A/N:
Just a quick note. As it's never mentioned in the series, so I've taken a little artistic license with the age gap between Mycroft and Sherlock. In this there's more like 8 1/2 years between the brothers than 7.

Alexandria

Alexandria Hayes stepped into the plush living room of the Holmes Estate. Her eyes scanned the area, very conscious of the fact that she wouldn't even pick up a fraction of what her lover would from the same action, just that this was very obviously old and expensive. It looked as if she'd just stepped onto the set of a Georgian drama, or a stately home of one of Agatha Christie's characters. A far cry from the suburbia she'd grown up in.

"Wait here," Mycroft muttered close to her ear. "Take a seat and relax. The maid or Housekeeper will be along in a few moments with some refreshments."

She turned and raised her eyes brows. "The maid or the house keeper? You really are posh." She had to admit that it was just a little intimidating.

He chuckled. "Please, we only have a maid, a housekeeper, a cleaner, a grounds keeper, oh, and occasionally the Housekeeper's granddaughter cleans the stables for a little extra pocket money."

She paused before replying. "We have a washing machine."

"Point taken," he conceded. "Just take a seat and make yourself at home. I'll be back once I've spoken to Mother."

He slipped out the door, leaving the young woman behind in the large airy room. She nervously looked around her, not quite sure what to do with herself. Her eyes settled on a pair of large, high-backed leather chairs by an empty open fire, a small coffee table resting between them. Well, she supposed it was as good a place as any.

Sitting down, she smoothed down the folds of her skirt, looking for something to occupy herself with. She wasn't wearing the most comfortable clothes in the world; the suit she'd bought for her Oxford University interview and had never worn any of the components of since. Even without the jacket, she felt strange. She was far more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt and while Mycroft had stated that she didn't have to dress up for today, when she'd seen her lover donning a pair of tailored trousers and a shirt, she'd decided to play it safe. Though to be fair, she'd never seen Mycroft dress any other way and he had raised an eyebrow when she appeared in the flat kitchen. Maybe she was a little over-dressed.

There was a soft creek from behind her and she turned her head to see one of the large patio doors swing open. Craning round further, she caught sight of a young boy scurrying across the wooden floor, spotted with dried mud, feet bare, but clean, and his hands clasped together so that they hid their contents from her sight. It didn't take a genius to guess who this was. "Hello there," she ventured.

The boy barely glanced up at her. "Hello."

Remembering what Mycroft had said about patronizing the boy, she carefully managed her tone so she didn't slip her default child-mode. "You must be Sherlock, I'm-"

"Alexandria Hayes, I know," still he didn't look up at her, as if she simply wasn't important enough to warrant his attention.

She smiled. "Good guess."

"Not really. Mummy said that Mycroft was bringing back his girlfriend for dinner today, and here you are." He suddenly stopped, frowning as his eyes scanned the room. "That must mean that he's back."

She ignored the last statement, knowing full well who he was talking about. "Maybe I'm one of your mum's friends."

"Hardly, you're too poor."

A burst of laughter broke free from his frank statement. "I guess I am."

Sherlock blinked and looked up at her in surprise, clearly not expecting that response. Feeling on a roll and desperate to keep her mind off her nerves, she decided to press on. "What do you have in your hands?"

He looked at her for a moment, in a manner most like Mycroft did when he was examining someone, but with her lover the look only lasted a moment before it was gone.

"You really want to know?"

"I did ask."

He stepped forward until he stood beside her chair and, pulling back one hand, he let her see that nestled inside amongst the dirt was…

"A rat's skull?"

"A vole's," he corrected. "I already have a rat's."

"You would do," she muttered under her breath.

He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that a boy like you would be interested in these things. I bet you have several."

"I have six now." There was a smug edge to his voice. "This one, a rat, a mouse, a squirrel, a bat and a cat."

"A cat?" Her eyebrows rose. She liked cats and wasn't sure she wanted to know how he'd come to acquire the skull of one.

"The stable cat died. Mummy and Mrs Harrison wouldn't let me do an experiment to see how it decomposed, but Mr Harrison used to work in one of the national parks, so he showed me how to remove the skin, flesh and insides, then gave me the skull. It was very interesting."

Well, that crossed the line into gross and a little creepy, but she supposed it would be something a boy of his age, curiosity and intelligence would be attracted to.

"Sherlock Holmes!"

