"Help me up, I don't want to have this talk through an open door."
"Sherlock, you've just been unconscious again; I'm not sure if you should really have it now at all."
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"I'm…fine. - Don't say anything! I'm ok, John."
"Let's hope so."
John stepped over to Sherlock and supported him in getting up slowly. The tall man was swaying slightly and John was afraid that he might pass out again. With shaking legs the younger Holmes made his way to the living-room and dropped heavily into his favourite chair opposite where his brother was sitting. There were tell-tale drops of sweat at his hairline and he had become even paler than before. John wondered if he wouldn't collapse in the next few seconds, the oxygen saturation of his blood definitely being down to a rather insufficient rate. However, this talk had long been overdue and he wouldn't intervene.
"So…," Mycroft introduced the discussion without actually intending to say anything more. John thought that there was something unusual about the older Holmes, a slightly unsteady glance that could be interpreted as nervousness. However, outwardly he was as calm and cool as ever.
"When did you do it? Access my mind palace. I must have been quite young, about ten to twelve, I estimate," Sherlock broke the silence.
"Oh, well, I thought the Master of Deduction would elaborate a bit more."
Sherlock looked at his brother intently, then took a deep breath and spoke.
"While I was knocked out with that – nosebleed, you stole some documents John had obtained from a friend in Germany. However, you made a mistake, Mycroft; you hadn't taken into consideration that John could have taken pictures of the papers, which he had. Secret documents about war crimes, Tabun testing on innocent people, in fact, and our family was involved – I saw the watermark on the letters! As Father would have been too young in World War II, I assume it must have been our grandfather – and someone found out about it, didn't they?"
"Is that all?"
"No. I thought I knew the errand boy who delivered the petri-dishes with the poison. It wasn't him, it was an older relative. I never forget data about people I have once met, but all I know is that I have met a person with a face similar to the errand boy's. So, why is that? There's only one explanation: you had your friend Tobias access my mind palace to delete the data about that person. You couldn't have done it yourself because you don't know how, and the last time I met Tobias was when I was twelve, so some time around ten to twelve. The question remains why? And there's only one person who can answer that, brother dear."
Mycroft raised his eyebrows, but didn't really look surprised. He just waited, so Sherlock continued without averting his gaze from his brother for one second.
"Going from the highly likely fact that it wasn't just coincidence that the errand boy looked like a man I recognize from former times, why would he try to kill me, or at least harm me, with a poison like Tabun? If he had had the intention to really terminate my life he would have chosen a more reliable substance. So, why Tabun? I assume that it has to do with the connection to our family. If our family was involved in the development and testing of the nerve agent, the errand boy might be the offspring of a family that was affected by the experiments back then; maybe some of his relatives were in fact killed by someone from our family and he or his family wanted revenge. Since I'm more or less the only Holmes easily accessible, I became the target – even though I have nothing to do with what happened, and have limited knowledge. Maybe, because they couldn't get hold of you, Mycroft! I wonder what your role in all this is, as you definitely play one, that's for sure."
Sherlock inhaled sharply, then went on.
"We paid the courier, that had originally been in charge the day I got the petri-dish delivery, a visit. However, I noticed I hadn't been the first Holmes to call in on him that day. You should think about carrying your umbrealla with you when it's raining outside - it leaves traces, Mycroft. Someone had paid him off for staying in that day, but that wasn't you. It is highly likely that that had been the fake errand boy. So, why did you go there and threaten him? The man had been scared out of his wits and I assume that had been your work. I think you owe me an explanation, Mycroft!"
Sherlock had rattled his deductions off, speaking faster and faster. However, with the last sentence he had slowed down his speech and pronounced every word distinctively with a dangerously low voice.
