Actions

Work Header

Red Number Day

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Those blues I lay low, I'll make them stay low

They'll never trail over my head

I'll be a devil till I'm an angel

But until then hallelujah

Gonna dance gonna fly

I'll take my chance riding high

Before my number’s up I'm gonna fill my cup

I'm gonna live, live, live until I die

 

 

Before my number’s up I'm gonna fill my cup

I'm gonna live, live, live until I die

 

 

Frank Sinatra - Live Till I Die Lyrics

 

 

 

 

 

He’s just turned eight years old when he almost drowns in their neighbour’s pool. When he wakes up in hospital, his head is pounding, his throat is raw and sore, and he feels nauseous.  He takes stock of the rest of his body, and finds everything pretty much in working order, and all the parts where they should be and working properly.

 

 

The only major change he notices is that bold, red numbers have appeared on his right wrist:   01-12-2012.   They don’t wash off or disappear, and nobody else seems to be able to see them.

 

 

He knows, as certain as he knows the day of his birth, that this is the day he is going to die.

 

 

 


 

 

 

1989

 

 

Ten-year old Sherlock Holmes is being forced to endure his cousin’s swim tournament.  Bored, he hunches in the spectator seats, trying to concentrate on his chemistry textbook amidst the background hum of humanity.  He can’t focus with all the unfiltered data pounding into his brain; in disgust he slams his book shut and glares at the figures cutting through the water.  He doesn’t know why he bothers; he can’t distinguish Rodney from anybody else, so what’s the point?

 

 

He sighs and starts swinging his legs back and forth, his trainers making a squeaking noise as they skid along the floor.  His companion hisses in irritation, “Sherlock!  Stop it.  You’re disturbing the others.  Honestly, can’t you behave yourself in public for two minutes?”

 

“Sorry, Mummy,” he mutters as he rolls his eyes and pointedly shifts his upper body away from her.  He continues to glare at the athletes.

 

When he thinks this day has finally earned the title of “dullest day in the life of Sherlock Holmes”, a commotion in the pool grabs everyone’s attention.   A young boy’s wild thrashings cause the water around him to churn and foam.  Interest piqued, Sherlock cranes his neck to watch as several adults rush in to surround the boy and pull him out.  Sherlock abandons his book to rush down and get a closer look.   His mother reaches out to grab his arm, shouting, “Sherlock, no, stay here!”, but he evades her grasp and keeps going.

 

 

He rushes down to the poolside, elbowing bodies out of his way.  He watches, completely captivated, as the lifeguard vainly performs CPR on the young boy.  Life-saving attempts continue after the ambulance arrives, but to no avail.  The boy is pronounced dead at the scene.

 

 

***

 

 

 

Mrs Holmes drags a reluctant Sherlock out of the gathering and out into the crisp February air.  His mind spins with what he has just seen.  Mummy pats his cheek and whispers unnecessary reassurances in his ear, as if he is traumatised by the death of the young boy. 

 

Sherlock is far from traumatised.  He is fascinated.  Something had been slightly off; if he can figure out how to return when nobody else is around and look for clues…

 

He turns his head to speak to his mother – and is brought up short.  He squints, trying to see more clearly in the gathering darkness.

 

“Mummy.. . What is that on your forehead?”

 

“What’s that, darling?”  Mummy wipes her palm across her forehead, grimacing as she checks her hand for smudges of dirt.  “What did you see?  Did I get it all?”

 

Sherlock stares at the large, glowing red digits as they shimmer and undulate in the encroaching twilight.  He cranes his neck to get a closer look, reaching up to trace his fingers along them.  They’re in the same format as the numbers on his wrist.  He snatches it back as if he has just been burned.

 

“Oh no…” he whispers, stricken.

 

“Sherlock?  What is it, love?”

 

Someone brushes against him, and he whips his head around to fix his eyes on the stranger’s forehead. 

 

A crimson date stares back at him, mocking in its glaring starkness.  He turns back to his mother just in time to see her numbers fading into nothingness.  He blinks.  They don’t reappear.

