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The Vision Beautiful

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Mycroft Holmes was, by fortune of good breeding and education, a very patient man. Even though he occupied only a minor role in the British government (those who said otherwise were, of course, sadly mistaken), he found he was often tasked with the most painstaking and time-sensitive duties others would rather avoid. It was by pure luck, and not an insignificant amount of charm and good old-fashioned elbow grease, that he had got as far as he had in his political ambitions.

Though it seemed, in moments like this, all his ambitions were of little consequence in the end, if he couldn’t protect his family and those he held dearest to his orderly and most privately tended heart.

He felt as if he’d been here before, stuck behind the same glass, watching as his younger brother, a gifted Sentinel (the most powerful in a century, or so the instructors at the Tower had said), struggled to pull each and every breath into his oft-abused lungs. He hadn’t needed a ventilator…this time.

Sherlock remained deathly still in his mechanical bed, unmoving and utterly silent underneath the thin hospital blanket. It was a barely serviceable piece of linen, as thin as cheesecloth and just as warming. He made a note to remind Anthea to bring a proper blanket later on today, something that actually held back the institutional chill hospitals were so fond of.

In truth, he had grown quite tired of all this unnecessary emotional upheaval and drama. He tired of fielding frantic phone calls from Mummy, who managed to sound grievously distressed, victimized, and horridly condescending all at the same time. It was more than clear why Sherlock never seemed to take any familial sentiment at face value, since every other comment from their mother served two purposes - insult and praise.

Mummy never had approved of Sherlock’s lifestyle - of his unorthodox rejection of formal Sentinel schooling in favour of other, less verified, methods. Mycroft often wondered, if Sherlock had changed his mind and taken the more conventional route and studied at the Tower, would things have turned out very different?

This self-destructive behaviour had ceased to be a surprise many years ago, and Sherlock’s continuing predilection for drugs and dubious life choices weighed on a heart already heavy with civil responsibility. Mycroft needed resolution, a solution, and if he couldn’t use his tenacity and the considerable resources at his disposal, then he would call in a few favours, if he had to.

“I phoned the Cottage as requested.” Anthea’s smooth, slightly raspy voice sounded from behind his left shoulder. “We’re lucky - they have a room available.”

Mycroft’s desolate gaze never moved from the glass.

“If by lucky, you mean helplessly watching my baby brother overdose time and again, while consistently refusing treatment and resisting any and all efforts of self-betterment, then yes, I suppose we are very lucky indeed.”

She glanced down, chastised, though Mycroft had not raised his voice or openly admonished her in any way.

“I’m sorry, sir. I only meant –”

“Yes, I know what you meant.”

He left it at that, letting the weighty silence speak for itself, and after a few long moments, Anthea finally cleared her throat.

“I spoke personally with Dr. Stapleton. She’s not familiar with Sherlock, not yet anyway, says she doesn’t get much in the way of current events at the Serenity Cottage – but she’s familiar with cases like his…people who have abilities they never learned to fully control. She says they’ve a pilot programme for Sentinels who reject traditional bonding.”

Mycroft listened to her words with only half concentration (though for any normal person that would be enough), the other half absorbing the steady bleating of Sherlock’s heart through the monitor, pumping despite all efforts to the contrary.

He easily remembered Sherlock’s words, his caustic reply to Mycroft’s suggestion of finding a suitable Guide and forming a bond. The younger man had outright laughed in his face, all the while yawning and scratching at his skin in an obvious sign of recent intravenous drug use.

“Sentiment,” he’d snorted, lifting a trembling hand to his lips and sucking wetly on the cigarette ensconced between two pale fingers, “useless, distracting nonsense touted by the weak that’ve nothing better to do but rut and hump like mindless dogs. I am not mindless, Mycroft! It is my very mind that sets me apart. You cannot hope to compare me to all those…those ordinary drones out there.” He laughed with a dark and poisonous humour. “I’d sooner die.”

“And die you will, brother mine, though it pains me to say.” Mycroft ignored another low laugh from Sherlock’s pallid lips, as if confessing his love for his younger sibling was somehow unwise and shameful. “You can believe what you wish, but I dread that phone call. You must know this, Sherlock.”

Sherlock put out his cigarette (fifth in a row), stubbing it viciously into the tatty and threadbare rug that covered the rotten floorboards in his Montague Street flat. It made a new scorch mark, a companion to those he’d already created – lovely little sooty dots that clumped together near the feet of the sofa, like tiny, dark constellations.

“Leave me alone.”

“Sherlock -”

“Get out, get out of my flat!”

That was only a few days ago, and a long stretch of countless hours spent harassing the Met and feverishly checking every CCTV camera for clandestine glimpses of his brother. When he’d found him this time, huddled and lifeless near a rusted skip by the dirty, sandy banks of the Thames, it had almost been too late.

“Make the travel arrangements, if you would, Anthea.” His grip on his umbrella handle tightened momentarily, worried fingers squeezing the polished cherry wood handle. “This may be our last chance to save him.”

He watched her reflection in the glass, saw her nod and turn round, heading back from whence she came. Her long, sable hair fell like a silken curtain past her neck, the subtle wind from her movement lifting single strands to float away from her face and hover like a cloud about her shoulders.


 

The Sussex countryside had long been considered unbridled in its beauty. Rows of tall, elegant, well-pruned Italian cypress trees lined the simple roads, making lovely companions to the verdant hedges dividing the fields into brightly coloured squares and rectangles.

Sherlock watched all of this speed by, the idyllic scenery blurring past the car window as he adjusted his sunglasses and fiddled with his mobile.

Mycroft had given him an ultimatum, in the end: go to rehab, or be collected by the Tower and cut off completely. The inherent threat in this very statement gave Sherlock pause, because he’d only just recently avoided an unexpected summons from the Sentinel Prime himself, Horace Wiggington. He was a fat, squat little man that Sherlock tried to avoid at all costs. He smelt of sweat and stale coffee, so much so that Sherlock could taste the salty perspiration at the base of his throat before he even entered his office.

His tongue rolled and dipped in his mouth in sympathy, the memories of their one (and only) meeting making Sherlock curl his lip in distaste.

He sighed, running strong fingers over his forehead in misery; they came back clammy and slicked with unwelcome wetness. He desperately needed a distraction.

Next to him on the leather seat, the brochure for the Serenity Cottage (ridiculous name) lay crumpled and forgotten, tossed there at the beginning of his journey in a fit of pique and petulance. Sherlock grabbed at it clumsily, spreading the paper over his lap, damp hands stuttering over its matte finish.

It was like all the others, all those new-age faux-spiritual rehab retreats that catered to the super-rich and terminally bored. Pictures of alarmingly orange and bleached women simpered on the pages, looking soulfully out towards their audience with large, tear-reddened blue eyes.

Sherlock snorted, turning a wrinkled page and moving on to the amenities listed in smart bullet points on the left margin. Oh, how very nice, an indoor heated pool. Lovely. He made a mental note (an oversized post-it firmly adhered to the entrance of his mind palace) to drown himself at the first opportunity.

That would show Mycroft, the interfering, overbearing, fat waste of cellular energy.

The chauffeur, who simply went by the name of ‘Johnson,’ tapped briskly on the glass partition, alerting Sherlock to their change in direction and imminent arrival at the Cottage. Sherlock was pleased when he found he’d be travelling with the serious and quiet man, rather than with Anthea (may a plague of carpal tunnel descend upon both her wrists). He found Johnson to be one of Mycroft’s more palatable employees, at least, he had the common sense to keep his mouth shut during their journey.

With a huff, he tossed the brochure to the floor and prepared himself for what was sure to be a very long, and very tedious, afternoon.


 

It was hard to truly explain what it was like to live with five hyper-acute senses. Sherlock could count on one large hand exactly how many times he’d attempted to justify exactly why he wore his shirts inside out (the seams irritated his skin), why he always had a headache (the colours were so saturated, the sounds so dense), and why he continued on with the drugs.

To date, he had yet to find any other chemical, legal or otherwise, that effectively dulled his senses as much as the heroin did. There was a kind of blissful, sumptuous beauty in the way a simple injection could dissolve the outside world, lessen the continuous bombardment of outside impulses, and just let him float, nerveless and serene, inside his mind.

Of course, the heroin also had the unfortunate side effect of almost stopping his heart, twice.

Well, he had never lived under the illusion that the solution to his predicament was perfect, after all. It was just preferable to the constant, unending stimulation he was forced to endure. The times that Mycroft had found him limp and barely breathing, lying in his own filth, had been some of the most peaceful moments of his young life.

The car eventually came to stop, slowing down in increments as they passed a rather intimidating and ornate wrought-iron gate. The initials ‘SC’ decorated the entrance, cleverly metal-crafted in twining leaves, grapes, and sprigs of lavender. The simple road eventually gave way to a gravel roundabout, the wheels crushing and grinding the many small bits of white quartz in a cacophony of sound, painful and overly loud to his ears. He was relieved when finally they stopped, and Johnson retrieved his luggage from the boot.

Sherlock himself emerged from the car shortly afterward, a little worse for wear. He was less a member of the elite upper class, and more a damaged and suffering young man with cursed senses and a misguided penchant for inadvertent suicide.

When he finally began his journey up the inordinately wide steps, the elaborately carved double doors swished open, sending a rush of sickly rose-scented air into his face, ruffling his messy curls and drawing a sneer of immediate disgust. A woman, short, with fire red hair (processed in a colour that Sherlock only assumed did not exist in nature but only in hair dye) rushed forward quickly, extending a hand and waving Johnson behind her and towards the front desk.

“Mr. Holmes, such a pleasure to finally meet you!”

Sherlock regarded her hand (indentation on left ring finger, wedding band recently removed) with suspicion, but accepted it anyway, relishing her ill-disguised grimace at shaking the sweaty appendage.

“I’m Mrs. Whitney, but please call me Kate,” she continued with an airy laugh, surreptitiously wiping her hand on her smart pumpkin-coloured dress pants. “I’m in charge of new admissions and senior director of our substance abuse program –”

“Do you have Wi-Fi?” he interrupted, quite rudely in fact, removing his sunglasses and looking about the foyer in open curiosity. If he was being forced to stay in this ridiculous prison, he should at least have some form of entertainment that didn’t include sitting around a bonfire and singing Kumbaya.

She didn’t miss a beat, keeping by his side as he made a wide path around the room, taking in the artwork (mass-produced), flowers (fresh, probably replaced every other day), and relative cleanliness (scrubbed within an inch of its life, more like). The clash of colours and scents was altogether overwhelming, however, bordering on headache inducing.

“We provide very limited internet access to our guests while they’re here at the Cottage. Myself and the therapists encourage each of you to find other means of bettering yourselves and participating in your own recovery –”

“Guests?” Sherlock paused, raising one dark eyebrow and bearing down on the chatty woman. “Is that what you call us, Guests? As if we’re here of our own accord. Laughable. Really.”

She looked mildly confused, almost offended. “Guests, yes. That’s what we call those who choose to participate in our treatment program. I – I assure you, Mr. Holmes, no one is kept at the Serenity Cottage against their will.”

“That remains to be seen,” he quipped darkly, his voice not much more than a basso rumble in his chest.

She stopped, placing her hands on her hips, arms akimbo. “Is there somewhere else you’d rather be?”

Sherlock turned round, catching a fleeting glance as Johnson (already having delivered his luggage to his room, no doubt) exited the main entrance and drove off in the sleek, black sedan, before turning his most piercing, most purposefully unsettling gaze upon Mrs Whitney.

“Shall I draw up a list, Kate?” He grinned, overly wide, practically grinding his molars in ill-humour.

She drew in a breath, forcing a smile of her own in response to his Cheshire grin.

“Why don’t I show you to your room?”

Her voice had an edge to it now, something too sweet and cheery to be sincere. Sherlock made some kind of noise, a noncommittal grunt or something, as if he would rather be doing anything else but nothing else came to mind. He found this attitude of laziness and noncompliance to be particularly maddening to those who sought to control him (Mycroft especially) – most of the time they had no idea what was actually happening in his wild mind, what occurred in those remarkable synaptic depths, and when they hazarded a guess, they usually couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The grand staircase that wound wide and opulent up to the first floor was carpeted and lush and located to the left of the admissions desk. It reminded Sherlock much of the staircases in one of his family’s old country estates, too Victorian, too imperial, and completely out of touch with current English modernity. He followed behind Mrs Whitney, having already deduced everything of import about the woman(divorced, son also an addict, her job a pathetic attempt to heal others when really she wanted to heal her son), and he was only too glad to leave the overly scented and busy lobby behind. For a retreat that touted the best possible solution for un-bonded Sentinels, their decorative choices were decidedly an attack on the senses. Really, what were they thinking?

She chattered uselessly in front of him, possibly trying to pass the time, but Sherlock was unconcerned with anything she had to say. His attention was focussed once again on the abrupt change of the decorations as they stepped upon the first-level landing. This level couldn’t have been more different from the first if he had somehow managed to teleport himself on top of a sand dune in the Sahara.

To say that it had taken almost his entire lifetime to exact some semblance of control over his senses would have been an understatement. Sherlock’s days were wrought with overstimulation and headaches that threatened nausea, seizures, and of course, the ever-threat of zoning and losing himself to his mind for extended periods of time…possibly forever.

The first floor was less of an assault on his senses. The horrid rose-scented miasma that greeted him as he entered the building tapered off into a more neutral, almost dusty smell. It wasn’t unpleasant, like mould or old, unused things, but more like the loamy scent of the outdoors. It was natural, like fresh dirt or wet sand.

The walls themselves were painted in more neutral colours as well, possibly named with some of the more fanciful monikers the painting companies could come up with…something like: almond cream, soft chamois, and wisp of mauve. Nauseating.

The hallway was blissfully clear of the pretentious and decadent furniture that dotted the ground level, and the only things of note were small speakers and cameras located in the corners of the long hallway that led off from the main landing. The speakers emitted a low-key thrum, more of a white noise that immediately felt calming and serene. Sherlock fought it as much as he could. He wouldn’t be a party to their damned tricks; he’d come for the procedure, and then he’d be on his way, Mycroft or no.

Of course, that was only if this procedure (also called the ‘treatment’) really was as effective as the brochure claimed. Sherlock, with his highly scientific and curious mind couldn’t puzzle out exactly how one small implant was supposed to somehow lessen, if not erase, his sensory difficulties completely.

And He surely didn’t know how this was supposed to all be accomplished during a mere two-week stay…and Sherlock didn’t like not knowing.

“As you can see, this area is much more sense-neutral than the lower level, and the floors above this are quite the same. We strive to make your stay here as comfortable as possible. The lower levels, that’s really for show and the guests’ families. You can avoid the lobby altogether by using the lift just round the corner.”

Well, he supposed that made sense. Considering this place was costing Mycroft an obscene amount of money, he wouldn’t put it past them to want to impress.

“Your room is on the fifth floor,” she continued, moving towards the lift she had only just mentioned. It was a standard metal affair, painted another neutral colour with another no-doubt ridiculous name (weathered fossil, perhaps?). She pressed the button with one perfectly buffed fingernail glinting in the low light.

