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What Dread Grasp

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It was freezing, next to the Thames; the water clopping against the base of the dock. Sherlock pulled at the ropes – tightened even further with the damp soaking through the fibers. He was forced to stop at the violent pain that awakened in his left arm with his movements and he whined in the back of his throat.

 

The dock lights weren't terribly bright but they were enough to cut through the vanishing dusk – creating flat shapes of the men surrounding him. The tallest one, a man who appeared about Rudy's age, not to mention his charming character, paced back and forth with a mobile to his ear and a cigarette between two fingers. Sniffing a restricted breath, Sherlock bit against his gag and followed the movement until the call, apparently, went through.

 

“Mr. Holmes; you may come collect your brother, now. We thank you for your cooperation.”

 

The mobile slid back into the elderly man’s coat. The cigarette he indulged until it reached the filter – the stub he flicked into the water.

 

Sherlock, as much as his skating attention were capable, kept his eyes on the older man. Between the beatings and the drugs forced into his system, his focus was, at best, bleary. Tremors shook through his limbs where he'd been forced to kneel. Four days of repeated methamphetamine injections had left him over-stimulated, wildly manic, and, frankly, out of his head. He had little memory of what he’d said, shouted, at his captors but one of his blistering observations had led to that morning’s assault on his person.

 

The old man stepped in front of him – leaning a bit too close and puffing the stench of nicotine and denture gum into his face. “I would like to apologize, once more, Mr. Holmes. I respect the work that you provide. However, business is business and your brother has cost us considerably with his involvement in those certain… transactions… which you’d so enthusiastically detailed this morning.” Leaning back again, he dug another cigarette from its pack and lit it – taking a long inhale before letting his hand drop to his side. “As it is, we cannot allow his meddling to go unchallenged. He needs to understand the full weight of what he has brought upon himself.” Stepping back, he nodded to the two muscle-bound lackeys on either side of where Sherlock still knelt. “I suggest you don’t attempt to hold your breath. You’ll only suffer longer if you fight it. Farewell, Sherlock Holmes.”

 

Steel gripped hands grasped his biceps and dragged him backwards. Sherlock howled in pain as the fingers curled into his damaged limb. Panic was a knot at the base of his skull and he dug his bare heels into the wood below – splinters sliding into his flesh but doing nothing to impede his progress. Then, with a coordinated heave, the two men threw him from the dock.

 

The wild shout was muffled behind his gag – cut off as he struck the water and immediately sank. As the murky waves of the Thames whirled over his head he could swear he heard gunfire...

 

He knew better than to thrash; it would only spend the last traces of oxygen in his blood. Knew better in theory, yes, but in practical application his body chose to ignore sound advice and thrashed anyhow. Though his legs were free, the hands bound so firmly at his back impeded any attempt towards the surface. The heavy rag in his teeth; already saturated with spit and blood now soaked in the Thames and he had no choice but to taste the filth of the river on his tongue; knowing only seconds remained before reflex would pull fetid water into his lungs. Just another casualty to a river that had carried hundreds to their deaths.

 

He didn't know if the closing dark was consciousness slipping or his body drifting deeper. The water was so cold that everything had gone quite numb. All but for his lungs – convulsing under the desperate craving for oxygen. He didn't want to die but if this was his last moment of life, he supposed water was preferable to the spill of blood. And then he wondered why it mattered. And then he didn't wonder anything as his body finally forced the issue – lungs heaving and pulling him down into the dark.

 

 

 

§

 

 

 

 

Nearly a week missing; John could kick his own arse for letting it go for almost a full day before allowing the whispered concern to grow loud enough to make that first call. He should have gone with him, dammit! But Rosie had still been recovering from chicken pox and John hadn't wanted to leave her with anyone for a case that Sherlock had insisted was “a three at best; if I wasn't so bored I'd hand it over to Lestrade, God knows he could use the challenge...”

 

No point ringing the idiot, Sherlock would more likely cut off his own thumb than be bothered to answer his bloody mobile. However, after an hour of texting, John had resorted to just that – no surprise when he didn't pick up.

 

At 8pm he'd called Lestrade – who hadn't seen a sign of Sherlock all day and had presumed he'd skived off the case for being uninteresting.

 

Two minutes later John had been on the phone with Mycroft. He couldn't stop himself from remembering a dank cellar and what they'd found... He'd swore to Christ nothing like this would ever happen again yet here they fucking were and...

 

What followed had been two full days of diligent investigation and ruthlessly swallowed panic. On one side had been Lestrade and the Met. On the other side had been Mycroft and the weight of the British Government. Stuck in the middle had been John – 24 hours gone with only an hour of sleep caught leaning on his arm while scanning a block of CCTV footage taken outside Barts where Sherlock had last been spotted the day he'd disappeared.

 

Just past the 36 hour mark, they'd received the first message.

 

While John, Mycroft, and Greg had crowded around John's laptop, Anthea had been busy somewhere behind them rapidly tapping on her mobile.

 

The message had been sent to John's blog. The sender was anonymous and, given the savage mumbling from Anthea, it was clear they'd blocked their IP somehow. The message itself was addressed to Mycroft – which, that alone had raised red flags. Few enough who knew Sherlock even had a brother. Of those who did, there were vanishingly fewer who would dare go up against the British Government.

 

For all the cloak and dagger the message had been somewhat banal: “We have your brother and you'll never find us, etc, etc.” The attached video, however...

 

John found his hands clenched so tightly, around the back of the chair Mycroft occupied, he nearly dug grooves into the wood. Alongside him Lestrade swore – softly and at length. Mycroft... Mycroft went very still.

 

On the tiny screen, a hooded man was beating Sherlock with rounders bat. Sherlock was hung from his wrists by a short chain attached to a beam overhead. His face was already heavily bruised by a previous assault and one arm looked... wrong. Likely broken. It was his eyes, though, that took John's focus. Wild and skating; rimmed red... it was a look that was all too familiar.

 

“He's high.”

 

Mycroft made a soft sound. “Though unlikely by choice.”

 

Behind them Anthea suddenly gave a victorious crow. “Got you...” she hissed. John turned while Mycroft replayed the three minutes of recording – leaning closer to the screen.

