Why, hello Sherlock fandom! *waves* It's wonderful to meet you all. You seem pretty cool over here and I have to admit I'm rather nervous presenting this. It is wildly AU and possibly more than a little confusing but it would not leave me alone and I thought it would be fun to share.

Feedback and comments are greatly appreciated. Please enjoy my humble, strange little story.

His brothers are going to die young.

It is a logical conclusion. For the hotter and brighter a star burns, the more quickly it dies and his brothers shine with a brilliance to rival the sun.

Standing at the edge of the garden with his bags around his feet, Mycroft Holmes watches his two little brothers playing pirates and battles the surprising pinprick of grief that stabs in his chest. The certainty sinks like a weight through his bones and for a brief, foolish moment he considers staying—forgetting Cambridge and ambitions in favor of continuing his role as his brothers' determined sentinel.

The moment passes quickly, and Mycroft tightens his jaw and turns away, leaving his brothers to their colorful fantasies as he goes to face the world.

The moment passes, but the grief and certainty linger. For years.

They are three years apart, Sherlock and James, though the years matter little to them so deep is their connection.

It is a connection well hidden, however. When ordinary people look at them, they merely tally their many, obvious differences.

Sherlock is tall and gangly, even as a child, and full to the brim with hurricane intelligence that leaks into his ice blue eyes and makes them blaze in a way that terrifies some, fascinates others, and intimidates most. Those eyes see everything—every minute detail, every grand, developing plan—but Sherlock holds himself apart from the world. He sees without understanding. Emotions, sentiment, and human connection slip through his fingers like water running to the sea. He doesn't understand, and so, in turn, no one understands him.

James is everything that Sherlock is not—short and small with their mother's deep brown eyes and a forgettable face. Next to Sherlock, he seems plain and ordinary, but he is far from it and his intelligence is no less fierce. Though, instead of a wild, overflowing storm it is a whirlpool swirling down, down, down into the depths of his endless soul. James sees just as much as Sherlock, but he understands and he feels with an intensity and a strength his older brother can never hope to match. Emotion, sentiment, and human connection are as natural to him as breathing.

And that is where they run together, Mycroft's brothers. Sherlock's cold, dizzying intelligence and James' fierce, burning heart tangle with each other until they create one soul, one being, and it is both beautiful and terrifying to behold.

"Stop sniveling, James," Mycroft hisses under his breath as the vicar solemnly recites the eulogy.

Sherlock, with his arms wrapped around the tiny form of his three-year-old brother glares hotly, curling his fingers more tightly into the rumpled fabric of James' suit. Mycroft narrows his eyes at the defiant expression that hardly deserves a place at their father's funeral.

But then again, Sherlock has never been one for social niceties, not even at six years old, when most boys are beginning to learn the merits of politeness, diplomacy, and gentlemanly behavior. It is exasperating to no end, how little Sherlock listens, and with grief and frustration tangling into a dangerous combination inside of him, it is more difficult than usual for Mycroft to repress the strong urge to smack the little git upside his head.

James continues to cry with such force and vigor it is as if he's grieving for Sherlock as well as himself. For Sherlock's eyes are cold and dry, blinking at their father's ornate coffin without a drop of emotion.

It is the same expression as the one their mother wears.

That's when Mycroft realizes that it is up to him now. He must be the one to care for them. No one else will. Not the staff of the grand estate who are constantly frustrated by the two holy terrors and their unending appetite for mischief and certainly not their cold, imperious mother who loves from a distance when she chooses to love at all.

No, Mycroft is all they have left.

The priest finishes the eulogy and throws a handful of dirt onto the coffin. Other mourners gather to do the same and Sherlock leads a hiccupping James forward by the hand, instructing the boy to lean down and scoop up some of the soft soil.

"Say good-bye to father, James," Sherlock whispers as he lets his own clutch of dirt fall.

James follows suit, crying in earnest again, and Sherlock pulls him close, stroking his messy black hair. The ice is gone from his eyes, because James is the only thing he truly knows how to love.

Mycroft tosses his own handful of dirt onto the grave, watching their mother as she drops a rose into the pit. There is sadness tightening the lines around her mouth, but her eyes remain dry and she doesn't glance at her distressed sons.

Yes, Mycroft is all they have, and watching them struggle to comfort each other—so young, soft, and innocent—he accepts the challenge with his usual determination and steel.

He is thirteen, already more of a man than a boy, and he will not fail them.

