Mycroft struggles to consciousness. There’s a rush of white noise ringing in his ears. Other sounds layering over it, the sullen beep of a heart monitor, the echoing sound of footsteps in a hallway, giving the sense of a hollow, old building. And then, startlingly close by, an intake of breath that Mycroft knows to the depth of his bones is Sherlock’s.
His eyelids are dry and pasted to each other. He forces them open but his vision is blurred, it’s as if he is watching from under water, just catching patches of light. He has to blink, slowly, again and again, to bring the room into focus. The outline of Sherlock. His face. The lines around his mouth, the hint of stubble. Sherlock’s eyes are skittering over his face. Extreme worry.
Mycroft feels a sudden, rolling wave of fear. He knows what happened. He knows what he is. There’s no saying what he’s done already, because there is no control over this, no way to know if he... Is he tied up? Is he contained? He sucks in a breath.
Sherlock seems avid, he’s recording his slightest movements, but he’s keeping his distance, too. Smart.
Mycroft tries to will his mouth into words, but his teeth feel foreign in his mouth. The corners of his lips are torn, he presses into them with his tongue and tastes copper. His throat is raw and hot. He scrapes it, gathers a breath. “Sherlock.” It’s a dry whisper.
There’s obvious relief in Sherlock’s face. “Yes.”
Sherlock was not expecting him to recognise him. Not even that. So... Dear god. He didn’t. “What...” another swallow, “have you done?”
Sherlock is pale, his eyes are red-rimmed from lack of sleep. He looks dreadful, but he looks at him straight on, “Found a way.”
No. He died, he... Anthea. But the test cases all died or worse, one by one, hundreds of them, howling in pain. Mycroft saw them, he read the reports, he knows it’s unfathomable, scientifically impossible. He takes another breath. “How long?”
Sherlock eyes him, gauging his reaction. “Eight days.”
They didn’t have a cure a week ago, Mycroft is certain of it. What did they do? He looks down at his body. There’s some sort of pump taped to his chest. His limbs are still there, hands pale - incredibly pale actually, near-grey lying on the bedcover. He can’t see his legs. Cure is hardly the context he needs to be thinking in here, Mycroft assumes, he’s more corpse than anything else. But his thoughts, he doesn’t feel slow, no diminished capacity? Would he know it if it was? He can move his neck a little, track Sherlock’s movements.
“It worked.” Sherlock is pacing by the bed. He looks at him, and it’s all there, right on his face. He’s glad. He thinks he made the right decision.
Mycroft focuses on his breathing. He seems to be able to control all of the muscles of his face independently, at least, and the rest is all transport anyway. Panic is useless. There are computers now that connect directly to the brain. Wheelchairs controlled by breath and mouth movements. It’s not out of the question to live like this. Mycroft pushes everything aside, tries for a disapproving scowl, and says, “And my explicitly stated opinion was to be ignored entirely, was it?”
He’s irrationally relieved that he actually sounds like himself, or at least to his own ears. “There were no reasons to do this.” He knows, he considered them all. “To keep me like this. You knew my wishes, Sherlock.”
Sherlock’s eyes are sharp on him. “Don’t care for your wishes.” He looks away, goes back to pacing by the bed.
Ah. Sherlock didn’t want to let him go.
Mycroft considers the thought for a moment, feels it sit heavy on his chest. Sherlock has been frantic in his grief. These last few months have hollowed him out, have made him grab on to every single morsel of hope, of evidence of a cure.
If the roles would have been reversed... The tense string of I would do all it takes when Mycroft even contemplates the question is enough. He would have done every single thing in his power to bring Sherlock back. But there wasn’t a way, a week ago. It was goodbye, it was never again, it was despair, and... “John?”
Sherlock shakes his head. “Not yet. They say he’s too affected.”
Mycroft can do nothing but agree with whoever made that assessment. Affected indeed. He hasn’t seen John in weeks, but what he saw before that was enough to know that everything that John was died a long, long time ago.
“So I need you to order them.” Sherlock seems determined.
If he truly loved John he would have put a bullet through his head months ago, Mycroft thinks. The way John would have wanted it. But instead Sherlock did something much crueller. He kept him alive.
Because that’s how he cares. Mycroft glances down at his own chest again. Apparently.
“Mycroft...” Sherlock’s looking like a man that has nothing left to lose. He would beg if he thought that it would make a difference, Mycroft thinks. Sherlock would sink to his knees, for John. For a chance to bring him back.
Fine then. Mycroft might have died, (is he - dead? Legally speaking?) but there are things he can do for Sherlock, still. It might be the last thing he ever does.
He sighs. “Get me a phone.”
Mycroft sits in his office, holding a plain, grey folder in his hand. He’s not looking at it anymore. He has read the message within, and now he is simply holding it between his fingertips while the consequences of the words spin around in his mind and weigh him down as the implications hit.
It made it to London.
Unidentified female, mid-fifties. Flew into Heathrow from Tel Aviv this morning. She hid in a bathroom stall for several hours with a severe fever, and then broke free and went on a rampage. She bit dozens before airport security got to her. The whole airport is under quarantine and sealed off by the military right now.
There are protocols in place for this exact scenario, of course. But there is already a case reported on the tube, and one on a city bus. It’s spreading through London’s traffic veins and it’s doing it fast.
Mycroft doesn’t feel panic. Neither do most of the people he speaks to, that day. It’s a disease. Similar to rabies, perhaps. With a certain amount of research they should be able to fabricate a cure. With precautions they should be able to stem the spread. He simply deals with each case and call as they come, and most of the systems they have in place seem to be successful. But he sends a text to Sherlock anyway. “Stay off the streets. MH.”
