such a confession well, homosexuality stood right up there with the worst of crimes on his list of inexcusable things.

"Oh, Sherlock," Mycroft sighed and opened his arms, having them full of weeping teenager a moment later.

"I thought I was alone," Sherlock cried into his neck, shoulders shaking with violent sobs. "It was so hard and you weren't there and I didn't know what to do. I shouldn't have told him, but he made me so angry and we yelled at each other and it just kind of slipped out. And then he threw me out of the house. He told me not to come back. He took away my keys and was hurling my things out of the windows when I left. I-"

"I'm so sorry," Mycroft interrupted and buried his face in dark curls, hiding his own tear-streaked face in the familiarity of them.

"You weren't there. I needed you," the younger brother mumbled shakily, his hold bordering on seriously painful. Mycroft didn't care and squeezed back, one hand cupping Sherlock's neck and the other stroking slowly, soothingly up and down his spine.

"I love you," he whispered, lips pressed to the crown of Sherlock's head. "And I'm right here. I'll always be here. I got you. You're going to be okay, Lockie, I promise. Do you hear me?"

Neither of them knew that a lorry with Sherlock's belongings would arrive in less than four hours. Or that the post would deliver the papers to transfer custody of Sherlock from their parents to Mycroft the day after tomorrow. Or that Mycroft's solicitor would call the following Friday to inform him that Sherlock had officially been written out of the Siger Holmes' will, his trust fund blocked until further notice and all payments for the boarding school and extracurricular activities ceased, effect immediate. Or that neither brother would have a chance to see Mummy again before the stroke and how much of a fight it would be to do so afterwards.

They didn't know any of that as Mycroft continued to hold on tightly and breathe reassuring words and apply gentle kisses to forehead and temples. They didn't know and for a short, happy moment, Sherlock let himself hope that things would be all right in the end.

Chapter Text

Four - Heartbreak

Mycroft casually leaned on his umbrella, legs crossed at the ankles, and watched the steady drip drip drip of the rain against the windows. The abandoned warehouse was only dimly lit and, together with the raging storm outside, presented a satisfyingly intimidating picture. A strike of lightning briefly illuminated the old, creaky metal structure, casting long, dark shadows across the walls and ceiling.

Perfect. Mycroft let his lips curve up into what people tended to called his 'Bond villain smile'. Yes, perfect.

The chime of his mobile announced the impending arrival of his guest and a moment later Mycroft could hear the approaching car, tires skidding against the gravelled drive. Doors were opened and thrown shut again. Footsteps drawing nearer and then the screeching of the heavy door against the concrete floor.

"Eh... hello?"

Mycroft straightened, squared his shoulders and stepped into the shine of the single bare bulb. "Mr Trevor," he drawled lazily and cocked his head, affecting a pleasant and entirely fake expression.

The other man stopped mid-step and glared. "Mycroft," he spat, lips pulled back into an ugly sneer. "Should have known. I should have fucking known it. What do you want?"

"Please, won't you have a seat?" Mycroft asked with obviously put-upon friendliness and gestured towards the chair opposite himself.

After a moment of continued angry louring, Victor Trevor deflated and sat. He crossed his arms over his chest and arched an impatient eyebrow. "Well?"

Mycroft's answering grin was shark-like.

***

The headache had been going for nearly a week and Mycroft felt drained. After three failed attempts, he finally managed to insert the key into the lock and slide into the foyer, closing the door behind himself and pressing his too hot forehead against its cool glass.

His migraines had increased in frequency since his promotion, as had the workload and the hours he had to put in at the office, often leading to him not being able to take a proper break and go home for days, making due with cat naps between meetings and conferences.

Groaning, Mycroft heaved himself up, stretching tired muscles and cracking stiff joints back into compliance.

Merely the prospect of catching Sherlock before he went off back to university had him ascending the stairs instead of simply falling onto the sofa in the study and sleeping for hours. Or days, preferably.

His brother's door was closed and Mycroft frowned at it suspiciously. Sherlock, lazy eighteen year old pest that he was, could not be arsed to use doors like everyone else, leaving his open at all times, which had led to more than enough embarrassing situations and ensuing shouting matches between the brothers.

For his door to be shut was highly unusual and Mycroft was instantly wide awake and worried.

"Sherlock?" he asked, lightly tapping at the wood to give the teen a warning before he pushed down the handle.

