"Why do you always take Mycroft's side when we get into an arguement?"

Molly looked up from painting her toes, surprised at Sherlock's query.

"Because no one ever takes his side," Molly answered. She dipped the brush once more into the nail varnish, applying just one more coat. Sherlock made to sit down, but she stopped him. "Jostle me and I'll put you on dish duty for a month, this is my third coat."

Sherlock rolled his eyes, moving instead to his own chair. "Anyway, you were saying? Of course, people take his side, he's got half the government in his pocket."

"People who work for him don't count, I mean his actual friends and family," Molly replied, admiring her good work before capping the nail polish. "I like your brother, I feel like someone ought to be on his side. He does the work no one else wants to do, he does countless favors for all of us, you especially."

"Me?"

"Yes you! Because of your brother, you don't have to call a cab over the phone, you just have to stick your arm out, which, by the way, literally no one else in this city can do, you realize."

"Well I…"

"Besides that, he's gotten you out of more scrapes than you can count, more-so in recent years than anything else, but still. He's got an awfully thankless job. I think he deserves to know someone's on his side, and not because I was paid to do it, or because I feel indebted or guilty." She shrugged. "He's always been polite to me, and I appreciate what he does, for you and for England." Her nails dry, she got up then. "I'm going to head home; did you need me for anything else?"

"Hm? No. Thank you for ordering dinner, and brining the cadavers."

"Thanks for letting me use your big tub and for letting me have a mani-pedi on your coffee table."

Sherlock quirked a smile and murmured: "You're welcome," reminding her she was no trouble, and he rather liked her presence in the flat when he was thinking. Having Molly in the house made everything seem…right, somehow.

He watched her jump into the waiting car, returning her wave before the door shut behind her. Another one of Mycroft's favors. Molly's words circled around and around in his head, and he picked up his violin, plucking idly at the strings.

Someone ought to be on his side…

He does countless favors for all of us…

He's gotten you out of more scrapes than you can count…

Molly, as usual, was right. Sherlock set the bow against the strings, pondering her words. He thought back on the years of bickering, of the work his brother did behind the scenes, all the family's secrets forced to carry and care for. Yes, there was a good deal to think about.

The following week

"Is there any particular reason everyone is behaving as if I'm dying?" Mycroft asked, frowning at the tin of biscuits. There was a note-card taped to the top signed from the Detective Inspector Lestrade, a note scrawled out in terrible cursive that read 'Thanks for all you do for us down at the station! Enjoy the bickies!'.

The day before, the Watsons had sent him a rather tasteful floral arrangement and a stunning bottle of wine. Tucked into the flowers was a drawing by Rosamund of what appeared to the both of them standing by a family of ducks. John said it had been from the day Mycroft had come across them all in the park. Of course everyone knew he hadn't merely stumbled onto the picnicking family. Mycroft did not have to search his memory too hard to remember that day. He'd seen the Watsons all having a lovely time on the grass. Rosamund had been grabbing fistfuls of nuts from the granola mix that Mary had made, flinging handfuls at the ducks. Mycroft had scooped her up and out of harm's way just as a swan chased after her. Apparently the memory had stayed with Rosamund, and she had been demanding another picnic with 'Unca Croft', even with her limited speech. The picture was tacked up to the fridge at his house, he did not have the heart to put it away, and it did add some color to the rather stark room.

"You love biscuits," Molly said as he opened the tin with a frown.

"Yes but why am I all of a sudden being accosted with gifts? It is neither my birthday, nor the holidays. I must assume either everyone requires something of me, or that I am dying, in which case I would suggest they ask me now before I am incapacitated."

"Maybe everyone is simply showing their appreciation for you," Molly countered, sneaking one of the jam thumbs from the tin. Her eyes twinkled with some mischief.

"All right," he set the tin aside. "What's going on?"

"Why are you so suspicious?" Molly asked.

"Because no one is this nice to me."

"Maybe we should start," she answered, all the teasing and mirth was gone from her eyes. "I'm sorry if we don't say it enough, Mycroft, but you are a good man. This was all Sherlock's idea, actually. Not, specifically the gifts, just, asked us all if we could give you one thing, something each of us thought you might like best, what would it be?"

"Ah, I see, he paid them-"

"He did not!" Molly insisted, stamping her foot. "We all drew our own conclusions."

"Something tells me you didn't need to be convinced," he said, knowing Molly Hooper had always had some regard for him (for whatever strange reason).

