Note: I own nothing but my own plot, everything else is the BBC’s and Arthur Conan Doyle’s. I just like to play here. Not beta’d or Brit-picked.
John and Sherlock hurried down the hall, dodging doctors and nurses as they went.
Well, John did. Sherlock looked as if he were doing anything but hurrying. He certainly wasn’t paying any attention to the people in his way as his long legs ate up the tile floor as he strode along, singularly focused on getting down the corridor to the correct room while John tagged along behind.
It was only right, though. It wasn’t his brother in a hospital bed.
They’d gotten the call half an hour ago, telling them that Mycroft had been attacked. If John had ever had any real doubt as to how Sherlock felt about his brother, they were settled then, when he saw the way his already pale face had faded even lighter, the way the hand holding the phone had fallen away from his ear. It was obvious in the speed with which he had grabbed his coat and rushed out the door without a word to John until they were in the car waiting at the curb.
No, any medical personnel on this hall needed only to take a look at Sherlock’s face and know that they had best get out of his way.
John wished he knew more details. What kind of attack had it been? How badly injured was Mycroft?
And—just as important—how was this going to affect the man’s little brother, who did nothing but complain and argue and tease him? Glancing up at Sherlock’s face as they swept their way down the corridor, John wondered.
The good news was that, when they arrived at the hospital, Mycroft had already been given a room. He wasn’t in surgery, not in intensive care. Just in a normal room which meant non-life-threatening injuries, which was encouraging (or so John told himself). He wondered if he would have a chance to look at his chart when they got there, if Mycroft would let him. The man freely gave him access to Sherlock’s medical records when necessary, but his own? John wasn’t his doctor, and Mycroft was even more private than Sherlock.
Coming to a halt at the correct door, Sherlock paused and took a deep breath before pushing it open, John right behind him.
Mycroft was awake, which was encouraging. He was paler than usual and sporting a bandage on his head, but seemed largely unhurt, and John could see some of the tension drain away from Sherlock’s shoulders.
“Mycroft,” he said. “What happened?”
John saw Mycroft’s eyes widen. “Sherlock?” he breathed, as if seeing a ghost.
“Yes, of course,” Sherlock said. “You’re looking disgustingly well. If you’re going to drag us here in the middle of the night like this, you could at least make it worth my while, brother.”
John hid a smile at the relief in Sherlock’s voice. He could fool himself all he wanted, but Sherlock had been worried. John glanced at Mycroft, expecting to see him deducing the same thing from Sherlock’s harsh manner, seeing by his fast breathing how quickly he had rushed over, or something.
The expression on Mycroft’s face, though, was worrying John a bit. He had never seen the man look so out of his depth, as if the world had somehow shifted on its axis and thrown him off balance. He was frankly staring at Sherlock, eyes skimming everything from the hair to the coat to his newly-polished shoes.
He looked like he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Would you mind if I looked at your chart, Mycroft?” John asked, reaching for the chart at the foot of the bed.
The wide eyes turned toward him, flicking over him before turning back to Sherlock as he said, “Of course, doctor. I apologize for whatever my brother said to get you out so late.”
“Nothing I’m not used to,” John said, eyes on the chart. “I’m just glad to see you looking reasonably well.”
“Yes, John was worried.” Sherlock’s voice was sharp, but John glanced up to meet Mycroft’s eyes, expecting to see the man acknowledging that this was going to be as close as they got to Sherlock admitting that he had been worried.
Instead, Mycroft’s forehead had wrinkled and he was looking at John again as if trying to solve a puzzle. Odd. John looked back to the chart and … oh.
He looked back at the man in the bed who was again staring at Sherlock as if he couldn’t believe the evidence of his own eyes. “You … you look well, Sherlock.”
Sherlock lifted one eyebrow. “Same as usual, Mycroft, though yesterday’s case did keep us out later than usual. Nothing taxing, though. Not like being mugged outside one’s home … and really, brother, how did that happen?”
“I’m not sure,” said Mycroft, his voice hesitant.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “Ah, the head injury. That can obscure the memory around the event, I suppose. I’ll take a look at the CCTV footage when I get home, see if there’s anything there. It takes a certain amount of audacity to attack the British Government, after all.”
“You’ll check the footage…? Not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but isn’t that something the police should handle?”
“Oh, please,” scoffed Sherlock, waving a casual hand in the air. “As if Lestrade would keep me from getting involved? He wouldn’t dare—not after we caught him a serial killer just the other day.”
“You … what?”
Sherlock was staring now. “Whatever is the matter with you, Mycroft? You haven’t insulted me once and you’re barely following the conversation.”
John cleared his throat. “I think I can answer that question for you, Sherlock. Mycroft? What’s the date?”
“And the year?
“I’m told it’s 2011.”
John nodded. “When do you think it is?”
“10th January 2006.”
To his left, Sherlock actually staggered, and John reached out and caught his elbow and helped him to the hard, plastic chair against the wall. He bent to look at Sherlock’s eyes, taking in the respiration, the colour of his skin before taking the cup of water off Mycroft’s bedside table and holding it for Sherlock. “Drink this. Or I could go try to find an orange blanket, if you prefer?”
A tiny crease at his lips as Sherlock sipped the water and John turned back to Mycroft. “That means you don’t remember me, then. I’m Dr John Watson, Sherlock’s friend, flatmate and, well, assistant, I suppose.”
“Colleague,” Sherlock corrected, clutching at the perspiring plastic cup. “Partner. Blogger.”
John flashed him a smile and then turned back to Mycroft. “I’ve known the both of you for about a year now. In fact, you kidnapped me the night I went to check out the flat-share Sherlock was offering. Checking up on my intentions, I suppose.”
“Offering you a bribe to spy on me,” muttered Sherlock.
“Which I refused,” John said with a smile. “Along with the threats. Then I went back to the flat where Sherlock promptly cured my psychosomatic limp—a leftover from Afghanistan, I was in the RAMC—and solved a series of murders. I moved in that night and we’ve been flatmates ever since.”
“Friends,” Sherlock said, “And you forgot to tell him the part where you saved my life.”
“Who keeps track?” John shrugged. “You’ve saved mine, I’ve saved yours. We’re drifting from the point.”
“You had a point?”
John just rolled his eyes. “Introducing myself to your brother … again. I know he’s got a super Holmes brain like you do and can probably read my military service in my hair or something—he already spotted that I’m a doctor—but he still looks pretty surprised by you, Sherlock. 2006, you said, Mycroft? So … when Sherlock was still doing drugs?”
Mycroft just nodded, looking if anything even more surprised than before John had started. Sherlock’s voice came from behind him. “Of course he’s surprised, John. He’s never seen anybody able to get along with me before. That on top of seeing me no longer an addict has to have been a bit of a shock.”
“I’d imagine the headache doesn’t help,” John said, eyes on Mycroft’s face. “Any double vision? Blurriness? Dizziness?”
“Oh, please, call me John, Mycroft. I’m certainly not going to start calling you Mr Holmes again at this late date. Sherlock? You doing okay?”
Sherlock had leaned back in his chair now, examining his brother. “What do you remember?”
“January 10th, 2006,” Mycroft said, his voice tentative, vulnerable in a way John had never heard.
“Ah,” was all Sherlock said, but the look the brothers shared was telling. He rose smoothly to his feet and pulled off his coat, and then his jacket, dumping them both on the chair as he unbuttoned his cuffs and pushed up his shirt sleeves. He approached the bed and showed his arms to Mycroft. “See? I’m clean. I have been for over four years now. After that overdose, you checked me into a rehab facility … again … only this time, after I got out, I started consulting with Scotland Yard, helping them on cases. John? A card?”
John nodded and reached into his own pocket, pulling out one of the business cards Sherlock insisted he carry. They were simple, just saying “Sherlock Holmes. Consulting Detective,” with a phone number, but it was proof that Sherlock was telling the truth.
Mycroft studied it for a moment. “And Doctor Wats… I mean, John … is your … friend?”
John almost smiled at the disbelief in the man’s voice. “Friend, definitely,” Sherlock said. “Believe me, nobody was more surprised than I. I needed a flatmate to help with the rent because you hadn’t released my trust fund, but it turned out to be … serendipitous.”
John’s eyebrows rose. That was unexpectedly … flattering. “I could say the same, of course—except for the trust fund part. Living with Sherlock has been good for me, too.”
Mycroft was looking at him now in that analysing way of his, except this time, it was as if John were a mystery he couldn’t solve. “You really are his friend?”
John nodded. “Absolutely. He’s stubborn and frustrating and difficult but also brilliant and amazing and my best friend. And you often have this exact look on your face when you come visit—totally perplexed as to why it works, and I can’t answer that except to tell you that it does.”
Mycroft gave a thoughtful nod, still looking perplexed, but less concerned. “I worry.”
“I know. Constantly. You told me when we first met,” he said with a smile, a part of him enjoying seeing the unflappable Mycroft Holmes at a loss. . It said so much about the relationship between the two brothers, that Mycroft’s first concerns were of Sherlock’s well-being, rather than his own. “But what about you, Mycroft? You must have questions about your own life?”
Sherlock had pulled his jacket back on my now and said, “Don’t be silly, John. Mycroft doesn’t have a life. He just works … and spies on me. Nothing has changed in five years, except perhaps the quality of his surveillance equipment.”
The words were cold, perhaps, but there was a bit of fondness in the tone—along with the usual frustration.
“Sherlock, be nice,” John told him.
“No, John, it’s perfectly all right,” Mycroft said, sounding more like himself than he had this entire time. “I’d be more surprised if things had changed … though I do wonder what my job title is these days.”
“I’m not much help there,” John told him. “Sherlock introduced you as being the British Government, which isn’t exactly a job title I learned in school. Frankly, though, I’m surprised Anthea isn’t here.”
“Yeah, don’t worry if you don’t recognize that name,” John said. “She’s your PA, or something, and that’s the name she used when we met—I’ve never learned her real name. Actually, now I think about it, it’s been a while since I’ve seen her at all…”
Sherlock was looking out at the hall. “It does seem odd that none of Mycroft’s usual entourage is here.” He spun back to look at his brother. “How did you get here? Were you conscious? Were you found by a passer-by, or by one of your security people?”
Mycroft’s brow creased. “I don’t know. I was unconscious when I was brought in, but don’t know by whom.”
“I was told you were mugged … but you still have your phone? That’s strange, isn’t it?” Sherlock pulled his own phone out of his pocket. “Lestrade? My brother is in hospital and I need to see the police report. Yes, tonight, in the last two or three hours. No, he’s fine … more or less.”
John just shook his head. The famous Sherlock Tact at its best, he thought, as he watched Mycroft watching Sherlock. It was as if he couldn’t get enough of seeing Sherlock well and alert and competent. John supposed that if Mycroft’s last memory was of a strung-out, over-dosed Sherlock, seeing him now would be a relief. Knowing how much Sherlock required the proof of his own senses, John wondered if there was anything else that would have immediately convinced Mycroft of five years having passed other than Sherlock’s current state of well-being. (‘Well’ being a comparative term, of course, since John never could get him to eat or sleep as much as he should need.)
Sherlock was still on the phone with Lestrade when the doctor came in to check on Mycroft. “Oh, hello. Are you family?”
“He is,” John said, pointing at Sherlock. “I’m John Watson.”
“Doctor,” corrected Sherlock, still listening on the phone.
“Right, Doctor John Watson, friend,” John corrected himself with a smile. “For some reason, he gets snippy when I leave that out.”
“Doctor Andrews,” the other man said. “How are you doing, Mr Holmes?”
“You tell me,” said Mycroft and John almost smiled, flashing back to their first meeting. He had used exactly that tone—challenging rather than that of a person looking for information.
The doctor blinked. “Right. Well, I see no worrisome physical damage. You have a concussion, of course, and there is some swelling behind the ear, but physiologically, I’m not concerned. You’ll have a headache for a day or two, but then should be fine.” He glanced down at the chart. “More worrying is the amnesia. Losing a certain amount of time surrounding a traumatic event is uncommon—a few hours, even as much as a day—but five years … that’s unusual.”
“That’s Mycroft for you,” said Sherlock, done with his call. “And he accuses me of being dramatic.”
“Yes, well,” the doctor gave a small cough. “For the moment, there’s nothing to be overly concerned with. It’s possible that the memories will return on their own as soon as the swelling goes down. We’d like to keep you overnight for observation, Mr Holmes, but you should be fine to go home tomorrow … assuming there’s someone to keep an eye on you?”
“Yes, me,” said John firmly, and as both Holmeses looked at him with surprise, added, “Of course I’m not going to let you go home alone, Mycroft. You shouldn’t be alone just yet, and unless you can name someone better equipped—or unless Sherlock wants to do this—it’s my pleasure to help you out.”
He was almost amused at the matching appalled looks on both Mycroft and Sherlock’s faces, but he just turned back to the doctor. “Go on.”
The next morning, Mycroft sat on the edge of his bed, waiting for the final paperwork before he could leave. He still had a headache, but otherwise felt much like he usually did. For that matter, a headache was not unusual for him, either. He often felt like his entire life was one headache after another … and clearly that had not changed in five years.
Five years. How was that even possible? He was used to his brain acting like an efficient machine, a super-computer, if you will, and the idea that he had experienced a … system crash of this magnitude was worrying.
Even more curious was the ‘restore point’ his brain had chosen. He knew enough of medicine to understand that the brain could block traumatic memories, and the idea of not being able to remember the attack itself frankly irritated enough on its own, but he could have accepted that, he felt. Even the loss of several hours surrounding the event would be a loss with which he could deal. But five years? Why would his formidable brain opt to erase so much?
It was particularly curious when he thought about what he remembered of 2006. His career was going well, but more of his concentration than he liked to admit was spent fretting over Sherlock—his drug use, his living conditions, his future. If he even had a future.
Seeing his brother walk into the room last night had been a shock. He had been expecting—assuming Sherlock had roused himself from his drug-induced haze enough to bother coming at all—a red-eyed, painfully-thin wreck of a little brother. His last memory of Sherlock … he had been beyond acidic in his comments toward Mycroft and had barely been able to sit upright in his hospital bed.
Really, he had had very little hope Sherlock would come at all last night.
His shock, therefore, at the sight of Sherlock was understandable. Clean (in all senses). Healthy. Well-dressed. Capable. Commanding. Brilliant. All the things he had always known Sherlock could be but had despaired of seeing. If anything had been going to convince him of a five year gap in his memory, it was this.
Sherlock hadn’t stayed long last night. He had swept from the room shortly after the doctor had left, dragging his friend with him. (His friend. If Mycroft hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he never would have believed it.) No, Sherlock had given Mycroft one more, sharp look and then nodded and said something about seeing the scene for himself and that he would be back in the morning, and he’d been gone. John had given an apologetic smile that was clearly all-too-well practiced and followed, leaving Mycroft with his thoughts.
Well, such as they were. He had plenty of questions, but not enough answers. His weary brain cycled between wondering at Sherlock, wondering how the (five-year old) problems at work had been resolved, and wondering about this attack. Had it been personal? Had it been random? Did he really have a security detail these days, and if so, where had they been? How had he gotten to the hospital?
Mycroft tried using his phone to learn some of these answers, but it was an exercise in patience. First he needed to figure out his current password, and then, well, there was the phone itself—so much more advanced than what he was used to. The bigger, clearer screen was a blessing, but the touch-screen technology for typing was nothing but a frustration.
He did try calling Mummy to let her know he was all right, but there was no answer. He would have to ask Sherlock about that later. Why the woman refused to use a mobile phone was beyond him.
So here he sat with a rare moment of having nothing to do and … there was nothing he could do. He’d long since finished the paper he’d begged from one of the nurses and was starting to feel desperate enough to fill in the crossword.
He was saved from that by the unexpected appearance of Sherlock, carrying two take-away cups. He handed one to Mycroft with a nod. “You’re looking better this morning. More color, less confusion, and your lips are doing that pursing thing that makes you look annoyed, so things are getting back to normal.”