Later, when the two hundredth case that day is reported, Mycroft adds, “Please. MH.”
It’s late in the evening; the meeting with the prime minister (hiding out in his country home, typical) has run late. They’re out on the M25, driving through what should be clear territory. Anthea is sitting next to Mycroft on the back seat, typing away on her Blackberry. Replying to emails, ordering agents around, or playing Candy Crush, Mycroft’s not certain.
Mycroft’s reading through files on pollution. There’s a new theory concerning the appearance of the infection, linking it to certain heavy metals. It doesn’t sound too credible, but he makes a point out of staying as informed as possible about all research being done. Too many of the doctors involved at the very beginning have become infected already. Too many scientists die every day; it’s halting the collection of reliable data.
Mycroft mostly lives at the office, now. They review reports all day. Predict expected casualties and transmission rates, effects on the world economy, on the government. The numbers go from somewhat manageable all the way to end-day scenarios, and no one seems to agree on which one is more likely. It’s nothing like any other infectious disease they’ve encountered before. Nothing like any catastrophic event they ever planned for. It’s not Ebola, measles, or anthrax.
The infected survive. Or they keep on going - living isn’t the word, exactly.
The media are having the time of their lives of course, continuous coverage; they’re calling it ‘The Plague,’ and run tag lines that read ‘The end in sight?’ and ‘What did we do to deserve this?’
There’s some looting, but they manage to stay on top of that. The police force has organised civil volunteers, the military jumped in. People turn to faith, as short-sighted and narrow-minded as that is, but most of them quite simply carry on. Stiff upper lip. Go to work, do what you need to.
Mycroft’s phone buzzes, and he checks it, a faint touch of worry playing under his skin when he sees Sherlock’s number. “Found an entire family faking infection today. SH.”
Mycroft smiles lightly. He can imagine Sherlock’s disappointment at that just fine. He’s considering typing out a reply, when the driver suddenly brakes.
The cause is obvious. Three of them, infected, right in the middle of the road. Advancing on them.
Their driver - MI5, Mycroft doesn’t know his name, only that he’s protection as well on days like this - calmly stops the car, takes a gun from the glove box, and cocks it.
He opens the window a small amount, aims, and shoots. The shot reverberates in the car.
Again. One infected is down. The next one seems to be confused as to whether to advance on their car, or to try and eat the fallen one. The third one is a child, with large, bright blue eyes.
Their driver steps out, and uses his opened door as cover. There’s a shot, a short pause, then two more. He steps back in, closes the door, and hits the gas, swerving around the corpses lying on the road.
When he looks to his side, Mycroft can see Anthea crouched on the back seat, holding a small handgun, looking out the back window. She normally keeps it hidden by a strap on the side of her thigh, Mycroft’s known about that for years. He never approved, in fact.
He’s glad of it now.
After that incident, Anthea switches to carrying an extra gun in a police-style belt that she worries distorts the line of her jackets (it does, slightly - they all must make sacrifices, though) and a switchblade tucked into her shoe.
Mycroft acquires a small, reliable semi-automatic handgun for himself. Mummy already owns a shotgun, so he gifts her a revolver for in her handbag. They’re no reason for decorum when there is a genuine need for self-defence, Mycroft tells himself.
He sends a brand new, registered army Browning to Sherlock as well, to match John’s. Mycroft believes he might appreciate the symbolism.
Sherlock gets his phone from his pocket, enters the number and steps close enough to hold the mobile to Mycroft’s ear.
The side of Sherlock’s finger presses to Mycroft’s cheek as he holds the phone. It’s not a caress, merely a practicality, but Mycroft can feel the warmth of it like a brand. Sherlock shouldn’t. He might still be contagious. Or worse, dangerous. He doesn’t say anything.
It takes a while before the phone connects. There are remains of plastic sheeting and bio-hazard signs all around his bed. Neon lights flicker overhead. One ring, two. Then there’s a familiar voice on the other end. “Yes?” Anthea.
She sounds uncharacteristically hesitant. Mycroft hesitates as well, not entirely sure on how to continue. “Agent.” I appear to have been raised from the dead.
Also, we will need to have a conversation.
But for now, “I need John Watson, currently residing in Baker Street,” Mycroft checks with Sherlock, who nods, “to be brought in and receive treatment.”
Anthea seems to have been expecting the order. “We’ve considered it, sir. But at this point there is no reason to think that someone like that...” She takes a breath, rephrases. “We don’t believe that it will be feasible this long after exposure.”
As he thought, then. Mycroft glances at Sherlock. Catches the naked hope on his face. “My brother insists.” And so do I.
“Even if they are successful, sir, he might not like the... result.” Mycroft privately agrees that the thought of waking someone like that up and checking whether there’s anything left to call human is repulsive. But so is his own state right now, no reason to think otherwise.
These things should not be attempted, Mycroft thinks again. But he catches Sherlock’s look, as well. Sherlock won’t quit until he has done this. He won’t give up on John until he is absolutely, unequivocally certain that there is nothing left of him to save. So it might be better for both of their sakes to find out now than to drag it out any longer. It has already gone on long past sanity. Mycroft could make a judgement call here, forbid him to try, but Sherlock would simply find another way. Something more dangerous than here. “Do it anyway.”
Anthea sighs. “I will send a team over to collect him.” And then, “Glad you’re back, sir.”
She’s hung up before he can formulate a reply.
