Mycroft Holmes was, by fortune of good breeding and education, a very patient man. Even though he occupied only a minor role in the British government (those who said otherwise were, of course, sadly mistaken), he found he was often tasked with the most painstaking and time-sensitive duties others would rather avoid. It was by pure luck, and not an insignificant amount of charm and good old-fashioned elbow grease, that he had got as far as he had in his political ambitions.
Though it seemed, in moments like this, all his ambitions were of little consequence in the end, if he couldn’t protect his family and those he held dearest to his orderly and most privately tended heart.
He felt as if he’d been here before, stuck behind the same glass, watching as his younger brother, a gifted Sentinel (the most powerful in a century, or so the instructors at the Tower had said), struggled to pull each and every breath into his oft-abused lungs. He hadn’t needed a ventilator…this time.
Sherlock remained deathly still in his mechanical bed, unmoving and utterly silent underneath the thin hospital blanket. It was a barely serviceable piece of linen, as thin as cheesecloth and just as warming. He made a note to remind Anthea to bring a proper blanket later on today, something that actually held back the institutional chill hospitals were so fond of.
In truth, he had grown quite tired of all this unnecessary emotional upheaval and drama. He tired of fielding frantic phone calls from Mummy, who managed to sound grievously distressed, victimized, and horridly condescending all at the same time. It was more than clear why Sherlock never seemed to take any familial sentiment at face value, since every other comment from their mother served two purposes - insult and praise.
Mummy never had approved of Sherlock’s lifestyle - of his unorthodox rejection of formal Sentinel schooling in favour of other, less verified, methods. Mycroft often wondered, if Sherlock had changed his mind and taken the more conventional route and studied at the Tower, would things have turned out very different?
This self-destructive behaviour had ceased to be a surprise many years ago, and Sherlock’s continuing predilection for drugs and dubious life choices weighed on a heart already heavy with civil responsibility. Mycroft needed resolution, a solution, and if he couldn’t use his tenacity and the considerable resources at his disposal, then he would call in a few favours, if he had to.
“I phoned the Cottage as requested.” Anthea’s smooth, slightly raspy voice sounded from behind his left shoulder. “We’re lucky - they have a room available.”
Mycroft’s desolate gaze never moved from the glass.
“If by lucky, you mean helplessly watching my baby brother overdose time and again, while consistently refusing treatment and resisting any and all efforts of self-betterment, then yes, I suppose we are very lucky indeed.”
She glanced down, chastised, though Mycroft had not raised his voice or openly admonished her in any way.
“I’m sorry, sir. I only meant –”
“Yes, I know what you meant.”
He left it at that, letting the weighty silence speak for itself, and after a few long moments, Anthea finally cleared her throat.
“I spoke personally with Dr. Stapleton. She’s not familiar with Sherlock, not yet anyway, says she doesn’t get much in the way of current events at the Serenity Cottage – but she’s familiar with cases like his…people who have abilities they never learned to fully control. She says they’ve a pilot programme for Sentinels who reject traditional bonding.”
Mycroft listened to her words with only half concentration (though for any normal person that would be enough), the other half absorbing the steady bleating of Sherlock’s heart through the monitor, pumping despite all efforts to the contrary.
He easily remembered Sherlock’s words, his caustic reply to Mycroft’s suggestion of finding a suitable Guide and forming a bond. The younger man had outright laughed in his face, all the while yawning and scratching at his skin in an obvious sign of recent intravenous drug use.
“Sentiment,” he’d snorted, lifting a trembling hand to his lips and sucking wetly on the cigarette ensconced between two pale fingers, “useless, distracting nonsense touted by the weak that’ve nothing better to do but rut and hump like mindless dogs. I am not mindless, Mycroft! It is my very mind that sets me apart. You cannot hope to compare me to all those…those ordinary drones out there.” He laughed with a dark and poisonous humour. “I’d sooner die.”
“And die you will, brother mine, though it pains me to say.” Mycroft ignored another low laugh from Sherlock’s pallid lips, as if confessing his love for his younger sibling was somehow unwise and shameful. “You can believe what you wish, but I dread that phone call. You must know this, Sherlock.”
