Mycroft Holmes recognizes that he possesses great power and complexity only because he is, at heart, very simple. He has accumulated a great many titles and positions, many of which will never be disclosed to the general public. But he has only ever truly been three things: a brother, a patriot, and a lover of poetry. There has never been time for anything else.
The first, he became at the age of seven, when Mummy placed the tiny, wrinkly, bright-eyed Sherlock in his arms and gently told him to take care. Mycroft is willing to admit that he took that first advice a bit too much to heart. Sherlock has perhaps never forgiven him for his over-protectiveness, but Mycroft knows full well that he will never forgive himself otherwise, and so the matter stands.
The second, he became at the age of thirteen, when he realized nothing but politics would be a sufficient frame for the force of his mind and the sharp pang of his ambition, the ease with which he navigated rooms and smiled ingratiatingly until his teachers gave him every award in school. He could be nothing else now, his position such as it was; his life and his country's intertwined through an odd network of lifeblood and satellite connections and a great many dark secrets on both sides. It is what it is, and it must be done. By him.
The last, he has always been, though now it only manifests in times of crisis. Poetry is a coping mechanism long relied upon in his rare moments of panic, a good deal more secure than his ever-fluctuating diet schedule.
And so it is: When all his contacts and connections (which are many and infinitely useful at any other time) have failed, when there is still an aching space where a tooth used to be, when he arrives exactly three minutes too late to see the pool building half-collapsed and smoking, most likely with Sherlock and John Watson and James Moriarty still inside, Mycroft stops in the middle of the pavement and finds himself being pulled into three distinct and painful pieces.
His well-disciplined mind fractures into parallel, equally vivid tracks. He thinks of the papers on his desk, his assistant behind him, the job he is required to perform. He thinks of the sickening crack when six-year-old Sherlock fell and broke his arm, the tears bright in his pale eyes as he stared up at his big brother. And in the middle of it all: Was it really you and I? In truth the riddle's ill to read, so many are the deaths we die before we can be dead indeed.
The appearance of William Ernest Henley in his thoughts is a sign that things have gone quite badly, and not at all according to plan, thanks to Sherlock's typical incredibly foolish impulsive actions.
It begins to rain. He completely ignores the umbrella tightly clenched in his right hand in favor of more pressing thoughtful concerns. The cold bites through his coat and catches in his nostrils. They should have been keeping better track of John; Mycroft takes that blame on himself, as he will for whatever they find inside. The man is a strength and a stabilizer for Sherlock, but here is evidence of the incredible weakness that friendship may prove to be, if the two of them didn't manage to-
His assistant has been busy during his brief, practically nonexistent moment of paralysis. He can hear her texting frantically through the open door of the car behind him. "Sir-" she begins, but he's back now and raises a hand to signal his acknowledgment.
The point team rushes by him into the building, carrying guns and stretchers and various other technologies he chooses not to categorize. "When Detective Inspector Lestrade arrives," he says quietly, "Please do let him in." His voice shakes alarmingly. He moves towards the building before she can respond, and then waits at the perimeter for something to happen.
Mycroft has always been terrible at waiting. Smoke drifts in the air, makes his eyes water. For far too long, longer than planned, nothing at all happens from inside. It is far too still. He takes out his phone and attempts to sort out a few emails that will become quite urgent in the next ten minutes, but most of his attention is distracted by the glancing stanza. So many are the deaths we die...
He shakes it away, but only with long years of practice. There are still duties to attend to. He deliberately finishes an email and hits the send button, ignoring the weight in his chest.
A police car screeches to a stop outside the government-issued cordon. They are a full four minutes later than he was, but he suspects that Sherlock would appreciate the thought, at least. Detective Inspector Lestrade comes whirling out of his car, sights Mycroft and heads directly over.
Lestrade pivots to a stop by his side and asks, "Anything?"
Mycroft only shakes his head and says, "My team is already inside."
"Right. That's where I'll be, then." He doesn't ask for permission so much as acknowledge Mycroft's nod. The Inspector turns back to the car, gestures at one of his people—Donovan—and the two of them are suited up and off into the building with the second team in a matter of minutes. Mycroft could theoretically go with them. He stays exactly where he is and concentrates very hard on staying calm. He finishes his correspondence, and then tucks his phone away with a hand that quivers, but does not shake.
Fear is not a state he is particularly comfortable with. Nor is uselessness. Naturally, Sherlock manages to create situations that engender both on a regular basis. Tension throbs in his temples as he waits for word from the team that the building is clear, or empty, or at the very least filled with three charred bodies instead of two so all of this won't have been in vain-
He sees them coming out of the wreckage just before his assistant calls, "Sir-"
"Yes, thank you."
John is upright, limping along with the help of Lestrade's arm under his. He is bloody and half of his clothes are burnt off, but he is stolidly refusing any medical assistance. Then the team appears behind them and Mycroft realizes why.
