Sherlock rounded the corner into Baker Street with a sense of resignation. Another slow day. Moriarty’s purported reappearance might have earned him a reprieve from the joys of Eastern Europe, but the threat behind it had proved hollow. It had only been Mycroft’s doing, after all, and Sherlock was already far too familiar with his particular brand of villainy. Without an interesting case to solve, without John’s warm constancy by his side, London was as tedious as it had always been. He only enjoyed lounging about the flat creating drama when he had an audience; without one he preferred to roam the streets, looking for anything that might catch his eye, distract him for a little while.
However, it was all so petty. A lie here, an affair there. A schoolgirl palming a pair of cheap earrings; a pudgy young man housebreaking in plain sight. He couldn’t be bothered interfering. What did it matter to him? What did anything matter? There were a range of artificial stimulants he could have turned to, of course, but he’d never get away with it again. Not unless he wanted to invite further lectures from Mycroft and John that would only cancel out any pleasure worth experiencing in the first place.
It was a mark of his mood that the the black car pulled up in front of his door brought a frisson of interest rather than exasperation. A summons from Mycroft might be annoying, but he was at least reliably diverting. Although recently the tensions had begun rising between them again, all the old familiar quarrels. The combination of Sherlock’s restlessness and Mycroft’s reserve had always been fraught. Nowadays, it seemed that Mycroft made a point of reinforcing the line drawn between them marked Brothers – Do Not Cross. Not in so many words, but in physical distance, swift subject changes, and overly formal good-byes. Just like old times, indeed.
Sherlock glanced at his phone, but he hadn’t received a text message or phone call from Mycroft in the past hour, which made the arrival of the car even more intriguing. It implied that the matter was likely in regard to something highly confidential or covert. His nod towards the uniformed driver was almost genial.
“If you would, Mr Holmes,” the man said, without warmth. “Your brother sends his regards.”
Sherlock’s eyes flicked up in momentary interest at his accent. Clearly not English, but difficult to place from a sentence fragment, likely Northern European or Slavic. Eyes downcast yet not quite deferential; hands strong but soft. Not on active duty. One of Mycroft’s ex-operatives, probably, retired. He was unusual enough to merit a second glance, but Sherlock recognised the car, and the uniform, and Mycroft’s drivers did change regularly. Even if he had known something was amiss, there was the very real possibility he might still not have cared. Anything to relieve the monotony.
“This had better be good,” he said, for form’s sake.
The driver opened the back door, and Sherlock clambered inside. A flap of his coat was still hanging over the edge, but before he could reach his hand out, the driver had moved to tuck it in. A second later there was the press of a hand on his chest and the sharp sting of a hypodermic against his neck. He grunted and struck out instantly with hands and feet as best he could, but the man gave him a single hard shove, and he fell back sideways along the back seat, his limbs already growing too heavy to move. His mind fought until the last moment, even as paralysis took hold. He was fuzzily aware of the driver climbing into the front seat, starting the car, glancing back over the partition at him. Dark eyes gleamed from the blur of his face.
“I promise you, it will be,” the driver said in his confusing, mixed-up accent, and then everything went black.
As he rose groggily from the darkness he could feel that he was fully upright, slumped uncomfortably against the bonds that held him in place. His arms were stretched out to the sides, anchored at the wrists. The bindings felt like soft leather rather than cable ties, but they were no less effective when he pulled against them. He flexed his hands, inviting the pins and needles of returning circulation. His feet rested flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, his ankles similarly bound. Through his closed eyelids the light was bright, but not blinding, and the slight draught caressed every inch of his naked skin with its chill. He had no idea how long he’d been out. While Sherlock was, by and large, indifferent to his own nakedness, his time away from London had left him with a distinct aversion to being chained up to anything. He shivered, but not from the cold.
“Please, do lift your head, Mr Holmes.” The same dry, foreign voice. It was galling to be told what to do just as he was about to do it anyway, but he complied. He surveyed his surroundings, willing his sluggish brain to co-operate. The room looked like a basement, windowless, but far from bare. Under the circumstances it was almost palatial. The floor beneath him was of polished dark wood, as was the structure he was bound to, which resembled a large scaffold, with metal attachment points spaced evenly down the sides. His bindings were black, the chains silver. The room was wallpapered in a textured deep red, and ornate brass light fittings along the walls offered the suggestion of flames. Restraints aside, it was as though he had been deposited in the midst of some bizarre art salon.
“Yes, very nice,” the man said, studying him intently from the depths of an upholstered armchair. For the first time, Sherlock noted the cold clarity of his eyes, like glistening slate. In one hand he held an A3 sketch pad, positioned in portrait style, ring-bound at the top. The lower edge was balanced on his knee, and he appeared to be filling in some finer details in pencil. Beside him on a small round table lay a further assortment of pencils in an ebony tray, a misshapen white eraser, and a pearl-handled stiletto knife. It looked like an unnecessarily dangerous instrument for sharpening pencils. A matching armchair sat on the the other side of the table, but was currently occupied only by the silver rectangle of a large laptop, closed.
