"Well you're not going to prison," is the first thing Mycroft says when he walks through the door of his office to find Sherlock with his feet up on the desk, flipping through a high security folder from a cabinet that was quadruple locked and looking nothing like he has been incarcerated for the last few weeks.
Sherlock barely even glances up from his perusal of 'Romania's Most Deadly Assassins And Their Uses To The British Government'. "What a pity," he drawls, "I was looking forward to meeting some old friends."
The word 'friends' makes Mycroft inwardly check himself. He clears his throat.
Sherlock looks up from his files, scrutinises Mycroft suddenly and closely. "Ah," he says at last. "That MI6 Eastern European job, then."
"Indeed," says Mycroft, and then, when Sherlock lazily rolls his eyes, can no longer restrain himself from snapping, "The least you can do is be grateful. I've saved you from no end of trouble."
Sherlock flings the files on the desk and stands up, and Mycroft suddenly gets a glimpse of the imprisoned man, the one who has been trapped for weeks in solitary after his first murder, with nothing to do but ruminate on his actions. "Grateful?" he hisses, and his tone of voice cuts Mycroft somewhere deep. "You've put me on death row and you expect me to be grateful?"
"You won't die," Mycroft says levelly.
"You said I would," Sherlock snaps back. "At Christmas, you said it would last six months and end in my death, Mycroft, you have essentially given me six months to live and you think I should be grateful?"
For a moment, Mycroft has nothing to say. He is a cruel man and loves to get the last word, but nothing in this world would push him into saying the fatal comeback 'you are a murderer'.
"You won't die," he repeats instead, a shade unconvincingly. "I will arrange things so that it will not happen."
Sherlock, being Sherlock, has heard exactly what Mycroft did not say. His face closes up, snaps shut. "And if you succeed," he says slowly, "I can come home?"
Mycroft's heart twangs and he hates hates hates this feeling so much that he responds how he always does when Sherlock manages to provoke an emotion in him – with vitriol. "Are you a complete moron?" he snarls. "Did you not understand what you did when you murdered a man in cold blood in front of hundreds of witnesses, and thus rid the British Government of an occasionally important playing piece? You can't go home, Sherlock, ever."
There is a panicked ripple across Sherlock's otherwise blank face, a spark of pain across every line in his brow, every wrinkle around his mouth. "I - " he stumbles, "I thought you could – I hoped you could – arrange things."
"I can arrange your survival for the next six months and beyond," Mycroft retorts, still cold and cutting, "But I can do nothing else, I'm sorry."
The apology just falls out of him, still icy, but it causes his stomach to lurch. He looks at the shock in Sherlock's eyes, the misery in the line of his bottom lip. "I'm sorry," he says again, and he says it gently. He can't keep up his wall of ice against Sherlock's blazing hot pain.
"You mean," Sherlock says quietly, "That I will never see Jo – " And he stops. And swallows. And his mouth twists horribly.
Mycroft blames his unexpected inner turmoil on what he says next. "The East Wind takes us all in the end."
It's not up there on the list of most comforting things to say when your little brother has just been exiled for murder and will possibly die in six months, but then Sherlock has never been a typical person, and shallow words have never worked on him. He looks at Mycroft like Mycroft has said exactly the right thing at the right time. There is a sudden peace mixed up with the fear in his eyebrows or the grief in his jaw. A sort of resignation. Maybe he thinks that this is what he deserves for killing another human being. Maybe this is the price he feels he must pay. Mycroft, who has seen men kill tens, hundreds, even thousands of other people and not only got away scot free but actually been revered for it, cannot feel the same. Sherlock Holmes should not have to pay a price for his dragon slaying. Or if he does, it should not involve John Watson. Not John.
"The East Wind," says Sherlock, sounding more serene.
"The East Wind," Mycroft echoes, and sounds nothing but pained.