The fact that the mysterious person used all these precautions intrigued the detective. He was in fact in search of distraction, not having cases to work on at the moment.
He entered the flat holding the envelope in his gloved hand with a grin on his face, waving the item like a flag.
Watson, who was enjoying his day off work and reading a book in his armchair, eyed him suspiciously.
“You’ve got mail. Are you excited?” the doctor asked.
The detective let the envelope fall into Watson’s lap, and quickly removed his coat and scarf.
“I couldn’t make any deductions from it, John,” he stated. And grinned.
“And you’re happy about it, Sherlock. Are you ok? Did you hit your head?”
The detective frowned a little at the question. And grinned again.
“Don’t you get it? Whoever sent this mail doesn’t want to give me any clue about them, he or she doesn’t want me to know who they are because they didn’t write the address. If I could see the handwriting I would tell you if we are talking about a man or a woman. And there is no postmark. So they left it at our door or, more probably, asked someone else to do it. Probably a young boy. That tells me the man or woman is an ordinary person, with a face you forget quickly. I’m also quite sure there are no fingerprints, in fact if our friend took all these precautions they wouldn’t have been so dumb as to ruin it all by leaving a trace so easy to follow. So, John, tell me that it doesn’t intrigue you!”
“Well, I surely wouldn’t have deduced all these details from an ordinary envelope,” the doctor replied quietly.
“That’s exactly the point!” Sherlock exclaimed.
“I am very happy you broke out of your boredom, Sherlock, but think for a moment. Maybe it wasn’t planned. I mean, maybe the lack of address and postmark is just a case. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
The detective arched his eyebrows and huffed, clearly annoyed at his friend’s remark.
“So, do you think you’ll open it or not?” John asked then.
Sherlock sighed loudly.
“You’re so predictable, John. But yes, give it to me. Let’s see what’s inside.”
The detective carefully opened the envelope; a single photograph slid into Sherlock’s waiting left hand.
The older man watched in horror as Sherlock’s grin turned into a grimace and his face turned impossibly white. He swayed a little on jelly legs.
Watson immediately recovered from his stupor and was at the younger man’s side, helping him to sit. Sherlock let him help, still holding the photograph in his trembling hand.
“Sherlock, sit down. Let me see.”
The doctor was shocked to see a gagged and blindfolded Mycroft Holmes tied to a chair in a dark room.
In the bottom left-hand corner of the photo there was a message made with cut-out pictures of bright letters from street signs, saying DID YOU MISS ME?
“I’m so sorry, Sherlock,” he offered the younger man, hoping to comfort him.
Of course, it wasn’t the right thing to say. The doctor should have known it, but it was difficult to understand how to behave in that moment. Sherlock had always had a difficult relationship with his brother but they were bonded, somehow, in their own way. So he didn’t feel offended when the detective assailed him, standing up so quickly he almost lost his balance, and started pacing the room.
“For God’s sake, John. Don’t be so dumb. Your empathy won’t save Mycroft. I need to think, I need to focus on the photograph; there must be something to help us to understand where he is.”
“Want me to call Lestrade? Have his men work on it?”
“Don’t forget Mycroft’s position. National Security, John. Better not call the police.”
“Alright, no police. But we can call Greg, he could help us without making it official. What do you think about that?”
Sherlock cast an anguished look at the older man.
“The problem is I cannot think at the moment. I cannot focus. My mind is… numb! Am I in shock?”
Watson felt his heart break at the sight of his friend so distressed.
“Why don’t you sit down and try to calm down?” he asked, tugging the detective firmly down to sit on the couch.
“You won’t be any help to Mycroft being so distressed. Stay here, I’ll make us a cup of tea and we’ll think of something!”
Getting up from the couch, he was prepared for an angry remark from Sherlock about his irrational habit to think over a cup of tea and how he was being predictable at the moment. But the detective didn’t speak. He simply sat where Watson deposited him, elbows on his knees and face in his hands; the younger man had regained a little colour at least , but was far from normal.
Minutes later, the older man returned to the living room with two cups of tea; he placed his own on the small table and forced Sherlock to sip the warm drink. Satisfied that the detective was calmer now, he took his own cup and drank eagerly.
“What do you want to do, Sherlock?”
“The photo in itself doesn’t contain any relevant information, the room is anonymous and it could be anywhere. The message is the turning point. It must be someone I have already met. That is clear. But it’s difficult to remember every criminal I put behind bars. Also, the bright letters remind me of a sign of a bar I went to with Mycroft, but it was ages ago. I need to go to my mind palace for a while, John,” the detective quietly replied.
Watson visibly relaxed seeing his mate had regained his composure. He gently squeezed Sherlock’s left shoulder as he stood up, a simple gesture as if to say “I’m here for you if you need me”.
