"Sir, we just received word that your brother moved."
Mycroft looked up from the file on his desk. "To Baker Street?"
Mycroft pondered. "It's certainly better than Montague Street, but I thought he wasn't able to afford it without a flatmate."
"Indeed, sir. According to Mrs. Hudson, he called to tell her he was bringing a prospect over this evening." She glanced up over her Blackberry, and added, "We're already on it."
He nodded. This was the third prospect this month, but none had had the strength of character necessary to live with Sherlock and had been easily scared off. He had considered trying to plant one of his men as a flatmate, but employee loyalty was so hard to come by as it was. There would be riots if he tried. Yet the people Sherlock came across each day weren't exactly the type that would be able to bear Sherlock. (Who could?)
Still, Sherlock must feel optimistic about this one if he'd already moved his things. That, or he was planning on asking Mycroft for more money. Mycroft sighed briefly to himself. If only it were that simple. He would be willing to pay any sum of money to keep Sherlock safe, but his brother's constant clinging to the tantrums of adolescence was wearying. He didn't know how that detective inspector put up with him.
With another sigh, he turned his attention to the upcoming phone call with the Chinese attaché, shaking his head at the irony that this tricky political dance would be easier than any conversation he had had with his brother in the past ten years.
Anthea walked into his office and laid a file on his desk.
"Doctor John Hamish Watson, RAMC, rank of Captain with the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. Recently invalided home after being shot in the shoulder."
Mycroft stared down at the photo, taking in the lines on the man's ordinary face. He looked entirely average and yet … not only a doctor, but a military doctor? Intriguing. He glanced at the text as Anthea continued to speak. "They were introduced yesterday by Mike Stamford, whom your brother knows from Barts. He went to school with Watson. Apparently Sherlock mentioned his need for a flatmate to him just before he bumped into Watson at lunch."
Mycroft was skimming the details of John Watson's life. Parents deceased, alcoholic sister. No income other than his army pension. "That seems unlikely, doesn't it?"
"Apparently Watson's therapist believes exercise is good for his leg."
His leg? Oh, yes, he saw here that he had a limp which his therapist believed was caused by PTSD. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of the combination of post-traumatic stress and his brother. Explosive would be the word—literally.
Anthea was still speaking. "We have footage." Clicking a button on her Blackberry, a video link opened on his computer.
The meeting did look entirely unplanned. Watson's body language at being stopped was anything but inviting, though good manners caused him to stop and shake hands. Dr. Watson's posture as they sat on a bench drinking coffee was rigid, turned away from the other man. Not a warm man, thought Mycroft, as he watched him stretch then clench his left hand. (Intermittent tremor, the report said, which had put paid to the man's medical career.) Unless … not so much cool as … injured?
But, ah, there! Dr. Watson turned his head with sudden interest in what Stamford was saying. Only moments later, they were on their feet and heading to Barts.
A few taps from Anthea and another video link on his screen, this time from the camera in the Barts lab Sherlock used.
Mycroft watched as Stamford introduced the doctor to his brother. Sherlock obviously knew the reason immediately and greeted Watson with a polite smile as he borrowed his phone. Sherlock couldn't resist showing off (naturally), and it did not appear to sit well with Dr. Watson. His posture grew stiffer as Sherlock spoke, though nothing but slight irritation showed on his face.
Well, thought Mycroft, irritation was the normal reaction to Sherlock.
He looked back at the file, noting Watson's years of service in Afghanistan, the number of lives he had saved. He had been quite skilled as a surgeon, completely cool under fire. On behalf of Her Majesty's government, Mycroft regretted losing the man from the service. He had been an able soldier and a good shot, even drawn into battle conditions from time to time. "Not one to sit back behind the front lines and let the injured be brought to him, was he?"
"No, sir. That sense of recklessness is about the only negative comment in his file."
Mycroft glanced at the therapist's notes. Trust issues, she wrote, because the man didn't confide in her. Therapists always seemed to resent silence. Her PTSD diagnosis seemed almost perfunctory, as if she weren't sure what else to call the doctor's problem. A catch-all diagnosis for a troubled ex-soldier, whether it fit the facts or not.
