Sympathy for the Devil and Mycroft Holmes

(Author's notes: Set behind the scenes and off screen during the first two seasons of Sherlock. Spoilers for various plotlines. All the love for Mycroft. He is my favorite broken toy.)

Mycroft Homes didn't spend much time reminiscing about his childhood. For the most part, there wasn't any reason to do so. Once in a while, however, he had a sudden, sharp recollection of some almost forgotten incident, and it took effort to bury it again.

The day that Sherlock Holmes found a puppy was one of those.

He must've been four or five, very young, and very small, the beginnings of his stubbornness and fierce pride already there, in the tiny form. How he'd slipped away from the staff that day, no one knew, but it resulted in yet another nanny being fired. Mycroft didn't remember seeing the housekeeper again, after that day, so she may have been a casualty as well.

However he did it, Sherlock had snuck out of the house, out of the back garden, over the fence, and some distance down the country lane before someone had recovered him. For the most part, Mycroft was certain no one had even noticed the child was gone, but he'd been returned to a great uproar.

Dirty, with a torn shirt and a snarl of brambles in his hair, he was clutching a raggedy, squirming puppy in his thin arms. His blue-gray eyes bright under the shock of black curls, he'd looked up at the unhappy adults and grinned, showing off a missing tooth that had been there earlier in the morning. The puppy was matted with dirt and tangled in the same briars, but it panted happily, making whining noises as it tried to rub its soft head against Sherlock's scratched chin.

It was filthy. It was adorable. And it was unacceptable.

They took it away, of course, Mycroft had known that they would the instant he'd seen his younger brother drag it in, one shoe missing and with scratches on his elbows. They took it away, the front parlor maid taking pity on the tiny boy, telling him that the puppy just needed to be washed and so did he. Sherlock, still small, still naive, had believed her, going along to his own bath without a fuss.

That night, he was still waiting for the puppy to be given back, and it had fallen to Mycroft, now that the nanny was gone, to explain that the puppy was never, ever going to be returning. He remembered his own sense of resignation, of resentment, towards the adults who'd left him with the job, but Sherlock had just stared at him, huge eyes and clutching fingers, panic and fear and betrayal there in that little face.

He'd howled like a banshee all night.

Their parents had their rooms on the other side of the house, it was doubtful that they heard Sherlock crying. Mycroft had done the only thing he could, holding the little boy all night. It didn't make a mote of difference in Sherlock's screaming, but it made Mycroft feel better.

Or at least, he told himself that it did.

The next day, when the screams had degraded into broken, helpless sobs, the adults had been forced to do something about it. Mycroft remembered the black look their father had given him, as if this was all Mycroft's fault, and maybe it was.

The purebred Corgi that was delivered that afternoon had impeccable bloodlines and a nasty disposition. Sherlock had tried, easily manipulated at that age, when their mother took his arm in a too firm grip and brought him face to face with the beautifully groomed animal, he'd reached out a trembling hand, his face hopeful. The thing had snapped at him, teeth grazing Sherlock's fingers, and that had been that.

Sherlock had been exiled back to the nursery until his scratches and bruises had faded to the point where he presentable again. The new Nanny showed up that day, and off she'd gone with him. Mycroft wasn't allowed to see him, and their parents didn't bother. Sherlock was just left with the new woman, and the sound of his sobs had taken days to subside.

When he'd finally been allowed out, there was a new silence, a new distrust that he leveled on everyone, and to his shock, Mycroft had taken the brunt of it. He'd never understood that, he'd been too young himself, but he did wonder, later on in life, if he was held to higher standards than their parents. After all, both of them knew that their parents were unreliable.

It was Mycroft that Sherlock had depended on, and up until that puppy, Mycroft had been able to blunt some of the hardest edges of living in the Holmes household.

That was the first time he'd failed Sherlock. It would not be the last.

Why he remembered that puppy on that day, more than twenty-five years later, he wasn't really sure. Maybe it was the expression of betrayal that floated across Sherlock's face, there and gone in an instant, or maybe it was the sense of isolation that was Sherlock's constant companion, like a coat he pulled in tight around his body whenever anyone else was around.

Or maybe it was just the way he was baring his teeth and growling. He and that nasty bitch of a corgi might have something in common.

"How dare you," Sherlock snarled out. "You have no right."

"Actually," Mycroft said, with a faint smile, "I do. Legally and ethically. Morally is a bit more fluid, but I still believe myself to be acting in your best interests." He tapped his index finger against the stack of folders. "Which is all that matters."

"To you, perhaps."

"And that is all I'm concerned with." Mycroft smirked. With a flick of his wrist, he pushed the stack closer to Sherlock.

Sherlock gave the folders a dirty look. "I do not require a flatmate."

"I believe you'll find that you require just that. I know all about your plans to move into 221B Baker St. A move that could only be made possible by dipping into your trust fund, or acquiring a flatmate. In that I control your trust fund, and will flatly deny any such request, that means you are, in fact, in the market for a flatmate. I've taken the liberty of finding some candidates for you."

"Arranged marriages are beneath you, Mycroft."

Mycroft flicked an eye roll in his direction. "Oh, we are no where near to that point. All I am trying to do, Sherlock, is encourage some human interaction. Your continuing isolation is not beneficial."

"Isolation is the perfect environment for me. One I have no intention of changing."

"You might not intend to change it, but I certainly do." Mycroft reached for his pen. "I've researched all of the potential flatmates in those folders personally. I believe they have a greater than average chance of reaching an accord with you." He wasn't expecting much more than that. He'd settle for a few words exchanged every day. Sherlock was becoming like a wraith, a shadow that passed through London's crowds without making contact. He looked at cases for the Met, he spoke to Mycroft when absolutely necessary, and he took clients when one found him and was desperate enough to push for his help.

Mostly, though, he just withdrew into himself.