The boy in question winced a little, quickly covering his hands again, while Alex nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden cry. They look up to see a rather put-out looking old lady standing in the doorway, her hands filled with a large tray. The creases in her skin exaggerated the frown, giving her a very severe look which was not helped by her short dark grey bobbed hair. She wore a white tea-apron with a set of keys hanging from the straps. This must be Mrs Harrison, the housekeeper. She'd like to think that her deduction skills would have made Mycroft proud, but it was pathetic in comparison. He'd probably have noted her hobbies, eating habits and the fact that she'd broken her little toe when she was five, or something ridiculous like that, just by looking at her.

The older woman strode across the room, lecturing the youngest as she went. "What have we told you time and time again? I don't know how you manage to get yourself so filthy, it hasn't rained in days. At least you took your shoes and socks off this time." As she stopped by the two she noticed the child's hands. "Oh, Good Lord, it's not another skull is it? And trying to show it to Miss Alexandria as well? Shame on you, you little terror."

"She wanted to see it," young Holmes objected.

"He's right; I did ask to see it?" She spoke up for the child, feeling as if she should stand up for him under this unfair barrage. Though, she supposed, this must happen a lot and if she was in the housekeeper's shoes then she would most likely be fed up of cleaning up after the young boy as well.

"You were hardly to know what he was hiding though. It must have given you a fright."

"It's okay," she assured the older woman. "It's interesting."

"That's certainly one way of putting it," the housekeeper muttered. "Well," she continued brightly, "I have some refreshments for you while you wait. I wasn't sure what you would like so I brought a little bit of everything: some cakes, biscuits, scones, sandwiches, chocolate, tea and lemonade, but if you prefer coffee I can brew some for you."

She was a little overwhelmed by how much the old woman seemed to be going out of her way to be nice and accommodate her. She'd put it down to the housekeeper simply being good at her job, but there was an eager edge to the woman that felt as if she was particularly keen to keep Alex as happy as she could. She didn't know what she'd been expecting; to be looked down on for not being an upper class woman, or for being 'too poor', as Sherlock put it. It seemed silly now, but she just didn't expect everyone to be so nice. "That's very kind of you, but I'm fine. There's already more than enough here for me."

"Well, it's not often that Mycroft brings home a girl, or anyone for that matter. Don't want to be scaring you away now, do we? Speaking of which," the housekeeper turned her attention back to Sherlock, a hand on his shoulder to guide him away, "Off you go and leave this poor woman alone. You need to clean all that dirt off, change your clothes and if you insist on keeping that confounded skull then, for goodness sake, give it to Mr Harrison to disinfect first. He's in the kitchen, but don't go in that state, you'll have to call him over from the entrance."

As they reached the door, Alex called out to him. "Sherlock," the pair stopped and turned round, "once you're clean, you can come back and eat with me."

"That's very kind of you," Mrs Harrison started, "but it may be best if he doesn't."

"Its fine, I'd like to have his company while I eat." The housekeeper gave her a look that clearly stated that she thought the younger woman was mad. "Besides, I prefer to eat with other people."

"I don't," Sherlock quickly threw in, but despite his words he was eyeing the tray with interest, not outright rejecting her proposal.

"Come along Sherlock, you need to wash up," and Mrs Harrison continued shepherding the boy from the room, sending Alexandria a pitying look as she left.

As the door shut between them, the guest let out a sigh of relief, slouching in the chair. That hadn't gone as badly as she'd feared. From the way Mycroft talked, she'd thought the youngest Holmes might attack her or start hurling random abuse. Admittedly, she could see why her lover was worried about a meeting: his brother clearly wasn't… 'normal', for lack of a better word. By his age, he should have learned to censor himself better. Yes, she could image he'd rub a lot of people the wrong way. However, at the end of the day he was just a child, no matter how clever, and a rather interesting boy at that. Still, there was no guarantee that she would feel the same way after prolonged exposure to the younger brother.

She straightened in her seat, removing the tea cosy from the teapot. Well, if Sherlock came back down to join her, she'd find out just how much she could take. There was a nervous flutter in her gut as she realised that the boy probably could be a lot worse, he'd have to be to get into so much trouble. What had Mycroft said? That he couldn't get along with the other children and he wasn't much better with adults.

She lifted the teapot, pouring the hot drink into a small cup. It was a dainty little thing, with blue flower patterns and probably worth more than her entire kitchen set. It was a world apart from her cracked 'Bagpuss' mug she normally used at home. After adding a drop of milk she reached across the table and sliced a scone in half. If they were there, then it seemed silly to let them go to waste. Honestly, if this was the spread that Mycroft got every time he came home then no wonder he was rather heavily set in his first year.

