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What Dread Grasp

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A week had passed since Sherlock's return to Baker Street after, what was in Mycroft's opinion, far too short a time in hospital. Preferring to leave his brother to his recuperation rather than impose himself too soon, Mycroft had winnowed recovery details from John on the occasions where they two of them could speak freely. Sherlock had a terrible habit of eavesdropping, after all.


Eventually, however, the need for a personal visit became paramount.


It began thusly...


John had been kept at the clinic due to a staff member ringing in sick at the last minute. From Sherlock's commentary this was apparently an ongoing issue with this particular clinician. Molly Hooper was also unavailable due to the conflict of scheduling. As a final breakdown of support staff Mrs. Hudson had flatly refused to be the sole caretaker of a toddler, in a strop over her missing parent, as well as a housebound Sherlock who lacked even a cigarette to stave off imminent brain melting.


And so it had fallen upon big brother; that dread duty.


Sherlock had, indeed, been melting in his chair when Mycroft arrived at the flat – not bothering with more than a rap of his umbrella handle on the door before entering. Not even a lackluster greeting beyond a hopeless groan as Sherlock allowed gravity to tug at his fingertips.


“It's only been four hours, Sherlock. You've survived worse-” and his mouth snapped shut – fingers twitching on the curved handle in his grasp while Sherlock went, suddenly, very still. His gaff insurmountable with speech, Mycroft then turned and hooked his umbrella on the back of a kitchen chair. Depositing a large parcel on the counter, Mycroft proceeded to the cupboards to fetch down supplies for tea. That damnable need to push. He was not crafted for a softer approach. It was not his way, as his mother had told him when still a young man. He and Mummy had never been terribly close. Her perception of him, however, had always been quite acute.


Strange, that. He'd once considered his dispassion an enviable state and one to be nurtured. After Sherrinford, however...


Mycroft was many minutes in to his tea preparations when there came a slight shift from the sitting room. A surreptitious glance beneath his lashes caught the movement of Sherlock sitting up just enough to scowl. Of course his brother noticed his observation.


“Piss off. If I'm to die of boredom I'd rather do so alone than have you here to oversee my demise.”


Sighing, Mycroft arranged a selection of biscuits on a plate. His mouth had scarcely opened before Sherlock interrupted with a seething bristle, “If you say it's for my own good, I swear to you, I shall impale your middle with a fireplace poker.”


“God forbid I offer such sage council.” Tea bags well soaked, Mycroft placed the kettled on a platter along with the other accouterments and carried the works back into the other room – placing his burden on the round side table. Pouring them each a quantity of rich black tea, he offered Sherlock one, and then settled with his steaming cup in John's homey chair.


Allowing his cup to sit alongside him on the wide chair arm, untouched, Sherlock held his gaze on the softly crackling fireplace while Mycroft sipped his tea and debated over the merits of the biscuits which, to be brutally honest, he would not feed to a stray dog.


“By all means, gorge yourself. It's been at least an hour since breakfast – no doubt you're fainting from hunger.”


Were Sherlock less frail Mycroft may have indulged in parrying this initial attack. As it was the affront didn't so much as scratch the skin, as it were, much less draw blood. Ignoring it, just as he ignored the pitiful dish of stale biscuits, Mycroft rested his cup on the small table and crossed one leg over the other.


“How are you feeling?”


Narrowed eyes flicked his way. “Apart from broken bones, bruised flesh, and the possibility of surgery looming in the foreseeable future? Couldn't be better. In fact you could slink back to whatever clandestine meeting you were forced to abandon as I believe I can manage eating and sleeping without the need of a caretaker.” Sherlock tilted up his head; noticeably inhaling. “The Lady Smallwood?”


Mycroft allowed the smallest sigh; his eyes closing briefly in a flutter of lashes. “Yes.”