Sherlock was staring down at the stack of folders. "I had thought," he said, his voice still and aching, "that you'd learned the futility of trying to buy me friends in the primary grades."

"I'm not buying anyone." Friendship was far too much to expect. He wasn't certain that Sherlock was capable of it. He could make the connection, but he wasn't likely to risk it.

Sherlock's eyes slid up, meeting Mycroft's with a bitter little smirk. "But you've picked an array of professionals who would be open to the possibility." He stood. "Thank you, dear brother, for reminding me just why I do my best to avoid all contact with you."

He slammed the door on the way out. It was a childish gesture, but Sherlock thrived on childish gestures, more around Mycroft than anyone else. It was likely he thought they annoyed Mycroft, when in fact, Mycroft found them perversely comforting.

At least Sherlock still cared enough to try to annoy him.

He reached across the broad, ancient desk, picking up the folder on top of the stack. It had taken him forever to put this particular array of possibilities together. He'd done it himself, from a much wider pool of potential applicants. Any low level flunky could run the security checks, could gather data on family background and social standing, financial stability and job prospects.

Mycroft was the only one who stood a chance at determining if they could survive more than thirty minutes around Sherlock. He'd actually eliminated some candidates that he didn't think would last five. Sherlock, in a mood, wasn't an easy person to be around, and as of late, he was always in a mood.

Mycroft stood, cradling the first folder in careful hands. He knew the paper didn't need to be handled like spun glass, but there was a ridiculous amount of hope packed into these thin manilla files. Something had to change. Some element of Sherlock's life had to be altered. Mycroft was more than comfortable becoming a carbon copy of their father, calm and steady and analytical and not so much frozen as immune to warmth.

Sherlock wasn't capable of it.

He stared out the window, down at the street below, knowing Sherlock was long gone, but still, hoping to catch a glimpse of his retreating form, clad in his usual dark coat. Sherlock had disappeared already, of course, Mycroft had known he'd been gone; Sherlock could move with punishing speed when he felt like it.

Mycroft rubbed his forehead with one hand. "Something has to change, Sherlock," he said, returning to his desk. "If I have to play the villain in your piece, I will."

God knows he had experience with that.

He hadn't pressed the situation immediately. He'd taken a step back from the situation, analyzed Sherlock's mental state, and given him time to calm down. When he thought it was safe, Mycroft had the files couriered over to Sherlock's current residence. They were returned an hour later, shredded to confetti. Mycroft looked down at the box of paper strips and sighed.

The agent who'd delivered it, and retrieved the remains from the alley where Sherlock had discarded it, shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable with the situation. "My apologies, sir, he took the box without objection when I dropped it off."

Mycroft waved him off. "Thank you, Agent Lincoln." He'd expected this, of course. Sherlock was nothing if not dedicated to being petulant. It wasn't something that Mycroft appreciated, the stubbornness caused them nothing but trouble, but he'd expected it. "You may have this disposed of, thank you."

The man collected the box and retreated, relief clear on his face. Mycroft set himself to readying another set of the files. There was a polite tap on the door before it opened, and Anthea padded across the floor, a thin folder in her hand. "This just came in from the street detail," she said, sounding bored.

Mycroft took the file and flipped it open. The photos were of good quality, crisp and clear, the telephoto lens working well. Well enough to make out the unfamiliar features of the compact, ordinary looking blonde man who was shaking hands with Sherlock in front of 221 Baker St. Mycroft's eyes narrowed, taking in Sherlock's wide smile and the shorter man's easy stance, despite the cane in his hand.

He flipped to the next picture, where Sherlock was hugging Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of 221B Baker St., while the other man stood by. The third photo showed the three of them going inside. And the forth was a closeup of the man's face, caught as he half turned away from the door, looking back over his shoulder.

There was something about that face that made Mycroft straighten in his chair.

He set the photos down. "Who is it?" he asked Anthea.

"Unknown at this time. We have people looking into it. CCTV footage shows him entering and leaving St. Barts in the company of Mike Stamford at a time when Sherlock was in the building. We've extrapolated that they met at that time; Mike appears to be known to both of them."

Her mobile gave a faint trill, and she pulled it out. "We have a name. Dr. John Hamish Watson. Recent honorable discharge from the army, injured in the line of duty, excellent service record, no adverse public records, other than the usual drunk and disorderly dating back to when he was 18, picked up and released, no charges officially filed." Her thumb flicked on the screen. "Trained at St Barts, unmarried, apparently heterosexual, one surviving sister, currently living in Kensington, receiving military pension, no outstanding debt of any significance, and seeing a therapist for a case of PSTD." She looked up, still bored. "Orders, sir?"

Mycroft stared down at the picture. John Watson looked tired in the shot, tired but resolute, his shoulders square, his chin firm, his eyes clear and cautious. That was what had set off alarm bells in the back of Mycroft's mind, the sharp, steady glance of a man used to checking for immediate danger. Behind Sherlock's back, he was scanning the street for threats, the ingrained habit of a career soldier.

And he was standing in front of 221B Baker St. With Sherlock. With a smiling Sherlock. This was an unmitigated disaster.

"Get me everything you can on him. Not surface details," Mycroft said, his lips pulling back in a scowl. "I need everything, scrape the civilian and military databases, find me connections, friends, family, coworkers, medical records, psych evaluations, everything."

The mobile trilled again, and Anthea nodded, even as she checked it. "You may want to pull up the CCTV footage of Baker Street," she said, not changing expression. "There appears to be a situation in progress. Police presence. DI Lestrade."

Mycroft bit back a curse. "His foolish suicide case." He turned his computer on and pulled up the feed. He was just in time to see Sherlock stride out to a waiting cab, and to Mycroft's shock, Watson was right on his heels, limping along, but keeping pace without any issue.

"Unmitigated disaster," Mycroft whispered. There was no way that Sherlock was taking him along. Not to a crime scene. He wouldn't.

He... Was.

