Chapter 1: I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be...
Mycroft remembers the day he diagnosed his mother (and, by extension, himself) with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was still a few years before the condition was recognised as a serious neurological disorder – and even more until Mummy began treating herself for it – but Sigmund Freud’s writings on the subject struck a chord with him. Which is not to say there was anything particularly special about the day – he can remember others that were certainly more interesting than a balmy day in June, rearranging the books in his room for the twelfth time. Certainly, the day Sherlock was born could be considered more noteworthy if only for the changes it brought. (Ugly little wriggling pink bundle, like him, but not, Mummy was different after that—he pinches down on the thought and dispels it.)
Mummy was normal, aside from the obsessions and compulsions. She gave into them: checked locks a certain number of times, insisted on cleaning her hands multiple times after she did something that made her unclean, constantly tapping out a rhythm of triplets (she wasn’t even a musician). Apart from that, an ordinary, middle-class woman who lived with her cheating husband and didn’t know what to do with her two strange children.
He is not normal. It’s something he’s understood even before that June day, able to solve equations no child ought to be able to, numbers a soothing press of patterns and rationality in an otherwise irrational world. So, this need for control, this compulsive desire to repeat actions until they make sense – it’s merely an extension of his strangeness.
In his career pathway, he also cannot afford to have a mental illness – so, he doesn’t. After all, it was never professionally diagnosed—how much does a four year old truly know about mental illnesses, he asks himself sometimes (scrubbing at your hands well beyond the point of pain and hearing music that isn’t there you are delusional, delusional, delusional.)
Once, he read that mental illnesses are only diagnosed when they affect a person’s ability to function in day-to-day life. By merit of that definition, Mycroft doesn’t need a diagnosis. Mental illnesses are for other people, not him. He can function perfectly. He’s fine.
He has to be fine.
The summer holidays during his fourteenth year – technically, it’s his fifteenth, but it seems nobody except him can see the logic in this, so he learns quickly to remain silent – are absolutely hellish. Sherlock, all of seven and increasingly impossible, is going through a phase where he’s convinced he’s adopted; Mycroft went through one when he was five, and is quite disappointed by his brother’s slow development.
The weather is hot, sticky, and oppressive, and it gives Mycroft the excuse to wash his hands more often than is considered socially acceptable. He knows Mummy does it, too; he caught her in the middle of her ritual when he was six and, after being snapped at to go play somewhere else, Mycroft, knew that this was something he had to do. Mummy has a very good reason for it, after all. He’s read the textbooks – hand washing (cleansing, she calls it) is clearly linked to a decrease in contagious disease. Before he started to wash, Mycroft got colds all the time. The way it hurts (sore, red skin pulsing as the blood underneath tries to escape his unclean body) is worth it for his future well-being. He doesn’t quite know what will happen if he doesn’t wash, but his stomach prickles with dread at the thought of not being able to scrub away the dirt.
He’s trying to read in the library, licking his finger every twelve pages to guard against paper-cuts, when Sherlock, in a perpetual bad mood these days, storms in. He flitters around the scientific books for a while, scowling deeply, before stretching up towards what has to be the heaviest tome on the shelf.
“You’ll hurt yourself,” Mycroft remarks, turning the page. Hamlet’s dithering over whether or not to kill his uncle; he imagines it’s more engaging acted on the stage, but words speak to him just as vividly as actions do. Sherlock doesn’t answer, not that he ever does, and keeps straining for the book.
Predictably, when it falls down a moment later, it clips Sherlock on the head before thudding heavily to the ground, pages splayed and bent. He sighs, puts his copy of Hamlet down, and gets up. Sherlock hasn’t made a sound, rubbing at his forehead with a sleeve. “You never listen,” he scolds automatically. “For someone who does so little talking, it’s surprising.” His brother just glares, picks up the book from where it lies crumpled, and slams it down the right way up. If he expects Mycroft to start ignoring him by virtue of this sacred pastime, he’s sorely disappointed when the older boy pushes his black curls back with one hand. “You might have a concussion.” Sherlock jerks away angrily, his version of, ‘I don’t!’ Sometimes, it’s exhausting being the responsible one in the house.
It’s rare for Sherlock to go so long without making some snippy comment, but he’s been on a silence strike ever since he decided he was adopted. Far be it from Mycroft to stop him; on the contrary, he rather relishes the quiet, even if it is more difficult to tell where his brother is lurking.
“Stay still,” he orders, pressing his fingers against the head of a flinching Sherlock. “We should take you to the doctor.” At that, his brother shuts the book, puts it under his arm, and stalks a little way away, only to put it back down and continue grumpily reading. He might die, prickles at Mycroft. What if he dies? What if he goes to sleep tonight, and it’s a concussion, and he never wakes up? It’ll be your fault. “I’m telling Mummy,” he informs the sullen figure. Sherlock snorts like an irate horse – it’s rather an apt noise for the long-faced boy – and shrugs at the book. ‘What do I care?’ “Don’t be difficult, Sherlock,” says Mycroft in a sigh of a voice, fingers curling around the doorknob. Another snort – ‘Go away, you fat git.’ It’s distressing how easy to read his brother is, truly.
He comes back to the library a short while later; Sherlock glances up less discreetly than he perhaps imagines he does, intrigued by the pensive frown on Mycroft’s face. “Don’t disturb Mummy,” is all his older brother says, before returning both to his play and to a quieter space in his mind, away from shouting and shattering glass.
“Mycroft, surely you don’t need to eat that much.” His father’s comment, the tired sound of it, freezes him in the middle of spooning some more peas onto his plate (there are an uneven number, which he cannot eat). He’s not slender in any meaning of the word, but it rankles him to be reminded of it.
“Don’t put them back in the bowl,” chastens Mummy as he moves to do just that. “You’ll just have to eat what you’ve served.” His father rolls his eyes and stabs a potato. Mummy returns to delicately cutting up her pork into even portions.
Mycroft feels acutely and suddenly ill. They’re going to fight tonight, and it’ll be your fault. Again.
Sherlock is about five seconds away from throwing his plate against the wall until Mycroft slides one hand under the table, gripping his brother’s arm firmly. No need to make their parents any angrier.
A few minutes later, he’s being scolded again – this time for not eating. Everything’s gone cold anyway, and the peas are mixed up in the mashed potato, and he’s aware he might vomit if he has to touch that repulsive mix of food—
Not to be deterred by logic or common decency, Sherlock takes the opportunity of Mycroft’s distraction to fling his plate towards the far wall. It connects with an unpleasant slurp, and slides down, leaving a sticky trail of potato in its wake. Mycroft closes his eyes.
After dinner, after a recalcitrant Sherlock’s been shouted at by father and cried at by Mummy, after Mycroft’s been blamed for not keeping him in line, he escapes to the bathroom. His soap is kept in a small Tupperware container three shelves down in the cabinet below the sink, hidden behind the bath oil that nobody ever uses and underneath some ratty hand towels. It’s not a perfect hiding spot – nothing is with Sherlock as a brother – but it hasn’t been found yet. Mycroft is filled with inexplicable dread at the thought of it ever being found, even if it is just a bar of vanilla soap.
As soon as he turns the tap to the right, starting the water, he feels the tight ball of worry in the pit of his stomach start to waver, well conditioned by now. He takes a deep breath, places the soap between his hands, and runs them under the cold water with a shudder. Then, he begins.
First, he rubs the soap between his palms, slicking them up with suds, before taking it in his right hand and scrubbing the back and sides of his left. This he does for the right, as well, before sliding his fingers together, back and forth, the soap once again caught between his hands. He has to do this twelve times, he knows, so he restarts the process, closing his eyes and focusing on the feeling of the filth being cleaned from his skin. By the seventh time, his skin is already tender, but he has to keep going, otherwise he will be unclean, the disease will get him, he—
The door bangs open and Sherlock storms in. For a moment, Mycroft stiffens up entirely as his brother stops, stares, and tilts his head. The soap falls from his hand, and he snaps out of it, battling now with both suffocating humiliation and anger.
“Sherlock, get out!” he snarls, heartbeat thudding in his ears. He knows, he knows, he knows. “Don’t you ever knock?” Sherlock doesn’t move, just keeps staring; his expression shifts between curiosity to, how dare he, stunned disbelief. After that little display at dinner, the added stress of Sherlock knowing is something Mycroft cannot cope with. Everything presses down on him, little details that he normally suppresses bursting into life before his eyes (father cut himself shaving, Mummy was using rubbing alcohol, Sherlock stole a biscuit from the kitchen, hasn’t washed his hands for two days, was coming in to do so) and he’s screaming before he can stop himself; “Sherlock, OUT!”
For once, Sherlock does as he’s told, and bolts out of the bathroom, leaving Mycroft with a headache and watering eyes (must be hayfever, he thinks.) He washes his hands of the suds, locks the door, and starts the cleansing all over again. It does not help the hard knot of fear that worms its way into his chest and lodges there. You’ve ruined everything.
His bedroom is the only place he will allow himself to cry. Hands stinging, stomach churning with nauseated hunger, and sinuses burning, Mycroft sits on his bed, presses his hands into his eyes, and pretends he’s not. Everything hurts, including his brain, which is so exhausted from the rapid-fire inductions as well as the normal stream of worrying thoughts that it feels pinched and grey. He does not know how long he spends there, but when he looks up, Sherlock is playing with the doorknob, clicking it this way and that.
“I knocked,” the boy says, his voice husky after weeks of not talking. He chews at the collar of his flannel pyjamas. “C’n I come in?”
Mycroft sighs, rubbing his aching eyes. He can hear a deep voice shouting downstairs. “Yes, of course.”
Sherlock closes the door behind him, and sits shyly next to his older brother, picking at a loose thread on the duvet. It’s been bothering Mycroft for a while, and he’s relieved when Sherlock plucks it out. They wait in silence, listening to the loud sounds of fighting below; Sherlock eventually retreats further up the bed, sliding under the covers, while Mycroft goes and changes into his nightwear. The voices have abated enough that he’s quite certain he won’t somehow injure Sherlock (choke him, smother him with a pillow, no, no, I won’t, I can’t) as he climbs into bed as well.
“Why do they fight?” Sherlock asks the ceiling. His brother doesn’t know the answer to that, much less how to reply. Finally, the boy whispers, “I wish I were adopted.”
I know, he thinks, but does not say. He leaves the light on, because Sherlock’s wary of the dark and Mycroft still has Hamlet to get through tonight.
“Mycroft?” comes the inevitable whisper. “Do you have OCD?”
“As much as you have autism,” he replies, frowning at the text. ‘How much I had to do to calm his rage! Now fear I this will give it start again…’
“Mummy thinks I have autism.” Sherlock nibbles at his collar, chewing at the loose, woolly threads of a newly formed hole. “Mummy has OCD,” he continues a few minutes later.