“When is the procedure scheduled?” he asked abruptly, thumbing his mobile in his woollen coat, avoiding the urge to scratch randomly at his wrists. She regarded him with a wry, knowing smile.

“Just got here and already you’re looking to leave?” They entered the lift, the woman first, Sherlock reluctantly behind. “Tell me, do you plan on taking our program here seriously, at all? Your brother Mycroft had expressed some concern about your participation.”

Sherlock snorted, as he tended to when Mycroft was mentioned in any kind of conversation. The name was hateful, and he absently wondered if he could develop some kind of allergy or anaphylactic response if only to never have to hear his brother’s name ever again.

“Did he?” the younger Holmes sniped, looking upwards, watching his reflection in the dull metal of the lift ceiling. “He does tend to be a bit dramatic. He also tends to poke his fat nose into things which aren’t his business.”

“Most people would say family is always ‘their business,’” she replied, moving out of the lift once they’d got to the appropriate floor.

“Most people don’t have the British government as their overbearing big brother.”

Mrs. Whitney smiled at that, though it was a bit forced. She paused in her brisk pace, looking as if she would say something else, and then thinking better of it. It was no matter to Sherlock either way; he would suss it out later if he had to – that is, if he decided he cared. Instead, she bustled along, bypassing doorway after doorway until she neared one towards the very end of the hallway, on the left.

“Room 511, this one is yours. We don’t use keys here, as you can see, but programmed cards.” She passed him one card, credit-card-sized and glossy, the magnetic strip barely used on the opposite side. It would have had no more than two (no, three) previous users judging by its lack of usual scratches and wear and tear.

“Fine.” He flipped it around a few times, trying the electronic lock. The small LED light beamed green as he swiped it, the sound of the door unlocking was not unlike the sound of a jail cell.

Pushing the door open with a sigh, he saw his luggage already placed by the bed. The room was austere, almost monastic in its simplicity, and not for the first time, Sherlock missed the general untidiness and charm his Montague flat afforded. Living in Serenity Cottage would be more akin to living like an ascetic, something Sherlock found to be quite off-putting and infinitely boring.

He knew the reason for the lack of creature comforts; it didn’t take any great leap of logic to understand why there was only a bed, side table, desk, and one bookcase. Most Sentinels who came to this place were woefully undisciplined and prone to zoning, this much he easily deduced. A room such as this would be a like a safe place within the Cottage, an area of neutrality that wouldn’t tax their already overloaded nervous systems.

Of course, these unfortunate others were not Sherlock Holmes.

“Can I request a few items? Do you have room service?” He stared at Mrs. Whitney with no small amount of cheek, moving inside the room as if walking to his own untimely death.

“There are order forms you can fill out, we have some pre-approved items which you may make use of. Your personal handler, Mrs. Hudson, should be around by dinnertime to show you the rest of Serenity Cottage.”

“Fantastic! Will she make tea and do the cleaning up as well?”

Mrs. Whitney frowned, obviously not approving of his attitude. “She will not be your housekeeper, Mr. Holmes!”

“Oh! What a shame…I thought since Mycroft was spending so much money on this place that I was to be afforded every courtesy.” He shrugged off his coat, the motion sluggish and lazy, allowing it to fall in a heap on the ground.

“You are being afforded every courtesy that our services provide.” She sighed, only following him a little bit into the room. “Dinner is at six. We encourage our guests to maintain a healthy and satisfying eating and sleeping schedule.”

Sherlock waved a hand behind him dismissively, putting her out of his mind and face-planting, quite ignominiously, onto his bed. He let out an uncomfortable ‘“Oof!” as he landed on the hard and unforgiving mattress, the lack of bounce-back somehow prophetic. What the hell was the mattress made of? Horse hair and rocks?

She must have caught the look on his face because she cleared her throat, catching his attention fully.

“You asked about the procedure?” Mrs. Whitney hovered about in the doorway, seeming to already know that Sherlock was insatiably curious as to how they planned on managing his Sentinel abilities without a Guide and without bonding.

“Yes?” He pulled his head off of the mediocre pillow, hair already askew.

“All those at Serenity Cottage receive the treatment. How quickly one undergoes the procedure is based on necessity and severity of symptoms. There are no points for good behaviour, although in your case I might make an exception.”

He grunted, plopping his face back into the pillow. Insufferable woman!

“Remember, dinner’s at six. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Holmes.” With that, she was gone, the door clicking behind her, the sound ominously loud in this ridiculous excuse for a room.

Once he was clear, he rocketed off the bed, delving into his luggage and throwing his clothes here and there, uncaring of where they landed. Pants, vests, and socks flew everywhere, distorting the almost perfect packing arrangement Anthea had no doubt devised. Sherlock prayed the laptop he’d managed to sneak into the zippered attachment was still there, though he could tell just by the feel of the side pouch that it was empty.

He groaned, running his hands through his hair, mussing the curls and certain that this torture would be the end of him. Sherlock crossed the small room in a huff, peering out of the small, utilitarian window that allowed him a beautiful (of sorts) view of the rest of Serenity Cottage and its accompanying grounds. A row of laurels ran just away from the building, and several gardens, thick with blossoms, ran in tidy squares adjacent to the building. Just over the top of a small, rolling hill, he spied another building, older, and less well-kept than the one in which he stayed.

He sighed, letting his breath come out in a low groan until it evolved into a roar of complete frustration and misery.

What the hell time was it anyway? He rifled through his coat, pulling out his mobile – five o’clock. Grand. That meant one more hour until another no doubt odious woman came knocking at his cell door.

Well, since this day was just chock-full of new experiences and revelations, he supposed a visit to his mind palace wouldn’t be out of order. He climbed back atop his bed, gingerly (no use in flopping anymore, not unless he wanted to break a bone), resting on his back and closing his eyes. There were a great many things that needed to be categorised and stored, not the least of which was how he would ever get back at his brother for forcing him into this horrid, stone-aged excuse for a retreat.

 

Chapter Text

“Oh, Mr. Holmes, the mess you’ve made!” Mrs. Martha Hudson glowered in her especially matronly way, setting her ancient and stained tea tray down on the chest of drawers and fisting her hands upon her hips.

She took two more steps into the room and scowled even further at seeing piles of fancy-looking clothing strung about haphazardly in every crevice of the modest living area.

Really, well this just bordered on ridiculous. Honestly! Who comes to an expensive and very exclusive retreat and immediately sets about throwing their lovely things all over the floor?

She pivoted towards the room proper, peering at the unfortunate young man in question as he appeared to sleep peacefully on the uncomfortable-looking double bed. He looked rather posh, a little pale, and could do with some feeding up. Though he was rather handsome, with his dark curls and aristocratic brow, and those lips! She had half a mind to pat her hair and fan herself girlishly before remembering that he was her charge, and right now, being unconsciously wilful and disobedient. Honestly, young men these days, dashing about, ignoring their health and making a general mess of things! She could see she had her work cut out for her with this one.

“Mr. Holmes? Sherlock?” She raised her voice quite shrilly in the dampened atmosphere of the room.

He made no indication he heard her. In fact, he didn’t move or twitch even once. For all he reacted, he might not even know she was in the room. She crossed her arms with a huff, her gauzy cerise dress wrinkling at the elbows.

Well, she could clearly see that this one was also a bit rude as well. Oh, she did always get the good ones, didn’t she?

“Excuse me, young man? Sherlock?” She stomped (as well as an elderly woman could with a hip) over to his bed and loomed over his wan face. He appeared extremely settled in and hadn’t moved a single muscle since she’d knocked, and knocked, and waited, and knocked again, and then just let herself into his room with a ‘hoo hoo!’, a tea-tray, and an excited smile.

“Oh, I know your type, deep sleeper, just like my ex-husband. Well, time to get up! I’m to take you to dinner now, no mucking about.”

She busied herself after that, dipping down gingerly to pick up the young man’s things, assuming he would wake and that would be that. She continued to prattle on absently as she picked up what seemed like a brand-new, never worn, and ridiculously expensive pair of pants. She tried not to be impressed (though she couldn’t right help it), and continued to putter about, folding and placing errant clothes in drawers and hanging indecently luxurious blazers in the closet. She was certain they smelled of money, not that nasty coppery papery smell, but that clean ‘I’m-better-than-you smell’ she had so enjoyed when she’d been married to her ex.

“Honestly, young people, sleeping in at all hours…it’s just not healthy, mind. In my day I would have been up and roaring around half of London by this time of night, of course I had Nigel at my side, and he did know how to charm a girl. Too many girls actually, positively scandalous that one but…I suppose that’s what you get when you marry an American. I just – Sherlock!”

She scowled and slammed the wooden drawer (now positively brimming with perfectly matched socks) closed in a move that rattled the large and precariously perched mirror affixed to the adjoining wall in the hopes that the noise would startle the young man awake. It did no such thing.

“Get out of that bed right now!” A firm slap to the shiny leather of his swanky shoes also elicited no response.

“Well of all the –”

Then she paused a moment in her tirade, only just long enough for a wild realisation to coalesce and come barrelling to the forefront of her mind.

“Oh – oh no! Oh dear! Not this soon, surely.” She leant forwards across the young man’s torso and placed her small hands against his slim shoulders, gripping with an intensity only reserved for unruly children and rolling her precious batches of herbal soothers.

She shook him, hard and with a purpose, desperately hoping he would open his eyes and scream, tell her off, or at least…at least do something. Instead he remained lifeless, mouth slack, and as sallow as the dead themselves.

She had seen this before, she had seen this many times before.

“Oh…oh gracious, oh goodness, oh – oh shit! Oh, fuck it all!

Mrs. Hudson took off like a rocket, vacating her place at the bed to shoot towards the door and the fancy light switch only recently upgraded. Underneath the main button for the lights was a small and prominently displayed blue button demonstrably labelled ‘emergency.’

She ground her thumb on the button frantically, hoping against hope that the team would come swiftly and she wouldn’t have to explain to Dr. Mortimer how her charge had managed to cock everything up and zone within four hours of landing himself at Serenity Cottage.

When her young man woke up, she was going to kill him.


 

Sherlock closed the door to his monstrous library, once more relishing his time alone in his mind palace to properly analyse and categorise the events of the last few days. They had been unpleasant and frightfully dull, with more visits from Mycroft than he even cared to truly mention. Perhaps he could just delete those bits, surely one more memory of his stuffy, obsequious, and overzealous older brother wouldn’t go amiss if he just…binned it in the dirty skip just outside his mind palace labelled ‘Lardcroft.’

Decision made, he swanned towards the exit, his virtual Belstaff fanning out dramatically behind him as it was wont to do in his mind. He always did cut a rather dashing figure, to himself.

This was all before he noticed an intrusive figure, and certainly not one of his own making, lurking about the foyer. She was a young woman, relatively pretty (though a bit large in the teeth), with caramel-coloured skin and thick, curly hair looped through an elastic practically stretched to the limits of its endurance. She noticed his presence at once, an earnest and severe look settling upon her face.

“Mr. Holmes, I need you to – to follow me right now please.”

She sounded quite sure of herself, regardless of the stuttering, and reached a finely boned hand towards him.

Sherlock was nonplussed. What the hell was a stranger doing here in his mind palace? And why did she look so worried? Her presence was – was extremely unwelcome and uncalled for. How dare this woman insert herself into his psyche without so much as a never-you-mind? He was sorely tempted to forcefully eject her from his precious palace, just as sure as he – oh…oh, wait a moment.

Wait just one goddamn minute.

Sherlock took in her face, her body language, her expression and all the curves and dips and planes of her bones and connective tissues. For someone to just show up in his mind palace, anyone at all, was an anomaly. His shields were impenetrable, thick, and as mind-bendingly complex as any Tower-trained Sentinel. This had never happened before and he would make damn sure it would never happen again, if he could manage it.

“Who are you? What is your name?”

“My name is Sally Donovan. I am a Master Guide employed by the Serenity Cottage and believe you to be in great danger. Your handler found you unresponsive in your room just a few moments ago. Please, take my hand and I will help you escape this construct if I can.”

Guide? Construct? Construct? His mind palace was no construct! His mind palace was a meticulously planned and crafted mnemonic device he had spent most of his life building and solidifying. For this, this trespasser to assume he was somehow trapped in a structure of his own making was…was…

…completely within reason, knowing where he was and why he was there.

He breathed in deeply, allowing a look of terror and utter helplessness to overtake his frame. He became at once smaller, broken, and stammering. The physical and emotional transformation was exceptional, and worthy of a BAFTA or two, at least.

“Y-yes, I…I don’t know what happened.” He warbled, wringing his hands through his hair like some sixth former explaining to his parents why he’d failed his maths exam. “Only I was conscious one moment, staring at the ceiling above my bed…there was a most unusual stain… a-and then I found myself here the next.”

The young woman nodded in understanding. “We can’t always explain it either, every mind is different, but if you’ll please come with me, sir.” There was something forceful in her tone, as if she was a person used to getting her way, or used to being followed.

“Of course! Of course!” He took her hand in his, wincing at the touch. He wasn’t exactly big on the physicality of the commoners, of how much they needed to touch and pet and soothe. He would rather a moment’s peace and a hot, hard hit of heroin than any soppy, forced display of humanity others were so fond of. But he would allow this, just for a moment, if only to continue this charade.

Sally brushed a warm hand against his cheek in a moment of unexpected and impromptu camaraderie, Sherlock’s crocodile tears were enough to fool even the most suspicious of persons, and they seemed to be working quite well against Ms. Donovan.

“It’ll be alright. Just follow me.”

And Sherlock did, wiping his face with a triumphant grin once her back was finally turned.


 

When he finally emerged, it was as if he was rising upwards through dense and murky salt water, his mind grasping and flailing as the rippling, opalescent waveforms heralded his arrival from his mind palace to proper consciousness. Then, he was assaulted with bright pinpoints of light hovering dizzyingly only centimetres from his pupils. He balked, of course, as would any man who came to from meditation and mind cataloguing would. What was wrong with these people?

He became immediately aware that he was still lying on the same hideously uncomfortable mattress he remembered laying down upon, and wasn’t that just a travesty.

But the people, all of the people. His room was stuffed full with medical personnel, by the looks of them (one man cheating on his wife, the other a closeted homosexual, the next suffering from a gambling problem). Christ, the amount of data bombarding his system was sufficient enough to throw a lesser Sentinel into a profound zone, but that wasn’t the case here - nor would it ever be. Sherlock had never once in his life zoned (how dreadfully dull would that be), and he didn’t plan on starting now, regardless of what these cretins thought.

However, the only logical course of action, at this point, was to continue to play along. Sherlock was a consummate actor, and convincing a few simple Apprentice Guides (besides Sally) and Journeyman Sentinels that he was just a victim of his exceptional gifts was no difficult task.

Affecting a tremulous smile, he followed all of their ridiculous orders, including sticking out his tongue, sitting upright, and reacting to every command given during his neurological tests. For someone of his intelligence, it was no great feat to fudge a few of the results and watch with glee as the medics furrowed their brows and spoke lowly amongst each other. Sally Donovan was included in the hushed conversations, absently rubbing the side of her temple as if fighting off a massive headache.

