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The Cat Among the Parakeets

Chapter Text

One

Inhaling deeply, Sherlock greedily sucks the nicotine into him with the fervor of a drowning man craving oxygen. God. It has been way too long since he’s had one of these.

“I thought you had bloody quit?” 

He releases his exhale with deliberate slowness into the cool London air through the partially opened window. “I did.”

“You promised you wouldn’t smoke in the flat around Rosie!” Annoyance and exasperation radiate from his flatmate. John then gives a long-suffering sigh before saying what he had originally intended to say. “I am staying over at Amanda’s over the weekend.”

“Who?” He blows more hot smoke out the window. “And Rosie isn’t even here right now. I will quit again tomorrow.”

“Why do I even bother!” Sherlock can imagine John throwing up his arms behind him. “You know even better than I do that those ashes go bloody everywhere. And for your information, Sherlock, she is my girlfriend who you met over dinner last night. You two seemed to have gotten along fabulously… at my expense.”

Ah. That’s who she was. Musician. First violinist. London symphony orchestra. Part Japanese, part Brit. Oxford. Surprisingly witty. Probably out of John’s league, but who is Sherlock to judge? They had traded amusing anecdotes regarding some of John’s not-so-finest moments which Sherlock had never bothered to delete. Accruing potential blackmail material is never a waste of space. Or time for that matter.

“One would have thought you were dating her for the last six months… instead of me.. .” John says ruefully.

“Ah, but John… I told you ages ago that women were not my area.” 

“It seems to me, Sherlock – that no one is your area. If not Irene, Janine… You’ve never given anyone as much as a second glance… Male or female.”

Sherlock shrugs. “Asexuality is a thing… or maybe I just haven’t met the right person.” The latter seems more true to him. He masturbates. He has indulged in gay porn when John is out of the flat. He has toys hidden in the closet. Ever since he’s gotten his memories back from Sherrinford, his libido had increased. It is slightly annoying. Almost as annoying as John’s neverending curiosity about Sherlock’s lack of a sex life and romantic entanglements with the goldfish. 

“It’s not like you have been exactly looking…” Sherlock can feel John’s eyes looking pointedly at his back. He sighs and stubs the cigarette out in the ashtray on the windowsill. 

Weary of discussing matters pertaining to his sexuality, Sherlock changes the topic. “Are you seeing Amanda today?” 

“Yeah. Leaving… um now.” John had just glanced at the screen of his phone to check the time. “And, Sherlock – it’s all fine. As I told you before. I… just want you to be happy.” Sherlock can hear the unspoken regret in his flatmate’s tone. They haven’t discussed everything that had gone wrong over the last few years, but time seems to be lessening the old resentments, anger and guilt between them. He is certain that things would never be as easy as it had been in the beginning, but they are both trying to make an effort to fix their friendship. “I will see you.”

“See you.” Sherlock mutters in reply as he hears the door slam behind John on the way out. 

Did he need someone to be happy? Is he an incomplete person just because he doesn’t have another half? Sighing, Sherlock pulls out another cigarette from the carton and lights it. Before he could bring it to his lips, he hears someone walk up the stairs. John? No – this person is heavier… Mycroft…? His brother hadn’t darkened their flat in a long while. Not since Sherrinford. What has brought big brother here? A case? No. Unlikely. There’s a hesitancy to Mycroft’s steps that normally isn’t there. Unless... if it’s about Eurus? But then, Mycroft would have shown up while John was here. It is clear enough by the timing that Mycroft had waited for John to vacate the flat. The sound of footsteps stop in front of the door. He can almost hear Mycroft thinking outside. It must be personal then. Something pertaining to them. Sherlock and Mycroft. But then again what was personal enough that a few texts couldn’t solve? He takes one puff of the cigarette and puts it out just as Mycroft knocks on the door. Three identical raps. A courtesy. After all, Mycroft does have a key.

He is tempted to let Mycroft wait. But, reluctantly, he pulls himself away from the windowsill and goes to open the door. He is a curious creature after all. As big brother steps in, Sherlock’s eyes give him a quick glance over. The usual three-piece suit. A red tie with dark spots. Matching pocket square. Umbrella. Thinner by three pounds. A mix of expensive fragrance (notes of bergamot and sandalwood) and tea. His brother wrinkles his nose – evidently smelling the tobacco on Sherlock. Mycroft had quit again. There is a somewhat exhausted look on his countenance. Didn’t sleep last night… probably. 

In the old days, Sherlock would had been eager to drive his brother away from his abode as soon as possible, but somehow – he doesn’t feel like going back to the old antagonistic patterns. Maybe it had to do with those childhood memories that Sherlock had gotten back recently – even to this day, months after Sherrinford – some long-lost forgotten memory would bubble up from the depths. There had been a time where big brother and him had been close. Nostalgia. Their eyes briefly meet – a glimmer answers Sherlock’s unspoken question: I will stay as long as you will let me stay. This clearly isn’t a matter of National Importance.

Nodding, Sherlock gestures for his brother to sit while he goes to boil some water for tea. He can almost imagine the surprise that flickers across Mycroft’s face in response to the deviation from their usual routine. He prepares two mugs of their finest Assam with the appropriate amount of sugar and cream for both. Vaguely remembering that Mrs. Hudson had brought something up earlier, he goes to the fridge. Vegetarian lasagna. He notes when he lifts the aluminum foil from the tray. Looking over his shoulder, he sees Mycroft quirk an inquisitive eyebrow upwards: Are you offering me dinner? 

He gives a barely perceptible nod. His brother stands up from Sherlock’s new armchair, which doesn't quite feel as right as the original, and strides over to the kitchen counter. Sherlock divides up the food before reheating the two portions in the microwave while Mycroft finds the cutlery in the drawers and proceeds to set the table. 

“The PM or the Home Secretary?” Sherlock inquires when they had both sat down.

“God. The Prime Minister. Good Lord, somehow they get less and less intelligent with every passing term.” Mycroft shakes his head with dismay after letting out a deep sigh. With the corkscrew, he uncorks a bottle of a decent Pinot Grigio left by a grateful client and decants it easily into two glasses. He passes one of them to Sherlock, who sniffs at the wine before sipping at it. 

It is a little too fruity for Sherlock’s taste. Certainly substandard compared to the alcohol his brother usually consumes. However, Mycroft eats and drinks without complaint. Their conversation topics are kept superficial: the latest case – a missing dog that had led to the solution of a decades-old murder, the latest developments in regard to Brexit (which Sherlock tries hard to pay attention to, but politics had never really interested him unless if there was a grisly murder involved) and, finally they stumble upon the topic of John’s girlfriend. 

“Surely you knew he is dating again?” Sherlock rolls his eyes when Mycroft looks taken aback. “With your surveillance and all…”

“I have to confess that I have significantly reduced the level of security on your person and your flat over the last few months. You’d shown me that you are quite capable of handling yourself.” At Sherrinford. The rest of the sentence goes unsaid, but Sherlock can read it from the slight tightening of his brother’s lips. 

Sherlock merely nods, not knowing how to feel; he had suspected this over the last few months. Part of him is elated – he had always been unhappy with the heavy-handed way his brother had liked to interfere with his life in the name of keeping him safe. Another part of him feels somewhat bereft. As strange as it was… he had liked(?) having Mycroft’s undivided attention. Wow. Where did this even come from? Especially considering that he had spent the last few years of his life trying to get out from being under Mycroft’s thumb.

“So, brother… there must be a reason why you came over…” Sherlock decides to change the topic; he will deal with these confusing thoughts later.

“What if I just wanted to see my little brother?” Mycroft asks innocently. As Sherlock narrows his eyes in disbelief, his brother adds. “In person.” 

“We’ve never met for purely social visits… Mycroft.”

“Well, you never offered dinner.” Nor let me go unmocked during it.  

Sherlock winces. “Touché.” 

“I also wanted you to come with me to Derbyshire next week.”

“So… that is something…” A request. Not for a case.

“Do you remember Uncle Erwin?”

“Vaguely.” The name sounds familiar. But their family tree is rather extensive. It is hard to keep track of all these relatives that they hardly ever see. Or, the reality is that he just doesn’t care. 

“He passed last week. The will was read yesterday, and he left us with his expansive country estate.”

“And… Mycroft – you want us both to go see it?” Sherlock gives his brother a weary look. God. As irresponsible as it sounds, Sherlock really does not care about the material details as long as his trusts coughed up enough money to supplant his income for his needs. His brother is only too happy to manage Sherlock’s finances for him. Country houses are a blackhole for money anyways – that much Sherlock knew. All the repairs and utilities; not to mention the taxes, for example. Why not sell it and have it be done with? Besides, Mycroft already has one such monstrosity conveniently placed in the outskirts of London.

“Humour me, little brother.” Mycroft replies, while polishing off the last of the lasagna on his plate. “I thought it was something fun we could do together.”

Sherlock states sharply. “You didn’t want to go alone.”

“No, I didn’t.” Mycroft agrees all too readily.

“You mentioned a while ago that you weren’t lonely, Mycroft.”

His brother’s lips quirk into a slight smile. “Well… things change.” He downs the rest of the wine, before removing his suit jacket. Rolling up his shirt sleeves, he stacks the plates and cutlery. Sherlock follows behind, and somehow he ends up drying all the plates his brother washes. Even the ones left in the sink from earlier meals. Damn. John better not see him doing this. And yet – somehow, this ritual feels rather familiar.

“Have we done this before?”

“Washing the dishes, little brother?”

“I mean… doing this together?”

“On occasion. When you were a child.” The tone is nonchalant, but Mycroft’s expression is wistful.

“Ah…” Sherlock doesn’t know what to make out of this. Trying to suppress a cringe, he recalls Mycroft watching those old videos of them in his house during that not-so-good prank with John months ago. It is evident that crazy sister aside, Mycroft views their formative years with great fondness. Sentiment. They finish their task in mutual silence; there something oddly soothing about this mundanity. 

When Mycroft has put his three-piece-suit to rights, he picks up his umbrella from Sherlock’s chair, before pivoting slightly to make eye-contact with him. His eyebrow quirks Derbyshire?

Sighing, Sherlock nods, reaching over for his Stradivarius. His fingers have the sudden burning itch for Bach. The Chaconne from his second Partita. Needs to let those jagged chords from the beginning fall from his bow. As ridiculous as it all sounds, there is a queer (for the lack of a better word) indeterminate feeling settling within the marrow of his bones about this entire situation. 

“I will text you with the pertinent details.” His brother sounds pleased, while Sherlock shrugs off his sudden flight of fancy and lets the music resonate from the strings. From behind, he can hear his brother gently shut the door on the way out – and he intuitively knows that Mycroft will stand outside or sit inside his car with the window ajar to listen to the lengthy piece in its entirety.

***

Amidst the lush hills and valleys of Derbyshire, stands an ode to bygone British grandeur; a stonework monstrosity of a house that has fallen into some disrepair during the current century. Templeton House, the legend on a swinging metal plaque proclaims as Sherlock drives Mycroft’s personal sleek black Jaguar towards the entrance. His brother directs him to park at a cunningly hidden garage at the back of the house, before they both remove their suitcases from the trunk. He locks the car with the fob, before tucking it into his coat pocket. Their suitcases make thumping noises as they pull them against the unkempt stone tiles, where little green shoots (presumably weeds) grow betwixt the cracks. 

“Damn, it’s even larger than the grange.” Sherlock surveys the pile of rocks dubiously, noting the abundance of wisteria (with its autumn-bronzed leaves) crawling up the walls that make up the back of the House. How cumbersome, these relics that the peers and squires of old had put up as temples for everyone to worship their wealth! It would look beautiful though – Sherlock couldn’t help thinking – in the late spring/early summer, when the wisteria will all be in bloom. He asks with curiosity. “Have you ever been here when Uncle Erwin was still around?” 

“I’ve never been here, brother. It is all so peculiar…” Mycroft admits with utmost seriousness. “Uncle Erwin could have left this house to closer kin than us.”

Intrigued, Sherlock asks, “What kind of man was Uncle Erwin?” 

“By all accounts, an eccentric man…” 

Sherlock’s laughter echoes in the quiet – aside from the birdsong and the gentle rustling of leaves. “I am sure eccentricity is an essential quality to be one of us.”

“Quite right, little brother, quite right – indeed.” Amusement dances in Mycroft’s eyes as they stop to watch a green parakeet hang upside-down on a branch. It swivels its head, looking curiously at them with its orangey-eyes.

“An escaped pet?” Sherlock muses. “I am not going to get consulted about someone’s lost parrot anytime soon, am I?”

“Ah, that’s the ring-necked parakeet – they thrive quite well in certain parts of Derbyshire due to the milder winters.” 

“Birding, Mycroft – really?” Sherlock grins widely.

“A passing fancy.” His brother gives a noncommittal reply.

“At least we aren’t greeted by leafless trees, an unkindness of ravens or a murder of crows, ominous clouds or a cemetery…” Sherlock observes, jokingly.

Mycroft stops again, this time surveying the red-yellow-green foliage of autumn. It is a gorgeous day; there is naught a cloud in the sky. Sherlock has to admit that they are a good storm away from naked trees. In the distance, he can see mountains looming overhead; the view showcases the dramatic Derbyshire landscape. A brightly-feathered pheasant stumbles out of a nearby shrub and makes a run for a cluster of vegetation across the stone-paved path. On a branch, a red squirrel lounges. This place is teeming with fauna.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t joke about these things…” Mycroft says after a long moment. His voice is barely audible amongst the gentle breezes.

Taken aback by his rational brother’s words, Sherlock asks for clarification. “You don’t actually believe in superstitions, do you brother?”

Mycroft gives a small shake of the head. “I believe it’s not wise to tempt fate, in the event that these absurdities are true.”

“Ever a man of caution.” 

“Between the two of us, someone should be.” Mycroft gives him a surprisingly fond smile. “Not everyone can or should be adventurers. Come on, let’s go in and see if we learn a little more about this particular inheritance.”

They pass through a regal stone archway at the front, choked with vines of all sorts. Two formidable doors made up of solid wood and fortified with ornate steel tower above them both. Mycroft reaches up – much to Sherlock’s infinite amusement – to straighten the two intricately-detailed but rusted lion head door knockers, before finally knocking.

***

A middle-aged couple – Nestor and Evelyn Spencer – is what is left of the permanent household staff that keep the House afloat. The balding Nestor, in an impeccable black suit and bowtie, takes their coats and suitcases, while Evelyn directs them into the sitting room. 

The interior of this House is in the Victorian style – the walls of the sitting room are painted in an opulent blue, flowery damask curtains adorn the tall windows and ornate plaster panels depict scenes of myth on the ceiling that go way beyond Sherlock’s head; he’s never had too much interest in the Classics. Sherlock plops his bum unceremoniously on a plush white couch, while his brother sits down on the other side – in that graceful and dignified way of his. An Indian rug covers the rhombus-patterned mahogany floor beneath. Evelyn returns with a simple afternoon tea: fresh buttery scones, an assortment of finger sandwiches, pots of real clotted cream and jams and two generous slices of an egg custard. The tea is placed on the coffee table in front of them. She pours them both tea (Assam) from an antique porcelain teapot into matching dainty teacups. 

“You didn’t make this.” Sherlock couldn’t help but say, after biting into a scone generously covered in an addictive strawberry jam. 

“Our housekeeper, Matilda, who comes thrice a week – Mr. Holmes the younger – made everything. She will be happy to make all of your meals for the rest of your stay.” 

He winces at this new moniker, “Please call me Sherlock.” Mentally, he makes a note to go find this Matilda and coax her to part with every jar of strawberry jam in her possession before they leave. “And that sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it – Mycroft?” He looks pointedly at his brother, who had been sitting with quiet mirth at the previous exchange.

“Whatever you want.” Mr. Holmes the younger. His brother’s eyes almost look gleeful.

Sherlock suppresses the quirk of his fingers to express his true feelings. Instead, he helps himself to a roast beef sandwich, and finds himself consuming a helping of everything with a relish. At some point, Nestor had reappeared, and Mycroft and him become immersed in a discussion regarding the upkeep of the House; the usual boring stuff. When he finishes consuming the custard tart, he gets up from the couch and slips back out to the Great Hall – where they had entered from.

***

Old country houses have a tendency to be damp, regardless of how much heating is utilized. Sherlock hates it; even in Mycroft’s modernly fixed-up grange with efficient heating, things still ended up wetter than they should be. His brother calls it character; Sherlock terms it an inconvenience. 

Despite his suit-jacket, he is shivering slightly in the hall, while scrutinizing the series of oil-portraits in gilded frames that hang on the white-washed, but ornately paneled walls. His distant ancestors and relatives stare back down upon him. Spread equally throughout the hall are two rows of statues – various knights in various poses, with or without their horses – standing guard. It is here where he runs into Matilda, who despite her old-fashioned name, is younger than Sherlock – perhaps by a decade. If John was here, he would be automatically trying to get her number. Blonde curls falling in waves, proportioned like a Greek goddess, fair-skinned – even the dreary garb of her housekeeper outfit fails to hide her beauty; well – Sherlock muses grimly – this is how he knows that he is really gay.

“Wasn’t expecting me to be the housekeeper?” She crosses her arms.

“Not at all… Maybe a dancer?” Sherlock offers – uncharacteristically charitable. He had known she was the housekeeper as soon as she had stepped into the Hall – from her gait.

She laughs delicately – pleased. “You flatter me terribly. Unfortunately, I possess zero sense of rhythm and two left feet. It’s horrendous as it is embarrassing.” She changes the topic abruptly apparently eager to expound on another subject. “So these old portraits? Ghastly aren’t they? Everyone is frozen with the same expression on their face – looking ironed and starched. No personality!”

Sherlock grins in spite of himself; ah here is another irreverent being. “Well, these are my distant relatives that I never knew existed until today. But, to the contrary – there is personality in these pictures.”

“Oh!” Matilda gestures to the closest portrait of Walter Scott Holmes; there is a similarity in facial structure between Mycroft and Walter. “Tell me about him.”

“Liked the sea, a naval officer, meticulous – perhaps a bit OCD… he enjoyed crocheting.”

“That’s amazing! Yes, Walter was a navy admiral. He lived in this House when I was a child in the village over as an old man, when Mum still worked. Used to tell me the most marvelous stories from his seafaring days! He was so mad when one of his cousins mentioned his little crocheting hobby during a dinner party – she said he crocheted so beautifully that they used his work to set the dining table for the party – mum told me he threw a book out of a closed window. Some said that it was the Bible he threw, but Mum said that it was a book of poems. It was quite a sensation for the village! Do him!” Matilda points to the next portrait – and obligingly, because Sherlock really has nothing better to do, he deduces several other portraits in succession (and earns more amusing anecdotes about each relative) until they get to Andrei Eldon Holmes; who in Sherlock’s opinion is the best looking relative of the lot – but he might be biased because he possesses Sherlock’s cheekbones and eyes.

“He was either a pianist or typist. Liked cats. Think he may have had depression.”

“Sherlock…” Matilda says sharply – losing her air of joviality. “He went mad. And then he eventually killed himself. Erwin was devastated; he was never quite the same afterwards. You know – they were brothers; they did everything together. His paternal grandfather also went mad – and was locked up in an asylum for the rest of his days – so Andrei didn’t want to suffer a similar fate, and he ended it. All this craziness went down decades before I was born, but I got to see Erwin. He got into all this spiritual stuff, became a recluse… Mum told me he was the smartest, kindest and the most rational of the lot; he was a civil servant or something with the government before he retired due to grief.”

Sherlock wanted to ask more – considering Mycroft’s interest in their late Uncle (who isn’t an uncle, but out of tradition, they called everyone in that generation an Uncle in their family), but the stern voice of Evelyn (Mrs. Spencer) comes floating through the hall. “Matilda… should you not be making dinner, instead of airing out all the tragedies on this side of the Holmes family?” 

“Sorry, Mrs. Spencer!” She gives a mock-salute, before winking mischievously at Sherlock with one of her bright-blue eyes – before vanishing. 

“Girls these days!” Sherlock can almost hear Evelyn shake her head from the entrance of the sitting room. He ducks out of the hall into another adjoining room out of earshot, before the rest of the tirade could continue. Probably something along the lines of boys, loose women and god knows what else. 

***

The room he slips into is the Drawing Room; it features walls painted the shade of Sherlock’s favourite shirt (aubergine), with white-washed wood panelling. An elaborate chandelier hangs perilously over a white grand piano (a Bösendorfer). In the corners stands a billiards table, and a few sturdy antique wooden tables presumably for late-night bridge or other card games. It is a room made for leisure. The aged wood underneath his feet creaks as he makes his way to the Library. 

He finds Mycroft sitting on a velvet wing-backed chair with a tumbler of whiskey on a side-table across a recently lit fireplace. Damn, he hadn’t even seen Mycroft walk by during his conversation with Matilda – or did his brother go in through the other entrance via the Dining room? A book rests in his hand – an Agatha Christie . At Sherlock’s raised eyebrow, Mycroft says, “Just appreciating the classics, brother dear. So… are you done flirting with the household staff yet?”

Flabbergasted, Sherlock replies, “I have no idea what you mean, Mycroft. I was only acquiring information…” At his brother’s skeptical look, Sherlock feels irritation build within him. He asks, his jaw set. “Why does it matter to you if I am flirting with anyone, Mycroft? Worried that I am causing more work for you because you would have to vet them to make sure they aren’t some closet assassin or something?”

For a brief second, there is a stricken look that slips from his brother’s normally controlled features, but like a rock dropped into a calm lake, the disturbance dissipates quickly. What is this about? Sherlock wonders as his brother says with absolute nonchalance, “You can flirt and date with whoever you want, little brother. I am merely a concerned party.” Mycroft picks up his book and looks pointedly at its pages; it is a clear dismissal. 

***

Dinner is tense. Sherlock and Mycroft sit across from each other at the enormous lace-covered dining table, with its immaculately laid out spread and eat without a word. Sherlock muses that they’ve bickered at meals, but certainly they’ve never had one where they were both silent. Actually, Sherlock is perfectly willing to have a conversation, but Mycroft appears completely closed off. It’s almost as if big brother is sulking. But for what possible reason, other then Sherlock trying to make a usual grab at some independence, could make his brother behave like this? It takes him back to the meal that they had back at Baker Street almost a week ago; it had been surprisingly pleasant and an experience that Sherlock had been willing to repeat. After taking a few bites into the perfectly prepared Beef Wellington, and brussel sprouts that tasted more like candy than vegetable, Sherlock can no longer stand it anymore. 

None of this makes sense.

When Sherlock stands up from the table, Mycroft’s lips twitch as if to say something, but he refrains. He walks over to the kitchen, a room away, where Matilda is cutting up a Bakewell Tart into squares for their dessert.

“Something wrong with the food?” She asks, sounding somewhat worried.

“No.” Sherlock shakes his head, “My brother is being lousy company. And, is that strawberry jam in those tarts?”

“Yes. My own recipe. You like it?” 

“I love it.” Sherlock assures her. “I would love to take some home, if you are willing to spare a jar or more?”

A glint shines from her eyes, “What would I get in return?” 

“My undying gratitude.” Sherlock smirks. “Or, I can cross your palms with silver…”

“That’s so boring!” She exclaims in a way that makes Sherlock grin. It reminds him of someone very familiar… 

“What do you want then?” 

“Hmm…” Matilda mulls it over, just as Sherlock looks over her shoulder and catches Mycroft standing by the entryway. Out of curiosity, he leans closer to the housekeeper while liberating a warm square of Bakewell tart from the tray. He can make out the scent of her citrus-based body wash. His brother turns away – as if he cannot bear to watch, while she asks – unaware of the drama happening behind her, “You are a detective right? Now that I think about it… you are Sherlock. The one who was in the news all those years ago...” 

