Title: Lie and Let Live
Character: Mycroft, Sherlock, John, Mr. and Mrs. Holmes.
Word Count: 4,812
Warnings: Death of a parent and descriptions of violence.
Disclaimer: Oh, don't I wish.
Summary: Once a year, on the anniversary of his father's death, Sherlock takes out the file on his father. Mycroft does not approve, though perhaps not for the reasons Sherlock would think.
The lemonade had tasted like summer. Sweet, a bit sticky, clinging to Mycroft's throat when he'd sipped it down, down, down, until there was no difference between the drink and the humid air. There had been a storm in the wings: the air had gone taunt, the grass silent—no wind—and even if the sun had still been pounding down, the clouds hanging on the horizon had kept unrelentingly pouring closer, rolling out peals of thunder that had left Sherlock asking where they kept the cannons.
Stuttering out a breath, Mycroft blinks, squints, but the sun has gone in now, and there's no reason to shield his eyes—no glare to keep him from staring at the puddle on the ground. Only one part lemonade.
Hours, minutes, seconds later—all squeezed into the space between a gasp and a shaky exhale—something wet smacks his forehead. He hadn't—hadn't realized—he'd started looking up. Up and down—totally nebulous, mistakable concepts, especially when liquid is involved, but he should have known from the colors. Gray is not so bright. And the clouds are not in the puddle. And—
His eyes snap closed just in time for a fat drop to splatter onto his eyelid and seep down his right cheek.
It's really raining now.
"Leave it alone, Sherlock."
"You're lying. There's something you're lying about."
"And you've never lied before, brother mine?"
No. Too soon. Too—God help him, his chest hurts. He's shaky with breath, and somehow, thankfully, he's bound up tightly inside his vest; enough to keep him clutched together—but if the buttons pop, if the cloth tears…. Amazing what a few buttons and some fabric can do.
"Go back inside, Sherlock," he says, as calmly as he can. It's not so easy when his teeth are chattering harder than they ever have in winter. "Right now."
And so he is. Seems a shard from the lemonade glass has worked its way up into the meaty part of his palm. He hadn't noticed. It's still a bit hard to—there's a mess of blood, smeared over the gory canvass of his flesh, but looking at it—there's nothing to see. Is it even his hand? He can't feel, and it's killing his vision. The eyes lie. He needs all his senses.
But he can't feel.
"Cup of tea, Sherlock?"
"I'm missing something. But what? What am I missing? A lie—but it's something— Something, something… what am I missing—?"
"You going to tell me what you're on about?"
"It doesn't make sense, John. I remember he had a glass. A broken glass of lemonade. He had a—Oh!"
Sherlock is never content to be ignored, of course—least of all now. His clever little brother, his brilliant little brother, who at two and a half thinks he can outshine the sun with his wit. He can't—not just yet, but he probably could outshine it with his smile if he wanted. Most of the time he doesn't, but sometimes for Mycroft, or for his parents… sometimes…
"It's raining, Sherlock," he says softly. He still hasn't turned around to look at his brother. Does Sherlock see? Does he understand?
A feathery touch dusts at his trousers. Then, a gentle tug, gathering the fabric against his skin where is sticks. His mother had told him today was too warm for pants, but he hadn't listened, and in a few minutes he'll be too soaked to notice anyway.
"The rain isn't red."
Mycroft's eyelids flutter closed.
"No. It isn't."
"The gun, Mycroft!"
"Ah, Sherlock, and a good day to you as well. Tell me, have you ever considered starting a phone conversation with a simple greeting?"
"You cut your hand. On the lemonade glass."
"Again with this, Sherlock? Two calls in two days? It was an accident. A tragic accident. And it's been years. Surely you've other things—"
"There was no blood on the gun!"
"Sherlock, I'm telling you to leave this alone."
"You're lying. And I want to know why."
"What you want to know, Sherlock, is exactly what I've already told you. Now leave it alone."