“Yes.” He licks his finger and flips the page. There’s a part of him, despite the closeness and the apparent forgiveness from the only other person who understands him, that feels fragile, as frayed at the edges as the collar of Sherlock’s pyjama top or the carpet in the lounge. It hurts, and he doesn’t know why.
His brother hums, staring up into nothing, and begins to rattle off in a dull voice, “People suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder have obsessions and compulsions that are of an intensity and frequency sufficient enough to cause serious distress. Individuals with severe OCD are among the most impaired of all anxiety disorder patients, and have difficulty completing simple day-to-day tasks that most people take for granted.”
“You have too much time on your hands,” Mycroft says softly, barely listening. In reply, he gets a pronounced sniff, as Sherlock rolls over, taking with him more of the duvet than a seven year old should need. “You don’t have autism,” he adds, after Hamlet has gasped his dying words. ‘The rest is silence…’ The book shuts with a satisfying snap. He can tell by the set of Sherlock’s shoulders that he’s unconvinced. It makes him laugh, and the fragile hole in his chest cracks a little further open. “Goodnight sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” (Sherlock’s punch on the arm lacks the force it normally has; Mycroft doesn’t examine the meaning behind that too closely.)
Chapter 2: Am an attendant lord...no doubt, an easy tool...
A year after that, Sherlock utters those fateful words; “That’s not Mummy’s perfume.” The fighting escalates, and, by the time he goes back to school, father has left them. Mycroft thinks he ought to be more shaken up by it than he is, but dealing with ‘trauma’, as Mummy puts it, has never been his strong suit. Displaying emotions does not come naturally to him, nor to Sherlock, who, by the Christmas break, has apparently forgotten that father ever existed. Mycroft hasn’t, but Mummy insists that their separation (which quickly solidifies into a divorce) is for the better. He supposes that he believes her. There’s no shouting in the house anymore, and even Sherlock seems quieter.
Inevitably, they drift apart when Mycroft goes to university. He promises a sullen, blotchy-faced Sherlock that he’ll write every week, and for the first year there, he does. Sherlock does not write back. Eventually, Mycroft gives up; he’s far too busy networking and honing his skills of manipulation to worry about younger, childish brothers.
All the while, he’s developing new rituals, new ways to keep the intrusive voices at bay (if only temporarily.) Most of the time, he can ignore the ones that tell him to pick up a book and brain his study partner, disregard the occasional violent daydreams. It’s not rational, and therefore it’s not him.
One day, after he graduates (in two years with the highest marks the professor has ever seen in thirty years of teaching university-grade maths), he’s approached by a woman who introduces herself as a member of Her Majesty’s government, and proceeds to offer him a ‘lucrative career opportunity.’ He remembers his father sneering about how he could only ever amount to a civil servant, and accepts.
Mycroft’s rise through the ranks of bureaucracy would have been considered meteoric, had there been anyone to witness it. As it is, by the age of twenty-two and with a mere two years experience, he’s in control of a quaint little niche in the British Government – a minor position, he tells his mother, with a smile that no longer reaches his eyes. Sherlock, now fifteen and as moody as any teenager (albeit with more explosions), refuses to talk to him during and after that visit. He dismisses it as normal adolescent behaviour, trying to ignore the nagging voice of he hates you, he hates you, running around in circles at the back of his mind.
Over time, his position becomes less about keeping governmental accounts, and more about national security, until one day he finds himself being introduced to Her Majesty as a ‘defender of crown and country.’ He does not say that he cares little for either – after all, it’s merely a job description, not a reflection of his personal beliefs.
These are the days of excitement, broadening his horizons and seeking out new ways to test his not inconsiderable intelligence. He has not yet distinguished between friend and foe, and the thrill of discovery is enough to fuel his ambitions. They are the days of great highs – and unavoidable lows. His rituals become more complex, more rigid, the consequences for not doing them sharply defined in his mind. For lodgings, he rents out a little flat in Pall Mall; it’s sparse, but meticulously clean and quiet.
And, all the while, Mycroft slowly but surely cuts himself off from ‘unnecessary’ human interaction. He tells himself he’s too busy to feel lonely.
For the most part, it’s true.
Another year has come and gone. Time is both slow moving and fast paced when one is involved in the bureaucracy. Mycroft has burned his way through eight personal assistants, and has been cultivating somewhat of a reputation after the third. When he politely informs the secretary du mois that his services are not suited to Mycroft’s needs, the charming epithet of impossible neat freak is hurled back at him. He merely blinks, before suggesting the man (Mycroft forgets their silly names) should have his desk cleared by the afternoon, if he’d be ever so kind.
Mycroft is not oblivious to the gossip spread by his subordinates, and even by his (few) peers. He’s aware that he is considered to be more an iceberg than a man. There are those who even refer to him as a robot, given his need to check and re-check things until they are what he considers perfect. It’s the first time anyone has ever dared to say something like this to his face, however. He spends five minutes worrying over it, frowning at a cup of tea, before discarding the matter entirely. His sleep that night is undisturbed, as it is every other night.
There is, as always, a fortnight’s gap before the newest incompetent is sent to him. On that particular Monday – a day of invariable disappointment – he suffers a moment of dread upon seeing his new aide (brunette, just went through a messy break-up, coffee drinker) waiting patiently in his primary office.
“Ah!” he says in a tone of false enthusiasm. It’s one he’s well practised at by now. “You must be Miss…?”
She glances up from a perfunctory inspection of his library, smiling. “And you must be Mr…?” The dry humour startles him for a moment, and he barely bites back an answering smile. Such encouragement would not do, not at such an early stage.
“Holmes, although I do hope this is not a sign that you haven’t been briefed.” Her smile turns wry, a little downward quirk at the edges of her red mouth.
“Of course, although I do hope you’re not the type of person who relies on written correspondence.” Another little flutter of her lips; she’s biting back a grin at his raised eyebrows. “I was hoping we could discuss your requirements in person, sir,” she elaborates.
This one is certainly more interesting than the rest, but he doesn’t yet dare to hope that theirs will be a long and successful partnership. “Yes, quite, do please take a seat.” He puts his briefcase in its proper place, sits behind his desk, and steeples his fingers. It seems to unnerve a number of people, but this woman doesn’t so much as blink at his display. “You will do me the honour of providing me with a name, won’t you?”
Another secretive little smile. He’ll be damned if he’s beginning to like her. “Call me Anthea; everyone does.”
It’s certainly not a match made in Heaven – if there could ever be such a thing – but Mycroft finds that he can tolerate ‘Anthea’ (she never does tell him her real name) much easier than he did the others. The companionship she provides is refreshing, a calm sanctuary of intelligence in an otherwise desolate wasteland of idiocy. She even handles his little ‘idiosyncrasies’ with the appropriate grace, allowing him to confirm his schedule multiple times between the hours of eight and nine in the morning. After that, however, she insists that he must trust her. Eventually, the nagging voices that tell him he’s double booked himself start to only whisper to him during that one-hour period. If he thinks about this for long enough, it starts to concern him; he makes an effort not to.
Somewhere along the way, his father, after eight years of radio silence, decides very inconveniently to die of cancer. Mycroft is the only one of the family who attends the funeral – Mummy’s going through therapy and Sherlock is in school, for once. Father’s new wife-cum-widow is a pleasant enough sort, if a bit vacuous, weepy and blonde. The fact that they had a child is an unpleasant shock, but Christina is nothing if not a charming nine-year-old. He hardly blames his father; the man’s dead, anyway, so there’s little point. There’s nothing left for Mummy or Sherlock in the will, but his father bequeaths Mycroft his antique chain watch and a funny little magnifying glass.
Anthea says nothing when he comes to the office the next morning, his skin red and chafing against his clothing. He is, as always, grateful for her discretion.
The largest test of their new working relationship comes a few weeks after that, when circumstance dictates his attendance at a conference (really more a couple of dinner parties) in America. The flight, what some amusingly call, ‘across the pond’ is ghastly, but no more so than usual, and the hotel they check into has the delightful coincidence of being the exact one the two-day conference will be held at. The rooms (or, rather, apartments) they take are separate, of course, but connected by a door in each living room. Everything is running as smoothly as Mycroft likes it to be.
Until they come to the actual dinner.
He’s seated beside Anthea and an overzealous American, who is possibly one of the biggest cultural stereotypes he has ever met and keeps chattering on about trade policy in a thick, Southern accent. His participation in the conversation does not seem to concern the woman, and he spends most of the pre-dinner talk giving non-committal noises. Trade policy is of interest to him, but his views on the subject are so radically different that he fears offending the woman; worse, he might be dragged into an unnecessary debate over the issue. Regardless, he’s quite enjoying himself listening to her poorly-thought out but well-expressed opinion on fishing rights in the Atlantic, which, from there, develops into a heated (one-sided) rant on agricultural exports from the US. She doesn’t seem to think that China will be a major player in the decade to come, and brushes off his polite suggestion that it very well might. Anthea, he knows, is in quiet agreement with him, and keeps looking very amused at her cutlery. She’s scribbling in that little notebook she has on hand at all times; he’ll find out what she’s written later, when they’re debriefing back in his apartment.
The entrée is soup, which he manages without incident, declining the bread roll he’s offered. The sight of the American’s dripping roll is nearly enough to put him off the course entirely. Still, if he keeps his head down and mentally disproves all of her arguments pertaining to the inequality of trade between their nations, he finds he can finish the meal quickly.
A quick perusal of the menu only increases the horrible dread spiralling around uselessly beneath his sternum. Pan-fried salmon with watercress, croutons & capers, it displays proudly and, true to form, the meal is served after a brief address by the key speaker (boring little man with ambitions towards presidency that he will never achieve). When the plate is put in front of him, his stomach seems to suddenly shrink. He allows himself a moment’s panic – if you eat that, you’ll die of food poisoning, the oil is substandard, it’ll give you a premature heart attack, the salmon was caught yesterday, probably crawling with bacteria, you can’t eat it, you can’t eat it – before smoothly turning to the American and, very softly, remarking, “You’re quite wrong about China, you know. It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that Eastern influence is growing as we move closer to total globalisation; to dispute that is a mark of financial ignorance.”
To his mild surprise, the woman lets out a delighted shout of laughter. “Sorry,” she drawls, wiping her mouth with a napkin. “I thought all you Brits had some kinda law that y’all had to politely insinuate things ‘stead of actually arguin’. What were y’all sayin’ about China there? It’s gonna become some kinda big financial power? Says who?”
“The unprecedented growth over the past decade was a rather large indication of that, I thought.”
“Yeah, yeah, but you can’t tell me it can sustain nine point five percent growth for as long as it takes to surpass the US.”
