A brief summary: The News of the World has been involved in a national scandal and has 'allegedly' printed it's last edition today, after it arose that they had hacked into phones belonging to murder victims, their families, and British soldiers to name but a few. Out of respect for these people, I have not named any specific case within this story and kept the details of the appalling way they have been treated to a minimum. Although based on a real issue within the UK at the present time, this is a work of fiction.
I have very strong views on the actions of these despicable people, but I recognise that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The following opinions are both John and Mycroft's. I have written this story at 2am this morning, as it wouldn't leave my head, and although your comments are extremely welcome, I do not wish to get into a heated debate with anyone who disagrees with either John, Mycroft or myself as the writer.
John Watson struggled up the stairs to 221b, with both hands full of shopping. With a grunt of inconvenience, he pushed open the door to the kitchen. The door swung heavily and came into contact with the shoulder of the man stood behind it. Sherlock took a moment from his work to grunt in irritation. He was stood, shoulders hunched with a pipette and petridish in his hands. He looked up at John, his eyes like thunder.
"Oh, thank you very much. I'll start that experiment again, shall I?" he snapped at John in welcome. John blinked at him before dropping the shopping bags heavily onto the kitchen table beside the microscope.
"Well forgive me for living here," John mumbled under his breath, before pulling a bottle of milk from one of the bags. "You still want that tea?"
John danced out of Sherlock's way as he put the shopping into various places around their kitchen. Once finished, he sat down onto a stool, sighed and glanced at Sherlock who was scowling into his laptop screen.
"What's up with you tonight?"
"Yes, me too," John said quietly. Busy didn't always have to mean acting like a sullen child. He paused for a brief moment. "Need any help?"
"Right...ok." John rose and pulled back the door to the living room. The light was off and the curtains were drawn. It was only a moment later when John stepped back into the kitchen and pulled the door closed again.
"Your brother is in the living room."
There was a moment of silence. When Sherlock failed to elaborate, John spoke up.
"How long has he been here?"
"About an hour."
"Forty seven minutes," Sherlock corrected himself without a glance of his watch.
John continued to stare at Sherlock, until he finally looked up from his laptop with a scowl.
"Actually, John I've changed my mind. You can help me by sorting him out and moving him on. Then, you can stop getting on my nerves. In fact, do that one first."
Sherlock rose suddenly from his perch and snapped his laptop shut before shoving it under his arm. He left the kitchen without another word and headed down the stairs. The front door banged heavily, shaking the house. John blinked at the empty room before turning on his heels and heading back into the dark living room. The silent form of Mycroft sat motionless on the sofa. John hesitated in the doorway before clearing his throat.
The man didn't respond, but John could just make out the slow blinking of the other man's eyes as he fixed his gaze on the fireplace across the room. Walking slowly to the desk, John made a second attempt.
"May I put a light on?" He took the silence as a yes, and clicked on the desk lamp. "Mycroft?" John sat tentatively on the edge of the coffee table and leaned into the man slightly. He looked asleep, apart from the tired blinking of his eyes. His gaze slowly broke away from the fireplace as his ashen face looked up at John for the first time.
"Mycroft, what are you doing here?"
"I like it here," Mycroft replied in a hushed voice. He gave a small smile.
"Can you hear that, John?"
John frowned. He could hear nothing but the faint sound of traffic crawling along the damp street below.
"I can't hear anything."
"Exactly...The world is so noisy at the moment John. It seems to have found its voice."
Mycroft raised a hand to the knot of his tie, gave it a gentle pull and then lowered his hand back to his knee. For a brief moment, John noticed the long, pale fingers tremble slightly.
"Show me your hand," John said quietly but firmly. The corner of Mycroft's mouth flickered slightly in amusement.
"Touché," Mycroft said simply. His hands remained in his lap.
"Mycroft...Are you ok?"
"No...John, I think I'm having a heart attack."
The words were said so calmly that John fought the urge to laugh. Instead he frowned in concern and leant forward on the coffee table.
"Well, that's not good."
He took Mycroft's left hand from his lap and tightened his fingers around his wrist. The skin was clammy to touch.
John looked down at his watch and waited; counting the rhythmical beat of the other man's pulse. After a moment, he looked back up at Mycroft's expectant face.
"Any light-headedness? Shortness of breath? Tight chest?"
"Yes, to all of those."
After another moment, John released Mycroft from his grip.
"Am I going to die?"
"Yes. One day." This caused a chuckle. "I'm going to keep my eye on you," John announced and headed for the kitchen.
