It had been a long, long day and Mycroft was tired.
Twelve hours of endless strategic meetings with other men holding ‘minor positions in the British government’, pressing telephone calls, and a last-minute appointment with the Foreign Secretary’ to boot, made him feel every weary bone in his body. After barely managing to pause for a hasty sip of tea and a quick unfulfilling sandwich between two consecutive meetings during lunch hour, everything he could think of now was a long, hot shower and a nice, warm bed.
Tomorrow, the crown would need him back at full power, ready for another long hard day of work, but for tonight he was off duty. He needed rest, urgently so, which was why he had told Anthea not to disturb him unless Buckingham Palace was under siege or similar emergencies of that nature presented themselves.
He tipped his head back and sighed in content as the hot water rained down upon him, engulfing him into a wonderful, damp cloud of steam. The aching knots in his neck, back, and shoulders slowly began to unwind under the hard stream of water and he revelled in the marvelous feeling for a few minutes. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to enjoy the feel of the tedious day being washed away, dissipating in the drain, before he grabbed a bar of soap and began to thoroughly, almost clinically, wash his body clean.
Being a meticulous person, Mycroft very much appreciated feeling clean. He was also a very vain person, a weakness that he was painfully aware of, but he justified his obsession with wrinkle-free suits and perfectly polished shoes with his job and the image he had to project that came with it. Even when he was on holiday, he wore expensive button-down shirts and tailored vests. He just wasn’t the type for woolly jumpers or even casual shirts. He would look ridiculous in them and he wouldn’t care for them.
He was used to the stiff cotton or the occasional silk or satin. The uncommon textures didn’t itch him anymore, feeling more like a second skin to him nowadays.
Finished with cleaning himself and also washing his meagre crop of hair, he got out of the shower, towelled himself off, and slipped into a pair of pants as well as his favourite robe, a silk maroon one that had been a gift from Mother. She knew his taste and he smiled when he remembered the way she had fussed around him last Christmas, showering him with dozens of pairs of new socks that he didn’t need, treating him as if he was still her young ten-year-old instead of the fully grown man that he was today. He didn’t mind it. She meant well. She always did and that was what counted, right?
He sat down on the generous couch in his sitting room, clad in his robe and slippers, and turned on the TV to watch the eight o’clock evening news while he hungrily devoured a quick dinner of beans on toast. It was a simple meal, one that most people would have been surprised to see him eat, but he had loved it since he had been a little boy and he had never lost the taste for it. Sometimes, he was sick of the pretentious, expensive meals he inevitably was served during the many meetings and conferences he attended: they were always too small, too unfulfilling and he found himself disgusted by the strange tastes more than often, although he always managed to smile and clear his plate, pretending everything had been delicious. That’s what was expected of him, so that’s what he did. He had manners after all.
The news didn’t tell him anything that he hadn’t known before and that was how it was supposed to be. He liked to watch them anyway because he liked to get the perspective of a ‘normal’ person, so to speak: how the daily ups and turns, natural catastrophes, and especially political developments, were portrayed to them. From the position that he was in, it was easy to forget that there were millions of people out there, who were influenced by what he and his colleagues did, every second of the day, every single day and he thought it important to get some outsider’s perspective, just to not lose the connection.
His work was important, and he was very good at it, he knew that. But in his heart, he knew that if he were one of the ‘common people’, he would want to get as much insight into national (and international) politics, as possible, especially because he, being one of the people with insight, knew how much went on behind the scenes without the public knowing.
His dinner was gone, and he felt full and satisfied. He turned the TV off and grabbed his current guilty pleasure, a top-ten-level spy novel, from the coffee table. Unfortunately, he very rarely got the time to indulge himself like this. His evenings were usually spent working his way through a day’s worth of paperwork, a tedious side effect of his position. Not that Mycroft minded it very much, he was good at it, had always been good with papers. But it was always so very much, and although he worked through them efficiently and quickly, there always was more, an endless mountain of documents, reports, and statements that needed to be seen through and signed. He would sit at them for hours, sometimes while listening to Beethoven, Bach or Chopin – or sometimes, when he was in quite the good mood, Louis Armstrong or Billy Holiday – while going through them until his eyes drooped, and he was finally forced to go to bed. He liked working and he had no problem with his 80 hours+ weeks.
But on occasions, he needed some time off and this was one of these days. He had spent the whole day negotiating with potential business partners about the particular details of an upcoming contract. They hadn’t managed to come to a satisfying conclusion despite Mycroft bringing forward his best arguments and his most charming compliments. Needless to say, he was frustrated and tired, made worse by the fact that he would have to start all over again tomorrow.