Reaching down, Mycroft closes his hands around the gun. He'd only been loading it, just to prove he could. Did Sherlock see when it went off? No. Couldn't have. Right? Angle was wrong, all wrong. Couldn't have seen it. But there will be fingerprints. Of course there will be. Rain won't wash those away, and, anyway, how can he even think of hiding this?
Sherlock presses a little closer into his side. No point in putting it off—he's got to turn to see… but there's nothing there to see: no shock, no horror—nothing. Only a pair of sharp eyes and cheeks still rounded by baby-fat, skin smoothed over with a lack of understanding. Oh, and wouldn't that be a first? Sherlock, not understanding.
The expression doesn't last: Sherlock squints up against the rain, mouth twisting and smudging his cheeks out of place. His hand is still curled in Mycroft's trousers, no longer tugging; he seems content to watch Mycroft from under his dark fringe while the rain beats down harder, plastering the wisps of his child-thin hair to his forehead.
"Why d'you have that?" Sherlock asks, peering up at Mycroft expectantly. His gaze slides down to the gun, but there's no understanding written in his face. "Why?"
Why indeed? This is not something for his baby brother to see.
The gun settles back down into the dirt of the driveway when Mycroft returns it to its place, sinking into the indent left from its fall as easily as if it had never left. Around it, the rain is hammering out pockmarks in the dirt—it's coming down hard now.
"Inside, Sherlock. Now."
Sherlock goes—not quietly, certainly not quietly. Sherlock will never go quietly. But he goes down the path to the door babbling, explaining things—inane things—that no child his age should notice. When the postman came. How Mummy must have been in a hurry when she left, because her footprints are smudged and there's a rock just out of place in the grass, kicked there in her haste. A rock the gardener missed, just like he missed a spot (he would—he's been drinking too much, but Sherlock doesn't understand that quite yet) on the lawn. Simple things, obvious to anyone who would look—but no one ever does.
No one ever really looks properly.
"This—Sherlock—your father shot himself?"
"Not intentionally. If you're going to insist on disturbing me, John, at least bother to read more than the title of the article. Incomplete observations are always tedious. And, unless your powers of observation are great deal worse than even I have estimated, you're aware that I've just spoken with Mycroft—I've had rather enough tediousness to be getting on with."
"Bloody Hell—Sherlock, you—you never mentioned this!"
"It was perfectly obvious if you'd bothered to observe."
"I—what? No, Sherlock—what? Explain to me how it's obvious—how it could possibly be obvious—that your father died from improperly handling a loaded gun when you were a toddler? Am I supposed to be able to look at you and know that your brother loaded your father's gun without telling him? That's not even about you. How is that obviously true?"
"It's not. Because it isn't."
"What? It says right here—I know newspapers lie, but if your father had been killed under other circumstances—I know you. You wouldn't have let it rest. Would you have? Or… or, have you? I mean, have you let it rest?"
"Ah, and at least now you're asking the right questions."
Sherlock howls from inside the house, unleashing the sound with such terrible ferocity that the noise saws through the wall and chases after Mycroft as Sherlock cannot. No doubt he's angry—furious at being locked away while Mycroft goes back outside into the storm. Such a terrible, bitter idea, and Mycroft chokes on the laughter bubbling up in his chest, because nothing has ever been so far from humorous. Sherlock isn't worried for him or for what might happen to him in a lightening storm.
Sherlock's worried he's been left behind.
And so he has been.
A gun. Hunting. Their father leaving the weapon on the table while he went to get something to clean it with. Sherlock is still back in that world: a world where Mycroft isn't standing in the driveway, his own hair soaked to his forehead—he'll have to cut it short later, because, God help him, he never wants to feel any reminder of this—and sopping wet. Sherlock's world is still warm and dry, and nothing has changed.
But change is a gun in the dirt. And Mycroft is no coward.
