Two weeks after they got back to London, Mycroft takes his first walk out of his flat. The fresh air and the sun on his face feel wonderful and it tastes like freedom.
He wears his usual attire, three piece suit and dark umbrella, and if it wasn't for the quickly fading cuts above his left eye, no one would suspect he almost died recently; well... almost no one. Those who know him well would be able to spot the fact that he leans more heavily on his umbrella than he usually does and that he has lost a lot of weight recently.
He takes a long walk and marches through the streets, without any real destination in mind, until suddenly he finds himself in front of 221B Baker Street.
He hasn't seen or heard from Sherlock and John since their plane landed and they parted ways. He meant to come and visit earlier, but the doctors were very specific about bed-rest. And alas, catching up on the tremendous pile of work that awaited him didn't even leave him time for a phone call.
Hesitating only an instant, he pushes the wooden door open and slowly walks up the stairs. Now that his mind is finally bereft of drugs and that he's completely rested, there is a long overdue conversation that needs to happen between him and his brother.
He knocks on the door and John Watson answers.
"Mycroft." The shorter man smiles brightly at him. "It's good to see you, how are you feeling?"
"Quite well, thank you," he replies, with a polite curve of his lips, as he enters. The doctor is clearly happy at the impromptu visit and being welcome somewhere is a novelty to the elder Holmes.
"I'm afraid Sherlock won't be back for a little while. He took a trip to the morgue." John closes the door. "Tea?"
"That would be lovely." Mycroft sits down in a chair and sets his umbrella carefully against it.
The doctor is back a few minutes later with a tray containing two cups of simmering tea and a plate of home-made biscuits — Mrs Hudson's probably, he guesses; John isn't the cooking type. They drink their tea quietly and the biscuits taste wonderful.
"I guess I should thank you." Mycroft breaks the silence eventually. He rests his cup back in its saucer. "For coming to Germany and then rescuing me and my brother."
"There's no need, really." John shrugs, tries to downplay it. Genuine modesty is a rare personality trait and Mycroft has a lot of respect for it.
"Pardon me if I disagree." His voice remains calm, but his eyes continue to fix the other man intensely. "Sherlock and I would both be dead, without you. This puts you in my dept."
John shrugs again, looks away, clearly uncomfortable. It's evident that he is wishing hard for a change of topic.
"Threats to my life are something I've come to accept," Mycroft continues. "But to Sherlock's..." he lets the end of the sentence hang; it doesn't need to be said.
He swallows thickly and finishes his phrase nonetheless. "Threats to my brother's life are something I will never be able to accept."
The doctor nods at that. He understands completely; he even shares the feeling.
It's a little odd this discussion between the two of them. John realises it is actually the first time he really talks with Mycroft. They have met on several occasions, but they always exchanged platitudes at best or else their conversations were solely work-related. He notes, with a bit of regret, that he really doesn't know his flatmate's brother at all; he has no idea about his interests and what he appreciates in life. If one were to question him about what Mycroft likes, John wouldn't be able to get much further than tea, biscuits and umbrellas.
"Would you like to stay over for supper?" John asks. He feels like it is time he finally starts adding more things to that list. "If Sherlock hasn't messed with the food, while I was at work, I think we have some steaks left."
The look of surprise that crosses the other man's face would be comical, if the reason for it wasn't so sad. John realizes Sherlock's brother doesn't understand why he is invited to stay. Probably because he can't believe someone would ever want to willingly spend time with him without ulterior motives. If one were to question John about how many friends he thinks Mycroft has, his reply would be none.
"If you really want to thank me for saving your life, just say yes." John smiles at him and thinks it is high time to start adding more names to that list.
"Gladly." Mycroft replies, with an honest smile and watery eyes.
They get back to sipping their tea, in silence, and the plate of biscuits quickly empties itself.
Mycroft eventually breaks the silence. "Can I ask you something?"
"How's Sherlock doing?" He sounds hesitant. "After what happened in Germany."
"Why don't you ask him that?"
Mycroft falls silent again. He looks down at his empty cup, and sighs before offering, "I doubt I would get an honest answer."
"You two have some serious issues to solve." John states, matter-of-factly.
Mycroft remains silent, clearly uncomfortable at the shorter man's words. Actually, he's fighting an intense itch to just get up and leave, but he did after all, come here to talk to Sherlock and he knows his younger brother is going to arrive soon. He has not, however, planed for an open-heart chat with his sibling's flatmate.