“You do have beautiful eyes,” the man continued, now apparently engrossed in shading. He’d changed out of the driver’s uniform and into a brown Prince of Wales tweed, pairing it with an indescribably ugly paisley tie in varying shades of red. It should have made him look ridiculous and twee, like a Cambridge professor, but only made the situation more surreal. “It would be a pity not to get them just right.” He looked up and smiled at the expression on Sherlock’s face. “The waiting does get tedious. I’m sure you understand.”
He kept sketching with calm concentration, as though he really had abducted Sherlock for the sole purpose of using him as a life model. Sherlock forced his thoughts into some semblance of order. Not an artist, despite appearances; the sketching was a hobby, not a profession. Doctor, most likely, considering his hands and complete lack of concern over Sherlock’s condition after drugging. He had the disturbing casualness that only came from long experience. Could have been a surgeon, or an anaesthetist, but lacked the stoop of regular practice. The clothing, manner and mind games all pointed to psychiatrist. As did the insanity.
“It is true, your proportions are not classically correct,” the man continued, glancing back up at Sherlock. “Your skull especially is too long, out of proportion to the rest of your body. However, you will be pleased to hear that Vitruvio would consider the root of your penis ideally placed.”
He angled the sketch towards Sherlock, who stared at it numbly. It was indeed an anatomically detailed pencil portrait of Sherlock, naked, bound, and spreadeagled, but Sherlock could summon up neither embarrassment nor vanity at the sight. His mind was elsewhere. There was something very important he was missing… the last thing he remembered… the car… the uniform… Emotion stirred uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach, but he couldn’t tell yet whether it was fear or annoyance.
“Who are you? And what have you done with Mycroft?”
“Excellent. I see that you have quite recovered.” The man set the sketch pad aside. “But surely you must have managed to deduce certain things for yourself?”
The man leaned back in the chair with a patient, professional expression, strengthening Sherlock’s hypothesis. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind Mycroft murmured, Information is currency, Sherlock. Acquire as much as you can while giving away as little as possible. It was his own fraternal variation on the recurring theme of Stop showing off. Sherlock ignored him.
“Your accent shows you to be widely travelled, with European traces from all over, most likely of Baltic or Germanic origin, but with a superficial American overlay. You pride yourself on an appreciation of what you would consider the finer things in life, including art, fashion, and judging from our surroundings, deviant sexual practices. You have a certain power and influence in your career as a practising psychiatrist, possibly stemming from the early realisation that you yourself have distinct psychopathic tendencies. So perhaps you would be good enough to introduce yourself, doctor, and explain exactly what connection you have to my brother.”
The man clapped his hands together in what appeared to be genuine appreciation. “Oh, very impressive. I’m very sorry not to have met you sooner. As for Mycroft…” He reached for the laptop on the opposing chair, pressed its keys, and then turned it towards Sherlock.
Sherlock was entirely unprepared for the vision of Mycroft that filled the screen before him. He had been encased in a pale beige canvas straitjacket, as though he were a dangerous criminal, and his flushed face and dishevelled hair marked his struggles against it. There was enough of him in the frame that Sherlock could see the thick ropes that further bound him to something solidly wooden, perhaps the foot of a bed, that formed the backdrop to his head and torso. Until that moment Sherlock had been as much intrigued as concerned about his own situation, but in that instant uncertainty coalesced into fear.
Mycroft’s reaction made it clear that the link went both ways. His movements abruptly suddenly stilled, and his eyes went wide. “Sherlock – ” he began, before the man reached out and casually muted his voice. He then moved smoothly in front of the armchair, hiding Mycroft from view.
“I trust that answers your question?”
This time Sherlock kept his mouth shut.
“Oh, come now. If I know your brother, we won’t have too much time. Someone will be missing him soon enough. So, I take it he hasn’t told you about me.”
“It would help if I at least knew your name.”
“Try harder, Sherlock. You don’t want to disappoint me. Or your brother.” He glanced back at the laptop and smiled.
The man’s condescension was infuriating, but there was indeed something familiar about him, something Sherlock had yet to identify. The strange admixture of accents, the planes and angles of his face, and above all, the boundless arrogance. It came to him in an instant, together with the remembered weight of a gun in his hand, the jolt of its recoil. The spatter of blood and brain on concrete.
“Magnussen,” Sherlock said slowly. It was something he still preferred not to think about. He took in the man’s age, the map of his features, filtered out the English component of his accent and replaced it with American Midwest. “If I didn’t know better, I would say… brother. Younger, but not by much.”
The man nodded. “Very good.”
“Except that Magnussen was an only child. No living relatives; no pressure points. I’ve seen the file.”
“Was he really? And where was it that you saw this file, I wonder?”