"Nobody did," she sat down across from him, folding her arms across her middle. "We just all individually decided that in your own way, you're a good friend. Nobody has ever really properly thanked you, and no, biscuits, wine, flowers and a drawing don't exactly make up for all you've done for us, but," she shrugged. "I guess we're all trying to say that we love you Mycroft, in our own ways."

Mycroft looked at the tin of home-made biscuits, clearly the DI had gotten help from Mrs. Hudson, but the note was hand-written, and the thanks seemed heartfelt. The flowers from the Watsons were fresh, and certainly not cheap, nor the bottle of wine. They'd been careful in their selection of flowers, choosing ones that they felt would appeal to the elder Holmes tastes (they were quite exceptional, if he was honest). The wine was one he had not tried yet, but he always appreciated a good vintage.

"Well if all my friends are thanking me, where is your present for me?" he asked, nose in the air, pretending that he was not completely overwhelmed by the gestures. In truth, he did not know what to make of it. He was touched, genuinely, by the efforts made on his behalf. They were unexpected, and thought had been put into each gift.

Molly smiled, got to her feet and crossed the room. Opening the office door, she stepped back to reveal Sherlock.

"We're taking you to supper," Sherlock announced. "After which there is a very good performance of Puccini's 'Tosca'. It's in the park, but I'm told the soprano is very good."

Mycroft swallowed hard, well aware of his eyes stinging with tears. He did not brush them aside, lost in a memory:

"Mycrowft, what are you listening to?"

He turned with a start, seeing Sherlock in his bedroom doorway. Since the loss of Victor Trevor, Sherlock had not spoken in the weeks that followed. Their parents had not encouraged or discouraged the silence, too overcome with trying to decide what to do with Eurus (which apparently was bugger-all). The chaos the family was dealing with was a silent, detrimental sort. Nobody talked properly about anything, nobody alluded to the problems Eurus was causing or herself struggling with, nor about Victor Trevor, or Sherlock not remembering anything at all about his best friend. Nobody talked, and Mycroft was drowning in silence, frustrated at the lack of communication and decision-making. He'd holed himself up in his room, listening to the cassettes from his Uncle Rudy.

Now, his baby brother stood in the doorway, looking curiously at him.

"It's an opera," Mycroft replied, trying not to be too excited that his brother had finally spoken. "You wouldn't like it."

"I might," Sherlock insisted.

"Very well, come in, sit down, and don't touch anything."

Sherlock flopped onto his belly, head resting in his hands as Mycroft rewound the tape, explaining the synopsis. Sherlock did not much care for the story, but once the tape began to play, he was silenced. They sat quietly, listening to the opera, Mycroft changing the tapes when it was time. It didn't matter that downstairs mummy was upset with Eurus for something, it didn't matter that father was ignoring it all as if nothing was wrong. All the shouting faded away behind Puccini's lush score and the rich voices.

Mycroft blinked, realizing Molly was speaking.

"I do beg your pardon," Mycroft said quietly. "What did you say?"

"I said Sherlock told me it was a favorite of yours, yours and his. He played me a little of it, it sounds very beautiful, I'll have to catch it tomorrow night!"

"You aren't coming?" Mycroft asked, glancing at Sherlock, who seemed just as surprised.

"Oh no, I can't," Molly shook her head. "I've got the night shift, I can come to dinner, but after I've got to go to work!"

Both brothers had been sort of hoping for Molly to join them, sort of as a buffer between them. It wasn't that the never got on…it was easier to avoid awkwardness with Molly there. Talking was easier with a third party there.

Dinner was lovely, Molly chose the restaurant and both Holmes brothers heartily approved of it. The food was excellent, and the bottle shared between them (Molly stuck to water as she was due to work at midnight) was very good.

Afterwards, Molly bid them goodnight, pressing both their cheeks, and Mycroft was somewhat thrown by the sincerity of her gesture. He was used to politicians' half-hearted handshakes and murmured niceties. Molly was warm and pleasant and hugged him as if he were her older brother. There was no hidden malice behind her kissing his cheek, nor in her hugging him outright. He watched as she bid Sherlock goodbye in a similar manner, rather more intimate (and rightly so), but just as meaning.

They waited until she was safely away before heading to the park for the opera.

It was a small troupe of performers, perhaps twenty at the most, small, for an opera of this magnitude. The seats were first come first serve, and they'd arrived early enough that they managed to find something near the orchestra, towards the corner.

The performance was good, the soprano was excellent, and nearly brought the audience to their feet when she performed 'Vissi d'arte'.

When it was over, they applauded as they ought to, standing with the rest of the audience before departing.

"Are you going to Barts?" Mycroft asked

"Yes, I'll keep Molly company the rest of her shift, I've some experiments, and it is likely to be a slow night."

