Warning: Spoilers for The Reichenbach Fall.
Disclaimer: Characters, situations, backstory etc all not mine, and this is not written for profit.
Tea and Biscuits
"Sending your little brother into danger like that. Family is all we have in the end, Mycroft Holmes."
The atmosphere of 221B Baker Street was stuffy and Mycroft Holmes toyed with the idea of throwing open a few windows to at least air the place through. It was reminding him far too much of a lifeless mausoleum, though he suspected a certain degree of subconscious sentimentalism was to blame for that particular association. Only a reluctance to allow the intrusion of traffic noise into the quiet space kept the windows tightly closed, and he instead loosened his tie just a shade as an unsatisfying compromise.
It produced no discernable improvement.
He rested his furled umbrella against the fireplace and cast his gaze around the flat. In material terms it was much as he'd seen it last; clutter and incongruous 'souvenirs' from his brother's cases littering every surface, books overflowing from their shelves to form small foothills around the coffee table, the well broken-in furniture that beckoned you to sit down and relax. But the chairs had not been recently sat in, dust was starting to settle on the surfaces and there was no collection of dirty mugs and teaspoons next to the sink – in a household of two caffeine addicts who were not fond of washing up, this final point was a glaring clue.
In this case, it signified a cataclysmic absence.
Two weeks on from the events at St Bartholomew's Hospital and Mycroft had the unenviable task of tying up his brother's loose ends; or at least those that did not now seem frayed beyond all hope of repair. The bureaucratic formalities of paperwork were some of the easier strands to tackle.
It would not have been surprising to those who knew him that Sherlock's case file notes were meticulously organised, filed and cross-referenced across several shelves of a low bookcase in the living room of the flat.
It would also have not been surprising to those who knew him that Sherlock's personal papers – such petty, insignificant things such as his driving licence, passport, financial and legal papers, several years worth of un-filed tax returns – were scattered across all corners of the flat as if they had been struck by a small tornado.
Mycroft winced when he found several shoeboxes of un-opened bank statements and similar correspondence. He rolled his eyes in despair when he found Sherlock's passport on a bookcase and discovered he'd been using it to scribble down shopping lists in between the passport control stamps. He merely sighed when a half-completed tax return form devolved into chemical equations and was covered in splashes of what looked suspiciously like a combination of blood, acid and tomato ketchup.
Mycroft had no idea how the orderly, methodically-trained mind of John Watson had ever adapted to live and thrive amongst the disarray that his brother favoured.
He studiously tried to avoid thinking about how John was now being forced to adapt again.
Sat at the cluttered desk before a large pile of yellowing documents, sifting through the papers that remained of his brother's life, Mycroft felt bone-tired.
He'd been forced to spread himself thinly – with the turmoil of Sherlock's fall, Moriarty's death, and a whole host of common or garden crises that refused to put themselves on hold to allow for mourning or reflection, sleep had been a rare commodity in the past few weeks. He strongly suspected he was too old to be subsisting for extended periods of time on little but adrenaline and caffeine.
These thoughts coalesced for a second time as the sound of a key at the front door jolted him awake. He then moved to consider the awful crick he had now put in his neck by falling asleep sat up in a chair, and he rubbed at it while digging into his waistcoat pocket for his watch. Based purely on the changing angle of light streaming in through the windows he was going to be late for the briefing with the Treasury, but quite frankly that was no great loss – if he hadn't napped now, he certainly would have ten minutes into a presentation on quantitative easing.
As he checked the time and sent a quick message to his PA about rescheduling he heard a rustle of shopping bags downstairs, and then the door to the adjacent flat was unlocked and opened.
Unless he wanted to potentially be caught tip-toeing down the stairs or climbing out of a window, which would probably raise questions he didn't particularly feel like answering, it looked as though he would have to display some social niceties. He had rather planned to make the arrangements in writing, but he supposed it could be done in person...
Mycroft waited for a judicious minute or two to pass, then casually scraped the feet of his chair back an inch or two.
For a moment there was silence from the flat below, then there were rapid footsteps echoing up the bare wooden stairs and a flustered Mrs Hudson appeared in the open doorway of 221B. Mycroft gave her a small, tight smile of greeting from where he sat at the desk, and the ghost of a hopeful expression she wore vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Hudson," he acknowledged.