 

Anthea was still tapping as John approached and she spoke without looking up. “I've narrowed the IP address to a decommissioned power station just outside of Chelsea.”

 

John hadn't heard Mycroft stand but suddenly the man was at his shoulder. “The car is ready. Detective Inspector, I presume you will be coming along?”

 

Greg was already shoving his hands through the arms of his coat. “Oh, you're damn right I am. Just need to make a call.”

 

Mycroft closed the laptop and tucked it beneath his arm. “I suggest you do so on the way.”

 

The drive was fraught. John sat in silence, arms wrapped tight across his chest while Anthea tapped at her phone and Mycroft spoke into his with every marker of the Iceman fully in place. Lestrade followed in his own vehicle; presumably in a similar state to John.

 

Darkness had well settled in when they arrived a scant 8 minutes later – the power station giving every indication that it was anything but – the only illumination coming from the torches each of them carried. Anthea, Mycroft, and his security detail made for the interior. John and Greg, with the promise of more bobbies on the way, skirted around back where the Thames was lit in the greenish cast of dull sodiums.

 

They had only just cleared the building when they both reacted to a nearby scuffle – the diminished sound of voice and then, quite clearly, a heavy splash.

 

John was racing towards the sound before he'd even identified the throbbing emotion of terror beneath his chest.

 

There were four figures on a quay about fifty feet on from a rail bridge spanning the river. Enough light for John to see one man reach for something in his coat. More than enough light for John to retrieve his weapon from his back pocket and halt long enough to fire – all on instinct. The body dropped to the wood planking and the other two figures scattered while John raced through the center of them and beyond – offering no hesitation as he peeled his coat and leapt feet first into the waves.

 

 

 

 

§

 

 

 

 

His mobile rang just as they entered the structure; Mycroft continuing towards the staircase even as he lifted the phone from his jacket and answered.

 

“Yes?”

 

And then he stopped at the nasal Welsh accent he'd heard once before.

 

Mr. Holmes; you may come collect your brother, now. We thank you for your cooperation.”

 

There was a beep, followed by a text alert. There was an empty text field and a single attachment. It was a picture of Sherlock: battered and gagged with a span of dark water at his back.

 

Mycroft was reading the timestamp, holding the screen close to his face, when they heard the gunfire.

 

 

 

 

§

 

 

 

 

The cold tore through John like ice daggers. Teeth clenched around the impulse to gasp he was immediately struck by the inky black – so dark not even his hands were visible and the horror of that realization was followed on the heels of utter desperation.

 

Hands sweeping wide he kicked into the current that, as the only boon they'd been granted, was somewhat placid in that spot. Shoes dragging him a bit but no time to remove them he muscled forward – ignoring the burn building in his chest until the black was no longer just the water but likely edging into his vision from hypoxia.

 

He gasped on the surface and found he'd drifted roughly 30 feet downstream from the dock. Mycroft and Anthea were racing down the embankment while, up near the station, Greg and Mycroft's security team had stopped the fleeing kidnappers.

 

“He's in the water!” No time nor need to clarify more and Mycroft was already shedding his jacket as John dove for a second time. A high metallic clink registered in his ears. Flotsam and underwater plants impeded his sweeping fingers – feeling so much like cloth or even flesh and too many times that hopeful rise was dashed with mounting terror. He kicked himself forcefully into deeper water – swallowing as his lungs shuddered.

 

He nearly sobbed as he crested once more – drawing in shattered breaths and preparing for a third dive when shouting finally pulled his attention back towards the dock.

 

John!”

 

He whirled about and scrubbed the water from his eyes. Mycroft was struggling through the water back towards the shore and pulling something dark in his wake. John made no hesitation and dug at handfuls of water on his way back to the group.

 

Angling towards the shore, as well, John felt his limbs shaking from cold and muscle fatigue and he was forced to lean over his knees at the threatening wave of tunnel vision. Nausea loomed close and he took several gulping breaths until he could get himself under control once more. Then, sparing not another second, he dashed towards the small group that had huddled on the stony embankment. Flashing lights near the power station announced the arrival of backup far later than needed. John, however, had narrowed his attention to the single figure curled up like a sleeping child. A bloody gag lie on the ground near Sherlock's head and Mycroft was rapidly sawing through the rope twisted around his brother's arms. Unsnapping his own knife from the sheath on his belt, John grasped the bindings on Sherlock's wrists – pulled so tight that his fingers had gone purple. In moments that felt like days they finally sliced through the last of the heavy cord – flinging it away and carefully pulling Sherlock's arms to his sides.

 

“On his back, quickly!” Together the rolled the detective; John leaning over Sherlock's mouth. Difficult to be certain so he next laid a hand on the sodden chest. He shook his head. “No respiration.” His fingers curled around a slack wrist. He mentally counted the seconds down. “No pulse. Can you do CPR?” Were Mycroft less visibly panicked he may have mustered constricted offense. As it was he only nodded.

 

Without further assurance, John pinched Sherlock's nose and gave two quick breaths. Turning his face sideways, he counted out as Mycroft expertly placed his hands and gave thirty compressions. And thus they began a cycle; John breathing and Mycroft compressing until the black he'd fought off began to close in around John's vision and they traded positions. Mud caked their clothes. More light brightened their grim surroundings as a number of officers, including Lestrade, gathered close. John paid none of it any mind. At one point, while he was waiting through Mycroft's compressions, he heard a muffled snap of bone giving way. Mycroft immediately stopped, his face agonized. John pulled him back by his sleeve. “It happens. Keep going.” By the time paramedics were finally on scene, Sherlock fractured two more ribs under their efforts.

 

But it was worth it.

 

Thirty seconds before the ambulance arrived, John felt the thready return of a pulse. Still no voluntary breaths but by this point a paramedic had skidded her way down the slope and placed the mask of an ambu bag over Sherlock's nose and mouth – manually providing oxygen while two more medics gently shifted the detective to a scoop before lifting him and rushing him to the ambulance.

 

Without hesitation, John climbed in after – glancing out at Mycroft while the medical team resumed working on Sherlock.

 

“There's room if...”

 

Mycroft swallowed; seemingly, and uncharacteristically, indecisive.

