A/N This story is something that's been in my head (and on my computer) for the last few months. I did not know how to end it until TAB aired, so here it is! Thanks to Blood-Sucker-1428 to inspire the first half of this. If you did not read her Mythea story 'A First Time For Everything', go do it now. I promise it's really good.
English is not my first language and this is in no way grammar-checked or Brit-picked, so apologies in advance when my grammar is all wrong. This is my first story, so bear with me. Constructive feedback is welcome.
Now you may read. Please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock or any of it's characters. The original stories belong to sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the modern series to the brilliant Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Anthea had lost count of the amount of times that she had suffered a kind of heartbreak due to Mycroft Holmes. Her boss was an impressive man, he always held his emotions in check under his various masks. There was only one person who could cause that mask to crumble, and that was his brother, Sherlock. The few times she had seen how his mask faltered when Sherlock was concerned had more often than not nearly broken her heart.
She had seen Mycroft distressed when he had to sell information about Sherlock to Moriarty to get the information he wanted. She had seen his deep worry during operation Lazarus. She had been there when he had crumbled once Sherlock was safely out of the country, feeling like he had failed his brother, the one he had tried to protect for so long.
But nothing, nothing, had prepared her for what she was seeing now. Never had she seen her boss this shattered, helpless as he tried to hold back and control his emotions.
Sitting behind her desk, Anthea watched her computer screen with the utmost attention, a pair of headphones covering her ears. A frown was visible upon her brow as she squinted at the screen, not wanting to miss a single detail. This was important.
Anthea was aware that she was not supposed to see this footage at all, but she couldn't help herself. This could be her very last chance to see the Holmes brothers together, plus she felt like she needed to keep an eye on Mycroft. He had been uncharacteristically labile since he came home from Christmas holidays. The almost-panic in his voice had given her the chills when he called her to come and she had abandoned her Christmas dinner immediately, to disappointment of her family. However, they knew how important her job was to her.
She had blanched at the news of Sherlock shooting Magnussen. The only reason why she had not collapsed in a chair, was seeing Mycrofts agonized face. She needed to be his strong, confident, surprised-by-nothing assistant now.
Together they had tried all possible scenario's to get Sherlock out of persecution, but there were hardly any options. In the end, they had decided that the way to keep Sherlocks name and reputation safe, was giving him up to MI6. Unfortunately, that meant that Sherlock himself would be less safe, but it would mean that Dr. Watson and his wife would be out of the way of harm, like Sherlock had requested.
Anthea shuddered at the memory of the moment that they had decided to give Sherlock up to the MI6 assignment. The decision had nearly broken Mycroft, she was sure of it. It had taken a few glasses of exquisite scotch before she could get him to go home to get some rest, although she hated to send him off alone to that big, empty house of his.
However, a night's sleep had given him time to compose himself and the next morning he was as crisp and unyielding as ever. With a straight face he had announced that he would go to the meeting considering Magnussen and convince the politicians to let Sherlock go on the dangerous MI6 mission rather than locking him up and raising a scandal.
Anthea had watched the meeting, of course, seeing Mycroft stating without so much as a flinch that his brother was a murderer. No need to say that he was convincing enough to make all the high-ups in the meeting agree with him.
The next task was to inform Sherlock about what was waiting for him. He was confined to a small cell in the underground parts of the government building, ironically the same place where Moriarty had been held. Anthea had been watching him via her computer on Mycrofts orders, seeing him sit huddled in a corner most of the time. It was heartbreaking to see this once almost hyperactive young man diminished to a heap of hopelessness. She swore that she would never let Mycroft see this. He was already having enough pain on Sherlocks behalf as it was.
When Mycroft came back from said meeting, he walked past Anthea without even so much as a glance at her. His mind must be really occupied then.
Anthea gave him two minutes to get settled before she got up and knocked on the door of his office. A quiet "Entree" told her that she was allowed to get in.
She found him sitting behind his big mahogany desk, his head in his hands, staring at a glass filled with amber liquid. When Anthea stepped in, he lifted his head and looked at her questionably. Taking that as her cue to speak, Anthea took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice as professional as possible.
"I take it the meeting went as predicted?", she asked.
He sighed and nodded as if he was exhausted. "Unfortunately, yes."
Silence. Mycroft played with his glass of scotch, tracing the rim.
"Now Sherlock has to be informed, of course." Anthea said, while staring at Mycrofts fingers.
He stiffened slightly, his finger froze, hovering above the rim of his glass. Then he took the glass, swallowed the amber liquid in one draw, placed the glass back on his desk and refilled it. This happened twice after the first one, and when he was up for a fourth time, Anthea had enough. She stepped forward and caught his wrist, stopping him from refilling.
