Warnings: Mary doesn't feature heavily in this, although she pops up from time to time – I wrote it before the new series came out and added mention of her in recently where appropriate. Could be seen as pre-slash or friendship. Some bad language.
Warnings for this chapter: Effects and talk of drug use.
The door to the flat creaked in the way it always did when he entered.
Mycroft was careful; he might be young, but he had an important job, and there were always people who didn't like that. Every morning, before he went to work, he would place a hair in the crack between the door and the wall, and every night, tired and hungry, with his briefcase weighing him down, he would check to see the hair in the same place. No-one ever came into his flat. Few people knew his real address. Even fewer knew his first name.
The hair was in place. He had no reason to suspect there was any problem as he put down his case, keyed in the code to stop the burglar alarm going off, and crossed smoothly through to the kitchen. It had been a long day; his head ached, and he wanted something to eat, something that would steady him, stave off a migraine. He couldn't afford to miss any work lying in a dark room with a cloth over his eyes, not with the promotion for anyone's taking.
The fridge was bare of anything comforting. Lettuces, tomatoes, tofu. He pulled a face – what on earth had possessed him?
Perhaps it had been his brother's cheap crack about his weight at Christmas, or perhaps it was the fact he had gone up two sizes over the past five months, but something had prompted the dieting. He looked down at his waistline despondently, sighed, and selected a piece of fruit and random. It took a couple of second's glowering for him to realise it wasn't going to spontaneously transform into a piece of cake, no matter how much he might want it to.
He had two messages on his phone, one from his lawyer, who wanted him to sort out his will, and one from Mummy, who wanted to know if he'd seen Sherlock. She rang him every day, always when he was at work, no matter how many times he told her there was no point ringing his landline when he wasn't there. She never listened.
Sherlock had been missing for several weeks. Mummy might refuse to believe he was back on the drugs, but Mycroft wasn't so naïve. Sherlock was probably trying something new, running himself back into the ground. He'd turn up in a hospital somewhere, marked down as homeless.
Mycroft would have to pick up the pieces. He always picked up the pieces.
The grapes he was eating were so unsatisfying he was considering actually going back outside to buy something better – hang his diet – when he heard a noise.
It was a very quiet footfall on a carpet; gentle, almost as if the floor had sighed. He tense in an instant, eyes narrowing in the dim light. The phone was too far away, no use, but he reached silently for the nearest weapon; the umbrella he always left standing in the corner. He hadn't taken it to work for days, thanks to the dry weather, but that didn't mean it wouldn't be useful.
People sometimes called Mycroft paranoid, but he was simply a man who liked to be careful. No harm in that. If there was no-one in the flat, then there was no-one to laugh at him if he attacked a phantom with an umbrella; and if there was someone, then it was far better to be armed than not. No-one would laugh at him if he subdued a burglar. The burglar certainly wouldn't.
He advanced slowly, edging his way through to the lounge, to the place he thoughtthe sound had come from. The room looked completely empty. But the window was open.
It hadn't been open when he'd left. He never left the windows open, just as he never left the door unlocked. He had a routine, a nice, ordered, routine, and he stuck to it.
The curtain appeared to bulge outward; in the dim light, he fancied he saw a shadow behind it, found himself inexplicably drawn to it, umbrella grasped in both hands. He was holding his breath, lungs aching – how long had he been not daring to breathe? – as he advanced. Gently did it, around the table, between the sofa and the chair, switch the umbrella to his right hand, reach forward with the left, quietly…now!
The sill was empty. Nothing on it apart from the photograph of his family he'd had there for as long as he could remember. He barely had time to frown, the umbrella lowering as he felt a flush of shame and bewilderment spread across his cheeks.
"Diet not going so well?"
Mycroft felt his heart shoot into his mouth and he whipped around, swinging the umbrella in front of him like a sword, like he had done when he was little and Sherlock wanted to play pirates.
"You look like an idiot, Mycroft. Put that thing down." Sherlock popped his head up from behind the sofa as he sneered. He was filthy, bruised over the left eye, hair cut unevenly – he'd been doing it himself again, stupid boy – and he leaned over the back of sofa with an appearance of nonchalance, but Mycroft could see him swaying. Even in the faded light, he could tell he was sweating. Shivering.
"For god's sake! You almost gave me a heart attack!"
Sherlock rolled his eyes and flopped onto the sofa without being invited. "Drama queen."
