Original Story Title: Of Brothers (and Side-Kicks)
Original Story Link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/323254
Original Story Pairings: Mycroft + John, John/Sherlock
Original Story Rating: PG-13
Original Story Warnings: Major Character Death
Remix Story Title: you can't choose your family (but you can choose your friends)
Remix Author: coloredink
Remix Beta: greywash, thisprettywren
Remix Britpicker: red_adam, rubyofkukundu
Remix Story Pairings: Mycroft + John, John/Sherlock
Remix Story Rating: PG-13
Remix Story Warnings: Canon Character Death
"you can't choose your family (but you can choose your friends)"
The file is not worryingly thick, nor is it tiresomely slim. Mycroft flips through it almost leisurely: John Hamish Watson, age 37; very bright and an excellent student, judging from his examination results; one arrest for drink-driving in 1998; clean service record; ooh, nasty shot to the shoulder, there; diagnosed with PTSD, now undergoing therapy. Mycroft reads the therapist's notes twice, then shuts the folder and slides it back across the desk towards his assistant. The entire process takes less than four minutes.
"Notify me the moment he's alone," he says. "And send the car."
She tucks the file under her arm and nods. "Reminder that you've a meeting with the French ambassador in fifteen minutes, sir."
"I know." He flaps his hand at her. "You're dismissed."
John Watson turns up at his office the day after the incident with the cabbie. Mycroft folds his hands politely atop his desk and does not question how Watson knew where to find him. He puts on his blandly polite smile. "What can I do for you, doctor?"
Watson leans forward, elbows on his knees, and looks very earnest. "I was wondering what you could do for me about a gun."
Mycroft raises his eyebrows. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You know about it." Watson shifts slightly in his seat. He looks confident, but also diffident; he knows who holds the real power in this room. But he also knows that he's right, and he believes that his morality gives him strength. Interesting. "Must do. You can turn CCTV cameras and ring pay phones, and Sherlock says you're the British government. So: I'd like you to do something about it. Keep me from having to worry so much."
There's always something. Mycroft keeps his reaction to a long, slow blink.
Watson scratches the back of his head. His forehead appears more lined when he moves his eyebrows like that. He's uncomfortable with Mycroft's silence, but not willing to let it cow him. "What you said, about, about the battlefield."
Mycroft inclines his head.
"You were right," says Watson. "And I've got to be armed, then, haven't I? Sherlock needs backup out there, doesn't he?"
This is true.
"I'll see what I can do," Mycroft says, at last. And there's a lot that he can do.
The end of March turns out to be a time for funerals. Mycroft's umbrella sees a lot of use as he stands in the same eternally green field, surrounded by headstones and mourners, listening to the same eulogy about how he was such a good man and that he laid down his life in service of his country. He pays his condolences to the bereaved, assuring them that their husbands and fathers and brothers were good men who died for a good cause, even if their loved ones will never know why or how.
He folds his umbrella, shakes the water from it, climbs into his car and goes to Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson lets him in and directs him to leave his umbrella in the stand by the door.
"Hello," says Watson. He's blinking, owlish, surprised; his hair stands up in dark little tufts, and his skin is pink with warmth. He's still in his dressing gown. Mycroft must seem damp and cold by comparison, though he came here by car and his umbrella does a more than adequate job of keeping off the rain. "Sorry; I wasn't expecting company. Er, would you like something to drink?"
Mycroft's eye falls to the empty mug in Watson's hand. He says, "Tea would be lovely."
Watson stumps into the kitchen. Mycroft seats himself in one of the armchairs in the sitting room and looks around. This isn't the first time he's been in the flat, but there's always something. Surveillance reports just aren't the same as the personal touch. He recognises the skull on the wall and the skull on the mantelpiece. (Sherlock always did have a predilection for bones.) And that's Sherlock's piecemeal laboratory in the kitchen and his persian slipper of nicotine patches hanging by the fireplace. But the James Bond DVDs in the cabinet and the well-thumbed copy of Master and Commander on the end table: those are signs of the good doctor.