"Why don't you try to talk to Sherlock?" John asks, curious. "You obviously care a lot about him."
Talking to Sherlock... that is what he wants to do most, but every small attempt he made in the past has been strongly rebuked. He isn't sure if he knows how to do that anymore. He tried in Germany, and it seemed like, for once, his brother would have listened, but he hadn't managed to get the words out in the end.
"And he cares about you, just as much," John adds, when no answer is forthcoming.
The doctor's voice shakes Mycroft out of his thoughts again. These are not words he wants to hear, but he listens nonetheless. Could Sherlock care, really? He feels a strange tumultuous sensation stirring, deep within himself.
A flitting something briefly passes on the ginger-haired man's face and John would have missed it, if he hadn't been looking at him so closely. He isn't sure, but he thinks he sees hope.
"Does he?" Mycroft's tone is controlled, John realizes; schooled in an emotionless monotone. His eyes, however, betray his evident interest in the upcoming answer.
Well, John is not going to disappoint and his voice is animated, as he recounts his flatmate's actions. "He jumped on the first plane available, when he found out what happened to you and then he was relentless. Nothing could have stopped him from finding you."
John looks at him intently for a reaction to his answer, but the elder Holmes is good at hiding his emotions.
"I was there Mycroft; I saw the anguish, the worry and the fear." He takes in a breath and looks him squarely on. "He cares: I assure you he does."
Years of practice allow the former spy to remain unmoving, face bereft of emotions. He is frozen in placid immobility, save for his bobbing Adam's apple when he swallows thickly at the other man's words.
John feels he's on the right track and he soldiers on. He forgets for a moment that the man facing him is the British Government and that he could make him disappear, from the face of the earth, with a flicker of his hand. "I'm sure there used to be a time when you two were close. What happened?"
Don't want to think about that, Mycroft pleads within his head. Please don't make me think about that. He took a trip down memory lane very recently and he is still trying hard to get rid of the residual emotional pain it induced.
Looking back on his past, on what he's lost — the closeness with his brother, the love and adoration Sherlock had for him when they were kids — is something he is loathe to do. He hadn't had a choice in Germany; these memories — the more powerful that he harbours, hidden deep within his heart — were his only shield against the torture.
Sharp pain travels through him, at the thought. It's like a hundred needles piercing his skin everywhere. All his wounds have healed, but a phantom pain still lingers. It attacks him at the oddest of times. He doesn't want to give away his discomfort and it takes all of his will power not to clench his fists to help fight it off.
He remains motionless, and lets a long breath pass through his clenched teeth. John Watson is still waiting for his answer, he knows. He considers throwing him a clever lie to chow at, but at the last second his heart unexpectedly overcomes his mind and what comes out is the truth. "Time."
John realises that despite the man's evident reluctance to share his thoughts and feelings, a small part of him really wants to have this conversation.
Mycroft shrugs. "We grew up. He changed, I changed."
"I understand that," John assures him. "But it doesn't mean that your relationship can't change again."
A flicker of curiosity passes in the other man's eyes and John understands that, despite the projected lack of interest, he has all of his attention. Damn stubborn Holmes's, he thinks fondly, they can never do anything the easy way.
John knows he doesn't understand the brothers' ongoing battle. He cannot begin to grasp at the reasons behind it, but he doesn't doubt for a second that they must be numerous — and for the most part — justified. However, he knows nothing is ever set in stone and he can't understand why, for all their intelligence, the two men are not able to grasp that one simple fact.
Well versed in the 'teaching a Holmes 101', John engages fully in the battle.
"Why don't you try to talk to him?" He intentionally goes for the obvious. It is a repetition of his earlier question and he is certain that this is going to unnerve Mycroft, but disdain or contempt is better than the uninterested coldness the man currently projects.
"I have." The answer is sour, said with something akin to anger.
John thinks it's just well hidden pain; still he pretends to let it get to him.
"When, ten years ago? Try again Mycroft." He uses his own version of contempt, words rushing out quickly as if flared by the man's disdainful rebuke.
Something briefly flashes again on the elder Holmes's face. Something fierce and hot, and John bids goodbye to the icy coldness that previously occupied the elegant features. He waits for a beat, gives the other man just enough time to collect himself, before he continues in a more subdued, yet no less intense voice, which allows for the words to be heard to their full extent, "Sherlock has changed, he will listen."
