A one-shot on Mycroft and Sherlock's relationship, through some old photographs.

Mycroft Holmes has never been one for looking at old photographs. Old memories, old thoughts-they were never useful. They were to be tucked in, kept out of sight, pushed away.

Memories, Mycroft had found, were better forgotten.

But these days, it's harder to ignore the photographs. They litter the front pages of papers. They stare up at him from the evening news.

And they stare out from an opened drawer.

Mycroft Holmes doesn't like to keep mementoes in drawers. They're not things he looks at. Not normally.

But these aren't normal times.

Mycroft Holmes holds the photographs in his hands. Just a few pictures. Not many. Just a few, scattered from albums over the years.

A few.

A photo of Sherlock, aged four, squinting at the camera. Decked in a pirate outfit, plastic sword in hand, black curls spilling over his forehead. Eyes narrowed in concentration, but lips twitched in a small grin, cheeks still rounded with chubbiness. Mycroft knew he, at age ten, had been just behind the camera somewhere, with a smile wiped from his lips, with his hands folded, watching his younger brother, his younger brother, who had not yet learnt to wipe the grins from his face, calm the light in his eyes.

Mycroft remembers that afterwards, Sherlock had stepped forward, waving his sword, his face alight in a laugh, his sword jabbing into Mycroft's chest. And Mycroft looking back at him, telling him the history of pirates, trying to tell him the facts.

And Sherlock throwing his head back, laughing.

Another photo, Sherlock aged ten. Not smiling this time. No expression at all, in fact, his face pale, pointed, the baby fat gone from his cheeks. The hair darkened to ebony against the white skin, the eyes staring at the camera, as if challenging the photographer. The eyes narrowed more now, distrustful, darting, even then.

Mycroft took that picture. It was before Sherlock went away to school. Mycroft, sixteen, had looked at Sherlock after he'd taken that picture and had opened his mouth, ready to give advice, to instruct, to help..

But nothing had come out, and instead, he'd merely shaken his younger brother's hand.

And then Sherlock had been sent off to school and they hadn't seen each other for another four months.

Another, and it's Sherlock at sixteen. Not looking at the camera, eyes down, hair dark. Shadows on his skin. Too skinny, from days of starvation, starvation for work, for the cases he'd started researching, for the crime scenes he'd started turning up at, the forensic equipment littering his bedroom, that got the attention normal people paid to food and drink and sleep.

Sherlock had never been normal.

Sherlock's looking away now. To hide dilated black pupils perhaps, to hide a darting gaze. Or just to remove himself from the centre of the picture, to hide himself. Away.

Their conversation hadn't been long, that time. A few polite questions, a few rushed answers. Mycroft had been in his twenties by that time, working his way up the ladder of the government. Sherlock was supposed to be in school. Whether he was was another question.

But they hadn't spoken much, that time.

And not for another few years.

The next one. Taken when Sherlock was twenty.

His shoulders hunched, staring away from the camera. Wrapped now in that coat, that coat he insisted on wearing, his collar always pulled up. Someone else had snapped that picture-he thinks it's the last time seeing Sherlock in a family photograph. And maybe that's why he hesitates on that one, even though there's no reason to, maybe that's why he takes time turning to the next picture.

Mycroft can't remember where he was when that photograph was taken.

There's a gap of a few years, then. Quite a few years.

Mycroft doesn't wince when he sees the next photo. But he looks away for a second, barely a moment, to control himself before he glances back.

Sherlock in front of a police camera, in a mug shot. His eyes stare at the lense, his brow furrowed. It would be unnerving enough, even if it weren't for the bones protruding in his cheeks, for the unnaturally large pupils.

Anyone else would have locked Sherlock up. But this was Sherlock. He was a familiar sight at crime scenes. And so when Sherlock was found high as a kite, carrying cocaine, it was Mycroft who they called.

It had been Mycroft who bailed Sherlock out of the police station, Mycroft who had huddled Sherlock into the car that had been waiting for them. Mycroft, who had stayed up, watching over Sherlock for the hours that passed afterwards, waiting for him to come down.

Mycroft had never been thanked for anything, but then, he never expected to be.