She was just taking her first bite when the quick fall of feet sounded again, and Sherlock came bounding back into the room, running in to kneel across the table from her rather than taking the seat behind him. Without looking up, he took the other half of the scone and started piling jam onto it, bypassing the clotted cream. After a couple of mouthfuls, he reached for the small jug and poured himself a glass of homemade lemonade.

"Hungry then?" she asked, for lack of anything else to fill the silence.

"Missed breakfast and lunch," he answered, "and Mrs Reynolds' snacks are very good."

"Mrs Reynolds is a shop?"

The boy gave her a look that clearly stated she'd said something stupid. "She's our cook."

"Sorry, I don't have a cook."

"Obviously," he said, cramming the last piece of scone into his mouth.

He reached for the sandwiches picking each one up in turn to see what was inside before deciding on the one he wanted. If he noticed the awkward silence that had settled between them, then he didn't show it. She had to admit that was a little annoying, that he seemed more interested in the snacks than even acknowledging her presence.

She was just trying to choose what to move onto next, when he spoke up, initialising the conversation for the first time, although still he did not look up as he pulled apart a custard cream. "Why are you my Mycroft's girlfriend?"

"What?" It was not the kind of question she expected from a young boy. She'd been asked plenty of times by fellow students; confused by her genuine attraction to the younger genius.

"Why are you dating Mycroft?" Sherlock clarified and started to lick the cream off the biscuit.

"Well, because I like him very much. I suppose I love him."

He frowned across at her. "That's it?" It was a bizarre answer from a child.

"Should I have another reason?"

"Yes. You're pretty, not beautiful," he admitted plainly, unknowingly dealing a back-handed compliment, "but still far prettier than my brother, though that isn't hard." She was starting to suspect that he was secretly a teenage girl in disguise. "I've noticed that people tend to date others who are as attractive as they are, unless the less attractive person is very rich. I wanted to know if that was the reason, because that would make sense."

"Looks aren't everything in a relationship, I'm attracted to intelligence as much as I am to looks, and your brother is very clever."

"He's quite clever," Sherlock allowed, discarding the now creamless biscuits and reaching for a new one, "but I'm far more intelligent."

"Really?" She wondered how much of this was born from truth and how much from sibling rivalry.

"Yes. Mrs Harrison says you're very clever as well, because you study at Oxford."

"When did she say that?"

"Just now. She said that I shouldn't scare you off because you're pretty and clever. So, I shouldn't ruin this opportunity for Mycroft, because who knows when he'll get another chance like this." That would explain the enthusiasm to keep her happy. "I don't think you can be that clever though, not if you're dating him."

She laughed, she couldn't help it. If anyone else had said it, then she would have been insulted, but from the younger brother, it was just rather… cute. Again, he looked a little puzzled by her response. "Maybe so, but you're a little too young for me."

"I doubt I'd date you anyway," he stated, striking one more blow against her. He pulled the biscuit apart, but made one more comment before he started licking away. "Though, I suppose he would be the smartest person on his course."

She had a feeling that it was the closest thing she would get to acceptance. She smiled with pride as she replied. "He is, and by far and the smartest person on my course as well."

He looked at her curiously. "You don't study the same subjects?"

"I only read Politics with Mycroft, not the other half of my degree."

"What else do you take?"

She leaned forward, pouring herself some more tea. "Guess."

He paused for a second before saying, "Psychology."

She blinked in surprise. "How did you know?"

"Only psychiatrists are interested in talking to me." She watched as he 'finished' another biscuit, discarding what he didn't want. There was something undeniably sad about his statement, even if he didn't seem upset by it. "Are you trying to psychoanalyse me?"

She decided to ignore the fact that he appeared to have confused psychology and psychiatry. "'Psychoanalyse'? That's an impressive word for you to know." She kicked herself when she realised how patronising that sounded, convinced that the child would turn on her.

However, he didn't seem to mind at that moment, perhaps deciding that she was entertaining enough to overlook the little slip. "It's easy to pick up these words when you get through as many as I do. They all say the same things."

"How many psychiatrists have you had?"

"Eight," there was a hint of pride in his voice.

"How old are you?"

"Nine years, three months and twelve days."

Eight psychiatrists, and he was only nine years old. That was shocking, though not a small part of her was put on edge by it. What the hell had he done to them? And perhaps more importantly, what was he going to do to her? "That's a lot to get through"

He reached forward, this time going for a piece of cake. "They don't like it when I analyse them back."

