A/N: Back again! I will apologize in advance- with the way this semester's going, I'm not sure when I'll be completing this particular work, but I have enough of it done that I feel reasonably confident that I can keep to something like a normal posting schedule. So, probably something like every few days, there should be another chapter done, edited, and posted. Helpful comments are helpful, as ever, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I'm working it a bit differently from my usual romance-central plots. This is still Johnlock and Mystrade, but there will be parts focusing on the relationship between the brothers alone. That was the plot bunny, so it's the direction it's going. There will, of course, still be plenty of sexytimes, and probably a lot of fluff, too. I hope you enjoy!
They were bickering when the car sputtered to a stop. That was no surprise, as they had been quibbling almost from the moment they'd gotten into the car together two hours before. What was remarkable was that, while both men were geniuses, neither had bothered to check how much gas had been in the tank. For a moment, they stared at the gauge, silenced by their shock. They then turned to each other, and Sherlock had opened his mouth to unleash another barrage of insults, when Mycroft burst out laughing, a sound neither of them had heard for so long it triggered another period of silent staring, this time at one another.
"What, exactly, do you find funny about this? We're stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone service, and haven't seen a town for at least half an hour." Sherlock did not sound angry, exactly, but did seem very perplexed. He might have thought his brother had finally gone off the deep end, were it not for his own clear confusion at his reaction.
"I don't know. I was simply struck, I suppose, by the sheer absurdity of this." Mycroft paused, biting his lip as he contemplated how much of his thought processes to share with his brother. There was every chance, after all, that Sherlock would laugh at him, or simply not understand. He might even get angry. But Sherlock wasn't looking at his eyes, but at his mouth, with a frown on his face.
"That's a nervous habit you've not displayed since you were seventeen, brother." Sherlock nodded to indicate his mouth, and Mycroft hastily attempted to calm his mind, forcing himself to stop.
"Well, this is the first time we've been alone like this since those days. Perhaps it's simply your presence that upsets me."
"I suppose that could well be," Sherlock mused, laying his seat back. He stared at the roof of the car and simply waited.
"It's only… the last time we went on this trip, we liked each other. And it was an awful day, and everything that could go wrong did… but we found it all incredibly amusing, and laughed even when the tire blew and we had to walk two miles in the pouring rain to get to that seedy little bar…"
"And you got propositioned by that motorcyclist while I begged for change to use the payphone. We were lucky the bartender was nice, or we might not have gotten out of there," Sherlock finished, a small chuckle escaping him as he remembered the look of horror on his brother's face when the large, bald man dressed in leather had attempted to get him to dance. He remembered them laughing about it later, curled up on the sofa together drinking tea as they retold the tale of what had by then become a legendary adventure, to them.
"We did, though. It's one of my happiest memories, actually." It was a strange statement for Mycroft to make, considering his typical stance on emotion, but there was something… softer about him just then, Sherlock decided, a definite change from the hyper-controlled, stoic, stiff brother he was so used to these days. It was almost as if he was with the same young man he'd been all those years ago, before his work had stripped the joy from him. Sherlock wondered if it was just the repetition of the situation that had brought back that version of him or if it was something else. Regret or nostalgia, perhaps?
"Really? That was a terrible day, though. Truly." Although, now that he let himself think back on it, he realized that it was the same for him. Their childhood had been strange—though their parents were painfully normal, he and Mycroft had always been brilliant, and as a result had spent most of their time together. That had been just after he'd left uni, before he'd started work and begun rapidly rising through the ranks until he had become the most powerful man in Britain. It was the last time they'd spent much time together without fighting.
And then Mycroft had grown too busy to spend time with him, and Sherlock had become so painfully lonely without anyone like himself around that he'd turned to drugs to cure his unhappiness. And they'd fought about the drugs, and let the grudge grow until they'd not exchanged so much as a truly pleasant word in at least two decades.