“That is precisely what I’m telling you.” She laughs again, grinning from ear to ear, as the expression goes, and, to his relief, rises easily to the bait. By the end of the debate (although she grins once more and tells him, “This ain’t over, you hear?”) his food has gone cold and he has the perfect excuse not to eat it. He deliberately ignores the furrow of concern marring Anthea’s otherwise placid face. If he pretends the situation is fine… well, perhaps…
The next night, he is not so lucky in his choice of seating partner; this time, it’s a member of his own party, eighty years old, and quite deaf in his left ear. Mycroft forces every bite past his lips, mindful of Anthea’s darting little glances. After the final speaker, he excuses himself from the rest of the night by citing a sudden but intense headache. Given the cyclical, horrified turn that his thoughts have taken, it’s not an inaccurate complaint.
He does not rest once back inside the quiet, sterile apartment, but crosses briskly over to the bathroom, shrugging off his jacket along the way and hanging it up on a chair. It’s hard to overcome the natural inclination to go put it in the wardrobe, but his primary concern is the toxic substance currently roiling around in his stomach (it was just Beef Wellington, cries reason, quickly drowned out by muttering concerns about food poisoning and the age of the beef and the quality of the sauce).
It’s almost too easy to induce himself to vomit; one finger down his throat, and a light press against the uvula is enough. The wave of nausea causes him to double over the toilet, retching and gasping and tasting nothing but overcooked, red wine sauce and his own stomach acids. He’s almost done, feeling a sick pleasure as his body purges itself of the food, when there’s two, light raps at the connecting door.
“Sir?” Anthea calls out. He feels ill again, but there’s nothing left in his stomach to expel. “Sir, are you in here?” The door clicks open; he forgot to lock it, stupid, stupid… Heels tick across the linoleum of the kitchen and halt as soon as the bathroom is in view. There’s silence for a very long while, until she breaks it with a wary, soft, “Mycroft…?”
He runs his tongue along his teeth, wincing at the bitter taste of bile, and rises slowly. “Just a spot of food poisoning,” he lies easily, throat hoarse and stinging. Turning to face her is too difficult, so he flushes the toilet, lingering over rinsing his hands.
“I’ll get you some aspirin,” she says, still sounding uncertain. After a moment, the heels click away, back into her apartment. He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. There is no drug in the world that can make him better.
Chapter 3: Deferential, glad to be of use...
If there is a more torturous situation than being trapped in an aeroplane and about to experience (certain death, it will drop out of the sky, you deserve it) what he is almost positive is a panic attack, Mycroft has not yet experienced it. He is not entirely certain he wants to; this is hell enough. Anthea shifts in her seat next to him, face devoid of emotion while the rest of her body language radiates concern. It frustrates him briefly that she knows him well enough to tell that his breathing is unnaturally even, that his hands are shivering ever so slightly. The only other person who can tell is Sherlock, and, even now, Mycroft readies himself for the unpleasant mocking, the snorting, the rolling of the eyes…
“We’ll be on the ground in under an hour.” He opens his eyes (why did you choose the window seat) to see her scribbling away in her notebook. She glances up with a smile that would no doubt comfort anyone but him. “I don’t much like planes, either,” she adds. This confession is also meant to be of comfort. It isn’t, because it’s not the plane that’s the problem: instead, this anxiety is because he’s missed about five of his daily rituals. His hands feel like they’re crawling with bacteria, his suit was put on in the wrong order, and he hasn’t had a cup of tea for at least seven hours – well, he hasn’t had a decent one for three days, but it’s beside the point.
This is their third international trip, and the new year has only just begun. He missed Sherlock’s seventeenth birthday because of this last minute trip to Hong Kong; not that his brother likely noticed. Mummy’s been calling him more frequently to voice her concerns over Sherlock’s ‘anti-social behaviour’ and ‘alarming activities’. It’s a polite way of saying she thinks Sherlock is mad, which means that the Headmaster thinks so too. Mycroft will have to find some way to smooth this over. For now, however, he’s caught in this metal death trap while his mind is concocting more and more elaborate death scenarios. He feels stuck, somehow, as if his expansive brain is unable to move beyond the endless worrying thoughts. There’s something wrong with him, he knows, and it’s only been getting worse.
The touch on his arm makes him freeze up before he remembers himself; even so, he has to clench his jaw against the instinct to recoil. Anthea puts her notebook down on the armrest separating them. Written clearly on a clean page is the equation: ∫ ln x dx = xln x – x + C. Underneath that are the instructions: Find ∫ ln x dx and ∫ 2 ln 3x dx.
He glances over at her, but she’s calmly reading the latest New York Times bestseller (some trashy detective novel set in the 1940s with the usual, hard-boiled ex-cop.) Sincere expressions of thanks are not his forte, so he looks back down at the page. He is a little rusty at calculus, but once he’s proved the identity is true, he’s able to find the integral within the minute. The answers are the only things he writes down, and even that’s more for Anthea’s benefit than his own.
“Turn the page,” she says, still seemingly engrossed in her novel. There’s another equation, and more instructions; he flicks through the next few pages to find they’re similar as well.
Mycroft blinks at them, returning to the second page of equations. This is trigonometry. Despite being able to guess at the answer with more than seventy percent accuracy, he asks, “What’s the point of this?”
She smiles and doesn’t reply, which he supposes is answer enough.
By the time they land, his mind is filled with numbers and the tight knot of fear replaced by something he does not care to define. Relief, he decides, is the safest word for it.
Sherlock’s disappearance from school three-quarters of the way through the academic year does not surprise his older brother. Subconsciously, he imagines he’s been waiting for it, the moment that Sherlock cracks under the pressure of being forced to conform. What Mycroft doesn’t know is where the boy (because he is still a boy, despite his pretensions to maturity) is currently hiding out. He presumes Sherlock will come to him eventually, a theory he keeps to himself. Mummy is near inconsolable, though he does his best; he even lodges in a missing person’s report at Scotland Yard, as if this will make Sherlock turn up any faster.
It’s a week before he does finally turn up at Mycroft’s Pall Mall apartment: predictably, on a stormy Friday night, sodden and miserable. Mycroft says nothing about the affair, just invites him in, divests him of a dripping school blazer and, as his brother looks as though he’s been dragged backwards through a hedge and several puddles of mud, tells him to go take a shower. While Sherlock’s busy using up all of his hot water, Mycroft puts the kettle on and spends twenty minutes calling off the Yard’s search. Not that it was particularly effective, but he supposes they tried as hard as one could expect them to. He does not call his mother – given it’s half eleven, she’s likely asleep, and it would just cause needless worry. It’s not the only reason, certainly, but the one he’ll admit to later.
He puts Sherlock’s school things through the wash twice, and has to wash his hands three times to get rid of the feeling of dirt. By the time he’s put them in the dryer, resigned to the grass stain on the trousers, Sherlock is brooding away in his kitchen, looking much smaller now he’s wrapped up in Mycroft’s towels. They remain silent for a long while, as he carefully makes tea for both of them and sits opposite his brother at the table – Mycroft’s much better at this game than Sherlock, even if it’s been years since they last played it.
“They wanted to lock me up,” his brother snaps finally, jerking the mug a little closer to him. The low timbre of his voice surprises Mycroft; hadn’t it been only a year ago that Sherlock’s voice had started to break? “In a madhouse. They wanted to section me.”
He bites back on his impulse to ask what Sherlock did; it will hardly coax him to offer more information. “I believe the term is ‘psychiatric ward’,” he merely remarks, taking a sip of his tea; he likes the way it burns his tongue. “Is this the Headmaster?” He clucks his tongue; “Honestly, Sherlock, you should have waited. Mummy would have taken you out of the school and—"
“Mummy?” Sherlock snarls, his dark eyes fierce. Tea slops from the sides of his mug; his hands are shaking. “She agreed to it.”
This time, he can’t hold his reaction back, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Something’s ticking away in the back of his mind, though, the dots to this little puzzle lighting like flares in the night.
“Fuck you.” With a scrape, Sherlock bolts up from his chair, towel slipping from his still wet hair and pooling on the ground. Mycroft remains seated, the dots beginning to make a vivid and not all together pleasant picture. Still, he can scarce believe that their mother would allow her child to be sectioned. Anti-social behaviour is not cause enough for this reaction. There’s something he’s missing. “Fuck you,” Sherlock repeats unnecessarily, breathing heavily, “you have no idea, none at all; you went away to Uni with your rich friends and stupid ambitions, and now you’re hiding in the bureaucracy and trying to dictate what my life should be like—”
The towel around his body shifts as he flails about in his wild rant, uncovering his lower arm. There – slightly below his left elbow – are the unmistakable sight of track marks.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft says, very quietly, eyes fixed on the brown dots, the white scarring, “shut up.” His brother does, still vibrating with (likely artificial) energy. Mycroft looks back up at him, as if Sherlock’s face will give him some clear answers as to how this could have occurred without his notice. “What else have you been taking?”
“Nothing,” is the instant reply. Far, far too defensive. Sherlock twitches, uncharacteristically nervous. He must have shot up in the bathroom. “It’s just cocaine,” he says finally, dropping back into the chair. “I don’t even take it a lot.” Just cocaine. The unspoken question – why – continues to hang in the silence between them, before Sherlock breaks again. “I get bored.”
Mycroft laughs, startling his brother. “It’s common to take a hobby, rather than cultivate a drug addiction.”
“I thought you’d understand,” he says through gritted teeth, “but let’s have it. What will it be today; you’re destroying your future, you’re better than this, you—you need help?”
“That would be stating the obvious,” Mycroft replies quietly. He closes his eyes as Sherlock throws his mug against the wall, the ceramic thudding to the floor, before letting loose a sound that is as human as it is not. It’s unhappy, low, and seems to be physically ripped from his brother. Worse still, it’s desperate. He sighs. “I feel I must reassure you that, strange as it may seem at the moment, I am, forever and always, on your side.”
“Why did you leave?” Sherlock asks, propping both elbows up on the table and covering his face. His entire posture recalls that of a cornered, wounded animal; Mycroft surmises that it might be the effect of the drugs. He does not reply. Ten years on, and there are still questions he cannot answer. Nothing ever changes, not really. Life is like his mind, doomed to play out the same, tedious scenarios again, and again, and again. He feels resigned to it, now.
However, it is neither the time nor the place to wallow in existential dread, so Mycroft gathers himself and goes into damage control. “A drug addiction is no cause for you to be sectioned. You'll have to change schools – we'll get you into a nice, discreet program to get you clean. Hardly the end of the world, this."
“Nobody knows about the drugs,” Sherlock mumbles, stopping his brother cold in the middle of all his neat little solutions.
Mycroft does not want to know the answer to this question, but he asks anyway. “Why, then?”