To him, the problem was quite obvious. Dr. Watson had not been "traumatized" until after he had been permanently removed from the battleground. The man had just lost his livelihood, a vocation with which he had thrived. It wasn't the injury, but the loss of purpose that hobbled him, quite literally. His limp had not begun until after he realized he could not go back.
In other words, this was a broken man. Definitely not the kind of flatmate his … challenging … brother needed.
Still, Mycroft pondered, he had some admirable qualities. Loyal, brave, intelligent. Certainly medical training could come in handy if he was to spend any time around Sherlock. But if the man had mental problems … well.
He instructed Anthea to keep him informed and turned back to his work.
"Sir?" Mycroft looked up from his dinner. "DI Lestrade just left Baker Street. Apparently there has been another suicide and he's called in your brother to consult."
"Not unexpected," he said.
"No, sir." She tapped a few more keys on her Blackberry. "Except … Sherlock brought Dr. Watson with him to the crime scene. They just left."
Mycroft put down his knife and fork. That was … interesting. What had Sherlock been thinking?
"I think I'll need to meet this doctor," he told her. "Arrange that, would you?"
He finished his meal and returned to his desk, pulling up the CCTV footage from the Lauriston Gardens crime scene. He was just in time to catch Sherlock's arrival, Dr. Watson in tow. The doctor seemed uncertain as to why he was there, and Mycroft found himself in agreement. Involving a civilian with a crime scene seemed so unnecessary. Why had Sherlock done it?
That was the question. Mycroft was tempted to think it was simply Sherlock's everlasting need for an audience. Over the years there had been any number of people he had happily shown off for, but dragging them to a murder scene? That was unusual even for his brother.
He wondered if this was an attempt at friendship on Sherlock's part. If so, that was even more … unusual. To Mycroft's knowledge, Sherlock had never had a friend. He barely had acquaintances that could tolerate him. Yet, bringing him to a crime scene—Sherlock's only real interest in life—could be akin to normal people having dinner and talking to explore common interests.
If nothing else, it showed him reaching out to another human being which in itself was most intriguing and should no doubt be encouraged.
Unless Dr. Watson had asked to come? He was obviously bored with his current life. (Mycroft could imagine nothing else.) Mightn't he have wanted to come along? After the battlefields of Afghanistan, a simple murder scene would probably be an interesting diversion. A slight flirtation with danger to relieve the boredom? In which case Watson was surely the worst possible flatmate for his brother.
The question was—which was it?
It wasn't long before he saw Sherlock dashing from the building, clearly searching for something, but without the doctor. Mycroft shook his head. Sherlock should not have abandoned the man like that.
And with that dreadful limp, too.
Really, it was only right of him to offer the poor man a ride.
He glanced at Anthea and with a mere flicker of his eyes, her fingers were busy at the keyboard and the phone Dr. Watson was passing began to ring.
Mycroft waited, leaning on his umbrella. A part of him hoped this flatmate would work out. His schedule was far too busy for him to interrupt every time Sherlock thought he'd found a flatmate. He watched as Dr. Watson pulled himself from the car and started limping across the room.
The man looked irritated rather than frightened, he noted. Most people kidnapped by an unmarked car by someone with power over the CCTV cameras were intimidated, yet Dr. Watson simply looked annoyed. Definitely not a coward, then. At least the therapist got that much right. He was beginning to feel intrigued.
"Have a seat, John," said Mycroft with a smile.
"I've got a phone," the man told him as he got closer. "I mean, very clever and all that, but you could have just phoned me." He seemed completely unfazed as he growled, "On my phone."
"When one is avoiding the attention of Sherlock Holmes, one learns to be discreet. Hence this place" Mycroft gestured gaily around the warehouse with his umbrella, actually starting to enjoy himself. "Your leg must be hurting you. Sit down."
"I don't want to sit down." No real inflection, just an impatient refusal.
Ah, that stubborn military pride. "You don't seem very afraid."
"You don't seem very frightening."
