His brother is in the bright and modern kitchen, oddly enough, leaning against the sink. From the angle of his head, spitting blood. That's disquieting, but more disquieting is what he appears to be wearing. Wearing--
A tight black dress with a very short skirt, stockings, stockings with garters, as Mycroft can see quite clearly from this angle, knee-high stiletto-heeled boots. Or the wreckage of the same; Mycroft's mind automatically catalogs the snags in the stockings, the mud on the boots, the rip in the skirt as he keeps moving into the kitchen.
"Sherlock," he says, "what in heaven's name--?"
Sherlock whirls, then braces himself against the sink as if the spinning had not been the best idea. A raw scent of spirits wafts to him. "Mycroft. Fuck. Thought you'd be at the Diogenes."
For a minute, Mycroft cannot choose a line of thought to pursue. Sherlock's eyes are smudged with some kind of liner, and his lips are a vivid red. But the fitted top of the dress he's wearing defines the cleanly masculine planes of his torso, and his hair is as tousled and wild as always. Artificial as it is, this is not drag; this is Sherlock adopting a look that emphasizes all the long lines of him, all the eerie contrast of his coloring, but commits to no single definition. Mycroft excels at categorization above all, and this strange vision makes his mind slow and stutter.
Complicating matters is the bright purple bruise already coming out around Sherlock's eye-socket and cheekbone, the trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth. Harm to Sherlock is one of the very, very few things that can make him lose his footing in the intricate web of his thoughts. Already off-balance, he has to swallow twice before he can find his voice.
"I'm always home on Wednesday evenings," he says, automatically. "What happened?"
"It's none of your concern," Sherlock says, starting to turn away.
Mycroft's hand shoots out and catches his wrist. "When you break into my flat looking as if you've just participated in a footie riot, it's very much my concern." Sherlock glares at him, but is silent. "Shall I have my team investigate?"
"No." It's torn from Sherlock's throat. "For God's sake, Mycroft. Don't."
Mycroft raises an eyebrow, waiting, hoping that he looks far more patient than he feels. He's still holding Sherlock's wrist. It's bare, except for a single silver bangle, the only jewelry Sherlock is wearing.
"I was out. With a friend."
Mycroft looks him up and down, deliberately. "A friend."
Sherlock casts his own eyes down. Mycroft is momentarily distracted by the sight of his lashes, longer than they have ever been, like lines of blackest ink drawn by some unerring craftsman against the ivory of his cheek. "He liked it. This. Until--until--"
"Until he didn't," Mycroft finishes, grasping the situation at once. It seems a very long time since he had been twenty-one and on his own and desperate for a love that felt nowhere on offer, but the emotions flood back undimmed. He wishes, not for the first time, that his usual gift for purely dispassionate understanding reached to Sherlock.
"Yes," Sherlock says, still looking down.
With his other hand, Mycroft gently tilts his chin back up. He strokes the bruise with a light thumb. The purple is all the pomp and splendor of decaying empire. While he is concentrating on Sherlock's injuries, he is not thinking, even though he should be able to, about taking the unwise soul who inflicted them into as many pieces as physics will permit, and then a few more. His mind is full of strange blockages and directions of flow tonight.
"He's a fool." It comes out with more force than he'd thought it would, but, then, it is the one sentiment that's always united them against the world. He brushes the smallest drop of liquid hanging at the corner of Sherlock's eye, and Sherlock crumples.
Mycroft folds him in his arms, striving to keep them both upright. Sherlock will never forgive him if he lets him fall, not now. He has to uphold the dignity of them both. Feeling the rapid beat of Sherlock's heart, he thinks that the other man is a fool, that if he could keep this strange and precious creature in his arms, he'd never let him go.
"Shh," he hears himself saying. "Shhh, pretty boy, my pretty, pretty boy..."
A part of him registers the choice of words and waits with cold sickness for a reaction, but either Sherlock is too wretched to care or...another of those blockages confronts him. He swallows. "I'll find you some clean clothes."
It seems like a good idea, but the violent shake of Sherlock's head against his shoulder makes him realize that of course it isn't. "I just need to kip for a little while," he mutters.
Sherlock, strewn in ruins in Mycroft's bed, limbs splayed recklessly as usual: Mycroft has to close his own eyes for a moment.
Then he opens them again and looks at his brother. "Of course. Come upstairs."*
Mycroft has always been self-indulgent in his choice of bed linens, and these days he considers it something of a necessity. He only sleeps three hours a night; he needs fresh, immaculately clean sheets, turned down just so, and pillows arranged to provide the ideal reception. To cradle his thoughts in perfect order, so that he can rest.
None of this is meaningful to Sherlock. The second Mycroft lets him go, Sherlock tumbles backwards onto the bed. His knees are hooked over the edge, and he seems momentarily unable to move--fortunately, given the state of his boots.
"Wait," Mycroft says. He sits next to him and reaches for a foot. Sherlock mutters something vaguely defiant-sounding and draws it away. "You won't be comfortable sleeping in mud, Sherlock."
He pulls the boot into his lap. The leather is supple and soft beneath the mud, molded to Sherlock's leg like the boots were custom-made. He wouldn't put it past Sherlock to have had it done. Thankfully, his searching fingers uncover a zipper. He pulls it down--too fast at first, making a heart-stopping sound that makes him slow his tug. When he reaches the ankle, he looks at the boot, split open now, Sherlock's slender but unquestionably masculine calf, expensively sheened in dark stocking, revealed inside. He looks away as he works the foot free, and drops the boot as quickly as he can.