Smirking, then, Sherlock sank down a bit more while his free hand rubbed absently across the sling supporting his broken arm and damaged shoulder. Never shy to poke the bear regarding the woman's intentions towards his brother, Sherlock got no further than opening his mouth before he gasped – hunching as his arm moved to cradle his midsection.


Mycroft tightened his mouth but was soon on his feet and making for the kitchen. Tugging open the freezer; lips turning down as he pushed aside what was clearly a bagged pair of feet, he managed to locate several ice packs along with a dispirited bag of veg that had likely been tucked away for the past 5 years. Retrieving both ice packs he turned back towards the sitting room where Sherlock sat stiffly. Leaning down at his brother's side, Mycroft slipped the cold parcels down alongside Sherlock's ribs on either side. Breathing in short gasps, Sherlock held himself rigid and closed his eyes – no doubt willing the spasms to ease.


Once more returning to the kitchen, Mycroft located John's kit and laid it out on the table where he dug free several tablets and, with a nudge of intuition, a dose of anti-nausea medication.


A bottle of water, in the hand not cradling the pills, he stationed himself at his brother's elbow and silently pressed the whole of it into Sherlock's grasp. Without word Sherlock tipped his head back to swallow the pills before chasing it with several gulps of water. Leaving the medication to do its work, Mycroft busied himself about the flat. Cleaning wasn't his purview and, to be truthful, he wasn't prepared for the outrage should he disrupt some special coil of matted hair or a cherished drift of ancient dust. Rather, he retrieved the parcel he'd left on the counter and managed to locate a clean baking dish in the cupboard. The parcel, once unwrapped, contained a lovely loin of lamb along with a smaller package of various fresh vegetables and herbs harvested from Mycroft's personal garden behind his home in Kensington.


Lost in the activity of meal preparation he scarcely noticed when Sherlock eventually trailed into the kitchen where he leaned his battered frame against the wall and silently watched his brother work. Starting on the veg, Mycroft began heating a skillet while chopping spinach and several garlic cloves. The oily scent of the mashed cloves was mellowed by the rich smell of browning butter as it was all added to the skillet along with a scatter of fresh chives. Tossing it several times until the ingredients had cooked down, Mycroft next turned his attention to the lamb; having removed the pan from the heat and scraped the veg mixture into a bowl cradled in ice. The lamb had been marinating since the previous day; the flesh tender and dark with the flavors that had seeped through the soft tissue. Laying it out on a cutting board, Mycroft began skillfully butterflying it open; setting the meat out on parchment paper when he was finished. Returning to the veg mix it was swift work to press out the excess water from the wilted spinach before finally revealing the “star du plat” – a log of fresh Chavrie. Dividing the cheese into several lengths, Mycroft laid it inside the loin along with the veg mixture before rolling the meat and tying up the whole thing with twine.


“You do recall it's just the two of us?” Sherlock finally ventured; sighing a tight breath as he eased himself into one of the kitchen chairs.


Mycroft smiled as he slid the lamb into the oven. “Perhaps Mrs. Hudson would enjoy a portion. Compensation for the early grave you'll no doubt send her to.”


And once again his words struck a sour note as Sherlock's face fell. The curse bubbled up behind his teeth though Mycroft didn't allow it release. Instead, he scrubbed his hands and patted them dry on a hanging tea towel before seating himself alongside his brother.


“My apologies. That was ill-spoken.”


Sherlock swallowed, nodding once, sharply.


Two fingers, making circles on the tabletop, Mycroft watched the pattern of light scattering late afternoon beams through the sitting room. When he spoke, finally, it was with the soft timbre of recollection – allowing memory to layer itself in the story that formed in the air between them.


