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Longitude

Chapter Text

He was skeletally thin, white as a sheet, battered, filthy. One eye was swollen shut. The other, once keen and piercing, was glassy and red.

He had stiffened when Mycroft first embraced him, but as his brother repeated his name, softly, he began to relax the slightest bit. “Come along, Sherlock,” he instructed softly. “Let’s get into the car.”

Sherlock frowned in apparent confusion. Mycroft took one thin, trembling hand and pulled him gently in the correct direction. He took a few stumbling steps, then stopped dead. The trembling increased as he shook his head furiously.

“What’s the matter?” his brother asked. “It’s perfectly safe.” He tried to pull away, but Mycroft had a good grip on his hand. He kept his tone of voice as even as he could. “You’re going to come home with me for a bit. All right?”

Sherlock’s gaze ran up and down the sleek body of the car as he considered this. For once, the government man wished he had a less ostentatious method of transportation. Then the thin man shook his head again; his lips moved the slightest bit, as if he was attempting to speak.

His driver started to get out of the car. Sherlock’s reaction was instantaneous; every limb went stiff and his breathing sped up to an alarming rate. “Don’t!” Mycroft warned. “Leave him to me.” The man froze in place, one leg out of the car door. “It’s all right,” he soothed, trying to get his brother’s attention. “That’s just my driver. He’s going to take us home.” Sherlock’s eyes remained fixed on the driver, who had put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. He shook his head, then winced. “Your head hurts,” Mycroft stated. Sherlock now seemed confused; he couldn’t observe both his brother and the driver at the same time, trying to focus with his one uninjured eye. “Get into the car, come home with me, and I’ll give you something for it. And a bath and some clean clothing, yes?”

Mycroft blew out a deep breath as he finally slid into the car behind his brother; he knew that the driver had locked the opposite door—Sherlock could not get out.

*

He peered at the street signs as the ostentatious car rolled through the familiar streets.

Familiar… God. Where was he? Could he be… could it be? Was he finally, truly, back in London? He sat up and pressed his head to the window, keenly observing. Yes. It had to be. It looked right. It smelled right. His brother sat beside him. So he was back. He had no idea how or when that had happened. Where had he been? He frowned, unable to recall…

anything.

Well, that was tedious.

He stared out the car window, automatically mapping their route.

What? They were headed in the wrong direction. Baker Street was the other way.

No. That had to be where they were headed. Where else would they be going? He had to say something. He had to tell him. Still staring out into the night, he attempted to demand that the driver turn around.

He had to go home.

*

“What was that?” the older man leaned toward him slightly; his brother had attempted to say something. “Take your time.”

Sherlock took a deep, shuddering breath, his lower lip (which in addition to being split and swollen was horribly chapped) trembling.

“You can do this, Sherlock,” he encouraged. “Do you want something? What do you want? Tell me.”

His brother tried again, but after his single word on the pavement—Mycroft’s name—he seemed unable to produce anything further.

The elder brother now pulled back and looked at him carefully. The data—the injuries, emaciation, inarticulateness, disassociation—bombarded him. His brother needed a doctor—that had been obvious based on the injury they witnessed him sustaining—and until he was seen to, he could not say with assurance what the next step might be.

He was grateful that he had left Anthea behind to organise the medical team when he had headed out to retrieve him. He knew that over the years she had seen the younger Holmes at both his best and at his worst, but as they sped through the streets of London, he simply did not have the desire for anyone else to witness the great man, Sherlock Holmes, dazed and broken and struggling to speak.

*

What the hell was wrong with him? He knew what he wanted to say. It was fairly straightforward. He wanted to go home, and he knew the route that the driver needed to take.

But it was like trying to move a leg when it had gone numb. For some reason the signal from his brain was not reaching his mouth. And as they continued moving smoothly through the dark streets, he began to be aware of an odd feeling. Everything was becoming confusing and overwhelming; the street lights were making his head ache and the car was moving too fast and he was suddenly very glad that the driver seemed to know where he was going because it was far too com… comp… something.

He pulled away from the window, shaking his head and wrapping his arms around himself.

Little boys could get lost if they weren’t careful. It was a good thing that Big Brother was there with him.

*

Now they were in Mycroft’s spacious bathroom. The hot water running into the enormous tub was making the room steamy, and the elder Holmes brother was grateful for it—his younger brother had been shivering and even having the driver turn the car’s heat up until it was almost sickeningly warm in the vehicle hadn’t helped.

He checked the bath water. “Your bath is almost ready. You’ll feel much better when you’re clean and warm and dry,” he told him. “Time to get all that muck off.”

*

‘Lock hummed as Big Brother helped him stand up (he had been sitting on a little stool; it was funny that Big Brother’s bathroom was so large that he had furniture in it). But now his brother was pulling his filthy jumper up and his nearly shredded jeans down and that felt good because they were still a bit damp from his accident and he had been worried that he would be in trouble but no one had shouted at him about it so far. He looked placidly down at his body. A bath would be nice.

*

The fastidious government man shuddered a bit as he peeled off the damp jeans—they were barely staying up as it was, he was so skeletally thin—but he was not about to say anything about why they were wet. It was hardly his brother’s fault, was it? And then—regretting it even as he reacted—he pulled back in horror at what he had just revealed under them. “Good God. How are you even alive?” he blurted out.

*

‘Lock, startled by Mycroft’s outcry, whimpered and pulled back from him. Was he in trouble after all? He hadn’t meant to. Where was Daddy? Daddy wouldn’t shout at him.

*

Mycroft gingerly placed the filthy garments in a bag so they could be examined. After his initial shocked outburst, he found himself swallowing hard, his mouth clamped shut, as he fully revealed his brother’s emaciated, mutilated body. The worst—God. Oh God. Really? Worse than he could possibly have imagined…

He grimaced but methodically took some scrapings from under the nearly black fingernails and a few swabs from his face and hands, Sherlock staring at the cotton buds in confusion and fascination, not wincing as he gingerly prodded at the shredded knuckles on both once-elegant hands.

He knew that there were more samples that probably should have been gathered before he bathed, but he found himself so completely unwilling as to be repulsed just by the idea. It wouldn’t matter anyway, would it? It was extremely unlikely that the perpetrators of any of the dozens (at least) of assaults fell under any sort of category of common criminal. The people he would be looking for would not ever be appearing in any sort of regular court, that was certain—no DNA evidence required.

As always, Sherlock was not at all modest, barely noticing when the last layer—pants so worn they were really just a waistband and a memory—had been carefully lowered. He allowed his brother to steady him as he stepped into the tub, first gasping at the touch of the hot water, then slowly lowering himself down into it with a sigh of contentment.

Mycroft rolled up his sleeves, pulled the small stool over, and, with a sigh, bent over the tub’s edge with a flannel and carefully—so carefully—removed as much dirt and muck from his brother’s skin as he thought safe. He didn’t want to rub him raw.

*

Mycroft didn’t mind being put in charge of his brother’s bath. He was old enough to wash himself—more or less—so My grabbed a book and seated himself on the closed toilet lid as Sherlock splashed and played with some boats—pirate boats, according to the “captain” seated in the warm water. “Hey. Time to get clean,” he finally prodded.

His brother sighed and picked up the bar of soap and the flannel and obediently began to wash his decidedly grubby knees. “How does it work, My?” he asked, frowning at the flannel.

“How does what work?”

“How does the dirt know when to come off my skin and onto the flannel?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Mycroft sighed and lowered his book.

“Well, sometimes when I scrub with just the flannel, the dirt comes off, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

“Oh. Well, two reasons, really. It’s depends on what sort of dirt it is.”

His brother gave him a slightly sceptical look before poking at the soapy flannel. “Why?”

“First of all, you know about molecules, correct?”

“I’ve known that for ages,” Sherlock had said dismissively, and he had.

“Well, some dirt is oily—like when you crept under the neighbour’s car in their garage—you got all that black, greasy dirt all over you.” His brother nodded. He had been wearing his school uniform and had gotten into quite a bit of trouble for nearly ruining it. “So, soap molecules have two ends. One end is hydrophilic—it is attracted to water molecules. The other end is hydrophobic—it hates water but likes oil. The ends of the soap molecules that like oil surround the oil particles on your skin, and then the ends that like water go with the water when you rinse, taking the oil with them.”

His brother stared at him, fascinated. “Hydrophallic and hydrophobic,” he attempted.

Mycroft snorted. “I think you mean hydrophilic.

Philic,” he echoed. “But what about not… not-garage-dirt? Why does that—like dirt from the garden—mostly come off just when I run my hands under the tap, but sometimes I have to rub it with a flannel? It’s diff’rent molecules, right?”

“Partially, yes. Some sorts of dirt can just be rinsed off. But sometimes dirt gets stuck in all the little crevices in your skin. That’s when you need to scrub. Which you should be doing right now.”

Sherlock nodded and resumed his task. “What little crev… crevices?”

“Your skin is made up of layers of things called cells, one on top of the other, and dirt can get stuck between them. When you scrub—or do anything, really—the top layer of cells comes off. It doesn’t hurt; it’s supposed to do that. In fact, it comes off all the time—did you know that most of the dust in the house is just dead skin cells?”

Sherlock stared thoughtfully at his now-pink knees for a second before beginning on his elbows. Mycroft, presuming the lesson was over, held his book up again. “Finish up,” he ordered. “Mummy’s getting supper ready.”

“My?”

Mycroft sighed and lowered his book again. “Yes?”

“Watch!” His brother showed him the now-dingy cloth in his hand, then plunged it into the bath water and vigorously shook it. “Now all the dirt’s in my bath,” he commented.

“Yes, and unless you want all that muck stuck back on you, it’s time to get out.” He reached over and pulled the plug; his brother watching in fascination as the grey, sudsy water flowed down the drain.

“’Bye, skin cells and hydro… philic and hydrophobic molecules,” he told it, standing in the rapidly lowering water.

Mycroft smiled; his brother could be so very adorable at times.

“My?”

“Yes, Sherlock?”

“I’m cold.”

*

Mmm. Smells nice. Sherlock grabbed at the flannel a few times, pulling it towards his face and inhaling deeply, a small smile gracing his cracked lips. Soft, he thought as he ran his fingers along his newly-pink skin as his brother gently cleaned him.

Usually Daddy gave him baths but Big Brother and Uncle Greg were allowed.

He wondered where his boats were.

*

The image of his brother’s naked body would mix and merge and morph into other images in his dreams for months—and those images were of the death camps of Nazi Germany.

What had he done?

*

‘Lock stared at himself in the mirror as the steam gradually dissipated. Big Brother’s house was fancy and clean and there had been plenty of hot water in the enormous tub, and that felt very nice. The towel draped over his shoulders was soft; his dripping hair smelled lovely.

He frowned at his reflection and slowly put his hand up to a big, painful lump on the side of his head. He didn’t know how it had gotten there, but it really hurt.

He gingerly brushed his fingers across his swollen eye.

Would he need an eye patch?

Because if he did, he would look like a pirate.

Neat.

*

His brother had been so sweetly complacent about the bath; grateful in such a touching way, but the medical team had assembled and was now ready for them. He had helped him out of the water and wrapped him in an immense bath sheet before stepping into his bedroom to retrieve some clothing.

When he returned, he noted that his brother was looking at himself in the mirror curiously, as if he didn’t quite recognise himself. He dried him off as carefully as he could, brushing the towel gently over the most recent injuries, and helped him into the softest pyjamas he owned. Sherlock ran his fingers down them, apparently enjoying the feel of the soft fabric. He did the same with the dressing gown.

“You like wearing my pyjamas?” Mycroft had asked sadly, trying for a small smile.

His little brother nodded.

*

No no no no no keep away no bad people no hurts go away no touch no injections

*

Finally—finally—they were done, at least for the moment. The calm of the warm bath and comfortable clothes had been shattered by his first sight of the medical personnel. Sherlock was terrified—absolutely, heart-breakingly, violently terrified. Anthea winced as he slammed into a table in his attempt to get away. He was panting and even under the bruises on his face she could see that he was growing rapidly paler.

The doctors and other medical staff were, of course, sworn to secrecy, and Mycroft was gratified to observe that they focused strictly on their task.

“We don’t want to give him anything to calm him or treat his pain until we know how extensive the head injury is; his overall condition,” the neurologist explained. “It would probably help if you talked to him.”

Mycroft nodded, his mouth a thin, tight line. “They aren’t going to hurt you, Sherlock,” he murmured, trying to grab one of the flailing arms. “You know I wouldn’t let that happen.”

He had bellowed back angrily—if Mycroft used his imagination it could possibly have been the words “bad” and “injections” and “hurts,” but he wasn’t entirely sure—each word being spoken with great effort but in a different language, and none of them English. His split and swollen lip was not helping his ability to articulate, either.

That’s the pot calling the kettle black, Mycroft thought bitterly as he grasped one track-marked arm. “Calm down. These are doctors. They’re just trying to help,” he explained. “They need to examine you so they can make you feel better, all right?”

The dark-haired man whimpered, ceasing his struggles for a moment.

*

The basic neurological tests they could administer proved to be interesting. It was apparent from his reactions to the stimuli around him that his vision, at least in the eye that was not swollen shut, was fine, and his hearing seemed alarmingly keen—he had jumped when one of the nurses had clicked a pen open. His over-reaction to sensations was apparent and a cause for concern until Mycroft explained that, for Sherlock, that was normal. All of his senses—sensory input in general—had always been exemplary to the extreme, which made him an excellent detective but “a bit high strung” as well. Mycroft would have smiled at his own understatement if he had been in a different frame of mind.

The older brother had already described what he had observed before he had been retrieved—the head injury and then the difficulty balancing and walking; the vomiting. His inability to speak. That his head hurt was more than apparent.

The head injury had seemed to affect his coordination; sometimes when he lashed out against an intruding hand or instrument, he would miss—although some of that had to do with his current lack of binocular vision. The most apparent issue was his lack of balance; a nurse kept close whenever he was on his feet, as he tended to list to the left.

The doctor’s attempt to ascertain orientation and his ability to recall information did make Mycroft smile. He couldn’t help it. “It’s no use,” he finally interceded. “He has no idea who the prime minister is or what month it is on the best of days. It’s simply not relevant to him. I do not believe that he has any sense of time at the moment—he seems quite confused. I am certain, however, that he knows that he is in London.”

“What about rote memory?” the doctor inquired.

He thought for a few seconds. “Perhaps this will suffice.” He moved so he was in sight of the one good eye. “Sherlock,” he said firmly. “Hydrogen.”

The response was immediate and gratifying: “He… helium.”

The voice—that rich, familiar baritone—was raspy and weak; the crisp enunciation impeded by the injuries to his face and likely the head injury. Still, he was speaking intelligible words. “Go on,” Mycroft encouraged him.

“Lith… ium. Beh… beryllium. Buh… boron.”

They let him get as far as neon before assuring him that he had done very well and could stop.

“Interesting,” the neurologist commented, writing something down on a clipboard. He was startled when Sherlock grabbed at it.

“Do you want to write something?” The doctor offered his clipboard and pen. Sherlock’s writing sprawled across the paper. He wrote rather slowly, they all noted, and seemed to be concentrating quite hard, but then he handed the clipboard back to the doctor. “Germanium-nickel-uranium-sulphur?” he read aloud, struggling a bit to decipher both the handwriting and the spelling. He had transposed several sets of letters.

“Ge-Ni-U-S,” Mycroft translated. “So apparently his massive ego is still intact.” He would have denied it if challenged, but there was no doubt as to the pride in his voice.

*

Eventually there had been additional procedures and samples taken—and other, much more invasive examinations. It had taken two nurses to hold him down and a third gently cradling his drawn face in his hands so they could proceed. He had been so terrified during this particular part of the procedure that Mycroft (who could not watch the actual examination directly; he was feeling positively ill at that point) was somewhat astonished that he was still conscious by the end.

The government man had rather numbly indicated the samples that he had collected so they could add them to everything that would be tested. “Breathe, Sherlock,” he had murmured to him. “It will all be over soon. You’re safe now.”

Mycroft had never had any problem with lying to anyone; this was no exception.

Chapter Text

“Enough.”

The medical team members glanced at one another and agreed—yes, it was enough. They had done as thorough a job as they could under the circumstances.

“He’s showing signs of concussion, of course, but nothing to indicate serious brain swelling or bleeding,” the neurologist noted.

“How reassuring,” had been the government man’s dry reply. “You’ll be doing proper scans tomorrow?”

“Yes, a CT scan and x-rays. We don’t believe he currently has any broken bones,” remarked another medical professional, “but it would be good to see if there were any in the past; ensure that everything is healing properly.”

“His teeth are in good shape,” one of the nurses remarked a bit wryly, flashing a hand with a vivid half-circle of red marks on the back.

“Did he break the skin?” another nurse asked solicitously. No, he hadn’t.

“A great deal of soft tissue damage; infection,” reported another doctor. “We’ve taken blood samples and started him on broad-spectrum antibiotics. He really should be in hospital. It would be much easier to continue examinations and treatment.”

“No,” Mycroft decided firmly but quietly. He sounded exhausted. “We can’t risk that—too difficult to maintain security. He’s safer here.” He and Anthea had already made it crystal-clear that every person in that room was to not just keep quiet about but if challenged to actively deny who they had been treating. “Besides,” he added even more quietly, “you’ve seen how he’s reacting now, in a familiar setting; what would it do to him to be in a hospital?”

That was quite apparent, and so being the case, the decision not to subject him to intravenous antibiotics, painkillers, and nutritional supplements at that moment was unanimous. If he was calmer, they probably would have—he clearly needed them—but in his present state of mind the last thing the confused and terrified man needed was a tether to an IV bag. He had been traumatized enough just by the initial blood draws and injections. Oral medications would have to do.

24-hour nursing care was called for. Anyone who had any contact with him would need security clearance, and all were required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Mycroft glanced at Anthea, who had been standing in a corner, out of the way, during the entire examination, and she nodded. “I’ve got an app for that,” she reported calmly. The nursing agency they were using screened their staff well; it would not take much for her to do the additional work necessary to clear them for service and get the necessary agreements signed. It most certainly wasn’t the first time someone in the imposing house had required intense, but confidential, medical intervention.

The nurse who would stay to tend to him for the remainder of the night arrived.

*

As the team packed up their gear, the nurse who would be staying with them got him re-dressed in the soft nightwear. This seemed to calm him down a great deal, and he took up stroking the soft fabric as he had done earlier. “Are your feet cold?” she wondered aloud. “Do you want socks?” He examined her face curiously, then shook his head, wincing as the motion clearly caused him pain. “All right. No socks,” she agreed. It wasn’t easy. Poor man—she wanted to wrap him in cotton wool from top to bottom.

“He should eat something before he begins to take any tablets,” someone remarked.

“Are you hungry?” the nurse asked him. He thought about it for a bit, then nodded. “What would you like to eat?” He attempted to reply, but he clearly could not get any words out.

“How about an orange?” the older brother suggested. He considered him curiously, then looked to the nurse for approval before nodding slowly.

“An orange would be lovely. Anything else? What about some nice tea and toast?” she added. He nodded again.

“He likes marmalade,” Mycroft told her quietly, “and cut the toast into soldiers. Just let my housekeeper know what you want.”

His brother got to his feet, swaying slightly. Everyone in the room paused in their activities, and then they were astounded by the broken, battered, terrified man suddenly grabbing the nurse’s hand and tugging her along as he lurched out into the hallway.

As she exited the room, Mycroft saw it.

The nurse, who was in her mid-forties, looked remarkably like their mother had at that age.

*

It was a Sunday morning. Mycroft was permitted to sleep in as long as he wished, but out of habit had awoken early. He knew that his parents were still asleep, but he was hungry, so he slipped on his dressing gown and slippers and wandered down into the kitchen to find some breakfast.

He was not surprised to find his little brother already there. Sherlock had never, since infancy, been a good sleeper. They were all accustomed to his wandering through the house at night and coming upon him asleep in odd places, including more than once curled up inside a kitchen cupboard.

That morning, though, Sherlock was most assuredly wide awake.

And rather sticky.

“Goodness, Sherlock!” Mycroft had scolded, immediately striding over to the sink and wetting a tea towel. “Is there anywhere that you don’t have jam?”

Sherlock looked up at him, wide-eyed, and smiled. “No,” he announced rather proudly. “’s marmalade, My.”

“Yes, I can see that,” his brother had replied patiently. “There’s chunks of it… is it in your hair?”

He nodded, the sticky curls bouncing slightly, and carefully raised a piece of toast to his mouth. It was positively weighed down with the sticky orange substance. He grinned and took an enormous bite.

“Mummy is not going to be pleased,” his older brother pointed out.

At this, his sweet face fell. He hadn’t thought of that.

“Tell you what. Finish your breakfast, and I’ll make something for myself, and then we’ll get this all cleaned up before Mummy and Daddy even get up. All right?”

“You’ll help?” he managed to ask around the mouthful of toast.

“Of course. Doesn’t Big Brother always help?”

*

His brother had been wonderfully well-behaved for a while. After seeing the medical team out, the government man had seated himself stiffly in one of the kitchen chairs; he did not spend much time in that room, and he most certainly did not eat in there. Sherlock was seated at the table, rather stickily working on his toast. The room was bright and cheery and homely, and Sherlock looked surprisingly relaxed, even as he carefully pulled the marmalade-covered toast into bits and gingerly stuck them in his mouth. He had a wound inside one cheek—probably the result of a fist smashing the soft tissue into his teeth; he chewed very slowly and stopped entirely for a while when one dry lip cracked and began to bleed.

“I’ll do that,” the elder brother had murmured, gesturing for the orange the nurse held. He peeled and segmented it carefully, being sure to remove as much of the pith as he could. His brother detested stringy food. He arranged the segments neatly on the small dish his housekeeper had placed on the table and slid it across the table.

Sherlock glanced at it—he had been poking his finger into his hot, milky tea, pulling it out, and watching the droplets fall back into the cup. The nurse smiled at him. “Drink your tea while it’s hot,” she encouraged. “I’m Winifred, by the way.” Instead of responding, he reached a shaking hand out for the dish of orange segments.

The nurse looked across the table. “He’s not usually like this, is he?” she asked Mycroft, watching him slowly dip an orange segment first into the tea and then into the jar of marmalade. “I know who he is, and that he’s been gone for a long time. His physical condition speaks for itself. I don’t need to know any more about that, but I do need to know about his usual behaviour so I can note any signs—well, any additional signs—of trauma.”

“No, he’s not usually like this,” the elder brother responded despondently, watching him as he tentatively bit into the orange segment; chewed and swallowed slowly.

“Well, we’ll just have to get him well,” she stated firmly. “Sherlock, do you want more toast?”

In response, he dipped another segment of the orange into the marmalade first, and then into his tea. The result of that seemed to fascinate him.

Finally, Sherlock had hit a wall. He had consumed a surprising amount—one and a half pieces of toast, three-quarters of the orange, and most of his tea—but now his uninjured eye was closing of its own accord and his chin dropped to his chest a few times.

“It’s time for bed,” Winifred stated firmly, standing up. “Where is he going to sleep?” she asked Mycroft as he also rose and the housekeeper, Mrs Parker, who had been lurking discreetly in the pantry, reappeared to put the dishes in the sink.

“The room next to mine. I’ll show you. Come along, Sherlock.” He held out his hand and his brother took it.

*

no

no bed no sheets no duvet

never again

no

*

“Well, that didn’t work,” Winifred muttered drily.

“Did he injure you?” Mycroft asked anxiously.

“I’m fine,” she responded, glancing around the room. The bedclothes were strewn on the floor, the bedside table was on its side, and the lamp it had held was on the floor across the room.

“Sherlock, stop that.” He looked down at his brother, who was standing up against him with his face hidden on his shoulder, whimpering softly. “You don’t have to sleep in the bed if it frightens you.” He considered what to do. “How about this? Would you like to sleep on the sofa in my bedroom instead?”

Sherlock considered this for a long time before he hesitantly nodded. He was now pale and shaking and desperately in need of sleep. They led him into the next room and he stood, swaying in place, as Mycroft summoned his housekeeper to bring some blankets.

*

Despite the lateness of the hour, Mycroft’s housekeeper, Mrs Parker, appeared promptly with three lovely, soft blankets in shades of blue and purple. She had been with Mycroft for years and rarely blinked an eye at anything she was asked to do, or at the hour. The news that the younger Mr Holmes had finally returned had taken her slightly aback at first, but she had recovered quickly. Although she was not one of the people who specifically knew about the subterfuge on the roof of Bart’s, she had, over the past two years, through some oddly-worded conversations with her boss and some of his assistants, figured out the truth of the matter.

So, when she was given the word, she had swiftly made up the bed in the room next to Mycroft’s and stocked the bathroom with towels. She put together the simple meal requested. She had made a proper pot of tea and ensured that the rest of the kitchen was clean and tidy. She took great pride in how she kept the house and prepared the meals. Granted, she was a traditionalist, particularly in terms of menus, and she suffered in silence when Mr Holmes would hire one of those snippy “event planners” and a caterer for his frequent dinner parties. She did understand that those dinners had to be sharp and clever and very modern and honestly had no desire to learn how to make some of the ridiculous, fussy dishes, so she tolerated it, and she was always grateful not to have to serve, but sometimes she did wish to create a lovely, lavish, proper dinner for twelve, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and sprouts. These thoughts floated through her head as she took out a few slices of bread and retrieved the butter.

But then she saw the younger Mr Holmes and she nearly dropped the delicate china plate she held.

Mrs Parker was not easily shocked, but there was really no other way that she could have reacted to the sight of the prodigal son.

She had known Sherlock before, of course. He had attended various dinner parties and official events over the years in addition to less formal family gatherings, and of course occasionally visited his brother’s private home office on official—and secretive—state business. During those visits, the detective had been impossible—brittle, sarcastic, keen, scornful, and usually outright defiant. The more his brother tried to rein him in, the worse he got. Nearly every visit ended with shouting.

That was most visits, of course—but not every one. The other visits the curly-haired man had graced them with were of a decidedly different nature. Those visits usually began with Mycroft and his driver, often with at least one assistant, heading out into the night. A while later, they would return with an additional passenger—one who was dishevelled, often incoherent, often ill—and she would know that for the next day or two she would be making a great deal of tea, bowls of soup, and sandwiches, and doing a great deal of washing.

Sometimes doctors and nurses made appearances. Sometimes one or two of Mycroft’s assistants, in their identical black suits and earpieces, would stand in the hallway outside the guest room or even inside of it. Sometimes Mycroft himself would enter the room and stay for a long time, emerging with a tight, exhausted expression on his face.

Sometimes no one dared enter the room for fear of being hit by whatever the young man had seized as a projectile.

So, her first glimpse of the familiar dark curls both thrilled and saddened her. She already knew that his stay would be more of the latter type than the former; the crowd of medical personnel that had paraded into the second-best sitting room had not been encouraging. But now they were done, and she had been more than a bit surprised when he had appeared in the kitchen with a nurse in tow—literally.

And one look at the emaciated, wounded, shaking, speechless man sent her heart into her throat.

She had seen him ill. She had seen him strung out. She had seen him going through withdrawals. She had seen him angry and moody and distraught and violent.

Mrs Parker, whose career prior to her employment as housekeeper in the stately mansion had been quite a bit more exciting, involving as it did what could be called a role as a “secret agent” back when the “enemies of the state” were Russian, had never seen such a damaged, broken human being—ever—who was still actually walking—and breathing.

So now, as she brought the stack of soft, luxurious blankets up to the older brother’s bedroom, she did not question why Sherlock would be sleeping on the sofa there instead of the freshly-made bed in the room he usually used.

She knew a bit more than the average housekeeper about mental and physical torture, after all.

*

He watched blearily as the nice lady quickly made up a nest of blankets on the sofa. That was better. Daddy let him sleep on the sofa when he was feeling ill.

*

“I’ll be waking him periodically to check on him and give him more medication,” Winifred explained as she nodded her thanks; Mycroft had just handed her a bin that she placed quietly on the floor near Sherlock’s head—she had been warned about his notoriously weak stomach. “You should probably sleep in the other room.”

“No…” the government man replied, uncharacteristically hesitantly. “I won’t be sleeping.”

*

Mycroft peered over the rail of the cot and frowned in sympathy. His baby brother was lying in it, screaming. His face was red with the effort—but the rest of his little body was red as well. Mummy was downstairs in the kitchen, on the phone with a doctor about it. Dad was digging through the airing cupboard.

Mummy ended the call and came up the stairs. “He didn’t tell me anything we hadn’t already figured out ourselves,” she commented a bit angrily.

“So, he thinks it’s an allergy to the new bedding?” Dad asked, pulling something out of the cupboard.

“Obviously,” Mummy sniffed. “That’s the only thing that’s changed—no new foods; no new washing powder or soap. Did you find them, my love?”

Dad held up the folded sheets he had drawn out of the airing cupboard. “100% cotton,” he reported triumphantly. “These should be better.”

“Poor baby—he’s in so much pain,” Mummy sighed.

“Maybe a cool bath would help,” Mycroft suggested.

“Oh, yes, My! That’s an excellent idea,” Dad exclaimed. He handed the stack of sheets to his older son. “Can you help Mummy with those while I give your baby brother a bath?” He carefully lifted his still-crying infant son from his cot, cringing as his hands made contact with the inflamed skin.

“Thank you, my love,” Mummy murmured, kissing first his and then the baby’s cheek. “And now for these—” she scowled grimly as she turned and began stripping the offending—and 100% polyester—sheets from the cot’s small mattress.

*

Sherlock caught a glimpse of his brother and turned his head, scowling. Where the hell am I? Why is Mycroft here? He looked around himself blearily. One eye didn’t seem to be working terribly well.

Oh. Mycroft’s house. Mycroft’s bedroom? Really? His head was killing him. What had woken him?

However I got here, I must have been having fun, he reflected. Pompous ass hates it when I have fun—I think he’s congenitally unable to do so himself and it makes him jealous.

He became aware that there was someone else in the room and moved his head to observe. His eye better heal quickly; all this swivelling his head around was making him feel horrible.

A nurse? Guess I had a little bit too much fun? Damn. There’d be hell to pay if that was the case—there’d be lectures, first from Mycroft and then from Mum and Dad. Time to get the hell out of here.

He made an attempt to rise, but it seemed a lot harder than he had anticipated. The blanket over him—why was it so heavy?

“Do you need the toilet?” the nurse asked. Her voice was even and calm.

Did he? He wasn’t sure. He tried to remember… when was the last time he had gone? Where? Where had he been when his brother picked him up and dragged him here?

“Come with me,” the nurse was saying, folding the blankets down and taking his hand. He jerked away from her and immediately regretted the sudden motion. “Oh, dear,” she murmured. He presumed that his face was pale. He could feel that it was pale—and growing more so.

Oh, he was not feeling well at all. He allowed her to help him up and get him into the bathroom. Damn. He hated being sick, but he didn’t seem to have much say in the matter. Stupid transport.

He let the nurse take care of him; he might as well. She reminded him of someone, and it made him feel surprisingly safe.

*

John rolled over and looked blearily at the clock that glowed in the darkness of his bedroom. 3:12 a.m. He rolled back onto his back and stared up at a ceiling that he could not see. He wiped angrily at the tears that slipped down his temples.

He had been dreaming about Sherlock again. Sometimes the dreams were just of ordinary things—breakfast in the Baker Street flat’s cluttered but homely kitchen; sitting across from one another in the soft chairs by the fireplace. He liked those most of the time, but sometimes another part of his brain would remind him that Sherlock was dead and he wasn’t having—and never again would have—a conversation with him about red-headed clients or nail varnish or why it was a Bit Not Good to cultivate toxic substances so near to their food.

Sometimes the dreams were very nice—those often happened just before he woke in the morning—and it could be pleasant to remember ivory skin and sinewy muscles; pillow-soft lips and a voice even deeper than usual murmuring encouragement and praise.

And sometimes it was—as it had been this morning—standing on the pavement staring up at the roof of Bart’s, phone pressed to his ear, begging him over and over.

No.