 

“I... perhaps it would be better if...”

 

John slid several inches to the right. “Come on. He'll need someone to snarl at once he wakes up and I'd rather that not be me.” He smiled, though, and after a long moment Mycroft nodded – pulling his long frame inside.

 

Out of the way, as much as could be managed in the tight space in the back of the ambulance, John closely watched as Sherlock was worked on while next to him Mycroft sat, unusually inactive. Unaccustomed to providing reassurance to the elder brother, John approached it much in the same way he handled a fractious Sherlock. By providing context.

 

“His blood oxygen levels are looking better. They were at 88 when he was first hooked up but now they've moved up to 93. Still a bit low but we're heading the right way, now.”

 

A moment later Greg leaned in through the open back doors – glancing between the men inside. “So how is he, then?”

 

Of course, Sherlock being Sherlock, seconds after the question was asked the detective heaved in a violent fit of coughing and was rolled on his side just in time to vomit about half the Thames on the floor of the ambulance. Greg backed up rapidly, though he was well out of the line of fire. John just managed to avoid most of the spatter whereas Mycroft was less lucky – his shoes and the lower half of his trousers taking the brunt of his little brother's upheaval. As it was, he didn't so much as glance towards the ruin of his clothing – instead taking a step towards the trolley with one hand briefly out held before pulling back.

 

One of the nurses leaned over Sherlock once his gagging subsided. “Sir, can you tell me your name?”

 

What issued for a reply was a watery gasp and another round of rough coughs. Apparently deciding the cognitive testing could wait, the same medic turned towards the cab. “Okay we need to roll.” Meanwhile the other medic reached out to pull shut the back doors – Greg hovering just long enough to comment. “I'll meet you at... where you headed?”

 

“King's,” offered the medic before closing the doors on Greg's sharp wave.

 

Dropping back down, Mycroft made a weak gesture to where Sherlock was now gasping into an oxygen mask. “Will he...?”

 

Sitting down alongside the older man, John nodded. “He should be fine, I think. I would expect they'll keep him a few days – watch his oxygen levels and keep an eye on his bpi. Because he had to be resuscitated he'll be at risk for several conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome. They'll attach him to an ECG as well as test his serum electrolyte levels. He'll likely have a grand strop about it all.”

 

If he'd been hoping to waylay further concern it was a failed effort.

 

Mycroft was well versed in everything said as well as everything left out of a conversation managed to impart the weight of his query in his steady tones. “You said conditions – plural. What are you leaving out, Doctor?”

 

The use of his title, alone, was enough for John to nearly fidget where he sat. When he wanted to, Mycroft could make any interaction feel as though one had been asked to explain to the Queen herself what they'd been doing with the dirty mag while in the loo.

 

“There is also the chance... there's a small risk of...” he breathed out through puffed cheeks, “brain injury.”

 

Mycroft flinched, though it was barely perceptible even if one were looking. “I see.”

 

After that they spoke no more for the remainder of the drive.

 

Anthea was waiting when they arrived at King's and Sherlock was carted out and into the trauma unit.

 

Mycroft paused to speak with his assistant while John jogged inside after the trolley carrying his best friend. Spotting one of the doctors assigned to the unit, Henrik James whom John had a passing acquaintance, he was finally able to hand over the details of Sherlock's injuries beyond the drowning itself.

 

“He has several fractured ribs acquired during resuscitation as well as what appears to be a comminuted fracture to the humerus in his left arm. He has numerous contusions and abrasions sustained after several beatings and I wouldn't be surprised if there are other fractures present. He may also have experienced blunt force trauma to the abdomen; I haven't had a chance to fully check him over...”

 

Henrik briefly clasped John's elbow in a light squeeze. “We'll look after him. Would you like to stay and observe, or...?”

 

What started out as a nod swiftly became a near swoon as John suddenly felt the press of exhaustion bleed through his muscles and he nearly wobbled into the wall. Alarmed, Henrik grasped his upper arms and helped guide him to one of the nearby stools.

 

“Alright you sit right there. I'm going to have someone fetch you some juice. I'll let you know when we're ready to move your friend to surgery.”

 

John could only manage a long blink – understanding that there was some passage of time when his next blink brought one of the ER nurses into focus as she held out a carton of orange juice as well as a a few biscuits. Gratefully sipping at the juice, John soon felt some of the disorientation fade back. He had just begun picking at one of the biscuits when Mycroft rounded the corner. Standing with only a slight stumble, John intercepted the taller man.

 

“He's being prepped for surgery. His doctor will be out in a minute to talk to us. At the moment all we can do is wait.”

 

Mycroft nodded. “Thank you, John.”

 

It was only then, the two of them standing alongside one another in an awkward sort of silence, that John truly took in the other man. Mycroft looked... wreaked; though John was certain he didn't look a good deal better. Neither one of them had had time for a change of clothes and John, at least, was squirming in discomfort. He could only imagine how Mycroft felt in the tatters of his bespoke suit. At his study, however, the other man pulled himself a bit straighter.

 

“A change of clothes will arrive shortly. I took the liberty of having some of your garments collected from the flat. I trust this is acceptable to you?” Asked in that way that assumed any answer other than “of course” would be utterly ludicrous.

 

And anyhow it wasn't as though John would have preferred roaming the hallways in his damp underwear. He gave a short nod – too tired for anything else.

 

True to his word, Mycroft's requested clothing arrived within the next few minutes and he and John made use of a couple of empty rooms to freshen up. While he longed to make use of the staff showers, John made due with a quick splash of warm water from the tap in the gents before heading back out. He found Mycroft standing in the cubicle along with a very drowsy Sherlock who had since been changed into a hospital robe and attached to various leads. Henrik was also there and it was evident he'd been waiting for John to arrive.

 

He wasted no time.

 

“You were correct in your evaluation of the fracture to his humerus. There is also a dislocation of the left shoulder which, considering the previous trauma to that joint, will need more thorough examination of the labrum before we can risk moving it back into place. Three ribs show partial fractures; the forth and fifth ribs on the left as well as the third rib on the right. However what concerns me most is the blow to the head. Whether sustained during his assault or from striking something after falling in the water it's uncertain but there are some signs of intracranial hemorrhage. I'll be better able to evaluate the proper treatment once we get some scans.”

