Jumbo Jet. Dear me Mr Holmes, dear me.
If Mycroft Holmes' hands shake a little, at that, if his gaze drifts and becomes fixed on something beyond others' sight, it is because he allows it. If he runs his hands across his face and bows his head, well, it is because there is no harm in indulging in a minor lapse of control, not here alone, not now. It's unlikely, in any case, that he'll have the chance again. He might as well indulge.
There's some comfort to be found, he supposes, in how small his world has become with those words. So many concerns, immediate and future, swept aside. Only one left, really. The constant, the always-there, the one that matters.
In the end, are you really so obvious?
"You have to call Mycroft," Sherlock declares, slumping on to the couch with absolutely no mercy for John's sense of personal space.
Sherlock gives him the look, the you're-doing-this-on-purpose look, and huffs loudly. "An accurate deduction of the current scenario requires the documents relating to the original estate and subsequent lawsuit. Lestrade does not have sufficient clearance to obtain them for me. Ergo, you must call him."
"Why can't you-"
"Upset about his little plane," Sherlock says sharply. "Sulking. Infantile. Won't answer me, I've tried."
Now things are starting to make a bit more sense. It's funny, he's seen Sherlock throw identical hissy-fits when Mycroft was all too ready to answer his calls, to the point of pre-emptively recording and archiving the lot of them, at least until Sherlock had noticed.
"You think he's mad at you?" John thinks about cafes and umbrellas and fairytales about witness protection created solely for Sherlock's benefit, and smiles widely. It's a bit smug. Just a bit. "I really don't think that's it. Not everything revolves around you, Sherlock. He's a busy man."
Sherlock's frown deepens. "I hardly think he's likely to get more interesting calls."
John allows a bit of time for that statement to hang in the air before putting voice to his disbelief. "The man makes 1984 look like a useful instructional booklet. I think, yes, maybe he does get some more interesting calls. I'm guessing yours isn't the only ego he has to deal with, and the other guys have the nuclear silos to back it up."
Sherlock looks back blankly. "So?"
"So... so call him back later," John splutters. "Yourself."
Sherlock huffs again, and stalks out of the room.
Twenty minutes later Lestrade calls, reluctantly admitting he's pulled a few favours, and John is putting his coat on and halfway to the door before he even hangs up.
"Sherlock!" He bellows, and in a flurry of long limbs and dark wool, they're out the door.
Sherlock is seven and Mycroft is fifteen, and Sherlock is doing his homework. It's a minor miracle. Mycroft is yet to find any pattern in the tasks that will pique his interest enough to make him participate, but this one - something insipid about future career paths - has worked, and he's not going to question it. Sherlock shuts himself in his room and writes with enough enthusiasm to break two pencils ("I'll tell you how I knew that from your thumbnail," Mycroft says demurely, "if you eat your sprouts. Yes, all of them." Sherlock wrinkles his nose but does it, because Mycroft keeps his promises) before coming down to dinner. Mummy doesn't emerge from her bedroom at all tonight, so Mycroft makes do.
He's surprised, then, when he comes home the next day to Sherlock sitting in the middle of the hall, tearing the sheets Mycroft had stapled together for him that morning into tiny pieces. He's red around the eyes, biting at his lip hard enough to leave a mark, and very overtly not crying.
"Sherlock, you're making a mess."
"Don't care." Sherlock snaps, and twists paper scraps violently between his fingers. "I hate it."
"Stop it and pick that up," Mycroft says. Sherlock shakes his head.
"You're not in charge of me."
"I said pick it up. Now." Mycroft keeps his voice steady but drops the pitch just a fraction. Sherlock's tiny fists clench, but he does it, gathering the bits together and shoving them in to Mycroft's hands without looking at him.
"Very good." Mycroft says, then takes his hand and leads him to living room, up to the fireplace. It's lit, crackling cheerfully. He gives the paper back. "This is neater."
They solve the case, but Mycroft still doesn't call back. John watches, day by day, as the tightness at the corner of Sherlock's eyes and mouth gets worse, as he talks more often at John and far less to him. Sometimes he catches him pulling his phone out, tapping at the corner of the case then slipping it back in his pocket, all without looking at it. He doesn't even seem aware he's doing it.
Finally, John has had enough. He sorts through his contacts and sends a bunch of texts to possibly-but-not-always-Anthea. When he doesn't get a reply, he rings her as well as searching out the public numbers of Mycroft's "minor" government office, and calls them too.
They're all disconnected.
"I tried that," Sherlock says, leaning in the doorway, and makes John jump. "I tried all of the numbers. Just to see." He seems defensive. "I told you he's sulking."
"This is a bit extreme for sulking, Sherlock." John says, even as he mentally factors in that this is a Holmes brother they're talking about. "Has he done this before?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "When he brought you Irene's file, what did he say?"
John hesitates. "I - well, he told me to bring it to you, and that she got herself on a-"
"Yes, yes, I know that," Sherlock waves one hand impatiently, narrows his eyes. "Gave you two stories to pick from and you picked the soft one. Obvious. But what else did he say?"
Of course he bloody knows, he always bloody knows. John's not sure if he's mad at himself for believing otherwise, or at Sherlock for being so completely insufferable. But Sherlock still has that worried look around the edges of his eyes. John decides they can have an argument about Irene Adler later.