The room was drenched in darkness, the thick, heavy curtains pulled shut against the bright afternoon light. What seemed like all the blankets and quilts they owned were stacked on the bed, only a few strands of dark curls peeking out from one end of the pile.

Mycroft closed the distance in a few quick strides and perched on the edge of the mattress, carding his fingers into Sherlock's hair to rub soothing circles over his scalp. "What happened?"

Sherlock whimpered meekly, remaining otherwise silent, but pushed his head out of his nest. His cheeks were flushed, although, Mycroft consented, that could be from the heath gathered beneath several layers of wool and cotton, his eyes wet and red-rimmed and his lips pursed tightly in pain and what Mycroft thought to recognise as shame.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Sherlock sniffled, breath catching and voice weak. "He said it would be fun."

Mycroft's features must have betrayed the conclusion his mind had jumped to because Sherlock winced and pressed his eyes shut, breathing in shuddering gasps.

If it weren't for the honest and quite crippling concern for his younger brother, Mycroft would have blushed the deepest possible shade of red at the prospect of the conversation he was about to initiate.

"Sherlock," he said gently, moving his hand to cup the teens face and brush his thumb over one wet cheek. "I realise this is a somewhat delicate and highly personal matter, but for your own safety and continued wellbeing, please tell me what happened?"

Sherlock shook with barely suppressed sobs as he began to speak, words slurred and tumbling over each other. "He's been wanting to try it for weeks, he said it would make us both feel good. He's done it before, so I thought it would be fine."

Mycroft hummed encouragingly when Sherlock fell silent, gently but insistently urging him to go on.

"It was far from fine, it hurt. It wasn't supposed to hurt. He said it'd get better with time and it did, a bit, but it still hurt and it wasn't supposed to," Sherlock managed before a tremor rendered him incapable of speaking any further.

It was enough. More than enough.

Very carefully, Mycroft began to peel away the blankets until Sherlock was bared to the room. The teen gave another pitiful sob and curled himself into a tight ball, hands pressed firmly against his stomach.

"Was there any bleeding?" Mycroft inquired, stroking his brother's trembling shoulders, using the calming movement to keep his own flaring anger at bay.

Sherlock shrugged. "A bit. Everything seems to be... intact, though. I checked."

"Good, that's good."

"Why does it hurt so much, My?" Sherlock cried and rolled over, laying his head in his brother's lap and pressing his face into his belly. The use of a nickname Sherlock hadn't uttered since early childhood almost did Mycroft in, the vulnerability and insecurity in Sherlock's question making his stomach roll.

"Well," the elder brother said uncomfortably, clearing his throat, "did you use any lubrication? Did he, or you, prepare yourself before... before?"

Sherlock's silence was telling.

Mycroft sighed and rubbed his free hand over his face. "It can feel good, Sherlock. Extremely so. If it's done right."

"Victor said it'd be fine," Sherlock mumbled shakily.

Mycroft decided he did not like this Victor character overly much.

***

The atmosphere was icy with Victor glaring daggers at Mycroft and the older man responding in kind.

"This is about Sherlock, isn't it?" Victor finally demanded, the corners of his mouth turning up into a teasing smirk. "Did you lose him again, Mycroft? Tsk tsk tsk."

Mycroft pursed his lips but gave no other outward sign of even having registered the taunt. Inwardly, he was seething.

"He implored me not to tell you where he is, you know. Offered all kinds of delicious things in turn for my silence," Victor chuckled darkly, then sighed and leaned back in his chair. "He's a beautiful little thing, he really is. My precious boy."

Oh, it was tempting to take the bait, to rise to the challenge and utterly destroy that arrogant bastard, strike him down with a few vicious words until the insolent smile fell right of his pretentious face. Or, alternatively, Mycroft thought amusedly, shove his brolly somewhere where the sun don't shine.

And while Mycroft knew without a doubt that achieving either of those admittedly alluring goals would not be a hardship at all, resorting to violence or humiliating the already tense man was hardly advisable.

It would not bring the end results Mycroft wished for. It would not help to protect Sherlock.

"Nothing to say about that, eh?" Victor laughed, obviously feeling very confident of his victory. He plunged on obliviously. "He's so pliant, so willing and eager to please. It would be sad if the outcome wasn't so enjoyable. Well, it is for me, at least. Oh Mycroft, you should hear him moan my name, you should hear him beg for more. He's all mine and there is not a thing you can do about it because he wants to be. He wants it, all of it."