Analyse?… Oh, of course. It seemed like big brother had taught him some tricks. "Did your brother teach you that?" Sherlock stiffened, before reluctantly nodding, causing her to smile. "If you're half as good as Mycroft, then it must drive them crazy."

He nodded, biting into the cake. "It does."

"Are you as good as your brother?"

Again the younger boy hesitated, before muttering, "Mycroft is better, but," his voice rose, "only because he's older than me and has had far more practice."

"You're good at it, though."

He nodded. "I get most of it right now."

"Try me."

He paused, looking her up and down as he munched away on his cake. "You're not rich and you're not poor. By far the most expensive thing you're wearing is that watch, which I bet Mycroft gave to you for your birthday. Rolex is Mycroft's favourite watch brand and he wouldn't give you a present for no reason, and it's clearly a present because it's worth twice as much as the rest of your outfit put together. You don't have a working class accent, so you're not poor, and it sounds like it's from the south of England. You're nervous about meeting Mummy, as you've bought a new suit. You needn't bother, she won't care." A small frown appeared on his brow, still looking her over.

"I'm tricky to read?" she asked, feeling a little smug for the first time since arriving.

"A little," he admitted.

"Don't worry; I've had a lot of practice. I have to if I want to keep anything from your brother."

For the first time, he actually looked interested in what she had said. "What do you want to keep secret?"

"Oh, a woman always needs to keep a secret or two."

"Like what?"

Her mind blanked; if she was honest it was mainly just unnerving having your boyfriend know everything about you and what you've done that day. Though there were a few things that were just inappropriate to tell a young boy. "Well, it wouldn't be a secret if I told you."

Sherlock didn't look convinced, but held his tongue in favour of another, more important, question. "Does it work?"

"Not very well."

He seemed to lose interest in the matter and a long awkward silence descended, as they sipped their drinks.

"Well?" he suddenly piped up.

"Well, what?"

"Did I get it right?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise that you were expecting feedback."

"Mycroft always tells me what I got wrong and why."

He couldn't dislike his brother that much then, she mused, not if he listened to his advice and corrections. "Do other people give you feedback?"

"No, they normally tell me to shut up or get lost."

She laughed softly. "Well, I won't. You're right; I study psychology, though that's not why I'm interested in talking to you. I'm from a middle-class family that's neither poor nor rich - though I should point out that working class doesn't mean poor - and I'm from the south of England. The watch is a gift from Mycroft, but it was for Christmas, not my birthday. I am nervous to meet your mother and that's why I'm wearing the suit, but I bought it for my university interview three years ago and not worn it since."

"So close," he hissed, "I nearly got it all right this time."

"It's still very impressive," though she didn't mention that Mycroft would have, and had on their first meeting, got it all right and more. Something she couldn't help but feel more than a little proud of. "In a few years you'll be as good as Mycroft."

"I'll be better," he corrected.

She raised an eyebrow, a habit she'd picked up during her time in Oxford. "Better than a hundred percent?"

"Of course not," came Sherlock's condescending reply, "I'll see things that he doesn't."

"Then I'll come back in four years and see for myself who's better."

"Who says you'll still be dating Mycroft then?"

"Who says I won't come back anyway?"

"I doubt that very much… Why four years?"

That stumped her a little; she'd just said the first number that came into her head. "Why not? I can give you more time if you like?"

He bristled a little. "I won't need more time, not that it will happen anyway. You're just saying it to get on my good side."

"If I am still welcome here, four years today I will witness a deduction contest between the two infamous Holmes brothers." She held out her hand to seal the promise.

Sherlock looked at it uneasily. "You'll forget."

"Then you'll have to remind me."

Reluctantly he took her hand and shook it.

The door to the living room opened and Sherlock dropped her hand as if it were on fire. Mrs Harrison poked her head into the room and, spotting the youngest Holmes, she frowned. "Are you disturbing Miss Alexandria?"

"He's been keeping me company," she rushed to say.

The housekeeper turned back to the guest and her smile returned. "I hope he's been behaving himself; he's got quite the talent for scaring people away, so if he does say anything rude just ignore him. Do you need anything else, dear?"

Sherlock held up the now empty jug. "More lemonade."

She frowned at him and Alex started to realise that there wasn't as much annoyance and hostility in that look as she had initially assumed. "I was talking to our guest."

"More lemonade would be great," Alex quickly said. "The food was delicious."