“Alright, I’ll leave you alone. Just… how long will it take you?”
“If I’m not back in an hour, call me back. Then we’ll call Lestrade.”
The doctor nodded and retired to his bedroom, closing the door softly behind him.
Sherlock entered his mind palace to find it clean and perfect, exactly the way he left it the last time he had been there. Everything was as he remembered, except for one thing: at the end of the long corridor there was a new door, with a red light signal on top and a big padlock at the handle.
At that sight, something happened inside him, a physical pain inside his chest that Sherlock, being a complete stranger to emotions, wouldn’t name it as what it was: fear. The detective felt his heart beating faster than normal as soon as he came closer to that new door. The air was filthy near it, and the lights were fading in and out.
Someone was inside the room, a man, calling Sherlock’s name; one moment he was angry, calling him bad names, and the next moment he was crying softly, praying for him to open the door.
Sherlock listened for a while to the man screaming and pleading for his help, unsure on what to do. Suddenly, he realized there was a key in the pocket of his coat. He was about to try it in the padlock when he heard Mycroft’s voice calling for him.
“Don’t, Sherlock! Please, don’t open that door.”
The urgent tone of his brother’s voice made the detective shiver.
The door to Mycroft’s room was open; Sherlock knew something wasn’t right, in fact the doors in his mind palace were always closed and only he could open them. It had never happened that doors were left open, unless he decided otherwise.
Sherlock turned back and walked towards his brother’s room. Peering inside, he was shocked to see Mycroft tied to his own chair.
“Mycroft, what’s going on? Why are you so tied up?”
The elder Holmes sighed in relief, seeing his brother was with him now. He smiled to him.
“I’m so glad you came, Sherley! You have to promise me one thing, it’s important!”
Sherlock felt as if he was a child again, a scared lonely boy who trusted his older brother with his life.
“What do you want me to promise, Mycie?”
“You have to promise me you will never ever go near that door again, nor will you try to open it. It’s very dangerous. Promise me!”
“Why? I made that door, it’s in my mind palace, why should I be afraid of it?” young Sherlock asked in a small voice.
“Because, dear brother, there are things you don’t need to remember. Things that will hurt you. I don’t want you to get hurt because of me!”
“You said I had nothing to be afraid of, that you would have taken care of me. Always. So why is now different?”
“Please, Sherley, promise me,” he asked again.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” the adult Sherlock answered. “I need to find you, you’re in danger and I know the answer is behind that door.”
“I am not worth it, Sherlock. Just leave things the way they are. Please, do it for me,” the older man pleaded.
“I will find you, Mycroft. Just hang on.”
“It’s too dangerous, I cannot let you.”
“You cannot order me what to do.”
“Yes, I would if you don’t…”
The sentence was left unfinished when the walls of the mind palace started to shake violently and the lights went off for a second.
When the lights went back on Sherlock found himself alone in the room, and he started calling his brother’s name out loud. But Mycroft wasn’t there anymore. The detective went back into the corridor and watched in horror as the new door, the one with the man screaming behind, was still closed but almost collapsed, only the padlock still in place preventing the occupant from exiting.
Sherlock’s chest felt tight, his heart racing, and he couldn’t breathe. The walls were closing in around him. He thought he was going to die. Until someone pulled him out and he was back in the light, in his living room.
He was lying on the carpet with John on top of him. The doctor’s face was distorted with worry.
Sherlock tried to talk, but the simple act of breathing bought tears to his eyes. John was speaking but the detective was oblivious to his words. Sherlock held onto John, grasping the doctor’s jumper with both hands, and looking into the older man’s eyes in order to calm down and ease the pain.
“That’s it, relax. Breathe, Sherlock. In and out, that’s it.”
Sherlock closed his eyes; he was actually feeling a little better.
“What happened?” he whispered.
“I couldn’t get you out of the mind palace. I tried to but you were too far. Then you shouted Mycroft’s name and nearly had a stroke. You weren’t breathing. You are never going to do that again, do you hear me?”
“I’m sorry, but I have to go back.”
“What? No. No! You nearly died just a few minutes ago. How are you going to help Mycroft if you die in your mind palace?”
The detective pondered the argument and decided John was right. It was too risky.
“We’ll have to find another way then,” he explained.
“Why can’t we just call Lestrade?”
“Because, John, the answer is behind a door with a red light signal on top and a big padlock at the handle in my mind palace.”
“Yes, John. Mycroft told me. There are some memories I need to unlock, painful memories I think, and then I will have the answer.”
The doctor studied the detective for a few seconds, checking his pulse and his pupils with the penlight he always had with him. He nodded to himself. Sherlock smiled at him.
“Will you help me, John?”
“If you promise not to nearly die on me again.”