Mycroft couldn’t resist a sneer as he pulled the lid off the drink and took a sip. God, it was awful. “What is this?” he asked, unable to keep the disgust out of his voice.
“A hazelnut latte, of course,” Sherlock told him, looking surprised.
“Why would you bring me … this? I hate hazelnut.”
“But…” A fleeting look of hurt crossed his brother’s face. “You started drinking these over four years ago. The clinic you checked me into to get clean … they served these and you got in the habit of drinking them whenever you visited, which was far too often, as I told you—frequently. But, if you don’t want it…”
Mycroft felt a moment’s remorse. “No, no. I’ll drink it. Thank you.”
Sherlock smiled, relief clear as the lines of his forehead smoothed. “I brought you some of the shortbread you like, too.”
At least those he remembered, Mycroft thought, opening the package. Anything was better than the cardboard and glue served for breakfast here. Next time he required hospitalization he really must make sure to be brought somewhere with a better catering staff.
They sat in unusually amicable silence for a time, while Mycroft tried to hide the flavour of his appalling beverage with the biscuits and Sherlock sipped at his tea. “Where’s John this morning?” Mycroft finally asked.
“Oh, out,” Sherlock said with a careless wave. “You’ll be glad to know, incidentally, that your house is still secure. I haven’t been able to find any sign of theft or any kind of security breach at your home or your office. Your wallet and phone appear to be intact, and so I have been unable to ascertain the point of your mugging—always barring the urge to hit you over the head, an urge with which I naturally can sympathize.”
“Naturally. It hardly seems vindictive enough, though, if someone—other than you—wished to cause me harm.”
“I agree. So, either you had something else about your person that was taken but which you cannot remember, this was a remarkably insipid attempt at hurting you, or it was a delaying tactic. I spoke with your assistant and she said there was nothing unusually pressing going on, but refused to go into more detail because of security.” Sherlock reached for one of the biscuits, then said, “You’re officially on sick leave for at least a few days, by the way, though your PA sounded a bit frantic at the thought.”
Mycroft smiled. He didn’t know what his current job was, but the idea that they would panic without him was … reassuring. “It’s not like I remember my security passcodes right now, anyway.”
“That’s all right, brother. I know them,” Sherlock told him with an evil smile as he stood up. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
“You’re coming with me?”
Sherlock nodded. “John insisted. Come along. Paperwork’s been sorted.”
Mycroft thankfully abandoned his disgusting latte and followed Sherlock down the hallway. “So … John?”
“Former RAMC Captain, invalided home by a shot to the shoulder. Currently does some locum work at a local surgery to keep his hand in, but otherwise helps me.”
Mycroft felt staggered at the idea of Sherlock accepting help from anyone, remembering countless arguments on exactly that topic, in fact. Sherlock must have read that on his face, because he said, “Yes, but he’s not intrusive about it, and he’s actually useful, even if he has an annoying habit of nagging me to eat and sleep.”
“You said he saved your life?”
An almost feral grin spread on Sherlock’s face, startling Mycroft. Sherlock had smiled more in the last 24 hours than he could remember seeing in the last ten years … or what he could remember of them. “The first night, after you kidnapped and tried to bribe him. He shot a serial killer cabbie to protect me.”
“Shot… he has a gun?” The thought of Sherlock living in a flat where there was a gun was horrifying.
“Not … officially,” Sherlock said with some discretion as they wove their way past assorted medical staff. “It’s come in handy, though.”
Mycroft was speechless. What kind of maverick was Sherlock living with? An army doctor who had been shot? That alone … he couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. Medical staff was kept carefully behind the lines so that was almost impossible. And … he was spending his time following Sherlock around instead of working as a doctor? How had he let this happen? Mycroft obviously was still keeping an eye on Sherlock if he’d ‘kidnapped’ his friend, but this Dr Watson sounded like a terrible influence … though knowing he tried to get Sherlock to eat was … comforting.
They were out of the hospital now, and in a taxi. (Mycroft couldn’t remember the last time he’d travelled in anything other than his own car, and wondered where it was.)
The route was familiar, though, London’s streets mapping the same way home they always had, even if signs and colours were different than what he remembered from yesterday … or, well, five years ago. Sherlock didn’t speak in the car, but Mycroft felt him glancing over, and knew he was taking in everything he could about his current physical (and mental) state. Other than the lump on his head, though, he felt surprisingly well. A little bruised, perhaps, from when he fell, but nothing particularly inconvenient.
At the house, Sherlock punched in a security code and opened the door, not that Mycroft was surprised. Sherlock had always been able to break in when he needed to, and he would have been frankly amazed if he had found a security system able to keep his brother out. He felt a moment’s trepidation as he realized that he himself would be unable to crack this system. He’d lost five years’ worth of technological advances. Five years of political scandals and manoeuvrings. Five years.
It was still unfathomable.
He saw Sherlock watching him and felt unusually cared for when he led him back to the kitchen. “You’re pale. You’re just now realizing the magnitude of your affliction. You need tea,” he said as he filled the kettle and pulled out a reassuringly familiar teapot and a tin of his preferred Assam blend.
While he prepared the tea, Sherlock began to speak. “You were attacked here, outside the front door at 10:37 last night, as you arrived home from work. Your driver had already returned to the driver’s seat when it happened, so your attacker had a few moments between hitting you on the head and when he had to run. Your driver reports that he saw the man rummaging in your pockets, so I conjecture that he took something from you—something small, like a flash drive, because your driver didn’t see anything obvious. Your briefcase, keys, wallet, and phone are all intact and accounted for. A single blow to the head couldn’t have been expected to slow you up for more than a few minutes, so whoever it was didn’t need a lot of time.”
He poured steaming water into the pot to warm it, and then spooned in the loose tea. “If the point had been to hurt you, there would have been more than one blow—or something more vicious, like a knife. One hit to the head, though … you could have been on your feet again within moments, and there’s no guarantee that you would have been held overnight at hospital, so he either took something off you then, quickly, or needed you to be distracted while he or his confederates did something elsewhere.”
Mycroft nodded, his head suddenly pounding. “A quick cosh-and-grab seems most likely, though I’ve no idea what it could be. Short of going into the office to see what I’ve been working on, it’s impossible to say.”
“Unless we get your memory back,” Sherlock said, putting a cup of tea in front of him. Mycroft sipped it carefully, eyebrows raised at the sweetness. “You need it for shock, and it’s not like your diet is working, anyway.”
The familiar biting tone of Sherlock’s teasing was a comfort, somehow, and so Mycroft sipped, relishing the taste of his sweet tea. He had stopped using sugar years ago, trying to get rid of the weight he’d put on while Sherlock was …
The cup landed in the saucer with a genteel clashing sound as Mycroft realized … he had remembered that, but just barely, like recognizing a voice but having the speaker’s name just outside your mental reach. He floundered, trying to touch it, secure it, but it was already gone, a fleeting will-o-wisp already dissipating in the dark.
“You remembered something.” Sherlock’s voice was gentle.
“I stopped using sugar in my tea when you were in rehab?”
A tiny quirk to the lips as Sherlock said, “That you remember, but not the hazelnut lattes?”
“Thank heaven for that, Sherlock. That was disgusting. I simply cannot believe I would have started drinking those.”
“I’m not saying I approved of it, Mycroft. I’ve always found them revolting. You’re the one who developed a taste for them.”
“Well, consider me cured of that, at least,” Mycroft told him with a small shudder as he sipped at his tea. (Sweet, hot, perfect … bliss.) “Tell me more about John.”
Sherlock looked almost amused. “You’re more concerned about me than you are about yourself. That’s illogical, Mycroft.”
Wearily, Mycroft just shook his head. “No more than any other time in our lives, Sherlock. You’ve always been my responsibility, always been up to me to watch you. Hasn’t changed. Never will.”
Sherlock carefully reached over and took his cup from his fingers and then rose to his feet to come around the table to take Mycroft’s arm. “Come on.”
“What? But, my tea…” It had tasted so good, too, Mycroft thought.
“I’ll make you more. Or better yet, you can ask John later. He makes better tea even than Mrs Hilary did. Right now, though, you’re exhausted.”
He was, too, though it made no sense. He hadn’t done anything but ride home from the hospital and have a few sips of tea. Why was he so tired? But he couldn’t bring himself to argue as Sherlock guided him down the hall and removed his jacket, then helped him lie down on the couch. He pulled off his shoes and covered him with the knitted afghan their grandmother had made. “Take a nap now. It’s going to be fine, My.”
Later, Mycroft couldn’t remember if the feel of Sherlock’s lips on his forehead had been his imagination or not.
The figure in the chair looked up from his book and said, “Mycroft? How do you feel?”
That wasn’t Sherlock. The older man blinked wearily, trying to pull his eyes into their usual laser focus. “My brain feels full of treacle.” He started to sit up but then fell back against the cushions and shut his eyes. “Jagged treacle. Where’s Sherlock?”
He heard John moving quietly about the room. “He’s out investigating, but he’s been checking in on you. I think he’s worried.”
Mycroft’s response was an undignified snort that made John chuckle. “That’s certainly not the brother I know. You’re either a miracle worker, Dr Watson, or you’ve brainwashed him.”
“Washing Sherlock’s brain would take more soap and energy than I have the patience for,” John told him. “And I said you should call me John. Here’s your medicine. Other than the headache, how do you feel? Nauseated? Dizzy?”
Mycroft gave his head the barest shake. “No, just sore. Stiff and sore,” he corrected as he creaked into a sitting position. John didn’t reach out to help, but he was ready if he needed him. When Mycroft was seated, he handed him his pills and the glass. “Take these. How hungry are you?”
Mycroft did as he was told. “A little.”
“Okay. I’ll go make some lunch. Do you want it here? Or in the kitchen?”
“You’ll make the lunch? Where’s Mrs Dean?”
“Sherlock gave your staff the day off,” John told him with a shrug. “I’m not sure if he was worried about security breaches, protecting your reputation, or just generally being Sherlock, but there it is. Luckily for you, while I’m not much of a cook, but I can heat soup and make sandwiches.”
“And tea. Sherlock said you make good tea,” Mycroft said, levering himself up as John watched him carefully.
“Did he really?” John sounded surprised. “That’s more than he’s ever said to my face—though he does drink the tea I hand him, more often than not.”
“The fact that you can get him to drink it is impressive,” Mycroft told him, making his careful way down the hallway toward the toilet.
“Sometimes I think he just gets tired of my nagging him.”
Mycroft gave a small laugh. “He wearied of that from me decades ago, but at least he does what you tell him to. That should tell you everything you need.”
John laughed, and Mycroft noted the fondness in it. “Well, I’m not a Holmes. I’m not as good at reading affection between the lines as you two. I’ll be in the kitchen. Call me if you need me. Lunch’ll be up in a tick.”
Feeling a little unsteady, Mycroft made it to the bathroom and relieved the pressure of his bladder, all the while wondering what John had meant by that. What affection?
When he entered the kitchen a few minutes later, John nodded at the table where he’d sat with Sherlock several hours earlier. “Tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. Nothing as fancy as you’re used to, I’m sure, but this was comfort food when I was growing up.”
Mycroft wasn’t sure what he thought of such plebeian fare, but found its simplicity oddly satisfying, even with the large glass of water John insisted he drink. “Dehydration will just exacerbate your headache,” he said, and Mycroft was willing to do anything that would ease the distracting pain in his head.
“You care about my brother,” he said after the meal was done.
“He’s my best friend,” John told him, eyes sincere. “Nobody seems to understand—he’s the most irritating, frustrating person I’ve ever met, but … everything comes alive when he’s around. He’s brilliant in a way that’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met—and I went through medical school, you know. I’ve known geniuses before, but Sherlock’s unique.”
“He is that,” Mycroft said.
“Yes, he is. I’ve only known him a year, but I can’t imagine life without him. I’ve never known anybody who could do what he does.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
John smiled. “I keep forgetting you don’t remember. The way he described it to me is that the police consult with him when they’re out of their depth—which is always, according to him. They—usually Detective Inspector Lestrade—call him in when they’ve got the crazy, challenging cases. Sherlock will spot things at the crime scene that nobody else sees, or can’t put together in a meaningful way. The first case we worked together … oh! You should read my blog.”
John nodded with a look of mischief dancing in his eyes. “Something my therapist insisted I do when I got back from Afghanistan. She claimed writing down the things I did would help me readjust.” Mycroft couldn’t help a sound of scepticism, but John just laughed. “Oh, I know. It sounded crazy to me, too. Nothing ever happened to me, what on earth was I supposed to write? But after that first case, when I moved in with Sherlock, I started writing up the cases we worked on.”
He got up and started clearing dishes, waving at Mycroft to stay seated. “Sherlock abuses everything about it, of course. My writing style, the way I explain the cases—he says it’s romantic nonsense, that I miss all the important details—but it’s become pretty popular which, yes, absolutely amazes me. We’ve gotten a fair number of cases because people have heard of Sherlock through my blog, and even though he mocks it at every turn, he tells me he’d be lost without his blogger.”
Mycroft wasn’t sure what to think. “You really do like him, don’t you?”
John looked back over his shoulder, hands busy full of soapy dishes in the sink. (Mycroft can only suppose he hadn’t seen the dishwasher.) “I certainly wouldn’t still be living with him if I didn’t.”
“I mean, you don’t just appreciate what he does. You actually like him, as a person.” Mycroft still couldn’t believe he was saying that out loud. Nobody truly liked his brother—or him, either, he thought.
John had turned around, though, to stare at him, completely disregarding how the dish in his hand was dripping water on the floor. “Of course I do. He’s one of the best people I know.”
The splat of water drops made him look down and he hastily put the dish back in the sink, grabbing a towel for his hands before walking back to the table. “I know you don’t remember, but he’s helped a lot of people in the time I’ve known him—and before. Do you know we seldom need to pay when we go out to eat, because so many restaurant owners owe him favours? He’ll tell you he does what he does because he needs the mental stimulation of the puzzle—and don’t get me wrong. He does. He’s unbearable when he’s bored, shooting holes in the wall and getting Mrs Hudson angry—that’s our landlady, by the way. But the thing is, as much as he loves the puzzles, he does this to help people.
John spread the damp towel out on the table, folding it into neat quarters. “Sherlock’s interpersonal skills are terrible and he’s unsympathetic around victims and ignores the personal trauma outside of how it affected events. There’s no question he’s happier staying away from the icky, messy, emotional stuff—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to help. He’s like a person who went into medicine but hates sick people—he’ll sit in his lab for three days straight finding the cure for a plague, but you never, ever want him taking the temperature of a real, live person because he’ll just make them cry. This, of course, makes people think he doesn’t care, but they’re wrong. He cares deeply, he just has no bedside manner to speak of. That’s one of the things he keeps me around for.”
Mycroft just blinked at him, wondering. How had he missed this? The Sherlock he remembered was utterly selfish and totally unbiddable, unable to be led, barely even listening to suggestions. Headstrong wasn’t nearly a strong enough adjective to describe him. Mycroft had lamented for years the loss of the loving, playful boy Sherlock had been, emotionally stunted by careless parents, cold caregivers, and an all-too-absent brother. How had he not realized that Sherlock’s deeply caring nature was still there, hidden beneath the selfish, self-destructive behaviours that had bedevilled him since he left for school?
“Do you know how long…?”
“Not exactly,” John said, answering Mycroft’s unspoken question—which Mycroft had to admit impressed him. “He’s been clean for longer than I’ve known him, but I don’t know when exactly that happened. I suspect that DI Lestrade made a difference in his getting clean—maybe by offering him cases to solve. They seem to have a weird, exasperated kind of father-son relationship, but I only came in a year ago, and Sherlock doesn’t talk about the past.”
“But you know about the drugs.”