Sherlock is being carried on a stretcher. Mycroft jolts into something just short of a run and skids to a stop before them, looks down at his brother. He is absolutely pale and still, frozen, and Mycroft's chest aches.
Life! The word rings futile in his mind. Give me life until the end, that at the very top of being, the battle-spirit shouting in my blood, out of the reddest hell of the fight I may be snatched and flung-
When Sherlock was nine, he locked himself in the cellar while examining a spider web. It took them an entire night to find him, and when Mycroft finally tracked him down into the dark, he was asleep at the bottom of the stairs, all white and small and very, very alone.
"Report," he snaps, and the world refocuses around him.
"He's alive," John says around a rasping cough. Mycroft glances up to give him what is supposed to be a stern look of reprimand for refusing treatment, but he suspects it comes out rather grateful instead. "He's just a bit concussed. We took a beating in the water."
Lestrade hefts a little more of John's weight off his leg. "Right, enough out of you. Someone—thanks." He takes the oxygen mask from one of the gathering med techs and hands it to John with a no-nonsense look that Mycroft approves of. The doctor looks terrible, skin gray and hair black from the soot. Medics surround Sherlock and John, leading them towards the emergency vehicle. He steps back to let them work.
The team leader appears silently at Mycroft's side and touches a finger to his forehead in a kind of salute. "No sign, sir."
That is something of a blow, even though the probability had been fairly high. "No," he sighs. "No, there wouldn't be." James Moriarty has become a serious problem. The United Kingdom does not take kindly to terrorists, and Mycroft Holmes in particular will not tolerate this kind of wanton destruction in his own backyard, his own family. He finds it very easy to continue, "I will make the necessary arrangements. I trust, Jenson, that you will not disappoint me in bringing this matter to a swift conclusion."
The man nods and fades away, the very model of deadly efficiency. The thought is something of a comfort, and it helps to center him. He turns his back on the growing crowd of helpers for a moment and finds his assistant standing next to him. For once her eyes are focused on him instead of the blinking Blackberry in her hands. It is quite disconcerting.
"My brother and the doctor will be lodging at Pall Mall with me tonight," he tells her, and to her credit she barely raises an eyebrow before ducking into her gadget again to make the necessary arrangements. Sherlock will not be pleased, but he will be safe, and that has always been the greater concern.
There is a hacking, racking cough behind him, and Mycroft spins around again as if physically pulled by the sound of his brother's awakening before he restrains himself. He very deliberately opens his umbrella and settles it on his shoulder before he wanders over to the open back of the med van where Lestrade is hovering nervously between two blanketed forms.
Mycroft arrives just as Sherlock manages to get his eyes open. The oxygen mask obscures his features and for a moment his gaze is unfocused, drifting from Mycroft's face to Lestrade, and then off to the side where John is fighting with his own mask. It reminds Mycroft very strongly of the time Sherlock showed up at his door, crashing from a high and examining the colors in the ceiling.
His emotions are well in check now, except he can't help but say, "Hello," and even in his weakened state, Sherlock catches it. The oxygen mask comes off and he sits slowly, with Lestrade's help.
"You're late," Sherlock rasps out. He descends into another fit of coughing.
The comment is directed at Mycroft, but Lestrade looks genuinely distressed. John settles himself next to Sherlock and says, "And by that, he means thank you." His eyes meet Mycroft's and there is a depth of understanding there that is admirable.
Mycroft palms the familiar weight of the phone in his pocket and says in a very normal tone, "You'll be coming home with me tonight. I'm afraid Baker Street is far from secure at present."
He meets Sherlock's eyes and they read most of what they need to know from each other. It's all the same familiar arguments, but Mycroft is intent to win this one, because this is now a matter of national security and he will make it an order if he has to. They come to a predictable but satisfactory understanding. Even Moriarty shall not escape them in a night.
It is a testament to the horrendous mess this night turned into that Sherlock just nods. He closes his eyes and lies back again. John and Mycroft glance at each other, then down at Sherlock. Into the everlasting lull, Mycroft thinks with a kind of fondness. The immortal, incommunicable dream. Mycroft nods to Lestrade and steps back to give them a few minutes for the official questioning.
His assistant meets him at the car. "All ready, sir."
"Thank you, Michelle." He manages something like a smile, which she returns. Moriarty is still on the loose, and there a hundred thousand things to orchestrate to ensure that does not remain the case. Mycroft has a job to do. He glances at the men gathered by the van, and then turns away to make a quick call to the Home Office.
It is late to the point of being early when they finally arrive at Pall Mall, and much later still when John and Sherlock settle into guest rooms upstairs, warm and clean and fed. Mycroft's house is very large and very quiet, and most importantly it is the single most well-protected structure in London, much to the consternation of the current Prime Minister. It is one of the few places on the planet where Mycroft can allow himself to relax.
