Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: There is now a lovely audiofic of this story by podlizzie now available in several different versions, so the world's your oyster! Go HERE to enjoy.

"You were rifling through the sheet music weren't you? Haven't you stopped playing?"

He ignores the second question and is a little miffed at the first because, yes, he'd been searching through the sheet music on the piano in the Great Hall, and he was certain that he hadn't made a sound. Apparently, he was wrong.

"Yes, I was double-checking. Last week, that pianist on the BBC—"

"Missed three bars in the middle."

Their walk through the garden is anything but slow. Clipping along at a punishing pace, her feet are much more confident than his. His mother is phenomenally competent at being blind. But then what isn't she phenomenal at? Parenting a notable exception.

Short of a royal wedding—which he is not looking forward to as remnants of some IRA cell will want to get their evil finger in, not to mention al Qaeda; fortunately no one is even so much as blinking an eye at how much security will cost, but then everyone likes William and most of the staff want to shag Kate Middleton so that's one fight he doesn't have to worry about—twice a month he motors from London across the width of England to spend Saturday with his mother. Normally he's something of stickler for routine, and yet their visits have a terrifying sameness about them. Routine had been his father's bailiwick more than his mother's, but it's one of the subtle changes that has occurred since her sight began to go. Oh yes, such a stickler for time now. Lunch at noon, sharp. A walk around the grounds no matter what the weather. Her nap at two. At four they have an early tea, and then Mycroft drives home. He would drink himself to sleep if he could.

Sherlock has not been home since he left for Cambridge. Even holidays are meaningless to him. Well, they are meaningless to Mycroft as well, but tradition is far from meaningless. While he could care less about some infant becoming the vehicle for saving his soul, he does care whether that year's Christmas tree will fit in the corner of the Great Hall and relishes the smell of pine that overwhelms him when he walks into the house on Christmas Eve. Last year he had had to hold back tears when he came across a broken ornament, its shattered bits of glass clinging to the tissue paper.

The only time he can remember ever striking Sherlock was several years ago in response to Mycroft's question of whether he was coming home for the holiday. Sherlock had responded with a resounding, "Christ, no!" and had referred to the annual tree trimming as sentimental rubbish. Despite looking like some lazy effete who'd been plucked out of Cambridge and shuffled into the service only in response to administrative holes left by the Philby/Blunt debacles, Mycroft packs a mean punch. No doubt Sherlock had been sipping soup for a good month based on the resounding crack of his knuckles against Sherlock's jaw. Mycroft had sent a courier over with a box of straws. The courier had come back with the box; "FUCK YOU!" in gigantic letters had been scrawled across the front. Mycroft keeps the box in the front drawer of his desk and looks at it whenever he needs a pick-me-up.

The Holmeses do not converse. They pronounce. Then deduce. If the mood strikes them, they reply. Mostly they do not.

"The latest diet is not working, Mycroft."

Mycroft knows that it's the scatter of the amount of gravel under his feet that tells his mother that he's gained another stone.

"The weather in London was frightful last week."

"Yes, Mycroft, so the BBC said. My ears are in perfect working order."

There's that, too. The Holmeses are unfailingly sarcastic.

She always waits until they have passed the hedgerow to ask about Sherlock. Some Saturdays he tries to force the issue but she just ignores him. He wants to get it out of the way. The Sherlock update is never pleasant, and he had vowed that he would never lie to her—for one thing, there wouldn't be any point—but it does get a bit much.

At seventeen, Sherlock had nearly died of hypothermia because he wanted to determine how long he could actually stand being in freezing water.

At nineteen and three months, he'd broken his collarbone while riding on the roof of a car and then falling off said roof. Something to do with body weight and velocity. Maths had never been Mycroft's strong suit. (He'd gotten a First of course, but that didn't mean anything, being only relatively poor at subjects like physics and calculus. He could do them with ease; it was just that they required thought.)

At twenty, Sherlock had spent six months bedding one hundred people of varying sexual persuasion to determine what all the fuss was about. Fortunately, they were all of age. He hasn't had a single sexual encounter since.