Sherlock bit his lip. He’d thought his unauthorised visit to Whitehall had gone so well, too. Or at least, Mycroft had never seen fit to mention it. If you go against Magnussen, then you’ll find yourself going against me. Goddammit, what on earth had Mycroft been playing at?
He felt the man’s gaze tracking the flickers of his expression. “Perhaps you do not know your brother quite as well as you thought.”
“And you do.”
“Mycroft and I are… well acquainted. Although I have seen little of him in recent years. It is a great pity.”
Sherlock frowned. Nothing about this situation made sense. Mycroft’s enemies, such as they were, tended to be in the same line of business. Faceless men and women who worked at a discreet distance, through networks and operatives and machinery. It was never personal.
This man, however, spoke of Mycroft in familiar terms, as though he were an old friend, which was impossible. If Sherlock didn’t go in for having friends, he wasn’t sure that Mycroft even understood the concept. He also appeared to be working alone, which made him either incredibly clever, or incredibly stupid. For once, Sherlock was inclined towards the former, which currently put him at a considerable disadvantage.
“What do you want?”
“Let’s just say I have heard a great deal about you, Sherlock. It intrigued me.”
“I have seen your photographs online. They do not do you justice, I think. Mycroft’s baby brother.” The man rose from the chair and came up close enough for Sherlock to smell him. Castile soap, almond scented, no aftershave. He raised a hand to stroke the side of Sherlock’s face, and Sherlock flinched away instinctively, even though there was nowhere for him to go. The man proceeded to run his hand down the skin of Sherlock’s bare chest, his fingers stopping to caress the dark pink scar where Mary’s bullet had entered his body. Without warning, they pressed, and Sherlock gasped reflexively as pain, and the memory of pain, speared through his flesh.
“You have had an eventful time since your resurrection,” the man said.
Sherlock ignored him, glancing over the man’s shoulder towards Mycroft’s face on the laptop screen. He looked pale and strained, and his mouth shaped urgent words, but it was impossible to make out what he was saying. The sight filled Sherlock with a sweeping wave of guilt. He might have brought this down upon himself, but there was no reason that Mycroft should suffer.
“So… this is your idea of revenge.” Sherlock said, as the man stepped back, then added. “Boring.”
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, me for Magnussen. Bit obvious, really. But why involve Mycroft? That seems unnecessarily dramatic. At least I didn’t torture your brother by talking him to death.”
That evoked only a glint of amusement, as though Sherlock were a misbehaving puppy. “Very true. I understand you shot him without warning.” The man made a gun with his elegant fingers, and held it an inch from Sherlock’s forehead. He smiled indulgently. “Bang.”
Sherlock swallowed, his heart thudding as fast as if the threat had been real.
“But I do wonder,” the man continued, “if you truly do believe that I wish to kill you, why are you in such a hurry?”
“What do you mean? I’m not…”
“Knowing your brother as you do, you must have factored in the probability of a dramatic rescue in the not-too-far future. So why provoke me? Are you that tired of living?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock snapped.
If Magnussen was ice, this man was fire, his eyes alight with pleasure. Not a shark, this one. A well-fed lion, toying with its prey.
“If you find my motives transparent, I’m afraid your own psychology is hardly more difficult to grasp. But let us talk a little more privately.” He tapped a few keystrokes, and Mycroft’s face disappeared from the screen. Once more he gave Sherlock the full, bright beam of his attention. “You were dead for two years, Sherlock. It must have been difficult, coming back to London after all that time. Expecting everything to be just as you left it. But things never are, are they? Your pet doctor, about to be married. To a thoroughly unsuitable woman, as it turns out.”
He resettled himself in the chair and steepled his fingers, gazing at Sherlock like a specimen on a slide. Sherlock’s raised hands curled into fists, and he opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly Mycroft was there, glowering over the man’s shoulder. Not the real Mycroft, of course, but the one Sherlock kept in the recesses of his mind. This one had the advantage of appearing far more composed than his real world counterpart.
Hush, Sherlock, it said. Say as little as possible. Don’t even listen. Sherlock blinked, but forced himself to calmness. It was difficult, though, to ignore what the man was saying.
“After the wedding, you must have been at quite a loss. Nothing seemed to matter any more. Perhaps investigating my brother was just a convenient excuse for you to dabble in the drugs again, hmm?”
Go to hell, Sherlock thought. The words remained unspoken. The man regarded Sherlock’s silence with interest, letting it unspool between them in a small test of wills. Mycroft nodded in stern approval as the man shrugged and went on.
“You must have known, when you killed him so openly, that there would be… consequences. Even for you. You risked being shot down on the spot. Failing that, you could only expect to face either exile or imprisonment. You did it anyway.”
“It had to be done,” Sherlock snapped, before Mycroft could stop him.