"He talked about you. Nothing specific, I think he was just, you know, musing."
"What did he say?"
"I don't remember."
Sherlock's lips press together. "Fine. How did he sound?"
John shrugs. "Like Mycroft, what- I don't know. Distant. A bit fond." He takes a not-insignificant amount of pleasure in how that makes Sherlock twitch in annoyance. "He sounded fond."
"I'm sure he did. He must love having you to perform for." Sherlock sneers. "Useless. Precision, John. If not what, then how. Preci-"
"Precision! I know!" John snaps. What does he want, poetry? "It sounded like it was a happy memory, and because of that it was making him sad, and don't tell me that makes no sense beca- oh." John's eyes widen a little. "Ha! I do remember. He was talking about when you were a kid, how you wanted to be a pirate. I can just see that... Sherlock? Sherlock!"
Sherlock is already gone.
Sherlock is seven and Mycroft is fifteen, and Sherlock is burning his homework. Mycroft takes a pair of wrought-iron tongs and kneels to push a stray piece back into the flames, where it curls to ash. Like this he's almost face level with Sherlock, who is still standing there silently. "Done," Mycroft says. He knows better than to ask, or at least, knows better than to ask out loud.
"They laughed at me," Sherlock whispers, finally. "We read them out in class, and I told them how I'm going to be a pirate, and they laughed at me. Even though I looked it all up."
Mycroft can feel a headache building, pressing against the back of his eyes. "You should get used to that," he tells Sherlock, placidly, "the world is full of small, unimpressive minds who can only cope with small, unimpressive dreams."
Sherlock sniffles and sniggers all at once, then composes himself and wipes his nose on his sleeve in a determined manner. "Don't tell Mummy about it," he instructs. "I don't want to talk about it ever again."
"Don't tell anyone ever." Sherlock continues, regaining a little of his usual imperiousness. "Never ever until the day you die."
Mycroft resists the urge to roll his eyes. "Until the day I die," he echoes, with suitable gravitas. "I shall not breathe a word of it. Now go run a bath, you're a mess. Mummy is having guests."
John is well-acquainted with Sherlock's disregard for any rule or convention, any authority that gets in the way of him doing what it is he's decided is the most effective course of action. He's accustomed to his utter indifference, if not for the law itself then for the people and institutions who create and enforce the law (the only exceptions, it seems, being those who can be indifferent right back at him; Lestrade, who has the patience of a saint, and Mycroft, who has the patience of cobra waiting to strike). It's a part of Sherlock, as much as the violin tuning at 3am and the fingers in the freezer and the way he can smile with only his eyes and his voice. Sherlock has nothing but disdain for, to put it melodramatically, 'the system'.
It's just, until now, John's never seen him actually try to tear it apart.
John is there with him when he threatens, blackmails and breaks in, when he tracks down people with certain clearances John can't work out any link between, slams them in to walls and demands they tell him where Mycroft is. He's there when they can't find Anthea, and when Sherlock barges in to a Minister's office and picks apart his recent history with certain establishments in the less reputable parts of London, right there in the middle of a meeting, hissing that he'll stop when he's told what happened to his brother.
Then there are the parts where Sherlock disappears for a few hours, doesn't give John a chance to follow, and all he and Mrs Hudson can do is wait and worry, watch the news and worry, knit and worry. He comes back with a cut on his cheek and a flash drive in his palm, and spends the next half hour shredding firewalls put up by the Ministry of Defence.
"Sherlock, " John says, sometime around four in the morning, "Lestrade's been calling me. Someone is having police surveillance put on you. Someone anonymous from high up."
Sherlock doesn't even look up from the screen. "He thinks it's Mycroft? Of course he does. Modus operandi, chip off the same block." Which isn't helpful in the least.
"It always was before," John tries, and reaches for Sherlock's shoulder before stopping himself. "Are you sure it isn't?"
It's a stupid thing to ask. Sherlock is Sherlock. Sherlock is always sure. But instead of ignoring it, he freezes up. "Mycroft never- it all means something else, always. Do you understand? His words, he makes them work hard. Saves time. Private. He wouldn't." It's likes he's talking to himself, but that's normal. The way he can't seem to finish a sentence, that isn't. "He wouldn't say that, not if he didn't mean it. And they're covering it up."
A small aside about Sherlock's childhood, John thought. That's all. "Mean what, exactly?"
That's when Sherlock's phone starts ringing. John and Sherlock's eyes meet, then very slowly Sherlock lays the phone on the table between his seat and where John is standing, and puts it on speaker."This is all too delicious," the caller starts, a delighted nasal purr that sends John right back to fury and fear and helplessness in an empty swimming pool, red dots dancing. "You should have warned me. I could have bought popcorn."
Sherlock's lip curls.
"I don't know if I can let you go on playing me for too long," Moriarty continues, the edge of a whine to it. "It's a copyright thing. And you're far too good at it, you know I hate competition."
Sherlock nods at John, who reaches for the phone, only to be interrupted by "Not so quick, Doctor," growled out several octaves harsher, before flipping back to wheedling in the blink of an eye. All John can think is for fuck's sake, not again. "A little bird tells me you're looking for something, Sherlock. And you know, for you, I might even be persuaded to play delivery boy."