 

“Mummy, look at that man!”  The stranger frowns at him.

 

“Sherlock!” his mother chastises.  “Don’t point, it’s very rude!”

 

Agitated, Sherlock asks, ”Do you see anything strange on his forehead?”

 

“Well, of course I don’t!”  She shakes her head and gives the man an apologetic look.  “I’m so sorry, sir.  My son is very fanciful; he has a vivid imagination.  Pay him no mind.”

 

The grey-haired, stooped gentleman nods, tipping his hat with a smile.  “It’s no problem, ma’am.  I’ve had young’uns myself, I know what they’re like.”

 

Sherlock stares as the man’s numbers fade from their brilliant, bold red to pencil-thin, grey wisps, gradually disappearing.

 

Sherlock’s mother grabs his hand and pulls him in the opposite direction.

 

“Mind your manners,” she hisses.  “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again, do you hear me?”

 

“Yes, Mummy,” Sherlock responds softly.  His eyes frantically flicker over the forehead of every person they pass.  A continuous kaleidoscope of red slides past his vision, like a pack of cards shuffling the hearts and diamonds.  He’s reminded of something he recently read, something called… syna… synthesis… syn-something.  This must be what it’s like:  a cacophony of colour, sparkling and blaring across the forefront of his mind, an inescapable bombardment of unwanted sensation.  He squeezes his eyes shut against the onslaught, but it doesn’t help.  The afterimage is burned into the back of his eyelids, numbers from different people overlapping and bleeding together into illegible nonsense. 

 

Thankfully it’s at that moment that their town car pulls up to the kerb.  The rear door opens, and he is gently nudged into the back seat.  His mother joins him, pulling the door shut and unknowingly creating a barrier between her son and the cause of his distress.

 

Sherlock slouches down, body tilted away from his mother and arms wrapped around his upper body.  His teeth worry at his bottom lip as he tries to get his trembling under control.  He stares at the back of the driver’s seat, carefully avoiding even a glance out the window.  He doesn’t want to look at another person right now, maybe not ever.

 

His eyes unconsciously flick up to the rear-view mirror in the front of the car.  The driver’s eyes meet his for a split second before they return to the road ahead, but not before Sherlock notices a distinct lack of red in the reflection.

 

Sherlock immediately straightens his posture, body uncurling upward and eyes sparkling with interest.  Oh.  A break in the pattern.   Intriguing.  What does this mean?

 

The rest of the ride passes in quiet solitude.  Alert and focussed, Sherlock sneaks glances at his mother, verifying that the red numbers haven’t re-appeared.  He surreptitiously pulls the cuff of his right sleeve down to reveal the continued presence of his own numbers.  His mind whirls at lightning speed, grasping for connections and patterns, trying to create some kind of fixed point from which he can make deductions.  He searches for a foundation on which he can build some kind of hypothesis.   Too soon to tell.  Not enough data.

 

Never theorise before you have all the evidence, Sherlock chastises himself.

 

He fidgets restlessly for the remainder of the trip home.  For fifty minutes he retreats into his mind palace, sifting and organising, looking for the tools he needs and discarding any extraneous items.  For such a young lad, the place is already hopelessly cluttered.  He tries to make good use of the time.

 

When they arrive home, Sherlock bounds out of the car.  He skips over to the other side and stands in front of the driver as he opens the door for his mother, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.  He stares intently at the man, taking in the red numbers that he now sees.

 

So.  No numbers in the reflection, but they are there now.  Sherlock files away this information and stores it for future reference.

 

Thirty seconds later, the driver’s forehead is once again blank.

 

 

 

****

 

 

 

 

Sherlock spends the next few weeks gathering as much data as he possibly can on these red numbers that have so violently thrust themselves into his awareness.  At first it had been overwhelming, crowding his thoughts with blood-red images.  All he had wanted to do was escape.  But now he has an experiment to conduct, and his scientific mind couldn’t be happier.

 

The first step:  gather data.