At twenty-one and four months, he had dropped out of school because he didn't see the point, as he was smarter than all of his professors put together. Not something Mycroft could actually argue with but still.

At twenty-one and nine months, he'd broken his left arm, right wrist, and ankle. More experiments with bodies, velocity, and how many stories could a man fall without killing himself; perhaps the only experiment that Sherlock had determined was inconclusive because the conclusion was fatal. He'd become addicted to morphine as a result (because that compound fracture of his arm was quite grim), went cold turkey, and then the rigors of withdrawal had sent him into heart failure. Fortunately, his flatmate at the time was a med student.

At twenty-five and one month, determined to understand the effect addiction to opiates exacted on the rational thinking process—a consideration he hadn't explored the first go around—Sherlock purposefully became addicted to heroin. Then went cold turkey when the experiment was done. Fortunately, this time there had been no accompanying heart failure (a blessing as his flatmate at the time had been a car thief).

Since becoming a detective he'd nearly been killed fourteen times. He had refused Mycroft's financial assistance no fewer than thirty-four times, and had lived on tea and loaves of stale bread for a total of fifty-five weeks. He was homeless no fewer than four times. He has no friends. He has no lovers. Of course, Mycroft has no friends or lovers either, but that isn't the point. Mycroft literally doesn't have the time. Sherlock literally doesn't care. And these are only the highlights. Sherlock's life from the time he was sixteen until now is one gigantic cock-up.

"He has a new flatmate. At least he can patch up Sherlock if warranted. He's a doctor. Three tours in Afghanistan. Discharged as a psych case because of a psychosomatic limp, he seems to be iffy mentally. Runs in the family. Sister a raging alcoholic. I give him three weeks before he limps from that flat screaming in horror. If he doesn't bludgeon Sherlock to death with his cane, I'll be amazed."

His mother is wearing her sunglasses. He hasn't seen her eyes in five years and has learned to watch her mouth. Based on the pursed annoyed pinch to it, she doesn't appreciate his commentary.

"His name?"

"John Watson."

"Is he nice?"

It's the most imprecise language he'd ever heard his mother use and always one of the first questions she asks when a new flatmate appears on the scene. Which is often given that no one in their right mind would want to live with Sherlock for any length of time. The flatmates are, unfailingly, the sort of people you cross the road to avoid if you meet them on the street. The more degenerate they are, the longer they tend to last as flatmates. John Watson seems neither degenerate nor dodgy. He won't last a month.

"Aside from the psychological issues I've noted, yes, he seems quite decent. I'm being too generous. Two weeks maximum before he decamps."

They have completed their loop and Mycroft holds open the front door. He wills himself to breathe normally, but their jaunt around the grounds has winded him. Before crossing the threshold, his mother turns to him and says his name sharply, as if it were two separate words. "My Croft." Then she thumps him on the chest exactly where his heart is located. Not for the first time does he wonder exactly how blind she is.

Sherlock has inherited his mother's stamina and build. He has inherited his father's, and, unfortunately, a sweet tooth.

"I buried my husband. I have no intention of burying my son," she snaps before crossing the foyer and then winding her way up the staircase. Watching her from the back, you'd never know she was blind. Mycroft bristles internally at the reprimand; that's rather rich considering that the extent of his medical woes has been a tendency to be chubby and a persistent case of hemorrhoids, while Sherlock courts death every other week.

Ignoring the little niggles of guilt, this is Mycroft's favorite part of the whole visit: her nap. The second she turns the corner and is out of sight, he allows himself a small smile and heads off to his father's study.

He loves this house. Most of its chimneys don't work, it costs a fortune to heat, and but for the prisoner detail that comes twice a week to manicure the grounds it would be an overgrown mess. Built in the sixteenth century by one of Elizabeth I's newly minted courtiers, it's the stuff of postcards. Had it not been for the generous park and the formidable iron fence around the perimeter, their sweep would have been inundated by tourists and the clicking of cameras. Mycroft's salary is generous and his manipulation of the stock market so effective as to be morally questionable, but still, the tens of thousands of pounds spent each year toward the upkeep puts a strain on his salary. But it's worth it.