John had listened to everything, his gaze alternating between the two brothers. He couldn't believe what he heard, but all the pieces, as Sherlock presented them, fit together. John felt his heartbeat speed up. As calm as Mycroft seemed to be, John was in fact afraid of the older Holmes's reaction. Sherlock's accusations couldn't just leave him cold. He could also see that Sherlock had come to the end of his tether as the drips of sweat found their ways down his face and he had started to blink his eyes occasionally, apparently to get rid of a dizziness that seemed to occur more frequently every minute. He needed a break, but John didn't dare to interrupt the talk.
"Not the most difficult leap," Mycroft stated calmly. "However, I'm still not sure if you really want the whole truth. I might destroy more than just your image of our family."
"Our family!" Sherlock spat scornfully. "Our family has always been a farce, everyone always somewhere but never at home! My nannies were more a family to me than my next of kin."
And that included Mycroft. John didn't know very much about the Holmes family apart from that Sherlock never spoke of his father. However, he annually received birthday cards from his mother, and he had mentioned his grandparents on the very few occasions that he actually talked about his earlier childhood. They had taken care of Sherlock for some time when his mother had fallen ill. However, he had once mentioned that they had left England one day for a reason he didn't know and he had never had any contact with them since then.
"Well," Mycroft started,"... the courier from Bart's had just been, let's say, unreliable, so I just paid him a visit and told him what my opinion about this character trait is. He made up his mind and then decided to quit his job."
Sherlock snorted. "I can imagine what - or who - helped him make his decision! Why?"
"For safety reasons, Sherlock. You have just experienced what happens if people cannot be trusted with the simplest assignments. It's for protection, for yours and others'."
"As if you cared!" the younger Holmes snapped. Mycroft simply raised and eyebrow in response. "Tell. Me. Everything!" Sherlock demanded, the effort it took him to stay alert clearly visible on his face.
"Well, as it seems that I can't convince you otherwise, here you go then." Mycroft leaned back in his armchair, his hands folded in his lap. He actually seemed slightly agitated as his fingers were tipping a nervous rhythm and his eyes revealed something close to – fear? John wondered what it could be that made a man like Mycroft, usually as emotional as a rock, lose his ability to hide his inner self as much as he did now. He had witnessed traces of that during the past few weeks, every time Sherlock had been in immediate danger. This man didn't make sense to John and so he was anxious about what they would hear from him.
Mycroft inhaled and exhaled deeply, seeming to hesitate slightly.
"The truth is - you know the face of the errand boy because he looks pretty much like his grandfather – the man you met when you were ten. When Mummy was in hospital, you, dear brother, had been abducted by him and held captive for a week. Despite the best people in England looking for you, you couldn't be found, until you suddenly appeared back at our house. You had escaped the man, God knows how."
He hesitated again, giving Sherlock an uncertain look. John's eyes flitted from one brother to the other. Sherlock's eyes were wide in his pale face; his entire body language very intent as he looked at his brother.
"However, you weren't unharmed. In fact, you were in a very poor physical and mental condition; of which the first could be easily cured, the latter couldn't. You had nightmares and were withdrawing from everyone – even more than you did anyway-, you didn't eat, didn't sleep and so your physical condition worsened due to your state of mind. It was impossible to get to you, more than it had ever been before. You were on the verge of dying, your mind was about to destroy your body and nobody knew what had actually happened to you or how to help you. We didn't have much of a choice and so I had Tobias access your mind palace to find out what terrible things had occurred and to help you forget them."
He stood suddenly and began to pace up and down, as if he couldn't bear to keep still.
"It's not only that you can't remember the face; you cannot remember a whole period of time. Nobody was ever to speak about that to you again, and Mummy doesn't even know about the entire events. She was too ill back then and I made sure she would never find out. Everyone was sworn to secrecy to protect her and you!"
He sat down again, giving Sherlock a slightly wry smile. "You're not the only one who can be a good detective, Sherlock; I am quite good at it, too, although I prefer to apply my abilities to more reputable purposes. I had already had some useful connections, so I found out that the reason why you were kidnapped was indeed revenge. The revenge of the man whose brother was killed by our grandfather, the lovely man you spent a great deal of your youth with, who didn't have the faintest moral scruples about killing people for his own purposes, just to find out if the nerve agent they had developed in cooperation with the Germans worked well! That was our grandfather, Sherlock! A misanthrope and coward! The truth is that he murdered your kidnapper, never really asking for the reasons for your abduction. The man disappeared before the police could get hold of him and before he could have a fair trial. Of course, nobody had ever been able to prove that, but I know, I found out!"