“It's not even anything important. I was – I was dissecting a dog, and they thought I'd killed it. I hadn't, though, I just found it on the main road.” Mycroft exhales, which is as good as an, ‘Oh, Sherlock.’ His brother's endless curiosity has at last landed him in truly dangerous territory. It's not the dissection that Mycroft's concerned about, it's that Sherlock was caught. “Don't patronise me,” Sherlock snaps, scratching at his arm angrily.
He ignores that, and rises from his seat. Sherlock's mug is still lying on the ground, surrounded by a puddle of cold tea. “Stay here for the weekend,” he suggests; “have some space to breathe. I'll call Mummy on Monday and... sort it out then.”
After a brief, wary pause, Sherlock shrugs, letting his arms drop to the table. “Alright.” Then: “You’ve lost weight.”
“How long will it be before the high leaves you?” he asks, not bothering to deign that comment with a response.
Another shrug; his brother picks restlessly at his arm as Mycroft cleans up the mess, already dispassionately wondering how long it will take him to wash his hands later. “Five minutes,” he says, voice cracking on the second-last syllable. He snorts and clears his throat, hunching even further into the towel. “Fewer, maybe. I don’t know.”
It’s such a typically blasé attitude that Mycroft nearly laughs again; he holds it in, and the fluttering in his chest turns soon from amusement to dismay. He lingers by the corner of the table near Sherlock, one hand unconsciously tracing the cheap plastic surface before drumming out a 12/4 beat. “What would you like me to do?”
“I don’t know,” he repeats, staring intently at his arm. Mycroft thinks he looks all of seven, sneaking into his brother’s bedroom at night when the arguing turned to fighting and insisting Mycroft read him his Chemistry textbook. It’s odd, the pain in his chest. “I don’t know.”
It leaves him in three minutes, and Sherlock spends the rest of the night on Mycroft’s bed, staring up at the ceiling and looking very pale. “What’s the point?” he mutters when Mycroft comes to join him, bringing along a book and a pair of bright red hands. (The use of rubbing alcohol, he thinks, is entirely justified, even if it makes his skin burn with cold fire.) He thinks of several answers, decides Sherlock doesn’t want to hear them, and spends the morning reading about stock investment and – once Sherlock falls asleep at eleven – the best treatment for drug addictions.
He rings the soliciting firm Mason & Mason (they always have funny names) later that afternoon and, true to form, calls Mummy on Monday, prepared from the moment she picks up the receiver to secure her agreement in transferring the status of Sherlock’s legal guardian over to him. It’s surprisingly simple. Sometimes he forgets how easily manipulated his parents can be, how normal they are. No doubt it should depress him, but fortunately he possesses a sturdier psychological backbone than that.
Once he gets on the phone to the Headmaster, he’s able to use a mix of overt sycophancy and subtle bullying to ensure Sherlock’s continued enrolment in the school, “just so long as there are no more strange occurrences.” This man is, of course, the type of idiot to think anything outside of his small, insular thought patterns ‘strange.’ Mycroft considers having him discreetly dealt with, considers, for a moment, that he has the power to do that now, and eventually relents.
After a weekend of harassing Mycroft over his apparent weight loss and chattering on about his new interest in crime (God help Scotland Yard), Sherlock goes back to school on the Tuesday, looking a little less wan than he did before.
Anthea finds him that afternoon down in the basement where the records are kept, arranging and rearranging the stacks twelve times until the numbers in his head stop clashing.
“I’ve got the Prime Minister on line three, sir, he sounds quite anxious.” (As does she. He needs to start hiding it again, he thinks. That will do.)
The stacks are not ordered correctly. It nearly hurts to be dragged away in the middle of a ritual… but he has work to do.
Chapter 4: Politic, cautious, and meticulous; full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse…
Six years on, Sherlock’s happily failed both a Bachelor of Chemistry and a Bachelor of Forensic Science, is doggedly avoiding going into rehab, and has caused Mycroft to start prematurely balding. He’s also taken it upon himself to take a more pointed interest in Scotland Yard, now that his brother has started sending what he believes are anonymous tips. Sherlock’s in no danger of acquiring a job any time soon, and Mycroft realises wearily that he might have to start pressing the issue.
He’s thirty when he meets Detective Sergeant Lestrade, the one police officer Sherlock has started focussing his attentions to. The man works late, has been married for five years, separated from his wife for two, is overdue for a promotion, and smokes far too much. Another two weeks after that (as Sherlock starts wandering onto crime scenes), Mycroft actually goes to visit Lestrade in person.
The office is virtually empty when Mycroft wanders in, internally marking them down for their poor security. Lestrade is easily identifiable, hunched over his tiny desk, his grey hair still streaked through with its former brown. Mycroft watches him for a moment, lingering in the open doorway.
“Good evening, Sergeant.” Lestrade’s head jerks up so quickly Mycroft almost fears he might have sprained something. His eyes are quite brown, and quite widened with alarm.
“Jesus,” he says, breathing sharply, “you—er, wow, sorry, you startled me.” Then, they narrow with the inevitable suspicion. Mycroft had been hoping they could skip this tedious step. “Are you meant to be up here…?”
“Mycroft Holmes.” He smiles, and does not extend his hand to shake. “I’m here to make you an offer.” It’s a sentence that doesn’t endear him to Lestrade, who starts to rise, shaking his head.
“I don’t think—”
“No, likely not,” he replies briskly, “Before you protest – do, please sit – listen to what I have to say. The anonymous tips you’ve been receiving—” a twitch of one eyebrow; really, the man’s far too easy to read “—they’ve been useful, haven’t they?” Lestrade doesn’t reply. Mycroft’s smile turns thin and sharp. “And the man who turned up at your last crime scene: seemed to know things he shouldn’t…”
Lestrade shifts in his seat. “Drug addict, isn’t he? Expect you want me to cut off all contact?”
“On the contrary, Sergeant, I want you to offer him a job.”
Sherlock whirls on him, lips pulled back in his usual sneering snarl. “Stop interfering! I didn’t ask for your concern.” Mycroft tries to respond, but finds his throat has suddenly seized up. He gasps for air as Sherlock continues to rant and rave, thin arms flinging about wildly. “I followed you to the place you took him. Why do you have to threaten everyone I know?”
“I didn’t kidnap him,” he tries to gasp. But the words won’t come. He’s frozen, silenced by the swelling of his throat. Sherlock pays his struggles to undo his top button no heed; his fingers slip against it uselessly.
“I saw what you did to him,” Sherlock hisses. “They had to call an ambulance, did you know? They’re not sure he’ll ever walk again.” What? He doesn’t… he can’t… Mycroft’s mind seizes up as swiftly as his throat did, paralysing him with terrifyingly vague recollections. What has he done? “You have to ruin everything, don’t you? You repulse me,” sneers Sherlock. The vitriol would normally surprise him. “Can’t even keep your violent impulses in check, you fucking hypocrite.” He smiles then, and it’s twisted and small. Mycroft feels trapped. Trapped by the certainty that he’s done something – beaten Lestrade to within an inch of his life. Had it even been him? He couldn’t quite recall, perhaps he’d gotten someone else to do it, just watched, like normal. He is sick, he is disgusting, he is… dangerous. “I hate you,” his little brother whispers, still smiling. His stomach roils. “I’d be so much better off without you.” Mycroft can’t find it within him to disagree.
There’s a gun on the table that he hadn’t noticed before. It’s heavy in his grip, almost comforting, in a sense.
“Go on,” Sherlock says. The metal is cool between his lips, brushing the roof of his mouth and he—
The shrill ringing of his alarm jolts him awake. For a moment, he lies there, staring up into the pre-dawn darkness and feeling individual strands of hair sticking to his forehead. He can’t think straight, his mind a low buzz of worrying, intrusive thoughts. Sighing, he digs the heels of his hands into the skin below his eyes, spends a few moments breathing deeply, and eventually swings himself out of bed.
Try as he might, Mycroft can’t quite convince himself it was all a dream. He avoids Sherlock for a week, trying to guard against the disdain he fears he will find. When he does eventually visit, Sherlock has relapsed, and is frantically cleaning his little flat on Montague Street with a toothbrush. Forcing him into rehabilitation, Mycroft thinks, might be the only course of action by this point. He will not be thanked for it. He does not deserve thanks.
It takes two more years to get Sherlock rehabilitated and largely off cocaine; he only spends, at the most, three weeks in any particular clinic before staging a desperate breakout, and Mycroft finally resorts to the more personal method of keeping him under careful observation in his own flat. Lestrade refuses to let his brother on cases for a few weeks until Sherlock’s stopped shaking all the time and some of his more violent actions. Mycroft’s utterly weary by the end of it. He perseveres.
The psychiatrist waiting in his office one morning makes it apparent to Mycroft that Anthea has been planning her own intervention, taking the advantage of his distraction to arrange everything. He pauses in the doorway, considers the man’s back, and walks back out to the hall. Anthea is waiting, new mobile phone in one hand.
“What is this?” he asks in a quiet, deadly voice. She doesn’t respond at once, staring at him with a disturbingly determined expression. “It’s extremely presumptuous of you to—”
“Sir,” she says, firmly. She has the peculiar ability of Sherlock’s to communicate with him more effectively through body language rather than words: her folded arms are an indication that this is something she is unwilling to budge on. He would happily be the immovable object to her unstoppable force, had Sherlock’s angry shouting not kept him up half the night and disrupted a good deal of his daily rituals.
“Must I?” His voice is a sigh. He already knows the answer.
“I’ll do the talking,” Anthea promises, eyes falling back on her mobile as it buzzes with a notification. No doubt she will.
Evidently, Mycroft’s depressed. The psychiatrist (two years out of medical school, has only ever dealt with depression, wanted to be an surgeon, failed the course multiple times) gives him a prescription for antidepressants, which he slips into his pocket before Anthea can grab it, and bids them a very nervous farewell.
Mycroft smiles. “That was less painful that I’d anticipated.”
His assistant shakes her head angrily. “I think you should get a second opinion.”
“He seemed an extremely capable psychiatrist,” he replies pleasantly, itching to go wash his hands. “No, I’m quite certain it’s depression. I think I’ll go pick up the prescription on my way home.”
Her shoulders are set rigidly, but she says nothing, not even about his unusual divergence from the route between work, the Diogenes, and home. It’s not the last he’ll hear about this, he’s certain, but she no longer has the element of surprise on her side. Foiled by an amateur therapist. Oh, my dear, he thinks, nearly pitying her. You did try.
The first round of antidepressants do nothing but make him feel, by turns, agitated and apathetic. His routines remain undisturbed, still taking up more of his time than he can afford to spare. It’s a few weeks before Anthea, having gradually worked herself into a fit of cold fury, apparently threatens a psychiatrist and manages to extract a prescription for clomipramine. Mycroft can no longer lie to himself that she doesn’t know about his condition. It’s almost a relief. Now he has the drugs, he can restore normality to his brain. Everything will be fine.