"If you're looking for Sherlock," Watson says from the kitchen, over the sound of water filling the kettle, "he's gone to Bart's. Dunno when he'll be back."
"If I were looking for Sherlock," Mycroft says, "that's where I'd be."
The water shuts off. He hears Watson flick the switch on the kettle and open a cupboard, probably to get down another mug, or to fetch down the teabags. The second mug lands on the counter, and then Watson comes back into the sitting room to talk to his guest as they wait for the water to boil. The consummate host.
He takes the seat opposite Mycroft. "So you're looking for me, then."
"That would be the implication."
Watson looks very grave. "Is this about Moriarty?"
Mycroft tilts his head. "What do you think?"
Watson's eyes unfocus, but only briefly. Then he comes back to himself and licks his lips. "You--I don't--why do you want to talk to me? About Moriarty. I don't know anything."
"I know that you are loyal." Mycroft tents his fingers in front of his chest and watches Watson's eyes dart to his hands and then back to his face. "I know that you have a gun and that you're not afraid to use it. I think you're precisely the person I should be talking to about Moriarty."
A smile flickers across Watson's face, but he seems to realise that perhaps this isn't the time for it and smoothes it out. Mycroft can see why Sherlock likes him. "What do you need me to do?" Watson asks, and Mycroft knows that this is precisely who he wants: the man who went to Afghanistan to be a doctor. A stupid, brave, and loyal man.
"I need you to tell me what happened at the swimming pool," says Mycroft.
Watson's mouth hangs open a little bit. He shuts it and scrapes his thumbnail across his eyebrow, twice. "I, er, I thought you--"
"Knew?" Mycroft smiles. He knows how to sham a smile, make it reach all the way up to his eyes so that he looks genuine when he congratulates a couple on their new baby or makes chitchat with the Prime Minister of Georgia. That isn't the smile he uses now. This is the "forced pleasantries" smile, and he knows the doctor will recognise it. "I'm hardly omniscient."
"Bollocks," he says, so matter-of-factly that Mycroft is a little startled. "Sherlock says you're the British government."
"And you believe him?"
"Yes." Again, matter-of-fact, as if he's reciting that the sky is blue, or that people die in the desert without any water. "Sherlock doesn't lie about things like that."
Not Sherlock doesn’t lie, but Sherlock doesn’t lie about things like that. How delightfully precise. And it’s possibly even true. "So you think the British government knows everything?”
Watson opens his mouth and then closes it again. "I'm writing it up for my blog," he says. "You can read about it there."
The kettle clicks before Mycroft can dignify that with a reply. He waits while Watson pours the water. "Sugar? Milk?" Watson calls from the kitchen.
"Neither," Mycroft replies, though there was a time when he dearly loved a bit of milk and sugar in his tea. He folds his hands together and waits until Watson comes back from the kitchen, leaning against the divider that separates it from the sitting room. "Now. The pool."
Watson sighs. "All right, though I don't see that it matters."
He tells Mycroft about leaving the flat, about the cab driver and the gun. (Mycroft's agent must have already been dead; the one that was lowered into the ground today, as a matter of fact.) Being knocked out and waking up in the changing cubicle with a bomb on him. He goes to remove the teabags and brings the finished mugs of tea into the sitting room, sits, and tells about Moriarty's voice in his ear, directing him out to speak words to Sherlock that would make him think he'd been Moriarty all along. Sherlock's reaction.
"He was surprised?" Mycroft says.
"I'm sure it doesn't happen very often." Watson hides his mouth behind his hand. "He looked...a bit hurt, actually."
"Hurt," Mycroft repeats, and oh, how he loathes inefficiency in speech, but he can't help himself.
"Yes. Erm, did you want me to go on?"
Mycroft gestures for him to continue, and Watson relates, to the best of his memory, the conversation between Sherlock and Jim Moriarty. He provides Mycroft with a physical description: Irish accent, fair-skinned, brown-haired and brown-eyed. Mycroft already knows all this, but he appreciates Watson's thoroughness. Watson tells Mycroft, stumbling over it only a little, about the memory stick. He tells Mycroft about--and here Mycroft is actually surprised, though he doesn't know why he didn't predict it himself--grabbing Moriarty and telling Sherlock to run, and Sherlock's failure to heed the suggestion. Perhaps he was frozen with shock. They'll never know. He tells Mycroft about his certainty that they were going to die, and the phone call that saved them.