“I know our years as siblings have often been fraught. I have carried this... charge... of looking after you...” his fingers twitched against the chipped surface, “against both of you... since that first sight of of Eurus when Mummy brought her home from hospital. It had been a difficult labor; 36 hours all told. The doctors had been considering cesarian before Mummy was finally able to give birth. I was told Eurus didn't cry... her eyes already wide and taking in the world around her...” One hand rose up to rub across his lips. He could sense his brother watching him; though his eyes didn't lift from the etched paint beneath his fingertips. “When Mummy finally allowed my to hold her she said, “this is your baby sister. As her big brother it will be your job to look after her”. Perhaps a common directive given to many an eldest child but, for me, it may well have been an order delivered from God himself. And, yet, from the time she was very small Eurus never seemed to care for, or even need, looking after. At least... not in that sense.” He was almost startled by his own body's reaction of raised gooseflesh along his arms. He rubbed at the cold that had breathed against his bared arms. “My role of her warden had begun quite early, as it happens. She developed quickly; crawling by three months and walking by six. And with this new mobility there arose new challenges to maintaining my watch over her. Several times I found myself rescuing small animals from her tiny grasp – whether they be kittens, the neighbor's puppy, or in one instance a goat kid she'd liberated from who knows where. But then... then came that one afternoon when I found her with a nest of rabbit kits.” His mouth twisted and he stood – going to the sink where he ran a glass of water from the tap. He took four swallows before resting the glass back down on the counter. Turning slowly, he braced his palms on the edge behind him.


“She had killed them. The entire nest; one by one while their frantic parent raced about the garden. There she sat; her pudgy fingers sticky with ichor and utterly oblivious to any wrongdoing. Even when I confronted her she merely stared – eyes so wide and cool. She had been curious to know what they looked like inside.” Shrugging, Mycroft stepped back to the table; chancing a quiet glance towards his brother. Sherlock's face, leeched of color, was fixed on his own hands. Pulling out the chair he'd vacated, Mycroft sat once again. “I said nothing to our parents. I knew what Eurus had done was wrong but, at the same time, I didn't feel it was a burden they needed in that moment. Mummy was pregnant again, you see.”


Sherlock, his voice thin, finally pulled his attention from his flexing fingers. “Did you ever tell them?”


Mycroft shook his head. “No. Though there were so many days, afterwards, where I regretted my silence immeasurably. However, I also never, ever, allowed Eurus to stray from my sight, again, when other guardians were not present. Particularly when you were finally strong enough to be brought home*. I would take to standing watch, like the Queen's Guard, when you were laid down for your nap; which was frequent with you being so small.” The comparable size to a rabbit was one which Mycroft managed to keep to himself. He'd stumbled over his tongue twice already; no point going for the trifecta if it could be helped.


While one hand rubbed his shoulder, Sherlock rolled his bottom lip between his teeth, frowning. “Why are you telling me this, now? Surely Eurus and her machinations are no longer a threat. She hasn't spoken again since...” here he stopped. They both remembered when last Eurus had spoken – just shy of two years ago.*


Mycroft raised an eyebrow, considering, though he could not meet his brother's eyes. “No, and by whatever means necessary I will see to it that she never harms you again.” He clasped his hands on the table – rubbing his thumbs against one another. “Would that I could spare you from all of my sins.”


And here, finally, they came to the crux of it.


Sherlock surprised him by glaring – sudden angry heat in his eyes. “Spare me the self flagellation; what happened at the dock was hardly your fault.”


“Isn't it? After all it was my interrogation of his son which led to the discovery of his illegal shipments and, consequently, resulted in the son dying while in our custody. Your kidnapping was retribution.”


“My kidnapping,” Sherlock sneered at the word, “was retribution for lost profits. Nothing more. The death of his son was due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition – I'm fairly certain he wasn't tortured to death unless you've suddenly changed your methods. However the retaliation against you was for the loss of nearly four-hundred million in profits – not the loss of his son whom he never mentioned in all the days of my imprisonment.” And then his face grew suddenly contemplative. “Curious why he would believe my loss to be an equivalent trade.”


Mycroft's mouth opened and shut as he found himself suddenly back-footed. “I... cannot imagine what would lead him to that conclusion.”


