"Well, this is convenient," Mycroft smiled pleasantly. "I've just come from the Home Office. There are some serious concerns, Commander Snow."
Mycroft Holmes was not a huggable type of man. He was actually quite slick and clever, like some unholy union between a snake and a crow. John might have hugged him right then. In fact, the tension draining out almost made him giddy.
Mycroft went on, "But fancy meeting you here, Sherlock."
Sherlock made an inarticulate sound of disgust and started walking back in the direction of the offices. He passed Snow without a second thought.
"Holmes!" Lestrade said.
"Yes?" Mycroft replied smoothly.
Many in the room did a double-take.
Lestrade glanced at Mycroft but vaguely motioned at Sherlock's back.
"Yes," Mycroft replied knowingly. He tugged a shirt cuff. "Quite sorry about… him."
"Uh, no need," Lestrade managed around his surprise.
"Then excuse me a moment, gentlemen," Mycroft signaled Anthea. She didn't look up from her texting but fluttered her fingers in acknowledgement, "I must speak with Sherlock, on a matter."
Snow swung his gaze around to Mycroft, and, though it seemed impossible, his expression became even less agreeable.
No one tried to impede Mycroft as he set off after Sherlock's flagging coat.
"That his brother?" Lestrade asked no one in particular.
It made John smile. No two kin could look less alike, he felt sure of it. It would be easier to believe John Watson was Mycroft Holmes brother. Then Mycroft paused and turned. He called out tolerantly, "John. What are you doing?"
"I'm…" he looked anxiously at Sarah and then opened his arms a little. "Standing."
"Interesting. I would think it wiser if you were to come with me. As I said, I was hoping to speak to him." Mycroft waited elegantly in the silent circle of police.
John pinched the bridge of his nose, "Honestly? You've known him since children."
"And he listens to you. Do come along to translate." He raised a hand like a cup he tipped toward his brother's receding back.
Snow's chin rose imperiously. "If you know what's good for him, you'll take him with you when you go, Holmes."
"Ah, Mr. Snow, we shall see," Mycroft said lightly. But there was an edge in his tone that stopped people milling. It took him a long, ominous moment to turn his attention from the Commander to his brother again. "Now, John, if you please." Mycroft spun the umbrella stylishly under one arm and indicated where Sherlock sat staring ice daggers. Even the attitude of Sherlock's sitting telegraphed discomfort and resentment.
Wow. John threw an apologetic glance to Sarah but was obliged to follow behind Mycroft.
They'd reached an empty span of desks. "We'll need to use an office." John indicated the large echoic space with some concern. He didn't think Sherlock would shout, but any conversation would bounce from the walls in this large an area and stood to be overheard.
"Yes, I know." Mycroft's fingers tightened on the umbrella, and his already quiet voice went whispery with distress. "When was he shot?"
John was flummoxed, "You can look at him and tell?"
Mycroft smiled a little. "Yes, I can tell he is injured. It's all over his posture. He's hurt his arm. But it was the charming young woman over there who told me he'd been shot. And I must say it's so novel to see him with companions. I never thought friendship could happen for him. Oh, I debated it, I played with the odds, but I honestly never thought it plausible. And now a lady friend? Sherlock?"
This rankled John somehow. For one thing, "Oh, well, you see Sarah's my girlfriend," John began.
"Yes-yes, of course," Mycroft said with a small twinkle of delight. "But she doesn't hate him, and I've never seen a woman do that. Still… it's early." He winced.
John found those words thoroughly depressing. He glanced up and honestly hoped Sherlock hadn't, somehow, apprehended them.
In fact, Sherlock's face was turned away. The great detective hugged himself lightly on the ribs, transparently uncomfortable. The Yard was Sherlock's terrain, John thought, it was his asylum. Here, the younger Holmes could forget about many things… including the insurmountable obstacles between himself and Mycroft. Whatever they might be. John couldn't guess. Mycroft had ruined it by setting foot inside these doors.
Sherlock's whole body straightened to proper stiffness in his chair. He sat like a Catholic school boy at Mass, and avoided looking at Mycroft as long as he could.
"Sherlock," Mycroft's fingers squeezed the umbrella he held like he might want to strangle it. It looked like a hurricane of disapprovals crossed his mind, pushed by a thunderhead of outrage, but he only said his brother's name.