Sherlock takes his hand away and pockets the phone. “Ditto, brother dear.” It’s said quickly and without much emotion, but Mycroft knows from the flash of warmth in his eyes that he means it.
It’s foolish, what Sherlock’s hoping for, even he should be able to see this. But then who isn’t a fool for love, Mycroft thinks sourly as he watches Sherlock’s back, the swirl of his coat as he rounds the corner.
Sherlock certainly has been.
In response to the gifted gun, or maybe just because he feels like it, John starts texting more regularly. He seems to have no scruples left about keeping Mycroft informed of how Sherlock is doing, at least health-wise, nor himself. Most of John’s texts are along the lines of ‘Still not bitten.’ and ‘Sherlock is being an arse, also, not dead.’ but Mycroft makes certain to reply to every single message. He appreciates them, more than John realises, perhaps.
John has taken a job in a hastily-erected field clinic in central London. Sherlock doesn’t talk about it, but suddenly his texts become much more frequent as well. He’s worried, Mycroft knows.
Sherlock saunters into Mycroft’s office one day, flops down on the sofa and says, “Bored.” It takes several hours of verbal sparring, nagging and tea-drinking before he leaves.
It’s Mycroft’s favourite memory of that month.
After the third infection incident among an agent, MI6 reconvenes to a secret location underground, and most of them sleep there, too. Uncomfortable nights on hotel mattresses in emptied offices. No rest for the wicked, or government officials in times of crisis.
Mycroft gets food brought in, of course. It’s a little harder to get his favourite dishes than it used to be, but not impossible. A little creature comfort is a dire necessity; the day-to-day bureaucracy of a country on the verge of collapse is a hefty weight to manage.
Still, he can’t say that he doesn’t enjoy it.
It’s one thing to influence decisions when those decisions are about terrorism prevention, or which election to rig, or which dictator to support. It’s another to be standing at the head of a nation in an historical crisis. Mycroft’s not much for speeches, and neither are his colleagues, thank the lord, but at times it feels like it. A moment that should have words surrounding it.
He signs the forms allowing infected to be forcefully removed from their homes, and thinks about that signature, and the effect it will have. He lobbies against the widespread use of firearms - it would be foolish to trust to general public with them. He agrees that medical experimentation on live subjects is a necessity. It’s one step at a time, one morally ambiguous decision after the next and it’s all without precedent, yet it’s easy to see what the nation needs.
They run advertisements likening this to a war. Keep calm and report the infected. Our country stands united, that sort of thing. It mostly works.
There is extensive debate on how to deal with them all over the world, of course. From philosophers to politicians, from world leaders to the Sun front page. Is an infected person less human, and at what point does he cease to be completely? Can basic human rights be violated if it protects the community at large? Most say yes, of course, survival always outweighs ethics in the end, Mycroft isn’t surprised by that.
After the hospitals are full, and after various other repurposed buildings are filled beyond capacity, they make large, centralised camps for the infected out in the woodlands, away from central London. It reminds people uncomfortably of genocide, seeing them all rounded up and shipped off, but there are few options left. The debates are getting fiercer. It’s not cost-efficient to keep them alive. It might even be callous to let them live on like that. Public opinion shifts towards euthanasia. Have pity on the poor infectious dead.
Mycroft has seen them several times now, the infected. Hidden away in research facilities, strapped to their beds, drooling and groaning. Their faces contorted into some open-mouthed expression, geared towards the doctors standing over them. To Mycroft’s reflection, in the glass. Trying to eat him.
He has seen their images on TV before, of course, from the car, but still it is shockingly disgusting to observe them up close. Greedily, single-mindedly reaching for sustenance, for gratification. Humanity at its worst.
It’s not difficult to despise them.
Now that Mycroft’s alone in his hospital room it really sinks in, what happened.
He tries to move his hand. Nothing. Then focuses on a single finger, wills his muscles to contract and move, but they do not. His arms are horrid to look at, but he’s fascinated despite himself. They’re grey and lifeless. His veins have disappeared. His nails are longer than he likes them, they must have kept growing. His face feels as if it has stubble on it, as well. Ghastly.
Mycroft files it away as data, and studies the machine next. The whoosh of the pump is obvious in the quiet. He’s dressed in some sort of hospital gown that’s open in the front. He can see clearly it’s not just some external type of pacemaker; it seems to be actually pumping blood straight into his body. There’s a whole collection of bags hanging above his head as well, platelets, antibiotics, and other ones he can’t make out. One with glass tubing, instead of plastic. It has a warning on it never to handle it without gloves and a variety of death and danger symbols. Another bag appears to be radioactive.
The lights on the ceiling are very bright, and they emit a soft hum. They’re old, must be a mid-century building. High ceiling, a repurposed hospital perhaps, but mental institution might be more likely, judging by the colour of vapid green on the walls. It was believed to have a calming effect, up until the seventies. He should still be in London, then.
Mycroft closes his eyes again once they start burning and tries to get his mind in order. It’s an unusually confusing muddle of thoughts and impressions. He will have to prove his mental acuity to everyone he comes into contact with from now on out, he’s aware. So what is the last thing he remembers that he can be absolutely certain of? Did he sign those last requisition forms? What would be today’s date; will the Chinese elections have been cancelled?
After a while he can hear footsteps in the hallway, and his door being opened. He smells the wave of antiseptic and sweat before a harried-looking doctor moves past the plastic sheeting surrounding his bed. She’s wearing a mouth mask, and thick gloves, and she has another dose of whatever is slowly dripping into his IV.
“Doctor,” Mycroft acknowledges, calmly.
She starts, and looks him over with incredulity.
