They wouldn’t notice.
Everyone buzzing around, the sound of moving chairs, faint murmur, the smell of used air and far too much stale coffee, everyone too occupied with themselves and their own weariness and frustration.
No one would notice if Mycroft was to disappear for some minutes during the break of this government meeting. As the secretary, he just needed to be back in time when they would continue.
Who would notice an unimportant secretary anyway?
Almost a perfect cover for an aspiring CIA agent. And, considering the circles he was operating in, not that inconvenient either. Just a minor position in the British government.
Although, also nothing that could be treated too lightly.
But if Mycroft knew one thing, then it was that his choice of career probably would entail such a tightrope act more or less on a daily basis. And this was fine.
Obviously, his family didn’t know anything about his "freelance work". He had every opportunity to pretend he was simply working over-hours. No one expected anything else anyway.
He had always been the ambitious one.
Willing and able to do what ordinary people never would.
Although, not for anyone else.
Not to make his parents proud, even if that was what people kept telling him.
Mycroft wanted to change something.
To be someone.
And currently, he was working for two organisations that seemed to suit this goal pretty well.
Now, only time would tell.
And this assignment tonight would be the first step of his very promising career.
The meeting point wasn’t very far away from where Mycroft was attending the conference, and this was pretty much intentional. His job was to help out for a (mildly said) unfortunately very recently deceased colleague, which is why he had been put in touch with certain people. Nasty people. And it was made to look like he was one of them. It wasn’t meant to last for long, but at this moment Mycroft was pretty much at the beginning of what could have looked like joining a huge criminal organisation.
And even if that made him feel a bit uneasy – because this was not what he actually wanted to do – he knew it was necessary. It wouldn’t be long. Just a test. Just one minor, almost negligible step on his very long way.
Also, the payment wasn’t too bad.
Rarely any other possibility a 20-something was able to afford a bespoke suit of such quality, together with a new scarlet, merino-woolen tie.
Exactly this 20-something was now on his way, out in this chilly January night, to a building two streets away. Not a building anyone else would have paid particular attention to, even if it was right next to a pretty busy street. But then, this was more or less the point.
Mycroft’s job was to inform one of the agents, a spy who had already successfully infiltrated said organisation a long time ago, about his new middle man - the official successor of the recently deceased.
Name, photo, contact details.
That was it.
Mycroft later would return to his day job as if nothing had happened and his involvement in this job would finally be over.
Almost a bit too easy.
The huge metal door wasn't locked (as promised) and jarred only considerably as Mycroft entered the abandoned warehouse.
A motionless shadow was visible in the distance and the blue cigarette smoke, illuminated by the moonlight cast through one of the shattered skylights, posed a sharp contrast against the strands and stubbles of ginger hair.
So, he was already here.
Mycroft approached the man, who was only slightly taller than himself, and was wordlessly offered a pack of cigarettes.
"You know I don’t smoke."
"It’s low-tar. Won’t kill you."
A bit reluctantly, Mycroft took one and let the man light the cigarette in his mouth, even if he had trouble suppressing the urge to cough or the nausea rising in his stomach.
Both men shared a moment in silence.
"You really think it’s time for small talk, Sher-"
"Don’t," he shushed, but Mycroft only blurted out in return, amusement mixing with a hint of admonition:
"If you really thought someone’s surveilling us, your first mistake was referring to our mother, brother dear."
Sherrinford Holmes raised a brow and side-eyed his brother, "Could have been a code name. But I guess now our cover is definitely blown."
Mycroft’s heart skipped several beats, and if it hadn’t been – after a painstakingly long second – for Sherrinford’s suppressed laugh, Mycroft really wouldn’t have known that his brother had only been teasing.
The look on his face must have spoken volumes, since Sherrinford now reassuringly patted his shoulder, "There there, Mikey. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. I was just joking. It’s good to see you. It's been quite a while."
Trying to overplay his initial shock, Mycroft gave a weak smile and pulled on his cigarette once more, only to remember how much he hated them.
"What about Sherlock?"
Sherrinford’s voice bore a bit more concern than before and Mycroft bit his lip, "He’s doing, well… fine. Since you’re asking you probably know what happened."
"Yeah. Poor sod. He loved that dog." He blew out a lungful of smoke before he added, "I knew it was only a matter of time until he found out that he died. He’s not stupid."
Mycroft couldn’t keep himself from adding, "Took him long enough though…"
Sherrinford rose his voice, "Well, what reason could he possibly have had to assume that his whole family is lying to him. He’s just a child, Mycroft."
"If he’s as grown up as you think, why did you have to lie to him about it in the first place? You’re his big brother. You’re supposed to be there for him."
Mycroft avoided his gaze to hide the acrimony on his face, but Sherrinford obviously didn’t miss it.
"Look. I know I wasn’t always the big brother you would have needed. I’m sorry for having left."