 

“Will he...” Mycroft's fingers flexed and clenched at his sides in an anxious gesture that was very like his brother. However he rapidly gained control of the movement and clasped both hands at his waist. “Will Sherlock suffer any lasting effects from his injuries?”

 

Henrik rested his hand on the rail of Sherlock's bed – the woozy patient rolling his head to squint at the appendage.

 

“I wish I could provide an easy answer but it's too early to tell, at the moment. We need to see what we're dealing with, first, and then get Sherlock into theater. I can promise you we'll provide updates as soon as we have some concrete news.”

 

“M'fine.” Sherlock suddenly offered in a blurred mutter. John moved to his side immediately – unable to help the impulse to a quick pupil check. Both eyes were dilated though one was noticeably larger than the other.

 

“Yeah, far from 'fine' I'm afraid.”

 

Soon after this Sherlock was bundled off, first to Imaging, and then into surgery – John following in his wake.

 

Meanwhile Mycroft, uncharacteristically, was forced to remain behind and wait.

 

John offered the man a single, sympathetic look, as they were headed out. Face once more impassive and cool, Mycroft looked back; he mouth a firm line. And then the door closed and he vanished from sight.

Chapter Text

 

The surgery had been 4 hours on when John had taken a break and walked back to the private waiting room to find Anthea curled on the short couch. Of Mycroft there was no sign.

 

“He needed to step out for a bit. There were a few things requiring his oversight.”

 

John wondered if that oversight involved Sherlock's surviving kidnappers but chose not to ask. Anthea, of course, being nearly as observant at her boss, offered a tiny smirk. “I don't expect it should take terribly long.”

 

Groaning as he sank down in one of the many chairs scattered about the space, John rubbed his shoulder while doing his best not to completely drift off. It was going on 2am which meant he'd been awake for the better part of... fucking more hours than he really wanted to consider, frankly. He was surprised he wasn't hallucinating tiny blue pixies by this point.

 

“I slept more than both you and Mycroft. Why not have a kip for a few hours? I promise to wake you if there's any news.”

 

John shook his head while shuddering through another jaw cracking yawn. “I... Christ, I can't even think straight.” He blinked - noting the black spots in his peripheral. Abruptly reevaluating his position he stood – staggering to one of the recliners and sitting, well, falling when his knees gave out.

 

“You'll promise to wake me?” he slurred – only just catching Anthea's nod as his eyelids forced their way down.

 

And then he knew nothing.

 

 

 

§

 

 

 

 

She'd received the call an hour and a half after John had passed out like the dead and proved still morbidly unconscious to the point Anthea had been highly reluctant to disturb him. She knew she'd likely catch hell, once he woke and saw her note, but she just couldn't bring herself to wake him.

 

Sherlock was still in the early stages of throwing off the anesthesia so Anthea settled into the closest soft chair and, after a short call to Mycroft, resumed scrolling on her mobile while she waited.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Sherlock had begun pulling at his blanket and Anthea sat up – knowing this next part was likely to be unpleasant for everyone. She wasn't wrong.

 

It was only a matter of seconds before Sherlock woke enough to likely feel what was down his throat and he began to paw at his face – his movements quickly becoming frantic.

 

“It's okay, darling, it's just a vent to help you breathe properly. You just need to allow it to work.” His hand continued to fumble at the straps that held the tubing in place and Anthea grasped at his wrists only for Sherlock to suddenly wail – throwing her off with enough violence that, were he less weakened, could have been painful.

 

Anthea felt immediately chastened for her unthinking act and was just short of alerting the nursing staff to provide a sedative when the door pushed open and John entered; still a bit frayed from heavy sleep. After casting her a reproachful look, for which she raised her eyebrow unapologetically, he moved to Sherlock's side.

 

His voice cast low, John sank down in Anthea's abandoned chair and began to calmly soothe his friend. Though Anthea couldn't quite hear what he was saying it was obviously having an effect as Sherlock slowly began to relax – eyes tightly shut as he shuddered and gripped at John's wrist.

 

Deciding a coffee run was the better part of valor, Anthea left the two friends and retreated to the cafeteria. As she was easing the door shut at her back, she gave the two of them one last look. Sherlock was propped on his pillows; still with one hand wrapped around John's wrist, but now nodding at something John had said. Content that everything was well in hand, Anthea continued on to the cafeteria. With any luck she could score a pastry to go along with her caffeine. Surely, by this point, she'd earned it.

 

 

 

§

 

 

 

 

It was two days before Doctor James saw fit to have the tube removed from Sherlock's throat – leading to a long bout of rasping coughs and general unpleasantness directed at anyone within hearing range.

 

Scarcely had the tube come out before Sherlock was demanding release in whatever form was most expedient including an MI6 extraction team. Knowing it was in Sherlock's best interests to be removed from the hospital setting as soon as he was reasonably mobile (ie: with suitable pain medication onboard) John and Mycroft had insisted upon two criteria before Sherlock could so much as place a toe to the floor. First, he was to remain at Baker Street until the lingering threat of pneumonia was past and his shoulder and ribs had healed to the satisfaction of Doctor James. Second, should he be unable to behave, he would immediately be transferred to Mycroft's home and placed in the care of hired nursing staff who would be present 24/7 to act as medical aid as well as (so Mycroft had termed it) extremely well compensated child minders. It went without saying the extra staff would also be operatives of one sort or another. Though the contingencies were scarcely palatable Sherlock did, of course, agree to them. The alternative, no doubt, being far worse in his mind.

 

The long black car was awaiting them as a scowling Sherlock was wheeled out under protest. Within fifteen minutes it had delivered the three men to Baker Street. It was actually Mycroft who eased an arm around his brother's shoulders to help him inside and up the long flight of stairs while John was relegated to concierge duties – carting Sherlock's medications and bag.

 

Though he'd complained, vehemently, about the amount of time spent abed, it wasn't long before Sherlock was blinking rapidly and yawning. Since Mycroft had made his escape, minutes earlier, it fell on John to deal with any strop his flatmate could generate – though it didn't appear it would be up to his usual standards given the way he was wilting.

 

“Come on, then; up you get.”