Mycroft spun in his chair. "Everything, Anthea. Start with the therapist, and work backwards from there. I want everything we can get on him, we have fifteen minutes."

Anthea didn't waste time arguing or objecting, or telling him he was over reacting. She'd held her job long enough to know that not much about Sherlock was an over reaction. On her dangerous looking heels, she slipped back out of Mycroft's office, leaving him to pull the CCTV feeds and come to conclusions of his own.

His fingers steepled in front of his face, he stared at the footage, taking in the situation in bits and pieces, as papers were slid across his desk, balancing the data his underlings were providing with what he could see for himself on the camera feeds. When Watson slipped under the police barrier with Sherlock, Mycroft's heart stopped.

When Sherlock dashed out alone, disappearing down the street at a fast jog, he relaxed, just a bit. There still might be time to head him off. To stop this, before Sherlock formed an actual attachment. While John Watson emerged from the building, and stopped to speak to Sgt. Sally Donovan, Mycroft pressed his intercom. "Anthea, I need you to go collect our new chess piece."

"Of course." Unflappable as always. "Special instructions?"

"Sending you the address now. Keep him calm and under control." With a few keystrokes, Mycroft called up a sequence of phone numbers and produced an overlay of the local map on his computer screen. He watched Watson's movements on the CCTV feed and extrapolated speed and destination, pulling up feeds, one after another and finding weak spots, isolated corners.

Picking up his phone, he dialed the first number.


Mycroft sat in the single chair, the chair that John Watson had eschewed, his eyes hard, his spine straight, staring Mycroft down with a ferocity Mycroft hadn't expected. One day. One goddamn day, there is no way that this could've progressed out of his control that quickly.


His head tipped back, his hands folded on the umbrella handle in front of him, he closed his eyes and tried to put things in order. Control. He could control this.


"Yes?" Mycroft said at last, tiring of the constant interruptions.

"Dr. Watson has returned to Baker Street."

Mycroft's teeth gritted down with enough force to make his jaw ache. Damn it. He hadn't even flinched. He hadn't responded to threats or bribery, and Mycroft wasn't certain if he was annoyed or impressed by that, by all of this, because this was not a scenario he'd even remotely considered.

And scenarios he hadn't considered gave him ulcers. Especially if they involved Sherlock.

Mycroft pulled himself to his feet, dusting off the clean front of his jacket with a precise flick of his hand. "Did he return directly?"

"No. Brief stop at his current residence in Kensington."

"What did he retrieve?"

"Nothing visible. The search team believes he collected a weapon. His Browning army pistol. It's an extrapolation, without going in, we won't know."

Interesting. "Does he have a permit to carry?"

"No." The agent cleared his throat. "Do you want him to be picked up, sir?"

Mycroft paused, considering it. "No. Not yet. Find something solid we can use against him, if it becomes necessary." Despite the strange feeling in his chest that it might not actually become necessary. Not that he was planning on doing anything about it, he didn't get to this point in his life by depending on a damn gut instinct. That was moronic, and not something that the Holmes family would ever do.

"Why do I keep thinking of that damn puppy?" he said, and it wasn't until he heard the words that he realized what they meant.


"Never mind." Mycroft turned on his heel. "Tell the teams to remain in place. For now." He stalked towards the entrance. "I want every piece of information that we can find on Sherlock's new-" He paused. What word fit here? He really wasn't sure. "Friend."

Oh, God, if that was accurate, Mycroft could just see his whole life tumbling to ruins.

He answered the phone with a sense of, if not foreboding, then reluctance. Resignation. Mycroft answered his phone because he had a duty to the last remaining blood tie he had left in the world.

Not because he had any desire, at that moment, to speak to Sherlock Holmes.

"Do not do that again."

Mycroft heaved a bored sounding sigh, leaning back in his desk chair, despite the echoing darkness outside the window. It was so late it could almost be called early, and he was tired, bone tired, his skin stretched too thin over his frame, his breath heavy in his lungs. "Good evening, dear brother. To what do I owe the honor of this call?"

He reached across the desk, flicking through the pages, the photos, taken with ease from the police databases, gathered by his own men, and culled directly from the source. His own handwritten notes, the penmanship sharp and slanted, the strokes like angry cuts on the white paper, were on top, and he pushed them aside.

"Don't ever threaten John Watson again."

He could feel the sigh building in his chest, and he resisted the urge to let it go. "Must you be so melodramatic," he said, after careful consideration. "You could not have imagined that I'd idly sit by. There are security clearances to consider, and he was an unknown element. Protocol-"

"I do not work for you. It's tiresome, that I have to continue repeating that. For a man of such renowned intelligence, I'd have thought you'd figure this out, Mycroft. I do not work for you. I will not work for you. Just because you've created a security clearance for me and pushed it through does not mean I'd be so flattered by the attention as to suddenly start doing your dirty work."

Mycroft blinked, a little stunned. The rush of words was more than he'd gotten out of Sherlock in a year. There was heat behind them, stark and sharp and rushed, and emotion. Mycroft set his pen down, the movement precise and measured. "You are a resource that must remain accessible to me," he said, tone brooking no nonsense. "That means if you are determined to allow John Watson to move into 221B Baker with you, then he must be properly vetted. You know this, Sherlock. You knew with what you were involving him."

"And at what point did the British crown sink so low as to drag an innocent man off the streets and submit him to an interrogation in a deserted warehouse?"

"Sometime during the 1800's, I'm fairly certain," Mycroft said, his tone sardonic. "Prior to that, there weren't really warehouses in the way that we think of them, so-"

"This is tiresome, Mycroft."

"I agree," Mycroft said, his words cracking like a whip. "You made the choice to involve him, and now you've gotten your way. I find I'm not interested in listening to your complaints. You knew what would happen."

"I'd hoped otherwise."