"You picked up the gun. But you didn't want the fingerprints obscured with your blood. You took care to keep it clean. You wanted them to see your fingerprints on it. Why is that, Mycroft?"
"Two calls in an hour? Careful—I may get the idea that you actually want to speak with me. And have you ever considered, brother, that perhaps I simply thought that the gun was responsible for enough bloodshed already? Terribly obvious to have it literally dripping blood as well, don't you think?"
"Hardly. That's sentiment. Not something you understand."
"Perhaps I understand it better than you think. And certainly I understand it better than you do."
There's a hefty weight to the gun. It's an older model, made for hunting, probably some sort of antique. His father would know, would (have) be(en) able to tell him the year and the make, probably everyone who had owned it before, what it had been loaded with, how it had been cared for, what was used to polish it, if anyone had so much as breathed on the damn thing before—
No. Not breath. Just… no.
Bending at the waist, Mycroft reaches out under the gun, digging his fingers into what is rapidly becoming mud. There's little point in acknowledging the grit that shoves up under his nails, kissing where it meets the skin underneath. He'll wash his hands later.
Mud does, after all, come off so much easier than guilt.
"You think someone murdered your father?"
"You've been thinking things over all night, and that is what you arrive at?"
"It seems—wait, no, not all night. Why would you think-?"
"Tension in your shoulders, indicates you're thinking hard about something but are hesitant to bring it up. Frown lines, clenched jaw. Not a happy topic, then. And quick glances at today's newspaper—you learned of my father's death from the newspaper in the file on my father's case. Bit of a giveaway, don't you think? And then there's your—"
"Right, yes, fine. But am I right?"
"See, I told—no, wait, come on, what? You think someone murdered your father. You said so yesterday."
"Wrong. I said that Mycroft was lying."
"But if Mycroft was lying about how the gun went off and killed your father—"
"Another assumption. Honestly, John, do you learn nothing from me? No, I said Mycroft was lying."
"But not about how your father shot himself?"
"What was he lying about then?"
There's still lemonade on the ground. It's growing fainter now, washed away by the rain. Not quite yet, though—there's still enough to see the vaguely yellow-tinted whirl sinking in with the red. It's the worst swirling sunrise he's ever seen—wouldn't have been out of place during a morning after part of the London Blitz. The sun coming up on something no one really wants to look at.
The car blocks most of it. If the driveway weren't inclined slightly downward in this area, he probably wouldn't have seen any of the mess at all. As it is, it's a nice fantasy—if Sherlock's cries weren't echoing in his ears, reminding him of just why he's locked his brother in the house, it would be perfectly plausible to posit that it's only his own blood mingling with the packed earth of the drive. He'd been startled by a clap of thunder. He'd squeezed the glass too hard. And now he's bleeding.
But only two of those things are true.
And he'd known from the moment that a clap of thunder tried and failed to wrap its way around a gunshot that the blood on the ground wasn't his.
No peal of thunder was going to cover a noise like that.
"Father would be appalled at how you commemorate his death, Sherlock. Dragging out his file every year upon the week of his death? He'd hardly approve, you know. Nor do I."
"And your approval has clearly always been something I've strived to gain, Mycroft."
"I want to know how he died."
"You do know. His gun went off and killed him. You've gone over the evidence obsessively enough to know the truth of that."
"Yes. But I don't think you loaded the gun. You were too old. Certainly old enough to be able to glance at a gun and deduce how to load it, even if you never had done so. It wouldn't have been a challenge for you. You had no reason to physically attempt to put in the ammunition."
"No? Sherlock, I loaded it because I believed he was going back out to hunt."
"He'd already been out that day."
"Yes, but, as we later found out, he had planned to go to a colleague's home for another round. All the signs indicated that he intended another sojourn into the countryside. I simply failed to notice that he planned to do so at a location other than our estate and, as such, would not need his gun loaded until he reached his destination. There is no mystery to it, Sherlock. I loaded his gun for him. He was not aware. It was a mistake—not a puzzle to be solved."