Sherlock's voice was sour as day old tea. "Why are you here?"
It was miraculous he didn't get swatted by the umbrella.
Instead, Mycroft used the hook of it to pull a chair across, and then folded down to a perfectly balanced position before his brother. He looked Sherlock over as if his younger brother was little more than flight boards at the airport and he wasn't certain he liked what he was seeing. The tension between them built like pressure on an unplayed string. John's own nervous energy, standing aside, made him want to pluck that invisible string to see what note it would strike. Finally, Mycroft's fingers loosed on the wood handle. "What did you take?"
The umbrella's steel tip made a loud bang on the floor tiles. "Don't lie to me."
Even John jolted. It brought him out of his stupor. "I gave him something for pain."
Sherlock's head whipped around to take John in. He looked blindsided.
"I mean, I'm sorry." He spread his hands. "You need pain management, Sherlock."
Mycroft released a pent-up breath and artfully dissembled to give himself a moment to regroup. He returned with, "Don't blame John. How could you allow yourself to be shot to begin with, Sherlock?"
Sherlock's green gaze locked on Mycroft, and, from there, the stare went hard. "I didn't see it coming as the shooter was on a second floor, and a standard Glock has a muzzle speed of 350 -60 meters per second."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. It was thoroughly careless of you to get into such a position to begin with." Mycroft made a perfectly minute shake of his head. "And, once shot, it didn't cross your mind to enlist my help?"
John winced. It was a bad tack to take with Sherlock. Very bad.
Sherlock threw his body back, "Oh, enlist your help? What do you want?"
"To take you home," Mycroft said stiffly. "Clearly, you lack the sense God gave the rest of us, and by that I mean the presence of mind to take yourself to hospital. Aside from which, I don't want to have to explain this to mother without you safe beside me to-"
Sherlock sat forward, "Are you insane?" He climbed to his feet, closed his hands in the small of his back, and strode out past John.
"Hey, don't run off," John told him. But Sherlock only went as far as the glass wall and shoved the door to an office – Lestrade's. Mycroft rose to his feet, smoothed his suit, and walked inside. John hurried behind, afraid they'd end up throttling one another. They held their tongues in the glass room, until the door closed.
Mycroft pointed his umbrella at Holmes like rapier. "You have no human feeling."
"I don't care." Sherlock replied. "If that is your reason for coming, it's wasted breath."
Mycroft smacked the umbrella's tip to the floor with a thwack. "Doctor!"
"Don't appeal to him," Sherlock turned in a thrash of coat and stepped up to Mycroft. "I'm sure you'd be very happy to put him in the middle of all this. To put me in a situation from which I couldn't escape without-"
"Without what?" Mycroft looked up inquisitively. "Without hurting one of us?"
"Please. I hardly care." Sherlock turned to pace. He didn't meet anyone's gaze, but stared flatly at Lestrade and Donovan slowly heading their way. His fingers, entwined behind his back, were taut.
John blew out his puffed cheeks, and eased himself to lean on Lestrade's desk. He rubbed his hands over his hair. "Sherlock you… you are exasperating. He can't prevent himself from worrying about you. He's your brother."
"Not something I can change." Sherlock replied.
"People worry about the ones they love," John couldn't believe he was spelling this out. Sherlock could explain in revolting detail how murder entangled itself with human feeling, but John also knew his understanding of emotion was frighteningly academic. There was some interruption between Holmes and the experience of emotion. It was almost like a deficiency, or disability. So John laid it out like an illuminated signpost on some dark forest path. "Worry, a worry like this one, for example, can make a perfectly sane person incensed with you, Sherlock. Mycroft was probably frantic."
"Not something I asked for, and not important."
"You were shot. You could have died," Mycroft clacked the umbrella. "Is that important?"
"Peripherally," Sherlock sounded dreadfully irked by the question. "I have actual work to do, Mycroft. Unless you have something pertinent, I believe we're done here."
John, his hands on his hips, put his head down. It was like scaling a wall, to find, millimeters in as you reached the top, a taller wall. When he looked at Mycroft, the man's face was still and closed. He was like a floodlight in the off position. Slowly, he burned back into life.
