Mycroft's mobile rings at midnight. The call must be urgent. Only Mycroft's superiors – well, the very few of them who exist - and Sherlock know his number. Neither would phone for a matter less than utmost importance.
Particularly Sherlock. The last time Mycroft's little brother had called, Sherlock had overdosed on heroin. It could have been too late: if the traffic had been busier, if Mycroft had been slower - unlikely but it happens – or if the overdose had been larger than suspected, than the drug-addled Sherlock had estimated…. A dead Sherlock leaves a larger hole in the world than most deaths could hope for. If death could hope.
If Mycroft's superiors are phoning, they will be most likely angry or on-edge. Crisis could be reigning on Britain. But it would still be preferable to Sherlock's voice.
By the time Mycroft pulls his phone from his pocket, he is expecting the worst.
No, Sherlock has John now, a help source other than his hated brother. Sherlock is happier, healthier, better. This is not the same Sherlock that overdosed on a cool December evening a decade ago, alone and friendless.
Mycroft processes the word on his phone screen slower than he ever should: it shouldn't be Sherlock but it is.
Mycroft picks up.
"Sherlock," he says. His voice sounds even sharper when the silence greets him for too long. "Brother mine?"
The silence makes way for soft grunts.
Mycroft recognises the sound. They are the grunts he has heard too many times: Sherlock trying to hide physical pain. A moment later, they are almost cries. The loud, exposing kind that Sherlock detests.
Mycroft nods. He's not sure why. Is he trying to encourage himself? Is this a stoic acceptance that the situation is so bad that not even Sherlock can't mask it? A determination that he is going to help his brother, yet again?
Mycroft knows why Sherlock didn't phone for an ambulance directly. Sherlock must have committed a crime – as he often does whilst trying to solve crime… - so recovery by public ambulance would lead to arrest. Mycroft approves of Sherlock's choice: he certainly isn't in the mood to abuse his power and release Sherlock again. Anyway, Mycroft's methods are quicker than an ambulance.
"How badly are you hurt?"
"Powell... Street," Sherlock says simply, not allowing Mycroft's pointless question an answer: he is hurt badly enough to need help. His voice is soft, weak and papery.
Mycroft presses enter on his laptop, and knows that in under 3 minutes, a car - fully-equipped for any emergency - will be leaving.
"My people are on their way, Sherlock."
It is then that Mycroft requests his own car too. It is then that his heart beat becomes so loud that it drowns out the pounding of his feet on the stairs. It is then that Mycroft runs for the first time in years.
There can only be one reason for a plea that desperate. Only one reason why would have phoned Mycroft instead of John, who is a trained doctor, Sherlock's only friend and more of a brother to Sherlock than Mycroft has or will ever be. And only why reason why he called whilst he could still speak – in the past, he had waited until he could barely utter a word – and plead for Mycroft to "hurry".
"This is for John," says Mycroft. His voice is tight.
Sherlock doesn't honour Mycroft with a reply. Of course it is for John: had Mycroft not worked that out already?
The car pulls up forty six seconds after Mycroft had requested it. There will be words. Later. London lights flash by his window; Mycroft barely looks at driver already knows exactly where they need go – and that it must be fast.
"I'm coming, Sherlock."
There is a strange sound then; it almost sounds like a sob. At that, a scraping sound. Sherlock has dropped the phone: not hung up, dropped. It's all in the pitch.
Mycroft, in a very controlled voice, tells his driver to accelerate.
"The speed limit, sir?"
"That hardly matters." The driver opens his mouth to speak, but Mycroft already knows his objection and interrupts. "The police will not hassle you."
The driver hesitates for only a small moment before accelerating.
When the car finally begins to slow, Mycroft strides out before it completely stops. There are already people around two dark bodies. Both are motionless, one spread-eagled and one stretched like an arrow, its arm being the tip, as if its only purpose was to touch the other. And it had only just failed.
Mycroft grabs the nearest of his employees, so roughly he surprises himself. "How is he?"