Sherlock had no doubt it was caused by her forceful emergence into his mind palace. She was a formidable Guide indeed, as she was the first person in his entire life to successfully break through his mental shields and reach his palace.

Sherlock also noticed, after the small group of emergency personnel eventually deemed him well enough for now (but more testing would be needed tomorrow, of course), that Sally kept glancing above his bed curiously, as if searching for something.


 

“You gave me an awful fright you did, Sherlock! Is it alright if I call you Sherlock? Sometimes your types tend to be so stuffy and downright constipated. My last charge, oh he was a –”

“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock is fine.” Sherlock accepted the steaming cup of tea the annoyingly chatty elderly woman thrust in his face. Constipated? He frowned and sighed inwardly, just knowing by the scent and colour that there was entirely too much milk and not nearly enough sugar. Disgusting.

She sat beside him on the granite slab currently known as his bed and smoothed out her skirts.

“I’m Martha Hudson. I’ll be your handler while you’re staying here at the Cottage. We didn’t get a chance to introduce ourselves earlier, what with you being all naughty and zoning before I could even scold you for throwing your clothes about.”

Sherlock sipped his tea with a grimace and thought of at least 37 different ways of escaping and/or convincing the gossipy septuagenarian to leave off and give him a moment’s peace.

“There’s still time for dinner of course, if you’re hungry, and you do look a bit peaky –”

Sherlock gulped the last of the steaming tea in one large mouthful, burnt tongue be damned, and slammed it back down on the wooden tray, much to Mrs. Hudson’s dismay.

What,” he barked, quite suddenly, his every word enunciated so there could be no confusion as to the question, “exactly is the point of you?”

But she was having none of it, apparently, and it seemed it would take more than a few sulky grumblings to put off one Martha Hudson.

She tsked in a motherly way, roaming one soft hand against his sweaty brow.

“You poor dear, so far away from home, and you’ve just come back from a zone…I know what’ll fix you right up. Don’t you worry about dinner, dear, I’ve some biscuits squirrelled away for special occasions.” She leant in, patting his cheek conspiratorially. “But don’t tell that Mrs. Whitney, she looks down upon having a bit of vittles in the rooms, mice and all that.”

Sherlock blinked once at the woman, noticing for the first time the strength of her spirit. It went against everything he’d hoped for in this place but, perhaps, if he was careful enough, he’d find himself an ally in this vivacious and rather talkative lady.

“Um, yes, well…do you have Hob Nobs?” He looked up at her expectantly, allowing a flicker of hope to gleam in his multi-coloured eyes (women seemed to like that).

She rewarded him with an indulgent smile and picked at her sleeves. “That and more, my boy, I’ll just be a moment.” And with that, she exited the room in a rustle of stockings and gauzy swishes of her skirts.

The young Sentinel allowed himself a moment, a very, very small moment of warmth to seep its way into the empty hollow of his chest. He thought of Mrs. Hudson’s genuine smile, the way her face lit up, wrinkles and all, when she realised Sherlock wasn’t just her charge, but someone to be guided and taken care of. He thought, perhaps, he might like her after all (might, might, being the operative word).


 

Dr. Stapleton’s office was sparsely decorated. A handsome wooden desk dominated the edge of the east wall with two tall standing lamps situated on each side like low-lit bookends. They were brass, antique, and indicative of the American 1940’s art deco style. They cast a warm glow, the diffuse light sending most of the room into hazy shadow and soft edges. Sherlock sat across from the desk in a chair that was probably uncomfortable on purpose (was any of the furniture pleasant in this place?), anxious, impatient, and thoroughly disgusted by the sniffling and sneezing woman sat behind the desk.

Stapleton herself was as unremarkable as her dull office, her dishwater blonde hair hung in perfectly straight hanks down to her upright shoulders. Her complexion begged for sun, while her watery eyes and reddened nose indicated she was fighting a head cold of some sort (could be seasonal allergies, with the time of year and relative flora, judging from the lack of recent rain and stiff westerly wind, could be pollen, but also most likely a head cold from the greenish tinge to the mucus collecting on the ratty tissue, off-brand, over used – )

“Mr. Holmes,” she sniffed, pulling out a small bottle of nasal spray from the topmost drawer. “I trust you know why it is I have called you here?”

“You’ve called me here to tell me I will be receiving the treatment as soon as possible, if not for my own safety but for your reputation as well. Surely it doesn’t look well on an expensive retreat such as this to have its newest guest zone within an hour of arriving. What will the patrons think?” He smiled brightly then, a little too brightly, his grin wide and sharp enough to sink through bones.

If Dr. Stapleton found his smile to be unnerving, she didn’t show it. She only sniffed daintily as she squirted two puffs of medicine into each nostril, then replaced the small bottle from whence it came.

“It’s not standard protocol, of course, but considering your background and the strength of your talents, the board voted to proceed right away. You’re scheduled for the procedure tomorrow morning.” She shuffled a few papers around on her desk, dabbing at her raw nose with the same damp and crumpled tissue from before.

“Do you have any questions for me? Most Sentinels we treat here tend to have a bit of anxiety about the treatment.”

Sherlock thought about that ridiculous question for a moment. Of course he had questions. For all of recorded history Sentinels and Guides had been forced to bond sexually in order to prevent madness and degradation of their minds, and how this seemingly meek and…and infectious woman had managed to sidestep such a basic human urge was the biggest question of them all. But he couldn’t just come at her like that. He had to be subversive, and a little less keen.

Perhaps the smile had been too much. He was never very good at interacting with other people. That had always been Mycroft’s area.

“I do admit I have my – some doubts, of course, Dr. Stapleton. What are the chances it will be successful? Has it ever failed?” Regardless of Sherlock’s attitude, the questions were genuine.

She smiled then, placing both her hands in front of her, and cleared her throat. “We have a 93% success rate with primary implantation. Secondary implantation, though far more rare, is much lower, at 60%. If neither works, then the treatment is unsuccessful and you are counselled on other options available to you here at Serenity Cottage – surrogate Guides and the like.”

“How many times have you failed?” Sherlock leaned in, eager, and filing away everything she mentioned for further study later.

“Only once.” She frowned with obvious regret. “But I believe that case had its own problems, even from the beginning.”

“And so you’re promising me, that after the procedure, I can live my life free of the threat of zoning and without having to form a bond with a Guide, is that correct?” Sherlock was disgusted at the idea of bonding, of all those fluids being exchanged. He’d never found anyone remotely intelligent or handsome enough to even be tempted, and he was certain he never would.

“Yes, of course.”

“How exactly do you do it?” Scientists and Tower Specialists had been trying for decades to develop treatments such as this, to very little success; he had to know what made this procedure so unique.

“Ah.” She splayed her hands across the desk, further inoculating the surface with bacterial plague, no doubt. “I can’t tell you that. It’d be giving away all my secrets.” She moved her hand towards a small mug laden with an amalgamation of pens, scissors, and pencils, before plucking out one pencil and holding upright, eraser in the air. “But, I can tell you that the implant is the size of a pencil eraser, and is inserted in the lower back atop the cauda equina…are you familiar with anatomy, Mr. Holmes?”

He snorted. How dare she question his obviously incomparable intelligence?

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She chuckled, moving her head side to side as if she found Sherlock’s behaviour thoroughly amusing. “As you know, the cauda equina enervates the lower part of the body, as well as the genitalia. In earlier trials, we experimented with placing the implant in other areas along the spinal cord, but this was the most effective. I think it has something to do with the sexual nature of Sentinel/Guide pair bonding. But who knows really.” She smiled a bit, self-deprecatingly. “We can pretend all we like that we know what’s actually going on in our bodies, but in the end, it’s all just a big mystery most of the time.”

Sherlock wasn’t entirely sure he was comfortable with a scientist who was prepared to implant something into his spine despite having overtly admitted she wasn’t sure why the implant worked as well as it did. But, according to Mycroft, he didn’t have much of a choice.

“What time is the procedure?”

Chapter Text

“John!”

Harry’s voice was insistent but indistinct, a muffled curse amongst the deafening noise of the compound. John shouldered it off with a twitch, a shrug borne of biting, searing emotional pain. In his very hands (both warm palms splayed across her stilled and cooling cheeks) lay his bonded.

Mary Watson, the beautiful blonde he remembered with a flurry of warm smiles, coquettish flutters of eyelashes, and now blue, bloodless lips, lay motionless in his grasp. John’s helmet slipped down upon his forehead, riding the wave of sweat coating his skin. His hands began to tremble, fingers almost seizing against his beloved’s skull, leaving subtle tremors against the pads of her cheekbones.

“Mary!” He cried in a voice choked with terrible desperation, “Jesus Christ, Mary please.”

But she lay unresponsive as one claret drop of blood from the lethal gash in her forehead stained the outside corner of her left eye a deep, rusted red. There was no reaction – no rapid blinking, no unconscious jerk of the head to an alien substance finding its way into her eye. She was utterly and deathly still, head cradled in the John’s dirty hands.

John! Dammit, you fucking – we need to get out of here, this is all fucked – John!” Harry tugged at his Captain’s Kevlar vest, twisting and pulling on the protective gear, much like a young child tugs on their mum or dad when desperately trying to get their way.

Get off me!” John thundered, an inordinate amount of venom colouring his words. He wasn’t interested in the mission anymore. He wasn’t interested in anything when Mary’s body was limp and heartbreakingly boneless next to him – death exerting its greedy and covetous influence in her sweet, clear green eyes. Somewhere in the back of his mind, where poisonous and vengeful thoughts lived, John couldn’t help but listen to the whispers that this was his fault, that he should have known, that he’d failed his Sentinel…

…and all around him the shells rained down like terrifying, hellish Armageddon.

A fire-burst to his left threw sparks against the side of his face – glowing embers – but he barely felt the suffocating heat. The licks and spurts of the flames too close against his cheeks were inconsequential when he held the body of his dead wife in his arms, his Sentinel, and Heaven help those who would take her from him.

Of course, he would have stayed…he would have fought as every last inhale invited a smouldering miasma of flames into his lungs.

But, like many things when one is a member of Her Majesty’s military, he was not allowed to sit still and die. A decision was made for him, whether he agreed with it or not. Louis and Harry clutched the sides of their helms, listening to the rapid, audio correspondence that was naught more than a buzzing of static in John’s ear (Mary’s grin radiant and wide in her face, teeth straight and beautiful, eyes squinting shut with the force of her resplendent smile). Then they moved, each burly man grasping one of John’s arms, clutching at the base of the shoulders and dragging the man bodily away from his deceased love.

His response was immediate and visceral. It was fortunate that both men were under the expectation that Captain John H. Watson would fight tooth and nail, that he would bite and scratch and scream against his forceful removal from Lt. Mary Watson – because that is exactly what he did.

Meanwhile, the halls echoed with sound, merging with the percussive blasts and deafening outbursts of their enemy. The ground and doors vibrated with the strength of the explosions and the wailings of the dead and dying.


 

Jacqui sat across from him, one long, pale leg swung over the other, a veritable picture of casual and blithely interested ease. She had long ago ceased to scribble in her notebook, and now the end-tip of her pen lay snug against her small bottom lip.

“It’s well-documented John, and not exactly surprising, given your history.”

The greying blond snorted, running a finger across his brow and thoughtfully scratching an errant itch at his temple.

“Right, as if being invalided out of the military and losing my bonded Sentinel wasn’t enough, now this.” His tone was low and defeated as he sat in the reclining chair, feet curled in towards one another on the floor, soles touching.

“Have you gone to see someone? A specialist maybe?”

“No. No, I –” he paused for a long moment, distracted as the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner counted down the final minutes of his session. “No. I can’t, I just…can’t.”

“Have you reconsidered the blog?” Now the pen moved in one graceful arc down towards the lined paper pad on her lap. “I honestly believe it will help you.”

“Yeah, actually,” he inhaled, just a rush of air to artfully cover his lie, “actually, that bit’s going pretty good.”

“So you’ve started a blog after all?” She raised an eyebrow, the pen moving in long swoops upon the page – scratching.

“You just wrote ‘still has trust issues.’”

She looked up at him, not missing a beat, “and you read my notes upside down.”

John clasped his hands in his lap before releasing them and anxiously knuckling one hand into each other. He was embarrassed…more than embarrassed, he was ashamed.

“Do you see what I mean, John?” She was a credit to her profession, this Jacqui, as the question was delivered with quiet care and deliberately free of any reprimand or judgment.

He stayed quiet, rubbing the soles of his shoes against each other, staring at the ground. The tightness in his chest, the vice around his ribcage was a sentient, horrid thing – and he waited (still he was waiting), on the day he’d wake up and finally have the courage to end this pointless charade of life.

Things had not got better since they let him out of hospital. At this point, he seriously doubted they ever would.

It was a great joke actually…well he was the great joke. Since Mary’s death, since the injury to his shoulder not long after, he’d spent his life slogging behind a veil of depression and Sensory Impotence. There were several ways to be impotent, if one held true to the definition of the word (he always preferred Oxford English to Merriam Webster), and he seemed to have inherited all but the overt physical aspects. His daily life, the random, electrical contractions that propelled his heart and mind, was stuck in a mephitis of over-steeped tea, cheap jumpers, and a muteness of mind that left him bereft and hopeless. He couldn’t feel anymore, he couldn’t sense anymore, he couldn’t Guide anymore, and thoughts of sexual relations (while possible, at least that still worked) he regarded with a level of disgust that surprised even himself.

John just couldn’t find the strength of will to care. He didn’t care about himself, he didn’t care about his life, and he just…didn’t care.

“John?” Jacqui prompted, worried wrinkles appearing at the corners of her mouth. She was a lovely woman…perhaps a little bossy.

“John, I know you’re not taking this seriously, but I believe writing down everything that happens to you in a blog will help you.”

The Guide laughed – a thin and bitter sound.

“Nothing ever happens to me.”


 

Beads of sweat collected at his temples and dropped – drop after drop – staining the gown of the young man suffering under John’s punishing chest compressions.

He’d no idea how this had gone so wrong.

It was a routine procedure for him by now, and though the gunshot wound to his shoulder caused a discouraging, intermittent tremor to his left (dominant) hand, the assisting robotics more than made up for his shortcomings. He’d pioneered the entire program himself, actually, though he preferred to not be listed on the brochure. The entire idea of bonding without actually bonding was something that appealed to him on a base level after he’d lost Mary in Afghanistan.

Now, the poor bastard on the table would be the next to pay for John’s shortcomings.

“I’m sorry sir, I – I don’t know how this happened.” The diminutive nurse next to him was about two seconds away from a panic attack, meanwhile the scrub tech readied to continue compressions after John let off in about thirty seconds.

“Now is not the time Margie.” His tone was firm but not condescending, one breath huffing after another. “One milligram epinephrine, if you please.”

John was familiar with the ALS guidelines and their stance on drug administration during cardiac arrest, but he held to his Army training, and while Margie might have given him a bit of leery side-eye, she did as she was told.