*

It was now dawn and Mycroft stood and stretched. He had been working with his laptop at the small desk—it really was an enormous room, Winifred had noted in admiration, and the rest of the house was equally impressive—while she read a book; she was seated on the straight-backed chair that he generally used when putting on his shoes.

The silence, punctuated only by the click of the laptop’s keys and the soft brush of paper as the pages turned, had become oppressive. Sherlock had woken once already; he had been absolutely miserable. The nurse had helped him to the toilet and while there he was sick, which did not seem to surprise her in the slightest. She had rubbed his back and helped him rinse his mouth and led him back to the sofa, arranging the blankets for him. He had dozed off again immediately.

Now the nurse’s alarm chimed, and she bent over her patient. “Sherlock?” she said firmly. “I need you to wake up for a bit. Come on.”

It took a while. Mycroft was amazed at her patience—and a bit alarmed at how long it took her to get his little brother to open his eyes (the swelling was going down a bit) and sit up. Winifred had wanted to get some tablets into him. She had procured some chocolate biscuits and a glass of milk from the kitchen and after she finally got him semi-awake, she offered them to him. He smiled guilelessly at her before carefully biting into one; wincing as he bumped his split lip.

“You like chocolate?” Winifred asked him, steadying the hand that held the glass of milk. He did not respond in any way except to continue to work on the biscuits. He chewed agonizingly slowly.

When he had managed two biscuits and most of the milk, he was surprisingly complacent and took the tablets without a fuss.

*

The biscuits were just ordinary ones from the shop, but at least they were chocolate. Mrs Hudson made his favourites for him—jammie dodgers and ones that looked like little hedgehogs, even while insisting that she was not his housekeeper.

The not-Mrs.-Hudson lady had brought him a glass of milk, and that was perfect with the biscuits. Then she gave him some tablets and his brother seemed to want him to take them, so he did. Sometimes he could be useful in a Big-Brother-Is-Never-Wrong sort of way.

Chapter Text

It was still fairly early when someone buzzed the house from the gate; it was the nurse who would be relieving Winifred. Mrs Parker examined him carefully in the small image from the security camera before him buzzing him in. His name was Solomon. He was nearly as tall as Sherlock, obviously worked out, and had flawless dark skin and dark brown, expressive eyes. He reminded her of someone—some film actor. Not that she watched many contemporary films, but she was aware of various celebrities, mainly because they tended to be security risks. She showed him upstairs.

Sherlock was, at the moment, sound asleep on the sofa in his brother’s room, clutching tightly to one of the cushions, his bare feet protruding from the blankets. At her suggestion, Winifred discreetly excused herself to the hallway to greet the new nurse, allowing Mycroft time to shower and dress.

The outgoing nurse handed the new one a clipboard covered in notes. She reviewed the entire situation and Sherlock’s condition swiftly. It was apparent that they had worked together before. Mrs Parker was a bit surprised at the mixture of medical terminology and much softer words— “poor love” and “sweet boy” hardly seemed professional, but instead of making her uneasy, she found it reassuring. Clearly Winifred truly cared about her patient. Good. The new nurse listened intently and nodded, flipping through the sheets on the clipboard rapidly.

Mycroft, dressed and with wet, combed back hair, exited the room. When Winifred saw his suit, she seemed surprised. “You’re going to work?” she challenged.

“No. Of course not. Why?” he had wondered back.

Mrs Parker nearly giggled. Mycroft Holmes go to work in a suit from last season, sans waistcoat and with the top button of the shirt undone? England would fall.

“Mrs Parker,” he said quietly, and she immediately followed him down into the library.

*

“You do recall the foods that my brother finds acceptable,” he stated, seating himself at the large round table and indicating with a nod that she should sit across from him.

“Yes, sir.” She did.

“And how they are to be prepared… I’m sorry, Mrs Parker,” he interrupted himself, sounding uncharacteristically contrite. “You’ve always done an exemplary job catering to his predilections.”

Keep it simple; keep it non-threatening. She knew that. “I’ve already ordered some of his favourite foods.”

“He’d probably like his own shampoo and the like.”

“Also being delivered shortly.” She smiled the tiniest bit.

“Will you arrange for my barber to come shave him?”

“Of course, sir. Should I get him some clothing?”

“No,” he replied after a moment of thought. “He can wear mine for now. He’ll need shoes, though—he’ll never fit into mine.”

“Mm,” she agreed. “Any idea how long he’ll be here?”

She winced as Mycroft abruptly rose. She could have phrased that more delicately, she realised—or not asked at all.

“He will be here as long as he needs to be,” he replied stiffly. He turned to head for his home office. He paused at the door and glanced back at her. “The barber should do something about his hair, as well.”

“Certainly, sir.”

*

Mycroft sighed heavily as he entered the code that would open the electronic lock on the entrance to his office. Those dark curls, while endearing to older women and apparently “sexy” to others, drove him mad with their untidiness—

But God how he had missed them.

As he moved through the outer office, he was aware that the assistants on duty both glanced at him somewhat askance.

“Yes, all right, I am horribly underdressed,” he snarked at their stares.

“No, sir, it’s fine. We’re not going into the City today,” the sandy-haired man—Thomas—mumbled.

“No. It was a long night. I will attend to the most immediate of my responsibilities from here. I wish to remain close at hand in case… my brother needs my attention.”

Both operatives pretended not to notice when the man who usually personified a stiff upper lip hesitated the slightest bit at the mention of his brother. They had been brought up to date by Anthea before she had gratefully gone home sometime after midnight, of course, but neither of them felt it was their place to bring it up.

Now he moved slowly into his inner office and seated himself heavily behind his desk with a sigh.

They passed an hour or so with the usual tasks of their business, both focused steadily on their multiple monitors. One of their usual tasks was monitoring all international news and social media for mentions of any possible threats to security. For the past sixteen months, they had, of course, been particularly attentive to any traces of the younger Mr Holmes and his activities, and they, along with Mycroft’s other assistants, had occasionally come across mentions that seemed likely to have been about him. It was tricky business—teasing out from the frankly disheartening number of reports of shootings, arms deals, drugs busts, and even bombings those likely to have involved him.

And now, both men found themselves somewhat uneasy. They were continuing to monitor everywhere for signs of crimes of a certain type—Mr Holmes was keenly interested in kidnappings, for example—but they knew that ultimately, they would have to go backward. They needed to work through it all again, vigilant about any sightings of the younger brother—sightings they had missed the first time around.

“I hope we don’t find anything,” Sean, a ginger-haired operative, muttered to his companion. “That would mean that we missed something, and you know how Mr Holmes feels about that.”

Thomas nodded dolefully.

They were interrupted by their boss suddenly—and completely uncharacteristically—throwing his mobile angrily to his desk. They glanced at each other before both bolting into the inner office.

“Sir, are you all right?” Sean demanded.

“I apologise for the disturbance,” the older man replied smoothly. “Go back to your desks.”

They turned.

“Wait!”

Both turned back, eyes wide.

“I suppose it’s as good a time as any,” he continued. “Call everyone in and come sit down. We have to discuss my brother’s reappearance.”

*

Sherlock did not initially respond well to the new nurse.

Winifred, who knew her replacement, Solomon, from the agency (Oh, good! She liked him; he was just the nurse for their patient), had reviewed his chart from the night with him and given him some instructions, quietly, in the hallway outside of the bedroom. Now that the older Mr Holmes had exited, they both went into the bedroom. The last she had checked, he had been sound asleep, but now their patient’s eyes had suddenly opened and his reaction to their presence was instantaneous.

“Sit down, Sherlock!” she insisted, watching in horror as he swayed in place. He was crouched in a defensive stance and was close to hyperventilating. “Solomon, get out!”

Solomon scrambled up from the floor, where the emaciated but surprisingly strong man had landed him heavily on his arse, and left the room without a word.

*

Hands on his shoulders prevented him from tumbling onto his face and he found himself sitting on the sofa. He could feel his heart pounding and he was having a hard time catching his breath—why? What had happened? He had been… what had he been doing?

“Are you all right? It was just a new nurse. No one’s going to hurt you,” the woman informed him. “Calm down. Deep breaths. That’s it. I know—your heart is racing and you feel like you can’t breathe. Try to relax. You’re fine. You’re safe.”

No. He wasn’t fine. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t supposed to be at Mycroft’s. He wasn’t supposed to have a nurse. John did all that. John took care of him. Where was John?

John. Yes. That’s right. He had been looking for John. Hadn’t he?

But it was all wrong. He was wearing his brother’s pyjamas and deodorant and sitting on the sofa in his bedroom (and how pretentious was that—having a bedroom large enough for a desk and a sofa and a table) in his house with the bullet-proof window glass and the triple-failsafe alarm system and the motion sensors and cameras and the panic room(s) and the grand piano and…

He would never find John unless he got away from them.

Yes, that was it. That was what he had to do. He had to get away. His heart began to pound even harder as he took a deep, ragged breath through his mouth.

Get away now

*

Solomon now crept back into the room warily. Winifred was seated on the sofa next to their patient and was speaking in a soothing voice to the impossibly pale man while casually taking his pulse. He was taking hitching, gasping breaths and shaking.

She glanced at him, then at the used hypodermic she had tossed onto the table. She hated—absolutely hated—having to use it on him, but he could do himself serious injury reacting the way he had. It was the fastest way to calm him down. She had not mentioned it to his brother, but she (and all the nurses who would be caring for him) carried a capped syringe at all times.

“Damn,” she sighed now. “Although I’m surprised that’s the first time we’ve had to do that.”

“You weren’t joking, were you? He’s tightly wound, all right.”

“You should have seen him during the initial examination.”

“Poor man.” He looked down at the chart again.

“Bin’s there,” she commented, tipping her head towards it. “Lots of towels and fresh clothes in the bathroom. Be prepared.”

He nodded. Okay. This would be interesting.

*

“What about the two men—the ones who brought him to the police station?” Sean suggested. They had been discussing ways to discover where Sherlock had been and what he had been doing between his arrival on British soil and his retrieval.

“We need to find out who they are, but I don’t wish to draw attention to the incident by asking them too many questions,” Mycroft admitted. “The same with the police sergeant who was on duty that night.”

“Surely just asking after an injured man wouldn’t raise any alarms.”

“See if the sergeant wrote a report yet.”

*

The shaking was driving him mad. Why was he shaking? He seemed to remember eating something in the not-too-distant past. And milk. He knew that he had a fever but didn’t think it was terribly high. Withdrawals? Possibly. His head certainly hurt. He recalled injections. So, probable.

John would be livid.

Where was John?

“Lie back,” someone was telling him. Yes, his eyes were heavy and his head hurt and he was very tired, but he needed to find John. He shook his head.

“You need to rest,” the unfamiliar voice told him.

Did he? No. He couldn’t rest. Not now. He was looking for something. No. For someone. Who? Damn. He had just had it.

His head was oddly heavy.

“That’s right. Go back to sleep,” the voice said, tucking the blanket over him as he slid down onto the cushions.

*

Mycroft glanced up as Anthea entered his inner office and firmly closed the door. “They’ll be ready shortly to take him for the CT scan,” she reported.

“I presume you’ve arranged for an anonymous entrance?”

She gave him a mildly insulted look that vastly assured him. “How is he?” she asked. She looked straight at him. Many (most) people were intimidated by Mycroft Homes—by his design—but to work as an effective assistant, she needed to be stronger than that. That, and her position had allowed her to witness the human side of the man, and she more than anyone truly understood what anguish he was experiencing.

This had not been the plan. Sherlock was supposed to fake his death (which had been, relatively speaking, easy-peasy), head deep undercover, and sweep Moriarty’s spider webs away from the furthest corners of the world.

Those closest to the detective were not supposed to become targets.

But they had.

Moriarty was not supposed to kill himself.

But he did.

Sherlock was not supposed to stop all communication. He was not supposed to fall off the radar. He was not supposed to be damaged to the point of insanity and tortured to the point of death. He was not supposed to finally resurface on a dark street, filthy and strung out and injured, and eventually end up in his big brother’s house, so broken that he was unable to speak.

But there they were.

“How do you think?” her boss replied bitterly.

*

John stared dismally at the contents of the cupboard. He turned to the fridge and was equally uninspired. He had fully intended to bring a packed lunch to work, but nothing seemed terribly portable.

Two shepherd’s pies in individual ramekins, popped into the microwave in the surgery’s staff room, would have been perfect, but the ramekins had remained in the kitchen at Baker Street when he had moved.

He sighed and grabbed an apple from the bowl on the tiny kitchen table.

*

Mycroft had been awake for over twenty-four hours at that point, and even he was admitting to feeling somewhat fatigued, but they had to get the CT done. He had gotten a few hours of work in. Now he headed back to his bedroom.

The nurse nodded in welcome. “I was just about to wake him; I’ve got something for him here.” He indicated a covered tray. The elder brother strode over to it and lifted the lid, nodding in satisfaction—one cooked egg, toast, marmalade. A small spoon. Excellent.

He tensed a bit as the large man knelt next to the sofa and gently spoke his brother’s name. Smart, not touching him, he noted. Sherlock opened his eyes and frowned.

“I’ve got a lovely egg and some toast for you. Can you sit up and have some?” Solomon asked softly.

The dark-haired man rubbed his still-swollen eye and frowned in the direction of the table.

“Do you think you can manage just a bit?” the nurse continued.

He scowled as he considered this.

“Why don’t you just try?” the nurse encouraged, putting out a hand.

Mycroft was impressed as his brother, pushing the helpful hand aside, shakily managed to get himself to the table.

*

Mycroft watched in fascination as John Watson pulled a large baking sheet with eight white ceramic ramekins on it. He set the hot sheet on a mat that looked suspiciously like the type used to protect laboratory benches and smiled at what appeared to be perfectly cooked miniature shepherd’s pies. His brother wandered into the kitchen, apparently from the bathroom, shaking off his freshly-washed hands. The doctor, who was using an autoclave glove to put one ramekin on each of two small plates, indicated the fridge with his shoulder. He stared as Sherlock obediently opened it and withdrew two small bowls of salad and a bottle of some sort of salad dressing. He placed one at each place setting just as John deposited his dishes.

He couldn’t help but notice that, while John placed a regular fork at his own place, he presented his brother with what appeared to be a dessert fork and a teaspoon. Sherlock retrieved two glasses from a cupboard and John retrieved a bottle of milk and a can of beer.

He could not recall the last time he had observed his brother sit down to a meal—that wasn’t chips or some sort of pasta or a Chinese—so readily. Nor could he recall watching him consume—slowly, and John clearly was only offering him one small ramekin at a time—a normal-sized dinner.

And he drank all of his milk.

*

Sherlock was rather reluctantly seated at the table in his brother’s room. There was a well-built man sitting across from him, encouraging him to eat. He sighed and picked up his spoon. Maybe if he cooperated, his brother would send his irritating assistant to get him some decent clothing—and The Coat—and then his driver would take him home.

He cracked open his egg carefully; he felt uncharacteristically clumsy and he hoped that no one had taken notice. He wondered what was wrong with him.

Never mind. John would figure it out. He’d be fine as soon as his doctor saw to him.

“Eat up and then let’s get you into something other than pyjamas, all right?” the man seated across from him said.

So, he was going to dress. Good. Mycroft’s pyjamas were comfortable, but they were—well—they were Mycroft’s. He finished his breakfast.

“Good work. Time to change; we’re going to be headed out soon.”

Am I being taken home? he demanded. Well, he tried to demand. He was baffled; the words simply wouldn’t come. He took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and tried again. Nothing. This was madness! Sherlock Holmes, unable to ask the simplest question?

No. This was horrible. This was sick. This was wrong.

And suddenly everything else was wrong, too—wrong house and wrong dishes and wrong spoon and wrong clothing and wrong man…

He regretted finishing his egg; it would have made a much more satisfying mess on Mycroft’s elegant, understated wallpaper than the empty cup did.

*

Mycroft supposed the irony of wanting to “delete” the entire trip to the hospital and the absolute hysteria caused by attempting to get a CT scan was something that Sherlock would appreciate at some point.

Later.

*

His brother’s track suit was hideous. He glared down at it. He’d even prefer that t-shirt with the otters on it that John loved and he hated to wearing this. Still, it was a step up from the pyjamas. The trainers, borrowed from one of his brother’s drivers, weren’t any better. He felt ridiculous. He looked out the car window, absorbing the street signs and automatically mapping their journey through the busy mid-morning traffic. Hmm. Were they stopping somewhere else before they headed to Baker Street? He wanted to ask someone—that nurse, maybe—but the few attempts he had made at talking so far that morning had discouraged him. He had tried a few more times while the man had helped him change, but each attempt was less enthusiastic and more exhausting.

Stop that. It was just transport. Overcome it.

This attempt left him slightly light-headed and nauseated, but he calmed himself. If talking wasn’t working, time to try something new.

*

Solomon, who was walking beside his patient, ushering him along the hospital corridors, glanced sideways at him as he paused and then halted entirely. “Sherlock?” he prompted, turning to look at him.

His piercing eyes swept the hallway, taking in everything, a look of intense concentration on his face. He now glared at the nurse.

“Come on. Your brother will be right behind us. Let’s get this done so we can get out of here.”

*

Yes. Get out of there. Excellent idea.

He was dismayed to discover that for some reason his balance was off, his running hampered, and the nurse accompanying him was not just strong but fast.

*

The technician had suggested anesthetising him so they could go ahead with the procedure.

“You mean knock him out and strap him down on that table?” the government man hissed. “No. Absolutely not. Can you just give him something to help calm him?”

*

How stupid did they think he was? First, they try to strap him to whatever torture device that was—waterboarding? Probably. Then, when he managed to extract himself they…

No. No injection. They wanted to knock him out. Make him helpless. No.

He felt a sharp pain in his wrist as he twisted it away from whoever it was who had grabbed it. Ignore it, he told himself. It’s just transport. He had to get out of there.

Damn. His balance was off. He could feel himself tilting.

Help

Hold onto something

He tried shouting for help

He felt the needle go in

John

Hold onto John

He tried shouting for John

*

Anthea, standing quietly to the side, endlessly texting, paused for the briefest moment and would swear that it was to get something out of her eye—an eyelash, perhaps. A bit of dust.

Not a tear. No, of course she would not shed a tear.

Not even when Sherlock almost managed to break away from the medical staff attempting to inject him with a tranquiliser.

Not even when he fell heavily to the floor, mumbling a string of numbers.

*

“I’m sorry that frightened you,” he soothed, rubbing his brother’s back (and wincing at the feel of the bones almost literally jutting out). He was curled up against him and weeping, as he had when he was almost four years old and realising that Father Christmas was just a fantasy and his lovely new pirate sword was made in a factory in China. “We’re going home now.”

Mycroft thought he heard him attempting to reply, his chapped lips barely moving, but he did not know how to respond, and was thankful when Sherlock fell asleep. He ran his fingers through the dark curls.

Mycroft Holmes was not accustomed to feeling guilty, but there it was.

*

Solomon, who had finally gotten his now-limp patient resettled on the sofa in the elaborately decorated, positively Victorian bedroom (the chauffer had helped get him up the stairs), jotted some notes on the clipboard. Both brothers (he had no idea who the older man was except that he was the brother of the man that he was tending—wasn’t he supposed to be dead? He vaguely remembered headlines from a few years back) were sleeping; after they returned the older brother had disappeared for a bit, then reappeared and stretched out, fully clothed, on the bed and allowed himself to drift off—but only after he had assured him that he would watch the younger man carefully and alert him if anything unusual happened.

Unusual? More unusual than what? Than finding himself in a jaw-droppingly posh house as a private nurse to a patient apparently so important he had had to sign a confidentiality agreement?

Or finding out that his patient was a scar-riddled, starving, self-harming drug addict and victim of unfathomable violence who could not speak and at times acted like a small, frightened child—when he wasn’t acting like a paranoid mess?

He definitely could say that his shift had not been boring.

*

There were people he wanted to talk to.

He kept getting a bit muddled about who.

There were two people; they were quite dull and average and talked about boring things, but he wanted to talk to them nonetheless. He wasn’t at all sure why, if they were so mundane. Something about reading glasses? Getting shouted at. Getting a kiss on his cheek. Getting presents at Christmas. Very confusing.

There was someone else… damn. She cleaned and she made biscuits and she complained about his experiments. No. She liked it when he was “dashing about” and there was something about…

Miami?

His brother groaned but the man who was in the room with them (that nurse… was his name Solomon? How did he know that?) very calmly held a bin up to his chin.

Shouldn’t it be someone else doing that? Someone shorter, with dark eyes and sort of blond, sort of grey hair?

*

“It’s Mycroft.”

“Yes, we do have caller ID,” Mummy Holmes replied a bit sharply. She was in no mood for her elder son’s supercilious tone.

“Of course. My apologies.”

“What do you want?”

Mycroft, who was seated behind the enormous desk in his home office, frowned. Mummy was rarely so short with him. Did she suspect anything? No, of course not. How could she?

Could she?

And what about Dad? Mummy was the genius (mathematics was her particular field, of course), but Dad had insight into human character and behaviour that he sometimes envied. It wasn’t based on observation and deduction the way he and Sherlock understood and practiced it, but somehow, at times, it was even better.

He had spoken to them just the day before, as he did every week, but that had been before his brother’s sighting and return. Now, instead of the usual mild distain he had no problem sharing with them, he had felt uncharacteristically rattled. It would not surprise him in the slightest if Dad at least picked up on the strained inflection.

“Mycroft!” Her exclamation startled him; his mind had been wandering. “What did you phone about?”

“No reason precisely.”

“Fibbing,” she offered sternly. “Oh, hello, darling. I’m on with Mycroft.”

“What’s wrong?” His father’s gentle voice had an unfamiliar edge to it; he realised that the elderly man had grabbed the phone away from his wife at the mention of his name.

“Who says anything is wrong… all right…” He sighed. “Dad, I suggest you put me on speaker. And perhaps you both should sit down.”

“Is he back or is he dead?”

Of all the feelings that had assailed him since that first glimpse of his little brother on the grainy CCTV image, for some reason his father’s gentle tone was the hardest thing he ever had to bear.

*

“Well, then. I suppose we will have to keep this to ourselves until it hits the news?” Mummy’s inquiry was dry and bitter.

“Well, yes, of course,” he had stammered. Damn. Being on the receiving end of a “talking to” from Mummy always made him feel fourteen years old and caught smoking for the first time. Not that it had happened very often, of course—Sherlock had received at least ninety percent of her ire. Well, that had been the pattern in the past. The two years that his brother had been gone, he had had the “privilege” of being on the receiving end one hundred percent of the time. Was he watching his diet? Had he switched barbers? Had his assistant dealt with that rude man who had the flat above her? (How had she known about that?) Had his gardener looked into that new spray? (That was from Dad). Why didn’t he date? They would be delighted to have a nice man—a guest—to dinner.

In a way, it was rather nice that his baby brother was back—now she would have someone else on which to set her sights. Well, it would be nice—once they and Sherlock were actually back in contact. Which, based on his current condition, was not going to happen for quite a while.

That was going to take some good, old-fashioned “fibbing.”

*

Because that was the most awkward part, wasn’t it? Sherlock’s return was still a secret.

And clearly he was an absolute mess. Not even remotely in condition to see his parents, was he?

Dad, who of course had seen right through Mycroft’s overly-detailed explanations about “debriefing,” patted his love’s hand and brushed her hair away from her beautiful, intense eyes. Sherlock’s eyes.

He prayed that their sweet boy would be all right.

Chapter Text

The next shift was taken by someone named Gloria. She was young and bubbly and Mrs Parker was irritated by her. Mycroft detested her.

Sherlock clearly abhorred her.

She was one of those nurses who says “we”—as in “How are we doing this afternoon?” when it was obvious that she was doing just fine and Sherlock—and anyone else in the house with him—was exhausted, tense, and miserable.

His baby brother could not, apparently, be relied on to know when he needed to use the toilet—at least not when he was sleeping. It had not been a huge surprise to anyone who had been with him since his retrieval, but the bubbly, young nurse had been rather put out about it, tut-tutting and fussing and chastising as she led him into the bathroom for a wash and change of clothes.

The fussing had woken Mycroft after a far-too-short kip; he was now observing her as she directed him back into the bedroom by a firm grip on his elbow. He was balking at this, which didn’t surprise Mycroft in the slightest.

“Lie down,” she ordered, attempting to force him back. He balked at this as well, snorting through his nose at the indignity of it.

“Don’t force him,” Mycroft commanded angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“One of the abrasions on his leg is looking a bit red. I need to clean it.”

“Where on his leg?”

“His shin. Why?”

“He doesn’t need to lie down for you to treat his shin,” the older brother responded sharply.

“It’s easier for m—”

“I don’t particularly care if it’s easier for you,” he hissed. “My brother has endured two years of physical and mental abuse. He does not need to be made to feel any more vulnerable than he already does.”

“Very well, then,” she huffed. She turned back to her patient, her face lighting up in an overly-bright smile. “We’ll just take care of that bad little spot with you sitting up, all right?” With a slight grunt, she knelt and rolled up the pyjama leg covering his right shin.

Yes, Mycroft could see it—a wicked, bruised and oozing area marring the thin layer of flesh. It was red and looked hot and inflamed. “He’s taking antibiotics, is he not?” he inquired. “Won’t they take care of that?”

“It’s not like turning on a tap. It’s going to take some time for the antibiotics to work.” She removed a bottle and some gauze from her pocket. “Hold still,” she instructed brightly, “and we’ll be done one-two-three.”

*

He must have been about eight years old. He was small for his age and so very slight—with his ivory skin and sharp features—he often gave the impression of being somewhat sickly. Of course, other than his stomach, this was far from the truth. Wiry and graceful in a rather unlikely way for his age, he exuded an almost unworldly aura at times. It could be disconcerting, particularly to other children, who sometimes reacted with fear or, in this case, aggression.

It wasn’t the first and most assuredly would not be the last time that his little brother had come home with clear evidence of that aggression on his thin body or sometimes even his delicate face.

Dad had lifted his little brother up to sit on the kitchen counter and now, seated on a kitchen chair in front of him, he carefully rolled up his torn trouser legs. Wincing at the sight of the still-bleeding scrapes on both bony knees, Mycroft crossed the room and retrieved the well-stocked first aid kit. He handed it to his father.

“Thank you, Mycroft,” the gentle man said. “Sherlock, my sweet boy, I’m afraid this might hurt a bit, but I’ve got to get this all cleaned out.”

Sherlock, staring with interest at his shredded knees, nodded. “Or it could get infected,” he agreed rather keenly, observing as their father opened a bottle of antiseptic and tore open a few packets containing sterile gauze pads. “Do you think that you could murder someone like that?”

“Like what?” Their father didn’t seem even vaguely nonplussed by this comment. His brother was always going on about murder. It’s a phase, Mummy had said. “Easy, now. One, two, three and I’ll be done.” He doused the gauze and gingerly began to clean the wounded knees. Sherlock didn’t even flinch.

He pointed to the first aid supplies. “You could introduce any number of pathogens into the bottle.”

Mycroft considered this. “But it’s a bottle of antiseptic,” he pointed out. “Wouldn’t it neutralize whatever pathogen you were trying to introduce?”

“You’d empty the bottle first, idiot,” Sherlock sighed in disappointment, “then replace the fluid with something of a similar enough make-up that it retained its distinct odour without having any antiseptic properties. Do keep up, My.”

“Sherlock, don’t you dare replace anything in this kit with anything remotely lethal. Mycroft, don’t help your brother plan murders.”

Coming from anyone but the father of the two geniuses, this might have sounded odd at best. But this was Mr Holmes, and this was Mycroft and Sherlock, and for them it was all perfectly normal.

*

“Oh, yeah. That’s infected, all right. Tell you what. I’m going to clean it out, and then you’ll have to take tablets and keep it clean.”

“Yes, sir,” the footballer replied contritely. He apparently felt like an idiot, letting the scrape on his leg go for so long. He flinched as Dr Watson doused some gauze with antiseptic and carefully began to clean the wound.

*

“Come on, now. Time for dinner,” she instructed as she rolled down his pyjama leg. He shook his head rather violently. “Oh, don’t be like that. We need to have our dinner so we can take our medicine.”

He managed to drop her to the floor and had his foot pressed rather firmly on her shoulder before Mycroft was able to dash across the room to intervene.

“Not bad, little brother,” he whispered as he watched her get herself to her feet, coughing. “All right?” he asked the nurse insincerely. “Why don’t you take him down to the kitchen and see what Mrs Parker has made for him to eat.”

*

It was cream of tomato and he usually liked that. Someone used to make it for him. Who was that? It was on the tip of his tongue—the name was. The soup wasn’t. He did usually like it, but at that moment the thought of eating anything was making him feel horrid.

“Come now. Surely, we can manage just a bit of soup,” cooed the young woman standing behind him.

Not a good place to be standing.

He wondered how far the drops of soup would roll down her hair versus her face.

*

Mycroft had watched his brother walk unsteadily down the hall, the annoying nurse walking too closely to him, nearly tripping him as they approached the stairs. He was tired and hungry and wanted a shower and a glass or four of merlot and to pass out cold on his bed

in his bedroom

by himself

with no one else there.

But that wasn’t possible right now, was it? No. Clearly not. His brother needed him.

His brother—who he had personally sent through a life-size cheese grater and who had come out pretty much the only way he could have. His brother—who had been living on the rarely-used sofa in his bedroom.

His brother—who had been tortured and used and assumed about and…

And…

And he had caused every single mark; every single scar.

His confidence had not been misplaced; he had known that his brother was the only—only—person who could have done what he had done.

And he had done it, hadn’t he?

Yes, he had. Even though they had lost track of Sherlock months—many months—earlier, every target he hit—every operative he took out—they knew he was still alive; still working.

So, it was worth all the…

Worth all the…

Worth all the scars and broken bones and his broken head

His broken head

That was why his brother wasn’t talking

He knew that

It had been many, many years since he had taken any classes about biology, but he was perfectly capable of reading the doctor’s report and he did understand what expressive aphasia was. The clinical terminology wasn’t fooling him. His baby brother had had his head bashed in and it had damaged his brain (screw the scans) and that was why one of the most gregarious men in England was now

silent

And now his brother—his newly inarticulate brother—was back with him. He knew if he whined in confusion or frustration. He knew if he moaned in pain or cried in fear. He knew if he didn’t let someone know that he needed to use the toilet.

God. What if he never regained…

Regained…

What if he—dark curls and intense eyes and rich voice and quirky, wicked smile—never regained himself?

How would he explain that—to Mummy? To Dad? To Dr John Watson?

To himself?

What had he done?

*

Gloria signed off on the clipboard and thrust it into Winifred’s hands brusquely. Her perpetual smile was wiped completely off her face—something for which Mrs Parker was rather ashamedly overjoyed. Much to her delight, Sherlock had been an absolute prick to the irritating woman. The housekeeper had already made it perfectly clear to the agency that Gloria would NOT be returning. She hadn’t even needed her boss to tell her to take care of that. Even if he had said not to, she would have, to be honest.

Cheery was one thing. Pathologically chipper—and an idiot—was another.

Chapter Text

Winifred arrived for her shift, hiding a smile at Gloria’s less-than-glorious exit. She reviewed the notes she had been handed.

She had been a nurse for many years; she specialised in patients with traumatic brain injuries from accidents; illness; stroke. She had seen it all—a woman unable to recognise her husband, children, or parents; an up-and-coming footballer with constant tremors, slurred speech, and a ruined career; a fifty-something, Oxford-educated businessman who now spoke with what could be called a Norwegian accent.

She had signed the confidentiality statement with alacrity; this was bound to be an interesting case. That her patient was housed not in a hospital but in a private home that was more secure than Buckingham Palace—intriguing. That he turned out to be a strung-out, PTSD victim of horrific bodily abuse—well.

That he turned out to be the Hat Detective—oh my.

Winifred’s eldest daughter was one of those—well, although she didn’t wear “The Hat,” she did rather obsess about him. She got alerts when there was any reference to him in the media. She collected and saved articles; photos. She even belonged to a club of sorts, run by someone who had apparently worked with the great but eccentric man.

