The instructions were simple and straight to the point. Nothing he would not have expected. Nonetheless, the implications left him fighting for breath, lungs expanded without effect. There seemed not enough oxygen to fill the space within. Dizziness overcame him, and his heart stuttered in his chest. Yet, he knew there was no other way. The outcome was set and the risk of defiance was one he would not take.
His hand shook slightly as he filled the paper with words. Thoughts and feelings, poured out for the last time. He had to make them good, to make them count. They were the last he would ever speak. Carefully, he folded corner onto corner and then fitted the square into a pristine white envelope. Beside it, he laid a single red rose, then slid off his ring and placed it on top. The silver glistened in the evening sun.
The ride was silent. Seat belts had been abandoned in favour of comfort and four tiny hands were now clutching his shirt tight between their hands. Emmelyn had curled into a ball to his right and hid her auburn locked head in his side. He could feel her crying silently against him. Christophé had buried his face in his lap, too small to understand what was happening around him. Soft hiccups shook his tiny frame, quickly soothed by Mycroft’s hand combing through his dark brown curls. Nine and five years was all he’d gotten to experience with them in the end. Far more than he had ever dared to dream, but parting with them now was unbearable. Mycroft swallowed thickly, tears rising treacherously behind his eyes.
He forced them back, determined not to cry in front of them. Gregory wasn’t just an emotional choice, but a logical one as well. He was undeniably better at this. More loving, more accommodating and less busy. He was a natural nurturer, a father. Mycroft’s heart contracted painfully in his chest.
“Papa?” Emmelyn’s voice was muffled through the fabric of his shirt. Her wide, blue eyes shone with tears.
One small hand let go of his shirt to wipe at her eyes. “Will daddy be alright?”
There was too much knowledge in those words. Mycroft felt thirteen again and was staring with fearful eyes at the burning remains of what was once his childhood. Not again, never again. Determination burned bright in his chest.
“Yes,” he replied confidently and beckoned her to lean back against his side. “He will be fine and scooping you both up before you know it.” Face again hidden from the children’s eyes, tears finally fell. They left salty, burning tracks in their wake.
By the time the car came to a halt a safe distance off the transfer point, both Emmelyn and Christophé had fallen asleep against him. Mycroft carefully disentangled himself, bedded their heads on his jacket and kissed each freckled forehead. The driver would stay with them and ensure their safety.
Before he had even reached the front line, Sherlock appeared beside him, excited like a child on Christmas Day. Had this been a normal case, Mycroft might have lectured him on empathy and social behaviour, but not today. Numbness spread through his heart.
Feelings, Sherlock snorted in his head, they do nothing but cloud your judgement.
“What are you doing here, Mycroft? This is my case!”
He didn’t know, of course not. Sherlock had always been an expert at overlooking what disturbed him or exceeded his understanding. And Mycroft would not, could not tell him, for it would break him completely. Instead, he coolly strode on, Sherlock and John’s irritated voices following him to the line of police cars blocking the road.
“Mycroft, please, just let him solve this in peace, he’s been unbearable since we closed that fishmonger case a week ago,” John pleaded.
Sherlock snorted, annoyed. “I would be a much more pleasant living companion if Mycroft would keep his fat, greedy fingers out of my business!”
“Please, Mycroft – ”
“For god’s sake, John, will you stop begging?! His ego is big enough as it is, no need to inflate it further. He barely fits through doors already!”
“ – have a heart.”
“You will learn there’s no such thing to be found beneath his ribcage.”
Sergeant Donovan stood tensely behind one of the cars, a bulletproof vest under one arm. Her eyes widened when she spotted him, then narrowed dangerously. “What are you doing here? This is a police investigation and none of your government business!”
But her pointing, accusing finger didn’t stop him from stepping past her towards the operation van. A few short words with the head of command, the flash of an identity card, and Mycroft began to methodically remove all valuable belongings from his being. As he carefully placed his watch in the small bag, engraving deliberately facing downwards, Sherlock approached again.
“It’s a kidnapping, Mycroft, what could you possibly find interesting about it?” Sherlock complained.
“We’re not even sure about the victim yet,” John added helpfully, “although Sherlock has narrowed it down to seven people.”
A sharp sting erupted from Mycroft’s lip. The blood tasted bitter on his tongue. Finally, he removed his wallet and placed it inside the bag, then closed it tightly. He’d removed the picture beforehand and left it in the car, nestled safely in the pocket of his jacket.
“5 minutes ‘till transfer!” Donovan’s voice announced behind him. “If they don’t clarify their demands before that, it’s likely to end bloody.”
“Idiots,” Sherlock hissed. “We have to challenge them, unsettle them, force them to reveal themselves!”
Mycroft’s hands flexed reflexively. The bulletproof vest offered by an armed officer was quickly declined with a subtle but firm shake of his head.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sherlock demanded. His expression cleared in understanding when Mycroft stepped forward, but John’s grip on his arm kept him from following.
The police tape fluttered in the wind, it’s chaotic movement disrupted as Mycroft pulled it up over his head. The bridge lay innocuous and wide before him. He halted at the edge, eyes seeking out the three black cars parked at the other side. Six armed and masked men cowered behind them, but Mycroft was sure they were more hidden away in the trees beyond. When the door of the right car swung open, he could feel the air catching in his lungs. He didn’t dare breathe as fear crept up his spine. There, with hands tied behind his back and blindfold over his eyes, stood Greg. Mycroft recognised the stance and silver hair and nearly choked in relief. Everything would be alright.