"I'm not sure I would agree with that statement. It could have been terrible, and a number of terrible things certainly happened, but… We had fun, didn't we?" Mycroft didn't sound like the Mycroft Sherlock had come to know, and for a long moment, he simply considered this. He could take the opportunity to mock him, as he had on several other occasions when their conversations had taken a turn toward the sentimental, but the two of them had been having those moments more and more often lately, and this could, possibly, be a turning point.
So how to respond, then? Sherlock hesitated to say anything one way or the other, but then realized that the ball was very much in his court. Mycroft was far too intelligent to not realize what he was doing, offering that small olive branch, and that led Sherlock to wonder whether they had run out of gas on accident… or by design.
Either way, he supposed it didn't matter. They had a walk ahead of them regardless, unless they wanted to wait for Mycroft's people to notice they were missing and find them, which left them with quite a bit of time to work through it, or not, at their leisure.
"I think so. Certainly more fun than we had that time we were both home with the flu, and we discovered that the maid was a germaphobe." Sherlock wrinkled his nose as Mycroft snorted, getting out of the car with his umbrella. The door shut with a quiet but firm click, and he resigned himself to the walk as well.
Mycroft was a long time in answering, but that meant very little for the two of them. It was nothing new for either of them to think about a simple sentence for hours, even days before speaking. They played through their conversations much as they played chess. It had taken them two years to complete a game, once upon a time.
"Yes, I suppose it was. She ran screaming, and neither of us had the foggiest idea how to cook or even take care of ourselves."
"But you dragged yourself out to the kitchen and did your best to make us soup anyway. You even made me tea, even though you were shaking so hard half of it ended up on the saucer." Sherlock's words stunned both of them a little; Mycroft hadn't expected him to have remembered that, and Sherlock hadn't expected himself to actually say what he was thinking. It was something he decided to blame on the conditions of the day.
"Yes," Mycroft murmured, his umbrella tip tapping gently against the ground as the two of them started walking. It escaped neither of their notice that they walked in step, but neither chose to comment on it. And so, for perhaps half an hour of constant movement, they were quiet.
"You've carried an umbrella ever since that day," Sherlock commented finally, nodding toward the one he currently carried before glancing up at the sky. It was gray, but it had been all day, so neither of them was all that concerned.
"It seemed prudent. When we started out that morning it was a beautiful day. It only started to rain after we were on the road, by which point it was too late to think about that. And if I recall correctly, I ended up with a horrendous cold after that day, one that lasted more than a week."
"And I made you tea, without spilling any on you." Mycroft had to chuckle a bit at this, because it was true. "Then two weeks later you were gone," Sherlock finished, voice quiet and a little sad. Mycroft closed his fingers a little harder around the handle of the umbrella to keep from biting his lip again.
"It was what Father wanted, Sherlock. We both know I didn't have a choice. I didn't know how to do anything else, and we both know he'd have done anything in his power to make sure I followed in his footsteps."
"You were more successful than he ever was, though. And that was in the first five years. You could have called some of your own shots. You didn't have to live at your office and spend every conceivable moment on the phone even when you were home visiting."
Resentment was a blast of heat in Sherlock's voice, and he blinked at his own reaction. He hadn't realized it had hurt him so much. He remembered being angry but this… had he blocked out the pain because not doing so would have made him even worse off?
"Every time I could come home you were so angry, though. How did you expect me to talk to you when you wouldn't let me in? You wouldn't talk to me, you threw things at me if I tried to talk to you, and eventually you simply refused to see me. What was I supposed to do?"
"Oh, I don't know; be there for me, maybe? There was no one in the world who was like me except for you, Mycroft, and then you were gone."
Mycroft actually stopped in his tracks at this, spinning to face Sherlock, umbrella staying at his side despite the fact that a light rain had just begun to fall, landing on his already slicked hair and typically impeccable suit.
"I wasn't gone, Sherlock. I just wasn't there. There is a difference."
