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Tales Before Bedtime

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Mycroft stood frozen in shock as Sherlock slumped to the ground, followed by John. The gun slipped from Sherlock’s hand, clattering sideways onto the concrete floor, and Mycroft instinctively braced himself for his own paralysing jolt to the nervous system, but it didn’t come. Perhaps, for once, Eurus had been unprepared. Perhaps at this point he was already supposed to be lying on the floor, blood soaking into his punctured shirt. The thought made him grimace.

As it was, the turn of events brought a sense of relief rather than alarm. He didn’t know if Sherlock would really have blown his own brains out when his count reached zero – most likely it had simply been a bluff, must have been. Mycroft needed to believe that for his own sanity. Still, he swept the gun up from the floor before kneeling beside Sherlock and checking his carotid pulse, which felt strong and steady. Belatedly, he checked John’s as well. When he rose to his feet, the gun was a reassuring weight in his hand. Minutes earlier, he had been prepared to die for Sherlock’s sake, but now he was prepared to defend himself in any way he could.

“How touching,” Eurus remarked, regarding him coldly from the video monitors. “Such a caring big brother.”

Instinctively, Mycroft surveyed his perimeter – no immediate sign of armed guards bursting through the door, at least – before turning back towards the end wall.

“No tranquiliser for me, dear sister?”

“You ruin all my fun, Mycroft. You always have.”

“Yes, I’m very sorry for remaining alive. I imagine this must be a grave disappointment to you.” He still felt lightheaded, giddy from the adrenaline rush of his – and Sherlock’s – narrow escape.

“Oh, it’s not too late. You could always finish the job,” she said, with a tilt of her head towards the gun. Her lips curved with the hint of a smile, but Mycroft had always found it difficult to tell whether Eurus had a genuine sense of humour, or whether what might have been outrageous from normal people merely sounded like commonsense to her.

“Would that… satisfy you?” he said. “If I did?”

“No, but would be a bloody good start.” Eurus’ smile widened, her eyes lighting up with pleasure. “And think how peaceful it would be, Mycroft. Being dead. Just imagine it, brother mine. Nothing to worry about anymore. Not a thing. The country will manage without you. Sherlock will manage without you. Everyone will manage without you. And I think it’s the very least you could do, don’t you? Don’t you, Mycroft? After everything you’ve done. All the damage you’ve done. To me. To Mummy and Daddy. To Sherlock. To all of us. You’re really a very bad person. But you can make up for all of that, right now.”

Her eyes bored into his mercilessly, and Mycroft had a sudden vision of himself placing the gun under his chin just as Sherlock had done. He could feel it all as though in slow motion, the inexorable contraction of muscles pulling his arms into position, the press of steel into the soft indentation under his chin. His hands shaking at first, but steadying around the solid weight of the weapon. Now all that remained was to shut his eyes and squeeze the trigger, just as Sherlock would have done, at the count of three…

No!

Mycroft blinked and jerked his head away from Eurus’ gaze, forcing himself to refocus. Nothing had happened. He hadn’t so much as raised the gun from his side, and yet the idea had been like a shimmering thread that sliced effortlessly through his thoughts, turning his rational mind to fog. For those handful of seconds, doing what Eurus suggested had seemed like the easiest, most obvious thing in the world. A fait accompli, almost. Mycroft knew better than anyone that she could use her voice and eyes to hypnotic effect, but it had made him no less susceptible.

“Stop it, Eurus,” he said sharply, keeping his eyes averted. “You know very well why we kept you here, Uncle Rudy and I. If I can reason it out, slow as I am, then so must you have. Sherlock and John told me…” and Mycroft hadn’t believed it, more fool him, but he did now “…that you’ve been out recently. Off the island, I mean. Going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down in it. How did you find it?”

“It was very noisy.” Eurus’ voice had shifted register from soothing murmur to obvious petulance, and Mycroft risked a glance back at the screen. “I don’t understand why people talk so much when they’ve absolutely nothing of interest to say. And the screaming is even more annoying. As though someone might rescue them.” She made a small noise of exasperation.