He'd watched Sherlock afterwards, as his younger brother slept, his face whiter than it should be, pressed into his pillow and one thought had slowly slid into his brain, hovering for a moment, and then solidifying, strengthening into one convinced, unshakeable fact.

He will die if this happens again.

And that thought had made Mycroft close his eyes and press his fingers to his lips for a moment. And that was all he did because that was all he could afford to do.

When Sherlock had woken up, Mycroft had sat beside him quite calmly and told him how things were going to be. That if he found out Sherlock had used anything again-anything at all-he would be placed in a rehabilitation facility. And he would not be released until he was clean.

And he, Mycroft, would be watching. Always watching.

Sherlock had fought him-they'd had several tearing arguments on the subject-but he'd stopped using. It had been a struggle and it had been difficult and there had been nights of screaming anger, of ripping rooms apart-but Sherlock's usage, if not permanently ceased, had decreased dramatically. Mycroft hadn't hoped for miracles. He knew by now that they did not exist.

Another photo, and this is a rarer one. It must have been taken by a security camera, one perched on the rooftop near the flat where Sherlock had been staying at the time.

It's Sherlock, going in the door. And there's something about this one-just something about the look on Sherlock's face, the hunched shoulders, the long coat pulled tight-that makes Mycroft wince. Mycroft Holmes doesn't have much time for emotions-they seem a pitiful waste of energy-but he can't look at that photograph for long.

Something about Sherlock's eyes-focused, intense, narrowed in thought-is so at odds with the street around him. Something about Sherlock. He looks as different from the humans on the pavement as a tiger from a cat.

Something about the picture stirs something in Mycroft's chest and he frowns. He can't articulate the feeling. He can't really understand it.

So after a moment, another moment of staring at Sherlock's face in that picture, taking in the eyes, the cheekbones, the gaze, he pushes it away.

Another one from a security camera, and this time Mycroft can look for longer.

It's Sherlock-Sherlock who isn't alone.

It's Sherlock with John.

The first time he'd met John Watson, Mycroft had known something about this man was different.

He was prepared to live with Sherlock, for one thing.

But something about the man-his refusal to take a bribe, perhaps, even when Mycroft offered to let him name the price-something about him stood out. Something about the way he stood, something about the look in his eyes-soldier, certainly, but there was some quality there Mycroft hadn't seen in a while, something he'd almost forgotten the appearance of.

John Watson had loyalty.

When Mycroft had watched him walk away with Sherlock that night, he'd known things would be different from then on. He hadn't known if that would be a good thing or a bad thing.

But this picture-a few weeks or a few months later-made his lips twitch into a small smile.

Sherlock is looking at John. John is looking back, eyebrow raised, obviously in the middle of speaking. And Sherlock is laughing.

Actually laughing-and it's astonishing the way Sherlock's face transforms when he laughs. His whole mouth open, his eyes bright. He looks so happy.

Happy. Mycroft doesn't often think about happiness. Not these days.

But he looks at the picture a second longer. And his own small smile brightens a little, the sun peeking out briefly, before he turns to the next one.

Another picture and this makes Mycroft close his eyes for a moment. It's a quick snapshot, in 221b, a quick glimpse of a moment, perhaps taken with a camera or mobile. Sherlock's in the background of the shot, his head turned away, looking at John, his lip quirked up in a small smile.

But what's more remarkable is the Christmas decorations in the background, the others-that police officer Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson-milling around in the background. Sherlock is at a Christmas party. In his own home.

Mycroft did smile at that. He would never have let Sherlock see, of course. But he smiled.

That had been the Christmas they found Adler's body-or what they thought was Adler's body. That had been the first time he'd thought he'd seen his little brother shaken, broken by something, something he'd always scorned.

But in that one moment, that one photo, Sherlock was smiling.

Just for a moment.

Another photo-and this time, it's a newspaper headline. HAT MAN AND ROBIN.

Mycroft looks at the clipping again. He sighs and smoothes it over between his fingers. Not quite the titles he would have chosen for his younger brother, but he supposed it could have been worse.