It seemed harmless, and she would rather have her panting after a genius than some idiotic boy band singer. She would probably pass out cold if she knew who her mother was tending to. She was relieved that she had signed the confidentiality agreement; it would save a lot of arguing later.

She entered the bedroom quietly. “Good evening,” she said politely to the older brother, who was sitting at the small desk, fidgeting with his mobile. He looked dreadful. “Are you all right?” she inquired.

“Just a bit tired,” he admitted stiffly.

“Then why not go to bed? You could sleep in the room next door.”

He considered this. He really did need to get some sleep, and he knew that staying in the same room as Sherlock would hardly be restful. He nodded and rose. “Yes. I believe that I will. You will let me know if he needs anything.” It was not a question.

“Of course, sir.”

He retrieved pyjamas and a few other items and then left her alone with her patient.

She checked his vitals; made sure he was warm and dry. His eye and the wound on his temple were looking somewhat better but, according to the notes, he was still being tormented by headaches. His appetite was sketchy and his stomach unpredictable. It was fine. That was why she was there. Some nurses seemed to think that their entire job was to administer meds and record things. She did not. She believed in the healing power of a gentle touch; the soothing quality of a low voice murmuring assurances. She smoothed his blankets over him and gently stroked his cheek as he slept.

*

Why am I here? he wondered. It was intolerable. He was on the sofa in Mycroft’s bedroom—and wearing his brother’s pyjamas. It was about two o’clock in the morning, according to two of the three clocks scattered through the room. He wasn’t sure how long he had been imprisoned in the huge house, but it had been long enough. He wanted to go home.

“Up for a bit?” said the woman sitting on the straight-backed chair.

He tried glaring at her, but his head was absolutely killing him, and scowling made it worse. He rubbed his forehead with the ball of one hand.

“It’s not quite time for more medication, I’m afraid. I know your head hurts. How about a nice, cold cloth?” She rose and went to his brother’s en-suite bathroom.

Then he was alone in the large room and for some reason that made him horribly uneasy. He rose—not easily—and wobbled over to a window.

What the fuck was he doing? He slammed himself against the wall, away from the opening. Idiot. That’s how they got you.

The woman—who reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t put his finger on who just then—returned with a glass of water in one hand and a neatly-folded flannel in the other. “Come sit back down,” she said firmly.

He made his way back to the sofa, lurching from the support of the wall and stumbling until he was able to drop down onto it. The woman—a nurse—sat beside him and handed him the glass. He frowned as he attempted to control his hand—it was shaking so badly that he nearly spilled the water—and she matter-of-factly reached over and, with wonderfully cool fingers, supported and guided it until he could sip a bit.

He winced. His lips hurt—he could taste blood on them—but the water felt good going down his parched throat and he drank about half of the glass before he suddenly felt overly full and pulled his head back. The nurse—had she been there the night before? —gently lowered it. “Good job,” she murmured.

Why did that phrase make his heart beat faster?

“Lie back down,” she suggested, rising. He did so and was gratified when she carefully laid the cool, damp flannel on his forehead.

Someone had done that for him, too—a long time ago. Who had that been? He drifted off trying to remember.

*

Two hours later, he woke whimpering.

“What’s the matter?” she asked gently. “Do you need something?”

“Daddy.”

She jumped; as he had been essentially speechless so far, his one word took her completely by surprise. And what he had said—well. He struggled to sit up. She gently helped him. He drew his legs up so his knees were against his chest and he wrapped his arms around them. He shivered and clutched at the blanket she rearranged to cover him. “W…” he attempted, looking around himself.

She couldn’t figure out what he wanted, and he began to get frustrated. “B…” was all he could manage.

“I’m sorry, my love. I know you’re having trouble speaking right now,” she responded.

He nodded emphatically, looking lost and confused.

She glanced at her watch. “Actually, it’s a good thing you’re awake. Time for some more tablets.”

He shook his head and whimpered at the pain it caused.

“No? Not even if I give you something to help with your sore head?”

He considered this and nodded, and shortly after she had gotten the tablets and some water into him, he began to look sleepy.

“Lie down, love,” she suggested. She smoothed the blankets over him and he was asleep almost immediately.

She thought about the confidentiality agreement and how now she was even more grateful that she could not tell a soul outside of that house what she was witnessing—as the once-great detective drifted off with a cushion clutched to his chest, his cheeks wet with tears and a knuckle pressed to his wounded lips.

*

“How is he?” It was about six in the morning. Mycroft entered his room briskly. He began to retrieve clothing for himself.

“He spoke.”

“What did he say?” he demanded sharply.

“He asked for your father,” Winifred admitted.

“Our father? Did he ask for Dad… or Daddy?”

“He said Daddy. Why? Is there a difference?”

“Yes.” Damn. He didn’t want to explain. “‘Daddy’ is Sherlock’s stepfather, in a way.”

“Is he available? Could he come see him?”

“Not exactly, no.”

He brushed past her and peered keenly at his brother, who was sleeping on the sofa, clutching one of the cushions to his chest. His lip had cracked again; there was a bit of dried blood on it. “Do you have something for his lips?” he asked, obviously wishing to change the subject.

“Yes. Of course. I’ll go get it.” She headed into the en-suite bathroom. “He should be drinking more water,” she added over her shoulder. “He’s been rather fussed about that.”

“In what way?” the government man asked in some alarm.

“His split lip. Sometimes it seems to bother him quite a bit.”

God, how he wanted to tell her to try a training cup—or a bottle—how eager his little brother would be for nice, cool water from one. He wondered if he should… no.

That was for Sherlock’s Daddy to do, and at that moment, Mycroft Holmes was uncharacteristically puzzled over how to reunite the two.

“I have to go into work. You can ask my housekeeper to contact me if anything is required.”

Winifred shook her head as he strode out of the room, presumably to go back next door to dress.

*

“The sergeant filed his report,” Thomas reported. “He’s been making inquiries to other stations, trying to find out who ‘Uncle Greg’ might be.”

“Send it to me,” Mycroft ordered.

“Do you think he’ll find out?” Sean inquired a short time later.

Mycroft shook his head. “I do not believe so; he’s looking for a constable with the first name of Greg who has an adult but mentally handicapped nephew. The man in question’s father is named John and his brother is (he paused and shuddered a bit) ‘Mike’. There is no way anyone would connect that with DI Lestrade from Scotland Yard, myself, Dr Watson, or even my brother himself. The fact that ‘Lock—as he was calling himself—has not reappeared and no one has come looking for him has probably led the policeman to believe that he was found and is safely back home.”

“Well, that’s true, actually—in a way, I mean.”

Mycroft glared at him. “My brother has been found, but he is not safe, and this is not his home.”

“Sorry, sir,” he mumbled. God, he had put his foot in it, hadn’t he?

 

 

Chapter Text

Solomon arrival at eight o’clock was either at the most opportune time or the worst, depending on one’s point of view. Winifred was grateful to see him. “Good morning,” she sighed. “Can you give me a hand?”

“Run a bath for him. I’ll get him undressed,” he nodded.

*

He whimpered as his wet pyjamas were removed. He hadn’t meant to. It was an accident. Daddy never got angry about accidents. The man helping him didn’t seem angry, either. So maybe it was not so bad. He would try to be a big boy and remember to ask if he needed Daddy to help him with the toilet.

*

Mycroft Holmes might want to have the sofa re-upholstered when this was all done, Winifred reflected.

“Where is his brother?” Solomon asked as between the two of them they got their charge stripped and into the bath.

“He actually got some sleep last night—I sent him to the guest room, but he had to go into his office quite early—something terribly important from what I could gather.”

They were both startled when Sherlock made a sort of derisive sound.

“Not impressed by your brother’s career, I take it?” Solomon prodded, smiling a bit.

But there was no response. He seemed to sink back into himself. He began to study the bath water—raising his hand and watching with interest as the water droplets coming off his fingers made ripples.

“Did they send the results yet?” the dark-skinned man asked his co-worker as they both watched him.

“On?”

“They did the CT scan yesterday—that was a blast.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t get anything. Listen, have you got him? I want to get going,” Winifred yawned. “It was a long night.”

“Yeah. He’s fine. He seems to like baths, yeah?”

“Yes, he does. Let him have a good soak,” she suggested. “I’ll take these down to be washed,” she added as she gathered up the wet clothing.

*

Solomon was delighted. His patient had, after being dried off and redressed, allowed himself to be manoeuvred down into the kitchen (he seemed more relaxed when in that room than anywhere else in the house) and he had eaten several slices of apple (peeled and doused with lemon and cinnamon sugar, as Mr Holmes had instructed) and two chocolate biscuits.

When he was done, he carefully made his way to the library on the ground floor. Solomon followed. He browsed along the full shelves, occasionally removing a book. He stacked them on the table—there was a round table of heavy oak with four chairs around it—wobbling back and forth across the room unsteadily.

Finally, he had begun to show signs of fatigue and sighed somewhat gratefully as Solomon, with the books cradled in one muscular arm, guided him up the stairs back to the sofa in his brother’s bedroom and covered him with a soft blanket.

He placed the books in a tidy stack on the floor, where Sherlock could easily reach them from the sofa.

The new evening nurse—Solomon had had a hard time keeping a straight face as the circumstances around Gloria’s dismissal were explained by the housekeeper—had less success in getting him to eat again later.

Chapter Text

Mycroft Holmes’ housekeeper examined the image from the CCTV camera that fed images from the gate that shut the rest of the world out of their little empire directly to the little office space she had in the corner of the kitchen. She had a tidy little computer with a decent-sized monitor there, and it was with it that she took care of the household bookkeeping—she managed the paycheques and schedules for Mr Holmes’ other employees, ordered groceries, and coordinated everything her job required.

She also admitted to playing Words with Friends online on occasion.

But now, of course, the other primary purpose for the electronics was to monitor the multiple CCTV feeds that covered virtually every inch of the property, inside and out. The feeds generally ran in the background, but if anything triggered a specific feed—a motion sensor being set off, for example—the window would open, interrupting whatever else she was doing.

And at that moment, Mrs Parker was expecting someone to buzz from the gate, and there she was, exactly on time. She peered at the image being transmitted to her and carefully compared it to the employee ID photo sent to her by the nursing agency. She did this with each change of nurse, their shifts running midnight to eight o’clock, eight to four o’clock, and four back to midnight. Mr Holmes’ favourite assistant—a sharp young woman who reminded her of herself far too many years earlier than she cared to admit—had, as she had so many times before, contacted the agency to make the nursing care arrangements, then passed the information (and the responsibility) to her.

It was not the first time Mr Holmes had housed someone who required around-the-clock nursing and, of course, the highest degree of security and anonymity possible.

It was not the first time the younger brother, with his wild, dark curls and intense eyes, had required it.

*

The nurse she had buzzed in (and of course let into the house via the outside door with the metal detector concealed in the frame) was a sturdily built woman with an accent from somewhere in the north.

“Henrietta Tobin,” she introduced herself.

“Mrs Parker. I’ll show you to your patient.”

*

“Hello, Solomon!” she greeted the dark-skinned man, a sparkle in her eye. He was lovely.

“Etta!

*

Sherlock peered suspiciously at the people who stood before him. His head ached and he felt horrid and for some reason he kept thinking about Kathmandu, which was odd because he knew nothing at all about the far-off city except how it sounded and looked and smelled and felt and he was a bit dizzy because everyone seemed so much shorter than him and he hadn’t seen the tops of so many heads and they were all dark-haired and not English and not England and the food was unfamiliar and odd and it made him feel ill all the time but he just had to put up with it didn’t he because he was there to do a job not have a holiday and he would never go there for a holiday especially not without John but John would like New Orleans and San Francisco but not Las Vegas—

*

“Whoops. All right, mate,” Solomon sighed as he managed to get the bin under his chin in time.

“Oh, dear,” Etta remarked, not in distress but in sympathy.

“Yeah, he’s a puker,” Solomon noted off-handedly. “All done?” he asked his patient. He rubbed his shoulder. “Let’s get you cleaned up, yeah?”

“I’ll do it,” Etta offered. “You should be off the clock.”

“Yeah. All right. This isn’t his room—not really—but we’ve moved all his things into here—I mean, the housekeeper did. Mrs Parker. He’s easier in here but his room’s next door. It’s supposed to be. His brother sleeps in there sometimes.”

Etta knew Solomon well enough to know that this was a fairly straightforward statement for him—he did get terribly tongue-tied when he was trying too hard. But he was one of the best nurses she had ever met. His compassion coupled with his strength, knowledge, and calm when it came to his patients was more than admirable. He never seemed the least bit self-conscious or rattled when he was talking to any of them—exactly as he was doing now.

“Well, Sherlock, what do you think about that? I’ve had a fine time with you, but I’ve got to be off. Etta here will take care of you. And you will behave yourself, won’t you, for her? You’ve been lovely all day.”

Etta’s new patient frowned and coughed.

“Toothbrush in the loo?” she asked. “I bet your mouth is nasty.”

He allowed her to lead him into the en-suite bathroom with the obscenely large tub and help him clean his mouth and face.

After that, he scowled at her, pushing her rudely away as he wobbled back to the sofa. He flopped onto it rather dramatically, then abruptly turned his body so he was curled up on his side, his face buried in the cushions.

She thought she heard him say “bored,” but she wasn’t sure.

*

“Please, call me Etta,” she insisted. “Henrietta is so old-fashioned.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Mrs Parker opined.

“I was named after some great-great-great something Uncle Henry for some reason. I’ve never quite forgiven my parents for it,” she explained merrily. “Although it was rather prescient—he was an attendant in one of those old Victorian madhouses—a sort of psychiatric nurse, if you can believe it.”

“Goodness. Yes. Coincidence?”

“Do you ever wonder about some of those coincidences?” Etta mused. “Sherlock, love, leave that and come sit down.”

Sherlock, who had been poking at the housekeeper’s computer (she had locked out the internet per Mr Holmes’ instructions and knew more than enough about the younger brother to be able to create an almost-unbreakable password for the web, but it was fine if he wanted to use a word-processing or other app), scowled and shook his head, but then, leaning heavily on the counter, he rose and got over to the kitchen table.

“Good lad,” Mrs Parker praised. “How about some biscuits and a lovely cup of tea?”

*

John switched the kettle off and poured the boiling water over the tea bag already in place. Not exactly a proper brew-up, he knew, but that was the way he did it.

Had always done it.

Had never fussed with the tea pot and strainer and those ridiculous tiny, fragile teacups and saucers—those drove him berserk. Seriously—balance a slippery bit of china full of hot liquid on another equally slippery one? Who had come up with that?

He had his mug.

It had a lovely-but-fading Union Jack on it. It reminded him of the cushion—

Never mind.

Sherlock never cared what his tea was in—he would reach out for one of Mrs Hudson’s delicate cup-and-saucer bits as easily as a lovely, thick (heat retaining!) mug as long as it had three to four sugars and lots of milk.

And when Little ‘Lock wanted tea with Daddy, it was almost all milk and sugar and just the slightest hint of camomile or some other caffeine-free, herbal mixture because his sweet boy did not need the stimulation…

Never mind.

Adult Sherlock had had no problems with teabags and Earl Grey right from the Tesco or anything anyone declared to be “tea” as long as it was hot, wet, and had enough sugar to hurt most people’s teeth.

*

“Oh, please,” the nurse begged. “Just a little.”

He shook his head and kept his mouth firmly shut.

“Not even two bites?”

Sherlock was impressed with how satisfying the sound of the smashing china was. Did everyone think he was an idiot? Two bites would be more than enough to kill him.

*

“Hello, Sherlock.” The smarmy man came in as if it was his room—oh, perhaps it was. “Mycroft Holmes,” he introduced himself. “Newest nurse?”

“Etta, sir,” she introduced herself.

“How is he today?” he inquired, pointedly ignoring both the offered hand and the name.

“He’s… his appetite is off,” she offered. She had been warned that the elder Holmes brother was some high mucky-muck in the government and a prick about details, but that he also obviously loved his younger brother because it was “no expense spared” and he had, in actuality, given up his own bedroom for the slender man.

Interesting family dynamics, Etta reflected.

“So… nothing unusual for my brother,” he murmured. “Sherlock, how are you doing today?” he asked him.

In response, Sherlock grabbed the first book from the pile by the sofa and thrust it at his brother.

*

“Much as I loathe to request it, Mycroft, I require your assistance,” he stated firmly.

“What is it, Sherlock?” his brother responded. He sounded surprised.

“I’ve selected several books, but my eyes are bothering me. I can’t seem to read without giving myself a headache,” he explained.

“Would you like me to read to you?” the older man asked.

He handed him one of the books he had found; the man who was there earlier—Solomon—had come with him in search of the library and helped him bring several books upstairs. He had even stacked them the way he preferred—on the floor next to the sofa.

“That would be useful,” he shot back. Why was Mycroft talking to him like he was a four-year-old? “Obviously.”

*

“Mmmy,” he stated firmly.

“What is it, Sherlock?” his brother responded. He couldn’t hide his surprise.

“B… buh…,” he explained.

“Would you like me to read to you?” the older man asked.

He handed him one of the books he had found; he and the nurse on a previous shift had gone in search of the library and the nurse had helped him bring several books upstairs. The fastidious man sighed as he saw them stacked on the floor next to the sofa.

“Ah….ah-vus-lee.”

It was the most coherent thing he had managed to say since his retrieval; it was practically a conversation.

*

It was Christmas Day and twelve days until Sherlock’s fourth birthday. They had had a quiet day at home, just the four of them. They had discovered very early on that parties—even small gatherings—could be too stimulating for their younger son. He would have an absolute melt down, and if he had indulged in too much rich food, it never ended well.

So, they enjoyed a quiet morning opening gifts and listening to music, and it had been quite peaceful.

Now, as the afternoon shadows lengthened, Mycroft smiled as his soft-cheeked little brother thrust a heavy book at him.

“Read to me, My,” he had commanded.

“All right,” he agreed. “Come sit with me.” ‘Lock had climbed up into his lap, nearly hitting his brother in the face with the plastic pirate sword he had just gotten. “Careful with that,” he instructed mildly. He opened the book that Sherlock had chosen and began reading.

At first his brother had squirmed a bit, but as they both began to be drawn into the story, he gradually stilled, leaning back against his brother’s chest. The book was illustrated, and sometimes he would brush a finger across one of the images.

Then all of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion of oaths and other noises—the chair and table went over in a lump, a clash of steel followed, and then a cry of pain, and the next instant I saw Black Dog in full flight, and the captain hotly pursuing, both with drawn cutlasses, and the former streaming blood from the left shoulder. Just at the door the captain aimed at the fugitive one last tremendous cut, which would certainly have split him to the chine had it not been intercepted by our big signboard of Admiral Benbow. You may see the notch on the lower side of the frame to this day.

That blow was the last of the battle. Once out upon the road, Black Dog, in spite of his wound, showed a wonderful clean pair of heels and disappeared over the edge of the hill in half a minute. The captain, for his part, stood staring—

“My?”

“What? Don’t interrupt.”

“Father Christmas doesn’t live in China, does he?”

“Of course not. Why?”

Sherlock had been staring intently at his new plastic pirate sword, and then he had utterly astounded his brother by bursting into tears. “I knew it! It’s all a lie!” he sobbed. Their parents rushed in from the kitchen. “There’s no Father Christmas!” he wailed. “It’s made in a factory!” He pointed at the offending proof—the words MADE IN CHINA at the base of his sword—and threw it as far away from himself as he could.

“He figured it out himself,” Mycroft explained sadly to Mummy and Dad. “’Lock, it’s all right. Shall I continue reading?”

“I think someone needs an N-A-P,” Mummy declared.

“No sleep!” was his response, crying harder. Dad scooped him up from his brother’s lap, arms and legs flailing.

“Come along,” he soothed as he swept his small son onto his shoulder.

“No no no sleep!” he gasped.

“Let’s just go lie down with your blanket and rest for a bit, then.” He rubbed comforting circles on his back. “I think sometimes you are a bit too brilliant for your own good, my sweet boy.”

Mycroft and Mummy watched as he carried the still-sobbing, still-struggling small child out of the room. They knew that Dad was the one most likely to be able to calm him down—he had a quiet, gentle way about him and he seemed to understand better than they what his little son found overstimulating and what would bring him peace.

Mycroft pictured him upstairs now, in Sherlock’s bedroom—the walls painted a light blue. He would put his son down—still weeping a bit. He would pull down the soft, solid blue duvet, revealing the special, extra-soft sheets they had to use with him—and had to wash in special powder because the ordinary stuff gave him a rash. Then he would kneel and undress him, leaving him in just pants and a t-shirt, pick him up, and place him carefully in the bed.

“Blow,” he would instruct as he held a tissue to the small nose. “Now, lie down.”

Sherlock would lie back, sniffing, as Dad handed him his favourite blanket—a tattered old thing, washed hundreds of times. Sherlock had never been keen on stuffed animals, but he could not sleep without his soft, faded blanket.

“Isn’t that better?” Dad would ask, and then he would rise, turn on some classical music, and shut the light. He would leave the door partially open and the hallway light on.

Downstairs with Mummy, Mycroft closed their book and retrieved the plastic sword. “It’s all my fault,” he stated sadly. “I got him this.”

“Not at all, sweetheart. He was bound to figure it out earlier than most children. You were even younger when you did.”

“He’ll probably think I was lying to him on purpose about Father Christmas, to tease him.”

“No, he won’t. Your brother loves you and trusts you, Mycroft. That will never change.”

Mycroft considered this, then nodded. “He did seem to like the book, at least.”

“Yes, he did. He loves it when you read to him.”

*

Mycroft knew he was experiencing an uneasy combination of stress (loathe as he was to admit it) and fatigue, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It left him with a vague sense of unreality that gave everything a somewhat soft edge. It wasn’t that he was not thinking clearly—that would never happen—but it smoothed and cushioned the hard edges of what he was feeling—both physical sensations and his emotions. He had been eating whatever was placed in front of him automatically, but he was not aware of feeling either hungry or satiated. He had showered when it was convenient. He had slept as much as he could when he could.

Which he could not do now.

What he wanted to do was to change and sleep in the room next to his own, as he had done the night before. He would have been grateful to stretch out on his own bed. But now, it didn’t matter how exhausted he was. His brother wanted him to read to him, and, thrilled at the almost-words Sherlock had managed to form, was happy to do so.

He glanced at the stack of books. There was one about chess; two about chemistry. One was about the history of the use of fingerprints in criminal investigations that had been a gift from Sherlock himself.

But he smiled sadly as he accepted the book thrust at him with one shaking hand and sank down onto the sofa next to his baby brother.

Tonight, he would be reading Treasure Island.

Chapter Text

“Come over here,” Winifred invited, placing her bag on the table in a different bedroom than he had been inhabiting. She had found her patient there, sitting on the floor and impatiently flipping through the pages of a book. Etta had filled her in on their patient’s somewhat rough start to the day—a tetchy stomach, outburst in the kitchen. Thankfully, things had smoothed out after that. He had seemed to genuinely enjoy his brother reading to him, and after that, he had gone wandering through the immense house, eventually involving himself in a creative (and harmless) activity.

He glanced up, his eyes betraying his interest.

“I’ve brought you a surprise.” She reached into the bag and pulled something out.

His eyes opening wide, he dropped his book and reached out.

“That’s right,” she encouraged. “These are for you.” She smiled as he eagerly accepted the brightly coloured box she held. “Go on. Open it. Shall I find some paper?”

It took him the next half-hour (managing rolling crayons with shaking hands was a bit tricky), but when he was done, all sixty-four crayons were arranged meticulously by colour.

Then—and only then—did he begin to draw with them on the clean, white A4 paper the nurse had found for him.

Chapter Text

“What happened?” Solomon asked uneasily. Winifred had met him on the ground floor, where they went into the library together.

“He was stretched out on the floor, and he put his head down for a bit, and he fell asleep like that. I don’t know what woke him—I think he was dreaming—but he absolutely flipped out.”

“Over what?”

“I have no idea. I think he was just disoriented—I mean, more than usual. You know how it is sometimes when you wake up suddenly. He was trying so hard to tell me. He got himself so frustrated, and he started slamming his hands on the floor.” She demonstrated the angry motions.

“You had to sedate him?”

“I hate doing it. I think it’s confusing him more than he already is, but he was hyperventilating. I did get him to take the tablets instead of an injection, at least, and he seemed to understand that I was trying to help him, not hurt him, but I’m still not sure it’s always the best thing for him.”

“But we can’t let him hurt himself,” the younger man pointed out. He didn’t disagree with her, but he saw both sides of the situation.

“Oh, I know. I just hate it when he’s all doped up.”

“Where is he now?” Solomon asked.

She headed towards the stairs, gesturing for him to follow.

“Right where I left you. Good job, Sherlock,” she called out as she entered a room Solomon had not been in before. He glanced around in bafflement before spotting him.

Ah. There he was. All six feet of consulting detective was stretched out under a blanket suspended between a table and two chairs, where he was lying on his stomach on top of a solid blue duvet, dressed in pyjamas. His feet were bare—his discarded socks nearby—and he had used a maroon satin dressing gown to create a sort of back wall to his—

“He made a blanket fort,” the nurse said in some bewilderment.

“Mmm.”

“He’s colouring.” He noted that their patient was moving slowly; dreamily. Clearly still under the influence of the tranquiliser. He did not seem to take any notice of them.

She nodded in agreement. “I brought him the crayons,” she added.

“Art therapy?”

“I’ll say.”

Solomon frowned at her tone. “What’s wrong?” he demanded.

The older nurse sighed and motioned for him to follow her. They entered the bedroom that their patient was supposed to be using. There were several pieces of A4 paper on the table. He approached them a bit hesitantly. From Winifred’s demeanour, he suspected that he wasn’t going to be seeing pictures of faeries and bunnies.

Even somewhat prepared, though, he felt his stomach drop as he rapidly scanned the dozen or so crayoned images. “My God,” he finally exhaled, putting the stack face-down on the table. “Should we show Mr Holmes?”

“Of course.”

“Do you suppose they’re all… uh… real?”

“You mean, is that all things that he actually saw, or experienced?” She looked close to tears. “Yes, I do.”

“It explains a lot,” the other nurse agreed.

Before she signed off, Winifred peeked in on him. He had fallen asleep in his soft haven again, the red crayon still held loosely in his hand.

*

He liked the crayons. They were just like the ones that Daddy got him, except they were all out of order. He fixed that as he considered what to draw.

He liked drawing better than colouring in a book. Daddy said it was because he liked to use his imagination—and that his brain was not quite like other little boys’ brains. That made him special and he liked that, too.

Except that sometimes being special was scary—when he was sleeping, sometimes he saw himself in a long, dark coat and uncomfortable-looking suit and shoes, acting very grown-up and using big, hard words. Sometimes Daddy was there with him, reminding him to be polite, and sometimes he wasn’t, and then ‘Lock would say something rude and the grown-ups he was talking to would be angry at him. That frightened him a bit.

And sometimes it was even more frightening. He must have been very, very wicked because the grown-ups in his head were so angry that they shouted and they hit him and they cut him and they… was it real? Had those things somehow really happened? Because if they had, then someone very bad had done something very, very not okay to him.

He would wake up shaking and panting and wanting Daddy very, very much, but Daddy wasn’t there.

*

This time when he woke up he was a little afraid, but he knew that he was safe under his blanket and no one could sneak up behind him because he was… invibiz… invizle… Big Brother’s dressing gown made it so no one could see him.

The drawing under his hand frightened him and he threw the red crayon away as hard as he could before tearing the paper to bits.

*

“Ooo, look what’s for lunch, Sherlock—macaroni cheese!” Solomon enthused. He had been informed that that was—well, it had been—one of his favourites as a child, and Mrs Parker was willing to make anything to entice him to eat. Solomon did not mention to her that there was a specific reason that he had requested a childhood favourite, but when they arrived in the kitchen, she had taken one look at the thin man and nodded, giving the nurse a small, understanding smile.

He was in pyjamas and his brother’s maroon dressing gown. He was withdrawn, his head down to his chest. He shuffled his bare feet as the dark-skinned, well-developed nurse gently tugged him by one hand. The other hand he held up to his cheek, and when he slid it down to brush against his lips, she noticed that it was decorated in swirls of waxy colours.

He seemed disinclined to feed himself, and Solomon patiently fed him one forkful at a time while Sherlock gazed at the crayon marks on his hand, lost in thought.

*

Mycroft sighed as he set the electronic lock and alarm on his home office. He would not have admitted it to anyone, but he knew that he was moving slowly. He was exhausted by the situation with his brother, and on top of it, his reappearance had obviously necessitated the implementation of several emergency security measures for key members of the government—himself included. He had also shifted his resources; the large number of his people who had been engaged in worldwide surveillance 24/7 while his brother was away, monitoring for signs of his brother’s activities—and his brother himself—had been informed of the prodigal son’s return, but instead of giving them a break, he suggested the high probability that their target would, if he had not already done so, be returning to London.

Of course, even while all of this was occurring, none of his regular responsibilities had diminished.

He emerged from the hidden entrance to his home office—which just happened to be in an underground bunker—and took a deep breath. He could use some exercise, and some dinner. Not necessarily in that order. He glanced at his watch and strode into the kitchen.

“Mrs Parker?”

“Yes, sir?” She turned from the small computer on which she was working.

“It seems to have been quiet today,” he stated. “Quiet” was a relative term, of course—he meant that he had received no urgent messages from anyone in his household regarding his brother, and he took that as a positive sign.

“Yes, it has, actually,” his housekeeper confirmed. “He’s upstairs with that handsome nurse—Solomon. The new nurse will be coming on in a bit, and I was just going to start on dinner.”

“Do you think…” He paused, uncharacteristically unsure. An idea had come to him, but, for once, he was out of his depth. “Do you think my brother would react well to me joining him for dinner?”

Mrs Parker did an admirable job of not letting her jaw drop open in shock, he noted.

“I think it would be worthwhile asking,” she suggested. “Go on.” She made a shooing motion.

*

“I think that would be lovely, sir,” the nurse nodded. “Sherlock, would you like to have dinner with your brother?”

His brother glanced up and shrugged before bending his head down again.

“What have you been up to?” the older man inquired. One of his activities was obvious—and he was not thrilled with the use of his dressing gown—but Sherlock looked comfortable and calm and clearly felt safe in his soft-walled construction. He watched his brother for a moment. He was sitting cross-legged and, using a large book as a writing desk, busily filling a sheet of paper with waxy colours. There were pieces of paper spread all over the floor. “Drawing, is it?”

“Your brother’s been… erm… drawing, all day. You should probably take a look,” the nurse provided quietly.

Mycroft frowned. He didn’t like his demeanour. The usually almost ebullient man was decidedly downcast. “Oh?” He attempted to sound neutral.

“Yeah. Winifred—the overnight nurse—got him crayons—we thought that maybe he could try to… not talking… well, you know.”

Mycroft nodded. Despite his inarticulate spluttering, he knew that the nurse was not just competent but genuinely concerned for his brother, as was the night nurse, and he thought that the idea to provide him with a different medium in which to express himself was inspired. He was also keenly aware that the choice of crayons was more than appropriate.

He squatted down. “May I look?” He indicated the papers with a wave of his hand and was gratified when Sherlock, without looking up, nodded. “Thank you,” he told him. He gathered a few sheets, stood up, and began examining them.

It was an interesting—perhaps alarming? —mixture. What struck him first was the illustration of a snake. He had used crayons, and the reptile was an emerald green. It seemed quite naturalistic and accurate, except for the eyes. Oddly, they were not reptilian, but instead solid black.

There were a few sheets with what seemed to be portions of chemical notations and equations. He was not nearly as well-versed as his brother in that area (he would never admit it aloud, but he had always been secretly proud of his brother’s excellence in the field), but he felt sure that the bits would make sense to a fellow chemist. Those were written in pencil. He glanced at Sherlock’s right hand and yes, it had a characteristic grey smudge on it.