That would be true, except for that, one day, three weeks into the course, Mycroft doesn't get out of bed. He sees the weak light of a newly risen sun filtering in through the curtain, illuminating the Spartan room, gazes at it thoughtfully, and pulls the covers over his head. His disjointed mind is in agreement with his actions, a steady whisper of if you get out of bed, you'll die, Sherlock will die, you'll destroy the nation with your carelessness, everything you touch is ruined, you need to stay in bed, otherwise everyone will be hurt, otherwise...
He is frozen. It’s so discomfortingly similar to his nightmares that he feels close to some, overwhelming emotion. Hiding under a pillow helps it to go away.
Eventually, he discovers he's allowed to leave the bed for basic needs, but the certainty of some catastrophic event keeps his trips brief. It's almost too much work, going out to the kitchen to cook; he only manages to leave the bed twice before succumbing to apathy and lying there for what seems an indeterminably long amount of time.
It takes six hours for Anthea to find him there. He knows because it’s the first thing she calls out upon entering the flat; he can’t actually recall having ever given her a key, but she’s nothing if not resourceful. Sherlock’s already left by this point, the only sign of his departure the slamming of the front door. He’s involved with a case and with moving gradually back into his two-room flat in Montague Street; Mycroft is quietly thankful for this sudden shift of energy.
“Sir? Mycroft?” Anthea calls out, heels tapping against the polished wood of the living area. The noise reminds him of a conference years ago, of a time where he was convinced he could handle this. How very deluded youth makes us.
Before long, the door to his bedroom opens hesitantly, almost as if she does not want her suspicions confirmed.
“Oh,” she says, softly, her breathing stuttering for the briefest instant. He does not – cannot – look at her.
“Good morning.” False brightness hurts; it is still morning, isn’t it? He shifts up slightly in bed, prising himself from the pillow, and affixing a pleasant, normal smile on his face. “Sorry to have you worried, I must have slept in.”
Her neutral expression slips, briefly, into something quite vulnerable. “Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not,” he deflects, without thinking. “Not at all – it’s been a very long…” two years “…week, and I was desirous of some sleep. In fact,” he adds, “why don’t you have the rest of the day to yourself.”
On anyone else, Anthea’s face would be an expression of hurt; on her, it’s entirely dangerous. “Why can’t you get out of bed, then?”
“By what means did you come to that conclusion? My dear,” he says, laughing. She flinches at the term of endearment. “I’m perfectly sound, rest assured.” Externally, at least. Internally, he is a mess of baseless fear and sparking, white-hot thoughts that lap over one another; broken neural surges, wrapping around his brain and tightening until any semblance of rational thought is lost. I have to get out of bed, I can’t get out of bed, no, I have to, otherwise, but I can’t, because, I have to, I have to, I can’t.
“I’ll happily take the rest of the day off if you get out of bed,” she replies calmly. Mycroft keeps his cool, grey eyes on her for a very long while, as neither of them moves an inch. Finally, the terrified commentary in his head becomes too overwhelming; he jerks his gaze down and she lets out an audible, shaky breath. “This is – I’m assured it’s completely normal with the type and dose of antidepressant you’re taking.”
“Is it,” he says, flatly, staring a hole in the duvet.
“I want to help.” She pauses and takes in another breath. “Let me, please.”
“I find it funny that you would class any aspect of this experience as ‘normal’,” he continues in the same, emotionless tone. “I certainly…” His stomach growls with hunger; it’s the first time in a while he hasn’t associated the noise with the feeling of dirt. He stops, closes his eyes, and exhales. “Would you be so kind…?”
“Of course.” Tick, tap, tap, tap…
She returns shortly with food and his laptop, and, after hesitating, shucks her heels to climb onto the bed and rest on top of the covers beside him. They watch TV (or, Anthea does, at least), turning it to the news in deference to the poor quality of daytime television. He asks her for the seventh time what her real name is; she smiles very gently and doesn’t reply, again.
At one point, she turns to him, says, “Mycroft?” and kisses him. Almost as soon as they break off the short kiss (her mouth tastes like lip balm and copper), she laughs quietly at his wince. “No,” she resolves. They’re both relieved, in their own ways.
“No,” he agrees, but leans against her shoulder anyway.
It takes him two days to fully get out of bed, by which point Wall Street has collapsed, taking with it a good portion of the world’s other economies. His first day back at the ‘office’ consists of the Prime Minister shouting at him for three hours over the phone as he sips idly at a cup of tea and waits for the irritating man to fall quiet. Welcome back, Anthea mouths to him from the door. Indeed.
After three years, a trip to Florida, and a brief stint in prison (all arranged, he tells Mycroft unconvincingly), Sherlock finds himself a flatmate. The flatmate of course is an ex-soldier with more psychological problems than he can shake his umbrella at, but he has the most admirable trait of keeping his brother out of trouble. Mycroft tolerates Doctor Watson. For now.
Shortly after that it becomes evident that Watson is as good at getting Sherlock into trouble as he is out of. Mycroft spends days quietly smoothing over relations with China, without ever agreeing to let them extradite the terrorists. The terrorists disappear, and turn up three weeks later bobbing like waterlilies in the Thames. It’s convenient, and very unnerving.
Adam West dies and missile plans for a project that isn’t likely to ever be run go missing. He puts Sherlock (and, by extension, John) on it, before his brother goes and gets himself almost blown up. Mycroft increases his number of visits for the rest of that month, until Sherlock snaps at him about coddling and he vanishes once more into the folds of the civil service.
Harry and a very old friend come to Mycroft about a little scandal that’s popped up. The very old friend suggests getting, “that detective brother of yours,” onto it. One doesn’t refuse the suggestions of HRM, even if one is leery about this entire affair. (One also does not dare to think, “I told you so,” when the CIA burst in and almost kill one’s brother, but one might have for a moment.) He takes Sherlock off the case, forgetting, for an instant, that Sherlock rarely does as he’s told. It lands them on a plane surrounded by cadavers and hemmed in by a smug dominatrix. The taste of failure is very, very bitter… and then Sherlock pulls an ace out of his sleeve. There is a group of extremists operating just outside of London who are very happy to learn the whereabouts of Ms Adler. He tells John it was Karachi.
It’s quiet for a few months, until Sherlock decides to go down to Dartmoor and break into a top-secret military base using a card that Mycroft’s been meaning to take back for going on four years now. He puts a strangely tanned Lestrade on it, filing away a stray thought about the man that he keeps successfully hidden. Sherlock almost gets himself blown up, again; eventually, he will have to dissuade his brother from playing with bombs, he thinks, staring through the glass at the pale face of Moriarty.
The door opens behind him. The twenty four hours are almost up – he must admit he was hoping they’d run out so he could quietly dispose of the ‘consulting criminal.’ “You’re sure?” he asks, stare not wavering for an instant.
“Just do it.”
He goes through his hand washing ritual that night, the first time in half a decade he’s had to give into the compulsion.
A few months after that, Sherlock dies. It rains at his funeral. Mycroft thinks he would have found the whole affair very trite. All around him are expressions of grief – Lestrade keeps shaking his head at random intervals, eyes suspiciously red-rimmed; Mrs Hudson cries during the eulogy, as does Mummy. John doesn’t attend the funeral, but he’s understandably angry, destroying a perfectly good kettle in a violent screaming fit.
Mycroft does nothing. He’s never been good at dealing with trauma, after all.
Chapter 5: At times, indeed, almost ridiculous – almost, at times, the Fool…
Being legally dead does not seem to stop Sherlock from lounging about Mycroft’s apartment and making catty remarks about the curtains, however much Mycroft wishes it might have. His umbrella is still damp from the funeral when his brother’s voice rings out from the living area.
“This place is like a museum.” He shrugs off his coat, and Sherlock adds: “Or a mausoleum.”
“Shouldn’t you be off already?” he asks idly, making no move to alter his normal routine. Mobile in fruit basket, keys in the concealed compartment in the kitchen counter… “The funeral was horrid.”
“Always hated them.” Sherlock’s sprawled out on his couch, making it look more comfortable than it actually is. “The flight’s in two hours.”
Mycroft makes a vague noise; he knew that already. He suspects that Sherlock wishes to say goodbye, but doesn’t quite know how to do so. Neither does he.
“Good luck,” he says instead, the words hollow.
The visit to the pharmacist has almost become a pseudo-ritual for him. It’s the irony of the thing he most enjoys: a ritual to prevent his rituals. There are many things he entrusts Anthea with – his life, for instance – but they both, quietly, agree that this is something for him to do.
He’s picking up his prescription (clomipramine, still, as the SSRI medication sends him spiralling back into cyclical obsessions) when the door to the pharmacy jingles open in that singularly irritating way and a grey-haired streak darts in. Mycroft stuffs the bottle of pills into the paper bag faster than he thought possible, ignoring the raised eyebrow that Dr. Bradford gives him.
“That will be—”
“Yes, on cheque, thank you,” he mutters, knowing already that Lestrade has spotted him and is pondering whether to draw on their status as friendly acquaintances and engage in painful small talk.
“Mycroft!” He’d almost been hoping Lestrade would choose to linger in mutual silence, but to no avail. He turns, already smiling.
“Inspector Lestrade.” Lestrade looks even more drawn than usual, and he winces slightly at the title. Suspended then, or possibly fired. His returning smile makes them both uncomfortable, as forced as it is.
“Call me Greg, please.” And now we’re using first names. Next we’ll be exchanging stilted talk about the weather. “It was a lovely service,” Lestrade begins. Even worse: Sherlock’s fake funeral.
The bag crinkles in his grip. “Yes, quite.” The pause is just long enough to venture into the realms of being awkward.
“God, he would’ve hated it,” Lestrade remarks, and laughs, the sound tinged with a bitter edge. Mycroft’s smile smooths at the corners – the candour is refreshing. Lestrade’s brown eyes (since when do you care about colour?) dart towards the corner where the nicotine patches are kept. “Right, I’ll be seeing you, then?”
“It’s likely.” It’s cordial, polite, engaged but not too engaged. Lestrade gives him a strange smile. Mycroft nods in response, and leaves.
“And stay the fuck out!” After that shout, the door of 221b slams on Mycroft, the tip of his umbrella splintering with the force. He works it out of the doorway just as John reopens the door only to bang it shut again. It’s a rather more violent encounter than Mycroft would have liked, but older brothers of apparently dead flatmates cannot be choosers, it appears.
Just as he’s certain he’ll make it out of the house without further incident, he very nearly bumps into Lestrade at the door and has to hastily flatten himself against a wall to avoid impact.