John nodded. “Nothing specific, just that … they existed. At this point the only thing I really need to worry about with him is nicotine … and that I’ve known fussy toddlers with better appetites. He’s got this crazy rule that he won’t eat during a case because digestion slows him down, diverts energy away from his brain. We have an ongoing argument about how his brain’s transport needs fuel. Tea?”
Bemused, Mycroft nodded, watching John putter about his kitchen, finding the tea things. “You said I kidnapped you and tried to bribe you?”
“Yeah, and then you quoted my therapist’s notes at me and told me the tremor in my hand was there not because of PTSD or nerve damage, but because I missed the war. Then an hour or so later, Sherlock had tricked me into chasing a murderous cabbie up fire escapes and over rooftops and I’d left my cane behind…” A reminiscent smile lifted John’s lips. “That was when I realized the kind of person he was, you know. The smile on his face when he watched me realize that he’d cured my limp with nothing more than adrenalin and a shot of camaraderie. He wasn’t just happy about being proved right, he was honestly happy for me. After that, nobody could convince me he’s a sociopath—not even him. He’s got too good a heart, even if he keeps it hidden most of the time.”
Mycroft had to admit, Dr John Watson was more interesting than he’d expected.
John finished cleaning the dishes and then left Mycroft to wander around the house, carrying a cup of tea while trying to boost his memory. He wished him luck with it, though the house was so pristine, so neat, with so few personal items to be seen, he wondered how much use it would be.
The man was handling his memory loss remarkably well, John thought. He wasn’t ranting over what he’d lost, but seemed content to simply work with what he had and move forward. John just wasn’t sure if this was because he was in denial or because he was a Holmes and therefore too exceedingly rational to allow himself to be upset.
Had the situation been reversed and it had been Sherlock who’d lost his memory, John wasn’t sure he would be taking it so equably. There was no question that Sherlock’s emotions were well-wrapped and guarded, but he also threw tantrums when he didn’t get his way and jumped for joy when his enthusiasm overtook him. In other words, Sherlock liked to think his emotions were completely under control, but he indulged them more often than he probably realized.
Mycroft, on the other hand, seemed truly a master at containing his emotions. They would flit across his face from time to time (if anything about Mycroft could do anything as lightly as ‘flit’), but they rarely if ever affected his actions—certainly John had never seen them do so, not unless you counted checking up on Sherlock. Mycroft had shown up after the cabbie, and on Baker Street after the so-called gas explosion. He might have claimed it was because he was bringing Sherlock a case, but John knew better. Mycroft was and would always be an overprotective brother—and there was nothing that would convince John that caring about his brother was not at the root of that. He was just better at containing his emotions than Sherlock.
John went back to the living room (parlor? library?) and picked up the book he’d been reading earlier, but put it down when his mobile chimed.
—Is he awake yet? SH
—About an hour ago. Did you drug his tea? JW
—I’m shocked that you would think so. SH
—Doesn’t answer my question. JW
—No, it doesn’t, does it? SH
—How’s the investigation going? JW
—Frustrating, between office security and the main witness having lost his memory. A refuses to tell me what he was working on. SH
—So for once you actually need your brother? JW
—I need a credible information source. Brother or not is irrelevant. SH
—Of course it is. Let me know if you need anything. JW
—You’re right where I need you. SH
—Okay. Don’t forget to bring supper with you when you come back. JW
—Why me? SH
—You’re the one who gave the cook the day off. Supper’s up to you. JW
With a grin, he set the phone on the table next to him and picked up his book. He’d barely opened it, though, when he heard Mycroft at the door. “Sherlock?”
John looked up and nodded. “He’s miffed that I asked him to pick up supper because he’s the one who gave the cook the day off.”
Mycroft came in and walked around the room, examining the pictures on the wall, the knick-knacks on the shelves. “That doesn’t frustrate you?”
John laughed. “Of all the things I get frustrated with Sherlock about, this is the least of my worries. And I’ll give him this—even though he doesn’t eat himself, he usually finds time for us to stop so I can … or at least, long enough for me to get some food, anyway. I can’t count the number of meals I’ve had to abandon after a few bites because he chooses that moment to go chasing after a suspect, but I give him credit for at least thinking of it in the first place.”
“I still can’t…” Mycroft’s voice trailed off.
“Can’t what?” John asked, keeping his voice level, not letting any pressure, any sympathy, colour the question.
“I’m not used to anyone talking about Sherlock with such … affection.”
John tipped his head, eyebrows raised. “Well, you caught me on a good day. Believe me, there are days when I feel like strangling him, if only to get him to stop talking.”
“I know the feeling,” Mycroft said as he came to perch, irresolute, on the edge of the sofa.
“You’re restless,” John observed.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” Mycroft told him, tapping his fingers on the carved arm.
John nodded in sympathy. “I can believe that. You’re always busy with something and here you are, with nothing that needs doing.”
“Oh no, I’m sure there are many things that need doing,” Mycroft said. “It’s just that I am incapable of doing them.”
“I wouldn’t say incapable,” John told him, seeing the frustration behind his eyes. “Your brain is just as capable as ever—which is saying a lot.”
“Maybe so, but I’m working with incomplete data.”
John couldn’t keep his lips from twitching, though he quickly controlled them as the lines in Mycroft’s forehead deepened. “I’m sorry. You just sounded so much like Sherlock just then. Still though, honestly, amnesia or not, you’re one of the most capable men I know—even if I have no real idea what you actually do, other than that it’s with the government, and that you’ve occasionally given Sherlock sensitive cases. You might have temporarily lost your memory of current events, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change that.”
Mycroft just looked across at him, stiff and dignified, yet somehow with something of the appearance of a sulky child. Again, the similarity between him and his brother had never been so apparent, thought John, even if Mycroft hid it better. “And how do you propose I do that?”
“How about reading the paper? I know everything in it is filtered for general public consumption, but at least it would help you tune in to current events,” John suggested. “And, doesn’t your office have something in place for your sick days? Which, yes, don’t even say it—of course you don’t take them. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to, and that would mean there are plans in place for when you do. Couldn’t your assistant send you files to get you up to speed?”
“In theory, yes, but in practice … I don’t even know my own computer password, John.”
John blinked. That was something he hadn’t thought of. “Did you ask Sherlock?”
“I hardly think my brother would…”
But John interrupted, “Of course he does. He hacks into your account just to bother you, you never can get him to stop. I can’t imagine that’s changed in the last five years. And if not Sherlock, how about Anthea? Or whatever your PA is called? Does she know about your…?”
“My amnesia? I honestly don’t know,” Mycroft said. He still had the air of a (dignified) petulant child, but his stiff posture had relaxed a bit. “I don’t know what Sherlock told her, though considering the attack occurred right in front of my driver, I’m sure my staff knows about my concussion. She knew enough to bring me a change of clothes this morning, though she didn’t linger.”
John nodded. “Right, then. Assuming you trust her, you could get away with a partial truth, Mycroft. Tell her your memory of yesterday is fuzzy and you need a recap on the current projects on your desk. With a blow to the head that knocked you out for half an hour and a concussion worth a hospital stay, that’s not exactly surprising news—and she’d probably be the best person to be able to tell you if anything truly important or sensitive happened prior to your attack. She doesn’t need to know you don’t remember the last five years—not unless you want to tell her.”
He watched Mycroft turning this over in his head, and wished Sherlock had told him more about what was going on. The last thing Mycroft needed was more to worry about, but John knew workaholics. He also knew how Sherlock’s mind ground itself to pieces if it didn’t have other fodder—and could only imagine that Mycroft was just as bad when he was bored. He was sure that Mycroft’s job was rife with stress and pressure—neither of which would be good for him today. If he was anything like his brother, though, doing nothing would actually be worse for him.
The trick would be finding the right balance.
He waited until Mycroft had nodded his head and picked up his phone.
—How much does Anthea know? Can she get some work for Mycroft to do? JW
—I thought doctors preferred bed rest? SH
—Most doctors don’t need to put up with a bored Holmes. Mycroft needs something to do, something familiar, and reading work files might help him relax. Well, relax for Mycroft. JW
—Anthea currently only knows of the concussion. SH
John looked up. “Sherlock says that Anthea only knows about the concussion. Knowing her, though, she’s probably worried sick she hasn’t heard from you today.”
“Especially if Sherlock has been at the office,” Mycroft said in agreement. “I can only imagine the havoc.”
“Normally I’d agree with you, but today, I think you can depend on Sherlock’s discretion.”
Mycroft actually laughed. “Discretion? I thought you said you knew my brother, John?”
“Just because he usually doesn’t bother doesn’t mean he can’t.” Just then, John’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“Mycroft and I were just discussing how he can get some files from work so he can catch-up without giving anything away. I said I thought he could tell Anthea that his memory from yesterday is fuzzy because of the attack—that wouldn’t be too detrimental if it got out, and she’s trust-worthy, right?”
“He’s driving you crazy, isn’t he?” Sherlock’s voice was smug.
“No, unlike you, he’s a model patient,” John told him as he met Mycroft’s amused eyes. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need something to do, and somehow I don’t think colouring books and jigsaw puzzles are going to cut it.”
There was a laugh on the other end of the line and then Sherlock asked to speak to his brother (which was a first). John passed over his phone and listened to Mycroft’s one-word, discreet responses and tried to ignore the speculative way Mycroft was watching him. He could only imagine how odd this must be for the man, left with an ex-army doctor babysitter he didn’t know—especially considering how security-conscious Mycroft was..
Still, after a brief conversation, he handed John’s phone back and said, “He said he would take care of it. Frankly, I’m terrified.”
John laughed. “Sounds like a rational response to me, but … you didn’t see him when he got the call last night. He’ll never admit it, but he cares about you. He might normally kick and scream about doing anything to help you, but this? You know the saying about how ‘nobody hurts my brother but me?’ I think you can count on Sherlock doing what he can to actually help. He might never let you forget it, if you’ll excuse the expression, but he won’t let you down.”
Mycroft just blinked at him for a moment and then said, “I can’t decide whether you know my brother very well indeed, or if you have no idea.”
John picked up his book. “Believe me, I ask myself that every day. Now, as a doctor, I recommend you get some rest before Anthea stops by with a mountain of reading material for you. Your brain may be as sharp as always, but it’s also dealing with some trauma and it deserves a chance to heal. Here or in your room doesn’t matter, but you should take another nap.”
“I slept all morning,” Mycroft grumbled as he lay back on the couch. “It’s illogical to be this tired.”
“No, it’s human—something you Holmes brothers tend to forget. The sleep will do your headache good, and I’m here if you need me.”
Mycroft stirred, hearing voices. What was he doing, sleeping in the middle of the day? He heard Sherlock’s baritone and John’s lighter voice and remembered. Of course. He’d been attacked and was suffering from amnesia. How very boring of him.
There was a rustling near the door, sounds of feet, then, “I’m not going to wake him, I just want to see him.” Ah, Anthea. He was relieved to know she was still his assistant. Her performance had always been exceptional and he had no doubt he could trust her implicitly.
“There? See? He’s perfectly fine,” Sherlock’s quiet voice said.
“It’s unusual for him to sleep during the day,” she said.
“It’s also unusual for him to have a concussion,” Sherlock said with some asperity.
“It was my idea,” John put in. “I told him if he was expecting to stay up with your files, he should get some rest now. Concussions aren’t to be messed with.”
“I know that.” Her voice was unusually sharp. “But he needs to eat. If he’s not reminded, he forgets. When did he eat last?”
“I made lunch,” John said, voice soothing, “About five hours ago.”
Five hours, thought Mycroft? I’ve been asleep for so long? He’d had no idea amnesia was so tiring. Or was it the concussion? He frowned a bit. He supposed it could be both. It was easy to forget that the brain was made from flesh and blood and could be injured, just like any limb or muscle. A headache from stress or fatigue and a headache from an actual injury might be two different things, but rest and relaxation were still the best cures.
He sighed. How very dull. He just knew that work was piling up on his desk while he lay here napping, but there was nothing he could do about it.
He could get up, he supposed, now he was awake, but he was reluctant to with an audience. He was still surprised he’d relaxed enough in front of John to sleep. That was most unlike him, but he supposed it was a tribute to the man’s unassuming, relaxing manner. Really, how had Sherlock attracted the man? Sherlock’s high-handed, prickly ways had driven off countless people over the years—even before the drugs had started playing a role.
From what John had said, he felt he owed Sherlock something for helping him after he’d come back from Afghanistan, but that would only explain so much. A patient bedside manner would only get a man through so many days of Sherlock’s petulant, selfish behaviour, but he supposed that if John had gone to war, he wasn’t exactly a pushover. Though, really, he must find out exactly how the man had gotten himself shot. Their armed forces protected its medical staff much more closely than that. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard of a doctor being wounded in action.
Or, well, that was the problem. He couldn’t remember much of anything, could he? Certainly nothing of import to his daily life.
He shifted on the couch, only now feeling the wool tangled around his legs. John must have covered him as he slept, he thought, and for a moment couldn’t decide whether that touched him or made him terrified, that his defences were so low that having a stranger moving around his room hadn’t bothered him.
Or, maybe not a stranger, exactly, no matter what his memory insisted. Perhaps part of his brain remembered and knew the man could be trusted. He hoped so. It sometimes felt like he spent far too much time on his own. Or—he wondered if that had changed. Sherlock and John certainly seemed comfortable enough, moving around his house. Perhaps they visited?
He could smell Italian wafting down the hall and felt his mouth water. The sound of voices raised in conversation, not argument, suddenly drew him to his feet, starved for companionship as well as food. He felt slightly light-headed and paused to let his blood pressure level out, and then, opening the door, moved toward the kitchen.
“Mr Holmes, how are you feeling?” asked Anthea as he entered the room, smoothing his hair and hoping he didn’t look ridiculous.
“Better, thank you,” he said, eyes examining her and noting the small changes to her hair and makeup in the last five years since he had seen her—or remembered that he had. “I hope things haven’t been too hectic for you in my absence?”
She smiled, looking relieved. “Now, Mr Holmes, you know I do most of the work for you. You’re just a figurehead.”
He smiled back. This he remembered, this old, private running joke between the two of them. “True, but if the figurehead is missing, people do tend to notice the gaping hole in the prow.”
“Which is why you’re needed back as soon as possible. Tomorrow?”
Involuntarily, Mycroft looked at Sherlock. “I’m not sure.”
Anthea was far too professional to let anything show on her face, and just said, “You mustn’t rush, of course. We can manage for a few days if we have to. I couldn’t believe when Justin told me you’d been attacked.”
“Your driver,” she said, a small crease between her brows.
“Of course,” he said, covering, “I just thought you might have heard from security.”
“Justin used his emergency alarm, so I knew as soon as they did, but I was in Dublin yesterday, as you know. I caught the first flight I could, but it wasn’t until I was at the hospital that I heard the details.” She looked at him, a shadow of concern on her face. “You were unconscious, of course, so you wouldn’t remember.”
“No,” he said, voice catching a bit. “I don’t remember that, though I appreciate your bringing me a change of clothes this morning.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, but Sherlock interrupted, bringing them up to speed on his investigation that day. “I think the key is ultimately whatever you were carrying in your pocket, but without knowing what it was…”
Mycroft looked at Anthea. “I know Sherlock told you my memory of yesterday is unclear. From what he’s discovered, apparently I had something stolen, but we are unsure what it was—and therefore how important it is.”
For a moment, her face was even more still than usual. “I wasn’t here. I was in Dublin.”
“So you have no idea what it might have been?” Mycroft asked. What had she been doing in Dublin instead of here when he needed her? Though that was unfair, he thought. She no doubt had been there doing something for him. It wasn’t her fault she’d been out of the country when he’d been attacked.
Or, he hoped it wasn’t. His memory of Anthea was of someone entirely trustworthy. He couldn’t imagine that that might have changed, but … was it suspicious that she’d been physically out of touch? Her body language had seemed … off … since he entered the room, but nothing that seemed out of place for an employee confronted with an ill boss. Right?