The tea is gone. Mycroft stands. Watson stands with him.
"Thank you very much, Doctor," he says.
"You're welcome." Watson's face is solemn. "Was that all?"
Mycroft adjusts his cuffs and thinks about sentimentality, and pets. A memory, a story, bubbles to the surface. "There was a dog, when we were children. A golden retriever. Her name was Lucy. We got her when I was twelve years old and Sherlock was five. Sherlock loathed her, particularly as we got older. Wouldn't even call her by name. And when I went away to university, he resented that he was the one to whom the responsibility fell of walking her, brushing her, making sure she was fed and watered. He never let me forget it." He pauses here, because silence is necessary in an effective narrative. "She died when I was in my last year at university. Liver failure. The housekeeper called to tell me. She had already been cremated. There was nothing for me to do."
Watson just looks at him, his expression intriguingly blank. At last, he says, "What are you trying to tell me?"
"Nothing," Mycroft replies. "Just a bit of trivia."
A small line forms between Watson's eyebrows. "I can't decide if you're trying to insult me."
Mycroft inclines his head. "It was only a story about a dog. Good day, John."
Watson's account of what he calls The Great Game goes up later that day. In it, he describes Sherlock's face as looking like that of a little, lost child. Mycroft tries to imagine it, and finds that he cannot.
"He's fine," says Lestrade. "Well. She drugged him with something. He was going on about the sky, and what was going to happen next. I got a bit of it on my phone, if you'd like to see," he adds, cheerful for a Detective Inspector who must now very carefully investigate and not find anything at what used to be Irene Adler's place of residence. Mycroft makes the appropriate noises of thanks and job-well-dones and hangs up.
The building is empty. The only lights are in the hallways and the stairwells. His assistant has left for the day, but the cleaners haven't yet arrived. Mycroft sits at his desk with his jaw clenched and his eyes closed. He has a headache. He thinks this heavy feeling pooling at the bottom of his gut is disappointment. He doesn't like it when things don't go according to plan.
He thinks about going home. There is better cognac at home. But there are things that must be dealt with still, not the least of which is that Irene Adler has drugged his addict brother with something, and now there are steps he must take. Calls he must make, instructions he must give, surveillance he must--
His phone rings. Not his office phone, but his mobile. He glances at the screen. It says Sherlock. He answers it with, "Hello, John."
"How’d you know it was me?" Watson does not sound surprised, but only curious. Mycroft supposes he’s used to people knowing things, by now.
"Sherlock prefers to text," Mycroft says. "He calls only when he needs an immediate favour." And while it's not outside the bounds of possibility for Sherlock to be in need of a favour right now, he is not stupid (not at all stupid). "What can I do for you?"
"Right," says Watson. He sounds only mildly impressed. "It’s Sherlock. I’m a bit worried about him."
John Watson has seen comrades blown to pieces by IEDs. He has shot men in cold blood. He has fought giants and faced death in a Westwood suit. Now he is a bit worried, and he is concerned for Sherlock's well-being. Mycroft may be growing fond of him.
"Aren’t we all,” Mycroft says, very calmly. "What are his symptoms?"
"His symp--erm, well, nothing, yet. I mean, he’s sleeping, right now. But she--that is, Irene Adler, she gave him something. Drugged him. And I, ah, I know he’s, um, done a bit of recreational in the past, and I was just wondering--"
"Ah." Of course. He is a doctor, and his sister has battled addiction demons of her own. Of course he knows. Of course he's a bit worried. Mycroft can use this to his advantage. "You've searched?"
"Everywhere I could think of."
Well, that can't be very many places. "Have you searched your own things?"
"My? Why would--no." Watson blows out a sigh. "No, I haven't."