Mrs Harrison turned back and beamed at her. "Thank you, I'll pass it onto Miss Reynolds, she'll be thrilled to hear that. Lord knows she doesn't get any compliments from those two boys any more. I'll be back in a few minutes with some more lemonade," and she disappeared from sight.

"So," the woman searched for a new topic, now that the previous one had been brought so firmly to a halt. "I hear you like science."

The boy shrugged. "It's boring at school."

"Really?"

"Yes, I know the difference between a mammal and a bird, and how shadows move during the day in accordance to the movement of the sun. It's tedious."

"What subjects do you like then?"

"None."

"None?"

"They're all boring."

"All of them?"

"Yes, they're either so easy I may as well not be there or completely useless, but I get into trouble when I try to do something more interesting. I don't like school."

"I didn't like school either when I was your age," though to be fair, she wasn't sure if she knew anyone who said they enjoyed school as a child. Admittedly, that was usually for completely different reasons to Sherlock's, "but at least you get to see your friends."

"I don't have friends. All the other children are stupid."

"That doesn't mean that you can't have fun with them."

He shot her a glare, making her realise that that had been the wrong thing to say. "They're all stupid," he snapped, "and they like stupid things like skipping and boy bands and football and…and…magic tricks."

"I like magic tricks," she interjected, in the hopes of calming the boy's rant down.

"How stupid. Magic doesn't exist, any fool and idiot knows that."

She ignored the insult. "Doesn't mean that you can't enjoy them. How they're done is just as fun as the result, it's the mystery behind it."

Sherlock snorted. "What does the process matter, it's all obvious and predictable nonsense. Boring."

Her lips twitched up as she reached into her handbag and pulled out a small deck of cards. "Alright then, tell me how this trick is done…"

(&)

Mycroft watched his mother from his seat opposite her. They sat in her private drawing room that connected to the master bedroom. In Georgian times, the room would have been 'the closet', a private room for a man or woman to retire to, away from their partner, where one could relax with one's own thoughts. Of course, as a result it was a common location for affairs to be held. Their grandfather was suspected of being a product of such a liaison.

Now, however, its use could not be more different from the rather scandalised past. It was a small sitting space for his mother, airy and simply decorated. A single large window that faced onto the front drive filled the room with natural light, while Mrs Holmes sat in her favourite chair, needle and thread in hand. Around her lay various objects close to hand for her day-to-day life, from her sewing kit- placed on the table beside her, to a cassette player behind her, to odd pieces of clothing over the back of the chairs. Close by were the remainders of her lunch, half untouched, and a large jug of water stood by the side so she could help herself to a drink without leaving the safety and comfort of the room. He'd only been inside his Mother's private room two, maybe three times, before now as the woman usually hated being cooped up alone. On those occasions the room had been spotless. How it had changed…

It all pointed to the conclusion that Mummy was spending most of her time holed up in here and away from the world. Of course, he'd heard things from Sherlock the last few times he'd called home, but you never knew the full truth until you saw it with your own eyes and the truth was painful. His mother was getting worse and it wasn't a physical kind of illness.

When he had knocked on the bedroom door half an hour ago, she still had not risen from her bed; a practice that he had come to understand was not uncommon. While they had moved to the smaller joining room to talk, she had not bothered changing, simply throwing on a dressing grown over her night clothes instead. She looked pale, exceptionally so, contrasting horrendously with the dark bags under her eyes. Her dark blonde hair hung in a limp plait and by the way the strands clung greasily together it must have been a week since her last shower. She was thin, thinner than she'd been at the beginning of this year. She must have lost three… three and a half stone, giving her a sick, frail look from lack of eating and depression that she tried so vainly to hide from him. Each time he came back the attempts became weaker and weaker. She was a far cry from the beautiful, confident, charming, healthy woman he remembered from his childhood.

The needle in her hands flashed through the material as they spoke, her eyes darting between her work and her eldest. Over the last nine months, sewing had become something of an obsession for her; it didn't matter what it was, just as long as she had a needle and thread to pass through it. Alex would probably tell him it was a replacement for her marriage, her trying to sew her failed relationship back together or some such analysis. Though maybe he was simply projecting his own thoughts, fears and interpretations on the matter.

"How has Sherlock been?" he asked, watching her work.

"Oh, his usual self," she said, her voice holding a fake light-heartedness. Then her lips trembled and she suddenly dropped her work, one hand rising to delicately cover her mouth as she turned her face to the window in what was no doubt supposed to be a thoughtful pose. He kept his face straight, as if he didn't see through her as clearly as if she was made of glass.