Meanwhile, she had shaken her head. “No, sir. You rarely ever carry anything outside your briefcase—or, not to my knowledge. If that changed yesterday…? I have no way of knowing.”
He nodded, trying to ignore the throbbing behind his ear. “Of course. What can you tell me about what you’ve brought? Anything I need to know before I start reading?”
Anthea was watching him calmly, her eyes measuring. “I don’t think we should tackle that until you’ve eaten something, sir. And taken your pain medication.”
Mycroft blinked. Why did it seem out of place for her to look after him? Or did it? He could see John looking amused (?) out of the corner of his eye, but refused to look at Sherlock, not wanting to know what expression was on his face. His assistant looked determined, though, so he nodded. “I’ll eat, but would rather not take any more of those pills. I don’t need any more sleep this evening.”
“Paracetamol, then,” she said, “And you’ll take your prescription when you go to bed.”
“Deal,” he said. “Assuming Sherlock brought food with him as was requested?”
“Ordered, you mean,” Sherlock said. “One of the drawbacks I’ve found in having an ex-army doctor for a friend.”
“Like you ever follow orders unless you’re hurt,” John told him. “At least the medical degree has come in handy.”
“And the marksman skills,” Sherlock agreed.
“Idiot,” John told him, “You’re just happy because you got to see Mycroft taking orders for a change.”
“True. Having Anthea around is obviously good for him.”
Mycroft just shook his head as he watched the two. He still couldn’t get over Sherlock’s entire demeanour as he bantered with his friend.
It was still early, but they all agreed it was best to eat while the food was hot. Apparently Sherlock and John had asked Anthea to join them as she’d refused to pass over any work files until she’d seen Mycroft eat.
Really, it was exceedingly odd, being cared for this way.
But not unpleasant.
After dinner, Mycroft and Anthea retreated to his study with tea and the stack of files she’d brought with her. Mycroft was pleased to see that this had not changed. As much as he enjoyed the convenience of digital files (something which had become even more common since 2006), there was something satisfying seeing a pile of paperwork getting smaller.
Anthea seemed particularly considerate, as well. She never raised her voice on a normal day, but tonight she had modulated it to a soothing tone that eased the ache in his head, even as she gave him a brief background of each file as she handed it to him, a useful crutch to his faulty memory.
Finally, closing the last file, he thanked her. “It’s late. You’re welcome to stay here tonight, if you like.”
She hesitated, hands pausing as she gathered up the scattered folders. “That’s kind of you, but I should get home. Will you be in the office tomorrow?”
“I think that depends on what my doctor says.” His hand brushed hers as he gathered the paperwork nearest him, and the silk of her warm skin made his breath hitch in an entirely unprofessional way. Cursing himself for a fool—it was bad enough his injury had stolen his memory away, but he refused to let it take his dignity and self-control as well—he pulled back, hoping she had not noticed anything amiss.
“Are you all right, sir?” Her voice was hesitant, and it took Mycroft a moment to realize he’d leaned back in his chair and was rubbing his forehead. He’d forgotten (well, of course he had) how to act around her, and his sudden rush of longing had taken him by surprise. He had always found her attractive, and the fact that she was still here, five years on, suggested that he had managed to keep their relationship purely professional, but he was at a loss, not knowing how he was supposed to treat her now, if their manners had relaxed at all when it was just the two of them.
“Just tired,” he told her, eyes still closed.
“You won’t forget to take your medicine before you go to bed?” Her voice was crisp and soothing, like fresh, clean sheets that were both comforting and cool against the skin … and he chastised himself for the analogy. She was his assistant, he reminded himself, not his lover. No matter how much he might appreciate her beauty, things had obviously remained professional or she would not still be here.
He suspected she was the closest thing he had to a friend, and remembering the way John and Sherlock had bantered throughout dinner, he suddenly, bewilderingly, felt bereft.
“Yes, I’ll take my medicine,” he said, rallying his reserves enough to look up to see the concern on her face. “Thank you for your help.”
He heard the hesitation in her voice, but didn’t say anything else, just sat quietly while she finished gathering the papers and left the room.
What a disaster, he thought. What had he made of his life that left him with no-one he could talk to? No human contact. No friends, just an assistant and a brother with whom he had never gotten along—or not since they were children.
It surprised him, this feeling of isolation, almost abandonment. He had never been the kind of man who required things like friends. He had been too busy learning things, learning how to adapt and manoeuvre, to control … Sentiment was a weakness he had never indulged.
Well, other than his vain attempts to watch after Sherlock, and there he had been helpless, watching his brother fall into the life of a drug addict despite his best efforts—efforts which had only served to alienate his brother from him. The harder he had tried to help, the further he had pushed him away. The one thing Mycroft had always striven for—Sherlock’s well-being—had been the one thing he could not make happen.
Oh, his brother was clean now. Healthy. Successful. Everything he should be, but it didn’t appear that Mycroft could take any credit for it.
Really, other than five years’ worth of now-lost political knowledge and leverage, what had he really gained since his most recent memory of 2006? No matter how successful he might be professionally, his personal life was as empty as ever … emptier, even, if one considered Sherlock’s friendship with John. His brother didn’t need him anymore … if he ever had.
He was unsure how long he sat there, head in his hands, when he felt hands on his shoulders. “Mycroft? Are you all right?”
He pried his eyes open, hoping they didn’t look as moist as they felt. “Just tired,” he said, responding to John’s concerned face. He submitted to the man’s questions, allowed him to shine a light in his aching eyes, but refused to get embroiled in a conversation. He was just too tired, and what was the point?
“Right. It’s time for you to go to bed,” John finally said, holding out a hand to pull him to his feet. Mycroft just nodded and headed for the stairs, ignoring the concern that followed him out of the room.
Moving carefully out of respect for the pounding that had begun again in his head, he brushed his teeth and changed into his pyjamas and then headed toward his bed.
“You forgot your pills.” Sherlock’s smooth baritone was hushed, thoughtfully lowered like the lights in the room.
“Thank you,” Mycroft said, hesitating in the middle of the room. He couldn’t remember Sherlock ever being in his bedroom before, not since he had left for school when they were boys.
Sherlock, though, was matter-of-factly pulling back the bed linens, and then waited almost patiently until Mycroft crossed the rest of the floor and climbed in. He handed him a glass of water and his pills and then took the glass. “You worried John,” he finally said.
Mycroft leaned his head against the headboard. “And we mustn’t worry John?”
Sherlock’s jaw tightened. “It might not have just been John.”
“I’m fine, Sherlock.”
“No, Mycroft, you’re not,” his brother said. “You’re handling this all very well, mind you, but you’re not fine.”
“Perhaps not,” Mycroft said with a sigh, closing his eyes. “But there’s nothing you can do about that, is there? Nothing but wait to see if my memory comes back, if that will even matter.”
Sherlock’s forehead creased. “What do you mean by that?” Mycroft shrugged, digging his shoulders further back into the soft pillows. He felt the mattress shift as Sherlock sat down at the foot of the bed, leaning against the post and stretching his legs out. “Mycroft?”
“It’s nothing, Sherlock. I was just thinking about how little seems to have changed in my life in the last five years. Does it really matter if I remember them?”
An exasperated noise from Sherlock. Well, that at least was familiar, he thought as Sherlock said, “Don’t be ridiculous, Mycroft. The brother I know would be furious at losing as much as a minute—and so would I. In that one way, we are alike, brother mine. So, why this fatalistic resignation?”
“Just trying to be realistic. There’s no guarantee my memory will come back, and you know how I hate to be disappointed.”
“Being disappointed is the story of our entire relationship, Mycroft,” Sherlock said with a breath of a laugh, “But being disappointed in me is entirely different than being disappointed in yourself.”
“Well, that will make a change then,” Mycroft said. There was silence for a few minutes while he could practically feel Sherlock trying to find the right thing to say next. Before he could, though, Mycroft said, “I tried calling Mummy before.”
The texture of the silence changed, sharpened, and Mycroft opened his eyes to see Sherlock’s brow crease, changing the shadows on his face. “I’m sorry, My. She died two years ago of a heart attack. There was no warning.”
At this confirmation of something he’d been afraid to consider, Mycroft shut his eyes again. “I suspected,” was all he said.
“Talk to me, Mycroft.”
Now Mycroft let out a disbelieving laugh. “That’s not the brother I know.”
“Well, no,” Sherlock said, a smile in his voice. “But right now, neither are you.”
“Do I gather by that that we don’t usually have warm, brotherly chats these days?”
“When have we ever?” Sherlock asked. “But then … you’ve never needed to before.”
Mycroft couldn’t think what to say to that, but finally managed, “You’re wrong. As embarrassing as it is to admit it, Sherlock. You’re my only brother. Who else would I need?”
He opened his eyes, grateful for the dim light, but even so, he could see the surprise on his brother’s face. “I never thought about it.”
If he were a different person, if they were both different people, Mycroft would have reached out to touch Sherlock’s hand then, to reassure him with the warm, physical contact that normal people appreciated so much.
But they weren’t normal, and never had been, and so he just said, “There’s no reason you would have.”
Mycroft thought back to the years of animosity between them—almost entirely driven, gusted, from Sherlock’s direction, obscuring any brotherly affection that had survived their upbringing, causing Mycroft to eternally lean squinting into the wind of Sherlock’s determination not to have anything to do with his brother.
“I didn’t mind, you know,” Mycroft ventured into the silence after a moment, the long habit of watching over Sherlock overcoming his fatigue. “I only ever wanted you to be well, Sherlock. I just never was able to stand back and let you manage on your own. You’re obviously doing better without me.”
Sherlock’s voice was barely a whisper as he said, “I know you’ve forgotten the last five years, Mycroft, but … how can you even think that?”
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. “What else am I to think? You’re healthier than I’ve seen you since you were fourteen and are obviously well looked after by John—that’s certainly more than I ever managed.”
“And how do you think I got this far?” Sherlock leaned forward, his face unearthly in the moonlight streaming in the window. “You said your last memory was of January 10th … we both know what happened that day, Mycroft.”
Mycroft nodded. “We do. I failed you, and you nearly died.”
“No, I nearly died because of my own stupidity,” Sherlock corrected him fiercely. “You saved me.”
“I had you committed, and you hated me for it.” Mycroft couldn’t remember when he had felt more exhausted.
“I did, it’s true. For a while,” Sherlock said quietly. “Maybe even still, a little. But Mycroft … that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. I would have been dead, and all in all, I prefer to be alive.”
Another nod. “I knew you would hate me for it, but it was better than…”
“Better than what?”
“Having you alive and hating me was still better…”
“Better than what?” Sherlock asked, his voice persistent.
“Better than being alone,” Mycroft said, and then snapped his mouth shut, appalled. He had meant to say it was better than Sherlock being dead, but … good heavens, what kind of pills were these? It was like he had no barriers at all.
He could see the shock on his brother’s face. He had never meant to say that, had never ever intended to tell Sherlock how much he meant to him. That sort of thing was never spoken in the Holmes family. If he wasn’t careful, next thing he’d be saying was that he loved him, and that would be truly mortifying. A Holmes wasn’t supposed to care about human frailty, wasn’t supposed to admit that they cared, or that they might need … anything. He might as well have just stripped naked in front of his brother and danced a fandango.
“Mycroft…” Sherlock’s voice was ragged. “You … You can’t possibly believe…” He paused, face tight with something that almost resembled anguish. “It’s true that I hated your interference then. It’s true that … that we don’t have the best relationship now, because yes, I’ve held a grudge.”
“Other boys collected stamps or rocks,” Mycroft murmured.
“Yes,” Sherlock breathed, “And the grudge against you has always been the prize of my collection. But, Mycroft… it’s the prize because it means the most. Acrimonious or not, my relationship with you is … Damn this amnesia … You’ve always been there for me, Mycroft, even when I haven’t wanted you to be. Especially when I haven’t wanted you. But you’re the one constant in my life … don’t underestimate your importance.”
He acknowledged this with another nod. “I know. I’m just tired.”
“Mycroft.” Something in his brother’s voice made him look up. “I’m sorry I’m not a better brother, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone.”
Damn his tongue, thought Mycroft, letting slip such a weakness. “Just tired, Sherlock.”
“No,” Sherlock disagreed. “You’re looking at the clues of your current life and not seeing a purpose. Your office managed without you—for today, at least—and you’ve spent the day with John, one of the warmest yet not irritatingly suffocating men I know. In your fragile state, it’s only natural that you would look at the evidence of your daily life and see emptiness.” Sherlock’s voice gained strength as his deductions rolled from his tongue, reaching out to Mycroft like a verbal hug. “What you failed to see was the honest concern at your office today, with your employees truly concerned for you—this was your first day out of the office since Mother’s funeral, by the way. You didn’t see Anthea’s worry, or the way she watched you throughout dinner. And, we don’t get on, but … don’t ever underestimate your importance to me.”
“John told me you thought of me as your archenemy.”
Sherlock made a scoffing noise. “No, you told him that when you kidnapped him that first night. Instead of telling him you were my brother, you told him you were my archenemy and then tried to bribe him to give you information about me—and when he refused that, you quoted his therapist’s private notes to him which, as you can imagine, did nothing to win him over.” He gave a reminiscent laugh. “He came back to the flat not protesting your having abducted him off the street, but that people just didn’t have archenemies in this day and age.”
Mycroft smiled, feeling better now they were moving away from his personal failings. “How did you actually meet him, anyway?”
He laughed outright as Sherlock told him about the chance meeting at the lab, the chase across rooftops, and about the cabby. “An ex-army doctor with a gun and an adrenalin addiction,” he said in disbelief. “He’s a walking contradiction.”
“Oh, I know,” Sherlock agreed. “It makes him endlessly fascinating. Next to you, he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Mycroft just blinked, absorbing that remarkable statement, and then said, “What are we going to do tomorrow? I can’t stay here indefinitely.”
Sherlock accepted the topic change. “You need to go to work. The key to your attack is whatever was stolen, and you’re the one most likely to figure out what that was.”
“I don’t even remember who the Prime Minister is, Sherlock, how can I get through a day’s work?”
“Don’t be silly,” Sherlock said with a smile. “I don’t know who the Prime Minister is, and it’s never made a difference at all. Don’t worry, Mycroft. You’re still the smartest man I know, and you’ve been out-bluffing all and sundry for as long as I can remember. Today’s self-doubts are just driven by the headache and fatigue, but I know you well enough to know that won’t bother you long. Your brain’s made of steel, Mycroft. Nothing’s going to keep you from doing what you need to do—goodness knows nothing ever has, despite my best efforts. You’ll be fine.”
He stood up. “For now, though, you need to sleep. Like I said, John was concerned.”
Hearing the affection in his brother’s voice, Mycroft nodded. “Thank John for me, would you?”
Sherlock nodded back, reaching for the light switch. “Go to sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a full day.”
“Definitely. Tomorrow’s the day we catch the person who did this to you. We’ll show him it takes more than a bump on the head to stop a Holmes.”
And with a rustle of the duvet, Mycroft nestled down into his pillow and, feeling comforted, fell asleep.
“He asleep?” John asked.
Sherlock nodded, turning to pull the door closed behind him.
“He looked overwhelmed,” John said. “Frankly, it was almost a relief to see it. He’s handled all this almost too well.”
“Coping is a bad thing?”
“No, but there’s such a thing as denial, and losing such a large chunk of memory … I know you Holmeses are geniuses and avoid sentiment and all that, but Mycroft is still human. Frankly, I’d be more worried i he handled all this perfectly.”
Sherlock had crossed to the bar and was pouring himself a drink. “Do you think I’m a bad brother, John?”
Oh, Christ, thought John. This was a worse minefield than anything he’d seen in Afghanistan. “No worse than I am,” he said after a moment. Sherlock made a noise of disbelief, but John said, “No, really. You deduced it the first day we met, remember? I don’t get on with my sister, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care—or that I don’t drop what I’m doing when she needs me. Just like you did yesterday.”