Sherlock put out his cigarette (fifth in a row), stubbing it viciously into the tatty and threadbare rug that covered the rotten floorboards in his Montague Street flat. It made a new scorch mark, a companion to those he’d already created – lovely little sooty dots that clumped together near the feet of the sofa, like tiny, dark constellations.
“Leave me alone.”
“Get out, get out of my flat!”
That was only a few days ago, and a long stretch of countless hours spent harassing the Met and feverishly checking every CCTV camera for clandestine glimpses of his brother. When he’d found him this time, huddled and lifeless near a rusted skip by the dirty, sandy banks of the Thames, it had almost been too late.
“Make the travel arrangements, if you would, Anthea.” His grip on his umbrella handle tightened momentarily, worried fingers squeezing the polished cherry wood handle. “This may be our last chance to save him.”
He watched her reflection in the glass, saw her nod and turn round, heading back from whence she came. Her long, sable hair fell like a silken curtain past her neck, the subtle wind from her movement lifting single strands to float away from her face and hover like a cloud about her shoulders.
The Sussex countryside had long been considered unbridled in its beauty. Rows of tall, elegant, well-pruned Italian cypress trees lined the simple roads, making lovely companions to the verdant hedges dividing the fields into brightly coloured squares and rectangles.
Sherlock watched all of this speed by, the idyllic scenery blurring past the car window as he adjusted his sunglasses and fiddled with his mobile.
Mycroft had given him an ultimatum, in the end: go to rehab, or be collected by the Tower and cut off completely. The inherent threat in this very statement gave Sherlock pause, because he’d only just recently avoided an unexpected summons from the Sentinel Prime himself, Horace Wiggington. He was a fat, squat little man that Sherlock tried to avoid at all costs. He smelt of sweat and stale coffee, so much so that Sherlock could taste the salty perspiration at the base of his throat before he even entered his office.
His tongue rolled and dipped in his mouth in sympathy, the memories of their one (and only) meeting making Sherlock curl his lip in distaste.
He sighed, running strong fingers over his forehead in misery; they came back clammy and slicked with unwelcome wetness. He desperately needed a distraction.
Next to him on the leather seat, the brochure for the Serenity Cottage (ridiculous name) lay crumpled and forgotten, tossed there at the beginning of his journey in a fit of pique and petulance. Sherlock grabbed at it clumsily, spreading the paper over his lap, damp hands stuttering over its matte finish.
It was like all the others, all those new-age faux-spiritual rehab retreats that catered to the super-rich and terminally bored. Pictures of alarmingly orange and bleached women simpered on the pages, looking soulfully out towards their audience with large, tear-reddened blue eyes.
Sherlock snorted, turning a wrinkled page and moving on to the amenities listed in smart bullet points on the left margin. Oh, how very nice, an indoor heated pool. Lovely. He made a mental note (an oversized post-it firmly adhered to the entrance of his mind palace) to drown himself at the first opportunity.
That would show Mycroft, the interfering, overbearing, fat waste of cellular energy.
The chauffeur, who simply went by the name of ‘Johnson,’ tapped briskly on the glass partition, alerting Sherlock to their change in direction and imminent arrival at the Cottage. Sherlock was pleased when he found he’d be travelling with the serious and quiet man, rather than with Anthea (may a plague of carpal tunnel descend upon both her wrists). He found Johnson to be one of Mycroft’s more palatable employees, at least, he had the common sense to keep his mouth shut during their journey.
With a huff, he tossed the brochure to the floor and prepared himself for what was sure to be a very long, and very tedious, afternoon.
It was hard to truly explain what it was like to live with five hyper-acute senses. Sherlock could count on one large hand exactly how many times he’d attempted to justify exactly why he wore his shirts inside out (the seams irritated his skin), why he always had a headache (the colours were so saturated, the sounds so dense), and why he continued on with the drugs.
To date, he had yet to find any other chemical, legal or otherwise, that effectively dulled his senses as much as the heroin did. There was a kind of blissful, sumptuous beauty in the way a simple injection could dissolve the outside world, lessen the continuous bombardment of outside impulses, and just let him float, nerveless and serene, inside his mind.
Of course, the heroin also had the unfortunate side effect of almost stopping his heart, twice.
Well, he had never lived under the illusion that the solution to his predicament was perfect, after all. It was just preferable to the constant, unending stimulation he was forced to endure. The times that Mycroft had found him limp and barely breathing, lying in his own filth, had been some of the most peaceful moments of his young life.