"Oh," she began, hands fluttering "oh… sorry Mycroft, dear, I wasn't expecting you to be here – I thought it might have been John or…" she tapered off. "Well, one of the boys, you know."
Mycroft hadn't seen her since the service. He took in the careworn expression and slight disarray of hair, the barely perceptible tremor of voice on 'boys', but her posture was upright and after a moment she offered him a smile in return. She was drained but coping, and he filed that away for future reference.
"I apologise for just dropping in unannounced," he said cordially by way of explanation for his presence, "but there were a few legal points with my brother's affairs which needed to be tied up promptly – papers and so forth."
Mrs Hudson smiled obligingly at this obvious family duty. "Of course, of course – you carry on dear, would you like a cup of tea?"
He accepted the offer and Mrs Hudson bustled off back down to her flat, allowing him a brief respite to return to the papers now strewn across the desk. She returned a short while later with a tray bearing two cups and a plate of shortbread biscuits.
It appeared that this brief visit had turned into a fully-fledged social call.
Mycroft murmured a thank you and sat back, eyes half on the papers before him, waiting for her to speak.
"It's been difficult, you know – adjusting to the flat being empty again." Mrs Hudson confessed to him, perching on a chair just off to one side of the desk and nibbling on a biscuit. "I'm sure you've heard that poor John has moved back to that little bedsit he was staying in before. He said he just couldn't face it – staying here, with all those painful memories weighing down on him. I mean, I understand, but it's such a shame to lose him as well…"
Mycroft made a noncommittal noise of agreement and took a biscuit from the plate; this had all the signs of a conversation that was going to require the fortification of shortbread.
"I'm sure he feels awful about what happened last week, at the service," Mrs Hudson continued, gesturing in the vague direction of where Mycroft sat. "He can't have been thinking straight – it all just came as such a shock, and he had that sudden fit of temper." She shook her head sadly.
Mycroft smiled wanly around a mouthful of biscuit, judging that it was best not to comment on just why John had felt it necessary to conclude Sherlock's memorial service by striding smartly across and, without saying a word, punching him squarely in the face. The swelling had subsided considerably in the last few days, but he still bore the unmistakable purple-black bruise around his left eye. It had certainly raised a few silent questioning looks at the club...
He thought back to the last conversation he'd had, at the club, with the strangely loyal man his brother had somehow become so closely entangled with, and the bitter anger that had welled up in John Watson as a result.
"That's quite alright, Mrs Hudson," he said quietly "it was perfectly understandable, in the circumstances."
"The poor thing's barely slept since it all happened," Mrs Hudson continued, abandoning her biscuit for a sip of tea. "I popped over to see him yesterday and he looks all – all hollowed out. I took him some stew and left it in his fridge, but I don't know that he'll eat it…" she gave a resigned sigh and Mycroft called upon another one of his noncommittal noises, but he mentally added to the list of things to concern himself with in the area of John Watson's health and wellbeing.
"Those terrible things they've been saying in the papers can't be helping. All rot it is." She tutted, a flush of righteous indignation creeping into her cheeks. "As if they know anything about Sherlock and the things he got up to! They make it all up, get it off the internet probably – you hear about people writing all sorts of nonsense on there."
Mycroft took another biscuit with a sympathetic nod; she certainly did have something with that last point.
"You know I even had one of those journalists delivering me flowers – a lovely bunch of freesias, so pretty, with a card that had 'deepest sympathy' and a mobile telephone number written on it." She gave a huff of offence. "As if I'd talk to them and let them misquote and twist my words around until they fit the story they're selling." Mrs Hudson shook her head again, with a fierce look of defiance. "It's all such a terrible business, it really is."
Mycroft reached across the tray for the second cup and took a long sip of tea, feeling her eyes on his every move.
"Sherlock never did spell out exactly what it was you did with the government…" she began somewhat hesitantly, and left an expectant pause which he judiciously declined to fill. "But from the pieces I've put together – those little jobs you used to find him to do sometimes, the surveillance he talked about – well, I can make my own assumptions." She lent forward to rest her delicate hands on the edge of the desk, gripping it with a surprising strength, and he met her imploring gaze. "I know you and Sherlock had your ups and downs, but in the end you were family. Surely you can put a stop to this nonsense? Make them take back all the things they've been writing? Get them to tell the truth?"