"He'll be fine," says Mycroft's employee; he knows which 'he' is asking being asked about. "Mr Watson, though…"
Myroft lowers himself next to Sherlock, vaguely aware of everyone moving around them. There's a sickening feeling of water stinging his eyes. It leads the rebellion before he can stop it. Mycroft's towering defences crumble; he squeezes his eyes shut, but a small droplet is dribbling down his cheek. It falls onto Sherlock's outstretched hand. In the last throws of consciousness, Sherlock eyes the tear dribbling down his finger - and then past it, to John's own hand lying motionless near his. Sherlock curls his little finger around John's. And, as he passes out, he frowns at some small curiosity on John Watson's thumb.
Mycroft had watched all that in sharp clarity, as if time had slowed down just for him. Once Sherlock closes his eyes, everything becomes fuzzy. Gently, Mycroft places a hand on his brother's cheek and feels the tell-tale dampness. He stares at the glistening droplet delicately balanced on the end of one of his brother's fingernail. The night where both brothers cried.
Hands take Sherlock away from Mycroft. A stretcher. A mask. John is left on the ground. Sherlock's finger still curled round John's, but then quickly the link breaks and Sherlock's arm swings from the stretcher as he is rushed away. John's lies on the tarmac. Caring is not an advantage.
Mycroft, in the centre of the crime scene, considers the evidence. There are smudges of blood extending out from the spot where Mycroft found his brother. Eight metres to document Sherlock's crawl to John. For about half the trail, only Sherlock's left hand print is visible. That was when he was on the phone to Mycroft; therefore, his grunts were of physical exertion, as well as pain. Two or so metres from John's body, the right hand print appears and the phone lies near it, which was where Sherlock discarded his phone because he had needed to reach John. Or maybe that was when John had died. That would explain the sob, yes, but not the last two metre stretch of blood, which suggested hope. Surely Sherlock, of all, had not succumb to irrational hope?
Mycroft snatches up the phone. He can smell the blood without sniffing. He drops it in his pocket.
"Will he be okay?" Mycroft asks, to no one in particular though he knows someone will answer. He feels his lips form the words, but the voice is not his own; it is quiet and lost, soft and papery; it is the voice of a hopeless child. It is the voice of Sherlock on the phone.
A person moving John stops. After all, there was no rush. The dead do not care where they lie.
"His chances are good."
They stride off to take John's body away.
Mycroft's house. In a room that is more medically equipped than any public hospital and used when he does not want the police involved. Mainly, it is used by Sherlock.
Right now, Sherlock's back is towards the world. Eyes open but unmoving. Hands knotted, locked. But Mycroft has no doubt that Sherlock's brain has not stopped. The idiot doctors are confused because Sherlock is fully conscious and yet hasn't responded for four long days. Mycroft, however, understands completely.
Mycroft finds his finger to reaching out to touch Sherlock's shoulder. It feels odd to touch his brother for a reason that is not either wholly practical or accidental. Mycroft watches as the silk of Sherlock's dressing gown dips under his fingers. Its heavy creases from being continuously worn over the last four days flatten easily with pressure. Mycroft's fingertips lower until he can feel the heat of Sherlock's skin.
Sherlock isn't even aware of it, Mycroft knows that; he understands that occasionally the hot processes inside one's brain –more specifically, Sherlock's and Mycroft's - take up all the senses.
Mycroft's hand tightens on his brother's shoulder. It is only when he hears Mrs Hudson come up the stairs that he removes it.
The joyfulness of her eyes is smothered by silence as she sees Sherlock unmoving on the bed.
There's a crash as she jumps. Mycroft knows from the sound that it was the smallest of the twelve ceramic figures on the windowsill near the door that fell, landing first on a vase, and then bouncing onto the wooden floor, twice, three times, before smashing. She had mistaken Mycroft's voice for Sherlock's. Mycroft knows what had expected when she came through the door: Sherlock, on his feet, asking angrily where his coat and scarf are so he can stride into London with bright eyes.
Mycroft turns around.
"Mycroft...Sorry..." she says softly, her eyes finally landing on Mycrof and backing away slightly. "I didn't think you'd still be here. I didn't realise how bad Sherlock was. I'll...give you some space. I'll just pick up..." she goes back round the corner to she smashed pottery "...these pieces, and then I'll be gone. I-"
"I invited you here."