The car eventually came to stop, slowing down in increments as they passed a rather intimidating and ornate wrought-iron gate. The initials ‘SC’ decorated the entrance, cleverly metal-crafted in twining leaves, grapes, and sprigs of lavender. The simple road eventually gave way to a gravel roundabout, the wheels crushing and grinding the many small bits of white quartz in a cacophony of sound, painful and overly loud to his ears. He was relieved when finally they stopped, and Johnson retrieved his luggage from the boot.
Sherlock himself emerged from the car shortly afterward, a little worse for wear. He was less a member of the elite upper class, and more a damaged and suffering young man with cursed senses and a misguided penchant for inadvertent suicide.
When he finally began his journey up the inordinately wide steps, the elaborately carved double doors swished open, sending a rush of sickly rose-scented air into his face, ruffling his messy curls and drawing a sneer of immediate disgust. A woman, short, with fire red hair (processed in a colour that Sherlock only assumed did not exist in nature but only in hair dye) rushed forward quickly, extending a hand and waving Johnson behind her and towards the front desk.
“Mr. Holmes, such a pleasure to finally meet you!”
Sherlock regarded her hand (indentation on left ring finger, wedding band recently removed) with suspicion, but accepted it anyway, relishing her ill-disguised grimace at shaking the sweaty appendage.
“I’m Mrs. Whitney, but please call me Kate,” she continued with an airy laugh, surreptitiously wiping her hand on her smart pumpkin-coloured dress pants. “I’m in charge of new admissions and senior director of our substance abuse program –”
“Do you have Wi-Fi?” he interrupted, quite rudely in fact, removing his sunglasses and looking about the foyer in open curiosity. If he was being forced to stay in this ridiculous prison, he should at least have some form of entertainment that didn’t include sitting around a bonfire and singing Kumbaya.
She didn’t miss a beat, keeping by his side as he made a wide path around the room, taking in the artwork (mass-produced), flowers (fresh, probably replaced every other day), and relative cleanliness (scrubbed within an inch of its life, more like). The clash of colours and scents was altogether overwhelming, however, bordering on headache inducing.
“We provide very limited internet access to our guests while they’re here at the Cottage. Myself and the therapists encourage each of you to find other means of bettering yourselves and participating in your own recovery –”
“Guests?” Sherlock paused, raising one dark eyebrow and bearing down on the chatty woman. “Is that what you call us, Guests? As if we’re here of our own accord. Laughable. Really.”
She looked mildly confused, almost offended. “Guests, yes. That’s what we call those who choose to participate in our treatment program. I – I assure you, Mr. Holmes, no one is kept at the Serenity Cottage against their will.”
“That remains to be seen,” he quipped darkly, his voice not much more than a basso rumble in his chest.
She stopped, placing her hands on her hips, arms akimbo. “Is there somewhere else you’d rather be?”
Sherlock turned round, catching a fleeting glance as Johnson (already having delivered his luggage to his room, no doubt) exited the main entrance and drove off in the sleek, black sedan, before turning his most piercing, most purposefully unsettling gaze upon Mrs Whitney.
“Shall I draw up a list, Kate?” He grinned, overly wide, practically grinding his molars in ill-humour.
She drew in a breath, forcing a smile of her own in response to his Cheshire grin.
“Why don’t I show you to your room?”
Her voice had an edge to it now, something too sweet and cheery to be sincere. Sherlock made some kind of noise, a noncommittal grunt or something, as if he would rather be doing anything else but nothing else came to mind. He found this attitude of laziness and noncompliance to be particularly maddening to those who sought to control him (Mycroft especially) – most of the time they had no idea what was actually happening in his wild mind, what occurred in those remarkable synaptic depths, and when they hazarded a guess, they usually couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The grand staircase that wound wide and opulent up to the first floor was carpeted and lush and located to the left of the admissions desk. It reminded Sherlock much of the staircases in one of his family’s old country estates, too Victorian, too imperial, and completely out of touch with current English modernity. He followed behind Mrs Whitney, having already deduced everything of import about the woman(divorced, son also an addict, her job a pathetic attempt to heal others when really she wanted to heal her son), and he was only too glad to leave the overly scented and busy lobby behind. For a retreat that touted the best possible solution for un-bonded Sentinels, their decorative choices were decidedly an attack on the senses. Really, what were they thinking?