“Oh, hullo,” Lestrade says with more false cheer. He holds up two take-away cups, with the box that proclaims ‘Tea’ crossed off. “I was just going up to—”
There’s a crash from upstairs, and then a very ugly noise that, if Mycroft didn’t know better, he would attribute to a wild animal.
“I think,” he says carefully, “that John would prefer some time alone.”
“Yeah.” Lestrade glances down at his ruined umbrella, then stares up at the door, brow furrowed and mouth pinched. “Yeah, right. Well, um—” his eyes dart back to Mycroft and he holds up the cup “—sit outside with me for a bit? It’s just the tea’ll go to waste—unless you’ve got somewhere else to go, of course,” he adds quickly.
Mycroft has several places he needs to be, but most of them can wait for an hour; he still hasn’t had his morning tea yet and the sun’s barely risen. He takes the misdirected olive branch with a brisk, “Shall we?”
There’s still a bitter chill pervading Baker Street, and they lurk outside the door, huddled away from the view of the window. The fog from last night clings stubbornly to the cityscape, leaving finger-like tendrils curled around lampposts as it dissipates. Lestrade catches Mycroft’s inadvertent grimace at the quality of the tea and grins wryly.
“Crap, isn’t it?” he agrees cheerily. Mycroft inclines his head, determined to be as non-committal as possible. Lestrade makes him feel… anxious. “Wet and hot, though, and aren’t the best things?” Joke about sex with women, his mind provides helpfully; he smiles and says nothing. Judging from the way Lestrade’s grin slides off his face, the man can spot his discomfort. He doesn’t usually chat, after all. “Sorry, stupid…” Lestrade mutters, chastened, and buries himself in his drink. Mycroft’s stomach gives a lurch he associates with vomiting, and, before he quite knows what he’s doing, he’s the one babbling apologies. He peters off, embarrassed; Lestrade sniggers, not unkindly.
“Sorry, ‘m not laughing at you,” he assures Mycroft, who is very aware of the rising colour in his cheeks and hates his pale skin for it. “This whole situation’s a bit mad. But that’s grief, isn’t it?”
He can, equally, feel the colour leaving his face, eventually managing a quiet, “Yes, I suppose it is.”
Anthea has been smiling smugly for the past twenty minutes; on any other day, he would resist the urge to demand an answer, but he’s still rattled by his little morning meeting, and snaps, “What?” before he can stop himself.
“It’s you, sir,” she replies, glancing up at him and smiling at him overtly.
“Do feel free to elaborate,” says Mycroft, gritting his teeth and skimming the latest report from MI6.
“Oh, nothing.” Her voice is practically oozing with self-satisfaction. “You look very happy.”
The next page of the report crinkles in his grip. “And?” he asks, voice low and dangerous. Her smile doesn’t so much as waver; eventually, he looks up, sighs, and mutters, “He unsettles me.” There are hidden meanings to her small, sympathetic chuckle that he doesn’t care to analyse.
Later, during a lull in his thinking back at his secondary office, he brings up the modest, digital file he’s had compiled on Lestrade. It contains the man’s work and personal history, medical records, and other, pertinent information.
Greg Inès Lestrade, forty-seven (a decade older than you), nearly always worked in the police force, slow to be promoted, knocked back first three offers at becoming DI, has had a number of relationships (both women and men…) before marrying his wife, on and off relationship with her, eventually divorced, currently single—
He closes the document, steeples his fingers, and tries very hard to think about trade with the Middle East.
Despite it being possibly one of the most inadvisable decisions of his life, Mycroft finds himself ‘running into’ Lestrade more and more often; that gradually evolves into meetings in St. James’s Park for terrible take-away tea, then into lunches, and then, one night, to dinner. Fittingly, Lestrade becomes Gregory, which, horrifyingly, shortens to Greg some point between the first time the man makes him laugh and the botched first attempt at a kiss that ends with Mycroft sporting a sore nose and Greg collapsing in a fit of helpless laughter.
His barriers are eroded so slowly and so meticulously that he can scarce bring himself to care all that much about the evolution from the transient touch of fingers against his arm, to the scant brush of legs under the table, and then the thorough, languorous rub of a foot up and up his calf…
There’s the invitation spelt out in plain, block letters. It’s been there for some time, but Mycroft’s successfully managed to convince himself that unconscious body language does not equal conscious sexual desire; ignoring the history of psychology into that particular field was a struggle, but he made a valiant attempt. Now that Greg’s grinning at him slyly and running a feather-light touch along the inseam of his trousers, the whole charade seems rather foolish in retrospect. Other people, normal people, would at this point be reacting in a mutual way to the obvious intentional outcome of sex. Mycroft feels a bit as though he has indigestion.
He can mostly attribute his body’s disinterest to the medication, he knows (side effects include nausea, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, loss of sexual desire, increased anxiety…) but he’s also aware that, possibly even without his condition, he’s hardly the dictionary definition of normal.
So, when Greg brushes up against his shoulder outside the restaurant and grandly invites Mycroft to, “come up to mine for a spot of tea and a long, salacious fuck?” he imagines it for only a moment. It would be nice, he decides in that point three of a second; it truly would be.
“I’m sorry,” he says instead, smile freezing over as Greg’s grin falters entirely, “I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. You understand.”
To his credit, it takes the man only a few seconds to recover. “Yeah, no, sorry, that’s fine,” Greg lies. He’s very bad at it; the left corner of his mouth always tightens. “I forgot not everyone’s,” he laughs, unable to disguise how bitter his voice is, “you know, out of work.”
“I’ve offered to—”
“My answer hasn’t changed,” Greg cuts him off, shoving his hands in his pockets. This is all wrong.
Mycroft stares out into the dark streets for a moment before beginning anew. “If my refusal is such a point of contention for you, perhaps we shouldn’t…”
“No,” Greg says quickly, one hand darting out to rest on Mycroft’s upper arm. A year ago, he would have flinched. “No, no, it’s not – I’m just—sorry. Fuck. I’m making an arse of myself. It’s been… well, it’s been six months to the day since he died, hasn’t it?”
If there’s one way this night could become any more derailed, it’s achieved with the mention of Sherlock. “Greg, I think we need to talk about—”
“I know it’s been hard for you, too,” continues the endearingly misguided, misdirected, and altogether misaligned man. “And I’m sorry for seeming like I’m going off, or something; you’re probably… I mean, I know it doesn’t really mean all that much but, you were family and, well, I should’ve known you wouldn’t want to tonight of all nights, but I forgot, didn’t I, what with the…”
The best way to stop Greg from babbling, Mycroft’s learnt, is by kissing the man senseless, and he applies this technique now, pushing him gently back against a doorway as Greg yelps quietly into his mouth. (Germs, mutters a muted part of his brain, dirty… Then it is silent.) He tastes like garlic, tomatoes and basil. Mycroft can’t quite help the curve of his lips.
“I’ll come up for the tea,” he promises, breaking away. Greg licks his very reddened lips, swallows, and nods.
Chapter 6: We have lingered in the chambers of the sea...
You didn’t check in on Wednesday.
I was busy. Surely you’d know if I were compromised.
- Blocked Number
- Blocked Number
Hey, what’re you up to today?
Nothing I can discuss. Apologies. Someone is playing one of Chopin’s Nocturnes very poorly.
That’s okay, was wondering if you wanted to do a late lunch?
Mycroft? You ok? Hope you didn’t fire the poor sod
Can’t do lunch. Sorry. Be prepared for dinner.
‘Be prepared’? have you acquired a white cat and a dramatic streak all of a sudden?? So, 7, as usual?
I take your lack of reply to mean ‘yes, of course’, just so we’re clear
“This is nice,” Greg marvels for the third time, craning his head to try and soak in as much of Mycroft’s flat at one time as is humanly possible. It’s still all bare, cream walls and modern furniture (with a few, choice antiques), Mycroft notes dispassionately; some days, he loathes the bland sterility of it all. “Classy.” He’s said that five times now. Any other night, Mycroft would get in a quiet little jab about Greg’s nervousness but he, too, feels restless and somewhat out of sorts.
Greg’s hand, wrapped securely (and stickily…) around his own, acts to anchor him to the moment – has been anchoring him all night, in fact. He thinks, later, when he doesn’t feel so flat and strange, he will be thankful for it. But for now he’s… it’s…
“Drink?” he asks, his brain buzzing with noise. It’s the alcohol. Probably. “I’ve…” He forgets what he’s about to say when Greg turns back to Mycroft and his lips—Mycroft wants them, he thinks, chewing the skin off his bottom lip.
“No, I’m al…right.” Greg’s eyes drift down; his hand tightens. “What—”
His warm breath stutters against Mycroft’s mouth, musky and bitter with over-steeped Jasmine tea – the slightest, salty tang of soy on his teeth… (Switch off, he wills his brain, switch off, switch off…) Mycroft pulls his tingling tongue back when he finds a bit of chilli caught in between Greg’s teeth.
“Chilli,” he explains, nose crinkling as he rubs the tip of his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
“Sorry,” Greg says, laughing. “Bed? Or—”
Evidently they’ve been reduced to monosyllables. “Bed.”
Arousal grows on him slowly, almost as if the tingling spreads from his tongue downwards until it’s a fierce, tight warmth settled around his groin. He’s had sex before, obviously, but he can’t remember it being this pleasant. Mostly he recalls sticky dissatisfaction.
Greg seems content to be led, which is convenient as Mycroft rather enjoys being in charge; he makes a quick decision based on respective heights, and pulls Greg down to straddle him, arching up to catch him in another kiss.
“Do you want me to do all the work?” the man asks, laughing again and shrugging off his shirt.
“If you like.”
“Lazy,” he’s reprimanded; then, pushed back onto the bed. He still feels somewhat detached from this whole situation, staring up at the white ceiling as trousers and pants are pulled down just far enough for what Greg happily calls, “access.”
Well, he’s happy, at least, and that should be good enough for Mycroft – it’s not as if a warm, eager hand around him is unwanted, after all. Just… he’s not… “Condoms are in the drawer,” he tells the ceiling just as Greg opens his mouth to ask. “No lubricant.”
“Oh, well, we can improvise.” Improvisation has more friction and rubbing together of bare skin than Mycroft remembers it having – he keeps coming back to memory, oddly; shouldn’t he be more in the moment? (This is bad, this is not normal…) “Mycr…” Greg sighs, a particularly enthusiastic thrust against his cock snapping him back into reality.
He sucks in a breath he didn’t know he was holding, the air welcome to his tight (too tight, no, that’s not good) brain. He thinks he ought to be making more noise. Or maybe not. He’s not sure. It feels nice – shouldn’t he vocalise that? Greg’s making little hitching moans of pleasure: isn’t that enough? Does he need to pitch in too? “Oh, Christ above,” Greg whimpers; he doesn’t seem to expect Mycroft to be making remarks. What on earth does one say during sex, anyway? He’s over-thinking this. Maybe.