His voice had risen in pitch and volume, and this last exclamation, almost a shout, echoed around the silent room. John glanced at Sherlock again, concerned about the impact of this revelation on the already weakened man, but the consulting detective's face was blank and the only sign of agitation was his rapidly moving chest. Despite the older brother's obvious sincerity, the doctor could hardly believe this – how was it possible that Sherlock could have forgotten such a traumatic experience? Had he entirely? How had that incident affected his adult life?
As if shaken by his sudden lack of control, Mycroft took a deep breath and made an obvious attempt to calm himself before continuing more quietly.
"What I don't know, however, is if our grandfather felt guilty about what had been done to you and therefore committed the murder, or if it was just to prevent people finding out about his deeds. I don't suppose he really cared for you as he fled from England when he was needed the most by you! I am sure he didn't feel guilty about all the people he had killed for proving that what they had found could be used as a nerve agent, so he probably had no qualms about being responsible for one more, even if that one was his own grandson!"
Mycroft took another deep breath and continued.
"Apparently, two generations later someone felt the urge to take revenge for what had happened for a second time. I assume that the choice of Tabun was meant as a greeting from former times. And unfortunately, you were the target again! I am sorry for that, Sherlock. Heaven knows how he found out that you were a descendant of the man who had done such awful things to his family. I can only guess that Moriarty had his hands in that. However, I can assure you that you won't have to fear any harm from that family anymore."
Sherlock had become incredibly pale during Mycroft's report, his breathing growing more ragged and fast until he was almost hyperventilating. John had watched it with increasing worry and was prepared when the Consulting Detective's body slumped in the armchair, slowly falling over – he had passed out. Mycroft quickly leaned forward, gently pushing his brother back into the armchair. The doctor jumped from the sofa, simply stepped over the coffee table, as Sherlock sometimes did himself, and was at his side with one long stride to check on his vitals.
"He'll be ok; I think that was simply too much." he informed the older Holmes.
Mycroft had closed his eyes, wiping his face with his hands. "I knew he wouldn't want to hear it," he stated quietly.
Not only he, John thought, but didn't say anything. That had definitely not been what he had expected. He fetched the oxygen mask and fixed it on Sherlock's face. It seemed that Mycroft's brother was extremely exhausted, as wasMycroft himself; however hyperventilation was pretty unlikely considering his usual state of hypoxemia lately. He looked at the older Holmes who stretched out a hand and almost tenderly touched Sherlock's. Then he got up from his chair.
"I think he really needs to rest."
"Obviously," the completely overwhelmed doctor agreed. His mind was roiling: Mycroft, the saviour and protector of his little brother, Sherlock a victim of torture? John's view of his surrounding world had just been turned upside down and he felt slightly nauseous at the thought of a ten-year-old Sherlock being tormented by someone hardly betterthan the Holmes grandfather, taking revenge on an innocent child! That was more than despicable!
Just to find a stake in his shaken world John wanted reassurance. "Before you leave, Mycroft… - tell me this: you really are concerned, aren't you?"
"I keep telling you so, John, but you won't believe me." Mycroft answered with one eyebrow raised and a trace of a weary smile in the corners of his mouth.
"Well, things might have changed a bit today." he admitted.
Mycroft gave John a long look, his usually cold eyes mirroring his inner turmoil, eventually nodding.
"Will he cope?" the doctor asked, not quite sure that it had been good to know the truth, either for Sherlock or for him.
"He doesn't remember, John. The memories won't come back. If they did, I am sure he would be destroyed by them. He might be a bit off balance, though, as he might be haunted by…", Mycroft was searching for the proper word, "…emotions," he finally stated with a little derision in his voice in a weak attempt maintain his usual coolness.