“Did it? Why? To protect John and his lovely new bride? I understand she had quite a… colourful past.” The scar on Sherlock’s chest began to throb all over again. “But surely that was her problem, and not yours.” Suddenly Sherlock was back in Magnussen’s office, staring into Mary’s cold blue eyes as Magnussen cowered in the background. Mary must have known that once Sherlock had seen her face, her past could no longer stay hidden. Her best course of action should have been to do away with Magnussen there and then. As the only witness, Sherlock would never have given her away. Yet it was Sherlock she’d chosen to take down, and hard.
“Of course, it wasn’t her you were really protecting, was it?” the man continued. “It was John Watson. At the potential cost of your own life. Because what was it worth to you now, anyway?”
Sherlock had tried not to listen, but the doubts had taken root anyway, uncurling tiny tendrils into his brain. He wasn’t remotely suicidal; that was ridiculous. But he was perhaps… tired. Not physically, but mentally. It was true that he’d returned to London expecting to slip back into his old life, his old ways, only to find the world had shifted sideways beneath his feet. When he looked at John and Mary, it served only to remind him that he was and would always be alone. He could feel the tide rolling over the imprints of his existence, washing them all away.
The man rose, plucking the knife from the side table in a casual sweep, then reactivated the video feed. Mycroft’s strained features appeared on the screen once more. The man disappeared briefly from Sherlock’s view, circling behind him, and an instant later Sherlock jerked his head back as the knife came to rest against his throat. The man’s hand was as steady as a surgeon’s; there was no pressure, only the cold breath of steel. Sherlock swallowed, and felt its edge brush his skin and fall away. He had evaded death so many times in the past, but he knew that sooner or later the bill always had to be paid. He felt surprisingly calm.
“Hannibal, no!” Mycroft’s voice sounded small and tinny through the laptop’s speakers. A world away.
“Notice how you seem a great deal more concerned than he is.” Hannibal’s words were directed at Mycroft, but his hand did not move from Sherlock’s throat. "Sherlock has developed distinct self-destructive tendencies, as I’m sure you have already realised. He suffers from a lack of central purpose and direction. A pity, then, that you never took my advice.”
“Please, Hannibal. Don’t do this. Put the knife down.”
“Don’t beg, Mycroft, it only demeans you. Perhaps you should try threatening me instead. That would be far more fitting.”
“There’s no need.” Mycroft’s voice was steadier now. “You already know that if you harm Sherlock I will spend the rest of my life hunting you down.”
“A terrifying prospect,” Hannibal said, although his tone suggested otherwise. “But there, don’t you both feel so much better now?” He pressed a light kiss to Sherlock’s cheek, drew the knife away, then muted the laptop once more. At a different time Sherlock might have been impressed by his ability to silence Mycroft so effectively.
“So,” Hannibal said, turning back towards him. “How are you enjoying yourself, Sherlock?”
“You mean the whole business of being kidnapped, tied up, and raved at by a madman? I’ve had better days.”
“Not true. I think this is exactly the kind of thing you enjoy. The excitement. The attention.”
Sherlock had to concede that his initial conclusions might have been wrong, after all. From his odd name to his odder relationship with Mycroft, Hannibal was proving to be much more interesting than expected. This time it was the tip of the knife that touched the skin of Sherlock’s throat, just below the Adam’s apple. “Hold still, now. Good boy.”
A moment later, Hannibal’s mouth was pressed against his own, forceful yet dispassionate, tasting faintly of cinnamon. It was less of a kiss than an exploration, as though Sherlock were an object of scientific study. Somehow that made it more bearable. Sherlock remained still and pliant as Hannibal’s tongue invaded his mouth, and his free hand moved lower to caress the skin of Sherlock’s hip. In the back of Sherlock’s mind was the awareness that Mycroft was watching every moment of Hannibal’s assault, Sherlock’s helplessness. He wondered whether, deep down, Mycroft was enjoying it. Whether, perhaps, they both were.
Sherlock gasped as sudden pain sliced through his thoughts. Hannibal had withdrawn his tongue, as well as the knife, only to sink his teeth into Sherlock’s lower lip. Sherlock tasted copper as the cut began to swell. Hannibal pocketed the knife, then lifted his thumb to the blood at Sherlock’s mouth, smearing it gently across the breadth of his lip. He sniffed at it, then touched it briefly to his tongue. His eyes were distant, thoughtful. Apparently satisfied, he gripped Sherlock’s head hard in both his hands and licked tenderly at the fresh-formed drops on Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock was both revolted and fascinated by his actions. Memories of Magnussen sprang into his mind, unbidden: his childish laughter, the gleam in his eyes as he had flicked John's face over and over again. In contrast, his brother displayed only the ardent appreciation of the connoisseur.
“I do apologise,” Hannibal said at last, without notable sincerity. “The shape of your mouth… it has been a constant temptation. Your brother has indeed shown great restraint. How devoted he must be.”
“Devoted? Is that what you think?”
“A little conservative, considering his desires and abilities. Willing to play some games, but not others, isn’t that right, Sherlock?”
Sherlock glanced over Hannibal’s shoulder. On the laptop screen, Mycroft had gone still, his mouth tightly drawn. He shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Hannibal smiled. “Of course you do. You forget that I know Mycroft exceedingly well.”
