Come Hell Or High Water
The call comes on a Tuesday evening in November. Sherlock has been fidgety all afternoon, pondering. He has just closed a case, but something about it is still bothering him. There are cracks in the ceiling of the living room which he usually ignores but which are also bothering him today, along with the London traffic ("too loud, stupid council") and the sunshine ("too bright, stupid weather") and he snaps at everything John says. Both of them are secretly relieved when Sherlock's phone rings- a momentary distraction, a respite.
Sherlock takes the call with a flourish of his arm, swirling around where he stands. The graceful movement however comes to an abrupt halt which nearly overbalances him, and then he freezes, tensing visibly as he listens to what is being said at the other end.
Possibilities race through John's mind- Mycroft and Moriarty being the most resounding ones. With a frown, John senses that he's in the wrong there, somehow- Sherlock isn't bristling, as he usually does with either of them. He looks- unreadable, really, but his face is chalk-white all of a sudden, and he is staring ahead blankly. All feelings of relief are forgotten.
When he finally speaks (a feeble "thank you"), his voice is low and bare of its strength. He ends the call, then stares at phone as though he has never seen it before and can't decide whether it's of demonic origin.
"Sherlock?" John prompts tentatively.
The detective looks up at his friend, his expression confused and his eyes wide. Then he sags, legs threatening to give out under him.
Moving quickly, unthinkingly, John closes the distance between them and supports him, as Sherlock doesn't seem in control of his limbs any longer. The phone falls to the floor with a clatter, but neither of them pay it any heed. John eases Sherlock onto the sofa and sits down next to him, keeping one hand on his shoulder because he looks as though he is going to keel over any second, and waits for him to say something.
Sherlock doesn't meet John's gaze when he finally does, but he sounds vaguely surprised: "Mycroft's dead."
There are situations in which reality seems to retreat, making way for a state of mind that is open to all kinds of strange thoughts, leaving one questioning whether one is actually awake or if one is merely caught in a bad dream. Which is how John feels while he's standing next to Sherlock on the boardwalk of the Albert Embankment, near Lambeth Pier.
Silently, they are watching as a sleek, partially damaged black car is being pulled out of the water. There are too many lights and noise, all of it grating on John's nerves. He can only imagine how Sherlock is feeling right now. The detective is standing rigidly, frozen by the meaning of it all. And yet he has to see it, has to smell the river and feel the cold air because otherwise the phone call might just be a figment of his imagination, a mockery of his own hyperactive mind.
The area is cordoned off, but there are onlookers around it, of course. The police are directing the traffic on the bridge. An officer has been talking to them earlier, and while John had done his best to listen, Sherlock seemed unable to take in even a single word. He had kept close to John and just waited for it to be over, his eyes already on the water.
Later, after the car has been secured and given a preliminary check, the officer comes to talk to them again. Sherlock remains as silent as before, though John notices how his jaw is tensing at the words he doesn't want to hear: no bodies found yet... due to high tide... strong current... doors open, one torn off... survival unlikely.
Sherlock's gaze is drawn to the river again. He has questions, but for the life of him, he can't remember how to speak, how to raise his voice above the horrible, tearing sensation in his chest. It even keeps him from walking over to the wreck of the car and look at it more closely; somehow, he can't move a muscle. Mycroft is a pest and a bore, able to annoy Sherlock to no end within a millisecond after meeting him, someone whom Sherlock avoids when possible. And yet now, all he wants for Mycroft to be there, to be his condescending, confident self. He can hear his brother talking as though he were standing next to him: "Sentiment, Sherlock. All lives end, don't be so melodramatic."
It's all he can do to keep his knees from buckling.
His legs only do give out under him when they are back in Baker Street; a small mercy that there's no other witness than John. Twice in one day, an inner voice says sardonically when he finds himself on the floor, but Sherlock couldn't care less. He feels nauseous and the room is swaying until John's hands are there, his voice as calm and reassuring as usual: "It's okay, Sherlock. Take deep breaths."