The atmosphere in the room was calm but rife with tension, as if everyone inside was inhaling and holding their breaths, unsure of whether actual breathing was advisable. The entire team came highly qualified, all of them were licensed in ALS, and half of them were medics and A&E nurses looking for something a little less intense. Unfortunately, today wasn’t their day.

John switched off to the scrub tech Casey, while Margie pushed the Adrenalin and Jade prepared another syringe of adrenalin. He placed the defibrillator pads in their places (upper right, lower left), as Casey continued his compressions and turned the dial to 150 Joules.

Stop,” John watched the defibrillator’s on screen EKG rhythm as Casey immediately tensed, “analyzing.”

The moment hung in the air, no one moved. Behind John, Gloria scratched at her sheet, recording the code as effortlessly as sending a Snapchat.

Asystole, fuck, go on Casey.” The tech continued compressions as Amy, the anaesthesiologist, ventilated manually, squeezing the sickly green bag every thirty compressions. John sniffed, his face settling into a mask of anger and determination, he’d be damned if his patient, naught much more than a child, died on him today.

He didn’t know much about him, this Sherlock Holmes (ridiculous name, that), but he was supposed to be exceptional.

Well, he’d continue to be exceptional – John would make well sure of it.

Time invariably moved on – on with their forced breaths, their awful rib-splintering compressions, and their wide-eyed gazes, each person tilting on a quiet edge, blood pressure high, and ready for damn near anything. It was a credit to their training that the code had gone smoothly so far, and after two more minutes (more amiodarone, and another dose of epinephrine), John had them all step back and analyze the heartrate once more.

Success, sort of.

“V-tach,” Gloria breathed, “thank Christ.”

“Don’t thank him yet. Charging,” John depressed the grey button on the machine, hearing the familiar high-pitched beeping as it prepared to shock, “move away, everyone. Are we all clear?

Four pale faces nodded as one.

“Shocking,” John watched as the current tore through the slender man, his muscles seizing ever so slightly with the electricity, “go on Casey.”

The cycle continued, each person playing their part with understated efficacy. John was grateful for them all, and he even allowed a glimmer of hope to nestle deep inside his abdomen. Mr. Holmes might come through this after all.

After the second shock showed sinus tachycardia (something manageable, thank God), and the ensuing successful intubation, they all allowed themselves a moment of blessed relief. Amy checked and rechecked the settings on the vent, before turning to John, her curly blonde hair falling into her eyes.

“What the hell happened?”

John swiped a hand over his forehead, feeling a wave of fatigue crash over his body. Everyone always underestimated how exhausting high-quality chest compressions could be.

“No idea, my only guess is he had some kind of reaction to the implant, though for the life of me I can’t imagine why. All the tests showed at least a 75% compatibility between his genome and the donor.”

Casey’s warm hand squeezed John’s arm, offering the surgeon an encouraging smile as he picked up all the trash and offending detritus from the patient’s emergent intubation.

“Margie, I’m going to want some blood drawn, maybe we can find out what happened. It’s – it’s almost as if he rejected the implant,” he sighed, pulling off his gloves. “But I’ve never seen it done so quickly, and there was no indication…none at all…”

Gloria stepped forward then, heels clicking. “He has a…Mycroft Holmes listed as his emergency contact sir. I have his number here.” She handed him a bright pink post-it note that would have been amusing had the situation been any different.

“Thank you,” John took the note from the woman and turned towards Amy once more, “keep him sedated for now, Fentanyl and Midaz. In the meantime I need to talk to John and find out what the hell he wants to do. We don’t have a lot of options. The cauda equina will be entirely too bruised and inflamed after this, we’ll have to wait until he heals or try again somewhere else.”

They nodded their understanding, and as John left the room, the rapid staccato of Mr. Holmes’ 125 beats per minute offered little comfort .


 

“As you can see, Mr. Holmes, we’ve spared no expense with our facilities. Our equipment meets all CQC qualifications, and then some. So you can rest assured your brother is in excellent hands.”

Dr. John Barrymore was a tall man, almost on level with Mycroft himself, but carried with him a breadth of bearing that hinted at a quiet, quiescent power. As Mycroft made his way down the myriad hallways, each echoing step reminding him of the years he spent working in the august presence of Her Majesty, he took in the clean, sterile atmosphere.

“And is my brother to receive the treatment? I was informed there was an…incident.” It didn’t take much more than a slight pause in his words to convey the gravity of his message, if there was one thing Mycroft Holmes took quite seriously, it was the health and welfare of his baby brother.

“As we speak,” Dr. Barrymore drew his hands behind him, a posture of deference, though Mycroft was a man not easily fooled.

“May I see him?”

Dr. Barrymore paused for moment, his face pompous and knowing, before turning a corner into another whitewashed hallway. “I don’t think that would be wise. The procedure is delicate and even one slight misstep could cause irreparable damage to his nervous system.”

They soon came upon a door, not white like the others, but a warm, sandy brown indicative of birch or oak. It was a strange, almost naturalistic departure from the aseptic interior of the facility, and Dr. Barrymore opened the way and ushered him inside a small office, apparently his own.

It couldn’t have been more different from what he’d seen thus far. The floor was a polished walnut, scuffed and well-worn, and the massive desk in the center was surrounded by shelves brimming with books upon books, and several colossal autobiographies of Margaret Thatcher (of all people).

The man lowered himself into the chair, grinning at Mycroft like the cat who’d got…well, not the cream, but perhaps a copious bag of catnip.

Mycroft remained standing, preferring his stature and umbrella to do the talking for him.

“If you don’t mind…I’d very much like to forego all appearances, now that we are alone. What designs do you have on my brother…and no, don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You know who I am, don’t lie, it won’t work.”

It seemed Dr. Barrymore would dissemble, like his bravado might crumble under the oily façade of pretentiousness, and he might even raise his heels to rest against the polished walnut of his desk, if it weren’t for the loud – very, very loud – alarm that suddenly flooded the entire building.

Code Blue, procedure room three. Code Blue, procedure room three. Code Blue, procedure room three.

Through the cracked open door, Mycroft saw a young, blonde haired nurse take off down the hallway. He could just see the swirl of her hair as she passed, a flurry of clogs and stethoscope. He quickly returned his sharp gaze to Barrymore, who looked more frightened than anything.

“That better be some other poor soul, or I’ll see you groveling at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Do you understand?” Mycroft straightened, cowing the man with the strength of his presence.

“Y-yes Mr. Holmes, I – I’m sure it’s no-one – “

The same blonde haired nurse returned, breathing frantically, so much so that Mycroft thought she might pass out.  But she finally caught her breath, face tense with bad news. “Dr. Barrymore, It’s Mr. Holmes in room three, Dr. Watson is attending.”

Dr. Barrymore risked a glance to the taller man and met nothing but an expression of thunderous rage. “And who exactly, is Dr. Watson?”

Chapter Text

Mycroft waited, ever so patiently, the blunt tip of his umbrella resting on the wooden floor. This supposed “Doctor” Watson was to come through the door of Dr. Barrymore’s office any moment now, and if he was a God-fearing man, he’d arrive with a damn good reason why his baby brother’s initial implantation failed.

Not only failed, but almost cost Sherlock his life.

Behind his desk, Dr. Barrymore sat strictly upright, beads of sweat on his brow and lines of worry blatant on his flushed face. Mycroft had already listened to his excuses, albeit a bit distractedly. Sherlock had been thoroughly screened for allergies and rare genetic issues before the procedure, so this complication was absolutely unexpected. Mycroft considered himself a reasonable man, and it would be ill-advised for him to blame the Cottage entirely. Even unconscious, Sherlock still managed to make a cock-up of things (another one of his many talents).

Still, he wasn’t above letting the fawning man fret.

After a long few moments the door opened and a man, relatively short by modern English standards, came through, looking harried and dishevelled. His name badge clung tenaciously to a white lab coat and he moved forward, introducing himself with little aplomb.

“Dr. John Watson,” he smiled, though it was forced and didn’t quite reach his dark blue eyes.

Mycroft deigned to return the offered hand, though he did not rise from his seat. Barrymore shifted behind his desk, nervous and hyper alert, clearing his throat as the Dr. Watson sat down and made himself more comfortable.

“John,” Barrymore began, “this is Mr. Holmes, that is, Mycroft Holmes –”

“Mr. Holmes,” Barrymore’s puerile introduction was interrupted by John himself, one hand rubbing over his brow. “This would have been better had we met under different circumstances? Christ.”

“No, just Mycroft, if you please – no need to invoke an ages old deity for my sake,” his smile was false, patently false, and not unlike a tiger showing his most valuable asset, his teeth.

John sat in the unoccupied chair, throwing a glare at Barrymore that was truly monstrous. After that, he seemed to gather himself, before turning back to Mycroft, putting on the bravest of faces.

“What happened today…you should know that –“

“I understand Dr. Watson, my younger brother was very low risk, so please, do release yourself of any undue responsibility. I know how dangerous and critical these procedures can be.”

Dr. Watson seemed to relax a bit before plunging his hand in his coat pocket, pulling out a set of wrinkled notes.

“I don’t even know how to explain it. I have the utmost faith in our procedure. We’ve done this dozens of times and nothing like this has ever happened – at least not to my knowledge.” He unfolded the clump of papers on the desk, smoothing out the wrinkles with a practised hand. “We have had other complications of course, but nothing quite like this. I’m…at a loss.”

Mycroft kept his eyes locked entirely on John, forgetting momentarily the simpering puddle that was Dr. Barrymore. His hair was a light brown, in certain lights perhaps blond, with a smattering of grey that leant him a learned air. He had the countenance of one who’d seen a great manner of things, both good and ill, and though his shoulders were slight, they seemed strong and steady.

A military man, perhaps?

Dr. Watson slid the flattened (but still quite rugose) pile of papers in his direction, obviously meaning for him to take a look, which he would do, in time.

“A cup of coffee wouldn’t go amiss, Dr. Barrymore, if you’d be so kind?”

Dr. Barrymore veritably jumped from his chair, stammering more nonsensical apologies and upsetting a rather large stack of folders on his desk. They tilted, tipped, and then quickly fell to the ground in a fantastic display of gravity and air resistance, the papers flipping and sliding on air currents down to the floor. Dr. Barrymore’s face turned maroon, a quite alarming colour for a fully grown man, and he hastily gathered up the guts of each folder before dashing out the door for the requested coffee.

“A bit excitable, is he not?” Mycroft’s grin held a smidge of actual mirth this time.

Dr. Watson returned his grin, the tension in his frame relaxing only slightly. “Honestly, right now I can’t say I blame him.”

“So tell me Dr. Watson –“

“John, please just call me John.”

“Very well then, John, what is your explanation for today’s failure?”

“I wish I could say,” he sighed, tapping one finger against the papers, “according to our compatibility charts, this should have worked.”

Now Mycroft finally spared the papers a dubious glance.

“You’re familiar with Shopley’s Sentinel/Guide gene mapping grid, right?”

He was, but only passingly so. Most of the civilized world was familiar with the extensive research performed by the Human Genome Project. The day Celia Shopley discovered and accurately mapped the chromosome containing the mutated genes for Sentinel and Guide abilities was the day she secured herself a Nobel Prize. That was a decade ago, and since then great strides had been made in Sentinel/Guide medicine, the implantation process being the newest and most exciting.

Still, he thought it might be more interesting to feign a bit of ignorance.

“Why don’t you enlighten me?”

Dr. Watson inhaled, as if readying himself for quite a lecture, then, thinking better of it, pointed to the papers. “I won’t bore you with specifics, but as you can see, there are six distinct Sentinel genes on Chromosome 13. Chromosome 12 has several more as well, but you need only have one gene activated to develop Sentinel abilities. However, the more activated genes, the stronger the senses. Your brother has the most activated Sentinel genes on both Chromosomes I’ve ever seen without serious consequences.”

Now, this was new information – consequences?

Mycroft must have looked disquisitive, because Dr. Watson chose to elaborate on his previous statement. “Just think about it this way: too much of a good thing isn’t always best. I’ve known of one other Sentinel of Sherlock’s strength, possibly stronger, and he was barely sane…even on a good day.”

“Who was this other Sentinel?” Mycroft was interested, intrigued even. He’d never known anyone as gifted as Sherlock, and he couldn’t help but feel fiercely proud and (dare he even think it) a bit competitive.

“I’m…not at liberty to say, but I can tell you the procedure failed him as well.”

“So, you think Sherlock will not benefit from this treatment at all?” He raised his brows, questioning.

“No, no…but, I think we need to find a new Guide donor. “

Silence.

“Come again?”

“Chromosome 13 holds the genes for Sentinels and Guides. There are a great many more Guide genes than Sentinel, and most are recessive, which accounts for the greater number of Sentinels than Guides in the population. We’re not exactly sure why that is, or why there are so many more Guide genes…but we do know that only certain Sentinels can bond with certain Guides, depending on their gene expressions. They have to be compatible, otherwise the genetic information is rejected and no bond is formed. You still with me?”

Of course Mycroft was still with him. Who did he think he was, some kind of attention challenged sixth former?

“You have my utmost attention, Dr. Watson.”

“I know this information is dry, but I am going somewhere with all of this.” Dr. Watson flipped through several of the pages until he landed on one showing a large, multi-coloured grid. “This is Shopley’s compatibility chart. It shows the various combinations of gene expressions that are compatible between Sentinels and Guides. It seems a bit complex, I know, but there is a method to the madness. The most common pairings are easy to identify, and we have Guide donors readily available for those Sentinels that have only one or two Sentinel genes activated.”

“Let me guess, the more activated genes, the less likely it is to find a suitable Guide donor.”

Dr. Watson nodded his head. “We only have one Guide available for the rarer gene expressions, and according to our calculations, the procedure had a 75% chance of being successful.”

“Only 75%?”

Dr. Watson scoffed, “I don’t know if you’re a gambling man Mr. Holmes, but 75% is quite significant. We expected to succeed, and even still, the implant was in his body for no more than a few minutes before he started showing symptoms of an adverse reaction.”

Their conversation lulled, each man busy with their own thoughts when Dr. Barrymore finally arrived with the coffee. It hadn’t been very long, but Mycroft felt it bordered on a lifetime. He accepted the cup with an elegant ‘thank you’, and turned back to Dr. Watson.

“What’s the next step then?”

Dr. Barrymore’s eyes drifted over the crumpled papers, then back to John.

“We’ll try again of course, possibly in a different area of the body.” Barrymore swung his gaze round to Mycroft, visibly eager to appease the man. “It would take weeks to locate another suitable donor, but luckily, ehm…we have another one already. The rarest match of all, so there’s little chance the second procedure will fail.”

Dr. Watson shot Barrymore a glance so venomous Mycroft was surprised he managed to stay sitting in the chair. Truly, these two men were as easy to read as schoolchildren.

He couldn’t say why Dr. Watson favoured the man with such a look, only that his time was valuable and he’d already wasted an entire afternoon in this place. He was assured Sherlock was fine, and was due to make a full recovery, with the added bonus of an alternative treatment, and really, that was all he cared about. The power play between these two lesser men was beneath him.