"And that was foolish." Mycroft regretted the words as soon as they slipped out, he slumped back in his chair, hand closing with silent force on his forehead, frustrated beyond belief with himself. When it came to Sherlock, his vaulted control dissipated like fog in the wind. He took a deep breath. "Sherlock..."

"No. You're right, it was foolish." Sherlock's voice was soft, empty. Hollow, and Mycroft wanted to scream. "It doesn't matter in the end, you'll do as you please. You always have, without any consideration as to how it effects-" He broke off, his teeth snapping together as if he was trying to swallow his words.

For a long moment, they just sat there in silence, unable to find the words to bridge the renewed distance. Mycroft reached for the crystal decanter beside his desk. "Why him?" he asked at last.

"I don't know," Sherlock said, without pause, and that, more than anything, made Mycroft think he was telling the truth.

"He's... Remarkable," he admitted, pouring himself a glass of brandy. He deserved it at this point. "I thought he was going to punch me at one point."

A warm, rumbling sound reached his ear through the phone, and he realized, with a start, that it was laughter. It wasn't a sound he associated with Sherlock. "He told me you tried to buy him off."

"He did not!" Mycroft felt his lips twitch. "Did he walk straight in and tell you?"

"The whole thing. Point blank, asked me who in the modern day and age had archenemies. He seemed utterly befuddled by the concept."

Mycroft's shoulders were shaking with repressed humor. "Did you tell him, in no uncertain terms, that the Holmes family has always prided ourselves on the high class of our enemies? That it's a historical fact that our enemies are of a better class of individual than most people's friends?

"It didn't come up on conversation," Sherlock said, sardonic.

"Work it in at some point, we need some point of pride. And it will keep you from going off on one of your usual tangents." Glass halfway to his lips, he heard the silence echo over the line. His heart sinking, he put the glass down with a thump on the desktop. "Oh, Sherlock, you didn't."

"It's not that I intend to," Sherlock said, his voice subdued. "It just... Happens."

Mycroft's chest felt tight. "I know." He took a deep breath. "When, on the way home tonight?"

"What? Oh, no, on the way out to Brixton. Well, technically back at Barts."

Mycroft blinked. "Back... At Barts." He settled back. Back at Barts. Before the first pictures Mycroft'd seen were taken. Before he'd followed Sherlock home. "Then he couldn't have taken it so badly."

Another long pause. "He said it was amazing."

And just like that, a knot that Mycroft hadn't even been aware existed, somewhere deep in his chest, buried, hidden, desperately protected, came lose with a rush of relief. His head fell back, and his eyes closed. "Extraordinary," he said, the single word a benediction.

"He said that, too," Sherlock said, and Mycroft shook his head, a smile curling his lips.

"I tried everything,"Mycroft said. "Threats, bribery, insults, compliments... No impact. It was as if..." He shook his head. "Sherlock, the man killed for you. He killed to save you, tonight."

"I'm aware of this."

"Are you? Are you really? Are you aware of what it means?" Mycroft reached for his drink again, and this time, he got it to his lips. "He's not afraid of me, and he's not threatened by you. You have managed to find the one man in London, perhaps the one man in all the world, whom we cannot manipulate."

"At least not by our usual means," Sherlock said.

"Do you think yourself capable of learning new ones?"

Another speaking pause. "I may have to, won't I, dear brother?"

"Perhaps." Mycroft stared at the liquid in his glass. "Sherlock," he said, without thinking about it, without planning it, because he'd lost all sense of planning or hope of keeping his life in an orderly fashion, he'd tossed that in the bin the moment that John Watson had stared out at him from the photograph, and now he wasn't sure why he'd been fighting it so hard, why he'd struggled at all.

Because John Watson had said that Sherlock, at his most supercilious, invasive, and obnoxious, was amazing.

"Do you remember bringing home a puppy, when you were a child?" he said, studying the play of light in the amber liquid. "You were very small, but you got out, and came back with a puppy you'd found somewhere. Do you remember-"

There was a faint snort of disdain. "What are you talking about, Mycroft? Father would never have let us have a pet."

"Of course not." Mycroft's fingers tightened on the glass, and he took another swift swallow, feeling it burn all the way down. "Of course not. So you don't remember?"

"I think you're confusing some horrid movie with our rather austere childhood," Sherlock said. "Go to bed, Mycroft, you're becoming maudlin."

"You're likely correct." Mycroft paused, wanting to say something, something, he didn't know what, and even if he managed the words, Sherlock didn't want them, he'd never wanted them. "Good night, Sherlock."

"Good night, Mycroft."

Long after the phone went dead, he sat there, staring at the empty glass.

When doing work of a threatening nature, Mycroft preferred to arrive unannounced.

There were two schools of thought on it, of course, the first was that letting your potential victim stew in his own juices while waiting for you arrival was quite effective. Mycroft used that sparingly, and only with the most fragile personalities. Otherwise, he much preferred to give his victim no time to plan, no time to escape, and certainly no time to arm himself.

He cornered Sebastian Wilkes at his favorite club.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said, taking an open seat at their table without waiting for an invitation, an unforgivable breach of etiquette, and he didn't much care. "Sebastian," he said, his voice pleasant. "How nice to see you again." He set his attache case on the table and flipped it open. Pulling out a file folder, he slid it across the small table with a single finger, letting it come to rest in front of the stunned, white-faced man.

To Sebastian's credit, he tried to rally. "Mycroft, it's been forever."

"And you will soon wish it had been much longer." Mycroft's lips were curled in a very unpleasant smile as he closed his attache case. "As it has not been nearly long enough for me to forget the rather airtight arrangement that we had made, but my memory appears to be quite a bit better than yours."

Sebastian swallowed. "Now, Mycroft-"

"You do not want to have this conversation in front of your colleagues," Mycroft said, refolding his hands together on the table in front of him. He gave Sebastian a faint, sanctimonious smile.