“Hm.” Sherlock started to lean back only to grunt and wobble awkwardly as he struggled to avoid adding strain to his aching ribs and shoulder. Mycroft's brows flicked tight as he watched his brother's careful breaths. In minutes, though, Sherlock appeared to have found an acceptable, if not entirely comfortable, position; essentially by remaining bolt upright with his right arm braced on the table while the other rested in his lap. Mycroft would have gone along with it had he, himself, found the hard kitchen chairs less than forgiving to his backside. He stood, then, ignoring the sigh from Sherlock as he gestured back towards the sitting room.


“Come. It will be nearly forty minutes before dinner, we might as well take advantage of the fire.”


That he allowed himself to be gently ushered back to his padded chair, with minimal fuss, merely proved how much discomfort Sherlock continued to experience.


Ice packs redistributed to key areas Sherlock let out a clipped groan as his body settled against the cushion. However it was only moments before most of the tension eased from his face so Mycroft counted it a win.


As was common, between them, they fell into a long period of silence – each taken with their own thoughts. Or, in Sherlock's case, falling into a doze as he finally allowed exhaustion and medication to do its work. Mycroft passed this time on his mobile; updating emails, catching up on various reports requiring his eye, and making two short phone calls. At some point, from downstairs, he heard the door to Mrs. Hudson's flat open and, seconds later, the uneven tread as the lady, herself, scaled the flight to the second story. Her gentle rap and greeting preceded her head peering around the jam.


“Oh, bless, poor thing.” Her gaze, clearly, locked on Sherlock who continued to slumber, unaware.


“Was there something you needed? Is Rosamund well?” Setting his phone aside, Mycroft finally turned his attention to the older woman still in the doorway.


“Rosie's just fine – playing with her toys in her playpen. I thought I'd stop in and see if there was anything he needed.”


Mycroft smiled. “We're fine, thank you.” Mrs. Hudson nodded in return, though her eyes strayed back to Sherlock, troubled. Moved by something not quite defined, Mycroft tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair. Then, before he could put a great deal of thought into it, pushed to his feet.


“Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Would you and Rosamund care to join us?”


Eyes suddenly beaming, Mrs. Hudson rewarded Mycroft with a smile normally reserved for “her boys” alone. “That sounds lovely. I'll just go fetch Miss Rosie, shall I?”


While she was gone Mycroft went to prepare place settings – opting for a simpler arrangement given the company. Certainly they would all feel more comfortable without the crystal and bone China. Two sets of footsteps ascended the stairs as Mycroft was pulling on a set of oven mitts to extract their meal and there was no surprise when John accompanied Mrs. Hudson back through the door – a sleepy Rosamund clinging to his neck. Mycroft nodded towards his brother before John could form a greeting.


“If you wouldn't mind?”


A glance towards the recumbent form and John ruffled his daughter's hair as he moved close enough to stand near the chair. Whatever means he was about to employ for waking Sherlock, however, was undone when Rosamund loosed a bright shriek.


Legs kicking out and eyes going wide, Sherlock nearly slid from the chair – only halted when his free hand caught the arm under his palm. Mycroft winced at the pain flashing in his brother's eyes. John, though, merely passed his daughter to Mrs. Hudson before kneeling alongside his friend.


Occupied with cutting thick slices of roulade, Mycroft missed the actual conversation between the two men. As it was, Sherlock closed his eyes, briefly, before nodding. A moment later, John retrieved his kit, along with a glass of water, and administered what was presumably additional pain medication.


Within minutes, the table was set and John, having changed from his work clothes and scrubbed a wet flannel across his face, offered an arm to help Sherlock to stand.


Though the younger man made a face at the proffered arm, nonetheless, he took hold when he stood on somewhat shaky feet.


Soon they were all four of them, as well as Rosamund; happily bouncing on her father's knee, sat at the table and passing around dishes.


Tucking in like a man starving, John put away half his meal before noticing the less enthusiastic eating habits of his flatmate.


“You'll need to eat something with that medication you took.”