The use of his first name worked. He looked up at her, steel eyes slightly unfocussed. Anthea managed a smile.
"Sherlock needs you sober. He needs a brother to reassure him, who is capable of handling the situation with confidence. For Sherlocks sake, don't do this now."
Mycroft stared at her for a few seconds, trying to see through her statement, then sighed in defeat. She let go of his wrist and he put the bottle of scotch back where it belonged.
"You are right." He paused, seemed to contemplate something. Then, deciding, he stood up. "I better go and inform him now. The longer I wait, the harder it will be to go to him. I will be back within the hour, Anthea."
She saw how he rearranged the features of his face to be the mask of the Ice Man before he walked out of his office with a confident step. Only she saw how his shoulders hung slightly more down than they normally did. Oh, if she could only take the weight of this task from them...
It was painful to watch. Back at her desk, Anthea saw how Sherlock sat up once he heard the door of his cell unlock, all attention to his visitor. His face seemed to draw a little when he saw it was Mycroft. Maybe he had hoped for John to be allowed to visit him.
The brothers took a long moment to stare at each other, probably deducing the other, before Mycroft closed the door with a metallic thud.
"Hello brother dear, you look awful. Ate a few cakes to cheer me up?" Sherlocks voice sounded fake cheery through Anthea's headphones, failing to make the jab sound as a compliment, like he intended.
"Thank you, Sherlock", Mycroft answered sarcastically. "If you have forgotten, this whole situation is your own doing." He gestured to the bunkbed Sherlock was sitting on. "May I join you?"
Sherlock seemed to contemplate saying 'no', but eventually nodded. "Be my guest."
The brothers sat in silence for a moment. Sherlock was the first to say something.
"So, is this just a friendly visit, or do you have news? Judging from the way you clench and unclench your hands I would suggest the latter, and that you are missing your precious umbrella."
"I had to leave it with security", Mycroft answered, visibly annoyed.
Sherlock gave a mischievous laugh. "You should have known that. You're getting old, Mycroft. You're slipping."
"My mind was somewhere else", Mycroft stated harshly, clearly not pleased with the way Sherlock spoke to him. His eyes scanned his brothers face.
Anthea watched him compose himself, breathe in deep and then open his mouth to say what he had to say.
"You are right, Sherlock. This is not a friendly visit. I am here to tell you what I have managed to save for you, and what I haven't been able to rectify, considering your recent misstep with Magnusssen."
Sherlock was now all attention, looking at Mycroft intensely, scanning him.
"Have you been able to keep John out?" His voice sounded worried.
A shadow of a smile crossed Mycrofts face. "Yes, I have managed to make everyone believe that he was a mere spectator, not aware of your plans. He and Mary are safe in their home."
Sherlock exhaled and seemed to deflate visibly. He stared at his hands and spoke quietly. "Good. Thank you, Mycroft."
Anthea saw Mycroft blink at the rare display of gratitude from Sherlock. Then he drew another deep breath, opening his lips to say more, but he faltered, looking down. Sherlock gave him an X-raying look over, deducing him for the third time in five minutes.
"I see you can't say the same for me, brother dear."
Mycroft seemed to shrink when he nodded. He looked Sherlock in the eye. "I managed to avoid a court case and keep you out of prison. But the price for that..." He faltered again and waved his hand helpless in the air.
Anthea did not know if she could watch this. Sherlock was the world to Mycroft and now he had to tell him that he would probably die within six months. It was painful. Mycroft composed himself a bit and looked straight into the camera, as if he knew that she was watching. It felt like he was searching for someone to comfort him.
"You will go on a mission for MI6 in eastern Europe. Lady Smallwood has agreed to assign you again to the task. You will collect as much information as possible within the approximately six months you have before they will discover and most likely kill you." It came out in one trail of thought without so much as a quiver of his voice. He turned his head to see Sherlocks reaction.
Sherlock took the words in, sat back and closed his eyes briefly, nodding. "Of course", he sighed. "I suppose it was the best you could do giving the circumstances." His eyes locked into Mycrofts. "I am sorry for bringing you into this position, brother mine."
"I am sorry that I failed protecting you from this", Mycroft answered. Anthea saw the pain in his eyes filter through the so carefully placed mask. Mycroft spoke again, avoiding Sherlocks gaze. "I meant what I said this Christmas. Your loss will break my heart." He inhaled deeply. "I wish I could take your place." The last sentence was whispered.
Sherlock looked as if Mycroft had declared that he was not opposed to having a goldfish. Unbelieving, his voice sounded small. "Do you mean that, Mycie?"
