Notes: Set at no particular time, and contains no spoilers for season two.
Disclaimer: Characters, situations, backstory etc all not mine, and this is not written for profit.
A Family Tradition
The buzzing white noise of his electric toothbrush allowed Mycroft Holmes two minutes of peace before he switched his attention to the business of the day and the lengthy list of messages and emails that typically backed up on his phone overnight. Whether it was a political scandal scheduled to be leaked around mid-morning, the results of elections in the Philippines or what latest nonsense his little brother had been up to in the course of his crime-solving hijinks, he found it would all receive the benefit of much greater focus if he allowed his just-woken synapses a few minutes of tranquillity to properly get going.
And thorough dental hygiene was an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
Mycroft cast an eye over his pyjama-clad reflection in the subdued lighting of the bathroom mirror as the toothbrush did its work, judging that it would shortly be time for his six-weekly haircut if that tiresome Montenegro conference didn't overrun too badly. He also noted he was looking a little on the pale side. Yes it was January and his working patterns didn't allow a lot of time for either holidays or lounging around in the sunshine, but he suspected it might do him some good to get a bit of fresh air and what passed for daylight on a dull winter day in London. Maybe later he would fit in a brief walk along the Embankment at lunchtime. It was a regular resolution that he usually broke as often as he met, due to an unforeseen crisis here and a terrorist attack in Iran there, but he liked to at least begin the day with a positive goal in mind.
With another thirty seconds to go on his mental stopwatch, Mycroft stepped out of his slippers and onto the digital bathroom scales to complete the final part of his morning toothbrushing routine. He waited a moment for the scales to calibrate and the figure to appear, then nearly choked on his toothpaste as the display blinked into life.
There had to be some mistake.
He switched the now angrily-buzzing toothbrush off and left it by the side of the sink, quickly rinsing his mouth, then stepped off the scales and back on again. The display showed the same number. A rather large number. A familiar rather large number. The same familiar rather large number it read when he first bought the scales six years ago and began to watch his diet in earnest.
For the briefest of seconds Mycroft found himself irrationally wondering if all the dieting and pointless, monotonous exercising had been figments of his imagination, and that it was six years ago and he was once more the rotund figure he had once suspected he would always be. But since he didn't have a prior history of delusions and at his age he was an unlikely candidate for a spontaneous psychotic break, this horrific theory was quickly cast aside.
He eyed the scales with a suspicious glare and picked them up. They looked as they had done yesterday, as far as he could recall, with no obvious signs of tampering. They had worked as expected, only switching on as he stood on them and seemingly not under some other external influence. He turned the unit over and scanned the back, homing in on a few tiny scratches around the screw-fastened battery cover and housing for the electronics. He'd never had cause to change the battery or open the casing himself.
Conclusion: Malevolently brilliant, as was to be expected, but sloppy this time.
Mycroft left his bathroom with a roll of his eyes and finished dressing, making a mental note to ask one of his assistants look online and order him a replacement set of bathroom scales. A non-digital set this time; more difficult to effectively tamper with.
A short while later his first cup of tea of the day was cooling to a drinkable temperature as Mycroft reviewed the more urgent messages on his phone to the soundtrack of the Today programme. His car was scheduled to arrive at seven sharp, but he liked to be properly prepared in body and mind before the journey to the office began.
There were no less than three emails headed 'urgent' from the Prime Minister's personal account, sent since he last checked the messages just after 1am. None of them, he noted, were actually urgent, or even of passing importance. Prime Ministers were always difficult to manage at first, until they settled into the job and learnt to just sit back, pose for photo ops and think up with witty retorts for PMQs, but the present incumbent was having a particularly hard time recognising the structure of decision making behind the petty policies and sound bites. Mycroft would have to arrange to stop by Downing Street to have a little chat soon, to try explaining it again using shorter words.