Which was the truth, even if it pained Mycroft to admit it. Therefore; his decision, his plan.

"I would like to make you an offer, Mr Trevor," Mycroft said calmly as he reached into his jacket pocket. "And I dare say you'll be most intrigued to accept."

***

The house, if one could call it that, was dingy and run down, much like the rest of the neighbourhood. The floor was sticky, what with Mycroft did not want to contemplate, the wallpaper torn in several places and the windows taped shut with mouldy cardboard. All in all, not a place where Mycroft would normally spend his free time, even less one he'd wish for his younger brother to be.

Sherlock had been gone for almost three weeks this time before the call came. Hearing the teen cry in agony, pleading for Mycroft to come and take him home between slurred nonsense and incomprehensible murmurs never failed to send the elder brother into a panicked frenzy. With good reason, too.

Sidestepping a hunched figure who might or might not have been breathing but was most definitely not his current concern, Mycroft made for the stairs and hurried up to the second floor. From what he could recognise in the dim light, it consisted of one large, open space littered with filthy mattresses and other makeshift beddings.

Heads turned in his direction as he walked, glazed eyes lazily following his movement to the very back of the room where the telltale mob of curls peeked out from a jumper which had definitely seen better days. And had fitted his brother rather snugly, Mycroft thought sadly, not been loosely hanging of his bony frame.

"Sherlock," he whispered softly as he lowered himself to his knees and silently vowed to incinerate every piece of clothing either of them was wearing as soon as he had the chance. "Sherlock, can you hear me?"

Sherlock gave a weak grunt and tried rolling from his side onto his back, too strung out to quite manage it. He craned his neck instead, distant, blown-wide eyes unable to focus properly.

"Victor?" Sherlock asked hopefully, causing Mycroft to wince and shake his head.

"It's me, Sherlock," the elder brother said quietly while he reached out to carefully loosen the tourniquet still firmly wrapped around Sherlock's worryingly skinny arm. "You called me. Do you remember that?"

Sherlock groaned, his whole body one convulsing, shivering mess of bruises and cuts and scabs. "Mycroft," he croaked, blinking furiously against the tired, confused tears threatening to spill over. "My."

"Yes, come on. Steady now," Mycroft urged, helping his brother up into something vaguely resembling a sitting position. "It's all right, I've got you. Shush now," he soothed and pulled the trembling teen close against himself, stroking steady, calming hands up and down his sides.

Sherlock clung, hands fisted into Mycroft's coat and face pressed into the older man's neck. "He said he'd come back for me," he sobbed noisily, desperately. "He promised."

***

Victor stared at the cheque for a long moment, lifted his gaze up to Mycroft before dropping it again and then repeating the whole process, mouth hanging open almost comically. "That's a shitload of money," he finally said and whistled, looking impressed.

"A substantial amount, yes," Mycroft agreed casually, inspecting his fingernails as if he was spectacularly uninterested in the proceedings. As if Sherlock's future, Sherlock's life wasn't hanging on by a thread.

"And I guess you want me to lay off your brother in exchange for it?" Victor cocked an eyebrow, lips twitching up at the corners. "You're bribing me to leave Sherlock alone? What do you want me to tell him? Let him down gently? Give him the whole 'it's not you, it's me' speech?"

Fascinating, Mycroft thought, how it had never even seemed to cross Victor's mind to deny, to not accept the offer. Not that he'd expected or hoped any different, but it was still painful to a certain level, knowing how little the man Sherlock loved so desperately cared for him in return.

Mycroft cleared his throat. "I'd rather you didn't, actually."

"You... you want me to tell him the truth?" Victor sounded incredulous and narrowed suspicious eyes at Mycroft. "Why? That's going to destroy him, you know. I'm his only friend, his only... everything."

"Precisely," Mycroft nodded and made a show of checking his watch.

Victor was still frowning at him. "So, let me get this straight, okay? You want me to tell Sherlock everything? You want me to look him in the eye and tell him he doesn't mean shit to me, that he's little more than dirt under my shoe, a nice piece of arse and a good fuck but nothing more?" He paused. "You want me to break your brother's heart?"

"Yes."

***

Sherlock's room was empty. Deserted. His clothes, his science equipment, his violin were gone. No trace left of him having lived in the house for the past four year. Only the note.

