Unbeta'd, un-Britpicked. Fic for Paxie. Standard disclaimers apply.

##

His brother was being petulant, as usual, of course. Sherlock ought to just take the damned case. The client (the government) was willing to pay an obscene amount of money for the safe return of certain...artifacts that had been unintentionally lost (read: stolen) from said client.

It was not as if Sherlock had anything else on. In fact, by the new damage to one of the light fixtures, Mycroft could see that his brother was a long time between cases, and bored.

The boredom frightened Mycroft, though he would never say. He worried less about Sherlock's return to reckless and self-destroying drug use now that the sensible doctor had come into his brother's life. Only just. He had spent the last twenty-three years terrified of Sherlock's boredom. Terrified of its self-destructive power. It was his first thought in the morning, and his last at night. It was behind every well-placed security camera, behind every obsessive prying into his brother's affairs. Behind his constant worry that he would one day find himself to have gone from being an older sibling to an only child. If that day came, his mother's grief would be too much to bare, and the world too painful and dim. He worried about leaving his ailing mother with no sons. He worried of the frail woman dying of a broken heart.

Mycroft Holmes was a man who worried constantly.

He had not always been so deeply invested in his brother's well-being. But that had been a lifetime ago, when Sherlock was simply a morose little boy of seven, constantly concerned with what he perceived to be "the truth," and how no one around him could seem to tell it, and Mycroft had been a self-obsessed teen intrigued by the mechanations of the world, and how to manipulate them to his own benefit. He had cared little for the boy. Their age difference was too vast. And anyhow, Mycroft spent most of his time away, at school. Surely he was not expected to actually enjoy the company of the strange child his parents claimed was a 'happy accident' in their later years?

Who had 'happy accidents' anyway? That seemed incredibly suspicious. Mycroft thought it more likely that he and Sherrinford were raging disappointments, and so Mother and Father had simply...tried again.

He cared too little about most things. He cared almost nothing at all for most people. He knew that. He also lacked proper insentive for pretending, and so most days chose not to. Reality was what it was. Everybody wanted something. Everybody could be bought and everyone had their price. When viewed from that lens, people were incredibly predictable and dull. Useful for achieving his own ends...but dull. And hardly worth developing personal relationships with, based on such criteria. It seemed like far too little return on far too great of an investment.

Mycroft cared about precious few things, really. His father's opinion of him. Being sure he was not the cause of the near-constant sadness in his mother's eyes. But beyond that? Sherlock was not even on the radar of his concerns. Nor was Sherrinford, really.

Which, in retrospect with hind sight being 20/20, was where Mycroft had gone so horribly wrong.

He did not have a bad relationship with his older brother. Sherrinford had no ill-will toward Mycroft. There was no real sibling rivalry. Perhaps that was why, despite the closeness in age, they orbited around the sun of their mother, but only passed into each other's view in yearly cycles at holidays and other shared familial events.

Sherrinford was, in so many ways, the things that mother wanted. Bright, yes. Perhaps moreso than Mycroft. But modest and kind. Where Sherlock did not see the need, even at his age, for social nicities such as not drawing attention to his superior intellect (and Mycroft only saw the need peripherally-it was useful for getting what he wanted from others), Sherrinford did not brag. He never pointed out the fault in others' arguments, the hypocracy in their behaviors. He was well-liked among his peers and superiors alike. They threw around terms like 'hard-working' when they spoke of him.

He was superior at any number of personal persuits. He'd had twelve short stories published in only the two years since he had left for university and was gifted at a handful of instruments, including voice. He kept busy with two singing clubs, journalistic endevors, track and field, and had developed a sudden interest in archery, which he also happened to be quite superior with.

If Mycroft cared about any of those things at all, he would have been jealous. Instead, he looked at Sherrinford more as a case study in how to appear like the others-like people who cared about things. He had no idea if his brother did, in fact, care. But he learned to follow his model when dealing with others. Not with the open smile or freely-given laughs. Never with the touching, of which his brother seemed so fond (never with Mycroft, who did not care for it, or Sherlock, who often screamed when unprepared for physical contact, but with his peers, and with their mother, who seemed to thrive on such things), never with the occasional lewd joke, or girls snuck into his bedroom on holiday breaks.

But with how to be reserved. How to keep his intelligence and interests to himself. To be unassuming and not off-putting to others. These were...useful traits. Mostly in the ability to get what he desired from those around him. They certainly did not favor Sherlock's techniques, which were akin to beating at others' psyches like a wrecking ball, until they gave in to his demands. And Mycroft was just fine being a happy medium between the two brothers. He would never be a ray of sunshine, nor would he be a tiny (and obvious) psychopath in the making.

Still, there was something 'off' about his brother. He could never quite place it. When they were all home for some holiday or other, he would be up, late into the night, speaking with their mother in the library. And father avoided Sherrinford. No idea why. But it was as if Sherrinford knew something-and had known it for a long time. And it was some knowledge father was terrified of.