Was he not supposed to be awake yet? Sherlock certainly seemed to expect it. Is it just the fact that he’s verbal perhaps? The most pressing question first: “Am I expected to regain motor control?” Looking at his limbs it seems to be entirely unlikely that that’s even a possibility, but he would rather like to be certain so he can start planning accordingly.
The doctor blinks. “Um.”
“I would think that’s a rather significant question.” Mycroft can feel irritation start to rise. When she still doesn’t speak, he adds, “One that I am entitled to know the answer to.”
She’s really looking at him now, giving him her full attention. “Can you feel anything at all?” When he tells her he has sensation in his face, she seems fascinated.
Apparently, he’s the first one.
Mycroft is in the middle of a meeting with half a dozen members of parliament when Anthea walks in, phone plastered to her ear, saying, “Sir.”
For that first sickening, terrible second Mycroft is certain it’s Sherlock. That he got himself infected.
But then she goes on and says, “John Watson has been bitten while treating a patient. He reported it straight away, and he’s been admitted to the quarantine at St. Bart’s.” And “Your brother... he’s holding a gun to the head of one of the doctors in charge, demanding to see him.”
He’s not surprised.
That doesn’t make it any better.
Mycroft leaves the meeting, arranges a light escort of Anthea and three agents, and goes to the hospital. En route, he calls Sherlock’s phone. No answer. No doubt he’s too busy making death threats to pick up his phone and ask for his easily accessible help. Typical.
After a thought, Mycroft tries John’s number. It rings nearly ten times, before there’s a shuffle, and John’s breathing, not saying anything.
Is he losing his mind already, slipping past conversation? Better keep it simple. “Is your current location St. Bart’s hospital’s quarantine ward?”
“Yes.” John says, weary now. “Look, I don’t know how you know, but I haven’t...” he pauses. “I haven’t told him yet, okay? Sherlock doesn’t know.”
“Would that be why he is currently staging a shootout on a lower floor, demanding to see you?” Mycroft asks dryly. Sherlock probably had people in place to alert him of this exact thing happening, Mycroft thinks. He would.
“Well, he can’t. See me again. Can he?” John is clearly in the anger stage of realising what happened to him. What will happen. “Not when I’m bloody infected!”
Was he careless? Does he blame himself? “With the necessary precautions, I don’t see why not.” Mycroft’s not insensitive. He can imagine exactly what Sherlock’s demands will be, and he will make them happen. A hazmat suit, contained space, it will take some convincing and bending of procedure, but it’s far from unfeasible. Sherlock will get his goodbye.
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure I want to.” John says, sounding defiant. “Look him in the eye and...” he trails off.
Mycroft frowns. John doesn’t mean that. He’s obviously upset, who wouldn’t be, but he’ll want to see Sherlock before this is over, Mycroft does not doubt it. “Sherlock won’t stop until he can see you.” They both know that’s true. Unless he gets someone to drug him, take him out until John is disposed of. But no, too much. Sherlock will want to be there. He might need to, to accept it.
“Yeah.” John laughs, mirthlessly.
There’s a pause.
They’re two streets away from the hospital.
John takes a breath. “Didn’t want to die today.”
“I believe no one does.” Mycroft says it cautiously. He feels somewhat ill at ease. Sherlock should be the one on the line right now, there won’t be much time left. Hours, perhaps. He doesn’t know John that well, nor the proper words to this situation.
But John goes on, “I woke up this morning, and I thought, oh, sunshine, that’s nice. And Sherlock was...” John’s voice catches. “Sherlock was being a dick as always, growing mould in the sink and... There’s infected eyeballs in the oven, did you know that? He’s experimenting on them now, because they’re ‘juicier, that’s interesting John!’ So I told him off, and I came to work, and...” He falls silent, suddenly.
Mycroft waits, allows John to say what he wants to. When the silence drags on he says, “You have saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives doing what you did.” Surely that must count for something. They’ll be there soon.
John makes a disapproving noise. “Fuck it. Does that matter? Really?”
Mycroft does not have an answer to that. It wouldn’t to him, personally, but he always assumed John to be of a more humanitarian nature. Although perhaps in this moment there is truly nothing that would matter. There is a police car parked in front of the hospital with glowing lights. They better not have arrested Sherlock yet, otherwise there will be even more paperwork to deal with. “I am nearing the hospital.”
“Right.” John says. He takes a breath. “Well, tell him to stop shooting and come up here, then.”
“I will.” Mycroft says. “And...” He’ll send Sherlock, but he won’t go into John’s room himself, obviously. The risk might be minimal, but he has no intention to infringe on what little time they have left. He should say his own words now. “It was both a pleasure and an honour to know you, John Watson.”
John laughs in disbelief, “You’re saying goodbye to me? You?”
However callous John might think him, the thought of losing him truly is unpleasant. John was useful, the best thing that ever happened to Sherlock, absolutely, and Mycroft has grown almost fond of him throughout the years. He can understand an aversion to sentiment at a moment like this, though. “Not if you don’t wish to.” They’ve arrived. He steps out of the car. He can pretend that this is simply a regular phone call, if it will make John feel more at ease, certainly.
“No, I don’t... It’s... You’ve helped, a lot. And Sherlock, right, god, don’t let him...” John’s voice wavers, “Don’t let him do anything stupid.” He takes a breath.
“I will do my best, John.” The words catch something in his chest. That will be a difficult promise to keep, and they both know it.
“I am entering the lobby right now.” It contains a decontamination unit, several frazzled-looking doctors, police with their guns drawn, and oh, Sherlock, holding his gun to the head of a senior doctor.