"What…," John wanted to ask about the details of Sherlock's abduction and what had happened to the errand boy and his family, but Mycroft interrupted him, shaking his head determinedly.
"No," he simply said, leaving no room for discussion.
The tall man looked exhausted to his bones, worried and more human than John had ever seen him and was sure he would ever see him again.
The doctor gave a brief nod of assent. Maybe it was better if he didn't know.
"He'll have questions, though, Mycroft."
"I will not tell him any further details, no matter what he says. I had sworn to myself never to tell him about his abduction at all, but circumstances – and the two of you – forced me to do so; however, nothing in the world can make me give away any of the things we had found out back then. Nothing."
John didn't have the slightest doubt that Mycroft meant what he said. On the one hand, he appeared to be very determined, but on the other hand, John could sense just a trace of uncertainty and fear in the usual cold manner of the personified British Government.
"I imagine you can manage from now on," Sherlock's brother ended the talk. "If you need my help, you know how to reach me. Good-bye, John. I had better leave you alone now. He might not want to see me when he wakes up. You know, he can be quite touchy about my presence sometimes."
"Possibly not now…," John remarked, but that didn't change the older Holmes' determination to leave.
Mycroft threw a last glance at John and Sherlock, turned around and left the flat, feeling utterly hollow. He had broken his vow of not telling his little brother about the worst experience in his life. He himself had been seventeen back then and they weren't getting along very well as brothers, but he had always cared about Sherlock more than the rest of family. Seeing his little brother almost die had been terrible, even for a young man who had learned quite early that he was generally lacking empathy and emotions and didn't really consider this fact disturbing.
Their mother had been in hospital; their father had been overseas – and anyway he had not really been a person that they would go to for help. They had been left in their grandparents' custody, however, were mainly taken care of by nannies. At that time - Mycroft had only later discovered the reasons why – their grandparents suddenly left for a longer stay overseas, and in fact they never came back. The older of the Holmes brothers had been left alone with his nearly dead brother; a fact that had destroyed his relationship with his entire family apart from his mother. Of course there had been doctors and house staff, but no one he could really trust and rely on. He himself had been much more mature than any seventeen-year-old he knew, but after all, he had only been an adolescent.
He had had to witness his younger brother screaming and squirming in physical and mental agony. Mycroft shuddered when he thought about it. It had been unbearable and he had felt so helpless. When Sherlock had already been quite weak, he and his friend Tobias had decided to access his mind palace, making the ten-year-old tell them about the events that were causing him so much pain. Sherlock had sobbed, screamed and raggedly told them about what had happened to him. Sometimes even today Mycroft wished he didn't know about it. It could still send shivers down his spine. Sherlock had been tortured physically and mentally by his abductor - a child that had had to bear the revenge for a war crime he didn't have anything to do with! One didn't have to be very empathetic to be shocked by that. If it hadn't been for his conviction that his grandfather hadn't killed the perpetrator for taking revenge for Sherlock but just for his own protection, he would even have approved of the murder.
He had decided that deleting the memories was Sherlock's only chance of survival. It had taken a long time to do it properly, every session being painful for all its participants. However, Sherlock had slowly recovered, only being haunted by nightmares occasionally. Even those had left him after a while. Mycroft himself had had to struggle to cope with the knowledge about his brother's ordeal, but he had managed during the years that he had been at university, partly due to not seeing Sherlock very often. However, during the past few weeks, he had been caught by the same agony that he had felt back then and it had disturbed and even frightened him. He could only be as good in his job as he was, because emotions weren't hindering him, slowing down his mind in making crucial decisions.
Since Sherlock couldn't remember the period of time when Mycroft had been the only truly caring person in their family, he didn't blame him for not being more approachable. Many things had happened since then and Mycroft had been there for Sherlock when he had needed him – much to his brother's dismay. When he had become addicted to drugs and almost killed himself, he had watched over his withdrawal, which had worsened their relationship as Sherlock despised showing physical and mental weakness more than anything else in the world. What had started as a childish feud had turned into regular banters and skirmishes, those becoming normality and nothing either of them would worry about. They were simply too different in many ways and far too alike in others.