That photo of Sherlock in the deer-stalker, John at his side, that Mycroft had seen in pretty much every newspaper seemed to be most people's defining image of his younger brother. That, and of course, John's blog. Mycroft sighed but looked at the picture a moment longer. He let his eyes linger on his brother's face for a moment, a long moment.

Then, he turns to the next one.

This one. Mycroft swallows.

The headline. Expose of Sherlock Holmes to follow. Close friend Richard Brook tells all.

Mycroft closes his eyes but the image doesn't vanish as things usually do when he pushes them away.

He remembers Moriarty's eyes. He still remembers the way he stared past Mycroft Holmes' head. The way he stared into the darkness. His eyes wide and bright, filled with some kind of terrible, terrible ecstasy.

And he remembers his own voice.

It had seemed the lesser of two evils at the time.

But Mycroft hadn't been sure. Not completely.

If he was honest with himself, he'd never been sure.

He'd asked John to keep an eye on Sherlock. A closer one than usual. And he'd told himself that that would be enough. Along with the increased security, it would be enough.

It would have to be.

And then that headline had appeared and Mycroft Holmes had known that it hadn't been enough. Known that he hadn't done enough.

And then John's face in the office. Be careful because I've made a mistake. Mycroft's own thoughts-the ones he didn't like to consider-thrown back into his face.

And the unfamilar words had risen to his lips. I'm sorry.

He didn't recall apologizing for something. Not genuinely. Not with the word "sorry." It simply didn't happen.

Tell him.

He would never know if John had told Sherlock or not. And truthfully, Mycroft Holmes wasn't sure if he wanted to.

The last photo.

Mycroft Holmes can't look at this picture for more than a few moments. It's the last one in the pile. He has responsibilities.

But he pushes away the feeling that rises in his chest at the sight of this particular newspaper clipping, the sudden movement of his throat as he swallows.

He tries to push it away.

But his eyes still linger on the headline. SUICIDE OF FAKE GENIUS.

And his hands still press to his lips, and his eyes still close for a moment. And he still can't look at the picture. Look at the roof.

Caring is not an advantage.

Mycroft Holmes has told himself that since he was a child.

But somehow, it doesn't make it any easier to look at that picture.

And Mycroft Holmes has to slide it back into the pile, push it out of sight before he can gaze at it any longer.

And if he has to close his eyes for a few moments and hold onto the edge of the table, and if for a few moments, the air seems impossible to breathe, then he'll push that away, too.

Mycroft Holmes has responsibilities. Caring is not an advantage.

But when he thinks of Sherlock, it's difficult to remember. Mycroft doesn't care to acquaint himself with feelings, but whenever he thought of Sherlock in the past, there was something. Some warmth, somehow. Some feeling, something. Something that could only ever be associated with his brother.

He supposed it could be defined as an attachment, yet it felt more than that.

He didn't know and that annoyed him. Mycroft Holmes was not accustomed to not knowing things. Ever.

And these days, it is different.

These days-these days, when he thinks of Sherlock, it is like something else.

It is like something ripping him in half. It is like something breaking him slowly into pieces.

And when he thinks of Sherlock leaning over that roof, leaning over until gravity took him and he fell, plummeting through the air towards the ground...

There aren't words Mycroft has for that type of feeling but whenever it happens, whenever he thinks of it, it feels as though there's something fighting inside him, some great misery fighting to crawl out of his throat, something strong enough to destroy him, consume him, devour him from the inside out.

And he wants to curl up and wrap his arms around himself and not think of anything.

And more than anything-if Mycroft Holmes is honest with himself-he wants Sherlock to walk through the door.

But that isn't possible.

It takes Mycroft a few moments to recompose himself. Wipe the look from his face, the movements from his lips. Compose his face, back, back into the unreadable mask that best serves him.

And it takes him a few moments to shuffle the photographs together and stow them away in the drawer. He pushes it closed and turns the key rather firmly. He then gives it one small tug, to check, and drops the key into his pocket, where it will be protected better than almost anything in the country could be.

And the photographs will stay there. Away from prying eyes. Away from inconvenient thoughts. Away from him for a while.

After all, Mycroft Holmes isn't one for dwelling on memories.

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