Mycroft rolls his eyes, and gives a signal to his agents. They diffuse the situation quickly. Anthea goes to round up everyone involved and ensure that they don’t press charges, and Mycroft walks towards Sherlock. He looks like he’s ready to actually shoot the whole room to pieces. It’s not acting, he’s really that tense. No wonder they called him.
“Sherlock is here,” Mycroft says to John. “Currently holding an unloaded gun to the head of,” he checks, “Immunology.”
“Unloaded?” The man asks with a shaky, relieved voice, at the same time as Sherlock’s indifferent, “Came here to spoil the fun, did you?” Sherlock lets go and the man half-falls, half-scampers away.
“I did,” Mycroft says, trying to impart something compassionate and calming in his tone. I know, brother mine. I know.
“Is that him?” John asks, on the phone.
“Yes,” Mycroft says.
He hands it to Sherlock, who grabs it readily. “John?”
Mycroft turns away, and lets them talk. He arranges a hazmat suit for Sherlock, and an escort to make certain he doesn’t break protocol, then watches Sherlock go.
Mycroft follows him to the right hallway, sits down, and prepares to wait. He can be spared for some hours.
After a while, he can hear them laughing, all the way down the hall. Mycroft has work with him of course, a tablet, but it makes it hard to focus. To know that Sherlock is in there, doing or saying whatever he can, just to make John laugh one last time. Then one more. One moment longer.
It takes six hours before John is non-verbal, the doctors give him periodical updates, but even then Sherlock stays, so Mycroft does, too.
When he finally walks out, when it’s done, Sherlock doesn’t seem surprised to see him sitting there. Mycroft doesn’t know if that’s because Sherlock just expects him to be here at times like this, whether he sees him as something akin to gravity, a thoughtless certainty to fall back on. Or because seeing John like that has robbed him of surprise altogether.
Sherlock has cried, it’s obvious from his eyes. He looks... empty. “I’m taking him home.”
Did John ask to die in Baker Street, perhaps? “If you want to...” Mycroft pauses, “...make certain this ends a certain way, that can be arranged.” There are plenty of doctors who will understand such a request, and if not, he will convince them to.
“What?” Sherlock seems confused. “No, I’m not going to kill him!”
Then what? Take him home and pretend nothing happened? “You can’t be planning to take care of him?” Mycroft can hear his voice echo disbelief. Sherlock has that determined set to his face Mycroft knows well, but the thought is ludicrous. John is dead, his brain is pulp, there’s nothing left but a nervous system and some impulses, and highly dangerous ones at that. “He’s dead, Sherlock. He’s gone!” He adds, quieter, “Surely you can see that.”
“For now.” Sherlock says, stubbornly.
Mycroft is stunned into silence. He should have foreseen this, perhaps, but he didn’t think Sherlock would be this naive. “There is no cure. He will not get better, if you take him home you will get to see him slowly decay and nothing more.”
Sherlock looks at him evenly. “I’m taking him.” He means it. Every fibre of his body in that second does, and Mycroft knows it.
They move John to his old bedroom. Wrap him in a straightjacket, and attach him with a chain to the wall.
It’s inhumane, it’s unethical, everyone involved in getting him there seems to transmit it in their eyes, their body language. Let this man die. We are past keeping monsters in the attic - this isn’t right.
But Sherlock won’t be swayed.
The doctors trickle in and out of Mycroft’s room. They mark the spot by his neck where sensation decreases, and then one where there is nothing left. They add more bags to the pump, and turn it up higher.
By the next hour he can feel all the way to his chest. Not pain, so much, as just the awareness that it’s there.
The doctors ah and hum and make notes, but it’s not hard to read all over their faces that they genuinely don’t know what is going to happen. They have no clue what they’re doing, and Mycroft silently curses Sherlock’s decision to submit him to this. He never wanted to be some sort of human experiment, to be poked and prodded and stared at. A curiosity.
Not soon after that some light blue, spidery veins start standing out on his arms. He can feel down to his stomach. And then together with the awareness of his fingers and toes comes a horrible, intense sensation, like ants scurrying underneath his skin. It starts off as a vague itch, then pinpricks, turning into pure, undiluted stabbing.
It makes him feel like an animal, caught in a trap, no way out, and all conscious thought slips into one, single thought. Make it stop. He knows that he screams.
The last thing he remembers is the doctor’s eyes, above him. Their bickering voices. Doubt and uncertainty, they don’t know what this is, they don’t know why he’s even feeling anything at all, or how to sedate him without killing him. The last thing Mycroft hears is the female doctor’s voice as she says, “You know that might be all we get out of them, just a couple of hours of lucidity? That might be it.” And she doesn’t sound too surprised by it.
Sherlock, Mycroft thinks with horrible clarity. You should have said goodbye.
There’s an injection, straight into the pump. And the world goes mercifully black.
As the weeks go on, most of Mycroft’s time is spent dealing with the resistance. At first it’s nothing more than graffiti on storefronts and public buildings, calling to action, but it doesn’t take long for it to become more extreme. Some more break-outs, sudden bursts of the virus, and confidence in the government plummets.
People take to the streets and riot. Most are simply scared. Scared of the increasingly growing numbers of infected, contained behind walls never meant to be prisons. It was always a matter of time before they couldn’t keep up. Before the public would band together in outrage, before they’d demand them gone.