John sits. Sherlock is on his feet. "This isn't you." He insists, scornful, in the direction of the phone's blinking light. "It hasn't got any... style."
A prolonged giggle, fading to a sharp, angry "Weren't you listening?" Moriarty breathes in and out, then continues. "Of course not. I was just an appreciative audience. Until I thought, the only thing more fun might be being able to call a favour from my very, very favourite detective. One time offer, Sherlock. Five, four-"
"Yes." Sherlock says, face blank. John thinks even Moriarty is taken aback that they didn't make it to two. Then;
"Ding dong!" he sings, and as the call ends, the doorbell rings.
Sherlock is seventeen and Mycroft is twenty five, and he is watching Sherlock wake up. His brother isn't in good shape; pale, hollow-eyed, far thinner than when Mycroft saw him last, and he didn't think that was possible. Sherlock groans and shifts, flinching a little when he meets the resistance of crisp white sheets tucked gently around him. He sits up with a jerk. He looks lost, and he looks angry. His eyes land on Mycroft, sitting motionless opposite, the chair as unremarkable and clean as the rest of the room.
"This isn't my room," he says roughly, accusingly.
"It is not," Mycroft agrees. "It is also a great deal cleaner, larger and more secure. I trust it will be comfortable for the duration of your treatment."
Even in this condition, he doesn't need to wait for Sherlock to catch on. "You wouldn't dare," he says, "you have no right!", and when Mycroft says nothing in response Sherlock punches him square on the jaw.
It's not very hard. Sherlock hasn't a lot of strength left. But what force it has is born of fury, and it does land at the corner of Mycroft's mouth, and as a result Mycroft can taste a little blood. He catches Sherlock's wrist when he swings a second time, catches both his wrists and holds him at arms length impassively. His brother gets one for free, that's all.
"Mummy won't let you," Sherlock hisses. Mycroft feels a familiar headache building.
"Sherlock, she co-signed the commitment papers."
"Liar," Sherlock barks instinctively, then pulls away. "She's here?" The edge of hope in it is pitifully badly hidden. Mycroft's silence is an answer, and Sherlock turns to stare at the wall.
As he does he sees the case, the worn and well-loved violin case, "S HOLMES" scrawled on it in black felt-tip. He sneers. "She made you bring me that, I suppose?"
"Yes, she did," Mycroft lies, and leaves Sherlock and his needle marks and his angry chords, because he can only take so much.
John is a soldier, John will always be a soldier, so he reaches the door with gun already drawn. Finger on the trigger, he steps out in to the dark and looks in every direction for some trace of Moriarty, determined to turn the tables this time.
But he is a doctor first (dreads the day that proves he isn't, knowing alongside Sherlock that may well come) so when he sees the figure slumped on the doorstep, all else is forgotten. There's blood, on his hands from where he reached out and touched, on his shirt and his jeans as he cradles the limp figure's head. Discretely elegant suit ruined beyond recognition, and the face, battered yet defiantly, terribly familiar. And the blood. He keeps coming back to the blood.
Sherlock runs past him, seeming a towering figure to John, on his knees feeling for a pulse. He runs past them, down the street, following John's earlier instinct. John lets him. Anything to put off Sherlock seeing, really seeing, his brother.
"Mycroft," John says. "Talk to me. Say something."
There is a pulse. There isn't an answer.
"Sherlock," John calls. He's stepped outside of himself, is ignoring the panic and disbelief. He has to get Sherlock to help him move Mycroft inside, though moving him at all is something of a gamble. He suspects broken ribs, hopes the spine is unaffected. As steady as they can, not to make anything worse, not to start him bleeding freely again.
"Jo-" Sherlock stops, entirely; John doesn't know how else to describe it. He stops moving in every conceivable way, utterly still. John doesn't dare say a word for fear the brittle sheen of composure will crumble.
"Is he-" It's barely audible.
"He's breathing, weak but steady pulse. I need him inside, so I can check where he's hurt. Sherlock? I need you. Put your arm under here, like this. That's right. Wait for me, and don't lift any higher than I can, keep it flat. No, take his leg - yes. Ok. Now lift-" The whole way inside John keeps up a steady, detached flow of instructions, largely redundant, but it fills the air, punctures the tension.
Mrs Hudson gives out small distressed gasps, and clears the table with a sweeping tug at the tablecloth. Several things don't make it off in one piece. Nobody notices. Sherlock lays Mycroft down at John's instruction, then disappears after Mrs Hudson. John catches a glimpse of him holding her arm as he tells her to get clean water and a number of other things, some of which John will need, most of which he won't.
He wishes he had better light, and gets to work.
Mrs Hudson comes up behind him with an emergency kit, at some point. Every now and again Sherlock is at his shoulder, moving things around. It's more comforting than disruptive. He checks for broken bones, maps out the bruises and cuts, cleans Mycroft's face. Expensive fabric is ruthlessly set to with scissors; it's in the way, it has to go. He was right about the ribs. Most of it seems consistent with blunt trauma, skin broken on impact and bleeding shallowly, as well from the nose and mouth. All apart from one deep laceration to the lower abdomen, which he directs Sherlock's pliant hand to apply pressure to until he's able to stitch it together. After that he just stands there, looking at his fingers.
