Title: Fire and Ice
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Pairings, Characters: No pairings, Sherlock, John, Mycroft, all gen, all friendly and all adorable. Brotherly love.
Warnings: Possible catatonia, mentions of insanity.
Summary: Sherlock has a strange turn and Mycroft is the only one who seems to know what's going on…
"It's brilliant," says Sherlock, pacing the flat like he could very well just burst straight through the walls and keep on going. "Oh, it's brilliant - oh, this is more like it, don't you see?"
John, knackered thanks to two nights missed sleep, seated on his chair as is his wont and wondering when Sherlock will stop wearing a hole in the carpet, shakes his head soundlessly. He gets a disgusted look in return.
"You're an idiot."
"Yeah, thanks," retorts John mildly, "Can you just tell - "
"The mother isn't the mother - don't you see, the socks, they're all wrong - "
"Look, Sherlock, can you sit down before you go right through the floor?"
Sherlock actually obeys and plonks himself on the sofa - proof that at this point he's no longer in tune with what his body is doing; it's all in the mind and his mind is - right now - working overtime.
"She's not the mother," he mutters to himself - this is the second stage of a Sherlock Great Discovery, when he forgets there is anyone else in the room to talk to or insult. "She's not the mother, but if she's not, then who - oh."
And then he freezes.
John blinks and waits for Sherlock to spring back into action, but it doesn't happen. Sherlock is sat there, silent and still, like a bizarre mannequin of himself, not relaxed, still tense, but with his grey-blue eyes dangerously glazed over. His spine is straight, but his hands lie limply on his knees. After a moment, his mouth opens but nothing comes out, and he closes it again.
John tentatively gets up, inspects Sherlock, who doesn't seem to register him at all.
"Sherlock?" he says, and gets no reply.
He inspects Sherlock's pupils, but there is nothing wrong with them, Sherlock merely has the dreamy, unfocused look he gets sometimes when he's made a big discovery, and behind him flickers the other Sherlock, the Man Sherlock, but he makes no attempt to move. His breathing is regular but slow, and in the grey light coming through the windows he looks almost inhuman.
John cups Sherlock's cheek with his hand, looks hard into his eyes. "Sherlock, can you hear me?"
There is no response, but it can't be catatonia, Sherlock's hands and arms are limp and pliable, they haven't seized up. So if he isn't catatonic, what - ?
For the first time, proper fear spikes up in John's stomach. Sherlock said, didn't he, that sometimes he doesn't talk for days…is this what this is? Or is it something else? This isn't just not talking, this is not moving.
He needs help.
He glances at his phone, then looks at Sherlock apologetically. "Sorry mate," he says, "But I'm stumped."
And he texts Mycroft.
Sherlock making big discovery, has gone inactive and unresponsive. Happened before? - JW
John texts him because honestly he's a bit intimidated by Mycroft, and texting is easier to do if you're afraid of someone, but if Mycroft doesn't respond in the next five minutes, he's going to have to call him. He checks Sherlock, whose breathing has got a little more ragged, and the fear doubles.
He gets a reply almost instantly.
Yes, it has. On my way, do not touch him but get rid of all sources of light. - Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft helping should make John feel more relieved, but the thought of a sinister, probably government official invading his house does tend to unnerve one a bit. He checks Sherlock again - no change - then goes and pulls closed the curtains as much as he can, closes the door and turns off a lamp in the kitchen. He can hardly see in the gloom that follows, but as his eyes adjust he is almost certain that Sherlock has closed his eyes against the darkness. He wants to check the pupils again, but Mycroft told him not to touch Sherlock, so he sits in the dark obediently and waits.
It is a truly bizarre wait; he can feel the warmth of Sherlock beside him, his presence, and the room is filled with Sherlock's unsteady breathing, but other than that he makes no sound or movement. John wants to clutch at him, remind himself that Sherlock is still there, still really there, and hasn't gone somewhere he can't follow, but he reigns himself in.
Eventually, footsteps are heard on the stairs, and John opens the door, meeting Mycroft on the landing and closing the door as quietly as he can behind him.
Mycroft is frowning, but doesn't look overly worried, and he is calm enough to have remembered his umbrella, so John is a bit more reassured.
"How long was it before you text me?" Mycroft says, keeping his voice low.
"I don't know - five minutes? No more than ten anyway."
He gets an approving look - possibly a more terrifying look from Mycroft than a disapproving one. "That was quick of you."
John half shrugs. "You're my first port of call if Sherlock does something unexpected - can you help him? What's happening?"
"Too many realisations in one moment," Mycroft replies cryptically. "Did he respond to the lack of light?"
"Well he closed his eyes."