The childhood term seemed to finally make Mycrofts mask crack. He nodded. "Of course I do. I care about you..." He hesitated, but finished with a soft spoken "... Lockie."
Anthea gasped. Never had she seen the brothers bond like this. Always fighting, getting at each other's weaknesses, and now this. Far too late of course, but overdue.
Mycroft seemed to struggle for words. "I did everything I could... and still we are here."
Anthea could take no more. She ripped the headphones from her ears and flung them aside. Holmeses displaying their care for each other was more than she could take. She felt like crying. This was what she had wanted from the first moment she saw them together, knowing how much Mycroft cared about Sherlock.
Anthea just watched their faces. She could tell Sherlock was deeply touched by Mycrofts display of care and even love for him. But Mycroft, she could see straight through his now more and more crumbling mask. She saw how hard it was for him to say all this, but he did nonetheless. Maybe because he knew this would probably be the last opportunity.
Then, suddenly something happened that made her breath hitch and her mind go numb. She saw how Sherlock scooted over towards Mycroft and very delicately, slowly, shyly, rested his head against Mycrofts shoulder. Almost automatically, it seemed, Mycroft wrapped his arms around Sherlock and held him protectively to his chest. Anthea could almost see a 14 year old Mycroft holding his 7 year old brother like this protectively while their parents were having a shouting match downstairs. It was hartbreaking, beautiful and horribly cute. Her hart warmed at the sight of the scene. At the same time, Anthea felt like crying when she looked at Mycrofts face. The mask was completely gone and she could see the desperation in his eyes when he clung to his brother, saying something soothing in Sherlocks ear. Sherlocks eyes were closed and his smile was peaceful, like he had missed being with his brother like this. Short after this, both Sherlock and Mycroft stood up, masks back in place, shook hands and Mycroft left the cell. Sherlock went back to his bunkbed and huddled himself in the corner, like he had done before Mycroft came in.
Anthea's vision troubled when the tears she was desperately fighting welled up nonetheless. She felt like she was crying in Mycrofts place, so able to see and feel his emotions when he was fighting them, trying to deny them. Maybe she could ease his pain by crying for him.
Anthea hastily dried her eyes, fixed her make-up and clicked forward a file, so Mycroft could not see that she had been watching, and pretended to be working when after a few minutes, Mycroft walked into the room. He gave her a look that resembled despair (although, someone who did not know him would probably see nothing of the sort) and stalked into his office.
She sprang up and followed him. As soon as she was through the door, he slammed it shut and leaned against it as if he had been followed by the devil himself, panting slightly.
Deciding that he needed a drink, Anthea walked over to the liquor cabinet and chose one of the bottles with one of the most expensive liquors they had. She made him a double scotch, but almost wanted to down the glass herself when she whisked around and saw what had become of her normally so composed and confident boss.
The mask had shattered into non-existence. He clung to the handle of his umbrella as if the thing could save his life. His face was contorted and his body was shaking from the silent sobs that were washing over him. He had broken down and Anthea was the only one present to comfort him. Probably also the only one he would accept comfort from and the only one in front of whom he was not afraid to show his emotions in this horrible time in his life.
Anthea forgot all about the scotch, putting the glass down without noticing where she put it, when she ran to the broken man. She did not know what to do, but she could not just let him stand there. She knew about his adversity to physical contact, but seeing the man so utterly broken... Anthea could not bear to see him like this. He needed her. That was the only reason, she knew for sure, that he had allowed her to see him in this state anyway.
Before her mind registered what she was doing, before her ratio could stop her, she ran to him and pulled the broken man in a firm but gentle hug. She realized what she had done when she felt Mycroft stiffen in her embrace.
Immediately, Anthea let go off her boss, only to be surprised to find Mycrofts hand on her back, pulling her close again. His body relaxed against hers, his head slowly came down until it rested on her shoulder. His other hand snuck around her waist. She felt his uneven breath on the skin of her neck. A muffled sob escaped his lips while he clung to Anthea as if she was a lifeboat, a last straw to keep him alive.
Anthea felt something deep down in her chest snap. She was positive it was the sound of her heart, finally breaking for real. What was it that she had done to deserve the trust of the most powerful man in England? A man usually so averse of physical contact and human emotions. Now he was clinging to her for dear life. It made her want to cry as well. Now just wasn't a great time to let herself go. Mycroft needed her.
She stroked his hair softly in an attempt to comfort him, while her mind desperately tried to come up with a solution for this problem. This was not right. This should not be happening. Anthea, the perfect and mysterious assistant of Mycroft Holmes, could not let anything or anyone destroy her beloved Ice Man, even if it was his only brother. Something had to be done about this. There must be something, some kind of loophole...