"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse us," Sebastian said, and his friends were already taking their leave before the words were out of his mouth. Sebastian waited until the table was clear before he leaned over, businesslike smile on his face, masking a deeper dread that Mycroft could see in his eyes. "Mycroft, really, this is-"

"Unacceptable," Mycroft said, his voice very soft. "I must agree. You had your choice, Sebastian. I made it clear the first time you used Sherlock in one of your little games that I would not abide that."

It wasn't the first time that Mycroft had taken one of Sherlock's schoolmates or acquaintances aside, and it wouldn't be the last. The vast majority of the population was unsettled or annoyed by Sherlock, by his casual ability to see through their masks and reveal their secrets. Since Sherlock lacked a filter about sharing what he knew, he had a tendency to push people, especially insecure people, to lash out at him. He was used to that, and Mycroft was used to that. Neither of them liked it, but Mycroft always suspected it bothered him more than it bothered Sherlock.

What made Mycroft see red were the ones who curried favor, used Sherlock behind the scenes or out of sight, and then cut him in public. Sebastian fell into that category, he always had. The government and business worlds were full of men like him, superficial and smarmy, parasitic users who formed no real loyalties and made no real ties.

He was more of a sociopath than Sherlock would ever be, but he possessed the social skills to cover it.

Now, he was trying to pull himself together, to overcome the shock of Mycroft's sudden appearance. He pushed the file aside, leaning forward, smiling, all the usual little conman tricks that Mycroft found tiresome. "Look, Mycroft, really, it's been ages since Uni, this is ridiculous. You can't possibly hold some minor, youthful indiscretions against me at this point."

Mycroft considered that. "Yes," he said at last. "I do." Reaching out, he maneuvered the file back in front of Sebastian. "Take the time to consider this, before you say another word." With a flick of his fingers, he opened it. "Of course, I understand why you'd pay closer attention to current indiscretions, so I've taken the liberty of collecting all of your most recent ones."

The blood drained out of Sebastian's face. "This is blackmail."

"Not at all." Mycroft leaned forward, folding his hands together in front of him, his expression carefully neutral. "Blackmail implies payment to keep something hidden. This, Sebastian, this is the wrath of a very angry God. A just punishment for your sins. I did explain to you, did I not, all those years ago, that if you tempted fate, you would not like the consequences of your actions."

"You can't do this."

That was such a stupid thing to say that Mycroft was hard pressed not to laugh in his face. "You are a user and a bully," Mycroft said, standing and collecting his case. "In the end, the only thing a bully such as yourself has to fear is a bigger bully, and I am the biggest, nastiest bully you will ever encounter." He swept a sharp look in Sebastian's direction. "You will let Sherlock complete his work, you will pay him an astronomical sum for it, and I will go back to pretending that you don't exist."

Sebastian swallowed, throat bobbing "Mycroft-"

"If you cross me again, if you so much as annoy me, or call attention to yourself, or I hear so much as a whisper of your name connected to Sherlock, I will set about wrecking a very complete destruction of your life." He paused, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You will not be the first to disappear, without so much as a whimper, nor you will be the last.

"If you are truly unlucky, or truly annoying, I'll keep you around. As a example for what, exactly, happens to people who don't afford my orders the proper respect." His smile stretched, became macabre. "Don't let it come to that, Sebastian."

With that, he turned on his heel and left, knowing that Sebastian had some heavy drinking ahead of him tonight. So, for that matter, did Mycroft.

Mycroft had just picked up the final reports on Sherlock's latest disaster when he looked up and realized the man himself was somehow in his study. There had been no knock, no doorbell rung, and none of the staff had announced him; somehow Sherlock had slipped through Mycroft's house without being seen or noticed.

For a long moment, the silence just stretched, and Mycroft sat there, frozen, feeling for all the world like he was in a room with a wounded wild animal, as if he said or did the wrong thing, Sherlock would disappear.

Careful, slow, he'd moved from his desk to the couch, taking a seat with the folders still in his hand. It had been only an instant before Sherlock followed him, sinking down onto the uncomfortable seat, and collapsing sideways, as if the strings that held him up were cut, all at once. His head landed in Mycroft's lap, and it was a surprising weight against his thighs.

After an instant, Mycroft'd raised his hand and risked stroking Sherlock's hair, his fingers gentle on the tangled mass. Sherlock needed a hair cut, he always needed a haircut, the heavy lines of his face were well balanced by the black curls, but still, he needed a haircut.

Mycroft didn't say a word. Neither did Sherlock. After a few moments, he relaxed under Mycroft's hand, his shoulders slumping and his breath escaping in a faint, pained sigh. Mycroft heaved one of his own, affectionate and annoyed in equal parts, but he didn't say a word.

The night stretched out, dark and silent, and they remained there, still and quiet and with the mien of someone recovering from a nearly fatal wound. Mycroft dozed at some point, his head lolling back onto the rear of the couch, and from time to time, he heard Sherlock's breath go deep and steady and rumbling, indicating that he slept, too.

When Mycroft awoke the next morning with a stiff neck and a faint shiver, he was alone.

He'd stared at the dawning sun outside the window, at his empty lap, at the door, closed as firmly as it had ever been, and wondered if he'd dreamed the whole thing. But when he'd crouched to retrieve the scattered pages of his file, dropped at some point in the night, his gaze had caught on a single line.

'Dr. Watson and his date abducted at gunpoint.'

Mycroft lowered himself back to the couch, flicking past to the pictures, of yellow spray paint across the windows of 221B Baker St., of the aftermath of the kidnapping and rescue. One hand cupped over his mouth, muffling the sound of his indrawn hiss. Focusing on the report, he read it from beginning to end, and at some point, his fingers began tracing the fabric where Sherlock's huddled from had lain last night.

Where he'd been driven, by some unspoken emotion.