With one eye on his scrolling messages, Mycroft reached for the tupperware box of muesli kept in the cupboard above the radio and decanted some into a bowl. He was still absorbed in the messages as he picked up the glass bottle of milk on the table next to his gently steaming tea, pouring some into the bowl. It was somewhere between replacing the milk and selecting a spoon from the cutlery drawer that he realised something wasn't quite right with the contents of the bowl. His muesli wasn't usually that multi-coloured.
A review of the tupperware box was conclusive – his organic low-sugar muesli had been replaced by the decidedly high-sugar colourful children's breakfast cereal he had favoured when he was twelve years old. It was the closest thing you could get to tipping the contents of a sweet shop into a bowl and calling it a breakfast food.
Mycroft felt his lower right molar twinge in consternation and he quickly tipped the milky bowl of cereal into the sink. He had no idea how he had once enjoyed consuming so much of it, but after a term of stodgy school porridge he always gorged on its rainbow delights during the holidays. If only he had been able to properly appreciate that the wages of childhood sugary sins were a lifetime of long hours in the dentist's chair…
Since the only meal he regularly consumed in his flat was breakfast, and that was always one bowl of muesli and a cup of tea, Mycroft found alternative breakfast options rather limited by the minimalist contents of his kitchen cupboards. He concluded he would have to ask his driver to detour via a coffee shop of some kind to see if he could attempt to purchase a vaguely healthy replacement breakfast, which was an unnecessarily tiresome addition to his morning schedule.
Mycroft resigned himself to drinking his tea without his muesli and left the flat at his usual two minutes to seven, clutching his coat, gloves and umbrella in one hand as he entered the security code on the panel by the front door. It was time to change the code again. Or maybe he should invest in a large, aggressive dog and a punji stake pit, since the latest recommended supposedly-high-tech security methods were about as effective as leaving a spare key under the doormat marked 'welcome'.
At 7:37am – seven minutes behind his preferred schedule – Mycroft passed through the security gates of the innocuous government building he conducted much of his work from. He held a distinctly unsatisfying sounding cardboard cup of 'granola with natural yoghurt', balanced along with his umbrella as he showed his security card to the generically uniformed security guard who actually worked for the armed branch of the security service. No one – not even him – could be waved through to this office merely because they were recognised by sight. Mycroft found it reassuring that at least some places were still a bastion of security.
The morning was filled with fire-fighting over the recent upheaval in North Korea, a lot of petty nonsense still being generated by the loose words spread by a minor cabinet minister at a drunken New Year's Eve party and preparation for Montenegro. There was nothing too difficult or inspiring, but some of the files were written in a bureaucratic tangle that was proving to be impenetrable even for him. Mycroft was absorbed in some highly classified technicalities involving the simultaneous multi-state exchange of intelligence operatives when there was a call put through from the security desk.
"Yes?" he pressed the speakerphone button, eyes still fixed on the briefing documents.
"Sorry to disturb you sir but you had a delivery," he noted that the officer's voice was pitched somewhere between formal efficiency and suppressed amusement; not his usual tone. "It's a rather irregular delivery, sir. From Speedy Pizza."
"Speedy what?" Mycroft removed his reading glasses and frowned at the phone.
"Speedy Pizza sir, a large meat feast if I'm not mistaken." The security officer cleared his throat. "There was nothing in today's schedule to indicate a covert operation or an exercise of any kind so we followed protocol and have the delivery driver in a side office under supervision."
The dawning realisation of what this was came almost embarrassingly slowly, but when it hit Mycroft struggled to resist smacking his head into the desk. The security officer continued his report, though Mycroft was now only half-listening.
"I thought you should be informed about this promptly, sir, in case it's a higher-level need-to-know matter you're already aware of. Our initial checks don't show any known terrorist affiliations and the lad's swearing he was just fulfilling an order telephoned across this morning, in your name. It all sounds a bit fishy to me though. Who makes prank pizza orders to a gentleman like yourself, sir, addressed here?"
You'd be surprised… Mycroft thought silently, but he gave a falsely hearty chuckle for the benefit of the security officer.
"Oh, students I expect. Or one of those youth television shows that like to make false telephone calls for the apparent amusement of their viewers. I'm sure it's nothing, and once you've completed your checks if the driver looks to be clean then just send him off with a few days of light surveillance – that ought to cover all bases."
