John has, on many occasions, wondered after Mycroft Holmes: over just how much his camera eyes intimate the city, over the scores and old resentments keeping him and Sherlock apart. The eerie truth of Big Brother took time to settle in his bones, but some sense of loyalty—or more accurately, Sherlock’s gnashing—kept him from admitting to finding Mycroft’s overhead presence a comfort. A bit akin to the army, John thinks, military command chains extending forever upwards—always someone to lift the problem from your hands. And while some might protest the utter mindlessness of that, those some have never watched a man’s brain blown apart.
Still, he begins to reassess his feelings when he finds the first umbrella two weeks later, just about when he has started fingering his gun at night. Perhaps it was Sherlock’s buffering presence all along that kept John’s current sense of chafing away, because then the umbrellas don’t quit—pressed into his hand at the Tesco, swept over his head at tube stations, sitting in the office he now haunts because hypochondriacs are preferable to 221b. It’s almost a relief when he staggers home by Sarah’s command after a double shift and finds the man in his parlor, because it at least means the watchers will stop.
(Or rather, stop interacting with him so he can return to his former state of selective awareness.)
Mycroft looks diminished, although a man unlearned in the language of Holmes would be distinctly unable to tell: he stands at his usual imposing height but the lines of his suit are too sharp, freshly tailored to fit a shrinking middle. The same stubborn resolve to persist on minimal sleep that John has scolded countless times lurks beneath eyes that stare clear as still pools, lingers in the meld of his thinner body to the chair. There is no Sherlock to bicker with, not anymore, and so his presence in the flat feels distinctly wrong—lacking the same relaxed elegance able to make John’s frumpy couch into a proper throne. Only the irritatingly familiar umbrella remains unchanged, sitting faithfully by its owner’s side. “John,” he greets as the doctor emerges with a tea service, resigned to the government’s company.
“Are we still going to do the whole you-not-calling thing, Mycroft?” John asks dully, pouring for them both in practiced motions before shuffling to the mantle. “What do you want, anyway?”
“I sought to give you advance notice of my visit, this time.” The man’s eyes follow him as he returns with the urn and folds into a chair. Together they avail themselves: three sugars for Mycroft, half a teaspoon of Sherlock for John. The doctor adds milk, watches the dark speckles swim about like goldfish in a bowl, sips, warming him from outside’s nip and pleasantly rough down his throat. Mycroft is utterly still save the most minute twitch of his fingers about the cup. “How are you faring, Doctor Watson?” he inquires, carefully.
“Haven’t sorted through his stuff yet,” John replies. “Busy at the surgery, and I’m not quite sure what’s hazardous or not with the things he used to keep around. Digestive?” A box of chocolate ones sits on the tray, Mrs. Hudson’s ploy to tempt his appetite. He chooses one, dunks it carefully in his tea until bits of ash stick to its surface.
“No thank you, John,” says Mycroft, face a curious shade of gray. “Tell me, have you been eating?”
“One of your people caught me at Tesco, didn’t they?” The doctor bites into it, frowning at the taste. He hasn’t added enough. Sherlock falls into the cup again, pinch by pinch. “You could make that a thing, Mycroft—government umbrellas. Nice altruistic segment for the telly.” He laughs: a low, quavering thing. “No, I’ve been eating. Cooking more.” The plethora of restaurant owners who owed Sherlock favors have sent a slew of coupons that sit untouched beside an abandoned beaker.
“You should stay for dinner,” John offers politely, halfway through his tea. He has never conversed with Mycroft without the creeping feeling of being looked down upon and its absence makes him cheerful, magnanimous. “Might do noodles, I think.” He envisions it, Sherlock churning in a red sea of thick bloodlike paste and decides he likes the bright image. A second biscuit crackles from the plastic package and John submerges it, crunches in, relishing the grit between his teeth.
“Unfortunately, I have prior commitments and must decline, John,” is Mycroft’s low reply. “Thank you for your hospitality; it is most appreciated.” He leaves his tea untouched on the table and stands with stately grace, reaching out after a pregnant second for a handshake. His kinesiology is a study of its own, echoes in John’s brain and he meets Mycroft’s grip with a certain hunger: warm from the teacup, sharing lines and depressions with the touch John remembers—it takes several tugs and the working of fingers for the doctor to let go and his hand hangs uselessly in the air between them. He hears each deliberate step, standing frozen, and collapses into his chair like a snipped puppet at the closing of the door.
The afternoon passes in the crumble of ashy biscuits in cup after cup of ashy tea: an assembly line to his mouth, crunch and swallow. His hands soon forget how to do much else and they dangle helplessly in the air hours later when footsteps thunder upwards and Lestrade appears. “John?” he calls out, catching sight of the doctor and something like horror nestles deep in his face. “Come on, up you get.” He feels himself hoisted and wobbles on his feet, but submits quietly to his jacket until Lestrade glances about the room and moves the urn.
Then begin the screams put him back put him back fucking hell put him back and the room explodes in motion—there are men holding him down and a kind-faced doctor wearing his outfit with a syringe that glints in the sudden light and swells across his vision until the needle is thick as his arm and lodges itself therein like the sting of a wasp—blood ballooning like bubble gum from the egregious hole. An orange blanket settles heavy atop him and he twitches bloated fingers to grasp it, babbling nonsense about dim sum and door handles until the usurper in his system smothers him to silence—he splutters in fright, voice gone and saliva streaming down his cheeks in wet tracks. The doctor wipes his face, expression concerned and then the ceiling shudders backwards into stairwell-black and he is bleeding to death, John realizes, before he is wrestled down to darkness.