Mycroft couldn't help himself and laughed outright. "Yes, the bravery of the soldier," he said with a chuckle. It was true, though. A soldier learned very quickly to stand strong in front of a superior officer—or an attack. He sobered. "Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, don't you think?" No reaction to the easy insult. Good. "What is your connection to Sherlock Holmes?"
The first glimpse of surprise. He hadn't expected that question. "I … don't have one. I barely know him. I met him … yesterday."
"And since yesterday you've moved in with him and now you're solving crimes together. Are we to expect a happy announcement by the end of the week?"
The jest went unnoticed, disregarded as the doctor … no, soldier … in front of him stuck to his objective. "Who are you?"
"An interested party."
"Interested in Sherlock? Why? I'm guessing you're not friends."
"You've met him. How many friends do you imagine he has?" Mycroft couldn't keep a hint of bitterness from his voice. By the pursed lips on the doctor's face, he had noticed it. "I'm the closest thing to a friend Sherlock Holmes is capable of having."
"An enemy?" More surprise.
"In his mind, certainly. If you were to ask him, he'd probably say his archenemy. He does love to be dramatic."
Dr. Watson looked around the room with a glimmer of humor. "Well thank god you're above all that."
Mycroft found himself liking the man. Witty ripostes were a welcome change from shuddering terror at these meetings. He certainly didn't seem particularly traumatized, and Mycroft spared another thought for the idiot therapist, too blind to see what was in front of her.
Dr. Watson's phone chimed, and to Mycroft's surprise he pulled it out to check his message, expressionless.
"Am I distracting you?" Mycroft asked.
A glance from under his eyelashes as he returned the phone to his pocket. "You're not distracting me at all."
Apparently not. A man who could coolly check his texts in the midst of an interrogation/kidnapping was not one to be distracted easily. An outright challenge, then. "Do you plan to continue your association with Sherlock Holmes?" he asked bluntly.
"I could be wrong," Dr. Watson said, "But I think that's none of your business."
"It could be."
A sly smile. "It really couldn't."
Mycroft was impressed. Bravery was certainly there. Intelligence, too. The man wasn't giving an inch and was holding his own better than most. That hint of sympathy on his face when Mycroft mentioned Sherlock not having friends was telling, too. It was likely that trying to edge the man away from Sherlock would just push him closer. He should have expected him to be stubborn.
And the longer he stood here, the more Mycroft found himself hoping the doctor would continue to be. The mere fact that he had not backed away already spoke well for his steadfastness.
Mycroft pulled out his notebook. "If you do move into 221B Baker Street," (a blink from the man as he read the address), "I'd be happy to pay you a meaningful sum of money on a regular basis to ease your way."
"Because you're not a wealthy man."
"In exchange for what?"
Mycroft smiled. Trust a soldier to want it said straight out. "Information. Nothing indiscreet. Nothing you'd feel uncomfortable with. Just tell me what he's up to."
"I worry about him," said Mycroft with feeling. "Constantly."
"That's nice of you."
Ignoring that, Mycroft went on, "But I would prefer for various reasons that my concern go unmentioned. We have what you might call a difficult relationship." He sighed at the vast understatement.
Another text message. Dr. Watson glanced at it as he said, "No."
"I haven't even mentioned a figure."
Mycroft laughed. His brother's text messages were doing better at keeping this man's attention than he was. "You're very loyal, very quickly."
"No, I'm not. I'm just not interested," Dr. Watson said flatly.
Well, that was possible, Mycroft thought. Dr. Watson had not exactly engaged with anyone or anything since his return from Afghanistan. He might want nothing more than a flat to live in with no additional complications. Mycroft could accept that. Except … the man had gone to that crime scene with Sherlock, which showed an inclination toward getting involved. Perhaps even a step toward healing?
Mycroft pulled out his notebook and opened it again. "Trust issues, it says here," he said, knowing that the man would react to a direct quote from his therapist.
For the first time, there was a chink in Dr. Watson's armor. "What's that?"
Ignoring the question, Mycroft asked, "Is it possible that you've decided to trust Sherlock Holmes?"
"Who says I trust him?" There was a hint of bewilderment in the doctor's tone.
"He's not inclined to make friends easily."