Eventually Mrs Hudson makes Sherlock sit away, on the couch. John is relieved. He steps back, runs through a checklist in his head. after a moment or two he realises what it is that's been eluding him, and pulls his woollen sweater off and folds it to tuck under Mycroft's head. Then he washes his hands, and goes in to the next room.
"He should go to a hospital. I can't really evaluate organ damage like this, let alone head-"
"No." Sherlock says, impassive. He's sitting back in his chair, eyes fixed on the wall. There's something about his posture, not unlike when he's reached a stumbling point on a case. John's not sure whether that should make him nervous or not.
"Right," John says eventually. Sherlock always has a reason. "Then we can put him in your bed."
Sherlock just nods. "Hypothesis?" He asks.
John blinks. "Sorry?"
"Observations, John." Sherlock states flatly. "I presume he's undergone some sort of interrogation? You have experience in that area. Would you be able identify the origin?"
"Objectivity is essential, John. I would have thought, in your line of work, even you would be aware of that. Do you want to move him now? No need to be overly cautious. We can assume that they had not as yet got what they wanted, and the underlying principle of torture is to cause the desired levels of distress with the minimum of critical injury in order to maintain coherence in the subject."
John lets the silence stretch. "Then these guys weren't any good at their job," he says shortly, trying not to think of Harry on that table, trying not to yell.
Apparently he doesn't succeed, because Mrs Hudson's eyes go wide and she takes him gently by the arm and guides him out of the room. "I'll get some new sheets, dear." She says. "And then we'll move him, shall we?"
They move him in to John's bed, in the end, and John sets up some blankets on the couch with an assurance from Mrs Hudson that she will wake him in a few hours to check on Mycroft again. Eighteen hours is taking its toll, so he agrees.
He doesn't speak to Sherlock at all, but just before he drifts off, he thinks he hears some stop-start attempts at Bach from the direction of his room.
Sherlock is eighteen and Mycroft is twenty six, and it is the fifth time that he has simply walked out of rehab. Mycroft reassures a particularly distressed nurse that she is not to blame. Neither state-of-the-art video systems nor the more traditional burly orderlies have ever stopped Sherlock before; this is to be expected. People do take things so personally.
Mycroft finds him smoking on the balcony of a squalid two-room london flat a week later, and joins him via the fire escape. The polished tip of his umbrella taps against the metal of each rung in a pleasingly ominous manner. He thinks perhaps he could get used to that.
"Anonymous letters to policemen," Mycroft says, by way of greeting. He holds up the single typed sheet delicately. "This is new."
"I got bored."
"Yes, I know." Mycroft brushes at the railing before leaning on it, an upright mirror to his brother's achingly deliberate slouch. "You wrote as much on the wall before you left your previous accomodation."
"I'm not going back."
A raised eyebrow. "Does that mean you'll stay out of my business?" Sherlock asks.
"No," Mycroft says, almost off-hand. "But I will cede you the point; you always were the wrong choice for a caged thing."
It almost makes Sherlock smile. Almost.
Mycroft wakes up only an hour or so after John does. His breathing is shallow and it seems to cause him pain to move, but his eyes are clear and his first words are careful thanks to Mrs Hudson, who is in the process of adjusting his pillow at the time. Her loud, joyful cries of Sherlock's name echo through 221B.
John doesn't allow any talking until he's checked Mycroft thoroughly, asked all the routine questions. He appears fully aware of his surroundings, if somewhat tense at the sight of John. Sherlock hovers in the doorway, a buttoned-up stormcloud.
"There, then," John says, and sinks gratefully in to a chair. "This is where you tell us what is going on."
"Is it?" Mycroft says, almost vulnerable, before he steadies himself. "I must first ask how, exactly, you brought me here-"
"Moriarty." Sherlock says sharply. Oddly enough, Mycroft appears both confused and relieved.
"Your... I see. He explained? When he... brought me here?"
"Shall tell you?" Sherlock says flatly. Mycroft raises an eyebrow as if to indicate that's not so much a possibility as an inevitability.
"It isn't difficult. Those with the resources to get to you are limited. Those with the motive, less so. But this was because of the plane, wasn't it? I can only imagine the position your source was left in."
"It was complicated," Mycroft concedes. He's watching Sherlock warily.
"Don't patronise me." Sherlock is all ice and hard lines. "And the british government; they'd allow the perceived loss of hundreds of lives to keep this quiet. Moreover, apparently, they'd allow these people to get to you. To question you. I didn't know you had superiors, Mycroft. Much less that they thought so little of you."
"Everyone answers to someone." Mycroft's smile is thin. "But well done. And as difficult as I acknowledge it is to believe considering my current state, the situation is, in fact, under control." He turns his head slightly to face John, and it takes obvious effort. "I do not mean to be ungrateful, Doctor, but I must request that you permit me to transfer to a more equipped medica-"
"Don't lie to me!" Sherlock says loudly, furiously, and everyone freezes.
"Sherl-" Mrs Hudson berates, but is cut off.
