28th November, 1933
They called him the ice-man. He'd heard it whispered behind cupped hands that he wasn't human, that instead of a heart in his chest there were meagre scraps of bone and solitude. Half of the people who knew him vowed he'd dealt his mortality to the devil at the age of fourteen, forsaking his human feelings of love and gratitude and sorrow for a calculated calm. Anyone else he knew swore that he was never human in the first place. They were more likely to be right; he certainly wasn't someone who would fit in easily anywhere, much less in his foolish little town of Remagen. It seemed the only possible conclusion that his soul was forged from unfeeling ice. It was like something from a fairytale, but this man was no story.
His name was Mycroft Holmes.
The tedious crunching and scratching of the cornflower snow beneath his feet was wearing away at his ear drums, eating into his brain. His marvellous, marvellous brain. It was that incredible organ that had earned him his fearsome reputation: Mycroft could look at a man and know him inside out; he could glance at an unmade bed and see the life history of whoever had slept in it; he could sit on a seat and trace it back to the worker who'd created it. He didn't even have to try.
His name was Mycroft Holmes, and he knew.
With the smallest twist of his head, he looked up to see the street lamps still glowing softly against the waking blue of the morning sky. Had it not been Christmas, it would have been rather lovely. But oh, how circumstance changes things. He was supposed to be debating at the club, or lounging in his comfortable room back at the University...not out here in the cold, wet snow, festive decorations hanging from street lamps with all the merriment of a dead man. Sherlock's ridiculous boxing career was slowly engulfing his parents, pulling them in and suffocating them in pride and achievement. Mycroft had avoided his brother's training entirely for years, but he'd known that it would rear up to bite him at some point. He would simply have to get this over with as quickly as was possible.
His name was Mycroft Holmes, and he always held the ace.
Because his parents were so busy with the insignificant antics of his brother, they'd left their poky little shop under the charge of Mycroft while they escorted Sherlock across the whole of Germany - taking him to competitions and suchlike. They'd given Mycroft specific instructions on how to run the business while they were gone, but to him the conversation had seemed like the droning hum of flies.
He was Mycroft. Of course he knew how to run a shop - that sort of thing would seem easy to him in his sleep.
He turned the corner sharply and the soles of his shoes squeaked brashly on the snow. Just ahead of him was the shop, grey and bleak and lonesome, its sign swinging forlornly back and forth. (It read 'Holmes' Selection of Accidental Curiosities'.) He wasn't quite sure what his parents had originally intended it to sell - probably something everyday and usual, like an inexpensive newspaper - but its stock had morphed into a jumbled assortment of books, gifts, cutlery, and umbrellas.
He liked that, the sense of untidy disorder. Everything else in his life was so structured, so pristine, that it felt freeing to have one, trivial part of his world seem so hopelessly out of control.
His name was Mycroft Holmes, and he wouldn't know 'out of control' if it scratched its name into his skin and laughed.
The bell mechanism above the door tinkled as he pushed on the door, the sound both irritating and comforting. It was the family tune - a theme song, of sorts. That noise had rung through his head for as long as he could remember, and although he complained bitterly about it, he had secretly fallen for it completely.
Shaking his head and sighing, he strolled over to the desk on the right-hand wall, perching on the edge. Absentmindedly, he ran his fingers over the grainy wood, tracing over the deeper lines with his fingertips. It was such an old building. So full of rich history and tradition. Mycroft ran his eyes fondly over the opposite wall, lined from floor to ceiling with shelving and bookcases, all stuffed with knick-knacks and funny little souvenirs. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, inhaling all the well-loved scents of dusty paper and tarnished metal. Perhaps it wasn't so awful being back here; he'd forgotten the charm of the old place and the memory-lined walls. Not that he was sentimental - no, sir! It was just...pleasant. It was a pleasant place. It was a nice shop.
His name was Mycroft Holmes, and he didn't care for sentiment.
