I’m only a man
Flesh and blood’s all I am
I can bend, I can break, I can feel
I’m not made of steel
I’m not made of stone.
They met in Prague.
Mycroft arrived first [i.e. right on time] and was on his second cup of very strong coffee and second [all right, third] warm pastry when the irritating little bell over the door of the café jingled again. He looked up to see a tall, pitifully thin man with haphazardly spiked red hair enter. The newcomer was wearing ripped and filthy blue jeans and a shirt that Mycroft recognized, although he had never seen the aubergine silk so wrinkled and stained. A pair of cheap sunglasses covered the startling eyes and an army green knapsack was slung over one shoulder.
“You look quite ridiculous,” Mycroft said as Sherlock dropped into the second chair.
“As do you,” Sherlock replied. He took off the sunglasses and eyed Mycroft’s Saville Road suit, the perfectly knotted tie and the inevitable brolly at his side.
Mycroft poured another cup of coffee and pushed it towards his brother. “At least, I do not look like death not even warmed over.” With little hope, he also shoved the tray of pastries that way.
Sherlock examined the sweet offerings, made a small expression of distaste, but then picked one up and took a tiny bite. “Appropriate, then.”
“You are not an easy man to find,” Mycroft commented.
Now bony fingers were simply tearing the pastry into bits. “Perhaps you should have taken that as a sign that I did not want to be found.”
“Nevertheless here you are.”
“Only because you insisted. I need that information on Moran.” He spat the name out like a curse.
Mycroft leaned back and gave him a long, assessing look. “Unfortunate for Moran that he was the sniper targeting Dr. Watson.”
Sherlock did not respond to that. Having demolished the pastry completely, he moved onto ripping the paper napkin into strips. “The information. You promised. I’m here.” His eyes were never still, flicking over the other patrons of the café, as if one of the senior citizens or young mums pushing prams was liable to suddenly pull out a weapon and start firing.
“Presently. Is it too much to believe that I want to spend a little time with my only brother? After all, I spent several hours thinking you dead. And then all these months not knowing where you were or what was happening to you.”
“As if you care.”
Mycroft sighed. “Despite the logic of it, I do. I worry about you. Constantly.”
Sherlock ignored that. “Anyway, I expect you had a vague idea of where I was. I did rather leave a trail.”
“Oh, yes. A trail of corpses.”
He shrugged. “More interesting than breadcrumbs. And infinitely more satisfying.”
There was a pause as the smiling waitress delivered a fresh carafe of coffee.
Mycroft poured them each more. “Aren’t you going to ask me about the good doctor?”
Sherlock’s lips tightened. Then, as if afraid his eyes might give too much away, at least to his brother, he replaced the sunglasses.
“I confess to some concern about him.” Mycroft wished that he could still see his brother’s eyes. “Serious concern.”
“Why?” Sherlock mumbled. His hands seemed unable to remain still. With both the unfortunate pastry and the napkin now thoroughly destroyed, he picked up a knife and turned it over and over in his fingers. “John is fine.”
“Upon what do you base that conclusion?” Mycroft asked with genuine curiosity.
“I know him,” was the curt reply.
Mycroft shook his head. “Better to say you knew him. Now the man is floundering. He works far too many hours and then he returns to the hovel in which he currently resides.”
At that, Sherlock looked up. “He’s not in Baker Street?”
“He moved out several months ago.”
“I didn’t know.” Sherlock pressed his lips together in disapproval. “Why would he do that?”
“John does not confide in me. Or even speak to me at all in fact. But the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson reports that he…he could not bear to be there. It is a place that is too much…you.”
“Sentiment,” Sherlock said bitterly.
“Do not pretend to be a stranger to that concept. It is no longer believable in the circumstances.” Mycroft fleetingly debated the last pastry and then justified it because of the stress of dealing with his brother. As he picked it up, Sherlock sneered. “I think he should be told the truth,” Mycroft said after swallowing the first bite.
“No! I will not put him in danger again.”
Mycroft sighed. “Sherlock, he is in danger every night when he takes his gun from the drawer and thinks of putting the barrel into his mouth.”
Sherlock flinched and dropped the knife. It clattered onto the table. “I’m almost done. Then I can go home.”
“Well, let us hope he will be there to welcome you.”
Sherlock was staring out the window to the street scene beyond, but Mycroft doubted he was actually seeing the people walking by. “Will he?”
“Welcome me.” It was almost a whisper.
Mycroft smiled faintly. “Eventually. You might well be punched first. Of course, he must be alive to do either.”
Abruptly, Sherlock seemed impatient with the conversation. “The information, Mycroft? I can not hang about here all day.”
Mycroft opened his briefcase and removed a thick envelope. Sherlock reached for it, but Mycroft was not prepared to relinquish his leverage quite yet. “I want regular contact,” he said firmly.
Sherlock opened his mouth to object.
“I could shut you down, take over the operation,” Mycroft warned. “In fact, I would prefer that.”
“All right,” Sherlock said.
“Note the word regular.” Mycroft turned brusque. “The Moran file is here. Also, funds that should be sufficient to see you through the end of your mission. And several sets of new travel documents.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock muttered as he stood, apparently ready to depart with no further conversation.
Mycroft stopped him with a glance. “Sherlock, think seriously about John Watson.”
Even though he could not see them through the sunglasses, Mycroft knew very well that Sherlock’s eyes were suddenly burning. “You imagine that I do not?”
There was a silence. Mycroft nodded. “Be careful,” he said quietly.
Sherlock paused. “I will. I do want to come home, you know.” He turned to head for the door and then stopped again. “Watch him. Please.” He did not look at Mycroft.
“I will.” Mycroft watched Sherlock leave.
For just a moment, the younger man simply stood on the pavement, his body hunched in an uncharacteristic way. Finally, he straightened, took a deep breath, and stalked off.
A short time later, Mycroft was sitting in the private jet on his way back to London. Anthea sat across from him, updating him on the new texts. Once finished, she gave him a glance. “It must have been nice to see your brother again,” she said quietly.
Mycroft nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It was…pleasant.” He rested back in the seat and closed his eyes. Caring was still a disadvantage, but Sherlock was his little brother and it had been very good to see him again.
Sherlock was spending his last night in Prague. Once back in his tiny room, he barricaded the door with a chair and set his gun on the bedside table. He stretched out on the narrow bed and finally ripped open the envelope. First, he removed a sheaf of papers with the information on Moran, followed by a pile of mixed Euros, pounds, and dollars and then the travel documents promised.
He realised that there was one more item inside and pulled it out. It was a photograph of John Watson, obviously taken without his knowledge. Sherlock swore at his absent brother.
In the photograph, John was standing on a bridge that was probably in Regent’s Park. He was much too thin, his hair was shaggy, and his eyes were as empty as they had been that first day in St. Barts. They were the eyes of a man who had nothing to live for.
Sherlock stared at the picture for a long time.
It was several hours later when he finally reached for his phone and sent Mycroft a text.
//WHAT SHOULD I DO?//