 

It’s the middle of the school year, so aside from the members of his own household, his peers and instructors gift him with many sets of data on a daily basis.  He observes how many people present with the numbers (all of them), how many disappear after about thirty seconds (all of them), and how often they reappear at a future date in time (never).  They all immediately go into Sherlock’s mind palace, to be saved or deleted at his discretion.

 

He comes up with a preliminary hypothesis:  the numbers are death dates, like his own.  He has several supporting data points in favour of this.  One, they appeared almost immediately after he witnessed someone dying - just like his numbers appeared after his own near-death experience.  Two, the numbers are red and in the same date format as his own.  Three – and this of course is the weakest link in the chain of evidence – he experienced an immediate gut reaction upon seeing the numbers on his mother’s forehead.  He had a sense of knowing, the same feeling he had upon seeing the numbers on his wrist for the first time.   That is the evidence that he trusts the least.

 

Now, the only thing he needs to do is test the hypothesis.  And the only way to do that?

 

Find somebody whose date is soon, and observe them on that day to determine if the numbers are indeed pre-cognitive of death.   How interesting, exciting, and definitely not boring.

 

A tiny shiver of guilty pleasure shudders down his entire body from head to toe.

 

 

***

 

 

 

He gets his chance four weeks later.  He’s with Mycroft at Oxford, his first visit since his brother left for university the previous autumn.  They are in a café, Mycroft ordering a coffee and blueberry muffin for himself, and a cherry soda and lemon éclair for his brother.  Sherlock glances at the elderly man behind him and notices that his number is that very day.  All of his senses kick into high alert.

 

He and Mycroft sit next to the window with their drinks.  Sherlock fidgets with anxiety; he won’t be able to sneak away from Mycroft and follow the man wherever he goes, so he’s not sure if he’s going to be able to count this data point.  His eyes narrow as he watches the man turn from the counter, two coffees in hand.  Before the man takes two steps, the coffees splatter to the floor.  The man clutches his left arm as he sinks to his knees.

 

Everything seems to happen in slow motion after that.  Sherlock remains seated as controlled pandemonium erupts around him.  Mycroft rises from his chair, phone already at his ear, presumably calling 999.  The old man lists to the side, sprawling inelegantly onto the floor.  It seems to take Mycroft forever to reach his side, as if he’s wading through molasses.  When he finally gets there, he drops to his knees and expertly begins CPR.  Entranced, Sherlock watches and counts each compression, each breath inhaled into the man’s mouth.  The area clears away until just Mycroft and one other bystander are working in tandem to try and keep the man alive.

 

 

 

Something that Sherlock suspects is not very likely to happen.

 

 

 

After the ambulance arrives and the sheet-draped body is removed from the scene, Sherlock nods to himself in satisfaction.

 

 

First data point supports hypothesis.  Check.

 

 

Sherlock can’t help the faint smile from forming on his face.

 

 

He still doesn’t have enough information to be able to draw the conclusion that the red numbers he sees are indeed death dates.  One validation does not a hypothesis confirm. The results need to be repeatable and reproducible in order to be valid.  He needs more data.

 

 

***

 

 

Another opportunity presents itself not long after.  Conveniently, it’s a Saturday, and Sherlock is not scheduled to be anywhere or tied down with any tedious activities.  He takes a walk down to the edge of their property, where a bucolic pond separates the Holmes’ estate from their neighbours’.  He sits down cross-legged on the grass a few feet from the water’s edge and unwraps the loaf of bread he nicked hours earlier from the kitchen.  He absently tears the slices into small chunks as he watches a group of Canada geese waddle towards him.  He throws the pieces of bread at them and grins as they hiss and posture over the offering.  Out of the corner of his eye he notices the neighbours’ groundskeeper making his way gingerly around the water, walking stick by his side.  Sherlock’s eyes widen as he approaches.

 

The red numbers on the man’s forehead are today’s date. 

 

Mr MacLeod inclines his head and squints.  “Well, bless my eyes.  If it isn’t young Master Sherlock!  It’s been months since I last saw you.  How are we this fine afternoon?  Making good use of our time, are we?”