He stood up, brushing the dust from the seat of his trousers and straightening out his jacket. It wouldn't do for him to be even the slightest bit unclean: reputations are hard to build, but oh-so-easy to knock back down again. He was the sort of freshly carved ice statue that you can't see through properly because the light refracts in such a way that the view through it is completely obscured. People were not to see through Mycroft; they weren't to gain the details of his thoughts, however mundane, and they were never to know his private dreams and desires. Certainly not his fears...
It wasn't that he was afraid of anything in particular, but if he was one day to become scared, it would be imperative that no-one could know. He would simply have to smooth out the mask and continue being the business man he wanted to be. The business man that he was. The business man that was him - his entirety and his everything.
His name was Mycroft Holmes, and he liked the cold.
Strolling quietly about the shop, he fingered the assortment of merchandise idly. If an umbrella was crooked in its stand, he set it straight. If a novel wasn't ordered alphabetically by the last letter of the main character's name, he corrected it. He was systematic in his approach to everything in life, not just his stock, and he was proud of it.
System meant nothing was ever unpredictable. Nothing was ever left to chance.
His parents busied themselves over Sherlock, throwing their lives away on Mycroft's brother like life was worth nothing - and maybe it was. Still. No one threw their lives away on him - not his parents, not his grandparents, when they were still alive. They were long dead now, rotting in the ground alongside children's forgotten wishes and burnt ambition.
His grandparents had told him that they'd go to Heaven, but that was exactly the sort of thing Mycroft didn't believe in.
He swept his hair from his forehead, rubbing his eyes wearily. This was his parent's shop: it should be their responsibility. Not his. His entire life was already governed by so much responsibility - he was twenty-four, only barely an adult, and yet it seemed to him he'd been living his life for a thousand years. Mycroft worked his face into a snarl, staring at the photograph of Sherlock that sat like a taunt on the shop counter.
His parents must have spent a lot of money on it.
Sherlock looked proudly out from behind the glass, trying not to smile but smirking ever so slightly. It had been taken by a professional photographer. Sherlock posed with a sturdy-looking, gold-plated trophy in his left hand. Left hand. Sherlock was pleased with his winnings to the point of vice - he would never hold something so fragile and delicate in his weakest hand for fear it might drop. It seemed safe to assume that his brother was left handed, Mycroft decided, sifting through the files in his head to see if that information might give him some leverage over his brother.
He needed leverage so desperately if he wanted to stay on top. That was how he operated, Mycroft Holmes: information on other people and how he could use it to benefit himself. That, and hard work. He smiled without meaning to, flicking the photograph so it fell face down. It did not shatter, but he imagined the shards of glass piercing the scuffed-wood floor like falling snow with a sense of smug satisfaction. It was almost ironic, it being Christmas and all.
Sherlock had been the centre of everybody's attention for so unbearably long. After an important win, the newspapers would cry that he'd 'come out of nowhere'. They'd proclaim that he was 'Remagen's greatest chance of a star in years'. Someone unique, and unpredictable, and gorgeously talented. Not bad looking, either, for a seventeen year old youth.
It was as if everybody didn't realise that Mycroft could be unpredictable too.
As if to prove himself, he lifted a dark umbrella from its place on the shop shelf, twirling it experimentally between his fingers. It was something so ludicrously liberating that in his usual state of mind he'd never have considered it. He frowned to himself, derision washing over him. Maybe the sun was melting his heart of ice.
He wished it would make itself useful for once, and go and burn somebody's eyes out.
Mycroft slotted the umbrella back into its place, turning his head sharply towards the door. The bell was performing an odd dance of sorts, signalling the arrival of a customer. It was curious, the idea of shop ownership: people walking into a building, then handing over strips of paper worth more than hunks of metal when they'd chosen something to take away with them. Then again, it was strangely satisfying to see customers stroll away after finding something that they'd fallen in love with.
It made Mycroft realise why ordinary people bothered to do something so fruitless as fall in love in the first place.