Hating his own weakness, Sherlock doesn't want to be coddled, and he has things to do. Things to find out.
"I need to-"
"No." John's hands are keeping him right there, on the floor. Sherlock doesn't know that he's still white as a sheet. His friend is taking his pulse while he is steadying him, providing a lifeline.
Only when Sherlock's erratic heartbeat has returned to something akin to normal and he has stopped shaking (he wasn't even aware of it until John pointed it out), John allows him to get up. He never lets go of his friend, supporting him as he gets to his feet.
"I can stand," Sherlock protests, his voice sounding hollow and far away to his own ears, but John doesn't release his hold on him.
"Come on," he says, gently, and pulls Sherlock with him.
"Where are we going?"
"To your bedroom."
"Why? I don't want to lie down. Why did we come home at all?"
John wisely refrains from telling him that he's just had a major shock, even though he'll very likely not admit it. With a firm grip, the doctor steers Sherlock to his room and makes him sit on the bed, switching on only the lamp on the nightstand.
He then begins to peel Sherlock out of his coat:"I'm going to make you some tea."
Sherlock immediately stands up again: "I don't want tea. I don't want anything. I want to see the car."
"No." John shakes his head. "You're not going anywhere right now, and you certainly won't have a look at the car."
Sherlock's whole body tenses: "I am and I will. You can't stop me. I should have looked at the car while we were there, it's a mistake I didn't. I need-"
"The MI5 is probably on it already, Sherlock, they won't even let you get near it. And I'll tie you down if necessary."
Sherlock snorts; he makes to push past John, but the doctor is as stubborn as he is, and grips his arms with surprisingly strong fists: "Sherlock," he pleads, with a voice that does not at all match his stance, but betrays his concern for his friend. "Don't."
Sherlock's gaze is fierce: "I just want to find out-"
"We will. In time."
The understanding and sadness in John's tone are nearly too much to bear. If John doesn't have any hope that maybe the police were wrong, that Mycroft could still be alive, there is no hope at all. And yet hope isn't the only thing that Sherlock has in mind. Everything else might still be fuzzy, but one fact is very clear: he wants revenge. He is certain that it hasn't been an accident which has forced Mycroft's car off the bridge, and he wants to know who, how and why. And once he has found that out, those who are responsible are going to regret it, he is going to make sure of that.
These thoughts are not him, he is ever so dimly aware of that. They do feel good however; the burn they are providing in his heart are distracting him from the other emotion which is palpable, raw and terribly: loss. It is one thing to say my brother is a pain in the rear. It's a completely different thing to say my brother is dead. The thought however sticks, reeling around in his head until it feels empty, superseding his thirst for revenge for the time being and leaving him exhausted.
After a few minutes of mute wrestling which slowly turns into petrified stillness, Sherlock visibly deflates. He doesn't protest as John presses him down on the bed once more, sitting down next to him in order to make sure he's calm now.
"It doesn't make any sense," he says, after an unaccounted amount of time. His voice is not so far away any longer; John has been right to insist they go into Sherlock's room. There are less distractions in here, no phone, no laptop. It's helping him to focus.
"I know." John's voice is calm.
The doctor waits for a while; when nothing else it forthcoming, he gets up: "I'll make that tea now."
Once his friend is out of the room, Sherlock closes his eyes, listening to the sounds from the kitchen. All of a sudden, he realizes just how tired he is; he feels like he's carrying leaden weights on his shoulders, has had to solve a thousand riddles only to discover that the very last one unlocks a thousand more. He slowly crawls further onto the bed where he curls up, his back to the door. His eyes soon fly open again; this isn't right, he is useless, he should be looking for clues right now, but all the energy he usually possesses seems to have vaporized, and his body feels too heavy altogether. He tries not to think of cold water and the inability to breathe; he concentrates on listening once more, staring into the semi-darkness of his room unseeingly. It's difficult, but it's better than seeing things in his mind.