"Good." Mycroft twirls his umbrella in his hand thoughtfully. "John, you can watch if you like, but I must ask that you stay absolutely silent and stand some distance away, is that understood?"
John nods, frowning. "What are you going to do?"
"You'll see," Mycroft says once more mysteriously, and enters the darkened living room. John follows as quietly as possible, and closes the door behind them.
Sherlock is still in his place, but his ragged breathing has calmed a little, and John thinks he can see his eyes moving under his still closed eyelids.
He backs away. Mycroft rather fastidiously stands his umbrella against the wall, then kneels down slowly beside the motionless Sherlock. John watches him very briefly trail fingers down Sherlock's cheeks, along his shoulders, little light touches.
"Sherlock, it's me," Mycroft says in a calm, quiet tone, and takes Sherlock's hands, cupping them together between his own, making them warm with his touch.
There is a brief moment of nothing, and then Sherlock lets out a little sigh and his head falls forward a bit.
"Order it back," says Mycroft in the same tone, and Sherlock gives him a little half-aborted nod and drops his head further on his chin. Then the next thing John knows, Sherlock is rolling back his shoulders a bit and when he raises his head he has opened his eyes and the dreamy expression has gone, to be replaced with one of exhaustion.
"Hello," Mycroft says, and smiles. It is a fully genuine smile that leaves John blinking a bit, because the only smile he has ever seen from Mycroft right now is the sort of smile when you don't want to smile, or the sort of smile when you're puzzling someone out and trying to unnerve them. He wonders if Mycroft really was more worried than he was letting on.
"The aunt," Sherlock mumbles, sounding knackered. "It was the aunt - tell Lestrade." His hands cling to Mycroft's like they are a lifeline. Mycroft extracts one, sweeps back a curl of his brother's hair in such an intimate gesture that John feels quite out of place.
"I will," he says. "Sleep, Sherlock."
Sherlock nods a bit, and lets Mycroft help settle him into lying down properly on the sofa, and he is asleep as soon as his eyes close again.
There is a small moment where Mycroft examines Sherlock closely in the dim light, then he stands up, and the spell is broken.
He gives John one of his 'don't really want to' smiles. "Cup of tea, John?"
They retreat into the kitchen and turn on the lamp, and John busies himself into filling up the kettle to stop himself rattling out all the questions that are in his mind.
"Will he be all right?" he asks finally, because he can't stop himself and that's an important question.
"Quite," says Mycroft, who has attained his umbrella again and is watching it twirl. "He will sleep heavily and then wake up well refreshed. Best to make sure he eats when he does."
"Making Sherlock eat seems to be my only job in life," John says sardonically before he can stop himself, and he quickly glances over his shoulder but Mycroft is smiling again, that genuine smile.
John turns the kettle on and puts his back to the counter. "What was that even about?"
Mycroft stops smiling. "One day, when Sherlock was six," he says, "I was called out from my lessons because he had apparently become unresponsive and they couldn't get hold of our parents. By the time I got to the medical rooms, the nurse was in a state and so was he." He pauses thoughtfully. "Sherlock had always been an intelligent child, but it wasn't until then that I realised he was going to be like me. The nurse said he had just started saying all these things about people, in a great rush, things that he had noticed and put together, facts about their lives…it didn't take a genius to work out what had happened." A sharp, cutting smile. "I remembered how terrible it had felt the first time I realised what I could do. All this flood of information, battering against every sense - you have no idea, it is like a thousand voices in your head at once, all telling you something new every second, and you have no way of stopping them or silencing them or getting away from them at all."
John feels his fingers go numb with horror. "That would drive you insane."
"Yes." Mycroft inclines his head gravely. "If I had not learnt to filter them. I am lucky - I am more in control of my thoughts and where they are going than Sherlock is. He is all fire, I am all ice." And he smiles again. "They say the world will end in one of them, I wonder which one?"(1)
The kettle pops, distracting John from his otherwise grim thoughts, and he turns around to put tea bags in each cup. Mycroft likes his tea black and full of sugar; John remembers this because every time Mycroft visits and has such tea, he and Sherlock have a mini war about how unhealthy this is and how it is not going to help your diet one bit, is it, Mycroft…
"What did you do?" John asks, keen to return to the story.
Mycroft shrugs. "I remembered what helped me the first and later times when it was too much. Darkness and silence were important as first steps - removing anything in the vicinity that can be deduced - and that is a difficult task. So I told the nurse to leave, drew across the curtains and turned off all the lights." John gives him his tea, he takes it with a nod, sips at it. "That helped Sherlock being barraged with any new information, but it was clear that he was still in shock from the overloading of all the previous information. You see, his mind is like a computer, John. If you make the computer work too hard, if you continually feed information into a computer, program after program, filling it up with data, it will just simply freeze, it will shut down. This is what happened with Sherlock - his mind couldn't cope, so it crashed, just like a computer would do. Now what do you do when your computer crashes?"