Dr. Watson didn't rise to the bait. Instead, he simply asked, "Are we done?"
Mycroft gave him a straight look. "You tell me."
No reaction for a long moment, and then still strong, still maintaining eye contact, Watson turned and started walking away.
Mycroft was impressed despite himself. The man by all accounts was a ghost of his former self, yet still embodied strength. The only problem was that he didn't know it. He had forgotten how to connect with his intact inner core.
Mycroft let the man walk a few steps and then said, "I imagine people have already warned you to stay away from him, but I see by your left hand that's not going to happen."
Dr. Watson stopped in his tracks and paused, shaking his head in frustration, before succumbing to the lure and turning around. "My what?" he snapped.
Mycroft stepped forward and examined his hand. "Remarkable." He meant it, too, and not least because the poor man had no idea what his real problem was.
"What is?" Pure defiance, there.
"Most people blunder around this city and all they see are streets and shops and cars. When you walk with Sherlock Holmes, you see the battlefield," Mycroft told him softly. "You've seen it already, haven't you?"
Again, the doctor refused to be diverted. "What's wrong with my hand?"
"You have an intermittent tremor in your left hand." Watson nodded, suddenly vulnerable, and Mycroft wielded his next words like a scalpel. "Your therapist thinks it's post-traumatic stress disorder. She thinks you're haunted by memories of your military service."
"Who the hell are you?" The words burst out as if Dr. Watson couldn't help them. Then, quieter, almost bewildered, "How do you know that?"
"Fire her." Mycroft told him as gently as possible, fighting a fleeting irritation at the idiot therapist. Doubtless she had only exacerbated the problem instead of helping him see the solution that shone so brightly in front of Mycroft. He couldn't believe a professional had missed it. "She's got it the wrong way around. You're under stress right now and your hand is perfectly steady."
A flick of the eyes down to the hand. Good. He was listening now, defenses down. Mycroft leaned in for the final verbal incision. "You're not haunted by the war, Dr. Watson. You miss it." There was simply a blink as the words hit home and Mycroft felt a surge of satisfaction. He leaned forward. "Welcome back."
He turned and walked away, not glancing back as he heard another text chime. "Time to choose a side, Dr. Watson," he called back over his shoulder, twirling his umbrella.
Really, this had been most satisfying.
He had no idea if Dr. Watson would continue with his plans to be Sherlock's flatmate, but he was satisfied with what he had seen. The man certainly was not suffering from post-traumatic stress, at least not in its usual form. With the right therapist, he probably would not have developed the limp or the tremor in the first place, despite the real injuries from Afghanistan. He made a mental note to have the army's mental health program examined. Dr. Watson couldn't be the only good soldier who had been failed by the system.
Speaking of, if this flat-sharing arrangement fell through, he must see what could be done to help the man find better accommodations. Judging by the photos in his file, the bedsit he was currently renting was frankly appalling. It seemed the least a grateful nation could do. He deserved better.
The question was, did he deserve Sherlock?
It was hours later and Mycroft was back at his desk. He had been working with his usual concentration, though he'd kept one monitor devoted to CCTV footage of his brother's whereabouts. Dr. Watson had been dropped off at Baker Street after stopping to pick up his gun. (Anthea had commented on the telltale bulge when he'd come back to the car.) Mycroft wasn't sure how he felt about the man going out of his way to pick up a firearm before heading off to meet his brother, but decided he could trust him that far.
He was watching when his brother and Dr. Watson left the flat and walked to that Italian restaurant Sherlock liked so much. (Not that he'd ever seen him eat any of the food.)
He was watching when Sherlock went running into the street, barely avoiding being flattened by a car. (Mycroft winced.)
He was also watching when Dr. Watson tore out the door right behind him—without his cane. Mycroft couldn't help but smile when he saw that. It had been so obvious that the limp was psychosomatic, and he only wondered if Sherlock had forced the issue on purpose. If so, it was one of the kindest acts he'd seen his brother perform for another person.