Mycroft had suspected as much. Couldn't even blame him, really. All their conversations, all those times Mycroft had tried to reason with him, had pointed at this.

'You can't honestly believe he cares for you, Sherlock,' Mycroft had shouted in exasperation. 'He is hurting you, he is abusing you and taking advantage of you and you know it.'

Sherlock had answered with a simple shrug and a tight smile. 'Of course I know,' he'd said. 'But it's something. It's better than nothing.'

'You have me. We have each other,' Mycroft had whispered, hands on either side of his brother's face. 'You and me, Sherlock. It's always been you and me.'

But Sherlock had shaken his head, pressed his eyes shut to prevent the tears from falling. 'You'll leave eventually, Mycroft. Everyone does. Let me have my distractions.'

There hadn't been any other option. No easy, smooth way out. Only this. The knowledge of that fact helped considerably little to ease away the pain, though.

With a resigned sigh, Mycroft reapplied the post-it to its former position on the fridge. It would serve as a reminder, he decided. A reminder that he'd failed, a reminder of what he'd lost.

I have no brother!

Chapter Text

Five - Loss


Most people would have called it instincts. Mycroft did not outright disagree with that assessment, although he did scoff at the implication that there was no scientific explanation behind the fact that he knew with absolute certainty that something was wrong the moment his mobile announced a call from John on an otherwise perfectly ordinary Thursday afternoon.

Afterwards, he would try to find reasons for that mysterious knowledge, would seek explanations. John rarely ever called, Mycroft argued, he preferred to text or not be in that close of contact with his flatmate’s brother in the first place. John usually worked the afternoon shifts, Mycroft thought, because Sherlock had a bad habit of keeping him up all night with experiments or a screeching violin or chases around London.

This method of Mycroft’s wasn’t foolproof, of course, since John’s schedule was anything but regular or normal, and he had a habit of calling Mycroft during the oddest of times, mostly to sigh at him in fond exasperation and relay the newest in a always growing list of Sherlock’s shenanigans. So, to be perfectly honest with himself, there hadn’t been anything strange or out of the norm about John’s call at all.

Yet when the display of his mobile lit up with the good doctor’s name, Mycroft’s stomach dropped and his heart skipped a beat, a wave of ice cold dread washing over him. He answered the call with shaking hands.

“Mycroft,” John breathed in relief and that simple action right there was worse than anger or irritation or, God forbid, tears ever could have been. For John, the sturdy, patient, down-to-Earth ex-military man to be glad to hear Mycroft’s voice, the situation had to be very bad indeed. “It’s Sherlock.”

***

“I’ve never seen him like this,” John whispered, fumbling with the soggy rim of his paper cup.

Mycroft hummed noncommittally and crossed his legs, shifting in the uncomfortable plastic chair.

They sat in silence, two pairs of concerned eyes trained on the closed glass door and the man behind it. Not the injured man on the bed, ironic as it was, but the ashen-faced one perched on the foot end of the mattress watching over the other one like a hawk. Like he was afraid that looking away for even a fraction of a moment would somehow make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

The Detective Inspector would find this hilarious, Mycroft thought with a wry twist of his lips. Being shot and finding that everyone’s attention was still focused on Sherlock and Sherlock alone.

‘Bloody typical, isn’t it?’ he would say and roll his eyes in that good-natured way of his, smiling that half affectionate and half annoyed smile he adopted for all things Sherlockian.

Next to him, John shifted and Mycroft took a deep breath, mentally shaking himself free of unhelpful thoughts.

“Were they ever-“ the doctor began and then frowned, seemingly unsure how to formulate his inquiry. Mycroft could have stopped him right then and there, of course, already knowing the question as well as the answer to it. He didn’t, though, choosing to let John work through it himself. “Were the two of them ever involved? Like, romantically, I mean?”

“No,” Mycroft said simply, nothing more, and waited.

John nodded, absently chewing at his thumbnail. “All right, fair enough. It’s just... I knew Sherlock cared about Greg, yeah? Everyone can see that much. It’s obvious.”

Mycroft had to smile a bit at that, in earnest this time. Not many people saw Sherlock like John saw him. Not many people bothered to peel away the outer layers of aloofness, rudeness, coldness and snarky disdain in order to get to the soft, vulnerable and utterly sweet inner core of his brother. And John hadn’t even tried, hadn’t peeled. He hadn’t been there and then he had been and that had been that.