She chattered uselessly in front of him, possibly trying to pass the time, but Sherlock was unconcerned with anything she had to say. His attention was focussed once again on the abrupt change of the decorations as they stepped upon the first-level landing. This level couldn’t have been more different from the first if he had somehow managed to teleport himself on top of a sand dune in the Sahara.
To say that it had taken almost his entire lifetime to exact some semblance of control over his senses would have been an understatement. Sherlock’s days were wrought with overstimulation and headaches that threatened nausea, seizures, and of course, the ever-threat of zoning and losing himself to his mind for extended periods of time…possibly forever.
The first floor was less of an assault on his senses. The horrid rose-scented miasma that greeted him as he entered the building tapered off into a more neutral, almost dusty smell. It wasn’t unpleasant, like mould or old, unused things, but more like the loamy scent of the outdoors. It was natural, like fresh dirt or wet sand.
The walls themselves were painted in more neutral colours as well, possibly named with some of the more fanciful monikers the painting companies could come up with…something like: almond cream, soft chamois, and wisp of mauve. Nauseating.
The hallway was blissfully clear of the pretentious and decadent furniture that dotted the ground level, and the only things of note were small speakers and cameras located in the corners of the long hallway that led off from the main landing. The speakers emitted a low-key thrum, more of a white noise that immediately felt calming and serene. Sherlock fought it as much as he could. He wouldn’t be a party to their damned tricks; he’d come for the procedure, and then he’d be on his way, Mycroft or no.
Of course, that was only if this procedure (also called the ‘treatment’) really was as effective as the brochure claimed. Sherlock, with his highly scientific and curious mind couldn’t puzzle out exactly how one small implant was supposed to somehow lessen, if not erase, his sensory difficulties completely.
And He surely didn’t know how this was supposed to all be accomplished during a mere two-week stay…and Sherlock didn’t like not knowing.
“As you can see, this area is much more sense-neutral than the lower level, and the floors above this are quite the same. We strive to make your stay here as comfortable as possible. The lower levels, that’s really for show and the guests’ families. You can avoid the lobby altogether by using the lift just round the corner.”
Well, he supposed that made sense. Considering this place was costing Mycroft an obscene amount of money, he wouldn’t put it past them to want to impress.
“Your room is on the fifth floor,” she continued, moving towards the lift she had only just mentioned. It was a standard metal affair, painted another neutral colour with another no-doubt ridiculous name (weathered fossil, perhaps?). She pressed the button with one perfectly buffed fingernail glinting in the low light.
“When is the procedure scheduled?” he asked abruptly, thumbing his mobile in his woollen coat, avoiding the urge to scratch randomly at his wrists. She regarded him with a wry, knowing smile.
“Just got here and already you’re looking to leave?” They entered the lift, the woman first, Sherlock reluctantly behind. “Tell me, do you plan on taking our program here seriously, at all? Your brother Mycroft had expressed some concern about your participation.”
Sherlock snorted, as he tended to when Mycroft was mentioned in any kind of conversation. The name was hateful, and he absently wondered if he could develop some kind of allergy or anaphylactic response if only to never have to hear his brother’s name ever again.
“Did he?” the younger Holmes sniped, looking upwards, watching his reflection in the dull metal of the lift ceiling. “He does tend to be a bit dramatic. He also tends to poke his fat nose into things which aren’t his business.”
“Most people would say family is always ‘their business,’” she replied, moving out of the lift once they’d got to the appropriate floor.
“Most people don’t have the British government as their overbearing big brother.”
Mrs. Whitney smiled at that, though it was a bit forced. She paused in her brisk pace, looking as if she would say something else, and then thinking better of it. It was no matter to Sherlock either way; he would suss it out later if he had to – that is, if he decided he cared. Instead, she bustled along, bypassing doorway after doorway until she neared one towards the very end of the hallway, on the left.
“Room 511, this one is yours. We don’t use keys here, as you can see, but programmed cards.” She passed him one card, credit-card-sized and glossy, the magnetic strip barely used on the opposite side. It would have had no more than two (no, three) previous users judging by its lack of usual scratches and wear and tear.
“Fine.” He flipped it around a few times, trying the electronic lock. The small LED light beamed green as he swiped it, the sound of the door unlocking was not unlike the sound of a jail cell.