 

Proof enough of his persistent fatigue that Sherlock didn't even bother with a token winge as John escorted his friend to his room and into bed. A quick return to the kitchen, John filled a glass with water and collected a few paracetamol from his kit; re-entering the bedroom where he held out both to his friend. Sighing, Sherlock took the pills and water – managing to drink nearly all of the glass before setting it on his bedside table.

 

Even after Sherlock had subsided onto his pillow, however, and gone so far as to close his eyes, John lingered. Leaning down he rested the back of his hand against Sherlock's forehead – unsurprised when the detective shook him off with a huff.

 

“I'm fine.”

 

Mouth turned down, John straightened again. “Bit of a fever. Voice is still croaky. How's the stomach?”

 

Sherlock didn't answer but his scowl was enough of a tell. John rubbed the back of his neck. “Should'ave asked before offering medication.” he muttered. “Right – think you can manage something? Soup, or...?” At Sherlock's rough swallow John tilted his head. “Maybe some biscuits?”

 

Sherlock's eyelids fluttered before he breathed out through his nose. “Toast. Dry.”

 

Turning, once more, to the kitchen, John rubbed his eyes and dug out the makings of a paltry lunch – not having the energy for anything beyond the basics. He prepared two slices of toast while heating a tin of soup on the range. He also fetched a bottle of apple juice from the fridge before taking the meager meal back to Sherlock's bedside. Staying just long enough to see his friend pick away at his food, John made his way back into the kitchen and to the soup that was just beginning to bubble. He stood before the range; stirring now and then until the food was just hot enough. Then, pouring it into a mug he sat at the table and ate in between heavy yawning.

 

Ten minutes later, John had deposited both his and Sherlock's dishes in the sink – binning more than half of Sherlock's toast. At least he'd managed most of the juice. At least his color was slightly better so, leaving his friend to sleep, John staggered up the flight of stairs to his own room.

 

Bed had never sounded more rapturous.

 

 

 

 

There was no sound when next his eyes opened. His room was a black cave – shades drawn and not even ambient light from the hallway. Something, though... he wasn't alone.

 

Before he could jackknife from the bed, however, John finally blinked enough of the sleep stick from his eyes to make out the familiar shape hovering in the dimness just beyond the foot of his bed. And in an out-breath of ill spent adrenaline he dropped back onto the covers.

 

“Christ, Sherlock...” He rubbed at his crusty lashes – letting his heart pound itself down to more steady beats before pushing back up to a slouching vertical. “Did you... are you okay?” He reached across his rumpled pillow to flick on the bedside lamp. They both squinted in the sudden bath of light.

 

The one hand not tucked in a sling was crumpling the hem of his old grey tee. Sherlock pressed his lips tight – refusing to meet John's gaze.

 

“I was... I couldn't sleep.”

 

Which, as John had long ago come to understand, meant either bad dreams or cravings. Shaking off the last of his weariness, John stood and deliberately took a step away. “Here, sit. Let me go fetch you... something. Can I get you anything?”

 

Sherlock, however, made no move towards the bed but continued to remain in place – his one hand working ceaselessly at his hem. Rolling his bottom lip between his teeth, John finally sat back on the edge of the bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Those pale eyes still wouldn't look his way as Sherlock shook his head – blinking. Rapidly running out of options, John cast about for anything to calm the anxiety filling up the room like a cloud of electricity. Finally, without giving it much thought, he grabbed the paperback he'd been on again off again reading for the past week. Some sort of true crime novel – picked up in an airport gift shop the last time he'd flown to a medical conference. No clue if it would help and, admittedly, feeling a bit foolish, John flipped back to the first page, cleared his throat and, with a last glance at Sherlock's still figure, softly began to read.

 

“In the history of all things, good stories one day become old stories...” He didn't look up again as he made his way through the first chapter. Sherlock didn't interrupt; not with a groan, or snide comment, or even a bored yawn. As for John, he could feel his own, brief, moment of wakefulness beginning to wane – pages turning beneath his fingertips as the story build itself in his gentle narrative. More and more he found himself forced to pause and shudder through a heavy yawn.

 

After his third, eye watering exhale, John took a pause to rub at his face and subtly evaluate his friend only... Somehow, without John noticing (no surprise, really) Sherlock had eased himself down on the foot of the bed – subsiding onto the mattress where he'd fallen asleep curled up like a gangly shrimp. Better still, his face had lost most of that anxious pinched appearance and true rest seemed to have claimed him. Shaking his head, John folded the book closed and placed it back on the table.

 

Well this was going to make for some interesting chatter when Mrs. Hudson brought up their morning tea. He grinned; though managed not to laugh as surely that would have awoken his friend.

 

Leaving the bedside lamp on, and grateful to finally return to his own interrupted rest, John flipped the duvet over Sherlock's curled form before rolling to his side and closing his eyes.

 

With exhaustion calling, it was only minutes before sleep pulled him under, where he dreamed of London streets and running in the dark and pavement wet with rain.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since Sherlock's return to Baker Street after, what was in Mycroft's opinion, far too short a time in hospital. Preferring to leave his brother to his recuperation rather than impose himself too soon, Mycroft had winnowed recovery details from John on the occasions where they two of them could speak freely. Sherlock had a terrible habit of eavesdropping, after all.

 

Eventually, however, the need for a personal visit became paramount.

 

It began thusly...

 

John had been kept at the clinic due to a staff member ringing in sick at the last minute. From Sherlock's commentary this was apparently an ongoing issue with this particular clinician. Molly Hooper was also unavailable due to the conflict of scheduling. As a final breakdown of support staff Mrs. Hudson had flatly refused to be the sole caretaker of a toddler, in a strop over her missing parent, as well as a housebound Sherlock who lacked even a cigarette to stave off imminent brain melting.

 

And so it had fallen upon big brother; that dread duty.

 

Sherlock had, indeed, been melting in his chair when Mycroft arrived at the flat – not bothering with more than a rap of his umbrella handle on the door before entering. Not even a lackluster greeting beyond a hopeless groan as Sherlock allowed gravity to tug at his fingertips.