"No good at their job, John said. Unless that wasn't their job at all. Unless this was something entirely different."
"Stay out of my business, Sherlock," Mycroft whispers, eyes narrow. "Stop right now." John is lost. Sherlock plows on.
"Stay out? Yes, yes, stay away Sherlock, keep out Sherlock," he repeats, high-pitched and mocking. "It's your people! Your own people! And you'd nod while I spin some nonsense about terrorist kidnapping and then hand yourself straight back to them rather than stay here and accept my help! Is there anything you wouldn't do to keep me at arms length?"
"Of course there isn't!" Mycroft yells back, voice breaking on the words. "You're-" He stops too late. He doesn't have to fill in the unspoken words. Nobody does.
you are my brother
John's eyes are on Sherlock's face and he sees the exact moment everything clicks in to place.
There's a shaky silence.
"Your very old friend." Sherlock says, eventually. "Not as forgiving as you thought."
"Don't be childish." Mycroft sounds tired. "Some things are sorted out in private. It would only upset her."
"Sorted out? And how, exactly, is it decided to remove Mycroft Holmes from the equation?"
Mycroft grows very calm. "I was responsible for a security breach of disastrous proportions, Sherlock."
Except you weren't, John thinks, then he thinks shit, oh shit, because Sherlock has closed up again, stone-faced.
"I don't understand," John says, because damn it, he's in the room too. "Your bosses? They just - they tried to kill you?"
Mycroft blinks slowly. "In my line of work, one can hardly simply be fired, Doctor Watson. As you can imagine, things are rather more complicated than that. It is decided, from time to time, that people need to be quickly and quietly removed."
John hesitates a moment, but Sherlock is still sitting in stony silence, so he decides to simply put it out there. "Then why aren't you dead?" He winces a little, though he had known it would sound blunt. "I mean. This- " he skims his finger along Mycroft's bandaged arm. "Isn't very quick or quiet, or, you know, efficient, and I thought..." He trails off. "Sorry."
Mycroft actually laughs, though John can tell from the way it hitches that it hurts to do so. "Not at all, dear Doctor. I am, I admit, thinking something similar. I can only conclude it wasn't a popularly endorsed decision, which is gratifying, and that when I was young I was rather clever." He's starting to look and sound a bit sleepy, and John can't help but smile back.
"I'm beginning to think that might run in the family. Still not sure how it relates, though."
"It pays," Mycroft says, "to know one's colleagues. Know which one will call the loudest for your head. It's even better to make sure that they truly and fervently loathe you." He's gazing somewhere between John and Sherlock, at nothing. "There are few things as... inefficient... as hatred. Perfectly sane men suddenly feel the need to draw things out, watch and revel in it."
"Caring is not an advantage," Sherlock says, and it sounds to John like a quotation, a learned line. Mycroft stiffens. The two brothers are looking at each other, some sort of silent conversation happening right in front of John's face and he has no idea what it means. "You wouldn't make that mistake."
Mycroft closes his eyes in surrender. "No, I wouldn't." He looks utterly exhausted. John's had time to get used to Sherlock with his guard down; in Mycroft, it's still a frighteningly strange thing. "In any case, I'm not sure where your criminal friend came in to it. I wasn't entirely in control of my senses, at the end." He frowns a little, as if a though has only just occured. "And now no doubt he will hold this over you. Forgive me."
Sherlock's lips part a little, involuntarily, before he presses them together and swallows back whatever it is he was going to say. And that, if nothing else, is enough proof to John that he's not the only one to find it hilariously, tragically ironic that Mycroft can lie there and apologise.
"Go to sleep," Sherlock says, and John realises that at some point, his hand came to rest on his brother's. "When you wake up, we can make plans."
Mycroft's lip twitches. "Can we indeed." There's an almost cautious lilt on the 'we'.
"Shut up," Sherlock says, and squeezes his hand. "Just shut up." John's fairly sure that as far as the Holmes' brothers are concerned, he really isn't in the room. And, right now, he's more than fine with that.
Sherlock is thirty three and Mycroft is forty one, and neither know with certainty how old Irene Adler is, but that's beside the point. The point is that Mycroft has failed, Mycroft has lost, Mycroft has been beaten because Sherlock has been beaten and while everyone answers to someone, Mycroft answers for someone too. He answers for Sherlock; he always will, so long as it is in his power, and power is what he's most fluent in.
Someone hits him hard across the face. Again. It's not the punches so much as the recoil against the cement of the wall that's causing his vision to blur. His left arm is numb; he tries to move his fingers and can't.
A hand tightens around his collar, tilting his head up. He knows the sleeve, knows the voice. More than one coffee shared over papers weighed with a nation's secrets. Old school tie, the expected camaraderie.
"I have total discretion in this, Holmes. I can make it easy. Civilised. I know, I just want to hear you say it."
There's a lot between the lines in that, Mycroft thinks blearily. Any other time, I'd have a field day. Resentment, to start, insecurity. Reassertion of dominance. Regression to a childhood sens-
The largest of the five or so masked men surrounding them pulls him fully to his feet, makes his head swim.
"Just say it," the voice echoes. "Tell me how everything went so wrong. Where was your leak, Holmes?"