An anomaly. Highly improbable. Inexplicable. Yet so very simple.

“They have some history, I get that,” John continued his musing, head curiously tilted to one side. “He doesn’t talk about his past much, which is fine, considering, well, you know.”

Yes, one would think that, wouldn’t they? Mycroft gave an absent nod, to what exactly he wasn’t entirely sure.

Oh, Mycroft knew about the basics, of course. He had witnessed Sherlock’s descent into a world without limits or boundaries, a world ruled by the search for the next party, the next bottle, the next needle. The next hit.

The assumption that he’d had any sort of control over the situation, although made by nearly everybody who knew the Holmes brothers, couldn’t have been more wrong. People believed Mycroft to be omnipotent, all-seeing; a notion he had no qualms about nurturing, yet one that was completely false.

All of Mycroft’s power, his cleverness, his talent for manipulating and influencing people and opinions were made null and void by Sherlock’s sheer stubbornness. If his brother wanted to vanish, to not be found, there wasn’t a single thing anybody could to about it. Not even Mycroft himself.

And Sherlock, at least in his mind, had had ample reasons to disappear. He had felt betrayed, left alone, abandoned. By everyone. Even his brother. Especially his brother.

Mycroft could piece together the essentials from the state they had, in the end, found Sherlock in. From what little his people had been able to gather from the individuals lurking about the establishments Sherlock had favoured, the places he’d hidden in, always long gone whenever they’d finally arrived. And, most of all, from the report a certain then Sergeant had made after coming across a strung-out adolescent and recognising the potential beneath the sweaty curls, dirty skin and blood-shot eyes.

But in the end, there was a period of almost a year without any sort of contact. A year of intense worrying, of jumping at every phone call and fearing for the absolute worst. A year Mycroft knew next to nothing about. A year of accumulated and soul-crushing guilt.

Victor, or rather Mycroft’s own actions in reaction to Victor, had taken his brother from him. Gregory Lestrade, with an unbelievable amount of patience and abundance of stern, paternal concern, had brought him back.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade is what I can’t be,” Mycroft said after long minutes, mildly surprised by the pain still accompanying that statement after such a long time. “He is what Sherlock won’t allow me to be anymore.”

***

They sat in exhausted silence for long hours, John’s head tipped back against the wall, his tired, red-rimmed eyes threatening to fall shut.

It took the good doctor a moment to gather himself and blink away the sleepiness when the bleeping started, medical personnel streaming into the corridor and towards the Inspector’s room in hurried concern. Mycroft was on his feet in an instant, ready to receive what he knew without a doubt would be a severely distressed younger brother in a less than ideal emotional state.

“What’s happening?” Sherlock demanded as if on cue, leaping forward to attach himself to Lestrade, clutching a limp hand between both of his own. “What’s happening? What’s wrong?”

“Mr Holmes, we need you to move away, please,” someone, one of the doctor’s, said gently but no less insistently while prepping the defibrillator.

Sherlock shook his head and glared at the approaching people, looking absolutely frantic. Wild. “No! No! He can’t... he’s... you said the surgery was successful! You removed the projectile-”

“Mr Holmes,” the doctor warned, voice still quiet but with a definite edge to it now. “We are doing all we can, but you have to move out of the way in order for us-“

“No!” Sherlock snapped angrily and immediately began to thrash when the burly nurse reached out for him. “No, he has to be fine. He has to!”

John was next to Mycroft by now, holding open the door for the nurse half dragging the still shouting and struggling detective out into the hall. The man gave a short nod in thanks before re-entering the room, this time closing the curtain around the bed, effectively shutting them out.

It was only thanks to John’s quick, military-trained reflexes that Sherlock didn’t simply storm back in to further hinder procedures. “Sherlock, come on. You have to calm down,” John tried, placing a hand on the small of his friend’s back only to have it shaken off again. He cast a helpless look at Mycroft before continuing. “They’re doing everything they can, Sherlock. You can’t be in there, they need space to move, okay? To help Greg, yeah?”

Sherlock didn’t seem to hear him though, gaze fixed on the feet visible beneath the curtain while scratching at the arm John had slung around his waist to hold him back.

“Sherlock.”

At his brother’s voice, the detective’s head whipped around. After another moment of clawing at John, his body went lax in the doctor’s grip, his face crumpling in obvious despair.