Mycroft closed the folder and stood. Crossing to the filing cabinet, a beautiful piece of carved oak and bronze, he added this report to the others, and paused. He retrieved an empty folder, and labeled it Watson, J. He slid it into Sherlock's files, dividing them neatly into two parts: before John Watson and with John Watson.

He stared down at it, and took a deep breath. "Damn puppy," he said, and slammed the drawer shut, trying to convince himself that he was annoyed, not approving. Then he took a seat at his desk and began making calls. Best to get the windows clean before Sherlock took a cricket bat to them.

He was overseeing the work himself when John came up the stairs, looking exhausted and strained. Mycroft gave him a sideways glance, his head tipped to the side, his mouth pursed, and John rolled his eyes. "Hello, Mycroft," he said, heading straight for the kettle.

"Good afternoon, John," Mycroft said, going back to the file in his hands.

"Would you like a cup of tea?" John asked, digging through the cupboards.

"No, thank you, though." Mycroft waited until John sank down with an exhausted sounding sigh into his usual chair. Mycroft kept his head down, but glanced up at John from beneath the line of his brows. "Long day at the surgery?"

John chuckled. "And why am I not surprised that you already know about my new job?"

"You shouldn't be surprised, John, you know I have to keep close tabs on Sherlock and his environment."

"Wonderful, I've always wanted to be an environmental feature."

Mycroft couldn't stifle a smile at his deadpan delivery. "And how is my dear brother?"

"Reaching new heights of anti-social behavior."

Mycroft shook his head. "Do I sense a note of stress in your usually smooth living situation?" he asked, still amused. If John had really been angry, he wouldn't have tolerated the conversation.

"Late nights, arguing about who'll be doing the shopping, kidnappings. You know, the usual flatmate problems." John paused, his lips pursing tight. His face was annoyed, but there was a dejected slump to his shoulders that surprised Mycroft. "I don't know if he wants my help or not."

"He does," Mycroft said, almost before the words were out of John's mouth.

"Yes, well, I'm not so convinced. He's gone into two different potential crime scenes and left me locked outside," John said, his voice short. "I'm beginning to feel like a dog, allowed to tag along on walks, and then tied to the fence outside while he goes inside to do, well, God only knows what."

Mycroft's eyebrows arched. "And this surprises you."

"Well, why bring me along if he's just going to do everything on his own?"

Mycroft covered his mouth with one hand, hiding a grin. It was a force of habit, to keep his eyes serious over a smiling mouth. "Oh, I see. You're feeling excluded."

"I'm feeling pointless," John clarified.

"And he's feeling safe."

A pause, and John's eyes, sharp and intelligent and warm, narrowed on Mycroft. "What? Why would he be more safe if I'm outside?"

"He wouldn't be, but that's not his priority. You're safer if you're locked outside."

Another pause, this one longer, and a long, drawn out sigh. "Are you seriously telling me that he's leaving me outside on the sidewalk so that I don't get hurt?"

"You put it best, John. Crime scenes. If he's walking into a situation that he doesn't understand, and doesn't know what he's facing, then he will, of course, take every measure possible to secure the location and make sure there's no threat before he allows you in."

"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," John snapped, and he let his head fall forward into his hand, rubbing his forehead with tense fingers. "You- Why would you even think that?"

"Because I know my brother a bit better than you do at this point." Mycroft said with an austere smile. "He is nothing if not protective of those he considers worthy of the gesture."

"That is still the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

"I never claimed it made sense, or was a good choice, I was merely attempting to help you understand. He will protect you, if he can. He's-" Mycroft's face relaxed, and the smile became a little more real, a little more relaxed and warm.

"Remarkable," John said, with a smile of his own. "And a pain in the ass."

"A remarkable pain in the ass," Mycroft agreed, and his smile stretched into a grin, a full one, teeth and all, and John was laughing back at him, eyes bright, his shoulders back where they should be, his head up, full of humor and warmth and life, and they were both laughing.

Sherlock paused in the doorway. "Well, this is terrifying," he said, his voice crisp and chilled, and that only made the two of them laugh more, to his obvious frustration.

John laughed with real force, nothing fake or forced or polite about it, and when he finally got himself under control again, his cheeks were pink and his eyes were wet. "What?" he asked Sherlock, still chuckling as he leaned back in his chair. "We're bonding!"

"The commonwealth will not survive such a bond," Sherlock said, staring down at Mycroft, eyes narrowed. "You're in my chair."

"So I am," Mycroft said, standing and straightening his coat, gathering his things. "Good day, gentlemen, I have things to do this afternoon, so I shall leave you to it."

"It was good to see you, Mycroft," John said, standing as the kettle demanded attention. The strange thing was, he sounded sincere. The shock was enough to leave Mycroft standing there, brow furrowed. Sherlock arched an eyebrow at him, a sardonic smile curling his lips up. Mycroft gave himself a mental shake and nodded.

"It was good to see you, too, John."

Mycroft's phone ringing at all hours of the day and night wasn't unusual. It never really bothered him; truly bad news almost always arrived in person.

So when Anthea opened the door to his office, her face drawn in tight, strained lines, a single sheet of paper clutched in her hand, his stomach had dropped. She'd had a car standing by, which he appreciated, but his phone was out before he could even finish reading the rather sparse report.

Sherlock picked up on the second ring. "They won't let me into the crime scene," he snarled.

The relief was so overwhelming that Mycroft's knees actually went weak. He fumbled for a grip on the edge of his desk, and let his eyes shut. With a shuddering breath, he pulled himself together. At least enough to speak to Sherlock. "Of course they won't, Sherlock, it's not safe."

He could hear the thudding tattoo of Sherlock's feet, pounding back and forth on the floor. In the distance, there were sirens still wailing, and Mycroft shuddered. "There's no reason why I can't go-" He broke off, a frustrated growl working it's way through his throat.

Mycroft resisted the urge to ask him if he was all right; that question was never well received. Instead, he went around Sherlock's defenses. "Is John safe? Mrs. Hudson?"