So this evening he would put work aside and divert himself with random, ridiculous James Bond-reminiscent literature. He would never admit to anyone that he liked reading them. He would be terribly embarrassed if anyone ever found out, and he had sworn Anthea to secrecy. God forbid that Sherlock ever discovered this little secret of his, he would never hear the end of it.
He scowled as he thought of his wayward little brother. It was the perfect way to ruin his evening, but he knew it was hopeless now that these unwelcome thoughts had entered his mind.
The paperback in his lap already forgotten, Mycroft leaned back against the back of the couch as the unpleasant memory of his last encounter with Sherlock once again flashed through his mind.
It had been a dirty back alley and Sherlock had been just as dirty. Dirty clothes, dirty hair, dirty face. His skin sallow and sunken in, sweat on his brow, the usually bright blue eyes half-lidded and blood-shot. As soon as he had seen him on the screen, dressed in shabby rags, huddled in a corner with one of the most known dealers in the whole district, Mycroft had given the orders to retrieve him, jumping into the limousine together with his men without a second thought.
Sherlock had been livid with fury when they had pulled him away from the other shady individuals on the scene. He had screamed at Mycroft to leave him be, that he was ruining everything, that he wasn’t actually using, that he was on a case, but Mycroft had turned a deaf ear. He had heard it all, so many times. He wouldn't allow Sherlock to do this all over again. To him. To Mother and Father. Not today. Never again.
When Sherlock had begun to fight his men with some of that outlandish baritsu moves of his, Mycroft had made a quick decision, giving the order to sedate his brother, even though he was loath to do so.
It had been hard, seeing his brother crumble to the ground as the needle was pulled out of his bare forearm. He had managed one last disbelieving glare at Mycroft looking down at him before he had lost consciousness. Mycroft had watched dispassionately as they had carried his brother’s limp body down the street and deposited him into the car, feeling completely justified in his actions, although there was an annoying pang of guilt because of the forced sedating.
Well, needs must, as the saying went.
Unfortunately, he had been wrong. After they had tested him, it turned out that Sherlock had told the truth. There was not a trace of any kind of dubious substances in his blood. Not even a little bit. Nothing. Nada. He had been completely clean.
Sherlock had outright refused to accept his sincere apologies. After he had woken up hours later in one of Mycroft’s many safehouses, still dazed and wobbly on his long legs, he had shoved Mycroft away with trembling hands.
“Just stay away from me, Mycroft, “the brat had snapped at him. “Why are you always meddling in my affairs? Go away, go pester some of your minions, but leave me the hell alone!”
After yelling at each other for what seemed like an hour, Mycroft had thrown his arms into the air and then got right into Sherlock’s personal space.
“Alright, brother! Have it your way!”’ he had said through gritted teeth. “I’ll leave you to your own devices. Just don’t come running to me when you’re in trouble and in need of help.”
Sherlock had just smirked in a very condescending manner. “Won’t happen. Now piss off.”
Seething with anger, the kind of anger only his infuriating younger brother managed to make him feel, Mycroft had turned and left, slamming the door behind him and leaving Sherlock to find his way home by himself.
That had been a week ago. Since then, he had reassigned the men watching CCTV footage of his brother to other duties. He hadn’t seen him or heard from him since then. He had no idea what he was up to, if he was out on a case, where he went, who he met. Nothing. If his brother didn’t want to be watched, Mycroft was happy to oblige him. His resources could be put to better use, it was shameful to let them get to waste observing and protecting a man that was behaving like a child, a man whose ungratefulness knew no bounds.
Yes, Mycroft had made a mistake, but he had apologized. Also, Sherlock could not really blame Mycroft for his actions, could he? After everything that had happened a few years ago, after that almost fatal overdose in the end, how could he resent Mycroft for trying to prevent that from happening again? From trying to protect him? Once you’re addicted, you’re addicted for life. It’s a fact, and Sherlock knew it, so why did he give Mycroft such a hard time for his unfortunate, if not believable behaviour?
How dare he turn up his nose at Mycroft like that?
Let the man have his way, see if anyone cared.
A weary sigh escaped him. At least that’s what he was trying to tell himself. A whole week had passed by, and he was getting more and more restless. He couldn’t help it. Somehow, not knowing what Sherlock was doing, how he was, was getting under his skin. All his life, he had watched over his little brother. He had babysat him at the playgrounds, had played silly games with him to convince him to eat his spinach, had grudgingly agreed to help him with his youthful experiments in his laboratory when he was still inexperienced and trying to understand how it all worked.