“Damn… people have long memories.” Sherlock observes; he has been staying out of the limelight since Sherrinford. He primarily consults for Lestrade’s cases, and word of mouth and past success brings the few other problems of note that he tackles these days. John no longer updates the blog, as he has other priorities now, which was fine by him. “So, why do you need a detective?”

“I am sure a man like you might find what I am asking, stupid…” Matilda suddenly sounds unsure of herself. “But there is something… queer about this house. But, my Mum has always said that I have an excellent sense of intuition…”

Sherlock mentally groans; he’s had a lot of cases involving women and their intuition (as well as equally delusional men), and Matilda had struck him as a rational individual in the brief time he had gotten to know her.

“Ah, you are writing me off already…” Matilda sighs deeply. “I can see it in your eyes – they are so damned expressive! But, hear me out at least. I think something happened with Andrei – there’s just something about these stories that don’t add up. Do you know what I think, Sherlock?”

Humouring her, he asks, “What do you think, Matilda?” 

“He was murdered.” 

“I thought he committed suicide.” 

“That’s what the police and everyone else thought. But… I wonder… I just wonder…” 

“Well, considering I am stuck here with my brother – who is unhappy with me for some reason I cannot understand – I guess I can have a look.” Sherlock agrees, happy for a distraction. “But I will need to know everything that you know.”

“You will also have to scour the house. I think Mrs. Spencer plans to put you in what used to be Erwin’s room, and your brother will be in the main bedroom which Andrei used. I mean, I would have been nosy and combed through the house myself for clues, but you know –”

Sherlock does indeed know. Mrs. Spencer probably breathes down Matilda’s neck. “I will need your assistance then.”

“Oh! I can be John Watson then!”

“Just be Matilda, and we will be fine.” Sherlock says with utmost seriousness.

She beams. “I can do that. Let me finish my duties for the evening – and you go take these tarts to your brother. That may sweeten him up a bit. The Spencers are going to vacate the premises before eight, as they do every night – so around 8:30, I can meet you – let’s say in the Drawing Room. We can chat then.”

Sherlock nods, and Matilda gives him a cheeky wave before he strides out of the kitchen, tarts in hand.

***

“Mycroft…” Sherlock can hear the trepidation in his voice. “I brought something for you.” 

His brother looks up from his book, although Sherlock can deduce that he hadn’t actually been reading. What is Mycroft’s great brain thinking about? There is something peculiar going on with big brother… another mystery to figure out. If this had been anyone else besides Mycroft, Sherlock would have deduced jealousy. But why would big brother be jealous of a pretty housekeeper? Absurd. 

He finally speaks. “Thank you, little brother.” Taking the plate, Mycroft gingerly picks up a slice of tart and delicately sniffs at it. He then nibbles at it. It’s almost dainty – the entire maneuver.

Sherlock realizes that his eyes had been watching Mycroft’s hands for too long and as smoothly as possible, he casually walks over to the bookshelves – letting his eyes roam over the contents of the shelves, but not registering anything in particular.

“Is there something wrong with us?” He finds himself asking, finding it insane that watching his brother eat a simple tart had affected him more than all of Matilda coquettish ways.

Mycroft’s tone is sharp. “Why do you ask that, Sherlock?”

“Nevermind.” This is madness. Whatever this is. “So…” Sherlock quickly asks, “Did you find out anything about Uncle Erwin and why he left this estate to us?”

“Unfortunately no. I only gleaned some knowledge about how much it costs to run this House, and how much repairs would cost. It’s rather exorbitant, but that is to be expected. Nestor is all for turning it into a place for people to stay and enjoy the country. I told him that we will consider it. If we do this, little brother, we would be exempt from the inheritance tax.”

Sherlock wants to say ‘why not sell it?’ but he refrains from asking. Mycroft must have considered it at some point. 

“And little brother… I apologize for my behaviour from earlier. You do have the right to flirt and date with whoever you wish. My reaction was uncalled for.”

Sherlock brushes it aside. “Mycroft… I think you out of everyone is entitled to a sulk now and then. But, I will just inform you that I will be having a further discussion about our family with Matilda later tonight.”

“Let me know what you find out tomorrow, Sherlock. I will see if there’s anything useful down here in the Library.” 

***

Matilda is lounging against the grand piano when Sherlock walks into the Drawing Room at the appointed time, after having been shown to his room by Evelyn. He sits down on the piano’s stool and lets his fingers caress the smooth surfaces of the keys.

“Ever play?” She asks.

“The piano? Not my area. But… the violin – is mine.” 

“You are a man of many talents.”

“So I’ve been told.” Sherlock replies, somewhat dryly.

“A humble man!” 

He snorts. “Depending on who you ask, my ego can be as large as the known universe; that is to say, infinite.” Deciding that this conversation is going nowhere productive, he then asks, “So, are you going to tell me what you know?”

“Let’s go see Andrei again.” Matilda says while gently pulling the hem of Sherlock’s shirt, and they both walk over to the unlit Great Hall, where the moonlight shines through all the windows, illuminating the place in a series of eerie shadows. She flicks a switch. The electric lights flicker a few times before bathing the room in light.

“I think… I should start from the beginning…” Matilda turns to look at Sherlock after glancing at the portrait. The young curly-haired man stares straight ahead, his lips quirked in some sort of secret smile. 

“It’s the best place to start, from my experience.” 

“When I was young – or rather younger than I am now – I’ve always found Andrei the most striking of all the portraits in this room. And, you look quite like him. But anyways, my mum told me that Andrei was a brilliant man… he was a fantastic painter, pianist and philosopher. If you go into Library, every one of those paintings you see on the walls were done by him. Andrei and Erwin were brothers and the sons of Alden and Elizabeth – who were originally the owners of the House. Growing up, Erwin and Andrei were as thick as thieves – pardon the expression. You would never see one without the other. But of course, as with everything else – people grow up. Erwin decided to go to University after completing his education at Eton, while Andrei stayed at home, learning to run the estate and dabbling in his many hobbies. But Erwin visited home frequently – and they were as close as ever. The only rift that happened between them was when Andrei got married – it was the expected thing to do for someone in Andrei’s station; to be the Master of the House, with a wife and children to take up the mantle as he did. But they reconciled later.”

“Out of curiosity, how much older was Andrei?” Sherlock asks, intrigued.

“Three, I believe. Not too large of an age gap.”

“And what was his wife like?” 

“His wife – his wife… Helen was her name. Everyone said that she was the most beautiful girl in the village, the girl with the flaxen hair. A beautiful singer; she sang like a lark. Her parents were wealthy merchants. She was by all accounts passionately in love with her husband. After Andrei hung himself, she grieved and died soon after that. Suicide, my Mum said. An overdose of something. A real tragedy.”

“Is there anyone alive who saw the actual crime scene?”

“I highly doubt it. It was at least fifty years ago.”

“And the police ruled it a suicide and called it a day?” 

She nods, slowly.

“To be honest… the odds of us figuring out anything from this is very slim.” Sherlock admits. This is essentially a cold case, with very little to go upon. All the players and witnesses of this particular tale have passed. And likely everyone believed – with the exception of Matilda – that this was a suicide. Any crucial evidence is likely to be long gone now. 

“Will you just try? If anything, you will learn a little bit more about your late relatives… and I will give you five large jars of that strawberry jam that you love so much. And I will cook for you whenever you visit the House in the future. Please, Sherlock?” 

“Fine. For the jam.” Sherlock nods. “And the cooking.” And also because Sherlock needs a distraction for the weekend. 

“Brilliant!” Matilda’s eyes dance. “I will come make you breakfast tomorrow.”

***

In Erwin's room, Sherlock tosses and turns, unable to fall asleep. There is the howling of the wind blowing across the grounds outside. The House creaks – and Sherlock knows that autumn, the transition point between the hot and the cold seasons – causes the various materials, the wood, the nails and the pipes, to contract and expand with the fluctuations in temperatures. His rationality offers him limited comfort. Damn. Did he mention that he hated these old houses? 

And then, he hears footsteps. The wood creaks loudly outside the door of Erwin’s bedroom. Too loud to be that of an animal; they are definitively human. Mycroft? He hopes feverently. The footsteps stop – seemingly right outside Sherlock’s door. And an uncanny silence falls… Even the wind dies down abruptly. 

A quick glance over to the sturdy wooden door ensures that it is properly shut. 

Rolling onto his side, he tries to sleep again; he dozes on and off before feeling the distinctive dipping of the mattress, as if someone had slipped in. And he feels. Vividly. The sensation of frantic kisses under the moonlight. A nose tenderly nuzzling his own. Fierce blue eyes staring directly at his, mirroring need. Hands, ever so gentle, cradle his battered body – scarred from so many of his adventures and misadventures. Fingers gently stroking his bare flesh; the cunning tips teasing his nipples before hot, warm and moist flesh suck and devour them. A whisper of quiet affection; conveyed so sweetly that it hurts. Lips caressing his scars; pausing to bestow words of thankfulness that Sherlock is still alive – still alive to receive such worship. A tear clings to the corner of his eye, threatening to drop due to the weight of sentiment. And then, a large hand encircles both their pricks and gently strokes. God, he has never felt so good, so euphoric. His breathing becomes increasingly laboured as the pleasure crests and reaches its pinnacle. A voice tells him to ‘let go’ and he does.

When he wakes up the next morning, he is greeted with a sticky quilt and sheets. Fuck. Staring at the mess in disbelief, he flushes with embarrassment; this hasn't happened to him since he had been an adolescent. A chill runs down his spine when his eyes finally catch sight of his bedroom door.

It had been left ajar.

Chapter Text

Two

“How was your sleep, little brother?” Mycroft asks as he helps himself to some sausages. 

“Couldn’t have been better.” Sherlock sighs deeply, while half-heartedly toying around with the beans on his plate. His sarcasm sounds weak even to his ears. The very idea of food makes him nauseous. What was that all about last night? Was everything a dream? It had to be. It better be. The footsteps. The tightly closed door. The sex. The… emotions. But never ever had he ever had a sexual dream like that one. It was too intense: too real. Raw. He shudders, still feeling the phantasmal sensations of touch ghost across his flesh.

His brother’s hand suddenly covers one of his own. A gentle kindness radiates from his blue eyes. “We can switch rooms tonight, brother – if you think that will help. It was peaceful and quiet last night in my bedroom. I hardly heard the wind at all.” 

Blue eyes. Kindness. Gentle. The hands. How Mycroft’s hand feels against his skin. Déjà vu. God. Madness runs in the family. Eurus. Andrei. Rowan. 

“God. Brother.” Mycroft is starting to look and sound alarmed. “Breathe. In and out. In and out… Good. Sherlock…” The hand still rests on Sherlock’s. “It’s okay, brother mine. You are safe. You are safe… Just a panic attack… like the ones you had after Serbia.”

His breathing evens out as Mycroft breathes in tandem with him, guiding Sherlock’s with his own. Out of its own volition, Sherlock’s index finger twists slightly and feels his brother’s pulse point at the wrist. Tachy. Doesn’t mean a whit in this situation. He needs to think. About Mycroft. Andrei. Erwin. Himself. 

Two pairs of brothers.

***

It is hard to think when one’s brother refuses to leave one alone. Mycroft follows him like a shadow as Sherlock goes from room to room, adapting different thinking poses. Sherlock doesn’t blame him; part of him wants him here. Sane. Rational. Big brother. Tether to reality. Mycroft keeps asking him what is wrong, but Sherlock couldn’t really well say that he had a wet dream last night and that he is positive that his companion, his paramour, or rather his lover had been him, his brother. Illegal. Inappropriate. 

Not to mention that he must be going mad because he had seen jealousy in Mycroft last night, and because a firmly closed heavy-duty door had become open the morning after. The dust on the floor hadn’t been disturbed at all last night. His bed did not show evidence of having been shared with. He had also asked everyone before breakfast if they had gone to his room at all before he had woken up, and everyone had shook their heads. It is all very disconcerting. This must be what schizophrenia feels like: one not being able to trust one’s perception of the world; hence, he cannot trust his deductions either. 

He is blind. 

Eventually, he ends up back in the Drawing Room. Two hands gently reach for his shoulders, and Mycroft drops to his knees in front of the armchair. “Brother mine… please tell me what is wrong. I am seriously concerned. Let me help you. We can leave if that’s what you want. Nothing is worth this.”

Sherlock shakes his head. No, he cannot leave. Not like this. There is something. Something important. But he needs to relax. He needs to reconstruct the scene. He needs to look for evidence. That queer feeling that he had felt back at Baker Street when Mycroft had initially proposed this trip had returned, manyfold stronger.

“Then tell me.” Mycroft is imploring him now. “You can tell me anything, little brother. You know it.”

“Do I?” Sherlock finds himself asking. 

“Sherlock…” Any stoic façade that his brother wears as a mask is gone now. Mycroft looks devastated in a way that Sherlock hasn’t ever seen his brother look. His lips move as if to say something, but he stops. The first word was an “I”

“Please.” Mycroft pleads instead – several seconds later.

And Sherlock talks. He tells the story of Andrei and Erwin – the two other Holmes brothers. He mentions the incident of the unnatural footsteps and the door that he is absolutely certain that he had closed properly.

But he omits the wet dream. He had alluded to his soiling of the bed to Matilda earlier in the day, and she had kindly promised to discreetly clean everything up as soon as she could. 

***

“Go get dressed, brother.” Mycroft says after many minutes of quiet reflection had elapsed.

Sherlock looks down upon his brother, who is still on his knees in front of him. The instinct to rebel is still alive and present within him, although it is greatly diminished – he is not accustomed to seeing Mycroft in this surprisingly submissive position. Nor is he used to feeling so raw and vulnerable. His big brother catches that particular look in his eyes, and he pats Sherlock’s knee in a soothing manner. “We will go for a walk, little brother. Clear that smart head of yours. Then, we will come up with a plan to tackle this mystery. I have a hunch that the answers to why this House was left to us may lie in the stories of Andrei and Erwin.”

He finds himself standing up from the armchair and offers a hand to Mycroft to help him up. His brother’s knees must ache by now, having been against the unforgivingly hard mahogany-tiled floor, padded only by a thin layer of rug. A queer tingle shoots up his arm and spine when Mycroft’s hand makes contact with his. Glancing quickly at his brother’s countenance, there is no sign that Mycroft had felt anything odd about this touch between them. 

“Remember, little brother – we are capable of working together well. Reichenbach, amongst others.” Mycroft drops his arm when Sherlock finally lets go. 

Nodding, Sherlock turns to go change into his outdoor clothes.

***

“This place must have been spectacular in its heyday.” Mycroft remarks as they slip out from the back of the House beneath the overcast grayish skies. In deference to the cooler temperatures outside, his brother wears a tweed suit beneath his woolen coat. Sherlock glances about with his hands tucked into the pockets of his Belstaff – besides the wisteria climbing everywhere, there is an overgrown garden set out in the back, its treasures choked with weeds.

“It’s just neglected, brother. It would look nice again if a gardener fixed it up.” Sherlock offers, feeling that this statement is true for many of the aspects of the House. He watches as his brother sweeps his eyes across the garden, trying to imagine what the place would look like in the past on a lovely spring day decades or even centuries ago. 

“This place is overrun with pheasants.” Mycroft muses as a plump bird dashes through the weeds. “Perhaps we could offer hunting if we turn this House into a public space…”

“No, brother.” Sherlock shakes his head adamantly at this barbaric sport; he swallows somewhat awkwardly. “I won’t allow it. Let them be. Permit for the laws of nature govern their population, even though our ancestors chased away the majority of their natural predators.”

“Soft-hearted little brother…” There is no sign of mocking in Mycroft’s voice. The look his brother gives him is so fond – so caring. Sherlock shivers; again echoes of the memories from last night revisit his conscious. “You were always like this – you wouldn’t dream of hurting an animal without reason as a child. Although you had no qualms pulling pranks on unsuspecting people. I remember once you brought home a young crow with a broken wing and asked me to help you nurse it back to health. You insisted that we didn’t tell out sister... “ Mycroft sighs deeply. It sounds regretful. “I think – you knew already at that tender age the true nature of the East Wind. You may be surprised to hear, but you were very intuitive emotionally as a little boy. Hang what she told you about emotional context. It is she who never understood.”

“You never did believe me when I said I was a sociopath.” Sherlock finds himself wanting to reassure his brother that Eurus was not his fault at any point in time in their life – whether if it was during their childhood or at Sherrinford, but the words do not come out easily. It is clear that Mycroft has not yet forgiven himself for exposing Sherlock to her insanity. 

“Of course not.”

Despite the damp bone-deep chill in the autumn air, Sherlock feels warmed by the absolute conviction in Mycroft’s words.

They had walked deeper into the grounds. Out of the garden, past the unkempt hedge maze and towards the forest. The fallen leaves are crisp beneath their feet. Somehow, Sherlock’s arm had become entwined with Mycroft’s. Birds flit around the tree branches above their heads – the brilliant blurs of songbirds, tits and sparrows. More of those ring-necked parakeets roost high up in the trees, chattering noisily to each other. The head of a deer peeks out from a sturdy tree trunk before dashing away. A spectacularly still lake lies beyond, reflecting the coloured foliage of the trees and the distant mountains of the far shores. Sherlock feels calmer now, outside of the queer influence of the House. 

“What is that?” Sherlock asks, pointing deeper into the forest.

“It looks like a house… a cottage of some sort. It isn’t where the Spencer's live. Let’s go see, brother.” 

Sherlock finds the key to the door under the old sun-bleached doormat. With some difficulty – for the lock had been rusted, he jiggles the door open. A musty smell, along with a thick cloud of dust causes both of them to cough. It is evident that no one had been in this cottage in years. Maybe even decades. The furniture in this space is simple and sturdy, unlike their elaborate counterparts back at the House.

“Did the house staff stay here?” Sherlock wonders, as he surveys the plain dishware in the kitchen with disinterest. 

“It’s hard to say. There isn’t any sign of personality here.”

“Should we go upstairs?” Sherlock turns to the tight staircase adjacent to the living room. The wooden steps creak loudly with each step. There is only one bedroom and a simple, rather utilitarian looking bathroom up here. 

“There really isn’t anything up here.” Sherlock sighs with disappointment, deducing that the place had been cleaned and stripped since its last occupant had lived here.

“No, I don’t see anything out of the ordinary either.”

Boom!

Sherlock flinches as a thunderclap echoes noisily in the distance, followed by the percussion of rain hitting the various surfaces outside. A wind howls violently and whips around, rustling and ripping leaves from the trees outside. 

“Well, I think we might be stuck here for a bit.” 

“Where’s your umbrella?” 

“I didn’t bring it.”

“Damn, what a lack of foresight, big brother.”

“You didn’t bring one either.”

“I guess we are stuck, then.” Sherlock looks out glumly at the pouring rain, which has completely obliterated the visibility of the outside world from the windows. “What shall we do?”

“I guess we need a plan.”

“We need to come up with a list of people who were in the house when Andrei died. Maybe find a motive… And then we need to look through the House for hints… Hm… there’s a bunch of medications in here.” Sherlock opens a drawer from the nightstand. “These bottles look rather ancient – some aspirin, lots of eye drops, some sleeping pills, a large bottle of cough syrup –”

“Give me that, Sherlock.” Mycroft reaches over quickly for the glass cough syrup bottle, snatching it out of Sherlock’s hands.

"There isn't any cocaine in it, Mycroft… They stopped putting that in cough syrup since the 1930s. And these are from the late 1960s, according to the dates they were dispensed.” He feels peeved at his brother; a simple matter of trust that Mycroft does not seem to have in him. Besides, the sleeping pills are the most addictive drug in the drawer...

His brother places the bottle of red syrup aside, back on the nightstand. Mycroft turns to look at him sharply, before beating the dust off the neatly made bed with a gloved hand. He sits down next to Sherlock. Solemnly, Mycroft admits. “I am just afraid, brother.”

“Afraid of what? That I would get high off a decades-old formulation of syrup?” Sarcasm is dripping from his words. But he stops short when he sees Mycroft’s eyes. Sentiment. His brother, the tether that prevents Icarus from flying too close to the sun. The protector. Old memories drift to the forefront; of Mycroft dragging him out of drug dens, dealing with his nastiness during withdrawal – the look of despair in the blues of his eyes whenever Sherlock had just escaped from another unnecessary brush with death. 

In retrospect, it is funny – how his brain clings onto the negative aspects of their interactions, and Sherlock suspects now that this might have been a side-effect of what happened so long ago with Victor. Repression had been the defense mechanism of choice for his formidable but still juvenile brain – and while he had repressed his old memories of Eurus and Victor – he had inadvertently been doing this to his memories of Mycroft as well. Logically, it made sense, as both Victor and Mycroft had formed the bulk of his childhood memories; once his brain had gotten into the habit of repression and emotional detachment, it had been too easy to continue this process as he got older. Deletion – he had once termed it – but is it really deletion when the memories are buried six-feet-under, so to speak?

He sees Mycroft kneeling beneath him – a memory from earlier in the day – the concern, fear and gentleness in his face. A genuine terror that Sherlock had gone mad. And afraid when Sherlock had a panic attack at the breakfast table; it had been a long while since he last had one. After Serbia, when John had abandoned him – it had been his brother who had checked up on him frequently; Mycroft had stayed during the nights where those vicious nightmares would plague him and talked him through many of these panic attacks. In the mornings, no matter how wary he was, big brother would make them both breakfast and coax Sherlock to ingest some of it before he went off to work. Mycroft had never complained nor demanded anything of Sherlock. Amazing that he had forgotten even this. Being his big brother must be one of the most thankless jobs in this world. Sherlock realizes, suddenly feeling rather depressed. 

Taking a deep breath, he says contritely. “I should apologize.”

Mycroft’s eyes comically widen at this sudden twist in the conversation; he had been expecting the progression of another nasty row brewing between them. But he nods, and replies, “It is not necessary, brother mine. I overreacted.”

“I didn’t mean that.” Sherlock tries to clarify; his voice now barely a whisper. But talking about things like this had never been easy between them. Words feel inadequate for what Sherlock wishes to convey. “Mycroft…” He trails off, helplessly.

“It’s alright, little brother.” Mycroft says soothingly. “I will always be there.” For you.

The deluge of rain has lessened in intensity; now a calming pitter-patter against the panes. Maybe in a few more minutes, it may be safe to risk the tramp back to the House. Oddly enough, the disappointment of finding nothing useful aside, Sherlock doesn’t quite feel like leaving quite yet. The room is cramped – the ceiling sloped due to the roof, but it is cozy. He’s never felt closer to his brother – or at least within their adulthood he’s never felt their fraternal bond like this. Mycroft means what he says; that he would never leave Sherlock’s side. 

An insidious thought bubbles to the surface like hot lava – would his brother still do so if he had known about what Sherlock had done last night in his dreams? Drugs, yes; betrayal of Queen and Country, yes; murder, yes – but incest? 

No. 

He will put it out of mind. For the good of both of them. 

“Tell me…” Sherlock lounges casually on the bed, not caring at all about the dust – much to Mycroft’s chagrin – propping his chin against his palm, his elbow resting on the quilt-covered mattress. 

“Tell you what, little brother?” At some point, Mycroft had taken off his shoes and is sitting cross-legged on the bed, mindful to avoid the dust-laden areas.

“About our childhood. The happy bits. I remember some, but not all of it… Indulge me, Mycroft.”

“Where can I even start, Sherlock? You know we didn’t have a dog – but we had chickens. Braekels. You loved them. The hens would peck delicately at seeds from your little hands. The rooster would follow you around whenever you were in their space. And the chicks – dear little brown-grey and black balls of fluff – that you played with every day and kept them warm against your armpits on cold days. I remember that you used to wake me up in the middle of the night, and we would go candle the eggs in the pitch blackness with a flashlight, looking for the fertilized ones. You had a favourite hen, that you raised from egghood – London, you had called her. You had been learning your cities then…”

God… what happened to those chickens? Sherlock ponders. He recalls London – a dark-bellied fluffy white hen that would nuzzle his legs with affection whenever he stepped into their space around the coop. There was Sir Arthur the rooster – a magnificently plumaged cock of blue, black and white. He had looked at Sherlock with suspicion at the beginning, but had warmed up to him eventually.