“And how do you know Mycroft? He’s not exactly a great believer in therapy.”
“We have, shall we say, a… close professional relationship. You might say I provide him with assistance in certain matters from time to time. Do you remember that ex-jewel thief a few years ago? Clamped into an industrial vice with all his fingers sawn away – a little childish, to be sure, but artistically quite satisfying. Or that series of drug dealers found gift-wrapped in their own large intestines? Such a shame there was never quite enough length left over for a decent bow.”
Time seemed to warp and slow for Sherlock as realisation took hold. Of course he remembered the cases; the jewel thief murdered by his own criminal partner, who had always denied any such mutilations had taken place, at least not by his hand. However, the man was a compulsive liar. The case surrounding the four drug dealers had gone unsolved and largely unlamented; a fresh kidnapping had interrupted proceedings with its usual driving urgency, and afterwards no one had clamoured for Sherlock to resume the investigation. They had both been before John’s arrival, and he remembered, too, that each of the cases had come at a time when he was desperately, stultifying bored. But… Mycroft?
No. Surely not. But a single glance at Mycroft’s bowed head was enough to confirm the truth of Hannibal’s assertions. Sherlock’s thoughts fluttered madly, looking for solid ground, but found nowhere to land. At that moment he was almost grateful for the restraints that held him in place, kept him from falling into the yawning pit of doubt that had opened beneath him. Nothing could be relied upon any more; Sherlock would need to examine everything he’d ever taken for granted all over again. It was a situation impossible to believe, and yet made perfect, sickening sense.
“Mycroft,” he said, but it came out as a whisper. He tried again, “Mycroft, please. Tell me the truth.”
The laptop was still muted, but Mycroft’s response was clear enough. He lifted his head, briefly met Sherlock’s eyes, and nodded. His mouth shaped the words, I’m sorry. It took all of Sherlock’s limited self-control not to erupt in fury.
“Come, now. He was only doing what he thought best.” Hannibal had been following their byplay with avid eyes. “Looking after his troubled little brother.”
“And what did you get out of it?” Sherlock demanded, with all the violence of misplaced rage. “Money? Entertainment? Blackmail?”
“Oh, a little of everything, I think.” Hannibal’s tone remained light, amused. “Not to mention the occasional pleasures of Mycroft’s company.” The insinuation in his words was unmistakeable. “Which I believe is more than you have ever achieved.”
Sherlock was left literally speechless. On the laptop’s screen, Mycroft refused to meet his imploring gaze.
“Tell me, Sherlock. What was it like? The first time you attempted to seduce Mycroft, and failed. You have an impetuous nature – you would have been quite young, I think. Somewhere between thirteen and sixteen. It must have been a humiliating experience.”
Despite Sherlock’s determination not to give anything more away, the words brought the memories flooding back. He grit his teeth against them. He’d been sixteen, late in coming to terms with his own changing body, and the flood of hormones and emotion it had wrought. Mycroft had come home from London for two weeks, over Christmas. He was now almost a stranger in the house; a young, serious clerk in an expensive dark suit. There was still a glimmer of fondness in his eyes when he talked to Sherlock, but at other times he ignored him completely, pontificating at such length about “foreign policy” and “the economy” and “the mood of the country” that Sherlock wanted to push his smug fat face directly into his bowl of trifle. Better for Sherlock not to listen at all, but to simply watch Mycroft’s mouth move, and imagine how it might feel against his own.
He timed his attack with precision – just after eleven pm, when they had all retired to their rooms, but Mycroft would not yet be asleep. Sherlock found him propped up in bed, reading – not the books he used to devour, but one of a large sheaf of documents that were stacked beside his bed. Less like reading and more like absorbing; as Mycroft came to the bottom of each page, he paused for a few seconds, filing it away in some interior recess of his brain, then flipped the page over and carried on. He lifted a finger in acknowledgement as Sherlock entered the room, but did not look up until he had completed the section. Then he put the document back into its folder and patted the bed beside him, just as he’d always done.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock had begun, and then it had all gone terribly wrong. He’d tried to delete the memories since, but they were as stubborn and wilful as he himself had been. There had been a fevered moment somewhere in the middle when the press of Mycroft’s mouth against his was everything he had always hoped it would be, but then it was gone, and Mycroft was pushing him away. The resulting quarrel had been loud and violent enough to bring Mummy in slippers and nightdress to the door, demanding explanations. Mycroft calmly told her that Sherlock was contemplating dropping out of school again. Sherlock simply fumed.
“I’m sorry,” Mycroft had said that night, and again the next day. In a way, he had not stopped since. Eventually Sherlock had gone on to far more successful experiences, with different people in different surroundings, but he already knew that it would never be the same. Mycroft had marked him for life. Sherlock’s only consolation was that Mycroft, too, seemed to have resigned himself to solitude. Otherwise, it couldn’t have been borne. Which meant that Hannibal’s revelation came as more than an unpleasant surprise. It was a betrayal.