When Sherlock had left their parent’s house to study at university, Mycroft had always kept an eye on him from afar. He knew when he had a test due and what marks he was given. He knew his friends – or lack thereof – he knew what boys he had kissed and which people had burst into tears because of him. Only when Sherlock had dropped off the face of the earth for three whole months, when Mycroft had not been vigilant enough, had he learned that there were limits to his capability of keeping his brother in check. Sherlock was stubborn. He was proud and he hated to be caged in. It had taken him an almost fatal overdose, his thin arms riddled with needle marks and three months of rehab, to get his point across. Mycroft had acknowledged his brother’s sharp wit and doubled his efforts in watching over him. Getting the position in government had certainly helped with his resources.
Sherlock’s harsh words that day had hurt. He was loath to admit it, but he was too intelligent and too self-aware not to recognize the tearing knot of resentment in the pit of his stomach, growing like an ulcer, adding to the already considerable amount of nauseating anxiety within him.
Sentiment. A sign of weakness. A waste of time. Yet unfortunately, he was not free of it, despite what he tried to convey to people around him, starting at his employees, extending to business partners and collegues, and ending with Sherlock.
Speaking of Sherlock, he knew the time had come where he had to know how he was. Now that he was sitting here, ought to be enjoying a restful evening, something which he very rarely could, he found himself aching with the need for information concerning his brother.
Was Sherlock well? Was he sleeping? Eating? He could be in the hospital, injured while on a case…
Rolling his eyes at himself, Mycroft gave in to his urges, grabbed the phone from the coffee table, and quickly dialled a number.
“Yes, Mr. Holmes?” came Anthea’s strong yet soft voice.
“I need you to gather today’s CCTV footage of my brother’s whereabouts and bring them to me.”
“As quickly as you can, please.”
Five minutes later, a firm knock on his door announced his PA’s presence and she strode in, still clad in an immaculate ensemble of wrinkle-free blazer and skirt, her make-up still looking perfect, as if she had just applied it. She had an IPad in her hand and he could see that the video on it was paused.
“Yes?” he asked, a little impatiently, as he looked at her from his position on the couch, his back rigid, his shoulder squared back.
“He’s not left the flat today, “Anthea said.
“Not at all?” he asked in surprise.
“Has anyone been to visit him?”
“Hm.” Mycroft rubbed his jaw with stiff fingers, quickly running through some theories. Maybe Sherlock had just finished a case and was now doing the sensible thing, deciding to take a day’s rest after chasing after criminals for days on end.
“Doctor Watson is with him though, isn’t he?”
Anthea hesitated for a millisecond, then her features smoothed over again. “No, he isn’t, Sir. He has taken the train to Manchester two days ago, apparently, there is a conference he has to attend.”
Although Mycroft had ordered Anthea to get everyone appointed to Sherlock off the job, his PA still knew these facts about his brother’s flatmate – colleague, friend, lover? – and he was grateful for her efficiency.
“When is he due back?” he asked thoughtfully.
“In two days, Sir.”
Worry was starting to spread inside his stomach, creating a burning, twisting knot, and Mycroft swallowed, willing the unwelcome feeling away.
“She’s away, too, Sir. Visiting her sister this week.”
“So Sherlock’s all by himself and he hasn’t left Baker Street all day, is that correct?” His tone was getting sharper, but she didn’t show any sign of unease. She was used to it.
“There is something you should know, Sir.”
He studied her face, raising his eyebrows slightly. “What’s that?”
She hesitated for a split second, but then quickly resumed her perfectly guarded expression.
“You should take a look at a recording from one of the Southwark cameras from yesterday evening. It involves your brother.”
“You’ve taken a look at the CCTV footage, although I directly ordered you not to?”
She looked at him without blinking, unafraid to meet his pointed gaze. “That’s right, Sir.”
He shook his head, somewhat impressed, and waved her over with an impatient flick of his hand. “Show me.”
Theoretically, he should be outraged that she had ignored his orders. But when he took a look at the video on her IPad, he was damn glad that she had.
He watched the quickly changing images, skilfully edited together, as his little brother chased after a figure all dressed in black through dark back alleys somewhere around Globe Theatre. Standard procedure. The dramatic manhunt ended in a showdown at Southwark Bridge where several police cars and armed officers were awaiting them, cutting off the criminal’s exit route. Mycroft watched in horror, as the cornered man jumped off the bridge in a desperate attempt to escape, and Sherlock, stupid, reckless idiot that he was, jumped right after him.
Never mind that he could have broken his neck on the way down, but it was November and London had been especially cold these past few days. Icy rain had poured down during the day, rendering the streets slippery and muddy. It was a wonder neither Sherlock nor the criminal had slipped and broken something under these conditions.