The trick works and Mycroft's jaw tenses even as he averts his gaze — lashes blinking too quickly — looking somewhere to the left, to compose himself.
John refrains, with difficulty, from letting a smile break on his face at this small victory. Yes, the Holmes brothers may be extremely good at a lot of things, but there is one domain where John will always best them: emotions.
The impulse to run returns in Mycroft in full force, but he cannot move. It's all too hard for him. The phantom pain reaches new levels and although the flat is always kept at a really comfortable temperature, he feels the bite of the cold German winds attack his skin. He redirects all of his strength to control himself: hide the emotions, keep the game-face on, and battle the hope. Most important this last one, he tells himself, whatever you do: don't let yourself hope!
All this leaves him weak in the knees and he's glad to be sitting. He forces his breath to calm and decides, from now on, that he will remain silent until Sherlock comes back. Except his mouth seems to have taken on a will of its own and he blurts out a question, cursing at himself inwardly even as the words come out.
"What if he doesn't?" With his gaze cast to the small desk on the left, Mycroft sounds hesitant. His voice takes an unsure tone John has never heard from the man before.
The doctor replays the words in his head and analyses the tone, and suddenly it hits him — he's afraid, his mind all but screams at him — and he wonders how in the hell he has not seen it before.
"Oh. That's it then, I get it." John lets out in a surprised huff. "I absolutely get it now."
He sounds callus and he feels bad for it, but then Sherlock — and apparently Mycroft too — always have this inane ability to make the worst come out of him.
Deep blue eyes lock onto him at once. They look sharp and cutting; filled with part hurt, part disbelief and a few other emotions and oh, god the ice is long gone now.
John decides to address the disbelief first. He's happy to prove to Mycroft that yes, it is possible for a mere mortal like him to have seen past his carefully erected defences and discovered the truth hidden behind it. He makes sure not to sound reproachful this time, as he states simply, "You're scared."
"I'm not!" Mycroft answers quickly — too quickly — averting his gaze again.
"Yes, you are. You're scarred shitless that he will repel you." John is determined to get his point across.
Mycroft could hate him, for his boldness, all he wanted later on; kidnap him and make him disappear, if he felt so inclined; but John is not going to back down. Not when he has an opportunity to put an end to this ever-raging fratricide war and help his friends. Yes friends, plural. He has become fond of Mycroft too, after the recent events.
"So what?" John doesn't want to give him any reprieve, or time to build up a defence. "You're not even going to chance it? You'd rather go on like that, with this masquerade of a relationship?"
The words are harsh and John knows it, but he will do what needs to be done to provoke a reaction. He needs to keep Mycroft talking, before he has time to hide underneath the ice again.
"It's better than no relationship at all!" In a rare fit of temper, Mycroft replies with the truth, and thus admits to the veracity of the other's theory. His mouth contorts bitterly, once the words are out, as he realizes the mistake he's just made.
John exhales loudly, as he leans back in his chair; the fight leaves him at once, now that he has won the battle. He feels no joy at the victory however. If anything, he feels sad for the man in front of him.
"Oh, Mycroft." He shakes his head sadly. "What the hell happened to the both of you?"
Predictably, no reply is forthcoming, but Mycroft is gracious enough to stop pretending that this discussion doesn't affect him. He lowers his gaze again, not so fast this time, and the doctor has more than enough time to see the pain in the unguarded blue eyes.
As he looks down, Mycroft can see that his right hand is shaking; small tremors that he cannot stop, even with all of his willpower. It hurts, everything hurts, outside and inside and he's close to breaking down completely. He feels like he's about to drown in feelings that he doesn't even want to acknowledge exist.
"I'm no Holmes, I know." John's voice is calm and it has a strange soothing effect on Mycroft's soul, so he listens carefully. "I don't have yours or Sherlock's intelligence, but please, if for once in your life, you should listen to someone else's advice: let it be this time."
Mycroft remains silent and immobile, but John has a fleeting thought that he is just going to stand up and walk away. He's proven wrong when the other unexpectedly turns his gaze back to him to fix him with a broken-hearted stare.
"Talk to him, Mycroft," John pleads; not minding the tone some might consider a sign of weakness. "Really talk to him. Let him see that you're human and that you care. He will accept it."