He cleared his throat.

“Gentlemen, I’ll take my leave, if you don’t mind. I have a very many pressing matters to see to, and if you can assure me of my brother’s continued health…” The tone of his voice left little argument for a response.

“Yes, yes of course Mr. Holmes, he will be right as rain soon, you’ll see.” Dr. Barrymore grabbed Mycroft’s hands, unsolicited, and gave them a few uncouth pumps before manhandling him towards the door.

Mycroft was more than happy to leave. Dr. Barrymore was probably the least affable man he’d ever met, and as the unofficial leader of the United Kingdom, he’d met with a great deal of boorish characters in his time.

He allowed himself to be ushered unceremoniously out of the room, then out of the small building in exactly the same way he came in. The air outside was fresh and clean, stirring about his person with a touch a lavender. He took a few steps out towards the packed dirt driveway, peering in the distance at the main building of Serenity Cottage proper and shook his head.

Johnson held his door open, the man himself quiet and efficient in his ways. Mycroft only needed to tap his umbrella once on the glass partition to indicate he wished to return to London.

He sighed, flipping open his laptop, if only all things in life were so easy.


 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” John rounded on Dr. Barrymore immediately after Mycroft made his exit, eyes narrowed and lips pulled back in a tight, ugly smile. “I already told you I would never donate again. Ever.”

“John, I –”

“I fucking meant it, you wanker!”

He rushed forward, muscles taught, till he grasped the collar of Barrymore’s overpriced polyester travesty of a shirt between his knuckles. He backed him up against his own bookshelves so quickly the many Margaret Thatcher themed tomes wobbled in their rows.

“What the bloody hell are you playing at Barrymore? We had a deal!”

“John – John, wait…let me explain, please!”

“You have two minutes. Two minutes before I knock your teeth out and take my business elsewhere.”

Barrymore gasped and choked on his own spittle, pulling his hands up to grip John’s wrists.

“Jesus, calm down!” He managed after a moment when he’d finally caught his breath. “Hear me out, then you can decide what to do, but I beg you, two minutes is all I need.”


 

John woke in a cold sweat, blinking up at the ceiling as shadows and unwanted memories danced about the room. The dream was vague, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t been terrifying - the kind of gripping fear that seized the lungs with paralysis like he’d never breathe again.

It felt like such a long time ago…sometimes it felt like just yesterday. He was haunted, he realized (not for the first time) by the remnants of that day two years ago, of the remains of that psychopath that still clambered about in his brain. It didn’t matter how much he regretted everything he’d done, every decision he made, even ones made in good faith. He replayed every test, every genome match, and in the end, the procedure had still gone so very, horribly wrong.

John sat up in his bed, wincing as he pulled away his soaked nightshirt. He flung it away with a grimace and couldn’t be arsed to know where it landed.

The worst part of it all was that he was about to do it again. He was about to donate again, and heaven help him but he was petrified.

In the end, Barrymore had appealed to his base humanity and his highly developed code of beneficence to get him to agree. It was begrudging, but it was still true...there was no other match for Sherlock Holmes but himself, and although John feared a repeat of his first donation, he knew it would be damn near impossible for it to happen again. It couldn’t.

John wouldn’t live through it - he’d eat the barrel of his gun first.


 

John sat, hunched over his desk, rapidly flipping between several fat manila folders. Some were older, worn, with soft edges and faded names stamped on the side. One was very new and labelled ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ He’d already been through his most recent patient’s file a dozen times, but he had to be sure. He had to triple-check every test and step, every decision made.

It all looked fine, more than fine, and he allowed himself a bit of hope.

They couldn’t use the cauda equina now, of course, it was entirely too inflamed. But, there were other alternatives, though none were as successful in initial trials. Still, this was a desperate situation, and therefore John had to use every resource available.

He flipped over yet another folder, this one stacked full of spinal cord stimulator trials on various levels of nerves, all ranging from deep brain stimulation to relief of lower back pain. Both the cervical and brachial plexuses were good options...but would they stimulate the response needed to release the appropriate hormones for bonding? There was very little alternate information available since John and his team had done the bulk of the experimentation themselves, other specialists and researchers passed, feeling this unconventional new therapy was too expensive and too dangerous.

No, they would need something that stimulated either the genitals or the pleasure centre of the brain directly. There’d be no use in trying another peripheral implant as the cauda equina was by far the most successful nerve bundle used during all trials.

They’d just have to wait. Unless…unless they implanted something directly – hang on.

There was something he remembered, stuffed deep in the back of one of the older folders, research about the orbitofrontal cortex.

He considered initial implantation into this cortex during the early stages of the programme, though he’d eventually set it aside as entirely too risky. The cortex was recently found to be connected to the limbic system, the reward and pleasure centre of the brain. Others had now pioneered orbitofrontal cortex implants as cures for addiction and compulsive behaviours (including sexual urges), yet John still eschewed this type of treatment for a more peripheral approach.

But now, could he take the next step and go for a more central implantation? The younger Mr. Holmes would be the first to receive an implant for this purpose.

It would take a little more research and a few phone calls, but it could work, and while it danced dangerously near actual brain surgery, it would be no more invasive than what they’d originally attempted.

Now, John just had to come to terms with becoming a donor once more, and if it was all worth it. If the same thing happened as last time…

No. He couldn’t allow those thoughts to interfere with his work. The most important thing to focus on right now was Sherlock Holmes receiving the best and most effective treatment available for his significant talents - even if it meant running the risk of John losing himself all over again.

John closed his eyes suddenly, wincing and forcing down a familiar, intrusive flash of limpid brown eyes in his mind. The vision stung like ice, burning along his spine, a feeling he’d only assigned to dreams and flashbacks of a cruel smile but warm, damp hands.

He shivered, though he kept his room quite temperate, and pushed all thoughts of him aside.

The next step was to call Mycroft Holmes and obtain his consent – and with any luck, Sherlock Holmes would remain sedated for the next few days while John and his team worked out the kinks of the procedure, hopefully with as little additional time lost as possible.

With a sigh, he stood, gripping the folder and already envisioning how they’d approach the altered treatment, what equipment they’d need, and what a fool he was to offer himself up again, like a lamb to slaughter.


 

Mycroft Holmes sounded just as pretentious over the phone as he sounded in life. Except, for some reason, his diction was even more impossibly crisp, each word over-enunciated and grating on John’s last nerve. This was supposed to be Stapleton’s job, but since John had spearheaded the first failed implant on Holmes’ brother, he felt he owed him a more personal touch.

“As you can see, it’s…unorthodox, but I feel this is an excellent alternative.” He’d explained everything he could, going over all the planning and notes he and his team had amassed over the last few days, rushing the process, knowing every additional day Sherlock Holmes was sedated did him no favours.

The other end of the line was quiet, a little too quiet.

“Mr. Holmes?”

“Dr. Watson,” Mycroft’s voice sounded ominous, almost threatening, “did you happen to meet my brother before the procedure?”

What an odd question.

“No – no I generally don’t interact with patients at that level. The interview is usually conducted by Dr. Stapleton, or another doctor at the Serenity Cottage. Barrymore and I reside purely over the clinical aspects of the programme.”

“Then please take what I say next as a warning in the extreme. Besides myself, my brother has one of the most brilliant minds alive today. Coupled with his Sentinel abilities, there is very little he could not do.”

John blinked, was this some kind of ‘hurt my baby brother and I will destroy you’ speech?

“So, while I will give my consent to this new procedure, I do not take it lightly that the chance of nerve damage has increased exponentially, not to mention the fact that now you propose a procedure that seriously risks his most valuable asset.”

“Mr. Holmes,” John breathed, eager to allay the man’s fears. Really, the risk of damage to the cortex was extremely remote. “I have the utmost confidence –“

“Yes. You are a very confident man, Dr. Watson. You had the utmost confidence the original procedure would be a success as well.”

That was a blow, and John shifted the phone from his left hand to right, clenching his fist to stop the sudden tremors in his dominant hand.

“Believe me, sir; no one wants this to succeed more than myself.”

“Are you quite certain?”

“I am,” you insufferable prick.

“Good. That’s good.”

They both fell silent, and John reminded himself that he needed to be a bit more magnanimous when dealing with this man. He may be irritating and overbearing, but it was his little brother going under the knife yet again, John could afford to be patient and understanding.

“I understand your concerns and I’ll keep you updated every step of the way.”

The silence on the line was agonizing.

“Very well, you have my consent.”

John’s tremor stilled and he exhaled, smiling ruefully into the phone receiver and wondering if he wasn’t somehow making a deal with the devil.

“I’ll fax over the forms first this tomorrow morning, if you can return them as quickly as possible, I’d like to schedule the new procedure in the early afternoon.”

“I’ll have my assistant make it her first priority.” The man paused, and for a moment John almost expected him to end the conversation without so much as a goodbye, but he continued, “Before I let you go Dr. Watson, what can you tell me about a man named James Moriarty?”

John’s breath froze in his throat, shocked rage leaving a tight, bolus sensation that made it almost impossible to swallow.

“H-how the hell do you know that name?”

 

 

Chapter Text

The silence was deafening, and John’s entire field of vision tilted as he gripped the leathered back of his office chair, fingers diggings furrows into the headrest.

“Is there any particular reason why I should not?” Mycroft Holmes was smug, triumphant, and though John had only met him a small number of times, he could imagine the smarter-than-thou satisfaction oozing through the receiver.

“Those records are sealed and have no bearing on my current work.”

“Don’t they? I was told the inquiry has only just begun.”

His tone veritably crackled through the line, and John felt the fine hairs on his forearm rise to attention. Then suddenly – he could see him, James (Jim), sat in the same chair he now held in a death-grip, peering up him. John’s attention was fixated, Jim’s brown eyes trusting and full of the ignorant gleam of youth.

Mycroft continued.

“Dr. Watson, as a man of considerable means, there are a great many things I could do to reward you and your little retreat for a job well done. It is not my intention to bury the past, as it were, but suffice it to say that if you succeed with my brother, I will make it my personal mission to destroy any and all records involving one James Moriarty.”

“H-how…how could you possibly do that?” He’s not there, he’s not actually there, he never is…close your eyes and he’ll go away.

John did just that, clenching his eyelids together tightly as Mycroft went on.

“I have my ways. Rest assured they are entirely legal and entirely permanent. Better this than losing your license, yes?”

“I –” But Jim was scowling when John opened his eyes once more, his face taking on that heavy cast of hurt John had seen so many times. It was the same face that convinced him to go ahead with the treatment before it was properly tested, before any of them knew the actual complications. “I – no, that’s…not necessary Mr. Holmes. As unpleasant as that situation is, it was not done out of malice or malfeasance. Jim Moriarty knew what he’d signed up for.”

“Is?”

The question pulled John up short, clearing his vision, “sorry, what?”

“You said ‘is’”

“Is what?”

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to clarify, Dr. Watson. According to my records James Moriarty died by his own hand no less than eight months ago – but you said the situation ‘is’ unpleasant. Forgive me but I expect a man with a medical degree and several published articles to have a more accurate grasp of tenses.”

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck.

John ran a hand over his face, feeling the scrape of his palm over the tip of his nose. He was treading a fine line here, one moment from giving all this madness away.

“W-well, something like that stays with a person, of course.”

“Does it?”

John held back a biting retort, what was it with Mycroft Holmes and all his rhetorical question?

“I – I apologize Mr. Holmes, I am quite tired. Everyone here is stretched quite thin with trying to put this new procedure together, and I don’t mean to be rude but…I need a good night’s sleep before tomorrow.”

“Indeed,” but there was more to that one word than simple agreeance, there was an undercurrent of suspicion John couldn’t easily ignore.

“Mr. Holmes, just try to fax in the information as soon as possible. I’ll phone you if anything changes.”

“Of course, Dr. Watson,” it seemed referring to him as simply ‘John’ had gone by the wayside, “I’ll speak with you again tomorrow.”

John made to agree; he even managed to prepare a pleasant goodbye, but realized the phone line had already gone dead whilst he stared at the receiver, replaying the last few minutes of the conversation over and over again.

There was simply no way an ordinary man could have got hold of information about Jim. So what other options did that leave? Mycroft already told John he had ‘ways’ of making information disappear permanently. Was he government? A spook? SIS? MI6?

The very thought would have probably left a lesser man a little frightened, but John had more than enough experience with these supposed governmental types. In fact, he was a bit intrigued, if not also a bit put out. He was trying to save his younger brother’s life for God’s sake; he certainly didn’t need the powers that be breathing down the back of his proverbial neck.

John decided to take a deep breath and let it all go. Between Jim’s unwelcome apparition and Mycroft Holmes’ veiled threats, he’d certainly had enough emotional turmoil for one day.

On his desk, beneath a notepad of inelegant scratchings, were the plans for Sherlock Holmes’ implant. He had it all worked out, right down to the millimetre, and while he still suffered from odd pangs of errant nervousness, there was nothing more he could do right at this moment.

He pushed away the more intrusive thoughts of Jim (though, they were all fairly intrusive), and finally hung up the phone. When he removed his hand from the leather top of his office chair, he glared at the damp handprint he left behind. It was a testament to his nerves, and one more reminder of the importance of the procedure.

A young man’s life depended on it, and Doctor John Watson was nothing if not dependable.


 

He was surfacing, quickly.

The buzz in his brain was never-ending, a cottony miasma he couldn’t quite force his way through. He remembered flashes of lights, vague, blurry shapes, and a voice.  There was only one voice, a soft, warm tone that spoke only to him in kind words of reassurance and stability.

Sherlock Holmes wasn’t normally the type of person to respond to unnecessary words of comfort. Mostly, he’d shut himself down, give the speaker a certain two fingered salute and call it a day. Usually he followed any of these kinds of confrontation with a couple days of lovely, soul-affirming cocaine binges. Those were the days.

Obviously, he couldn’t do that now.

But the voice, that voice, it stayed with him…echoing down the ramshackle corridors of the dusty, lesser used wings of his Mind Palace.

This voice - it could stay. He might let it stay.

Opening his eyes proved another painful chore, much like emerging from the drug benders he loved so dearly, and when his eyes finally adjusted to the institutional glare of the indoor lighting, he realized he was still in hospital.

Well, not quite in hospital, but some kind of post-surgical ward.

Actually, ‘ward’ might not be the best term, as he was the only person to currently reside here.

Slowly, he became more aware, gaining information through his senses in an oddly sluggish stream of data. Beside his bed was some kind of…sitty thing…

Hmmm…there might be a better word for it somewhere – chair – perhaps? His current lack of grasp on the English language was hateful.

The walls were an unobtrusive beige (brown teepee? Well-bred brown?), and the incessant beeping near his head could only mean he was, in fact, still alive.

Right. Still alive then.

He pulled at the plastic contraption stuck to his face, and only then realized he face felt – odd.  He couldn’t quite pinpoint the sensation but, his face felt padded and full.

Full, as in…full – as in uncomfortably stuffed full.

He pawed at his face again, panic roaming the edges of his consciousness.

The tone of the beeping changed, escalating, reaching higher and higher and faster and faster.