"Oh no," Mycroft manages, and thinks what would Sherlock say. "It's more fun if you guess." It earns him something sharp in his stomach and he sinks to the ground.
"Holmes." The voice is disappointed. "We could have done this politely. "
Everything, mercifully, fades to black.
Mycroft is an easy patient for a given value of easy; which is to say, when compared to Sherlock. John figures the Holmes' get their own scale. He does what he's told, for the most part, though John can't shake the feeling that the moment he told Mycroft to do something he didn't deem necessary, he would be ignored with such perfectly weaponised politeness that he'd end up feeling like he was the one who owed someone an apology.
Sherlock spends a lot of time staring at nothing, humming with a low, indistinct fury. John is kind of used to that.
He finds him up late one night, tiny pieces of metal and plastic scattered across the kitchen table. It takes a John a while before he works out it's Mycroft's blackberry; or what's left of it. Sherlock doesn't look up, and carefully picks up some fragile-looking part with a pair of tweezers. John makes himself tea.
"I never considered the possibility," Sherlock says, out of nowhere. "I always consider the possibilities. All of them. Don't always care. But I - I didn't even consider... I didn't." John waits until he's done with the teabag to reply.
"Why do you think that is?" He asks. Sherlock's head twitches like he wants to look at John but is stopping himself.
"Because it was Mycroft."
John leans back, and sips his tea. "You wouldn't be the first, you know." he offers. "To overestimate an older brother. Older sibling, in fact. Forget that they're not always to the rest of the world what they... might be to you."
Sherlock's lips thin. "A child's excuse." He snaps, then grimaces. "An ordinary person's excuse."
John lets himself laugh. "I don't know, Sherlock," he says. "Most ordinary people don't have a brother like Mycroft. He's certainly giving it his best shot. To the whole world, I mean." He puts on his best BBC Public Announcement voice. "Big Brother is watching."
Sherlock smiles, just a little, and John leaves him to resurrect the blackberry in an ominous mess of wire and metal.
When John gets back the next morning, having left early for the groceries, he finds Mycroft not only on his feet, but straightening his tie and jacket in the middle of the living room, umbrella under one arm, cutting that familiar striking silhouette. Sherlock is sprawled across the chair, and John can tell he's only just thrown himself into it. If he didn't know better, he'd wonder whose fingers had carefully threaded that tie so precisely.
"I'm missing something," he says flatly. "What are you doing?"
"Leaving," they echo at the same time, one placid, one with barely-veiled venom.
John rolls his eyes. "Alright, Mycroft, come on. You're barely walking." It's not actually true; Mycroft is moving with impressive casualness. You'd have to be looking for the flinches to find them. "I know you feel you have to do the Holmes name justice and everything, but why don't we sit down and discuss this, hmm? I mean, have you two even worked out what you're going to do?"
"You're wasting your time," Sherlock says icily. "I've offered my assistance. But of course, my brother is omniscient, and needs none."
"Sherlock," Mycroft berates, then nods at John. "Doctor, I am most grateful, however-"
"However nothing. This is rubbish." John says heatedly. "What do you plan to do, march back in to your office?"
"Does it matter?" Mycroft seems honestly puzzled. "I have my game to play, I must go play it. And with me out of your hair, you can return to yours," he adds, managing to direct it at Sherlock without so much as looking in his direction.
"I just need the name," Sherlock says, almost under his breath. Predatory. "Just give me a name, Mycroft. I'll take them apart, and you'll have a nice neat hole to step back in to." He curls his lip. "You like neatness. Do you think I can't do it? Even you can't hide things from me."
A half-smile from Mycroft. "There is nothing to find. Nothing the government is not aware of, certainly. And nothing they are aware of that the public would... understand, or care about. Believe me, if I have nothing on him, there's nothing to have. I have... I had-" The correction is deft and wry, openly acknowledged. All but an invitation, as if Mycroft is trying to bait Sherlock in to cruelty again, "every resource you can imagine at my disposal, my dear brother, and a few that I doubt you could."
Mycroft is looking at Sherlock with the same expression John's seen so many times before, a perfectly held patience, but whether it's something left open by the bruises still framing his cheekbones or simply that John is looking harder now, it looks a lot less like the face of a government, and a lot more like how Harry used to look at him when he tried so hard to keep up with her and her friends at backstreet football. He'd never felt unwelcome. She'd have never allowed him to.
"I've got something better than that," Sherlock says smugly. Mycroft's eyebrow arches, elegant in disbelief that encourages more than dissuades.
"I've got a blogger."
Mycroft's eyes widen slightly and then a second later he's smiling, a whole conversation crackling in the air between the two of them, and John is glad he knows what Sherlock means, because John hasn't got a clue.
Sherlock is four, and falls off the bookcase. (He's trying to get at the scarlet leather-bound dictionary on the third shelf; not yet because he has realised he will find his greatest weapons within it, but simply because it is pretty.)
Sherlock is eight, and falls from a tree. (It's old and twisted in aesthetically pleasing ways and if you're tall enough and stubborn enough you can make it right to the top and peek over the canopy of leaves across the whole of the property, right back from the house to the creek and further still. Sherlock is stubborn, but he is not tall.)