Growing up, Sherlock and James are inseparable. Sherlock is James' armor and James is Sherlock's connection with the rest of the world—an electric current capable of shocking Sherlock's cold, malformed heart alive.

Mycroft does his best to look after both of them. He chases the monsters out from under their beds, endures their destructive antics with grace and calm, ensures they go to school, do their homework, and remain as healthy as possible for two young boys with such untamable energy.

The grand estate is fully staffed, so it is somewhat unnecessary for him to hover so much—a fact his mother often points out in her subtly scathing way—but it is hard for him to stop himself. He feels fiercely protective of them, for reasons he can't entirely define. But more than that, he promised father that he would look after them, and he is a man of his word.

He sacrifices the closeness of an older brother for the more responsible, often hated role of a father with little regret. This is the best he can give them, and if it means loneliness, if it means they draw into other and shut him out, then so be it.

They are beyond brilliant, blinding, and he will ensure they have the best future possible, no matter the cost.

"You punched him in the face!"

"Yes." James looks bored and Mycroft's blood boils.

"You broke his nose, James!"

Brown eyes turn to regard him impassively and James' expression is nothing but schooled indifference that he undoubtedly learned from Sherlock. "Your observational skills seem to be lacking, Mycroft," he says with a cutting smirk. "I thought that was obvious."

Mycroft sighs, trying to tame his raging frustration. "This will go on your record, James. Permanently. The second mark in less than a year. Keep this up and your chances at a good university could be ruined."

Now James' eyes blaze with a familiar fire. "He was taunting Sherlock," he spits, rising from his chair. "Last week, he tried to punch him."

"Your older brother does not need you to fight his battles for him." Mycroft crosses his arms and pins James with his fiercest stare.

His impetuous little brother merely raises his chin defiantly. "Someone has to."

"Not you," Mycroft snaps, taking a threatening step forward. "Sherlock must learn to fight for himself, James, without you there to serve as his overzealous guardian."

"They gang up on him." James clenches one hand into a trembling fist. "Always. How can someone fight back if it isn't a fair fight?"

"That doesn't matter. You acted recklessly and stupidly, James."

"They had it coming. They were being so cruel." The fire in James' dark eyes flares dangerously and Mycroft bites back a sharp sigh of anger.

"They are beneath you, James. Do not sully yourself with them."

"If it means keeping Sherlock safe, I don't care." Another defiant stare. "And I don't regret it." James turns his back, stalking toward the door of the study.

"James…" Mycroft warns darkly and watches as his brother whips back around to face him with furnace eyes and a tense jaw.

"You're right, Mycroft." His nails dig into the pale skin of his palm. "They are beneath us. Especially Sherlock. And they need someone to remind them of that."

He whirls away and slips through the door before Mycroft can stop him, letting it slam furiously in his wake. Mycroft finally sighs—sharp and bitter and sinks into the chair James abandoned.

The door creaks as it reopens and Sherlock is standing there—tall and graceful, looking both older and younger than his ten years. "You are driving him away," he says with quiet steel.

"He is leaving of his own free will," Mycroft snaps in exasperation.

"He is only seven," Sherlock points out.

And I'm only seventeen, Mycroft wants to say. We're all too young for this. But he doesn't, because it isn't true. He's been a man for a long time now and that fierce intelligence they all possess has forced both his brothers to grow up much sooner than their peers.

"I will deal with him as I see fit, Sherlock." He levels his brother with a commanding look. "You will not interfere."

Sherlock's eyes spark dangerously but he leaves the room without comment. They are both so young and he is already losing them.

But he will not fail them. He will not.

Leaving them is both harder and easier than expected. He misses them, he is surprised to find, but without them—out in the world where his ambition can set him on fire—he finds it much easier to breathe.

He still hovers from a distance, returning home every holiday to ensure they are well. Their mother slips further and further away—occupied with running their father's estate, maintaining her own social contacts—but Mycroft lets her go without feeling. He never really learned how to love her, and his brothers are far more important.

His flighty, passionate, reckless brothers who grow up far too fast. Everything about them is too fast, too incandescent, too intense, and no matter how hard he tries, Mycroft cannot shake the feeling that they are both hurtling to their end.

It is a foolish premonition but it clings to him like a stubborn ghost, and if he encourages their fantasies and childish games whenever he comes home then so be it. They deserve a childhood—to be innocent and alive and all the things he never allowed himself to be.