He stared at Hannibal, trying to see him as Mycroft did, as Mycroft must have done, in some dark, distant past in which thoughts of Sherlock clearly played no part. His mind recoiled from the thought. He didn’t like the idea of Mycroft being in the same room as his tormentor, much less touching him. Being touched by him. Not just once – an experiment, a mistake – but willingly, over and over again. A cold hand clenched around his heart.
“If what you claim is true...” Sherlock stopped, took a deep breath, and tried again. “I want to hear it from Mycroft.”
“Be my guest.” Hannibal tapped at the keys calmly.
Confirmation was already there in Mycroft’s bowed head, the slump of his shoulders, but it wasn’t enough. Sherlock’s cheeks burned hot with rage and shame. He needed to hear Mycroft admit it.
“Is it true?”
Slowly, Mycroft lifted his head, squared his shoulders. “What do you want me to say?”
“Everything he’s just said… you really…”
“I’m sorry, Sherlock.”
It was a refrain Sherlock had heard far too many times. He couldn’t even decide which was worse: Mycroft’s cold-blooded manipulations in providing him with mysteries made to order, or Mycroft having let this insufferable man have everything from him that Sherlock had always wanted. He strained towards the screen, almost dislocating his shoulders. The veins in his neck throbbed. “How long has it been? You… and him?”
“That’s really none of your business,” Mycroft said.
“I think right now it’s very much my business, don’t you? For god’s sake, Mycroft, why? Or is this –” he jerked his chin at his surroundings “– just another of your thoughtful little ‘distractions’?”
“I’m afraid that right now Hannibal is acting entirely on his own account. For god’s sake, Sherlock, I told you to stay away from Magnussen. Why, in your entire life, are you unable to just once listen to me?” Mycroft’s voice had lost its calmness and taken on cadences Sherlock had never heard before, high and frantic and helpless. It didn’t make Sherlock any more inclined to forgive him.
“Yes, you have been a very bad boy, haven’t you, Sherlock?” Hannibal’s voice came from directly beside his ear, and Sherlock jerked his head away. Caught up in his resentment, he hadn’t noticed Hannibal once more moving behind him. He couldn’t quite turn his head enough to see what had become of the knife, and all his senses instantly went on high alert. Mycroft, too, struggled uselessly against his bonds.
“Shhh, Mycroft. I have been warned quite enough already. But I feel as though you owe me a little compensation, don’t you? Both of you. Now, Sherlock, unless you wish to make your brother terribly unhappy, you will hold perfectly still. And I expect you, Mycroft, to pay close attention.”
“…are in urgent search of you even as we speak. Yes, I realise. But until they find you, you will do just as I say.”
The demand clearly made Mycroft uncomfortable, but he complied. Without Hannibal’s interposing presence, for the first time Sherlock felt truly naked and exposed under Mycroft’s gaze. He arched in defiance, part of him wanting Mycroft to know what he had always denied himself, denied both of them. Then Hannibal’s mouth pressed against the curve of his throat, and he tensed, but it was only to pepper Sherlock’s skin with soft kisses from neck to shoulder. At the same time, one hand reached down and began stroking the curve of Sherlock’s arse.
“Beautiful…” Hannibal murmured, now caressing him in long, sweeping strokes from shoulder to hip. “Although if you were my brother, I would probably have strangled you in childhood.”
“It’s a pity Magnussen didn’t strangle you,” Sherlock snapped. “When he had the chance.”
“Oh, he did try. Once.”
Sherlock had become hyper-aware of Hannibal’s every movement, noting when Hannibal’s fingers trailed off his skin and did not return. Mycroft stared stolidly ahead, expressionless, not quite meeting his eyes. There was a small rustle of movement behind him, and then Sherlock gasped as the cold slickness of a finger pressed against the cleft of his buttocks, the pressure forcing his legs further apart. It stroked gently along the line of his perineum as Hannibal returned to nuzzle at the base of his neck. Despite himself, his cock stirred and began to thicken. Sherlock regarded his body as a useful piece of equipment when it complied with his wishes, and horribly inconvenient when it didn’t. This was most definitely… inconvenient.
“See how lovely he is, Mycroft. So responsive. I’m surprised at how long you have managed to resist.”
“For god’s sake. Stop it. I'll give you anything you want.”
“Thank you. You already have.” Hannibal chuckled, low and deep. “Now, I think we might play a little game, Sherlock,” he said. “One that could make this a little easier for you. You may even enjoy it.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Sherlock muttered.
“Since you have always so greatly desired your brother, perhaps this will be more pleasant if you simply… pretend. Look at him.”
Sherlock laughed, a short, sharp bark of disbelief.
“It is of course your decision. I don’t need to remind you that you have very little choice.”
“Please, Hannibal… ”
“And you will be quiet, Mycroft. One more word from you and I will be forced to reconsider returning your brother intact.”