Sherlock is already dozing as he hastily removes the second boot. He maneuvers Sherlock's legs onto the bed so that he is lying more or less straight. Sherlock's head is turned away from him, and he decides not to disturb him by giving him a pillow. He does, however, find a coverlet in the linen closet to drape over him gently. It's ivory-colored. Remarkable how little it takes to cover up so much.
Mycroft washes his hands in the bathroom attached to the study and then throws himself into his abandoned chair. He reaches out for the port and drains it at one go. His mind is briefly awash with the silence. Then a half-dozen lines of action suggest themselves to his mind simultaneously. He rejects them all at once, and presses his fingers against his temples. Retaliation, of any sort, will not mend Sherlock, nor protect him. Not now. Later, and not for Sherlock's benefit at all.
He will need a file on the young man, then. In fact, if this is how Sherlock's tastes are developing, he will need to start keeping tabs on all the young men. But Sherlock is not the type who will cling to a batterer; he need not intervene further with respect to his companion of this evening. He was fortunate to have discovered tonight's events, and he can foresee Sherlock's unfortunate responses to any direct action.
He spends a few minutes drafting an order to upgrade Sherlock's surveillance status, then lays the Blackberry aside. Ordinarily it pleases him to contemplate how much he can accomplish with a few strokes of key or pen, but tonight it leaves him feeling only frustrated. He unlocks and opens the drawer containing the forbidden biscuits, then closes it again. Two minutes later, he does it again.
He doesn't like being absurd, so he seats himself again in his chair and picks up his book. He even succeeds in reading a chapter before his Blackberry beeps again. Time for the evening routine.
His dressing room is entered from the hallway as well as the bedroom. There are, as always, freshly-laundered pyjamas of a soft, heavy cotton. He changes, laying out his clothing for the staff to collect, before slipping across the darkened bedroom to the ensuite. He conducts his evening wash-up in precisely the same way every night, letting his mind begin to go quiet as it dwells on the trivialities of running water of precisely the right temperature and expensively unscented soap and toothpaste. Tonight, though, he disrupts the spell before its completion; he contemplates himself quietly, dispassionately, in the mirror. He has crafted his own notion of manhood, one which most would call old-fashioned, but which suits him well. In his pyjamas, though, he looks only like someone not yet thirty and already overwhelmed by responsibility.
He despises the very notion of being overwhelmed, and so he shuts off the light and moves back into his bedroom.
In the interval, Sherlock has managed to burrow himself deeply into all the layers of bedclothing, as well as appropriate all the pillows for himself. At least there is room for Mycroft to slide in without touching him.
Ordinarily, Mycroft falls asleep within seconds of his head touching the pillows. Tonight, it takes him nearly four unbearable minutes.
He wakes some time later, confused, into the darkness fortified by the blackout curtains. Someone is pressed up against his side, face buried in his neck, stockinged foot hooked over his ankle. He feels the soft slide and crinkle of a fabric that can only be a hyperfashionable young woman's dress and smells the lingering scent of alcohol which suggests--despite the total lack in his memory of any such action, or even of being the kind of person who would take such an action--that he had gone out that evening and brought home a partner. Feeling a touch of panic, he puts one hand on her hip and rubs it reassuringly. But that makes him think of proportions: how can she be so tall? Given the placement of head and foot and hip, she'd have to be over six feet, as tall as--
"Sherlock." The word is startled out of him. "Sherlock, wake up."
But Sherlock is awake. He lifts his face and mutters, "Mycroft."
He tries to laugh. "Do we need a formal partition of territory? I could draw one up--"
Sherlock's fingers settle on his shoulder, shocking him into silence. His voice is warm, but uncertain, in Mycroft's ear--a poison compounded of resplendence and vulnerability. His face is invisible in the darkness. "You said...said I was pretty."
So he had registered that earlier. Mycroft swallowed. "We can discuss my diction tomorrow, Sherlock."
Sherlock's fingers only tighten. "Did you mean it?"
"Did you mean it?"
There is a touch of hysteria in Sherlock's voice. Pressed, Mycroft does what he knows he must. "Yes."
"Prove it," Sherlock says, tone still wavering. Mycroft stops breathing. In his mind, the future simply ceases to exist. "If you found yourself in bed with a pretty boy and he was--was in distress--what would you do, Mycroft? What would you do?"
Mycroft exhales. He thinks he might see the way, flickering behind his closed eyelids. What would he do. He turns on his side so that he's facing Sherlock and lets his hand settle on his hip again. "I would--" He clears his throat. "I would hush him. I would tell him that I would take care of everything. I would--"
He reaches out awkwardly with his other hand, slipping it beneath Sherlock's head and gripping the back of his neck lightly to draw him closer. He kisses his forehead, carefully, then his eyelids. Sherlock goes utterly still. For a moment, the world threatens to tilt on its axis--not his brother at all, just some lost and beautiful stranger, a boy in a torn dress and smooth skin beneath his stockings, alone with him in the dark--but he swallows and draws back. "I would tell him he'll feel better in the morning. I would tell him to go to sleep."
He clears his throat again and says, a little louder, "Go to sleep, Sherlock."
He waits for a reaction, and finally it comes: Sherlock sighs and puts his head down on Mycroft's shoulder. He doesn't move to extricate himself from Mycroft's grip, and it's uncomfortable in more ways than one. Mycroft lets his own head drop to the sheets. What he would do is hold the boy while they fell asleep, and hope to heaven that he would be gone when Mycroft awoke.
He lies still and hopes, and doesn't inquire too closely as to what.
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