There were two crayoned images with a more primitive look—he likened the style to that of a five-year-old, perhaps—but the content of both was something he fervently hoped no five-year-old would ever encounter. He was not certain which was more disturbing—the one featuring piles of automatic weapons or the one of scattered shapes in shades of red and black.

Possibly all the shapes, if attached to one another in the proper way, made up a human being.

He turned those two sheets to face inward.

The next page was rather intriguing. It consisted of pencilled rows of numbers, mixed with some odd marks and letters. As his eyes scanned the sheet, he was able to discern the pattern: numerals, a dot (or circle or @ sign; it was difficult to tell with Sherlock’s handwriting), more numerals, a tiny vertical line, and then a capital letter. This pattern was repeated to form pairs that ran down the page in rough, rather misaligned columns. It took him a minute to decipher some of the messier characters, but when he did, it confirmed his suspicion: they were latitude and longitude coordinates. He would need to know what location each pair pinpointed.

His brother had switched from pencil back to crayons and was currently drawing what could only be a map. Mycroft watched with interest as he put down the blue crayon with which he was working—was he drawing bodies of water? —and took up a green one.

Carefully (his hands were beginning to tremble; he was tiring), he drew an X, and then another, and then another, and then three very close together. It was obvious that they were positioned in a deliberate way.

He then selected a purple crayon and, with great intensity, made a dot and then a wobbly circle around it. Mycroft couldn’t help but notice that this symbol was in the centre of and equidistance to all of the Xs.

Humming in satisfaction, he found a brown crayon and soon one of the bodies of water was graced with a distinct image of a sailing ship. “Here,” said Mycroft, bending to hand him the black crayon. His brother grunted—was that meant to be a thank you? —and carefully added what could only be a classic Jolly Roger flag.

Mycroft couldn’t help it. He snorted in amusement. “Well done,” he praised.

“Puh…pie-rut, My.”

“Yes, that is an excellent pirate ship, Sherlock,” he assured him.

“Ima pie-rut. My ship.” He popped the p.

The government man felt something very odd and foreign going on in his chest. “Yes, that’s your pirate ship,” he agreed when he could speak.

His brother nodded and sighed, dropping the crayon.

The nurse, who had stepped out of the room for a moment during their visit, returned with more papers in his hand. “Is that enough for now?” he asked, looking down at his patient. “Why not put your things away and get washed up?”

Sherlock nodded. He began to meticulously return each crayon to the box. While he focused on this, Mycroft gathered up the remainder of the papers from the floor, and Solomon handed him the drawings from the other room. He tapped them into a tidy stack. “These are very interesting, Sherlock,” he told him, sincerely. “Shall I keep them safe for you?”

Mycroft stopped in the kitchen to tell Mrs Parker that yes, he and his brother would dine together in his room before slipping back down into his office.

*

He did wonder about it—those times when Sherlock did not seem just traumatized and speechless but almost regressed, one could say. He made no effort to obscure his behaviour, selecting children’s books, seeking out physical comfort and contact, and playing as he had done when he was very young. He curled up with a blanket or cushion, and—this was the most distressing to the older man—he would put his fingers or his thumb in his mouth and whimper and cry.

The government man was aware of the little “game” that his brother and the doctor had played before Sherlock had gone away, and, perhaps a bit oddly, it had never bothered him. Perhaps it was because, like his intimate relationship and even simple friendship with Dr Watson, it was something that his brother had needed for a long, long time.

Since he was a teen, really, his brother had been so terribly unhappy. His brilliance and observational skills, while a bit off-putting when he was a child, had not begun to actively affect his life or his sense of self until he hit puberty. That, combined with his realisation about his sexual orientation and the mess that was adolescence in general, had hit him hard. Neither Mycroft nor their parents liked to recall those years—the cutting, the lashing out, the withdrawal and depression, and eventually the drug use and associated criminal behaviour—it had been a low time for all of them. His first year at uni hadn’t been an improvement, even as Mycroft began stepping in more and more.

His second year—the year with the equally intelligent and musically gifted William—had been a glimmer of light, but that had unfortunately been snuffed out as William finished his schooling there and Sherlock, instead of returning for his third year, truly disappeared for the first time.

The first time. The first of many, many times.

*

Mycroft had sighed as he checked his email—his personal account. There was a message from his parents. He knew that his father had sent it; Mummy still preferred to phone. It was a forwarded message. He clicked it open.

They had gotten a reply from his brother’s school chum, William. Unbeknownst to Sherlock, they had remained in touch with the young man over the years, and spurred by his most recent disappearing act, had finally reached out in desperation—did he have any idea where his old friend might be?

The government man noted almost unconsciously that William had replied to their request at about two o’clock in the morning; he recalled that the two young men had shared their irregular sleep patterns.

Dear Mr & Mrs Holmes,

Of course I don’t mind you contacting me. I am very, very sorry to hear that Sherlock hasn’t been doing well these past few months. I know that there were times before I knew him that were quite dark for him, and that he was sometimes terribly unhappy. I never could quite figure out what made him like that, and neither could he. He confessed to me more than once that he did not wish to be that way—that he missed being able to take pleasure in things that had, in the past, delighted him. I did recommend a therapist, as I know you did as well, but I don’t suppose I need to tell you that your son is the most stubborn person in the country.

I wish that I could tell you something—anything—that would help. I have tried, so many times, to reach out to him. I’ve phoned and emailed and texted and have even, when I knew that he had a fixed address for a bit, sent him letters and little reminders of our uni days.

At first, he would respond to me quite angrily—telling me to mind my own business and to get out of his life. Eventually he stopped responding completely. My gifts would come back. He wouldn’t even open my emails.

I’m sorry. This is a long response to your question. No, I do not know where he is. If I did, I can assure you that I would personally go and retrieve him instantly. I miss him dreadfully and would give anything to know that he is safe.

I will look. There were some places that I know he enjoyed—and others that he frequented. I will let you know anything that I learn. Please let me know if he turns up. When he turns up—and what condition he’s in. Either way, I wonder if he would want to see me—but I will not let my doubts prevent me from searching as thoroughly as I am able.

I still have every book he gave me; every arrangement we played together. I wonder if he has the ones that I gave to him.

Please stay in touch.

William

*

Everyone was temporarily relieved when, somehow, someone had convinced him to complete his studies. It had never been a sure thing, but somehow—the picture that came to Mycroft’s mind was of a tightrope walker wobbling between two towering buildings—he had completed his Master’s in chemistry.

It was, of course, entirely ridiculous to expect him to then simply pursue a career in a research lab or some related area. No—he had returned to his wayward lifestyle, often sleeping rough and supplementing the money he and their parents gave him (it’s a loan, their parents would insist—he’ll pay us back when he settles down) in ways that still made Mycroft shudder.

That was when the surveillance began. He had, by then, moved quietly and steadily up the invisible ladder that his life in the shadowy underside of “the government” had offered him. For the most part, he had been entirely—completely—undeniably and reliably—professional. Friendships, social obligations—even his parents never competed for his attention to his job. He himself did not have what might be considered a “personal” life—no companion or attachment of any description. He eschewed the trappings of emotions.

Nothing came between him and his position. Ever. Except…

He began it covertly; learning to tap into and manipulate the CC cameras that poked into virtually every space in London. That was actually required for his work. It was only after a particularly embarrassing incident requiring his involvement—he had long before gained the power to make criminal charges disappear—that it occurred to him that he might use the web of surveillance—quite literally “Big Brother”—to keep an eye on his errant sibling.

God, the things that that had revealed.

Mycroft was a man divorced from sentiment and detached from his own emotions—but sometimes he nearly wept as he observed the assured path to self-destruction that was his brother’s life.

It had been a Godsend when, spurred by his interest in solving mysteries, he had somehow gotten the attention of Lestrade, and there had been a few years of a somewhat uneasy peace. With the carrot of cases dangling in front of him, he, for the first time, actively attempted to get clean. He took a ratty little flat on Montague Street. He was stumbling along, spending what little money he made from cases on books, scientific equipment, and clothing… mostly.

And then, there he was. A short, angry, unlikely ex-Army captain and doctor with a psychosomatic limp, nerves of steel, and an attraction to danger had entered his brother’s life, and suddenly everything was, if not perfect, so very much better.

He had been leery and protective of his little brother, of course—and perhaps the kidnapping was a bit over the top—but could anyone blame him? Or for the continued surveillance? He had certainly begun it only with the intention of keeping tabs on his brother.

And even after the rather shouty man (and he was secretly vastly entertained by the doctor’s quickness with a quip) made it perfectly clear that he was taking over the care of Sherlock, he admitted to maintaining his vigilance. He was a decent man, though—he did not watch any of their more “intimate” times when they finally got themselves sorted on that front—but he still did and probably always would worry about his brother—constantly.

How had he felt, then, about the new facet the doctor had introduced to their lives?

His brother had, at the age of five, carefully and accurately recorded the stages of decomposition of a mouse he had found dead in a trap. He had experimented with the effects of various household cleaners on various bodily fluids—blood, saliva, and a few even more unpleasant ones—before his tenth birthday. He eschewed children’s books and preferred to read the newspaper when other children his age could barely manage a picture book. He used his plush animals to stage murder scenes and his worn, much-loved blanket had eventually been sacrificed to observe the comparative effects of three different types of acids. Sherlock had, in short, rejected and resisted a great deal of the trappings of childhood at an early age.

To see him curled up with the doctor on their sofa, gazing at a children’s programme or listening to him read aloud; to watch as he became completely engaged and calm whilst building with blocks or colouring…

*

Mummy sighed in that way she did that could only mean that Sherlock’s teacher had phoned—again.

They knew that he was bored. It was hardly unexpected. Sherlock had learned to read when he was about three years old and had an excellent grasp of maths and greater concepts; he liked to measure things in terms of length and volume. He had created his own system for comparisons—happily informing Mummy or Dad or Big Brother that Mummy’s marigolds were “one queen” tall but her roses were only “one pawn.” He would plunge a fist into a measuring cup of water, overflowing it and then watching in fascination as he withdrew it and noted “how many lines shorter” the water was.

So, Sherlock was often very, very bored at school, and a bored Sherlock tended to get into trouble quite often. And there were a lot of calls from his teachers.

Mummy replaced the phone in its cradle. “Oh, ‘Lock,” she murmured before she realised that her older son was in earshot.

“Was he fighting again?” twelve-year-old Mycroft asked.

“No. He told the teacher that she was ‘an idiot’.”

Mycroft cringed. He had been just as bored in school at that age, but instead of acting out as his little brother did, he withdrew from the teachers and other children, often hiding in a cupboard with a book. He finished War and Peace just before his tenth birthday.

Sherlock, who at age five was somewhat small for his age and rather like a cherub with his baby-soft hair floating in a halo of curls around his head, burst through the door. “I’m home!” he announced unnecessarily. “I want biscuits and milk!”

“In a minute, ‘Lock,” Mummy said. “Come here first.” He approached her warily; he knew that tone of voice. He stood in front of her, looking so forlorn and apprehensive that she had to laugh. “Oh, my love, come here.” She opened her arms wide and, visibly relieved, he clambered up onto her lap and cuddled in her warm embrace. “My sweet boy,” she murmured. “Do you know who I just spoke to?”

He leaned back and observed her carefully—such a solemn expression on his round face that Mycroft had to smile—and after a few seconds, gravely announced, “My teacher.”

“Yes, your teacher phoned me. I suspect that you already know why.”

He nodded sadly, sitting up on her lap and brushing his curls out of his bright, unique eyes. “I called her a not-nice word,” he admitted dolefully. And then he took a deep breath and began his by-now-familiar objection. “I called her an idiot ‘cause she is one ‘cause I did ‘pounds and she said it was just scribbles and I was ‘posed to be drawing a stupid bird like everyone else but I didn’t want to draw a bird ‘cause birds are boring and if you want to know what one looks like you just have to find a big book with lots of photos or even on telly there’s lots of programmes with birds and so I was doing ‘pounds when she told me to stop srib… skib… scribbling and draw the boring bird and it wasn’t even a neat bird like a vulture or falcon because falcons hunt other birds and that’s much better than a stupid robin eating worms or making a nest so I was doing calm ‘pounds—”

Mummy interrupted him at this point. “What are ‘calm pounds,’ my love?” she asked in bewilderment.

“He means ‘compounds,’” Mycroft explained drily. He had been rummaging through his little brother’s school bag and had withdrawn a few sheets of paper covered in crayon. Mummy put her hand out and he gave them to her. She flipped rapidly through them. Each one featured three or four collections of circles and lines—the circles were filled in colour and each bore a carefully-written letter or two.

“That one’s ammonia,” Mycroft remarked, pointing to an image of a pink circle bearing an ‘N’ and three blue ones with an ‘H’ in each; each blue circle was attached to the pink one by a single black line.

“That’s carbon dioxide,” Mummy noted, pointing to another one.

“Water… salt. Sherlock, have you been reading my books?”

His little brother nodded emphatically.

“Incredible,” Mummy muttered. “I think we’re going to have to consider some sort of… enrichment lessons for him or he’ll be building bombs by the time he’s eight.”

“Can I build a bomb?” Sherlock exclaimed in delight.

“No!” Mummy and Mycroft shouted simultaneously.

Sherlock scowled and slid off Mummy’s lap. “I want biscuits,” he announced, heading for the kitchen.

Mummy stood up and sighed. “Let me pour the milk,” she remarked as she followed him out of the room. “We’ll have to show Dad your lovely drawings when he gets home, yes?”

*

Mycroft Holmes, staring at the incongruity of scenes of torture and violence executed in sixty-four waxy colours, wondered if Mummy had saved the “scribbles” his brother had done so many years earlier. He desperately wanted to see them—he needed to. He needed to see evidence of the brilliant mind when it was still so innocent.

Before it was broken.

Chapter Text

The nurse now on duty was another new one. Christopher was short and somewhat stocky and had ginger hair and freckles. When Mycroft returned to the first floor, his brother was seated on the sofa in his bedroom and, rather surprisingly, attending to the young man as he reviewed the notes on the ever-present clipboard. The nurse was speaking to Sherlock in a calm, natural tone, commenting on some of the notes regarding his behaviours—not in a challenging or condescending way, but more as if he was simply getting to know a new acquaintance. He purposely referred to both Solomon and Winifred by name. Clever, he thought—he trusted those two nurses now, so perhaps this would make adjusting to a new attendant a bit easier.

He was Catholic and the eighth of nine children. Not that he had told them that, of course, but Mycroft couldn’t help noting the facts. He wondered if Sherlock still automatically observed and catalogued facts like that about people. Not knowing what was going on in his brother’s head was becoming increasingly frustrating.

Mycroft introduced himself. He knew that he sounded and looked stiff and uncomfortable. He couldn’t help it; it was habit more than anything. His little brother frowned at him and then reached a trembling hand out for the clipboard. The nurse relinquished it readily.

Quite unexpectedly, the thin man thrust it at his brother, then glared at him. Clearly, he expected him to do something with it. The government man glanced at the topmost sheet. Ah. It was a list of the foods that Sherlock preferred and those he avoided, in Mycroft’s own writing.

“What is it, Sherlock?” he inquired, a bit puzzled.

“No.”

“No what?” He fought to keep his voice even; the familiar baritone articulating that single word with utter precision thrilled him, and he felt his heart rate increase.

“S..wedes.”

“No swedes?”

“No swedes,” he repeated firmly, motioning at the clipboard.

“All right, all right. I will add ‘no swedes.” He reached into his pocket for a pen.

*

Mrs Parker had brought up cheddar-and-tomato sandwiches (crusts removed and cut into triangles) and milk; two small dishes with a rather daring apple-and-pear sort of relish. She knew that her boss wouldn’t be thrilled—some broiled fish and a glass of wine would have been his choice—but he would gamely consume the meal to both model for and encourage his brother. She was more than gratified when she went up to retrieve the dishes later and discovered them empty.

She checked the pantry. She wanted to make biscuits the next day. She wondered if that was something Sherlock would like to help with.

*

After they ate, Sherlock got himself up from the table and walked slowly out of the room. Christopher followed quietly, letting him lead the way. Mycroft sat alone in his bedroom for a minute. It hardly looked like his bedroom anymore. There was a box of crayons and some blank paper on the dresser. There were stacks of books next to the sofa. His best dressing gown—the maroon one that his brother had used as a wall of his blanket fort—was now tossed on his bed, which was made up but rumpled from someone lying on top of the covers. He knew that Sherlock’s toothbrush and shampoo and deodorant, as well as a stack of clean towels and another of clean pants, cluttered the bathroom.

And of course there was the sofa with its nest of blankets, haphazard collection of pillows and cushions, and the ubiquitous bin.

Now that Sherlock was a bit more settled, perhaps they could move him into his own room? He sighed, knees creaking as he stood and stretched and went in search of his brother and the new nurse.

*

He discovered them in the library. That was no great surprise. After the kitchen, that was Sherlock’s favourite room in the house. He paused in the hallway outside.

The new nurse was reading to him—he was very good at it. Might he have some theatrical experience? He was certainly well-educated. His articulation was precise. His voice—a moderate tenor—was pleasant. The older man peeked into the room.

Sherlock was sprawled on the floor, on the thick carpet, in front of the fireplace (it was generally only used during Mycroft’s larger dinner parties, when guests might wish to find a quiet room to talk, but if his brother showed interest in it being lit, he would allow it—with supervision, of course). He stared up at the ceiling, his eyes flickering across its surface as he listened.

He focused for a minute on the nurse’s voice. What was he reading?

“’She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly glad that I had accepted John’s invitation.’”

He caught a glimpse of the book cover: The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Why did he have an Agatha Christie murder mystery in his library?

And why was it so entertaining?

He entered the room quietly and pulled up a chair.

*

John sighed and hit the “play” arrow; he had never liked murder mystery films before—before Sherlock. But now he found them amusing and—if he could take that sort of credit—rather simplistic.

God, he missed Sherlock shouting at the characters.

*

Christopher had taken a short break from reading—heading to the kitchen for a glass of water—and Mycroft took a good look at his brother. He was still stretched out on the carpet and, at that moment, he appeared not just completely relaxed but so very much himself. If it weren’t for the healing gash, still-swollen, reddened eye, and scraped knuckles, he could be lying on the floor of the sitting room in Baker Street—

Stop that, Mycroft told himself. That sort of comparison wasn’t useful to anyone.

Or was it?

He was running his fingers (always so delicate—a musician’s fingers, or a scientist’s?) across the hearth, tracing the outlines of the bricks. He glanced up, once, and for a second—or less—Mycroft thought he saw something. It was the merest suggestion of an expression—that thoughtful but calm look he recalled most often when his brother was deeply engaged in a chemistry text—what he thought of as the “real” Sherlock—his little brother—whom he had missed more than he could ever say.

“You did really well with drawing and writing today. Do you think you could you do more? We really need to know where you’ve been and what’s happened to you. I understand that you’re having trouble speaking, but you can write formulas, and numbers. What about words?” He paused and swallowed. “God, Sherlock. We need more information. Can’t you draw it, or… something?

This resulted in Mycroft discovering that despite his shaking hands, his brother still possessed the ability to make a definitive—and rather rude—gesture.

*

No, he could not. He was gratified that his response to his brother’s inquiry had driven the older man away and he was able to return to his examination of the fireplace. He vaguely recalled a loose brick but could not locate it. Had the crack been repaired? Was he even looking at the same fireplace?

His uncertainty irritated him, as had Mycroft’s request that he tell them what had happened to him. He couldn’t. He simply couldn’t.

Why? What exactly was wrong with him? He was aware of his surroundings for longer and longer periods of time, but there were still more gaps and times of horrible, jumbled confusion than coherent moments. He knew that he had been in Mycroft’s home for a few days now, but he couldn’t recall much of what had been happening. He had a dim recollection of a bath, and something about oranges, but when he tried to figure out what that meant, his head would ache until his eyes watered.

He was aware, too, that he had been away for a long time before that, and that during that time he had not exactly been on holiday. When he bathed (he ignored the parade of nurses who were in constant attendance) he would stare down at his body and attempt…

The once-great consulting detective, formerly one of the most observant men in England, would attempt to deduce himself.

But every single time, he found himself drawing a complete blank, and then his head would start to feel like someone was piercing it through with a harpoon and his stomach would churn and more often than not he would end up kneeling over the toilet and then accepting the toothbrush offered by whoever it was who had gotten stuck with that shift.

And then, more often than not, sliding into blessed oblivion.

Chapter Text

“Get his arms!”

“Don’t hurt him!”

“Christ! How is he doing this?”

Summoned by an urgent call from the housekeeper, Mycroft’s driver and gardener had thundered up the stairs and into their boss’s bedroom.

The frenzied man, his dark curls covering his eyes, was throwing whatever was at hand as hard as he could. The nurse on duty—Winifred—was rather fearlessly braving the bombardment of hardcover books as she tried to edge closer. The entrance of the two men distracted him—just for a second—and she had lunged at him. She hated using force, but her patient was at risk of injuring himself.

“Sherlock, stop this.” The nurse’s voice was firm and even. “You are going to hurt someone.”

He bellowed—a wordless, meaningless sound—trying to jerk his arms out of the embrace of the large man behind him.

The two other men approached now, each taking an arm as gently as they could, while the nurse prepared an injection.

*

“Why is he like that?” Mycroft hissed. “He seemed more alert earlier.” The older brother had been closed in his home office but had emerged a short time ago, clearly wanting nothing more than to shower and lie down.

“He was… agitated,” the nurse explained. “I’ve given him something to calm him down.”

Mycroft scowled at the sight of his brother, pale and dazed and silent and vague, slumped sideways on the sofa, his bare feet protruding from the blanket spread over him. “What upset him?” he demanded, observing the sluggish movement of his brother’s eyes uneasily.

“One of the books he chose.” It had happened so quickly that she had been unable to prevent it, but after they had restrained him, and she had reluctantly injected him with the powerful tranquiliser, she had retrieved the book that he had been reading—the first book he had hurled across the room with surprising vigour. She had picked up all the others as well, quietly re-stacking them next to the sofa, but that one she had put on the table, cover down, and placed some papers over it. Now she retrieved it and handed it to the tall man.

She was accustomed now to the great effort the older brother put into not revealing his emotions. The slender and observant man with the penetrating gaze and stiff posture was clearly holding himself back—preventing himself from reacting in any overt emotional way to his brother’s condition. He was more adept at it at other times, but now, probably due to fatigue (which he was also fighting to hide), he did betray himself. He glanced at the book that had been put in his hand and—Winifred did an admirable job of not revealing her own surprise—he winced.

“Could you give me a few moments with my brother—alone?”

“Of course,” she nodded. “I’ll just go downstairs to get him some milk.”

She headed down to the kitchen, fully intending to give them as much time as they needed.

*

“Oh, Sherlock,” Mycroft sighed. He pulled the straight-backed chair up and sat in front of him, still clasping the book. His brother’s eyes wandered in his direction slowly; he didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular. “I have thousands of books. How did you manage to find this one?” He looked down at it, running his fingers across the title. “Why did I even keep it?” he mused.

*

His brother was deep in his disastrous attempt at university. Mycroft had been visiting their parents—reluctantly—but he had agreed to come and report on his younger brother’s activities in person. Sherlock had been rather pointedly not communicating with Mummy and Dad at that time. So, there he was, sitting uncomfortably at the kitchen table with a cup of tea as Mummy made several batches of Sherlock’s favourite biscuits. He had agreed to deliver them to him.

Dad came in; home from work. “Hello, my darling,” he said to Mummy, kissing her cheek. “Good to see you, My.”

“I’m sure it is,” he replied rather rudely.

“Have you shown him the book yet?” he asked, taking a few steps to hang his coat up in the vestibule that led to the back garden.

“Not yet. Why don’t you go get it?”

Mycroft frowned. Their parents were being unusually cagey. “What book?” he asked, watching as his father strode into the sitting room.

“It was the oddest thing—it came by post, but we have no idea why. Neither of us ordered it.” Mummy carefully pulled the last baking sheet out of the oven, covered with fragrant chocolate biscuits.

“Well, I didn’t,” he supplied.

“Obviously,” she shot back a bit sharply, “or we wouldn’t have to be telling you about it.”

Dad returned, book in hand. He also held the packaging. Good, Mycroft thought, putting his hand out to receive both objects. Very smart of them. He inspected the package first. It did not tell him much—it was a newly stocked title shipped from a London bookshop by a clerk who disliked his position… stop that, he told himself. It would be simple enough to inquire there as to the book’s origins, at least.

Now he turned his attention to the tome itself: The St. Alban’s Poisoner: Life and Crimes of Graham Young, by Anthony Holden. It was a paperback, brand-new. He glanced at the copyright page, noting that it had been originally published in 1974. This was a revised edition. He flipped it over and read the blurb on the back, then raised his eyes and glared at his parents.

“Have you read it?” he demanded.

“Of course,” Mummy replied. “Both of us have.”

“And…?” he prodded impatiently, already suspecting what their response would be.

“And yes, it has raised some concerns about your brother,” Dad admitted reluctantly.

“In what way?”

“In that… yes, your brother seems to share some rather unfortunate characteristics with a serial poisoner.”

“Details.”

Dad sat down at the table, accepting a cup of tea from his wife with a grateful smile. “In brief, this Graham Young was an isolated but intelligent young man who showed a keen interest in science—chemistry in particular—history, and, unfortunately, the Nazis. He used a chemistry kit that contained antimony to poison first a schoolmate, then his family. He killed his stepmother and did permanent damage to his father and sister. He confessed to everything but his stepmother’s death and was committed to Broadmoor.”

“How old was he?”

“Fourteen.”

“There’s a lot more to it—he was released, poisoned some co-workers…” Mummy’s voice petered out. She sounded rather defeated.

Mycroft nodded slowly. All feelings of boredom and impatience with his parents were gone. “This was sent as a warning, wasn’t it?” he asked tightly. “Someone thinks that my brother is capable—at risk—of repeating this man’s actions.”

“The parallels are somewhat… alarming,” Mummy admitted. “Not all of it, of course, but certain aspects of his personality… well.”

“Do you believe Sherlock capable of… this?” He was aware that his voice broke.

“I would like to say no, of course not, and to be highly indignant for the suggestion,” Dad sighed, “but honestly, as horrid as it seems, we cannot entirely rule it out, can we?”

Mycroft shook his head.

“Not that we think he’d deliberately kill anyone, but apparently this young man started with a series of experiments, to see how ill he could make people.”

“I see. May I borrow this?” He indicated the book.

“Take it. Take the packaging, too,” Dad requested.

He had devoured the book that evening, and, as their parents had said, the parallels between the convicted murderer and his brother were alarming.

It took only a few simple inquiries at the bookshop the next day to learn that Sherlock had been the one to post the book. It was something that he never revealed to their parents—but he did understand that, deep down, they already knew.

*

Mycroft had no idea why he had kept the book all those years—years during which he had learned that yes, his little brother was perfectly capable of—and willing to—poison friends and family simply to observe the effects of some formula or other. But he had also learned that, unlike the criminally insane man profiled in the book, the younger man would not ever kill someone he was close to—the very few people he allowed himself to grow close to, that is.

Chapter Text

“What have you been up to?” Winifred asked Solomon suspiciously. “Hey. You. Drink your milk, love, and finish up that lovely mousse.”

Sherlock carefully maneuvered the glass to his lips (it was only half full; no sense in tempting fate with his dodgy hands) and swallowed some, then cautiously put it back on the table and reached for the small ramekin in front of him. He grasped the small spoon she had provided and began to spoon the soft chocolate mousse into his mouth.

“What do you mean?” Solomon asked guilelessly. He had just arrived to discover them in the guest room. “My mum would be horrified to see what he’s having for breakfast.”

“Deflecting. And this is pudding—he just had what I’d consider supper a few hours ago.”

“What did he eat?”

“Some shrimp scampi and some peas. He did really well.”

“Good job, mate,” Solomon praised the silent man, who was thoughtfully licking the spoon of the last of the chocolate mousse.

“I asked what you’d been up to. I have three children. I know guilt when I see it.”

“It’s not guilt!” He grimaced and slammed his mouth shut at the self-revelation.

“So, what is it?”

Damn. Did she and his mum compare notes? “I… I’ve been reading Dr Watson’s blogs.”

She looked at him sharply, then tipped her head towards their patient, but her concern was unwarranted. Having finished his milk, he was now using the last bit of the chocolate mousse as ink and his finger as a pen, writing some sort of equation on the polished surface of the table and seemingly ignoring them entirely.

“So, what have you discovered?”

“You know what I’ve been reading; your daughter has them memorised.”

“I’m asking about what you thought,” she responded sharply.

“Ah. Well. For one, I understand where all the ‘confirmed bachelor’ rumours came from now.”

She nodded, amused. “It is sort of painfully obvious, isn’t it? I only wish my husband and I were like that.”

Solomon frowned. “Aren’t you?”

Sherlock paused in his efforts and looked from one to the other of them, frowning as well and now apparently trying to follow the conversation.

“We were,” she laughed, patting his hand. “And we certainly love each other—I’m not saying that we don’t. But it’s a… comfortable love. It’s all worn and smooth and soft and familiar.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I suspect that their love was more… vibrant. Alive. Vivid and bright and a bit dangerous.”

“D…”

“What was that, my love?” Winifred inquired, covering up her surprise that their patient had attempted to speak.

“D… dane…jus.”

“Dangerous?” Solomon echoed.

Sherlock nodded emphatically and tapped his finger on the table a few times. “K… kum eh…eny… way… dane… jus.”

The nurses stared at one another in surprise. The thin man had been coming out with bits of words—sometimes just an initial sound or syllable—but this was the first time he was not just attempting to ask or answer a direct, concrete question. He was adding to their conversation; participating in it. And it made sense.

Solomon burst out, “I know what he’s talking about! From the… Watson’s blog. Right at the very beginning—he sent a text to the doctor. How did it go? Uh… ‘Come if inconvenient. Could be dangerous.’ Something like that.”

They were concerned when, instead of continuing the “conversation,” their patient dropped his head to the table, hitting his forehead on the smooth surface.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Solomon demanded in concern, and Winifred couldn’t help smiling at the endearment.

A disconsolate whimper was the only reply. Conversation over.

*

John glanced at his phone. He could have sworn he had gotten a text alert, but there was no message.

There was a time in his life when he got texts on a far-too-frequent basis—all ludicrously wordy, frequently demanding that he do something dangerous, and nearly always ridiculous.

He would have given his left hand to receive one more—just one more.

*

Baker Street. Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway. Could be dangerous.

It had been a test, of course, even if he hadn’t been aware that that was what he was doing at the time. He couldn’t explain it, and fortunately never really had to.

That very first instant when Dr John Watson walked through that door at Bart’s, he had been hooked. It was completely unconscious, although afterward he realised what he had been doing in that lab at Bart’s. Preening, Mummy called it. But hadn’t he been casual? So very casual—so cool.

All right, so maybe not. So maybe “showing off” was a better term. Swaggering and being rather horribly rude to Molly (he did feel bad about that in a vague way; he had been so flummoxed by her crush on him back then). Being so very clever about getting his hands on John’s mobile (of course he knew that Stamford didn’t have his on him—he was always leaving it somewhere) and the thrill that had run through him when he felt it touch his hand. He had never felt anything like that before.

And then his mouth ran away with him, as it usually did. The deductions had nothing to do with the attraction he was feeling. He couldn’t help it. Unlike his brother, he couldn’t turn it off, and, he had learned about himself very early on, if he didn’t say something—if he didn’t speak the words aloud—well, he had no idea what would happen. He never didn’t say the words aloud. Granted, sometimes it was muttered in an undertone to himself, but he had to vocalise it all or he would go mad.

So, there he was, trying to impress Dr John Watson—who had as a total bonus been in the army; what did he look like in uniform? —without frightening him away—and then it had occurred to him—he couldn’t. He couldn’t frighten him away. The man was attracted to danger. And it was that—exactly that—that made him so very desirable.

It had taken a bit of time, of course, but finally the attraction he felt every minute that he was with the doctor had been reciprocated—reciprocated in rather glorious ways. God, he missed those ways.