She pauses, and goes very still. "But-"
"Sherlock has protected you venomously in the past," Mycroft hears himself saying. "He does not do that for just anyone. You are as entitled to information as myself." She looks at him strangely. "And you are entitled to sitting pointlessly with me by his side too. Feel free."
She takes a seat gingerly and looks at Sherlock, managing a small shake of the head before she collapses into herself, her hands shaking as she reaches for support, anything. She thankfully regains control without Mycroft, slowly wiping the tears off her cheeks.
"I thought...when I heard...that at least I have one of my boys still...but..." She collapses again, awful sobs, dragging in lung-fulls of breath. "Why is he like this? It's been four days! I need him back!"
Mycroft looks back at Sherlock.
"I think that he's working on a case, Mrs Hudson."
Mrs. Hudson looks up, cheap make-up in streaks down her face; she looks tired.
"What do you mean? I've brought him lots of cases," she says.
There is a stack of newspapers on the bedside table with Mrs Hudson's scribbled biro underlining what she thinks are mysteries; she has picked all the wrong ones.
"He's working on a much more important case."
Mrs Hudson dismisses this statement, apparently as a Holmes' eccentricity. She closes her eyes for a long time before opening them.
"And John...I cannot believe..." she says quietly. "What is Sherlock going to do without him?"
This, apparently. Block out the world. Deny the facts. Live in a fantasy.
"He will manage," says Mycroft. "The same as he did for the years before John Watson."
Mrs Hudson looks up at him. "You really think he managed before John?"
Luckily, that was when the Anthea entered, with a steaming plate of food. Mrs. Hudson thanks her softly.
Anthea shrugs, leaving the room in a bored fashion. "I didn't make it."
Mrs. Hudson turns to Mycroft. "Aren't you eating?"
Mycroft sits in his office. The Bulgarian prime minister was being an irritant. When a security buzzer blinks, Mycroft is almost glad for the distraction. He gives Anthea, who is sitting by him, a look. She nods; she knows to stay with Mrs Hudson.
Mycroft strides down the elaborately decorated corridor to his front door, dialling Sherlock's mobile number. His brother picks up after three rings.
"Oh Mycroft, you are getting slow."
Sherlock's voice is excited and mocking; Mycroft can tell he is on a high. Not a drug high. A case high. He got his energy back fast. It will disappear just as quickly.
Mycroft can hear the rush of traffic; Sherlock is outside then. He doesn't bother to ask how Sherlock got through security: it was no doubt using his scarf or something equally ridiculous.
"You picked up your phone," says Mycroft. "So you want something from me. What?"
Mycroft steps out onto the street; he is not going to leave this to one of his men. He looks left and right.
Mycroft wrinkles his nose, delicately kicking a piece of litter away with his shoe.
"Why can't you take a taxi? Ah, don't explain. I know. They won't take you. They'll think you're drunk or high."
Sherlock says nothing, a 'yes' in Holmes language.
"Are you walking Mycroft? Your breath is louder than your voice. I'm surprised you haven't fainted yet-"
"Why go to hospital, Sherlock? You're under perfectly good care here."
"It's not for me Mycroft. Don't be an idiot."
"Sherlock, he's dead."
Sherlock actually laughs; it is deep, guttural and wholly convinced of it superiority. "Brother mine, when did you become so blind? His thumb!"
Mycroft has a sudden image of Sherlock's stretch hand, reaching for John's and grasping it tightly, the sweat on his forehead, his eyes blinking, losing consciousness, but staring intently at John's thumb as if it represented his whole future. And now, Sherlock's gleeful voice down the phone.
In moments of stress, one's body can betray you. It can cry in front of your employees. It can override your control. Rebel and hijack. During panic. Fear. Desperation. But your mind can do so much worse: it can trick you. The extra two metres of dries blood towards John's corpse were for a shred of evidence, any evidence, that his best friend was alive. Sherlock had continued crawling in desperate hope. And he hasn't stopped crawling since. Emotions over logic. John Watson, anomaly. Even after death.
"Brilliant!" continues Sherlock. "He did it so cleverly, when I've been such an idiot. It took me four days to work it out. John is alive. I knew there was something odd about the thumb."