He stepped out from behind the desk just as a figure burst into the room, his short, silver-brown hair blown in every direction as he crashed straight into Mycroft. As he struggled to stand up, the man clawed at Mycroft's arm desperately, like a captain clinging to his sinking ship. Flustered beyond comprehension, Mycroft scratched him off and leapt away with an ability he didn't know he'd ever possessed, his horror showing in his open mouth and narrowed eyes.
The man, realising Mycroft's immediate revulsion for him, took a large step back and held his hands up in an attempt at meek defence. Clearing his throat shakily, he began to speak with an impressive display of fearlessness, but his darting eyes and tapping feet betrayed his nervousness all too clearly. "Look, Sir. Look, I'm sorry, but you've got to help me; you've got to help me! And I know you don't even know me, and that I just crashed into you, and like I said, I'm sorry. But-"
Mycroft curled his lip in distaste, his eyebrow arched. "You're babbling. Get to the point or get out of my shop."
The man straightened the lapel of his jacket, clearly ruffled. "Look, sorry. But I need your help - I'm -"
"Yes, yes, yes, I know that you need my help. You said that already. Get on with it."
Disgruntled, the man coughed indignantly. obviously angered by Mycroft's need for a faster-paced explanation. He muttered something about 'stupid rich bastards', before rubbing his face with his hands in a sensationalised agony. "Help," he blurted, the one word giving way to a fresh jumble of sentences. "I'm Jewish, Sir, and they're questioning every shop I might have run into because they're after me and if they find me they'll do whatever they like to me, because that's what happens if you're Jewish and- you've got to help-" His voice cracked, and the man broke off into an unintelligible mumble.
Mycroft remained impassive. "And you decided to come here? Ask me for safety? Seek sanctuary in my shop?" he snorted, disregarding the fact that the claim to ownership was in fact his parents'.
The man blinked. "What? Oh - yes, yes, but- bloody hell -you've got to understand, you've got to hide me, you've got to-"
"No, Herr," said Mycroft curtly, driving nails into the man's skin with words cultivated from the barbed wire fields of loathing. "No, I'll think you'll find that I don't have to do anything for you at all." He paused, wishing he had a cup of tea he could sip from for effect. Also, because he'd absolutely love a cup of tea right now - he was parched. "Tell me - why should I help you?"
"Because..." The man tailed off, shaking his head. "I- I don't know."
"No?" replied Mycroff, his lips curving up in a twisted mockery of a smile. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you appear to have the sheer impertinence to believe that it's perfectly fine to come-"
"I'll owe you a favour!" the man offered, ruffling a hand through his hair in defeat. "I'll owe you a really big favour, I promise you."
Mycroft snorted. "You'll owe me your life."
They were silent. It hung like a banner in the air between them, spiking with a suppressed hostility and blanketing the shop in a glacial freeze. The man coughed, attempting to do something foolish, like burn the glacier or try to walk across it.
Mycroft knew better.
He could have stood there for as long as the sun hung in the sky, just waiting. Waiting for this odd man to embarrass himself to the point of leaving. But generally, the world liked to interrupt, just when the real game was beginning.
"Oh my God- they're here!" the man cried, stumbling backwards and slamming into the desk. Mycroft rolled his eyes, throwing a glance to the window. Three figures, dressed in dark green, were striding up to the shop entrance. "Sir, please, hide me!" the man begged. Again, Mycroft ignored him, casually picking up the black umbrella that was leaning against the desk, and twirling it around his fingers.
The man obviously saw that no help was coming from Mycroft, and so pushed on the door that led round the back of the desk, dragging himself around until he was positioned with his back pressed right up against the wood, and his head was under the surface of the desk.
The door swung open with such force that it slammed into a bookcase next to it and knocked off at least half of the books. Mycroft ground his teeth together, his jaw tight with frustration. However, he turned and smiled politely at the three men who were now standing in a semi-circle formation around him. They all easily cleared six feet, and though he'd never show it, Mycroft did feel slightly small in comparison. They were rather imposing.
"Good morning to you all. How can I help you?" he asked, making sure he kept his cards held tightly against his chest. The one in the middle stepped forward to speak.