“The chicks disappeared one day…” Mycroft says. “And then Mummy gave all the chickens away to one of our neighbours. She never did explain why…”

But the implication was there. Eurus had been jealous of everything that had held Sherlock’s attention. A pathological possessive jealousy. Perhaps, she had used those harmless birds as her first tests before drowning Victor in that damned well. Creatures that had been dear to him. Animals were usually the first victims of cruelty before serial killers turned to people. Really, considering how intelligent Eurus was, her motives and actions followed the typical pattern. A visceral sensation of disgust fills him. To think that he had even bothered to visit her after everything that she had done. Only then does he realize that Eurus had wanted him to kill his brother for the complete fulfillment of a childhood grudge. To take everything that he had held to heart as a child. He wonders what Mycroft had thought, when he had figured out that Sherlock was still keen to visit his sister after that terrible day. Betrayal?

Sherlock murmurs, “That isn’t a happy memory…” He had cried that day when Mummy had told him the chickens had been taken away – and he hadn’t known about the fate of the chicks… he had assumed that they had gone with the rest of the fowl. And with Victor’s death overshadowing everything, he had long forgotten about this particular incident. 

“Ah, but we had fun together – little brother – for the few years that we had them.” Mycroft gently pats Sherlock’s thigh. Philosophically, he quotes, “Is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?”

“I remember the day you cracked two eggs on a flat rock. And we ate them.” Sherlock ignores the Tennyson, and then he recalls. “We went fishing too that day – we caught some trout, the two of us with one of Father’s fishing rods, and you grilled and seasoned them over a fire.” 

Mycroft smiles. “Yes, that was a good day. A very hot one. We went swimming in the lake too.”

“And we stole Father’s ice cream from the freezer afterwards.” 

“It was a day that called for it, brother mine.”

“Serves him right for never sharing it.”

They both share matching grins. 

“It might be safe to walk back.” Mycroft takes a cautious glance at the window after a moment had passed.

“Let’s, before it starts pouring again.” 

***

“I thought you two had drowned!” Matilda exclaims as she ushers both of them in. Efficiently, she takes their damp outerwear and finds some slippers to replace their muddy shoes. “You two are not tracking all that mud all in; Mrs. Spencer would have your hides, one way or another. And hell, I would have to clean it all up!”

“No such fortune.” Sherlock smirks wryly.

“And I see that you two have made up! Marvelous.” She beams brightly. 

“Is there lunch?” Mycroft asks eagerly.

“Depends on what you two want… I can serve the afternoon tea, or reheat lunch; oh, I can just combine the two. Whatever you want.” 

After a scrumptious meal featuring a delightful shepherd’s pie with Sherlock having devoured enough strawberry jam to stain his lips a deep shade of red, they head upstairs to the main bedroom – where Mycroft had passed the previous night in reported peace. The walls are of a rich dark green, the floors draped in numerous rugs of Afghan origin and a large solid king-sized bed takes up the far wall.

“The odd thing is…” Sherlock says while rifling through the drawer contents of a handsome rosewood desk. “I don’t think Erwin ever used the main bedroom. He kept sleeping in his original room, even after Andrei died.”

“That’s not strange to me.” Mycroft replies. “There are many reasons why Erwin could have preferred his own room. And if the brothers are close as they say they were – then…”

“Sentiment.” Sherlock muses, noting that there is really nothing out of the ordinary in these drawers. Anything that had belonged to Andrei had long been removed from this room. “And he slept in here with his wife too.” He glances upwards, seeing a large ornately framed colour photograph of a bride and a groom looking happy on their wedding day. Helen’s face is tilted upwards and towards Andrei’s with affection and wifely devotion shining in her eyes, her blonde curls hidden by her translucent veil.

“He looks remarkably like you…” Mycroft follows Sherlock’s line of sight. “Will I ever see you like this, little brother?”

“Probably not.” Sherlock gives a quick shake of his head. “I think I will be alone till the end of my days… You?"

"I will keep you in good company then, brother."

Sherlock glances sharply at his brother. He jests. "No hidden mistresses, no pool boys and no urges to procreate? Somehow, I don't think you are asexual."

"As you've mentioned before, women are not my area, brother mine. I've dabbled with men in my youth, but found it to be not worth my while. And can you imagine me with a child? Absurd."

Sherlock sighs as he walks around the periphery of the room. There is nothing of note anywhere here. With a quick glance at Mycroft's face, they both nod and head for Erwin's smaller room. 

Painted a Turkish blue with a lavishly detailed mural of the grounds rendered in stunning colour (complete with parakeets in the trees) in a corner of the room, it looks cozy at first glance. But for Sherlock, with what happened last night, a queer sensation prickles low in his abdomen. He feels queasy and at unease. Mycroft looks at him in concern, and all Sherlock could feel is the ghostly sensations of fingers, lips and tongue dance across his flesh once again; reverberations of the dream from last night haunting him once more. Is this what Mycroft would feel like against his skin? To be kissed by his lips? God… to think such thoughts in his brother's presence! He fights to suppress the flush threatening to break out on his cheeks. 

The bedsheets and quilt had been changed, as Matilda had promised. 

"Andrei painted this mural. This is a typical example of his work." Mycroft interrupts Sherlock’s train of inappropriate fantasizing. His elegant fingers gesture to the signature at the corner. "Several of his paintings are hung in the Library. I took the liberty of examining them yesterday. His subject matter include landscapes, flowers, animals and on occasion, he painted people. He prefers acrylics, but he does use watercolours and oil-paints. His works embody the spirit of Realism. See how cunningly he hides his brushwork?"

Sherlock's eyes are drawn towards a pair of parakeets painted in at a side of the mural. The birds are nuzzling at each other. An innocent scene, but they stand out because these parakeets are the only pairing of animals in the massive work of art.

Mycroft’s eyebrows shoot up dramatically when he scrutinizes the birds. "Sherlock, they are both male."

"Oh, how can you tell?" Sherlock asks, intrigued. 

"The ceres, the fleshy part above the parakeet's beak, is blue or purple in males. If they are any other colour such as white or brown, they are female."

The parakeets' ceres are both a vibrant shade of purple. Damn… is this intentional? His eyes rapidly gloss over the other parakeets in the picture – there are ceres of blue, purple, white and brown… During and before the 1960s, Sherlock knew that being homosexual was a huge taboo. The love that dare not speak its name. Gays were viewed as degenerates, and sexual acts between two consenting men had not been decriminalized until 1967 in England and Wales. Certainly, this mural had been painted long before then. What is the significance of this? Is it a reference made by Andrei that Erwin had prefered the male sex? Erwin had never married. Dangerous imagery, nevertheless. Especially for a civil servant.

"Scandalous imagery." Sherlock offers. 

"Perhaps. If deliberate." His brother replies, carefully. 

"When had any one of us not been deliberate? We are subtle people, Mycroft. It could also be possible that Andrei did not understand the significance of the ceres. But, somehow I highly doubt that."

"At most, Sherlock, it tells us that Erwin was a homosexual. It's not a surprise, considering the prevalence of gay men in our family. But, it's not definitive. Only suggestive."

"I know, Mycroft…" Sherlock walks across the room, heading for a door that he hadn't explored the night before. He jiggles the brass knob – forcing it both clockwise and counterclockwise – but it does not give way easily. 

"Let me help you, little brother." Mycroft strides over, standing behind. So close. Sherlock can feel his brother’s warm breath tickle his sensitive scalp. His hand visibly trembles when Mycroft places his warm, slightly larger one over his own. If his brother ever took his pulse, he’d know something is up with Sherlock; his heart is pounding against his chest. Arousal.

“On a count of three?” Mycroft whispers.

“Give me a moment.” Sherlock tries to slow down his breathing. God. Is this what goldfish felt all the time? When they are attracted to someone? Coherent thought is beginning to leave his brain. But, then again – the longer they stay like this, other parts of his body may decide to wake up… “Okay, Mycroft – let’s do it.”

Mycroft counts to three, and they both pull with all their might. The door is wrenched open with a loud grinding noise. Sherlock almost falls to the ground, but his brother’s sturdy arms catch him before he hits the floor. 

“Got you.” Mycroft whispers gently in his ear.

The contact between them seems to last longer than what is socially acceptable between two brothers. He feels Mycroft’s front being pressed up against his back. His face is burning. But nevertheless, he feels bereft when Mycroft finally lets go. Fortuitously, his brother doesn’t seem to notice how much of a wreck Sherlock is currently. 

The opened door reveals a space that had once served as a closet. Aside from the copious amounts of dust and the empty clothing racks nailed onto the walls, there is again nothing of note. 

“Well that’s disappointing.” Sherlock sighs.

“Maybe not…” Mycroft steps in, braving through the swirls of disturbed dust. “Closets, brother mine, are an unusual feature in old country houses like this. Taxes used to be administered due to how many rooms a house had, so as a result, builders seldom put them in. There might be an atypical reason to why this room exists – considering that the main bedroom did not have an adjoining closet.”

Sherlock taps the walls, trying to feel for a hollow space. There is none; the walls are solid. “Brother, is there a light?” 

Mycroft pulls out his phone and switches on the flashlight application, illuminating the area.

“Point it up for me, will you?” 

The ceiling in this room is left unfinished. The wooden skeleton of the House is exposed. Spiderwebs cling onto the wooden beams. On a whim, Sherlock tries to pull out the metal bar of the clothing rack. It comes out easily; there is a hook on one end of the stick. With care, he hooks the only rounded wooden slat on the ceiling. He pulls gently, not wanting the roof to collapse. He is met with resistance. Tugging a bit harder, there is an ominous creak before a mass of wood comes swinging down, filling the room with an incredible amount of dust – blinding them. 

“Sherlock!” Mycroft cries out as he pulls his brother out of the room by the shirt. “God. Brother, please do take care.” Sherlock coughs violently; the dust had gotten deep into his nostrils and throat. It is hard to draw breath. His brother’s hand rubs against his back comfortingly. “Sherlock…” Mycroft whispers; his arms encircle Sherlock’s torso in a tight hug. “We’ve been through too much for me to lose you to a secret staircase.” 

It feels nice to be held like this. Sherlock realizes. He leans back slightly, allowing his head to fall against his brother’s shoulder, scenting his neck. Mycroft had held him in a similar way when Sherlock had woken up from his nightmares after Serbia. Drenched in sweat. He vaguely remembers. In his bed back at Baker Street. And, it is this moment that he realizes that there is probably nothing he could do that would drive his brother away. Mycroft would follow him to hell and beyond. With that thought, he relaxes in Mycroft’s arms – no longer worrying about any inappropriate bodily reactions, offering his brother a cheeky little smile. “I am still here. Alive.”

“I know.” Mycroft replies. “Let’s go see what we have found, if you are up for that, – little brother.”

The dust had settled in the closet. Mycroft shines his phone’s light upwards once more, illuminating the newly revealed gap high above. Sherlock gingerly tests the integrity of the hinged staircase, placing one foot against the lowest slat. Gripping onto the wood, he climbs, wrinkling his nose at the musty odour of the neglected hidden space. He pulls out his own phone, and turns on the light. 

Unlike the rest of the rooms in the House – with its high airy ceilings, this secret room is cramped with a low ceiling. Instead of a chandelier, a simple lightbulb hanging on a wire swings precariously in the middle of the room. Sherlock pulls at the string attached to the setup. The lightbulb switches on, casting the room in a dim light. A Japanese screen splits the room in half. There is a mattress, properly made up with bedsheets, quilts and pillows at the far side of the room, mostly blocked by the screen. No windows are present. Both paintings and photographs hang on the otherwise barren wooden walls. A desk sits next to a wall, to Sherlock’s right. He quirks an eyebrow at the collection of objects on the surface of the desk.

“Is there a seance being held here, little brother?” Mycroft had finally come up. 

“I wouldn’t have thought either of them would have been interested in the occult…” On the centre of the desk sits an old-fashioned ouija board, its accompanying planchette, a ceramic mortar containing shriveled up thyme leaves, eight candleholders with candles (soy; four arranged equidistant from each other around the board, and one for each corner of the table), antique picture frames (containing photographs of Erwin and Andrei standing together) and a few feathers. Normally Sherlock has great disdain for this sort of pseudoscience, but now it just makes his skin crawl. 

Opening the drawers of the desk, he proceeds to rifle through the contents. There are sheets of looseleaf paper, pens, pencils, a knife, a cutting board, a stained cloth (for cleaning), another mortar filled with salt crystals and a strange wooden box. He shakes the box, feeling something move within it. It is a puzzle box – cunningly carved with intricate moving parts in a visually-pleasing manner. Its surface is etched with a serpentine dragon of Eastern Asianic mythology against a backdrop of the sun and clouds.

“This might be what we are looking for…” Sherlock hands it over to Mycroft, who carefully examines the wooden box. “I think there is a book in there… or something. Maybe a journal?” 

“It seems like this is a space that not many people knew about, little brother.” Mycroft also shakes the box. There is also the sound something metallic hitting against the wood. “This is a custom-made box – it will have a unique solution that will take some time to figure out. It’s different than the other boxes I’ve handled in my line of work. Although they don’t appear very often… very few people would bother with such an elaborate and expensive thing. Well… at least it won’t explode if we get it wrong a few times…” 

“How terribly boring…” Sherlock grins.

“Here, brother – see if you can solve it in an hour… if you cannot, I will give it a go.” Mycroft returns the puzzle box to Sherlock.

***

“Damn it.” Sherlock sighs, while giving the puzzle box a nasty side-eyed look. He is sitting in the Drawing Room, where Nestor is diligently polishing the Bösendorfer with a soft felt cloth. Having examined the box for thirty minutes, studying how all the little intricate parts move – he had made a few solid attempts. He knows that he is somewhat close to the solution, but there are now a few minutes remaining until Mycroft would come find him. “Why won’t you open…?” He grunts. 

“Hullo, Sherlock.” Matilda leans casually over the white armchair, her golden curls brushing against one of Sherlock's shoulders. “I take it that now is a bad time?”

“Very bad.” Sherlock shakes his head. “I have less than five minutes to open this.” 

“What is that?” She asks curiously, scrutinizing the tan-coloured box with its cunningly carved parts.

“It’s a puzzle box. The idea originated from jewelry boxes from the Renaissance.” He says, while deftly manipulating the pieces again.

“I suppose as a last resort, you could cut it open.” Matilda offers, ever practically minded.

“But what fun is that?” Sherlock muses, as the box makes a clicking noise. 

“Just a suggestion. And why do you only have five minutes to open this?”

“My brother. He says he will give it a go then…”

“Then what’s the problem?” She proceeds to grins knowingly. “Ah… you like to prove that you are clever. Especially to your older brother. It’s funny, isn’t it? No matter how old we are, we are still trapped in the same old paradigms. I have a brother too. Five years older. Always treats me as if I was the same silly little girl when I was eight – when I found a spider in the bathtub. I screamed bloody murder!”

“I can imagine.” Sherlock frowns again when he is stuck on the same step as the previous attempt. In his mind, he knows what the box should look like in the open configuration, but he knows there are a few more steps between that and the step he is on now. 

“Where did you find the box?”

“In a secret room – it’s almost like an attic. From Erwin’s closet.” 

“Ah!” Matilda exclaims. “When Erwin was alive, he didn’t want anyone going through his closet. Said that he was very particular about his clothes, and that he would know if anyone dared breathe on any of the fabric. We just dismissed as one of his eccentricities – mind you the man had a lot towards the end – and respected his wishes as an upset Erwin did not make a happy household.”

“There wasn’t a single article of clothing in there.” Sherlock reveals.

“Ha! But he must have had some in there at some point. Nestor still occasionally mentions the extensive wardrobe Erwin had in that closet after he had retired from his job.” 

“Hm… Were the Spencers there when Andrei died?” Sherlock asks.

“They aren’t that old… No, they came on after Erwin became the Master of the House.”

“Then how did your Mum know all of this?” 

“She was very close with Walter before he passed. He told her lots of things, as Andrei and Erwin’s actual Uncle.”

“I think it may be prudent for me to talk to her directly.” 

“She would like that; you will have to go to her though, she’s got terrible rheumatoid arthritis. Mum is very fond of this House – it would be a terrible shame if it was sold and demolished, like what is happening to the other Houses these days.” Matilda sighs, looking somewhat nostalgic. 

They both look up when Mycroft heads toward them. There is an unfathomable darkening in his brother’s eyes. And Sherlock realizes how close Matilda and he are positioned relative to each other; with her leaning over the chair. He merely offers Mycroft a small smile, and hands the box over to him – still stuck in the same state. “I couldn’t figure out the end, brother.”

His brother studies the box in silence, before his fingers nimbly slide a block in, pull another out, rotate a freed wooden piece and press down on a newly revealed element. A louder click is heard, before Mycroft slides out an inner box like a drawer. Damn. His brother had made it look so easy. An old leather bound notebook and a pair of keys are revealed. Sherlock takes the notebook and flips through the fragile pages; most of the pages in the book are covered in words written in black ink by a steady legible hand. Erwin’s. 

“I better head back to the kitchen, then.” Matilda jumps up from her position. “Dinner will be in another half an hour! And, Sherlock, I will see if I can arrange something with Mummy.”

***

In Andrei’s room, Sherlock flips to the last entry of Erwin’s notebook, where a ribbon bookmark rests. He turns his neck to look at Mycroft, sitting in the armchair next to him – with a glass of after-dinner port in hand. The last entry is dated a few months back. He clears his throat and begins to read:

I have not written in these hallowed pages for years, ever since your passing Andrei. Letters I’ve written and hid in that special spot known to you and I over the years. Ridiculous you would call me; how sentimental I’ve become in my old age. But what have I got to lose now? I have already lost what is most important to me. In my elderly years, I have acquired titles: Erwin the Eccentric, The Old Man and so on and so forth. Any oddness in my behaviour would be readily attributed to my age and insanity.

I suspect that this will be the last entry I will ever write. The last time I will ever come up here. I feel your presence so strongly these days. My body is old. I can barely climb the wooden steps to reach my desk. I am ready to go. I hope you are ready for me. 

Would anyone ever read this after I have passed? I left our estate to a young man and his brother that I met many years ago. A distant branch from our family. I wonder if he still remembers me. He had an odd first name Mycroft. As a last name, it wouldn’t be so strange. There are many with the surname Mycroft around these parts of Derbyshire. He probably would; I saw myself in him. Stuffy civil servant type. While we were talking, his eyes wandered around the room. Discreetly. But with my penchant for observation, I noticed. My jaw almost dropped. You might think me silly, Andrei but at first I thought it was you. You in the flesh! Those cheekbones, the eyes the entire attitude. Unmistakable! I learned later that he was Sherlock and that he was Mycroft’s younger brother. I thought, perhaps, Mycroft would understand best. In regard to the special profound relationship that you and I had. Maybe he will find this journal. And let us pray that he has been more fortunate than you or I had ever been.

Brother dear. Until we meet again. 

Closing the notebook with his fingers, Sherlock sighs. What is he to make of this? What would Mycroft understand? All he feels is confusion. Cautiously, he glances over at his brother. Mycroft is fidgeting; big brother does not normally fidget. There is a nervous look on his face. 

“I think… I better take this notebook, little brother.” Sherlock can hear Mycroft fighting internally to keep his voice level. 

“What is going on?” Sherlock asks, completely bewildered. However, he acquises; Mycroft takes the leatherbound book from him with the delicacy of handling a bomb.

Mycroft simply shakes his head.

“You understood what he meant.” Sherlock states.

A nod. 

“But you won’t enlighten me?” 

Another shake of the head.

“Brother dear, it wouldn't be right unless you figure it out for yourself.” His brother eventually offers before picking up his port from the coaster on the fancy table between their chairs and walks out of the room – leaving Sherlock alone with his own bewilderment.

***

Pacing back and forth in Erwin’s room, Sherlock thinks. What could possibly perturb Mycroft this much? An incident at some unspecified party so long ago? Likely a family function if the two of them had both went… Erwin catching Mycroft watching someone. Not just any someone – him. Sherlock. His little brother. But, isn’t that what Mycroft does? Big brother always keeping an eye out, watching for trouble? Nothing out of the ordinary...

Erwin and Andrei. Two gay parakeets on a wall. I have already lost what is most important to me. Letters in a secret location. A ouija board. Fraternal affection and love? 

But why? 

He pulls out the two silvery keys that he had kept from the box. They are identically cut. Well-polished. Cared for. Perhaps one belonged to Andrei and the other, Erwin. Why keep letters in a secret location? No one would bat an eye if they were regular letters between two brothers… Oh. Unless if they weren’t regular letters... But… rather… 

Creak. Creak. Creak!

The sound of footsteps echo from outside the room. Hell. Not this again. Sherlock shudders. There is no one in the House beside himself and Mycroft at this late hour; everyone else had long gone home. He grabs the doorknob and daringly flings the door wide open and sees no one in the dimly lit long hallway. The temperature seems to drop abruptly and an uncontrollable shiver runs down his spine. And then, he hears it. Faintly. 

A deep voice.

‘Andrei…’  

A gentle breeze tickles the sensitive curve of his left ear.

‘Andrei…’ 

The voice is louder now. Stronger. Sherlock wants to shout that he is not Andrei, but every part of his body feels leaden, unable to move. Unable to cry out. Paralyzed. The sensation of otherworldly hands rest softly against his shoulders, and he feels soft lips press lightly against the nape of his neck.

‘Lover mine…’  

There is no mistaking what kind of relationship Erwin and Andrei had at this point. And, it hits him like a bucket of icy cold water in regards as to why Mycroft had looked so disturbed upon Sherlock reading that last journal entry of Erwin’s. It really couldn’t have been put any plainer. God. All that data about what Mycroft feels toward him had all been there, even before Sherlock had read the journal. Meanwhile, he had been too distracted by his own non-brotherly feelings to pay attention to the clues. The phantasmal palms are sliding further down his torso making their way dangerously close to his slender waist, and Sherlock desperately wants this to stop; there is only one person in this entire world that he wants to be touched by in this intimate manner. He struggles and before he knows it – he is sitting up in Erwin’s bed, naked – panting hard as if he had just run a marathon. 

Fuck. This is another dream. His skin tingles where the ethereal contact had occurred. The door is left open again, but Sherlock is past caring. He cannot possibly stay another moment longer here without going irreparably mad. Grabbing the fluffy white spare towel from the adjoining bathroom to cover himself, he bolts out of the room.

Chapter Text

Three

Sherlock gently pushes open the door to Andrei’s room, and sees that his brother is peacefully fast asleep on the king-sized bed, utterly unaware of the strange shenanigans that had been happening to him. Silently, he creeps up to the bed and sneaks under the generous quilt. 

“Sherlock?” Mycroft turns to face him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“I couldn’t…” Sherlock looks imploringly at his brother; genuinely feeling like he would actually go mad if Mycroft sends him back out there.

“Are you naked under there?” The lamp next to Mycroft’s side of the bed is switched on, bathing half the bed in an orangey light.

“A towel.” Sherlock admits; he is amused at the alarm on his brother’s countenance.

“I will get you some pyjamas.” His brother is sitting up now; his back lying against the headboard of the bed.

“You know that I sleep naked, brother.”

“Well – I need you to –”

“I know. Mycroft.”

“You know?” There is something hysterical in his brother’s voice. 

“I do in fact know.” This conversation is starting to sound inane to Sherlock’s ears.

“And you are fine with it?”

“More than fine with it.” 

“No…” Disbelief pervades the syllable.

“Yes…” Sherlock crawls closer, letting the quilt and towel gradually slip off his person.

“This couldn’t have possibly happened because of one journal entry?”

