There was a panelled window separating the little waiting room from the corridor outside, and it was covered by cheap white plastic venetian blinds. One of the blinds had been bent into a little v-shape, and Mycroft found the asymmetry intensely annoying. But he was looking fixedly at them anyhow, because the other option was to look at the doctor who'd just come in to speak with him. And that, Mycroft felt, he couldn't do just now. Or rather, he couldn't do it and suppress unhelpful emotions at the same time.
"How serious is it?" he asked calmly, though he was pursing his lips.
"He'll recover, given time." Dr Wright's name was written on the whiteboard above Sherlock's bed, along with the completely unnecessary Nil by mouth. Silver-haired, red-cheeked, jovial and nearing retirement, he had endless empathy for his patients. Almost endless. But this one had tried him. "We'll need to run further tests once he's more stable, but there's no immediate evidence of any permanent mental or physical damage. All the same, he's lucky to be alive. Good thing he was found…"
He trailed off. Later, Mycroft discovered that by the time the paramedics had arrived, Sherlock had stopped breathing.
Mycroft cleared his throat. "Is he... awake?" He'd meant to say "conscious" or "lucid" or something else a lot more academic than this, but it was too late now.
"In and out of consciousness - he's very confused, and can't really answer questions yet. Cracked his head open when he hit the floor, but that's the least of his troubles. Three stitches. Won't leave a scar, or not much of one."
"I can't imagine it would bother him if it did," was Mycroft's response. "But the... effects of the incident itself..."
"We're getting there, Mr Holmes. It's going to take a few days for it to really flush out of his system. He's still running a high fever, but it's come down slightly since he was admitted, and it looks like we're over the worst of that. He'll stay here until we can get his heart rate down and make sure he's unlikely to have any more seizures, then he'll be moved downstairs."
"Downstairs" was the general cardiac ward. "Here" was Intensive Care.
"And his recovery?"
"He may be released in as little as a few days, but it might take longer; it really depends on his progress. I'm afraid he's not in very good physical condition, and that's before you factor in what's just happened. Very thin. He hasn't been taking care of himself, I think."
Mycroft was looking at the blinds again and ignoring the obvious conclusion to this. Because it was obvious. This was your fault. You should never have let him go off to university on his own like that. Surely you should have realised this would happen...?
"I see it a bit, Mr Holmes," Dr Wright tried to console him. "These kids, thrown into demanding degrees and living away from family for the first time - they either work-and-study themselves into a serious illness, or they run wild with all the glorious substances they can get their hands on. Until something like this happens. Ugly business, but hopefully it'll serve as a wakeup call, and not just the drugs."
No - those blinds really were too annoying. Mycroft excused himself, got up, crossed the room and adjusted them apologetically before returning to his seat. "He… hasn't spoken about it?" he continued.
"No. Not really lucid enough to."
Mycroft swallowed hard. "You don't think… he did this to himself deliberately...?"
Dr Wright shook his head. "Not unless he's prepared to say he did. It's very, very uncommon for people to even try to overdose on cocaine on purpose, even when they're injecting it. Much easier ways of doing away with yourself, if it comes to it. Also, I believe he was in the library at the time. Odd location to choose if you're going to do that deliberately."
Sherlock Holmes: possibly the only man in Britain who thought the men's bathroom in the Radcliffe Science Library was a great place to shoot up cocaine.
Mycroft half-shut his eyes, fingers to his lips as if thinking intensely for a half a minute or so. Dr Wright gave him time, but evidently even Mycroft came up short on what he was trying to work out; he finally shook his head and looked up at him. "I suppose I can go in and see him?" was all he said.
"Yes- I think the both of you could do with it. And I know if he were my brother, I'd be tempted to go in there and strangle him. But keep it brief, and go easy. I think a lecture would be wasted on him just now. He's not the first student who's overdone it a bit, and God knows he won't be the last. Bloody kids."
At first, the only thing clearly recognisable about Sherlock was his dark curls. The rest of him was overwhelmed by the various apparatuses helping to "stabilise" him- ventilator and mask, ECG, three different IVs. Rough, scratchy hospital blanket covering all. Mycroft stopped short just inside the doorway.
Oh, my God! Why is he so thin? He wasn't this thin at Christmas...
But Christmas had been four months ago. In the intervening time, Sherlock had waned drastically - all shadows and angles, and cheekbones like razor blades. There was something chillingly corpse-like about him. Still. Pale. One fragile-looking forearm was lying on top of the rough blanket, and even from the doorway Mycroft could see faint, blueish lines on it.
Until this moment, Mycroft had been hoping against hope that it wasn't true. That Sherlock hadn't had an overdose; he'd had a severe allergic reaction. Or suddenly developed grand mal epilepsy. That he had a brain tumour, even. Anything. Anything at all that would refute the idea that Sherlock had done this to himself.
But while Sherlock may or may not have intended to end up in hospital, even Mycroft couldn't justify an idea that his little brother had taken cocaine anything but completely voluntarily.
This was the genius. The prodigy. This was the great Sherlock Holmes, lying unresponsive in a hospital bed, no better than the... indigents... who slept in railway tunnels and under bridges.
The blue lines on his arms stood out like a glaring accusation.
Mycroft made himself walk across to the near side of the bed and pull up a flimsy plastic chair. He'd imagined that Sherlock was unconscious, so was taken aback when he stirred and opened his eyes. They were glassy and bright with fever.