Sherlock struggled against the cords and tubes haphazardly wrapped around his body, finally managing to pull away the plastic facemask, revealing his nose and mouth to the sterile air.

Gasping and gulping down huge swallows of air through his mouth, he quickly realized that was all he could do. He could not breathe through his nose. The fullness in his face reached a centre, shining point, and he flailed, sending a metallic object flying loudly to the floor.

It didn’t matter, none of it mattered.

He was choking. He couldn’t breathe – and it hurt.

His fingertips scuffed the edge of his nostrils clumsily, alighting against the rough texture of some kind of fabric, or gauze, perhaps? He pulled at the foreign substance and instantly groaned in pain.

The sensation was beyond words, as if someone was taking a long, desert dry piece of sandpaper and dragging it through his sinus cavities. He gagged, feeling nothing but an excess of saliva and bile work its way up his throat.

From the very bottom of his vision, he could see it – wrinkled, damp and bloody, it looked to be some kind of packing, and when he pulled it out completely, it uncurled from its forced compression like a viper free from its nest. He grimaced, gasping in air once more and trying to breathe again through his nose…nothing.

Sherlock reached in through one nostril and choked when he came up against something hard and long, something that felt very much like plastic or aluminium.

A sudden bang caught his attention, but he didn’t bother to look up as a quick set of footsteps made their way towards his bed.

“What the – Mr. Holmes! Stop it right now! Bloody hell –” The young nurse who just let herself through an expertly camouflaged door immediately pressed an emergency button on the wall before lunging herself at his person and gripping both his wrists.

She was deceptively strong and almost managed to subdue him before he kicked out at her chest.

Honestly, Sherlock wasn’t trying to hurt her. He just wanted her to leave him alone. He was compromised, didn’t she see?

He wanted someone to explain to him why there was gauze packing in his face, why his head felt so stuffed full that every time he swallowed it throbbed and created a vacuum in his head, and why the procedure involved his face at all when it was supposed to be an implant in his back!

The nurse grunted and swayed back dangerously before righting herself and gripping him at the wrists once more. Behind her, the door flew open and three burly aids appeared at his bedside. One was successful in securing his kicking feet, while one replaced the harried nurse. The last one brandished a syringe of a colourless liquid and hastily administered it into Sherlock’s intravenous line, flushing a few times for good measure.

He attempted to buck them all away, even as his energy diminished and he grew dizzy.

“No!” He shouted, though it was garbled and slurred. “G-get it out! I want – no…l-leave me alone. My –

“Shh, Mr. Holmes, it’s alright.” The nurse crooned, gently wiping away the sweaty hair from his forehead. Her accent was strong, possibly Mancunian, and Sherlock couldn’t quite understand why that would be important right now.

“Just calm down and go to sleep. It’s alright.” Warm hands continued to pet at the sides of his face. Somehow, it was comforting, and though he would never admit this to anyone (anyone, ever), he let himself relax against her touch.

Drowsiness washed over him, and he kept his eyes on the nurse, noting her round face, the three moles dancing beneath her lower lip. Dancing. Yes, there were dancing to a jaunty tune as she spoke, and he finally focused on them, arms and legs going slack.

“My-Mycro –”

“Shh. There’s a good lad now Mr. Holmes, off to sleep you go.”

And he did go; sleep’s tenacious fingers entwined in Sherlock’s own, locked, gripped and pulled him down into the depths of his mind.


 

“Well, that wasn't very bright. What exactly were you trying to accomplish?”

The darkness spoke to him.

“I mean, for someone who prides himself for his massive intellect, that wasn’t exactly smart. Do you do that kind of thing all the time? I might have my work cut out for me then.”

Sherlock turned around, twirling in absolute circles, confused and completely blind.

“Who’s there?” He questioned to nowhere, no-one in particular. “Who’s talking?”

In the distance, a light blinked.

“It’s me, John.”

It was the same voice as before, he remembered, the new voice. But…it sounded so far, far away.

Where was it coming from? There was nothing and no-one else here. There was nothing but the light, which blinked unerringly, a beacon in the shadows.

Gingerly, he placed one foot ahead of the other, unsure if this was real or some sort of post-operative fever dream. The light became closer, larger.

“John who?”

 “John, your Guide.”

Sherlock scoffed as he walked, “I don’t have a Guide.”

Laughter forced its way through the darkness to settle around his chest like a physical presence. Something about the tone of the voice seemed so safe, so perfect.

“Well here I am, regardless. Are you disappointed?”

“Not sure, hard to be disappointed in someone I’ve never met, though I am always open to new experiences.”

Another light laugh floated around his person, Sherlock’s lips twitched in response.

The light came closer and closer, till it was directly in front of him, a bright circle that hinted at some kind of bulb in a cylindrical tube.

Ah, of course. It was a torch.

How absolutely and disappointingly mundane – still, he could see nothing else beyond it.

“Come on then,” John’s voice cut through the silence once more, sounding amused, “there’s a door just this way, follow me.”

Sherlock did, against his better judgment, because he was curious now. The torch moved away, held by an unseen hand, shining a cone of luminescence that stretched far into the vast emptiness.

Then the light flickered off, a simple click of a button to show that this ‘John’ person found what he was looking for. It hadn’t taken very long, and the all-encompassing darkness engulfed settled back around him. Sherlock was less concerned this time. He felt inexplicably safe.

A slight creak, perhaps that of a door, broke the silence in in front of him, and before he had the chance to object, a doorway opened into the living room of his new flat at 221B Baker Street.

Though, it looked nothing like it did before.

He ogled the changes as he stepped through the strange threshold, eyes wide and mouth ever so slightly agape.

The room was cluttered, but clean in a way that suggested everything was placed just so for an exact reason. Some of the shelves were quite dusty, but this Sherlock did not mind, as dust often spoke in elegant ways that people did not.

Before the warmly crackling fireplace there were two chairs, one he recognized as his own, and the other a beaten and well-worn maroon brocade monstrosity that Sherlock had certainly never seen before in his life. It looked well-used, loved, and dented directly in the middle of its plush seat.

“I see you’ve discovered my chair.”

The Sentinel whirled towards the voice, feeling the edges of his coat flap around his calves. He saw no one, and, funny, he hadn’t noticed he was wearing his coat.

“What do you mean your chair? This is my flat, why on Earth would anything belonging to you be here.”

He moved across the rug silently, sliding the glass doorway from the living area to the kitchen aside so he could follow this disembodied voice, this ‘John.’

“Well…we’re not really at your flat of course, this is just your Mind Palace. But, I do live here now.”

This was too bizarre for words.

“I don’t tolerate intruders in my mind, nor do I tolerate imbeciles. State your purpose or get out!” Sherlock’s latent frustration reached a peak. He didn’t need an existential, pseudo-spiritual experience or revelation, if you please. He just needed the facts, the truth. Logic was his boon, his safety blanket, his protection from feelings and emotions of lesser beings. Logic protected him.

The kitchen filled with the rich smell of coffee, hot and savoury, and Sherlock turned to spy a fresh mug of the aromatic liquid sitting invitingly on his kitchen table top. Steam rose from its surface, and as he watched, the colour turned from black to creamy brown.

“I will answer all your questions in good time. Please sit, and calm down. I know you take your coffee with sugar and milk, enjoy.”

Sherlock was sceptical, and while the coffee sat their quite innocently, he couldn’t help but feel it was going to attack him somehow. Death by coffee, how very American of him.

Another small laugh, and the chair opposite the coffee pulled out slightly.

“Why can’t I see you?”

Silence.

Another coffee mugged blinked into existence…well not blinked, per se. It just – appeared one moment while Sherlock has hid eyes turned. He found this entire exchange absolutely baffling, especially to a man of logic and strict rules like himself.

The mug stayed black (no milk, no sugar), though the level drained slowly, bit by bit.

“Sorry, I – well I didn’t want to alarm you, or alert anyone else.”

He took his own seat now, across from his invisible guide who drank his own coffee, well, invisibly.

“I was never alarmed,” he gripped his mug and tasted the coffee (excellently prepared) in an effort to hide his blatant lies, “though I find myself in desperate need of an explanation. Like, who on Earth could you alert in my own mind palace but me?”

“I know it sounds strange, but I’m trying to be careful, just letting us feel each other out. You did want me here, after all.”

Then it all came to him in one great, big rush of anamnesis, a tidal wave of sounds and thoughts that fell into his consciousness all at once, yet had been there all along.

The tower, the drugs, Mycroft, the Cottage, the procedure, a guide – that was it, that was the answer to all this.

His mouth dropped open, coffee forgotten.

“Do I still need to explain myself?”

Sherlock could easily hear the smile in his unseen Guide’s words.

The Sentinel remained silent and took another sip of his coffee, it was almost perfect save for a new chemical aftertaste he didn’t remember tasting before.

“S-so it’s you then, I underwent the procedure and…now I have you.”

“More or less, though it didn’t quite turn out as it should have.”

Another sip of coffee, and another grimace at its shallow depths – something was definitely off about the flavour this time.

“You had an anaphylactic response to the initial donor’s tissue and we had to rethink the entire procedure.”

Sherlock lifted a hand to his face, feeling at his nose and nostrils in wonder.

“Ah yes, you noticed, did you? We couldn’t use the cauda equina for the second procedure due severe inflammation, so we had to improvise. It’s quite revolutionary, what you’ve got in that brain of yours now.”

A flash of anger rushed through his veins. “You’ve put something in my brain?”

“I assure you it was no more invasive than the initial procedure.”

Sherlock found the man’s words insulting, though surely they were meant to calm him.

“And how would you know? You’re just some patsy, captive Guide they harvest DNA from, what could you possibly know about neuroscience?”

Sherlock made to take a sip from his coffee before the scent of the liquid soured and became offensive. He growled and threw the mug across the room, watching as it shattered in an explosion of ceramic dust and shards.

“And what the hell did you put in my coffee? Are you trying to poison me?”

His veins throbbed, his blood-flow heightened. How could Mycroft agree to brain surgery, of all things? The only thing remotely good about Sherlock was his brain; it’s what made him special, what made him the most gifted Sentinel in a century, and to put it at risk? The potential for devastation was inconceivable.

“Sherlock, I need you to calm down please. You are unharmed, the procedure was a success.”

Cool hands placed themselves on Sherlock’s forehead, his cheeks, the sides of his neck; they ran down his upper body like waves of cool, slow-moving water.

Eventually, his breathing slowed and he closed his eyes for a good, long moment.

“Sherlock?” The hands were gone, replaced by warmth that spread slowly throughout his body.

They shared a long moment in silence before Sherlock was willing to speak again like a rational human being.

But by then, the atmosphere changed in the flat had changed completely.

The fireplace crackled and spit before going out completely as if doused by a gust of rude air. The smell of chemicals wafted through the kitchen from an unknown source, strong and acrid, like the taste of his coffee but much, much stronger.

“Chlorine.”

The warmth about his person disappeared abruptly. “What?”

“That’s what was in my coffee – chlorine. It’s here now, can you smell it?” Sherlock wrinkled his nose, turning his face to the side in an effort to nose out where exactly the stench was coming from. It was getting stronger every moment.

“I – I have to leave.”

Sherlock barely heard the Guide, so enrapt was he in the startling stink of chlorine in his Mind Palace, of all places. It was unwelcome, foreign, and it wasn’t until his surrounding began to fade that he was brought back to the attention by his Guide.

“Sherlock! Listen, this is important!”

“What’s happening?”  He realized the glow of the fireplace was gone, the kitchen fading from existence. He blinked as the innards of his own shattered coffee mug ghosted away.

“I have to go, I can’t explain right now. Don’t – don’t tell anyone about me.”

“What? John!”

His flat disappeared completely, leaving nothing but the chemical stench of the chlorine. He was swimming in it, choking on it, and it burned.

“Why can’t I tell anyone about you –” His last word ended in a strangled cough, gouts of flames speared down his throat, leaving agony in their wake.

John!

He fell to his knees, desperately clawing at his face.

“JOHN!”


 

Sherlock exploded into awareness, heart thumping and gasping for breath. The monitor alarms buzzed shrilly around his head as an army of medical staffed appeared by his bedside.

They cut through his confusion like the humming of a fly, present, but ultimately unimportant.

He laid unmoving while they worked on him, staring up at the ceiling with a conscious blankness of mind, eyes glassy as he breathed.

 “John.”

 

Chapter Text

Recovery was swift, and it wasn’t long before they removed the packing from his sinus cavities. It was incredibly painful, to the point of outright agony, and Sherlock marvelled (through sniffles and watery eyes) at the sheer amount of gauze they pulled directly out of his face.

Strangely (or perhaps not so), little was mentioned about the incident while he was in the recovery ward. No one seemed inclined to answer any questions related to, or even remotely leaning towards, why he awoke screaming the name ‘John.’ If Sherlock hadn’t been concerned with splitting headaches and recovery issues of his own, he would have pressed the matter with his own particular brand of tenacity. As it was, he was having more trouble merely tending to his own personal needs to care.

Even after a week, and even after a round of intravenous antibiotics and one miserable steroid shot to the fleshiest part of his bum, his nasal passages still refused to obey and cease their incessant, hateful swelling.

When first he glimpsed his post-procedural visage in the toilet mirror, he scowled in self-conscious dismay. While he liked to think his body was just transport, a simple and moderately useful carrier for his brain, he soon came to realize an unkempt personal appearance just didn’t sit well with his ego (he didn't artfully apply expensive product in his hair for nothing, mind).

Like his Sentinel abilities, his transport was a tool, nothing more...but even the simplest of tools required regular care and maintenance.

It was difficult, at first, but he healed - and with healing, he became aware, slowly, and without much fanfare, that he was no longer the same as he was before.


 

"Where do you come from?" Sherlock sat before the roaring fire of Baker Street, warming his conceptual toes in the glow. Across the frayed rug, the brocade chair remained empty but for one steaming mug of tea sat like a beacon on the wooden side-table.

"Honestly? Difficult to give you an easy answer to that one. I guess you could say I am a bit of someone else that was placed inside you. So, theoretically, I come from inside you now.”

“I meant originally. You came from my donor, who is he?”

“Look now…I’ve given you all the information I can.”

"Well obviously you haven't answered to my satisfaction."

A laugh, and the empty space in front of the chair shifted, light travelling through heated air. "When are you ever satisfied, Sherlock?"

He shrugged, "it's been known to happen."

The level of tea decreased slowly, invisible sips draining the cups' contents. "I think you'll find it doesn't. Besides, the rest will come with time, when the bond grows, solidifies.”

“I thought the purpose of this entire debacle was that there wasn’t supposed to be a bond at all!” Sherlock groaned, frustrated, and leant forward, painfully digging his elbows into his knees.

His vexation met with loaded silence.

"Fine,” he glared from the teacup to the empty seat, “where does he come from then?"


 

"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson tutted as she slipped through the door to his apartment – absolutely uninvited (and therefore tedious in the extreme), "enough with this tantrum and come downstairs with the others."