"What is the difference, then? I needed you, My. You weren't just my brother; you were my best friend, my equal, my partner in everything. I was completely lost! You virtually disappeared, except for the appearances you were obligated to put in, and never so much as had time to ask me how my day was for years! Can you blame me for not trusting it when you finally got around to me?"
"You were always my first thought, Sherlock. I didn't do any of it for Father; I did it so you would never have to! I knew what you wanted, and it wasn't to do what was expected of you. I knew if I could work hard enough, I would be able to take care of you by the time you were forced to make a choice. I wanted you to actually have a choice."
Whatever Sherlock might have said in response was lost when lightning slammed into a tree thirty feet away, felling it and making it hit the ground with a massive crash. Sherlock went pale and began to shake a little, and Mycroft cursed when he remembered Sherlock's fear of storms when they were little. If he had something to focus on, and was out of it, he was usually okay. But lightning terrified him, and they'd just had a close enough call to frighten anyone.
Pulling Sherlock under his arm, Mycroft got them moving, propelling them faster down the road. Fortunately, they found a village after five minutes—the same one they'd found all those years ago—and they were taking shelter in the same bar while Mycroft fished out his fortunately water-proofed cell phone and placed a quick call.
Because his little brother was still whiter than natural, Mycroft ordered a scotch and put it in his hand, murmuring to him softly until he drank it. It calmed him just enough to return some of his natural color, but he still looked a bit dazed. Guessing it wasn't because of the storm, Mycroft stayed quiet and let him work through his thoughts.
Sherlock didn't speak when Anthea came to their rescue with one of the nondescript black cars Mycroft used all the time, or on the entire ride there. He barely spoke when they arrived, finally, at the "cabin" where they were spending the week with their parents. He answered questions they asked him, but his uncharacteristic silence had both their mother and father raising their eyebrows. It was only after they retired, leaving the boys alone in the living room with the crackling fire, that he decided to resume their conversation.
"I never knew why you did it. I can read anyone, understand even the most complex minds, but I never saw that."
"Sherlock… I wanted more for you than to be stuck with a job you didn't want for the rest of your life. More than anything, I wanted you to be happy. That you succeed was important to me, but only so far as I knew you wouldn't be satisfied with anything less. I love Mother and Father, but I knew they would never understand your need to do what you do. I just thought that if I could make things easier for you… Well, it would be worth it to see you happy."
"Being your brother made me happy. I guess I always just thought, when you left, that you had… outgrown me. And I hated that. You are the only person I had ever met who is on my level, and not having you there just… hurt."
"I never meant to hurt you, brother mine. I only wanted to help you. I just did what I thought was best… but I should have asked you how you felt, I suppose."
"No, My… you needed to have something for yourself." At this the elder brother turned to look at the fire rather than at his brother, unease written on his face. Sherlock wondered if it was the closeness that produced that look or the fact that he didn't really have anything that was his. Sherlock had carved out a space for himself—he had 221B as a home, Mrs. Hudson and John as family, and was busy and happy with his career. He had people to go home to at the end of the night. If his relationship with John wasn't exactly what he wanted, well, at least John was around, and didn't seem inclined to abandon him anytime soon.
"But you don't, do you?" Sherlock murmured, noting the way Mycroft's eyes closed, forehead crinkling. It was a sure sign he was thinking, possibly planning to make some excuse and run from the conversation, but now that he understood everything his older brother had sacrificed for him, he wasn't going to let that happen. Resting a hand over Mycroft's on the couch, he squeezed gently, reclaiming his attention.
"My, if you're lonely, you can change it. There's still time, you know. And you do deserve something for yourself." Sherlock had slipped back into the old nickname easily, the old habits somehow stronger than the years between them, and the rift between them began to seal, bound together by ties of blood and affection and trust that lingered despite everything.
"I don't know, Lock. I've spent so many years living for other people, how would I even know what I want?"