Mycroft nodded to himself, "Yes. I had a letter come across my desk today."
"Then why don't you go do something about that." Sherlock invited and then turned in place. He stared at Mycroft steadily. "Tell me."
Mycroft sighed, "I see we're interested now."
"Mycroft, tell me." His hand flicked. "And then leave."
"First tell me who shot you," Mycroft leaned against Lestrade's desk and crossed his arms. "Also, for the sake of the family, will you swear to me you'll take rest after this case and-"
"I'm really quite busy, Mycroft." Sherlock said. He turned for the door. John got up and hurried over to block it. In fact, he stepped right into Sherlock's path. It forced the larger man to a sudden halt. Sherlock stared down with unfamiliar expressionlessness. John backed up a step; he might have been rumpled newsprint blown in Sherlock's way.
Well enough of that.
"Look, stop this." John said, and then to Mycroft. "He's going to convalesce at home after this, yes. You don't need to worry about it, because I'll see to it. And there are lives involved in all this, Mycroft. A woman was shot down tonight, right in front of us – right in front of Sherlock," it struck John that the younger Holmes was remarkably together for having experienced such a thing, perhaps owing to his atrophied emotions. "If you know anything about why, be humane and tell us so."
Sherlock half-turned to scrutinize his brother.
In that moment, Mycroft betrayed no reaction whatsoever. Then he moved the umbrella to dangle over his elbow by the wooden handle. "You're… very possibly a good influence on him, John. You give me hope. When it comes to Sherlock… that's extraordinary."
What did one say to the sudden flood of optimism on Mycroft's face, which was moving, but more alarming, because John couldn't fix this. If three people hadn't been murdered, he wouldn't have interfered at all. It had caused Mycroft's face to brim with conviction. "I don't…. Mycroft, maybe you shouldn't make people into heroes. I'm not sure they exist, and if they did, I wouldn't be one."
Sherlock, from whom John had first heard the words, could be seen to smile broadly in reflection. He was still looking out through the glass rather than to deal with his brother, but he felt his point had been made. No heroes. Just villains and the blissfully ignorant. He was the kind of villain who hated other villains. John, Sherlock felt, was the same.
The smile wasn't lost on Mycroft either, whose gaze fixed on Sherlock in the mirror-bright glass, thoroughly disappointed. He reached into his inner jacket pocket and took out an envelope, but he handed it over to John. "He can be very eloquent, John, but be careful. For instance, did you know that hero comes from the Greek heros?"
John took the envelope, but Mycroft did not release it. "No." John admitted.
"Yes. It came to define men of superhuman strength, and otherworldly courage, and my brother is quite right, demigods do not exist. However, the original meaning is much more personal in scope. Heros – any man who defends or protects. Do you defend or protect anyone, John?"
According to that definition, he had a long, lusty relationship with heroics. John had involuntarily looked at Sherlock. He realized this, and looked at the floor instead. Holmes was a maze of dichotomies: fragile and incredibly resilient; unwavering and unstable; composed and yet beyond control. His vulnerabilities, his weaknesses, threatened one of the most exotic of creations – the novelty of that mind. Which meant it risked Sherlock himself. For John, that was an unacceptable risk to take. Sherlock was almost a force of nature. But he was also very weak.
"Interestingly enough," Mycroft released the envelope at last. "The etymology for hero traces back to the Latin root of 'observe' – servare. Means to watch and keep safe. To protect." He indicated Sherlock's turned back with a tilt of the umbrella. "Be careful with what he tells you, John. Listen, but listen critically."
"Are you done?" Sherlock droned. He ignored Watson's offer of the envelope.
Mycroft passed him on the way to the door. "Commander Snow has an intense disapproval for you, Sherlock. It springs from your unfortunate background, I believe – for instance, the habit you'd developed as a younger man." He bopped the handle of the umbrella gently off Sherlock's chest. It was almost a friendly gesture.
"I don't need it anymore." Sherlock turned his face away. His voice was so quiet it was barely audible. "What's the envelope?"
"You tell me."
"Paper is local. Address is your office. Contents were probably printed from your Deskjet to avoid arousing suspicion. Handwriting is female."