“You’re talking about John’s therapist.”

“Among others. I lost count after a week. It got so boring.” She smiled at Mycroft, slyly. “More blood for your conscience, brother dear. It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“You’re lying.” The last word stretched into a lilt, half-sung, that sent a shiver down Mycroft’s spine. The sound made him imagine Moriarty crooning to her, face pressed up close against the glass. It had been a mistake bringing them together, but Mycroft had been desperate for her help, back then. The echoes of that meeting had been reverberating for the past five years.

Eurus was still smiling her unearthly smile. “It bothers you a great deal. Sherlock, too. You tried to teach him not to care so much. To be more like me, not you. But it didn’t work, did it, Mycroft? He was too stupid to learn. A tragedy. So now he’s stuck shepherding every little life that crosses his path. You managed a little better. Yes, loss of life bothers you because it’s wasteful, but at least your sentiments end there. As far as caring goes…” her face turned dark, and Mycroft instinctively tensed “…you care only for him.”

“Of course I care about Sherlock. And about you as well, even if you don’t believe - ”

“Shhh. You’re being stupid again, Mycroft. Ever so stupid. You know what I mean. Jimmy never did, because I didn’t tell him. He needed to believe, deep down, that he might have had a chance with Sherlock. But did you really think I couldn’t tell?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Now there’s a familiar tune. But we both know Sherlock was never going to shoot you. How could he? His own brother. His own blood. But more than that. His own lover.”

“Don’t be absurd.”

She laughed, a sound as brittle as ice cracking beneath his feet. “I always knew. Listening to you talk about him over the years. The way it suddenly changed. Seeing Sherlock only confirmed it. It’s all there in the music, if you only know how to listen.” She held an imaginary violin to her chest, drawing the bow across the strings. “I heard it straight away, and I know it’s not because you influenced his technique, because you can’t play. Look at your soft little fingers, you wouldn’t last five minutes. But you’re in everything. The way he stands, the way he puts pressure on the bow, all his little expressions. You know how deeply rooted music is in the brain. In emotion, in memory. His vibrato might as well be a confession. So much passion. Do Mummy and Daddy know?”

“You’re mistaken.” Mycroft kept his chin up and his spine straight, but a chill crept through his veins. In what he’d believed to be his final moments on earth, he’d made a deliberate request that Sherlock aim for his heart, but not only for the sake of preserving his brain. Under the circumstances, the Royal Society could go hang. Underlying his words had been the hope that Sherlock would understand all the things Mycroft could not say in front of Eurus, or John. I love you, brother mine. But his discretion had clearly been no match for Eurus.

“I’m not,” she trilled, but her burst of good humour had faded. “You never wanted me around, did you? Either of you.”

Mycroft hesitated. It was an unfair question. He’d been almost nine when Eurus was born, and heaven knows the decision to have her hadn’t been his. But it was true that with her there hadn’t been the immediate sense of protectiveness he’d always felt towards Sherlock. Even as a baby, Eurus had behaved as though she didn’t want or need anyone. Sherlock had been running about by that time, getting into everything with bright-eyed mischief, while Eurus only stared unnervingly back whenever Mycroft tried to interact with her. Only Daddy could occasionally get her to smile, or perhaps he just gave her wind.

“You were family,” Mycroft said at last. “I only did what I thought best.”

“And Sherlock? Was what you did to him also what you thought best?” She smiled without a hint of humour. “Really, Mycroft – imprisoning your sister and fucking your brother? That takes a special kind of familial love. The ancient Greeks would have been so impressed with you.”

“I never wanted either of those things.”

“Liar. I’m still here, aren’t I? And I’ve seen the way you look at Sherlock. Whatever makes you think you can hide things from me? I’m not stupid.”