Anthea started when she felt Mycroft stir. He freed himself from her embrace gracefully, straightened up and wiped away the wetness on his cheeks with an embarrassed expression on his face. "I'm sorry you had to witness that. I don't know what came over me." He murmured. "I assure you it won't happen again."
Oh Mycroft. He really did not understand how emotions worked, did he? She wanted to stroke his tear-stained cheek and tell him that it was okay. But she couldn't do that. It was not professional and he would not allow it. She had already crossed that line once today.
Instead, Anthea patted Mycroft on his upper arm. "It's just a natural reaction, sir. Highly logical given the circumstances." She pulled her face into a fake smile. "I won't hold it against you."
He nodded, looking lost. Anthea could see him try to put his confident, unyielding mask back on his features, but it did not look as convincing as usual. He did not object when she took his arm and steered him towards the plush couch in the corner of his office. He just let her lead him. This was highly concerning. Mycroft Holmes never let others lead him. Ever.
Anthea sat Mycroft down and went to get the glass of scotch she had poured for him earlier, making one for herself as well. Maybe it would take the edge of the raw emotions tormenting her boss and, by extension, herself.
They sat together in silence for about an hour, both sipping their drinks. It was a comfortable, comforting silence. Anthea knew better than to break it or to leave.
After almost one and a half hour of this, Mycroft finally broke their silence. "Anthea, my dear, please call John for me, will you?" His voice was steady again, wearing that stupid mask that erased all his inner emotions from existence. When Anthea looked at his face, he was wearing the same mask over his features. The Ice Man was back.
She nodded and answered him in her usual professional tone. She knew it was expected from her to act like nothing happened. "Of course, sir. What would you like me to say to him?"
Mycroft gave a deep sigh. "Just put him on the LANline, I will speak to him. He has the right to say goodbye to Sherlock. You can go back to your desk. We still have to complete the paperwork for this disaster." He pronounced the last word like it was something filthy. Good.
Anthea stood up and walked to the door. There, she turned to her boss. "I will have John for you within the minute, sir." He nodded and gave her a half smile. "Thank you, my dear."
Back at her desk, Anthea started on the paperwork that was required for Sherlocks mission. She hated doing it, simply because it had Sherlock involved. She hated the whole situation. Why did that shark of a Magnussen have to threaten John Watsons wife? Why had Sherlock felt the necessity to kill the shark? Why could both John and Mycroft not be spared from all the pain that this had caused? And why, why oh why, was she herself so incapable of taking this ton of bricks from Mycrofts shoulders? How she wished she could take a bit of his pain to carry for him… He did not deserve this. Not after all the trouble he went through, trying to protect his only brother.
Why could Anthea, personal assistant Mycroft Holmes, the British Government himself, not come up with a solution for her boss? They were the most powerful people in Britain! Something like this should be possible for them to fix. They had fixed more impossible situations, some of them far more complicated than this one. There should be something, anything, a loophole, something they missed due to all emotions involved. It was highly unlikely Mycroft missed something, but when Sherlock was involved, he seemed to have some sort of a blind spot. Maybe, just maybe, she could come up with something. She has to. For her boss. For Mycroft. And for John.
The day that Sherlock would be sent off to eastern Europe, Anthea felt the familiar buzz of dread, fear and excitement. She dreaded to see Mycroft before he left for the airstrip to wave off his soon-to-be dead brother, because she wasn't sure if she would be able to handle the way he would look lost and heartbroken, how the mask would constantly slip of his face. She was afraid that her plan would fail and excited because she had a plan that even Mycroft didn't know about.
Speaking of the man, he just walked out of his office into the front room were Anthea's desk was sitting, looking crisp as always in his three-piece suit, but alarmingly pale. He wore this stony mask over his features that just seemed off and his eyes were so full of pain that Anthea couldn't even bear to look at them.
When he spoke, it was in a cold, detached voice. "I'm going then. Watch the office for me, please, my dear. See you in a couple of hours." He tried desperately to sound like he was going to the Diogenes club and not to the airport to send his brother off to certain death. He might have succeeded, if it weren't for his wavering voice.
"I have everything under control, sir", Anthea answered in her most professional tone. "Good luck with your business today, and when you come back, I will have some refreshments ready for you." Mycroft nodded to her in approval, grabbed his umbrella a little tighter than usual and left.
Oh, how Anthea wanted to stand up and hug the poor man goodbye, or go with him to comfort him after the plane was sent off. Anything. But she had to man the office, and here she would be able to save Sherlock. Hopefully.