Mycroft turned John's way, "Anthea is mathematically gifted. Not so keen with names and faces, I'm sorry to say, but, does very well with numbers."
John nodded mutely and looked down at her handwriting.
"Sherlock, listen to me." Mycroft reached across and laid a gentle hand on Sherlock. Though the injury was on the interior of the upper arm, beside the ribs, Sherlock's bruising was extensive. At that glancing touch, his face drained of colour, and he froze in the attitude of someone abiding pain. Mycroft's hand dropped. His gaze pounced on John. "Dr. Watson, as his physician-"
"Oh, you are." Mycroft looked annoyed, "I'm going to ask you to give him no more than another hour. Sherlock, I promise you, if you persist after that mark, I will put a call through to the house and I will tell."
"Of course you will," Sherlock's green eyes were squeezed shut, but he might have rolled them if he were inclined to eye-rolls. "Go away, Mycroft. You're ruining everything." The door opened to admit Lestrade at last. He stood staring at the Holmes brothers, neither of which even bothered to glance his way.
"How juvenile you are," Mycroft stiffened and raised his chin. "You could be doing great things, Sherlock, things that would defy description. You have that in you. It's the perversity of your nature that demands you waste yourself this way. I wish you could resist."
Sherlock rubbed his eyes with his fingertips as if washing his eyeballs right through his eyelids. "Go. Away." Or maybe it was some kind of mantra?
Mycroft shook his head and stepped past Lestrade without a word. He continued down the hall until he reached Commander Snow, who, along with his men and Anthea, he rounded up and led toward an elevator. He had had questions for the Commander, John remembered.
Lestrade stepped in and shut the door. Shortly, Donovan parked a chair outside it, such that they wouldn't be able to open it without first having her move.
"What was that?" Lestrade asked anxiously. "Is there some problem with you working for us?"
"Not unless you mean Snow's aversion to recovering addicts." Sherlock said.
"I thought you were going to leave with him?" Lestrade jabbed a thumb after Mycroft. "That, him, your brother." He bungled. It seemed hard for him to imagine Sherlock having an actual family.
"God no." Sherlock loomed and watched Mycroft walk away. He glowered right up until the elevator doors shut away Mycroft and the Commander's fuming, red face. The moment that happened, Sherlock plunged at John and snatched the letter. John nearly fell over. Holmes snapped a pewter letter opener – undoubtedly a gift – off Lestrade's desk, his eyes scanning both sides of the envelope zealously before he opened it. "She was in a hurry, but urgent. See her pen pressure? The little dots at the end of each stoke. He printed this, and she didn't properly fold the letter inside. It is imperfectly sealed. That girl must move fast only when Mycroft does."
"What is it?" Lestrade edged forward almost straight into Sherlock's extended hand, put between them to detain him.
"Numbers. Account numbers and... Home Office had their suspicions aroused by a discrepancy in pay regarding this branch. A mistake…." He flipped pages, the corner of his mouth pulling back in to a half smile. "Namely, Melody Doyle's report on her tax return. She reported a mistake."
"Who would be foolish enough to report taxes on ill-gotten money?" John shook his head.
"Not foolish…. Guilty? Disgusted? Ten-eighty-ten, John. The closer to the top ten you get, the more difficult it becomes to commit, or endure, a crime. The bottom ten, they are the mirror image of the top. Everyone else is in the middle 80 percent." Sherlock joined his hands as if he might rub them together, an action John had only ever seen of him while deciding over food – God could he put food away. It would be nice to have a bite to eat.
John shook himself.
Sherlock grinned a little, "That or she's a Muppet."
"Uh, say again?" John's head tipped forward. Sherlock could use Muppet in a sentence. Oh! Better still, he knew what Muppets were. Surreal.
Lestrade was shaking his head, "Muppet – most useless person police ever trained. And Doyle isn't like that, Sherlock-"
"-she has good instincts. Mel is very good at picking out liars, and practically a staple on domestics and calls with kids."
"Leaving guilt, dissatisfaction, anger – Ah! It's like a fairy-tale. This is her breadcrumb trail." He flapped papers, "She wants to be caught. Not being caught was driving her to cheekier actions. Thus Jerry Ballard is having a Very Bad Night." Holmes shoved the papers at John who looked through a slew of numbers without connecting any jot of them to the next. He gazed at it sightlessly, like it was a window pane. "Lestrade?"