"Have you seen a man? He's about so tall," the man gestured with his hand, "Silver-brown hair, black coat, Jewish?" It was only then that Mycroft properly realised the situation: the man hiding behind the desk was Jewish. He had said, of course, but Mycroft had completely forgotten about just how much that would mean now. He could have slapped himself; he never missed a single detail! Not that it could be helped now. It didn't change anything about Mycroft's situation. The man behind the desk was still nothing to him. He still did not need to do anything for him.
Mycroft cleared his throat. "I suppose you're chasing him because he's Jewish, my good men?"
The previous man answered, attempting to flex non existent muscles as he spoke. "We can't have them polluting our country now, can we Sir?" He spat on the floor of the shop, to Mycroft's impending disgust. Did these visitors realise that he'd have to clean that up?
"You know," said the man, glancing down at the spit on the floor and scuffing it with his shoe, "That the Jew we're looking for was protesting about being denied a place at the local University just because he's Jewish. As if the filthy parasites should be in school at all!" He sniffed, shaking his head. "They're a disease. Goddamn disease." He looked up at Mycroft, raising his eyebrows. "Well, Sir? Have you seen him?"
Mycroft swallowed. Then he coughed, scratching at the nape of his neck nervously. He didn't agree with what the men were saying, and he certainly didn't agree with them vandalising his shop. The man they were looking for was certainly the man crouched behind the desk, and as a good Aryan German citizen he should turn the Jewish man in, but...
He held out his hands, tilting his chin upwards to look a little more threatening. "Er- Could I interest you in a spot of tea, gentlemen?"
"Now look here, Herr, are you going to answer us or-"
"Certainly, certainly." Mycroft paused, assessing the situation before him. On one hand he should do his duty, but on the other...Perhaps the man behind the counter would be more valuable to him alive. It was true what he had said before - if he saved him, the man would owe Mycroft his life - and Mycroft always made sure debts owed to him were paid in full.
"Actually," he said slowly, making sure he kept eye contact with the three men gathered around him. "I don't think I've ever seen him in my life. Is he new in town?"
The three men grunted, obviously annoyed by the lack of results. Turning to leave, the man who seemed to be their group speaker addressed Mycroft. "We thought we saw him run down here, but we were obviously mistaken. Our apologies for taking up your time, Herr." He pointed to himself. "If you see him, please notify the police immediately. Ask for Anderson; I'll reward you for supplying us with valuable information. Good day."
They left in a hurry, the door swinging shut and the bell jangling merrily like nothing had happened.
When he was sure that all three had gone, the man emerged from behind the counter. Holding his hands out in front of him, he inspected them carefully, as if surprised that he was still in prime condition. He spun to face Mycroft, who was leaning casually against the wall, tapping the umbrella he'd picked up against the ground.
"Why did... I didn't think... You just saved my life," said the man in a hushed whisper. "You just goddamn saved my life."
Mycroft smiled, and it wasn't clear whether his amusement was directed at the other man or at himself. "Yes," he agreed. "It's a peculiar thing, the human mind, isn't it? Funny, the way in which it works."
"But I didn't think... I didn't think you were going to help me. You weren't going to help me."
"No. But I did."
The man shook his head, the colour of his hair catching in the shop lights. "God... Thank you. Thank you." He broke off, holding out his hand to shake. "I'm Gregory. Lestrade. Greg Lestrade."
Mycroft did not take the other man's hand, but nodded in acknowledgement. "Gregory... It's from the Greek. Meaning watchful, alert." He inclined his head, the corners of his mouth curving upwards. "Holmes. Mycroft Holmes."
"Do you expect me to define your name now, as well?"
It was supposed to be a funny, unexpected thing to say, but no one laughed.
Instead, Greg sank to the floor, clasping his hands beneath his chin. "Why did you do it? Save me?"
"I said it before, Mr Lestrade. You owe me your life."
Greg sucked in his breath, giving a weak attempt at a smile. "My life it is, then."