 

Sherlock swallows.  He hadn’t been expecting to come across someone in his investigations that he is acquainted with.  He had rather been hoping… foolishly, it seems… to run into random strangers and observe with no preconceived ideas or values placed upon the person.  It’s not like he’s intimately familiar with the groundskeeper.  They’ve only met a few times, and their interaction had been fairly limited.  But it still gives him an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

 

“I’m well, sir.  I’ve come to feed the geese.”  He indicates the loaf of bread in his hands.

 

MacLeod nods and smiles.  “Aye, a good use of your time, that, laddie. Sorry I can't stay and chat, but Himself is expecting me so I cannae be dawdling.  Enjoy the rest of your day, Master Sherlock!”  He touches his hand to the brim of his cap, and saunters away.

 

Sherlock watches him go, warring within himself whether or not to sneak after him and gather the data that he needs.  He frowns, giving himself a mental shake.

 

“Pull yourself together,” he whispers, forcing his legs to push himself upright and his hands to tie the bread bag closed.  “You need scientific objectivity here, not sentiment.  No need to let a perfectly legitimate opportunity go to waste.  Buck up.”

 

He takes a deep breath, and quietly follows in the Scotsman’s wake.

 

 

***

 

 

He waits for almost two hours for MacLeod to exit his employer’s stately house.  By that time, the westerly sun is low enough to shine directly into Sherlock’s sensitive eyes.  He scowls as he shades them with his hand and tries to keep his target in sight.  He darts behind a huge, gnarled weeping willow as MacLeod makes his way towards the street.  The groundskeeper lives on a plot of land that lies directly across the way; it is his habit to come and go on foot, as often as the weather allows.

 

The road is a winding one, taking a hairpin bend a hundred yards past the tree that Sherlock crouches behind.  MacLeod fails to check to the right again before stepping out into the street (recently returned from a lengthy holiday in America, still re-acclimating to British traffic.)   He is almost half-way across when a blood-red sedan tears into view.  There is no time for Sherlock to shout a warning, and no time for MacLeod to escape as he throws his arms up in front of his face and waits for impact.

 

Sherlock watches, dumbstruck as the car ploughs into the groundskeeper’s body, tossing it up into the air like a rag doll before it comes to rest in the lane.  The sound of brakes screeching too late grates on Sherlock’s nerve endings, and he clasps both hands to his ears as he tries to block out the sound.

 

 

A young man who can’t be more than eighteen jumps out of the car, mouth agape and face flushed.  His eyes are glassy and his hands trembling as he backs away from the body, hands outstretched in front of him as if to ward off danger.

 

“No.. no, I wasn’t going that fast… he came out of nowhere…”

 

MacLeod’s employer, Mr Tyson,  bursts out of the house and runs towards the prostrate form.  He kneels down and runs expert hands down the body, checking for breathing or any other signs of life.  “Call an ambulance!” he shouts over the screaming. 

 

Sherlock doesn’t realise, until Mrs Tyson pries his hands away from his ears, that the person screaming is himself.

 

Mrs Tyson guides Sherlock quickly but gently into the house and sets him down near the kitchen table.  She keeps one hand on his shoulder as she punches in the digits 999.

 

“Police,” Sherlock croaks as he struggles to make his voice work.  “Police and ambulance both.  That driver is as drunk as a skunk.”

 

She squeezes Sherlock’s shoulder in a matronly fashion as she gives the address to the responder.  After she hangs up, she kneels down in front of Sherlock and takes his face in her hands.  “Oh, Sherlock dear.  Are you alright, love?”

 

Sherlock stares at her, eyes bright and jaw clenched.  “Of course.  Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

“Why are you here?  Were you waiting for Mr MacLeod?”

 

Sherlock swallows.  He thinks quickly.  “I -  yes.  He – he told me he would teach me woodworking this evening.  I was right behind him when – “

 

She rubs her hands up and down Sherlock’s arms.  “You weren’t hurt yourself?” Her eyes flick over his form, taking in the lack of scratches or cuts.  “I’ll call your parents. No, sit right there, don’t get up.  I’ll get you a glass of water.”