There was the whisper of steel against the side of his throat, and then it was gone. Mycroft was silent. Sherlock exhaled.
“Shhh,” Hannibal soothed, and resumed his explorations with hands and mouth and tongue. Sherlock’s grimace turned into a gasp as Hannibal’s fingers began a relentless invasion of his body. When Hannibal wrapped a warm, slick hand around his cock, it sprang effortlessly into life. It had been years since Sherlock had allowed anyone to touch him like this, and he was shocked by the overwhelming rush of arousal. The betrayal of his body was too much to deal with on top of all that had gone before. His cheeks flushed, and the blankness of Mycroft's expression became suddenly unbearable. Hannibal had compelled Mycroft to bear witness, but had not made the same demand of Sherlock. Sherlock closed his eyes and simply willed himself – away.
It was a place he knew well, but kept tucked deep inside the labyrinthine twists and turns of his mind. There was no need for ready access – he only ever visited in the depths of late night or early morning, when all around him was calm and still and quiet. It was a double bed in heavy oak, its sheets clean and crisp, with a blue blanket folded neatly down the end. A replica of Mycroft’s old bed, in fact, although in his mind’s eye stretched wide enough to fit both of them. However, Sherlock was currently its only occupant, lying naked amidst newly-rumpled sheets. Around him lay not the familiar surrounds of Mycroft’s bedroom, but only blackness: above, around, below, stretching out as far as the eye could see. Lying here, he was completely secluded. Safe. No one would ever see, ever hear, ever know.
Sherlock lay stretched out on his left, turned towards the empty space beside him, but when he buried his face in the pillow he was surrounded by Mycroft’s scent. He was already hard, one hand curled loosely around his cock, murmuring Mycroft’s name like an incantation. Pleasure curled up his spine, coiled in his gut.
“Mycroft…” he breathed once more, and when he opened his eyes Mycroft was there, smiling down at him. This Mycroft aged at a different rate from his real-word counterpart; had grown older over the years, but more slowly. The lines on his face were less stern, his mouth softer, more welcoming. His body was pale and freckled along its length, but unmarked by age.
“I’m here, Sherlock,” he said, which was both redundant and sentimental, but here Sherlock let such things pass. He reached up to embrace his brother, then lay back against the pillows and surrendered himself entirely. Mycroft kissed his mouth, his neck, then took Sherlock in his hand without hesitation. In this place they were protected from the world and its judgements, and there was no need to pretend any longer.
When Mycroft ordered him up on his hands and knees, Sherlock obeyed without question. Then Mycroft’s fingers pushed inside him, opening him up, and it was a little too fast, too hard, and it hurt, but it was all right. Mycroft was doing the best he could.
“Shhh, Sherlock, relax just a little more for me. Come on,” Mycroft said, but now pain entirely crowded out the pleasure. Sherlock forced himself to calmness, slowed his breathing. It did him little good. At Mycroft’s initial thrust inside, Sherlock felt that he might almost split in two. He moaned, clinging desperately to the soft encouragement of Mycroft’s voice, even though the words were blurred and indistinct over the sound of his own heartbeat.
In time, the pain diminished, faded away to the occasional jolt of a too-hard thrust. Mycroft’s hand began stroking him again, slick and insistent, and slowly the pleasure began to build once more. Sherlock had the dim awareness that something was wrong, not quite as it should be, but he pushed the thought away. It was all right, would all be all right. Very soon, now. He focused on the sensations, rode the sparks of pleasure upwards until they burst into flame. Mycroft, oh god, please… He cried out for Mycroft as he came, then buried his face once more in the pillows. He dearly wished that he could have seen Mycroft’s face.
When Mycroft withdrew, Sherlock turned around to embrace him once more, only to find himself alone. He gazed into the surrounding blackness, feeling abandoned and lost. Bereft. He frowned as a soft, distant sound began emanating from the darkness around him: a rhythmic thump-thump-thump. That was wrong, too. Nothing from the outside should have been allowed to intrude here. He opened his eyes, and regretted it immediately.
He was still in the same red-walled, windowless room, still bound spread-eagled to the large wooden frame. His bonds had been slackened slightly, but not enough to enable him to free himself. Everything now ached from his wounded lip down, and he felt fragile, hollow. Cold slickness coated the insides of his thighs. The mysterious sounds were coming from the laptop; the muffled demands of someone pounding on a door as a precursor to breaking it down. Another few moments and Mycroft would be discovered. It was almost over.
Sherlock wished he could see the screen, but Hannibal stood before it, blocking his view. He was speaking softly to Mycroft, and Sherlock watched as he brought his hand up to his mouth, lapping at his fingers one by one. Sherlock saw that they were coated with a sticky white translucency. The realisation brought him harshly back to earth – Sherlock had distanced himself from his own violation as best he could, but the sight proved that it was true, had really happened to him. His mind flashed remorselessly on the scene as though seeing it from above: Hannibal rutting into him like an animal, jerking him off while Mycroft watched. Sherlock crying out in pleasure and pain, coming hard over Hannibal’s hand. He dimly wondered if he’d spoken Mycroft’s name aloud. Sweat broke out on Sherlock’s forehead, and his gorge rose, but he forced it back down. No time to think about it now.
