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Ducks All in a Row

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At eight years old, Sherlock Holmes had already chosen his future spouse. Unbeknownst to them, of course, but that was a minor detail---one that would be quickly remedied with the right timing. That they would feel the same there was no question. It was the only choice that made sense. There were no other suitors for either of them and none as well suited to one another as each other.

Oh, the poets and the sad singers Mummy listened to on the radio could say what they liked, but Sherlock knew better. Love was an orchestration of the highest order. It didn't happen; it had to be coaxed along, if possible, and prodded rather more harshly if necessary.

In any event, worry was the furthest thing from Sherlock's mind as he readied himself for bed. He brushed his teeth and, after a moment’s hesitation, his hair---and wouldn't Mummy love that, though it wasn't for her at all---before wriggling into his pajamas. All he had clean were the silly ones with ducks on them, as if the stupid, noisy creatures had a thing to do with sleep. These ones didn’t have feet, at least, but it hardly mattered.

They weren't even yellow, proper ducks, he reflected. They'd gotten all the colors wrong, just like they got everything wrong. It was exactly like the mural he’d seen painted on a shop window last Christmas, with polar bears and penguins in the same picture, when anyone with any sense at all knew they didn’t even live on the same pole and it was all so obviously wrong.

Sherlock sulked over his ducks and did his best to resist the urge to bin them, knowing he would make a very poor impression indeed if he were found without his pajamas. Even if they were horrid.

He should have thought to grab a book for the waiting, at least. Sherlock stared forlornly at his bookshelf, backed up against the wall opposite. It had been so stupid of him not to think of it, obvious really, but now that he was perfectly situated, well… He briefly entertained the thought of calling for Mummy to fetch him a book---Treasure Island perhaps---but quickly dismissed it. It wasn’t as if he’d be able to concentrate, anyway. Not with the weight of the ring in his pocket and the air all electric with silence.

Excitement made him fidgety. Boredom made him pout. In the end, it was the excitement that won out. It was driving him mad with restlessness as he sat there, drumming his heels against the bed and wrinkling ducks with his impatient hands.

Finally, after what seemed like no small amount of forever, he heard it: the sound of footsteps, the creak of the third stair from the bottom, which protested when anyone stepped on it except for Mummy. Mummy was a ghost coming up the stairs.

Sherlock brightened immediately.

"Come in," he called, without waiting for a knock.

With that tread, there was only one person it could be.

His brother filled the doorway as it swung open, even taller than he had been before term. He’d nearly outgrown the coat he’d received for his last birthday, which was a shame. All that fine, black wool. Sherlock had been attempting to persuade him to part with it practically since he’d gotten it, even if it was far too big for him. Mycroft said he would be great and tall, too, someday.

"You've brushed your hair, I see," Mycroft observed, brow knit as if it had been some great effort to deduce this. "I wonder what could possibly be the occasion."

He could hardly contain his excitement. "Something special."

"Oh, I've no doubt of that."

Once his umbrella had been carefully propped at the foot of the bed, Mycroft sat next to him. Sherlock forgot himself immediately, throwing his arms around his brother and pressing his face into Mycroft's shirt, as crisp and white as ever. He could smell the starch in the collar, the light scents of rosewater and tea, and a scent that was undeniably Mycroft. Bookish, if he was inclined to be poetic. Dusty, if he wasn't. Mycroft always smelled like he'd spent the afternoon poring over some ancient stack of manuscripts with a cup of tea carefully held away to avoid splashing anything important.

"You've been gone for ages," Sherlock mumbled at last. Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot, he added, "And you've gotten top marks in Greek."

"And how have we deduced that?"

"Powdered sugar on your sleeve. Turkish delight. May I wear your coat?"

Mycroft smiled indulgently and began peeling off his coat. "Quite right. Clever little duck."

Sherlock huffed. "Ducks aren't clever, Mycroft."

"Ah, but my duck is," he said. He hung his coat over Sherlock’s shoulders. "There you are."

A grudging smile came to Sherlock's face. He really was clever, wasn't he? If Mycroft thought so, it had to be true. There was no one as clever as Mycroft. All boys said that about their big brothers, of course, but Sherlock had examined himself quite thoroughly for all the usual signs of delusional hero worship and could only conclude that while not all of them could be right, he in fact was.

Sherlock settled back, enveloped by all the smells of London sunk into the fabric of Mycroft’s coat as he pulled it closer about his shoulders. He had to do it now, while he had the opportunity.

"Mycroft, I have… something very important to discuss with you," Sherlock began, in his best imitation of Mummy.

"Could it wait until morning? I am meant to put you to bed, you know."

"It’s a matter of some urgency."

"Oh, well, that does make quite a difference," Mycroft said. He looked suspiciously as if he were trying to hold back a smile. "Please, continue."