Mycroft opened his mouth to protest, and then shut it again. The problem with Eurus was that she saw everything through the darkest possible prism. In truth, he had been horrified when he’d discovered the secret of Eurus’ existence, and vowed to do whatever it took to get her off the island. However, after repeated attempts at psychiatric intervention ended in disaster, he’d been forced to accept Uncle Rudy had known best all along. There was nothing more that could be done for her, and he’d been reluctant to put further lives in danger by continuing treatment.

Similarly, it had taken years for Mycroft to give in to Sherlock’s demands. Years of refusals, denials, arguments. After university, Sherlock had retaliated by vanishing into London for months at a time, so that none of them – not even Mycroft, not then – could trace where he’d gone, making them all wait and worry until he returned. As soon as their relief had faded, he’d disappear again.

When Mycroft’s influence had finally become extensive enough to put him under surveillance, Sherlock had reversed his tactics entirely. Instead of disappearing, he’d made sure Mycroft knew exactly where he was, and what he was getting up to, on a daily basis. Playing Russian roulette with his life every bit as effectively as he had with Eurus. Wandering the streets like a half-starved wraith, earning his keep at the hands of strangers, squatting in squalid doss houses with a needle in his arm. Making Mycroft bear witness to every ugly moment. Promising always that he would stop, would straighten out and lead a respectable life, if only given enough incentive

And Mycroft had finally given in, for Sherlock’s sake. But Eurus would never see it that way. All she would see were the cold, hard facts – that by agreeing to Sherlock’s demands, Mycroft had only cemented his utter failure as a big brother. Better, perhaps, that Sherlock had died back then, after all. Mycroft’s cheeks burned with newly-risen shame.

“I’m sorry,” Mycroft said at last. “You’re right, I did… want Sherlock. But I would never have… it was only to save him, Eurus. It was the only way. You, of all people, must know that desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Mycroft was intensely aware of Sherlock’s unconscious form, just visible out of the corner of his eye. He gestured towards it now, as though it would make Eurus understand that Mycroft had made the same decision she had – that he could not have sat by and let Sherlock self-destruct.

Her expression remained as stern as ever. “Yes, I’m sure you believe that. And what about me, Mycroft?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you thought I was so very dangerous, you ought to have killed me while you could. While I was still small, and weak, and helpless. So illogical, all of you.”

“I never wanted you dead, Eurus. Perhaps it means little enough to you, but you’re my sister. All I wanted was for Sherlock – for the world to be safe from you. From what you might do. You already know that. But you must understand that the more I learned about you, I also wanted you to be safe from it. Do you really think you would have enjoyed growing up out there? Sherlock’s problem has always been that he lacked sufficient… stimulation. If he had nothing to do, he would find something, anything. Which is why I…” he stopped, ducking his head away before refocusing on Eurus. “Whereas with you, I believe, it was always the other way around. A case of it all being too much. Too much stimulation for you to process without… well, without going completely mad.” He flicked her a tight, ironic smile, which was returned in kind. “Too much noise. Too many people. As a child, I sometimes longed for somewhere like this. Remote. Undisturbed. Where you could think as much as you wanted without hurting yourself, or anyone else.”

Eurus looked contemplative. “Interesting. You know, you might even be right. Being off the island did keep me very busy, but at the same time it was all rather unpleasant. Everything was so… messy. And boring. People look so similar on the inside. It really was quite nice to get back here at last, back to all my little servants. Home. Almost the only home I’ve ever known. But… no one ever asked me, Mycroft. If this was what I wanted.”

“You would have refused to stay here for a single night,” Mycroft said.

“Too bloody right.”

“So what else could we have…”

In an instant, her expression transformed from placidity to rage, and in the sudden twist of her features Mycroft could see the obstinate child he’d once known. “It doesn’t matter who was right, Mycroft! It wasn’t fair!”

“It had to be done,” he said firmly. “Although you are perfectly justified in hating me.”