 

After the paramedics arrive, the groundskeeper is pronounced DOA.  The initial shock fades away rather quickly.  After all, Sherlock had been expecting it.  Watching a man die doesn’t turn out to be near as upsetting as the fact that it had been a totally avoidable accident.  Sherlock glares at the driver of the car as he gives his statement to the police.  He watches as the young man fails the standard drunk-driving test and is unceremoniously shoved into the back seat of the panda.

 

Preventable.

 

The word silently slides around on Sherlock’s tongue as he mouths it to himself.   He tugs the blanket provided for him tighter around his shoulders.

 

MacLeod’s number was a harbinger of his death… as Sherlock had suspected. The question now is… could anything have been done to prevent it from happening?  Is that why the numbers disappear, whereas his never fade away?  He’s honestly never thought about the possibility of his own date being changeable.  It’s ages away, he might as well live forever.  Will he ever run across someone whose numbers don’t disappear?  He hasn’t yet, but it’s only been a few weeks.

 

As it stands, that line of inquiry is irrelevant at best and unproductive at worst.   Sherlock needs to continue observing before he can even begin to consider possible remedies or solutions, if any actually exist.  Some of the numbers he’s seen have been far in the future; some have not.  But every single person he’s seen so far has had one.

 

What does it mean?

 

The old man at the café had died of a heart attack.  Natural causes.  Most likely unavoidable.

 

Then it hits him, hard and intense, as if a two-tonne lorry just slammed into his chest.

 

If the very-much preventable accident caused by a drunk, irresponsible, entitled teenager had never happened… if he hadn’t got into his car and decided to carelessly disregard safe speed limits by punching the gas pedal and careening around a dangerous curve… if those choices hadn’t been made, would MacLeod have escaped the day with his life?  Had Sherlock been meant to try and do something to circumvent fate?  He had conveniently run into MacLeod at the pond.  Perhaps if he had managed to delay the man by just a few minutes…

 

Sherlock scowls, shaking his unruly dark curls.  Of course not, he berates himself.  There’s no way he could have known the cause or manner of death.  He might possibly be clairvoyant in this one area, but he can’t see everything that’s going to happen.  The idea is ludicrous.  

 

 

But… he can’t shake that word that has gone from being stuck on his tongue to being stuck in his head.

 

Preventable.

 

He remembers something he read about once, called the observer effect.  That just the act of observing has an impact on the results obtained.  Reasoning suggests that impartiality should go hand in hand with the scientific method, but it’s never possible to guarantee the complete absence of bias.

 

Sherlock doesn’t think that he can be a mere observer any longer.

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

The death of Carl Powers is inextricably linked in his mind with the appearance of the red numbers, so it’s no surprise that Sherlock obsesses over the incident.  He goes over it in his mind, again and again, and digs up all the information he can on it.  He eventually comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t an accident.  It was most likely murder, but he can’t get anybody to listen to him, not even the police.  His frustration knows no bounds.  Why can’t people just think?  The evidence is right there in front of them, but they don’t see it like Sherlock does.  Or maybe they see, but don’t observe.  Whatever the case, it drives Sherlock to distraction.  It’s infuriating.

 

Mycroft is sympathetic and patiently listens to Sherlock’s explanations and deductions.  His brother agrees with his thought processes and the conclusion he draws, but doesn’t offer much encouragement beyond that.  He knows Sherlock is an extraordinary child and not given to childish whims, but Sherlock still stays mum on the subject of his ‘sight’, not yet willing to risk ridicule.

 

Sherlock sits cross-legged on his bed and Mycroft lies on his back on the floor, hands clasped behind his head as he thinks over what his brother has just told him.  “Your methods are sound, Sherlock,” he says, “but beyond contacting the police and telling them what you’ve deduced, there’s not much more you can do.  It’s out of your hands; the responsibility lies now with them.”

 

Sherlock scowls.  “The police are idiots,” he complains.