“No… brother. Believe me. I was confused all day today. I thought I was going mad… You were jealous earlier… on Friday.” 

“I was not jealous.”

“Were too.”

“Fine, maybe just a little.” His brother concedes.

“Mycroft…”

His brother extends his hand in the unmistakable non-verbal gesture of ‘come here’ . In an instant, Sherlock clambers into Mycroft’s patchwork quilt covered lap while his brother’s arms snake both tightly and possessively around him. Their noses delicately touch first, nuzzling fondly against each other, before Sherlock feels Mycroft’s soft lips touch his in a tender kiss. He sighs into it before returning it with a clumsy inexperienced fervor. When they break apart, Sherlock meets Mycroft’s eyes – dilated with arousal, and the intensity of the sentiment within them literally takes his breath away. A hand reaches upwards to ruffle his curls and caress his scalp while Mycroft reminds him ever so affectionately. “Breathe, little brother.”

"Breathing is boring, Mycroft…" 

“Necrophilia, little brother – is not a kink of mine.” His brother smiles at him teasingly while his hands reach to caress his prominent cheekbones; those zygomatic arches that Erwin had also been obsessed with. The hands adoringly cup Sherlock’s face and Mycroft leans forward to kiss him again, this time licking into his mouth. Caught off guard, Sherlock moans loudly into his brother’s mouth, tasting the mix of fresh toothpaste and the sweet port; they kiss and kiss, dizzy with want and the lack of air. When they separate the second time, both are panting, struggling to draw breath. 

“How long, Mycroft?” Sherlock dares to ask.

“Too long…” Mycroft says frankly. “I don’t even know what it is like to live without loving you, little brother. I thought I was able to hide it well.”

“You would have taken it to your grave…” Sherlock shudders, remembering some unpleasant memories from months ago. “Mycroft…” Some deep emotion that Sherlock cannot classify seems to have taken root somewhere in his chest. A queasy kind of ache. Perhaps in some cruel parallel universe, there is a Sherlock who would never know the extent of his brother’s affections. It is too horrible to contemplate. He lets his lips brush against Mycroft’s neck, kissing, sucking and nibbling at his brother’s pulse point, before moving lower – mindful to not leave anything too incriminating. 

“Of course I would have. What else could I have done?” There is a hitch and a certain despair to his brother’s words. “Attitudes towards sex and love have been liberalized in many ways since Andrei and Erwin, but incest is still very much illegal and socially frowned upon, Sherlock.” And Sherlock can feel the unspoken guilt that Mycroft has had to live with for many years. “I tried… you know… little brother – to stop. But I couldn’t. You are… my only weakness; my only love.” 

Hands are caressing his chest now, fingers lightly teasing his sensitive nipples into hard peaks before pinching them, causing Sherlock to emit little decadent noises that he never knew he was capable of making. “My beautiful, gorgeous, little brother.” His brother punctuates each word with a kiss somewhere down his torso, including one over his gunshot wound. And then Mycroft looks sharply back up at him, “Who will take no more nonsense from those damnable Watsons.” There is a base of steel in his brother’s words, and Sherlock knows that Mycroft will not be forgiving to the next person who dares to lay their hands on him regardless of reason. 

“I won’t.” Sherlock agrees, before using his own hands to divest his brother of his silky pyjama top. “But must you wear all these clothes to bed, Mycroft? It is so inconvenient…” Tangling his fingers into the thick dark hair of his brother’s chest, he kisses his way down, paying attention to his brother’s darker nipples as Mycroft had done for his – with the addition of some licking and sucking – very much enjoying the sounds of pleasure he is able to coax out of his normally well-put-together brother. 

“I am not in the habit of receiving amorous lovers in the middle of the night, Sherlock.” Mycroft sighs when Sherlock slides off his lap to nuzzle and mouth at the sizable bulge hidden within his pyjama bottoms. 

“Well, times change.” Sherlock shrugs before urging Mycroft to help him remove the pyjama bottoms. “Let me see your sizable cock, big brother.” He sees Mycroft shudder when he involuntarily licks his lips, seeing the reddened flesh of his brother’s erect prick. He rests his head against Mycroft’s lap and guides the glans into his mouth. Gently licking and sucking, he experimentally varies the pressure and the strokes of his tongue while gradually working more of the phallus into his mouth, mindful to not go too far. He isn’t exactly in a good position to take his brother’s cock in deep, and he wants to go practice some more with his dildo before attempting to deep-throat. Nor, does he want to look like an idiot on the first time. It doesn’t seem to matter to Mycroft though, with the controlled guttural noises of pleasure that he emits. One day, Sherlock wants to make his brother lose control. At some point, Sherlock reaches down with his free hand to stroke his own neglected cock, coating his fingers with copious amounts of precum that had dripped from his slit.

“Brother…” Mycroft begins to warn, even though Sherlock can tell he is close by how his hips uncontrollably buck. “I am going to –”

Sherlock struggles to swallow the fluids that flood his mouth. He gags a bit at the taste, spilling some of the cum onto his lips and chin. He strokes himself faster with just a little bit more pressure; making his brother cum had driven him close to the brink; making him ache desperately for release and he gasps before shuddering and spilling his own seed upon himself and the quilt. 

“Come up here, little brother.” Mycroft helps him up; Sherlock is still dazed from his first orgasm with another person. “God, that was hot.” His brother smears some of the cum on Sherlock’s face deeper into his skin. “That wasn’t your first time giving someone a blowjob, wasn’t it?”

“If you count inanimate objects…” 

“Oh dear… I didn’t –”

“Brother, dear… I was curious. And, it was my dildo, if you must know. I have needs.”

“But you never –”

“Nope. All goldfish. Mycroft. Wasn’t interested.” Sherlock nuzzles Mycroft’s hairy chest, while his brother’s hand caresses the faded scars on his back. “Now that I think about it; it’s either you or no one at all.”

“Romantic.” Mycroft smirks slightly before bending his neck down to brush a kiss against Sherlock’s forehead. 

“That’s me.” Sherlock snickers. He then frowns. “Brother… do you hear that?”

“Other then the constant dripping of that accursed faucet in the bathroom and the occasional creak of the House – I hear nothing out of the ordinary.”

He strains his ears. “It sounds like the chirping of birds…” Turning to his brother, he says seriously. “You said that I could tell you anything…”

“I did. Yes. Of course. Anything.” 

“I think this place is haunted.” He then whispers in Mycroft’s ear.

“By birds?” 

“No, by our relatives. I don’t think they mean us any harm, but they are driving me crazy.”

Mycroft grips Sherlock’s hand tightly. “What happened last night? I knew you didn't tell me everything.”

“I am not even sure.” Sherlock shivers, feeling unsure of himself. “I couldn’t sleep at first. I kept hearing noises: the wind, the creaks, thumps and the pipes, the footsteps I told you about. I closed the door, firmly. Checked it even. And then…” He swallows audibly, feeling rather ill. “I think I was dreaming at that point, but I am not even sure. It’s as if someone came in to my room and had sex with me… I thought it was you… And… you know – I’ve never had sex with another person in my life… but it felt so real. Mycroft. I cried.” At the narrowing of his brother’s eyes, Sherlock continues hastily. “Not because I didn’t like it. But the things you said to me. The things you did to me… And I thought it was you, because a lot of the things that you said are only known to you and I.”

“As absurd this will sound, little brother, I am rather jealous of the version of me in your dreams.” Mycroft presses a kiss against his nape; Sherlock’s breathing grows increasingly stilted and harsh as his brother mouths and sucks at a particularly tender spot. “What did I say to you, darling – shh… don’t tell me. Let me deduce it.”

They swap positions; Sherlock is now lying against the headboard, propped up with pillows. 

"Brother… My beautiful darling." His brother breathes; his syllables reverent. They are kissing again. Frantically. Intoxicatingly. Their tongues brushing so tenderly. "My dearest." An exhale, before the lips travel to nip at his earlobe, drawing a surprised gasp of pleasure. Warm, moist heat then sucks at the same spot; a coil of delicious tension tightening in his groin; his flaccid shaft gradually growing turgid once more. Warm hands caress his sides. 

"I never dared imagine this. You being like this. Patient, pliant. You have no idea… no idea what you mean to me." A determined fierceness shines in those irises; a veritable tempest of blues. Careful, gentle lips close against a nipple, sucking, sending frissons downward, forcing Sherlock to curl his toes in pleasure while wrenching a cry from his own lips. God. How could such a tiny piece of flesh give him so much? His other nipple is given the same attention while a hand drifts inferiorly, the palm caressing his rectus abdominis – going along the light treasure-trail of hair descending down to his groin. The devilish mouth follows the same path as the wandering hand, pausing to dip a tongue into his umbilicus, eliciting another gasp of unexpected pleasure. Those fingertips trace the junction of his groin and thigh, turning Sherlock into a moaning, needy wreck. "Please." He whispers his plea, his eyes ever imploring. 

They both groan loudly in tandem when Mycroft’s cock comes into contact with his own. His brother's large palm encircles them both, and Sherlock can't help but start rutting – needing relief from this delicious burning agony in his loins. "Patience." A hand presses upon his hip, stilling the bucking. "Sherlock. I've loved you always. As a gentle inquisitive child. The troubled teenager. The wayward young adult. The brilliant man. My man. Mine." A needy noise from Sherlock prompts Mycroft to start stroking, setting a moderate tempo. A hand cradles his chin, guiding him into another electrifying kiss; this time a crash of lips – hunger, desire, need – before they recede again. “Despite the impossible, we are both here. Brother mine.” Mycroft begins again, despite the hoarse distortion in his voice. “Reichenbach. Magnusson. Assassins. Sherrinford. And that’s what matters. God.” The rate of the strokes increase – spurring on the dizzying climb to the peak. “I am glad you are here. My darling.” He draws breath audibly. “My love. I love you.” Mycroft gasps. “So much. You have no idea…” Another inspiration. “How much I wanted to tell you over the years.” Exhalation. Another gasp. “Come with me.” He manages, “My love…” 

Sherlock cries out intelligibly when he spends the second time, his head thrown back further against the backboard, while his brother follows after him with a grunt; there is a suspicious amount of moisture gathering in the corners of Mycroft’s eyes.

***

“I hear them again.” Sherlock remarks after they had taken their second shower of the night, in the large clawfoot bathtub in the adjoining loo. “The birds. Singing. Parakeets, I think.”

Mycroft pulls out the leather notebook from the nightstand drawer. Quietly, he flips to a page in the middle, and Sherlock reads out loud:

I had never felt so betrayed when Father wrote to me of your engagement Andrei. You coward! You could have told me when I was home last weekend. I did things. I trashed my room. Drank my way through two bottles of ludicrously expensive whiskey in one evening. Didn’t even sit my Calculus midterm. Rowed and had a fistfight with Barkley who was also spoiling for it. His girl had broken off their engagement to pursue another richer man. We were both written up and sent to the infirmary, where we made up and have a date to go drown our sorrows at the local pub at the next opportunity. How plebian! Of course, I mentioned that you were a bird as well. Damned birds!

I should have never let your silver tongue convince me into this if this is how things are going to end. Birds. Parakeets. Hmph! Two balls of fluff. Mason and Hamelin. Born from eggs of the same female. Mason for me. Hamelin for you. Do you remember how surprised we were when we found them copulating, nuzzling and kissing in the cage? How could that be possible? We wondered; it is illogical. What purpose could such a union have? When we asked Father all he said was that ‘the Good God knows what he is doing’ and that there are no mistakes in his design’. A copout, if I’ve ever heard one. But then, you came to me one day… and… you kissed me you rake, you devil of a big brother! A sexual awakening of sorts it was for me; I was beginning to think that I didn’t care for anyone in that intimate manner. And then you explained so eloquently and passionately that if incest occurs naturally such as in our darling parakeets, then it must be morally right. After all, the law of men is what written by men! 

The rest of the page is crossed out in dark blots of fountain pen. It doesn’t take much to deduce that Erwin had written many uncharitable and crude things about Andrei in the deliberately ruined lines that he had later came to regret. Sherlock flips the page.

A week has passed now. I didn’t go home as I normally would have. I grovelled to Professor Emmerson and sat the midterm I missed. Integrals. Easy. The pub was as ghastly as ever. But, Barkley is a decent sort of chap. I am less furious now. Simply resigned, for I should have seen this coming. Andrei. It was too good to be true. I should have known that you would’ve bowed to the pressures of being the future Master of the estate. Alas, I don’t walk in your shoes, brother dearest. Who knows, maybe I would have caved too. Mummy is most irritating when she doesn’t get her way. Thank God, I was the spare and not the heir. After I get my degree this year, I will enter the service of Her Majesty’s government and put my brains to good use. I will come home for the wedding, but I may never come back to the House afterwards. It will be too painful. I will write this down here maybe for the last time. 

I love you. 

I sincerely hope your decision was the right one to make for you. 

There are dried spots on the page. Tears. 

“Did you read the entire thing, Mycroft?” Sherlock asks curiously, while one of his fingertips brush against the wrinkled spots of the paper.

“No. I flipped through it rather casually.” Mycroft replies, “And I did not go past this entry. But, brother – I have no intention of ever hurting you like that. Ever.” He then says rather darkly. “It is rather awful of Andrei, doing this to his little brother out of the blue.”

Protective big brother. Mycroft had always been that, no matter how awful Sherlock had been. Of course he would have high standards for other big brothers. Andrei sounds lousy compared to Mycroft. Suddenly he drops the notebook on the bed and scrambles closer towards Mycroft and hugs him tightly. His constant rock. Safe anchor. 

Mycroft smiles fondly at him, and Sherlock ends up lying on the bed with his head in his brother’s lap. A hand dips into his curls and rubs at his scalp while fingertips tug deliciously at his hair. He sighs in contentment; behaving perhaps similarly to a large cat being petted. Damn. He thinks. He will have to convince John to move out faster out of Baker Street so he can spend more time with his brotherly lover. 

“Should we continue reading?” Sherlock wonders.

“Maybe one more. Then we should go to bed. It’s almost three in the morning.” 

“Will you keep all the ghosts away, Mycroft?” 

“What did they do to you today? Besides chirp?”

“They chased me to your room.” 

“Mm… like they did when you were five.”

“You comforted me then too.”

“Brother, just read.” 

Obediently, Sherlock picks up the book, flips a few pages forward and continues.

I am weak. The flesh is weak. I’ve never felt so guilty in my life, sitting here in our secret space. You, Andrei, lying absolutely debauched on the mattress barely a few steps away from me. Tomorrow, you would be a married man. Tonight you are still mine. 

I still cannot believe you talked me into this. I was prepared to stay away from you. Give you the cold shoulder after returning home for the first time in months after having received Father’s letter. But like a helpless, moth drawn to a flame, I caved as soon as I saw your dear face. The way you said my name. The way you whispered ‘dearest mine’ in my ear. The way you apologized, so contritely. And the mural you painted in my room! It’s spectacular. One feels that one could walk straight into that landscape. And, of course I saw the parakeets. Not Mason and Hamelin but you and I. 

I met Helen earlier this morning. You went out painting by the lake. Even to me, her beauty is remarkable. Exotic. Innocent. Witty too. But I could see at once that this poor girl is passionately in love with you. She is not marrying you for your money and connections; she is marrying you for you. 

I will not say this to your face, for it will change nothing but cause strife between us. But, Andrei, dearest Andrei you are making a mistake. 

***

“Brother mine.”

Sherlock is shaken awake by Mycroft. “Mm… what time is it…?” 

“You should leave before the staff arrive.” 

Oh. Right. He suddenly feels rather glum. Would this be his life –  sneaking in and out of Mycroft’s bed? His brother reads him perfectly and kisses him affectionately in response, using his palm to caress Sherlock’s cheek. “Go get dressed at least, little brother.” Mycroft suggests.

He nods, before reluctantly slipping out of the warm bed. He shivers and catches the towel Mycroft throws at him. Wrapping it tightly around himself, he heads back to Erwin’s room. 

***

Dressed, Sherlock crawls back up to the secret space above the closet, using his phone as a light source. Without reading further, extrapolating from the few entries they had read, Sherlock can guess with almost certainty that other scandalous incestuous trysts had happened after Andrei’s marriage. Maybe in the first year or so, Erwin would stay away out of moral obligation – but he would come back eventually. The situation is starting to take shape into his mind; a love triangle. Andrei being the mysterious focal point. He thinks back to Erwin’s last sentence in the previous entry they had read.

Andrei, dearest Andrei you are making a mistake.

The words of a jealous lover? Or genuine concern? It is hard to say. Yesterday, Mycroft had been reading an Agatha Christie from the library – and Sherlock recalls that the murderer had narrated the book. (He knew because he had deliberately spoiled this one for John for some reason he had long forgotten. John had been incensed.) Erwin could be an unreliable narrator. That is why it may be a good idea to talk to Matilda’s mother – as someone who is not directly a participant in this drama. But it is too premature to even consider suspects at this point. He isn’t even sure if Andrei was murdered.

Reaching up, he tugs on a string, switching on the solitary lightbulb.

He could imagine it. Erwin and Andrei making love on the mattress. Andrei lying lazily on his back, naked, while Erwin sits and writes in his journal at the desk. Mycroft and he are lucky in that regard, they would be able to express their love in the safety of Mycroft’s house – without the need for some secret room. He could already see how it would play out; him dropping by big brother’s house a few times a week and slipping away early in the morning to avoid the suspicion of John and Mrs. Hudson. If this is the price they must pay for their love, then so be it. Sherlock sets his jaw, determined. 

There are several paintings hung up in the room. All Andrei’s. A kingfisher in flight rendered in vibrant colours of blue and yellow. The lake that Mycroft and he had walked past yesterday, complete with a few waterfowl floating in the looking-glass like waters executed in breathtaking detail. An albino peacock in the process of spreading his tail feathers. Various studies of flowers. The grounds during the different seasons. There is even a painting of both Erwin and Andre standing together, wearing their finest suits; it almost looks like a photograph. 

A few canvases lie against the wall, their backs facing the room. Curious, Sherlock picks one up. Herons in the lake, against a sunset. The style is certainly different. Instead of the detailed work Andrei had produced normally, the painting looks clumsy in comparison. There is barely any attempt to hide the brushwork. The mountains appeared to melt into the trees which blends with the lake. The vigor – the vitality – of the herons are captured with this style though, emphasizing their movement. Sherlock knows a little about art – it is almost Impressionistic. There is one more canvas that features a similar style – surprisingly a portrait of Erwin. And, even to Sherlock’s untrained eye, it didn’t look quite finished. Did Andrei not get the chance to finish this painting? He died before putting in the final touches… is Sherlock’s guess.

He checks the drawers again and takes a quick walk around the place, looking for a potential keyhole that would accept one of the keys that they had found in the puzzle box last night, but there isn’t any. Sighing again at the lack of anything useful found, Sherlock heads back down the stairs. 

***

“Did you find anything yet?” Matilda eagerly accosts him when he heads downstairs. 

“Nothing that could answer your question of whether or not Andrei was murdered.” 

“Ah, but you did find something of interest. Tell!” She exclaims while leading Sherlock to the Kitchen.

“Somehow, I don’t think it’s for me to tell.” 

“Nonsense!” She exclaims while taking out some freshly baked sourdough from a paper sack. “I baked this, Sherlock. It’s one of my favourites.” Taking a knife, she slices a few pieces, before using another knife to spread a layer of Sherlock’s favourite strawberry jam, and another to generously slather fresh butter on top. She offers it to him. Unable to resist, he takes the slice and immediately puts it in his mouth. 

“It may be for the best that you aren’t my housekeeper. I would have been morbidly obese by now.” 

Matilda laughs; a delightful sound. “You could use some fattening up. Now… tell!”

Sherlock shakes his head. 

“Please, Sherlock.” She begs, employing a certain puppy-dog look that would have caused a lesser man to crumble. Seeing that Sherlock wasn’t prone to such manipulations, she then says, “Then fine; let me guess. But do tell me if I am right at least, would you?”

Thinking that Matilda would never guess the truth in this millenium, Sherlock gives a curt nod.

“Oh, and Mum is willing to see you for lunch. She is absolutely delighted that you will visit. Is your brother coming?”

“I don’t know. I can ask him later, though. He’s still in bed.”

“Do tell him to come. That way I can just prepare one nice lunch at home, instead of two separate ones.” 

 ***

You are a married man now, Andrei. As the two of you recited your vows in front of the minister, I had never felt such agony; it took all my fortitude to remain seated on the family pew and not make my escape from the parish. Mummy and Father are delighted; I have dropped down to the deepest depths of Hell. If I have to be asked one more time by another well-meaning relative if I was happy for you, or when my own nuptials shall take place, I will happily go hang myself. 

Perhaps if I strain my ears hard enough, I would be able to hear the creaking of your fine bed further down the hall where Helen and you are consummating your marriage. I wonder which do you prefer her moist virgin sex or my ‘tight hot arse’ contracting around your cock? Or would you rather have my prick up your orifice and let me fuck you into oblivion like you begged so sweetly for the evening before? I am a masochist, brother dearest. It was a mistake for me to return to the House. I should have made up some excuse of a government job and taken myself out of the country. 

I knew better.

Sherlock has to stop to put the book down on the grass. On Erwin’s behalf, a pang of visceral pain twists deep in his gut. It is unfathomable. Imagining him and Mycroft in a similar situation. Even though they had only gotten together barely a day before. He couldn’t imagine having his brother for years, only for him to abandon ship for a pretty girl. Times were different then… It had been expected for the future head of the household to marry and produce heirs. 

A gentle but firm hand pulls him back onto the cotton hammock that they had found secreted away in the Library. Sherlock goes willingly, falling onto his brother, their limbs tangling together. Fingers grasp firmly into his curls, pulling him in for a most tender kiss. Yielding, Sherlock melts into it, permitting Mycroft’s tongue to slip into his mouth. Their tongues tentatively touch, before Mycroft’s tongue would retreat. Sherlock follows – rather enjoying this grown up version of tag in the middle of this deserted forest. By the time they break apart, they are both breathing hard, as if they had actually been running and chasing each other around. Sherlock catches the joyful gleam in one of his brother’s eyes, and he could not help but grin happily underneath the sunlight. Mycroft mirrors his grin, before their lips fervently crash together again. 

“This feels so illicit.” Sherlock pants.

“That’s because it is.” Mycroft reaches upwards, using a hand to cradle Sherlock’s face. 

“With an audience as well, Mycroft.”

His brother follows his line of vision to a curious red-headed green woodpecker staring down at them from a tree branch. While Mycroft is distracted, Sherlock quietly pulls out a packet from inside his discarded coat pocket before undoing his belt, unzipping his fly and pulling down his trousers and pants with his free hand. 

“Sherlock, what are you doing?” Mycroft watches mesmerized as Sherlock rips open the packet and drizzles the lube onto his fingers, before moving downwards to quickly work himself open. 

Sherlock is fascinated by how quickly his brother’s pupils dilate, the hungry predatory gaze in those same eyes and the change in his breathing. “Deduce it, lover mine.” Sherlock smirks. He then adds, “I want you, big brother.” Barely can he recognize that soft tender voice coming out of his throat. 

“God, you are an incubus.” His brother works at his own belt and fly, before releasing his own cock, which springs up readily. “I can’t believe we are really doing this. And where did you get that lubricant, anyways?”

“I brought some.” Sherlock shrugs. “I do masturbate regularly, Mycroft – and I prefer having some slick. Now, are you ready to test the integrity of your knot-tying and this old hammock?” Before his brother could answer, Sherlock had lowered himself onto Mycroft’s sizable cock. They both groan at the penetration, Sherlock undulating shallowly and slowly – getting used to the girth and the burn.