"Very good, sir." The voice paused. "We've x-rayed the pizza itself and sent a slice down to the laboratory for testing. Should have results in half an hour or so. If that comes out clean as well, would you like me to send someone up with the rest of it for you?"
"No, thank you, that's quite alright." Mycroft gave a barely audible but deeply felt sigh. "Do… dispose of it however you see fit."
"Thank you, sir." He foresaw this turning into one of those tall tales that spread around the security service like wildfire, but the man was dutifully maintaining a professional approach while he was on the line. "A full written report will be with you in the next few hours."
Mycroft ended the call with a sharp tap of the disconnect button and rubbed his eyes. He glanced up at the clock and noted that it was almost 1:00pm – lunchtime.
He decided to head out of the office for a short while and take that walk; though not along the Embankment. There was a matter he'd been planning to address later that evening, but on reflection he felt it was better nipped in the bud sooner rather than later. He gathered his coat and gloves, plus umbrella, and left the desk full of impenetrable files without a second glance.
The seventeen bare wooden steps echoingly announced his presence, in case knocking and a brief exchange of pleasantries with Mrs Hudson hadn't already done the trick. He found he was interrupting lunch at number 221B, with his brother and John Watson in their respective armchairs and a large tray of bacon sandwiches sat precariously on the book-covered coffee table between them.
John looked surprised to see him and muttered a cautiously welcoming hello around a mouthful of sandwich, casting a glance at his friend to see whether a row between the two brothers looked likely to break out straight away.
Sherlock said nothing but raised his half-eaten sandwich in a mocking salute of a greeting.
Bacon sandwiches… were there no depths that the twisted mind of his baby brother would not sink to? Genetics had unfairly blessed him with a metabolism of a pygmy shrew – he could eat twice his bodyweight in processed junk when he wasn't fixated on some case or riddle but never gained even an ounce – and he flaunted that fact at every available opportunity. The only recourse Mycroft had was to ignore, ignore, ignore and try to summon positive thoughts about the pear and chicory salad that would be waiting on his desk when he returned to the office.
"Good afternoon John, Sherlock." He began, taking in the general state of the flat as well as its occupants. Surveillance was all well and good but it never hurt to reap the benefit of first-hand contact.
"Mycroft." His brother allowed in return, fixing him with a stare. "Yes I'm currently in between cases, no I haven't had any cigarettes, no not anything else either, yes John does have a date planned for tonight. A meal, probably Italian, and then a film."
"The latest all-action spy thriller?" Mycroft shook his head gently and turned to John. "If you intend on making it to a second date, why not pick something that's not aimed squarely at the teenage boy market? Romantic comedies continue to be one of the most successful genres of film for a reason, you know."
"Thanks for the dating advice," was the not entirely sincere reply to this useful contribution. Perhaps softening the blow, John waved at the tray of sandwiches. "Do you want to join us for lunch? Sherlock had a hankering for bacon sandwiches from the café downstairs, but he went a little overboard and ordered half a pig's worth."
"Did he?" Mycroft quirked an eyebrow at the blandly innocuous expression worn by his brother. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline the very kind offer, but I'm afraid I don't have long. I just thought I'd stop by to inform Sherlock that British taxpayers don't fund the security services to be a source of amusement for him when he's bored, so could he please refrain from extending his practical jokes as far as my office?"
The bland expression remained unmoved. Mycroft soldiered on regardless. "And brother dear, I thought you might like to know that I'm changing the security code for my flat again, so you'll have to start from scratch there too. It was a good effort but you left tool marks on the battery compartment of the scales."
There was a flash of a self-critical frown, but Sherlock's face quickly returned to what he presumed was supposed to be bored indifference. He adopted a stare that was aimed roughly into middle distance.
"What-ever. Your card is on the mantelpiece by the way." Mycroft strode across the room to collect it. "What does that make you now? A hundred and nine?"