"I can't do it anymore," she whispered. "I just can't handle it. Everything was so much easier when your father was around, but he's just too much for me. He's either running around causing havoc, breaking anything fragile or not, or screaming because he's bored. He always gets into trouble at school and he can't socialise with others. No matter what I do, I can't get him to settle down, behave or just give people a chance. His temper tantrums aren't getting much better either. Then he rattles on about things I don't understand. I am by no means dim, but I can't keep up with him. He asks questions that I have no way of answering and when I can't reply he gets ever-so frustrated. I can't control him and I certainly don't understand him. I love him, of course I do; he's my bright, beautiful little boy, but I just don't know what to do. I don't want to send him away, but I can't handle any of this anymore.

Mycroft tried to ignore how his stomach sank and his gut twisted in favour of trying to ease his mother's mind, but he found it so much harder to suppress these feelings. #"It's just a difficult time for the both of you. You're not feeling well and Sherlock just has a lot of energy with a quick mind. He gets bored easily, that's all, especially at school."

"You were never like this," she whispered.

No, he wasn't. Mycroft had never had the energy that his younger brother always seemed to be bursting with. He had been content to sit in a corner with a book, to be quiet in class and breeze through the effortless tasks that the teachers laid before him, because it was the easiest and simplest thing to do. Also, Mycroft had understood something that Sherlock still failed to grasp: that it was better to hold your tongue and have, at worst, people be indifferent to you than to speak up and ostracise yourself from all those around you. It was better to tolerate those who seemed too dim and have allies than to make an enemy of the world through pride.

Or perhaps he was simply better at applying the manners he had been taught as a child.

"He has a lot more energy than I ever did."

"He doesn't understand how to interact with others," she sighed and her son couldn't bring himself to deny what they both knew to be true. She buried her face in her hands, nearly sobbing, the needle point barely a centimetre away from scratching her. "Where did I go wrong? Why can't I do this right? Have I done something to cause him to be this way?"

The eldest son kept his eyes trained on the needle, swallowing down the lump in his throat and burying the sickening dread…worry…fear…concern…whatever it was, he pushed it down until it sank beneath the surface. He locked it in a box where it could no longer affect him. He ignored his mother's small emotional breakdown, unsure of how to deal with it. Part of him begged him to reach out, hug her or comfort her in some way, but all he managed was a twitch of his hand, the rest of his body refusing to follow his feelings through.

"Sherlock will be on Half-term break in a month," he suddenly announced, causing his Mother to peer through her fingers in confusion. "I should have finished university for the year by then; you should take a couple of weeks' holiday and visit Uncle Vernet and I will look after Sherlock while you are away. A break will do you the world of good."

"Oh, I couldn't, he's such a handful."

"I'll manage somehow. I'm sure I can find activities to keep him occupied for two weeks and if you need more time in France, I can make sure he gets to school and run the household."

She hesitated a moment. "Are you sure you can manage?"

He offered her a smile. "I haven't killed him yet, I can resist for a few more weeks."

Her whole body seemed to relax as she returned his smile with one of her own. Dropping the needle on top of her work, she took his face in her hands. "You're a good son," she said, a shadow of her former self appearing before him, before fading again, "a good man…just like your father." She never noticed how he stiffened at the comparison. "You'll make a good husband like him some day."

He swallowed back the biting retort on his tongue. Yes, his father was such a perfect husband and a man. What better role-model was there than a man who had an affair with a woman three years older than his eldest, then ran off to America to continue the affair, avoiding the scandal and a divorce that his wife refused to give him. Not wishing to upset the woman any more than necessary, he only stiffly nodded.

She blinked and that small spark of life returned. Leaning back, she took up her sewing once more. They sat in silence for a minute until there was a knock at the door. "Enter," Mrs Holmes called.

The maid stepped into the room. A young woman who had been with them for a couple of years, ever since Aureli was admitted to hospital after being found beaten into a coma on her apartment floor. Mycroft had warned her. Though not as indulging of Sherlock as her predecessor, she could still handle him well enough, as long as he wasn't having one of his turns or causing the maid herself too much trouble.

She shifted the tray to balance it on one hand so that she could drag a small table over to their side and set her load down. As the Holmeses talked, she poured their tea. "Speaking of wives, I hope you didn't forget to bring your girlfriend with you? I'm very eager to meet her; Alexandria wasn't it? A good name, it will go well…Alexandria Holmes."

"She's hardly close to being my wife; we've only been involved for ten months, but I did bring her. She's sitting in the living room while I came to speak with you."