Sherlock continued to whine somewhere behind him, demanding an explanation neither John nor Donovan could give him. They couldn’t yet see who was being nudged onto the bridge. He tuned out their voices, then took a careful step forward. A short bark of command, and Greg did the same. His steps were shaky and unsure, but he managed to walk in a straight line, following what Mycroft assumed were the noises on the other side.
The water splashed melodic beneath their feet. Mycroft’s heart hammered in his chest, threatening to break through his ribcage. Agonisingly, slowly, the distance between them lessened, until he could see the bruises on Greg’s face. The black and blue colouring reached from his left eye to his cheek and then disappeared beneath his torn collar. Mycroft’s hands turned into fists, but he kept his pace steady, eyes focused on the only thing that mattered.
And then, finally, they reached the middle of the bridge. Without hesitation, he reached out to stop Greg, steadying him as he flinched back in surprise. “Gregory…” Mycroft said gently, then carefully framed his face with his hands. Greg melted instantly against him and sought out his shirt with his hands, holding tight. A relieved sob escaped his throat, quickly silenced by Mycroft’s lips. Mycroft kissed him with everything he had, tears welling up again.
But before they could fall, he drew back and rested their foreheads together. “I love you,” he whispered and placed another kiss on top of his hair. “I love you.”
“Mycroft?” Confused, Greg tightened his grip on his shirt, but Mycroft gently removed his fingers. “Keep walking,” he told him firmly, lips brushing against Greg’s forehead one last time. “Everything will be alright, please. Just keep walking.”
And with that he let go and continued his walk to the other side. He didn’t dare look back, face trained firmly on the open car door ahead and the man who stood beside it. It was only after he’d reached his destination and his hands were swiftly being tied behind his body, that his eyes sought out the other side. Greg’s silhouette being covered by the shiny golden shock blanket was the last thing he saw, before the blindfold covered his eyes. Relief had never felt so painful.
Hands, all over his body, pulling him forward and tearing on the rope around his hands. Someone pushed his head down and the noise of fluttering police tape passed over him. He felt nauseous, disoriented. “Mycroft?” His feet caught on the uneven ground. To his right, Sherlock’s voice cut through the chatter around him. Then, finally, someone removed the blindfold.
The light blinded him for a moment and he blinked against the pain in his eyes. Someone pressed him down until he sat on a hard edge. His fingers touched the lined inside of a car boot, then gripped the metal edge.
“Lestrade?” Sherlock’s face appeared at his side.
“Boss?” Donovan called to his right. “You alright?”
Him? Why did they care about him? Where was – “Mycroft?”
He sprang up, then nearly keeled over. Someone grabbed his arm to steady him. “Where’s Mycroft?” He looked around, confused, then found the bridge. On the other side, nothing but trees.
“No…” Greg breathed and panic welled up inside him. Sherlock droned on.
“How can you be here, Lestrade, there was no indication of your involvement whatsoever. Mycroft. This must be one of Mycroft’s dirty little tricks. And what was that on the bridge? Is this a ruse? What clever plan has my brother woven and planted in your head, Lestrade?”
“No!” Greg couldn’t concentrate, could barely think. It was wrong, all wrong, why weren’t people doing anything? His head ached. Sherlock’s voice kept unrelentingly echoing through his thoughts.
“What has he bribed you with this time? I can assure whatever it is, it’s not worth it. Nothing involving him ever really is. He’s hardly –“
Greg slapped him hard, anger overriding the pain. “How dare you!” He stared at him through blurry tears. Sherlock stared right back, expression torn between shock and offence. At his side, John had fallen into a fighting stance without fulling realising it.
“Could you, for once in your life, show a bit of compassion!” Greg took a step back, then decided otherwise. His voice was already hoarse from screaming after such long disuse. “Mycroft’s gone, taken and driven off by one of the many men which want to see him suffer to death and you stand there and insult him!”
John’s balled fists opened into a placating gesture. “What –“
“You did NOTHING!”
Sherlock, still unable – unwilling even – to process what had happened, had composed himself and scowled, sharp reply already on his tongue. Greg prepared for a second punch, but the small, frightened voice of a girl behind him had him deflate in sudden defeat.
He hastily wiped at his face, then turned, trying his best to smile reassuringly. “Hey, sweetheart,” he said gently, then crouched down and opened his arms.
She ran forward and he scooped her up, small legs wrapped tight around his waist. Her hair smelled like strawberries. Somehow, she had ended up wrapped in Mycroft’s jacket, with the sleeves rolled up four times to expose her hands. She smelled like Mycroft, too. He could feel wetness on his skin where she’d buried her nose in his neck.
“It’s alright, Ems,” Greg muttered. His gaze met that of the driver waiting patiently behind the line of cars, a sleeping Chris in his arms.
When he turned back to Sherlock and John, both just stared dumbfounded. “You bring him back, do you hear me, Sherlock,” Greg said, voice cold as ice. “You bring my husband back!” And then walked away without another word.