Sherlock paced the room, fingertips laid gently against his temples.
The Detective Inspector seemed to know better. He took the paperwork and tucked it back into the envelope. This went folded and directly into his inner jacket pocket. "Unless I'm hard of hearing, we have an hour and then you're out of the Factory for the night. Potentially. If Snow comes back before then-"
Sherlock paused, "He won't."
"No?" John blinked.
Sherlock's expression pulled into a caustic smile. "Mycroft is allergic to seeing me arrested. Oh how it hurts him. Must pay respect for the creaky, old bloodline."
Lestrade gave a sudden burst of disbelief and said, "I suppose it helped you, then?"
Sherlock had turned away again, and snatched out his phone. His digits started fluttering over the touchscreen, and then hit a snag. "My arm is stinging, John. Do something."
Progress. "Will you take pills?"
"I can give you a shot. But I have to know what you've taken." John said carefully. It wasn't Mycroft asking this time. The reaction was somehow vastly different.
"Nothing," Sherlock caught the shoulder of his coat and pulled him around. "John…" but he wasn't able to express anything further.
"Sorry, yes," John rubbed the back of his neck and Sherlock released him. "I think we'll go see Sarah and get you a shot of painkiller somewhere without glass walls." They'd left the bag of medicines that Sarah had packed, in a police locker. There had been a lot of haste to get to Melody Doyle's location.
"Anything else for me?" Lestrade asked.
Sherlock finished texting and Lestrade's phone made a pinging sound. He took it out and looked at Sherlock. "We're in the same room."
"What's your point?" Sherlock asked and then humoured the man. "Vincent Lloyd and Tony Butler are directly involved, and I want to see Melody Doyle's desk."
"Vincent and Tony?" Lestrade's jaw fell open a moment. When he reeled it back in, his brows drew down and he cocked his head in thought.
"Desk," Sherlock said aloud. He made for the door.
Lestrade jerked back to the present, "I'll show you," he nodded.
"I know where it is." Sherlock replied. "Honestly, Lestrade, I've been here before." He went to the door and tapped it. Donovan's glance at him was acid, but she moved the chair aside and let him pass. In fact, she followed him. This was part of what she'd been appointed to do, of course, but it made John anxious to see them go off alone.
"He's memorized the floor by now," John rubbed his cheek. "I need to get the syringes and find a private place to inject him."
"You might want to check the bandaging." Lestrade said. "Not that I'm a doctor or anything – obviously – but Sherlock's pale on his best day, I've seen fish bellies with more colour than he has now."
He had a good point. Sherlock was underfed and anemic. His blood pressure was still too low. He still needed protecting.
"Hello?" Sarah said from the doorway. Lestrade glanced between her and John and excused himself. She immediately entered, her gaze scanning the office.
"You've never been to the Yard?" He got from that.
"No," she shrugged cutely – or so he thought – and spread her hands. "Lots of glass."
John sat on the edge of Lestrade's desk. "Sherlock likes clarity so, I guess this is apt."
She sped over to him, "Are you okay? Some of the officers were talking about a shooting. Someone tried to shoot him again? Were you in any danger?"
"No-no. I'm fine," he thought back to his lapse of any sense during the firefight and decided it would be best not to mention anything about that. Frankly, it disturbed him. He'd been so focused on the muzzle flashes that he'd felt no fear. "We need to inject him. His arm is one large bruise."
"You're fine?" She asked.
John set down the pewter letter opener that, for some reason, he still carried, reached out, and set his hands on her slender arms. Just like that, her eyes filled with moisture. It was clear she'd been terrified. "Mycroft showed up at the flat and convinced me to let him in. I didn't know that I completely believed who he was, but he was frantic, and Mrs. Hudson swore he was a relative. He knew Sherlock had been shot."
John's head dropped forward, "Meaning the apartment is bugged."
John rubbed her arms. "Let's just be glad he's on our side. Mostly."
Lestrade tapped the glass and held up the bag of syringes. Sarah recognized it at once and turned a smile in John's direction. "Come on. Let's put a sack over his head and drag him off where we can take care of him."
Continued in Part 7.