"Then I should do so. You must be thorough. Beyond that, don't let him out of your sight. Stay with him, no matter what. Even if he tells you to leave." Mycroft draws in a deep, long breath and lets it out through his nose. He won't need the surveillance team, then, at least, not if Watson follows his orders, which he will. "I'll take care of the rest."
"Is he--do you think there's any danger?"
"There is always danger, Doctor Watson." He hangs up.
"Doctor John Watson to see you, sir," says the tinny voice on the telephone speaker.
"Thank you, send him in," Mycroft replies, crossing a t.
He doesn't look up as Watson enters the room a minute later, bearing the plastic folder containing Irene Adler's file. He lets Watson wait as he finishes signing papers, caps his fountain pen, and sets both it and the papers aside. Then he looks up at the doctor with a bland smile. "Well, then. Mission accomplished?"
Watson shifts his weight from one foot to the other before replying. "Well. I told him. About the witness protection programme." He pauses. Mycroft lifts his chin, and Watson continues, "He acted like he believed me, but I think," he clears his throat, "I think he knows, actually."
Mycroft raises his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"I asked him if he'd heard from her." Watson rocks back on his heels and lifts his chin. "He said he got a text from her a few months ago. Saying 'Goodbye, Mr. Holmes'."
That would appear to be damning evidence, but Mycroft has been in this business too long to accept anything that merely looks damning. "And he didn't seem troubled by it at all?"
Watson shakes his head, once, an abortive jerk, and probes the inside of his mouth with his tongue. "I think he--it's difficult to tell with him. But he did want to keep the phone." He puts the plastic folder on the desk in front of Mycroft. It is, indeed, missing the smartphone. "And he told me once, about. My phone. It was my sister's. From her wife. He said, if Clara was the one who left, then Harry would have kept it. Sentiment." He looks at Mycroft, his gaze completely guileless.
"Are you accusing my brother of sentiment?"
Mycroft allows sincerity to creep into his smile. "Be sure you remember that, John. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've a meeting I need to attend."
He waits for the doctor to leave, then puts away his papers and his pen and the Irene Adler file. He locks his drawer and his office. His assistant is waiting for him outside the door, her hands clasped in front of her. "The car's waiting," she says.
It's a short drive as far as distance is concerned, but that means nothing in London, so Mycroft brings three newspapers and spends the next thirty minutes glancing at headlines and skimming decks. He does the crossword in one of them. Then he checks his emails on his phone. Beside him, his assistant performs one of any number of tasks that he's entrusted to her, or ones that she's entrusted to herself. Mycroft likes her because she requires little direction and asks no questions when he does direct her.
They arrive at a nondescript grey concrete building. His assistant remains in the car, which takes off to circle or park somewhere discreet; it's of no concern to Mycroft. He lets himself in with a key and takes the lift down to the basement.
Mycroft watches through the one-way glass for a minute before signalling the woman outside to cease recording. She presses the button, and the little red light on the device blinks four slow, deliberate times and goes out. Mycroft opens the door and enters the room.
Moriarty is a sallow, wormy little thing, hardly large enough to contain all the trouble he's caused. He smiles at the sight of Mycroft, and it stretches the skin of his face into an unnatural rictus. His lips and the corners of his mouth are chapped, and his wrists are rubbed red and raw. It would be easier to kill him, but that's not how the game is played. Not today.
"Hello, honey," Moriarty rasps.
Mycroft remains standing by the door, his back against the wall. He can see their reflections in the mirror. So can Moriarty. "Nothing for us today, I take it."
"Nuh uh. Not unless you tell me a story." Moriarty's voice spirals up into a sing-song. He grins at their reflections.
A good lie exists in a world as real as the truth. The liar must know where the lie sleeps, what it likes to eat, the weather it favours, so that when questioned, the lie does not crumble and flake away like so much ash. But it doesn't do to know too many details; after all, most people don't remember what they had for breakfast the day before, or where they were on a certain night five months and fourteen days ago. The human memory is, in general, quite fuzzy and willing to forget. Mycroft knows this. And Moriarty knows this, too.