"John is out for the night," Sherlock snapped, and despite the pique, Mycroft heard a note of relief underneath the words. John wasn't there. John was removed from the source of the trouble, from the possibility of harm. That was probably for the best, but Mycroft made a gesture at Anthea, catching her eye. He scribbled a quick note and handed it over. She nodded, and slipped out of the room, her heels beating a subtle tattoo on the hardwood floor.

"And Mrs. Hudson?" Mycroft asked, sinking back into his desk chair. He brought his computer awake and began the systematic work of gathering information.

"I'm with her now. She's dithering," Sherlock said.

"Oh, Sherlock, really," Mrs. Hudson said in the background. "That's just unfair, I was frightened out of my wits."

"Dithering," Sherlock said, a note of amusement in his voice.

Mycroft smiled, having a clear mental picture of Sherlock sitting in her overly feminine, overly cluttered kitchen, perched on a tiny white chair with a cup of tea and likely a few biscuits in front of him. Coddled, just a little, and staying close.

"I believe she's allowed, Sherlock," Mycroft said with a faint smile. "Structural damage?"

"We lost the front windows, minor interior damage, a lot of flying glass. It'll take forever to find it all."

"No going barefoot for a while, then." Mycroft was looking at the CCTV footage as they spoke, moving the cameras, studying the impact. He started on the damaged building, where the explosion had originated, and only after he'd internalized the blast pattern, did he switch to the exterior view of 221 Baker.

The urge to kill someone, preferably in a slow, painful, and deliberate manner, was immediate and overwhelming.

"John got me slippers," Sherlock said, and he was pacing again, and Mycroft knew, without seeing, without asking, that he had the teacup in hand, but wouldn't touch the biscuits now, the concept of a case taking form in his mind, and he was already focused. Driven.

"And you actually wear them?" Mycroft asked, making note of the movements of officers on the street, of the structural integrity of the building, of the subtle movements of information between departments as the situation evolved. A spare, detached part of his mind recognized the symptoms in himself, just as focused, just as driven as Sherlock.

"On occasion. They keep my feet warm."

"That is what they're for, Sherlock, so you shouldn't be surprised." Mycroft glanced up when Anthea slipped back into the office, handing over a crisp piece of stationary.

John Watson accounted for, guard will remain until instructed to withdraw.

Mycroft nodded at her, and noted the address on the page. Sarah, of course, she'd lasted far longer than Mycroft had suspected that she would. Perhaps she was made of sterner stuff than her file had indicated, because he had estimated that she would've cracked under the pressure by now.

Sherlock, after all, was capable of producing the sort of pressure that most people couldn't imagine.

"John is safe," Mycroft said, scribbling another set of instructions for Anthea.

"I know," Sherlock said, his voice still and quiet.

For a long moment, they sat in silence, only the sound of Mycroft's fingers on his computer keyboard and Sherlock's feet pacing back and forth breaking the stillness. Their binary movements, sounds, almost come together into a single rhythm, but they never quite mesh.

In the light of his computer monitor, Mycroft smiles a bitter little smile. Wasn't that always the way with them?

"I'll see to it that the explosion is assigned to Lestrade," Mycroft said at last, and Anthea reappeared, the file he'd been waiting for in her hand. "In exchange, I'll be by in the morning with something I'd like you to look into for me."

"I don't work for you," Sherlock said.

"I'd appreciate if you looked this over, Sherlock. It's little enough to ask, considering the trouble you've caused me over the past few months." Deliberate. Goading. Get Sherlock's back up. Get him to focused on showing Mycroft up.

Any distraction from the explosion, which the official explanation was already looking shady. Mycroft snorted under his breath. Gas explosion, my God, they were pathetically unprepared for any real subterfuge, weren't they? There was no way that anyone with any brains would believe that.

"I'll be by in the morning," Mycroft repeated, and the sound of Sherlock's footsteps had ceased, stony silence of every sort echoing across the line. "Good night, Sherlock."

There was no reply, but he wasn't really expecting one. He waited for the line to go dead, and when it did, he sighed. He'd chosen the end of the conversation, but that didn't mean that he didn't suffer when the connection was cut.

"Dig deeper," he said to Anthea. "This is too close, and too obvious. Someone's after Sherlock."

Mycroft was everywhere at once. He rather had to be, because goddamn, there was a vest of C4 explosives to deal with, and Sherlock was pacing, and Sherlock still had a gun, Jesus god, who'd let him have a gun, he'd have to speak to John about that, about letting Sherlock anywhere near his weaponry, and there were agents everywhere, because James Moriarty had catapulted himself from 'underground figure of growing power and influence' to 'bloody bastard who tried to kill Sherlock and John' in the space of one week.

Mycroft was going to kill someone.

Sherlock was pacing, his head snapping around, his body a sharp line of tense muscles. "Sherlock," Mycroft said, in an undertone. "Sherlock, what-"

Sherlock snapped a hand in his direction, a dismissive flick of his fingers. "Not now," he gritted out, and his breathing was sharp and hard.

Mycroft opened his mouth again, and paused, as Sherlock's strained face suddenly registered with him. "John?" he called, his voice pitched loud enough to be heard in the massive pool.

"Mycroft?" the voice came from behind them, and both Mycroft and Sherlock spun around. John was scrambling to his feet, stepping out from behind a pile of stacking chairs. "Sorry, I was just sitting for a moment."

"Quite right, it's been a long night," Mycroft said, as all the strain went out of Sherlock in a rush. Mycroft grabbed his arm and steadied him as Sherlock's trembling legs nearly had him collapsing into the wall. Mycroft had been right; John had disappeared from his sight, and Sherlock had been on the edge of panic. Even so, he hadn't been capable of just calling out, he couldn't expose himself like that.

So Mycroft had done it for him.