Sherlock is eleven, and falls because he hasn't buckled the saddle properly. (Father has insisted on riding lessons, and Sherlock is determined, but he rushes in order to impress and perched atop the full-grown mare the ground is very far away.)
Sherlock is fifteen, and falls in love. (He doesn't call it that and he can't work out why she says he'll understand one day, how twenty intangible years can make so much space between them, why he doesn't want to touch and taste like other boys do.)
Sherlock is eighteen, and falls from a balcony. (Because the railing was just too rusted and the dosage that night was calculated in a rush, far too strong.)
Mycroft catches him, every time, and he thinks nothing of it, because that's what he's for.
Mycroft catches him, every time, and Sherlock thinks nothing of it, because that's just what Mycroft does.
Sherlock is thirty three, and Mycroft bleeds on his doorstep, Mycroft is motionless under John's hands, Mycroft seems so much smaller than he should in John's bed, Mycroft pretends he's going to be fine.
Sherlock thinks, my turn.
John stares at his laptop screen. Blank whiteness stares accusingly back. It's not like he doesn't do this on a regular basis, it's just - it's just not usually on such a tight schedule, as the small flickering video stream in the top corner of his screen reminds him, and more importantly he usually doesn't have to make anything up. John's fairly secure in the conviction that he's no writer. He doesn't write anything, he just puts down what happened in, well, words. It's completely different.
He'd said as much to Mycroft, who'd looked at him with a kind of pained bemusement before kindly pointing out that his multitude of online readers begged to differ. Sherlock, inevitably, had interrupted with "We're not looking for a Booker Prize, John, just put down what we discussed, and the rest of it as you normally do." He had wrinkled his nose, then. "Well, what's necessary, anyway."
Then he had turned to Mycroft and said something about hardware, prompting the elder Holmes to produce five little blinking gadgets straight from a Mission Impossible film from where they were already hidden on the back of the living room bookshelf, the windowpane, the top of the stairs, the cluedo box and the fridge door. Sherlock had called him a psychotic fascist voyeur in an almost admiring tone, and then spent fifteen minutes whining that the one Mycroft was trying to put on him ruined the line of his coat.
John had thought perhaps that little vignette told you everything about the Holmes brothers you'd ever need to know, and said nothing.
John shakes his head a little and tries to focus on the screen. Yes, right. A blog entry. A blog entry with a purpose. "A Booker would be nice, you know," he informs the silent room. The furniture doesn't reply, underscoring the lack of Holmes' in the vicinity. "Or possibly a Pulitzer."
A Scandal he types, carefully In Belgravia. Then he puts it all down; he records the threats and the blackmail, the palace and the puzzles, the web that The Woman set and how it came untangled, because they all happened. He includes conversations copied from a piece of paper covered in Mycroft's handwriting, because they didn't. And he puts in few lines on the art of the riding crop and unique text message alerts, because really, 'necessary' is such a subjective word.
In the corner of his screen, Sherlock's buttonhole camera stream tells him that he's reached his destination; John's running out of time. He scans Mycroft's list, making sure he's got the times and names.
"Mr Holmes," a smooth voice, faintly familiar even through the speaker. John remembers fond glances at Mycroft across tea, that same face across a couch in Buckingham Palace asking them to take the case, and bites back on his anger. The man reaches out to shake Sherlock's hand. "You've been making quite the noise. I'm glad you came to me." He gestures outward with a fixed smile. "I hope you don't mind that it is in this office. And if there is anything, anything I can do... after the help you gave us, I assure you I am at your service."
"Harry, wasn't it?" comes Sherlock's reply, deeper somehow over the speakers. John keeps listening, eyes on what he's typing. "It's a... it's a personal matter. I wanted to speak to my brother."
"I'm afraid that's beyond my authority, Mr Holmes." He sounds genuinely sympathetic. "I cannot presume to know what he is engaged in at this time, but I can tell you that it is of a highly confidential nature. He is not available at this time."
Sherlock is silent, for a while, then speaks again, a shake in his voice so overt John snorts with laughter. "You could give him a message for me?" And that's his signal; he clicks once on the large blue post button, and sits back to watch the rest of the show."I can try, certainly." A little too eager, John thinks. Do you want this over with, or are you curious? "What do you-" Harry leaves the question open.
"I wanted-" Sherlock stumbles over the words, then takes a deep breath. The ham. "I wanted to tell him that we should talk. Just that." A long pause. Harry smiles, conciliatory and insincere. Then Sherlock continues. "And, of course, I wanted to tell about the blog entry that you are going to get a rather strongly worded alert about in a moment, dependent of course on how quick your people are. It's something I do, with my cases. And Bond Air, my, that was a case to remember."
John takes a moment to enjoy the acrobatics of Harry's facial expression as, the second Sherlock stops speaking, his phone does go off. Loudly.
"I can save you the time," Sherlock says, low and satisfied. "It will tell you that details have emerged. Specific details. Names. Places. Things you don't want out there. I wonder what the public will think about your little jet plane. I wonder if they'll appreciate the complexity of that particular compromise. I know two little girls who just wanted to see their grandfather."