*

“I think it’s time that my brother moved to his own bedroom,” Mycroft suggested a bit hesitantly. He was not at all sure that his idea was a good one, but he had been observing his brother’s moods, and he seemed different from when he first arrived.

The daytime nurse, Solomon, nodded solemnly. “We can certainly try, sir,” he agreed.

“Make it so,” the older brother commanded.

Whether or not it was a good idea, he simply could not bear having him there any longer.

*

“What do you think, Sherlock?” the handsome, muscular man with the expressive brown eyes asked. “Want to get out from under Big Brother’s feet?”

Sherlock considered this before nodding slowly. He was not entirely sure why he was in his brother’s bedroom anyway, and he longed for some privacy. There was someone who he liked sharing with, though. Wasn’t there?

He carefully bent and retrieved a stack of the books next to the sofa, then shuffled out into the hallway and into the room next door. He put the books on top of the dresser and looked at the stack critically. They were all muddled and out of order. He began to re-stack them in a more logical order. He dimly recalled doing this before—sorting books—but with that someone else he couldn’t quite recall.

*

Solomon chuckled in amusement. Sherlock, wearing a blanket like a gigantic shawl, was seated cross-legged on the bed of his own room, avidly enjoying a book. “Got distracted?” he asked. “Happens to me all the time when I’m supposed to be organizing my magazines.”

Sherlock glanced up at him and smiled a bit shyly before bending his head to the colourful pages again.

*

He liked snakes. They could hide almost anywhere (well, the small ones could; the gigantic ones were rather more noticeable and the one in that book that Uncle Greg had read to him alarmed him a bit), which was brilliant, and the poisonous ones—well. He was particularly fascinated by the different venoms. There were ones that paralysed and ones that sort of made all your flesh a bit mushy (like peas but not green; he hated mushy peas but liked firm, round ones that popped when you bit into them).

The book open in his lap had some ripping photos of snakes. He liked the photos. They didn’t move. He liked snakes, but he didn’t like the way they moved sometimes. It reminded him of something, and it frightened him.

Chapter Text

She had only meant to explore some of the more unusual aspects of the behaviour he was presenting. She had noted the comments on the clipboard and found them fascinating. That was all it was, really.

He was lovely—even with the scars and healing wounds and emaciation (he had actually been tortured—she thought that only happened in films). Despite his slender limbs, he was apparently quite wiry and strong. His unmutilated skin was a sort of ivory colour. The dark curls made his odd, light eyes even more arresting. But there was an odd juxtaposition of that lovely, clearly adult body and his behaviour.

When she had first entered his room; he was seated cross-legged on his bed, fidgeting with something. What was he doing? She leaned over him and he shied away, frowning at her.

“I’m Lilly,” she supplied. “I know you’ve had a lot of nurses in to take care of you. I’m the newest, that’s all. What are you up to?”

He hesitated a second, glancing towards the door with a frown. “Mmm…? he managed. From the notes she knew that he was able to form words sometimes, but it was still a struggle. From his tone she could tell that he was attempting to ask a question.

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you want. Maybe once we get to know each other better—would you like that? For us to get to know each other?”

He shrugged and returned to his activity, which she now could see. He had a large book on his lap, closed, and he was using it to lean on as he coloured. He had a large box of crayons. As she observed he very carefully (his hands trembled) selected a green one and carefully began to draw with it. Two long, straight lines, parallel to one another but at a slight diagonal, and then he joined them with shorter lines.

“Is that a ladder?” she asked, pointing.

He glanced at her shyly and smiled in a guileless way, nodding. He replaced the green crayon in the box (she noticed that the crayons were arranged in a rainbow fashion), selected a maroon one, and meticulously began, brick by brick, to draw the wall that the ladder was leaning on.

Leaving him for a bit, she began to read the extensive notes left by the previous nurses. From the times noted, it was apparent that he was living on a completely skewed schedule—no regard to day or night; regular bedtimes or meals. That wasn’t unusual for his condition. She frowned in concentration as she skimmed through the pages, then went back and began to read more carefully. Even for someone suffering from a brain injury, his behaviour was erratic. There were comments about what food he would and would not touch; what coverings he would tolerate on his bed.

What was that about a blanket fort?

Tiring of his picture, he put the crayon he was using back into the box and looked up at her curiously. He pushed the book and papers aside and, untangling his long legs, he slid off the bed and approached her. His walk was hesitant and unsteady; his expression open and innocent and unsuspecting. She glanced up at him and stared, astonished at what she was seeing. She glanced down at the notes again and a word jumped out at her.

Infantile.

Really? She read on, keeping one eye on him. He was going through a stack of books now, examining each cover with care. She kept glancing from the clipboard to her patient.

Yes. She could see it now. It wasn’t just that he was silent; it wasn’t just that he was engaged in activities that were usually considered childish. It was—everything. The way he moved; the way he tipped his head and pushed at the books. The way he sprawled on the floor now, beaming as he opened one of the books and began to look at the pictures.

So she had just… gone with it.

The thing was—if he had shown the least bit of discomfort or confusion, she would have stopped. Really. Honestly. It was just that he—hadn’t.

No. He hadn’t.

She had started slowly, offering to read the book to him. He had nodded, eagerly, and scrambled up onto the bed with it, patting the mattress to invite her to sit with him. She had done so, and for a bit it had been fine. She read to him (it was a book about snakes) and let him examine the photographs for a while.

They were interrupted by a polite knock at the door. He had jumped and ducked behind her, peering cautiously around her to see who was at the door. It was Mrs Parker, the housekeeper.

“I was just wondering if he wanted to come down and have something to eat,” she explained. She looked over at him. “Hello, Sherlock,” she called out. “I’ve got some very nice soup if you want to come downstairs and have some.” He considered this, frowning. “It’s a cream soup,” she added enticingly, “with lovely carrots all blended up the way you like, and some ginger.” He considered some more, clearly wishing to be cajoled. “And I’ve gotten some of it on my nice white pinny—carrots stain so—do you think you could help me find something to get the stain out?”

That did it. He pushed a bit rudely past Lilly to join Mrs Parker, taking her hand and tugging her towards the stairs. The nurse followed in some astonishment.

It took some time to get him to eat what they considered a reasonable amount. The nurse had politely accepted a bowl of the soup (it turned out to be delicious), so the housekeeper had filled one for her, one for herself, and then a smaller one—a saucer, really—for him. She presented him with a teaspoon. “Get your finger out of there,” she had instructed mildly. Guiltily he had withdrawn his finger from his bowl, putting it in his mouth and sucking off the thick, creamy soup.

Although he clearly enjoyed the meal, he was easily distracted, sometimes dropping his spoon and rising from the table; he was, for some reason, fascinated with the sink and particularly the tap. He turned it on and off several times, watching with interest the patterns the water made in the sink.

“What’s he doing?” Lilly had finally asked.

“Who knows what goes on in that funny old head of his,” the housekeeper shrugged. “As long as he doesn’t turn the hot on enough to burn himself, it’s no trouble.”

“Burn himself?” Lilly asked in alarm. “Would he really do that?”

“He’s not as careful as he should be about himself, sometimes. Sherlock, sit down and finish your soup. Do you want something else? A pear?”

Between the soup and the fruit, he finally consumed the two women were satisfied that he had gotten enough into him. He seemed to lag a bit at that point.

“He could probably do with some sleep, now,” Mrs Parker noted. “And he needs to wash up a bit.”

In response he put two of his fingers in his mouth and smiled around them at her.

“You old charmer,” the housekeeper had smiled back affectionately.

They had headed back up to his room. Yes, he was tired—he was clumsy ascending the stairs. As soon as they were in his room, he climbed back on the bed, looking hopefully at the book they had laid down there.

“A bit more reading?” the nurse offered. He nodded, sliding one knuckle into his mouth and chewing on it thoughtfully. “Let’s get you cleaned up first.”

He obediently held his hands out to her as she wiped them with a warm, wet flannel, then startled her by grabbing it and bringing it to his mouth. It was that gesture—so reminiscent of her little brother when he was a toddler—that decided her.

She had arranged some of the pillows up against the headboard of the enormous bed. She propped herself up. “Come cuddle, love,” she instructed, and he eagerly curled up against her. She held the book open in front of them and began to read.

It was when his attention started to lag that she miscalculated. She had glanced at her watch and realised that the night nurse would be arriving in less than an hour. So, it was now or never.

She put down the book. Her patient whimpered and hit it with his hand.

“No,” she explained carefully. “It’s time you were asleep.”

He shook his head rather ferociously.

“Yes,” she pressed. “Let’s get you comfortable, all right?”

She hadn’t gone too far, had she? She really hadn’t thought of it that way.

*

What was going on? He had been having a nice time with the babysitter—Daddy must have had to go to work. She had liked his drawing and read to him and didn’t shout at him even when he had spilled some of his soup. Then he had gotten tired, so he had very happily curled up with her to look at his book some more.

But now she had stopped and told him it was time to go to sleep. He didn’t want to go to sleep. He wanted to finish the book and he let her know.

And then… it was confusing, because now instead of leaning up against her soft shoulder and looking at the pictures in his book he found his face being pressed into… that wasn’t okay, was it? He didn’t like it one bit. There were mounds of flesh being pushed into his face and they were too big and he could smell the washing powder she used and he didn’t like it and he didn’t like having his face so close to that part of her and he had pushed her away as hard as he could.

And even when he managed to push her off the bed she still wouldn’t go away so he followed her and pushed her again, hard. He knew that Daddy would be angry at him, but he just wanted her to go away.

He pushed her again and then tried to hit her and he knew he’d really be in big trouble now but she still wouldn’t go away and his head was starting to hurt and his eyes were blurry and he wanted to shout at her to go but he couldn’t make his mouth work and it was all so very scary and he was frightened and angry and then something stuck him and he started to feel very odd and his arms were heavy and his legs felt wobbly and he just wanted to lie down on the big bed…

Chapter Text

Winifred accepted the clipboard, her eyes narrowed. “What happened?” she demanded. “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing. He just flipped out. I had to sedate him.”

“What got him so upset?” she asked suspiciously.

“I have no idea. Nothing.”

The older nurse scowled and shook her head. “No. His panic attacks are always triggered by something. What happened?”

The other nurse opened her mouth, trying to parse a reply. She felt awful about the whole thing.

“You do know that he can tell me, don’t you?” she demanded.

“What are you talking about? He can’t speak, and there’s nothing to tell, anyway.”

The second part of her sentence came out all in a rush. That was guilt, for sure.

“He has his ways. We communicate quite well, he and I.” Winifred’s usually warm, kind eyes were glittering and cold, and she was glad that her patient was too out of it to take any notice. It would have frightened him, she suspected. “Time to go,” she stated flatly, jerking her head towards the door.

“Fine,” she replied. She gathered up her bag and cardigan.

“Leave the door open on your way out,” the older nurse instructed.

She stood still, her arms folded across her chest, listening to the soft receding steps. Finally, sure that the woman had reached the ground floor, she took a deep breath, calming herself and composing her features before turning towards the bed. Sherlock’s eyes were open a bit and he was gazing blearily at her, his face slack and his mouth open.

“It’s all right, love,” she murmured. “You can go to sleep. She won’t be coming back.”

*

“Sherlock, what’s the matter?”

Winifred had been observing her patient with concern. While under the influence of the sedative, he had slept, his breaths slow and deep. But now it was wearing off, and, although still asleep, he was becoming agitated. She turned on the bedside lamp.

She didn’t know if it was in reaction to the soft click of the switch or the light itself, but it broke through the thin veneer of sleep. His reaction was instantaneous. His eyes suddenly wide open, he shot straight up in the bed and, before she could even react, he had leapt off it, landing on the floor on the far side of it with a heavy thud.

She could hear scrabbling as he dragged himself under the bed.

Damn. She fell to her knees, grunting slightly. She peered beneath the bed. He was flat on his stomach, his face pressed to the floor and his long arms wrapped around his head. “It’s all right, love. You’re safe. Why don’t you come out?” she tried. “I know waking up in a strange place can be confusing, but you’re all right.”

Winifred listened. She could hear her patient panting in terror.

“Come on, love,” she tried again. “Come out from there.”

“Nuh… noh no no no no,” he moaned.

“It’s all right. You’re safe. Please?”

“Hurt me,” he whimpered.

“No one’s going to hurt you,” she assured him.

“Hurt me,” he repeated, his voice cracking. “Don’t know where… strange place. Strangers. Strangers hurt me.”

“I’m so sorry that strangers hurt you, love, but you’re safe now.”

He tried to curl up but was prevented by the cramped space.

“You’re in your own room in your brother’s house,” she offered gently. “Big Brother wouldn’t let anyone hurt you, would he?”

Oh, wrong thing to say, Winnie.

“NO!” he shrieked.

After that, things moved both too quickly to think about and in slow motion. The nurse puzzled about it afterward. It was the sort of reaction people reported when involved in a traffic accident, apparently. It made sense, though, because that peculiar state allowed her to do exactly what she needed to.

Off the floor, stumbling the slightest bit as she lunged for the door. Yanked it open. Shouted as loudly as she could. Somewhere in the back of her head she realised that it was about three o’clock in the morning, but she knew that the inhabitants of the immense house were all accustomed to being dragged unexpectedly from sleep.

She was gratified by the almost instantaneous response—Mycroft Holmes burst from his bedroom next door.

Later, Winifred would also wonder how the man managed to look so proper even while running from his bedroom in the middle of the night, feet bare and wearing blue striped pyjamas.

“What’s wrong with him?” he demanded desperately.

“He was sedated, but it’s worn off and he woke up having a panic attack.” She pointed, indicating his position under the bed.

The government man nodded once, sharply. “Go around to the other side of the bed,” he instructed. It was clear that he was fighting to keep his voice calm and even. She nodded and moved into position.

“Sir?” Benjamin appeared at the door. He was dressed in joggers, but his chest was bare.

“This side of the bed. Now.”

As his driver moved where he was instructed, he stood at the foot of the bed, and now Sherlock was trapped under it.

It was difficult to describe the sounds emanating from beneath it. The man was sobbing, and screaming, and choking. There were only bits of words. It was impossible to say what language they were in.

“Sherlock, you need to calm down,” the older man stated firmly. “You are making yourself ill. You are perfectly safe.”

“Männer,” was the tortured response. “Schlecht.”

“There are no bad men here, brother mine.”

“Du… böser Mann.” His voice shook with terror.

“I know that you think that, but it’s not true. You are in my home, and you are safe.”

“ножеви.”

“No one has knives here. Not to hurt you.”

The response was undecipherable. Benjamin looked to Winifred, and then to Mycroft, as the sound of movement issued from beneath the bed.

“Please, ‘Lock. I cannot stress this enough: You are in my home. You are safe.”

“Pодной брат… Frère m’a fait mal.”

Benjamin, the quiet, thoughtful driver, stared in something approaching horror as Mycroft Holmes, whom he held in highest regard and was not a little afraid of as well, stepped back, a look of absolute horror on his usually composed features, at this.

And then the younger man continued, his voice hoarse, and the words were now in English.

“I did it—all of it—for you.”

The driver was so, so grateful when the nurse—the nice one with who reminded him of his favourite auntie—uncapped the syringe, dropped to her knees, found and held a thin arm, and pushed the plunger in.

Chapter Text

Christopher was back. Mycroft was impressed with him, as he was with a few of the other nurses. He seemed genuinely concerned with the welfare of his patient, with a compassionate manner and a gentle touch. After the situation with his brother that night, he had somehow managed to get a few hours’ sleep, but had been summoned to his office before the sun was completely up. He tried focusing on the situation at hand, but even while placating yet another highly-visible victim of some sort of blackmailer—who of course the victim would not identify—he had felt a strong urge to return to his brother’s room to see how he was doing. He was lying on the bed. The room was darkened. His eyes were heavy-lidded and his features slack.

“Eggy bread with what looked like an entire tin of condensed milk and a lie-down—that’s my idea of a rainy Saturday,” the nurse commented, patting his brother’s hip. “Can I have a word with you, sir?”

Mycroft gave a sharp nod and led the way out into the hallway. The nurse shut the light and closed the bedroom door almost completely, but he positioned himself so he could still see his patient through the remaining opening. “What is it?” the government man asked in some concern. “You know that he was quite agitated last night. He had to be sedated.”

He nodded. “The night nurse told me. It’s worn off, but he’s exhausted.”

“Was she able to determine what set him off?” the older brother asked.

He shook his head. “All she said was that he was a bit off when she came onto her shift.”

Mycroft was ready to snap at this comment, but changed his mind. “No, that’s understandable,” he agreed with a sigh. “There is very little about my brother’s behaviour that is explicable. Was that what you wished to discuss with me?”

“No, sir.”

“Then what…?”

“It’s his skin. All the scars. I’m concerned that they’re causing him some pain.”

“Pain?” Mycroft echoed uneasily.

“Scars can get very tight and dry.”

“I see.”

“I brought some vitamin E lotion. It should help.”

“Thank you.” He turned to leave, but was arrested in his motion by the pleasant voice.

“I don’t need to know the details, sir, but… no. Never mind. It doesn’t matter how he got them.”

Mycroft, uncharacteristically, waited quietly, sensing that the man had more to say.

“It’s… I just wanted to let you know that it doesn’t matter how he got them. Not to me or most of the other nurses. We know that some are self-inflicted, but some of them… he’s been through a hell that very few people could even imagine. We just want to make him comfortable—make him feel safe. I just want him to know that he’s safe. I’ll take care of the lotion. Thank you, sir.” He slipped back into the darkened room, shutting the door behind himself.

Mycroft gazed thoughtfully at the closed door, considering their conversation. He had wondered if the scars might be bothering his brother—particularly the one on his thigh, of course—but hadn’t known how to ask.

Hadn’t wanted to ask.

Hadn’t wanted to have a reason to have to ask.

*

Sherlock buried his face in his pillows. It was a cold, rainy day and he didn’t want to set foot out of his cosy bed.

There was a man there. He wasn’t quite sure who he was, but he was short and sturdily built and he liked that. He was steady and straightforward, and he liked that, too. It made him feel quite safe. Sometimes the wind and the rain made frightening noises on the window, and the nice man had pulled the curtains shut so it wasn’t so loud.

The man had lots of sisters and brothers and went to church all the time.

Sherlock didn’t like going to church. It was boring, and the music was often rather dreadful.

The man liked singing. He had a nice voice. Maybe he went to church because he liked singing there.

The man wanted to kiss other men. That was fine. He knew it was fine because Big Brother had told him that, and his brother was always right.

The man had helped him with some things that he couldn’t quite manage. That must have been why he was there. That made sense. Big Brother was busy—he was always busy. He had no idea what he did, but he knew that he was very important—far too important to be helping his little brother with things like wiping his fingers (and face) after breakfast and using the toilet.

The man had given him a look when he saw the ugly marks on his legs, but it wasn’t a mean look. He had seemed angry, but not at Sherlock. Was he cross with the bad men who had made those marks?

Maybe, because now he had some cream and he rubbed it into the marks and that felt nice.

And now he was back in bed, his eyes shut. The man carefully covered him with a soft blanket.

Maybe he could sleep a bit.

*

The barber had been to the house many times before, and possibly in similar circumstances, so he hadn’t blinked an eye at his task: trimming the hair and shaving the face of a man who was not quite connected to his surroundings. He was moving sluggishly, and his odd eyes wandered aimlessly around the room. The nurse (he was old and old-fashioned enough to shudder internally at thinking of any man as a nurse and any nurse as a man) was hovering, ensuring that the patient (who was wearing rather fruity pyjamas and an almost embarrassingly-lush dressing gown) was comfortable and constantly reassuring him that the man was there just to trim his hair and shave him; Big Brother had called him so it was all right; he would look so handsome and feel so much tidier when it was done.

The tall, pale man had concentrated quite hard on the shorter man’s words, frowning and sometimes shaking his head doubtfully, but the calm, steady voice did its job and he was able to accomplish his task, working carefully around the horrific head wound and the bruises on the almost emaciated face.

He was not an idiot. He knew who “Big Brother” was. In fact, he came to the large house on such a regular basis to ensure that the government man was trim and tidy that they had installed a proper chair in one of the endless bedrooms. He also tended to several of the silent, black-clothed assistants there, and even the gardener and the chauffeur. He was paid a rather embarrassingly large amount for all of it—but it wasn’t even just an implication that he keep it all completely quiet. He had signed something—it had been ages ago—to ensure his silence, and he was just fine with that, because how could he possibly have explained it all—and who would he tell?

Huge mansion? Sure. Security better than Buckingham Palace? Easy, as it turned out. Mysterious, similarly-garbed, silent men and women who, even when requested, were reluctant to remove their sunglasses. Why not?

He had no idea what people thought about his absences from his shop.

So, he carefully trimmed the head of thick, dark curls and delicately shaved the horribly thin face and did not once even open his mouth except to ask him to sit up a bit; lift his chin.

“You look great, Sherlock,” the nurse had assured him as he helped the thin man sit up.

*

“It’s not too bad, but Mummy was very smart to bring you here. I’ll get you patched up in no time.”

Mummy—who was young and looked completely overwhelmed—gave him the smallest of smiles at his reassurance. She had rushed into the surgery with her son shortly before they were scheduled to close, but one glance at the heavily-bleeding gash that split the five-year-old boy’s right eyebrow in two and John had had no problem assuring them that he would take care of them.

Now he examined the wound closely. “No more playing with umbrellas on the stairs, yeah?” he said.

“Will I need stitches?” the small boy asked through his tears.

“Just a few.” If the point of the umbrella had been an inch lower, he and his young mum would be in A & E and he would be facing something rather worse than a few stitches.

“Will I have a scar?”

The mum looked closely at the kind doctor’s face. Would he?

“A little one, yeah.”

“Cool!”

John smiled. “What’s cool?” he asked easily.

“Scars are! Can I have an eye patch?”

“Now what would you want an eye patch for?” He suspected he already knew the answer and smiled at the mum, who was looking a bit calmer.

“So I’ll look like a pirate!”

“He’s obsessed with pirates,” Mum explained, smiling.

“Well, I don’t think you’ll need one, but you will have a great story to tell your friends.”

“Story?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s important to have a good story. You don’t want to tell your mates you got hurt when you fell down the stairs with an umbrella in your hand now, do you? A sword fight—over some treasure that some scurvy dog tried to steal from you—that’s much better.”

The boy nodded eagerly.

“Good lad. Now, you must be a brave pirate. I’m going to give you an injection, right over your eye. It might hurt a bit, but then you won’t be able to feel it when I stitch you up. All right?”

He nodded again, a bit less eagerly.

“Mummy, why not come hold Stephen’s hand while I get him fixed up? Even pirates can have Mummy hold their hand.”

He finished—three stitches—and sent off the young mother and son with follow-up instructions. Then he sat and wrote up his treatment notes—not that they were extensive—

John sighed heavily. Yes, he knew all about good stories. He knew all about pirates. He knew all about stitches. He knew all about falling.

He knew all about scars.

Chapter Text

The nurse who came for the evening shift was full-figured, with lovely coffee-coloured skin and dark brown hair in meticulous rows of braids. Her brown eyes sparkled as she strode confidently into the bedroom.

“What do we have here?” she asked Christopher, who was making some final notes regarding his shift on the clipboard.

“Oh, Matilda! Perfect timing. This is Sherlock. He’s just been having a bit of a lie-down after his visit from the barber, and then it’s dinner and time to take his tablets—isn’t that right, Sherlock?”

The pale, dark-haired man on the bed was slowly bringing himself into an upright position. He clutched the blanket spread over him, looking at it rather dazedly. He redirected his gaze—looking first at Christopher and then at Matilda.

“This is Matilda,” Christopher explained. “She’s going to be taking care of you for a bit, all right? You’ll behave for her, won’t you?”

He nodded, frowning. “My?” he asked for the tenth time that afternoon.

“Your brother’s working,” the nurse explained. “Would you like a book?” He offered him two from the pile at the foot of the bed.

“Put poisons buh… tween those…” he muttered. Both nurses looked at each other and then at him.

“Poisons, huh? Mrs Parker won’t like hearing you refer to her cooking like that,” Christopher teased lightly, even though he felt anything but light-hearted. “Good job, Sherlock. Good talking,” he managed to add, keeping his voice calm.

He motioned to Matilda to follow him out into the hallway.

*

He looked up from his book, surprised to find himself alone. He cocked his head and listened. Ah. Low voices in the hallway. That was all right, he supposed. He was a bit fuzzy on where he was, but it seemed comfortable, at least. A hotel? No. One of those old-fashioned inns that… someone. He had gone to inns like that with someone, and that someone had liked the “ambiance” whatever that was but the rooms were always drafty and he it was a he well of course it was a he girlfriends were not his area he didn’t like to be cold and blankets extra blankets orange blanket soft blanket special blanket special times special person very special person who was he he tried to remember he wanted to remember it hurt his head but he had to remember or it would kill him

He had dropped his book, and now he slid cautiously off the bed. He looked around himself. There was a table and chairs in the room. There was paper; a pencil. Struggling to get control over his shaking hands, he bent his head over the table and began, painfully slowly, to write.

When he was done he folded the paper it into sloppy quarters and shoved it into his pocket.

*

John dragged his shopping list out of his pocket, then looked at his trolley. Damn. He had somehow not put half the items he needed into it and would have to backtrack. He shook his head, willing himself to concentrate.

*

Christopher bent his head closer to Matilda’s and dropped his voice. “That’s the most he’s spoken… ever, I think, since I’ve been here,” he explained. “So far, he’s only managed a word or two—parts of words, really. Sometimes he speaks in French or… I don’t even know what other languages, but it’s just bits. That was a sentence—wasn’t it?”

“It was. Not sure what it meant, though,” Matilda admitted.

“He was talking about the books,” he mused. “I gave him a chemistry text and one of those old-lady murder mysteries.”

“Oh! Then it does make sense, in a way. Aren’t those little old ladies always poisoning folks? And the poisoner always has some background in chemistry or growing poisonous plants or whatever other t’ing. Murder—chemistry—put poisons between dose.”

Christopher nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, that does make sense,” he agreed, smiling a bit at how Matilda’s beautiful, lilting accent became stronger as she became intrigued about their conversation. “It’s still surprising, though, considering.” He straightened up and showed her the clipboard he had grabbed. “Now, here’s his meds schedule, and… listen. Today was pretty rough. Something happened yesterday, and he’s still upset about it. He did have a haircut and a shave, but it wasn’t very pleasant.”

“You had to sedate him?” the other nurse asked, running her eyes down the extensive notes.

“Yeah. He was all right earlier—mostly slept—but when I woke him for the barber, he sort of panicked. With the scissors and razor and all, it was more for his own safety than anything. He’s quiet now, but there’s no telling how he’ll be when it wears off. There’s tablets and syringes made up.”

Matilda, continuing to review the notes, nodded. Like the other nurses, she specialised in caring for brain-injured patients. This was familiar territory. “Oh, Winifred’s been here,” she noted.

“Every night. He seems to respond well to motherly types, so he’ll like you… I mean, not that you’re not…”

She snorted. “I’ve got five sons and a granddaughter—and a grandson on the way—and if the poor man needs a bit of mothering I am happy to be able to offer it.”

“He really does.” He hesitated. He was clearly uncomfortable with what he had to tell her. He took a deep breath. “Listen. He has phases when he acts like a child—almost infantile, sometimes, and sometimes it’s more like a toddler, and sometimes it’s maybe five or six years old. We’ve just been going with it—read to him, or whatever he seems to want to do. He’s got picture books and crayons.”

Infantile meaning…?” she asked knowingly.

“Yeah… he’s not really good about using the loo sometimes. But he likes baths.”

“What else?” She was now flipping through the pages and pages of notes. “Self-harm. Paranoia. Scars? Flashbacks to… torture?! Who the hell do we got here—James Bond?”

“Uh…” Christopher shrugged helplessly. It did sound rather implausible read out in a list like that. “Maybe?”

“What’s this about food?”

“Yeah—let him eat whatever he likes and don’t force him if he’s not interested—he’ll flip out or it just comes back up—he’s got some pre-existing food issues, according to the brother.”

“Brother?”

“Yeah. Older brother. This is his house. He’s got some super-secret position in the government. Got these guys in black suits all over—dark glasses, ear pieces.”

“So, he really is James Bond, and his brother is M?” Matilda asked, raising her eyebrows.

Christopher snorted. “Probably. He’s the most uptight wanker I’ve ever seen. Walks around like he’s got an umbrella shoved up his—”

“New nurse, is it?”

Both Christopher and Matilda jumped at the unexpected appearance of “the brother.”

Matilda introduced herself and Christopher excused himself. “Good luck,” he stated by way of parting.

*

“What is it, Sherlock?” Mycroft asked in some amazement. He had headed up to check on his brother as soon as he had come in from his office, and his brother seemed eager for his attention. The last time he had acted anything like that he had been about ten years old and eager to show his older brother, whom he idolised, the results of an experiment he had been running. The government man—whose hearing was quite as good as Sherlock’s—had heard the conversation between the nurses, of course, but had shrugged it off. What they thought of him didn’t matter. He had sent the new nurse down to discuss Sherlock’s eating needs with Mrs Parker before entering his brother’s room.

Now, his hand shaking painfully, his brother offered him a slightly mashed piece of folded paper. Mycroft unfolded it curiously. Would it be another page of numbers and equations? A crayoned image of a dark-haired man strung up by his wrists, his sinewy arms spread painfully in a horrific echo of a crucifixion image?

No. Mycroft frowned in some bafflement. It was neither.

Written in pencil, it appeared to be a list. His brother’s writing sprawled across the paper, slanting down to the right and running off the edge at times, but the format was recognizable. It wasn’t the first list Sherlock had made for his brother and was unlikely to be the last.

This time it was different, though. It read:

passwrd facile

eat (this entire word was lined out and next to it he had written tea)

jumpers hideioux

drak yees (it took Mycroft a second to decipher that to mean dark eyes)

captain

shouty

sort (he had gone back and attempted to insert an h after the s) freind

mine

“That’s excellent, Sherlock,” Mycroft managed, his throat tight. “It’s even almost all in English.” He offered the paper back to his brother, but he shook his head and pointed at it. “What do you want me to do with it?”

He poked at it rather insistently.

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you want.” He hated telling him that—it was a lie, of course, but he wanted to encourage the younger man to speak. Sherlock made an impatient, frustrated noise in his throat and roughly thrust his hands out, causing the older brother’s own hands and the paper to hit him in the chest. “All right. Yes. I’ll keep it until I can figure out what you need.”

Satisfied, his brother turned away from him and wandered unsteadily toward the window.

The older brother carefully refolded the paper and slid it into his own pocket—when what he really wanted to do was to take a thick, black marker and write JOHN across the sprawling, ill-formed letters. If Sherlock’s desperation to see the doctor couldn’t get him to remember his name, what would?

*

John looked at the scrap of paper. It was written in thick, black marker—just a phone number and a name. He didn’t even know why he still had the paper. He had entered the number into his mobile’s contacts—first and last name—not long ago.

Mary Morstan.

There was something comforting about having it in writing, though. The marker just seemed to make it more… more real.

He thought briefly of Sherlock’s ridiculous method of naming his contacts.

Then he deliberately pushed the thought out of his head. He didn’t need to go there. He had been going there far too often lately.

Sherlock was gone. He was never coming back. Thinking about him hurt far too much.

He called up a name from his tidy list of contacts and hit the icon that would bring him in touch with

I prefer to text

Stop that, you prick. You’re dead.

“Hello, Mary?”

*

“I cannot believe I am doing this,” Mrs Parker admitted, “but I’m ordering takeaway for everyone”

“You’ve been working non-stop ‘round the clock for a week. It’s all right,” Benjamin assured her.

“Will you pick it up?”

“Of course. What’re we having?”

“Fish and chips, but I’ll make a salad and something a bit healthier for Mr Holmes.”

Matilda smiled. “My boys are so wicked—always telling me that they don’t want ‘rabbit food.’” Mrs Parker smiled back.

