X. Interlude II: Many Happy Returns
Ever since the apparent suicide of Sherlock Holmes, Mischa Lecter Holmes was getting progressively bored. Her overworked husband was more preoccupied than usual. He wasn’t having an affair (Mischa had checked with three different private investigators and even had a possible list of hit men she was considering hiring if Mycroft were stupid enough to cuckold her)—it was just that his mind was absent. Without a little brother to prod and coddle and cajole, he seemed a bit lost.
This translated to more and more hours at the office.
This was the first indication that Mycroft might have been cheating. Anthea (his personal assistant) was the first casualty when she died of sudden drowning in the middle of February when all the beaches in England were closed. Mischa had seen to that particular homicide herself and her passport showed she was in Paris shopping at the time, as did multiple and verifiable security videos.
After Anthea’s unlikely but completely explainable death, this began to translate into Mycroft taking more and more trips out of the country. As he was spending most of his time on prison reform and in prison management in remote places even Mischa didn’t want to know about, she was certain that whatever he was doing was not a cover for an affair.
Of course, Mycroft was practically brilliant in everything he did, and somehow managed—despite having only a minor position in the British government—to be knighted by the Queen. Mischa, once born the Countess Michaela Lecter, was now Lady Holmes.
She spent over four weeks properly designing her husband’s new coat of arms to properly reflect her Lecter heritage. He didn’t even notice when he approved it for a gold signet ring.
“What you need,” Mummy stated helpfully over tea, “is a child—to carry on the family name.”
It wasn’t that Mischa hadn’t thought of this. She had, of course. She was in her late thirties and she had to take action, but when she had brought it up at dinner earlier that week, Mycroft didn’t even seem to hear her before getting an important alert on his mobile phone.
“He’s not interested,” Mischa told Mummy quite plainly, setting down her cup. “He’s preoccupied.”
“You don’t,” Mummy began hesitantly before setting her teacup aside altogether. She was quite pretty, with dark curls like her younger son, but when she was thinking, she reminded Mischa more firmly of her elder son. “Men get distracted. Both of my boys are—were—” she corrected carefully “—brilliant but single-minded. You just need to get him to—” (here she considered her euphemism) “—release stress for three minutes, maximum. You’re a beautiful woman: nature will do the rest.”
Mischa nodded once, biting her lip.
“I know you’ve had a child before—a child that seems to live elsewhere. Clearly everything is in working order and, knowing my son, he’ll have put you in charge of family planning at the beginning of the marriage.” Mummy nodded to herself, quite pleased.
“If you would be kind enough to make an appointment on my behalf,” Mischa suggested, knowing that Mycroft would know if she went and saw her OBGYN.
Mummy smiled mischievously. “My friend Camilla has a daughter, bit younger than you, ugly thing. Unmarried. She’ll make an appointment with your usual, I know I have the address somewhere. Anything I need to schedule around?” This was said more out of politeness, a trait that Hannibal had always appreciated although she found it unnecessary in most situations. Still, she appreciated it in the Holmes matriarch in this particular instance.
“Quite free,” Mischa promised. “My brother’s getting married, but he’s eloping from what I can tell.”
“And he didn’t invite you? His darling little sister?”
Mischa affected a blush and tried to appear shy, pushing her long auburn hair behind her ear. She knew she never could fool a Holmes—it was quite impossible, really—but no one would ever quite be able to understand her relationship with Hannibal. “No,” she admitted, “but then again, I didn’t invite him to my wedding.”
Picking up her tea, Mummy extolled, “A rift then, like my boys.” She took a sip, clearly lost in thought for a moment.
Glad for it, Mischa took a moment to ponder her own tea. “I gave him my daughter,” she admitted, having never really told anyone. “He can’t forgive me for it.”
At this, Mummy was a little startled. Her mouth formed a perfect “o”-shape, lined with pink lipstick. “He didn’t want the child then.”
“Oh, no,” Mischa told her. “He wanted the child very much. He just couldn’t quite forgive me for needing to move on in my life—away from him.” With that, she set her teacup decidedly in the saucer, to punctuate her point.
Mummy regarded her carefully before deciding to continue with the conversation. “You poor lamb.” Her brown eyes regarded Mischa for the longest moment. “You’re strong, like Mycroft.—And it seems your brother has solved his problem. He’s giving his charge a mother.”
The idea, which hadn’t exactly occurred to Mischa before, made her stomach twist in apprehension. She had never been maternal—far from it. Klara was just a means to an end—and hadn’t achieved her purpose in being born. She knew, from the few times Aunt Murasaki had mentioned, that Klara called her “Queen Mischa,” and that it wasn’t a compliment. Perhaps she’d look into whoever Hannibal was actually marrying. Her aunt would never say, believing in “privacy” now that they had each gone their separate ways, but there were other ways to find out.