"I hear you're good at that," Mycroft called after him. Moments later, John returned with a cup of sweet tea and a plate of chocolate biscuits. Mycroft looked at them in uncertainty. He gave a nauseous swallow.
"Eat one," John instructed. "Please," he added as an after-thought. Mycroft obeyed.
They sat, side by side on the sofa, listening to the faint hum of traffic. The light was growing darker from behind the curtains. When Mycroft eventually spoke, John couldn't be certain he hadn't dozed off.
"You must feel it too."
"Hmm? Feel what?"
"Ashamed. Ashamed of this country. This...brilliant country."
John bristled slightly at the sudden realisation of what this was all about. Of course, he'd heard of nothing else all week; the scandal, the outrage, the sheer horror of the despicable behaviour of human beings. Journalists...Politicians. The penny dropped and it stung. Surely Mycroft wasn't like that...One of them? From nowhere, Sherlock's voice rung loudly in the back of his mind; Mycroft is the Government. He took a deep breath and chose his response carefully.
"I feel ashamed that a minority of dishonest people can behave so disgracefully towards the people of this brilliant country."
There was a brief pause.
"And that includes me," Mycroft responded quietly.
"Is that a question?" John asked bluntly. Mycroft shook his head and locked his gaze with John.
"No. I'm telling you."
"So you knew then?"
"Yes. Of course, I knew John." Mycroft gave a scoff.
"How? How can you condone that sort of behaviour?" John asked angrily. He felt a sudden rush of heat to his face. He'd thought of nothing else all week; that the families of the men and women he had fought with –fought to save, and watched die – had had their privacy indecently invaded by someone who wanted nothing more than to sell their grief for profit. It was a betrayal of those brave people who fought for their country. It was an inexcusable act of disrespect to the sacrifices they had made. It made John want to cry with anger.
"I wasn't involved in any of this, John," Mycroft insisted.
"But you knew! That's just as bad. You might as well have written those articles yourself."
Mycroft faltered at this. This is what the anxiety had really been about. Mycroft's job was safe, that much was a given. He was out of the spotlight. The public didn't know he existed and that was the way he preferred it. No one would demand his head to roll. But in all the years of secrecy, of the current furore and the accusations, Mycroft had not anticipated this; that he would feel remorseful – responsible even – in some way. It sat heavily on his chest and tasted unpleasant in his mouth. He took a sip of tepid tea, knowing it'd take more than that to rid him of the feeling.
"I haven't slept in days," he muttered from behind the cup.
"Poor you," John replied dryly. "I'm sure the families involved haven't either."
"John, you're not stupid. Surely you realise that it isn't as simple as that? Yes, I admit, it was against the law, and it was immorally wrong, but the scale of this whole situation has been blown far out of proportion."
"The press and the general public have jumped on the band-wagon. Most of whom, I might point out, have never read that newspaper in their lives. It's a witch-hunt. They've caught the beast but it still lives. We're led to believe that it all ends with the final edition tomorrow, when in reality it'll be rebranded. A rose by any other name would smell as foul." He gave a sad smile. "I can't condone what has happen John, nor can I condone my own actions, or lack thereof. It's just...I had justified it in my head, and somewhere along the way, a line was crossed. And I am terribly regretful that I didn't spot it sooner."
"You justified it?" John scowled. "Mycroft, how is this justifiable? At all? It's not. It's unforgivable."
"And yet, if my brother were to hack into the phone of a client or a suspect, and use that information for his case, you would be the first to praise his actions, along with half of Scotland Yard."
John faltered. He hadn't thought of that. He shook the brief feeling of doubt from his head.
"How so? He is accessing a person's private information without their permission. How many times have you witnessed his house breaking– been involved with it, even? Is that not breaking the law? How often have you arrived home to find Sherlock happily reading your emails without your permission? Is that not the same thing?"
"No," John snapped. "No it's not! Yes, it may be breaking the law, but it is one person against one single individual. The information Sherlock obtains, whether illegally or not, is not shared with anyone other than me...and sometimes the police," he added.
"And your blog readership," Mycroft pointed out. John's jaw dropped. He closed it defensively.
"That is not for profit. What gain do I get from that at all? Besides, anyone who reads the blog knows exactly the means in which Sherlock has gone through to gain any of the information. The public have been spending money on newspapers which have obtained their information through fraudulent and unethical means. Every penny spent on that newspaper is money in the pockets of the heartless bastards who were allowed to hack the phones of murder victims!"