“Mycroft,” he managed to choke out and this time when he pushed at the arm around him, John let go. “Mycroft,” he whispered again, barely audible, and took a few steps in his brother’s direction.

John watched in somewhat confused amazement as Sherlock stepped closer until he was able to grasp at the lapels of Mycroft’s coat and bury his face in the taller man’s neck with a low, pitiful whimper. “Mycroft.”

“I’m here,” Mycroft whispered back and wound his arms around the younger man, holding his trembling body close. From the corner of his eye he saw John walking away a bit, moving out of ear-shot, and was oddly thankful for at least a certain resemblance of privacy.

He could feel the dampness, the tears seeping into the collar of his shirt and turned his head, brushing his lips over Sherlock’s temple in a motion as much for his brother’s benefit as for his own.

As much as he resented the current situation, Mycroft couldn’t help the tiny little ball of relief starting to form in his stomach, couldn’t stop the warmth from starting to travel through him. He hadn’t been granted this sort of physical closeness for over a decade and he was going to selfishly hold onto it for as long as Sherlock was willing to allow it.

The taps against his back came as a surprise, but Mycroft recognised them instantly; Morse code. One of many methods Sherlock had used to communicate long before he’d discovered his words.

• • • / ― • ― • / • ― / • ― • / • / ― • •

“It’s all right,” Mycroft shushed, threading one hand into Sherlock’s curls, soothingly rubbing his fingers over his brother’s scalp. “I’ve got you. Always.”

***

Sherlock was a little calmer by the time the doctor finally left the room but hadn’t moved from his brother’s side, still clinging to him almost desperately.

“Mr Holmes?”

He did jump at that, whirling around to stare, eyes flitting over the other man’s face, taking in his expression and posture.

“He’s stable,” the doctor informed them, causing Sherlock to visibly relax, shoulders slumping out of their former rigidness. “We aren’t expecting any further complications-“

“I need to see him,” Sherlock interrupted, unbothered by the irritated look that earned him.

“You can, in a moment,” the doctor allowed, holding up his hand to silence the detective when he opened his mouth to protest. “We’re cleaning up, reattaching the monitors and setting a new IV line. You may go in as soon as we’re finished.”

“Thank you,” Sherlock muttered and the doctor entered the room once more to finish up.

Mycroft sighed, closing his eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath to steel himself. He did not need to see his brother’s expression to know what would greet him once the man turned to face him.

Sure enough, when Sherlock turned his face was blank, betraying none of his earlier fear or upset. “This changes nothing,” he hissed, ignoring John stepping up behind them. “Absolutely nothing.”

“Sherlock-“ Mycroft tried despite himself, unsurprised when he was cut off immediately.

“Leave it,” the detective snapped, a dry, hollow laugh escaping him. “Just leave it. John!” he barked and with a last dramatic swirl of coat he stalked off towards the cafeteria.

“I, eh. I’ll get some coffee into him. He’ll feel better after,” John said uncomfortably as he scratched at the back of his neck. “Listen. You know he doesn’t mean it, right? I mean, he’s not-“

“It’s all right, John,” Mycroft interrupted, his own expression carefully closed-off. “Go after him.”

The doctor shifted and fidgeted a bit more before nodding and quickly sprinting after his friend, taking his hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze once he caught up with him. He looked back over his shoulder again, obviously torn, but yielded when Sherlock simply kept walking.

Chapter Text

Six - Returning


Mycroft shot a glance at the clock and sighed, leaning back in his plush leather chair to try and rub the exhaustion from his eyes, already knowing the attempt to be futile. The feeling - the corrosive, always expanding hollowness - hadn’t left for even a moment since-

Well. Since.

With a heavy breath, Mycroft set his pen down and began flexing his trembling fingers. Psychogenic, stress-induced tremors. A psychosomatic reaction so utterly ironic, Mycroft couldn’t help the dry, broken chuckle from escaping his lips.

‘It’s all true. Everything they said about me. I invented Moriarty.’

He’d watched the footage before, of course, in complete and shocked disbelief. For the first few times at least, until the truth, ugly and oppressing and clawing at his tightening chest, had started to creep in. The dozens, hundreds of times after that were penance. After all, it wasn’t every day one had a direct hand in killing one’s only remaining brother.

‘I’m a fake. Nobody could be that clever.’

“You could,” Mycroft said bitterly, an exact echo of the muted John on the screen to his left.