"Sherlock," he murmured awkwardly. "It's me. I'm sorry; I came as soon as possible. I'm afraid there was a delay in Paris - no, no leave that on…"
But Sherlock pulled the ventilator mask off his face regardless, breathing deeply for a few seconds but otherwise quiet and still and paying no attention at all to Mycroft. Then, in a dull, hollow voice, he asked, "Where are his shoes?"
"What are you talking about?" Mycroft asked him, trying to be patient and gentle - two qualities he did not have in abundance. He'd decided not to fight Sherlock over the ventilator, though, since he seemed capable of breathing without it.
"His shoes," Sherlock repeated, as if he were trying to explain matters to an idiot. "There was no sign of his shoes… go and tell the police that they need to look for his shoes…"
"Yes," Mycroft muttered, hoping he was saying the right thing. "Yes, I will, but only if you calm down and go back to sleep." He was no longer looking at Sherlock - that was only causing him more unhelpful emotions. Instead, he was staring out the far window. Everything out that window seemed to be a washed-out, forlorn grey: the pigeons congregating noisily on the sill, the ugly concrete building across the way, the slate-coloured sky, the glint of the river in the distance.
"Not tired," Sherlock insisted petulantly.
"Yes, you are."
"I'm not…" Sherlock trailed off, leaning heavily against his pillows.
"Why did you do this, Sherlock?" Mycroft murmured, almost to himself. "Why drugs?"
Sherlock put his palm on his forehead in a second's confusion. "The world moves too slow," he finally slurred. "It makes me sad."
Mycroft's face twitched slightly; he glanced out the window again. Sherlock kicked suddenly at his blanket, which slid off the bed onto the floor. Mycroft picked it back up again. "You need to keep this on," he scolded, spreading it out over him again. But Sherlock paid no attention to the blanket; his mind had zoomed off to some other corner of his delirium by now.
"Polygamy's when Dad is married to Jemima," he announced.
"Go to sleep, Sherlock."
"Can I have a story?"
"Yes. Once upon a time there was a silly boy named Sherlock Holmes who went off to University and, instead of keeping to his studies and learning to make something of himself in the world, he decided to squander his family's money and his own on a very expensive and dangerous drug habit."
"What happened to him?"
"His brother sent him to a place where he got help, and he never did something so utterly foolish like that again. The end. Now go to sleep."
Sherlock shut his eyes, at least, and there were no more speeches about Jemima or demands for stories. Several minutes later his breathing deepened and slowed. Mycroft leaned over and put the ventilator back on him, then brushed a stray curl out of his eyes.
I'm so sorry, Sherlock. I had no idea it was like this.
Sherlock was twenty, but taking leave of him at Fallow House Rehabilitation Centre was, for Mycroft, no less painful than leaving him at Evenden Hall Boy's School when he was seven. In many ways he was just as fragile and naïve now as he was then.
Maybe more so.
"Mycroft, for God's sake," he was muttering in low tones as the car stopped on the white gravel drive and they got out. Mycroft had gone to the boot of the car to get Sherlock's suitcase out- a small domestic touch that Sherlock had never seen him do, since there had always been someone else around who was paid to do that sort of thing.
"You want to leave this behind, then?"
"You know what I meant." Sherlock took the suitcase out of Mycroft's hands. "This is rehab, not my first day of prep. You don't have to pack my lunch and wave me goodbye. And don't do this embarrassing mother-hen routine. We aren't parting for years. I'll be home for Christmas. I think."
"You'd better be. I don't think I could afford to send you here for a whole year." This was Mycroft's best effort at a joke, and Sherlock paid it with his best effort at a smile. "Now keep in contact… let me know how things are going for you. And for God's sake, don't make enemies."
Fallow House may have been a private rehabilitation centre, but the eighteenth-century Oxfordshire mansion looked remarkably like a school. And Mycroft couldn't help but suspect that it would, in many ways, be run like one.
"I'll be sure to play nicely with all the other little junkies, Mycroft."
"Sherlock." A glare that had worked wonderfully on Sherlock when he was seven, and which he barely responded to these days. "I'm serious. And I want you to take this seriously."
Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes. "Junkies make very bad enemies," he reminded him acidly. "Fine. I'll keep the absurd price of this venture in mind at all times, and behave accordingly."
Sherlock hadn't been impressed at the idea of interrupting his studies to attend an intensive, residential rehab program; but Mycroft hadn't forced him there. Neither of them directly spoke about the week Sherlock had spent in hospital. Neither had to. It had shaken both of them to the core.
Sherlock had never directly said it, though: I am an addict. I have a problem. I need help.
Well, Mycroft had reflected- that's what therapy was for. Admitting the problem. Finding a solution. Mycroft's world was all about finding solutions.
He opened his mouth to speak- then promptly shut it again. He couldn't bring himself to say what he wanted to say- I don't care about the money. I don't want you to die.
"Rather," he said finally, clearing his throat and glancing down at the umbrella he held in one hand. "Well, I suppose this is goodbye, then. Best of luck." He offered Sherlock his hand, and Sherlock took it. Firm, warm handshake. "I won't accompany you in and embarrass you further. Do call me once you get settled in."
No response from Sherlock except a slight, almost imperceptible nod. He picked up his suitcase again- it was packed light- and Mycroft watched as he made his way up the front steps of Fallow House and disappeared through double-glazed, dark-panelled doors into the main entrance.
Mycroft stood there for a few minutes more, looking at those still, inscrutable doors. Half expecting, half wanting Sherlock to come out again, to ask to come home, to announce he didn't need six months of rehabilitation and that he was fine, just fine.
Sherlock didn't return.
And finally, when he'd accepted this, Mycroft turned and got back into the waiting car.