“You should see yourself, Sherlock… god – how gorgeous you look speared onto my cock…”

The same could be said of Mycroft. His brother, still clad in his shirt, tie and waistcoat, gazing at Sherlock as he is the most important thing in this universe. It isn’t lust that shines in his eyes, but a deep affection that conveys to Sherlock that their story will not end the same way as their relatives’ did – even though they haven’t quite reached the end of the tale yet. And, Sherlock then has an urge to move; he picks up the pace of the undulations – eventually engulfing the entire length of his brother’s cock. 

Fuck. It feels so damned good – a far cry from his previous experiments with his toys. They are as close as they could possibly be – joined in this most intimate way. The hammock sways precariously with Sherlock’s motions which are beginning to fracture as Mycroft’s sure hand curls around and begins to stroke his prick in the way he likes it. It feels so incredibly unreal; a fantasy of sorts. The birdsong. The breezes rustling the branches. The gurgle of a nearby stream. Their laboured breathing as they both are about to reach the critical point of no return.

“Mycroft!” Sherlock gasps as he cums, his fluids splattering on both their clothing. His own hole spasms, wrenching the emissions from Mycroft’s prick – flooding his insides with the evidence of his brother’s sentiment; he feels claimed and loved beyond reason. Collapsing upon his big brother, Sherlock curls up against his side. Mycroft wraps an arm tightly around him, before turning his head to give Sherlock another fond peck. 

“Sorry about your waistcoat…” Sherlock mutters moments later, finally cognizant enough to see the drying mess.

“Nothing the dry cleaners can’t fix, little brother. We will just go get them laundered when we head for the village later. On the way back, we will cover our soiled clothing with our suit jackets and coats until we can go to our rooms and change.”

“I thought I was going to have a harder time convincing you…” Sherlock whispers in Mycroft’s ear.

Mycroft gently combs through Sherlock’s curls. “Little brother, I want you just as much you want me. And that is desperately. If you haven’t noticed, there isn’t anyone around for kilometres. All this forest belongs to us. Amazingly, this side of our family has managed to keep all the original land that comes attached to the House… Even the farmland across the street from the estate is ours.” He then confesses. “I almost had an aneurysm, little brother – when I saw what you were doing with your naughty fingers. Scissoring yourself like that.”

Sherlock smiles. “I want to try everything with you, Mycroft.”

“We have our entire lives ahead of us to experiment, darling.” 

“You plan to stay an extra day.” Sherlock interrupts the silence another moment later.

“I was thinking about it. At the most two extra days.” Mycroft agrees. “I don’t really have anything important to do at the office at the beginning of the week. And, Sherlock – you can always share my bed. I won’t leave you alone with those pesky ghosts.”

“I love you.” Sherlock says abruptly.

“I know, little brother.” Mycroft beams at him – looking surprised. “Thank you for saying it.” Thank you for letting me love you.

“I will say it often then.” 

Another kiss under the unexpectedly warm daylight and cloudless skies. Mycroft then sighs, “We might as well finish reading the entry we started. Then we need to head back if we don’t want Matilda initiating a manhunt for the two of us…”

Sherlock gives his brother a lazy kiss, before bending over the hammock to pick up the notebook. He flips it back open, having had used the ribbon to keep track of the last page he had read. 

I went for a walk just now. Cook snuck me a slice of my favourite treacle tart; a small comfort against the cataclysmic change in my life. I walked to the conservatory and for the first time in months I visited the parakeets. Mason looked reproachfully at me as if to ask why I never visit. Then he flew off to where Hamelin was preening himself in the far corner. I had to walk away at that point, my chest throbbing with such pain that I understood how the word heartbreak was coined. My misery is magnified by the fact that I know in my heart of hearts that I will never love another person like I loved you, Andrei. The human lifespan seemed to me at that moment too long. The years of loneliness that I could see stretching out in front of me seems interminable perhaps a penance for my sins. What have I done to deserve this? 

We were happy, weren’t we? 

Before I was able to return to my room, I ran into Uncle Walter. I told him that I was leaving the next morning. He simply rested his rough sun-wrinkled hand against my shoulder and said ‘I am sorry to hear that, my dear boy.’ I think besides you, Andrei, Uncle Walter, or Captain Walter as we used to call him when we were children is the person who understands me the most in our family. His words were simple, but his eyes Andrei his eyes told me he understood what I was feeling. And it makes me wonder… The Captain never married. He is an only child though. Perhaps something in his old ‘sailing the seas of the British Empire’ days. And did he know about us? Not that it matters anymore...

Be happy, Andrei. 

I am leaving. 

***

Matilda’s Mummy turns out to be a genial woman in her sixties, dressed in her Sunday best; her grey hair falls in generous and silky curls similar to her daughter's, although she wears her locks shorter. Sherlock can see at once that her joints are disfigured by her long-standing arthritic troubles and that it takes her considerable pain and time to move. They are in a rustic cottage in the nearby village, sitting at a pleasantly set table. 

He cannot help but to cast an appreciative glance at his brother, dressed in a fresh woolen suit – a nice dark shade of grey, a waistcoat of the same shade, his usual golden pocket watch and a blue tie. Mycroft catches him looking, and winks (almost flirtatiously?) at him. A mad desire to divest his brother of his suit, piece-by-piece, suddenly comes over him; a stern look is cast upon him by his brother  – behave! This is madness – a whole new kind of madness – Sherlock reflects. Is the urge to jump his brother always going to be like this? 

Their host smiles warmly at them; her blue eyes twinkling, “I always love it when young men come calling. It makes me feel young. Especially a handsome pair – like you two.”

“I see that you are a dangerous flirt.” Sherlock leans forward a little, offering her the tiniest of winks; his words irreverent. “Mrs. Madin.”

“Ha! Those days are long done. And please… call me Agatha, or Aggie – if you would prefer. I haven’t been Mrs. Madin in a long while now. My poor Henry – hale and healthy always – passed abruptly of a heart attack almost ten years prior. But I will never forget that it was old Walter who introduced him to me.” She squints at them both, before Matilda comes in, bearing appetizers – salmon tartare, a basket of sliced sourdough, olives soaked in oil and antipasto skewers (vegetables, mozzarella, smoked meat). 

“Oh, Mum! You need your glasses!” She exclaims, as Sherlock takes some bread and dips it into the olive oil. “How can you actually tell if they are handsome or not, otherwise?”

The young housekeeper disappears again, before showing up with a pair of tortoiseshell glasses. Agatha puts them on and scrutinizes both of them again. “Oh my!” She grins widely, almost cackling with glee. “You two are rather Holmesian. Sherlock – you look like our late Andrei, but you have fortuitously lived longer; and Mycroft – my dear, dear, dear Walter – although he was a rogue! The man with the silver tongue; with the daring exploits at sea!” She then sighs, “I would have found some way to marry him, if he had been less old, and less bent. That portrait of him in the House does him no good – you should see the photographs!”

“Mummy!” Matilda cries out scandalized.

“Ah, I am only just saying it as it is! Your Father knew it and always teased me mercilessly about it. Whenever he couldn’t please me, he would be like ‘Run off to Walter, Aggie – I am merely a gardener – what do I know about anything, anyways!’ Henry was the good boy. Now, dearie – please bring out the rest of the food, there’s a list with a bunch of errands I want you to run for me today sitting on the counter.” 

“But, Mother!” Matilda sounds disappointed. “It’s Sunday!”

“Ah, but you are one of those heathens anyways, so what does it matter to you to work more on the Lord’s Day anyways?”

“You haven’t been to church in weeks, Mum!” 

“Matilda, the food and then the errands. That's my good girl.” Agatha says firmly, putting an end to the discussion.

“You just don’t want me here.” Matilda sighs loudly once more before going off to do what she had been told. She brings back the roast lamb, the Yorkshire pudding and all the other trimmings of a traditional British roast meal. The dessert, a bowl of juicy looking plump strawberries with cream, makes Sherlock wish that he could feed them to his brother, bite by succulent bite. Before she leaves, Matilda places a sharp knife on the platter of roast. 

“Sorry about that.” Agatha smiles when Matilda shuts the door behind her. “She’s good, hardworking and curious girl, but there are some things that I wished to speak frankly about. Romanticizing – that's what the young tend to do.”

Mycroft offers to help serve Agatha her lunch, in consideration of her arthritic fingers. 

“Such manners.” She remarks when Mycroft sets her plate down, laden with a helping of everything. “Thank you, dear.” 

They tuck into the delicious meal for the next ten or so minutes. Sherlock finds himself reaching for seconds and thirds – the trek into the village, along with the hike earlier in the forest (not to mention the sex) had left him unexpectedly hungry. He sees Mycroft looking at him; each one of his glances meaningful. I am happy to see you eat, brother dear. Have more roast, love. I want you too. Later. I love you. I  want to lick the cream off your pretty lips. 

Sherlock smiles to himself when he sees Mycroft shudder and he suppresses a wince when his brother kicks him under the table after he carefully licks his lips following the consumption of strawberries in an unnecessarily messy way, sweeping his tongue artfully against the curve of his cupid’s bow. This is really too much fun. 

Their host begins. “I started working at Templeton House when I was in my twenties. It was and still is such a grand place; with a charm that reminds you instantly of the old classics – Pride and Prejudice – for instance. Oh how beautiful the gardens were, and all that wisteria in bloom during the late spring! But, it was the people that really drew me in. I was hired by Walter, actually – he was in his seventies then – as an assistant of sorts for him. I laid out his clothing, cooked meals, did the laundry, ran errands, served as his secretary at times – whatever he needed, I provided. Later, when he got older and frailer, I was his main caregiver, with some help from Erwin. Aside from me, Erwin, Walter – there was a housekeeper, a gardener (who was later replaced by my darling Henry) and that was pretty much it. I loved my job.” There is a wistful and nostalgic air on her face; Sherlock can almost imagine her at Matilda’s age, being enchanted by Captain Walter’s yarns of the sea while being intrigued by Erwin – the tragic figure, the eccentric recluse. 

“Who should I discuss first…” She muses.

“Tell it however you wish.”  It is Mycroft who replies, helping himself to another Yorkshire pudding. “I, for one, am intrigued by the nuances of our relatives.”

“Walter then.  He had traveled everywhere that was worth going to; a man that has truly lived a life. He often liked walking out to the village. Children would follow him and he would buy them candy and ice cream and tell them his tales around bonfires. A jolly soul. A man with a big heart. One of his hobbies was building model ships; he gave me one – which sits over the mantel of my fireplace now. I remember, several years after I started working for him, I asked him, ‘Why did you never get married?’ And he told me that his lover had died many moons ago. A skirmish – or rather an ambush in Eastern Africa – he said during World War II. That his lover had given his life, so that everyone else in their small group could flee to live another day. Part of me was shocked. He didn’t give me any pronouns at the beginning of the tale, but I understood gradually that his lover was a man; I knew theoretically of men who loved men, but this was the first time I had ever met one. Walter then said to me: ‘I have lived life vigorously since then. I think it’s the fitting way to honour his sacrifice. I’ve met other men throughout the years, but no one had ever come close to what he was to me. And I am fine with that.’ I told him afterwards that ‘I would have loved to marry you if you were younger.’ and he just laughed and laughed and replied ‘You are such a sweet and dear soul. I will find someone for you someday, mark my words.’ It was my turn to laugh, but little did I know that he would manage that feat so admirably well!”

“Ah, so he was gay.” Sherlock remembers Erwin’s guess in his previous notebook. “I mean, his portrait suggested it, and Erwin thought it.” At their host’s confusion, Sherlock adds. “We found a book full of Erwin’s thoughts. A journal of sorts.” 

“Oh, that is so interesting. Let me talk about Erwin. Walter was an open book compared to him – and he was pretty reserved in some ways. Erwin was the Master of the House, but it was really Walter who kept it afloat. Erwin didn’t care for it; but he did somewhat try when Walter finally passed. He was handsome though… A cerebral being. Nice to me whenever I did talk to him. It always felt like a part of him was absent. He read a lot, walked the grounds, spent a lot of time in his room and in his better moods – he would come spend time with Walter and I. We would find a fourth during those times, and play some bridge – or if we couldn’t, we would play poker. He had quite a penchant for card games! Towards the end of Walter’s life, we spent a lot of time discussing Erwin. I learned about Andrei then. I didn’t even know Andrei was Erwin’s brother and I had worked many years for Walter at that point. And you know... “ She approaches the topic delicately, “About how close they were – Andrei and Erwin?”

“Yes.” Sherlock nods. “We do know.” 

“Walter knew it too. Although he had never approached Erwin about it. He feels guilty about it sometimes, whether or not he could have intervened or helped Erwin through his grief – although Erwin had adamantly refused any offers of help.”

“It didn’t disgust you, Aggie?” Mycroft asks delicately.

“No!” Agatha proclaims. “Absolutely not. Love is love after all. And we must always remember that it is not our place to judge the sins of others! Only the good God may decide so. But I do not believe that it is a sin to love, regardless of the object of one's affections. I let Walter talk. I didn’t want to interject. He was pretty ill at that point, and I just wanted him to unload his burdens. I asked him questions afterwards, which he answered. The only things that he wouldn’t tell me was what Andrei did during his fits of madness. It must have been really something.”

“So he did commit suicide.” Sherlock asks for clarification.

“Yes, he did – after barely over a month of having his first spell.”

“There was never any doubt about this?” 

“No… not from our end. Walter didn’t think there was anything fishy involved. Andrei’s grandfather – Rowan – went mad in his forties, with fits of violence. He was locked up in the asylum and died of old age there. Andrei had a horror of following in his footsteps… It was Walter who found him, outside in the garden. He had hung himself with some rope and a tree branch. When Erwin became the Master of the House after his Father had died, he had ordered that the tree be chopped down, and let the gardens go to ruins after my darling Henry had passed on.”

Agatha then narrows her eyes at Sherlock; she asks sharply. “Do you have suspicions that Andrei was not murdered? 

“I am not sure.” Sherlock rests his chin on his palm. “I am just curious, that is all.”

“It would be an intellectual exercise at this point, anyways. Everyone that had been a part of that is long gone.” She says, while using a napkin to wipe at her lips. Her eyes turn regretful. “Alas, I grow weary. It’s time for my afternoon nap.” Slowly, with the help of a cane, Agatha stands up. “Thank you so much for coming, my dears. It is lovely to know that there are more Holmeses that still live on. Fascinating creatures you all are. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to come by again to brighten an old lady's day!” 

Sherlock ducks down to kiss her hand, making Mycroft roll his eyes at this uncharacteristic show of gallantry. “Thank you for having us, Aggie.”

***

The days (even years) pass without you, Andrei. I immerse myself with my work, carving a special niche in the higher echelons of our government. Sometimes, I wonder if I should take on a more diplomatic role and go abroad. Start anew. But, somehow I sense that will not lessen the agony in my heart. It was just last month when I had been sent to Paris. Walking down the streets of Montmartre, I saw couples not too dissimilar to us laughing, joking walking hand-in-hand under the sunlight. They could have been us… I thought. We don’t look alike, and no one would know we were kin. A mad fantasy! How my soul ached for yours then. How my soul still burns for you now!

Our correspondence has dried up. I confess that it is entirely my fault. But it is out of necessity for me, to preserve what is left of who I am. I received another letter from Father, and I understand that another blessing will soon be upon you. Perhaps in the coming Winter. He writes that Helen and you are overjoyed, and are anticipating the fruits of your love with eagerness. He begs for me to return home, for Mummy is not well. But I won’t. It will kill me to return. I could never provide you with a bundle of pride and joy as Helen could. I do not need my inadequacies to be rubbed in my face, brother dearest. 

“Hmm… I would like that, brother mine…” Sherlock muses, needing a break from the depressive entry already. 

“The what? A child?” Mycroft’s eyebrows shoot up alarmingly.

“Don’t be dense, Mycroft. Going abroad. Carrying out this ‘mad fantasy’.” Holding your hand. Kissing your lips. In public.

His brother offers him his gloved hand. Sherlock takes it under the broad sunlight. They are at a relatively quiet park, on the way back from Agatha’s cottage. Sitting on a stone bench. The contact fills him with warmth. He scans his surroundings for a few seconds, before daringly making a grab for Mycroft’s coat and pressing a kiss against his lips.

“Dangerous, darling.” Mycroft whispers when they break apart.

Sherlock shrugs. “No one is here. No one knows who we are.” 

“You are rather famous, dear.”

“Trying to stay out of the limelight these days, Mycroft.”

“Shall we finish the entry, or head back?” His brother asks. Their hands are still linked together. 

“We could still get a child of sorts.” Sherlock says instead.

“We would be horrendous parents.”

“A dog. A cat. Maybe even parakeets of our own.” Sherlock finds himself smiling, rather liking his new idea. It would give him another excuse to go see his brother more often. “Fur babies. Feather babies. I think that is what the goldfish are calling them these days. We could call up Mummy and say we adopted a baby together.”

Mycroft laughs. “A nasty joke. Do you know how much she wishes for grandchildren?”

“I think the less we think about it, the better.” Sherlock shudders. “Considering that there is no child mentioned, I don’t think Helen’s pregnancy had a happy ending…” 

“I also think it’s unwise that Erwin documented all of this down.” Mycroft says, “Especially for someone in the civil service. Especially written in this format.”

“It must have never left his private quarters.” Sherlock muses. “You have no idea how troublesome this all is. Committing sentiment to paper. Or even electronically. How many cases that I’ve had that were started by and solved by finding such correspondence. Sentiment isn’t rational, dear.”

“You would never write a letter to me, Sherlock?” 

“I never said that.” Sherlock says hastily; it isn’t hard to deduce that his brother – with his love of the old-fashioned – would love such a thing. Provided that it was done securely. If his brother wanted it, he would write one every day. 

“Oh, little brother…” Mycroft’s voice is barely audible. Sherlock watches as Mycroft carefully scrutinizes the deserted surroundings before carefully reaching up to caress his cheek (the delicious scent of expensive leather), and leaning forward to brush a sweet kiss on his lips. 

“Daring big brother.” Sherlock shows Mycroft a happy grin. 

Mycroft returns the grin before saying, “Let’s head back then. And, I like it. We will go somewhere gay-friendly and be us.”

***

“Could we ever convince Matilda to be your housekeeper, Mycroft?” Sherlock takes an enormous bite out of a sponge cake filled with that delectable strawberry jam.

“Perhaps, in the future…” Mycroft helps himself to a slice of sponge cake. “I think her Mummy is what is keeping her in Derbyshire. I am for everything that would encourage you to eat, Sherlock. You were difficult to feed, even as a child.”

“You’ve always wanted what was best for me…” Sherlock realizes only now. 

“I was rather overbearing about it, especially when you were a young adult.”

“Mycroft.. That was the drugs… it’s understandable. I was stupid. I was reckless. And you loved me anyways…” 

A silence falls, marred only by the scrapping of the fork tines against porcelain as they both devour the fine cake that Matilda had left. Sherlock picks up his teacup and drinks the fine, reasonably strong Assam, washing the cake down. They had snuck the food upstairs into Andrei’s room and are eating with utmost caution; both having a feeling that leaving a mess would incur the wrath of Mrs. Spencer. Which was absurd, considering that they were technically her employers, not errant children.

There is a lot to unpackage about their pasts, Sherlock reflects. He foresees difficult conversations will need to be had, such as this one. Mycroft had put up with him and his craziness for too long. And in a romantic relationship, he does not want Mycroft to simply keep giving to him, as it had been true for their entire brotherly relationship as adults. He wants to be an equal partner. He wants to be better. Do better. It will be difficult to deviate from entrenched patterns; but the last few days (and even last week) had shown that such changes were possible. 

“We will learn together, Sherlock. Things won’t change overnight.” Mycroft replies, having read Sherlock’s train of thought. “And, I will always want to look after you. It was never a problem.”

“I know…” Sherlock sighs. “I want to…” Look after you too.

“We will figure it out. I have it on good authority that we are both relatively clever.” 

“Droll, brother.” Sherlock smiles in spite of himself. 

Mycroft smiles back at him, affectionately, before downing his tea. I want you to be happy, Sherlock. To see you smile. And laugh. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. The sentiment causes something to constrict in Sherlock’s chest. His brother picks up the leather notebook, and flips to where they had left off.

It is Christmas Day. A white one. London is covered with a light dusting of snow. Andrei, do you not remember the sledding, snowball fights with Captain Walter, skating on the lake and the fine dinners? Do you not remember the years we snuck out of midnight mass and made love in your bedroom? Amongst the candlelight? I wonder if you think of it when you are having carnal relations with Helen in that same bed. It is clear that I am not over you. I sound bitter even to myself. I will never be over you. Never. 

Like the last few years, I spend the day alone. Last year I was at the office. This year my superior (yes, even I have superiors) threatened me with attending the New Year’s Charity Ball if I dared to show my face at all during this particular week at the office. So, wisely, I am spending the time at home. Drinking. Reminiscing. Thinking. 

Imagine my surprise when I heard a rap-tap-tap at the door of my Pall-Mall flat. It’s not the knock of my landlady who preferred the heavy-handed thunk-thunk-thunk, or the one of my kindly neighbours who does a rap-rap, pause, rap-rap. My heart pounded loudly in my chest when I go to open the door. It was you, Andrei. And… you looked awful. Darling, I can see that you hadn't slept, haven’t eaten and have neglected yourself in every way. You didn’t even have a coat on! A deep sadness almost grief is writ all over your face. I led you to the couch. Found my warmest quilt, draped it over your frigid person and lit the fire. I found some brandy and poured some into a tumbler for you. And finally, I sat beside you. A simple action, but I hadn't seen you in several years. You drank. You blinked. But you did not speak. Time ticked by as my handsome clock kept track the passage of the minutes. 

“You never came home.” You said. Your tone accusatory.

“I had my reasons.” I replied. Tersely.

“I’ve hurt you.” 

I wanted to smash something at that point. Yes, Andrei. Oblivious brother! Wisely, I kept my mouth shut. To make it in my field of expertise knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut is an exceedingly valuable skill. My fists were clenched behind my back, out of sight. Time seemed to slow. 

“I am sorry.” You said. 

I maintained my silence. There were no words to articulate what I had experienced over the past years. I wanted to ask you, darling, what grief brought you here. I could deduce it. But it wouldn’t be accurate. We had been apart for too long. 

And then you burst out. “I can’t stand this. You looking so coldly at me like this. I made a mistake. I made a mistake! I thought I could do what our parents wanted, Erwin. I wanted to do what was right, what was expected. Like you had done all your life! Gone to Eton, Oxford, made connections made a name for yourself in your venerated circles! I thought I could love her. There were points in time that I thought I did love her. But now that I’ve seen you again. I know now that I have been deluding myself. And then she was expecting, and I never felt such great excitement. A child, a boy I wanted to name him after you. He was born a week ago, but… Erwin… he passed. I never felt such despair.” You were standing up at this point, the quilt had fallen to the floor. 

I hardened my heart. My arms folded against my chest.  “Andrei. Go home to your wife. She is the one that needs you. And you will have another child. Be happy. Be merry. Forget me.”

You looked astonished. “You cannot possibly mean that, Erwin. Forget you?” You laughed. A bitterness that I had experienced for myself exudes from it. “How could I possibly forget you! You are the first coherent thing I think of when I wake and the last before I fall asleep. I love you.” The last three words were said quietly. Solemnly. 

Nothing good would ever come out of this. Call it instinct; a premonition. I tried to warn you off one more time. “Andrei. For the good of both of us. Go home. To your wife.” 

You crossed the two steps between us. Indecently close, we were. I could smell that you still use the same toiletries as you did in your younger days. Even with your hair in absolute shambles and your rumpled shirt, you looked amazing to me. And then you said. “If you, lover mine, can say honestly that you do not want this. I will go home.”

Brother dear. You knew I couldn’t. Before I knew it, your slender arms were around my waist and my soul was sobbing with relief that it had not felt in years. You simply held me, letting your nose brush against my cheek before nuzzling my own. In front of the fireplace. 