He'd lost them for a time as they ran up alleys, across roofs, and so on, but he worked the camera angles to track the cab they were chasing, and was fortunate enough to see the whole thing as they stopped the cab and confronted the passenger. And … he leaned toward the monitor in disbelief. Was Dr. Watson laughing? And … Sherlock? My God, that was a real, honest smile on Sherlock's face. When was the last time he had seen such a thing?
Mycroft leaned back in his chair with an unfamiliar sense of relief. He hadn't lied when he told Dr. Watson that he worried constantly about Sherlock, and to see his brother look so unexpectedly happy in the presence of another person? Mycroft remembered all the years of fights at school, the bullies, the achingly lonely little brother he'd had to leave behind when he left for university. No matter what Mycroft had done, Sherlock had always been alone and nothing Mycroft had been able to do to protect him had changed that. He had given up hoping that that could ever change. He had merely hoped that the right flatmate might help keep an eye on Sherlock's worst proclivities. He had never dared to hope that he might become anything like a friend. But it looked as if they were moving quickly in that direction.
With a sense of satisfaction, he turned back to his file.
Out of habit, he had refocused the CCTV cameras on Sherlock's flat, and so he was watching when Sherlock got into the cab.
There was nothing unusual about that, and yet … by his body language, he had not called a cab. He looked wary, if Sherlock Holmes could ever be wary. Why would he…?
Sitting straight in his chair, Mycroft called Anthea. "Track that cab!" he ordered. "It's the serial killer, and he's got Sherlock!"
Ignoring the flurry of activity around him, he opened more windows, more video feeds, playing the camera angles like a master, tracking the cab as it worked its way through London until he lost it at a busy intersection when a camera lens didn't turn quickly enough. Damn it! "Do we have a number for that cab?" he asked Anthea.
"Yes, sir, but there will be a delay while we try to find it."
"What about his phone? Can you track that?"
"No, sir, there's no signal."
Mycroft stared at the traffic flowing on his screen, worthless. He had lost the one that mattered. The only one that mattered.
Then, in the bottommost window, he caught a flicker of movement. John Watson had just hurried out of the flat, clutching a laptop and waving frantically to flag down a cab. Did he know where Sherlock had gone?
Anthea was already at his shoulder. "We're on it, sir."
It was agonizing. The only hope he had while they searched for Sherlock's cab was in tracking the one with Dr. Watson. He only hoped the man was following the same person he was.
Finally Dr. Watson's cab came to a halt. "We've got it, sir," said Anthea and, galvanized, Mycroft jumped to his feet and headed for his car.
When Mycroft arrived on the scene, he was surprised to see the police there ahead of them. He spotted DI Lestrade over by an ambulance and felt his heart clench in his chest. The radio had reported a DOA. Surely it couldn't be…
Turning his head, he saw Dr. Watson standing off to the side, behind the police tape. He was calmly watching the uniforms bustling around and did not seem the least bit concerned. It was quite the contrast to his frantic behavior on leaving Baker Street. Mycroft told himself that was reassuring, but he felt nothing until he followed the doctor's gaze and saw his brother stand up next to the ambulance. There was a shock blanket draped around his shoulders, but he seemed unharmed, uninjured.
Mycroft showed no sign of the relief he felt except for gripping his umbrella tighter. That Sherlock would risk himself, getting into a cab—willingly!—with a serial killer made his blood run cold. He had such a high regard for his not-inconsiderable gifts, Mycroft was sure the thought that he might be killed had never crossed his mind.
Anthea was telling him about the events of the night as Mycroft watched Sherlock talk to DI Lestrade. He couldn't tear his eyes from his brother's face. It looked more drawn than usual, but essentially whole. Then Sherlock's eyes drifted over to Dr. Watson and he stopped mid-sentence, which Mycroft knew was practically unheard of. He watched as Sherlock shrugged off the detective and ducked under the police tape to talk to the doctor.
Mycroft watched the two men's faces as they talked. They were both completely calm, but intent. It was a stand-off, he could see it in their body language, yet neither looked worried or upset. Finally, Dr. Watson nodded and both of them lightened considerably as they moved away, as if they had come to an agreement.
He watched as they shared … goodness! … another laugh and then Dr. Watson stopped and said something that made Sherlock turn back, the merest hint of abashment in his posture. He saw the shared grin, a hint of real friendship, and then they were walking toward him.