Mycroft didn't know if and how all these revelations would change their relationship. At least they could be sure that they wouldn't be bothered or threatened by the errand boy's remaining family – they had already left England and would never come back if they didn't want to be subject to sudden definitely lethal accidents.
When the man in the three-piece suit and with the umbrella over his arm stepped out of the front door of 221B Baker Street, the door to a black limousine was instantly opened for him, but he refused to enter. He needed some fresh air and decided to walk despite the chilly temperature and the cool wind.
John didn't really know what to think, he just busied himself with checking on Sherlock, pushing the other armchair closer to his in order to rest his legs on it.
From what Mycroft had just revealed, he had misjudged him completely as far as his caring for his brother was concerned. However, from what he hadn't revealed, John felt his fear confirmed – Mycroft was dangerous if one got in his way. He wondered what means he had taken to get rid of any remaining danger from the family which had been destroyed by the Holmes brothers' grandfather.
Suddenly Sherlock's breathing became more ragged and it seemed as if he couldn't get any air in. John shook his friend's shoulders, trying to wake him up. The doctor himself was close to fainting from fatigue and stress and he wasn't sure if he was actually in a state in which he would be able to act reasonably if anything happened to Sherlock now.
The world outside Sherlock's mind was quiet, but inside there was noise, turmoil – screaming that caused him pain. It was burning his insides, tearing him apart. He tried to escape the noise and the pain, but it didn't work. It was the echo of something much more painful. Sherlock felt the icy fear that crawled up his spine. There were no pictures related to that fear, no visual memories that could explain it, but the fear itself was a memory that he could not forget. It was suffocating him. He tried to catch a breath, but couldn't. He struggled to flee from the emotions that caused his heart to race and his brain to hurt. He had to open his eyes as he felt that the agony would become better when he managed to focus on something outward, away from his mind. His world was shaking – he was shaking, no, he was shaken! It cost him a lot of effort, but after some fight he could open his eyelids and a sudden flash of relief went through his body. He looked straight into the face of his flatmate, who was watching him worriedly. John was someone to hold on to, his presence being soothing and making the pain more bearable. His breathing became more even, the echo of the fear already weakening.
"You ok?" Sherlock's flatmate asked, although it was only a rhetorical question. He could see that he wasn't ok. Sweat was running down his cheeks and his pulse was elevated, his eyes reflecting his inner shaken self. Sherlock probably couldn't remember what had happened during and after his abduction, but he apparently felt something. Going from the reaction of his body, it had to be something close to pain.
Sherlock fidgeted with the breathing mask to get it off.
"Where's Mycroft," he whispered.
"Gone," John stated. "You've got questions, haven't you?"
Sherlock nodded, wiping away traces of cold sweat from his face.
"He assured me he wouldn't tell you any further details anyway, and, to be honest, I think that is a good decision."
"It's not mine, though." Sherlock remarked, already with a slightly annoyed undertone that generally accompanied comments about anything his brother had done or said.
John snorted briefly. "You've had more than you could cope with, so for once in your life accept the decision your brother has made for you. It's a good one."
Sherlock closed his eyes as if he was thinking about it; then he mumbled, "Maybe."
John frowned, then shrugged and turned around into the direction of the kitchen.
"I'm getting you something to drink."
"Yes, a double Scotch would be great."
The doctor shot around, staring at his flatmate in amazement. "Did I hear that right? You want alcohol?" Sherlock never really drank alcohol, he only occasionally took a couple of sips when in company, but John had never before heard him order a double drink! Only once had John really seen Sherlock take more than a tiny sip. That had been when he had been in emotional trouble, too, back then when they were investigating in Baskerville. On that occasion, he hadn't been able to trust his mind, having apparently seen the Baskerville creature although he knew that it couldn't possibly exist. So Sherlock was clearly emotionally disturbed.