"You would have known he was leaving. You would have noticed."
"I was a child, Sherlock. I didn't notice everything."
It's funny how the gun is gritty under his fingers. His father had gone to get a cloth to clean it—he'd be appalled to see it like this. Father always took care of his things meticulously, almost obsessively. Everything in its proper place. He'd have hated for any possession of his to be lying out in the dirt, soaking up rain, readying itself for rust. Of course, he never would have wanted the gun in his twelve-year-old son's hands, either. Not like this.
If father had gotten his way, the gun would have been cleaned and snuggly put to rest in its case by now, locked away. He always locked his guns away. There is a toddler in the house—a sharp-eyed, precocious, clever—so terribly, wonderfully clever—toddler, so prone to snooping that it often seems Sherlock spends more time at that than he does at necessary functions in the line of eating and sleeping. A terrible sleeper, Mummy has always said. Right from birth. And Sherlock does so hate meal times. They mean sitting—sitting still. And there is nothing puzzling about food. Dull, Sherlock will whine, like it is the most obvious thing in the world.
Obvious—that is, not unlike the lock on a gun case. Not much subtlety to it. Still, Sherlock has never figured out the lock, thereby making it infinitely more interesting than food. It hasn't ever been about the guns inside. It's only the lure of the unknown. A locked door. A challenge. An I'll keep you out, just see if I won't that Sherlock takes as personally as a toddler's mind—even an exceptional toddler—is capable of.
But, even so, it was never about the guns hidden behind the lock. It has only ever been the chafe of not knowing. The guns—they were only interesting because they were hidden.
Sherlock has not yet learned that to not know can be a blessing. It's the sort of pragmatism Mycroft can't be sure his brother will ever acquire. Sherlock is simply like that, he thinks, pushing his fingers through the muck on the gun, digging trenches through the caked mess. Sherlock will not see. And to not knowwould mean he is beaten. Something is greater than he is. Something can stumble his intellect. There is something he cannot prove. If he has not seen something, he cannot know.
And he will never see a blessing in that.
"Why would he lie, John? It doesn't make sense. Father was killed when the gun went off. Did someone intentionally load it? Something, something—I'm missing something… Mycroft wouldn't protect them. He wouldn't protect someone who loaded the gun with the knowledge that our father wouldn't know they had done so. And Father was a seasoned gunman. Someone trying to harm him couldn't have counted on him being careless, even with an unloaded gun. Ingrained habits, John! Anyone trying to kill him would have at least had to consider that he was so used to taking precautions in handling his weapons so as to do so even if the gun wasn't loaded. They would have been wrong, of course—he did end up being careless—but it would still have been the logical thing to assume. No, John, it wasn't murder. It was something else. Something. God, what am I missing?"
"Have you ever considered that Mycroft is telling the truth?"
"Of course. But it doesn't fit. Mycroft didn't load the gun, but he does know what really happened—who really loaded the gun. So, the real question is, why won't he tell me?"
It matters that the gun is in his hands. It matters how he clutches it, because there will be no mistake about it. His fingerprints are all over the weapon. A few minutes ago, his marks would not have been the clearest. But they are now. Definitely. Mycroft has picked it up twice since then. Now, Mycroft's marks read strong, he's sure of it. Anyone else will seem incidental—washed away by his grip as well as the rain.
One step forward. Rain pools in the imprint his foot leaves behind, sinking into the peaks and valleys left by his treads. Another step. Mud slicks over the edges of his shoes, pulling at him, cloying fingers of earthy detritus that ineffectually try to stop him from each new step. As if he'd ever let that permanently impede him. He'll leave a trail of prints to the car—clear evidence that he was here… and that he saw it all happen. Saw it first.