 

Mycroft smiles and tips his head back, looking at Sherlock from an upside-down vantage point.  “Yes, well, practically everyone is.”  The ‘Except for us’ goes unspoken, but Sherlock hears it just the same. 

 

Mycroft rolls over onto his stomach and looks at Sherlock properly.  “I am very proud of you, Sherlock.  Just because there hasn’t been a result yet doesn’t mean you should stop speaking up when you see something like this happening.  One day people will listen and appreciate you for the genius you are, I guarantee it.”

 

Sherlock is warmed by the praise and implicit approval, but he does his best not to let it show.  He shrugs and gives Mycroft a small smile.  “Of course they will.  When they figure out I’m never wrong, they‘ll have no choice.”

 

Mycroft laughs.

 

 

***

 

 

Sherlock loses himself in his mind palace for hours after Mycroft leaves.  He’s stuck on the problem of Carl Powers and how the perpetrator got away with murder, leaving the victim unavenged.  Sherlock loves puzzles, and the thrill that comes with solving them.  The fact that he’s being ignored when he knows he’s right galls him to the core.  He’s not sure what to do about this.

 

 

As the afternoon wears on, his thoughts start drifting in a different direction.  He has never bought into all the magical thinking that other children indulge in.  Yet the appearance of the numbers - his own after a narrow escape from death, and the others after watching someone die - seems to unquestionably belong to a world removed from science. He’s certainly not the only person to have had those experiences, and yet he has never heard a whisper of or read anything alluding to this remarkable talent of his.  

 

 

Could it be that he’s the only one in the world with this ability? 

 

 

He itches to ask Mycroft about it, to see what he knows, but he’s just recently secured his brother’s high regard.  He doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that fragile approval.

 

 

So he continues to keep his ability to himself, at least for now.  Better safe than sorry.

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

Sherlock hears the crunch of gravel under tyres from up in his room where he is reading about the lifecycle of mould spores.  Finally.  He hastily closes the book and rushes down the stairs and out the door, followed by his mother’s ignored voice shouting “Sherlock Adrien Holmes, do not run in the house and do not slam doors!”

 

He slams the front door in his haste right before hearing the final admonition, and cringes as the door bangs shut, shaking the frame.  He can’t worry about that now.  Father has been gone so long, and Sherlock has been working on an experiment in the shed involving fruit fly larvae and hydrogen sulphide that he wants to share with him. 

 

 

Sigerson Holmes is a well-respected epidemiologist who has been researching the development of a vaccine that has recently shown promise in preventing the onset of malaria.  He’s now home after four months in Mumbai supervising the Doctors Without Borders program.  He’s been gone since the beginning of January, and Sherlock has missed him. 

 

 

Sherlock absolutely adores his father, and the regard is mutual.  Whereas Mycroft is more like their mother – quiet, introspective, a love of literature finding him curled up for hours in the library near the fireplace devouring a huge leather-bound tome -  Sherlock is inquisitive and curious about all things of a scientific nature, which leads to him spending hours of his time outside doing legwork, observing and cataloguing everything he can get his hands on.  He has apparently inherited the science-minded gene from his father.

 

 

Sherlock’s eyes light on his father, and he breaks into a wide grin.  Sigerson grins and opens his arms wide. He sprints towards his father, legs pumping for all that they’re worth, eagerness dodging his very footsteps.

 

  

Sigerson wraps welcoming arms around his son’s waist, lifting him up and swinging his body around, eliciting delighted, childish shrieks.  As his father sets him down, Sherlock looks up into his twinkling green eyes… and all of his excitement and enthusiasm vanish like fine mist from a swamp as cold tendrils of fear snake their way into his heart.

 

 

The numbers  05-06-1990  stare back at him.

 

 

That’s only a little over one year from now.

 

 

Oh my god.

 

Sherlock’s fists grab onto his father’s shirt, and he buries his face in the soft cotton fabric.  He barely suppresses a sob.