"Forty five, thank you," he replied dryly. "And I am only seven years older than you so be careful how mocking you are about me hitting my mid-forties."
"Is it your birthday?" John piped up, obviously not having been informed of the occasion. He gave his friend a disapproving look. "Sherlock why didn't you say something? I'm sure Mrs Hudson would have baked a cake."
"That's quite alright, thank you," Mycroft quickly jumped in to protest before the subject of cake was raised any further, tucking the unopened card into his jacket pocket. "As I said, I'm afraid I don't have long. Thank you for the card, Sherlock, and I hope that concludes this year's little series of practical jokes. I'm sure I'll see you again soon in one capacity or another. John." He gave a parting nod, and departed back down the stairs to let himself out.
Sherlock remained sat in his armchair, still staring off into middle distance in a way that made John wonder if he realised his brother had left.
"Sherlock?" he asked, getting an eyebrow twitch in response that at least showed he was being listened to. "Did you break into Mycroft's flat and play tricks on some sort of security service as a weird Holmesian birthday present?"
"What?" was the irritated response, as Sherlock abandoned the remains of his sandwich and turned to look at him. "Don't be ridiculous. Why would I break into someone's flat as a present? It's just a family tradition."
"A family tradition?" John wondered where to start with that. Where could anyone start with that? "You have a family tradition of breaking and entering when it's someone's birthday?"
His friend sank deeper into his chair, cocooned in his favourite red dressing gown. He seemed to be weighing up how to answer the question. Eventually he gave a low sigh.
"When I turned eighteen Mycroft arranged for some very pleasant retired narcotics squad police officers to have a look through my things and give me some 'friendly words of advice' about restricted pharmaceuticals. Then on my twenty first the same thing happened again, only they weren't retired officers anymore and the words were less friendly." There was a humourless laugh. "That's not to say the only time he's bothered me is on my birthday, but the dates do rather stick in the mind. We might have come to terms with some of our differences since then, but I resolved that he should still always have a little extra mental stimulation for his birthday in recognition of his earlier interfering with mine."
"I see… the term 'complicated relationship' barely covers it, does it?" With a sister like Harry, John was hardly in a position to lecture about dysfunctional sibling matters, but the Holmes family seemed to be in a class of their own. He shook his head and returned to his bacon sandwich, while Sherlock sat and smiled quietly as he wondered when the first of twelve monthly deliveries of 'cupcakes by mail', arranged with twelve different companies, would arrive at his brother's flat. He really had been too generous this year…
Back at his office Mycroft sat wearily at his desk, pushing aside the stack of buff-coloured files and the less than thrilling boxed salad for a little longer. He fished the card from his jacket pocket and slit open the envelope. It was a reproduction of a popular print at the National Gallery; identical to the last seven cards he had received from his brother on his birthday, from a pack of ten that he knew resided in the fourth drawer of the file cabinet in the living room of 221B. If none had been thrown out in the course of the infrequent tidying of the flat, he foresaw another four years before the chance of a different design.
Besides the pre-printed 'Happy Birthday' the card read Mycroft in a familiar scrawled hand, and was signed solely with an S. There appeared to be nothing untoward, this time. Perhaps John Watson continued to be a positive influence on his brother.
Mycroft pulled open the second drawer of his desk and took out another buff file, unlabeled. He tucked the card away with its six identical predecessors and its earlier forbears, dating back to his seventeenth birthday when a ten year old Sherlock first sent him a birthday card by post while he was away at Oxford. The writing in those early cards was more childish, over time it became spidery. In some it was a barely legible scrawl. But it was always recognisable as the same hand.
Handwriting can tell you a lot about a person; particularly about the state of their physical and mental health. Even a short sample can display the markers of tremors or other less obvious symptoms.
Mycroft did like to keep a watchful eye on his little brother.
Author's Note: This was written entirely for my own amusement because I can't get enough of the twisted brilliance of Mycroft and Sherlock's relationship in this canon. Whatever happens post-Fall at least I can come back to the world of fics to let them snipe and care and squabble and interfere with each other's lives some more…