The driver looked thoughtful. “Mr Holmes should have dinner with his brother,” he suggested, “in the small dining room.”

“Why the dining room, Ben?” the housekeeper asked. “They’ve been having meals up in his room.”

“It’s normal,” the driver stated firmly. “I know it’s not normal for them, but it’s normal for everyone else.”

Matilda looked at the slender, rather-handsome-in-that-pasty-English-guy-way man and was struck by the sincerity in his voice and on his face. From what she had gathered, he had been a part of the household for years and seemed to know her patient and his boss well. Although she had immediately taken a liking to (and trusted) the housekeeper, she felt that it was important to respect as much input from as many sources as possible when it came to her patient, whose condition quite frankly horrified her. A quiet, proper dinner in the—had he really said the “small” dining room? There was more than one dining room? –sounded quite nice. “I think that’s an excellent idea,” she agreed.

*

“You’ll be having dinner with your brother in a bit,” the nurse informed him. “Isn’t that lovely?”

He blinked blearily at her. “Bee?” he mumbled.

“B? B what, love?”

He whimpered and shook his head.

“You’ve got a little time before dinner. Have a little rest,” she told him.

She let him slide his thumb into his mouth.

*

John poked disinterestedly at his dinner—poached fish and a salad. Terribly healthy. Terribly boring. He knew that having pasta three or four times a week was not very good for him, but sometimes he missed penne in a light alfredo sauce.

And battered fish.

And heaps of glistening marmalade on soldiers of toast.

Chocolate biscuits and jammie dodgers and a nice, crisp apple, sliced, peeled, and dressed with some lemon and cinnamon sugar.

Chips positively swimming in vinegar.

John pushed his healthy dinner away from himself, pushed himself away from the table, and just sat for a while, staring at nothing.

*

Mycroft sighed and let his head sink into his hands. His elbows were resting on his immense dining room table. He had shoved his dinner—mostly untouched—away from himself, across the glossy surface.

He was beyond frustrated. He had been desperately trying to engage Sherlock in conversation. He would have been happy with a few one-word responses, but he wasn’t even getting those. His brother didn’t seem to be aware of his surroundings. The nurse had guided him into the room and to his place at the table, but now he was just sitting there, gazing down at the table. He slowly traced shapes across its surface with his finger.

“Eat your dinner, Sherlock,” he admonished, raising his head. Instead of complying, his brother, mimicking his actions, pushed his own plate away. The younger man’s curls (shorter and tidier, certainly, but still curls) stirred slightly as he shook his head, frowning at first his own plate, then his brother’s. The plate wasn’t even half full, holding just a small serving of chips doused in malt vinegar and one piece of battered and fried fish.

“You like fish and chips,” Mycroft pointed out. “Mrs Parker had them brought in especially for you.” Not that he had anything like that on his own plate, of course. Fried foods of any sort were not on his diet. “Even if you do put far too much vinegar on your chips. Eat some fish.”

*

far too much vinegar

too much…?

Someone—someone else had done that. Gotten him chips. Complained that he put too much vinegar on them. Told him to eat his fish.

Who was it? He had been wondering for days. Sometimes he nearly had it. Sometimes he knew. And then it would slip away again.

It was important. He knew that it was important. It was important to him.

fish…

 

 

chips

 

 

Oh!

Of course!

How could he have forgotten?

*

Mycroft watched as his brother’s eyes opened wide. What had he remembered?

*

caring

stitching

patient

 

 

“Doc… doctor,” he stammered.

“Yes. Good.”

 

 

running

shooting

brave

 

 

“Cap… tain.”

“Excellent. Keep going.”

 

 

typing chair cushion tea milk skull fridge shouting cupboards dishes biscuits books desk papers tidying bathing

dressing

 

 

talking

 

 

 

 

texting

 

 

 

 

 

 

crying

falling

dying

 

 

 

 

 

 

alone

 

 

 

 

 

 

wrong

 

 

*

Sherlock’s hands clenched into fists and he slammed them down on the polished surface of the table. “I know it’s difficult. You can do this, Sherlock,” Mycroft assured him.

He watched as his brother’s chin fell to his chest. He seemed to be searching within himself; going deep down into his mind. Please let him say it. Please let him say that one word that he so desperately needs to say.

 

 

laughing stripping rolling kissing—

 

 

Mycroft fought it. He did. He fought the trembling of his lips and the moisture in his eyes.

Finally.

*

“What’s happened?” the nurse demanded. The scene that greeted her when she returned to the room alarmed her. Her patient was slumped over the table, his head on his arms. He was panting, as if he had been exerting himself. The government man—or whatever he was—seated at the head of the glossy dining table had an odd mixture of relief and sadness on his face.

He tore his gaze away from his brother and turned to her. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn that there was a foreign look to his eyes—an unusual wet glimmer. He cleared his throat and replied, quietly, “He said John.”

*

“Yes, Sherlock—John. Dr John Watson.” He stopped himself from saying more; he wanted to see what else his brother could produce.

“John… Watson,” he repeated.

 

 

arousal

love

joy

 

 

“John… my…” He paused, obviously stymied.

The older brother waited patiently, the slightest of smiles crossing his lips. Sherlock would never be able to come up with one word to describe everything that the ex-army captain had been to him. What they had been to one another. There simply wasn’t one—at least in English.

 

 

good

 

 

He was startled by Sherlock’s hand on his wrist. “Yes, brother mine?” he asked gently.

“Eat… your dinner.”

And with that, it was as if a door that had been flung open had been slammed shut again.

*

“That’s very good,” Matilda told him, nodding approvingly at the empty plate.

After his few words—and his admonishment to his brother—Sherlock had finished his dinner, smiling guilelessly as he polished off his last chip. As he had eaten everything with his fingers, he had managed to get himself rather amazingly greasy.

“I t’ink a lovely hot bath would be a good idea,” she commented. He looked down at himself and nodded sombrely, thoughtfully licking a few fingers. “Come on, then. Mr Holmes, you all right?” The government man had been completely silent since the younger man had (not terribly gently) pushed his plate back in front of him. He had eaten, mechanically, somehow clearing the plate without taking his eyes off his brother for even a second.

He now looked up at the nurse sharply. “Yes. I’m perfectly fine. Take him and get him cleaned up.”

*

Mycroft wandered into the library. He wanted to replay their dinner over and over in his mind, but he sensed that that would be a mistake. No sense in getting his hopes up about his brother’s state of mind. Yes, he had quite clearly recalled John Watson. Yes, it had been completely on his own; he had not led him on.

And then—yes—his brother’s mind seemed to have switched off again; derailed.

Why? He thought he knew what had triggered the awakening. He knew not only about his brother’s love of the lovely, greasy takeaway, but how often the good doctor had indulged him with it.

But what had shut him down again? Had anything? Or had his wounded brain simply had enough?

He needed to not think about it for a while.

He allowed himself to become immersed in a fascinating volume about the history of food in Western culture—immersed enough that he was startled when he felt a thin finger poking his shoulder. He dropped his book to his lap.

His brother was completely bare, water dripping off his fingers. He shook his head in mild distain (and just a touch of amusement) over the familiar image.

“Wet,” his brother announced.

“Yes, I can see that. Aren’t you cold?” He glanced around, then rose and retrieved the soft blanket that had made its home in front of the fireplace since his brother’s arrival. “Here.” He draped it carefully over the scarred shoulders. “Where’s… oh.”

The nurse bustled into the room, carrying a dressing gown. “Dere you are! Slippery t’ing.” She shook her head, obviously more amused than concerned. “Put dis on.”

His brother shook his head and, scowling, flapped the blanket ends a bit.

*

Clothes were dull. He had a blanket.

*

“’Lock! Get back here!” Mummy’s voice, issuing from the steamy bathroom, was amused.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Mycroft, nine years old, exclaimed as his two-year-old brother ran past his room, naked as the day he was born. He rose and went to the doorway, catching a glimpse of a pale, baby-soft rump and wet curls.

Dad, coming up the stairs, captured his warm, damp, squirming son in his long arms and laughed. “Where do you think you’re going, baby bird? Are you going to fly away?” he wondered. He carried him back to the bathroom, and Mycroft could hear his brother’s babyish giggle. He went to the bathroom door and watched as Mummy enveloped his brother in a soft towel, laughing and kissing his round cheek.

“Naked, My!” he shouted proudly as he spotted his brother peering in at them from the hallway.

“Yes, I can see that,” the older brother replied, trying not to laugh.

“Naughty boy,” Mummy murmured without the slightest bit of reproach in her voice. “Behave yourself.”

*

“I’m sorry about this,” he remarked to the nurse. “He has absolutely no sense of modesty.”

She shrugged. “Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she commented. “Between being a nurse and being a mum to five boys… and people with brain injuries do things like that all the time.”

“Sadly, this is completely normal behaviour for him,” the older brother replied. “He once went to Buckingham Palace like that.”

Chapter Text

The latest nurse was Dave. He was of medium height and build. His hair was a nondescript brown and prematurely thinning. He wore glasses. His accent was Received English; his voice a bit high-pitched. Other than a few acne scars on his cheeks, he was so unremarkable as to be almost a caricature.

Still, he was intelligent and thoughtful and was studying to become a doctor. He had a special interest in diseases of the eyes and in surgery, having grown up with a grandmother blinded by cataracts and so terrified of the idea of an operation that they never could convince her to have it done. He had felt so helpless back then. But now, when his studies were complete, he could help others in her situation. That was his plan.

But for now, he tended to private patients to pay his rent. It wasn’t bad. He didn’t even mind the overnight hours, which many nurses detested. So many of his patients just slept through his shift, and he used the time to study. Tonight, though, he had been warned by the agency that this particular patient had absolutely no concept of night and day, nor of what would be considered conventional hours to wake, bathe, eat, sleep.

He had also been warned, upon his arrival (the security measures put him a bit on edge, but he supposed anyone who could afford a house like that would have a great need for such measures), that his patient was currently not interested in the convention of being clothed.

“He’ll want something on when he gets cold,” the outgoing nurse had said. It was fine.

Now he watched as his patient, clad only in a blanket as described, pushed himself off the wall on which he had been leaning, looking out the window of his bedroom. His expression was unfathomable. “Hello?” he finally offered.

He spun around and slammed his back against the window, panting and wide-eyed. He lost his grip on the blanket draped over his shoulders and it slid to the floor. He looked down at himself and his mouth opened in horror. He lunged across the room and, his hands shaking terribly, swiftly retrieved pyjamas. His balance difficulties caught up with him as he attempted to slide his feet into the bottoms, but he managed to cover his legs.

Dave slowly took a few slow steps forward, not wishing to alarm the man again.

And then his patient was lunging across the room again, but this time it was into the attached bathroom. Dave dropped his rucksack and sprinted after him.

He was already on his knees in front of the toilet. The retching was violent. Dave edged past him, retrieved a glass, and filled it with water. When there seemed to be a stop to it, the nurse reached over his patient’s head and flushed. “Here. Rinse.” He tipped the glass up to the chapped lips.

When he was done, his patient fell back, panting and pale. He sat on the cold tiles, drew his knees up, and hid his face on them.

“What’s going on?” A tall man—taller even than his patient—burst into the room. “What’s upset him?” he demanded.

“I’m not sure. I just arrived,” the nurse offered, startled.

The taller man, who was also slightly older, glared at him with such intensity he began to feel a prickle of sweat forming on his skin. “Get him off the floor, for God’s sake.”

Dave touched a shaking shoulder tentatively. “Hey,” he almost whispered. “Come into the bedroom and let’s get you dressed.”

His patient slowly raised his head and looked at him, and the nurse would never admit it, but he pulled back a few inches at the sight. He thought the look he had gotten from the other man had gone right through him, but it was nothing in comparison to what he saw now.

He now implicitly understood the phrase If looks could kill.

*

His brother allowed himself to be slowly guided out of the bathroom. His chin was to his chest and his steps were unsteady. The new nurse (Mycroft had stopped even wondering about their names) was calm; steady. Almost clinical. That was fine. He got his brother seated on the bed and bent to retrieve the shirt he had dropped. It was not a proper pyjama shirt, he noted, but one of his oldest buttoned shirts. He frowned at its appearance. Apparently, Mrs Parker had held onto it to be made useful in circumstances exactly like this.

Over the years, there had been many nights when circumstances were exactly like this.

*

“’Lock, why in heaven’s name aren’t you dressed yet? Mummy and Dad’s company will be here any minute.” Mycroft, a self-possessed if rather spotty fourteen, demanded. He had poked his head into his brother’s bedroom to check on him and discovered him stark naked and standing in the centre of his room, glaring at what he held in each hand.

“They’re awful,” his seven-year-old brother responded, not taking his eyes off what he held.

“What is awful?” The older brother entered the room.

“My shirts.” He held them up. “This one’s got… um…” He hesitated.

His brother looked down at it. “Green stains,” he pronounced. “Grass?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“And the other is stained…?”

“Red. And brown. And purple. And black…”

“I see. Mummy is not going to be pleased when she discovers that you’ve ruined both of your good shirts. What on earth were you doing to get them in that state, anyway?”

“’speriments.”

“Of course you were,” Mycroft murmured. “But you can’t go downstairs like that. Get some pants and trousers on and I’ll fix it, shall I?” And, with a resigned sigh, he headed for his bedroom to retrieve a clean shirt for his brother. It would be enormous on him, of course, and without a doubt be ruined before the night was out, but he couldn’t help but laugh; his brother could be so very ridiculous sometimes.

*

“Hm? I see,” Mycroft hummed noncommittally. The nurse had been explaining exactly what had transpired upon his arrival—not that he had been able to elucidate much on the subject. Observing how his brother behaved and knowing what was going on in his head were two entirely different things. The government man had tuned his rather droning voice out as soon as he had started.

“Well, get him dressed.” He strode out of the room.

*

Dave stared as the older brother—impeccably dressed and impossibly pompous (seriously, he was nearly a caricature; did he wear a bowler hat and swing an umbrella when he went out?)—swept out of the room. “Is he for real?” he demanded.

His patient had curled up on the bed, his knees up and his arms wrapped around his legs, and he was rocking himself. “Oh, jeez. I’m sorry. Let’s get you dressed.”

Once he got him warmly dressed, and hopefully calmer, Dave was going to make a very close study of the notes left by each caretaker. The scars on the thin body were horrifying, and the one on the man’s leg—which had apparently been the trigger for his being taken ill—was heart breaking.

What had happened to him?

*

“What the hell are you doing? Get out!” fourteen-year-old Sherlock burst out, grabbing a towel and hastily wrapping it around his waist.

“Language, Sherlock,” his brother had responded. “I need my nail clippers.”

“Well, get them and get out,” he snarled.

“All right. Calm down. It’s not like I haven’t seen you without clothes before.” He reached into a drawer and, rummaging around, found what he was looking for. He turned and left, carefully closing the bathroom door behind himself as his brother glared at him.

Yes, their suspicions had been correct. The blood that Mummy had found on his brother’s clothing—when it wasn’t from getting into a fight—was apparently because he was doing things—horrible, hurtful things—to himself. He didn’t think that the teen had noticed that, with the nail clippers, he had also taken his razor with him. As it turned out, he was wrong.

*

Mycroft would never admit it to anyone, but as he changed into his own elegant silk pyjamas, his hands shook.

Chapter Text

“Get out. Now.” The nurse’s eyes opened wide at the ominous tone to Mycroft’s voice. She scrambled for her coat and bag. Then she looked hesitantly at the object he was holding. “Take it,” he seethed, nearly throwing her mobile at her. She fumbled and caught it, shoving it into her pocket. “Make sure you sign off,” he reminded her coldly, pointing at the clipboard on the table.

“I’m not supposed to leave until the next nurse comes in.” She finally seemed to be processing the situation and picked it up slowly.

“You should have taken that into consideration before you decided that it was less important to tend to your patient than to play…” he paused, shuddering, “’Bejeweled’.”

“I’ve been taking care of him!” she protested defensively. She had already gotten negative comments from patients’ families twice in less than six weeks; one more and she would most certainly lose her position.

“Oh?”

“Yes.” She looked down at the top sheet on the clipboard. “See?” She held it up and pointed.

“You gave him his medications on time, and at the proper dosage. Good for you.” Mycroft’s insincerity was palpable.

“That’s what I’m supposed to do,” she argued. She was getting fed up now—pompous bastard.

“You are also supposed to ensure that he eats and sleeps and doesn’t injure himself and doesn’t go wandering off.”

She felt her stomach do a distinct flip-flop. “Wandering off?” she echoed stupidly. Unable to help herself, she glanced around the room.

“It’s a bit late for that. He’s not here.”

“Where is…” she couldn’t finish her sentence without incriminating herself, she realised. Damn.

“Luckily for you, he is currently downstairs in the kitchen having tea with the gardener.”

“See? No prob—”

“He was found wandering around outside,” he informed her coldly.

That was it. She gave up. He had her dead to rights, and with corroboration to boot. She was screwed. Without another word she glanced at her watch, signed off, noting the time, handed him the clipboard, spun on her heel, and left.

Fucking weirdo brothers.

*

Damn, damn, damn. He had nearly made it. It had been quite easy.

He had dressed himself—buttons and shoelaces were a challenge because his hands shook, but he was grateful that the young woman who had sighed and shuffled across the room to give him his tablets didn’t seem even slightly inclined to offer to help. He had run his fingers through his hair; it would have to do. He wasn’t about to look in a mirror. And then, while the idiot who called herself a nurse was staring at her mobile, he had simply walked out of the room.

The next part was a bit trickier—Mycroft’s entire household staff was well trained—but he was careful and observant. He made his way to the ground floor. No one appeared to be about. He ducked into the kitchen and had to dash for the safety of the pantry as the concealed door that revealed the stairs which led down to Mycroft’s office/bunker soundlessly swung open. One of his brother’s minions—neatly clipped hair, black suit and tie, white shirt, and black sunglasses—appeared and, without a glance around himself, headed out towards the garage. He waited, then crept towards the door, listening intently.

No, no voices. No footsteps. Good.

He reached to the top of the fridge and took the tin shaped like a giant custard cream biscuit down. He already knew what was in it, but he glanced inside anyway. Should he? Did he need it? He had once had a sort of fascination with handguns, but for some reason the idea of holding one now gave him an uneasy, sort of queasy feeling—as if he had been doing a great deal of that at some point and was tired of it. He re-covered the tin and put it back.

The second tin—a smaller one shaped like a stack of chocolate digestives—held an encouraging amount of cash. He took it all and replaced that tin.

The third, shaped like an enormous bourbon biscuit—well, that one actually held biscuits, and he ate one while pondering his next move.

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he glanced around, listening again. He knew that he had limited time. Mrs Parker would be back soon, and he wasn’t entirely sure where the nameless minion had gotten to. Irritating, that.

Oh, well. It was still an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. Moving stealthily, he entered a code into a small keypad and then swung open the door that led out to the back garden.

*

She glanced at her Twitter feed. All the usual celebrity crap. Something about some old actor—he hadn’t made a film in three years? Who would be interested in seeing him in one now? She went back to what she had been doing, first glancing at her watch and sighing. Two more hours before she had to give him more tablets. God, she was bored.

*

He had made it as far as the wall and, crouched in the shrubbery, was observing it to see the best place to scale it. There, he thought to himself, nodding. There was a young tree close enough to make it possible for him to climb up it and then swing himself to the top of the wall. He knew that he would set off the motion sensors, but by then he’d have dropped to the other side and would hopefully be out of reach.

He stood up and…

Damn.

What was wrong with him?

Because the garden was tilting in a very peculiar manner—or was it he who was tilting? His head felt like someone was squeezing it and he swayed. His stomach clenched, and, despite the chill, he began to feel overheated. Dark shadows swirled into his peripheral vision.

Overcome it, he told himself, taking deep breaths. It’s just transport. Come along. Time to go—

He was oddly grateful that someone caught him before he could tumble to the cold ground.

*

“Something’s up, sir,” the driver had reported as soon as he had entered the security code that would open the gate and eased the car onto the driveway. He indicated a small group of people gathered near the outer wall.

Mycroft frowned and slipped quickly out of the car, motioning for Anthea to follow.

Really? The scene that he took in with once sharp glance made him sigh. There was David, one of his oldest assistants, and Malcolm, the gardener. Both men were kneeling, one on either side of… really?

“Oh, Sherlock,” he muttered. “What have you done now?” He strode quickly across the meticulous lawn.

David looked up, then rose quickly. “Mr Holmes,” he greeted him, his even tone displaying not a bit of emotion, “your brother’s been out for a walk and been taken ill.”

“David,” Mycroft replied in disgust, “you know better.”

The man nodded. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Apparently young Mr Holmes here was trying to get over the wall when he passed out.”

“I think he’s coming to now,” Malcolm, who was kneeling, Mycroft noticed now, with his brother’s feet propped up on his own legs to elevate them, remarked.

Sure enough, the peculiar, light-coloured eyes now opened, and his brother made an angry, frustrated noise as he tried raising his head.

“Are you all right, Sherlock?” his brother asked. Anthea, observing from behind him, caught the slightest note of anxiety in his voice. “What were you doing?”

For an answer, the thin man struggled to prop himself up on his elbows. He frowned and pulled his feet away from the gardener. Mycroft subconsciously noted that he had tied his shoes himself. “Where is the nurse?” he demanded.

The gardener rose and, dusting off his knees, remarked, “He was out here on his own.”

“I see.” Mycroft glanced towards the house, his expression dark. “Can you get him inside?”

David and Malcolm looked at each other and nodded. David could easily carry him if necessary, but the scowl on the younger brother’s face made it clear that he intended to attempt to make it under his own power—more or less.

It took several minutes, with the black-suited man on one side and the gardener on the other, for them to walk slowly back to the house. Anthea followed close behind, texting the nursing agency. Mycroft had stridden ahead of them and, punching his entry code in angrily, stormed into the house. Clearly someone was going to be dismissed.

*

John sighed. He was grateful that he didn’t have anything to do with staff supervision at the surgery. On Friday, some nurse had gotten positively ripped to shreds; the closed office door had done nothing to prevent everyone in the waiting area from hearing the shouting.

Finally, the recipient of the dressing-down had emerged. John, who had been—all right, so he had been making a show of checking some records with Mary as an excuse to not return to his office—deliberately looked down at the reception computer monitor. “Is that it?” he had asked, gesturing.

“Wh… oh, yeah. That’s it. Thanks,” she replied, also making a point of staring intently at the monitor.

The nurse who had just been dismissed went into the staff room and emerged moments later with her coat. Not even pausing to put it on, she put her head down and dashed out the door, nearly hitting someone coming in.

Now, on Sunday afternoon, watching Mary pour tea in her sitting room, his discomfort and sympathy for the nurse resurfaced.

“That nurse who got sacked on Friday—what did she do?” he asked her.

“Mixed up some records and some patient got the wrong medication. Sugar?”

“What happened?” he asked in alarm, shaking his head at her query. “How serious was it?”

“Thankfully, nothing too bad—the patient realised it was the wrong tablets before he took any—but obviously it could have been much worse.”

“Yeah. Yes.” A dozen disastrous scenarios flashed through his head.

“It’s about time they sacked her,” the blonde woman added a bit sharply, pouring some milk into his teacup. “It’s the third time she’s done it in six weeks.” She handed him the tea cup.

“Third time! She’s lucky no one died.”

“Exactly. Biscuits?”

John stared dumbly at the delicate china plate with its display of custard creams and some sort of chocolate ones, thoughtful. What during the past six weeks had the nurse so distracted? Sherlock would have been able to deduce something about her—

*

“Do you think you can manage him?” Anthea sounded sceptical.

“I’ve babysat for my sister’s twin boys for years,” Malcolm reassured her. “Right devils, both of them, and not one trip to A & E or 999 call on my watch.”

“That seems to satisfy the job requirements at the moment,” she admitted drily. “The schedule for his medications is on the clipboard in his room. The next nurse is due in four hours.”

“Got it. And Mrs Parker’ll be back from the cinema soon enough. He usually behaves for her.”

She nodded and walked out of the room without another word.

*

“How about a nice cup of tea?”

Sherlock looked up at the light-haired man, who was leaning easily against the kitchen counter. He was seated at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. He still felt a bit wobbly; it had taken every bit of his willpower to manage the walk across the lawn to the house.

Yes, tea would be nice, he thought. Nice, hot, sweet tea, and perhaps more of those biscuits… he belatedly realised that he had left the third tin open on the table. Guiltily, he brushed some of the crumbs he had left into a tidy pile before nodding once and dropping his head again. The sound of the kettle being filled and switched on made him feel, oddly, calm and sad at the same time.

Chapter Text

It was unbearable. Two escape attempts in one day—he had somehow managed to slip out again, this time toward the end of the evening shift with yet another new nurse—infuriated Mycroft while simultaneously alarming him. It was dark and rainy, and he had gone out both times without a coat.

*

The new nurse was terribly impressed with her own medical knowledge. She threw around terms such as Broca’s aphasia and executive function. She shook her head in disagreement over the list of his medications; according to her, he should have been taking several in addition to what he was already receiving, each of which contained no fewer than four syllables. She groaned about the notes regarding his freedom from any sort of schedule. She also tsked tsked over Mrs Parker’s protests about what she had requested (ordered) for dinner.

“He can’t eat that,” the housekeeper had told her plainly.

“He can’t, or he won’t? There are no food allergies or sensitivities listed on his chart. There is no reason not to give him a proper, balanced dinner.”

“It’s not allergies, but he’ll still be sick if you force him to eat that,” Mrs Parker stated firmly.

“What on earth is wrong with it? It’s a perfectly lovely meal.”

The housekeeper began ticking off on her fingers. “One: he despises roasted chicken. Two: he despises rosemary. Three: he cannot bear to eat carrots and peas together. Four: he won’t eat mashed potatoes with anything in them—let alone mushrooms. And five: there is no way I am not going to make him dessert. He’ll eat sweets when you can’t get anything else into him.”

“That is hardly a healthy diet,” the nurse retorted, pursing her lips.

Mrs Parker congratulated herself later when she did not point out that the nurse, who was plump to the point of being dumpy, did not seem to have terribly healthy eating habits, either. “It doesn’t matter how ‘healthy’ or good the food is for him if he won’t eat it or worse—if it just ends up in the toilet.”

“It’s psychosomatic,” the nurse replied condescendingly.

“It doesn’t really matter what it’s called when I’m the one doing the laundry. I’ve been feeding and caring for this man for years. I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like. I know what foods make him ill and which make him happy. I have already planned his next few meals, and I can assure you that not one of them will include rosemary chicken, mixed carrots and peas, and mashed potatoes with sautéed mushrooms. Tonight, he will be having Welsh rarebit and some apple slices. And a glass of milk. For afters I’ve made one of his favourites—chocolate mousse.

“And,” she continued, “if he doesn’t take one bite of anything, no one will force him or beg him or reason with him or humiliate him. I’ll see to that. So, watch yourself. Now, I have things to do.” And she turned and left her alone.

The nurse’s mouth fell open in shock.

*

Sherlock did fairly well with the soldiers of toast covered in the rich, golden melted cheese, and even ate all the apple slices.

“Excellent, Sherlock!” Mrs Parker praised. “You’ve done really well.”

He smirked at the nurse—he had heard the entire conversation.

Later he would ask for the chocolate mousse and more milk up in his bedroom—for him and for the nurse. Or perhaps she would prefer a cup of tea—the stronger, the better.

Yes, that would work well.

*

“Now, before you have your pudding, you will change into your pyjamas, and after you’re done, it’s lights out. I am not tolerating this topsy-turvy schedule. A man in your condition needs regular meals and a full night’s sleep.”

She was pleased when the thin man nodded contritely. A firm hand—that’s all he needed.

“You have some too?” he offered haltingly. “Missus… Mrs… makes… it’s good.”

She considered this. It might make things go a bit easier if she got chummy with him—and she did love chocolate mousse. “Oh, why not?” she smiled insincerely.

“Tea?”

*

Sherlock smiled to himself. He couldn’t manage much with his dodgy hands, but he could, if he was very careful, pour the tea.

He had pulverized the tablet, and the resulting powder was barely noticeable, particularly after he added the milk.

*

She was surprised at herself. She was quite accustomed to working varied shifts, and the evening one wasn’t terribly difficult.

So why was she suddenly so sleepy?

*

He had timed his “walk about” carefully. He knew that Malcolm was going out to see a film that evening. His brother was God-knows-where, his driver with him. When Mrs Parker had brought the tray up to his room, she seemed weary. He was genuinely a bit concerned and gently reached out and touched one work-worn hand.

“Speh-shul bedtime,” he offered.

“I’m not sure what you mean, love, but I do get the bedtime part. I’ll just leave the tray for morning, shall I?”

He nodded.

Perfect.

He had absolutely no qualms about drugging the nurse. As soon as she was out (it was fairly obvious because she snored), he set his plan into action. There was no time to lose. Malcolm would be back from the cinema soon, and when he opened the gate to drive in, he would have his opportunity.

This time, once he was outside, instead of heading for a hidden bit of wall, he went directly for the gate. He had once again dressed himself, deliberately choosing the darkest shirt and suit of Mycroft’s that he could find. Now he stood very still, pressed up against and facing the wall just inside the gate, his head with its dark curls bowed down and his hands with their tell-tale pale skin in his pockets. The awkward bit would be manoeuvring around the open gate—it opened in the middle, and inwards, and of course there would be a car coming in, but after the humiliation of his first attempt, he had made a point of obediently eating as much of his dinner as he could manage. He wasn’t going to risk—well—he wasn’t going to let his transport get the better of him this time.

*

Mycroft entered his brother’s room cautiously. His reaction to having been apprehended a second time—he had been spotted by Mycroft’s driver as they by chance followed the gardener’s mini through the gate—had been predictable. And violent.

For the first hour he threw whatever he could get his hands on in a wordless fury, bellowing meaningless noises of frustration.

Upon discovering him, Sean—the assistant in the car with him—and his driver had quite literally tackled him, and while Mycroft summoned the two assistants who had remained behind in his office to come out and help, Benjamin sat on his legs and Sean held his arms. The four of them had to man-handle him into the house and up the stairs.

Malcolm, who had stopped his car and come running back when he realised what was going on behind him, now went ahead of them to hold the doors open and turn on lights, and it was he who discovered the nurse, slumped in the armchair in Sherlock’s room and drooling on the shoulder of her uniform. Without pausing, he grabbed the back of the chair and dragged it out into the hallway, then dashed back in as the four men arrived with their flailing, cursing burden.

And then they unceremoniously dropped him on the bed, Malcolm threw the blanket he had ready over him, and they all exited the room before he could untangle himself. Sean fastened the bolt.

By the sound of it, the tea things—Mycroft knew it was not his finest china, of course—were smashed first. Then, it was oddly quiet, with some creaking and soft thumping. That would be the bedding. And then he started with the books.

It was a chair—or possibly the bedside table—slamming into the wall with a decisive crack of wood that finally woke the nurse. She glanced around dazedly, attempting to absorb the situation.

“What…?” she managed, discreetly wiping her chin with her fingers.

“He drugged you and tried to escape,” Mycroft summed up efficiently. “He is now livid, locked in his room, and most assuredly injuring himself. I am loath to say this, but perhaps he requires some assistance calming down?”

Clearly still feeling the effects of Sherlock’s little dose, she fumbled in her pocket for the capped syringe he knew she had.

“Perhaps someone else should administer that?” he said sharply, snatching it from her.

“I’ll do it, sir,” Ian offered. “Could you two please hold him steady?” he asked, indicating the two other assistants with a tip of his chin.

*

“It was sheer coincidence that we followed Malcolm through the gate,” Benjamin reflected. He and the gardener were in Mrs Parker’s kitchen with Ian and Sean, each gratefully cradling a hot cup of tea. It was late, but none of them were willing to retire. Sean had sent the still-woozy nurse home in a taxi, shaking his head sharply at Benjamin’s offer to drive her.