They deserve a childhood, but he is rarely sure that he is properly providing them with one. Because everything still rockets forward, faster, and faster, towards the end.

"Be careful out there, Sherlock."

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but a smirk still catches the corner of his mouth as he allows himself to be pulled into a hug.

"I will be fine, Jim," he says, layering his voice with amusement to mask the sadness in his eyes. He pats his brother on the shoulder and lets his smirk hook a little higher. "Besides, you will be joining me before long."

Watching from the car, Mycroft frowns uncertainly. This is the first time they will be apart from each other, and it worries him more than he cares to admit. What will Sherlock, who cannot seem to find the rhythm of the world, do without James there to connect him?

Only time will tell, it seems.

"Sherlock," he calls, hurrying his brothers through the rest of their overly sentimental good-bye. Surely, at eighteen and fifteen they will be able to handle a few months without being attached at the hip.

Sherlock tolerates one more fierce hug before he squeezes James' shoulder again and turns away, hefting his bag and walking steadily toward the car. He seems perfectly composed, but Mycroft can see the subtle trembling of his gloved fingers and the tight set of his jaw and shoulders. Sherlock is afraid, but a Holmes never backs down from anything, and he gets in the car without another glance at James.

Mycroft moves to follow suit, but a hand catches his arm and turning, he finds himself staring into the solemn eyes of his youngest brother.

"Keep a close eye on him, Mycroft," James murmurs with grave wisdom, "or we're going to lose him."

Mycroft smiles reassuring and whispers a steady, "of course," before sliding into the car. But glancing back at James standing alone in the driveway, watching the car roll away, he can't stop the shiver of dread that trails cold fingers down the length of his spine.

He ignores it with cold resolve. He will not fail them, he promised Father, and he is a man of his word.

In the end, it is James he loses first, and how he did not anticipate that, he will never know.

For James was always the most reckless of them, though he hid it well, and simple trappings of the world were never enough to hold him. Genius is a curse, genius destroys, and James has a wild, fragile heart that thirsts for adventure and excitement—distractions from his hurricane of a mind.

At home, without Sherlock, James suffocates and chafes beneath Mycroft's watchful eye. Their conversations grow stinted and cold as James retreats further and further away, trying to escape Mycroft's reach. It is frustrating and tiresome, these antics, but Mycroft tolerates them with well-practiced patience.

He tells James, and himself, if he's going to be honest, that things will get better once he ventures out into the world. He will not have the same struggles as Sherlock, for connection, emotion, and sentiment are so terrifyingly easy for him. He will have his adventures and be able to see his brother again and the churning restlessness will settle back down to a more manageable level. James grudgingly accepts Mycroft's half-hearted reassurances and throws himself into his studies. He graduates top of his class, just as his brothers before him, and sets off for Oxford after Sherlock.

He lasts only a year.

The boredom becomes too much and the restlessness consumes that fragile, wild heart of his and one day Mycroft gets a call that his brother has vanished like a ghost in the night.

He is shocked at his own surprise, because he should have known. With his brothers matters are never simple and James is a master manipulator, even of those closest to him. He played along for Mycroft's benefit, lulling him into a false sense of security and blind hope that being in Sherlock's presence will cure everything, like it once had.

He should have known.

But he didn't and James is gone. James is gone and Sherlock is slipping into an abyss of his own making. Because university, life without James—without that electric current that shocked his heart alive—has wreaked havoc on Sherlock's soul.

Genius is a curse, genius destroys, and Sherlock has a cold, uncertain heart that thirsts for an escape, a purpose, a place to belong. He doesn't find it at university, because he sees but doesn't understand and, in turn, no one understands him. So he draws in his walls and his layers, coated with steel and ice, and turns himself into a statue merely capable of mimicking human emotion.

He thaws slightly when James slides into his life again, but it isn't enough. They've both changed too much, become too caught up in their own private storms to anchor each other like they did before. So they drift apart. Sherlock graduates with honors and promptly disappears into the bowels of London.

And James, James disappears much more thoroughly than that.

For the first time in his life, Mycroft feels alone. It is terribly cold without the sun.

"Sherlock, you must stop this."

His brother doesn't look up from his seat on the floor of his dingy flat, examining the diagrams he's scrawled all over the worn floorboards. The track marks are harsh and red against his pale skin and the quiver in his right hand is impossible to miss.

High as a kite, as usual. Mycroft frowns grimly.

"Sherlock," he snaps again, clutching the handle of his umbrella until his knuckles bleach white.