Mycroft sighed ruefully and carefully placed his hand on top of hers. "I promise you, Mrs Hudson, that there is nothing I would want more than to have all this end, and to have all lies untold. But I'm afraid you vastly over-estimate the degree of my influence. Once the tabloid press get their teeth into a story there is little that anyone can do to claw it free; not even with all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men."
She pulled her hands away, sitting back with an air of disappointment, and Mycroft gave her an appraising look.
"But you may take some comfort from knowing that my brother could not have been less concerned with what was written about him in the newspapers."
"You're right, of course, those scribbles wouldn't matter to him… He did care about John's blog though," Mrs Hudson countered, with a faint smile of reminiscence. "They were always bickering over what to leave in or take out, and what funny little names to give the cases. And when John posted that photo of him in that silly hat…" she gave a chuckle that belied the wateriness of her eyes.
"John was a true friend to my brother. I don't know how I could ever thank him for all that he did…" Mycroft said quietly, almost to himself. He looked up at Mrs Hudson with a small smile. "I'll be keeping an eye out for him, work permitting." Other people's eyes and a variety of cameras would have to stand in when he wasn't available.
"Speaking of John," Mycroft continued, taking another sip of tea, "he may not feel he can stay here at present, but people's feelings do change. If it is acceptable I would like to continue paying rent for the flat so that John has the option to return if he wishes."
"Oh," Mrs Hudson replied as she fumbled with her teacup, "oh, well, I mean – if that's what you want to do, dear, but I'm sure John wouldn't want you to go to any trouble on his account…"
"It would be no trouble." He returned his eyes to the desk and paused for a moment. "I would like Sherlock's things to remain here as well, for the present."
"Oh, I see, of course dear, that's quite alright..." Mrs Hudson's sudden painfully sympathetic expression spoke of her assumption as to why he might want to keep the flat as it was; a sentimental shrine to his brother's memory. He saw little reason to disavow her of this impression.
She evidently felt as though he should have some privacy to sit in the flat with his grieving thoughts, as she murmured some excuses and gathered the now-empty teacups back onto the tray.
"I'll leave those with you, dear," she said, gesturing at the plate of remaining shortbread biscuits. "And do feel free to pop by whenever you like, my door is always open if you want to stop by for a cup of tea and a natter."
"You're too kind," he replied to her retreating back as she disappeared down the stairs. "Thank you Mrs Hudson."
He stared accusingly at the biscuits and covered them up with a stack of unopened bank statements, returning to the task at hand.
After a short burst of diligent work Mycroft had all collected all the papers he suspected he would need for the time being, and if he didn't leave shortly then he would be late for the now-rescheduled Treasury meeting; not ideal in the present financial climate. He collected the documents together and walked across to the low bookshelf that held Sherlock's case files, casually sliding the lever-arch file marked "M" from the bookshelf as he passed and disguising it with the other papers, tucking it into his briefcase.
Without the opportunity to have a technical services unit sweep the flat for any cameras he hadn't personally authorised, he was taking no chances.
He picked up the briefcase and his umbrella and left the flat without a backwards glance.
Sadly he was on time for the Treasury briefing, and it wasn't until later that evening that he had the opportunity to examine the lever-arch file in the privacy of his office.
He arranged for one of his assistants to digitise the files and spent an hour reviewing the notes, unable to resist a smile at the single line that made up last alphabetical entry ("Mycroft. ARCHenemy. Achilles' heel – chocolate éclairs.") As expected, however, the vast majority of notes were dedicated to the many strands of research Sherlock had conducted into Moriarty and his complicated network of associates.
It was information that would be valuable to many people who were interested in the wider shadowy connections behind Moriarty's twisted little games.
Mycroft saved the notes as an email attachment and drafted a brief message to be sent via a proxy to a one-use address.
Had tea with Mrs Hudson. Attached requested files; make good use of them. M
Twenty minutes later his phone vibrated across the desk and he opened the new message from an unknown number.
Ta muchly. How many biscuits did she feed you? Do remember your diet. S
Mycroft found it strangely comforting that, despite all the turmoil of the past weeks and the trials that still lay ahead, some things never changed.
In my head-canon, as you may gather, Mycroft is aware of death-faking and is helping Sherlock in some capacity. He also did not just randomly give Moriarty information on Sherlock – I explored a possible explanation for that a bit in a previous fic To Play The Fool.
It is my strong suspicion that without Sherlock and John to mother, if Mycroft called at 221B too often then Mrs Hudson would soon have him the size of a house.