Subterranean Homesick Blues
Written for sherlock_flashfic.

The routes by which information rises from the grimiest depths of London to the very peak of its intellectual infrastructure, a quiet office in Whitehall, are obscure and circuitous, and often surprising. One would not, for instance, expect that stories of a tall, dark-haired young man busking in the Underground and evading the British Transport Police with startling ease when they attempt to shut him down would even be of interest to Whitehall, much less that those stories would manage to reach the office if they were.

But one would be wrong. That is why Mycroft Holmes is known--to his intimates, of course--as the subtlest spymaster in Europe.

Mycroft tells himself that he only intends to pass by in the morning rush. One look should tell him a great deal about his elusive little brother and the life he's been leading since he left Cambridge so abruptly and came to the city. Whether he's been eating properly. Whether he's made any friends, or at least found himself a decent place to sleep. Whether he's continued his unfortunate experiments with recreational drugs.

One good look, and a quick toss of several crumpled fifty-pound notes into the violin case, and his work will be done.

But as he descends the escalator, umbrella tucked fastidiously under his arm, and the elegant notes of the well-known chaconne rise to meet him, he already suspects it won't be that simple. The music is so grave and pure against the dirty, shabby tile that he has to catch his breath. He glances around, covertly, to see if anyone else has noticed, but every face is dull and stony, so braced against the routine hostilities of the daily commute that they can't even respond to the beauty breaking all around them.

Sherlock first comes into sight when Mycroft steps off the escalator. He's taken up a corner of the corridor leading to the westbound track, a thin figure standing defiantly against a garish advertisement for a musical. He is thin, a good five pounds lighter than when Mycroft had seen him last. His clothes are well-kept, though; he's not sleeping rough, at least. And, yes, there is cocaine involved, though not yet overwhelming him.

Sherlock's eyes are closed and he's swaying as he plays. Mycroft knows that he's aware of nothing but the music at that moment, and it's that thought that tempts him away from his plan. Impulsively, he steps out of the mass of commuters with a murmured apology and leans against the corner opposite to watch. He knows it's not meant for him, this vision of Sherlock's wild energy transmuted through the instrument into something abstract and disciplined and glorious, and he feels a brief, surprising pang of guilt. Then he thinks, This is what I do: see things that are not meant for me, and If he didn't want others to see it, he ought not to be performing in central London, and the scruple vanishes.

It's certainly the most distasteful setting for one of Sherlock's recitals that he's ever witnessed, but he knows Sherlock's not even there. He needs the money, or he wouldn't be bothering, but he's indifferent to the audience that files by, submerged in its own dreariness. The second most observant person in London is lost in his own mind. And, listening to him, Mycroft slips away, too, first to a feeling, then to the memory that encodes it: a windblown autumn afternoon of his teens, lying on his back, looking up at the clouds. He knew that they were meant to provoke thoughts of fanciful creatures in stories, but all he could see were patterns of wind and weather. He had felt cold and alone and dizzyingly intimate with the sky.

Then Sherlock had come over, demanding to know something or other, and Mycroft had wanted to ask: can you see? Can you? But he was afraid to know the answer, and so he had lain there, silent, until Sherlock had scowled upwards and declared, "Clouds are boring," and stomped away.

Someone jostles him, and he shudders. He'd tidied that memory away long ago. He doesn't delete like Sherlock does, he imposes order instead, and it's unusual for that structure to break down. He knows the answer to his question now, but it's done neither of them any good; however much they are alike, he can't seem to reach Sherlock to help him. He swallows and focuses on the long, slow steps the partita takes in drawing to a close.

Mycroft knows the exact moment when the inner vibrations die away and Sherlock is about to open his eyes. When he does, for just a split-second he regards Mycroft with a detached recognition--my brother is standing there--but then it's replaced by wariness.

"Well?" he says. There's just a touch of roughness to his voice.

"Beautiful," Mycroft answers.

The sincerity in his tone displeases Sherlock more than any criticism would, and he glances away. "I wasn't playing for you."

"I know." It's been years since Sherlock would play for him. "Regardless."

"Come to drag me home?"

"I only wanted to see how you were."

"Well. Now you've seen. Satisfied?"

"Yes," Mycroft says, though of course he isn't. Nothing about Sherlock alone and unhappy in London is satisfying. He crouches to lay the bills drawn from his pocket into Sherlock's violin case.

Sherlock looks down, and scowls. "I don't want your money, Mycroft."

"For the performance, Sherlock. Not for any other reason."

"It was worth three hundred quid to you?" Sherlock challenges.

"Yes," Mycroft says, and turns to allow himself to be borne away by the crowds. "Every penny of it."

It's the truest thing he'll say for months.

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