"I'll drop you."

"Thanks."

They rode in silence for a time, companionable and pleasantly sated by the good food and excellent performance.

"We ought to go to the opera." Sherlock suddenly said.

Mycroft glanced at him, wondering if he was recalling that same day from their childhood.

As if reading his mind, Sherlock continued, "We always said we would. I've not forgotten, of course."

"Not when it came to favors owed, little brother," Mycroft replied, smiling a little. "I did promise to take you all those years ago."

"You did," Sherlock agreed. "But I hate to keep you to such an old promise. After all, we were only children, and you're quite busy, you haven't really the time to take me to the opera,"

Before Mycroft could object, before he could begin to conceal the hurt in his eyes and try to excuse the old promise, Sherlock spoke again: "Which is why I shall be taking you to the opera. Barring a case or national emergency, I should imagine we can manage an evening performance once a month."

Mycroft was glad the car was dark, for he was smiling, and his eyes were shining. "I should imagine so."

"And perhaps Molly and Anthea would join us sometimes, they might appreciate the more romantic stories."

"Are you suggesting your pathologist and my PA are a couple?" Mycroft asked, quirking an eyebrow, clearly teasing.

"I assumed you'd rather whisper into Anthea's ear than mine is all," Sherlock replied, fast as you please. Mycroft chuckled, nodding.

The car came to a stop, and Sherlock got out, he held out a cigarette to Mycroft, who after a moment, climbed out after him, taking a book of matches from his coat pocket.

They stood under the streetlight, talking about what they liked and disliked in the evening's performance until they finally stamped out their cigarettes. Just as Mycroft turned to go, Sherlock said:
"I'll give Molly your love, shall I?"

"Please," Mycroft said. "Thank you, by the way. The evening was…most pleasant."

"Don't know what you're thanking me for," Sherlock said, sniffing noisily, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Anyway you were the one who showed me that opera in the first place."

"You barged into my room, if I recall correctly."

Sherlock studied his brother, both aware they weren't really fighting, just a gentle banter. "You didn't tell me to get out like all the other times," he said quietly.

"I suppose because I realized you'd lost a friend…and while I couldn't replace him, I knew I could still be a good brother."

"You've always been a good brother," Sherlock mumbled, then glanced up. "Even- especially, when I wasn't."

Mycroft didn't know what to say then. "You did your best."

"My best was…limited," Sherlock said. "And it's certainly no excuse. I intend to do better, as you deserve better. You've always been here for me, and I have not always appreciated it. I'm sorry."

Mycroft managed a smile then. "Well…" he cleared his throat, somewhat gruff. "We'll say no more about it then. I'll leave this coming month's performance up to you to choose. Nothing too avant-garde mind."

"Ugh. No," Sherlock made a face. He waited until Mycroft was settled in the car. "Goodnight Brother-mine."

"Goodnight, thank you Sherlock." Mycroft replied and the car pulled away.

As he headed home, he thought back to that night years and years ago, when he and Sherlock first really began to understand each other, or at least the roles they played in each other's lives. They had not always appreciated those roles, they had endured them, misunderstood them. Tonight though, Mycroft felt as if the first of many steps had been taken, toward a better understanding of each other, even if there were not words yet.

"Mycrowft?"

"Hm?"

"Will you ever leave?"

Mycroft frowned, careful to conceal the alarm he felt. Was Sherlock remembering something of Victor?

"What do you mean?" he asked instead.

"Sometimes people leave, and they don't come back, like Redbeard."

Mycroft hated that substitution, a dog in a boy's place, one trauma for a lesser one. Awful and ridiculous, but he was still considered a child and had no say. "People go away sometimes," Mycroft said carefully. Sherlock fidgeted with the fringe of the carpet, not looking at his brother. "I must go away to school next year," he gently tugged on Sherlock's sleeve. "But I promise you, I'll always come back. You can call me every day if you like, and if you're in trouble, I'll come home. I'll always help you, Sherlock, always."

Sherlock didn't say anything, but Mycroft knew his brother well enough that words weren't always necessary. Sherlock was pondering very carefully what Mycroft had said.

"Play the next tape."

Mycroft obliged him, and then sat back, leaning against the bed frame. After a moment, Sherlock stretched out beside him, legs crossed in a similar manner. It didn't matter if neither of them understood Italian yet, or that the soprano on the tape never landed on top of her notes. The music, for the most part, was very good, and the Holmes brothers found comfort in their shared appreciation of it. It was a peaceful silence between the brothers, companionable and good.