"No," he barked, rolling over in the bed and wrapping the paltry excuse for a blanket once more round his wiry frame. “I’m exceedingly ill. Can’t you see? I’m wrapped in a blanket!"

"You are most certainly not that ill young man, unless you want to make a case for terminal stroppiness!" She pinched at his flank and he bucked immediately, looking out over his shoulder with a pointed glare.

"Oh for God's sake! What do you want? Has my imprisonment in this torturous facility not a punishment enough? Now I am expected to - to socialize, to canoodle?!"

Mrs. Hudson ignored the outburst, searching instead through the Sentinel's modest closet for an appropriately clean get up. "Oh stop your whinging, drama queen."

The click and clack of the wire hangers banging against each other was almost too much for Sherlock's sensitive ears and he flipped back over onto his side, "go away and leave me alone."

"Nothing doing, darling." Finally satisfied with her selection, she deposited the clothing onto Sherlock's bundled torso. "Now, I want to see you downstairs in no less than twenty minutes, otherwise I'll have Kate come and drag you out by your ear – and I do not make idle threats!

Sherlock wrinkled his nose, searching his mind palace for a 'Kate' - oh yes - Kate Whitney, oh she of the absurdly pumpkin pantsuit. Well, he'd rather avoid another retina-searing encounter with that woman at all costs.

Mrs. Hudson fluttered about for another long moment before leaving (finally) and shutting the door behind her with a resounding (and ear-shattering) thud. Sherlock's senses remained painfully attuned to the world around him, and he was still waiting for the full effects of his implant to become apparent.

Slowly, he shimmied out from under his duvet wrap and inhaled, opening his abilities to the world around him. He expanded his senses no further than his own room, having already been through the pain of overreaching a few days ago.

It was less of an assault than it was before the implant, and even still it was less of an overload than merely the day before. Sherlock could smell the smoke from the petrol lawnmower over the lawns near the side of the building seeping in through his window; he could smell the newly shorn grass and the washing powder used to clean his trousers. Cleenzyme vapours wafted upwards from the carpet, lemon-scented, burning the nostrils and mixing with some brand of glass cleaner (something industrial, Novaclear possibly). Housekeeping tidied his room daily, when he couldn't scare them away, and though these scents were meant to be gentle and forgiving to most Sentinels, they were bright as fairy lights in Sherlock's mind...and steadily growing brighter.

Alright, that's enough of that - stop holding your breath and rein it in.

Sherlock opened his eyes, only just now aware they’d been closed. The scents around him muted, dulled, drifted away and settled into a comfortable miasma of the unimportant. John did that for him now. John reminded him of his boundaries and reeled him in when he was wont to push himself too far.

It was as if John actually spoke to him, but it was also more than that. It was a feeling...sentiment, if one was feeling quite maudlin. If Sherlock extended too far, John washed over his mind with calmness, security, and strength.

It was appalling – and while Sherlock had never gone so long without the urge for a hit, a bump, or a line, he missed the chemical bliss that allowed him to disconnect from the world and revel in the cold deductive reasoning he valued above all.  

Sherlock felt like a child, chafing against his finest new school-clothes. It was true that stimulus from the outside world was no longer outright painful, but life had only just become that much more boring. He never did like to be mollycoddled and this felt far too much like being babysat from a tiny little tyrant inside his own mind.

Poncy prat. Go on with you.

Sherlock sniffed and stood from the bed, catching his wan reflection in the opposite wall mirror as he did so. He gave himself the two-fingered salute, complete with a rather juicy raspberry.

Implant or not, he didn't always have to obey his new-found guide.


 

The sun was high in the sky, green grass dappled and fragrant beneath his feet. Somewhere, Sherlock could hear the buzzing of a bee hive and he sighed, the amber colours of honey thick in his nostrils. John was near, he could feel him, and yet still Sherlock could sense he was avoiding the question.

“I dislike repeating myself.”

“I want to tell you, really I do, it’s only – I’m not exactly sure where he comes from. Me, I suppose.”

“But you already stated you came from me.”

“I suppose then he does as well, now.”

That wasn’t a particular comforting thought, “he smells of chlorine, always. Why does he?”

A cool breeze lingered across the meadow, ruffling Sherlock’s curls and toying with the steam from John’s mug.

“He died, killed himself, at a pool. It must be some kind of subconscious spiritual contamination, of a sort.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, running the long tips of his fingers against his bottom lip, “you’re saying he’s, what, tainted?”

“Perhaps? There’s not really a precendent for such a thing, even such a thing as we have. Not really.”

“I need a name then, John.”

“Sherlock,” a gust of heat blew across the back of his shoulders, prickling his nerves and setting the hair at his nape on end, “I can’t.”

“I need a name!”

The heat rushed around his body, billowing about his torso, and moved away to settle in a semi-opaque, slightly humanoid cloud in front of him.

If it was a man, it was certainly shorter than Sherlock, and much slighter in frame.

“He’ll hear us.” The cloud, John, pleaded.

Sherlock would not be deterred, annoyance mounting. “A name, John!”

Then at once the cloud dispersed, leeching away into the sunset as if it were never there, as if its warmth never existed and never caressed the back of Sherlock’s hands.

“Moriarty.”


 

There were far too many people in the common dining area.

Between the clink of forks and the constant, dampish, too-loud brush of lips against cheap glassware, Sherlock could feel the beginnings of quite a spectacular migraine.

Oh good, a turkey curry buffet.

Steady on, Sherlock. A single meal won’t kill you.

Probably not, but prolonged contact with the vacant-faced drones of the Serenity Cottage just might – or the turkey curry, fifty-fifty chance really.

“Mr. Holmes? Sherlock Holmes?”

Lovely, someone wanted to converse with him. Well, this certainly won’t end in misery and consternation.

Sherlock turned, smoothing his hands down the lapels of his sixth best suit, readying himself for the common barrage of questions he’d been subjected to since beginning his treatment at the cottage.

The woman who’d addressed him offered a closed mouthed smile, stretching her full lips, cautious in manner and closed in her body language. The smile held neither mirth nor genuine pleasure, but what it did convey was a certain kind of curiosity of which Sherlock was very familiar. She was rather tall, well-built, and held herself in a defensive stance that made Sherlock think twice about blowing her off completely. She looked him up and down, apparently unimpressed, and tucked a lock of tightly curled hair behind one ear.

“Sally Donovan, we’ve met, do you remember?”

He flipped through his contact list in his Mind Palace, each name a blur, whizzing past the multitudes before he came to a quite resolute blank. Cocking his head, he forced a smile that looked rather, well, forced, and moved towards the buffet.

“Actually, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

She matched his pace, unwilling to be brushed off so easily. They each grabbed a plate and managed not to act too uncomfortable around each other as they were served their portions.

All at once the smell almost knocked Sherlock back into the horrid plastic ficus situated just behind the serving queue. He wasn’t entirely sure this was food, it couldn’t be food, could it? Sherlock could smell all manner of chemicals that certainly did not belong in a traditional curry and inwardly cursed his Sentinel senses – they’d put him off cheap take-out and lesser quality food since puberty.

“We have, you know. I met you on your very first night. I was the one guided you out of your zone.”

He scoffed, letting the server plop yet another unknown bit of mystery vittles on his plate (he had no plans to really eat any of this slop, but appearances must).

“Zoned?” He laughed; of course he’d never zoned a day in his life.

Sherlock…

John’s voice was a warning, a reminder, and it came entirely too late.

Sherlock turned away from Sally abruptly, but she followed him as he made his way to the only empty table in the common room – right next to some godawful statue that vaguely mimicked the Renassaince greats – it was a poor comparison.

“Yes,” she set her plate down a little too loudly, a wrinkle of concern appearing between her brows, “I pulled you out myself. I know what I saw.”

“You know what you saw?” This was almost spoken like a challenge, and Sherlock sat, leant back, and took Sally in fully.

Her hair was perfectly coifed and held back in a clasp that had clearly seen better days, once brassy but dulled with time and one too many liberal coats of hairspray. It was naturally curly, distinctive, but frizzed along the ends, so it had been quite a while since her last haircut. Her makeup was sparse, calling upon her natural comeliness rather than manufactured beauty, but her mascara caked and scaled along the eye-line, sending flakes below her eyes like tiny, dirty flecks of soot. The blouse was new, as evidenced by the sheen on the buttons, but her pants frayed at the hems. Her shoes were ill-fitting, veritably bursting at the sides as the narrow fit did a wide foot no favours. All in all she was a working Guide, no Tower favourite here and…oh yes, absently fingering a small-chained gold-plated bracelet worth hardly anything at all.

“Tell me, Sally, how did you find yourself working for the Cottage? You’re a Guide of no-inconsiderable skill and yet I see you here, working off, what, several Tower fines? What exactly did you do to fall out of the Tower’s good graces?”

“Sorry, what?”

Sherlock…timing!

He ignored John’s voice in his head, letting it fade into the distance, leaning in for the kill. If this woman wanted to cozy up to him after meeting him only once, well, he was more than happy to disavow her of the notion. It was too late now, the truth was out, and Sherlock could never completely say his powers of deduction were solely based on his Sentinel abilities.

To his surprise, after her initial response, she remained impressively calm.

“You know, I’ve heard about people like you. Those who think they’re too good for the Tower. People who think they don’t need the teachings, that they can survive on their own and not be a burden or a threat to everyone else. People like you are always wrong.”

She gripped the sides of her plate, knuckles white against the faux gold gilding.

I can fix it for you.

What?

Sherlock no! Don’t listen

Sally lifted her plate and dumped her piping hot serving of turkey curry into Sherlock’s lap, looking quite pleased as it oozed and ruined his sixth best pair of trousers.

I can fix it for you.

“You can go fuck yourself, freak. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me.”

His mind raced between thoughts, between voices.

I can fix it for you.

But then a wave of true, blessed calm washed over his mind. It was singular, different, an erratic energy that suffused his body and brought him to real, final purpose.

I can fix it for you.

“Sally, wait, wait!” He pleaded as she stood, prepared to storm away in righteous anger. “Tell me who it was, tell me what happened.”

She faltered, unsure, “why? What could you possibly say after that?”

“I could,” and Sherlock smiled, his first real smile since he’d been forced into this horrid place, “I could fix it for you.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When Mycroft Holmes called his personal mobile early in the morning, John was annoyed, but willing to let it pass. When said civil servant appeared, uninvited, that afternoon at the Serenity Cottage annex where John kept his offices, he couldn't find it within himself to be gracious.

Mr. Holmes appeared unconcerned with John's state of mind, leaning a little too casually against his umbrella (bit gratuitous, that) while he checked the status of his cuticles with practiced nonchalance.

Of course, at first, John had absolutely zero idea why Mycroft decided today was the day he'd darken John's proverbial doorstep (it being at least a fortnight since his younger brother’s successful procedure), that being said, he could hardly blame himself for his initial, rather frosty, reception.

"Yes Mr. Holmes, can I help you?" He glanced around the dimly lit corridor, first to the left, then to the right before meeting the man's gaze once more. "Are you lost?"

John knew for a fact that if Mycroft Holmes had deigned to travel all the way from London to the Cottage, he most certainly was not lost (one did not get lost in a place such as the Cottage annex), but he took a kind of sordid satisfaction in seeing the man's haughty expression tighten ever so slightly.

"Certainly not Dr. Watson, I find myself precisely where I need to be."

John sighed and clenched his hands before giving his neck a roll and straightening his shoulders. Lately, he'd been sleeping poorly, plagued by massive headaches, and short-tempered with just about everyone who had the misfortune to step into his path. All of this, compounded with an increased workload, made him shite for company; and since the procedure on the younger Mr. Holmes his health had taken a turn for the worse.

"Right," he ran his tongue in a swipe across his bottom lip, trying not to appear too obviously cross, "you know if you wanted an update on your brother you could have just phoned me, you know, on my phone."

Mycroft Holmes only responded with a thin, stretched smile. "Perhaps I wanted to congratulate you personally. After all, what you did for my family deserves much more than a mere phone call."

John couldn't exactly agree. While he did manage to successfully implant the device into the younger Holmes, the original procedure had gone horribly awry; and even though there’d been no way of knowing Sherlock would reject the initial Guide donor tissue, John couldn't help but feel the majority of the blame weighing heavily on his shoulders.

He’d taken entirely too long to respond, at this point (rude), so he finally managed to mumble a feeble 'thank you,' before consciously relaxing his fists.

"Of course," Mycroft leant forward slightly, "it is a bit early for lunch, but perhaps we could indulge in a cup of tea? I've a few items I'd like to discuss with you concerning our… tentative agreement."

The message was clear, more than, and John quietly unlocked the door to his office with a stiff nod.


 

The office was painfully neat and lacking in the usual accoutrements of personality, which afforded Mycroft Holmes an excellent look into the psyche of the man who'd saved his brother. There was very little in the way of decoration, and he found himself comparing the working styles of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes and coming to one conclusion only:  in terms of environment and organization, they couldn't be more different.

John Watson was a man who brought nothing to his office save an oft-stained RAMC coffee mug and a pile of medical journals stacked (not too high) on the corner of his empty desk. Sherlock Holmes, however, lived and worked with his life thrown about him in a messy uproar of belongings and experiments. It appeared these men were exact opposites, and possibly, perfect complements. It was no wonder they were so compatible, even at the genetic level.

"I wasn't expecting company, as I'm sure you can see," John crossed the room and opened a haggard looking cabinet, pulling out an electric kettle of dubious cleanliness. "Do you take sugar? Milk?"

It took Mycroft a moment to reply, distracted as he was by imagining the many species of mould and single-celled organisms inhabiting said electric kettle. Obviously, any tea made from such an apparatus would be questionable at best. If he was more of a science-minded man he might consider taking a small sample and forwarding it to Sherlock – he might do, actually, if the young man continued on with his (relatively) good behaviour.

"Two sugars only, please."

John nodded and moved towards the door before pausing to glance back at Mr. Homes, as if he were an afterthought. "Go ahead and take a seat, I'll only be a moment."

Mycroft watched him leave, then took in the two chairs situated in front of Dr. Watson's desk. They were rather austere, simple wood and cushioned seats probably stuffed with material no softer than straw. He sighed and sat down gingerly, immediately missing the sumptuous rococo inspired bergère he had in his own office. Ah well, he was willing to admit his tastes were a little...refined, but he could slum it in the pond water with the rest of the goldfish, if needed.

He was quite settled in, one leg lounging over the other, when John returned from the annex kitchen with the kettle brimming with fresh water from the taps. Once it was powered and heating, John wasted no time in sitting at this desk and clasping his hands in front of him in a classic defensive posture. Mycroft immediately saw it for what it was, an invisible wall, a line in the sand labelled 'thou shalt not pass.'

Indeed.

"I'm not here to discuss my brother, Dr. Watson."

John's lips twitched – he was surprised – but said nothing.

"Rather, I found myself interested in learning more about one James Moriarty. Tell me about him."

John took in a long, almost bracing, breath before rubbing one hand along his jaw. He looked exhausted suddenly, and resigned, almost as if Mycroft's query was somehow expected.

"There isn't much to tell now is there? He's dead."