Later, when we were both resting on my newly-desecrated bed, I could hear my heart beat: I love you. I love you. I love you. As stupidly cliche it all sounds, it’s bloody true.

I love you.

“I was wrong.” Sherlock sighs when Mycroft stops reading. “I thought it would have been Erwin to come back to the House.” 

“I can relate to Erwin in ways, little brother. If he made a vow not to go back, he wouldn’t. But…” Mycroft trails off. I could never resist you. Like Erwin could never resist Andrei.

“I can’t resist you either, Mycroft.” Sherlock leans towards Mycroft in his armchair. “Especially if you have a bit of strawberry jam on your upper lip. Let me.” He stands up to climb onto his brother’s lap, and he swoops his head down to kiss and lick off the offending jam. 

“We really shouldn’t be doing this here.” Mycroft says warningly. 

“Isn’t our life filled with you telling me what not to do, and me doing it anyways?” Sherlock smirks. “I want to desecrate a bed too, My.”

“My?” His brother quirks an eyebrow while his arm snakes around Sherlock’s waist, pulling him closer. 

“My Mycroft. Mine.” Sherlock whispers in his brother’s ear, letting his breath lightly brush against his skin. His brother shivers visibly. “And, brother, I would like to desecrate the bed with you as soon as possible.” 

“Tonight.” Mycroft runs his free hand in Sherlock’s curls. “You can have me, like I had you earlier.”

“I always took you to be a top, brother dear.”

“I usually am, but I wouldn’t mind being taken by you. I think I would love it.”

“Whatever you like, My.” Sherlock smiles, feeling ridiculously happy. And horny. “Shall we read another?” This time Sherlock takes the book and flips over the page while snuggling up with his brother.

I said that I would never return to the House. Clearly I was wrong. Or more accurately, Andrei dear, you made me promise to come back. So here I am. Mummy appears better in health than from what I saw from Father’s letters. Or maybe it’s because I’ve returned to the hallowed halls of where I grew up. I never claimed to be humble. Uncle Walter and I had a mean game of billiards downstairs and playing bridge with whoever had been willing had been a great amount of fun. 

And Andrei, you nasty indecent big brother! You suggested we skip Easter Sunday at the church, and with the House empty as everyone usually goes I found myself covering you on your bed (correction: your marital bed). Your blue eyes looked so imploringly at me, while sweet words escaped your lips, begging me to put you out of your misery. Your legs were bent to your shoulders, and the most indecent noise escaped your mouth when my cock finally breached your lovely tight canal. I could only wish that this could be our marital bed. But alas, men cannot get married; even if they could, being kin excludes us. I felt so dirty afterwards. And I just felt terrible for Helen. She doesn’t look as vibrant as she did when I last saw her, on your wedding day. I don’t dare deduce her. I am no saint; it is my sin that I cannot resist your advances. 

Before I left the House on Easter Monday, I left a letter for you in the usual spot. (That despatch box that we had been leaving secret notes in since we discovered it when we were children in the Library.)  I wonder if you would go check after I leave, or if you still kept your key. I will miss you, brother dearest. And I look forward to when you will drop by in London. 

Au revoir, my darling. 

I will see you in my dreams of Montmartre. 

“Ha, I cannot believe I didn’t think of that.” Mycroft says as soon as Sherlock puts down the book. “I saw one when I was going through the Library. And we still use despatch boxes for my job. Although they are a lot more sophisticated these days.”

“Should go check it out? Or should we finish reading the journal first? There’s not that many entries left, My.” Sherlock flips through the book. 

“We should go have dinner, rather. Matilda had mentioned earlier that she is serving at seven.” Mycroft pulls out his pocket watch. 

“Then let’s go, and finish the journal later.” Sherlock gets off the chair and his brother, before extending an arm to help Mycroft get up. They share another kiss before heading downstairs. Their entwined hands reluctantly separate once they reach the landing.

Chapter Text

Four

Sherlock catches the glimmers of delight from Mycroft’s beautifully blue eyes when they gaze upon the dinner spread. Ah, his brother’s other secret weakness. Fish & chips, with the appropriate accompaniment of mushy peas. Homemade tartare sauce. A fine vintage of Sauvignon Blanc that had been brought from the cellars by Nestor stands to the side of the table adjacent to two wine glasses. His own eyebrows shoot up alarmingly when he notices a single pink candle in an ornate holder next to the customary vase of flowers – which today bear fresh-cut red and white roses. 

This cannot be a coincidence? Surely? 

“Who set this table?” Mycroft asks as he picks up a matchstick set conveniently next to the holder and strikes it. With care, he sets the wick aflame, releasing a subtle, but soothing flowery scent into the air. 

Matilda strides in; there is a determined look on her countenance. “I did.” And then she says in a tone that is both placating and firm while crossing her arms. “The Spencers went home an hour ago, there’s no need to fear.”

“But… how did you know?” Sherlock sounds flabbergasted, even to his own ears. Figures, that they would be found out in less than twenty-four hours.

“Because I have eyes. And brains.” She genuinely smiles, pointing to each body part in turn with amusement. “It wasn’t difficult. Your behaviours toward each other changed since Friday! Subtle, but I observed it!  And I knew… when Mummy sent me out today that my suspicions were true. I always suspected, you see that Andrei and Erwin were more than brothers. I mean, what else could she possibly wanted to talk about, besides her love for the Captain, that she wanted me out of the cottage for? Patterns – you see – Andrei and Erwin; Mycroft and Sherlock. Inheritance. Raises the index of suspicion.”

“You aren’t really a housekeeper… aren’t you? Not knocking on the profession by any means…” Mycroft asks, absolutely bemused.

“No, not by training. That was beaten into me by Mrs. Spencer’s lashing tongue.” Matilda smirks. “I went to Cambridge. Studied Engineering. Graduated. Was going to go to graduate school at Oxford, but Mummy had terrible rheumatoid arthritis. So I came home to help. I loved this House when I was a child, so I took advantage of the post just to be able to have visiting privileges. It’s only a part-time job. I have a consulting job that I do online that earns far more than this will ever pay.” She then sighs. “Do eat before my cooking all goes cold!”

“Where did you learn to cook?” Sherlock takes a fat chip and dips it in tartar sauce. 

“Mummy taught me. She was the best cook before her joints got so bad. Now it’s a hobby of mine. Now, pretend I am not here and have a date!” Smiling, she exits the dining room. 

“Damn.” Mycroft uses his fork to pick up a strip of deliciously battered fish. “I should probably hire her. Not as a housekeeper…” 

“Language… brother.” Sherlock smirks, taking a bite of the battered haddock. “Fuck, this is good!”

Mycroft grins. “I concur with you, little brother.” There is a brief lull in their conversation while they focus on eating, before he adds,  “We shouldn’t forget the excellent wine.” His brother takes the corkscrew and uncorks the bottle before distributing the alcohol between the glasses. 

Sherlock sips from the glass and sighs. Gastronomic perfection. “I probably gained five pounds already.” He states ruefully, rubbing at his belly. “We will have to fuck more to make up for it…”

“Language!” Mycroft admonishes, but his eyes betray his amusement. 

“Ah, we might as well give the non-prude Matilda what she wants…” Sherlock cannot help but keep smiling. He hasn’t felt so amused or happy in a long time. “She wanted us to have a date…”

“Well, what is a date, brother?” Mycroft has the same silly grin that Sherlock probably has plastered on his face. “And I have a feeling that Matilda would like us to…” Fuck on this table.

Sherlock arches an eyebrow. Such crude thoughts from big brother! He then answers seriously, “A date, brother dear, is where two people go out and have some fun, with the potential of having sex at the end. If that’s what they want.” And I want to be fucked on this table!

“Why, little brother! I didn’t think you would be such an exhibitionist!” Mycroft helps himself to the mushy peas. “And I think we are having fun, aren’t we?”

“You make me want things, My.” Sherlock eats a chip. “Indecent things. And, yes, I do believe I am having fun, date of mine.” Lover of mine. He shudders when he feels a sock-clad foot brush against the back of his leg. Lifting the fine tablecloth slightly, he peeks to ensure that it is Mycroft’s foot, and not some other ghostly presence. 

“It’s my foot, darling.” Mycroft says with gravity, rubbing comforting circles on Sherlock’s calf.

“I know.” Sherlock nods. I needed to see.

“It’s alright, brother mine.” Mycroft says affectionately. “Don’t do anything too drastic if your perceptions go haywire in this House.”

“You mean, don’t hang myself?” The words come out flippant.

“Sherlock.” His brother’s voice had never been sharper. “Don’t you even joke about it.”

He hangs his head, contrite. “Sorry, My – that was rather insensitive of me.”

“Come here.” Mycroft pats the cushion of the chair next to him. “Sit beside me.”

Obediently, Sherlock gets up and scampers to the other side of the table. He sits down, and Mycroft hand lays on his thigh. 

“Still hungry, little brother?” 

Sherlock shakes his head. “No.” 

“Maybe we should leave.” Mycroft whispers. “We could grab the letters and read them from the comfort of my house. And spend the next two days together. I am worried, little brother.”

He shakes his head, determined to stick it out to the end. “I want to stay.”

“Okay.” Mycroft acquises, taking a breath. “Alright.”

***

The moonlight shines upon your nakedness, darling, as I write. How beautiful you are, laid out upon my bed. A feast of treasures. Your alabaster skin. Your black curls. Those cheekbones. Even the cigarette dangling from your index and middle finger, with its wisp of smoke trailing upwards is a picture! If only if I had your gift for painting, I would capture your beauty and memorialize it for eternity. Instead, I will wield the English language, and hope that the essence of you gets relayed through the ink. 

You are leaving tomorrow. As you always do. Your stays are short, dearest. But yet you are with me always. The flesh has memories; every night I will revisit how your breath feels against my skin, the way your hands, lips, teeth and tongue turn me into wordless being filled only with hedonistic pleasure and the way you communicate and transport your love to my parched body craving so eagerly for you. Darling. I always want you. I hunger for you. I long for you. I wish you would stay. I wish we could leave together. I wish we could abandon England altogether and flee to the Continent. Or even America. I don’t care where we go, as long as I am with you.

The entries after this one continue similarly in this vein. Of secret trysts – either in Erwin’s flat in Pall Mall, Erwin’s infrequent visits to the House or even somewhere in between – such as a discreet inn in the countryside. Sherlock promptly drops the book onto the bed when Mycroft crawls closer towards him, the tip of his nose touching the sensitive nape of his neck; his warm breaths causing goosebumps to form on his skin. He doesn’t even need to turn around to see the I want you written in Mycroft’s body language. The nose nuzzles deeper into his flesh, and the breaths had turned into delicate kisses, growing more eager by the second – eventually his brother is sucking at the flesh, causing him to gasp and moan. 

Eventually, Sherlock flips around; their lips meet and part, allowing for tongues to touch and caress. His own fingers comb through his brother’s dark chest hair, teasing lazily at the nipples before moving further down, stroking at the slim but soft tummy eliciting quiet noises of satisfaction from his brother. He is glad Mycroft has some flesh, because everything would be too hard and bony to be comfortable. Not that he would voice that – Mycroft would take it the wrong way. 

“Turn around, brother.” Sherlock finally speaks. 

Mycroft obeys immediately, and Sherlock grabs his arse, massaging the generous gluteus maximi with his palms and fingers. He lets his own nose dip into the arse cleft, while his fingers move downwards to stroke the junction of thigh and groin, avoiding his brother’s sizable package for now. 

“God, Sherlock, please.” His brother moans when Sherlock’s finger dips into the cleft to massage the periphery of his hole. “More.” 

“Patience, big brother.” Sherlock smiles as he rips open a packet of lubricant, generously coating his digits with it. “Good things come to those who wait, as you always liked to say to me. Delayed gratification – I believe you called it?”

“Ghastly!” Mycroft exclaims, much to Sherlock’s infinite delight. “Don’t throw back what I’ve – mmphf!” Incoherent non-Mycroftian noises escape from his brother’s mouth, mixed with barely audible cursing – enlightening words that Sherlock did not know that his brother knew – when Sherlock finally sticks his tongue in his brother’s hole, with some help from a slick-covered digit. Well, certainly he could see or rather hear the merits of rimming now – and next time he would invest in some flavoured lubricant. Mycroft wantonly thrusts his arse closer towards his face, causing Sherlock to scoot back a little to avoid being suffocated. He eventually replaces his tongue with more fingers while intermittently rubbing at the prostate, while using his other hand to fondle Mycroft’s bollocks. 

“I want to see you.” Mycroft pants, finally able to string together a sentence. “Please, Sherlock.” 

“Okay.” He gets up from the bed, allowing Mycroft to flip onto his back. It’s odd. He thinks. To see Mycroft so vulnerable like this. He looks nothing like the British government, out of his usual garments. With his pupils blown, blotches of flushed skin on his face and chest and the precum dripping from his slit. A strong wave of affection comes over Sherlock. His brother is a very human man, who needs him. It’s nice to be needed. To be wanted.

“Sherlock…” Mycroft says hoarsely, “Could you maybe do a little less looking and a little more doing?”

“God… brother – you are so beautiful.” Sherlock cannot help but exclaim, in that odd soft voice that he hardly recognizes. His hands reach for his brother’s front, while his cock, jutting proudly up and flushed a deep red – brushes lightly against Mycroft’s arse. As Sherlock bends down to kiss him again on the lips, he catches the look of astonishment in his brother’s irises. “So handsome…” He mutters. “So gorgeous, my darling.” 

“Please.” Mycroft is imploring now. “Give me your cock, brother – now.” 

Sherlock dumps the rest of the lubricant into his hand and slicks up his prick. He is so hard that it’s starting to ache. He holds down on his brother’s thigh, and with care, he places his glans against his brother’s anus. They both gasp when Sherlock finally penetrates; the hot, tight and slick hole clinging so deliciously to his cock. All he could hope for was not to spill too soon. His brother’s legs wrap around his back, pushing him to go faster, but Sherlock resists – determined to draw this out. The ‘please’ and ‘more’ that come between the other breathy noises his brother makes fuels his arousal further. His eyes come into contact with Mycroft’s expressive ones, and he finds himself grateful for their ability to communicate without words.

God, you feel so good.

So do you, big brother. 

More.

I don’t want to cum too soon, My… 

It’s okay. It’s your first time. 

“Mycroft.” Sherlock groans when his cock finally bottoms out; when Mycroft’s bum finally becomes contiguous with his own flesh. Slowly and shallowly he thrusts, experimentally. His brother’s legs push harder against him, communicating his need for more, and Sherlock finally acquises, fucking his brother at a faster pace. 

“More.” Mycroft gasps.

“So greedy, brother mine.” Sherlock smiles, before bending down again to press another kiss against his brother’s lips. The tingling warmth of impending orgasm is soon upon him, and he thrusts, faster and harder – inadvertently causing him to switch the angle, and his brother groans loudly when Sherlock’s cock brushes against his prostate in a certain way.

God I can’t last any further.

Then cum, little brother.

I want you to, first.

So gallant. 

Sherlock’s hand closes around Mycroft’s prick for the first time tonight and he strokes. His brother’s breathing becomes increasingly stilted and harsh, before he cries out, “Sherlock!” and spills his cum against both of their bellies. The spasming hole clenches Sherlock’s prick tight, forcing him to grunt his release. “God, I love you.” Sherlock gasps as he collapses against his brother. “I love you, Mycroft.” His brother’s arms immediately encircle his torso as his softening prick slips out. Contently, they snuggle in each other’s arms, while his lover whispers, so achingly tender. “I adore you, so much – my gallant little brother.” 

***

Hot. He feels hot, feverish and sweaty. His heart is pounding – he is struggling to draw breath. Where am I? He thinks. Everything is blurry and dark. The room seems to be spinning. There is something red on his hands – wet and dripping. 

He stumbles around the room, feeling like he would keel over at any moment, but fortuitously, his palm makes contact with a sturdy table. He squints into the dim lighting of the room, trying to make heads or tails of where he is – willing for his eyes to sharpen; for his brain to snap the fuzzy images into focus. 

Slowly, he brings his red-stained hand to his nose, and that distinct and potent metallic scent of blood – almost overwhelms him. God. Where am I? He can hardly breathe, it is as if he is drowning in air. Help me, somebody – he thinks. Mycroft? He forces himself to take deep breaths. Relax. Relax. Relax. He repeats to himself. It’s okay. But, the tide of agitation, a deep sense of fear is overwhelming. Fear. 

There is something terribly wrong.

For a moment his surroundings click into focus, and the result is horrifying. A cat has his throat slit, lying prone on the wooden floor. There is a cage on the table Sherlock is leaning heavily on, and it is filled with dead birds – each with a neat slit on their throat. Parakeets. Fucking hell. He looks down and there is a knife lying on the floor – a blood-stained knife with a blade that would cause the exact wounds on each of the animals’ throats. 

A surge of panic floods Sherlock – did he do this? 

Oh god, what have I done? 

And then, mercifully, it fades to darkness. 

***

His throat is parched. Water. He needs water. Please. His heart is racing, his breaths barely acquiring the oxygen he needs to run his body. He is going to die. There is someone treading upon his grave. The room is lit by an antique light and he can barely make anything out of his vision. Everything is blurry. 

Until it isn’t. 

Or rather, it improves somewhat.

He has a knife in his hand. This time the blade is clean. And with horror, he looks down, and sees that his blade is pointed down at a person – Mycroft? My Mycroft? The stature of the man is similar, but his vision is too compromised to make out the details. Oh god. 

What did I almost do!  

In absolute fear and confusion, he slowly and quietly stumbles his way out of the room. 

He is going mad. 

He is going crazy. 

Madness runs in the family… 

Eurus. 

Andrei.

Rowan.

Now him...

***

“Sherlock! Wake up!” 

Someone is shaking him awake. There is absolute fear in their voice. 

Mycroft. Oh god. Mycroft. Knife. Blood. Birds. Cat. Dead. 

He blinks, staring dumbly out into the hallway – from Andrei’s bedroom door. Looking downwards, he inspects his hands. There is not a trace of blood on them, nor are his fingers holding a knife. He looks downwards, and there is no sign of the knife on the floor. He collapses to his knees in front of his brother. 

He weeps.

Mycroft kneels down on the floor, gingerly. Gentle hands cradle his face. The words come out, compassionate and worried. “Little brother, what is wrong?”

“I killed them all.” Sherlock whispers brokenly. “The birds. The cat. Almost you. Brother… My hands, painted with their blood. My knife was against your throat.”

“Where is the knife?” Mycroft asks sharply. 

“It was in my hands… DId I drop it?”

“Sherlock…” Mycroft wraps one arm around him. “Let’s go find this knife.” His brother doesn’t let him go, as they walk back into Andrei’s room. He blinks several times, noting that whatever difficulties with vision were gone now. Mycroft searches meticulously, looking for wherever Sherlock could have possibly dropped it. But there is no knife, anywhere – to be found.

“It’s not here!” Sherlock exclaims. “The conservatory?” 

“Brother. Listen to me.” Mycroft says firmly. “You did not have a knife. You did not kill the birds. You did not kill the cat. There are no birds in the House. There isn’t a cat in the House. At this present moment at least in 2017. Now. Sit. Please.” 

“I didn’t kill them?” Sherlock obediently sits down on the armchair.

“No, Sherlock.”

“I am not mad?”

“Absolutely not, little brother. You are no madder than me.” Mycroft bends down and presses an affectionate kiss on his cheek. “Now I wonder…”

“What do you wonder?” He does not like the darkening of Mycroft’s irises. 

“I will tell you later. Give me a minute.” 

His brother rummages in Andrei’s desk before coming up with a hardcover notebook and a pen. When he returns, he sits down next to Sherlock, flipping the notebook open and uncapping the pen. “Let’s play detective, little brother. Let’s assume that the House has a purpose behind all these strange happenings. Tell me… what happened?”

And Sherlock tells him. 

***

Mycroft passes his notes to Sherlock.

Scene 1: 

Location: Conservatory

Event: Cat slaughtered. Parakeets slaughtered. Knife wounds to the throat. 

Symptoms: Tachycardia, impaired vision (blurry), dizziness, difficulty breathing, weakness, clumsiness, confusion

Scene 2:

Location: Bedroom (unspecified)

Event: Knife pointed at someone’s throat (a man’s: possibly Mycroft Holmes or another person of his stature)

Symptoms: Tachycardia, impaired vision (blurry), dry throat, fear, feeling of impending death

Sherlock still feels dazed about everything. The supposed dreams had felt so real, like the one he had during the first night. He looks up to see his brother, and Mycroft smiles affectionately at him. A wave of fondness rushes through his chest, like a strong current. His My. The only constant in his life. And here he is again, trying to make sense out of Sherlock’s nonsense. 

“Use your brain, little brother – you are the smart one, after all.”

Sherlock makes a face. “What does Mummy know, anyways?”

“Ha.”

“So – you think… that what I am experiencing is a few of Andrei’s episodes of madness?”

“Possibly.” Mycroft replies. “We haven’t reached that point in the story, but I have a feeling we are going to soon. So, before we get there, I thought maybe we could form some ideas?”

“Hm… Brother…” Sherlock thinks, musing over the symptoms. “It’s almost as if… he was poisoned. Anticholinergics. It’s common enough. That could cause madness and hallucinations on its own.”

“That’s what I was thinking, little brother. Dry as a bone. Blind as a bat. Mad as a hatter.” Mycroft muses. 

“Oh, Mycroft.” Sherlock jumps up. “I want to show you something in the attic.” 

His brother picks up Erwin’s notebook, as well as their new notes and follow him out of the room.

***

When they make it upstairs to Erwin’s secret space, Sherlock can tell that someone else had been there today. Matilda. Shining his phone’s flashlight, he can see that the place had been swept, the furniture dusted and even the bed had been remade. There is a click, as Mycroft tugs at the cord, turning on the single lightbulb. 

“We could sleep here today, if we wanted…” Sherlock muses.

“We could.” Mycroft agrees. “It’s been the site of some illicit brotherly relations.” 

“More sex, Mycroft?” Sherlock asks teasingly. 

“Mm… I always want you, little brother.” Mycroft smiles back. “You could say that… I am insatiable for you.” 

“You work me hard.” Sherlock walks over to the canvases propped against the wall.

“The older brother’s prerogative, Sherlock… What is this?” Mycroft exclaims when Sherlock turns the two canvases around. The two that did not fit Andrei’s usual realistic style. 

“Would you not say that there is a ‘blurry’ quality to these artworks?”

“I think I would agree with you. Although, if I didn’t know about the possibility of poisoning, Sherlock – I would say that Andrei had decided to take an Impressionistic view of the world.”

“Well, it certainly is suggestive, I think.” Sherlock adds. “But it’s not explicit evidence.”

“No, it isn’t.” Mycroft agrees. “Do you think we should read on?”

“In here?” Sherlock kicks off his slippers and slips into the bed, naked. Mycroft follows suit, in his pyjamas. They snuggle together for a few minutes, before Mycroft grabs the leather notebook and flips it open.

I came home as soon as I could when Father wrote to me of your episodes of madness, Andrei. A shudder ran through me, when I read through the missive. Father’s usual neat script was uncharacteristically messy, and it was hard to read in places. He is seriously perturbed by your behaviour, dearest one. As am I. Is this a premonition of mine coming to reality? I pray not. 

And a devastating scene it was that I came home to. The conservatory, lover mine was a carnage! The housemaid Frieda may never be the same again. Walter’s beloved cat the First Mate with his throat slit, and my god the parakeets! All of them. Not a soul was spared. Hamelin and Mason our old, dear friends are no more. And, I thought that was an omen… with the cruel deaths of the parakeets we loved so much it was a sign of worse tidings to come. I can only pray I am wrong, Andrei. But, they our dear birds have lived long happy lives they had lived beyond what was expected of an average parakeet. Before I left the blood-stained conservatory, I grabbed a box, placed our deceased loved ones in it and took it out of the room. Presumably to bury them myself later in the day I thought then. 

