John presumed that Mycroft Holmes would be the first to know of his brother’s astonishing return from death. It was an entirely reasonable thought but it was, as it turned out, wrong.
Mycroft found out more than a week after John. It was a Friday, almost midnight. Mycroft had only recently arrived home, having worked late and, afterwards, gone out for dinner with his P.A. He’d made himself a cup of tea and changed into his pyjamas, and he was just about to sit down with a pile of papers he’d brought back from the office. Before he could reach the sofa, however, the doorbell rang. He put down tea and papers and went to open the door. He was expecting it to be Anthea, who liked to catch him out by finding the most unlikely times to ask to stay the night. It might even have been Gregory, finally willing to ask for the apology that Mycroft wanted to give him.
He did not expect it to be Sherlock who stood, dark and disconcertingly unlike a dream, in front of him.
For a few moments, Mycroft didn’t know what to say or do. A few moments, however, were all it ever took for Mycroft to find something to say. He comprehended within the first second that his brother was alive, healthy, maybe a little thinner than before (if that were possible), had come back to him. A question presented itself: what did one say to a not-dead brother?
Mycroft didn’t waste time. He simply said Sherlock’s name. The word sounded as dry as his throat and came accompanied by the slightest reflex of a smile.
He knew, then, that he was angry. He wanted to attack. He wanted to knock Sherlock to the hard ground and beat him into it and give him pain for every pain he had caused. Pain for making him think that he was dead. Pain for not being dead and thus proving that there could still be secrets between them. Pain for breaking his heart.
He tried - but all he could do was push limply against Sherlock’s chest, barely moving him, so that the action turned into more of an attempt to keep himself standing. His fingers curled in the fabric of Sherlock’s coat. He bowed his head, breath coming unbearably fast. All the while, Sherlock stood perfectly motionless, supporting Mycroft, until he did the last thing that Mycroft might have expected and took Mycroft by the shoulders, pulling him close and putting his arms around him.
Sherlock didn’t hold him for long. He felt when Mycroft’s breath became more even and stepped back, peering over Mycroft’s shoulder and distracting himself with an assessment of the hallway. When he seemed to have gathered that the house was all but empty, he stepped past Mycroft and headed for the living room.
Mycroft put on his dressing gown, offered Sherlock a seat and made a fresh cup of tea. Black, no sugar. Neither of them were surprised to find that Mycroft remembered Sherlock’s requirements, even though Mycroft hadn’t made a cup of tea for his brother since Sherlock was a teenager. Busying himself with playing the host made Mycroft feel a little better fortified. He was attempting to act as though Sherlock had come around on an ordinary social visit and he found that he could just about cope. The initial shock was over. When Mycroft called on his natural poise and dignity, they very rarely failed him. If they had failed him when he first saw Sherlock, he could forgive himself for that, it had been unusually trying. But his feelings could not be allowed to get the better of him anymore. He sat on the sofa, opposite Sherlock, and bent his head quizzically.
“Before you ask whether mother knows, I can tell you that she doesn’t,” Sherlock said, “I’ll tell her. You don’t have to.”
Mycroft smiled wryly, “I was rather hoping to start off with the story of how you came to be here.”
Sherlock nodded slowly. Then he shook his head. “No, not yet. It’s a very long story. And it’s dull. I can tell it to you another time.”
“Then why are you here?”
Sherlock looked puzzled, “Well, to see you, of course.”
Mycroft nodded, no other response forthcoming.
“I thought you’d be more pleased to see me,” Sherlock continued, “John was pleased to see me. After he regained consciousness and stopped shouting.”
“I am pleased to see you,” said Mycroft, “And I’m glad that John was too. Your Dr. Watson’s a good man. It doesn’t mean you should take advantage of him…”
“Take advantage of him? How?”
“By, say, pretending to be dead,” Mycroft frowned as he talked. His words had escaped him sounding more acerbic than he’d intended.
Sherlock frowned in return and plucked at his collar, as if feeling the absence of the violin that he usually drove Mycroft away with. He had known that the meeting would be as difficult as it was inevitable. The fact that he had not even been able to plan for it, as he might have done for a case or an investigation, frustrated him. Here, he could only enter blindly. For all he knew about Mycroft, and for all Mycroft knew about him, this was unusual territory. There was little to go on, the emotions involved being new and volatile. It was strange. He had spent his life on such close terms with death and yet he’d never before had to deal with it so closely.
Mycroft could not concentrate on what Sherlock might or might not be feeling. He was uncomfortably overwhelmed by his own emotions. The mention of John had made him feel quite sick. He had always been a little envious of John, who had slotted into Sherlock’s life so perfectly. Even more so, he was envious of Sherlock who was so bad with people but had always been able to tell when he had found a fellow soul. Mycroft sometimes felt that he had been fated to always come second to some greater love. To his mother he was second to his father. To Sherlock he was second to John. For a while, when Sherlock had been dead, he had been almost free, lonely and singular. He had been left with his romantic tangles and the chance to make something of his own with someone who wasn’t a Holmes. Sherlock had returned and he could be nothing but foremost in Mycroft’s mind. Mycroft wanted to mourn the death of his freedom as he had mourned Sherlock but he found it impossible. Sherlock was alive. Mycroft, through all his distress, knew no greater happiness. Perhaps that was why he finally broke when Sherlock looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, Mycroft.”
“You’re sorry?” Mycroft snapped, “You’re sorry?”
Sherlock’s frown deepened, his lips thinned and he fell silent. Mycroft hurried out of the room. He returned a few minutes later with a letter.
“Sherlock, I had to deal with your death. I didn’t only have to go to the funeral and have stony, emotionless conversations with Mummy about how lovely you were. I had to take care of the will, I had to deal with the property that wasn’t covered by the will. I spent months looking through your case files and deciding what to do with the important information. I even had condolence cards from people who you’d helped. Every day I had to remember that you were dead. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned this yet,” Mycroft flourished the piece of paper. Then he began to read from it, “‘Dear Mycroft, I am entrusting to you the legalities that will follow my death. Further instructions will come from my solicitor within the next few weeks, possibly the next few days. Your affectionate brother, S.H.’” Mycroft was so overcome that he was trembling, “What was that? ‘Your affectionate brother’? It was one of our little jokes, wasn’t it? But I suddenly believed it. I believed you were my affectionate brother, and I read this letter over and over because you were dead and it was the only thing I ever had from you that meant something. You weren’t even dead. Good God, I don’t even know what I’m saying. I only… I…”
When the great deluge of words had come to a shuddering halt, there came a terrible, thick silence. Mycroft was pale with fury. He could no longer speak and his limbs felt heavy beyond any chance of movement. It was only when Sherlock took his hand that he could once again use his feet, following Sherlock’s lead. When he realised where he was being taken, Mycroft went ahead to the bedroom. He lay down on top of the sheets. Sherlock dragged a chair from the corner of the room to his bedside and promised, without any prompting, that he would stay until Mycroft woke up the next morning.
“You don’t have to,” said Mycroft, “You have better things to do with your time.”
Even so, Sherlock stayed.
Sherlock said, a little while later, “You’ve done this for me quite a few times but I think this is the first time I’ve ever had to keep a bedside vigil for your sake.”
“Well, it’s only natural. I’m the older brother; I’m supposed to look after you.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
Mycroft smirked at that and told Sherlock that his protests could do nothing.
A little later still, when Sherlock saw that Mycroft had finally succumbed to weariness, he rested his head near his brother’s shoulder. He didn’t sleep. He would be awake whenever his brother woke and perhaps, then, Mycroft would understand something of the way Sherlock loved him.