Mycroft dropped his chin and favoured John with an expression of slightly amused frustration. "Come now John," he put special emphasis on using the doctor's given name, goading him on, "you can do better than that."

John said nothing, and the distinct click of the kettle shutting off pierced through the uncomfortable silence that had descended over the room. Neither man spoke as John prepared their tea, making small, almost ritualistic movements, long practised and committed to memory from a probably very young age, resulting in two fragrant, but no doubt low-quality cups of tea.

"Why exactly do you need to know about Jim?" John moved the rather plain saucer and cup toward Mycroft, who accepted with suitable aplomb.

"A man can be curious, can't he?"

John looked less than pleased at his reply. "Not really."

"Do be sensible John. While I only hold a minor position in the British Government, don't doubt that I can make things very difficult for you."

"So you're threatening me now?"

Mycroft dropped his cup of tea down on John's desk with a rude clank. The Guide watched him as he leant forward, his face a storm cloud of righteous fury. "Perhaps I don't want my brother to end up like your former patient, doctor. Perhaps if I'd been informed it was you who'd become the new donor I would have declined the second implantation."

He leant back in the chair, eyes cold as winter's rime.

"You wilfully kept me ignorant from some of the most important details pertaining to my brother's procedure and now you will tell me everything. Be aware, I will do everything within my power to prevent my brother from ending up as another one of your mistakes."

John left his cup of tea sitting alone on the desk in front of him, almost as if he’d forgotten it was still there, and the languid, vaporous steam that rose from the liquid filled the space between them. He pursed his lips, the dull angles of his cheekbones becoming more pronounced and belying the boyish roundness of his face. After a good bout of silence, he finally lifted the cup to his lips and took a deep, measuring draw.

“I’ll start from the beginning, shall I?”


 

John didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to go back down this road, this dangerous path full of memories and desire, fear and paralyzing guilt. But Mycroft Holmes was an intelligent man, a gambling man, and seemed to know exactly which of John’s pressure points would yield the most efficacious result.

Of course, it would be John’s guilt and sense of medical integrity that would get him in the end, of course it would.

He sighed and rolled his left shoulder, it still ached and twinged when the humidity was just so, and he knew that before the day was out the pain would probably double in intensity.

“James - Jim - Moriarty contacted me first, about six years ago, in late autumn. Back then I’d only just been tinkering with the idea of non-sexual bonding...it was just a pipe dream, really,” John allowed his gaze to roam, letting it sweep away from Mycroft and dart about the room, “I’d recently lost my own bonded and just...the thought of ever being expected to bond with someone else was – well, unthinkable, I suppose. My Guide abilities were shattered, had been since Mary died. I was useless and looking for renewed purpose.”

If John expected sympathy, perhaps a kind word or a meaningful turn of phrase, he was disappointed (unsurprisingly) when Mycroft only continued to sit in his chair, straight backed and edged in ice.

“It was just an idea until I met him, until he got investors involved, pushed paperwork through the Tower, and everything went from there...at light-speed, seems like. I didn’t know then that he was an extremely powerful Sentinel. He hid it quite well, really, his control was unbelievable, and since my Guide abilities had gone tits up I bet it was easy. It wasn’t until later he mentioned he was looking to utilize the treatment himself and volunteered to be the very first test subject.”

“And you agreed?”

“Not at first, Christ no, that would have been madness.” John finished his still warm tea and stood to get another, absently running one hand around the back of his neck; he never did feel wholly comfortable with recounting this tale. “But let me tell you, Jim was the kind of man who got what he wanted,” he paused for a moment, “most of the time anyway.”

“Dr. Watson?”

“Jim told me he had no intention of bonding with a Guide, ever. He said he found the idea of sharing his life with someone on that level – with that level of intimacy – quite laughable.” John waved a hand towards Mycroft’s empty cup of tea, a simple wordless invitation for a refill. Mycroft declined his offer with as polite shake of his head and John settled back into his chair.

“Sounds familiar.”

John snorted. “Of course it does. Every Sentinel in the Cottage is here for what we do. It doesn’t matter why they don’t want to bond: hormone imbalances, asexuality, there’s no difference in their treatment. But Jim, for him, I think it was more an issue of control. I believe, if he had bonded with a Guide in the traditional sense, his life would have needed to change – to rearrange itself and Jim had no time for the wants and needs of another person. He was the man in charge, and he loved it.”

“You didn’t get along?”

John let that question settle for a moment, felt it gain weight and lay upon them, a single request that somehow seemed impossible to answer.

“Quite the opposite actually. Jim was a bit barmy - brilliant, insane, charming,” he shook his head and faltered. There were at least a dozen more words he could use to describe James Moriarty, but none of them could really do him justice. How exactly did one describe the terrible, supple beauty of a flame?

“He had his own ridiculous sense of humour I found fascinating. He was...unmatched in his Sentinel abilities. Really, he was extraordinary, quite extraordinary. I tried to put my foot down, of course, but in the end he managed to persuade me. I think I should have put up more of a fight...but the past is the past.”

“The first procedure was a success.” Mycroft shifted in his chair, appearing enrapt, though John was sure much of this tale was already known to him. He had a file, after all.

“We all thought so, at first. Jim healed well. We had already agreed I would be the donor since we were a match, and it seemed we had achieved the impossible. But...I’ve found in life that the good times rarely last.”

John wiped a hand down his face, feeling suddenly exhausted. Any moment, any single minute now he expected to see him, Jim. When his defences were down, when it was difficult to put up a proper fight, that was usually when John saw him, sitting there, watching him. Jim would smile, suggestive but adoring, and John no longer cared whether it was an hallucination or some kind of otherworldly psychic projection bent on making his last days on Earth as difficult as possible.

But there was no Jim in his office today.

Mycroft raised a fine eyebrow, silently urging him on.

“For me it was business as usual, we had acquired the Cottage and were in the beginning stages of publishing our findings. But Jim soon became - he became,” God, how did one say this without sounding like a completely self-absorbed prat? “He became obsessed with me.”

The frown on Mycroft’s face said more than any words could.

“He said he had me in his head, said I belonged to him, and now that he had a taste...he wanted the rest, all of me. To put it in finer terms, he wanted a bond, a traditional bond.”

“Something he’d once found distasteful.”

“Yes, but no longer.” John rubbed at his temples. “You can imagine my surprise. I had no idea what to do, there was no precedent, you see, and I was one hundred percent opposed to the idea. I’d hoped it was simply an infatuation; these things can sometimes happen after working so closely with someone but...no. He was more than eager to show me how wrong I was in that assumption.”

The rest of John’s tea was gone, and he didn’t much feel like making more.

“He begged, pleaded, appealed to my sense of duty as a Guide, and when that didn’t work...he tried to force himself on me.” John remembered that night quite vividly, Jim’s limpid eyes, the hot breath between them. “He found out the hard way that you can’t really force a soldier to do something they don’t want to do. When all else failed he gave me an ultimatum, his own life. I didn’t think he would do it, but I was wrong again, in the end.”

“But you already said he was –  insane? A madman? Was this really so surprising?”

Yes! Yes it was. Jim was a little unusual but he was never suicidal. He never toyed with his own life or anyone else’s, and until his implant he never showed any interest in me sexually, not a bit.” John was frustrated, irritated that he had to tell this sordid tale once more to a man he barely knew and had questionable motives. “The procedure changed him somehow, it drove him mad, I don’t know how or why, but it did. My team knew very little, and I didn’t tell them any more than I had to. I said the crossmatch must have been faulty and Jim paid the ultimate price. That was a lie, of course, we were more than 89% compatible, something I’ve not seen again until your brother.”

Mycroft smiled, as if they were just now getting to the crux of the matter. “So, now you truly see my concern.”

“Look, I know it sounds bad, Christ, I know it looks bad...but we have performed dozens of procedures since then and there have been no indications of this type of thing happening again. I can only hope it was a one off, a-an aberration.”

“Dr. Watson, I fancy myself a practical man, and I don’t base my life, or the life of those I love, on a sentiment as foolish as hope. Nor should you.” Mycroft stood very slowly, stretching out his long body for his imminent departure. “I’ll be watching this place, you and my brother. I am pleased you’ve answered my questions today, your refusal would have been...unfortunate for you. Your transparency behoves you. See that it stays that way.”

Mycroft angled his head in goodbye, a lifting of his brolly making his exit unnecessarily dramatic, and while he had good enough manners to close the door behind him, he still left John feeling anxious and more than a bit out of sorts.

Re-telling his past failures always left him mentally exhausted and vaguely restless, and this was the kind of emotional masochism that nothing could fix, not even the finest cup of tea (something his gran would find hard to believe, surely). It was usually about this time, when he was alone and overwhelmed, that Jim slithered his way into the forefront of John’s psyche.

But like before, strangely, Jim was absent.

Upon recalling the last several days, the last two weeks actually, John realized he’d been blessedly free of his own personal Jacob Marley.

He stood and gathered the last remnants of their tea, noticing Mycroft had barely touched his portion, and pondered on to what he should owe his good fortune – if it was indeed good fortune.

Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, he decided, heading out of his small office to dump the dregs of his afternoon in the communal kitchen down the hall.


 

Sherlock.

Sherrrrlock.

We have so much to talk about.

Chlorine, vaporous and clinging, billowed through the darkness, stinging his eyes.

We have so much in common, Sherlock, there’s no need to play hide and seek. I just want to talk.

Really now, come out and play.

I just want to be friends.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock knew he’d never been here before, and it wasn’t just because the vivid lines dissecting the tiling glowed a shade of crimson never seen by the human eye (too bright, too cruel), nor was it the nebulous criss-crossing of low light reflecting upon the viscous waves of disturbed water – no, it was the smell.

Hypochlorous acid.

Biting, stinging, fumes barraging every sense – he could taste it, thick and caustic on his tongue, the density of it in the air muffled his hearing and stung his eyes.

Where was he?

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” though in reality the voice that cut through the haze sounded leagues away from contrite, “but where are my manners?

A hollow, thudding sounded from far behind him, and Sherlock turned to see multiple rafters of harsh, milky, industrial lighting reveal lane after lane of a large, heated, steaming swimming pool.

Chlorine – pool – John.

All at once his mind stilled, focusing on one point, the central mystery, the fly in the ointment.

“Moriarty.”

“Oh good. You’re very good.”

Sherlock turned to the left, as it seemed the voice originated from one of the dark, slightly nefarious looking changing rooms to the side of the pool.

But there was nothing.

He turned again, moving full circle, before he chose to stop and stand, hands grasped lightly behind his person, fingertips fluttering in agitation.

“You’re not here.” He wasn’t, not really. Sherlock had spent many hours fortifying his palace against outside intruders, and he found it slightly disturbing what it meant that this man, this ghost (for John told him he was dead), could have insinuated himself so neatly into his mind. Perhaps he wasn’t an outside influence after all, and what did that mean?

Moriarty was somewhere inside already.

“Am I not?”

The voice coalesced far beyond him, settling somewhere near the blinking gems of Way Out signs and heavy, fire escape doors.

“How very disappointing for me, really. I do so like to make a grand entrance.”

Sherlock startled and spun back around towards the voice that was so clearly coming from right behind him now.

“Jim Moriarty, hi.”

He liked to play games – slippery, this one.

“And you’re Sherlock Holmes. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Is it?” It took all his not inconsiderable self-control to remain blank-faced and calm under the barrage of sensory input practically oozing from the man now stood before him.

Man? No. Shade.

“Doesn’t matter. Just thought I’d stop by for a chat.” Jim smiled ever so slightly, cat-like, his wild eyes alive and yet somehow so vacant, disturbed.

“I don’t chat.”

“You might change your mind. I can be very persuasive.” He showed his teeth now, small and sharp, like he’d just as soon as bite and take hold of Sherlock himself than exchange dull pleasantries.

Sherlock sighed, affecting the learned boredom he used to put most people off.

“You and I have something in common, you see, and I want to make sure you know the rules.” Moriarty jammed his hands inside his pockets, the sides of his mouth turning down in an effigy of great concern. He kicked at nothing, shoe shining, sauntering towards the edge of the smoking water. “He is sweet, you know, I can see why you like him.”

“Who?”

“Don’t play dumb, Sherlock Holmes, it’s beneath you.”

“You’re referring to John.”

“Ding, ding! Show him what he’s won Johnny!”

The waves of the pool surged and crashed against the concrete, the vaporous swirls of steam forming and fading away – the hint of gunpowder.

“What do you want?”

“What do I want? What do I want?” Jim screwed up his face, brows crinkling together as if were a child and thinking very, very hard to find the answer to a difficult question. Then all at once he relaxed, as if – eureka – he’d found the solution. “I want what I’ve always wanted, Sherlock, peace and quiet, a house in the countryside, a puppy, and our little John by my side. It’d be so good, you see, just the two of us together, forever…and ever, and ever, and ever.” It was sing-song, it felt like madness. “But no.”

Sherlock angled his head, following Jim’s moving silhouette with caution and wariness tingling at the tips of fingers, “No?”

“NO!”

The explosive, rage-filled screech echoed off the tiles, bouncing back and forth until Sherlock succumbed to the urge to cover his ears. It became louder, and louder, and –

Silence.

“You see what you’ve done?”

Moriarty was in his face, breathing, but there was no breath, only gunpowder and chlorine.

“So you owe me, my dear.” Jim backed away, mouth open, eyes half-closed.

“I owe you.”

“Say it again, Sherlock, it’s lovely.”

Gunpowder and chlorine.

“I owe you.”

“So you see, it’s all up to you now. You have to fix this for me.” He stood by the edge of the pool, head bobbing on the thin line of his neck. Behind him, the water lapped and slapped against the concrete, spilling upon his shoes. He smiled softly, wickedly, before he fell backwards in one swoop, one grand arc that ended in noiseless splash and water as calm as a midnight pond in the countryside.

He was gone.

Sherlock awoke to the smell of chlorine and gunpowder, and the sound of a snake, a slithering susurrus, echoing in his ears.


 

Sally Donovan never did take Sherlock up on his offer. Nor did she apologize for dumping the dubious curry the Cottage offered as “food" onto his lap. She took one long look at Sherlock after his cryptic statements and made a face one could call murderous and left in a huff of wounded pride.

To be honest, he hadn’t truly known why he offered "fix it for her" – magnanimity was not a trait he actively cultivated. Rather, he eschewed all flavours of sentiment and tended towards cold, hard reason above all else.

Now he knew why he said those words, that simple phrase which meant everything (in a sense) and yet he meant nothing by it. It was Moriarty. The man, the spirit, this tainted being was seated inside him, hands and fingers dug so deep in his mind that his will and words came spilling from Sherlock’s mind without hesitation. Sherlock felt possessed, in a way, infected by a virus whose vector was a man whose sole intent was to save his life.

He needed to be rid of this James Moriarty as soon as feasibly possible, and the only way he could manage to do this was to tear down the hateful wall of anonymity and confront John, the actual John, not the shadow version he’d known thus far. He needed to find his donor, if John really was his name. He needed to be free – and in order to do all this, he needed to talk to Mycroft.

He knew exactly what to do.