You would think it would be the battles. Or the training. The physically draining parts of the job. The injuries. The danger. Disengaging from the cockpit so exhausted that you can barely drag yourself to your bunk. But that’s not it at all.
The worst part, the very worst part, is the Drift.
They came to piloting through very different channels. Mycroft worked for the Jaeger project in an administrative capacity, navigating bureaucrats and politicians, passionate about the cause and a true believer in the effectiveness of the program.
Sherlock, on the other hand, trained his entire life for it. He lived and breathed Jaegers and Kaijus, had the action figures and the posters, enrolled in battle school and studied neural dynamics. He was brilliant - a prodigy. But also, solitary. For years he seemed incompatible with any other pilot in the program. A waste of talent and potential. A waste of resources. A waste of space, the other jockeys would snipe at him, you’ll never see a cockpit. Sherlock fell into a drug-fueled depression, nigh unreachable.
Then one day, Mycroft’s phone rang. He had been seeing Commander Lestrade for about six months, so it wasn’t unusual that he should call. They had set it out straight from the beginning that they would never discuss Sherlock for the sake of their relationship. Brother and commanding officer was complicated enough. But something in Greg’s voice shifted; this call wasn’t the normal lunch hour check-in.
Please, he said, just once.
And so Mycroft found himself clad in the sweats he usually reserved for yoga, standing on the soft training mat, facing his brother in front of the entire pilot class. He had been through basic training, understood the dynamics of fighting, but never really took to it. He much preferred the theoretical approach, studying techniques in books rather than test-driving them with his own body. But, much like Greg suspected, one thing he did know, was his brother. And the man standing in front of him barely resembled Sherlock.
Mycroft took the time to study him. Undoubtedly, he’d been through detox. His skin was pale and clammy. His muscles looked as though they were just hanging off his bones. His hair was damp and flat, his eyes dull. Mycroft shook his head and said quietly, Sherlock…
His brother could hear the pity in his voice. With an angry growl, he pushed himself forward, flying towards Mycroft with malice. But his attack was so clearly telegraphed that Mycroft needed only step to the side to avoid contact. The evasion made Sherlock even angrier. He swiveled on the ball of his foot and positioned himself for a left hook, hoping to knock Mycroft clear off his feet. Instead, Mycroft shifted and grasped Sherlock’s fist in his open hand. Redirecting the force of his own punch, he tossed Sherlock over his shoulder, flat on his back. The air escaped his lungs in an audible whoosh.
Mycroft pinned him to the mat and straddled his torso. Sherlock strained against him, tried to buck him off and let out a string of obscenities so foul that it made Mycroft wince. But the drugs had diminished his stamina and before long his body sagged back on to the mat and he was panting for breath. Mycroft looked down at him and said simply, it’s time to stop fighting, Sherlock.
The first tears that welled up in his little brother’s eyes spilled over and streamed down his face silently. The sobs that followed wracked his entire body. Mycroft climbed off and knelt next to him and held Sherlock as he cried.
It starts with a burst of milky-blue colour and a sensation like walking through a light mist. Then a shared memory of childhood, mostly yellows and oranges, a feeling like the sun on your face. The path splits when school starts and Sherlock dilutes the bright colours with shades of black and grey and dark purples. Bullies that are intimidated by his intellect, adults who can’t navigate his cleverness and sharp retorts. Flashes of red lightning and the sensation of pins and needles in your limbs. A brief respite as they both pursue their passions after graduation. A calming turquoise and deep silver, floating on a pool of contentment. Then the feeling of seaweed wrapping around your ankles, pulling you under the surface of the water. Blackness all around, spikes of white hot pain as the needles pierce your skin. A tightening in the lungs, like there’s no air left to breathe, and the ache of loneliness and isolation, worst of all. And then…
But if you hold your breath, if you reach out into the darkness with arms outstretched, you can will yourself to find a single pinprick of light. And you can swim towards it. And you can find your way out.
Mycroft gasps as he comes through the neural handshake. The Drift is the worst part. But when he looks to his left and sees Sherlock look back through the visor of his helmet, he knows.
It was all worth it.