The simplest rout, of course, was simply to ask. Not his parents, of course. They seldom spoke of what went on behind closed doors, or things they considered 'adult' matters. But Sherrinford himself. His brother would not break a confidence, of course, but Mycroft was certain he could manipulate it out of him. Even his older brother was prone to Mycroft's skills, on occasion. Why had things changed so drastically in their household in the last few years? Why were there constant whispers about what to do with 'those boys?' And really, after the first vivisected animal had been found on the grounds, had Sherlock not simply been shipped off to some private facility more capable of dealing with such a deranged little thing?

There were many things, in retrospect, that Mycroft would have asked his brother. Things about appearing like everyone else, for instance. It was obvious, years later, that Sherrinford had been even less like others than Mycroft could ever claim to be. But he was so damned good at hiding it.

For instance, it had taken Mycroft years to work out possible motivations for killing their father. But not only had Sherrinford accomplished this task, but he had evaded suspicion from their mother, and had remained her sole confidant. In fact, he himself would never have suspected that Father had died of anything less than an accidental poisoning, if it weren't for that annoying Sherlock.

Barely six, Sherlock had worked it all out. If the child had not been in evaluation in the never-ending effort to determine exactly WHY he was the broken, soulless creature he was, Mycroft would have insisted that Sherlock had been the instrument of their father's demise.

It had taken a matter of days before Sherlock had determined that the old canning jar their father had opened in the carriage house, no doubt to see what was inside, had been filled with a substance that Sherrinford would have had easy access to during the course of his studies in chemistry at university. Upon the jar being opened, their father would have naturally sniffed in an attempt to determine if the contents were some kind of oil or cleaning solvent, and the fumes alone had killed him in an instant.

That piece of deduction was actually the first time in six long years that Mycroft had not found the boy to be tedious. Deranged, still-yes. What six year old studied poisons in his spare time? Mycroft was not very good at keeping up the pretense of normality, but Sherlock would have a difficult life ahead of him if he could not at least put up a front of being vaguely human.

Mycroft would have confronted his brother (patricide was SO VERY last century), but mother was suddenly...light. Happy, maybe. Yes, she still fretted near-constantly about Sherlock, and the twinge of tragic sadness lived perpetually in the corner of her eye. But she smiled. She laughed. The tension in her shoulders eased. She did not cry once at their father's funeral. Sherrinford had the decency to produce a few tears. Mycroft and Sherlock did not even bother to try. Sherrinford simply made excuses for all three of them, explaining everyone else was simply too stunned that a verile man such as their father could be cut down in his prime. He'd even gently put a hand over Sherlock's mouth to block protests to the contrary, and the boy's strange mid-funeral questioning about how much longer the affair would go on, since he had been promised pie.

Sherrinford had arranged the funeral, had taken charge of both the family and mourners, and had managed to shed several fake tears for his murder victim. Mycroft SHOULD have confronted him. SHOULD have demanded an explanation. Instead, he was simply too intrigued at how a seventeen and a half year old had managed it. Mycroft simply watched and waited.

Sherrinford returned to school after the appropriate period of mourning. He returned to smiling and laughter and sneaking girls out of the house in the wee hours of the morning of Christmas day. Everything was so very strangely normal. And, oddly, no one (not even Mycroft) really missed Father much. Perhaps they were all broken souls-mother included.

A year and a half later, another funeral. This time Mycroft was forced to make arrangements. Mother had fallen apart completely. Sherlock had needed to be sedated.

Somehow, tiny Sherlock sleeping thanks to the aid of a needle was of comfort to him. It gave him hope that Sherlock could feel, after all. Perhaps, just yet, his little brother may not grow up to be a deeply prolific serial killer, which had been Mycroft's first guess, over the summer, when he found Sherlock's collection of crows...each in various states of decay.

Though, Mycroft supposed, even a small potential serial killer was bound to be affected by finding one's own brother with his brains spattered all over the World War I section of the home library.

It had all been one huge, magificent mess, of course. Those sorts of suicides always were. And something in Sherlock seemed to come unhinged at the sight. A boy as fixated on death as Sherlock was should have seen the bloody chunks of brain matter, the gun, and the crater in Sherrinford's skull, and had drawn the obvious conclusion that Sherrinford was beyond help.

Instead, Sherlock had set about methodically collecting the scattered bits of their older brother and attempted to reconstruct him.

This was actually how Mycroft had found them. The corpse that had formerly been his older brother on the floor, still-half-loaded and unfamiliar gun next to his bloody, singed hand, and Sherlock kneeling amongst the gore. attempting to press bits of skull on top of the brain tissue he had already forced back into Sherrinford's skull. The child was covered in blood, with smears wiped across his eyes and face, thin little hands trembling.

Mycroft called to him, then. Tried to capture the boy's attention. But Sherlock just muttered, over and over about 'fixing' Sherrinford. Of making him 'better' somehow. Certainly this was not normal or good.

But the boy did not hear him. He just continued to fixate on the small, triangular piece of skull that would not stick to their dead brother's head.