 

“It's only been four hours, Sherlock. You've survived worse-” and his mouth snapped shut – fingers twitching on the curved handle in his grasp while Sherlock went, suddenly, very still. His gaff insurmountable with speech, Mycroft then turned and hooked his umbrella on the back of a kitchen chair. Depositing a large parcel on the counter, Mycroft proceeded to the cupboards to fetch down supplies for tea. That damnable need to push. He was not crafted for a softer approach. It was not his way, as his mother had told him when still a young man. He and Mummy had never been terribly close. Her perception of him, however, had always been quite acute.

 

Strange, that. He'd once considered his dispassion an enviable state and one to be nurtured. After Sherrinford, however...

 

Mycroft was many minutes in to his tea preparations when there came a slight shift from the sitting room. A surreptitious glance beneath his lashes caught the movement of Sherlock sitting up just enough to scowl. Of course his brother noticed his observation.

 

“Piss off. If I'm to die of boredom I'd rather do so alone than have you here to oversee my demise.”

 

Sighing, Mycroft arranged a selection of biscuits on a plate. His mouth had scarcely opened before Sherlock interrupted with a seething bristle, “If you say it's for my own good, I swear to you, I shall impale your middle with a fireplace poker.”

 

“God forbid I offer such sage council.” Tea bags well soaked, Mycroft placed the kettled on a platter along with the other accouterments and carried the works back into the other room – placing his burden on the round side table. Pouring them each a quantity of rich black tea, he offered Sherlock one, and then settled with his steaming cup in John's homey chair.

 

Allowing his cup to sit alongside him on the wide chair arm, untouched, Sherlock held his gaze on the softly crackling fireplace while Mycroft sipped his tea and debated over the merits of the biscuits which, to be brutally honest, he would not feed to a stray dog.

 

“By all means, gorge yourself. It's been at least an hour since breakfast – no doubt you're fainting from hunger.”

 

Were Sherlock less frail Mycroft may have indulged in parrying this initial attack. As it was the affront didn't so much as scratch the skin, as it were, much less draw blood. Ignoring it, just as he ignored the pitiful dish of stale biscuits, Mycroft rested his cup on the small table and crossed one leg over the other.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

Narrowed eyes flicked his way. “Apart from broken bones, bruised flesh, and the possibility of surgery looming in the foreseeable future? Couldn't be better. In fact you could slink back to whatever clandestine meeting you were forced to abandon as I believe I can manage eating and sleeping without the need of a caretaker.” Sherlock tilted up his head; noticeably inhaling. “The Lady Smallwood?”

 

Mycroft allowed the smallest sigh; his eyes closing briefly in a flutter of lashes. “Yes.”

 

Smirking, then, Sherlock sank down a bit more while his free hand rubbed absently across the sling supporting his broken arm and damaged shoulder. Never shy to poke the bear regarding the woman's intentions towards his brother, Sherlock got no further than opening his mouth before he gasped – hunching as his arm moved to cradle his midsection.

 

Mycroft tightened his mouth but was soon on his feet and making for the kitchen. Tugging open the freezer; lips turning down as he pushed aside what was clearly a bagged pair of feet, he managed to locate several ice packs along with a dispirited bag of veg that had likely been tucked away for the past 5 years. Retrieving both ice packs he turned back towards the sitting room where Sherlock sat stiffly. Leaning down at his brother's side, Mycroft slipped the cold parcels down alongside Sherlock's ribs on either side. Breathing in short gasps, Sherlock held himself rigid and closed his eyes – no doubt willing the spasms to ease.

 

Once more returning to the kitchen, Mycroft located John's kit and laid it out on the table where he dug free several tablets and, with a nudge of intuition, a dose of anti-nausea medication.

 

A bottle of water, in the hand not cradling the pills, he stationed himself at his brother's elbow and silently pressed the whole of it into Sherlock's grasp. Without word Sherlock tipped his head back to swallow the pills before chasing it with several gulps of water. Leaving the medication to do its work, Mycroft busied himself about the flat. Cleaning wasn't his purview and, to be truthful, he wasn't prepared for the outrage should he disrupt some special coil of matted hair or a cherished drift of ancient dust. Rather, he retrieved the parcel he'd left on the counter and managed to locate a clean baking dish in the cupboard. The parcel, once unwrapped, contained a lovely loin of lamb along with a smaller package of various fresh vegetables and herbs harvested from Mycroft's personal garden behind his home in Kensington.

 

Lost in the activity of meal preparation he scarcely noticed when Sherlock eventually trailed into the kitchen where he leaned his battered frame against the wall and silently watched his brother work. Starting on the veg, Mycroft began heating a skillet while chopping spinach and several garlic cloves. The oily scent of the mashed cloves was mellowed by the rich smell of browning butter as it was all added to the skillet along with a scatter of fresh chives. Tossing it several times until the ingredients had cooked down, Mycroft next turned his attention to the lamb; having removed the pan from the heat and scraped the veg mixture into a bowl cradled in ice. The lamb had been marinating since the previous day; the flesh tender and dark with the flavors that had seeped through the soft tissue. Laying it out on a cutting board, Mycroft began skillfully butterflying it open; setting the meat out on parchment paper when he was finished. Returning to the veg mix it was swift work to press out the excess water from the wilted spinach before finally revealing the “star du plat” – a log of fresh Chavrie. Dividing the cheese into several lengths, Mycroft laid it inside the loin along with the veg mixture before rolling the meat and tying up the whole thing with twine.

 

“You do recall it's just the two of us?” Sherlock finally ventured; sighing a tight breath as he eased himself into one of the kitchen chairs.

 

Mycroft smiled as he slid the lamb into the oven. “Perhaps Mrs. Hudson would enjoy a portion. Compensation for the early grave you'll no doubt send her to.”

 

And once again his words struck a sour note as Sherlock's face fell. The curse bubbled up behind his teeth though Mycroft didn't allow it release. Instead, he scrubbed his hands and patted them dry on a hanging tea towel before seating himself alongside his brother.

 

“My apologies. That was ill-spoken.”

 

Sherlock swallowed, nodding once, sharply.

 

Two fingers, making circles on the tabletop, Mycroft watched the pattern of light scattering late afternoon beams through the sitting room. When he spoke, finally, it was with the soft timbre of recollection – allowing memory to layer itself in the story that formed in the air between them.