Pushing the door open with a sigh, he saw his luggage already placed by the bed. The room was austere, almost monastic in its simplicity, and not for the first time, Sherlock missed the general untidiness and charm his Montague flat afforded. Living in Serenity Cottage would be more akin to living like an ascetic, something Sherlock found to be quite off-putting and infinitely boring.
He knew the reason for the lack of creature comforts; it didn’t take any great leap of logic to understand why there was only a bed, side table, desk, and one bookcase. Most Sentinels who came to this place were woefully undisciplined and prone to zoning, this much he easily deduced. A room such as this would be a like a safe place within the Cottage, an area of neutrality that wouldn’t tax their already overloaded nervous systems.
Of course, these unfortunate others were not Sherlock Holmes.
“Can I request a few items? Do you have room service?” He stared at Mrs. Whitney with no small amount of cheek, moving inside the room as if walking to his own untimely death.
“There are order forms you can fill out, we have some pre-approved items which you may make use of. Your personal handler, Mrs. Hudson, should be around by dinnertime to show you the rest of Serenity Cottage.”
“Fantastic! Will she make tea and do the cleaning up as well?”
Mrs. Whitney frowned, obviously not approving of his attitude. “She will not be your housekeeper, Mr. Holmes!”
“Oh! What a shame…I thought since Mycroft was spending so much money on this place that I was to be afforded every courtesy.” He shrugged off his coat, the motion sluggish and lazy, allowing it to fall in a heap on the ground.
“You are being afforded every courtesy that our services provide.” She sighed, only following him a little bit into the room. “Dinner is at six. We encourage our guests to maintain a healthy and satisfying eating and sleeping schedule.”
Sherlock waved a hand behind him dismissively, putting her out of his mind and face-planting, quite ignominiously, onto his bed. He let out an uncomfortable ‘“Oof!” as he landed on the hard and unforgiving mattress, the lack of bounce-back somehow prophetic. What the hell was the mattress made of? Horse hair and rocks?
She must have caught the look on his face because she cleared her throat, catching his attention fully.
“You asked about the procedure?” Mrs. Whitney hovered about in the doorway, seeming to already know that Sherlock was insatiably curious as to how they planned on managing his Sentinel abilities without a Guide and without bonding.
“Yes?” He pulled his head off of the mediocre pillow, hair already askew.
“All those at Serenity Cottage receive the treatment. How quickly one undergoes the procedure is based on necessity and severity of symptoms. There are no points for good behaviour, although in your case I might make an exception.”
He grunted, plopping his face back into the pillow. Insufferable woman!
“Remember, dinner’s at six. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Holmes.” With that, she was gone, the door clicking behind her, the sound ominously loud in this ridiculous excuse for a room.
Once he was clear, he rocketed off the bed, delving into his luggage and throwing his clothes here and there, uncaring of where they landed. Pants, vests, and socks flew everywhere, distorting the almost perfect packing arrangement Anthea had no doubt devised. Sherlock prayed the laptop he’d managed to sneak into the zippered attachment was still there, though he could tell just by the feel of the side pouch that it was empty.
He groaned, running his hands through his hair, mussing the curls and certain that this torture would be the end of him. Sherlock crossed the small room in a huff, peering out of the small, utilitarian window that allowed him a beautiful (of sorts) view of the rest of Serenity Cottage and its accompanying grounds. A row of laurels ran just away from the building, and several gardens, thick with blossoms, ran in tidy squares adjacent to the building. Just over the top of a small, rolling hill, he spied another building, older, and less well-kept than the one in which he stayed.
He sighed, letting his breath come out in a low groan until it evolved into a roar of complete frustration and misery.
What the hell time was it anyway? He rifled through his coat, pulling out his mobile – five o’clock. Grand. That meant one more hour until another no doubt odious woman came knocking at his cell door.
Well, since this day was just chock-full of new experiences and revelations, he supposed a visit to his mind palace wouldn’t be out of order. He climbed back atop his bed, gingerly (no use in flopping anymore, not unless he wanted to break a bone), resting on his back and closing his eyes. There were a great many things that needed to be categorised and stored, not the least of which was how he would ever get back at his brother for forcing him into this horrid, stone-aged excuse for a retreat.