The blue eyes get more watery, but the man's clamped jaw doesn't loosen. The doctor can read the tenseness in Mycroft. He understands how hard this must be for him. He represents the government and he's used to always being in control; he always calculates his actions, aims for the safest outcome. He is always two steps ahead of everyone else. What John is asking of him now is to place himself in emotional danger — the worst of them all — knowing, full well, that there is a great chance he may get hurt beyond repair if he were to fail.
"He will accept you." John pours all of his certainty in his voice; hopes that it will be enough.
Mycroft's reply dies on his lips, as the lower floor's door closes loudly. Energetic steps on the stairs quickly resound in the calm flat, announcing the arrival of his younger sibling. John stands up at that, crossing the two feet that separate him from Mycroft and briefly leaves a comforting hand on his left shoulder. He continues towards the entrance door, just as it opens.
Sherlock notes, at once, the presence of his brother in the flat. He lifts up an eyebrow, questions his flatmate silently, while he takes his coat off. John pretends not to see it and offers no answer. He asks about the shopping instead, because it's the first thing he can think of.
"You didn't happen to have the time to stop for some milk on the way, did you?" He moves to stand fully in front of Sherlock, to stop him from further entering the flat.
"Molly gave me the finger." The young man shakes a transparent bag, containing something bloody, in front of the doctor. "It was frozen; now it's soggy. I can't imagine what it would be like if I had stopped for milk."
John lets disgust cross his features, but he stays unmoving to buy Mycroft some time to collect himself, before he faces his brother. He knows there is little hope that the elder Holmes will follow his advice, but if by some miracle he does, then it won't do for him to start at a disadvantage.
"No body parts on the first three shelves of the fridge." John scolds. "And if you put this in the freezer, then label the Tupperware clearly."
Sherlock dutifully nods his head, and John moves out of his space to grab his jacket. "I'll go and get some milk."
The detective quirks an eyebrow at that.
"Don't forget about supper, Mycroft." John calls, over his shoulder. Good luck, he adds, in his head, before closing the door behind him.
"What was that about?" Sherlock comes in his brother's peripheral line of sight.
Mycroft remains unresponsive; his expression as closed off as Sherlock as ever seen it. Yet there undoubtedly was anxiousness in John's tone.
Something's going on, the detective deduces, and he realises his finger will have to wait. "Fridge or freezer?" he asks, as he enters the kitchen to dispose of the bloody digit.
His brother's even voice follows him in the room. "Freezer."
Long discussion then, Sherlock understands, although he isn't sure what the subject will be. Has Mycroft already gone back to work? Is he here to coerce him into taking one of his cases again?
Sherlock places the digit in a Tupperware — that he labels 'Not food' — before going back to the living room. He sits down in the seat that his friend has just vacated and looks expectantly at his brother.
Mycroft looks at him down his nose. "I think we need to talk."
"Do we?" Sherlock searches his face, to find which topic it might be about. The eldest's features are oddly blank, even his eyes do not let a single clue through.
Mycroft looks away. "Yes, we do."
Sherlock waits, impatience slowly creeping in. He thinks of his finger and the murder case it might help solve.
"I believe I owe you a thank you," Mycroft starts eventually, and Sherlock instantly forgets about the severed digit in the freezer. "For coming to Germany and saving me."
He returns his gaze to his brother then, but it's the younger's turn to look away.
Sherlock swallows thickly, as he is reminded of what happened to them, on the continent.
"I'm so very sorry you got hurt in the process." Mycroft's mouth is as dry as it was back then.
"It's nothing, I'm fine now."
"Still… Thank you very much, brother-mine."
Brother-mine. Sherlock hasn't heard the old nickname in years and the surprise hits him like a rock. The strangest of things happens then, his heart misses a beat. He wouldn't have thought it humanly possible, not unless one suffers from a very serious heart condition, but apparently it is. He makes a mental note to question John later about it; he's a doctor, he should know.
Sherlock turns his head to look at him. "No one's allowed to mess with my brother."
"No one but me," he adds, with a smirk.
"Quite right." Mycroft smiles back; this is definitely a two way street, he thinks.
They remain quiet for a little while; the silence neither pressuring nor oppressive. A part of Sherlock's mind drifts back to the finger in the fridge and Mycroft smoothes non-existent creases in his trousers. He debates whether he should take the good doctor's advice.
"John has invited me to stay for supper." Mycroft thinks this is a good way to tread the waters.
"Hmm, hmm." He allows for half a smile. "That is, if you haven't done anything unsanitary to the steaks while he was gone?" He's offering Sherlock a way out, he knows.