 

“I know our years as siblings have often been fraught. I have carried this... charge... of looking after you...” his fingers twitched against the chipped surface, “against both of you... since that first sight of of Eurus when Mummy brought her home from hospital. It had been a difficult labor; 36 hours all told. The doctors had been considering cesarian before Mummy was finally able to give birth. I was told Eurus didn't cry... her eyes already wide and taking in the world around her...” One hand rose up to rub across his lips. He could sense his brother watching him; though his eyes didn't lift from the etched paint beneath his fingertips. “When Mummy finally allowed my to hold her she said, “this is your baby sister. As her big brother it will be your job to look after her”. Perhaps a common directive given to many an eldest child but, for me, it may well have been an order delivered from God himself. And, yet, from the time she was very small Eurus never seemed to care for, or even need, looking after. At least... not in that sense.” He was almost startled by his own body's reaction of raised gooseflesh along his arms. He rubbed at the cold that had breathed against his bared arms. “My role of her warden had begun quite early, as it happens. She developed quickly; crawling by three months and walking by six. And with this new mobility there arose new challenges to maintaining my watch over her. Several times I found myself rescuing small animals from her tiny grasp – whether they be kittens, the neighbor's puppy, or in one instance a goat kid she'd liberated from who knows where. But then... then came that one afternoon when I found her with a nest of rabbit kits.” His mouth twisted and he stood – going to the sink where he ran a glass of water from the tap. He took four swallows before resting the glass back down on the counter. Turning slowly, he braced his palms on the edge behind him.

 

“She had killed them. The entire nest; one by one while their frantic parent raced about the garden. There she sat; her pudgy fingers sticky with ichor and utterly oblivious to any wrongdoing. Even when I confronted her she merely stared – eyes so wide and cool. She had been curious to know what they looked like inside.” Shrugging, Mycroft stepped back to the table; chancing a quiet glance towards his brother. Sherlock's face, leeched of color, was fixed on his own hands. Pulling out the chair he'd vacated, Mycroft sat once again. “I said nothing to our parents. I knew what Eurus had done was wrong but, at the same time, I didn't feel it was a burden they needed in that moment. Mummy was pregnant again, you see.”

 

Sherlock, his voice thin, finally pulled his attention from his flexing fingers. “Did you ever tell them?”

 

Mycroft shook his head. “No. Though there were so many days, afterwards, where I regretted my silence immeasurably. However, I also never, ever, allowed Eurus to stray from my sight, again, when other guardians were not present. Particularly when you were finally strong enough to be brought home*. I would take to standing watch, like the Queen's Guard, when you were laid down for your nap; which was frequent with you being so small.” The comparable size to a rabbit was one which Mycroft managed to keep to himself. He'd stumbled over his tongue twice already; no point going for the trifecta if it could be helped.

 

While one hand rubbed his shoulder, Sherlock rolled his bottom lip between his teeth, frowning. “Why are you telling me this, now? Surely Eurus and her machinations are no longer a threat. She hasn't spoken again since...” here he stopped. They both remembered when last Eurus had spoken – just shy of two years ago.*

 

Mycroft raised an eyebrow, considering, though he could not meet his brother's eyes. “No, and by whatever means necessary I will see to it that she never harms you again.” He clasped his hands on the table – rubbing his thumbs against one another. “Would that I could spare you from all of my sins.”

 

And here, finally, they came to the crux of it.

 

Sherlock surprised him by glaring – sudden angry heat in his eyes. “Spare me the self flagellation; what happened at the dock was hardly your fault.”

 

“Isn't it? After all it was my interrogation of his son which led to the discovery of his illegal shipments and, consequently, resulted in the son dying while in our custody. Your kidnapping was retribution.”

 

“My kidnapping,” Sherlock sneered at the word, “was retribution for lost profits. Nothing more. The death of his son was due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition – I'm fairly certain he wasn't tortured to death unless you've suddenly changed your methods. However the retaliation against you was for the loss of nearly four-hundred million in profits – not the loss of his son whom he never mentioned in all the days of my imprisonment.” And then his face grew suddenly contemplative. “Curious why he would believe my loss to be an equivalent trade.”

 

Mycroft's mouth opened and shut as he found himself suddenly back-footed. “I... cannot imagine what would lead him to that conclusion.”

 

“Hm.” Sherlock started to lean back only to grunt and wobble awkwardly as he struggled to avoid adding strain to his aching ribs and shoulder. Mycroft's brows flicked tight as he watched his brother's careful breaths. In minutes, though, Sherlock appeared to have found an acceptable, if not entirely comfortable, position; essentially by remaining bolt upright with his right arm braced on the table while the other rested in his lap. Mycroft would have gone along with it had he, himself, found the hard kitchen chairs less than forgiving to his backside. He stood, then, ignoring the sigh from Sherlock as he gestured back towards the sitting room.

 

“Come. It will be nearly forty minutes before dinner, we might as well take advantage of the fire.”

 

That he allowed himself to be gently ushered back to his padded chair, with minimal fuss, merely proved how much discomfort Sherlock continued to experience.

 

Ice packs redistributed to key areas Sherlock let out a clipped groan as his body settled against the cushion. However it was only moments before most of the tension eased from his face so Mycroft counted it a win.

 

As was common, between them, they fell into a long period of silence – each taken with their own thoughts. Or, in Sherlock's case, falling into a doze as he finally allowed exhaustion and medication to do its work. Mycroft passed this time on his mobile; updating emails, catching up on various reports requiring his eye, and making two short phone calls. At some point, from downstairs, he heard the door to Mrs. Hudson's flat open and, seconds later, the uneven tread as the lady, herself, scaled the flight to the second story. Her gentle rap and greeting preceded her head peering around the jam.

 

“Oh, bless, poor thing.” Her gaze, clearly, locked on Sherlock who continued to slumber, unaware.

 

“Was there something you needed? Is Rosamund well?” Setting his phone aside, Mycroft finally turned his attention to the older woman still in the doorway.

 

“Rosie's just fine – playing with her toys in her playpen. I thought I'd stop in and see if there was anything he needed.”