 

“Sherlock?  Sherlock, my boy, are you quite alright?”  Sigerson pats his hair indulgently.  He presses a kiss to Sherlock’s curls.  “I missed you too, son.  Shall we go inside?  I think it’s just about time for dinner, isn’t it? Come now, that’s enough.”  He gently disengages Sherlock’s hands from his shirt and steps back.  He cups Sherlock chin and tilts it up so he can look into his son’s eyes.  “I hope you’ve been a good boy while I’ve been gone.”

 

Sherlock nods solemnly.  “Yes, Father.  I have.”

 

“Good.  And you’ll show me that experiment you’ve been writing me about, yes?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Sigerson smiles.  “Good.” He takes his son by the shoulders and turns him around.  “Now, march, soldier!”  He gives him a teasing slap on the bum.  Sherlock smiles despite himself.

 

A year. He has a year to figure out a way to save his father.  That should be enough time, he argues with himself.  He’ll keep his study running, keeping tabs on people with soon-to-be death dates and determine if they all are ones that can be seen as in any way preventable. 

 

 

So he becomes extra vigilant.  He stores all the numbers he sees and records them in a calendar he creates in his notebook.  There’s surprisingly few scheduled to occur in the coming year.  The only one he runs across who is not a complete stranger, and therefore the only one he can reasonably track, is his father.

 

 

 

The only one he cares about.

 

 

 


 

 

 

1990

 

 

A week before Sigerson’s death date, Sherlock starts panicking in earnest.  He checks out dozens of books from the library on the theory of reality, quantum mechanics, precognition, no matter how ludicrous, and tries to cram all that information into his mind palace before shutting himself away in his room to sift through all of the data and try to come up with some kind of solution.

 

By the time the evening before rolls around, he is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  Eleven p.m. finds him passed out at his roll-top desk, face down on page 211 of Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Hans Ohanian. 

 

 

He wakes with the sun, warm and bright, tickling his face and invading his closed eyelids.  He jerks his head upright, blinking the sleep from his eyes.  Terror settles in the pit of his stomach.

 

 

He runs out of his room and down the hallway towards his parents’ room, a litany of no, no, no running through his mind.  He cries “Father!” as he pushes open the door… to an empty room.

 

 

He blinks, his mind momentarily blank.  He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.  Mycroft is home on holiday. His brother is awfully clever, the cleverest person Sherlock knows; surely he’ll be able to come up with some kind of solution, and quickly.  Perhaps he’s even caught on to Sherlock’s secret.  Sherlock clenches his fists, desperation warring with apprehension.  If only he’d been brave enough to shunt his insecurities aside earlier, maybe together they would have already solved the problem.

 

 

He quickly pads across the hallway to his brother’s room.  Uncertainty flutters in his belly as he pushes open the door, causing a creaking sound that shatters the silence.  Mycroft lifts his head from his pillow and blinks blearily at Sherlock.

 

 

“Sherlock?  What is it?  What’s the matter?”

 

 

Sherlock takes a deep breath.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  “Mycroft, we have to do something to save Father.  Today is his death day.”

 

 

Mycroft blinks.  “What are you talking about, Sherlock?  Are you sleep-walking again?”

 

 

 

“What?  No!  Father’s death day is today!  We have to stop it from happening.  Should we call emergency services?”

 

 

Mycroft sits up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sherlock.  Death day?  What is that?”

 

 

 

Sherlock’s stomach sinks in disappointment, and frustration wells up in his chest. His fingernails dig into his palms as he tries not to lose his temper.  “Father is going to die today unless we do something to stop it.  Help me stop it, Mycroft; please.”

 

 

Mycroft’s brows knit together in concern, and Sherlock hates it.  His brother nods, signalling for Sherlock to continue.

 

 

Sherlock explains everything, starting from Carl Powers’ death and the first appearance of the red numbers.  He grows more and more agitated as he watches the disbelief bloom on his brother’s face.  He becomes steadily more incoherent as he stumbles through his explanation, how the numbers floating across his father’s forehead was today’s date, and he can’t just stand by and let it happen, for Christ’s sake, Mycroft, don’t you see??

 

 

Mycroft stares at him.  He frowns disapprovingly.  He opens his mouth, and what comes out confirms Sherlock’s worst fears.

