Mycroft's mobile rings at midnight. The call must be urgent. Only Mycroft's superiors (the very few of them who exist) and Sherlock know his number, and neither phone unless it's a matter of the 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), if the overdose had been larger than suspected… 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 (particularly if is midnight; most of them have a dull and strict 11pm-6am schedule), but still it would be preferable to Sherlock's voice.
Mycroft presses the 'ANSWER' button, reminding himself that Sherlock has John now. This is a Sherlock with a help source other than his hated brother - a happier, healthier and better Sherlock. It is not the same Sherlock that overdose on a cool December evening a decade ago, alone and friendless.
Mycroft picks up, saying "hello" with unintended sharpness. He is greeted with silence. "Hello?"
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 increase in volume until they are almost cries. The loud, exposing kind that Sherlock detests.
Mycroft nods. He's not sure why. Self-talk? Stoic acceptance that the situation is so bad that not even Sherlock can't mask it? 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.
"Can you hear me?" Mycroft asks. There is a groan of affirmation. "How badly are you hurt?"
"Powell... Street," Sherlock simply says, not allowing Mycroft's inefficient question an answer. His voice is soft, weak and papery. It doesn't sound like the brother Mycroft knows.
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."
"Hurry," is the reply.
It is then that Mycroft requests his own car too. It is then that his heart beat becomes so loud that it seems to drown out the sound of his feet rushing down the stairs. It is then that Mycroft runs for the first time in years.
As he waits outside his house for the car, he closes his eyes. Hurry. A request for desperate help from Sherlock Holmes?
There's only one reason for that. Only one reason why Sherlock would have phoned Mycroft instead of John (a trained doctor; the only person that Sherlock considers a friend; more of a brother to Sherlock than Mycroft had ever been), why he called whilst he could still speak (in the past, he had waited until he could barely utter a word), why he pleaded for Mycroft to "hurry"…
"This is for John," says Mycroft.
It's because he can't phone John.
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. He gets in. The driver already knows exactly where they need go – and that it must be fast.
London lights flash by his window; Mycroft barely looks at them.
"I'm coming, Sherlock."
"Quicker," replies a strangled voice.
There is a strange sound then; it almost sounds like a sob. At that, another noise tells Mycroft that Sherlock has dropped the phone; not hung up, dropped it. He can tell by 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 small moment before accelerating. Mycroft has a way of coming across as someone who had power of government. He does, after all.
When Mycroft arrives, there are already people around the 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 man, 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. "John though..."
Myroft lowers himself next to Sherlock, vaguely aware of everyone moving. There's a sickening feeling of water, leading the rebellion and crumbling Mycroft's towering defences, until a small leak falls out of the corner of one eye and onto Sherlock's outstretched hand. Sherlock, in the last throws of consciousness, follows the tears progress dribbling down his finger - and then past it, to John's own finger lying motionless. Mycroft's younger brother frowns at some small curiosity. As he passes out, he stares at 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 spreads his hand out in front of him, staring at the glistening droplet delicately balanced on the end of one fingernail. The night where both brothers cried.
Hands took Sherlock away from Mycroft. A stretcher. A mask. John was 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, alone in the centre of the crime scene, considers the evidence because, lost or familiar, that's what Mycroft does.
Smudges of blood extending from where he stood to the spot his brother must have fallen. Eight metres to document Sherlock's crawl to John. For about half the trail, only Sherlock's left hand print is visible. The grunts had been that of physical exertion then as well as of pain, holding a phone with one hand and pulling a weakening body along the ground with the other. Two or so metres from John's body, the right hand print appears and the phone lies near it. That 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?
"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. We reached him quickly. We can't be definite though."
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 wholly practical, or accidental like a slight embarrassing scrape against each other when passing a over cigarette. Mycroft watches as the silk of the dressing gown dips under his fingers; its heavy creases from being continuously worn over the last four days flatten with pressure; his 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. Her mouth slowly closes.
"Mycroft...Sorry..." she says softly, her eyes finally landing on Mycroft, 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 to 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 manages 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 lungfuls 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.
"He's working on a much more important case."
Mrs Holmes dismisses this statement, apparently as a Holmes' eccentricity and not once to be questioned, simply closing 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. 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. Looking 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."
Sherlock says nothing, a 'yes' in Holmes language.
"Are you walking Mycroft? Your breath is louder than your voice. I can barely hear you talk. I'm surprised you haven't fainted yet-"
"Why go to hospital, Sherlock? You're under perfectly good care here."
"Not for me Mycroft. You know that. Don't be an idiot. It's because…He's not dead! The 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. It turns out it did.
And now, Sherlock's gleeful voice down the phone, thinking he's solved a problem Mycroft hasn't. One that means he will get his best friend back. But he has got it all wrong…
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. It can do even worse: it can trick you; make you think something's there when it's not. Sherlock had done what he never does; he had chosen emotions over logic. John Watson, anomaly. Even after death.
It explains the extra two metres of dries blood towards John's corpse. He was desperate. He wanted a shred of evidence that John was alive. And so he had continued his crawl. And he hasn't stopped. Those moments before Sherlock passed out… that frown. He had seen something on John's thumb and taken if for evidence that John was alive. And now he is trying to figure it out.
"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, knowing that he won't 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."
"Yes – and I learn from my mistakes."
"What – so every corpse is fake now? You are jumping to conclusions. You need to stop."
"What? Saving John's life?"
"Sherlock! You have this all wrong-"
"Well, I was hoping for some brotherly support but clearly that's not happening. So I'm going to end this conversation."
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, and was even wearing his scarf
In the fifteen minutes since Sherlock left, he is barely a quarter of a mile from Mycroft's house. There was never any threat. This is a pathetic attempt.
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 need to stop."
"It is not sentiment."
"Come on, Sherlock," Mycroft says quietly.
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. 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.
"Okay, but only because you aren't going to get much further anyway. When you ran, you tore your stitches. You are losing blood." Mycroft nods at a small stain on 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!"
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.
Mycroft takes Sherlock's hand. Sherlock wrenches it away, his face crinkling into anger as unwavering, stubborn and desperate as a child.
"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 cause 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 they were Sherlock's conditions for him returning to the house, Mycroft would 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 had been out all night; he returns home when it is nearly light, 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 does not look at Mrs. Hudson as he talks.
"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."
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 kidnap 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. 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 idioticevidence. 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.
Sherlock is very still.
"We wouldn't have just lost John, we would have lost you as well! Caring is a disadvantage Sherlock. Remember that."
A few weeks later, Sherlock visits Mycroft. 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. Of course, 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."
"I see," says Mycroft. "Splendid. 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 in the four days since you believed John had died-"
Mycroft puts down his mug. "I was stressed at thesecurity risk."
"Oh, so data-safeguarding concerns explains the tear on your cheek!" Sherlock clasps his hands behind his back, looking down at Mycroft with narrow eyes. "Yes, big brother… I remember that."
Sherlock takes his coat which is draped over the back of his chair.
"Caring a disadvantage, Mycroft," Sherlock says, closing the door behind him.
He leaves Mycroft with his tea.