And because Sherlock cared enough about John to listen to him, a thought sparked in his mind of a conversation he'd had with his flat mate only a few weeks before. He'd come home from a pub night with Lestrade, sighing about how unfair things had been for the DI and how much of a shame it was that he had no one, despite how much work he put in to protect and serve others. The man had given up on relationships after divorcing his wife, but was apparently quite lonely, though he'd voiced to John more than once that even if he wanted to go on a date, he would have no idea what to say or even look for.
"Maybe what you want is someone who understands your pain, and knows it. You could use a friend, My."
And it was, perhaps, that simple. Or maybe Mycroft and Lestrade would fall in lust, or even in love, and end up making one another happy in a variety of ways. But for the moment, Sherlock realized that he and Mycroft both had a lot of healing ahead of them, and that little steps were probably the wisest approach, until he had started on his journey.
"Perhaps so, Lock. But I… I could use a brother, as well. I know we've been… not close, but I think that with time, we might be able to get past that." He made the offer and waited with bated breath, knowing that whatever response his little brother gave would determine what happened next. They might never be as close as they once were, but it was still possible.
"I think in some ways, today, we already have. But whether or not that continues, I think, remains to be seen."
Mycroft nodded, accepting the cautious but hopeful answer, and then felt the corner of his mouth twitch up as he realized that, at least for that night, he could tease his brother without it being taken badly.
"How's John, then?"
Sherlock made a face, nose scrunched up as Mycroft stood and poured them both snifters of brandy. He returned to his former position after handing Sherlock his, but turned his body a little more toward his brother.
"What, your surveillance team can't tell you how John is?"
"Well, it does save me from having to borrow him for an hour, don't you think? This way he has more time to devote to you. Maybe you'll have some leftover time after your next case to spend time together, then."
The younger Holmes went very still, and Mycroft realized he might well have pushed a button that would destroy their temporary truce, despite the gently teasing nature of his first comments. But then Sherlock shrugged, the movement graceful and feline, and Mycroft released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"Or he'll go out on one of his ridiculous dates with those idiotic women he dates because he knows they won't last, and he can keep up the façade without ever having to commit to the lifestyle that's expected of him."
"Have you tried offering him an alternative, or have you been too afraid to do so?" Again, he was cautious, knowing that if he irritated Sherlock, that was probably it. There was no dare in his tone, simply curiosity, and an offer to listen.
"I don't know what John wants, My. But I can't think why, out of all the people in London, he would choose me, if he wanted something more real."
"I can't think of any reason you wouldn't be his first choice, actually," Mycroft said dryly, earning a confused look that reminded him, oddly enough, of a twelve year old Sherlock whose primary interests had been studying nature and following his big brother around. He hadn't realized just how much he'd missed that Sherlock… he'd thought he had, but until that moment, it struck him just how wrong he'd been.
"Lock, John Watson is addicted to danger, adrenaline, and intrigue. Contradictorily, he's also a man of great warmth and compassion, a caretaker with a desire to nurture, heal, and protect. That makes him your perfect companion. He can follow you all around London and get the first of his fixes, and then take you home and get the second. Can you name a single person of either of your acquaintance who could offer him the same? Honestly?"
Sherlock wracked his brains, but when it occurred to him that he could not, in fact, name a person, he decided to take a different tack. Hope was beginning to well up inside him, and he knew that if he didn't push it back down soon, he might do something perfectly ridiculous like try and act on the feelings he'd never known himself capable of having until a certain army doctor had come into his life.
"It doesn't matter what I can offer him; it's what I can't offer him that makes it highly unlikely that he would ever even feel mild interest, let alone…" Let alone what I feel for him. Sherlock couldn't say the words, but since they were implied anyway he pressed on, knowing Mycroft would understand. "I'm not a female, I know absolutely nothing about relationships outside of what makes people commit murder—and I'm fairly certain none of those things would be equally useful in forming a healthy relationship if I even proved capable of being in a healthy relationship—and to top it all off, I've hurt him so many times without ever meaning to that it's a miracle he even puts up with me as a flat mate and friend."