‘This phone call, it's... it's my note. That's what people do, don't they? Leave a note.’

One single call is all he would have needed. He would have been there, he would have helped if only he’d known. But then again, how could he fault the man for his lack of trust after everything that had transpired in the days, no, in all the years before?

Mycroft, always on top of even the most chaotic of situations, always three steps ahead and always prepared except for the one time it would have counted the most.

‘Goodbye, John.’

Shaking himself out of his unhelpfully distracting mental self-flagellation, a feat growing more and more difficult each time, Mycroft turned off the video and switched to the news.

The absolution came two years too late for the right person to see and if he would have cared one way or the other was debatable. More likely he’d have called everyone believing and following Moriarty’s deception out for the imbeciles and enormous waste of his precious time they undoubtedly were.

Mycroft smiled. To think he honestly missed the sneered insults, hurled in every possible and impossible direction in a voice dripping with disdain and defiance.

The live feed was still showing the outside of New Scotland Yard, overflowing with reporters and spectators waiting for the press conference to commence. Apparently everyone and their grannies had decided to show up for the occasion, wanting a front row ticket for the spectacle of the year; the announcement of Sherlock’s innocence and revelation of Moriarty’s admittedly very neatly laid out plans.

Vultures, the whole lot of them.

It wasn’t much, setting the record straight once and for all, not nearly enough. And it had taken time, over twenty-three months of digging, searching and negotiating in order to unearth every last scrap of evidence proving James Moriarty to be real and exposing Richard Brook as the fake he was.

Him, the fake, not Sherlock. Never Sherlock.

The feed changed again, now switching to a camera inside the conference room, pointing at the newly reinstated DI Lestrade, standing confidently behind the podium, a triumphant smile tugging the corners of his mouth ever so slightly upward.

Gregory Lestrade. Loyal until the very end and beyond, working himself down to the bones for the past two years to right his own wrongs, to try and make up for that ill-timed and jealousy-fuelled arrest leading to his almost-son’s demise.

They all felt it, that sensation of drowning, the guilt threatening to pull them under. Mycroft, Gregory and John, the government, the law and the soldier. Each one haunted by the same ghosts, all of them united by their cause;

To bring justice to the memory of Sherlock Holmes.

And tonight all their hard work, all their struggles and fighting were finally going to pay off.

So, Mycroft thought with a small but for once entirely sincere smile, Gregory had every right to look as smug as he did standing there in front of those reporters and camera crews.

He righted himself again and shut off the news, already well aware of what would be relayed and having sent one of his best agents to record the whole thing for later inspection. Gregory and John had tried to invite him along, had insisted he should be there, but Mycroft simply couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Because while both John and Gregory felt they had made mistakes in those last few faithful days before Sherlock’s fall, they weren’t the ones responsible. The choice to bring Sherlock in had been mostly out of Gregory’s hands by that point and John had only left the detective’s side to go rush home to their supposedly injured landlady, to assist a friend.

And even if they had acted differently, it would not have mattered, of that Mycroft is sure. The arrest had merely accelerated the spreading of those unfortunate rumours about the detective, it hadn’t started them. Ms Riley’s article, published the morning after that incident, would have had the same effect if Sherlock hadn’t already been standing on that damned roof by then. And had John not left for Mrs Hudson, Sherlock would have found another way to get rid of his friend, to send him away.

There was absolutely nothing they could have done to change the events of that day, to prevent Sherlock from leaving.

Mycroft, however, had gambled and lost. Gambled with his brother’s life for the slim chance of gaining something of value to use against the master criminal. The Intel Moriarty handed over to them had been useful, that much isn’t debatable, but the cost was much too high.

The sound of someone at his front door pulled Mycroft out of his thoughts. He frowned, reaching for his phone to check for any missed messages and found none. There was a highly limited number of people with unrestricted access to his London flat and all of them were extremely unlikely to come by at this precise time.

His personal assistant was at the conference on very strict orders, she wouldn’t leave without Mycroft’s permission or informing him, in case of an emergency. So were Gregory and John, at least as far as Mycroft was concerned.

Gregory he’d seen on the live feed earlier, there was no doubt about the Inspectors current whereabouts. And John, he wouldn’t miss this for the world. The man had suffered and grieved more than Mycroft would have believed possible for someone having lost a friend, even such a close one as Sherlock had apparently been. He’d always suspected there to be more between his brother and the doctor, not necessarily anything sexual, but most definitely a deep, profound and mutual love.