And now John was there, too, on Sherlock's other side, steadying him with a hand on Sherlock's back. Without a word, without comment, he removed the gun from Sherlock's hand and tucked it away. "Let's sit down," he said, and Mycroft nodded.

"That might be for the best," Mycroft said, just as Sherlock pulled away from both of them, his shoulders tightening, his chin snapping up.

"I am going to look over the sniper's positions," he said, and stalked off without another word.

Mycroft watched him go, but it was John who sighed. "Indeed," Mycroft said, with a faint smile. "You are unharmed, John?"

"Mmm?" John blinked at Mycroft as his attention was pulled from Sherlock's retreating back. "Oh, yes. Might have been one of the worst days of my life, all told, but I'm perfectly healthy." He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck, and the smile faded into a look of strain. "I may have to double up on therapy appointments for a time, that's all."

"We'll make sure that happens." Mycroft rocked back on his heels. "John, you need to stay near him, as much as possible, for a while." He felt, more than saw, John turn in his direction. "He's panicking. Badly."

John glanced up, and Mycroft didn't know if he was looking for Sherlock, or just avoiding Mycroft's eyes. "I know," he said, his voice soft. "How long is 'a while?'"

"I'll be honest with you, I have no experience with him in this state. We're in uncharted territory, and I am not enjoying it." Mycroft rubbed the bridge of his nose with hard fingers. "I've never seen him like this."

John was silent for a long beat of time. When he finally spoke, his words were very careful, very soft. "When Moriarty sent me out," he said, and Mycroft froze, eyes closing, feeling Sherlock's panic in his own chest like a faint echo, "when Sherlock first saw me, he had this expression on his face. Almost..." John's lips pursed. "Almost hurt. He was looking at me, with this expression of betrayal."

"You mustn't take that personally," Mycroft said, trying to keep his voice steady, calm, almost off-hand, because if John left now, if he did take that personally, and left, Mycroft didn't know what he would do. What he could do. Sherlock would go to pieces, he had no doubt about that, and what a shattered Sherlock would do, he did not ever want to experience.

"What? Oh, no. I mean, that's the logical conclusion to come to, really, when you make arrangements to have a rendezvous with your archenemy, and hey, your flatmate's the only one to show up." John shook his head. "It's not as if I could say anything to dissuade him at first." He took a step back, out of the way of an agent that was moving in a piece of equipment. "It's more..." He paused, and there was color in his cheeks. "I didn't really think I had the ability to hurt him that way."

"Then you haven't been paying attention," Mycroft told him.

"He's not exactly demonstrative," John shot back, but there was a faint smile on his face.

"No. He is not."

The two men paused, both silent, and John sighed. "How bad was his childhood?"

Mycroft considered that. "Even worse than mine," he said at last.

John winced. "Yeah, I rather suspected." He rubbed a hand on his face. "I'm not really good with this stuff, either. You were right. I don't make friends easily."

"Perhaps not, but when you do, you are unwaveringly, staggeringly loyal," Mycroft said. "It took me some time to come around to the truth, John, but I have come to the realization that you are not what I would've chosen, but you may be exactly what he needs."

John glanced at him, a faint smile on his exhausted features. His eyes were clear and sharp, intelligent, warm eyes, even under the sharp shelf of his lowered brows. "I'm not what anyone needs," he said, a faint sound of derision in his voice. "If I hadn't let myself get grabbed off the street, he would never have been in that position at all."


"Twice. Twice I've been kidnapped by the criminal element, and I'm finding it tiresome," John said, jamming his hands in his pockets. "Worse than useless."

Mycroft studied the clear blue waters of the pool. "Except for the part where you tried to sacrifice yourself so he could escape."

John snorted. "That failed, too, so wonderful. I'm inept on several different levels."

Mycroft grabbed John by the shoulder, turning him around with more force than was strictly necessary. "You threw yourself in front of a bullet for him tonight, even if it was never fired. You've killed for him. Do not make the mistake of downplaying that, because no one has ever protected him before. No one has ever considered that he needs protecting."

"You have," John said, his gaze steady, and Mycroft froze, his throat closing up.

He dropped John's arm like it was hot. "The last thing that he wants is my intervention."

"He's not superhuman. I mean, in some ways he is, but he's just like the rest of us, the rest of the time. He needs you. You could try to be less creepy, less controlling, but for all the amount of time he spends yelling about your interference, he misses you when you're not around. When you don't contact him."

Mycroft gave him a look packed with disdain. "Oh, do not attempt to cajole me into a better mood, Dr. Watson, I am incapable of being flattered."

John smiled. "You know what the difference between an enemy and an archenemy is? One's your favorite." He stepped away from the wall. "Sherlock?"

"Yes?" the voice floated down.

"I'm exhausted. Any chance you'll want to go home tonight? Or should I find a place to crash on some gym mats or such?"

"If Sherlock has work to do here, still, I can have a car bring you back to Baker street," Mycroft said, deliberately being louder than necessary. "Or, better yet, in view of the security breach, perhaps you should come and stay with me for the time being. Until we get-"

He hadn't even finished the sentence when Sherlock stalked past, all but sweeping John along with him, his arm wrapped around John's back in a protective, possessive gesture. Mycroft bit back a choke of laughter. Not subtle, but Sherlock had never had that problem.

"Thank you," Sherlock gritted out, "but that is not necessary. We'll head home. Have a nice night. Make sure you take care of the evidence, and I'll want to see any records, and-"

"Quite so," Mycroft agreed. "Anthea, please see them back to Baker street."

John glanced back over his shoulder at Mycroft, the expression on his face making it clear that Mycroft wasn't fooling him in the least. Mycroft smiled back. "Good evening, Dr. Watson!"

"Good night, Mr. Holmes!" John called back just as the door slammed shut behind them.

Mycroft watched them go, and with a sigh, turned back to the pool. "Let's get this finished," he instructed the agent in charge. "I need a drink. Quite badly."