"You ran away," Mycroft interrupted and Sherrinford took a deep breath.
"… We don’t have to go through all that again, have we?"
A short moment of meaningful silence, before Sherrinford continued, "But you have the chance to make it better now, Mikey. You don’t have to repeat my mistakes."
He turned towards Mycroft, "You can be a proper big brother."
Mycroft didn’t reply to this.
He wouldn't have known how.
And he didn’t have to.
"Now, I think you’ve got something for me?"
It took some moments for Mycroft to realise what his brother was talking about, "What? Ah, yes, of course. Your new middle man. Billy Spaulding, 41, is said to have…"
But just as Mycroft was reaching into the inner pocket of his coat, Sherrinford grabbed his hand to stop him and the confusion about this let Mycroft’s voice trail off.
"Ssh," Sherrinford spinned around and almost frantically grabbed his brother's upper arms, his voice stern and not as calm as Mycroft had wanted it to be, "Mycroft, have you been followed?"
"What? No, I… Sherrinford, why…"
"Didn’t you hear the car outside just now?"
"That’s a busy street out there, there have been cars going past all the time–"
"This one stopped."
Mycroft didn’t even have time to process what was happening before Sherrinford started to pat down every inch of Mycroft’s body he could possibly reach.
"Did you change your clothes before you came here?"
"What… no, I didn’t… but I was in that meeting, there was no way someone could have attached–"
It wasn’t a question.
Sherrinford had just popped up the collar of Mycroft’s shirt to reveal the little circular, almost transparent spot on the back of his tie and while Mycroft immediately reached out for his neck – knowing it was utterly futile, not to say totally ridiculous to do so – the panicking outcry got lost somewhere on its way to his mouth, leaving him simply staring at his brother in horrified shock, while Sherrinford rattled off the explanation for all of this almost mechanically.
"It's one of those one-time use transmitters used for biological studies in animal research which stop functioning after 24 hours. It's a test. It's their way to validate the loyalty and therefore the usefulness of aspirants for potential new threads of their web…"
Mycroft spinned around, not able to keep himself from backing away a few steps, unable to grasp the consequences of his negligence.
But the look an Sherrinford's face let Mycroft's stammerings get stuck in his throat.
A look he had never seen on this face before.
Lips firmly pressed together. Just a hint of a smile.
But of all things, definitely pure conviction.
A reading confusing enough to make Mycroft not realise at first that the punch in his gut hadn't only been a figurative one.
"I'm sorry, Mycroft..."
Gasping for air, Mycroft sank against the wall behind him and to the floor, and he couldn't even scream as the silenced bullets dug into the flesh of his leg, scratched his arm and torso.
"... but this is the only way to save you."
Like in a daze, Mycroft looked up at Sherrinford again, seeking for answers and only finding blood running down Sherrinford's left forearm, blood dripping from the tips of his fingers, blood in Sherrinford's mouth, blood shimmering on his beard, blood drops on the floor, blood everywhere, blood, so much blood...
Using Mycroft's shock and the resulting inability to take action to his favour, Sherrinford got down on his knees, keeping Mycroft in place with the weight of his body, pressing the bite wound on the outside of his own left arm into Mycroft's mouth, almost gagging him, and stabilised himself by pushing his right hand against the wall behind him.
"Now, Mycroft, listen to me. This is what happened."
The callous calmness in Sherrinford's voice sent shivers down Mycroft's spine and wasn't reassuring at all.
"You suspected that I was a mole placed into the organisation by the Company, and followed me, because I was behaving suspiciously. You tried to corner me, but I was able to get the better of you, attacked and interrogated you."
The taste in Mycroft's mouth made him feel nauseous and he couldn't distinguish anymore whether what streamed down the side of his face was Sherrinford's blood or his own tears.
"I anticipated that something like this might happen, which is why I prepared a dictaphone in my right jacket pocket with recordings of me interrogating you. You're not saying a word, obviously."
It started to dawn on Mycroft what Sherrinford was doing, but not a single limb of his body would listen to his begging pleas to just do something.
"You managed to overwhelm me, bit my arm and got hold of my gun. Then you shot me in the head from under my chin – which is the only way to explain this amount of my own blood in my mouth later."
Sherrinford placed his gun under his chin and Mycroft couldn't keep himself from whimpering in despair.
"I'm sorry, brother dear, but I guess you will have to complete this mission in my place. Killing your own brother because he's a mole will prove your loyalty to the organisation and keep you save for a while. They have suspected me to be one for quite some time, actually. Right now I'm already nothing but a dead man walking, Mikey. This is not your fault. At least now I can make the end of my life count by saving yours. Don't forget to assure your fingerprints can be found on the gun later."
He smiled, but the sadness in his eyes remained.
"Say hello to Sherlock for me, okay? And that I'm sorry for taking away his big brother as well... Tell him, would you?"
And one last shot pierced the silence of this January night.