There’s not a moment where he suddenly feels the impending orgasm; it creeps on slowly until he can feel himself twitching with it and Greg’s kissing him again, desperately, and then he freezes above Mycroft for a moment with a low keen, but the feeling is like an itch Mycroft can’t quite satisfy and he has to keep going, otherwise he’ll—he’ll—
Everything fragments. His brain stills for a moment.
Shockingly quiet. Buzzing hushed.
It’s broken when Greg lets out a contented exhale and, with a chaste peck on the lips, pulls away, clambering out of the bed. “I think I’ll go put the kettle on, if that’s okay,” he says cheerily, and is gone.
Just like that, Mycroft’s mind lurches back into action, a frantic collection of thoughts pressing like some physical force at the forefront of his skull, no, no, no, no—
The ensuite door shuts behind him – when did he get in here, he can’t, what – and the lock clicks into place. He needs to, what was his plan, he doesn’t remember—pills? Dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, get it off, condom off, into the bin, now get the rest of the filth off, quickly. Where are the pills? Where did he put them—why aren’t they in the cabinet? Where, where, where, dirt, filth, you need to clean, you need to do it now, just think of all the bacteria crawling on you right now, and the viruses, what about them, you’re going to die, maybe if you wash twelve times you might delay it for a while.
Did he leave them at work? How could he have overlooked that—he’d planned for everything in order to make this night work. He doesn’t look at the bar of soap lying by the sink, despite his mind’s urgings. He doesn’t. He won’t. The square root of one thousand five hundred is thirty eight point seven three, calculus is the branch of mathematics that is concerned with limits and with the differentiation and integration of functions, there’s discrepancies in the Treasury department that he needs to look into, primarily concerned with the finances from last quarter—
What if he has AIDS?
Once that (stupid, irrational, asinine, but what if) idea occurs to him, he has no choice. What if? Saliva’s not enough to transmit it and you were protected regardless, insists reason. But, even if it’s not AIDS, it could be something else – his brain easily rattles off a whole list of sexually transmitted diseases(Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Hepatitis) – and the condom could have broken, and they’ve been kissing for months now, he’s been so careless.
He has to clean.
His gaze lingers on the soap briefly – but it’s not enough, is it, not for this kind of pervading grime. No. There is, however, a scrubbing brush in the shower…
The water is far too hot, making him flinch in pain already. He keeps it at that temperature. The first time with the brush doesn’t hurt as much as it should; he does it again. And again, and again, and again, until there isn’t an inch of skin on his body that isn’t throbbing, as dark a red as if he’d been sunburnt. He passes twelve, his safe number, and hits thirteen, fourteen, seventeen, twenty and he can’t stop, he can’t, he can’t.
He freezes in the middle of twenty-three. The door rattles uselessly – locked, yes, he’d locked it.
“You’ve been in there for nearly an hour – are you okay?” No, he wants to say, but the word sticks in his throat. “Mycroft, what the hell are you doing?” Rattle, rattle, Greg won’t get in. “For Christ’s sakes,” he sounds a little panicked, Mycroft notes, subsumed with the feeling himself. One more scrub – twenty-four is twice of twelve, he’ll be safe then. “Open the door, will you? Please?”
Just one more, and everything will be fine. He takes his time, pulling the abrasive, stiff head of the brush across his arms, then his hands, then his shoulders, then his chest… It stings.
When something – Greg, most likely – slams against the door, shaking it in its frame but not opening it, he flinches, accidentally dropping the brush. He stares at it, horrified. He’ll have to start again. No. Please, no.
“Mycroft!” Greg shouts, as if that will make him open the door any faster. “Jesus—” BANG! “—Christ!” It’s still not open; Greg’s ragged breathing sounds pained, he’s probably injured his shoulder.
There’s silence for a while as Mycroft contemplates the brush, feeling the pulse of his heart through every scrubbed bit of skin. The water’s still pounding down on his aching back. He doesn’t want to, he thinks. But…
The door clicks open suddenly; Mycroft looks up with wide eyes, already feeling sick to the stomach. He knows what this looks like. Greg’s stunned (obviously, like a normal person would be) and his gaze wavers between Mycroft, the rest of the room, and, finally, the brush. He quietly turns off the water, and closes his eyes.
“Are you going to say, ‘please, I can explain’?” Greg asks, voice terribly uncertain.
“Okay,” he continues slowly. He’s probably nodding to himself, Mycroft thinks, not opening his eyes; most likely trying to get a feel for the situation and progress from there in a very logical, sequential manner. “You’re bleeding.”
At that, he does look. Oh. That’s why there was an added dimension of pain. There’s probably skin on the brush. “Yes.” The compulsion to clean is still festering away at the back of his mind.
Lestrade’s—Greg’s – his mind skitters between varying degrees of formality before settling on Lestrade again, resigned – face is, as ever, easier to read than a large-print novel. His forehead crumples with thought, his eyes cloud with confusion, hand twitches upward in concern, mouth twists in pre-emptive pity…
He doesn’t appear to realise he’s stepping forward until Mycroft says, “Don’t,” and he stops, jerkily.
“What…” He shakes his head. “Help me out here, will you?”
“With what, precisely?” Mycroft asks, his vocal cords tight in his throat. Lestrade sighs.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t understand your question.”
“Yes, you do, Mycroft, don’t—what are you trying to hide?” He steps forward, hesitant but deliberate. “Why’re you bleeding? Did you…” A shift in expression to slow, dawning realisation. Horror. Good. “Have you been scrubbing yourself raw?”
It seems pointless to deflect at this point, where Lestrade is glancing very quickly between him and the brush, probably imagining he has it all pieced together. Mycroft shrugs, listless, and doesn’t reply. He just wants Lestrade to leave. He thinks. It’s perplexing, how polarised he feels over the issue. Clean, clean, clean, clean, clean.
“You’re not even going to deny it? Jesus,” Lestrade says again. It’s interesting how one word, one name, can be said with such variation of emotion. Another slow step forward. “How long have you been doing this?”
“An hour, didn’t you say?”
“You know what I meant. Look—can you come out and we’ll—we’ll talk about it?” He casts about for a towel.
“Will we?” Mycroft asks. His voice sounds alien to his own ears, distorted, almost. “I find your choice of words to be very peculiar; has ‘talk’ suddenly developed a use as slang for ‘interrogate’?”
Lestrade yanks a towel from the cupboard abruptly, the door slamming shut. “I’m not trying to interrogate you—”
“But you’re doing such an excellent job,” he says silkily.
“I just want to understand! I mean, what the fuck am I meant to think after you lock yourself in the bathroom and don’t reply when I call—I thought you’d had a heart attack, for God’s sake.”
“Did it occur to you I might like to be left alone? You’ve already served what little use you had, after all.”
Lestrade shakes his head. “Stop doing this,” he says firmly. “I’m not going to let you push me away now, of all times. Let me help.”
CLEAN, presses against him with single-minded intensity. He’s started tapping unconsciously on the tiled wall of the shower, a beat of 12/4 time. “You’re delusional,” he comments, laughing unpleasantly. “I can’t believe I didn’t initially realise how large of a hero complex yours was. Quit while you still have your pride intact.” Despite his pledge of solidarity and compassion, Lestrade twitches at that before, irritatingly, regrouping.
“Throw the book at me; I’m not going anywhere. Not with you like this.”
“I’m fine,” he snaps. He doesn’t believe you, but if you repeat it he might, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, REPEAT IT. And suddenly he is repeating it, babbling, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,” he clasps a hand, then both hands, over his mouth, but can’t stop himself, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m…” Shakily, he closes his eyes, drops his hands, and breathes in. “Fine.” Twelve. There.
There’s nothing for one, terrifying moment, and then he feels the soft cotton of a towel wrapping around his back, a gentle tug on the ends pulling him unwillingly forward. It’s not until he feels a hand on his back that he realises this is real and flinches away, opening his eyes. “Greg—I…” He sighs; the question Greg’s about to ask couldn’t be more obvious. “Your hands.”
The man tilts his head like some idiotic mongrel. “What about them?”
“They’re… dirty. Just, please, don’t touch me.” It sounds mad, he knows, even before he sees the disbelieving look on Greg’s face that isn’t hidden quickly enough.
“Right,” he says, frowning, and tugs Mycroft more firmly until he’s out of the shower and dripping wet onto the bathroom rug, “okay. You, wait there and—watch.” Then, he turns, leaving Mycroft to hold onto the towel, starts the tap in the sink running, squirts hand sanitiser into the palm of his right hand, and, oddly, starts to wash his hands. When he’s finished, and it takes a full minute to clean them, he looks back at a bemused Mycroft.
“Forgive me,” Mycroft begins, acerbic, “how was that intended to help?”
“Are my hands dirty?” Greg asks. Mycroft stares at him.
“Simple question: are my hands dirty?”
“This is not amusing—”
“Are they dirty, Mycroft?”
No, but… “Stop this.”
“I cleaned my hands for a minute, more than twice the recommended time, using hospital-grade hand wash,” he continues, holding them out. “Are my hands dirty?”
“No,” Mycroft snaps, “they’re not. Are you quite done making your point?”
“Only if you’ve understood it.” This time, the touch on his arm doesn’t make Mycroft shudder. It doesn’t mean he’s clean; he could be infecting Greg at this very moment with all sorts of— “You’re still—why’re you panicking?”
“I’m not,” he replies, too quickly.
“Come off it; I’m not that thick.” Greg’s started rubbing him dry: slow, soothing strokes of the towel against his body. He winces and steps back when the towel passes over a particularly bad graze.
“Nor am I an invalid,” he says through gritted teeth, pain fading quickly. “Do you want to help? Is that it? Then leave me alone.” He rubs the towel briskly over the rest of his body, ignoring Greg’s sympathetic stare.
“Where’re your bandages?”
Later, he puts it down to the entire situation being too much for anyone really to handle – but he opens his mouth to tell Greg that he doesn’t need medical attention and finds he can’t even remember where he keeps his supplies. His mind feels as though it’s attacking itself, trying to self-implode and why can’t he remember? It doesn’t make sense. First the pills, then this stupidly simple bit of information and it won’t come. He doesn’t cry, but he presses his mouth against the towel and tries very hard not to let a noise – or a scream, like one part of him wants to – escape.
He stiffens even further when warm arms wrap around him, shaking him out of his mental torpor. “Second drawer,” he says, quietly, feeling the hole that’s been slowly cracking apart since he was fourteen suddenly crumble with not so much as a whimper.
Mercifully, Greg remains silent – Mycroft isn’t sure that he wouldn’t snap again if caught between the repetitive worrying of his fretting, dull brain and Greg’s own concern. He’s so tired. Beyond the point of caring anymore, he lets Greg wrap bandages around the worst of the cuts and scrapes, some of which are still bleeding sluggishly.