There's a faint "yoohoo," in the hall, then he can hear Mrs Hudson and John talk with each other. Their lowered voices tell Sherlock what they are talking about; not long afterwards, he hears approaching footsteps, then there's a presence other than John's in the room.
Mrs Hudson hesitates and, after half a minute of deliberating, tentatively sits down on the mattress. Sherlock doesn't acknowledge her, but he doesn't shrug off the hand which she puts on his shoulder either.
She can feel that he's trembling and instinctively knows that he doesn't want to hear any words. So she stays silent, quietly keeping him company until John comes in with the tea.
Sherlock can barely taste it. He is distraught by how shaken the concept of Mycroft being dead is leaving him, how small and insignificant it makes him feel, rendering him helpless when he really should be looking for clues, anything to help find out who did this. He is actually grateful that John and Mrs Hudson are there, sitting on either side of him, each with a mug of tea in their hands.
Sherlock wonders if he has noticed before how small Mrs Hudson's hands actually are. Mycroft's hands always seemed big to him. As a little boy, he loved it when his brother hid behind those hands in order to suddenly spook him; later in their lives, they had become the hands of a stranger, just like the rest of the older Holmes boy. Eventually, Mycroft turned into someone Sherlock felt inferior to, a notion he didn't like at all. Around his brother, he usually felt his control slip away, which bothered him greatly. Had felt, he automatically corrects himself with a pang, had bothered.
He laughs bitterly into his mug, causing John and Mrs Hudson to look at him: the doctor openly, the landlady tentatively, just a brief glance.
"Even now," Sherlock mutters, aware that he probably sounds like a madman, but unable to stop himself: "Even now."
"Even now what, dear?" Mrs Hudson sounds almost timid.
"He's doing it," Sherlock spits, "he's making me lose control. Even in death, he can't just let me be!"
The look John and the old lady now share is one of alarm, and John gently puts his hand on Sherlock's arm: "You're having a completely normal reaction, Sherlock."
"No, I'm not." The detective's voice is acerbic: "Other people might react like this, but not me. Usual standards don't apply to me, in case you forgot. I don't have feelings, I don't break down because of something like this."
John once again holds his tongue, keeping himself from telling Sherlock that he is wrong, and that this is exactly the opposite.
"Still, you should probably lie down," Mrs Hudson unexpectedly chimes in, "and try to sleep."
John is amazed by the understanding in her voice.
Predictably, Sherlock shakes his head at that, but at least he doesn't snap at her.
They stay where they are until long after midnight.
Mrs Hudson eventually leaves to go to bed, and John can feel his own fatigue crawling up on him. He didn't exactly like Mycroft, which doesn't make the situation easier; he feels sorry for him, if more so for Sherlock, and his thoughts keep wandering back to the accident- he is determined to call it accident as long as there's no proof of the opposite. Of course he has thought of Moriarty already, but Sherlock didn't have any phone calls, text messages or letters or anything else really which could have been used as a means of gloating, so it doesn't seem to be related to their best enemy. The thought is relieving, somehow, and John immediately feels bad about it. There shouldn't be any relief, not when Sherlock looks like this, forlorn and shaken and not at all his usual self.
He is silent and tense, sitting on the edge of his bed like a statue, still in his suit and with a blank face.
At one point, John's eyes close on their own account. He jerks awake with a crick in his neck and feeling disoriented, though he hasn't dozed for longer than twenty minutes.
Sherlock sits upright, listening intently. When John opens his mouth to ask what he's heard, the detective holds up his hand to prevent his friend from speaking, then slowly gets to his feet. He hasn't so much as touched the doorhandle when there's a scream from downstairs. In an instant, Sherlock and John are out of the room; the scream has come from Mrs Hudson, undoubtedly.