Sherlock is still screaming inside the house. He's worse than the thunder with that screeching. At least the thunder is deep, natural—Sherlock is little better than nails on a chalkboard. But grating as he is, that is his little brother: Mycroft will tolerate any amount of broken crockery—and, yes, that does sound like the sugar bowl shattering against the floor; mother will be so unhappy—and tantrums for that. His baby brother, and that means everything.
The sounds of Sherlock's tantrum don't fade as Mycroft approaches the car. It's a miracle Sherlock hasn't found a way to come storming back outside, frankly-more of a miracle that he hasn't simply melded with the wind and rain like the little storm he is. Some days, with all that dark hair, and those flashing eyes… but then he'll crawl into bed with Mycroft and press his face into his brother's chest, mumbling something about a nightmare, and never will Sherlock seem more human and more settled. The furthest thing from a horror story tempest. And Mycroft will rock him until he sleeps again, and he knows—irrevocably knows—that Sherlock matters more than he does. And maybe he only matters more to Mycroft. But always to Mycroft.
Who are you protecting?
[Msg. Sent Mon. 22:24]
Leave it alone.
[Msg. Received Mon. 22:27]
Who could you possibly have to protect?
[Msg. Sent Mon. 22:28]
[Msg. Sent Mon 22:35]
Father doesn't look like he's sleeping. People say that—always claim that the dead just look like they're asleep. Preposterous. It's irrational to be angry over the mistake, but Mycroft can't quite swallow down the slinking irritation. They shouldn't lie. Death doesn't have to be peaceful; trying to make it so when it is not is only a self-delusion. Delusion. Delusion…
Perhaps he ought to be thankful people only see what they want to see.
"I'm in shock," he says to no one.
Not particularly, no one answers.
"And I dropped the gun when I saw his body, because I was surprised."
The gun slips from his fingers and clatters down into the mud next to his father's body.
You dropped it because you meant to, no one tells him.
"Because I loaded the gun to prove I could. And then it went off and killed him." Yes, exactly, and it doesn't quite feel like a lie when he locks his eyes on the figure of his father. Sprawled limbs, one caught in a painful, unnatural position. He must have hit the car on the way down. He'd been going to pack the gun into the boot—take it with him to his friend's for hunting. Now the car is stained, with a slash of blood on the lower door. The angle had been bad—he'd lifted the gun, made to put it into the car, and the thing had gone off. Got him in the head. That's obvious. What's left of his head makes it obvious.
"I killed my father," he says tonelessly, finally—finally—looking away.
Did you really? no one ever asks.
"Sherlock, you need to eat something. You've been at this for forty-eight—"
"It's always been a dead end before, John. Every year. But there was no blood on the gun. That's—I hadn't realized that before. Hadn't remembered that Mycroft had cut himself. I'm closer. If I could just see…"
"I think you're being a bit hard on yourself. You were a child. You can't be expected to remember what you saw."
"No, I know now—I know what I saw. But Mycroft—I don't—I can't see what he'd be playing at. There's no reason for him to lie, and there's every reason for him to want to see the person responsible punished."
"Maybe a servant? One he was particularly fond of?"
"A servant would never have touched father's gun. And Mycroft isn't fond of anyone. He doesn't care like that."
"I dunno: he cares about you. I mean, with Mycroft that means he pays off your friends to watch you—and the cameras—pretty much the stalking—but he cares, yeah—"
"Sherlock? Sherlock, are you all right?"
"Me. He does. Care. About me."
Mother finds him.
Her car pulls up the drive, and though he doesn't particularly want to, Mycroft can feel himself wince, pulling the skin of his cheek taut. The rain has begun to stall out, with just a little lagging behind while the rest of the storm tears away over the hills. The thunder is gone, at least, leaving the air sharp and still, and he can tell, without even looking, the moment his mother sees what he's standing by: all it takes is the way the rain hits her windshield at a higher velocity when she accelerates. He can hear it. Little things like that are always there if a person wants to look.