Mycroft’s fingers were gripping the armrest of the sofa, as he waited for the camera to switch to another one. He watched with a mixture of relief and anxiousness as they fished Sherlock and his catch out of the Thames where the captured man was struggling underneath the merciless hold of his brother, an unforgiving smirk on his pale features. That one officer Sherlock always had a row with, Sergeant Donovan, dragged Sherlock to the waiting ambulance car, where they forced several layers of thick wool blankets over his thin shoulders and a mug of steaming tea into his hands. Mycroft thanked the Heavens above for the Belstaff coat Sherlock had been wearing, the thermal layers in the heavy wool the only thing saving his brother from a bad case of hypothermia. He could see Sherlock angrily swatting the paramedic’s hands away when they tried to take his pulse and he rolled his eyes at this usual display of his brother’s stubbornness and stupidity. Typical Sherlock, always the drama queen, couldn’t be bothered with simple things like general health. Did the man think he was invulnerable, immortal even? The way he blindly raced after criminals, seemingly uncaring for the dangers lying ahead of him, it certainly seemed that way.
After some more bickering and angry gesturing from Sherlock and some shouting from Sergeant Donovan, the ambulance drove off, the detective still in it, where the Sergeant had shoved him inside and closed the door before he could escape.
So he had been forced to go to the hospital. Good. That was at least something. But who knew if his brother had not jumped out of the ambulance as soon as they had stopped in front of the hospital, or if he had evaded the doctors’ hands before they could treat them?
Damn. Normally, he would be informed about all this.
“Where the hell is Greg Lestrade?” he spat out angrily. “Why hasn’t he told me about this?”
Anthea shifted on her feet. “He’s on sick leave. Apparently, he has the flu.”
“Great, that’s just … great.”
Shaking his head in growing frustration, Mycroft watched the last part of the recording in which the shivering form of his brother got out of a cab at Baker Street, his damp hair still clinging to his head, and disappeared behind 221 B’s front door. The time stamp on the right corner of the screen told him it had only been forty-five minutes since his fall into the Thames.
Oh, God. Just as he’d feared.
The conclusion of it all was that Sherlock had been inside all day, after having fallen into the icy cold Thames yesterday and no John and no Mrs. Hudson were there to take care of him.
“I thought about informing you, “Anthea informed him then, a hint of regret in her voice. “If he hadn’t shown his face by tomorrow morning, I would have alerted you to the circumstances.”
“It’s alright, Anthea, “Mycroft said as he set the IPad aside, “you weren’t even supposed to know about all of this.”
She remained silent and Mycroft rubbed his eyes wearily as he contemplated what he should do now.
He couldn’t just ignore this. Despite everything, this was his brother, he needed to make sure he was alright. It could be that his brother was just resting after a hard day’s work, as he was prone to do after solving cases. On the other hand, he could have caught a cold, which seemed quite likely after his unfortunate tumble, and his brother was not known for taking care of himself, even if his body practically begged him for much-needed rest.
Still hesitant to go through with his decision, he got off the couch and started to pace the living room, clenching his jaw, flexing his fingers anxiously.
Was he utterly mad, to feel worried about this, or was there some justification behind his brotherly concern? If John had been there, or maybe even Mrs. Hudson, he would probably still have worried, but he would have left it till tomorrow and checked his brother’s current well-being, within the rightful limits of discretion of course.
But they were not with Sherlock, and as the seconds ticked by, Mycroft realised that he could not leave it like that. His brother had fallen into the Thames after all, he could have hurt himself without anyone even knowing about it. Stubborn git that he was, he would probably endure the pain in silence rather than call a cab to drive to A&E. Knowing his interfering brother would get a whiff of him being there and trail after him to nag him about his health would also enforce that notion. No, he would rather sit in his flat all day and ignore whatever ailment was tormenting his body.
Sod it. His brother would have to deal with his interference this evening, it couldn’t be helped.
“Sir? Should I fetch the driver?” Anthea was studying him in her typical calm manner, although there was a hint of concern underneath her professional tone. Although he was embarrassed to admit it, his assistant knew him very well and she was accustomed to his constant worrying over his petulant baby brother.
“Yes, “he said, and he nodded to himself, in a defeated manner, “yes, I think that would be best.”
“Right away, Sir.”
Without saying another word, she left.
Shedding his comfortable dressing gown with a regretful sigh, he quickly re-dressed himself in a clean dark-blue three-piece-suit, grabbed his phone, and made his way down. As expected, his personal driver Clark, as well as Anthea, awaited him at the end of the stairway. Within seconds, they were inside the black Limousine in front of his house, heading for Baker Street.