John shrugs. "You turn it off and on again."
"Precisely. This is what I was doing. I turned it off - hence the darkness and silence, the utter absence of anything to disturb his mind - but then I had to turn it on again. I realised that this would need to be something small, some tiny information that he can cling to and deduce, which would put his mind back in the right tracks. A small light, maybe, or a continuous noise. Then I remembered - and it seemed strange that I had almost forgotten this, but you know what that is like, I'm sure you've done it before - I had forgotten that Sherlock was still a human, not a computer. I wondered if perhaps the best way to get through to him was to give him something human to deduce. So I took his hands. A small but very human gesture." He sips his tea again and smiles. "And it worked."
John drinks his own tea, but he can't really taste it. "Does this happen often?" he asks nervously, because knowing what is going on in Sherlock's mind very rarely makes him feel any better or more assured, and knowing Sherlock is effectively crashing when he goes unresponsive will not make John feel any more confident if it happens again.
"Not often," Mycroft says. "We learnt together how to control the information, feed it through so there is no over-stimulation. It took a while, but we were successful. However, sometimes Sherlock will realise a lot of things very quickly - something important to the case, something strong, powerful enough to send him crashing, and he will simply shut down."
John bites at his lip. "Could I do it? The holding his hand thing - would it work for me?" He thinks about times and places that are not as safe and accessible as Saturday afternoon in their own flat. What if they were in the middle of a busy London street or something?
There is a slight pause at Mycroft's end, and John glances up to see he is staring down into his tea. "This is where it gets peculiar," Mycroft says finally, in an odd voice. "The system of touch only works when it is me doing the touching. It does not fit with the science of the idea - logically, anyone taking Sherlock's hands should work, just as anyone pressing the on button on a computer again should make it work. But this is outside of the logic. I've wondered many things - if it is a kin thing, and his blood calls to mine because we are related. Or - more likely - if it is because I was the first person to bring him back from that abyss and so now his mind only responds to me when he is back inside it."
"Fire and ice," John says suddenly, remembering what Mycroft said before but not really meaning to say it aloud. "Does fire melt ice or does ice quench fire?" Mycroft gives him a sharp look. "You're equals," John explains. "When it comes to your mind, you are the same. Like calls to like, maybe it's that."
"Maybe," Mycroft says, as if he has never really considered the idea before.
There is a small silence.
"Well," Mycroft continues, draining his mug. "I must be off - countries to run, you know."
John drains his own mug, nods. "If this happens again - "
" - One text or call and I will be there," says Mycroft. "It doesn't matter where you are, you know I can find you." It's one of those sentences that should be comforting but in Mycroft's mouth sounds just a little threatening. John manages a weak smile anyway and sees him out, then texts Lestrade telling him what he knows and has another cup of tea.
When it is nearing dawn, Sherlock wakes up and stumbles into the kitchen looking bleary-eyed. John peeks up at him over his book.
"Are you all right?"
Sherlock mumbles an affirmative, turns the kettle on.
"Do you want something to eat?" John persists.
He gets a darkly accusing glare in return. "You've been talking to Mycroft."
John puts the book down. "You froze into a statue, Sherlock, what did you expect me to do?"
Sherlock pulls a cup down from the cupboard. "Great, now he's going to make me do some legwork to repay him." He hurls a teabag into the cup as if it has personally offended him. "Stupid world-controlling brothers…"
John grins and stands up. "Dinner?" he says.
"Chinese," snaps Sherlock. "Lots of it." And he glowers at the kettle as if doing so will make it boil faster.
John goes into the living room to make the call to the Chinese place, and thinks suddenly fire and ice. Fire melts ice, he thinks, and that's what Sherlock does to Mycroft quite regularly - he thinks of the genuine smiles, the softer way Mycroft deals with Sherlock. Ice quenches fire, he adds, and thinks of Mycroft's cool, assured presence, relieving even when he's unnerving, and how he can pull Sherlock back from wherever he goes, from places no one else should be able to go but Sherlock himself. They are connected on some new level, he thinks, more than brothers, a higher, ethereal level. Or maybe he's just over-fantasising them, as people are wont to do.
"John, stop thinking, start dialling," comes the petulant instruction from the kitchen, and John obeys with a grin.
Later, when they've had their Chinese and Sherlock is watching crap telly and cursing the people on it, John sends a sneaky text to Mycroft.
It says, simply, Thank you. - JW
He doesn't get a reply, but then he didn't expect one.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice,
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
- Robert Frost, Fire and Ice -