The car squeals to a halt mere feet from him, tires throwing mud in his mother's haste to switch it into park. Funny, that—there's no reason to hurry. Not much can be changed now. But she'll hurry anyway. He would too. That's only how things are.
"Mycroft." Just a startled exhale, but, good Lord, it digs into him worse than a knife, worse than hate. She won't hate him. But she'll resent him, no matter what else she does. An accident, all an accident.
"I didn't mean to," he breathes. "It was an accident."
It was a lie.
Her hands shake. Perfectly manicured nails—pink today—linked to slim, pretty fingers that have always petted away his fears. But not today. Today it is time to grow up, to lie like a man. "You—how-?"
"An accident," he says again, voice breaking perfectly, though not quite for the reasons she must think. The reasons he wants her to think. Looking at his father is quite enough, though. And the nausea he's feeling—that's all too real. "It was an accident."
It was a sacrifice.
The clouds are thinning. It's hardly enough to stop the rain, but it's a start: the space between the droplets is wider, enough so that it stains her dress with messy dots, but not so thickly as to soak her. For that he's glad. It's difficult to tell how long he's been standing here drenched, but there's nothing pleasant about it, and he doesn't want that for her too.
"An accident?" she repeats, choking. "An accident?"
It's too much. She sinks back, clutching at the car, fingers digging into the metal until it screeches. God help them all, it matches Sherlock—or takes up where he left off; he has finally gone silent inside the house. Cried himself out, most likely. Mother—she's only just starting up. Fast, gasped sobs overtake her, pulling her down in a vicious undertow that leaves her beached over the car, clinging to the window for stability. It's not enough: she sinks, plummeting down to her knees in the dirt, pawing at her husband's body.
"Just an accident," he whispers, and he does not have to fake the ache in his voice. "Something I didn't mean."
Something that I didn't mean, but that I had to tell you…
"Most days, I can't even get you to answer my calls, Sherlock. May I suggest you apply this newfound ability of yours to the rest of the year, though perhaps in a less accusatory manner? An occasional amiable chat, perhaps?"
Gripping the phone harder in his hand, Sherlock breathes out slowly. Across the room, John is still watching him. "Why do you care, Mycroft?"
There is a pause on the other end of the line. "Pardon?"
"Why do you care about me?"
Another pause, this time followed by a short, bitter laugh. "You are my brother, Sherlock."
As if that answers it all. And, by all accounts—even his own, even without the sentiment that most people hold—it does. It really, really does.
Because family is something else entirely.
How did he not see this?
"It wasn't Mycroft."
John's brow furrows as he watches Sherlock bring the phone down from his ear; he shifts slowly in his chair, and, without losing that frown, leans forward. "What?"
Sherlock can feel his own look: can feel the blankness of it. Mycroft is family. John has become family. And you'll kill for family. Die for them. Lie for them.
"Mycroft didn't kill our father."
Silence. John continues to stare, and, oh, Sherlock would laugh if he could, because this was so very obvious. All along it was entirely obvious. So obvious that he didn't notice it. It stared him right in the face, and he looked away, because he didn't want to see. And who would?
"You don't see it, John?" he asks, leaning back into the sofa and swallowing down the ache that's rising in his throat.
See what, indeed. All these years, and he'd never thought… Well, John can't be blamed for not realizing it either. Though, in some sense, it's possible that he does realize it—or he would, if he too weren't blinded by how he cares. Blinded by a desire not to accuse his best friend of something unspeakable.
No one wants to give—or carry—the kind of guilt they're talking about.
Huffing out a soft little sigh, Sherlock shakes his head and opens his eyes a little wider. Time to finally see the truth. It's the truth Mycroft changed their world for, after all. It's a truth and a lie, and, somehow, it was nothing until now. It was nothing to anyone but Mycroft. Who knows what it is now.
"See what, Sherlock?" John says again.
"It was me," he answers simply, because the answer is really the only simple thing available anymore. "I was the one who loaded the gun."