He has yet to manage any kind of relaxation tonight. Instead he spends several frustrated hours on the phone in his study. No one knows where James Moriarty went, or even who he is. Mycroft puts out the necessary feelers before resigning himself to the failing of official channels. It will come down to Sherlock. And, he increasingly suspects, to John Watson.
Mycroft looks up from a file of papers and catches sight of himself in the mirror by the door. He sees a thin, pale man staring back from where he's propped on the desk by his elbows. Tie and jacket abandoned, collar rumpled, eyes tired and despairing. It is the image of a hollow man who has been awake far past his considerable threshold of useful action. Mycroft wonders, vaguely, when he became his father.
With a sigh he levers to his feet and paces, restless, to the window. Tension throbs through his shoulders and his thoughts. Waiting, and fear, and uselessness. He stands there for a long time looking out at the street, the city, and tries to stay in one piece.
He recognizes an approaching tread on the thick carpet, and he doesn't need the reflection in the cold glass to see Sherlock leaning in the study doorway, rumpled and restless and aware. Mycroft finds he's too tired to play their usual game, and so he stands there in silence.
Sherlock's lips twitch in a flickering grin that holds a sense of gentleness that surprises Mycroft. "Hark in the city, street on street," Sherlock says lowly, and...well. Yes. It has been a difficult night, after all.
"A roaring reach of death and life," Mycroft continues the line with a sigh. There is a kind of relief in doing it aloud, fully aware that Sherlock is humoring him and he is leaving himself quite exposed. "Of vortices that clash and fleet and ruin in appointed strife..."
"How terribly dramatic," Sherlock says with a real smile this time.
Mycroft can only raise both eyebrows in surprise at the self-deprecating humor. There is something of an apology in it. He half-turns to watch Sherlock properly. There is a bruise forming on his left collarbone, and he holds himself deliberately on his right leg. Neither of them are at their best. Mycroft tries to determine when they ceased to be the young boys who went for walks and drove their parents to tears of frustration and deduced the lives of passerby from their favorite seat in the park. He thinks that becoming the British government and an amateur consulting detective-and an over-protective nit and a self-destructive egoist respectively-may have something to do with the two exhausted men currently standing in this study.
In this moment, it is very hard to be anything except himself. Mycroft feels lost, in danger of breaking under the pull of conflicting forces.
Sherlock joins him at the window and they look out onto London, bright and living before them.
"You haven't found anything." It isn't a question, so Mycroft doesn't deign to answer it. "I will need every single piece of evidence you have, everything, and I will also need a new cellphone. And the number for the Swiss government." This also isn't a question, and so Mycroft inclines his head. His own version of an apology.
They lapse quiet again, standing side by side and very carefully not looking at each other. Mycroft listens to their breathing, and slowly his mind calms and centers. He mentally sorts through the papers still on his desk and adds a few more contacts that have yet to be pressed dry. He also considers his schedule for tomorrow and reminds himself to reschedule the ambassador from Belize to a more appropriate time.
"You were very lucky today, Sherlock," he says at last. John even more so, he does not have to say.
He sees the comment hit home in the lowering of Sherlock's brow, and that is sufficient.
Sherlock turns to look at him, and Mycroft finds himself perfectly steady, easily meets the familiar gaze with a wry one of his own. "Now, I do believe it is past your bedtime."
Sherlock smirks again, and the cutting smug superiority in the expression warms Mycroft's heart. "Good night, brother-mine." He leaves as quietly as he came, though perhaps a bit more grown-up.
Mycroft the brother is quite proud at the thought, and Mycroft the British government is quite concerned. This is a sign that the world is returning more or less to normal.
Hark to it calling, calling clear, calling until you cannot stay... Mycroft turns back to the view and lets himself indulge, for just a moment, though there are a thousand things he needs to do before he rests. The lights of London flicker on and off before him. He thinks of John sleeping upstairs, of Sherlock pacing endlessly around the rooms. From dearer things than your own most dear.
"Enough," he tells his tired reflection. But the line remains hanging in his mind, and because he feels himself again, he lends it voice. "Over the hills and far away," he finishes with a sigh. The words retreat and the internal pull of fear recedes. His mind returns to schedules and plans and priorities, and the knowledge of his brother's exact location.
Simplicity itself. Mycroft turns his back on London, leaves his desk in darkness, and goes to rest.
Author's Note: Attempting an immediate tag for "The Great Game" is hard enough; making it a character study from Mycroft Holmes' point of view caused this to be the single most difficult oneshot I have ever written for a fandom. Mycroft is a very compelling character in this new series, and the relationship between the Holmes brothers has always been fascinating. If you have never heard of William Ernest Henley, go look him up and then read something. All lines here come from his "Rhymes, Rhythms, and Arabian Night Entertainments". For another Sherlock oneshot, check out "Relative Position in Space", from Lestrade's point of view. As always, your reading time is much appreciated, and I welcome comments of any kind. Cheers!