The government eradication program was written weeks ago, they were just waiting to implement it and start eliminating them on a large scale. Bullets aren’t cost-effective, plus the amount of biological waste left behind is rather troublesome. Gassing is ineffective, the infected do breathe, but something is lost on the transfer to tissues, all it does is melt their skin. So they will use the incinerators for waste disposal and burn them hundreds at a time.
Mycroft doesn’t sleep the night he signs that order.
The public’s response is divided, to say the least. They are scared of the infected, but these are also their parents, their children, their friends. They get protests from both sides, turned violent, turned angry.
They try to keep it under control the best they can. They get a publicity team to spread research that underplays the chance of a cure in order to ensure support. It is the logical solution, but it’s one thing to convince the public that they’re doing them a favour, that they’re giving the infected a clean, fast death. It’s another to go there, and smell the dark smoke. Hear the gutting screams.
It’s no longer just an echo of concentration camps, it’s that exact horror right here, on British soil.
Mycroft showers multiple times but still he smells it, the smell in the back of his nose and sticking to his skin and hair like a second layer.
When he reaches the point that he cannot see another file, he takes the afternoon off, and goes to Baker Street.
Mrs. Hudson’s mouth tilts in a disapproving scowl when she answers the door. “Mister Holmes.” Mycroft could push her aside and walk past her, but it’s easier to let her have her say, he’s found. “My neighbour’s son was in one of those camps, you know.”
Mycroft nods, feeling so tired, now. Old. “That is very unfortunate.”
She glares at him for another moment, but then must take pity on what she sees, because she steps out of his way. “He’s upstairs. With…”
Mycroft doesn’t need to be told where Sherlock is.
The living room is abandoned. Without John it feels rather unlived in, as well. It’s moderately clean, but empty and dusty. There are no pillows on the sofa. No blankets, no books spread around. No offer of a cup of tea, as well. Mycroft takes the stairs to John’s room.
Before this happened, he’d never been there. Now it’s the only place Sherlock will receive him.
He knocks on the door, and after a brief shuffle, Sherlock unlocks it, then looks through the gap of the door to confirm who it is. He sighs, loudly. “Why are you here?”
“I have no interest in confiscating and/or reporting John,” Mycroft says, a little exasperated. “I am here merely as your brother, as always.”
Sherlock opens the door and turns away. “Burning them now, are you? By the hundreds, how very economic.”
So he has heard as well. Mycroft doesn’t reply.
It’s summer, but still the heating is turned up high inside the room, it is swelteringly hot. The floor is littered with pillows, books and papers, Sherlock’s laptop, and, on the opposite corner of John’s bed, a mattress on the floor. "You are sleeping here now? Sherlock, really.” Mycroft’s not playing at his disgust, it’s truly rather unimaginable for anyone to do this willingly, night and day.
John is here, of course. Sitting on the side of the bed, slumped over.
Mycroft looks at him warily. “You keep him sedated?” That’s the thing. They don’t sleep. They don’t stop. All they seem to want to do is to bite, and swallow. There’s nothing of John’s kindness, John’s self, in there, now. He’s just driven by instinct.
“Ten cc’s, every four hours.” Sherlock replies. “More if I need to touch him.” His tone implies, I’m not stupid, Mycroft.
It’s delusional, that’s what it is. John is not some innocent pet, he’s a grown man with a dangerous infection wavering near death, and Mycroft completely disapproves. He can feel sweat start prickling his neck. Mycroft turns to him. “Sherlock…”
Sherlock’s face is shielded, his eyes hard. He’s chosen his course and he’s going to stick to it, nothing that Mycroft says is going to change that, Mycroft has been around him long enough that he can recognise a losing battle. Eventually, this will solve itself, he knows, John won’t stay alive forever, not like this. But what will happen to Sherlock in the meantime is more crucial.
“...be careful.” It’s a weak follow-up, and Mycroft knows it.
Sherlock looks completely unaffected. “Obviously.”
“Are you working?” Mycroft already knows he isn’t. Sherlock’s researching the infection and only that; forgoing sleep and food, ignoring himself in favour of the question in front of him. But he’s no doctor, no immunologist. He can’t solve this any more than they can.
Mycroft’s reminding himself of Mummy, visiting like this. Are you eating, Sherlock? You’re so thin. I bet you’re not eating. Mycroft, isn’t he thin?
“No,” Sherlock replies, his eyes darting away.
It’s the truth, which is unexpected in itself, but is that a veiled invitation to stay a while? Or is he simply feeling too numb to care enough to lie? Mycroft takes the chance. “Do you still have that bottle I gave you at Christmas?”
Sherlock shrugs. He takes the hint though, and walks out, down the stairs, to go looking for it. Leaving Mycroft alone with what is left of John.
Mycroft turns around slowly. John is looking in his general direction, but there’s no recognition in his glassed-over eyes. No warmth beneath his dead grey skin.
It’s apparent that Sherlock has been taking care of him, at least. He’s not as far gone as some of the others Mycroft’s seen recently, and John has been infected for longer. He’s dressed in his normal clothing underneath the restrains. Lots of layers, in fact; a shirt, thick jumper, trousers and blue woollen socks, obviously knitted by Mrs. Hudson for this exact purpose. Despite the room’s general stuffiness, John doesn’t stink, there’s nothing of the rotting smell Mycroft remembers only too well. No blood by his mouth, either. He has chewed on his lips at one point, a common thing for the infected; and they’re gruesomely opened in places, pink meat shining through, but it’s been cleaned up. There is no healing, they’ll remain that way.
Mycroft can feel himself start to sweat uncomfortably. He opens the buttons on his jacket, and shrugs out of it. He folds it neatly between his hands.