There was the distinct, tinny, sound of splintering wood, and Hannibal reacted swiftly, turning away from the laptop. Sherlock caught only a glimpse of Mycroft’s face before the screen was flipped shut, but it was one he would never forget. Compared to the version in his mind’s eye, Mycroft looked as though he had aged a decade, grown suddenly old and haggard. Glistening lines tracked down his cheeks where he had been unable to wipe them away. There were small damp spots on the straitjacket.
“I’m afraid our time is up,” Hannibal remarked calmly, as though Sherlock had tried to overstay his appointment. He began gathering up his things, lingering on the pencil sketch of Sherlock he’d made earlier. He held it up to compare with its much-abused original. “It was a great pleasure to meet you, Sherlock. I do enjoy these touching family dramas. It is a weakness of mine.”
Sherlock gazed at him numbly, too exhausted for words.
“Still, you really should have left dear Augustus alone,” Hannibal continued, giving Sherlock his full attention once more. “I was saving him for my own future entertainment. Although my methods would have proven far more… leisurely than your own.”
Surprise cut through Sherlock’s fatigue, and he regained a little of his focus. His eyes narrowed. “So you were never…”
“What? Crazed with grief? Out for revenge? There you only display your own cognitive biases. I hated my brother. We couldn’t even live on the same continent. His death did, however, give me an excellent excuse to pay you both a visit.” He pulled a face of exaggerated grief. “You are not the only one who suffers from boredom, Sherlock.”
“You never had the slightest intention of killing me.”
Hannibal shrugged. “Mycroft would never have forgiven it. And I respect your brother far too much to risk that situation.”
“But what about me?” Sherlock knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but as usual he couldn’t help himself. “Mycroft might be grateful enough that you spared my life, but what if I come after you? The same way I did your brother.”
Hannibal looked at him with grave solemnity, even as the corners of his mouth twitched. “But you won’t, Sherlock. Why would you do such a thing? After all I’ve done for you.”
“I understand exactly what you’ve done.”
“No, I don’t think that you do. Listen to me. You know as well as I do that morality, like sentiment, is a weakness. The more a man possesses, the easier he is to manipulate. Mycroft is one for whom principle has always stood in the way of passion. But not you, Sherlock. We are more alike than you think.”
“You and your late unlamented brother are the vilest creatures ever to walk this green earth. I am nothing like you.”
“No? Consider this, then. Handled correctly, what you have endured tonight will give you exactly what you have always wanted. When you see Mycroft again, he will be horrified, guilt-stricken, frantic. You will be scarred, traumatised, suicidal. Or at least, you can be. Rest assured that deep down Mycroft blames himself and not you for this tragic situation. I suggest frequent bouts of tears – a pity you could not manage some earlier – and at least one dramatic suicide attempt. Only one thing can save you from your despair: inarguable, physical proof of Mycroft’s continuing love and affection.”
“You disgust me,” Sherlock snapped, and it was true. But even as he spoke, scenarios began unfurling themselves inexorably in his mind. Please, he begged, sobbing into Mycroft’s shoulder. I need you. It’s the only way I can ever feel safe again. After what he did. You’re the only one I can even bear to have touch me now. Once the wall was breached, there would be time enough to separate Mycroft's conscience from his desires, and then Sherlock would have him and would never let him go. It was the most grotesquely cold-blooded proposition he had ever encountered. It would be an underhanded, unconscionable exploitation of Mycroft’s guilt. It would very likely work.
Hannibal smiled. “Perhaps. But you also know that I am right. Goodbye, Sherlock. And do give my love to Mycroft.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to offer a suitably acidic retort, and then stopped short. His brain had re-engaged, conclusions snapping relentlessly into place. After everything he’d been through, there was still something he’d missed. Something obvious.
“Hannibal.” It was the first time Sherlock had addressed him by name.
“Yes? Mycroft is familiar with this location – your rescuers should arrive in around two minutes. Please do not attempt to delay me.”
“You were right. We are more alike than I realised.”
Hannibal turned back to him, his eyes sharp with interest. He dipped his head. Go on.
“Your suggestion – that wasn’t for my benefit at all, was it? We’ve barely met, and I did just deprive you of your brother. You despise me. You’d slit my throat in a second if you thought it might amuse you. Why would you care what I wanted? You want this for Mycroft. For his sake. And he’ll never, ever know.”
There was no overt acknowledgement, but Sherlock looked into the depthless dark of Hannibal’s eyes, and knew without question that he was right.
“Take good care of your brother, Sherlock. He is the only one you have.”
Moments later he was gone from Sherlock’s field of vision, but his footsteps echoed all the way out the door.