"Go away, Mycroft," Sherlock mutters, adding a new line to the diagram with a piece of chalk. "I don't want to talk to you."

He bites back the surge of fury and worry that rises in his chest. Three weeks Sherlock has managed to stay off his radar—a new record that both frustrates and unsettles him.

"You must stop this," he says again, knowing the repetition will frustrate Sherlock and gaining a small amount of childish, vindictive satisfaction from that.

Predictably, Sherlock's head snaps up and he pins Mycroft with a piercing glare. His pupils are blown wide from the drugs—cocaine, Mycroft deduces, easily picking up on the signs—and full of equal amounts of fury and despair.

"No," he snaps as the tremors run up his arms to his shoulders. "I'm not giving up on him."

"That's not what I meant." Mycroft is not certain if that is true or not, but Sherlock doesn't need that tidbit of information. He lets his gaze travel to the marks on the inside of Sherlock's elbows and linger pointedly there. In response, Sherlock's scowl darkens.

"I'm fine, Mycroft, and my life is none of your business. Leave." He gestures imperiously at the door and returns his attention to his diagrams.

They make no sense to Mycroft, but little about Sherlock does these days. The drugs are pulling him further and further into the abyss and nothing Mycroft does seems to have any hope of stopping his inevitable fall. James would have been able to pull him back from the brink, but James is gone and has been for over a year.

Sherlock still searches, but the drugs have affected him far more than he is willing to admit, and he has been going in circles. Mycroft hardly needs to be a genius to see that, but he doesn't point it out to his little brother. Not when his own, far more calculating searches have also produced nothing.

Sherlock's gaze snaps up again. "I thought I told you to leave," he snarls, looking ready to throw something at Mycroft's head.

Seeing few options, Mycroft turns to depart but not before throwing one, last, deliberate barb over his shoulder. "He would be so disappointed in you, Sherlock. Be glad he isn't here to witness you in such a sorry state."

He senses rather than sees Sherlock's expected, violent flinch and slams the door shut behind him, listening to it rattle the thin walls with surprising force. He's furious at his foolish little brother for allow something as pedestrian and tactless as drugs to triumph over him, but more furious at himself.

He's failing both his brothers, in spite of all his vows to protect them.

The years slide by in slow progression.

Mycroft rises through the ranks of the government with unparalleled speed, Sherlock cycles through battles with drugs and an association with New Scotland Yard, and somewhere, hidden away from the world, James is broken down into a new man—forced to wear a face not his own.

Two years after his disappearance—bloody and beaten on the floor of a windowless cell—he finally says yes, yes, and his world comes crashing down as a specter watches through the one-way mirror and smirks in triumph.

Three years after his disappearance, Mycroft stops looking, giving up on one brother in order to save the other.

Four years after his disappearance, Mycroft gets a call. A body has been found, perfect DNA match. His youngest brother is dead—betrayed and killed by a criminal organization that he sold his services as a hacker to.

He spends an hour grieving, another plotting swift and violent revenge, and a third gathering up the courage to tell Sherlock. In the end, he is too much of a coward and simply has the file delivered to his only remaining brother.

Four years and two days after James' disappearance, Sherlock overdoses on a combination of cocaine and heroin.

Staring down at his brother's empty, ice-coated eyes in the hospital, Mycroft knows that whatever relationship they had left has been burned to ash by the violent fire of James' death. Sherlock will always look at him as he is staring now—with a mixture of fury, disbelief, and disappointment (because Mycroft has always been able to fix everything and why, why has he let this one thing, this most important thing, break?).

All Mycroft can do is implore him to live, for James if for nothing else. Sherlock turns his face away and does not respond, so Mycroft reluctantly leaves him in the care of the man who had been listed as his emergency contact—a haggard, weary-eyed Detective Inspector called Lestrade.

One star has burned out and the other is flickering violently—possibly in its last throes of life. How, Mycroft wonders with uncharacteristic desperation, did it come to this?

"How could you have missed this?" Sherlock shouts as he throws a glossy photo onto Mycroft's lap.

He doesn't have to look to know what it is—an image of their younger brother, eight years older and dressed in a fine Westwood suit, peering up at the security camera with lifeless dark eyes.

Their younger brother, now calling himself James Moriarty.

"Sherlock," he sighs, watching his little brother pacing back and forth across the living room of 221B.

"You told me he was dead!" Sherlock whirls around to glare at him with mad fire raging in his eyes. "You gave me a file with irrefutable proof that he was dead!"