Despite the soothing scene, all four of them were terribly on edge. Nothing was right. The injection had quieted Sherlock, but it had not calmed him. Behind the terrible lethargy it brought on, it was obvious that he was fighting it; still agitated.

They had been uncertain what to do then. The thin man was essentially unconscious, but they had all clearly learned their lesson about his ability to both deceive them about his state of mind and to overcome his weaknesses.

Finally, to their great astonishment, Mycroft Holmes himself had announced that he would stay with his brother, and they had all taken that moment to quietly exit the room.

They had all taken heart in learning that Winifred was coming on duty at midnight; if anyone could take the situation firmly in hand, it was the calm and motherly nurse.

*

He was a motionless, vague lump on the bed, still dressed in the dark shirt and trousers he had so cleverly chosen.

His older brother seated himself gingerly next to him. “I am sorry about all this,” he remarked, almost to himself (he wasn’t sure if his brother was comprehending, listening, or even aware of his presence). “I know that you want to go home—back to… everything. But surely, Sherlock, you do understand that that must be handled with the utmost care.”

Oh. He had been listening. He slowly lifted his head and attempted to glare; it seemed that the effort was too great, and he fell back against the pillow heavily, but his eyes remained open.

“You also realise that, no matter what, it’s going to be different. You’ve been gone two years. People have got on with their lives.”

He snorted in derision. He always seemed to have the energy for that.

“That tatty little flat of yours is unchanged—you owe me two years’ rent—but beyond that I cannot possibly… what is it?” He paused in concern as the thin man, with a great effort, rolled away from him, onto his side, and covered his face with his arm.

“Change… subject,” he mumbled.

The older man considered this for a moment. “All right. You’ve had enough for now. How about a little diversion?”

Chapter Text

“Are you two smoking?” Winifred demanded angrily.

Mycroft spun rapidly around, whipping the hand holding his cigarette behind his back and looking decidedly guilty. “No!” he exclaimed.

Sherlock gave her a small, puzzled frown, looking down at his cigarette and then, rather pointedly, at his brother. He gestured to him, his lit cigarette making swirling patterns of smoke.

“Mr Holmes—really. The last thing your brother needs is a bad example to follow.”

Mycroft sighed. She really did look very much like their mother, and at that point, sounded very much like her as well.

*

Sherlock was fourteen and he was twenty-one; it was Christmas Day. They had been stuck in the kitchen for what seemed like ages, ostensibly helping Mummy with preparation for an elaborate dinner. Mycroft was sitting at the table reading a newspaper and Sherlock was perched on a counter on the far end of the room, his arms wrapped around his knees. He was eyeing everything rather suspiciously.

“I’m not eating any of that,” he stated firmly, pointing at the mince pies, then waving his hand in the direction of a large bowl of peas and carrots.

“No, dear, you don’t have to,” Mummy assured him. “I’ve kept aside some plain peas for you, but you’ll like the potatoes.”

“Will I?” he replied snidely.

“Don’t use that tone with me, young man,” she warned.

He sighed and let his legs unfold from beneath his arms. Mycroft, glancing up, noticed that his brother was getting taller; his heels hadn’t been able to reach that far down the cupboard door when he had last seen him sitting there—that had been in early August, he realised, when they had gathered to celebrate Mummy’s birthday. He had visited in October (he and their father happened to share their birth month), but Sherlock had been extremely withdrawn during his entire visit, and he had only seen him outside of his room once.

“Leave him alone,” was Dad’s advice. “He’s just going through a rough patch.”

Poking his head into his room when he arrived, Mycroft had eyed his brother carefully; observing the healing bruises on his cheekbone and chin. “He’s been fighting again,” he now remarked.

“Yes. Well, he doesn’t ever start any of the actual fisticuffs, but he does seem to provoke his schoolmates quite often. You know how rude he can be.”

“Is that the only reason?” Mycroft prodded, already knowing the answer.

“You know it’s not,” their father answered sharply. “We thought the boxing and fencing lessons would even things up a bit, but so often it’s two or three against one.”

“Of course,” Mycroft had replied, realising for the first time what a huge concession it had been for their very much turn-the-other-cheek-minded parents to concede to the need for either sort of lessons in the first place. How old had he been when they had been introduced? He was still a student himself—his brother must have been only eight or nine. “He certainly has an aptitude for fencing,” he added thoughtfully.

And now, in late December, twelve days before his fifteenth birthday, Sherlock looked more capable of handling a foil than he had even a few months earlier. He was taller than Mummy and rapidly approaching Dad’s height, although no one thought he’d ever be quite Mycroft’s stature. He was all knuckles and wrists and ankles (which showed when he wore his older trousers; Mummy had had a struggle keeping him in the proper length) and rather enormous feet.

He had developed a surprisingly deep voice, but his skin was spotless (secretly this made Mycroft jealous; he had been positively miserable with spots until he was nearly twenty) and he showed no signs of any sort of facial hair. He was as meticulous as a cat, taking two showers a day, but didn’t think twice about crawling under a park bench to obtain what he deemed a fascinating soil sample between them. His moods ran the gamut but tended toward the darker side—easily angered; easily bored. His brother was an interesting mixture of the glory that was puberty in teen boys, but once he filled out, he would be, at least to some people’s eyes, quite handsome and athletic in a wiry way.

Now Mycroft watched as he gracefully launched himself off the counter, landing noiselessly.

“I’m going to check on my footprints,” he remarked. He walked out of the kitchen, towards the back door.

“Footprints?” Mycroft inquired, his eyebrows arching.

“Mmm. Something about how the shape of a footprint might change—or the size or something—as mud dries.”

“I see.” He glanced towards the door.

“Go on,” their mother said, indicating it with her chin. “He’s just out back. Take a look, but bring him back in with you. Dinner will be ready in—”

“Nine minutes,” Mycroft interrupted.

“Seven minutes,” she corrected, shaking her head and laughing.

So, he had gone out—grabbing his coat from the peg by the door, as he knew Sherlock had already done. It wasn’t terribly cold out, but the sky was a solid mass of dull grey clouds. He walked silently down to the bottom of the garden. He knew exactly where his brother was; there was a bare spot there that always seemed to have water in it, even when they hadn’t had any rain for ages. The mud there was fine and silty and would take an impression of a footprint quite accurately.

Yes, there he was—a still, solitary figure in a navy-blue pea coat, the collar up against the wind. He was standing about a foot away from the puddle, staring down at it. And…

“Are you smoking?!”

Sherlock whipped around guiltily, his right hand behind his back. “No…” he managed before coughing out a tell-tale puff of smoke.

“Where did you get that?” he continued angrily, pointing at the hand that he knew held a cigarette.

“Where do you think?” his brother snorted, recovering from his surprise. He calmly brought his hand out from behind himself and took a drag. He didn’t cough this time.

The older brother began patting the pockets of his own elegant overcoat. “Damn,” he hissed, realising. “Give them back.”

Not looking the slightest bit guilty, Sherlock pulled the packet out of his coat pocket and handed it over. “Dad knows you have these,” he informed him.

“I am an adult, Sherlock. I can smoke if I want.”

“Not everywhere; isn’t there one of those ... one of those law things?”

Mycroft tapped a cigarette out of the packet and lit it before answering, “We’re outdoors. There’s only so much damage you can do.” He gazed thoughtfully at the glowing tip, not noticing when Sherlock, who was facing the house, suddenly moved his hand behind his back again. Mummy’s voice startled him so much he jumped.

“Are you two smoking?” she demanded angrily.

Mycroft spun around rapidly to face her, now mimicking his younger brother by holding his hand behind his back, staring guiltily at her. “No!” he insisted.

Almost simultaneously Sherlock blurted out “It was Mycroft!” His older brother glared at him.

She frowned at them both. “I’m not an idiot,” she remarked. “Put those out—do not leave any butts in my garden—and get back inside. Dinner is ready.” She spun around and walked hurriedly back to the house.

Mycroft couldn’t help it. He glanced down at his watch. Seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Well. “Come along, little brother,” he sighed, expertly crushing the burning fag over onto itself and dropping it into his pocket. “Don’t you dare,” he added just in time to prevent him from tossing his fag into the puddle. Sherlock sighed and mimicked his brother and they trudged back to the warm kitchen together.

That was the Christmas that Mycroft had given Sherlock an elegant chess set, and he had seemed, at least for a few minutes, genuinely happy.

*

“You’re correct,” Mycroft apologised, snatching up an ashtray and stubbing the offending object out. “Here, Sherlock.” He held the ashtray out and, reluctantly, his brother echoed his action. The nurse yanked the heavy crystal object from him and spun around, walking hurriedly out of the room with it.

“We’ll have to go outside next time,” the older brother commented.

His brother stared at him in disbelief.

“Oh, please. I do know that on top of everything else you’ve been going through nicotine withdrawals. You were probably smoking like a chimney the entire time you were gone. Did it at least take the edge off?”

Sherlock looked thoughtfully at his hands, holding them out in front of his body.

The shaking was definitely diminished.

*

He looked at his own hands for a while, observing the yellow nicotine stains, the healing wounds on the knuckles, the scars. The callouses caught his eye. Recognisable callouses, even if they were a bit softened now; at some point, he had played the violin.

Had he at some point played a great deal? He lifted his arms, miming cradling the instrument’s neck in one hand and holding a bow, and although his fingers were stiff and his hands shook, a vague memory floated up to the surface. He took a more correct position. Yes, even if he was terribly out of practice, it felt quite natural.

He thought about the music; what had he played? A great variety, if memory served. He struggled for a bit, but then notes and stanzas and movements started to come to him. He began to move his fingers; to bow over imaginary strings. Yes. This felt right. Classical pieces; uplifting and stimulating or achingly sombre. Popular tunes—he had rather grudgingly learnt some Christmas songs. People seemed to like those.

And then there were other pieces—where were they from? Who was the composer?

Had he…? A sudden image of sheets of staff paper propped on the stand and a pencil in his hand. Yes, that seemed right, too—playing a few bars, then pausing to make some adjustments to his composition. It might have looked a bit tedious to anyone observing him, but to him, the process was what he found enthralling. As he worked out the individual notes and passages, he would become more and more focused and able to tune out the overwhelming data that constantly threatened to drown him.

The only other things that allowed him to do that were cases, experiments, and cocaine.

Those were the only things? Wasn’t there something else? Someone else? He remembered someone who would sit and listen to him play for hours—someone on whom he himself could focus, shutting everything else out, for hours.

Who…

Damn…

He was losing it now; losing his focus.

No. He didn’t want to lose this. He wanted to stay in the moment. He needed something to help him focus. He had a fleeting memory—more like the faintest breeze—of someone playing the piano. Who had that been?

There was a piano, right there in the house.

He wondered if his brother would play the piano for him. He was probably out of practice, too, but he did well enough for accompanying him… if he could remember where his violin was.

*

Mycroft was, in his opinion and in the opinion of others, an adequate pianist. He had begun lessons when he was eight years old. He had taken to the more analytical aspects of music—notation, time signatures, and precise execution of pieces clearly grounded in classic styles. He was, from early on, eerily accurate, often sight-reading a new piece with near perfection.

What eluded him was, perhaps, the spirit of the compositions. He received praise for his faithful renditions, but even he knew that he neither felt nor evoked any great intensity of emotion with his playing. He did not tend to draw joy, pathos, or despair from the instrument, nor from his audience.

This did not dismay the young man in the slightest. In fact, he secretly embraced it. For someone who excelled, as he did, in every academic subject, and who also showed a prodigy-like maturity and, of course, the observational skills, he was quite comfortable with being merely a technician of the keyboard—for it was one of the very few ways in which he was average.

Or even below average, he reflected, when “helped” in his practice by his little brother.

“’Lock, get off me, please,” he sighed, removing his hands from the keys of the piano that took up a corner of their sitting room and peering down at his brother, who had managed to drape himself across Mycroft’s thighs. “Let me practice and then I’ll let you play a bit, all right?”

His brother nodded agreeably and slid backwards off his lap, sliding down until he was seated at Mycroft’s feet. He leaned his back against the instrument.

Mycroft nodded. He knew that, once he began, his brother would remain motionless, entranced by the sounds and the vibrations. He had a relatively complicated piece he wanted to try, but he decided to warm up with a few of his brother’s favourites.

Sometimes he wondered if other children his age preferred Bach’s “Minuet in G” to “Three Blind Mice.” Probably not. As he was no typical ten-year-old, his brother most assuredly was not a typical three-year-old, either.

His brother was not a typical six-year-old when, three years later, he requested and received his first violin. He could already read music by then, of course, and could play the piano fairly well, but somewhere he had seen a violinist and, there and then, had determined that he was going not just to learn but to master the instrument.

To nearly everyone’s great surprise, master it he did.

*

Mycroft and Winifred, having reached an uneasy truce over the cigarettes, stood and watched Sherlock as he dreamily went through the motions of playing an imaginary violin.

“I believe that I will retire,” Mycroft said softly.

Winifred nodded and smiled softly at him. “Don’t worry, sir. I’ve got him.”

*

John sat up in bed and groaned. He knew what had woken him up. A sound. A noise.

Damned tenants in the flat above his were playing—blasting—their horrid music again. If it could be considered music at all.

He remembered all the times that he had been lulled to sleep by a gentle, sweet song played on the violin, the beautiful and calming notes drifting up the stairs to his bedroom.

It would be hours before he could fall asleep again.

Chapter Text

“Aren’t you handsome?” Solomon commented. The man in front of him looked at him, and then his clothing, dazedly, as the strong, dark hands smoothed his lapels.

They were going to try the CT scan again. When he arrived, the nurse had been told that apparently something had gone wrong with the equipment, making the anguish of the first attempt doubly distressing. All that for nothing? Solomon shook his head in aggravation before gently waking his patient.

The nurse had ensured that Sherlock had had a bath; that his hair was clean. He had had a haircut and a shave over the weekend—an actual barber had appeared to tend to that—did people really do that anymore? Apparently, yes. And then carefully dressed him in the too-large shirt; the too-long but elegant trousers. The ever-texting assistant had procured insanely expensive shoes, and his patient had allowed him to slide dress socks and the new shoes onto the ridiculously large feet. Quite a difference from their previous trip to the hospital, for which the thin man had been clothed in a track suit of his brother’s and borrowed trainers.

He was being very quiet—very still—just observing everything, and Solomon gave him one final, thoughtful look before dropping the capped syringe in his pocket. Maybe this trip would go all right.

*

“I am sorry about all the bother,” Mycroft apologised uncomfortably. It was so rare for him—both the feeling uncomfortable and the apologising.

“It’s all right, sir,” the medical technician replied evenly. “He’s been through hell.”

“No, he hasn’t.” Mycroft’s voice betrayed how tight his throat had become.

“Sir?”

“My brother hasn’t been through hell. He’s still in it.”

And now they had no idea where he was.

*

This was so irritating, he thought. Why was he here, dressed in one of those ridiculous hospital gowns that left nothing to the imagination? His head was

thoughts full noise confusion images battering cluttered bright cold pain spinning sick swirling lost

stop

stop this at once

pull yourself together

it was just transport

overcome it

He sat up, glanced around for his clothing, and three minutes later was out the door.

*

Mycroft slid into the car and glared at Anthea.

“We’re on it,” she reported.

“I should certainly hope so,” he snapped back, but it seemed to be without his usual vehemence. “I have to admit that I am impressed.”

“Sir?”

“He was left alone for five minutes, wearing nothing but one of those delightful hospital gowns and—I thought—strung out on whatever lovely little cocktail they’ve been giving him, and he somehow managed to get up, get himself dressed, and make his escape before anyone even knew that he was sitting up.”

Anthea had the presence of mind not to reply, bending instead to her ever-present mobile. “We’ve had a sighting,” she reported calmly.

“It’s about time.”

“He hasn’t lost the knack for avoiding the cameras,” she replied without irony.

“How far could he get?” the driver commented, pulling into traffic. “He hasn’t got any money.”

“Do not underestimate my brother’s ability to rectify his situation,” Mycroft hissed.

Solomon, sitting up front with the driver, cringed.

*

Sherlock smiled a bit wickedly as he leaned against the wall and counted the cash from the wallet that he had just liberated from its owner. More than enough—more than enough to take care of the swirling horribly jumbled unfocused confusing overwhelming thoughts. He needed to focus, and he knew exactly how he was going to do that.

*

“Where do you think he’s headed?” Anthea asked.

“I really can’t say.” Mycroft’s statement was so uncharacteristically unsure that she nearly dropped her mobile. “That is, he’s not himself. I have no idea if he’s going to head to Baker Street, or to find a dealer, or try to leave England.”

“Well, even presuming he’s gotten some money, he hasn’t got any ID,” she pointed out.

“True,” the government man nodded. When he had turned up, his brother hadn’t had anything—not a pound; not a wallet even. No mobile. Certainly no passport(s).

He began to consider that. How had he gotten back into the country; how had he been travelling through Europe? He must have had something. He wondered about his appearance, as well. Surely someone so thoroughly dishevelled would have attracted some attention at some point.

So, when he had arrived in England, he hadn’t looked like that. He had been, if not well-dressed, at least not in the rags he had had to peel off him immediately after his retrieval. His hair had grown out naturally and was back to its usual dark curls. It had to have been trimmed at least two months earlier, but not since (Mycroft was aware that Sherlock had been dyeing and styling it differently with each undercover identity, at least in the beginning; obviously at some point he had stopped). When they picked him up, he had clearly been clean-shaven at some point, but hadn’t shaved at all in—how long? A week? Longer? Filthy but not overly-long fingernails. They knew how and when he had gotten the injury to his temple, but what about the rest of him? What were the ages of the other injuries to his person?

When they retrieved him and got him back home, he would have to check the medical report.

*

Once again, his brother’s suit was exactly what he needed it to be: elegant and understated; tidy and costly. He was clean and shaved. His shoes were polished. He was the very picture of a respectable, well-off British businessman. Perfect.

Well, his eye was still a bit of a mess and he did have that rather nasty wound on his temple. Hum. His hands were not exactly pristine, either—all of the knuckles were healing, but still visibly bruised and split. He licked his lips; they were split and chapped.

He glanced up at the street signs, oriented himself, and headed for the nearest large department store.

*

John wandered through the large store, staring at the displays of shirts. He hated shopping for clothing, but he really needed some new things. He found himself looking at suits, then shaking his head.

The last time he had gotten a new suit he had been with… He had been with Sherlock—had been taken shopping by him, actually. They were going to be attending some fancy dinner at his brother’s and Mycroft had apparently suggested that the doctor’s wardrobe was not up to snuff.

He refused to go to a tailor; all that measuring was just a bit creepy. No, he convinced his always-elegant mate that off-the-rack would be fine for him, and they had had a bit of fun deciding what would look best. They hadn’t bothered looking at the prices.

It didn’t matter one bit how much they spent, did it? Not when they were using Mycroft’s credit card, which Sherlock had “liberated” from his pocket.

All alone in front of the mannequins wearing suits in a rather aloof manner, John Watson giggled at the memory before sighing and walking away.

He had the one suit; what would he need another for? He only ever wore it to funerals these days, anyway.

*

“Turn here,” Mycroft requested. His driver nodded and pulled onto a quiet street.

“Here?” his assistant queried, glancing around herself.

“Time to start checking his bolt holes,” the government man explained tiredly.

All of them?”

“Yes, all of them.”

Anthea sighed and wished that she had brought something for lunch. She was getting hungry and it would be a long afternoon.

*

Better, he thought to himself. The hat (not The Hat—that ridiculous death frisbee) covered the gash on his head and he tugged it down over the swollen eye so it was in shadow and (hopefully) hardly noticeable. The coat (not The Coat, which he missed terribly) disguised the slightly (all right, more than slightly) loose shirt and suit. The gloves covered the bruises—

But not the fact that the hands encased in them were trembling.

But it was good enough and easily enough accomplished with the credit card from the wallet. The cashier at the department store hadn’t even glanced at him.

And of course, he hadn’t had to say a word.

He headed towards a different part of town now.

*

Molly Hooper made her way to the locker room slowly; it had been a busy shift and her neck and shoulders ached. She wanted nothing more than to get home and take a long, hot bath. She wearily inserted the key and pulled open her locker.

And there he was.

He looked—to be honest—dreadful. He was far, far too thin, and even with the coat over it (which was, compared to his lovely Belstaff, rather hideous) she could see that the suit he wore hung off him; the hat didn’t hide the fact that one eye was bruised and swollen; the white a vivid blood red. His beautiful lips were cracked and dry—and he was so very, very pale.

He moved like an old man, wobbling a bit, and at one point she reached out a hand to support him as he leaned rather alarmingly to the left. He had flinched, though, so she had pulled her hand back as quickly as she could. She realised then that there was something very, very wrong with him.

“My God. What happened to you?” she gasped. “When did you get back? Where’s John?”

He frowned at her in confusion.

“You know… John,” she repeated as calmly as she could.

He shrugged in his old, eloquent way, but she wasn’t fooled for an instant. She knew that haunted, pained look in his eyes.

Molly nearly shrieked as her mobile, in the pocket of her lab coat, suddenly began to play “Funeral March of a Marionette.” She fumbled it out and stared at the caller ID. Mr H. Mycroft Holmes. She turned the mobile to show him the display. Impossibly, he became even paler. He shook his head and put a finger to his lips.

She nodded and answered the call. “Yes?” She spoke briskly; professionally. She listened for a few seconds. “So, he’s back?” A pause. Listening. “No,” she replied calmly. “I haven’t seen him. I’ll let you know if I do. Bye.” She ended the call. “Get going,” she breathed, tipping her head towards the door.

Afterward, Molly wasn’t sure if she had been more startled by the fact that there was someone behind her, suddenly reflected in the mirror mounted inside the locker door—

Or that it was Sherlock.

Because of course she had known that he was alive—or he had been, two years ago—and she had never once wavered in her belief that he would return. Of course he would. He was Sherlock Holmes.

Still later, as she sank gratefully into the hot bath, some lovely music playing from her mobile, she realised that the most shocking thing was that he was so…

quiet.

*

The last time he had been at Bart’s—don’t think about it.

It was hard not to, with the distinct smell of the hospital filling his nose, so he focused on slipping as quietly through the corridors as possible, casually turning away, pretending to fidget with his jacket or coat, whenever he encountered someone. The security cameras were where they always had been and easy enough to avoid for the most part.

He was having a bit of trouble with his balance and couldn’t manage his usual pace at all, but maybe that was a good thing—he’d be less noticeable that way, wouldn’t he?

He found what he was seeking, exited the building as unobtrusively as possible, then began the once-familiar circuitous route that would eventually lead him to what he sought.

*

“Got him!” Anthea cried in triumph. She rattled off an address to the driver and they took off, Mycroft leaning forward eagerly. Finally, a security camera had picked him up. There had been earlier sightings, of course—and how clever of his little brother to have made the clothing purchases he had—but this time they were close enough that catching up with him was a real possibility.

It would have been simpler if Mycroft could have called on the police to assist in the retrieval, but that was obviously out of the question. He was grateful that his brother was apparently still not speaking; it made it less likely that news of the return of the great detective would be revealed before it was appropriate.

Before it was safe.

*

“Don’t make a scene, Sherlock,” he said in a low voice. “Just get into the car. You’ve had enough of an adventure for one day. You’re still not well. You need your medication and something to eat. Wouldn’t that be better?”

Better than the condition he was in now, that was certain. Clever—and stupid—little brother had managed to find a dealer and, based on the way he looked now, the wallet he had pickpocketed had been well-lined.

*

Mycroft never let him have any fun, so why should he listen to him now? He was focused. His blood sang in his veins the way it was supposed to. He was sharp and alert—

So why was he still so confused?

What had he been doing? He had been doing so well, hadn’t he? After his visit to Bart’s and the subsequent little detour, he had set out with a goal, but now it had slipped away from him.

What was he wearing? Good suit; inferior coat and gloves. A hat? Really?

Oh, right. A disguise.

Why had he needed a disguise? He had been looking for something. No, that wasn’t right. Not something. Someone. A person. A person of great importance to him…

Who had he been looking for?

He was tired now and not having any fun, so he walked over to the ostentatious black car, eliciting a sharp intake of breath on his brother’s part when he stumbled. He slid in and fell back against the seat, his eyes shut. He pulled off the hat and ran his fingers through his hair. His head ached.

Chapter Text

Mycroft was a bit ashamed of himself—he was so very proud of his little brother for managing this escape so well. The wallet would be returned to its owner by post, of course, with enough cash to cover the cost of the purchases he had put on the credit card—how thoughtful of Sherlock to have stuffed the receipts into the pocket of the (hideous) coat. He had to estimate how much cash he had spent. He didn’t want to think about what he had spent it on, but it was necessary.

He had also had him thoroughly searched—and that was a bit disappointing. He had hidden the scalpel quite well, using it to create a tiny slit in the lining of his jacket and slipping it in, but he had just shoved the handful of syringes in the pocket of the coat he had purchased.

“Not your best work,” Mycroft had admonished, fingering the olive-coloured fabric, “and really, Sherlock—M&S Collection? Your standards have slipped.” Oh, the shrug and the eye roll he had received—it nearly made him laugh.

*

stupid big brother

no fun at all

he knew how to have fun

running through the city was fun

running with someone

running in other cities

no one with

they all looked and sounded and smelled and felt and even tasted different

lights

all cities had their own

noise

cars bicycles buses boats

fumes

wet cold dry baking

food

which cities

where had he been

what language had he been speaking

had he been speaking

he wasn’t speaking now

nothing to say now

keeping quiet

keeping still

stay still

where

not desert not island not mountain not shore city wine bread metal glass old new French

Paris

*

stupid big brother

missed something

*

“We can’t give him anything stronger for the pain, sir,” Christopher, back for the evening shift, insisted. “He’s not strong enough.”

“He is an addict; he’s drug-resistant. Up his dose—now.” He had to speak loudly to be heard over his brother’s anguished, wordless moaning. He could not look directly at him. He gazed somewhere just slightly over and to the right of the bed on which his brother was stretched, his thigh freshly and thickly bandaged.

The scalpel his brother had hidden under the inner lining of his shoe was now in his pocket.

*

His patient was restless, and Christopher let him take the lead, following quietly as the silent man limped out into the hallway. He didn’t seem to have any specific goal, walking slowly through the immense house. He was peering keenly around himself, pausing to examine seemingly random objects: the door to another bedroom; the carpet runner on the stairs. They descended to the ground floor, where he paused to run a finger along the locked lid of the piano.

Christopher had been quite alarmed to hear about his adventure in the city and his using and was ashamed that the damage he had done to his already-badly-scarred leg had happened on his watch. He was so angry at himself. How could he have been so idiotic?

No, he told himself as he so, so carefully cleaned and bandaged the horrific wound on his leg, Sherlock moaning and whimpering. He hadn’t been involved in searching his clothing after his retrieval. In fact, no one had even mentioned what he had hidden in his coat, so how was he to know that letting him go to the loo by himself was a bad idea?

He suspected that the brother did feel guilty, although it was obvious he would never admit it—after he had gotten his patient’s pain and bleeding under control, the man had gotten some sort of terribly important call or something. One of the ubiquitous assistants in a black suit had come upstairs and murmured urgently in his ear, and the government man had nodded quite firmly, once, in his direction, and then made his exit.

Now they were wandering, and they ended up, not surprisingly, in the library. The nurse stood at the door to the room now, leaning against the frame as his patient ran his fingers along the myriad of spines. He seemed to be looking for something specific, shaking his head and scowling as he made his way slowly around the room. Finally, just as Christopher was about to ask if he could help search, he stopped and pulled a large volume off a low shelf. He clutched it tightly to his thin chest, then seated himself at the table and opened it.

Christopher walked across the room and casually seated himself across from him, so he could observe his face. “What have you got there?” the nurse asked easily. “An atlas?”

The quiet man bent his head down as he began to examine each page of the oversized tome. He was quite focused and methodical. He carefully opened the book and smoothed his hands across the pages, and then, using his fingers as a guide, scanned each map.

He ran his hand across each spread, rather oddly from right to left. Sometimes he would pause, and one long finger would tap a particular spot, and then he would move on. Sometimes he would linger at one location, thoughtfully rubbing it.

And then he turned a page, and, with a sudden intake of breath, he pulled his hands away, gasping as if he had been burned. He shoved the book violently away from himself.

“Whoa. What happened?” Christopher inquired, alarmed. “It’s all right. It’s just maps—nothing to be frightened of.” He had no idea if Sherlock had heard him as he dropped his forehead to the table and covered his head with his arms.

The nurse closed and re-shelved the atlas and, after ten minutes, finally was able to persuade his patient to stand and walk slowly out of the room.

*

John flipped open his book and sighed. It was quite excellent—an adventure/spy/war novel that had been, until a few days earlier, capturing his imagination. He wasn’t sure why now he was having trouble settling down to read it.

After ten minutes, he gave up, replacing the bookmark and clapping it shut almost angrily. He picked up a medical journal and tried turning his attention to it.

It was no use.

He put on his jacket and went for a walk.

*

“What on earth is he doing?” Christopher asked as he returned to the kitchen. Their wanderings resumed, they had ended up in the warm room, where Mrs Parker had greeted them cheerily.

“Can you watch him a few minutes? I have to check on something,” the nurse had requested, and she had nodded. He had gone back and retrieved the atlas; he had noted what page had frightened the thin man so much, and now he examined it more carefully. It was a map of western Europe—the familiar shapes and names of the countries didn’t tell him anything. Shelving the book once again, he returned to the kitchen and was now observing his patient in some amazement.

“No idea, but he’s all right. It’s all fairly harmless.”

They both watched as the silent man filled a bowl with water and placed it carefully on the table. He had already gathered and deposited there a sewing needle and a magnet from the refrigerator. Now he looked around the room and lunged towards a drawer, withdrawing a box of greaseproof paper.

Despite the shaking of his hands, he surprisingly quickly traced and tore out a circle of the paper. He then began to run the needle across the magnet, using one-way strokes.

“Oh! I know. He’s making a compass,” the nurse exclaimed. “Watch.”

Sure enough, after he had rubbed the needle across the magnet a good number of times, he carefully inserted it through the circle of paper and dropped it onto the surface of the water in the bowl, then watched with the slightest smile on his face as it spun slowly around.

“That’s right—that’s north!” the housekeeper commented. “That’s marvellous.”

“That’s really interesting; he was just looking at an atlas. Do you think it means something?”

She nodded. “Make sure you tell Mr Holmes. Was he looking anywhere in particular?”

“Yeah. Sort of. But then he got to Europe and something about it frightened him.”

She shook her head. “He’s been to hell and back. I wonder… I mean… do you think he’ll ever get back to normal?”

“It’s too early to say, but he seems a little better every day. So, there’s every chance.”

“I do hope so. The Holmes brothers are without a doubt two of the most difficult men in England to deal with, but they’re both brilliant in ways that you and I cannot even begin to fathom.”

Mrs Parker made sure to retrieve the needle before she began making dinner.

While she was cooking, she allowed him and the nurse to use her computer, Christopher assuring her that she would not allow him to get into anything upsetting or dangerous online before she entered her password.

“Lord, he can type,” the nurse exclaimed shortly.

“That’s a good sign, isn’t it?” the housekeeper had asked, pausing in her preparations to look over their shoulders.

“It is. Sherlock, what on earth are you looking for?”

In a short time, Mrs Parker announced, “The bacon’s all lovely and crispy. Come sit down.” They both made their way to the table. Now they watched as she slathered a thick layer of brown sauce on slices of white bread, then carefully added the perfectly-crisped bacon. “Would you like one?” she asked the nurse.

“Oh… white bread, bacon—absolutely everything not good for me…. Yes, please.”

Sherlock watched and waited for the nurse to pick his up and take a bite before doing likewise, but once started he essentially devoured it.

“Good job!” the nurse praised him. “That was a definite success,” he remarked to the housekeeper as she took up the empty plate.