Mycroft sighs, as if greatly put upon. That does not require much acting on his part. "What would you like to hear today, then?"
"Tell me about when he was a little boy," Moriarty croons. "I like those. They make him seem so human."
John Watson yells. He blames Mycroft for Richard Brook, for Sherlock being slaughtered in the papers, for everything. Mycroft lies about nothing except the fact that he is sorry.
At least it isn't raining.
It's a perfectly lovely Saturday morning, actually. Mycroft gazes up at the postcard-blue sky and doesn't take in a word the minister is saying, while beside him Mrs. Hudson sniffles and dabs at her eyes with a handkerchief. He throws his handful of earth and then turns and makes his way to the car, past Lestrade and Molly Hooper and a handful more of pale, red-eyed faces. Watson isn't there, of course. Mycroft wouldn't have been there either, but appearances must be kept up.
A small media circus waits outside the gates to the cemetery. Mycroft can see the flashes pop even through the tinted windows. He lets the driver take care of getting them out.
Watson does not return his calls or text messages. Mycroft supposes that he is, rightfully, still angry at him. According to the surveillance reports, the doctor has moved out of the flat. Temporarily, judging by the size of his luggage, and the fact that he goes to stay with his sister. He does not report to work for a week, but continues to make short trips outside for the necessities: food; laundry; topping up his phone. Assured that he is alive and functioning, Mycroft turns himself to the many things that still demand his attention.
Weeks pass. Watson moves into a hotel but does not send for the rest of his things. Mycroft sends Mrs. Hudson money for the rent. She refuses at first, but Mycroft insists, and finally simply deposits the money in her account. She doesn't argue after that. Eventually, Watson returns to Baker Street, and Mycroft sends Mrs. Hudson the next month's rent as well.
Forty-five days after the funeral, Mycroft pays a call. After all, there is nothing like the personal touch.
It looks...remarkably the same. Skull on the wall; chemical glassware in the kitchen; criminology textbooks and poison dictionaries on the shelf; James Bond DVDs in the cabinet. The skull on the mantelpiece has disappeared, and so has the copy of Master and Commander.
John Watson has lost weight and gained dark smears beneath his eyes. He greets Mycroft cordially and offers him tea. Mycroft accepts and seats himself in one of the armchairs in the sitting room. The symmetry of everything pleases him. He'd allowed for the possibility that the doctor might still be angry at him, but apparently he is not. At least, not angry enough to not put up the pretence of civility.
Watson takes the seat opposite of Mycroft, and they sit and stare at one another as they wait for the kettle to boil.
"Well," says Watson. "What can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to see how you're doing."
"You're not human, you know that?" Watson says it so amiably and without venom that the sting is all the worse for it--or would be, if Mycroft were capable of feeling. "I mean, here you are, your brother's dead, your brother, and--" He sighs. "But what did I expect? I don't know what. I. You and Sherlock are nothing alike. At all."
Mycroft does not miss the verb tense, and from the way Watson's jaw tightens, neither does he. He examines the handle of his umbrella, to give Watson a moment to compose himself, before asking, "Did you think we were?"
Watson rubs his hand across his face. "No," he allows. "I suppose I didn't, really."
They sit in silence for another minute until the kettle clicks, and then Watson gets up to pour the tea. He doesn't offer Mycroft any milk or sugar, and he stands in the kitchen and waits for the tea to brew without saying anything.
The therapy notes indicate that Watson is more than capable of spending an hour in silence, but Mycroft has more productive ways of spending that time, and so he says, "It may not surprise you to know that Sherlock died intestate."
Watson snorts. "Course not. That would have required planning."
Mycroft smiles, thin-lipped. "The responsibility thus falls to me, as his next of kin, to be his executor and perform what I believe would have been his last wishes. And it's my belief that he would have wanted me to do nothing."
Watson chokes out a brittle little laugh. "He would have wanted you to keep your nose well out of it, yep."
"Indeed. So I'm afraid it's your responsibility now, John."
"What?" Watson brings the tea back into the sitting room. His left hand trembles as he sets the tea down on the table, and the mug rings sharply against the wood.