"He was," Mycroft replies, holding firmly on to his calm. Inside, however, he is seething. Heads will roll for this oversight.

"Obviously not," Sherlock scoffs darkly, looking ready to punch something—namely Mycroft.

Mycroft can't exactly blame him and doubts he would try to dodge if it does end up coming to blows. After all, the first head that should roll is his. He was the one that gave up on James and encouraged Sherlock to do the same. As a result, he unwittingly left his youngest brother in the clutches of a criminal mastermind who carefully and methodically tore him apart.

"He's in pain." Sherlock pauses his pacing and Mycroft would prefer the fury to the anguished expression crossing his brother's face now. "I could tell."

He sounds rattled, horrified, grieved, but that should not be surprising. James is the only thing Sherlock ever knew how to love (though that isn't true, not anymore, and Mycroft fears for his brother's waking, fragile heart).


"We have to save him, Mycroft." The anguish is burned out by a more familiar fire and Mycroft breathes a quiet sigh of relief. "Immediately."

"Don't be reckless, Sherlock." He folds his hands on top of the photo and he keeps his mask firmly in place. The last thing he needs is Sherlock haring off to get himself killed. "We must learn more about this threat before we attempt to combat it."

Sherlock looks ready to protest, but Mycroft stands, cutting him off. "I will deal with this, little brother." His tone leaves no room for argument and he knows that Sherlock will see the logic of leaving this part of the battle to him and his vast resources.

A thousand options race through Sherlock's eyes before he nods stiffly. "Very well. Phone me as soon as you have more information."

They share a brief moment of connection that Mycroft thought they would never find again—gazes blistering with identical fire. Moriarty, whoever he may be, has hurt their little brother and for that he will pay.

By some miracle, Mycroft has both his brothers within reach again, and as he leaves 221B he vows that he will not fail them a second time.

James Moriarty is a ghost.

His network is vast and extensive, sprawling even beyond Mycroft's considerable reach. He appears to have dealings in every major criminal organization or movement on the globe, including several rebellions and terrorist cells.

Beyond that, he has more than one face and more than one name—though all know him as at least Moriarty. It is the first name that changes, shifting with the face. Several names and faces but James is his favorite, James is the one he uses the most.

Every turn Mycroft makes through the twisting labyrinth of Moriarty's organization, he runs into traces of James. For eight years, it would seem, his littlest brother has been Moriarty's main pawn—tortured, broken down, and rebuilt into a strange, twisted replica of Moriarty—and the thought is enough to make his blood boil.

But for all his anger and determination, he soon is facing the devastating fact Moriarty has sunk his claws into James too deeply to be extracted without causing his younger brother serious harm. The more he investigates, the more the lines blur between the criminal mastermind and James until he can see no way to separate them—no way to save James, to knit their tattered remnant of a family back together again.

That's when James sends him a message. It is simple, to the point, and devastating.

Let me go.

He ignores it, because James has always been foolish and reckless, and he is not going to give up when he is so close to results. But then, after a few months, Moriarty's obsession with Sherlock becomes blatantly clear. The criminal mastermind has found something fascinating about the world's only consulting detective and has become determined to bring Sherlock to his knees, using the most painful means possible: the only thing he ever knew how to love.

The messages from James keep coming—desperately now, frantically urgent.

Let me go. Let me go. Let me go.

They never say anything more, but Mycroft can easily find the implicit meaning behind the three words—fill in the rest of what his brother wants to say.

Let me go. Before you lose us both.

Even as he finally, reluctantly backs off his investigation into Moriarty's affairs, Mycroft cannot shake the feeling that he is too late.

"Two bodies … suicide … St. Bart's …."

He catches only snatches of the message—hears nothing but the deep regret in Anthea's voice—and hangs up as soon as he sorts out the relevant details.

His little brothers are dead.

The embers of grief that have sat in his chest for over a decade roar violently to life, nearly overwhelming him. The part of him that he manages to salvage callously wonders why he's surprised.

After all, he's always known his brothers would die young.

They simply burned too bright and hot—like a forest caught fire—to last long in the world. Especially this world, so small and petty, with no understanding for minds as brilliant and fierce as theirs. Even the brightest of stars must eventually burn out—and the hotter they burn, the faster they die. It is the nature of life.

Still, sitting in his chair at the Diogenes Club, Mycroft struggles not to drown in his grief.

He has failed them for the last time and it is terribly cold without the sun.