Harry's face has gone very hard. "It will never stay up-"
"How long does it need to?" Sherlock asks. "How long does it need to be up before your friendly neighbourhood terrorist groups notice, and put two and two together to make a pretty clear picture of the way you planned that little operation? Not to mention your own government, seeing all the things you told us, completely against protocol." His voice goes high-pitched. "Oh no, but you didn't, did you? Except that it says you did, right there on the screen. It says you did and there are so many niggling little personal details mentioned, so it must be right. It must be. If the scapegoat suits, hmm? Isn't that how you work?"
Then there's a pause, just long enough to build expectation, just long enough that the bang as the doors slam open and Mycroft walks in are enough to make anyone jump.
Really, it's a miracle one or both of them didn't end up on the stage, John muses. A narrow escape for the world of theatre.
"No-" Harry is saying, backing away and pointing. "No. I saw you. I saw you broken, they told me-"
"You even had your turn with the practical side of things," Mycroft agrees pleasantly. "though I must suggest you not take so unquestioningly the final report of people who break bones for money. I- oh, do excuse me." He places his blackberry delicately to his ear. "Ma'am? Thank you, Ma'am, it is most kind of you to ask. Merely a brief sojourn on private business, but I have indeed returned. Of course, your majesty." He smiles, very slowly. "Is that so? My brother? Allow me to see what I can do." John can see him lower the phone and cover it with his hand, but then Sherlock turns and he can't see him properly at all. He can hear him count, though. One, two...
John counts along with him, up to three, then deletes the blog with a click.
"Ma'am? It is no longer a problem. It would be my pleasure. I will see you shortly." He lowers the phone, and looks straight at Harry. "This, of course, is all being recorded. Insubstantial, true, but I don't doubt it would go viral, if the thought amused me."
"It wasn't personal. It was never personal."
"I know. And neither is this. Consider it... an aesthetic necessity. And please know," he promises, oddly gentle. "That I'm just getting started."
John doesn't sit around once the battle's won; he's not interested in seeing the man scurry out. He logs out absently and then reaches for his coat. Sherlock had clearly been enjoying himself. Well, now it was his turn. A taxi waiting outside, and for once he was going to be the one pulling up on the curb to take probably-not-Anthea for a little drive. Mycroft had made sure she'd had time to run and somewhere to run to, even if he hadn't been able to do the same for himself. And now John gets to be the one to break the news; her boss is ok, her boss is safe, and he wants her back.
He might even get a bit of a kiss, if he does it right.
In the empty room, the computer runs on, video still flickering occasionally, though the soft red pulse indicating the recording function is no longer on. On the screen two figures remain sitting in Mycroft's office, still enough not to blur, even with such a poor connection.
"You did not have to do any of this," Mycroft says simply, without implication, but Sherlock draws his shoulders tight and looks away.
"I had my reasons."
"I don't doubt it. Nonetheless, if there is anything I can do to alleviate your recent inconvenience- "
Sherlock grabs his arm. "Give me what I've been asking for since I could talk, Mycroft."
Mycroft is forty one and Sherlock is thirty four and won't be getting any older. That's what the papers tell him, in bold, thick print across the top of the page. Sherlock Holmes is a fake, Sherlock Holmes is a fraud, Sherlock Holmes is a dead man.
Mycroft steeples his fingers and stares at the wall, thinking of the last time they spoke.
"Give me what I've been asking for since I could talk, Mycroft." Sherlock had said, and his eyes had narrowed like they always did when he was trying to convince himself he wasn't uncertain. "The chance to do things my way. Let me fix it by myself."
"It's fixed." Mycroft had answered, but he'd known that for Sherlock that wasn't true. That wasn't true because the plane hadn't been Harry, it had been Moriarty, and it wasn't true while Moriarty remained, dead or alive, the one he hadn't defeated. And while every sensible instinct told him of the dangers, he knew Sherlock. He knew that while, in the end, it might be a certain doctor who kept him anchored to the ground, it was pride that kept Sherlock upright.
So he had given Jim Moriarty exactly what he had wanted, and let Sherlock play to win on his own, because that's what he asked for. (John doesn't count, except that he does, but the first rule is always this: Mycroft cheats.)
Mycroft looks at the papers again, and traces the edge of the front-page picture with his thumb. I did what you asked, he thinks. And you won. You won on your own terms, and in more than one way. He reaches for his phone when it beeps and scrolls through the newest surveillance report on 221B. He considers it, for a while, and finally opens up a new blank message.
John is not doing well - MH
Then he puts it away, and with a degree of satisfaction that might bewilder the casual observer of the human condition, immerses himself once more in the benevolent embrace of that brand of genteel silence found only in the Diogenes Club.
A little while later, someone brings him tea.
A little later still, his phone makes a sound, entirely unlike the brisk electronic blip of the previous message. It goes on for a while.
It sounds a bit like Bach, and a bit like someone torturing a violin.
Keep your promise. - SH
Don't make him wait, Mycroft replies, when what he means to say is 'don't make us wait'. Mycroft wants to see his face, irrational as it is. Wants to touch him to... to make sure. But whatever he's playing at doing, whether it be detective or dead man, Sherlock is still so very... Sherlock. And he knows Sherlock will make him wait.
Mycroft is a patient man.