"You'll be the death of me! Not to mention Mummy. She rings me every day." Mycroft took a breath, threw the umbrella down with more force than necessary, upsetting a small, thankfully empty vase, with a clunk. "Looking for you. Wondering where you've gone. If you're on drugs again."
No reply. Sherlock stared at the ceiling, humming an infuriating tune under his breath.
"What do you want?"
"You already know."
He did already know – a single glance, the bruising, characteristic of a planned beating rather than a random fight, the freshness of the blood, the shivering. Sherlock owed money, and he didn't have any; Mummy had cut off his allowance long ago. Even she wasn't that naïve.
"I'm not giving you anything."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Throwing me to the proverbial wolves, are we? Seems a little cold, even by your standards."
"Don't try and make me feel guilty. I'm not funding your…your habits."
"You wouldn't be. You'd be funding my continued existence." Sherlock quirked a lip, although it lacked any of his usual lively contempt; he looked too tired for that. "A very worthy investment, if I do say so myself. Mummy would be very upset if I was found…what was it they said…ah yes 'fucked up in the nearest skip'."
Mycroft shuddered at the image before he could stop himself; before he could stop Sherlock seeing how much he cared.
"Who is it this time?"
Sherlock waved a hand, supposedly offhand, but Mycroft knew it was calculated. "No matter. I'll just be going on my way. Tell Mummy you could have done something, but you didn't trust me enough." He got to his feet with a well-practiced slouch, although his shivering betrayed how much effort he was putting into staying upright; Mycroft could see it in an instant, read it in an instant. He didn't know what to do with the information. He didn't know what to do with Sherlock.
Sherlock waited, one hand pressed against the back of the sofa for support. Mycroft thought of the price of steam cleaning when he saw the amount of muck and blood rubbed off on the cushions.
"How much do you need?"
Mycroft winced. "Idiot."
"Spare me the lecture. If you don't give it to me, I'll steal it. Of course, if I got caught it wouldn't do Mummy much good."
Mycroft ignored the jibes – old material, Sherlock was obviously too tired to come up with much else – as he fished his wallet out of his pocket and counted out three fifties and some twenties. Sherlock watched him with a smirk on his face that told Mycroft he was being manipulated. That was nothing new. He'd known that all along. Sherlock would never have come for him asking for help just because he needed it; he was too proud, there was too much resentment between them. He could have stolen the money in a heartbeat, to judge from the number of times Mycroft had had his pockets picked when he was young.
Sherlock had come to prove he could manipulate him. To prove he could be just as foul, just as much of a fool, as he always was, and Mycroft would cave every time, because he cared more than he wanted to admit.
"I haven't got long."
Sherlock's hand was pale and shaking in the moonlight, fingers thin enough to look brittle. Cracked nails, dirty fingertips. Mycroft looked at his own hands, soft, one ink stain on the thumb. He kept his grip on the money, breathing deeply.
"I need to know you're not going to spend it on drugs. You need to get clean."
A car screeched somewhere outside as Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I'm not high now."
"But you will be. Unless we do something about it."
Sherlock jerked the money out of his hand with a little more force than necessary and shoved it unceremoniously into his trouser pocket. "You mean unless you do something about it." He smirked. "Tell me, what are you going to do? Tie me up and drag me to some fancy, anonymous rehab for rich twats? Professional, expensive, no questions asked." He laughed. Mycroft wondered at what stage his brother's voice had become so bitter it could have been mistaken for cruel. "It'd be cheaper to buy me the drugs."
"I can help you. Here." He couldn't believe the words were coming out; he couldn't believe he was exposing his soft underbelly in this way, to Sherlock of all people, when he knew full well what his reply was going to be. "I've got a spare room. Water. Food. You can go cold turkey, and Mummy doesn't have to know. No-one has to know."
"Apart from you."
Sherlock snorted, one foot already on the windowsill, even though he could have gone through the door and avoided the risk of a twisted ankle. Mycroft felt his heart pounding.
"I'm trying to help you."
Sherlock looked back at him, scorn glittering at the corners of his eyes. "I don't need your help."
There was a soft thump of well-worn shoes hitting the pavement, the sound of footsteps, and Sherlock was gone.
The following day, Mycroft surprised everyone in his department by passing up all chance of a promotion and transferring to the lowly surveillance sector of the British government, to help monitor the entire city of London. He never gave a reason as to why. Everyone said it was a damn shame, a waste; none of them thought he would amount to anything there.
They were wrong, of course.
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To be continued!