He’s never been religious, not even when Mummy took them to church every Sunday before developing an aversion to crosses and candle wax, but he thinks, God, help me.
They find the pill bottle a short while later, in the first drawer of the bedside table. He remembers, upon finding it there, that he put it there in order for quick access. Idiot. The entire idea to go off his medication in order to have sex (“You know I love you without that, right?” Greg asks, chewing his bottom lip as Mycroft explains flatly) seems ridiculous, ill thought-out, and bordering dangerously close to pure insanity now that he re-evaluates it.
Greg goes to make the long awaited tea while Mycroft bites the very proverbial bullet and calls Anthea, if only to hear another person confirm that it was a stupid idea.
“Sir,” she says, in the same tone of weariness he often uses. Her wine glass clinks as she sets it on the bench: at home, then. “I can be over in ten minutes.”
“No, it’s… fine,” he replies, watching Greg carry in a whole tea tray. He’s gone a little overboard, Mycroft observes. “He’s still here.”
“Call me before you decide to make another grand gesture of love, please?” He snorts, and startles Greg.
“Of course. Have a pleasant evening.”
“And don’t go off your medication,” she adds, before disconnecting; he slides the mobile into the pocket of his dressing gown as Greg settles himself next to Mycroft on the couch.
“Alright?” Greg asks, smile only somewhat put-on.
“I believe so,” he replies thoughtfully. It’s a night of firsts, evidently: the first time his mind has caved in so completely to his compulsions, and the first time he’s had what one might call a ‘safety net’ to stop him from doing any serious harm. “I wasn’t aware I had so many biscuits,” he adds, raising his eyebrows at the spread.
The mood lightens noticeably. Greg shrugs and grins. “I’m good at scrounging up things from thin air. Thank my mum for it.”
“A fine lady, indeed,” Mycroft murmurs. He pauses before taking the biscuit on the edge that isn’t touching any of the others. “I imagine you’d like to ask me some questions.”
Greg takes a tentative sip, screws up his face and blows on his tea. “Yeah, I, um… I would, if you’d let me.” Mycroft shrugs; go ahead. “Well, it’s just, whatever you could tell me about… you know, this. That’d be… that’d be great.”
“From the beginning? Well,” he stops, considers… “I suppose it was my mother, initially. No,” he cuts in, sighing, as Greg’s eyes widen in alarm; “before you ask, I did not have an abusive and terrible childhood. My mother had all the common traits of someone suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, that is all I meant.”
“So… that’s what this is? OCD?”
“It’s likely, yes.” Another inquisitive look; Mycroft smiles, feeling oddly fond. “Have I ever told you your face is extraordinarily expressive? I’ve never been clinically diagnosed.”
“Because of your super secret job?”
“You’re really not nearly as thick as Sherlock makes—made you out to be.”
“Flattered by your surprise,” he retorts, grin slightly dampened. “So, he knew too, didn’t he?”
Mycroft makes a mental note to be more careful with his tenses; perhaps in another month he can tell Greg, but, for now, secrecy is safety. “I doubt I would have been able to hide it from him successfully.” He regards the man, still somewhat on edge after the night’s events, and decides an anecdote would likely calm him down and take his mind off the very pressing issue of Mycroft’s mental health. For tonight, at least. “He had an insatiable desire to know everything as a child, often testing things based on incorrect hypotheses… Do you know, he once became wholly convinced he was adopted.”
“No,” Greg says incredulously, laughing already.
“Oh, yes,” he replies, smiling. “He refused to talk for a full four weeks because he imagined we had taken him away from his real family. He wanted to get DNA samples in order to test the similarity of our base sequences, and, needless to say, he became completely obsessed with Biology almost overnight…”
For the rest of the story – he successfully manages to weave in some Sherlock-as-a-pirate imagery that had John so enraptured two years ago – Greg is entirely entranced. As cup after cup of tea is drank and the shadows grow darker then lighter, he finds himself drawing closer and closer to the man. He feels more normal than he has in a very long time. Perhaps – and it’s a troubling thought – his entire life. By the time the clock reads three in the morning, they are safely ensconced in clean sheets and a substitute duvet out on the couch. (The bed is still too unclean to his mind, and Greg agrees that sleeping in the wet patch is not all that pleasant.)
They’ll talk seriously about it later, Mycroft reasons, watching Greg’s slow progression to sleep with no little fascination. Later. Yes.
Chapter 7: Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
“What’s your safe number?” Greg asks over breakfast, glancing up from one of a stack of ‘reference guides’ that Anthea tried to sneak in early that morning. Mycroft twitches – it’s not a blanket – but tells him about twelve. “Um.” Greg chews his lip, thinking. “It’s a dozen?”
“It’s the first composite number that has exactly six divisors,” he explains, reaching for the toast. He can butter it, which is a good sign. “It’s a sublime number – that’s a mathematical term, Greg – as it has a perfect number of divisors and the sum of those divisors is also perfect. We measure time based on lots of twelve.” He shrugs, affecting a casual air. “It’s an important number.”
“So, it’s your – um, your good number?”
“If we’re using simplistic phraseology… yes, I suppose it is.”
“Could you… I dunno, change it? What I mean is, you wash yourself twelve times, don’t you? If you could do it less—” (“Fewer,” Mycroft corrects,) “fewer times, then your skin wouldn’t be so sore and dry all the time, yeah?” He makes a non-committal noise. He’s never given much thought to the possibility of changing twelve. Twelve is twelve; he’s not certain anything could replace it. “What about… mmm, could you try four?”
“No,” he says, immediately. To use Greg’s childlike expression, four is a very bad number. “It’s unpleasant.” It has a kind of sickly green tinge in his mind, actually, but synesthesia is beside the point. “It’s a homonym for death in many Asian languages, not to mention the Christian belief of the four horsemen of the apocalypse…”
“Okay, okay, I get it. Three?”
“Too closely linked. Three multiplied by four is twelve.”
Greg hums. “What about six?” Mycroft thinks about it. Twelve is brilliantly white in his mind; six has a dull, silver glow about it. He supposes he could certainly try – better than the bright pink of three, after all. “You don’t have to make any promises, just give it a go the next time you want to act out a compulsion.”
He can’t restrain an eye-roll. “Look at you, one day out and you’ve mastered the jargon.” Greg bats at him with a paper bookmark, chewed to pulp at the corners.
“I’ll have you know I’m a fast learner – and Anthea’s threats are very motivational.” He goes back to reading for a short while. Mycroft almost makes it through his toast before the next round of questions begins.
Cognitive behaviour therapy goes as well as Mycroft expected: extremely poorly. Even though Greg comes along for, “moral support,” the therapist doesn’t seem terribly emotionally stable. It only takes a few, careful insinuations about her experience and financial state to make her turn very pale and end the session. He does pay for the full hour, however; he’s not cruel.
“Bad luck about that fraud, isn’t it?” Greg asks idly, pulling out his mobile. Then, he shakes his head and stuffs it back into his pocket. He forgets, still, that he’s been forcibly retired. Thirty years of service will do that to a person, Mycroft supposes. “Well, plenty more therapists out there, most of whom aren’t criminals.”
Mycroft sighs as they walk towards the car. “Greg, I’m aware of your enthusiasm for therapy; however, I’m not certain at all that it will work. Yes, perhaps it has for a number of other people, but I perform very poorly in such an environment.” He braces himself for the inevitable disappointment, the brown-eyed, puppy-dog stare of hurt.
“Yeah, I know,” Greg says, shrugging. “Reckoned it was worth a crack, though, just in case you surprised yourself.” He glances over, smiling. “No big thing, we’ll just make it through our own way.” For a moment, Mycroft allows himself to relax; he’d been expecting a heavier resistance to his observation. Then, to his dismay, Greg adds brightly: “Anyway, meditation and open communication’s what all the books talk about…”
Life continues much the same as it did before, with a few, notable differences. Greg gives up his awful little flat in Camden and comes to live with him, sensibly. Mycroft feels so charitable at the compromise that he only slightly minds when Greg begins changing the location of objects in his flat; by the time Sherlock’s been ‘dead’ a whole year, the Pall Mall apartment is quite altered, filled now with a vibrancy and colour it’s never possessed.
In the interim, John has progressed from small trips out of 221b, to beginning to date again (blonde, PR manager, part-time writer under the pseudonym M. Morstan), and has recently begun a campaign to clear Sherlock’s name. He still refuses to see Mycroft – and is scandalously unapologetic about the umbrella he ruined – but Greg has managed to get back into the man’s good graces, if the invitation to the fundraising dinner is anything to go by.
Things are going so well, in fact, that Mycroft’s hardly surprised when he receives a bill for a plane ticket from Bosnia, scheduled to land twenty minutes after the beginning of the dinner. No doubt there will be a wholly unexpected visitor crashing the night’s proceedings. Mycroft pays the airline, burns the letter, and goes to get both himself and Greg ready – the invitation did say ‘white tie’, after all, and Mycroft is determined to follow it to the very letter.
“You’re really sure about this?” Greg asks, uncertain to the end, twisting about and grimacing at the white waistcoat.
Mycroft hums, appreciative, and repeats for the fifth time that night, “The invitation does say white tie.”
“I think he meant more, ‘best suit you own’ than… this. I’m not really sold on the whole—” Greg turns back, sees Mycroft’s (only slightly manufactured) look of hurt, and back-pedals with impressive speed. “Actually, it’s kind of nice, isn’t it, in the right light, tug that bit down, maybe…”
He smirks, and bends forward to adjust his red cravat in the mirror. “And are you certain John wants me to attend?”
“The invitation does say plus ones allowed… Anyway, you two’ll be okay, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course.” Even if he does suspect that their definition of ‘okay’ is vastly different. “Come here, your tie’s not done up properly.”
Greg rolls his eyes, but submits to Mycroft’s fussing. The dinner cuts into the two hours a day they’ve agreed on putting aside for obsessions. Despite his initial scepticism, it does actually help to relieve the underlying pressure – he’s been able to reduce the dosage of his medication without having a repeat of that disastrous night a few months past. “You’re going to be right eating tonight? You have the paper?” The A4 sheet with all his obsessions rests, almost forgotten, in his pocket. It’s freeing, in a sense: helping to show just how repetitive his worries are.
“Yes, and yes. I’ll be perfectly fine, don’t worry.” He runs both hands down the front of Greg’s jacket, smoothing away stray wrinkles. In a few hours, all hell will have broken loose (perhaps even literally) – but, in the quiet of their apartment, with Greg close at hand, life seems absurdly, sickeningly hopeful.
Greg grins, completely unaware of what the night will bring. “Ready?”
He draws back to consider his partner, adjusts the white rose in Greg’s buttonhole, and, finally, nods. “Let’s go, then.”