When Sherlock re-enters the room, he immediately looks at John, but doesn’t say anything. It was a show of trust to leave them alone together, Mycroft recognises. Not that he would harm John, even like this, but it’s not impossible, he supposes.
Sherlock has indeed found the bottle, and is holding two glasses. Sherlock walks past him, and sinks down gracefully onto his mattress.
Mycroft looks around. There’s nowhere else to sit except the bed, currently occupied by John, or the mattress on the floor. Convincing Sherlock to leave this room will be futile, Mycroft assumes. So he sighs, and - dear lord that’s uncomfortable - lowers himself down to sit on the other end of the mattress, and settles a pillow behind his back.
Sherlock pours him a nearly full glass. Mycroft accepts it, then after a moment loosens his tie, puts it to the side, and undoes the top buttons of his shirt, as well. “It’s unreasonably hot in here, is there a reason, or are you just longing for a more tropical locale?”
“Research suggests a high temperature is beneficial for John’s blood flow.” Sherlock pours the same for himself, and puts it to his lips immediately. It’s telling that he’s drinking at all, Mycroft thinks.
Mycroft glances at John, who is now drooling, his mouth lazily opening and closing, like a stranded fish.
Sherlock’s eyes follow his, but rest on John easily. He doesn’t seem to notice the emptiness of John’s face, or the fact that he is dangerous, dripping with a virus, posed to attack at any second.
“There are studies being done worldwide. More than you showed me last time.”
Mycroft takes a drink. “The Swedish trials?” He’s been keeping up, as well. They’ve locked a whole lot of infected together in a house and simply observed their behaviour, in order to determine which base instincts take precedent. They didn’t attack each other. Some were reported to do menial tasks, like sweeping the floors, doing the dishes. Only on autopilot, for hours at a time, cleaning the same spot, washing the same plate. They’ve estimated their intelligence at below that of two-year olds. They’ve used scanners to see which parts of the brains survive. It’s not much. They’ve had some small success with implanting electrodes and re-stimulating pathways. But only to the level where some of them returned to a sleeping rhythm, and some nonsensical babbling.
“South Korea.” Sherlock says, still looking at John.
Mycroft grimaces. He’s read those reports. They’re performing surgery on them without anaesthetic, just tying them down and cutting to see what’s inside. Torturing them. “Why is that significant?” Or relevant to John.
“They’ve proven they can feel.” Sherlock is still staring at John, in a way that Mycroft suspects he doesn’t even know he’s doing.
That explains the careful sedation, then. Mycroft makes sure his voice is understanding, “Sherlock, do you honestly wish that upon him? The thought that he’s suffering?”
Sherlock turns his head stubbornly. “It means there’s something left.”
Mycroft takes a large sip, feels the alcohol burn its way down his throat. The muscles in his legs are already protesting at being stretched out in front of him like that. Sweat is pearling on his forehead, gathering under his arms. It’s like an oven in here. He remembers the screams again, too easily.
He downs the glass, and puts it aside. Opens the button on the side of his wrist, and carefully, evenly rolls up his sleeve, presses the lines with his fingertips.
He can see John moving his hand, rhythmically, spastically. It’s not a movement that falls within human development; no healthy toddler does this, no healthy child. It signifies a broken brain, something worse than regression. Mycroft rolls up the other sleeve.
“They scream,” he offers, unsure why it falls from his tongue so easily. Why he’s confessing this to Sherlock, of all people.
“When they’re burned?” Sherlock asks, horror and interest warring in his voice.
Sherlock nods, a considering look in his eyes. He pours himself a glass all the way to the rim, the bottle shaking slightly in his hand. He misses, and pours over the edge, as well. He probably hasn’t eaten in days if his coordination is off by that much. Mycroft makes a mental note to bring him food, next time.
John startles them with the audible snapping of his teeth. Sherlock simply glances at him.
They drink on.
Sherlock’s drinking faster than Mycroft has ever seen him do. Maybe he is finding solace in the bottle these days. It can’t be healthy, sitting in here all day long. Not as if Mycroft sees much daylight himself, but this room is muggy, small, all wood-panelling, the heating working overtime, a single, small window. He can feel moisture on his back sticking to his shirt, to the pillow. He feels vaguely nauseous.
After the third drink, Mycroft opens his waistcoat buttons, and leans forward to shrug out of the brocade vest. He folds it and puts it down on the floor, over his tie. His suit is going to be ruined from sitting like this, anyway. He might as well be somewhat comfortable.
Sherlock’s eyes are following his movements, dully.
Mycroft sees Sherlock’s pale face, the tell-tale signs of sleeplessness, of sorrow. “When is the last time you went outside?” The last time you ate? You laughed? Were interested in anything besides John?
Sherlock’s gaze wanders to the window as if he’s not entirely sure what outside means, anymore. “Why?”
Because it would be good for you. Mycroft doesn’t take the effort of saying that. He would almost feel admiration for Sherlock’s unwavering determination to save John, if only it would serve a purpose. John will never know that Sherlock even did this. It’s senseless, useless.
Still, John couldn’t ask for a better guardian, he supposes.
Mycroft’s eyes drift back to John’s face. In this light John doesn’t look that different from how Mycroft remembers him. Short, kind, built for calm and trust, but a great soldier underneath. Sherlock’s soldier.
He sighs. Alcohol always did make him maudlin.
Sherlock pours him another, even more sloppily than the last time. The spilled drops slowly spread over the wooden floor. Mycroft can’t taste the burn anymore; it’s just a general taste of liquid and heat, swirling around in his mouth, disappearing down his throat. They’re starting to get halfway down the bottle.