Sherlock is indifferent to it. While Mycroft knows every inch of plaster and board, the height of all the doorknobs, and the distinct smell of all the seasons, Sherlock never thinks about it. Ever. Once when at loggerheads with each other (when aren't they at loggerheads?), Mycroft had given Sherlock's flat a sneering once over and had said, "Thank God Mummy's leaving the house to me." Naturally, Sherlock's heartfelt relieved echo, "Thank God!" had sucked much of the victory out of Mycroft's pronouncement.

His father's study is the only room in the house where he can move objects and not be chastised by his mother. Which tells him that she never enters this room, because she has a frankly eerie ability to discern when even one object has been moved or is out of place. She must spend her days running her hands over everything because he's caught her adjusting the cant of doors, the placement of lamps, how precisely the curtains are open, and even how precisely they are closed. Her mind contains a snapshot of the house and grounds that is as clear as sight.

Over the years, Mycroft has appropriated his father's study. Mycroft's favorite books, tomes on history and policy, have slowly replaced the Victorian moral theorists that had been his father's favorites. The desk had been strangely situated. Why would Mycroft want to stare at the paneling as opposed to the expanse of the rose garden when he happens to look up?

Other than these small changes, oh, and the addition of a high-speed line for his laptop, he'd left everything else the same. His father had collected fountain pens, and Mycroft often brings work with him just so he can sign his name to official documents using one of his father's pens. Even though Mycroft's handwriting is as graceless as if a crab had picked up a pen and suddenly had had the wherewithal to write, the thick, dark ink of the Waterman gives his signature a gravitas and elegance it normally doesn't possess. Of course he could pocket a few of these fountain pens so that he could use them all the time, but somehow that's not the point. He loves this room. He loves this house. He had loved his father.

"A month?"

"Yes, Mother, he's been there a month." Strangely, when Mycroft refers to his mother when he's with Sherlock he always calls her "Mummy." Face to face it's always "Mother" in a tight, clipped tone.

"Is he still limping?"

"No. Apparently being Sherlock's errand boy has cured him."

The wind is bitter today, and Mycroft has to concentrate on not stuttering from the cold.

"One of your gardeners is frolicking with that chit of a housemaid. Stupidly, they have chosen to rendezvous under my bedroom window exactly at nap time. Have a word will you?"

Her voice isn't anything but irritated. His mother is many things, but prudish is not one of them, although like Sherlock, it is impossible to imagine her in the throes of passion. Must be that girl's giggle, which is so grating as to be migraine-inducing.

There are only two things in this life that have caused his mother to raise her voice: Finding her husband slumped over his desk—dead at the age of sixty from an apparent heart attack—and the re-election of Margaret Thatcher. The extensive grounds and sixteenth-century manse might suggest a Conservative bent. This is false. Holmeses don't vote Labor or Conservative. They vote for the party whose cadre of proposed ministers has the highest average I.Q. Sometimes this backfires on them, because intelligence isn't infallible. Sadly, other issues can trump brains. Look at Margaret Thatcher. And the idea of Sherlock—the most intelligent person in Britain with the exception of himself—as the Minister of Education is actually heart stopping.

Of course, Sherlock can't be arsed to vote at all, which Mycroft takes personally. Not that he'd ever bring up the subject.

"I'll take care of it."

He is unprepared for the sad smile on her face. "I'm sure you will."

To his horror, Mycroft finds himself actually liking John. With a quiet integrity about him that even Sherlock isn't immune to, John Watson is one of the few people whom Sherlock allows to call him on his questionable behavior. Not that Sherlock pays him any mind, but he listens first and then ignores John, which is still something of a milestone. He has a sense of humor that even Sherlock appreciates. Like the rest of the world, John finds Sherlock irritating, insufferable, intolerable, and arrogant beyond all get out. He also finds him brilliant, amusing, gifted, and exceptional.

The only person who has ever accorded Sherlock that much grace has been their mother.

Of course, two peas in a pod.