Mycroft increases his pace, but doubting he'll get to Sherlock before his street-wise brother reaches the hospital.
"I need to find John," says Sherlock. "He left me a message! I think he escaped the kidnappers and then got taken to hospital, probably unconscious which is why he hasn't contacted me-"
"Of course he didn't get to hospital! He is dead."
There is a long silence.
Eventually, a sound, a very quiet reply. "He is not dead."
Mycroft is almost running now. "The body was DNA-checked-"
"Oh, Mycroft, learn from your mistakes."
Mycroft's hand tenses around his mobile. "You thought she was dead too."
"I learn from my mistakes."
"So every corpse is fake now? You are jumping to conclusions. You need to stop."
"Stop saving John's life? I don't think so."
The phone goes silent.
It is then that Mycroft sees Sherlock, running with one hand on the stone wall for support twenty metres down the pavement, feet twisting over themselves as he tries to keep balance. Sherlock had somehow found his clothes. He is even wearing his clothes.
In the fifteen minutes since Sherlock left, he is barely a quarter of a mile from Mycroft's house. There was never any threat. Clearly, something has gone severely wrong.
Sherlock swings around, nearly falling over at the same time. Mycroft runs, easily catching Sherlock up and grabs his elbow.
"This," says Mycroft, watching Sherlock's expression carefully and pausing before speaking the next word, too disgusting to skim over his lips, "sentiment. You will stop."
Sherlock pronounces each word like a piece of jagged tin.
Sherlock's kick is sudden, aiming for where Mycroft's knees will buckle hard and he slips out of Mycroft's grip. But Mycroft catches him before he gets out of reach; Mycroft has always been stronger than his brother, but right now Sherlock is weak. Sherlock spins around and meets Mycroft's eyes.
Mycroft does, and raises both arms up in the air.
"You are injured. Your stiches have been torn by your recklessness. You are losing blood." Mycroft nods at a small stain at the bottom of Sherlock's shirt. "If you exert yourself much more, I will have no choice but to call for my ambulance - equipped with a stretcher - to take you back to my house."
Sherlock starts to back away, but Mycroft has grabbed his wrist again before he can get anywhere.
"I will not have you endangering yourself!" His voice is a coiling rope. Sherlock looks strangled by it. "You got shot, Sherlock."
"So what?" Sherlock shrugs. "On the hip. Who needs hips?"
Mycroft grabs Sherlock round the waist as he speaks, dazedly, loosely, not making much sense.
Sherlock strains against Mycroft before his legs give way and he slumps against the wall, a growing circle of blood on his cream shirt. There is a long moment where all Mycroft can hear is Sherlock's breathing. Sherlock stares at his clenched fists.
"You will look at the body," Sherlock says.
"I have looked."
Mycroft takes Sherlock's hand. Sherlock wrenches it away, his face crinkling into an anger as unwavering, stubborn and desperate as a child's.
"LOOK AGAIN! I will not move unless you examine the body, realise it's a fake and then look for John. I suggest he's at the hospital under a false guise, seeking treatment. Oh, and I will make all your paramedics to quit if you send them."
Mycroft doesn't bother to ask how Sherlock intends to so, though he has no doubt he will. If these are Sherlock's conditions for returning to the house, Mycroft will complete them.
They lay him down on the bed, though Sherlock refuses to change into pyjamas, and continuously mutters about thumbs. Mycroft had requested the doctor to re-do Sherlock's stitches, which had come even more undone as Sherlock 'walked' up the stairs. To force Sherlock to be dragged or carried would only make Sherlock more defiant, cause more injury and make future cooperation less likely. Before Sherlock sleeps, he grabs Mycroft's wrist - just as Mycroft had done to him before.
"The...left...thumb... A message...Look... And then...Nearest hospital, probably. But hurry, still could be in danger if not there."
Mycroft returns home from the hospital when it is nearly light. He is tired, straining and not ready for the sight of Mrs Hudson in the kitchen.
"You're still here," he says. "You look awful."
She doesn't look offended. Mycroft supposes she is used to comments like that from his brother.
"I was worried," she says. "Are you alright?"
"He is in hospital."