*

He had been frustrated at first; he had tried tomato ketchup. He had tried steak sauce—and barely tolerated an idiotic story from the idiotic server about how her little daughter thought it was “Al’s” steak sauce rather than “A-1.” Finally, he had tried something called Heinz 57 that was close. Not perfect, but close. It was a simple thing to get white bread or a lovely soft bap—they called it a roll—and very nice bacon, but why in heavens’ name was it so difficult to get proper brown sauce in the U.S.?

*

Mycroft felt a bit guilty, so he switched off his feed from the camera in the kitchen. Not that there was much to watch. He admitted to the slightest twinge of jealousy as he watched his brother devour the bacon butty. White bread, brown sauce, and streaky bacon were most definitely not on his list—but most assuredly were on Sherlock’s.

*

How keenly he had observed the eagerness with which his brother had consumed the meals that the clever doctor created for him—so it had not been the taste of the food that had repulsed him all those years. It had been the texture and the proportions. Now it seemed to make so much sense. He truly did like many strong flavours (his dedication to vinegar was a bit alarming), but despised anything mushy, lumpy, or stringy. He liked soft, smooth foods like cream soups and chocolate mousse. He enjoyed clean, crisp bites of fresh fruit (as long as it was peeled) and the crunch of toast. (That he had a sweet tooth was a known factor, as was his love of chips and crisps and streaky bacon.) It had taken his clever and fascinating blogger to realise that even foods that he liked could be overwhelming if too much was offered at once.

The tactile pleasure of cold milk or even water, offered in a training cup or a bottle… well.

It was fine.

His brother was unique, even among geniuses. He did understand it, even if he couldn’t assist in relieving him of the burden of much of it. Personally, he could turn it off and on—not the intellect, and not even the input, but the impact of those things, yes. He sometimes envisioned himself as one of those foam mattresses—one person could walk on it and on the other side, the glass of wine (how apropos) did not wobble. He could, when necessary, simple absorb all the data.

As he was a government man, being able to absorb idiocy was not just admirable but necessary.

But Sherlock…

Never. He had never, ever been able to turn it off, nor to ignore it. Not since infancy. His loving parents (he admitted that that was what they were; even if Dad was the sane one, Mummy did an admirable job of faking it) had been baffled. They loved—adored—doted on—their sons. Mycroft, while not terribly affectionate, had been at least somewhat responsive to their affections (he had corrected that later in life, but he did not claim responsibility for anything he had done under the age of fourteen).

But Sherlock…

He was, without a doubt, adorable in a way that Mycroft had not been. He had the cherubic face. He had the curls. He had those eyes.

And he had a way about him that Mycroft, even as an infant, hadn’t. He was—he had been—demonstrative. He adored hugs and cuddles and kisses and a firm but gentle hand rubbing his back. He was a bit quirky about food in a way that Mycroft had never been, and of course he was so very easily overstimulated, but he seemed to crave affection.

As he grew, he absorbed attention of any sort the same way. He loved anything thrown his way—by age two he was aware that his big brother (whom he idolised) got something called “good marks” that were a subject of praise, and while he was delighted to congratulate him (Mycroft had a distinct memory of his baby brother, not 100% toilet-trained, toddling up to him and hugging his knees in congratulations over some silly foreign language award), when he began receiving similar accolades, at first he had absolutely loved it.

At first meant just that—the first time.

After that, well…

Combined with Sherlock’s tendency to both show off and mouth off, his receiving awards had apparently resulted in a rather negative reaction from the other students, if the bruises and scrapes were anything to judge by.

*

“Sherlock, I’m sorry about this,” Mycroft had sighed. “They are animals.” Sherlock shrugged and did not flinch as his brother carefully cleaned the abrasions on his delicate face. He would deal with the mess on his hands and knees when he was done. “What happened?”

“It was so stupid, My. All of it. I didn’t care about that stupid award about my science project—it was perfectly valid and correctly executed so that’s what matters—I had no idea it would be important to… people.”

“It shouldn’t have been, but it was. You have to understand, brother mine, that other people react to things differently than you and I.”

“And Mummy and Dad?”

“Yes. And by the way…. Don’t ever let them fool you. Both Mummy and Dad, despite the rather pedestrian trappings of our life, are rather brilliant in their own ways. They might want to… or rather are fine with doing the same things as everyone else—Christmas and whatnot—but they do not and never will kotow to ‘what is expected.’ They are fine with what they are like, and what I am like, and what you are like. All right?”

Sherlock nodded. He held out his hands to be tended to.

“Doesn’t this bother you?” Mycroft asked uneasily. He had been expecting more of a fuss from his sweet little brother as he cleaned the abrasions.

He shrugged his slim shoulders. “It’s just my body.”

“What?”

“My body, My. It’s just… it’s just like feeling hungry or needing the loo or sleeping. You have to clean it or I’ll get infection. It’s just facts.”

“Do you actually…” Mycroft was genuinely concerned at this point, “feel pain?”

Sherlock shrugged again, looking at his older brother somewhat incredulously. “Yeah… I guess. But it’s just my body, My. It’s just… transport.”

“What do you mean?”

Sherlock had obviously become a bit apprehensive—what was his brother on about? “I mean… it doesn’t matter if it’s hungry or sleepy or in pain. It’s just my body. I don’t have to listen to it.” Was this a problem? His confusion was apparent.

“Do you mean to say that you… ignore signals that you’re hungry, or tired, or… in pain?”

His baby brother stared at him, opened-mouthed. “Uhhh…. Yeah. Don’t you?”

No. No, he didn’t. Not the way that Sherlock did. He could overcome them; did overcome them, but he did not ignore them.

That explained so much.

“Let me see your knees,” the older brother intoned.

Sherlock frowned at him in puzzlement. “You mean… wait. Am I supposed to… I’d rather just ignore it all, okay?”

“Sometimes it might be important to pay attention to it.”

“Oh.”

His brother sounded so—not upset—he sounded disappointed.

“Don’t worry about it right now. Let me see your knees, and then Mummy left some scones and jam for tea.”

*

John smiled sadly at the memory—tasting the dry, somewhat rough skin on his lover’s knees. Sherlock’s skin always tasted faintly of soap. “Did you ever walk anywhere that you didn’t fall?” he had inquired facetiously. He would never tease him about the scars on his thighs, of course, but the scars on his knees, the result of uncountable encounters with rough pavement, were fair game.

“I didn’t fall, John,” he declared solemnly despite shivering in delight at the feel of the doctor’s inquisitive tongue on his skin. “I sacrificed epidural cells in pursuit of various personal and professional goals.”

John cracked up and Sherlock joined him—he was in a playful mood and the doctor was delighted.

“Well,” he acquiesced finally, still smiling, “let it never be said that I, John Watson, was unsupportive of anyone’s achievements. You deserve a reward for your efforts.”

“What sort of reward?” his mate wondered eagerly, his eyes wide and dark.

“This.” The older man shifted his attention—and his inquisitive tongue—up.

“Oh, John…”

God, John missed him. He was not gay. He had never—not before Sherlock—even fantasied about being with another man—but now, there was nothing unless it included ivory skin, dark curls, and a baritone voice that sent shivers straight through him.

*

Christopher backed quietly out of the bedroom, pulling the door almost shut.

His patient could not get an erection, but it was not for lack of trying.

Chapter Text

Mycroft had casually run his fingers across his housekeeper’s keyboard as he passed through the deserted kitchen. It was quarter past eleven and the house was quiet. A quick flick of the mouse had shown him his brother’s activities on the internet before he had been summoned to the table to eat; as requested, Mrs Parker had left all his search windows open. Interesting choices—weather; a site about movies and television programmes—he had been looking at the page for a programme about 18th century navigation at sea that starred Jeremy Irons. Harrods—he had been looking at towels and bedding.

Finally, to his great surprise, he noted that his brother had been on a grocery shopping site. He shook his head, emptied the virtual basket, and erased the browser’s history. Because who really needed 25 different jars of marmalade and ten tins of halved pears in syrup?

*

When Winifred arrived shortly before midnight, she was surprised. She was let into the house by one of Mr Holmes’ assistants, who motioned her in with one finger across his lips. Beyond the foyer, the immense home was dark and quiet. He turned away from her and melted into the shadows. Shaking her head, she mounted the stairs as silently as she could.

She was relieved to be greeted in the hallway by Christopher. There was something about his solid presence that was very comforting. As the man downstairs had done, he put a finger to his lips and pulled the door almost shut behind himself. He led the way into the room across the hall that still held the blanket fort.

“What’s going on?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

“Nothing. Which is brilliant,” he responded enigmatically.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. He had a rotten day. Escape attempt number three while they were trying for a scan again this morning, and he succeeded for long enough to get his hands on some money and go straight to a dealer.”

“Oh, no,” the older nurse moaned.

“Yeah. They got him back, but he had gotten hold of a scalpel, and… damn. This hurts. That mark on his leg. You know?”

She nodded, biting her lip.

“I think he tried to… I think he tried to cut it out.”

What? ” Her hand shot to her mouth as she realised how loud her outcry had been.

Christopher put a calming hand on her shoulder. “He… the only way I can describe it… God, Winifred. He tried to skin himself.”

“Oh, dear Lord.”

“It’s wrapped up. We hit him pretty hard with pain killers—on his brother’s orders—and then it was the most bizarre thing. If I hadn’t been here before, I wouldn’t believe it. It was just… over.”

“Over?” She slid her bag to the floor and slipped off her coat.

“Yeah. He just… switched off. Over. Whatever. It was like it never happened—for him. Then it was the library and dinner—he ate well—and I read to him a bit and then he….”

“He what?” Winifred prodded knowingly. “You’re blushing.”

“Oh, erm… nothing bad. He just needed some… erm… privacy.” The blush spread to his ears and throat.

Winifred couldn’t help it. She chuckled heartily at the younger man’s discomfiture. Young men were so easily embarrassed by what were perfectly ordinary feelings and behaviours. “He’s a grown man and so are you,” she soothed. “It’s normal.”

He sighed and ducked his head. “I… yeah,” he agreed.

“And what is he up to now? Why is the house so dark?”

“He’s sleeping. Everyone’s sleeping.”

She blinked. “Everyone?”

He nodded. “Mr Holmes, Mrs Parker. The… uh… the gardener, and Benjamin.” He blushed again, and Winifred smiled to herself. Sherlock had shared his deduction about the nurse’s orientation with her (he had drawn what was clearly the nurse, distinguishable by his hair and freckles, and another clearly male figure that did look suspiciously like the driver, and between them had added three cartoonish hearts in vivid red crayon). So, did Christopher have a bit of a thing for the tall, dishy driver? She didn’t blame him.

“Goodness,” she replied, smiling warmly at the dear boy. “How very… normal.”

“As in ‘not at all’ in this madhouse,” he added wryly.

“Well, you best be off, then, and I will keep our dear Sherlock company. Let’s hope he has pleasant dreams for once.”

*

lab

a lab

what lab?

familiar

once

a lab that had been familiar like home almost for a while but not lately why not lately had there been another lab was there another lab why would there be another lab there was but not like home not like home at all not even english why not english what instead of english french no german no not european language he spoke it well enough read it with effort the effort hurt sometimes hurt his head why was he reading why was he working in a japanese lab was he working there no it was dark didn’t work in the dark in a lab unless the subject was bioluminescent why would he know about bioluminescent subjects what sort of subject there had been a lab not like home big white loud glowing what had been glowing why had it been glowing a rabbit why a rabbit a bunny a blue bunny no such thing as a blue bunny no such thing as a glowing bunny but there it was there he was the glowing bunny wasn’t in the lab with all the signs in japanese confusing no puzzling never confused sometimes confused at least about labs now back in the lab the home lab the english lab very english lab very british not british government that wasn’t home lab wasn’t home lab had been at home then it wasn’t it changed what changed everything changed everything about home changed in the lab why had what had wasn’t a bunny was it what was it was it an animal at all maybe it was maybe a small animal cute animal snub nose sort of spikey not quite right small animals don’t generally shoot people they don’t even carry guns for the most part except bears don’t be silly bears don’t carry guns sometimes they have an eyepatch he had a bear with an eyepatch where was his bear where was his what was it it was his his little yes little but fierce with a gun or without fierce little animal in the lab they were in the lab in the lab together yes that was where he had gotten him he met in the lab he had wanted him had to have him wanted to have him wanted to take him home invited him home was it even home yet was it home until he

he

Baker Street wasn’t truly home until he was there.

he

He…

John.

*

“What was that, love?” Winifred murmured, rising from her chair. She had been reading, with one eye on her patient, and had noted a slight increase in his rate of breathing. Thankfully, he had had a few hours of deep sleep. It was the first time the nurse had seen him like that—deeply and naturally asleep. He still looked fragile and broken—too pale and too thin—with slowly-healing bruises on his hands and face—but there was a peace that she had never seen before.

Now she approached the bed quietly.

Yes, there he was. He turned away from her and moaned as he disturbed his thickly-bandaged wound.

And he had said something. One word.

She was fairly sure she had heard it correctly—mumbled, as it was, into his pillow—but she wanted to make sure.

A name.

“Sherlock? Sweet boy? Are you all right?”

He rolled onto his back and blearily opened his eyes. She could see them glisten in the dim light of the single lamp she had turned on (other than her booklight, of course—she could not have survived the years of night shifts without it).

“There you are, my sweet! Are you all right?”

He frowned at her, not upset, but puzzled. “Mummy?”

“You’ve had a lovely sleep. Now, how about you try to use the toilet?”

*

She had him back in bed now. He was being unusually complacent. He had allowed her to help him from the bed and into the bathroom. As was obvious, he was in no shape to do anything other than sit. She winced in sympathy as his leg hit the seat, but he seemed to take no notice.

Now she helped him lie back on the pillows that she had pounded into submission. The bandage was holding up well; some blood had seeped through, but it was already dry. She would not disturb it. She pulled the blankets up over him and his amazing eyes fluttered shut.

She bent and kissed his forehead. “Go back to sleep, love,” she murmured.

Chapter Text

Day 8—Tuesday, 7:00 a.m.

“So, we believe that immediately before he was retrieved he was sleeping rough in Hampstead Heath—probably the Parliament Hill area.” Sean took a sip of his coffee.

“Sweep it?” Anthea asked.

“No. That would attract too much attention. Send Ian. He’s to stay there until he finds out something useful,” Mycroft replied thoughtfully, stirring his own coffee slowly.

It would be too much to hope that any possessions he might have had with him would turn up, but at least it was an entryway into backtracking his brother’s trail. The soil analysis on the clothing he had been found in had been completed, hundreds of hours of CCTV footage had been analysed, and a review of his physical condition upon retrieval had all assisted in identifying at least his most recent location and a rough idea of how long he had been away from modern bathing amenities.

If they were lucky, Ian, who excelled at going undercover as a homeless person (and was once one of Sherlock’s own homeless network—a fact that only Sherlock, Mycroft, and Ian knew), would find out something about the dark-haired, strange-eyed thin man who had possibly been in the area several days prior.

Mycroft wasn’t sure if the rubber band, the paper clip, and the drinking straw that had been found in the pocket of the shredded jeans his brother had been wearing would be of any help. When he had been picked up, they were quite literally the only things that he had had in his possession.

*

“Sherlock? Speak to me.”

His eighteen-year-old brother, sprawled out on the filthy remains of a mattress in an even filthier room, moaned.

“What did you take?”

The dark curls were matted and tangled and, as always, in need of a trim.

“This is no time to be reticent.”

He coughed; a deep, rattling sound.

“Sherlock, I know that you feel dreadful right now, and speaking is difficult, but I really must know what you’ve taken and how much.”

Somehow, lying inert on his side, his brother managed a disdainful shoulder shrug.

“I’ve already phoned for an ambulance.”

A grunt that could possibly have been interpreted as “no” emanated from the dry, cracked lips.

“I don’t believe that you can have all that much to say about it,” he informed him, “considering you can’t even sit up.” He prayed that his growing concern was not detectable in his voice—even as strung out as he was, Sherlock would pick up on the least bit of desperation. He had to remain in control. “I’m taking you to A & E and it will make treatment much more efficient if the doctors know what you took.”

A strangled laugh that turned into retching. God, Mycroft hated this part. He really should be used to it by now—his brother had had a notoriously weak stomach since he was an infant. He redirected his thoughts to distract himself.

“And after A & E, I think a call to Mummy and Dad and then rehab,” he decided, almost casually.

“Nuuuhh!” Still coughing, Sherlock struggled to sit up.

“No? No to what?”

“No… Mummy and Dad. No rehab.” His eyes were just slits, but Mycroft could see that they were horribly bloodshot.

“You can’t be serious. Look at yourself, brother mine. I’m not even sure how you’re still alive.”

“I’ll… stop.”

“Ha!” The laugh was harsh and abrupt. “I’m not an idiot, Sherlock. How many times have you said that?”

“I promith thith… this time.” He finally managed to get himself upright and swung his legs off the reeking mattress.

“You promise you’ll stop using if I don’t phone our parents and send you to rehab?” Mycroft clarified.

Sherlock nodded, his eyes shut again. He fell back against the flaking wall. Mycroft flinched as his head made a hollow thud against it. He considered his brother’s offer. It was the first time that Sherlock had even gotten close to admitting that his drug abuse was behaviour that could not continue. Did he dare press him further?

Did he dare believe him?

“Shall we be realistic?” he offered thoughtfully. “I know that you don’t use to feel like this and I know that stopping is going to be extremely difficult without some sort of programme. How about a compromise?”

His brother’s eyes, as intense as always despite his condition, opened wide for a second. He spoke indistinctly, struggling to make himself understood. “I muth… must be high. I thought I heard you jus’ offer a c’mpromize.”

“Rare as it is, yes, I did.”

His eyes shut again, and his head dipped down, his chin hitting his chest. “What?” That was all he could manage. He groaned, his arms wrapping around his nearly non-existent belly.

Mycroft turned his head and listened intently. Was that an ambulance siren in the distance? He turned back to his brother. “This is what I’m offering. If you promise—actually, really promise—to make a list of everything you’ve taken every time you… get yourself in this condition, so that I can get you proper treatment, I will not inform our parents about this week’s little adventure and I will not send you to rehab.”

The dark head of curls lifted slowly. His brother’s eyes were once again barely-open slits and he coughed harshly. “List?”

“Yes, Sherlock. Every time you binge like this—and I’m not saying that you aren’t to make every effort to desist—but when you know you’re in danger of really hurting yourself, you will make a list, so that when I find you—and I always will, no matter what time of the day or night—I can have you treated properly.”

“Danger… night?”

Damn. He was losing him; he was becoming more and more lethargic. He spoke more urgently. “Yes, Sherlock. All right. Whenever there’s a ‘danger night’ you promise me that you will make a list, and I promise you that I will always—always—be there for you.” The sound of the approaching ambulance was distinct and unmistakable now.

“’kay.”

That was the last thing that Sherlock said for three days.

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 8:04 a.m.

“Sherlock? Time to wake up.”

Matilda’s patient, sprawled out across the mattress, groaned unconvincingly. “Oh, poor you,” she responded lightly. “You’re going to have breakfast with your brother, and you’ve got a nice new suit to wear.”

He opened the one eye she could see, looking like nothing but a crabby teenager. She chuckled.

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 9:01 a.m.

“I’m to get you a new mobile,” Anthea stated. “And a laptop.”

The thin man seated at the dining room table observed her keenly.

“That suit looks good on you,” she noted.

He glanced down at himself. “Mm,” he commented.

“I’ll have your phone here in an hour,” she added. “Laptop’s going to take a bit more time.” He scowled at her and tapped a rhythm on the table with his fingers. Anthea gave him a wicked smile. “Yes, of course I’m getting you top of the line and no, your brother did not approve it.”

She winked and he smirked.

*

The coffee was warm and fragrant and creamy and sweet.

Very sweet. Extra sweet. He liked that. He wasn’t usually allowed to do that. Someone told him not to; that it was bad for him.

Who had told him that?

Mummy? Dad? No—they had given up fighting his food preferences since… well, since before he could remember.

It was someone he liked—that part was right. He knew whoever it was only meant it for his own good. That felt rather nice.

There had been a woman—dark hair and beautiful clothing and a wit as sharp as a tack. He had liked her, and she seemed to like him, but no—she didn’t seem the type to interfere with things like that.

who

mousy hair white coat no

tall silver hair fatherly keep off the sweeties no not right not right sweeties

slender grey hair motherly maybe good chance good for him baking baked biscuits butter flour sugar lovely soft chocolate sweet things no

He recalled many people who had been, if not entirely close to him, at least significant in some way. Faces seemed to surface from a mind that was like a churning sea, and for brief moments the names with which they were associated were on the tip of his tongue. But then the faces would sink back beneath the surface and the names with them and he would be left grasping at them in despair.

And now it was mostly one face. One person kept surfacing, over and over. And sometimes the name would float up and he could even speak it, and then it would sink down again. And he felt that fixing the name to the face; to keeping both firm and real in his mind; to retaining that name and that face—that person—in every detail, was terribly important.

Day 8—Tuesday, 9:23 a.m.

John

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 10:27 a.m.

An hour later, Mycroft shook his head. “I cannot allow that, and you know it, Sherlock. I cannot allow you to return to your home while you’re still so… confused.”

“Not confused. I know… home. Want to go home—now!”

They had spent the hour locked in a peculiar battle. After his one word, the younger man had not, seemingly, been able to shut up—but he had actually said very little.

“Can’t remember anything,” he had insisted over and over, sounding alternately frustrated, angry, and discouraged. Now he pushed himself away from the table and began to pace. “Anything… away, but home… I know home. My suits and my violin and my microscope and my dressing gowns and… my landlady and… my skull…”

He began to falter now, and Matilda, who had been perched on a chair against the wall, calmly rose.

“Cigarettes… no—patches… and biscuits and cases and wallpaper and the Yard…”

Mycroft was alarmed as Sherlock stumbled into a chair and slammed his hand against it in fury.

“There was—Lestrade. And… damn…” He swayed, and Matilda took a few steps closer. “Supposed to protect him…. protect them.” His voice was growing rough. “And there was… and our bed and my bee and… and I want to see him. I want to go home.” He nearly fell, and Matilda ably grabbed him by the shoulders. He looked around at her, desperate and afraid. “Home. I have to… go… go home. He… oh, God… thinks I’m dead. Have to see him. Have to… have to fix it… have to… John!”

He jerked himself out of Matilda’s strong hands. “Why not sit down, Sherlock?” the nurse suggested.

“No!” he shouted. “Have to find John!”

“Get him calmed down,” the older brother hissed. “He’s going to make himself ill.”

“Sherlock,” the nurse said firmly, “I need you to sit down. If you calm down, we can discuss finding John.”

“Idiot! Have to find him… Let me go home!”

And moving far too quickly for someone who was still in such terrible shape, he was suddenly behind his brother’s chair, the knife that lay beside Mycroft’s plate up against his throat.

Mycroft had had enough. “Sedate him. Now!” he ordered, barely flinching as the sharp blade pressed into his pale flesh.

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 11:06 a.m.

“Damn,” the older Holmes brother groaned. He was seated in the bedroom next to his own. He glanced over at the bed, sighing as he noted that his brother, finally quiet and stoned on the injection that the surprisingly strong nurse had managed to get into him, was awake but not taking any notice of his surroundings.

He considered his options. Yes, it was clear that Sherlock was speaking the truth—he truly did not recall a thing about his two years away, and sometimes even his life before that seemed to slip from his grasp.

But it was equally clear that if he did not return him to Baker Street, his little brother would most assuredly self-destruct in his desperation to see Dr John Watson.

For even as he succumbed to the effects of the sedative, his brother—whip-thin, scarred, starved, doped-up, strung out, beautiful, brilliant

brave

managed to mumble the same words—

over and over and over

Home

John

 

 

Damn.

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 11:22 a.m.

“Do you really believe he’s ready to go home?” Anthea demanded.

“No, but the alternative is… undesirable,” Mycroft replied.

“I know that his reasoning seems to be returning to normal, for the most part—I still can’t believe how many times he’s gotten away from us—but he’s still barely speaking,” she pointed out, unnecessarily. He scowled at her and she scowled back.

“I do know that,” he snapped. “But we simply cannot continue the way things have been going. My brother will continue to attempt escape until he succeeds—and simply letting him out there with no protection—no plan—would be beyond foolish. We must gain control of the situation.”

“I’m getting him a phone and a laptop, but he’s going to need a few more things,” Anthea reminded him.

“Obviously.”

“Shall I—”

“He’ll need a new bank account. Identification… oh, you know.”

She did know. Sherlock was not the first person they had “resurrected.” He was, however, the first who was returning with his actual identity—that would make things interesting.

She listed a few things she would need to retrieve from storage for him, as well.

*

He sobered quickly as he thought about what Anthea referred to as “The Coat” (you could hear the capital letters)—his brother’s pride and joy—that was currently in storage.

He did not care to recall the condition in which it had arrived, two years earlier—spattered in fake blood and real dirt from the pavement and pungent with his brother’s sweat.

What had gone through his head when he was up on that roof?

He had never gotten around to asking him.

*

the roof the roof the roof

it’s just a magic trick john

please don’t be sad i’ll come back to you i promise

it’s just a trick just a magic trick just magic it’s not me not you not us not forever we’re forever not this we’re not this we’re brighter than this brighter than the sun

despite all of the precautions, the landing on the pavement had been painful and despite trying his best to be a corpse and not have a pulse and don’t blink and don’t breathe he had been acutely aware of his elbows and his knees and later at molly’s he had stripped in the bathroom and yes he was bruised and bleeding and he wanted

wanted

wanted

his doctor

but he couldn’t wouldn’t would he ever ever again oh god please let him again let them again

forever

it would be forever

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 11:48 a.m.

“No, don’t pack any of his things,” the government man directed. “I don’t want to let him know what I’m planning—just in case something goes awry.”

“Goes awry?” Mrs Parker questioned with a quirked eyebrow. She paused in placing the tea tray on his desk. “You mean if you can’t get Dr Watson there.”

“Yes, precisely,” he snapped.

“He’s not ready to go home yet,” she protested. Yes, the younger brother had been speaking more and more every day since his breakthrough, and he certainly seemed oriented in time and space—some of the time. But he was clearly not all right. “He still hasn’t even had a complete exam. You never got that scan done.”

I didn’t?” her boss fumed. “It was hardly a failure on my part, either time. And now it doesn’t seem terribly necessary, does it? He’s clearly recovering from the head wound. You heard him earlier.”

She bit her lip to avoid responding the way she really wanted—a few halting words and phrases were hardly at the level of his infamously rapid and seemingly endless monologues. How he could still not control what he used to refer to as his “transport” as he had once done. The trembling of the once surgeon-steady, elegant hands. How frequently he was being sick, and not always getting to the loo in time. How the almost frighteningly brilliant mind was now a jumbled, paranoid mess that could not always discern what was real and what was not. How he reacted to his hallucinations and terror with either horrifying violence or a complete withdrawal from the world.

How he had sliced into that terrible scar on his leg, and how he would continue to do so, over and over, until… until what? What would stop him?

“I know all he wants is to go home, but really… that hardly overrides common sense—”

“Enough!” he shouted, slamming his hands on the desk. “I have my reasons and you have absolutely no say in the matter.”

“Fine,” she snarled through clenched teeth. She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room.

Mycroft made an exasperated noise and picked up the tea pot.

“Are you sure about this?”

He nearly dropped the pot. He looked up slowly. Benjamin stood in the doorway; he had been summoned to receive his instructions for the proposed excursion.

“Excuse me?” Mycroft raised his eyebrows in exaggerated disbelief.

“He needs you,” he said quietly.

His driver’s statement nearly startled him. Nearly. He caught himself, hiding his reaction and considering his response as he poured himself a cup of tea. Composed once again (Did tea actually fix everything? Perhaps it did), he replied coolly, “He may be a bit dependent on me at the moment, but as he heals, he will go back to resenting my presence in his life. I believe giving him some independence will actually be a help.”

“Is that how you’re justifying it?” His gaze was so fierce that he blinked.

“It is not ‘justifying’ anything,” he replied sharply. “The longer he remains here, and the better he becomes, the more his desire to leave will drive his actions. He’s already tried leaving three times. If he tries again—when he tries again—he will put himself in far worse danger. If he disappears, or if he is recognised, I can’t—we can’t—protect him. I need control over the situation.”

“But if he’s not here, won’t he be a target for—”

“Ironically, the best way to keep him safe is to expose him. Make his return public. Make him visible to all of London. Thrust him out into the unrelenting eye of the media so anyone trying to get to him will find that they have an audience.”

His driver considered this. “I get that,” he finally reluctantly agreed, “but he is really ill.”

“We will have to rely on the good doctor to take over his care,” he said firmly.

“Erm… okay.”

“What?” Mycroft demanded.

“You know that he’s seeing someone, right? Ian told me. He’s got a girlfriend.”

“Of course, I am aware. It won’t interfere,” he replied confidently.

“No?”

“No. Dr Watson was utterly devoted to my brother. There is no reason to think that some dingy nurse could possibly keep them from being reunited. No. No more discussion. Sherlock needs to be home.”

*

Mycroft recalled vividly the first time he had ascended the stairs of 221 Baker Street to Flat B.

“Good God—he’s already destroyed it and he’s not even moved in yet,” he had groaned as he stood stiffly in the middle of the sitting room and observed the detritus that cluttered every surface—every inch.

That it was his brother’s detritus he had no doubt. He recognised it from his last flat—that tip on Montague Street. The books; the mounted insects in the frame. The Union Jack cushion that he’d had since university. For a man who claimed he eschewed “sentiment,” he did hold onto things.

Mrs Hudson, the owner of the building, was well-known to him, of course—ever since Miami, and it was in fact she who had contacted him about the sudden—and completely unexpected—demise of the former tenant and his brother’s imminent move.

Mrs Hudson was alternatively irritating and comforting. There was no doubt that she cared very much for Sherlock and mothered him as much as he allowed when she had the opportunity. The older brother knew that he had been in the habit of stopping by (breaking in) and raiding her fridge when the mood struck him. He would sometimes crash on her sofa, usually when he was freshly sober (her herbal soothers did wonders for withdrawals). Sometimes he would show up strung out and ill and she patiently nursed him through whatever cocktail he had injected himself with.

She would also shout at him and give him surprisingly hard, swift smacks to the back of his head and order him out with instructions to get himself clean before he dared show up again.

So, the proposed move seemed fine.

Sherlock was being a bit ridiculous about the rent—insisting he could pay it himself now that he was earning a bit with his little “detective” games or whatever it was he thought he could do. Mycroft was prepared to supplement it, of course, but he wasn’t going to evoke his brother’s ire by telling him that. Mrs Hudson knew to whom she could turn if he came up short.

“It would be nice if he found someone to share,” she had mused.

And they had both laughed at that—who would be insane enough to share a flat with Sherlock Holmes? And then he had headed up the stairs.

He glanced around the cluttered room and indicated to the two assistants he had with him where they should set up the CCTV cameras.

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, noon

“What the hell do you want, Mycroft?”

“I require something of you, Doctor Watson.”

 

 

Day 8—Tuesday, 4:00 p.m.

John squatted down and looked up into his eyes. Sherlock frowned and tried to gaze back at him, but he appeared to be having trouble focusing. The doctor reached for the healing injury on his temple and the younger man flinched, but only after a slight pause. “God, did you have to dope him up so much?” the doctor growled.

“He was… agitated.”

“How long has he been back?” He brushed the familiar curls away from the pale forehead.

“We picked him up eight days ago. We don’t actually know how long he was back in the country before that.”

“Did he tell you what happened to him?”

Sherlock looked slowly from one face to another again. He was clearly trying to follow the conversation but didn’t seem to be having much success.

“He doesn’t speak much.”

“So why have you brought him to me now?”

“Doctor Watson, my brother has clearly been traumatised, both mentally and physically. He is malnourished, injured, and on top of everything has been going through withdrawals. He has rarely spoken since we picked him up—and then only with much prompting. Not much of it made sense.”

“I said, ‘why now?’ Answer me.”

“Because three nights ago, he finally said something of his own accord.”

“What did he say?” John muttered through gritted teeth.

“He said ‘John.’” [Miss Directed]