Sherlock had sat in the chair by the fire now, and sipped his scotch. John watched him, noting the unusual signs of stress, the way he gripped the glass as he stared at the fire. Whether Sherlock chose to admit to having emotions or not, it made sense that it would be hard for him, seeing his brother like this. Oh, except for a bruise on his head, he looked well enough, was mobile and talking rationally, but there was a vulnerability in Mycroft’s eyes that shouldn’t be there. As much as Sherlock liked (needed?) to rebel against his brother, this was probably the first time he had ever seen a crack in Mycroft’s façade. Even John was finding it painful to watch him trying to find his footing, how hard must it be for his little brother? Sherlock might not consciously rely on Mycroft’s strength, but that didn’t mean the need wasn’t there.
The fact that Mycroft’s injury was to his memory—that just made it harder. Both Sherlock and his brother relied more on their brains than anything else. He was quite sure that Sherlock would happily agree to having his brain removed and kept in a jar so he could dispense with the messy “transport” issues like sleeping and eating—anything so that his intellect could continue unimpaired, untrammelled by physical limitations. But a brain injury that could diminish his brilliance, even in the smallest measure? A nightmare for anyone, but especially a Holmes.
Mycroft was fortunate, of course, that his basic intellect was untouched. His long-term memory was impaired (at least for now), but his ability to think, reason, and make new memories was untouched, but that didn’t make this any easier—for him, or for his little brother.
John looked at Sherlock, trying to decide if his friend wanted conversation or not. “What makes you ask?”
Sherlock’s jaw tightened. “He said … no, never mind.”
“Did he actually say you were a bad brother?” John asked, trying to imagine Mycroft ever saying such a thing.
“No, of course not,” Sherlock said. “But he said … he implied that…”
Sherlock Holmes and emotions, thought John. They really didn’t mix well. “You know, when I was talking with him today, all he was really interested in was you. I mean, he probably knew I couldn’t answer questions about his work, but he was fascinated by what you’d been doing the last five years—and really fascinated by our friendship, for some reason.”
“Of course he was. He’s never seen me with a friend before. Never had one of his own, either, so far as I can tell.”
“Really? Never?” John wasn’t surprised to hear this about Sherlock, but Mycroft? Though, he supposed it made a certain amount of sense. Mycroft had manners and a veneer of gentility, but he was still a Holmes. He still had that penetrating intelligence that saw through everything—useful in an acquaintance, but not necessarily what you want in a mate at the pub after work. He wondered what Mycroft did for fun, anyway. Not that he had pried into the closets, but other than books there seemed to be nothing in this house that could be considered recreational, unless Mycroft had an Angry Birds obsession on his phone.
“What would you expect, John? It can’t come as a surprise that neither of us is very good at relationships.”
“I suppose not,” John said, as he sat down with his own drink, taking care to pick the right words. “That’s why it’s good you have each other. Even if you drive each other crazy like every other pair of siblings in the universe, you still understand each other better than the rest of us. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors; that’s why siblings both understand each other and get under each other’s skin so easily. In this one way, Sherlock, you and your brother are just like everybody else—you drive each other crazy, but at the same time you need each other.”
He braced himself, expecting to be blasted by the “I don’t need anyone” speech, but Sherlock just nodded absently, mind presumably delving in the back rooms of his mind palace.
“So, what did you tell him?” John asked eventually.
“What I needed to say to get him to go to the office tomorrow,” Sherlock said. “The key to the attack is there, somewhere, and he’s the one who has to find it.”
“But … with a five year gap in his memory….”
“He’s still more than capable,” Sherlock said, the merest edge to his voice. “This accident may have affected his memory, but not his abilities … and it cannot be allowed to affect his self-confidence. He’ll be fine.”
“As long as his headache isn’t worse,” John finally said, “I’m fine with that. It will be good for him to have something to do, and Anthea will look after him.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Just that she was watching him particularly carefully during supper tonight. She was worried about him just before she left, too. All I’m saying is that if he pushes too hard tomorrow, she’ll spot it and make sure he doesn’t.”
“It’s not that easy to make Mycroft do what you want, John. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
John just smiled, and when Sherlock snapped, “What?” responded, “She seemed to manage just fine from what I could see. You like bees, Sherlock, surely you’ve heard the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar?”
It was all he could do to not laugh at Sherlock’s scandalized expression. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m just saying, maybe you’d have better luck with him if you tried being nice to him once in a while. Maybe if you weren’t so busy pushing him away all the time, he’d be a little more willing to play nice.”
John drained the rest of his glass. “Right. I’m off to bed. If either of you needs me during the night, I’ll be in the guest room … or one of them, anyway. If he seems okay in the morning, I’ll let him go to work.”
“He’s not a child, John,” Sherlock told him. “You can’t treat him like one.”
“Nonsense, Sherlock. When they’re sick, everyone’s a child. Even you. Goodnight.”
And, leaving his flatmate staring into the flames, John closed the door and went to bed.
“Shall I confirm your meeting with Mr. Sayer, sir?”
Mycroft nodded. “We’ll want to intensify surveillance on his daughter, as well—see if we can’t rein in those indiscretions before they become problematic.”
“Yes, sir,” Anthea said. “Can I get you anything else? Some tea? Paracetamol?”
He looked up at her, only then realizing the tension in his face. John had cleared him as fit for some light work this morning, but he was suffering a nagging headache that did not want to go away.
He felt much more like himself today. Perhaps it was working in his still-familiar office, doing reassuringly familiar tasks that was boosting his confidence, or perhaps it was simply the fact that he felt more like himself today. He wasn’t nearly as fatigued or disoriented. He was still missing five years’ of memories, but he appeared to be adapting to the new reality.
If he was honest with himself, while this made doing his already-difficult job yet more challenging, there was a thrill to accomplishing it without letting on. Nobody could know about his affliction, and the challenge of accomplishing his tasks with such a formidable handicap was … invigorating. (He did also realize that his viewing this as a particularly delightful challenge rather than an inconvenience that bordered on personal catastrophe was probably something a psychiatrist would have issues with—but that was fine. He had issues with most psychiatrists, and none to date had been able to properly understand anyone with Holmes DNA, anyway.)
No, he had been here for three hours now and felt he had done an admirable job—not only of performing his duties, but of concealing his infirmity. He had managed to conceal his ignorance of names and current issues with aplomb, thanks to Anthea. She might believe he had only lost a few hours and was merely suffering from the after-effects of the concussion, but no-one else in the office suspected even that much. He had several people ask how he was feeling, but that had had the feel of a routine, polite inquiry, not anything more serious—or suspicious.
“Tea would be lovely, thank you,” he told her, thinking that yes, the warm, soothing beverage was just what he needed because, yes, his head was aching rather more than usual.
Mycroft leaned back in his chair and took a rare moment to look out the window, enjoying the familiar view. He’d been glad to discover his office was the same as he remembered—he had worked hard to get this one. Large enough to show that he had some power, but not so intimidating that it would be out of place for a man who held just a “minor” position.
Anthea returned, moving with the unhurried grace he’d always appreciated—it looked as if she was moving lazily, and yet her actions were always utterly efficient. She set down a cup of tea and two shortbread biscuits, along with two pills. He looked up at her with raised brows, but she stood her ground. “You’ve been fighting a headache for more than an hour, and you were out all day yesterday with a concussion. You’re not to do anything else until you’ve taken a break … sir.”
He just blinked at her for a moment and then smiled gently. “If you insist, as long as you break for tea as well?”
She just smiled back at him and reached back for the tray, lifting a second cup. “That’s what you always say.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, and Mycroft felt an odd combination of contentment as well as frustration. He was so busy focusing on doing his job properly, he had not made any headway toward discovering what had been in his pocket when he was attacked. He and Anthea had made a point of checking his notes from the day of the attack but—despite his habit of meticulous note-taking—hadn’t found any hints as to what he might have been carrying.
And why, he wondered, had he had anything in his pocket at all? Except for his phone and Moleskine notebook, he rarely carried anything in his pockets. Wasn’t that what a briefcase was for, after all? He enjoyed a mystery as much as his brother did, but found it was not nearly as entertaining when his own life was the subject of it. Or, at least, more frustrating.
Tea finished, Anthea excused herself to do her own work, and Mycroft stayed where he was for a few minutes, staring at nothing as his brain decided to extend the break. This won’t do, he told himself. It was entirely unacceptable to succumb to weakness, very unlike a Holmes.
He heard some bantering just outside his door, and then Porter poked his head in. “Sir? I hope I’m not bothering you. How are you feeling?”
Mycroft nodded, resigned to the time-consuming, social necessity of asking after one’s health. “Still a bit of a headache, but well enough. What do you need?”
The man all but ground his toe into the carpet. “I wondered if you’d had a chance to consider what we discussed the other day?” he asked, voice hopeful.
“I’m sorry,” Mycroft told him. “What with the accident, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Oh. I mean, of course, I entirely understand. It’s just that … I hate to waste any more time…”
The man’s voice trailed off and Mycroft resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He remembered Porter. He had started working for him straight out of Uni at Christmas, 2005 and Mycroft was frankly amazed he was still here. He wasn’t incompetent, quite, but he had never had the gumption appropriate for the post, either. Mycroft had only hired him in the first place as a favour to the lad’s father.
“Did you write up your proposal, Porter?”
“What? No, sir. That doesn’t seem at all appropriate,” he said, looking shocked, and Mycroft found himself curious as to what he had asked, but was unsure how to go about asking him to repeat himself. From the way the young man was practically wringing his hands, it didn’t seem as if it were a work-related request, but they certainly didn’t know each other well enough to be friends. (Or, he seemed quite sure they were not—and judging by the man’s insecure mannerisms, he saw no evidence of any relationship outside the office. He certainly hoped there wasn’t.)
“Yes, well … I’ll consider it and get back to you,” Mycroft said, wondering what he was agreeing to. The man didn’t seem overly complex, it shouldn’t be too hard, right?
“Excuse me.” Anthea was standing at the door, a polite smile on her face. “Your 10:30 phone call is on the line, sir.”
Phone call? He didn’t remember seeing one on his schedule … but, of course. She was helping to get rid of Porter, like a good assistant. “Yes, of course. If you’ll excuse me, Porter?”
“Of course, sir,” the man said, practically darting for the door, where he tried to get past Anthea without knocking her over, laughing nervously. “So sorry, my fault, silly of me…”
“It’s no trouble,” she told him. “It could happen to anyone.” Only Mycroft saw the slight eyeroll at the absurdity of a grown man unable to walk through a doorway without embarrassing himself.
“He seems nervous,” Mycroft commented.
“Not that that’s unusual,” she said, “Interpersonal skills have never been his strong point. I beg your pardon, though. I seem to have misplaced that call. Perhaps you’d like to spend your time on these files instead?”
She really was the perfect assistant, Mycroft thought. He was so lucky not to have frightened her off—he could remember a string of PAs before her that had not worked out and here it was, almost six years later and she was still here. Amazing.
And, despite his headache, he had a smile on his face as he bent to his work.
“Yes?” John asked, fumbling his phone as he tried to swipe his card at the chip-and-pin machine. If he never saw one of these again he would be pleased indeed, he thought. No wonder Sherlock refuses to do the shopping. “Who’s this?”
“Anthea,” came the smooth voice. “I’m a little worried about Mr Holmes.”
Suddenly groceries weren’t important. “What? Why? What’s wrong?”
“He’s been very quiet since lunch and keeps rubbing his head. And…”
“He seems … distracted. As if he can’t quite gather his thoughts.”
Christ, thought John. For Mycroft Holmes, that was almost as ominous as lying in a pool of blood. “I’ll be right there,” he told her, as he stuffed the phone back in his pocket. He stared at his shopping, considering, and then abandoned it with a short “Sorry!” tossed over his shoulder as he hurried out of the shop. For once, he was grateful that he had so much trouble with that damned machine—at least he hadn’t actually paid for his abandoned food.
John stepped through the door, Anthea hovering just behind him. He could see why she was concerned. Mycroft was just sitting, staring out of the window as he absently rubbed at his temple. He looked nothing like the alert, dapper businessman who had left for the office earlier. Instead, he looked almost lost.
“Mycroft? How are you feeling?” John asked, approaching the man slowly, concerned.
“What? Oh, John…” Mycroft sounded like he hadn’t even heard him come in.
John observed the pale skin and slightly dazed look and gave a brief nod. “Right. You’re done for the day. Doctor’s orders.”
“No, I can’t leave yet,” Mycroft said, gaze sharpening. “I haven’t learned anything yet.”
“You’ve been here six hours, your colour is bad, and you look exhausted. It can wait another day, Mycroft.”
Mycroft shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. It’s not that I haven’t found anything—it’s that there’s nothing to find. Everything I work on is sensitive, of course, to some degree or other, but there is nothing in my notes, on my schedule, in the files that would warrant an attack—and certainly nothing which I would have carried with me on a flash drive. That is an enormous security risk.”
“Like the Bruce-Partington plans, I know,” John said with a nod. “But if what you say is true, that’s all the more reason for you to go home. You shouldn’t push yourself too far on your first day. The mystery will still be here tomorrow.”
Mycroft levelled a look in his direction, but John didn’t flinch. After the army, Moriarty, and living with Sherlock, one Holmes stare was much like another. “Indeed, and getting colder all the time. I’m not ready to leave, John.”
John looked at the man, measuring his determination against the physical signs of stress. He didn’t quite look like he was going to keel over in the next few minutes, but he was near the edge—though that edge seemed more emotional than physical. He tilted his head, considering what he knew of amnesia. What he knew of the process of recovery of lost memories was more anecdotal than scientific, but it looked like Mycroft was right on the cusp of recovering … something, he was practically straining with it, fighting to pull it forward, even if he wasn’t consciously aware of it.
“Okay,” he said finally, “I’ll give you an hour, and then I’m taking you home. Sherlock will never forgive me if I let you work yourself into exhaustion.”
Mycroft was already looking back at the window. “I doubt he would care that much.”
John met his eyes in the reflection. “I think we both know better than that, don’t we? More people care about you than you realize, Mycroft. One hour.”
He gave one more nod and then walked back to where Anthea lingered, worried, by the door. “He insists he’s not ready to leave yet, and he has the same look Sherlock gets when he’s right on the edge of figuring something out, so I gave him an hour.”
Her eyes flickered, but he wasn’t sure with what, and then she said, “I’ll get you some tea for while you wait.”
He thanked her and pulled out his phone.
—Thought you should know Anthea called me. I’m bringing your brother home soon. JW
—Did he learn anything? SH
—Says not, insists on another hour, but he looks exhausted. Not good to push on his first day. JW
—Not good to leave his attacker free, either. SH
—No, but your brother collapsing won’t help anyone. How’s it going on your end? JW
—Frustratingly vague. Apparently no-one saw a thing. The police report is useless. SH
—That’s what you always say. JW
—Oh, by the way, I had to abandon the shopping to come get Mycroft. We need milk. JW
—Don’t we always? SH
“More people care about you than you realize, Mycroft.”
For some reason, John’s statement echoed in Mycroft’s ears, but he wasn’t sure why. He stared out the window, watching a double-decker bus pass in the distance. Hadn’t they just established this last night? That, contrary to all expectations, his brother did care about him (no matter how well he had always hidden it)?
Or perhaps John meant that he cared, too? He supposed that was possible. Friends did show an interest in family members, didn’t they? If only in so much as they affected the friend’s well-being?
Still, he had seen honest concern in John’s eyes—and while the man might be a doctor, Mycroft knew the difference between professional interest and personal concern. For that matter, Anthea had seemed legitimately concerned, as well.
Which only made sense, he thought. They had worked together for six years now—even if he could only remember one of them. He liked to think he was a considerate boss. He was demanding as to accuracy and efficiency, but he had always been willing to allow a certain leeway as regards hours and responsibilities when the situation required—never demanding more than he required of himself.