"A mother can dream. If she's downstairs then it will give me time to shower, dress and make myself presentable to the outside world. It takes me longer to do that these days. Still, how very unfair it is of you, leaving her alone while you come and talk to me."

"She's not alone," the maid added softly.

"Mmm?" Mycroft turned to the woman.

"Miss Alexandria is not alone; your brother is keeping her company."

…Sherlock was keeping his girlfriend company…

"Oh, sh-" He nearly knocked the table over as he shot to his feet and scrambled to the door.

"Language, Mycroft," Mrs Holmes called after him, taking her cup of tea and sipping it. "Language."

(&)

Alexandria nibbled on the last sandwich as she watched Sherlock smiling up at her, a smugness coating his voice. "You occasionally place down two cards at once, so that it seems as if you have the amount you bet. Clever guess work on when and how many times you need to put two down."

"Not quite."

"Then you throw them away when I'm not looking."

"Nope, further away."

"She's already picked out her pile before you've even taken your cards," a familiar voice came from the entrance of the room. "She's marked them off with a small gap in the deck that you can't see, so she already knows how many cards she has in her pile. She counts your cards, does the Maths and places a bet according to that. It's very simple; you're just trying to over-complicate it." They turned round to see Mycroft leaning against the doorframe, a smile tugging at his lips.

"That's not fair!" Sherlock cried from his place on the floor. "I'm supposed to work it out, you've ruined it."

Sighing, the older brother walked towards them. "Calm down, it's not the end of the world." He stepped over his brother and took the seat opposite her and behind his brother, plucking up the last cake from the tray.

"Those are supposed to be for Alexandria," the younger Holmes shot at him, "not to make you fat again."

"Unless my girlfriend has started licking the cream from biscuits she doesn't like, I'd say you're far guiltier than I am on that count."

The younger boy huffed and turned away. Alex watched as Mycroft shook his head, looking down at his brother. There was clear affection in his air and gaze that she had never really seen from her lover before now, not like this. The younger boy may be huffing and puffing, but it was very much in the way that children do when bested by their siblings. Despite all of Mycroft's exasperated and irritated words about his brother, there was also genuine concern and love for him. It wasn't really that she was surprised by this, but her boyfriend could be very hard to read, especially in matters of his family. To catch him in an unguarded moment was rare… and rather attractive.

He looked up at her, nodding to the boy at his feet as he leaned back in his chair. "I'm sorry to have left you with him."

"It's your fault for taking so long," Sherlock countered.

"At least you didn't scare her away."

Sherlock turned back to her, his gaze sliding up and down her as if contemplating her existence. "She's not boring," he said at last and looked up at his brother, tilting his head back so that he didn't have to turn around. "You may bring her again."

The older boy scoffed and Alex tried not to laugh. It really was quite funny to watch these two interact, though she wouldn't want to get in the middle of a fight between them.

"I'm glad I have your permission. Don't you have a skull to find or something?"

The boy grinned. "I found one. A vole by the river, but I couldn't get the rest of the skeleton."

"A vole? Not a bad find."

"It takes my total up to six, but Mr. Harrison is disinfecting it now. Why did you take so long with Mummy?" He abruptly changed the subject with no warning or difference in tone, as if one naturally lead onto the other.

His brother didn't even blink before replying, obviously used to such behaviour. "I'll tell you later."

Sherlock frowned back up at his brother. "Why not now?"

"Now isn't the time."

"Is it important?"

"He probably doesn't want to tell you when I'm around." Alex spoke up, almost surprising herself. She'd almost forgotten that she was present. Did the Holmes brothers always dominate a room like this?

The corner of Mycroft's mouth twitched up again as they both looked to her. "Not quite, it's not so much private as uncertain. When we know more, we'll tell you, Sherly."

"Don't call me 'Sherly', and if you know then I should know as well."

"Really? And why is that?"

"Because I'm at least as smart as you."

"That's not only irrelevant, but wishful thinking."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes up at him. "Mummy's going into hospital?"

"No."

"She's very ill."

"No."

"She's getting divorced after all?"

"No."

Each time Mycroft discarded a theory, Alex couldn't help but feel a little relieved, glad that she wasn't awkwardly stumbling into a deeply personal matter. Normally it wouldn't bother her so much, but Mycroft was a private person: hell, it had taken her ten months to meet his family (though she was willing to admit that may largely have been due to the fear of her reaction to Sherlock). He didn't talk about himself to people, no more than was necessary and especially not his family life. All that she knew about the current situation was that their father had moved to America and a woman had recently followed him over, whom she was given to believe was more than just a PA.

