"How do you feel, Sherlock?"
It was after the funeral, and both Holmes brothers were at rest. Sherlock was seated next to the open window, steepled fingers at his lips. It had been a warm day, and even now there was a mild breeze blowing in, faintly scented from the roses that grew outside.
"I don't know," he said. "Sad? I don't know. I feel…" He shrugged. His extensive vocabulary had failed him for once. "She didn't suffer."
"No. Quite quick indeed."
A stroke had cut short Philippa Devereaux-Holmes' life, aged fifty-nine, and her sons had put her in the ground that day. Sixteen-year-old Sherlock had been pulled out of school the previous Friday, and Mycroft was - quite amazingly - taking time off work to mark the passing of the woman who had brought him into the world.
"What do we do now?" Sherlock asked quietly. His voice was much deeper and richer than it had been the year before, and that wasn't the only significant change in him. Since he'd managed to shoot up nearly a foot in height over the past six months, the other boys at Evenden Hall had abruptly decided that Holmes was okay by them. Or at least, that Holmes was okay enough not to be ducked in the bathtub anymore.
"We do what we've always done, I suppose," Mycroft responded. He was the executor of his mother's estate and had been poring over legal documents at the table, but now he was resting his chin on his hands thoughtfully. "Carry on."
"Oh, don't tell me that's what she would have wanted."
"No, it's what I want. She's doesn't want anything now. She's dead." Mycroft contemptuously put aside his papers. "Anyhow, you needn't go back to school this term, if that's what you mean. I've cleared it with the headmaster for you."
Even Sherlock wasn't sure exactly what Mycroft had been doing for a living for the past three years. It was "something to do with the government", and evidently something influential. By now, he could probably have "cleared it with the headmaster" for Sherlock to not bother returning to school at all.
"I think I'd like to go back next week," he said. "Exams."
"You'll do well," Mycroft told him in tones that bordered upon the affectionate. "You always do. Somehow." Sherlock was not particularly studious, but despite his slapdash approach to schoolwork he managed to come out on top of almost every subject.
Sherlock sighed, jiggling his foot restlessly. He wasn't used to one-on-one time with Mycroft anymore. He was so busy with school, and Mycroft so busy with whatever top-secret work he was doing. There seemed little in common between them these days.
"You haven't heard from Dad?" he asked at length.
"What do you think?"
Sherlock hadn't the faintest clue where his father was and, so far as he knew, neither did Mycroft. He'd made no contact and probably did not know of the death of his ex-wife.
"Yes, I suppose that was hardly a difficult deduction to make."
The side of Mycroft's mouth twitched; though too often these days he had a smirk, not a smile, for his brother. "You're still determined to become a detective then?"
"You sound so horrified, Mycroft."
"Not horrified. Bemused."
Both Holmes brothers had missed the mark: Mycroft had sounded disdainful.
"I would never have suspect you'd come down on the side of the angels, Sherlock. Or at the very least, on the side of law, order and regular work hours."
This last was a good point. If Sherlock he had to face harsh reality - something he rarely did unless he had to - he knew that regular police detecting would, by-and-large, be pointless busywork and not terribly interesting at all.
"At any rate, there's time enough to think of your future career," Mycroft continued. Though secretly, he suspected that Sherlock wouldn't have a "future career", at least not in the sense that most people would understand it. He pushed his chair out and stood up, collecting the papers in front of him. "It's been a long day, and I'm going to bed. Goodnight."
But Sherlock was now lost in thought, and did not answer.
It was ten past three when something woke Mycroft. He lay awake in the darkness for a full minute, listening; but all was at rest.
Not a break-in. There was no urgency; no sense of imminent danger. But something had woken him, all the same. He got up and went down the staircase and into the sitting room. In the darkness, he could just make out Sherlock's shadowy figure still seated by the window.
"Why are you still awake? It's past -"
"I don't feel anything," Sherlock blurted out in a desperate, sudden rush. "Nothing. My mother is dead. She's dead, Mycroft! And I don't feel anything."
"You're evidently feeling something," was Mycroft's uncomfortable answer, addressing the issue of his brother's tears. "Guilt, probably."
"I'm not supposed to feel guilt. I'm supposed to feel... sadness. Regret. Grief. I..." He stopped abruptly; Mycroft heard him draw in a breath in the pause that followed. "What's wrong with me?"
Mycroft hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. "There's nothing wrong with you, Sherlock," he finally said. You're doing very well for yourself."
"But I don't feel."
"You do feel," Mycroft countered, tones disapproving. "You're giving in to your feelings right now. You just don't allow yourself to be governed by every petty emotion that comes to you, like ordinary people do."
"I've been led to understand that grief for one's parent is not a petty emotion."
"Perhaps, but it's not a useful emotion, either." Mycroft reached out in the darkness and, for a moment, rested one hand on Sherlock's shoulder, feeling him flinch at his touch. "It's for the best, you know," he insisted. "You will suffer less than others."
"And suffer less."
"Perhaps more. You've spent sixteen years trying to protect me from the fact that she didn't love me - she didn't even like me. So that when I came to this moment, I wouldn't care. And now here I am, caring that I don't care. What a sorry failure your little social experiment turned out to be, brother."
"Well," Mycroft conceded uncomfortably, "one can't be expected to succeed at everything."
A sudden burst of bitter laughter. Sherlock made a movement in the shadows as if he were wiping his eyes. "Don't you care?"
"What good would that do? Caring about someone has never brought them back to life. I try to restrict myself to emotions that are useful and productive. Now, you're overwrought and tired, Sherlock," Mycroft informed him. "It's been a difficult day. Go to bed. I trust you'll be more yourself by morning."