Mycroft padded down the corridors of the hospital in some trepidation. He had had a phone call from John, letting him know his brother had more news. He was not given to nerves, and he smiled grimly as he recalled that almost all the more disagreeable manifestations of his autonomic nervous system in recent years had been related to Sherlock in some way. Having an idea of what he might be told was not soothing; in this case, it made it worse. Anthea had made him the perfect cup of tea that morning, and brought it to him in bed, her attitude of softly speaking availability, and he couldn't face the loss of that unique blend of competence and tenderness with his usual equanimity.
Sherlock was sitting up in bed when he entered the cubicle, but looked like he shouldn't be. He was pale, far more so than his usual sickly magnolia, although a hectic flush stained his high cheekbones. Dark shadows ringed his eyes – some probably due to bruising, but it said something for the man's general condition that it was difficult to circumscribe where bruise ended and shadow started. His usual athletic posture, which Mycroft so envied and could never quite emulate (ruefully agreeing with Sherlock's rude assessment that he looked as if he was secretly carrying a spare umbrella) was sagging slightly, speaking of terrible exhaustion.
Then, Sherlock looked up and saw him, and some of the brightness immediately re-entered his affect.
"Mycroft! Sit down. I need to tell you what an idiot you've been, and I don't want to crane my neck nor miss the look on your face." He grinned wolfishly as he finished speaking, and Mycroft could not help the little, half amused, half irritated quirk that lifted his own lips.
"Will here give you a good enough view of my chastisement, brother?"
"Perfect. Right, your leak. I was right, it was coming from Anthea."
Mycroft couldn't help the grimace. Nor the grey colouration he had no doubt was now lending his countenance a sickly tinge. He would have hoped Sherlock would be a little kinder. Foolish thing to hope really.
"No, no, not like that!" The voice was superficially as imperious and impatient as ever, but there was a definite note of concern, and contrition. He looked up to see the strained white face against the pillow wearing an uncharacteristically softened expression. Hope began to bloom in his chest, and he sternly forced it down.
"No. The Whittard and Nevill stuff's all what it seems on the surface. However, you'll have no doubt observed that most of the players have been assigned code names. It shouldn't help them much – they can be paired up neatly with the information on the duty rosters. I looked at your men on the inside. And at first I thought that Peterson was your man, as everything seemed to correspond, but it wouldn't do. Not just because he's been with you for donkey's years and for some reason seems to think even your farts contain the wisdom of Solomon, but the timing…
"I knew something was wrong when I looked briefly at the roster, and one of the major events, that 'disappearing' boat episode, where all the conspirators had been involved, was on the weekend of your little Polish crisis a few months back - I doubted any of your team could have been involved then – they were all with you. I realised then that Peterson must have been set up as a fall guy – insurance if everything went pear-shaped – and I'm guessing they weren't to know he had an irreproachable alibi that weekend before forging the rosters, as I'm sure he didn't exactly advertise the fact that he was dancing attendance on you during a diplomatic crisis.
"So, if it wasn't Peterson…"
"It was Anthea's boyfriend, Mycroft," cut in John, impatiently, obviously deprecating Sherlock's drawing out of the point. Sherlock briefly looked highly annoyed, then seemed to recall that perhaps this wasn't the most gentlemanly topic to torture Mycroft with.
Mycroft sat back. He felt unaccountably breathless. Then highly embarrassed. Of course! Stupid, stupid! He had made it a point of principle not to pry on Anthea, not to go over every aspect of her life with a fine toothcomb, simply because the temptation to do so was so strong. He had not applied his usual rigorous (some might say paranoid) system of checks and double checks when she began dating the (young, ridiculously good looking, highly intelligent, athletic) man, simply because he itched to do so, and it made him feel like he was turning into a perverted stalker (as opposed to the more respectable brand of stalker that he was perfectly happy to own to). He dropped his head into his hands. It should have been obvious. It was so very obvious. And he'd missed it.
"You should be pleased Mycroft. Here's your chance; she's been parading the man around you to get your full attention for months now. She'll be full of remorse for letting you down too; the perfect opportunity for you to tell her that actually you don't just want a no strings mutually convenient arrangement after all."
Mycroft looked at his brother with narrowed eyes. "Sometimes, Sherlock, it's easy to forget that you're not really a sociopath". He was surprised to see the brief flash of shame cross the detective's face, and he wondered if the head injury had left the younger man somewhat disinhibited.
"Just saying. I don't think she really likes him all that much. I saw them together at a concert, and she was playing with her hair whenever he spoke to her."
Mycroft and John looked at each other, matching expressions of disbelief on their faces. John broke the awkward silence.
"Er… Sherlock. That's supposed to be a sign that a woman's attracted to somebody."
Sherlock rolled his eyes dramatically. "Yes yes, but not Anthea. She works for you, for God's sake Mycroft. She doesn't have a tic or a tell left to her name; all your best employees try for the Mona Lisa thing and suppress their body language. Ergo, she was playing with her hair consciously rather than unconsciously for our benefit, which is rather conniving. If she really cared about him, she'd be honest. Honestly, anyone would think it was you with the head injury."
It was ridiculous of course. Quite preposterous. There were myriad other explanations. But Mycroft still felt like a hot air balloon that was reinflating with gorgeous warm hope…. Quickly, he suppressed his own body language, refusing to give his brother the satisfaction of being right. He calmly rose to his feet.
"Thank you, Sherlock. This has been very informative. With the new information in mind, I believe we may 'start the ball rolling', as the vernacular goes." He then realised he'd unthinkingly cleared his throat and loosened his collar. Damn! He glanced surreptitiously at Sherlock, to see if he'd noticed. Of course he had. He was looking insufferably smug.
Discretion sometimes being the best part of valour, Mycroft retreated. It was time to dismantle this little crime empire. He would have to speak to Anthea first, of course. It was only logical, after all.