There was no point beating about the bush. Not when it was a forgone conclusion. Sherlock reached into the pocket of his pajamas and fished out the ring he had put there, presenting it to Mycroft with an open palm and all his nerves alight. He fought the flush threatening to rise in his cheeks as best he could. Nervousness wouldn’t impress Mycroft.

"Well?"

Mycroft peered at him curiously in the dim light. "May I inquire as to the occasion?”

"Marriage, of course."

There was a pause before Mycroft erupted into laughter. Sherlock stretched himself to his full height and sniffed with indignation.

"I won't be little forever, you know. I'll grow up and when I do, we’ll be just like Mummy and Daddy, only we won't row about money all the time because you'll do the practical things and I can keep us entertained and----"

"Sherlock, Sherlock," Mycroft said, still sounding horribly amused, "as flattered as I am by your proposal, I'm afraid it doesn't work that way."

"Who says, Mycroft?" He'd change their minds all right. "Who says?"

"Shhhh," Mycroft soothed. "Lie back down."

"But Mycroft----"

"Quiet, Sherlock. You haven't given me a chance to explain."

Something in Mycroft's voice made him listen, albeit unhappily. This didn't make any sense. Mycroft was supposed to accept and then they would be together forever, and never have to worry about any of those boorish, ordinary people they both hated. Well, he hated them. Mycroft tolerated them, for some reason Sherlock couldn’t fathom.

Mycroft kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed next to him. With a little maneuvering, they were eye to eye. Sherlock could smell the sweets on his breath, but it wasn't unpleasant. Only Mycroft. His face was all scrunched up like he was thinking, only it wasn't his normal thinking face. There was something else there that Sherlock couldn't figure out. He didn't like it. He never liked being unable to read anybody, but Mycroft least of all.

It frightened him to think that he could look at the person closest and most important to him in the world and see nothing.

He reached out for Mycroft's hand on impulse. It was a habit he thought he’d broken, but Mycroft didn’t call him on it. His skin was warm and dry, his big hand swallowing up Sherlock's completely. The ring sat uncomfortably in his fist, heavy with his failure.

"You have to understand, Sherlock," Mycroft began. "Marriage isn't... we aren't... well, it simply isn't something family does."

"But you told me all about the Pharaohs last time you were home on holiday, and they were family, too."

"What was acceptable then is not acceptable now. It's a very taboo affair these days, Sherlock. Do you understand what that means?"

"Yes, I'm not stupid."

Mycroft squeezed his hand. "Of course you aren’t. But even very clever people like you and me need reminding on occasion."

The words only cemented his glumness. Sherlock scowled at the blankets, at their joined hands, and back at his duck pajamas for good measure.

"You won't marry me, then."

"I'm afraid that would be impossible, but that doesn't mean that I can't be here for you when you need me."

"It's not the same."

Mycroft sighed. "Oh, Sherlock. Come here."

Sherlock hesitated. There was no reason to be nice to Mycroft, now that he had declined and ruined all of Sherlock's plans for their future. All the same, it did take a frightful amount of effort be angry with Mycroft and he would only manage to talk himself out of it before long, so why bother?

Just to be on the safe side, Sherlock pulled a face----to show how not on this was---before he curled closer to Mycroft and let his brother's arm settle about his middle. He listened to the steady thumping of Mycroft’s heart as they lay huddled together under the spread of his coat, still slightly upset but too comfortable to budge.

"You know I love you very much," Mycroft said, gently. "Nothing will ever change that."

He grunted.

"Must you always be so stubborn?"

"I learnt it from you," Sherlock retorted. Along with almost everything else he knew. He flexed his palm around the ring, the metal warm from his hand, and glanced back at Mycroft. "Will you wear it, at least? To remind you that I… when I’m not there to tell you, well. You know."

It was as close as he would get to saying The Words, but Sherlock knew Mycroft would understand. Mycroft never had any difficulty understanding him, whatever he said. All the same, Mycroft’s silence was giving him fits.

"You will wear it, won’t you?"

"Oh, I suppose," he sighed. He rolled his eyes with a dramatic flourish. "If I must."

Sherlock swatted him. "Mycroft."

"Of course I’ll wear it. I’d be mad not to." The moment he smiled and held out his hand, Sherlock forgot all about his vile teasing. "Right hand, I think. Would you care to do the honors?"

When it was done, Mycroft kissed his forehead.

"You mustn’t ever take it off or lose it," Sherlock said as he settled back into the familiar comfort of Mycroft’s arms. He stifled a yawn. "That way, you’ll always have something to remember me by."

"As if I could forget you."

Sherlock curled his fingers into the front of Mycroft’s shirt in response. Already his eyelids were refusing to cooperate, slipping down and trying to drag him into sleep. He wondered, idly, how long it would take Mummy to realize one of her rings was missing, or if it would ever occur to her that he’d nicked it. Mycroft’s breath rustled his hair and Sherlock gave a final smile before falling deep into the untroubled sleep of impetuous little thieves everywhere.