You refused to leave your room. You refused to talk to me, dearest. I waited at your door for an hour, but you didn’t change your mind… so I returned to mine. I saw Helen looking distraught, being comforted by Ambrose, a gardener that Father had recently hired a few months ago. A strong man. Perfect proportions. Swarthy from the sun. Dirty-brown hair. A man who spoke with a gentle tone. I went to my room, and sat Indian-style on my bed where I thought. Rowan our mad ancestor had gone mad in his forties. Brother as old as you may be are only in your early thirties. Too young, I thought for the manifestation of the hereditary madness. But what do I know? I am not a physician. I talked to Father, and asked for a physician, but he shook his head, saying that you had refused every time the idea was brought up. Afraid of being shut in an asylum you had said. But, brother silly brother there are worse fates than that… 

I am afraid. Very afraid. There is something working against you. And my gut says, it’s not you. It’s not the biology. But something that was set stone years ago. And when I looked at the birds again, after dinner I cannot help but notice how neat the cuts to their throats are. By all accounts, dear brother, you had been agitated, in absolute distress, your pupils constricted you couldn’t even bloody see properly and to see those neatly made cuts to the throat? It suggests premeditation, brother mine not madness. No something is terribly, horribly wrong, and I am going to try my best to stop it, although I fear that it may be too late. 

It’s time to play detective, Andrei. Let’s consider the people in the house. Let’s take out you and I. There is Father and Mummy who have nothing to gain by your death. And also Uncle Walter as well. There is Frieda, Ambrose, Constance (our fine cook), George (Father’s valet), Heinz (our dear butler), Mary (another housemaid) and Charles (Uncle Walter’s valet). And we cannot forget about Helen. And Ambrose her comforter. Unless you have angered any of the household staff which I highly doubt I even talked to Uncle Walter and Father and even Mummy (trust me that conversation was very trying) about possible motivations, and they couldn’t think of any. 

Mycroft passes the book to Sherlock, indicating that it is his turn to read. The next paragraphs, although part of the same entry, appear to be written later. Much later. The pages are tearstained.

And then a rap-tap-tap at my door you, my dearest. And little did I know, that this encounter will be the last time I ever will see you alive. I have many regrets on this day, that I felt could have stopped perhaps what was unstoppable. But I am being fanciful. I should have asked Father to tell you to come to London as soon as your first mad fit had started. But, in retrospect, that would only prolong the inevitable. The malicious forces will still be present whenever you returned to our beloved home. But, before I expound on these thoughts, let me go through what is now and will always be the worst night of my life. And you know what the worst part was? I wasn’t even awake for most of it! 

You came into my room. How gaunt you looked. How haunted! Silently you asked for a hug, and I gave you one. I kissed your cheek too, even though we were not safely hidden in our secret space. You talked. Devastated. Of dead animals in the fields. Of standing somewhere that you had no awareness of with a blood-stained knife in your hand. Of blurry vision, of panic attacks, of dry mouth. When prompted further about strange symptoms, you mentioned a decreased urge to go to the loo. You cried over the parakeets, who sit in the box on my nightstand. I suggested we could go bury them tomorrow, and you said that you might not be alive for so long. How passionately I pleaded for you not to take your life! I told you that you weren’t insane, but you didn’t believe it. Nor did you believe it when I told you that you didn’t murder the parakeets. 

And then, I noticed the rash on your chin… I asked you about it, and you said that you’ve accidentally cut yourself while shaving, and as a result the rash had been there for several weeks now. 

It’s definitive now, brother. 

You see, I’ve been carrying special investigations now for our government, and problems that cannot be solved are often directed to my attention. My powers of deduction have been honed over the years. And the category of poisons in my mind is always kept up to date. The alarm bells are clanging. 

At this point, you had grown wary of our conversation, and helplessly you kissed my lips and you whispered, “If I am not here tomorrow, brother dearest, know that I love you. You are my true love. My first and last love. I will wait for you at the next plane of existence. Goodbye, darling.” 

Helplessly, I watched you leave, before I walked back out myself minutes later. I snuck into your room, Andrei, and took the shaving cream that was in the bathroom. Perhaps, what was really the killer, my darling… was my usual routine of taking chai before bedtime. Someone, whose name I will mention later, had laced the damned drink with a drug to ensure my sleep. Usually, I am a light sleeper made necessary by my job but on this day, I slept heavily. I slept like the dead! And by the time I woke up… Andrei, my love… it was all over. You were dead. 

And so was I. 

In all the ways that mattered.

Both Sherlock and Mycroft exhale loudly when the last word was read. 

“So, Erwin knew.” Sherlock finds himself needing to break the silence with a statement guilty of stating the obvious.

“Of course he did.” Mycroft nods. “But he came home too late.” 

“It seems so.” Sherlock muses. “He has a point though, the cuts on the animals were way too neat to be done by someone who is having fits of madness. I mean, if it was a calm sort of psychosis with delusions, yes – that would be possible. But, in Andrei’s poisoned state, with the clumsiness, disorientation and weakness, it would have been impossible to make such perfect wounds. It was someone else’s bloodlust.” 

“Perhaps… but I feel like we do not have enough data to make guesses.” Mycroft thinks. “Probability-wise, little brother, it would be Helen. It could be Ambrose. It could be someone else who has motives that we are unaware of.”

“Why not both?” Sherlock wonders. And then he asks, “Brother, if I were to…”

Mycroft cuts him off immediately. “Don’t. Sherlock. My dearest.” He whispers tenderly, ruffling Sherlock’s hair with his fingers. “You are my heart.”

“And you would rather…” Sherlock cannot finish the sentence, but his mind had gone back to Sherrinford, with that awful last game of their sister’s.

“Given my life for yours? Without a single hesitation.” Mycroft ducks down to kiss a corner of Sherlock’s lip. 

“Even though I was awful to you?”

Mycroft gives a single nod.

“I don’t deserve you.” Sherlock whispers, remembering his brother’s befuddled and terrified expression when he had turned the gun on himself. 

“I love you regardless.” Mycroft smiles slightly, leaning forward to place a peck on the opposite corner of Sherlock’s lips. 

Sherlock returns the smile and he leans forward to exchange a few more sweet kisses. I love you. I love you. I love you! They share another fond look before Mycroft flips the page of the journal. The last entry that they have not read. They have reached the end of a journey. 

One would think that confronting the cause of their lover’s death is a cathartic experience. But, Andrei dear, it is not. I sit in Father’s study, waiting, waiting and waiting, before she finally shows up, her face white as a sheet. She wears black, as what is customary for grieving. I have to say, she plays the part well, but it is not grief that eats at her. It is guilt. I gesture for her to sit. 

“Helen.” I say. “Helen, Helen…” My voice is almost whimsical. It unnerves her, somewhat. “How did we come to this…”

“You have the wrong person… I didn’t kill all those animals…” She whispers; her expression genuinely horrified. 

“Ah… I know you didn’t. In fact, it wasn’t even your idea. That brutal touch. It was his… wasn’t it? You my dear were only a poisoner.”

Your wife cried then. Not for your death, Andrei, but because she had been found out. 

“You can’t prove it.” She says, mustering all her strength.

“Ah, dear.” I pull out the shaving cream and slam it down on the table. Not violently, just enough to make a point. Another bag contains the remainder of my chai from that last fateful night, still in the mug. I then pull out two typewritten official documents; I had the samples tested a week ago, and the reports had finally returned. “Hear me out. And then we can decide what we are going to do about this little situation of ours, hm?”

She nods.

“I will talk a little about myself first.”

“Oh, but I know who you are.” Helen says firmly. “You are Erwin, the brother of Andrei. You work for the government…”

“Ah, but Helen my job is a very special one. I only have to account my actions to three people, one of them being the PM. Other then that, I am free to pursue what I wish. Problems. International. National. You can almost call me a consultant of sorts.”

“Are you threatening me?” Helen’s shrewd eyes look at me.

“Not you exactly. But My meaning is clear.

“Ambrose!” She cries. 

I am sorry to report, my dearest one, that your wife had not been faithful to you, just as you have not been faithful to her.

“What are you going to do to him? He didn’t kill him directly. He would never be convicted in a court of law!”

“Helen. You are misguided. Does any part of me give you the impression that I am a moral man who works within the laws of men? If you truly understood what Andrei meant to me, you wouldn’t be this flippant.”

“I-I married him. He loved me. And then I couldn’t give him an heir. He ceased to love me and then he went to you…”

“He might have loved you in some way, Helen, but it wasn’t the way he loved me. We were lovers long before you came into the picture. He married you out of duty. I stayed away, because I loved him. I tried to dissuade him when he came to me after the death of your child, but as always, I was hopeless in his thrall. I could never say no to him.  But that is irrelevant. When you killed him Helen, you have killed my raison d’etre. You think I would lose sleep if Ambrose finds himself in a dark place somewhere, with a skilled interrogator? Ha. Not at all, darling. Not at all.” 

Her face crumbles. Perhaps, it was cruel to throw it all in her face. But I am passed caring, Andrei. “I have eyes watching Ambrose now.” I say. “If you care for him at all, you will listen to me and do as I say.” 

And I talk. Helen, the girl whose Father had gone to India and made his fortune. The girl who had grown up hearing stories of fantastical poisonings and had the idea of datura planted in her head when she found out her husband had been unfaithful during a very sensitive period of her life the death of your son. A cold blooded poisoning intended to drive you mad. She who knew that you Andrei had a holy horror of going mad like our grandfather Rowan and being locked up in an asylum. Her father had eye problems and was prescribed some atropine sulfate! It was easy enough for her to duplicate the prescription and get enough of the drug to poison your shaving cream, so that it would get into your bloodstream whenever you nicked yourself. Over time, with your increased clumsiness and poor vision, there would be more abrasions and more injuries, allowing more of the poison to enter you. And Ambrose would kill all the animals, and with the help of Helen, guide you to where you needed to be, to give you the impression that you had done the deeds. What cruelty! Dearest brother. You deserved none of that. 

Never had my blood run so cold when Helen dared to confess what happened on the last night. It shocked even me! They had left you, dearest one, in my room with the knife in your hands! That is why they had to drug my tea! Ingenious, but oh so cold-blooded. In your shock, you stumbled outside and hung yourself with rope that you had already prepared days ago. Any mercy that I was prepared to offer her had disappeared at that exact moment. And she knew it. 

I say tonelessly. “You will, in exchange for Ambrose’s life, write a letter confessing your sins. And his sins. I will keep the letter. I will not prosecute, I will not have you disappear but understand that I will always be watching. One misstep, and I will have you. Maybe, it might be a good idea to take some of your own medicine, my dear. Perhaps in your daily tea, there might be a little extract or something that would drive you insane as you have driven my darling. One never really knows what those secret government labs are cooking up these days.” My smile is like a shark’s now. It hadn't been my original intent to threaten her, but I have absolutely no shred of mercy left in my marrow.

So she writes. I watch her. She doesn’t know that I plan to send Ambrose to Siberia. It would be a fitting end to such a brutal man. He will be alive. But barely. He is already in custody now by my people. No one who kills that many innocent animals without remorse deserves to walk amongst the free. Helen won’t be alive tomorrow. She was barely functioning when she had gotten into this room, filled with guilt. And now with the added paranoia of having to watch what she does, and what she drinks and eats, I foresee that she will soon take the coward’s way out. 

When she finally leaves with the letter finished and approved by me, I simply feel empty inside. Tomorrow, when I return to London, I will have it locked away in a secure location. 

Andrei. Andrei. Andrei. I will add this final paragraph to this journal, for I will no longer write in these beloved pages following today. It is too painful. But, I just wanted to say that I love you. I will always love you. And I yearn for the day that we will be united. I cannot imagine the terror and confusion of your final moments on this Earth. You must have been consumed with guilt in the afterlife, dear brother. But I will say it again. I love you. I long for you. I burn for you. You are everything to me. My only love. My only darling. 

Till we meet again, dearest.

Erwin

“Somehow, big brother, I cannot think of a crueller way to drive someone to commit suicide.” Sherlock shivers after pondering the events in his head. The horror of having that knife in his hand, pointed directly at whom he thought was Mycroft had overwhelmed him. He couldn’t imagine someone who had been dealing with days of torment like that – sleep deprived, dealing with the symptoms of atropine poisoning (which also included hallucinations) and knowing that there is the possibility of a heritable cause of madness in the family. A perfect tempest to drive someone… anyone to the brink of suicide. 

“No, I cannot, either.” Mycroft agrees. “I had a feeling that something was going to happen today. When I saw you out of our bed, looking confused and lost – I knew something was wrong. Very wrong. I knew I had to act fast.”

“It had felt so real.” Sherlock whispers, although he is pretty certain that he wouldn't had committed suicide. He had just been so confused. For some reason, Andrei had wanted him to experience a taste of what he had endured before his end. “Do you want to go back downstairs, brother – now that we know how Andrei actually died?”  

***

“Look, brother – do you see?” Sherlock points towards the second floor landing.

“Sh…” Mycroft presses a finger against his lips. “Let’s just watch.” He whispers.

A shadowy figure had materialized at the location Sherlock had indicated. Whether if it was his imagination or not, he could hear faintly. “Erwin! Erwin! My dearest… where are you? It wasn’t me. God. I thought I almost ended you! I wasn’t mad! I am so sorry!” 

“Hiding. Erwin… Erwin… I really thought… that I was going to slit your throat in my madness. But I see now that you were right, as always. My clever little brother… I should have listened to you.” 

The two figures seem to meld into each other – into one. Sherlock could interpret it as a hug and possibly a kiss. It is hard to tell. 

“Shall we?” Erwin says.

And for the briefest of moments, the details of the two embracing silhouettes could be seen, and Sherlock can make out exactly how Erwin and Andrei had looked like in their early twenties. Happy. Carefree. In love. And just as they had appeared, they disappear into the ether. Sherlock is positive that there will be for the present moment no more ghosts in residence at Templeton House.

Chapter Text

Five

Sherlock grumbles when his alarm goes off. The bedroom is still shrouded in darkness; sunlight wouldn’t start appearing until seven at this time of the year. Quietly, he sits up against the headboard. The door is left ajar again. He will not question if that last otherworldly scene is real or not; there is no empirical way he can obtain the answer for that. Turning his head, he watches Mycroft sleep; there is something cute about the way his brother snores – quiet, rather dignified grunts. A fuzzy warm feeling settles in his chest. Love? Sherlock muses. Out of curiosity, he had searched it up yesterday – the neurotransmitters – oxytocin and vasopressin are responsible for facilitating attachment between couples. The chemist in him had demanded it. Not to mention dopamine for attraction; the familiar reward pathway that gets excited whenever he had taken a hit of the old seven-percent solution. He grins to himself; of course, he always gets addicted to dangerous and illicit things – why should this not be any different? 

His fingers gently run through Mycroft’s hair as he bends down to place a kiss on the forehead. A snorting sound emits from his brother, and his eyes open, blearily blinking upwards at Sherlock. “Brother…” He rasps, hoarse from sleep. “What are you doing?”

“Thinking.” He replies, well-aware that he has a rather soppy smile fixed upon his face. “I have come to the conclusion that I am addicted to you, Mycroft. Reward uses similar neural pathways as attraction…” 

“Mmppf… very flattering to be compared to your old vices, little brother.” Mycroft reaches up to pull Sherlock down by his hair. “So, are you trading one addiction for another?”

“My final addiction.” Sherlock smirks, before Mycroft kisses it off him. They kiss and kiss, lazily – but happily. Neither cared about their respective morning breath. Their noses touch and they nuzzle one another for a minute or two, before exchanging one last kiss. “Mm… feels so good.” Sherlock murmurs. “Oxytocin. I suppose this is what the goldfish call ‘making out’.” He then adds. “I just want you… all the time.”

“Think we are a little too late for that, little brother. Maybe later, we can sneak away, out of sight.” Mycroft suggests, sitting up as well from the bed. “You should really get dressed.”

“One more.” Sherlock says, and big brother obliges him while enveloping him in strong warm arms. “I don’t want to go.” He sighs, sinking deeper into the hug. “I love you.”

“Me too. Let’s go find breakfast, brother – and go see to that despatch box.” Mycroft whispers in his ear. “And, we can decide how we want to spend our next two days. It should be safe now in this House, brother.”

“Ah, you saw them too, My?” He asks, somewhat tentatively; then he glances warily again at the door. “The door was left ajar again.”

Seriously, Mycroft replies. “You know, little brother – I always believed you, about this House being a little strange even though I myself didn’t see or dream of anything out of the ordinary in the last few days with the exception of last night. Maybe you were an easier medium for the supernatural to work with, dearest. But I think they should be satisfied now. Erwin and Andrei.”

“Mm…” Sherlock snuggles even deeper into Mycroft’s embrace, his curls tickling the warm hairy chest, comforted by the soothing reliable beat of his brother’s heart. “I believe so too, big brother. I think Andrei just needed to hear the entire story. To absolve himself of his perceived sins.” He deduces, before tilting his head upwards, imploring with his eyes for another kiss which Mycroft readily gives. 

“Perhaps.” Mycroft sighs when they break apart again. “Go, little brother – or the entire household staff will be watching us kiss.”

“All three of them.” Sherlock grins widely. “One of them would happily pay for the privilege, the other would be flaying our skins off with a scathing lecture on propriety and proper fraternal behaviour, and the final one would be standing there in dutiful and stoic silence.”

Mycroft snorts in amusement, as Sherlock finally slides off the bed. Grabbing his fluffy white towel, he reluctantly exits the room.

***

“Morning Matilda.” Sherlock beams at the housekeeper as he leans over the kitchen counter, unable to hide his happiness. Not that he would need to, she was their only confidant. 

“You are happy today, Sherlock.” She smiles back, handing him a mug of English Breakfast complete with a dash of honey. “Good night?”

“Scary night. Good morning. We found out how Andrei died.” Sherlock whispers quietly, before taking a sip of his tea. 

“Ah, you don’t need to worry about them, the Spencers. Nestor caught a bit of cold, so I suggested that they take the next two days off.” She winks. “I told them the House wouldn’t fall apart in two days without them, and Mrs. Spencer gave me such a scathing look!”

“Yes, God forbid that things continue to stand without Evelyn Spencer to man the fort!” Sherlock smirks. Ah, and what a coincidence indeed. 

Matilda laughs, but she says, “Ah, despite her tongue and old-fashioned attitudes, she’s a rather kind lady. So tell me about what happened to our dear Andrei. Was he poisoned? You know… when I went to go check out the secret space you and your darling found…” She pauses to look curiously at Sherlock. “Aw… you two are disgustingly cute. The way your eyes light up. Damn, I am jealous. Maybe you can find me a lovely gardener to hook up with like Uncle Walter did for my Mum.”

“Well, Mycroft did ask Nestor to start interviewing for a gardener and someone else to keep the House clean and in good repair, yesterday.” Sherlock offers.

“Oh, what did you two decide to do with the House?” She asks curiously.

“We will turn it into a public space for tourists. Save us a fortune on taxes or something. And keep a pair of rooms for ourselves.” Sherlock replies. “You can stay on if you like. My brother would like to talk to you about coming to work for him whenever you are ready.”

“As a housekeeper?” She asks.

“I don’t quite think so.” Sherlock’s fingers reach for a fresh buttery scone that Matilda had just pulled out of the oven. Taking a knife, he cuts the scone in half and slathers one side with clotted cream and the other with his favourite strawberry jam. “He occupies a position in the government. If you ask him, he would say ‘minor’, if you ask me, I would say that’s an understatement.”

“Ah… that sounds promising. But I don’t think I will be leaving Derbyshire anytime soon…” 

“I know. Which is why I said whenever you are ready.” Sherlock smiles after taking a bite out of his scone, knowing that Matilda intends to stay for as long as her Mum needs her. “My!” He almost squeaks in shock when a pair of strong arms snake around his waist. “Mm… didn’t think you would be one for public displays.” 

“Well, the opportunities for that is sparse, so I will take what I can get, Sherlock.” His brother bends his head down to take an opportunistic bite out of Sherlock’s scone. “You look good, brother dear.” 

“So do you, darling.”

“You can’t even see me from your position!” Mycroft exclaims.

“Regardless, I know you look dashing, brother mine. You always do.” Raising his head, he twists his neck to look up into Mycroft’s blue eyes to convey his sincerity. His brother leans forward, just a tad and they share another kiss. Both of them temporarily forgetting about their lone audience of one. 

“We should probably go find a room.” Sherlock catches Matilda’s delighted grin after breaking apart, needing to draw breath. 

“Ah, don’t mind me.” She waves away Sherlock’s suggestion. “Just pretend that I am not here!”

“I told you, Mycroft.” Sherlock says; their eyes make contact again and they burst out laughing at their little inside joke.

“So, are you two going to tell me what happened to Andrei?” Matilda tries again. “Those paintings upstairs – I saw them when I went to go clean yesterday. A common idiot would have thought that Andrei decided to experiment with a new style of painting… but it was too much, in my opinion. Too extreme of a change.”

And they take turns telling her the tragic tale over tea and scones. Matilda sighs deeply at the end, shaking her head. “Too bad! Poor Erwin! He suffered so much – alone! Well, I hope that wherever they are now, that they have finally found their happiness.”

***

“I suppose our family is filled with pencil-pushers.” Sherlock quips when he lays his eyes on the antique despatch box hidden in a cabinet in the Library. “This one was here when Erwin was a child.” He watches his brother reverently caress the faded red leather of the box. 

“Not everyone is eager to seek a life of perilous danger or adventure, Sherlock.” Mycroft smiles at him. “Maybe you would have been the scourge of the seven seas if you had been born back in the days.” 

“One didn’t necessarily have to be a pirate back then to plunder, brother dear. Besides, you would probably have my humble ship followed by a fleet of your own.” 

“Ah, you know me too well, little brother.” Mycroft reaches out for the keys, which Sherlock places against his outstretched palm. He deliberately lingers, prolonging the contact between them. “Judging by what I could make out of the crest, it’s from the late 1800s. Queen Victoria’s.” His brother continues, before slotting one of the silver keys in the padlock which had been fitted on much later. “I know you don’t care much for history unless if there is a grisly murder or something macabre involved…”

“But Mycroft…” Sherlock leans slightly forward to brush his nose against his brother’s nape. There is an audible hitch in Mycroft’s respirations when Sherlock’s warm breath ghosts across his skin. “I should at least try to care about the things you care about.” He murmurs, secretly delighted by how much he could physically affect his brother with such a simple gesture.

His brother pivots from his squatting position in front of the cabinet to look at him. “That’s sweet, but I won’t bore you, little brother.” Taking advantage of Mycroft’s new position, Sherlock kisses him again. His brother melts against it; the two of them end up in a breathless heap on the wooden floor. 

“You could never bore me, My.” Sherlock is straddling his brother against the cabinet. 

“I think Mrs. Spencer would be appalled.” Mycroft grins up at him, as Sherlock’s fingers run along the silk of his tie. “I see we will never get anything done, ever again.”

“Problem?” Sherlock quirks an eyebrow. 

“No, none at all. Although I would prefer not to have sex on the floor; it is rather uncomfortable.” 

“That’s a fair point.” Sherlock concedes, as Mycroft reaches upward to rub his fingers against a cheekbone. He sighs and leans his face against his brother’s palm. “So, brother dearest, where would you like to fuck me?” 

“Such language!” Mycroft reprimands, but it is only a tease. “Hm… Erwin had a rather nice study adjacent to the Sitting Room.”

“Mm… desk sex. I will take it.” Sherlock is practically purring now, with whatever his brother is doing to his scalp and curls. “We should desecrate every room in the House before we leave.”

“Ambitious, little brother.” Mycroft states. He then asks in a tone that causes a sad ache in Sherlock’s chest somewhere. “Do you really want me that much?” 

“Fuck, yes.” Sherlock breathes. “I am very, very, very horny.” 