Finally, Mycroft could not bare it any longer. Perhaps he did feel SOME things? He pulled Sherlock away from the body.

And a record of past performance being an indicator of future results-Sherlock started screaming. Even after Mycroft pulled him from the room and closed the heavy double doors and let go of the boy, he continued screaming. High-pitched and soul-piercing.

At first, Mycroft was at a loss. Someone should be notified about Sherrinford. But...someone needed to stop Sherlock's terrible howling.

It only got worse when the boy started clawing at his face with gore-coated hands, seemingly unable to cope with Mycroft manhandling him, or the scene he'd happened upon in the library. Mycroft had no choice but to make matters worse by clamping hold of the boy's wrists to keep him from tearing off his own flesh.

The terrible feeling that was growing in the pit of his stomach became a full-blown gaping maw of torment when Mycroft realized, as Sherlock struggled against him, that they were the only ones home, and would be for some time.

As the boy struggled and screamed himself into exhaustion, Mycroft looked at the situation from a strangely detached perspective. His stomach hurt, with equal parts stabbing-twisting pain and nausea. As a chronic over-eater, he was used to the latter sensation, but this was different. It was empty and sick, instead of full and comforting.

This was emotional pain, he supposed. But for Sherrinford or Sherlock (or both?) he couldn't decide.

Eventually the boy stopped struggling from exhaustion, and Mycroft was able to drag him to a telephone. Sherlock, his cries growing hoarse and soft, twisted as Mycroft worked to contain the child and alert the proper authorities.

Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos of getting Sherlock medical attention to stop his senseless overreaction before he could do himself harm, and the ensuing investigation (and Mother falling to pieces as well), the note was almost lost.

At first, Mycroft thought that maybe Sherrinford had had some sort of remorse over doing in their father. But when they found the note, written in smeared ink, splattered with blood and pinned beneath the body, Mycroft understood.

I grow bored of this world. I have done all I care to do in it. Goodbye.

Three sentences. Three sentences that made less sense of the situation, instead of more.

A single watermarked piece of paper, bloodied and smeared, that had instilled The Great Fear within him. Seventeen words that made him terrified of boredom.

Which was why Mycroft was now in the unconscionable position of seeking Doctor Watson's aid. "Would you please explain to my brother the importance of retrieving these objects? Perhaps I have failed to make myself clear."

John Watson sighed, his shoulder slouching in the defeated posture of a long-suffering partner. They were not together. Sherlock did not appear (from his volumous research) to be constructed in that manner. And yet, Watson looked after him as such. It eased a great many of Mycroft's burdens.

Except for this. The problem of Sherlock's boredom.

"If you have no love for queen or country, do it for me."

His remaining brother snorted and looked away, dramatically pulling his dressing gown around him tighter. "Because THAT will work."

Mycroft's lips pulled back in a tight and controlled smile. "Fine then. Perhaps you will do it for Mummy."

"You've not bothered her with this." It could have been an accusation, a question, or a statement. It was impossible to tell.

He hated pulling out the Mummy card, really and truly. And he only referred to her as mummy when speaking to Sherlock, who seemed to remain that emotionally stunted and confused seven year old in relation to her. But he used the reminder (or threat) of Mother sparingly; too much and it would lose its effectiveness all together. "As a donor to the foundation, Mummy has a vested interest in the...reaquirement of the artifacts."

The hate radiating off of Sherlock was palatable. "You really are loathsome, Mycroft."

Mycroft gripped his umbrella tighter and rose from the marginally uncomfortable chair he had been resting in. "Good, then. I shall leave these files with you. Mummy will be so pleased to hear her favorite child has taken up the case."

The color drained from Sherlock's already pale face. "That was never me, Mycroft."

That statement hung in the air between them-heavy, pregnant... on fire. They did not speak of Sherrinford. They never had, not since the casket was lowered into the ground. Sometimes Mycroft wondered if Sherlock even remembered the young man with the lean athlete's body and quick wit and ready smile... if he remembered Sherrinford's voice, belting out rich melody at Christmas. In some ways, Mycroft had hoped it was one of the things that Sherlock had dumped, in his never-ending quest to purge his hard drive of unnecessary data. It might be easier for Sherlock that way.

Mycroft turned to the door, prepared to show himself out. "It certainly wasn't me," he whispered, suddenly painfully aware, even in middle age, that he was a poor substitute and second-best. Middle child syndrome, they called it. Mycroft called it a simple matter of observation and deduction.

When he got to the door, he stopped, hand on the knob. "I will leave you gentlemen to it, then." He looked back to see Sherlock making a concerted effort to control his features. "And Sherlock, do try to refrain from running up any more ludicrous charges on my credit. That is afforded to you as a courtesy when you are working for me, not as an opportunity for you to purchase fifteen freeze-dried goat heads. Good day."

He closed the door behind him and went down the steps, out to the waiting car.

A crisis had been adverted. For today.

Another day would pass in which he was not left alone in this world. A small victory, yes. But sometimes that was all one had.

THE END.