 

Mycroft smiled. “We're fine, thank you.” Mrs. Hudson nodded in return, though her eyes strayed back to Sherlock, troubled. Moved by something not quite defined, Mycroft tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair. Then, before he could put a great deal of thought into it, pushed to his feet.

 

“Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Would you and Rosamund care to join us?”

 

Eyes suddenly beaming, Mrs. Hudson rewarded Mycroft with a smile normally reserved for “her boys” alone. “That sounds lovely. I'll just go fetch Miss Rosie, shall I?”

 

While she was gone Mycroft went to prepare place settings – opting for a simpler arrangement given the company. Certainly they would all feel more comfortable without the crystal and bone China. Two sets of footsteps ascended the stairs as Mycroft was pulling on a set of oven mitts to extract their meal and there was no surprise when John accompanied Mrs. Hudson back through the door – a sleepy Rosamund clinging to his neck. Mycroft nodded towards his brother before John could form a greeting.

 

“If you wouldn't mind?”

 

A glance towards the recumbent form and John ruffled his daughter's hair as he moved close enough to stand near the chair. Whatever means he was about to employ for waking Sherlock, however, was undone when Rosamund loosed a bright shriek.

 

Legs kicking out and eyes going wide, Sherlock nearly slid from the chair – only halted when his free hand caught the arm under his palm. Mycroft winced at the pain flashing in his brother's eyes. John, though, merely passed his daughter to Mrs. Hudson before kneeling alongside his friend.

 

Occupied with cutting thick slices of roulade, Mycroft missed the actual conversation between the two men. As it was, Sherlock closed his eyes, briefly, before nodding. A moment later, John retrieved his kit, along with a glass of water, and administered what was presumably additional pain medication.

 

Within minutes, the table was set and John, having changed from his work clothes and scrubbed a wet flannel across his face, offered an arm to help Sherlock to stand.

 

Though the younger man made a face at the proffered arm, nonetheless, he took hold when he stood on somewhat shaky feet.

 

Soon they were all four of them, as well as Rosamund; happily bouncing on her father's knee, sat at the table and passing around dishes.

 

Tucking in like a man starving, John put away half his meal before noticing the less enthusiastic eating habits of his flatmate.

 

“You'll need to eat something with that medication you took.”

 

Eyes rolling, Sherlock jabbed a bite cut from his lamb and placed it between his teeth with the same put-upon expression Mycroft remembered from their shared childhood.

 

Mrs. Hudson, however, was ignoring the minor drama and spoke above the silent argument. “It's lovely you were able to come home, John. Miss Rosie was having quite a poor time of it until you showed.”

 

“Yes,” John replied, cutting his eyes briefly to Mycroft, “someone apparently made a call. It appears our clinician has had a miraculous recovery in time to resume his shift and offered to cover the next shift as well. Looks as though I'll get to enjoy a few days off.”

 

Mycroft patted his lips with his serviette. “How fortuitous.”

 

Sherlock narrowed his eyes; glancing back and forth between the two men. “I'm sure... Almost unbelievable...”

 

Mrs. Hudson smiled. “Well I think it's wonderful! I also think that calls for something special after such a beautiful meal. It just so happens I have a blackberry tart I had made for my bridge game tomorrow. However, Mrs. Lainey had to cancel – her nephew come to town, unannounced. He's from the Americas.” Which was apparently enough of an explanation. “Well, of course, family takes priority over a silly game and we'll be able to meet again next week. Not that you need to know all of that. The important thing is that now we have a lovely pudding to have with out tea for laters.”

 

Smiling, feeling an unexpected warmth despite the long ramble, Mycroft folded his hands before his plate. “That sounds exceptional.”

 

And so they ate together. And talked together. And indulged a giggling Rosamund who made her rounds about the table. And when it came time for tea, Mrs. Hudson fetched her marvelous tart, just as she'd promised; plied with a mound of heavy cream.

 

Then, sated with good food and good companionship, they all settled in the sitting room and grew sleepy with the heat of the fire and the cups of hot tea that seemed to never end.

 

Mycroft found he was in no hurry to leave. Found, in fact, that he was enjoying himself.

 

And that was a revelation. Because, if his brother's expression were anything to go by, Sherlock was feeling the same way. The Ice Man and the high functioning sociopath; finding their happiness in this tiny little family.

 

Who would have thought.

 

Though silence soon fell among them there was no discomfort because of it. Rather, Mycroft found it a soothing peace. A short while later John switched on the telly and located a nature program; watching as he held his sleeping daughter and settled alongside Mrs. Hudson on the couch. Sherlock had long since faded and, with gentle prodding, Mycroft had helped him to his room and to bed before returning to the sitting room and, to the bemused look of his host, the chair he'd vacated minutes earlier.

 

Any awkwardness he may have expected to feel was absent. What he felt, instead – so rare as to nearly ascribe “bliss” to the sensation, was contentment.

 

And so he remained – hours beyond the time he would typically have vacated if just to escape the cloying normalness of domesticity.

 

It wasn't until Mrs. Hudson, nodding down towards her long empty cup, announced her need for bed that Mycroft realized how long he'd remained.

 

Standing alongside the woman, he gathered his umbrella and jacket. On his way to the door John, still holding the sleeping toddler, had perhaps surprised himself with the offer of dinner, again, the following weekend. Aware of Mrs. Hudson beaming over his shoulder and not caring a whit, Mycroft smiled and tipped his chin.

 

“I would be honored.”

 

And then he said goodnight and accompanied Mrs. Hudson to her floor before heading out into the dark – his car arriving at the kerb exactly on schedule. Slipping into his jacket, Mycroft paused a moment to look back at the flat above – noting the lights going dark as the occupants all went to their respective beds. Behind him, his longtime driver held the car door open and waited.

 

“Did you have a good evening, Sir?”

 

Hours of child-minding his brother, listening to a fussy Rosamund grizzle through her meal, tolerate John's chewing habits and Mrs. Hudson's marathon stories which never seemed to actually arrive to anything resembling a point...?

 

Letting his umbrella tip tap against the sidewalk, Mycroft finally nodded; turning to face the other man. “Yes... I believe I actually did.”

 

Then, sliding into the vehicle, he let the door close shut on the view.

 

He was ready to go home.