Still, there was something about the concern in Anthea’s eyes that … affected him. He told himself not to be ridiculous, that it was just the regard of a long-time co-worker for a boss who had been injured. Nothing more. Porter had expressed concern, too, even if he had been more focused on his own issue.
And Mycroft wondered what that could have been. Had it been work-related, he would have put it in writing, wouldn’t he? Or been willing to resubmit his case to his harried boss instead of looking too embarrassed to restate it? But would a young man like Porter come to him for personal advice? It seemed unlikely in the extreme. Yet another mystery to add to his plate.
He blinked as a yellow car passed in the distance, something about a game called Yellow Car, tickling at his memory.
Was it a memory? Yes, he thought, recalling Anthea’s amused voice explaining, “You’re always playing Yellow Car,” and then felt frustrated. Why could he remember that piece of utter frivolity, but not the cause of his attack? Not anything important?
He was still rubbing his temple, he realized, and forced his hand down to the rest on the arm of the chair. Why wouldn’t this headache leave him alone? He understood the physiological ramifications of a severe blow to the head, but it had been two days now. Surely that was enough time for the healing to have begun?
The door opened quietly behind him. “Sir?” Anthea’s voice was gentle as she walked quietly into the room, bringing a whiff of her fragrance with her. (Chanel Number 5, he remembered. He had always appreciated that she preferred the classic perfume rather than something newer or trendier.) “You look tired, sir.”
He blinked up at her, feeling overwhelmed by his headache. “I am. Perhaps you are right. I’m not accomplishing anything here.”
A relieved smile crossed her face. “I’ll tell Dr Watson. Shall I check on you later?”
He noted the way her voice tensed at the end and gave her a careful nod. “Of course,” was all he said, but he couldn’t help the feeling of warmth at her words. It wasn’t just because it was her job that she asked, he thought. It was because she cared.
Mycroft looked at his desk, trying to decide if he needed to bring any of this home with him as John Watson walked in. “No,” the man said. “If you need any of that, Anthea can bring it over later. Right now, though, you’re going home to rest. Paperwork will just get in the way.”
“No, Mycroft. You look like hell, and you need some sleep. Come on. Anthea called your car.”
Mycroft opened his mouth to protest, but let it fall closed without saying anything. It was true. He felt like hell, and all he wanted to do at this moment was close his eyes and let the questions, the mysteries, fade into the background for a time—at least long enough for the pounding in his head to go away. Perhaps he had tried to do too much today?
He took his coat and umbrella from Anthea and walked down the hall toward the lift, passing Porter’s desk on the way. He paused. “I’ll consider your request, Porter, and let you know,” he said as John pressed the call button up ahead. He turned back to look at Anthea, watching with a look of concern on her face. He really did have good people, he thought as Porter told him to feel better as he continued down the hall.
John was quiet on the ride down the lift, and did not try to fill the time in the car with idle chatter. Mycroft found his staunch silence a comfort as he sat exuding strength and competence without intruding on his really quite bad headache. “You must be a good doctor,” he said at one point.
“Because I know not to talk to a Holmes with a headache? That really just speaks to my survival instincts, Mycroft, but thank you. You’ll be relieved to know that I am, in fact, a very good doctor, even if neurology isn’t my specialty.”
“I’d imagine you saw a number of brain injuries in Afghanistan, though,” Mycroft said.
“Too many,” said John, “Compared to many of those, though, you’re doing just fine, you know. I’m a bit concerned that the headache is still this bad, but it’s too early to really worry.”
Mycroft pressed his head back against the headrest, trying to ease or shift the pressure inside his skull. “Not as comforting as it might be.”
“No, I’d imagine it’s not. You’re almost home, though, and a nap will do you good.”
“I feel like I’m sleeping my life away,” Mycroft said, protesting.
“Sleeping away the pain,” John corrected him. “Your life will still be here waiting for you when you wake up.”
Mycroft gave a small laugh. “I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.,” he said, wincing at the bitterness in his voice.
He heard the rustle of fabric as John turned his head, but Mycroft refused to look at him, but instead just sat back and let the world slide away under the tires.
“Anthea. Where’s my brother?”
“I sent him home early with John. He had been fighting a headache all morning, and it’s almost impossible to make him stop, so I called in reinforcements.”
“Yes, John texted that he was here. You say they left already?”
“About half an hour ago, why?”
“John’s not answering his phone.”
“But why … that’s odd.”
“Porter’s not at his desk.”
“Just … I don’t think I realized he still worked for Mycroft.”
“He’s been here almost as long as I have. In fact, he was the one who…”
“…Who spotted my overdose five years ago?”
“Yes. I always suspected that was why My… er … Mr Holmes kept him on his team.”
“Sentiment. There had to be more than that.”
“If you’re trying to imply that he’s been blackmailing Mr Holmes…”
“No, nothing as strong as that. From what I remember, he’s a fairly ineffectual little man, though presumably competent enough at his job, as he’s still there?”
“Yes, just barely enough…. He was working late the other night, too.”
“Was he? See if you can reach either him or Mycroft. I’m on my way to the house.”
“Are you kidding? I’ll meet you there.”
Back at Mycroft’s, John walked the man to the kitchen and handed him two pills and waited while he took them before heading to the counter to make tea. “Some tea to relax you, and then I want you to go lie down and give the meds a chance against that headache.”
“Like you said, it’s most likely that I did too much this morning,” Mycroft said, sitting gratefully at the table while John assembled tea things.
“Very possible,” said the doctor, “Or it could be a sign of something more serious—though I’m not that worried yet. Hopefully some rest will do you good. You don’t even have to sleep, but lying with your eyes closed should do wonders. And the tea, of course.”
He watched Mycroft force a smile. “Sherlock said you like your tea.”
“I’m British,” said John, pouring the water. “It’s in my DNA.”
Fifteen minutes later, he sent Mycroft to his study to lie down and then settled himself in the living room with the book he’d been reading the other night. Mycroft’s house was more formal than he liked, but he had to give the man credit for picking truly comfortable chairs, he thought, as he sipped at his own tea.
He had just started a new chapter when the doorbell rang. He peered at the security display and, recognizing one of the people from Mycroft’s office, answered the door.
“It’s Samuel Porter. I brought some things for Mr Holmes,” the man said, gesturing at his briefcase.
“That was fast,” John said, stepping back. “Anthea said she’d send some things along later, but we thought it was best for him to rest a while.”
“Oh. Well, this will just take a minute. He was supposed to be working on a problem for me, and I didn’t feel right asking him about it at the office.”
John kept his face neutral, but the hair at the back of his neck was prickling. Something about this young man didn’t feel right. “I know how that is,” he said, keeping his voice light. “I can’t count the number of conversations I wish I’d been able to have in private with his brother.”
He wondered if he could stall Porter long enough to get to Mycroft … because there was something that wasn’t sitting right about him. He looked nervous—more than being in his boss’s house would account for—and the hands holding the briefcase were damp, fidgeting, continually adjusting their grip. John kept the genial, friendly look on his face, though, as he gestured toward the living room. “I know he was going to take a nap, but I don’t think he’s gotten that far yet. Why don’t you wait in the living room while I go see?”
“I don’t think so.”
John looked back, startled at the sudden decision in his voice, and then froze as he stared at the visitor.
Because Porter had not been holding that gun a moment ago.
“What … what are you doing?” John asked with a quaver in his voice as he raised his hands, trying to look as unthreatening as possible.
“Just step back, Dr Watson. I don’t want to hurt you,” Porter said, holding the gun steady with both hands as he looked into the living room. “Where is he?”
As the man peered through the door, John carefully pulled his phone from his pocket, hitting speed dial 3 and then hitting the mute button. Mycroft was supposed to be asleep in the study, and there was no way he was leading a man with a gun his way, but he needed to alert the man somehow.
And so, as he slid the phone back into his jeans, he glanced up the stairs, licking his lips before saying, “I told you. Mycroft was going for a nap. What do you want? Because if you’re here about a raise, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the best way to go about it.”
“It’s not about money, Dr Watson,” Porter told him, looking mildly offended as he gestured up the stairs with the gun. “Lead the way.”
John gave a hesitant nod, mind working furiously as he tried to remember the layout of the upstairs. He had slept in the guest room that first night, but otherwise, wasn’t sure where the multitude of doors went. The only thing he was sure of was that Mycroft was downstairs in his study, so leading the lunatic with a gun upstairs would keep his patient safe. Or, well, safer, anyway.
He thought furiously, trying to find a tactical advantage to any of the doorways upstairs. There were no alcoves he could suddenly twist into, no decorative chairs to ‘accidentally’ trip over. He couldn’t even risk walking heavily to alert Mycroft as to their whereabouts. Porter had seemed nervous earlier, but now that he had taken action, that had dropped away—superficially at least. Maybe he wasn’t as confident as he pretended? “So, you’re the one who attacked Mycroft the other night?” John asked as they climbed the stairs.
Porter’s gun nudged his ribs. “Don’t be stupid, Dr Watson. I don’t want to have to kill you, too.”
John paused mid-flight. “Kill?”
“Damn it.” There was actual remorse in the younger man’s voice. “You weren’t supposed to be involved—only Holmes—but his head is obviously harder than I thought, and it’s too dangerous…. He tried to pretend he didn’t know this morning, but I know it was just a bluff. This is my only chance to take care of … all this. All you need to do is take me to the right door and then I’ll knock you out. I don’t want to hurt you—you’ve been too good for Sherlock.”
“Sherlock?” John was surprised. What did Sherlock have to do with this? “You know Sherlock?”
“In a manner of speaking. I knew him in Uni and I was the one who saved his life when he overdosed five years ago. His big brother was so grateful, he kept me around to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t easy, either. Well, you know how demanding he is—both of them. And don’t think it hasn’t been useful, working for him. My father’s been impressed with me for the first time in, well, ever, and there are perqs…”
“Such as?” John asked, pausing to lean against the wall, rubbing his leg. “Sorry. My leg still acts up sometimes, especially on stairs, and I left my cane back at the flat.”
“You still have that?” Porter sounded surprised. “I thought you’d stopped using it a year ago.”
John tried not to think about how odd this conversation was, with this oddly concerned man with a gun. He just hoped Mycroft was listening and had called the police while John stalled. “It’s a PTSD thing I really have no control over. Most of the time it’s fine, and then sometimes … it’s not. Your gun probably isn’t helping matters. But please, don’t let me slow you down. Feel free to go on ahead.”
“Nice try, Dr Watson, but I’ll wait.”
John nodded, trying to look as inoffensive as possible as he massaged his perfectly fine thigh. “You said there are perqs, working for Mycroft? I’d imagine it’s helpful getting a paycheck, for one, which is more than I get for chasing after Sherlock.”
The man gave a tight smile. “Yes. The company is good, too, even if Mr Holmes doesn’t appreciate her properly.”
He didn’t seem to realize he’d slipped, thought John, who asked, “Her?”
But the man’s face had shut down and he waved his gun. “You’ve rested long enough. Go on—quietly.”
Limping, John continued up the stairs. He only knew of one woman who had lasted in Mycroft’s office … though, to be fair, his knowledge of Mycroft’s workplace was extremely limited. “You mean Anthea, don’t you? Or, at least, that’s what she told me to call her. She’s never bothered to tell me her real name. I’d imagine having her around helps brighten the day, yeah?”
“When she’s not with Mr Holmes, yes. We’re both busy, of course, but she’s so friendly.” Porter’s voice was fond and John couldn’t help thinking they were talking about two entirely different people. Anthea had never seemed particularly friendly to him. “But then things changed.”
“Oh? What things?” John asked, as they reached the top of the stairs and he hurriedly scanned the available doors, choosing to pick the one furthest down the hallway.
“Mr Holmes, of course,” and now he could hear hatred in Porter’s voice. “As if it weren’t bad enough that he takes all her time professionally—and don’t get me wrong, I understand that. I do. But when he started making advances … that’s just not right.”
John came to a halt, stunned. “No, that’s just not possible. Mycroft would never…”
“But he did!” For a moment, Porter’s focus had left John and the gun sight circled as he waved his arms. John watched, waiting his chance to dive in under his guard. “They were having an affair, and … that’s just inappropriate. How could he do that? Use his power to … to make her…”
“But,” John said, “He wouldn’t do that. I mean, neither of them is married, so there’s nothing wrong with…”
“You’ve never heard of sexual harassment in the workplace, Dr Watson? Of course he was forcing her. Why else would she … when I…”
“When you wanted her yourself.”
Foggy with sleep, Mycroft answered his phone. “John? The house isn’t that big, is it? You didn’t need to call. John?”
Through the phone he heard a rustling noise and the sound of a muffled voice, but not John’s. “It’s not about money, Dr Watson. Lead the way.” Mycroft knew that voice. Porter, from the office, who had stood so uncertainly in front of his desk this morning. What was he doing here?
He was on his feet now, ignoring his headache as he listened hard through the phone as he quietly padded over to his desk.
“You weren’t supposed to be involved—only Holmes—but his head is obviously harder than I thought, and it’s too dangerous…”
Mycroft paused, hand on the drawer handle, stunned. Porter had been the one to attack him? But why? He’d been more generous to the boy than his performance reviews warranted, due to a frankly sentimental appreciation for his efforts at looking after Sherlock both during and after University (not that Sherlock knew that). What reason could he possibly have for wanting to kill him? He was far too ineffectual to be a tempting target for enemy coercion, and surely no foreign intelligence agency would be interested in recruiting him. Or was his nervous persona merely a pose? No, Mycroft thought, he simply couldn’t be that good.
His hand hovered over his alarm button, but hesitated. Was Porter on the list of people who would receive a security alert? (Damn this amnesia!) He daren’t risk it, he decided, but taking a page from John’s book sent a quick text alert to Sherlock, hoping his brother wasn’t going to overreact, but there really wasn’t any more time to consider.
He listened to the man prodding John forward with a gun and wondered where they were. He couldn’t hear anything in the hallway outside his door, and … ah. John mentioned stairs. He was leading the man away from him. Why would he do that? It just put his own life at risk. But he had been an army doctor—protecting people at the risk to his own life was what he did. In fact, it probably explained a lot about how he had survived Sherlock all these months.
It was unacceptable, though. He had watched his brother laughing (laughing!) with this man, and if he let anything happen to John Watson, Sherlock would never forgive him.
It was possible he wouldn’t forgive himself.
Quietly, he left the room and, listening to the voices coming from the stairs, headed toward the back of the house. He made his way through the dark kitchen to the backstairs and, mindful of the squeaks on the fourth and seventh steps, crept upstairs.
He almost dropped his own gun when he heard Porter accuse him of an inappropriate relationship with Anthea. How could … he would never do that!
True, Mycroft had lost his memory of the last five years, but he knew the kind of man he was, and he was quite sure that he had never pressed his advances without Anthea’s consent and encouragement. For that matter, he wasn’t sure that he had pressed anything at all. He had no memory of any of this … though that, of course, was the entire problem.
He was confident that Porter had gotten the wrong end of the stick as regards harassment, so who was to say he wasn’t mistaken about all of it? That he wasn’t misconstruing a perfectly proper business relationship (no matter how long the hours) because of his own jealous regard? Because, surely Mycroft would remember if … if ..
He had a sudden flash of a tumble of dark hair, a soft laugh. A whiff of Chanel Number Five.
Had he and Anthea progressed their relationship beyond the purely professional?
Had he … forced her? Pressured her, however inadvertently? He was her employer. No matter how he might have expressed himself, she still could have felt obligated …
He felt nauseated at the thought. Blindly, he put his hand out against the wall, fighting to keep his balance as he fought against the sick feeling rising up from his gut. He couldn’t have … couldn’t remember. Surely he valued Anthea too much as an assistant, as a person to have coerced her? He wasn’t that kind of man.