Mycroft looks at Sherlock in-between drinks, sees the despair written there loud and clear. Is this what love feels like, then, little brother? Mycroft’s never wanted any part of it for this exact reason. He never wished it on Sherlock, either, but he can feel it right now, that vulnerable thing, hot in his chest. Sherlock sees him looking, and holds his gaze. “What?”
Some part of Mycroft wants to reach out and hold him. He wants to pull him close the way he did when they were children, tuck Sherlock’s curls under his chin, hold him in a fortress of his arms and legs. Be the beginning and the end, for him. Keep him safe. Those days are long past, of course. Mycroft has another sip instead. There’s nothing he can do. Nothing to make this better.
Sherlock is leaning in towards him.
Mycroft eyes him with some confusion. Lifts a hand, meaning to put it on Sherlock’s shoulder, but Sherlock half-leans half-falls over and bumps into him quite hard. Mycroft steadies him. “You’re drunk.”
Sherlock smiles, quickly, sadly. “Yes.” And then turns and puts his head on his shoulder.
Mycroft feels an unfamiliar drop in his stomach. It’s very close somehow. He stiffly tries to lean away a little; but Sherlock’s insistent. He’s also heavy, and as Mycroft moves away he simply slides down, until his head hits hard against Mycroft’s upper legs, and then lies down there and sighs, deeply.
Mycroft’s hand hovers in the air, somewhat uncomfortable with touching him. He’s had quite a lot to drink himself, it all feels vague and uncertain, and warm, Sherlock’s head is heavy on his legs and seems to be radiating heat.
Then Mycroft feels the shaking of Sherlock’s shoulders. He hears the shivering intakes of breath, he thinks he’s laughing for a second, hah - got you there, brother mine. But that’s only because he hasn’t seen the alternative since Sherlock was about ten. He’s crying. Mycroft slowly puts his hand on Sherlock’s curls, half-expecting him to pull away immediately, but he doesn’t.
So Mycroft touches Sherlock in a way that he hasn’t done in twenty years, uneasily strokes his hair, not certain if it’s helping.
After a while Sherlock quiets down, and Mycroft lets his hand lie on Sherlock’s head, feels his hair under his fingertips. He closes his eyes against the burning there, and swallows away the hot knot in his throat.
Darkness falls over the room like a curtain. Sherlock, drunk enough to probably not even remember this, drifts into solid sleep. He’s a warm, damp weight on Mycroft’s lap, and Mycroft stays sitting there for a long time. Listening to the traffic, outside. To John, shifting occasionally. The sound of his teeth, and the wet smacking of his mouth like an unwelcome parody of Sherlock’s crying.
The heat and alcohol thump in Mycroft’s head. Prickle his skin. He wants to yell at John to sit still and stop it. Sherlock is uncomfortable against him.
Mycroft shifts away eventually when it becomes unbearable to be there, when he thinks he might throw up if he stays one second longer. He tries to extract himself carefully, but Sherlock still wakes up. He doesn’t speak, luckily. Mycroft gathers up his clothes, stands up dizzily and makes it to the door in three steps.
He stands outside 221b for a long time, leaning on his umbrella, gulping in the cool summer air.
The second time Mycroft wakes in his hospital bed, he opens his eyes cautiously.
It’s dark now, only the vague hue of his heart rate monitor and some light from the corridor illuminating his room. His body feels wrecked. His head is pounding. Every single muscle is a twinge of pain, so it takes a while before it sinks in that he can feel. Everything. His toes, back, chest, every bit of it.
Mycroft turns his head, looks down, and moves his finger. It barely takes any effort.
He quickly balls his fingers into a fist, and lets go again. First his right hand, then his left.
He moves his feet, enough to push the blanket up, and wiggles his toes. It’s difficult, his legs feel stiff and weak, but he can do it. Mycroft raises his head, and slowly, conscious of the wires still sticking out of his chest, moves to sit up. Every muscle screams, but he can lift himself a bit off the mattress and hold it, before he has to let go and fall back again. It works. He can move.
Whatever they sedated him with is still present, thrumming a heavy, unnatural tiredness under his skin. Waves of sleep are rolling over him, and no matter how hard he tries to stay clear-headed, he drifts back into dozing again soon after. At one point he wakes up shivering, teeth clattering. Later sweating wetly, sticking to the damp covers. The wires are in the way, keeping him rooted in one sleeping position. His back aches. But whenever he skirts back to consciousness, he remembers to move.
Then, Sherlock is in his room.
Mycroft can smell him before he opens his eyes and pulls himself away from sleep.
“Full mobility?” Sherlock’s keeping his voice low, probably in response to the darkness in the room. It must be the middle of the night.
“It seems to be the case,” Mycroft replies slowly, relief and exhaustion both clouding his voice. He’s beyond tired, and the headache seems to have found a permanent home pressing behind his eyes.
Sherlock looks him over. “Good. That’s...” He smiles, his face breaking into something relieved for a moment.
Then he hesitates, and he goes back to his regular, pained mask. John, Mycroft knows. Always John. He must not be showing any response yet for Sherlock to even be here.
“Sleep,” Sherlock says hesitantly, eyes still flickering over him, an unspoken you’re in pain and tired.
He never would have said that, before. He never would have let himself acknowledge something so trivial. His grief has made him brittle, Mycroft thinks, and selfishly, he is grateful for it in this moment. “Sherlock,” he says quietly, as his eyes fall closed and he drifts under again. He’s not sure if he even said it out loud. It doesn’t matter.
He might have really survived this.