"I can keep this up all day," Sherlock announced.

Alexandria was about to excuse herself to take an extended bathroom break, in order to give the two some space, when Mycroft answered. "Mummy may be going to stay with Uncle Vernet for a couple of weeks."

"What do you mean Mummy's going? Aren't I?"

"No."

"Then what will happen to me? She wouldn't leave me on my own."

"I will have finished my year by then, so I will be around to look after you."

"What? That's not fair! I don't want to be left in your charge. Mu-"

The boy leapt up only to have Mycroft grab him by the back of the collar, the other hand clamping over his brother's mouth, preventing the shout from escaping as he hissed a 'Shhh!'

"Look, Mummy needs rest and… Eurgh!" The elder boy roughly pulled back his hand from Sherlock's mouth. "Don't lick my hand, Sherlock. You're not three anymore, that's disgusting."

He wiped the palm of his hand against his trouser leg as his brother tried to escape, objecting as he did so. "She can relax while I'm around."

"No, she can't, otherwise she wouldn't need to go away." Sherlock stilled at the snapped comeback, averting his eyes. Mycroft sighed and continued in a softer tone, "Mummy's stressed, tired and… upset. She needs rest and an escape. That means getting away from this house, country and the both of us. It's only for a couple of weeks, just let her have some space and personal time without making her feel worse by kicking up a fuss. Alright?"

The boy's eyes remained focused elsewhere.

"Sherlock?"

Reluctantly the boy nodded.

"Thank you," Mycroft said, releasing the collar from his grasp.

The child pulled his t-shirt back into place. Straightening, he marched out of the room announcing as he left, "If you'll excuse me, I have a skull to collect."

They watched as the youngest Holmes left, head held high, and closed the door firmly behind him. "I'm sorry; we made you feel very awkward."

Alex turned back to her boyfriend, sitting up from where she had slouched to try and be as unobtrusive as possible. She offered him a small smile. "No need to apologize. I was just worried about you; I know you like to keep these things close to your chest. I didn't want to force my way in."

He leaned forward, touching the side of the teapot to find it stone-cold. "I wouldn't have mentioned anything if I wasn't comfortable with you knowing."

A few simple words and they meant more than meeting his entire family ever could, it showed how much he trusted her and, hopefully, liked her. That he was 'comfortable' delving into family problems with her was almost like a badge of honour.

"I really am sorry that you were left alone with Sherlock."

"He certainly is lively," she admitted, "clever and rather blunt."

"He didn't say anything rude I hope." He frowned across at her.

"Nothing I can't laugh off. Apparently I'm too poor to be friends with your mother."

Mycroft groaned, actually groaned, and buried his face in one hand. "I am going to kill him. I am dreadfully sorry, next time I will make sure he stays away."

"I wasn't really offended and he's definitely interesting to talk to."

The young man opposite her lifted his face, eyes fixed on her in a manner that was so familiar now. She rested her cheek against one hand, letting a few seconds pass by before speaking. "So, what have you deduced?"

"You're a little bit special." Her eyebrows shot up: she certainly hadn't been expecting a compliment. Noting her confusion, he continued. "Not many people can talk to my brother for two minutes without wanting to kill him, let alone getting him to sit down and watch magic tricks. He hates 'magic'."

"He's a bright kid, quite remarkable. I think you're right, he doesn't mean to insult and upset people; he just doesn't or can't censor himself. Oh, and, I wasn't really showing him magic tricks. He was figuring out how they were done. He seemed to enjoy it."

"You'd know if he didn't."

"Yes, I got that impression, but he's very good at working them out."

"Mmmm, I have no doubt that he is. Maybe I should buy a Rubik's Cube and see if that'll keep him quiet for five minutes."

"I assume that 'she's not boring' is a good sign then?"

"With Sherlock," Mycroft said, "it's the best you'll get."

End of Alexandria

Here we go. Very different from 'Time to Run', so the focus is a lot more on the characters and situation rather than the deduction side, but like TtR I'm tempted to continue this. Though I'm really not sure if anyone will be interested in reading any more (to be honest, I'm not sure if anyone will be interested in this chapter).

Also, trying to spread the word about this. I've took over the challenge community: w w w . fictunes-lj . livejournal . com. It's not just for fanfiction, but anything creative you want to do with it, for any fandom. It'd be great to have some people take a look and take part or pass on the word. Feel free go back to past playlists and I can post up for people who want to join in but don't have an LJ account.