But that was the problem. He knew with utter confidence that he hadn’t been five years ago, but … what if he had changed? What if he had become the power-hungry kind of monster he had always hated, abusing their positions simply because they could, rather than working for Right. The kind of man Porter was accusing him of becoming?
Mycroft could hear Sherlock’s voice in his head, echoing from a distance. “Just leave me alone, Mycroft! You can’t control my life!
He felt his knees hit the steps as his head exploded with pain. All thought of Porter or John left him as he was swamped with a flood of memories—means of control over his little brother. Abuses of power. Bribing other children to play with him. Paying dealers to ignore him (not that they ever did, not for money, anyway). Using every resource in his power to watch him, to keep him safe, regardless of any desire his brother had for privacy, regardless of his pleas to just let him live his own life for God’s sake, Mycroft.
He had a sudden memory of an empty warehouse, facing a stubborn, straight-backed doctor who resisted every coercion Mycroft could come up with. He remembered his own desperation as the conversation progressed as every intimidation tactic he had came up empty. Then like a movie fast-forwarding, there were pictures and sounds streaming through his mind—Sherlock standing with an orange blanket, Sherlock laughing with John. Images of Sherlock helping a concussed John home after the Chinese Tong case. The way they had clung together after the affair with Moriarty in the Pool, and dozens more.
He could remember … could remember … the burning jealousy at knowing his brother didn’t need him anymore … the doubt that he ever had. He knew exactly how it had felt when he realized that any responsibility he had had to keep his brother safe was no longer his concern, because his brother had finally found someone his own power could not touch. A friend.
It was true, he thought, with what little part of his brain could still summon coherent thought. He had abused his power—certainly where Sherlock was concerned. This constant interference with his life might have started from the need to protect a too-vulnerable little brother, but it had escalated to a measure of control that frankly made him feel ill.
Literally, because his stomach was roiling from the pains shooting through his head. No wonder Porter wanted to kill him. He was obviously a monster. If he had treated his own brother this way … what must he have done to Anthea?
John walked down the hall, still trying to think of a way to get the gun away from Porter. He wondered if Mycroft had had sense enough to leave the house while he could, if he had called the police, or his minions. It would be helpful to know if he and Porter were the only ones left in the house, if help was coming, but he was determined to take care of this now, somehow, without giving the gunman a chance to go after Mycroft. He wouldn’t risk walking danger to anyone’s door.
So it was with a sense of horror that he heard a thump and a groan at the end of the hallway. He could see Mycroft at the top of the stairs, head pressed into the carpet. What had happened?
Without a thought to the man behind him with a gun, John ran forward. “Mycroft! What’s wrong?”
Frantically, he took in the pale face, gleaming with the sheen of sweat. Unfocused eyes, staring at nothing as Mycroft’s hands gripped his head, groaning softly to himself. Christ, the man was going into shock, thought John, as he ran his hands over him, trying to see if there was a wound, an injury, or … He took another look at the man’s face and realized—his entire focus was internal. John knew this look—had seen it (without the shock and trauma) on Sherlock’s face when he visited his Mind Palace.
Mycroft’s memories were coming back.
Or so John hoped. From what he knew, the flood of returning memories could be overwhelming, even for a mind like Mycroft’s. (That would account for the shock, he hoped.) Judging by the way the poor man was holding his head, reconnecting synapses was a painful ordeal, and as happy as John was to see it happening, the timing was terrible.
All this ran through his mind in seconds, and then a quiet voice behind him asked, “What’s wrong with him?”
“After effect of the concussion you gave him,” John said, supporting Mycroft’s shoulders as the man gasped into the carpet, shuddering.
“Step aside, Dr Watson.”
John looked back at Porter and his steady gun. “No.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, Dr Watson.”
“Maybe not, but it’s the only way you’re going to get to him. I was an army doctor, remember? I don’t let men with guns near my patients … especially when they’re friends.”
Mycroft stirred behind him. “Friends?” he asked weakly.
John was crouching at the top of the stairs now, shielding Mycroft with his body. He didn’t turn his head back toward Mycroft, but he rested a steady hand on the man’s shoulder. “Something like that, when you’re not busy kidnapping me to empty warehouses. Maybe more like family, but that doesn’t matter right now. I’m not stepping aside, Porter. It’s not happening. Instead, why don’t you tell Mycroft why you’re so upset? Maybe he can explain?”
It was a risk, he knew. Maybe Mycroft’s memories were as lost as ever. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to get past the pain to help reason his way out of this. But stalling Porter by getting him to talk, buying the time to figure a way out of this, was the best he could do.
If worse came to worst, he would push Mycroft back down the stairs and tackle Porter himself.
“I told you, Dr Watson. He forced himself on a woman I very much admire, and that simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
“If that’s true, I agree with you,” John said. “But not by killing him. There are better ways to handle that—wouldn’t it be better to bring it to the public’s attention? The papers would be scandalized, his career would be over. Wouldn’t that make him suffer more?”
He refused to look down at Mycroft, but he felt the man’s breaths coming quick but steady. There was no jolt of guilt at the accusation, but with the amnesia, that didn’t necessarily mean anything.
“Not necessarily, Dr Watson,” Porter said. “You know what kind of power he has. He would weasel out of any accusation—if he didn’t block the stories in the first place. You know he would. This is the only way. Now, step aside.”
John just shook his head. That was so not happening. “I can’t do that. This isn’t the way to handle this.”
Porter’s face was a mask as he gave a nod, shifted his aim, and fired.
Mycroft knelt at the top of the stairs, head pounding as it was flooded with five years’ worth of memories. He was drowning in them, lost and floundering at the torrent of information as the contusion behind his ear burned and throbbed. He didn’t remember ever feeling this kind of pain before.
And then, as he struggled to find his footing, to find his way through the images flashing behind his eyelids … a lifeline.
“Mycroft? What’s wrong?”
John, he thought, feeling the warm hands on his shoulders, steadying him, anchoring him and helping him keep from being tumbled away by the rush of new (old) knowledge in his head. Dr John Hamish Watson, retired Captain, RAMC. Sherlock’s flatmate and unprecedented best friend. Yes, he remembered John, and his presence reassured him even while it worried him.
Worried him? Why would … and then he heard Porter’s voice, telling John to move, and Mycroft remembered why he was here—remembered that both he and John were in mortal danger.
“I don’t let men with guns near my patients … especially when they’re friends,” John was saying, voice calm but steadfast.
Mycroft blinked, caught by the word. When had John begun thinking of him as … “Friends?” he asked. Surely that wasn’t true. He really did remember now, how John seemed to suffer him merely for Sherlock’s sake … and how Sherlock didn’t suffer his presence at all. That memory was like a blow, that his relationship with his brother really had not improved these last five years.
But John was telling him that he was like family, and Mycroft was caught in an eddy of confusion as he pondered that. Family to him had always meant obligation and duty, not affection. He further knew how little contact John had with his sister. (Harry, short for Harriet, divorced, alcoholic, and really, it was such a relief to be able to remember these things). Did that mean he considered Mycroft an obligation, too?
Or, no, his tone of voice had been steely and determined, but there was affection there, as well, and Mycroft remembered the almost family-like bonds between Sherlock, John, and Mrs Hudson—family they’d chosen, rather than family they’d been born to. Apparently he was included in John’s, and he felt incredibly touched.
He shook his head again, trying to clear it, to focus on the conversation between John and Porter. He had had no idea that Porter was attracted to Anthea. How had he missed that? What he did know, though, was that nothing inappropriate had occurred between him and Anthea. Their affection … no, love … had been … was sincere.
He started to lift his head, ready to enter into this oh-so-important conversation when Porter raised his gun and fired.
The sound of the shot was so loud in the hallway, for a moment John’s overwhelmed ears held his attention as images of sand blew in behind his eyes.
And then his leg raised its own complaints as it registered the burning trail of a bullet along the thigh.
He looked down in quick assessment—just a graze—and then glanced back at Mycroft, making sure the bullet hadn’t gotten both of them. He turned back to Porter. Now that he had actually fired, drawn blood, he was looking unsure of himself. “That… that was just a warning. Now, get out of the way.”
John pressed his hand over the wound and shook his head, fighting to stay on his knees, blocking his line of fire to Mycroft. “I can’t do that. My commanding officer would have a field day with such a dereliction of duty. I can’t let you do this. You’re better than this, it’s obvious. You’re not a killer, Porter.”
“But he deserves it.”
“No, he doesn’t,” John told him gently. “Even if he’s guilty, it’s not worth you becoming a killer.”
“But he … he misused his power … with Anthea.” The pain in his voice made John want to close his eyes in sympathy … but then, he wasn’t feeling nearly as sympathetic as he had been before the man shot him.
“From what I know of Anthea, she wouldn’t let anyone convince her to do anything she didn’t want to do,” he said.
“No, she wouldn’t … and she didn’t.” Mycroft’s voice was firm as he reached forward to hand a handkerchief to John, who gratefully pressed it against the furrow running across his leg. “There is nothing inappropriate in our relationship, Porter. We have both been very careful not to let our professional responsibilities colour our personal relationship. I assure you, there is nothing for you to be upset about.”
“That’s not true.” Porter’s voice was adamant, yet with a vulnerability underneath.
Despite the shuddering working up his leg now, John was even warier now. The more uncertain the man became, the more of a risk he was. Porter was reacting emotionally, which made him a wild card—one who had fired his gun once already.
Anything could happen, he thought, and he had no way of protecting Mycroft … and was rapidly becoming a liability himself as his leg began to wobble. He would have a real limp for a while, he thought, assuming they got out of this.
He was unarmed, wounded, and had no way to protect the man behind him.
Then John’s leg went out from under him, leaving him sprawled at the top of the steps, leaving Mycroft open to any shot fired by this man who had come to kill him—and there was nothing he could do about any of it.
Until Mycroft leaned forward to check John’s wound and surreptitiously slid a gun into his hand before standing up to face his attacker.
Mycroft jumped as the gun fired. He hadn’t realized how loud that would be, never having heard one fired in such a confined space. He had gone on shoots in the country, and had trained with his own firearm in a shooting range with proper ear protection, but he had never heard one go off indoors, just a few feet away. The very shock of it made him jump.
He saw John’s hand automatically clamp down on the red score on his thigh as he looked back, eyes quickly assessing Mycroft’s condition. He marvelled as the man refused to move—refused even to sit down to ease the injured leg.
Feeling overwhelmed was something new for Mycroft Holmes, and he was not enjoying the experience at all. He was used to being in control, holding all the cards, and this week, he had lost all of that.
He had never had a gun pointed at him before, either (unless one counted Sherlock), nor seen anyone shot while protecting him.
It was not an experience he wished to repeat.
Mycroft remained uncharacteristically silent as John stood fast, refusing to yield his position. He was still busy synthesising the immense download of memories as he listened to Porter’s accusations.
The stalwart man in front of him, though, was beginning to crumble, and Mycroft had had enough. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket but did not watch as John tried to staunch the blood. He was too busy focusing on Porter, marvelling at his conviction that Mycroft was capable—was guilty—of forcing himself on his unwilling assistant.
It was almost a relief, now, that Mycroft remembered that this was untrue.
He also remembered what he had had in his pocket when he was attacked.
Leaning forward, he braced his hands on the top step, watching as John’s leg failed him despite his best efforts to remain upright. With his memories restored, he wasn’t surprised—nothing short of complete physical betrayal or being massively outnumbered would make John Watson fail to protect anything he wanted to defend.
Which is why, as he covered his actions, Mycroft slid his gun into John’s hand, the one Porter couldn’t see. He knew he could trust John to use the weapon wisely—and, even wounded, he was confident in his marksmanship. More, he respected his need to defend.
But he must also defend himself, Mycroft thought, as he rose to his feet, still on the staircase. “I promise you, Porter. I’ve done nothing wrong as regards Anthea, and I think you know that.”
“No,” the man shook his head.
“Yes,” Mycroft said, keeping his voice firm and his eyes steady. “You know that, far from doing anything inappropriate, I love her. Even if you did not know that before the attack, you know it now—because of what you found in my pocket.”
Porter’s hands were beginning to shake now. “That doesn’t mean anything. You could have just been worried about appearances.”
Mycroft almost laughed. “Believe me, Porter, I don’t need a wife so badly that I would propose solely for appearances. I bought that ring because I love her and I believe she feels the same way about me.”
He heard a gasp from somewhere down the hall, around the blind corner, but he saw Porter flinch at the sound.
The gunman turned his head, face twisted in confusion. “No, she couldn’t … you couldn’t…”
“But I do, Samuel,” Mycroft heard Anthea say as John tried to pull himself up to sit against the wall, hand shifting on the grip of the gun. “I love him. Please don’t hurt him.”
Mycroft heard a hiss of breath behind him and felt a surge of warmth as he realized Sherlock was at his back—and for once in their adult lives, felt confident that was true in every sense of the word.
“But I watched him,” Porter said, voice infused with pain. “He barely spoke to you today, as if you meant nothing to him.”
“That’s true,” Mycroft said, “But it wasn’t my fault. My memory was compromised by your original attack. I didn’t remember anything from the last five years—including my relationship with Anthea. I had no idea how I usually acted around her, and her own behaviour was off, too, because she was trying to act as if the last five years hadn’t happened—only, unlike me, she could remember them.”
“You … couldn’t remember?”
“No, apparently you’re quite good at bashing people on the head. What I couldn’t figure was why I had lost so much. It’s not uncommon to forget the minutes or hours prior to a severe concussion, but I lost five years—to the day Sherlock almost died of that overdose in 2006. I’m sure you remember it.”
“Yes, but why…?”
“Because that was the day I became beholden to you, Porter. You saved my brother’s life. Apparently when you attacked me the other night, my brain decided to reset back to that moment, the moment when I chose to keep you on staff.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Porter said, voice edging up toward a scream.
Mycroft just watched. “But it does. I obviously knew it was you who attacked me, and subconsciously was trying to give myself a chance to change that—to make sure it didn’t happen.”
“No.” Porter just looked confused now, and the hand holding the gun shook worse than John’s ever had. “I’m just trying to protect Anthea. You’ve never appreciated her like you should.”
“Yes he did, Samuel,” Anthea’s soft voice came the hallway around the corner. “He always has, or I wouldn’t have stayed with him. Hasn’t he been a good boss?”
Mycroft hated being in this position—blind, unable to see her. If he was going to die here, he’d really like to see Anthea one last time, especially now that he remembered how much he did, truly, love her. Although he supposed he’d rather she not see him gunned down, so perhaps being in this back stair hidden around a corner wasn’t such a bad thing. He mustn’t be selfish.
“That’s not the point,” Porter’s voice was tight with strain now. “Bosses don’t sleep with their employees! It’s wrong, it’s perverted. He should be ashamed of himself, but he’s not. He just goes about his business as if everything is normal, when he can’t possibly appreciate you properly.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Yes, he does.”
Mycroft hid a smile as they spoke at the same time. This was exactly why their relationship worked so well—he and Anthea finished each other’s sentences far too often for it to be a fluke.
“But he can’t…” Porter’s shoulders fell and he suddenly looked lost.
“He does. I promise you, Samuel. There’s nothing inappropriate. I can’t thank you enough for being so concerned about me, but I promise, there’s no need.” Anthea’s voice was soothing and Porter’s arm began to drop.
For a minute, Mycroft thought everything was going to be fine, and then Porter’s face screwed tight and he said, voice broken, “No,” as his arm came up to aim … at Anthea.
“No!” Mycroft shouted, and began to lunge forward only to be grabbed from behind. Sherlock! What was he doing? The sense of betrayal was enormous … until he saw John, raising his gun and firing.
Mycroft blinked at the realization that, had he completed his lunge forward, he would have either been shot himself or blocked John’s shot. But then the grip on his arm was gone and he was hurtling forward, pausing only to kick Porter’s gun out of the way as he hurried forward to take Anthea in his arms.