That night, she waited up for her husband, and it was not with Mummy’s plan of seduction in mind. Plus, she needed to have her implant taken out before any real though of securing the Holmes line came into effect.
Mycroft was as put together as ever, bespoke suit in place—perfect tie, shining cufflinks. She had been silly to think he was having an affair, she knew now. It was a woman’s fancy, but then again Mischa was prone to them on occasion. Her long, protracted affair before she had met Mycroft was a case in point.
“I thought you’d be tired,” Mycroft greeted, “after having tea with Mummy.”
“The train ride was soothing,” Mischa told him, accepting the soft press of lips against her forehead. “I was wondering if you’d look something up for me—when you have a moment. Some information.” Setting aside the book she had been reading, Mischa looked up at him with her dark blue eyes, catching his gaze in a way she knew delighted him. He found it easier to read her mercurial motivations if eye contact was involved, and she had decided to give it to him early on in their courtship for hope of a better future … which he had provided.
Moving to the sideboard to pour himself a glass of whiskey and soda, Mycroft asked, “What do you wish to know, darling? You know I’m not having an affair. I thought you’d given up on that idea weeks ago.”
With a sigh, Mischa realized that Mycroft had known all along. If he knew about Anthea, though, he hadn’t quite said. And, anyway, the dead didn’t tell their secrets. Mischa had learnt that the hard way far too many years ago. “I know, darling,” she agreed, accepting the glass he offered to her. “No, it’s something else.”
Mycroft took a sip of his whiskey and then crossed to sit beside her on the settee. The fire was alight, a well ingrained habit from childhood, and it cast shadows against the wall. He looked at Mischa fully and then pressed his hand against her cheek, his thumb soothing the slight ache in her temple. “Whatever is in my power to give.”
A haunted smile crossed her lips, but after a long sip of her drink, she swallowed and decided to come out and say: “My brother.”
“Ah,” Mycroft sighed, not removing his hand from her face. It was a small form of affection that they only practiced away from seeing eyes. “Yes, he’s marrying the day after tomorrow.”
“To whom?” Mischa asked a little too quickly. She covered it by drinking another quick sip.
“A professor,” Mycroft told her carefully, though his words were firm. “Will Graham is a former police officer from New Orleans.” (At the words Mischa’s heart clenched in anger and disgust, but she remained still and silent while her husband gave her the information clinically and with no judgment in his voice.) “He possesses a heretofore unheard of empathy disorder. I imagine a psychiatrist like your brother would find it fascinating to study up close, however unethical such an action might be.”
This caused Mischa to look over. “Hannibal is a surgeon.”
“he was a surgeon,” Mycroft corrected. “It seems that about the time we announced our intention to marry, he changed fields. He’s a well-noted clinical psychiatrist, though he keeps strict ‘9 to 5’ office hours given he has a child.”
Mischa and Mycroft—despite having a successful marriage for over four years—never spoke of Klara directly. He had never met Klara. He had only informed Mischa exactly two days before he proposed that he was not prepared to support another man’s child—even if she did live with Murasaki and was scheduled to be sent to boarding school at the earliest possible convenience. Mischa hadn’t acknowledged his words, had deflected, and had dealt with the situation quietly and efficiently, her own child not recognizing her when Mischa told her she was to go live in America as her ‘Pater’ had been asking after her. The latter was a lie. No one ever asked after Klara, let alone Hannibal Lecter who had no idea that she existed.
“So,” Mischa clarified, “Hannibal is marrying a man.”
“Yes. You never told me he was gay.” Mycroft looked into her eyes for a long moment and she felt compelled to drain her whiskey. Hannibal wasn’t gay, never had been, as far as she knew. This was an aberration she didn’t know how to explain.
Mischa set the glass down. “We never spoke of such things. He was so many years older than I was and we were separated after our parents died.”
“You were most fortunate, my love,” Mycroft agreed. Finishing off his whiskey and soda, he stood and let his fingers trace down Mischa’s face affectionately once more. “I’ll leave Will Graham’s dossier in your study, unless you would prefer to look at it before bed.”
“No,” Mischa breathed, her stomach churning angrily and bile rising in her throat. “No, not tonight.”
Mischa went to bed alone that night, Mycroft locked in his study until all hours of the morning. She found the dossier, as promised, the next morning, after breakfasting alone. Mycroft had flown out to Budapest hours before she woke up.
When she finally opened up the file sometime in the afternoon, no longer being able to put it off, she looked into the face of Will Graham.
Her eyes stared back out at her.
If she vomited up her lunch in horror, only the maid was there to see.
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