Mycroft surveyed his living room. Everything was in place. It was time.

Half an hour ago, he had swallowed the antiemetic drug to ensure that his stomach wouldn't turn traitor. Although he rarely failed at anything, Mycroft refused to take any chances. Not with this.

The lights were dimmed. The CD player in the massive entertainment system was on auto mode, playing an endless and soft stream of classical music. A photo album (Mycroft Holmes had always preferred gazing at a book of memories to browsing Facebook galleries) sat on the coffee table, next to the crystal glass of Concord grape juice and paper cup containing four pills.

His Blackberry buzzed just as he was about to shut it off for the last time. It was Anthea. He debated ignoring the message, but finally sighed and opened it. Anthea had been too important to him over the years for him to do this without leaving her something.

Sir. Reminding you about your 9:00a.m. chiropractor appointment tomorrow. Will come around with the car at 8:45. A.

He smiled sadly as he typed his response.

Fine, my dear. Thank you. You are the finest assistant I could ever have had. MH.

After pressing the 'SEND' key, he held down the phone's power button until it flickered and went silent forever.

Like he soon would.

Mycroft walked over to the ornate Louis XIV desk by the window, where his laptop waited to play its role in his plan's conclusion. He sat down, accessed his e-mail program, and composed a message to John Watson. He had spent so much time mentally rehearsing what he wanted to say that his fingers flew over the keys and he was done in less than a minute.

Dear John,

I've always been able to deal with tragedy, and even cause it when a greater good was at stake. Situational ethics, my instructors at MI6 once described it. Sometimes dozens have to die so that thousands may live. I believed in the concept of acceptable casualties. But last year a single death changed that.

When Sherlock died at Reichenbach, I told myself that I shouldn't be selfish, that his sacrifice ended James Moriarty's sadistic games forever. But ideas and emotions are frequently at odds, and while I praise my brother's nobility, I have never stopped missing him.

John, my life has been one long grieving session since the funeral. I see my brother everywhere. Without him, I'm like a glass with a crack in it. No matter how much goes in- joy, intrigue, hope- it eventually trickles out.

And the voices! The ones that cry out for help, for justice. You know that since Sherlock's death, Scotland Yard has frequently contacted me for assistance with baffling cases. At first I was happy to help, despite the severe demands on my time. But I have to face the truth that these investigations have undone me. Children murdered by their parents before they had a chance at life, people slaughtered because they loved too much or not enough or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why?

Don't get me wrong- I always knew that such horrors take place, and I've killed hostile parties in the same of national security. But senseless murder- I can't deal with it like Sherlock did. He always said he had no heart, which wasn't exactly true. He definitely had a heart, John, and it belonged to you. But he was able to summon the necessary detachment to take the worst crimes and turn them into solvable puzzles. I can't. When Mr. Dimmock from Scotland Yard came to my office this morning with that Cressida Road Case- the one involving those uni students- I couldn't stop thinking about what their final moments must have been like.

I believe that life itself is like a marriage. When the joy is gone, the sensible thing to do is get out before your hell becomes complete.

By the time you get this e-mail, I will be gone, and hopefully reunited with my brother and our parents. You and I were such a comfort to each other after Sherlock left us, John, and I didn't want to leave you like this without helping you to understand why.

Mycroft

He accessed his e-mail settings and arranged for the message to be sent in an hour. Then he inhaled deeply, closed the laptop down, and went over to the sofa.

The album on the coffee table was open to the last photos that had ever been taken of Sherlock. (Officially, that was. His younger brother had rarely been out of Mycroft's surveillance range.) They were at their cousin Mina's wedding in Sussex. Sherlock had been so bored and aggravated at the social niceties he'd been forced into that he slipped laxatives into the chocolate mousse and then filled all the toilets with tropical fish from the inn's display tank. Everyone in the photos looked uncomfortable except for Sherlock, who was grinning like he'd just found a head in his bar fridge.

Mycroft sighed as he remembered how he'd chased his brother halfway across the inn grounds after the prank was discovered, screaming, "I'm going to kill you!" And a month later, James Moriarty had done just that. Mycroft regretted that the snide villain had died with his victim; killing the man slowly and creatively would have been a bright spot in the dark days that followed.

He peeled back the protective covering on one of the pages, and took out the photo that was his favorite. Sherlock stood with John in front of the lobby fireplace, looking remote yet mischievous in his rented tuxedo. His mouth wore a disapproving frown, but his pale eyes gleamed: Mycroft deduced that this must have been the point when the fate of the tropical fish was sealed. The image was quintessentially Sherlock- stiff and uncomfortable in the grasp of conventional society, and privately planning revenge.

He propped the photo against the Ming vase on the coffee table and gazed at it for several minutes. Then, without tearing his eyes away from those of his brother, he lifted the paper cup, tipped the barbiturates into the glass of juice, and swallowed it all down in one smooth, final movement.

It was done. Mycroft closed his mind to fear, regret, or guilt, and reclined against the sofa cushions, still keeping eye contact with the photo and resolving not to look away until his drug-thickened lids closed forever.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed before a loud knocking sounded on the door. Mycroft's chin had been descending gradually toward his chest and his ears buzzed faintly. With a start he realized that his eyes had been sliding shut.

"Mr. Holmes? It's Detective Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. Please open the door now."

Mycroft rolled onto his side, flinching as the movement intensified the humming in his ears and made his stomach churn. He took deep, ragged breaths to get the nausea under control. This Detective Inspector Lestrade would eventually go away if he got no response, and Mycroft just wanted to get on with his death.

"Mr. Holmes?" Another knock. "Are you in there?"

Yes, but not for much longer.

Another voice joined Lestrade's.

"Sir? It's Anthea. Please, Mr. Holmes, your text worried me."

Seconds later, Mycroft heard the click of her key in his front door. His thoughts had already slowed down, but he was desperate to get off of the sofa and into his bedroom about nine feet away. He could lock the door –Anthea didn't have that key, and by the time they broke through the thick oak paneling, there'd be nothing left of him to save.

Mycroft lurched to his feet, groaning as the room spun on its axis, and stumbled toward the bedroom. He had almost made it when footsteps rushed at him from behind and strong hands spun him around. He hissed- a wild sound that startled a gasp out of Anthea, who hovered behind the sofa. Her distress registered only faintly with Mycroft- his wavering vision was focused on the man who held him firmly by the arms.

Detective Inspector Lestrade had to be going on fifty. His close-cropped hair was silver and his open jacket revealed a softening middle, but his speed, strength, and vigour were more typical of a much younger man. A still-handsome face was drawn into a confused and worried frown.

"Mr. Holmes? What's the matter with you?"

Mycroft tried to speak, but his jaw had gone slack. He wavered on loosening legs: only Lestrade's grip kept him from pitching forward.

"Oh, dear God!" Anthea choked. "I think he's taken something."

She had obviously seen the paper cup, drained juice glass, and Sherlock's photo, and drawn the correct, damning conclusion.

"Did you?" Lestrade shook him gently. "Nod if the answer's yes."

Mycroft felt darkness slide gently over his vision. His knees buckled and he fell against the policeman's solid chest. The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was Lestrade's frantic order to "Call 999."

Too late, Mycroft thought. Sherlock, I'm coming home...