"I haven't touched the steaks."
Mycroft's smile grows. What he hears is 'You're welcome to stay over, for dinner'.
Mycroft leans forward and rests both elbows on his thighs, as he clasps his slightly trembling hands together. John's words of encouragements echo in his ears and he forces himself to voice out loud what he's being dying to ask for, for years, without ever having the strength to.
"I would like a second chance, Sherlock." His voice is small and he resolutely continues to look at his hands. "I know, I haven't always been there for you and I wasn't the brother you needed me to be, but—" he forces himself to look up and face his brother honestly, without any mask this time "—please, if you can give me a second chance, I can do better."
Sherlock's face registers surprise at the words.
Mycroft feels this is better than the disapproval that he was expecting. He waits, anxiously, for an answer. He holds his breath, for fear of disturbing the precarious silence by exhaling.
No answer comes, other than Sherlock abruptly sitting up. He takes a few steps away, and goes to look out of the nearby window, effectively turning his back on his brother.
Well… the answer isn't hard to translate and the trembles in Mycroft's hand turn into tremors. He wishes he could find the necessary strength to stand up and haul his broken carcass out of the flat, but alas he feels bereft of all energy. His heart is breaking apart, he can feel it, and it's more painful than any kind of torture.
Sherlock absentmindedly looks at the street outside, but the commuters driving back home don't register. Someone could be murdered, right then, in the middle of the street, and he wouldn't even notice. He is too caught up in the memories that play out on the glass window.
So many times, he let his brother down. So many times, he promised himself he wouldn't do that again. And every time, every time, he found a way to screw up again. If there is an inadequate brother in the room, it certainly isn't Mycroft.
"I'm sorry for not answering," Sherlock says, barely more than a whisper. It doesn't make up for his mistake, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be apologising for it. John taught him as much. "When you called me, from Germany."
There's no response; not that he is expecting one. He's unforgivable, he knows, and a lone tear escapes one of his eyes without him noticing.
Mycroft sees it. From where he seats, its glistering reflection on the window is impossible to miss. He feels his strengths return to him and he stands up.
"Sherlock?" He takes two steps closer, thinks maybe, just maybe, he misunderstood his brother's reaction and everything isn't lost.
"You were always a good brother to me, Mye. And I should be the one asking you for another chance." Sherlock turns back to him, eyes resolutely downcast. "And I don't know which number this would be, but it certainly wouldn't be the second."
Oh, Mycroft thinks, surprised, John was right. He feels stupid suddenly, something that doesn't often happen to him and he doesn't know what to answer. So he does the only thing he can think of, he opens his arms wide and Sherlock takes the last step that separates them.
"I'm so sorry, Mye." Sherlock's voice is a mere murmur, muffled against his brother's soft coat.
"Don't be, brother-mine." Mycroft closes his arms protectively around him. "It's alright. I think we both made a lot of mistakes."
Mycroft then turns his head to the side and places a soft kiss on his brother's temple. He thinks it is about time he returns the gesture.
There's still one thing that needs to be said though and this time the words come easily to him. "I love you," he whispers then, in all simplicity. "I always will."
This, Mycroft finds, is the absolute truth. He has never stopped and never will. Nothing can change that.
"For always," Sherlock whispers the promise back, in the quiet silence of the flat. Two words. Two simple words that mean everything to them.
The rest, it hangs in the air. It's okay, it doesn't need to be said, they already know.
This story has come to an end and I hope you all enjoyed the ride. I would like to thank my two wonderful beta Emma and Susanne who helped polish this story, and everyone who left a review.
I'm afraid this is the last you will read from me for awhile. I started to write original material, this year, and set on creating a series of detective novels. The manuscript of the first book is on its merry way to find an agent, and I'm currently fleshing out the outline of the second.
So… keep your fingers crossed for me; say a little prayer; toss a coin in a fountain or whatever other trick you know. By the way, if anyone knows someone high in the publishing industry food-chain, let me know.
Rest assured that I haven't turned my back to fanfictions or anything. I promise to write some more eventually, so make sure to keep me in your 'Author Alert' list, if you like my work.
In the mean time, if you want to keep up with me and my work, feel free to follow me on Twitter ( Cristelle).
P.S: If you're interested in a cleaner, nicer and easier on the eyes version of this fic for safe-keeping, it is available to download as a single .pdf file (link on my profile).