"I think that this is the most appropriate moment in my life to have a glass, don't you think?" he asked with some bitterness in his voice.
"Erm, actually, yes and no. Yes, because I think I need one, too. No, because I think it's simply not a good idea to have alcohol in your condition – it definitely isn't good for your body and will go straight into your head."
"Good. I'll have it then."
John hesitated, but in fact he was longing for a drink, too. So he went into the kitchen and poured two glasses of Scotch. Upon returning into the living-room, he saw Sherlock watch his hand – it was shaking. He looked up at John.
"This time I know it's something real that makes my body react in such a way, although I don't know exactly what it is, John. All I know is that it scares me! I'm afraid of my emotions, John, I really am – I can't deny them and I hate it! There are reasons why I usually consider sentiment a chemical defect."
"Have a sip, it might actually help," John tried to soothe the Consulting Detective. Sherlock seemed to be really shaken by what he had learned from his brother, the memories of his feelings obviously washing over him.
With a shaking hand he took the glass from John and knocked it back at once, shuddering from the strong taste of the Scotch. He let the hand with the glass sink into his lap, watching it with a frown.
John was leaning sideways at the back of the armchair in which Sherlock's feet were resting. He scrutinized his friend as he really doubted that alcohol had been a good idea after everything his flatmate's body – and mind – had gone through.
"If you need my help in any way, just let me know," the ex-army doctor offered.
Sherlock looked up at him, a shadow of the strong tumult in him obvious in his gaze. He was blinking away the tears that had gathered in his eyes. John was shocked that he didn't even try to hide them as he usually would. However, this situation was far from usual. He felt strong sympathy for his friend and he would have given him a tight hug, if he hadn't been Sherlock who generally shied away from physical contact. John wondered if the reason for it probably lay in anything that had to do with his abduction.
Although tears were streaming down his cheeks now, Sherlock kept his eyes locked with John's. They reflected the agony he felt, begging for ease from the mental pain. John didn't know how to react, but finally made a few slow steps forward until he was standing at his friend's side. He crouched down and hesitatingly embraced the younger man, being prepared to be rejected.
It didn't happen. On the contrary, Sherlock laid his chin on his flatmate's shoulder, his shoulders starting to shake violently, letting out deep sobs. John felt tears of sympathy running down his face and wetting Sherlock's collar.
For quite a long time they stayed in this position until the sobs slowed down and Sherlock raised his chin, taking off the weight of his head from John's shoulder, who understood this as a sign to let go of him. He leaned back, feeling that his legs were about to get numb. So he stood up, taking a glance at Sherlock.
He looked much younger than he normally did – more like a boy than a man in his thirties - and somehow fragile. He wiped away the tears with the back of his hands, then looked up at John. His vision was slightly unsteady and he seemed to have difficulties focussing.
"Shohn, you're my o…onl..y ffriennd," he slurred. The alcohol had definitely done its work. Sherlock wasn't used to drinking and his physical condition did the rest. As awkward as the situation was, John had to smile as Sherlock showed clear signs of being more than just tipsy.
"You have a brother, though, Sherlock. One who really cares for you – don't forget that. But thanks anyway."
"Brrrotherrr – yeah," was all that the Consulting Detective managed to say before his head fell on his shoulder. He had fallen asleep. John put the oxygen mask back on his face, fetched a blanket and covered his friend with it. Having done that, he sank wearily into his own seat. He laughed, a little shakily, sipped from his glass and leaned his head back, gazing at the ceiling. They all needed time to process all that had happened during the past weeks and he was wondering how things would be between Mycroft, Sherlock and himself. He didn't have the faintest idea, but time alone would tell.
So, for the first time in days, peace finally descended on 221B Baker Street. As his empty glass clattered to the floor from his limp hand and his head dropped back against the chair, John's last thought before falling into oblivion was to wonder how long it would last.