Mycroft got out of the car and saw Dr. Watson notice him and urgently warn Sherlock, whose eyes hardened when he recognized his brother. "So, another case cracked," Mycroft said flippantly as they approached, "How very public spirited, though that's never really your motivation, is it?"
"What are you doing here?"
Antagonistic as always, Mycroft thought, but he kept his tone mild as he replied, "As ever, I'm concerned about you."
"Yes, I've been hearing about your 'concern'." Sherlock spat out the words with a glance at Dr. Watson.
"Always so aggressive," Mycroft said. "Did it ever occur to you that we belong on the same side?"
"Oddly enough, no."
Childish as ever, thought Mycroft. They had been close as children. How had they come to this? Try though he might, he couldn't entirely keep the hurt from his tone as he said, "We have more in common than you like to believe. This petty feud between us is simply childish. People will suffer." He paused a moment, and then added, "And you know how it always upset Mummy."
"I upset her? Me? It wasn't me who upset her, Mycroft."
Dr. Watson had been raptly listening to this exchange and now interrupted, confused. "No, no, wait. Mummy? Who's Mummy?"
"Mother, our mother. This is my brother, Mycroft," Sherlock told him. He paused to give Mycroft a withering look and then asked, "Putting on weight again?"
"Losing it, in fact."
Still a step behind in the conversation, Dr. Watson said "He's your brother?"
"Of course he's my brother."
Mycroft looked sidelong at the doctor, who seemed more confused now than at any time during their meeting earlier. Well, he supposed the man had had a difficult night.
"So he's not, I don't know, a criminal mastermind?"
"Close enough," said Sherlock.
Mycroft laughed uneasily. "Oh for goodness sake, I occupy a minor position in the British government."
Dr. Watson looked floored and Sherlock didn't help matters by saying, "He IS the British government, when he's not too busy being the British secret service or the CIA on a freelance basis." He caught himself there, and stopped. Mycroft could see the stress of a long evening in the tightness of the skin around his eyes. "Good evening, Mycroft. Try not to start a war before I get home. You know what it does to the traffic."
Sherlock walked away without a backwards look. Dr. Watson started to follow, but turned back, questions burning in his eyes. "So, when you say you're concerned about him, you actually are concerned."
"Yes, of course." He had told him that earlier, hadn't he been listening?
"And it actually is a childish feud?"
Mycroft squinted at his brother's retreating back. "He's always been so resentful. You can imagine the Christmas dinners."
"Yeah …" Dr. Watson started to agree, and then changed his mind, obviously completely unable to imagine it. "No, God no."
He excused himself then, after an attempt to flirt with Anthea was foiled by her forgetful act. Mycroft always enjoyed watching that as it was one of her best facades, especially considering she never forgot anything, but it fell flat for him tonight.
"Good night, Dr. Watson." Mycroft told him thoughtfully, watching him walk away with Sherlock. When they were out of earshot, he said, "Interesting, that soldier fellow. He could be the making of my brother … or make him worse than ever. Either way, let's upgrade their surveillance status. Grade 3, active."
"Sorry sir, whose status?" As if she didn't know.
"Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson." Mycroft told her. In the distance, he could see the two men sharing a smile as they walked away. Loyal, he had thought earlier, when he met the doctor, and stubborn. Brave, too, and more traumatized from his lack of purpose than from his experiences on the battlefield.
"Have they figured out who the shooter was yet?"
"No, sir," said Anthea. "Of course, they don't know that Dr. Watson has been carrying a firearm all evening."
Mycroft pondered that. He frowned on breaking the law, of course, but a man who was obviously going to be spending time with Sherlock Holmes would be ill-served if he couldn't defend himself. Mycroft found the idea of Dr. Watson carrying a firearm did not worry him at all.
Especially if the man was willing to use that firearm to save Sherlock Holmes.
He already had.
In more ways than one.
NOTE: Please note I know nothing about psychiatry so my conclusions about John's PTSD are no doubt completely wrong. And of course, I own nothing about this world, just love spending time there.