"To dispose of his effects. Or not. Whatever you see fit." Mycroft makes a vague gesture to encompass the whole of the flat. "You can even delegate it to someone else, if you prefer. I'm sure Mrs. Hudson would be more than willing to assist."
Watson sits down. Mycroft picks up his mug of tea and takes a delicate sip. Watson says, "But I can't--you--what--"
"I will continue to pay Sherlock's portion of the rent out of his estate, for as long as necessary, so you needn't worry about that." Mycroft sets down his mug. "Take all the time you need."
His hand is trembling even worse, now. Watson forces it into a clumsy fist and presses it against his thigh. He swallows. Mycroft examines his cuticles. He hears Watson take several deep breaths, and finally choke out, "You bastard."
Two weeks later, Mycroft's surveillance team finds piles of old newspaper clippings in the bin. Mycroft has them rescued, but he lets go Sherlock's collection of Wanted posters (some of which were valuable, if Watson only bothered to do the research, but he did not), his case-related mementos, a random bag of feathers. He does not pursue the chemical equipment, which is picked up by a grateful representative from a nearby school, but sends an agent to Oxfam to purchase back all of Sherlock's clothing. Mrs. Hudson tells him that Watson eats little, limps a great deal, and cries out in the night. He's polite, but often distant, and very, very quiet.
Mycroft visits the flat every sixty days or so. Watson always offers him tea, and Mycroft always accepts. They talk about nothing in particular, and the visits rarely last longer than ten minutes.
Nearly a year to the day after Sherlock's death, Mycroft learns that Watson has put out an advert for a flatmate. In response, he sends in several agents to be interviewed for the room, among them a young woman who calls herself Mary. She is petite and blonde and brown-eyed, listens to rock music, and adores Daniel Craig in the new Bond movies--she thinks he's "completely edible." She loves to cook, she's a neat freak, she's a morning person, and she's tone-deaf. She works as a librarian at the University of London. She moves into the flat five days later.
Watson looks surprised to see her there for the first month or so, but Mary cooks gargantuan portions of lasagne and risotto and chicken stir-fry, and slowly Watson begins to put on some weight. He still limps, but he smiles more often, and even the nightmares begin to decrease.
Also in that year, Mycroft negotiates the release of two British hostages in Syria, sends aid to a sinking ship in the Arctic Circle, and presents an award to a Tibetan peacemaker. There is always something that needs to be done.
Eighteen months and twenty-nine days after Sherlock's death, John Watson does not arrive home at the expected hour and does not respond to Mary's text messages asking if he'd like chicken for dinner. She tries calling, next. His phone rings two and a half times and then goes to voice mail. At that time, she phones Mycroft.
"Stay at the flat," Mycroft tells her. "Notify me immediately if he returns."
Analysis of the CCTV footage shows that Watson never left work. Mycroft confirms it with a phone call. He suspects he knows what's happened, and so sends for the car. This requires legwork.
They're just closing, but the receptionist directs him to Watson's consulting room. Mycroft doesn't bother to knock.
Two heads whip around to stare at him. One of them is Watson, his tie yanked askew, his shirt tugged out of his trousers and half his buttons either missing or undone. The other one is Sherlock, thinner and paler and his hair bleached yellow, dressed in a ratty, threadbare hoodie and frayed, baggy jeans. There's blood crusted around Sherlock's nostrils and on his upper lip, blood smeared around Watson's mouth and chin, and blood all over both their clothes and a little spattered on the surface of Watson's desk. Watson's knuckles look bruised and tender. Sherlock's nose may very well be broken. They've sprung a little apart, but Watson still has his left hand--not trembling now--fisted in the front of Sherlock's hoodie, and his shirt will probably never recover from the grip Sherlock has on his collar.
"Mycroft!" Sherlock barks. "Do you have to ruin everything?"
"Oh God," Watson says, faintly.
Mycroft opens his mouth and startles himself with a laugh. Sherlock's expression is at first surprised, but then his lips curl at the corners and he begins to chuckle. And John joins them last, leaning against Sherlock and giggling.
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