"Six months, is it?"

As his mother knows very well, and if he didn't know better, he'd say she was actually pulling his leg. He doesn't know why, but this question infuriates him. Not that he would ever display this anger to his mother. He clenches his hands into unforgiving fists and says in a calm voice,

"One hundred and eighty-seven days to be precise."

Despite all his predictions, John has outlasted all previous flatmates. Not only is it shocking, it's also the first time Mycroft has been wrong in years. As in thirty.

"He's a very decent fellow that I'm sure, due to Sherlock's unwavering recklessness, will end up being killed."

This brutal assessment is, unfortunately, all too likely.

Uncharacteristically, she stops and Mycroft stumbles a little. Per the usual they are walking arm and arm.

"Are they together?"

Mycroft blushes and grateful that she can't see his cheeks. At forty-four, he is still not comfortable talking about sex with his mother. And certainly not Sherlock's sex life.

"John Watson is not homosexual." Although this hasn't precluded them fucking like rabbits since the nasty business with that psychopath Moriarty.

"That's not what I asked."

"I think so."

"You don't know?" she snaps and begins walking again.

"Yes, they are fucking," he snaps back, dragging on her arm just the tiniest bit to show that, of course, he knows. He always knows. He's a Holmes.

At some point over the last six months, he has begun to swear. Fortunately, his internal censors never fail him while he's at work, but here with only his mother to chastise him he finds himself saying the most crude, objectionable words imaginable. What sort of man subjects his mother to this sort of language? Also, at his studio in Bayswater, a place where he merely hangs his clothes and brushes his teeth, he finds himself muttering obscenities under his breath all the time.

Ignoring Mycroft's rude outburst she murmurs, "Excellent," and doesn't miss a footfall.

He couldn't have heard that right.


"Yes. This John Watson sounds very much like your father."

"Oh, Mother, really. I've told you nothing about him."

Wearing only that self-satisfied smug expression that both of her sons have inherited when amused at the stupidity of others, she doesn't bother to reply.

"There wasn't any room for either of us, was there? There was him and that was it."

They are at the door, and Mycroft hopes that this second outburst will be ignored. Because he'd loved his father and hated that he can't help but be all Freudian about this. Why now, when the man has been dead twenty years?

Turning toward him, the sunglasses so unforgiving, her face so wrinkled and fallen, her mouth is relaxed. She'd had Mycroft at thirty-five and Sherlock at forty-five. It doesn't take a genius to realize that neither of them were planned. He suspects that they also weren't particularly wanted.

"Those of us with hard hearts don't have much to give. We have enough to bestow on one, maybe two people. The rest are immaterial."

"And why did that other have to be Sherlock? Why not me?"

He sounds petty and young and nothing like the forty-four-year-old man who holds the British government together.

She slaps his face and unerringly her palm hits his cheek dead center. It doesn't hurt though because she's old. It does shock him.

"Sherlock? You stupid boy." One Holmes calling another Holmes 'stupid' is evidence of a horrible, perhaps unforgivable gaff. He has hurt her deeply. "Sherlock doesn't need me; he never did. He needs someone, but it's not me, and obviously it's not you. Perhaps it's this John Watson."

She pushes him past him, clearly still furious. When she reaches the landing, he shouts at her, the first time he has ever raised his voice to her in his entire life.

"What about me?"

Her hand falters until it reaches the banister. She steadies herself and says in a slow and deliberate voice, facing him so resolutely that once again he questions her blindness, medical diagnoses be damned, "I'm very tired, Mycroft. Sherlock has this John Watson. You will have the house."

Mycroft doesn't wait to see if she's turned the corner before he begins to smash every bit of pointless adornment that his hand can grab: porcelain gewgaws, bowls, crystal vases filled with flowers, all thrown against the walls as he rages from room to room until he finds himself in the study, exhausted, panting, and nearly paralyzed with self-disgust.

Calling the housekeeper from his mobile, he apologizes, but he's made a bit of a mess and would she be so kind as to clean it up before his mother awakes? He needs to leave for London immediately. Please tell his mother of his change of plans; he would appreciate it. Not waiting for an answer, he pushes "end" with a shaking finger and crushes his car keys in his hand as he walks out the front door.