But John would not come by unannounced, the occasions on which he’d visited Mycroft at his home could be counted on one hand - the last memorable one being the one year anniversary of Sherlock’s death. They’d sat together in absolute silence, sharing their misery and most of a bottle of thirty-year-old scotch, both trying and probably failing to hide their wet, red-rimmed eyes.

Mycroft could hear the key being turned in the lock and hesitated, uncharacteristically undecided about what sort of action to take. Had any of the people carrying one of his keys been hurt or taken, he would have been alerted immediately. They wouldn’t lend their keys to anyone else, Mycroft trusted them that far which was the whole reason why they had the keys in the first place. One of them could have lost theirs, but they were ordinary, nondescript keys that could belong to any flat or house in London or anywhere else in the country.

So, however unlikely, the person now entering his flat was someone familiar and not a threat.

Holding his breath, Mycroft waited and listened. The person in the hall closed the front door and then wavered for just a moment before slowly making their way toward the study. They either knew the layout of the flat or had simply seen the light from his desk lamp and monitors.

With a few rapid blinks, Mycroft gathered himself again, opened the secret compartment of his file cabinet, took out his handgun - just to be on the safe side - and was about to call out when-

“Mycroft?”

Everything stopped. There was a loud rushing in his ears, he could feel cold sweat on his neck and hands, his mouth dropping open almost comically.

“Mycroft.”

The voice was closer now, the person standing in the door to the study but not coming inside. Mycroft didn’t look up. He couldn’t. This wasn’t possible, wasn’t real, and if he went and looked, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation would either be confirmed and there wouldn’t be anyone there, or-

“Mycroft?”

Uncertainty. The voice was full of it, questioning and vulnerable, quivering and unsure. But also deep and warm and oh so familiar.

There were steps, the person was walking closer until they came to a stop right next to Mycroft, a gloved hand reaching out and grabbing the arm of the chair. Mycroft’s own hand shot out, closing over the other person’s, if to hold on or shove it away he wasn’t sure.

Which was how they remained for several long moments, suspended in a near trance, neither daring to take it any further. Mycroft was trembling with the need to turn and look, yet found himself too afraid to do so, however illogical it was.

In the end, it was Sherlock’s infamous impatience which took the decision out of both of their hands.

“Oh, for the love of-“ the detective huffed, yanked at the chair and slid to the floor all in one long, elegant move. “Mikey,” he croaked, his hands coming to rest on the man’s knees as he blinked up at his brother with those impossible eyes, shining with unshed tears of relief, relief to be back. To be home.

All Mycroft managed in reply was a whispered “Lockie,” before his arms shot out completely without his permission, pulling the younger man against himself. He felt Sherlock’s arms wriggle free from where they were trapped between them only to wind around him and squeeze back and Mycroft was lost, burying his face in his brother’s hair with a choked-off sob.

“Don’t cry,” Sherlock demanded instantly, the commanding tone prompting a wet chuckle out of Mycroft. “I’m being serious, Mycroft, stop it. You don’t cry. I don’t... I don’t know how to-“

“It doesn’t matter,” Mycroft breathed through his tears and kissed the top of Sherlock’s head, then tipped it back to press his lips to the other’s forehead. “It doesn’t matter.”

Sherlock squirmed a bit, although mostly for show, and wrinkled his nose in mock-disgust. “When did you get so sentimental?”

“Believing to have killed one’s brother does that to a person,” Mycroft said dryly and Sherlock froze for a moment before the realisation hit him in full.

He surged up and threw his arms around the man, burying his face in Mycroft’s neck. “I never blamed you,” he mumbled into Mycroft’s skin, hands bunching up the back of his shirt.

“You have every right to,” Mycroft countered and tightened his hold on Sherlock, carding soothing fingers through his now much longer curls. “I am sorry, Sherlock,” he sniffled inelegantly, kissing whatever of his brother was near enough to reach. “I am so incredibly sorry for what I did-“

“I thought I’d be the one apologising,” Sherlock laughed tiredly, trying to burrow closer still despite the fact that there was hardly a hair’s breadth of space between them left.

Mycroft chuckled back, unable to help himself. “Dull,” he shrugged, causing Sherlock to snort in amusement.

“Indeed,” Sherlock agreed.