He braced himself for another outburst, but her mood had shifted again, and she only pouted at him in a way that reminded him of Sherlock. “You used to read to me,” she said. “When I was sleepy. I liked that. I liked the sound of your voice. You’d read me anything I wanted. Even the books Mummy and Daddy wouldn’t let me have, the ones with blood and death in them. You sneaked them upstairs and put them back after.”

Mycroft smiled in spite of himself. Once she’d progressed to coherent speech, Eurus had found Mycroft a useful resource, and treated him accordingly. While Mummy and Daddy were keen for her to learn all the facts and figures parents generally deemed useful, he’d indulged her with the stories she liked to hear – Poe, Lovecraft, Bierce. It had seemed harmless enough at the time, not unlike Sherlock’s youthful fondness for bloodthirsty tales of pirates and murder. While Mycroft had no illusions that Eurus had ever felt anything much for him, those early years were the closest they’d ever been. “You remember.”

“I remember everything, stupid. But after Victor, you stopped. Maybe you thought it was the books. It wasn’t, you know. It was me. It was always me.”

“I knew that. But I feared they would only make you worse. And besides, by then you were old enough to steal them for yourself.”

“Yes,” Eurus said. “But I still missed your voice. Do you know how many hours you’ve spent with me since I’ve been here?”

Mycroft hesitated, thinking. “We’ve spent approximately two hundred and twelve hours in physical proximity. Not including the times you were medicated or asleep, but including today.”

“Not much, is it? Seven or eight hours a year. Hello little sister, glad you’re still alive, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, I’d best be off now, see you next summer. Unless you needed my help.” She made a face. “You’re wrong, anyway. You have terrible security, and you’re hilarious when you’re asleep.” She shut her eyes, opened her mouth, and made a series of raspy, mocking gurgles. “I even put a pillow over your face, once, but you didn’t like it. You pushed it away.”

Mycroft shuddered in sudden realisation. It was true he hadn’t been sleeping well in the past few weeks, making Sherlock’s idiotic clown prank disproportionately unsettling, but he’d never seen or heard anything amiss during the night. However, one morning he’d awoken to find the spare pillow lying rumpled on the floor beside him. He’d put it down to having flung it there during a nightmare, which as it turned out had not been far from the truth.

But if Eurus had really wanted him dead, she could have done it easily enough there and then, and Sherlock, too, would have posed little challenge. At any time during her night as “Faith”, she could have shot Sherlock, poisoned him, stabbed him through the heart. Which could only mean… he stared at Eurus as understanding sank in.

“You killed all those people… but you never really wanted to kill us, did you, little sister? Your own flesh and blood. You do have a sentimental streak, after all.” Mycroft looked down at the gun he was still holding, and flicked open the cylinder latch with his thumb, tipping the single remaining cartridge out into his hand. Its tip was crimped rather than smooth: it had been a blank, not live ammunition. Still lethal at close range – Sherlock would have been killed instantly, hence Eurus’ panic – but allowing a reasonable chance of survival at medium distance. His knees felt shaky, but he forced himself to remain upright. Sherlock and John were still slumbering peacefully on either side of him.

“The drone,” he said. “You tampered with it. That’s how we got off so lightly – we shouldn’t have, not in the time we had. But you waited a few extra seconds to set off the grenade…”

She stared at him sulkily while conclusions sparked in his brain, faster than he could give voice to them.

“Molly, too. While you were in London, you could have easily done what you’d threatened. Wired up her flat ready to blow her into oblivion, but you didn’t. And that bullet – you’ve already said you thought Sherlock would choose to shoot John, and not me. But you made sure it was a blank anyway. Because you didn’t want John to die, either. You don’t care one whit about strangers, but you do care about family. And not just Sherlock, but his friends as well. Perhaps after Victor… you didn’t want to take them away from him all over again.”

Eurus sat back in her chair, still scowling, and gave him a sardonic patter of applause.