 

 

“Do you even realise how narcissistic that is, Sherlock?” he asks sternly. “I realise you probably feel neglected since I left, but this attention-seeking behaviour has got to stop.  You’re eleven years old, for goodness’ sake, grow up!  Father isn’t here, he left earlier this morning for his hunting trip.  Now if you don’t mind, I’m on holiday and I’d like to get some more sleep.”  With that, he turns his back on his brother and resolutely closes his eyes, dismissing Sherlock in the most cruel of ways.

 

 

Sherlock, for all his possession of a superior mind, is still a child.  He stomps his foot in a pique of anger and humiliation, turns around and violently slams the door shut.  He stands paralysed in front of Mycroft’s bedroom, fear and panic threatening to undo him.  He finally shakes himself free and blindly runs down the stairs.  He rushes to the telephone and dials 999. 

 

 

When the operator picks up, his tongue threatens to trip over his words.  He manages to blurt out, “My father is going to die today.  Please come help.”  He rattles off his name and address before the operator can get a word in edgewise.

 

“Slow down, son.  Which service do you require?”

 

“I don’t know.  My dad is going to die.  Please help.”

 

“Is your dad hurt?”

 

“No.  I – I don’t know.  He’s supposed to die today.  I don’t want him to die.  Please, can’t you just help me?  Please!”  His voice is rising in hysteria and it’s all he can do to stop himself from sobbing into the phone like a hysterical child.

 

 

The operator connects him to the police and he has to go through the same thing all over again.  He tries explaining to them why his father needs their help, how he knows something bad is going to happen.  When the police arrive, Mycroft is the one to answer the door.  He turns to Sherlock, face livid with anger and embarrassment.

 

 

“What have you done, Sherlock?” he snarls.  Sherlock flinches in the face of his brother’s wrath, but he valiantly tries to maintain a steady composure.  It doesn’t do any good; the police leave, shaking their heads in irritation, and Mycroft drags him to his room.

 

 

“Mycroft!  Mycroft, wait – we need to warn Mummy!  Where’s Mummy, Mycroft?”

 

 

Mycroft’s hand tightens around Sherlock’s arm.  “Mummy is at her garden club, and is not to be bothered by the likes of you.” He thrusts Sherlock into his bedroom, none too gently, and glares at him.  “You’ll stay in here for the rest of the day, and you will not mention this to either one of our parents, is that clear?”

 

 

“But, Mycroft – “

 

 

Mycroft shuts the door in his face, twisting the deadbolt forcibly before stalking away.

 

 

Sherlock sits on his bed and places his head in his hands, body shaking and mind overwhelmed with despair.

 

 

****

 

 

The news reaches the family later that day.  Sigerson Holmes was thrown from his horse during the hunt, breaking his neck and killing him instantly.  Sherlock sits still and unresponsive during the police interview, eyes staring unseeingly at the opposite wall.  Mycroft sits with their mother, clasping her hand and refusing to glance in Sherlock’s direction the entire time.

 

 

When he’s brought down to the station, Sherlock finally talks, his voice flat and emotionless as he repeats what he had told the emergency services operator earlier.  He knows by this point that nobody is going to believe him, that it’s all just a useless waste of time.  He’s not at all surprised when he ends up being sectioned. 

 

 

 

The investigation and autopsy, of course, conclude that there are no signs of foul play; it was simply a tragic accident, nothing more.  Sherlock is officially cleared of all culpability.  The psychiatrists suspect he is delusional with some sort of attention-seeking personality disorder, but he is eventually released back into the care of his mother.

 

 

 

Still, the cloud of doubt continues to follow him wherever he goes.  Whispers of sociopath start up in his presence, even though he isn’t given the official diagnosis.

 

 

But the worst part of all is that whenever Mycroft looks at him, Sherlock swears that he sees trepidation, suspicion and fear flicker across his face.

 

 

***

 

 

The first lesson he learns cuts the deepest, although it is the one he grasps the quickest.  That is that he must never tell anyone what he sees or what it means.  He must bear this burden alone.