Who nearly collides with them in the door to her flat; it is all that Sherlock, who has snapped out of his stupor for the time being, can do to grab her by her arms in order to steady her. Her eyes are wide and she is gasping (apparently not even caring that her dressing gown's not closed): "Sherlock! Kitchen!" at the same time that he and John are asking whether she's okay. There's a moment of confusion, and John makes to push past them in order to check whatever is going on, but then he freezes. There, in the dimly lit hall of Mrs Hudson's flat, stands Mycroft Holmes.
For a moment, nobody moves or says anything. The stunned silence is only broken when Mrs Hudson begins to mewl: "Sherlock, you're hurting me." He hasn't noticed he is still holding her arms, and his grip has tightened considerably at the unexpected turn of events. He lets go now, never taking his gaze off his brother: "What happened?" he asks, his voice flat.
Mycroft looks nothing like his normal self. His hair's dishevelled and he's wearing only a shirt, trousers and socks, a sight made slightly more absurd by the fact that he's still got his tie. It is torn in places however, just like the rest of his clothes, and he looks damp, if not soaking wet anymore. He is pale and shivering and John, to whom the older Holmes brother strangely looks less tall than usual, does remember he's a doctor at the sight and moves first, wordlessly taking an unresisting Mycroft by the arm and steering him back into the kitchen, where he can sit down.
Briefly, John is struck by how much this resembles the situation earlier, but he can't dwell on that now; from this close, Mycroft looks even worse for wear, and he must be freezing. John goes to get a blanket while Mrs Hudson begins to make tea. Sherlock keeps his distance, regarding his brother with narrowed eyes: "What happened," he repeats.
"You know what happened," Mycroft manages to sound aloof, despite appearances. However, he does seem relieved when John arrives with not one, but two blankets which he wraps around the sitting man.
"It was such a shock," Mrs Hudson more or less babbles over the din of the electric kettle, "first we thought you were dead, and then you are suddenly trying to break into my kitchen. I thought I had heard something, could have been some cats, of course, but you never know.."
Mycroft looks vaguely apologetic: "I didn't mean to scare you," he says softly, "I simply wanted to avoid using the front door."
John's gaze immediately is drawn to the back door, which seems intact.
Sherlock however has more questions: "How did you get out of the car?"
"When I realized what was going on, I took the precaution to roll down the window. Luckily, the impact on the water didn't render me immobile or worse, so I could get out immediately."
John, worried about the slight tremor in Mycroft's voice and the blood he's seen in his still damp hair when he brought the blankets, cuts in: "I think you'd best get warm before Sherlock continues his interrogation," he says firmly. "A shower and then you should lie down."
Mycroft subdues a smile; the doctor's stance and tone make it very clear that this isn't up for discussion, and frankly, he does feel numb with cold by now. A shower sounds heavenly, even if it means having to use the slightly shoddy facilities of 221B.
"Come on, I'll find you a towel," John says, beckoning him to follow.
Sherlock watches them go and turns towards the door as well, but then hesitates: "He doesn't take milk in his tea, only real cream," he tells Mrs Hudson. "If there's no cream available, he prefers it black. Two sugars."
With that, he leaves the kitchen.
Half an hour later, Mycroft is sitting up in Sherlock's bed, covered with an additional blanket on top of the comforter, and cradling a mug of hot black tea in his hands. The shower has revived him somewhat, and Dr Watson, who has already taken care of the cut on Mycroft's head and made sure he wasn't injured otherwise, was adamant he should not stay on the sofa.
Mycroft is wearing an old, long-sleeved shirt, a pair of pyjama pants and socks from Sherlock, who unfortunately doesn't possess any proper night attire of the kind Mummy would have approved of.
While he waited for the water in the shower to heat up, Mycroft could hear his brother and Dr Watson through the door: "I don't have anything he can wear, he's too fat."
"Don't be ridiculous, Sherlock, he is not."
"He'll wear my things out."
"He won't, and besides, they already are quite worn."
"They are not."