“Are you all right?”
She nodded, arms gripping tight for a moment before looking past him. Porter was groaning on the floor, huddled around his bloody hand. Beyond them, Sherlock was leaning over John and sending death-ray stares at Porter.
“John? Are you all right?” Mycroft called over the wave of guilt he felt at his being shot for Mycroft’s sake.
From his place against the wall, John nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine,” he said. “How’s Porter? Have you got a first aid kit, Mycroft?”
“Who cares about him?” Sherlock asked bluntly, voice disbelieving. “He shot you, John.”
John was already starting to pull himself along the floor toward the groaning man, dragging his injured leg. “I know that, Sherlock, but he also deliberately did as little damage as he could. And anyway, I’m a doctor, not a judge. I’m not going to let him bleed out if I can help it.”
Mycroft took a moment to relish the look of disbelief on Sherlock’s face and then pulled away to dash into the bathroom, returning with his first aid kit. “I’m sure there’s help on the way, John. You don’t have to…”
“Yes, I do, Mycroft,” John snapped at him, practically grabbing the box from his hands and wincing as he tried to turn toward his patient without jarring his leg. “How are you? Okay? Headache?”
“I’m fine, John.”
John snorted. “Typical Holmesian answer. You’d say that if you were bleeding on the floor.”
Mycroft cleared his throat. “As are you.”
John glanced up, startled, and then gave a short laugh. “Okay, you’ve got me there. Occupational hazard. I’m a doctor first.” He glanced down at his leg and then turned toward Porter, pulling his wounded hand toward him. He rummaged in the first aid kit for bandages and began applying pressure.
Mycroft just stared, speechless, at the two men bleeding onto his carpet. What kind of man disregarded his own gunshot wound to care for the man who had given it—and whom he had shot in turn? He met Sherlock’s eyes for an instant, knowing that he was thinking the same thing before his brother huffed and grabbed his own roll of bandages from the kit and leaned over his friend. “Tell me what to do to keep you from bleeding out while we wait for the paramedics.”
“It’s just a graze, Sherlock. It’ll be fine,” John said, focused on Porter. “But you can hand me that bandage. This hand is worse than I thought.”
With a small smile, Mycroft turned away from the squabbling pair to see Anthea watching him with concern. “Are you all right?”
He nodded. “Better than I have been in years, I think.”
Her eyes were dark and solemn. “You forgot.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“I’m sorry.” He frowned, thinking about the last two days, the inconsistencies in her behaviour that had thrown him off. “You knew?”
“I saw your chart at the hospital. I didn’t want to add any more stress to the situation, so, I just waited to see what would happen.” She took a step closer. “But you remember now?”
“I do,” he said with a nod. “It all came back in a rush just before the gunfire broke out.”
Another step, and she placed her hand on his chest. “Yes. Please don’t do that again. Your security protocols haven’t changed that much in five years—you knew you were supposed to move away from the guns.”
“I couldn’t do that, my dear. He had John at gunpoint.”
He saw John lift his head, hands still busy. “You know, you and your brother are really too much alike.”
Sherlock sniffed. “Now, John, that’s just cruel.”
“He might have his memory back, Sherlock, but that doesn’t change anything. You two can tell yourselves you don’t care all you like, but neither Anthea or I are blind. We saw how you two worried about each other this week. We’re not idiots, you know.”
“Says the man bleeding on the floor trying to save the life of the man who shot him.”
“Doctor, remember? Though that reminds me—is somebody keeping an eye out for the ambulance?”
This WAS going to be the last chapter, but there it was, going on for about 5,000 words, with the first half being done and the second half being rough and still needing editing. And I thought--I DID leave all those nice readers with that nasty cliffhanger. Which would they prefer? Waiting for a nice, juicy long chapter? Or getting a shorter one with the most urgent questions answered? And, well, it seemed pretty obvious, so ... here you go! One chapter to go...
It was hours later, and the four of them were gathered in Mycroft’s living room. John would have preferred Baker Street, but had let Mycroft convince him to stay.
At least he had managed to avoid the hospital, insisting that his thigh only needed stitches that, damn it, he could do himself if he needed to. That, plus Sherlock’s insistence (and Mycroft’s authority), had convinced the paramedics to tend to him at the house and now he was ensconced on Mycroft’s comfortable couch with strict orders not to get up.
As much as he would have liked to have gone home to his own bed, John couldn’t help being intrigued by the way Sherlock and Mycroft were circling around each other. They were throwing off sparks like wet cats in a sack, but there was an uncertainty when they looked at each other that hadn’t been there before.
Admittedly, it had been a bizarre week for them. Mycroft’s memory gap had caused a communication vacuum that had actually forced the brothers to talk to each other. Now that Mycroft’s memory was restored, they needed to reassess, re-file, re-examine their relationship, and to do that, they needed to be in the same place, at least for a while.
John looked up to see Anthea standing, offering a cup. He took it with a smile, awkwardly shifting on the couch so he could hold it without spilling. There was something to be said for cups-and-saucers rather than just mugs, he thought as a few drops splashed into porcelain. “Thank you.”
“No, John. Thank you,” was all she said. He tried to brush it off, but she just met his eyes for a long, telling moment before turning away.
That was going to take some getting used to—the thought of Mycroft and Anthea not only in a relationship, but engaged. He had heard Mycroft sending someone to search Porter’s flat for the stolen ring, but ring or not, the question had obviously been asked and answered. The pair might not be indulging in sappy displays of affection, but Anthea had been following a little closer than usual, and Mycroft’s face was fond whenever he looked at her.
Sherlock breezed into the room and flung himself into the armchair at John’s right. “Bored.”
“Of course not, why would I kid about something like that? The case is over, John, and we’re stuck at Mycroft’s. It’s practically the definition of boring.”
“Right. It’s been at least, what, two minutes since the last person left. Of course you’re bored.” John sipped at his tea, resolutely ignoring Sherlock’s pout.
“Not just me,” Sherlock said. “You, too.”
John almost spilled his tea after all. “What? Me? Why would I … I’m too tired to be bored, Sherlock.”
His friend’s eyes were steady as he said, “Not true. You’re coming down off of an adrenalin high and that often comes with a lack of satisfaction or purpose.”
“Tomorrow, maybe,” John said with a short laugh. “But right now? Believe me, I’m more than happy to sit here and drink tea for a while. How about you, though? How are you doing now that this is over?”
“What, me? I’m fine.”
John watched the way Sherlock’s fingers picked at the rolled fabric along the arm of his chair. “Your brother was almost killed today.”
There was a pause as Sherlock’s eyes flicked down to John’s leg as his jaw tightened. “My brother was not the one who was shot.”
“Maybe not, but he was next,” John said, trying not to squirm. Had Sherlock meant that the way it sounded? It wasn’t like he had done anything helpful, just let himself be captured at gunpoint … again. And, well, yes, he supposed he’d come through at the end, but only because Mycroft had slipped him a gun. Without that, he had just been a liability. There had to have been something he could have done differently, done better, though he didn’t know what, exactly, and in the meantime, damn it, he had been shot because he hadn’t been sufficiently on guard.
Still, he’d been able to stop Porter from hurting Anthea, and that had to count for something. “Incidentally, I saw how you kept Mycroft out of my line of fire. Thanks for that, because that would have been … bad.” John took another drink, carefully placing the cup back in its saucer with a crystalline chime. “But that doesn’t change the fact that he—that both of us—were in danger. It’s normal if that bothered you.”
“I’m not bothered,” Sherlock said, eyes on the fraying chintz.
“Well, good then,” John said. “For myself, I’m glad he’s okay—and with his memories back, too. That’s a relief.”
“And engaged now, too … to Anthea, of all people,” John said, trying to suss out how Sherlock felt about this. “Or whatever her name is. Do you suppose they’ll put her real name on the wedding invitations? Assuming I’m invited, that is.”
“You just single-handedly saved the life of the groom—and the bride. I think it’s safe to say you’ll be invited—if not asked to be best man. He certainly seems to like you better than me.”
John lifted his eyebrow at the bitterness underlying Sherlock’s tone. “He hasn’t known me as long. There’s still plenty of time for him to come to dislike me for my stubbornness and refusal to rat on my best friend.”
“True,” said Sherlock, tilting his head thoughtfully.
“Not to mention that his memory is back … which means he also remembers how little he likes me. I’m just his brother’s friend; you’re his brother.”
Sherlock shifted in his chair, and John hid a smile behind his cup, letting the subject drop. As nice as it would be for this truce between the brothers to continue, he couldn’t imagine it would last much longer. He just hoped they would both remember some of the things they’d learned about each other these last two days.
Across the room, he saw Mycroft hang up his phone with a sigh and then come to take the empty chair across from Sherlock’s. Anthea handed him a cup of tea and then perched on the arm of the chair, shoulder touching Mycroft’s.
“How’s your leg, John?”
“Sore, but fine,” John said with a shrug, not wanting a big deal made of it. “How’s your head? I was worried earlier.”
Mycroft made as if to rub his temples, but then lowered his hand to entwine his fingers with Anthea’s. “Also sore, but fine. It’s the oddest feeling—all those lost memories are back, but they don’t feel quite like mine, yet, like they haven’t fully integrated.”
John was intrigued. “Probably a good night’s sleep will help with that—give your brain a chance to sort through everything that happened today.”
“I don’t know, John,” Mycroft said with a laugh. “It was really quite an eventful day. One night’s sleep might not suffice.”
Mycroft had a drink of his tea and then leaned forward to put the cup down. “My memory clearly isn’t perfect, though, because I can’t recall if I thanked you for saving Anthea’s life earlier—not to mention mine.”
“You don’t have to thank me for that, Mycroft. It was my pleasure,” John said. It was true, too. He would have preferred not being shot, but his leg would be fine, Mycroft was alive with his memory recovered, Sherlock was still being civil, and Anthea had actually looked at him as if she knew who he was for a change. And this tea really was excellent. All in all, he didn’t have any complaints.
“Nevertheless, I’m grateful.”
“Any word on Porter?” John asked.
“He should regain most of the mobility in his hand. We’ll see to it he gets the care he needs—physical and psychiatric.”
John nodded. “Good.”
“Good?” Sherlock asked, disbelief drenching his voice. “How can you say that? He tried to kill all three of you.”
“Not really,” John said, disagreeing. “And try not to sound like you’re feeling left out. He was troubled and not thinking straight—he obviously needs help, but until that last second, he hadn’t tried to kill anyone. It’s why I didn’t take a headshot.”
In his chair, Mycroft gave a nod. “I had wondered. I think I can definitely count my debt to Porter cleared now, though, which is something of a relief. I can finally get someone truly competent in that place.”
Sherlock’s eyebrows lifted, a look of revelation on his face. “January 2006?”
“Exactly,” Mycroft said.
John watched the play of emotions on Sherlock’s face as he realized exactly what Mycroft had done. Had he been there when Mycroft explained to Porter exactly why his memory had defaulted back to that day? Did he realize how much it meant for a man like Mycroft to keep someone like Porter on staff out of gratitude?
Sherlock leaned forward to snatch a biscuit from the tray. “Luckily, John’s a good enough shot to take care of things—even if he is handicapped by sentiment.”
That answered that question, thought John. “Maybe so, but there are worse handicaps, Sherlock.”
Mycroft relaxed back into his chair, Anthea a warm presence by his side. There was still a residual ache in his head, but he felt better than he had in days—certainly more like himself.
It had been a curious experience, losing such a large chunk of himself, of his memories. It had been disorienting and he had not at all enjoyed the feeling. He had hated the lost feeling of not knowing how he spent his days, of being dependent on others for everything from his computer password to knowledge of his friends.
It had been a bit of a blow, in fact, to remember that he did not, in fact, have any true friends. His fond hope that maybe Sherlock and John came visiting from time to time had been dashed, too. In many ways, his life had not changed that much since 2006.
Except for Anthea, of course. How had he possibly forgotten her? Or, if not her exactly, what they meant to each other. If John had been a miracle in Sherlock’s life, then Anthea was the one in his—and it was unthinkable that he had forgotten.
Her hand was resting on his shoulder and as if knowing what he was thinking, she gave it a gentle squeeze. Really, he was luckier than he deserved.
He thought back to how helpful Sherlock and John had been the last two days. He considered the conversations they’d had, and wondered at how incredibly lucky Sherlock was to have John in his life. One advantage to this entire fiasco was that Mycroft remembered all too clearly how little hope he had had for his brother five years ago. As 2006 began, he had doubted that Sherlock would ever see the end of it, but here it was 2011 and he was not only here, but thriving, and that all came down to John.
John Watson, who had saved and been saved almost more times than he could count, and who had now saved his life as well.
Mycroft watched him shifting on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position for his leg and wondered what he could do to show the man his gratitude. Not that John would take anything of substance—he was well aware of that—but still …
Ah. An idea occurred, and he stretched up to whisper to Anthea. She flashed him a smile and then left the room.
“You know, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, “There is something that I remembered that I want to ask you about.”
He watched a flicker of concern flash across Sherlock’s face and imagined all the possibilities that Sherlock was considering—drug use, their parents, that enormous row in 2008. He waited patiently, though, until Sherlock simply asked, “And what is that?”
“When did you become so cruel?”
“Cruel?” Sherlock looked utterly surprised—of all the adjectives Mycroft had used to describe him over the years, that had never been one of them.
Mycroft nodded. “Indeed. Why would you possibly have inflicted that dreadful Hazelnut Latte on me the other morning? Telling me I’d grown to love them? I stand by my choice of adjective. That was cruel, Sherlock.”
John had just taken a sip from his cup and was choking now on tea and laughter as Sherlock jumped forward and held his shoulders steady, trying to keep the poor man from jarring his wounded leg too much. “Now who’s being cruel, Mycroft?”
“Indeed. My apologies for the timing, John,” Mycroft said as John waved his hand in forgiveness, still catching his breath. When his coughing had subsided, Mycroft continued, My question, however, remains, Sherlock.”
Sherlock was back in his chair, lounging with his legs outstretched. “I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I think I resisted temptation remarkably well while you were … indisposed. Nothing else I told you was a lie, Mycroft—I don’t see how you can complain about my buying you a luxury cup of coffee.”
Mycroft hadn’t missed the way Sherlock emphasized that nothing else had been a lie. The tender things his brother had told him when he’d been alone and afraid had been true.
It was almost worth the amnesia to know that he cared.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Anthea returning. “I want to thank you again, John, for your invaluable aid today. I am truly most grateful. You should, of course, stay off your leg as much as possible for a few days, and I hope you’ll accept this to aid you. Consider it a thank you.”
He nodded Anthea forward, and she glided up to John and, with a short bow of respect, presented him with a beautifully carved wooden cane.
“This belonged to our grandfather, who was just about your height, John. I don’t know if you still have that generic metal monstrosity from rehab, but would point out that the weight of this stick makes an admirable weapon … and that’s not even counting the secret I think you’ll appreciate in the handle.”
John’s eyes were alight with amusement as he took the walking stick, hands running over the sturdy oak handle to where it connected with the hand-carved base. He examined the join and then, one eyebrow raised, gave it a sharp twist and then laughed out loud. “A sword-cane. I should have known. I’m speechless, Mycroft.”
“It never hurts to have something you can depend on, John, and if the support you lean on can also be a weapon to protect you? All the better, don’t you think? I did think about giving you one of my umbrellas, but they’re not meant for serious walking support.”
He met the man’s eyes, letting all his appreciation, respect, and yes, affection show and gave a smile as John raised the stick in salute. “I don’t think I can carry off the elegant brolly thing like you do, Mycroft, but I thank you. This is beautiful, and will certainly be helpful.”
Mycroft’s eyes drifted over to his brother. He was watching him with a rare glimmer of affection in his changeable eyes. As Anthea came back over to sit next to him, Mycroft gave a sigh. Really, he was almost grateful to Porter for showing him how much he had to be thankful for.