"I think you'll find that the first two items on your list there are irrelevant. John Watson is the sort of man who falls in love with hearts, not parts, and so is unlikely to judge you for what you have between your legs or the fact that you aren't particularly adept with it. That last, I'm sure, would come along rather quickly if the two of you would finally just give in. In regards to the third, perhaps you have hurt him, but he's probably the first person outside of family whose regard you've actually, genuinely cared about for its own sake. People hurt one another, every day, but what is important isn't the pain. Life is pain. What matters most is that you care, and find a way to show that you've kept on caring no matter what flies out of your brilliant mouth that spouts off the wisdom of the ages all without ever thinking before it speaks."
Sherlock was stunned for a moment. Mycroft was giving him… relationship advice? And the truly strange part was that it sounded reasonable. He contemplated going to Molly for a second opinion, then remembered that John had warned him last time that talking to Molly about interpersonal relationships was a bit not good due to the fact that she wanted more of one with him than he was capable of providing. He should have scowled, seeing how much influence the doctor had on him, but instead it created a warm fluttering in his belly.
"Do you really think he could come to care for me, Mycroft?" Again, it was the sweet, naïve Sherlock they'd both thought was gone whose tone came through, and the shy uncertainty compelled Mycroft to pull him in for a sideways hug briefly, imparting a little comfort.
"I think he already does, Sherlock. Maybe more than you could guess. But neither of us is good with these sorts of things. I think that, if you want answers to the million questions undoubtedly circling in your head, that you would be best off to ask him. I cannot imagine a world in which that man would turn you away." The statement might have been one of the most sincere of his life, but it still surprised him when Sherlock relaxed against his shoulder, letting his brother cuddle him for a moment before turning to look at him with an impish grin.
"So, have you seen DI Lestrade while you've been spying on me?" Though he very nearly bristled at the implication that his surveillance was spying, Mycroft decided to take the question in the spirit in which it was offered and shrugged while Sherlock refilled their drinks, not sure what he was getting at but very nearly sure he was about to be the butt of some joke.
"Yes, I've seen the man. And I met him once before, if you recall. Though, I suppose you might not. I was the one who convinced him that you would be of far more use to him patrolling the streets at his side."
Sherlock, who had only vague, blurry memories of those days—the state he'd preferred, when his massive intellect had begun to drive him crazy and the only refuge was the blur only drugs seemed to offer—frowned as he thought back and found only a vague recollection of the events described. It was enough, however, to remember the way his brother's fingers had tightened marginally on his umbrella, the only sign of his discomfort.
"Aah, yes. And you were uncomfortable at the fact that you found him attractive and practically ran away, not noticing his half-arsed attempt to give you his phone number in case you wished to 'discuss me further' or whatever nonsense was pouring out of his mouth in an attempt to get you to stick around."
"Half-arsed, brother mine? You are definitely making that up, if you're resorting to such language." But Mycroft had colored delicately, a curse of their pale skin and his red hair, and Sherlock bit back a chuckle. Yes, he was definitely going to have to arrange a meeting for them.
"Not making it up. But if you'd like to try and prove me wrong, you should swing by my next crime scene. You can even pretend you're checking up on me, if it makes you feel better. It's not as if he could throw the British government off the scene, even if he was able to make his tongue form the correct words to do so."
Mycroft bit his lip again, hesitating, before attempting a confident nod. If he didn't quite make it, neither brother commented. In fact, they didn't comment the rest of the night, on some silent accord, and after the weekend, they headed back to the city together. When Sherlock got a call from Lestrade as he turned on his phone, he raised an eyebrow at his brother, receiving a nod in return. So while Mycroft directed his driver to take them straight to the scene, Sherlock dialed a familiar number, unconsciously cradling his phone with rare care in a gesture that was obviously aligned with his thoughts regarding the person on the other end.
"John, I'm back in town, and Lestrade's just called…"