From her desk, Anthea followed the black government cars move from her building to the small airstrip just outside of London. Once they entered the gates, she could no longer see them. All she had to do was wait for the plane to depart. The timing had to be perfect. Good thing she was trained in hacking computer systems. Anthea grinned to herself while she pulled up the departure list from the air traffic control tower. She would know the exact second of departure. The virus took approximately three minutes to fully spread, and she estimated Mycroft would hear about it within thirty seconds. Sherlock would be close enough to be called back immediately. Crisis averted. Not a national one like normally, but one crucial to the man preventing all of these. Antheas grin grew wider. The game was on!
Everything worked perfectly. Anthea clicked the send-button the moment Sherlocks plane taxied to its airstrip, ready for takeoff. Within four minutes, the tv screen in the corner that was silently sporting news channels suddenly switched to an all too familiar face and the sound suddenly sprang to maximum. "Missed me?" echoed James Moriarty's voice in the small pre-office.
"Absolutely", Anthea whispered, looking very pleased with herself.
Anthea had fully expected to welcome a cheery looking Mycroft back in the office, where they would share a triple chocolate cake and Mycroft would praise her for her cleverness, because he would have figured out the message came from her.
She had not anticipated a very lost looking Mycroft, sadness radiating from his eyes and his shoulders slumped like the weight of the world was pressing them down. He seemed only to be standing up because his umbrella supported all of his weight, his knuckles white from the tight grip they had on the handle. He did not look at her while he walked into his office.
A sudden chill of fear crept through Antheas entire body. This was not good. Had her plan failed? Had she miscalculated?
Fearing the worst, she sprang up and followed Mycroft into his office. He was already sitting at his desk, staring at it, his notebook in his left hand. That could never mean any good.
"Sir? How did it go?", Anthea asked carefully. "I mean, I saw Moriarty on television. I assumed they would call Sherlock back."
It seemed to take a few moments longer for Mycroft to process her question then it normally would. Far away steel eyes looked up from his desk and found hers. It took a few seconds before they focused on her. He opened his lips to say something, but the words came out in hardly a whisper. "He is gone, Anthea. I lost him."
Anthea's heart sank. So her plan had failed, apparently. How could it fail? She had counted on Sherlock being the only one able to beat Moriarty. They had to call him back.
"Oh Mycroft", she sighed. "I'm so sorry." She went to lay her hand over his to comfort him, but then she saw why he was staring at his desk before. A small pile of ripped paper was laying open like a puzzle. The next moment, Anthea realized what it was, what it meant and why Mycroft looked so hurt, so defeated. She went to pick up the pieces of paper, but his hand stopped her. "Nothing fatal, but enough to overdose", he said in a flat tone. "He pulled through though, rambling about a hundred year old death and Moriarty being connected. He was high before we got on the plane, and I didn't even notice. I didn't…" His voice trailed off. He inhaled sharply and shuddered. "It's all my fault."
"Of course it isn't", Anthea replied harshly. She felt her heart ache for the Ice Man in distress. He was not making a lot of sense to her, but it was clear to her that he had somehow found Sherlock in a drug-induced state, there had been a list, torn to pieces by either Mycroft or Sherlock, and Mycroft blamed himself for Sherlock taking drugs again.
"I should have known… A week in solitary confinement. His mind has ripped him to pieces. I should have known…"
Anthea repressed a shudder while she looked at her boss. Mycroft sounded so… vulnerable. So hurt. This was nothing like the man who could not control his emotions that she had seen a week ago when he visited Sherlock in his cell. This was a man in deep pain who didn't know what he felt and how to handle the pain.
Making a decision, Anthea pulled a chair next to Mycrofts. The fact that he was not protesting about this serious violation of the perfect order of his office, said enough about his state. She laid a hand on his shoulder, and said softly. "Mycroft. Please, tell me what happened."
And he told her everything, in a flat, detached voice, but without a single detail missing. And when his voice started to shake when he told her about how and why he gave his beloved baby brother over in the care of the only man that Sherlock ever cared for, Anthea could not stop herself. She wrapped her arms around him and held him tight, resting her head on his shoulder. He did not respond, apart from resting his head against hers. They sat like that for a couple of minutes in silence. Then Mycroft whispered "I can't lose you as well, Anthea."
An electric wave coursed through Anthea's body while she turned towards him. "Don't worry, I won't leave you." Then she kissed his cheek, stood up and walked toward the door. Turning, she smiled at the dazed looking Holmes brother.
"And, sir, that message? It was from me." Her plan hadn't failed after all.