Four hours later he's in Mrs. Hudson's kitchen eating a piece of cake and watching some soap opera, the plot of which is stupid beyond belief. The double footfall on the staircase tells him that Sherlock and John are finally home. He thanks her for the cake and the hospitality. She's so lonely that she tries to keep him there with the promise of another cup of tea. He declines. Mrs. Hudson is not the solution to his problem, and he's certainly not the solution to hers. He knocks, hears Sherlock say loudly, "Oh fuck, it's Mycroft," followed by John's more gentle voice, probably saying something along the lines of don't be so rude.

John opens the door, that honest, forthright face giving him a slight smile and invites him in.

"Thank you, John, but no. Sherlock, I've just come from Cheshire. Mother is not likely to last much longer. I suggest you say your goodbyes. Or not. It's up to you."

He doesn't wait for an answer but turns away. Sherlock's questioning voice follows him down the staircase, "Is the old trout sick?"

Mycroft ignores the enormous lack of respect because if anyone's behavior that day were to be put under scrutiny…

"No," Mycroft shouts out of the side of his mouth as he makes his way down the steps, "She's tired and old."

He returns to his studio, takes one look at the white walls without so much as one picture on them, and calls his assistant, ordering her to find him a new flat by the end of the week. An honest-to-god flat, price no object. He spends Sunday at work, as usual, and is on his way out the door when that idiot from accounting, the one who can't add and always mucks up Mycroft's expense reports, collides with him as they both lunge for the departing lift. Not that young, maybe in his late thirties whose red hair has dulled to a strawberry blond over time, Morgan is blue-eyed, fair, on the short side, and part of that army of hapless number crunchers who fills the ranks of the Ministry. Mycroft suspects that they could eliminate ninety percent of them and the government would actually function better. He is not someone who Mycroft would ever notice, except that the man always works Sundays, too, and they often wait for the lift together.

"Sorry. Sir."

"Morgan," Mycroft says in a bored tone. More to be polite than anything else—he believes in simple acts of common courtesy that Sherlock eschews on principle; plus as irritating as people like Morgan are, Mycroft still has to work with them—Mycroft gives a fake little cough and then asks, "Working Sunday again? That's dedication."

Later, Mycroft will chastise himself on his unbelievable stupidity. Because Morgan can't hide his fascination with Mycroft's mouth; his eyes are fixed on Mycroft's lips. Mycroft could have said, "Being an idiot again? That's typical," and he doubts Morgan would have heard a single word.

Morgan fancies him. Has fancied him for some time. How extraordinary.

It might be the power. Mycroft asks himself if it matters and finds that it might not. Accounting is in a different branch from that containing the M.I. bossyboots, so technically the potential of a sexual harassment suit is not a factor. And yet at Mycroft's level, he could have this man fired yesterday if he put in a word. Surely Morgan knows that. And then Mycroft's eye lights on the silk of Morgan's tie. This is a small point, but possibly critical in the larger scheme of things. Morgan always wears exquisite ties. And while his suits aren't exceptional, even on his paltry salary he spends a small fortune on his shirts. He's the sort of man who would appreciate the difference between using a fountain pen and a Bic.

Perhaps the accounting errors aren't so much errors as designed to be seen as errors. Perhaps it is time to find out.

In a move that is ridiculously bold—has Mycroft ever been this bold—when they reach the first floor he pushes the button on the lift so that the doors won't open.

"You're not a Cambridge man, are you, Morgan." There's no point in making it a question, because Mycroft knows he's not a Cambridge man.

Morgan tears his eyes away from Mycroft's finger on the button keeping the lift stationary.

"No, Oxford. Studied classics. A First." Morgan blushes when he says this, and Mycroft's assessment of Morgan's intelligence increases by about four hundred percent. It might be the most effective pick-up line he's ever heard.

"Still waters run deep, don't they? I'm going for a spot of dinner. Would you care to join me?"