"The shirts you're sleeping in are faded and frayed at the hems and whatnot. And that's totally beside the point. If you prefer a clothed Mycroft to a naked one, I suggest you stop being ridiculous and go find something for him to put on."
Silence followed, though Mycroft was convinced he could hear his brother sulk. A few moments later, Sherlock came in with a few things, which he put on the clothes chair. Mycroft, who had just stepped into the shower and felt a little dizzy, peered around the curtain: "Thank you. Oh, and I did tell you I was on a diet, didn't I?"
Sherlock only hummed non-committally and turned to go.
"Sherlock." Mycroft's voice sounded strained all of a sudden.
"Could you stay in here, please? I'm... not feeling too well."
Sherlock stood rooted to the spot; for Mycroft to admit something like that and if ever so indirectly ask for assistance, he truly must have experienced something awful.
"Okay." The detective pushed the clothes aside and sat down on the old wicker chair. "Don't dawdle, though."
Mycroft supported himself on the wall while he showered, and somehow managed to stay on his feet. The realization of everything which had happened was only then beginning to dawn on him, and it was alarmingly terrifying. There had been attempts on his life before- something which the job brought with it- but never anything of such a scale.
He tells Sherlock so while he's sipping his tea, savouring the sweet, hot drink.
"What about Anthea?" John asks, "was she...?"
"No. I was on my own. The driver suddenly veered into the oncoming traffic, and when I checked on him, I saw that he was unconscious. Dead, more likely, but there was no time to assert that."
"And you definitely don't think it was an accident."
"It wasn't, because someone was obviously operating the steering wheel by remote control."
"Well, I'm glad whoever is responsible didn't succeed," John says, and Mycroft gives him a vague smile.
"We saw the car," Sherlock states, rather abruptly, not looking at anyone. "When they pulled it out of the river. We thought you were dead."
"Sorry to disappoint," Mycroft murmurs into his mug.
Sherlock's head whips up:"Don't be ridiculous," he snaps, "do you think this is funny?"
"No, Sherlock, I don't think it is."Mycroft sounds tired. "Just as it isn't funny that you keep considering me to be your archenemy."
"I never called you that."
"Not in such explicit words, probably."
A heavy silence falls between them. John, who is leaning against the doorframe with folded arms, can see that neither of them is going to give in, stubborn as they are (he takes a shot in the dark concerning Mycroft there, but if Sherlock is anything to go by, his brother probably has just as thick a head as he does). John can also see that Mycroft is using the very last of his remaining strength to keep himself upright, and decides to break it off there and then.
"Maybe you two could continue this in the morning," he suggests in a firm voice which doesn't leave room for discussion, "after you both have gotten some sleep."
For the first time since Mycroft's shower, Sherlock looks at his brother for more than two seconds, and he sees what his friend means. Mycroft needs to rest and replenish his energy.
"Good night," he murmurs and slips out of the room. Seconds later, they can hear the violin being tuned.
John and Mycroft share a look.
"He'll always hate me," Mycroft states softly.
No, John thinks, he won't. Loudly, he says: "I wouldn't necessarily say so, judging by his reaction earlier."
He leaves Mycroft to ponder this, though, judging by the way he looked just now, he probably won't do that for long.
Sherlock is fiddling with his violin; he didn't begin to play after tuning it, meaning he's too upset to concentrate on the music right now. John, resigning himself to the fact that he won't get much sleep this night, possibly none at all even, joins his friend on the sofa: "Thoughts?"
"It's possible that we're being watched," Sherlock drawls in a deliberately bored voice, "but not very likely."
"'kay," John looks at him, deciding to tackle the issue head-on: "Quite a development, huh?"
Sherlock sighs. "I wonder why he's here."
"What? Are you serious?"
"Of course I am. The whole affair has hardly been a laughing matter."
"And now you're just playing with words. You know what I meant."
"I suppose." Sherlock's voice is so low it's barely audible. Probably because this is almost a concession.