“Oh, aren’t you clever, brother dear? Took you long enough, even with me holding your hand every step of the way. You even said, earlier – ‘is this meant to be a game?’. I really thought you understood, then. I was almost impressed. But no.” She heaved a deep, theatrical sigh.

“You always said I was slow. Imagine, I had to put up with being told off by a four-year-old, when I could have thrown you over my shoulder and swatted you for insolence.”

“You wouldn’t have dared.”

“No. I wasn’t that stupid.”

“I just wanted you to come back and play with me for a little while, Mycroft. Both of you. Like we never did.” She leaned forward, looking almost wistful.

“I’m sorry, Eurus. I never realised…” that you felt that way. But that was wrong, too. Mycroft had never fully believed she’d had feelings at all.

“But there’s one thing you’ve missed, Mycroft. As always.” Her voice had resumed its brittle edge, and Mycroft flinched from it. “One teeny, tiny detail.”

“What’s that, Eurus?”

“The little girl in the aeroplane. Don’t you care what happens to her?”

“Not right now, no.” While Mycroft hadn’t forgotten about her, as such, he’d already filed her and the plane in a big black box marked PENDING. Cruel as her predicament might be, it simply lacked any relevance to Mycroft’s immediate situation. Even if it had turned out that the plane were on a crash course directly towards Buckingham Palace, exactly none of it would be Mycroft’s problem unless he got out of here alive.

“No,” Eurus repeated, with a sudden surge of fury. “You don’t care about her at all, do you, Mycroft? Because you’ve always been the practical one. Now, Sherlock cared, even though he didn’t have to, even though she’s just one more problem he has to deal with on top of everything else, even though he knows he’ll probably fail and that she and everyone around her will die. Still, he’s trying. He’s trying so hard. But not you. Get the plane far away from land, and let it crash into the sea, that was your solution, wasn’t it? If you don’t know what to do about a problem, well… just get rid of it. Take it far, far away from everyone, give it a little false hope, and then leave it in a lonely place to die.” Her voice rose in pitch and became child-like, horribly familiar. “So you’re not really a very nice man, are you? Bye-bye, then, Mister Don’t Care. Bye-bye.”

“Eurus, no…”

But even as he spoke, Eurus’ face vanished from the screen, and Moriarty reappeared. Mycroft's surroundings were once more drenched in dull red light.

“Brace! Brace! Brace! Oooh, we’re in for one hell of a bumpy landing tonight, kids. Look out below! This is it, folks! Bada-bing, bada-boom! Time to bend over and kiss your arse goodbye!”

As Moriarty giggled, Mycroft felt a sudden puff of air and a sting at the back of his neck. Eurus had been well prepared, after all. He fought to stay upright, but his muscles quickly weakened, and he dropped to his knees, collapsing onto the floor between Sherlock and John. The gun fell from his fingers. He twisted his face towards Sherlock, desperately wanting, needing to catch a final glimpse of him. If Mycroft were right about Eurus’ sentimental streak, there was a chance he might still wake up again. But if he were wrong… goodbye , Sherlock. I’m so sorry.

There was a click as the room blazed stark white again, and his view of Sherlock was abruptly blocked by a swirl of cloth and a pair of slim bare feet. Sprawled on his side, Mycroft could only watch in horror as Eurus plucked the gun from the floor before kneeling beside him. However, she only pushed him gently onto his back. Her solemn face filled his entire world.

“There, I think that’s quite enough scary stuff for tonight,” she said, and bent over to press cold, dry lips to his forehead. “It’ll give you nightmares, you know.” Her voice held a girlish tenderness Mycroft found both comforting and unsettling. When they were children, he had seen her off to sleep with the same admonition, tucking her into starched white sheets. She’d slept alone, without a blankie or stuffed toy for comfort, and claimed that she never had nightmares. He understood now that she was likely more than a match for anything her imagination could conjure. “Sleep tight now, brother dear. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She smiled down at him, dark eyes glinting in her pale face, and then faded away into blackness.