“Then let’s unlock the box and then we can deal with your very, very, very horny problem.” 

“That’s my Mycroft – always planning!” Sherlock grins teasingly, earning himself a pinch on the thigh. “Ouch!” 

“Come on, you menace.” Mycroft gently pushes him off, and playfully slaps his bottom as he gets up.

“Mm… so violent, brother!”

“I’ve always wanted to do that.” Mycroft reaches over to turn the key in the lock, creating a click.

“Slap my arse?” 

“If you haven’t noticed, little brother, you have a rather fetching bottom.”

“Well, I am glad you like it.” Sherlock kneels down and together they open the old box. An old musty smell associated with old antiques intermingled with the scent of old pinewood wafts upwards. “Wow, there are a lot in here. It’s like Erwin wrote one every week. It will take us a long time to read them all.” 

“Well, we have time – little brother.” 

“Come on, My – let’s go have sex!” Sherlock jumps up and starts running for the Study.

 


Coda

“Are you sure that you will be fine on your own, Sherlock?” John looks dubiously at him; one of his arms is outstretched – the hand resting on the shoulder of his jacket on the coat hook.

“For the love of god, yes, I will be fine! Go enjoy your trip to Bangkok with your girlfriend!” He urges; a guilty John is sometimes unbearable to handle at times. Not to mention that he needs John to leave so he could begin his own holiday festivities with his boyfriend . Hm… maybe brotherly lover , nah – or perhaps something more like significant other . No, how about partner – too ambiguous. 

“Are you absolutely sure? It seems wrong to leave you at Baker Street alone… with Mrs. Hudson visiting her sister.”

“Don’t worry about it, John. I won’t blow up the flat, or anything. Or set your bed on fire…” Although at this rate, Sherlock is sorely tempted. Or at the minimum incinerate that hideous creation that John deems as his favourite jumper. It could be his one good deed for the British public during this Christmas; Amanda would probably kiss his cheek in gratitude. Come on, John – please go...

“Oh, why don’t you go see your brother? He hasn’t visited in a long time… or brought us a case...” John suggests.

“Honestly, John – you are going to be late for your flight, and she will be pissed.” Sherlock neglects to mention that Mycroft had visited Baker Street several times, during the times when John wasn’t home. They had been solving cases without his flatmate, playing board games, eating lunch together and when they were feeling brave – usually when Mrs. Hudson had indulged in her ‘herbal’ soothers – the occasional ‘make-out’ session. 

“Alright, alright – don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do!” John winks at him, before picking up his luggage. “Merry Christmas and all that jazz!” When the door finally shuts behind him, Sherlock collapses on the couch in hysterics. Oh yes, he intends to do things that John certainly wouldn’t do

He had been looking forward to today for weeks, ever since he had found out that he would have Baker Street to himself during the holidays. Glancing at his phone, noting the time – he leaps up from the couch, and runs downstairs to Mrs. Hudson’s flat. Opening the door – she had left him the spare key just in case of emergencies – he first fetches a bag of supplies and a vase filled with stargazer and white lilies – his brother’s favourite flowers. He runs back upstairs to drape the dining table in a new fine-linen tablecloth and to arrange the vase, the candles, the cutlery and the plates in a visually pleasing arrangement before rushing back downstairs for the food that he had made earlier in the day. 

Several days ago, he had texted Matilda to ask for some recipes that he couldn’t possibly screw up, and she had happily obliged when he had mentioned that he wanted to cook for his brother. He had been reluctant to ask Mrs. Hudson, who already suspects that Sherlock is seeing someone. No need to give her more evidence. So – now he had an impressive looking coq au vin, some fragrant buttery potatoes and a large berry trifle in the fridge (one of Mycroft’s favourite desserts). Now, he only has to make a salad. Halfway through chopping the vegetables, the sound of the door knocker being repositioned downstairs startles him and he swears loudly when the knife accidentally cuts into his finger. Damn . Mycroft had heard him swear; he could hear his brother running up the stairs to save his damsel in distress. 

Good god, where did that analogy come from? He wonders as he quickly reaches for a napkin to staunch his sizable wound with the application of direct pressure. Fortunately stitches would not be required. “The door is unlocked!” He calls out loudly. 

Said door opens, and his brother drops his overnight bag, closes the door with a foot and rushes to his side with great concern. “What happened?”

“Cooking is a hazardous activity, big brother. I was making a salad.” 

“You cooked?” Mycroft is astonished, but he turns to look at the neatly set table with the covered dishes. Curiously he lifts up the largest cover and sniffs appreciatively at the coq au vin. “This is awesome, little brother.” 

“Could you get me a bandaid, big brother? One of the larger ones?” 

“Oh, of course – and I will finish making your salad too.” His brother hurries to fetch a bandaid from the first-aid kit in the loo after washing his hands at the sink. Sherlock lets him bandage the wound after the bleeding had slowed. His brother looks hesitant, before he bestows a gentle kiss on the laceration by bringing Sherlock’s injured hand to his lips.

“Thank you, My.” He says while asking for another kiss with his eyes. His brother acquises (giving a proper ‘ hello, lover mine’ kiss), and they both smile (goofily?) at each other for a brief moment, before Mycroft turns his attention to the neglected vegetables on the cutting board after finally taking off his slightly-snow dusted winter coat. Sherlock hangs his brother’s coat, before taking out the fine red burgundy wine from the fridge. He grabs the wine glasses and the corkscrew, before finally sitting down on one of the chairs. After uncorking the bottle, he decants the fine burgundy into the two glasses.

His brother brings over the finished salad, and he grabs the chair across from Sherlock to sit. Taking the lighter from the table, Mycroft lights the candles. 

“Oh, I forgot to change.” Sherlock looks down at the rather rumpled and unflattering pyjamas that he had been lounging in all day, to give John the impression that he had no plans for the rest of the day. He proceeds to look upward, admiring his brother’s new dark three-piece suit complete with a vibrant red tie – feeling suddenly underdressed. 

“Don’t. Sherlock. It’s fine. You didn’t have to do this.” Mycroft uncovers the food and starts serving them both. “I would have been happy with takeout too.” 

“I wanted to.” Sherlock says, finding himself uncharacteristically shy. Wanted to do something nice for you, My. 

“I love it. You did a lovely job, dearest mine.” Mycroft reassures him. I love you. “This tastes as good as it appears, Sherlock.”

He tastes some himself. Yup, it still tasted as good as it did when he had cooked it. If it hadn’t, Sherlock would have immediately ordered takeout. They eat in silence for the next little bit, before Sherlock asks, “So, what is the plan for the next week?”

“I did tell Evelyn that we would come down to the House for Christmas. Matilda promised us that she will do a proper Christmas dinner for us and the rest of the staff.” Mycroft replies. “The rest of it is up to us. I took the entire week off –”

“England will fall!” Sherlock quips, earning a wry grin from Mycroft.

“I am sure she will run fine without me, brother dearest. And then maybe in February we could go somewhere nice and warm… just the two of us.” 

“I’d like that.” Sherlock smiles. “And maybe in the spring we could go to Paris and walk arm-in-arm in Montmartre, just as Erwin and Andrei had fantasized.” 

“Done.” 

They eat for a little bit longer, before Mycroft finally pushes his plate aside.

“I hope you left room for dessert.”

“Metaphorically or literally?” 

“How about both? I have a nice trifle.” 

Mycroft’s eyes almost seem to sparkle under the kitchen lighting. “Do you really?”

Sherlock gets up and fetches the trifle from the fridge and places it in the middle of the table. With barely-suppressed eagerness, Mycroft helps himself to a generous portion of the berry trifle and devours it with a relish. 

“What are you thinking about, little brother?” Mycroft wonders.

“Couldn’t you read it off my facial expressions?” 

“I think I would rather ask you, little brother.”

“I was thinking about the first dinner we had here, a month ago. I would have…” Sherlock trails off. Never dreamed that this could happen.  

“Neither did I. I thought that this would never happen.” 

“But I am glad it did.” I can’t imagine my life without you in this way.

His brother stands up after having blown out the candles. He holds a hand out to him. Sherlock rises and they gracefully cross to the living room with some suspicious waltz-like movements. When they make it there, his brother’s arms wrap possessively around his waist, his breath tickling the curve of one of his ears. Lips press tenderly against the back of his neck, and Sherlock shivers when a sensitive spot is carefully sucked at. Hands move upwards from his waist, carefully undoing the buttons of his pyjama top. Mycroft speaks, his voice pitched lower than usual; his tone getting silkier with every syllable. “I know that you have been looking forward to this for awhile, darling. See, it’s convenient that you didn’t dress up. Is it not easier this way?” The fingers slide underneath his shirt and caress his chest; fingertips play with his nipples, gently brushing, before pinching and tugging with the perfect amount of pressure. He could barely suppress the moan threatening to leave his mouth while a tingly warm feeling pools in his groin. “Of course, it would have been even easier if you had just worn a bedsheet, little brother.” A kiss is placed against his ear before a moist warm heat engulfs his earlobe. God. He can also feel Mycroft’s hard and very impressive cock being pressed firmly against his backside. “Don’t hold it in, brother – I want to hear you.” 

“Mppff!” Sherlock groans when a hand slides down to his groin and strokes. “Mycroft, please take me to bed and fuck me.” He manages to gasp out in one go. “In your suit.” He lets out a little yelp in surprise when his brother picks him up – as if he was a bride. 

Mycroft kicks open the door to his bedroom and carefully drops him onto his freshly made bed. Sherlock’s pyjamas are quickly removed, before his brother bends over to kiss him; there is just something about the feel of the expensive fabric of Mycroft’s suit against his bare skin that feels so good. Stretching his arm out, Sherlock reaches for a packet of lubricant that he had stashed under his pillow and he tosses it at his brother who catches it deftly. 

“I guess this is the final frontier, Sherlock.” Mycroft states, as he removes his belt, rolls up his sleeves and works on freeing his cock from his trousers. 

“Nonsense, brother. You are also going to fuck me in our parent’s house, in maybe one of your offices and definitely we are going to find some way to have some public sex at the very least.” 

“Your fantasy is running amok, dearest.” Mycroft finally rips open the packet and carefully coats his fingers with the slick. 

“Well, you didn’t say no.” Sherlock smiles triumphantly, which immediately turns into a groan when two of Mycroft’s fingers breach his hole. He squirms in pleasure as Mycroft takes his time to prepare him, rubbing against his prostate periodically. Such extensive prep isn’t really needed, considering how often he bottoms – but it is something Mycroft and he both enjoy. He gasps loudly and almost levitates off the bed when the digits within his hole brushes against his prostate in that perfect way while a finger rubs knowingly against his perineum – both internal and external stimulation. God. His clever brother is going to be the death of him. His eyes catch sight of his lover’s and he begs please, please, please I am ready for you. Fuck me, pretty please!  

His brother chuckles delightedly, and smiles affectionately at him. “I love it when you beg, dearest mine. So, well-mannered.” Touch yourself, little brother.

Sherlock’s hands proceed to stroke his own chest, refocusing his attention on his erect nubs which are already throbbing so deliciously due to Mycroft’s previous attentions. The fingers slip out of his anus, and he whines lightly – never liking this feeling of emptiness, but it is quickly replaced by the generous girth of his brother’s prick. He sighs in relief at the feeling of penetration as Mycroft emits a guttural sound. More more more! He uses his legs to press against his brother’s back.

“Hang on, brother, or this will be over far too soon.” Mycroft warns while trying to control his own breathing. “God, your hole is still just as tight as the first time I had you.”

“Please, brother – I need you!”

These words seem to do the trick, because his brother’s hands are now firmly holding onto his hips for leverage while he thrusts both deep and fast. The room becomes filled with the sounds of laboured breathing, the obscene slapping of flesh and the groan of the bed every time his lover thrusts into him. His brother’s eyes – both intense and determined – gaze down upon him. 

A rush of adoration floods through him; this is his brother who would give him the moon if he asked for it, looking so fucking hot in his suit. Who would believe in ghosts for him; who loved him unconditionally. Another gasp is wrenched from him when Mycroft changes the angle of penetration, somehow instinctively knowing what Sherlock needed. “Fuck!” Sherlock cries out when he cums untouched for the first time ever. He falls blissfully back against the mattress, just as Mycroft’s ejaculate pulses into him. He has never felt better in his life; he will revisit this episode of sex whenever he lies upon his empty bed. Soon, his brother’s naked form joins him in bed, and they cuddle. Sherlock’s fingers gently comb through the thick hair on his brother’s chest, while they intermittently trade kisses with each other. 

***

It’s hard to believe that you are gone, Andrei. Weeks, even months have gone by since we buried you with our parakeets. I am lying in my empty bed, looking at that mural on my wall that you had painted for me as an apology. My bed will always be empty now. A dreary prospect. I guess I could have the bed that you and Helen had shared, now that I am the Master of the House, but it seems wrong. Mummy and Father didn’t last long after you hung yourself, darling. It’s been difficult, having to bury everyone in such quick succession. God. I never wanted to be the Master of this estate. Never did I imagine that I would be here, and not at my post at Whitehall. The Prime Minister, the Queen and several others begged me to stay on, but I just couldn’t. I need to be close to you, Andrei. And here is the closest I can be to your presence without actually offing myself as well. When it is my time to go, my ashes will be placed beside yours, where Helen was originally supposed to be buried. 

Sherlock sighs, putting down the letter, unable to read on. Depressing. It makes him think of that monstrosity of a tombstone that Mycroft had bought for him before he had ran off to dismantle Moriarity’s web. No, he would not like to be buried under there when he actually goes – he would like to be buried somewhere with happy memories. He shivers; he wants to be wherever Mycroft is. 

“Oh darling.” Mycroft embraces him when suspicious amounts of wetness are threatening to leak out of his lacrimal ducts. “Dearest. We will be together. Do not worry.” Blinking rapidly, Sherlock turns to hide his face against Mycroft’s chest. He doesn’t want to live without big brother, like Erwin had to; he isn’t strong enough to. A gentle hand slides into his curls, while an arm wraps around his chest and a hand rubs against his back. “Here, let me read you another.” 

Sherlock hears the crinkling of old paper being unfolded by his brother’s free hand. 

Is this what being love is like, Andrei? Everything is so vibrant, so joyous like heaven. Being in your arms is paradise. The school week is so tedious, with you being at home in Derbyshire, and me being at Eton in London. Thank god Derbyshire is close enough for me to visit over the weekends. Or, I might as well die of desperation. I am a drowning man, Andrei; or rather the dehydrated man you are essential in every way that matters.

“Ah, teenage descriptions of love.” Sherlock chuckles weakly. “He’s not wrong.”

“No, he isn’t.” Mycroft smiles down at him. “This is all I ever wanted in life.” 

“Really?” Sherlock dares to peep upwards at his brother’s face. 

“Really. If I had to pick between you and my job, it would be you. Only one of those choices are essential, dearest.”

“Mm… you are a sap.”

“So are you, my dear sentimental darling.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. Tis the time for such horrors.” Sherlock observes. “Do you think dinner is happening soon?”

“Matilda said she would text when our presence is required downstairs.”

“Marvels of modern technology.”

“Indeed.” 

I miss you, Erwin darling. My lovely little brother. My other half. I wish you could be at the House always. But, alas, that is how our lives must go. The heir stays and learns how to run his inheritance while the second must seek their fortune somewhere. There is nothing more delightful in this world than the weekends that you come home and visit your big brother. It will be Christmas soon, and I will soon have you all to myself for at least two weeks! Until then, dearest!

“A rare letter from Andrei.” Sherlock muses. “I wonder how Helen found out about them. Maybe she found a letter? Or she caught them at it.”

“Hard to say. I don’t think Erwin mentioned anything about it.” Mycroft ponders.

“No, he didn’t.”

Sherlock picks up another letter and reads out loud.

I walked the cobblestone streets of Montmartre today. It is a gay place, filled with bright-eyed artists seeking their fortunes. You would have loved it here darling, with your philosophical bent and your artistry which would put them all to shame! Could you imagine it, Andrei? Hand-in-hand, we could stroll down the streets, share an affectionate kiss in a discreet corner out in the sunshine before ducking into a boulangerie for the finest baguette Paris has to offer. Or you could sit down at the Pleyel of the café I am currently sipping my coffee at and enchant everyone present with your interpretation of the ever-alluring Ondine, the tolling bells of death of Le Gibet or steal everyone’s coin with your mischievous Scarbo. Ah, no one played Ravel like you did dearest one. I miss watching your elegant long fingers which could at one moment caress the ivories – creating the most delicate tones and at the next coax such a violence of emotion. And of course, your mind which reconstructs these pieces with the same care you put into your painting. Ah, big brother your fingers and mind have mastery over the piano just like you have mastery of me.

Grief comes in waves they say; I find this to be true. Here I am, my eyes getting suspiciously teary in a tiny Parisian café, Andrei. While you lie buried under a stone six feet under. My god, I wish you were here. You would play my favourite Chopin nocturnes to soothe my soul; ah, some being has sat down at the Pleyel and is now playing a passable interpretation of his nocturne in D-flat. 

Andrei, Andrei, I miss you. Come back! How I wish this was all a bad dream!

“I don’t think I can keep reading these. At least for today.” Sherlock lets the old yellowed letter flutter onto the mattress in the attic. The moral of all of these letters seems to be that life is awful without one’s brotherly lover.

His brother gathers all of the scattered scraps of paper and carefully returns them back to the despatch box that they had brought up from the Library. He locks the padlock with a loud click. Sherlock notices that Mycroft had kept one of the pieces of paper and placed it in his waistcoat pocket.

“What is that?” He asks.

“Something to read later, little brother.” 

Both their phones vibrate at the same time. 

Your presence at dinner will be required in approximately thirty minutes. M^2

***

“Walk outside with me, dearest mine?” Mycroft finds him in the Drawing Room. Sherlock, completely sated from the most fantastic Christmas meal he’s ever had in his life, is lying drowsily in one of the plush armchairs. The succulent stuffed goose with the crispy skin, the maple-baked potatoes, even the vegetables (carrots, peas, brussel sprouts and green beans), the butternut squash soup and the several kinds of dessert (the creamy yule log, the crème brûlée, the flaming Christmas pudding and of course a special trifle made especially for Mycroft – the current Master of the House) were to die for. Everyone else had vacated the House to observe the traditional midnight service on Christmas Eve, but Sherlock does not feel inclined to take part in such a custom. Even Matilda, the self-proclaimed heathen, had gone with her Mummy. 

“I don’t think I can move for the next year or so, My.” He groans.

“Humour me, little brother.” These words transport Sherlock back once more to that first dinner back at Baker Street; the true beginning of everything that has happened. Even without that reference, Sherlock can tell that his brother really wants him to go with him. And he acquises, “You will have to help me up, big brother.” 

Mycroft holds out a hand, and Sherlock grabs it. He stumbles against his brother – the Christmas punch had been slightly more potent than he had expected – who readily stabilizes him with an arm around his waist. “Mm… you smell good, My.” Sherlock murmurs, nose partially buried against the junction of his brother’s neck and clavicle. “My handsome man.”

“You are a randy drunk, aren’t you?” Mycroft asks with some amusement.

“It’s not the alcohol… it’s you. I am intoxicated by you.”

“Now, you are being silly – come on, let’s go.” Mycroft lightly tugs at Sherlock’s suit sleeve and he follows readily. 

“Isn’t it too cold out for a tramp?”

“Surprisingly no. It looks beautiful though – almost like a Christmas card.”

“This House looks like a Christmas card.” Sherlock states, looking pointedly at all the decorations that had been put up everywhere – the massive ornately-decorated tree in Drawing Room, the wreaths, strings of lights, the traditional symbols of Christianity and etcetera. 

“They did a good job, I would say. Agatha says it looks just like the old days. Walter had loved all the Christmas traditions and insisted that the entire household partook in them.”

“As silly as it sounds, Mycroft – the only thing I want for Christmas is you.”

“You say the loveliest things, little brother. I should really ask Matilda about what she put in that punch. Potent stuff.”

“I mean what I say.” Sherlock replies as he puts on his warmest jacket, his scarf, his pair of boots and his leather gloves. 

“I am sure you do.” Mycroft smiles at him, before linking one of his arms with Sherlock’s. They walk outside onto the snow-covered grounds. 

Even he has to admit that it is picturesque. The sky is relatively clear; the luminous half-moon peeks out from a small patch of clouds. Twinkling brightly, the stars shine brightly above them. It is cold though – Sherlock involuntarily shivers with a gust blows past them. His brother pulls him closer, letting their foreheads brush together before they kiss under the moonlight.

“I love you.” Mycroft whispers when they part.

“I know.” Sherlock’s lips quirk slightly into a small smile. “I do too.” He then asks, “Where are we going?”

“Don’t you see?” His brother points beyond the trees where a small graveyard lies ahead. 

“Rather grim location for a walk.”

“I thought that we should pay our respects.” 

“Lead on, brother mine.”

They finally stop in front of a solitary gravestone bearing a recently redone epitaph. Andrei (1934-1967) and Erwin (1937-2017) are both buried under the same stone. Imagine living without your other half for fifty years. Sherlock shudders for reasons unrelated to the cold. No, he will not think about that. Mycroft is here with him. He will cut down on all his dangerous risk-taking behaviour, because he doesn’t want Mycroft to live without him either. If this is the only time that they get together… then Sherlock wants to make sure they make the most of it. He hardly realizes it when Mycroft pulls out the sheet of paper that he had kept from the despatch box. His brother tugs at his sleeve to get his attention before placing the paper in his hands.

I don’t know if you will ever see this, Mycroft. But, I write in the hopes that you do. You seem like a person interested in the past and would be curious enough to delve into why I left our assets into your care instead of closer kin. You met me as an old man. I met you as a young one just starting to carve out your niche in the British government, as I had done decades before you. But I recognized the anguish in your eyes, when they wandered around the room, following a certain little brother of yours. You hide it remarkably well, but you could never fool someone who had once read people for a living to make decisions with international consequences, or rather someone who has lived through a similar sort of agony. Loving someone who you cannot have. It’s a different sort of dynamic when the person is your brother. I think you would agree. When Andrei and I grew up, even being gay had serious consequences in our society; forget about the incest! I understood why he felt that he had to marry, so I let him go without a fight. I loved him; rather I love him and I would have done anything for him, at the cost of my own happiness. 

Somehow… I think there is a chance that your little brother will someday reciprocate your feelings. It’s the same odd sort of premonition I felt when Andrei married Helen, but fortuitously it’s a happy one. And if you two are together in that special way at the time you find this letter, I give my sincere blessings (because you two would have to keep it a secret considering your positions in the world). Be kind to each other. Talk to each other if there is something going on before it becomes a big problem. I know that we British men are taught in the tradition of keeping ‘the stiff upper lip’ but unfortunately that has no place in a romantic relationship, as Andrei and I had learned too late to our detriment. And never take each other for granted. I wish you both all the luck and happiness in the world. 

Yours truly,

Erwin Holmes Esq.

Carefully, Sherlock folds the letter and returns it back to Mycroft for safekeeping. They would have to take all the evidence of Andrei and Erwin’s love with them this time around, as the House would soon be ready to receive guests in the coming new year. And he knows, even without Erwin’s kindly advice, that there are lots of things that Mycroft and he would have to work on. But this would have been true for any couple – such as John and Amanda. 

“Thank you.” Sherlock squats down and whispers over the grave; knowing that without this particular inheritance, who knew how long it would have taken for them to get together, if at all. 

And then, he turns to look at his brother. Hand-in-hand, they walk back to the House, where they will spend their time cuddling in front of a cozy fireplace to get warm, shower together in the generously-sized antique clawfoot bathtub and go to bed. And, maybe – if Mycroft is feeling up to it – they could desecrate the same bed Erwin and Andrei used to during Midnight Mass – to honour an old Holmesian Christmas tradition.

~FIN~