Eyes rolling, Sherlock jabbed a bite cut from his lamb and placed it between his teeth with the same put-upon expression Mycroft remembered from their shared childhood.


Mrs. Hudson, however, was ignoring the minor drama and spoke above the silent argument. “It's lovely you were able to come home, John. Miss Rosie was having quite a poor time of it until you showed.”


“Yes,” John replied, cutting his eyes briefly to Mycroft, “someone apparently made a call. It appears our clinician has had a miraculous recovery in time to resume his shift and offered to cover the next shift as well. Looks as though I'll get to enjoy a few days off.”


Mycroft patted his lips with his serviette. “How fortuitous.”


Sherlock narrowed his eyes; glancing back and forth between the two men. “I'm sure... Almost unbelievable...”


Mrs. Hudson smiled. “Well I think it's wonderful! I also think that calls for something special after such a beautiful meal. It just so happens I have a blackberry tart I had made for my bridge game tomorrow. However, Mrs. Lainey had to cancel – her nephew come to town, unannounced. He's from the Americas.” Which was apparently enough of an explanation. “Well, of course, family takes priority over a silly game and we'll be able to meet again next week. Not that you need to know all of that. The important thing is that now we have a lovely pudding to have with out tea for laters.”


Smiling, feeling an unexpected warmth despite the long ramble, Mycroft folded his hands before his plate. “That sounds exceptional.”


And so they ate together. And talked together. And indulged a giggling Rosamund who made her rounds about the table. And when it came time for tea, Mrs. Hudson fetched her marvelous tart, just as she'd promised; plied with a mound of heavy cream.


Then, sated with good food and good companionship, they all settled in the sitting room and grew sleepy with the heat of the fire and the cups of hot tea that seemed to never end.


Mycroft found he was in no hurry to leave. Found, in fact, that he was enjoying himself.


And that was a revelation. Because, if his brother's expression were anything to go by, Sherlock was feeling the same way. The Ice Man and the high functioning sociopath; finding their happiness in this tiny little family.


Who would have thought.


Though silence soon fell among them there was no discomfort because of it. Rather, Mycroft found it a soothing peace. A short while later John switched on the telly and located a nature program; watching as he held his sleeping daughter and settled alongside Mrs. Hudson on the couch. Sherlock had long since faded and, with gentle prodding, Mycroft had helped him to his room and to bed before returning to the sitting room and, to the bemused look of his host, the chair he'd vacated minutes earlier.


Any awkwardness he may have expected to feel was absent. What he felt, instead – so rare as to nearly ascribe “bliss” to the sensation, was contentment.


And so he remained – hours beyond the time he would typically have vacated if just to escape the cloying normalness of domesticity.


It wasn't until Mrs. Hudson, nodding down towards her long empty cup, announced her need for bed that Mycroft realized how long he'd remained.


Standing alongside the woman, he gathered his umbrella and jacket. On his way to the door John, still holding the sleeping toddler, had perhaps surprised himself with the offer of dinner, again, the following weekend. Aware of Mrs. Hudson beaming over his shoulder and not caring a whit, Mycroft smiled and tipped his chin.


“I would be honored.”


And then he said goodnight and accompanied Mrs. Hudson to her floor before heading out into the dark – his car arriving at the kerb exactly on schedule. Slipping into his jacket, Mycroft paused a moment to look back at the flat above – noting the lights going dark as the occupants all went to their respective beds. Behind him, his longtime driver held the car door open and waited.


“Did you have a good evening, Sir?”


Hours of child-minding his brother, listening to a fussy Rosamund grizzle through her meal, tolerate John's chewing habits and Mrs. Hudson's marathon stories which never seemed to actually arrive to anything resembling a point...?


Letting his umbrella tip tap against the sidewalk, Mycroft finally nodded; turning to face the other man. “Yes... I believe I actually did.”


Then, sliding into the vehicle, he let the door close shut on the view.


He was ready to go home.