"But he was right there in the bed-"
"No," Mycroft shakes his head slowly. "Not Sherlock." Mycroft can barely form the words. "John is in hospital."
He pauses, his own anger making him sick. He cannot look at Mrs Hudson.
"Russian thugs," he says. "They timed it so when Sherlock got there, they were to kill John. It was to get to Sherlock, to lure him to them. A plot a little too stupid for Moriarty, but the plot of a mastermind all the same. They were to then kill Sherlock, who they thought would be too distraught to fight them. Sherlock had clearly offended one of them in the past."
Mycroft rubs his right eye, still not meeting Mrs Hudson's gaze, feeling that if he keeps talking, perhaps he will never have to.
"The plot failed. John escaped the kidnapping the day before and was found three streets away by an old man who phoned an ambulance. He was too injured to speak, had no identification but is recovering now in the hospital where Sherlock had….where Sherlock had said he would be. The Russian thugs, determined not to fail, found someone who looked very much like him. You know, cosmetic surgery, the lighting, the angle. They even rewrote the DNA records... Irene Adler all over again. One should learn from their mistakes…John is um recovering now. Chatty, actually."
Finally, Mycroft looks up at Mrs. Hudson who is clutching the table.
Mycroft leaves Mrs. Hudson sitting there without answering. He is too tired to care.
A patch of moonlight rests on Sherlock's face, so when he open his eyes, they are an even sharper blue. When Sherlock speaks, his eyes stare unmoving at the ceiling.
"Which hospital did you find him in?"
There is no relief; not once did Sherlock believe that John was dead; Mycroft feels even sicker.
"As I thought."
Sherlock turns away from Mycroft, as if that is all there is to say.
"Sherlock." There is no reply. "Luck, Sherlock. That's all it was."
"No, Sherlock. You were wrong-"
"We've been through this! John left me a message-"
"John did no such thing"
There is a long pause, and finally Sherlock turns his head, and stares directly at Mycroft. "The left thumb."
"I talked to him, Sherlock. He has no idea what message you're talking about."
"There were three strokes," says Sherlock, sitting up slightly, as much as his stitches allowed. "Code. I came to the rational conclusion."
"No! Sherlock. No! You came to the emotional one. You were simply obsessed enough to find a message that wasn't there. And lucky enough that he was, in fact, alive. Even if John hadn't been found in St. Bart's, even if John was never found... You would still look for him. Convinced despite the evidence. Or curled up in a ball on the sofa for the next year until you made up some more idiotic evidence. An endless cycle, endless denial, all because you cannot accept John Watson is dead."
Mycroft stands up, and starts walking to the door before his face curls into disgust and he turns to Sherlock.
"We wouldn't have just lost John, we would have lost you as well. Caring is a disadvantage, Sherlock. Remember that."
Sherlock is very still as Mycroft shuts the door.
Sherlock visits Mycroft a few weeks later. He and John are exactly the same as before: a blog, petty arguments and countless solved cases. Sherlock feels safe again. He is brought to the study to wait for his brother, who comes in with a tray of tea (not that he had prepared it), frowning. He sits down opposite Sherlock.
Mycroft is the only one who drinks the tea.
Sherlock looks relaxed, as in control as when Mycroft visits Baker Street. "I cannot get the image of you running through the streets of London out of my head."
"Get to the point, Sherlock."
"The night you came to tell me that you had found John in hospital. I was too distracted by your inane shouting to really consider you."
"Splendid," says Mycroft. "Is that all?"
Sherlock stands up; he never sits still for long.
"A combination of your shirt, eyes and forehead told me that you had only eaten a cheese sandwich, not slept at all and had ignored your work completely since you believed John had died. Not a very rational approach, is it?"
Mycroft puts down his mug. "I was stressed about the security risk."
"Oh, so data-safeguarding concerns explain your tear that dripped onto my hand." Sherlock clasps his hands behind his back, looking down at Mycroft with narrow eyes. "Yes, big brother. I remember that."
Sherlock takes his coat and scarf which aredraped over the back of his chair.
"Caring a disadvantage, Mycroft," he says, tightening his scarf. "What would you do if I died?"
Sherlock leaves Mycroft with his tea.