John gave a deep breath. His head was pounding. He'd fully intended to help Mycroft feel better, and now he himself felt worse. Mycroft gave a sniff.
"I just thought I'd point out the similarities."
"Damn you...You're wrong, Mycroft."
The weary man smiled; a contagious Holmesian smile.
"In your opinion."
"Damn you," John said again. Damn, Mycroft. Damn, Sherlock too for good measure.
A silence fell around them, but it wasn't uncomfortable. John chewed on his lip as he thought things through. He took a glance at Mycroft and noticed that the colour had returned to his pallid cheeks. Yes, Mycroft was going to die, but not that night, and not on John's sofa, he was sure of it.
"How are you feeling?"
Mycroft considered this.
"Have you got any scotch?"
"Ah, no, but I do have more biscuits."
He returned from the kitchen moments later, with an open packet in his hand. They were splayed messily on the plate and Mycroft snatched one up quickly. John had never seen a man so pleased to see a chocolate biscuit before; in fact he could swear he'd almost seen a tear in the other man's eye.
"David and I have been getting through a packet a day this week," Mycroft said between bites. John looked puzzled.
"Ah. Yes. Of course."
"He prefers the caramel type."
"I'll make a note."
"Make sure that you do."
Five biscuits later, Mycroft sat back against the sofa, looking much more relieved. John cleared the plate and the cup away. From the kitchen he heard the tentative voice.
"You don't think badly of me, do you John?"
John hesitated. Lying to Mycroft Holmes was pointless. And why should he lie? He walked slowly back to the living room and stood awkwardly on the spot.
"I'm disappointed," he admitted. "And ashamed that someone I know – someone who I respect – could stand back and allow something so terrible to happen...That is the kind of heartless and inconsiderate thing I would expect from your brother, as much as I love him, but I have to say...I really expected better from you."
Mycroft nodded slowly.
"Well...I am truly, very sorry for that John," he said sincerely. John nodded too. He knew that the words were true. What's more, he knew that the feeling of remorse that Mycroft was experiencing, though new, would not be forgotten. John felt a pang of sympathy that Mycroft, unlike Sherlock, had never had someone to be disappointed in him before. If he had, then this might have been avoided.
John opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Mycroft's phone ringing loudly into the silence. It made the pair of them startle slightly. Mycroft removed it from his jacket pocket and looked at the screen in dismay.
"Don't answer it," John suggested. Mycroft looked horrified at the thought.
"I've worked for the British Government for twenty five years and not once have I failed to answer my phone." The call continued to ring. "John, I don't want to go back to the office, not tonight. Gah!" he exclaimed to the phone. "Why can't you leave me be? I'm having a heart attack!"
"You're not having a heart attack."
"Yes, but they don't know that!" Mycroft replied irritably. John gave a laugh. The phone suddenly fell silent and Mycroft heaved an audible sigh.
"I just can't face it John...not tonight. Tomorrow, I start again."
"I know," John replied quietly.
The brief silence was suddenly spoiled by a set of sullen footsteps up the stairs. Sherlock arrived in the doorway looking flustered and damp. He grimaced at the pair of them.
"Ugh, why are you still here, in my life, in my living room? Go away. John you are useless. I gave you one task."
"Two tasks," John muttered. It appeared that he'd failed at both. "And yes, thank you," he retorted but Sherlock had already headed into the kitchen. He re-entered with a biscuit shoved into his mouth.
Mycroft blinked at his younger brother.
"I beg your pardon, I'm afraid I don't speak food-in-mouth."
Sherlock swallowed with difficulty.
Mycroft began to sit forward on the sofa in preparation to stand when John stepped in.
"Actually, Sherlock, Mycroft's staying here tonight. I promised I'd keep an eye on him."
Sherlock blinked in confusion.
"Is this a joke? I don't get it."
"Not a joke Sherlock. Go back to work."
Sherlock looked between the two men, before storming into the kitchen and pulling the door across with a bang.
"Thank you," Mycroft said quietly. "You didn't have to do that."
"I know, but I believe people deserve a second chance. Lord knows your brother has had plenty of them," he said with a wry smile.
"A second chance," Mycroft repeated.
"Yes, well not everyone, but luckily for you I like you."
He handed Mycroft the blanket from the back of the armchair.
"And like you said, tomorrow we start again," he gave him a significant look. Mycroft nodded. "Right, sleep. Doctor's orders."
That night, Mycroft slept for the first time that week. Tomorrow was a new day.