"You know why he's here," John says, gently.
"He needs my help. He wants me to investigate."
The doctor pinches the bridge of his nose and inwardly counts till five.
"Or maybe he simply didn't have anywhere else to go," he suggests, "and you're his brother. Maybe he just wanted your company."
"Would you seek Harry's company if something like this happened to you?" Sherlock asks, sceptically.
John shakes his head: "You can hardly compare her and me to Mycroft and you. But no, I wouldn't have. Harry's neither reliable nor very dear to me."
Sherlock snorts, trying to make it sound derisive, but somehow, he can't. The whole night has been so surreal that he hasn't completely processed it yet, but he finds that a surge of relief is flooding through him each time he remembers that Mycroft's here, alive and relatively well. He's still insufferable, of course, and Sherlock doesn't doubt that he'll be sent a pair of expensive, "proper" pyjamas as soon as Mycroft will be able to arrange it, but nevertheless: he's still there.
"You look knackered," John states softly, nudging Sherlock's shoulder with his own. "Get some sleep, Sherlock."
"I sure will." John stands and stretches, promptly beginning to yawn. "God, I'm tired."
"John." Sherlock doesn't look at him, but he seems to sense that he's got the doctor's attention back: "Thank you for... earlier. Staying with me, and... looking after Mycroft."
If John weren't so tired, he'd probably come up with a more witty reply, something slightly mocking perhaps in order to commemorate this moment- Sherlock actually expressing his gratefulness with words happens too rarely altogether, after all. Instead, the doctor just smiles: "Anytime."
Long after John has disappeared upstairs, Sherlock is pondering this, lying on the sofa. John keeps astonishing him, and it's strangely reassuring to know that he didn't even have to think twice about being there for Sherlock, that it was understood he'd help and assist in any way he could, even if it cost him his sleep. The detective has never known anyone like him, though maybe that's putting it wrong- he has never had a friend like him. A friend who obviously intends to stick with him even though he by now knows a lot about Sherlock. Who admittedly cares deeply for John himself, but he is rather unskilled at showing it sometimes. Most of the time, if he is honest with himself. If the doctor weren't so patient, he'd probably have left already. Still, Sherlock hopes that he'd do the same for John, if the situation were reversed- being there for him, being patient. Well, maybe not as patient as John because that seems impossible, but he'd try.
To have a friendship like that is also a little unsettling- it makes a person vulnerable (John would probably argue: it also makes a person stronger), and furthermore, a lot is at stake if someone messes up. And Sherlock is certain that he under no circumstances wants to lose John again, so he must not mess up. The way John said "anytime" was startingly spectacular in its implicitness- the doctor didn't even have to think about it. Sherlock involuntarily smiles, but quickly turns serious again as his thoughts wander back to his brother. He doesn't know whether Mycroft has someone like that in his life, but he doubts it. If he had, he'd probably not have ended up here tonight.
You're his brother... Maybe he wanted your company. John's voice says in Sherlock's mind.
Slowly, Sherlock gets up and pads through the quiet space that is 221B. It is still dark, but he knows his way around well enough not to bump into furniture or other obstacles.
The door to his bedroom opens soundlessly, and Sherlock slips in unheard. Trying not shake the mattress too much, he eases himself onto the duvet; Mycroft's breathing is deep and evenly, he seems sound asleep. Sherlock stretches out next to him. As a small boy, he used to sneak into Mycroft's bed sometimes; it was comforting to listen to his sleeping brother, in fact still is. Is. Another wave of relief washes over him, relief that he can still use the present tense. He is a little shaken by it, he doesn't like to be overwhelmed by his emotions like this. Well, at least Mycroft doesn't know about it, and Sherlock intends to make sure it stays that way.
In a minute, he'll go back to the living room and follow John's advice to get some sleep, but right now, he'd like to listen to his brother just a little bit longer.
With an inaudible sigh, he closes his eyes.
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