It was a stressful situation; the detective was used to solving mysteries and facing murders and kidnappings, but it was Mycroft they were talking about now. Despite the fact that the younger man would never admit it, especially in front of the British Government officer, seeing his brother hurt had shocked him.
John thought he should give Sherlock some time alone to regain his composure. Better not to push him on the subject when he was not ready to talk about it, but wait for him to process the events instead.
The doctor prepared another cup of tea while waiting for his friend to come back to the living room in order to discuss what to do. Fifteen minutes later he started to worry. The detective hadn’t shown up yet. What if Sherlock was hurt?
Stupid stupid doctor you are, you left him alone! What if he fainted, hit his head on the floor? Or worse?
He marched to Sherlock’s door and called his mate’s name. He couldn’t hear any sound coming from inside the room. Putting aside his anxiety, he tried to maintain a neutral tone while calling for Sherlock once again.
“Sherlock, are you ok? If you don’t answer me, I’m going to come in,” he stated.
He waited for a few seconds but the detective didn’t reply.
“Alright, I’m entering now, Sherlock. I swear if you did something stupid I’ll kick your arse for the rest of your life!”
Gripping the door handle with more force than necessary, John pushed the door open; actually, he didn’t know what to expect, but what he saw made him angry and very worried.
The younger man was resting comfortably on the double bed, lying on his back; his chest rose and fell in synch with his breath, and at least that was comforting, but his eyes were open, glassy and unfocused and his lips partly open. He was high on something.
Oh how stupid you are! You should have seen that coming. You idiot.
John’s eyes fell to the note on the night-table. It was the list. At least he knew what Sherlock had taken. The doctor grabbed the sheet and read it.
“I’m sorry, John. I know you won’t approve of my method but I have to do it in order to save my brother. It’s the only way. I tested a new drug recently, not exactly a legal one; it is an experimental drug that some hypnotherapists use to help traumatized patients to remember events they purposely delete from the memory, in order to protect themselves. It works but it can also cause some mild after effects, it depends on the patient. I must add that, with my drug history, the after effects could be worse than usual on me. Once the drug is in my system, you can talk to me and ask me to do things or to remember things. I need to open the door of my mind palace, the one with the man screaming behind. I should be able to see everything from a detached position without being too involved in the memory itself. You can simply call me back when I’m done. If it wasn’t really necessary, I would never put you in this position. Anyway, if something happens to me, you’re not responsible for it. I took the drug of my own free will and you didn’t know what I was going to do. That is to be said in case something goes wrong. Last thing, you can find the list of the components of the drug on the second page of this note. Give it to Molly if you need to, she will help you. S.H.”
The doctor let the note drop on the bed. He was shocked and scared. He couldn’t stop blaming himself for having let his friend do something so stupid. He should have been able to foresee what was coming. But he didn’t know about the existence of that drug and Sherlock didn’t mention having experimented on it. Anyway, the guilt trip wasn’t going to help him nor Mycroft.
John took a deep breath and forced himself into Doctor Mode. He took his place on the other side of the bed, checked Sherlock vitals and then started to question him, like the detective suggested.
“Sherlock, can you hear me?” he asked.
“I can hear you, John,” the detective replied in his calm baritone voice.
The doctor took another deep breath. He really hoped to be able to do what Sherlock had asked him, he wasn’t a hypnotist but he had seen many movies about the subject so he knew the way they worked.
“Alright Sherlock. Tell me where you are now and what you see.”
“I’m in my mind palace, in the main corridor. There is nothing unusual, there are many doors on both sides and they are all closed.”
“What are you doing there?”
“Last time I was here, I discovered a new door. It has a padlock at the handle and there’s a man screaming behind it. He knows who I am, but I have no memory of him.”
“Can you see that door now?”
“Yes, I can see it. It’s at the end of the corridor. It’s still closed. But… I have the key in the pocket of my coat.”
“Then open it. And remember, what you see is not real, it’s just a memory so it cannot hurt you.”
Sherlock held his breath and shivered in his dreamy state.
“Sherlock, did you enter the room?” John asked, his voice carrying his worries more than he would have liked.
“Yes, I’m in,” the detective replied.
"Tell me what you see and what you feel.”
The detective didn’t answer immediately. When he did, his voice was just above a whisper.
“I’m hungry and I’m cold. It’s cold. I’m in an alley, it’s very dark. It’s night. It’s raining hard. I’m scared.”
“Why are you scared?”
“Because I had an argument with my brother. I just wanted to run away from him but I got lost and now I don’t know where I am. Mycie will be mad at me. Mum and dad too. I want to go back now, I really do. But I can’t. I don’t remember how I got here.”
“How old are you?”
Oh Sherlock! What happened to you?
Sherlock was scared. He had had an argument with his older brother.
Strange, now, but he quite couldn’t remember what they were arguing about, it must have been a silly thing. In fact, what Sherlock always found so irritating in Mycroft was his way of presuming he was always right, and to know what Sherlock should or should not do or say. “I am the smart one,” Mycroft used to say to him. Oh, how annoying! And above all, Sherlock hated the way his parents always took Mycroft’s side.
The result of his own stubbornness was that now Sherlock was alone in an unknown place, completely soaked through because it had started to rain hard. It was already dark.
Sherlock scanned his surroundings to search for a phone box in order to inform his parents that he was alright; he would have to stand their reproaches and Mycroft’s disappointment, but if that meant not being alone anymore and being back home, well, he was more than willing to let it happen.
Unfortunately, there were no phone boxes in the area. In fact, when Sherlock was upset and wanted to be alone, he usually went into warehouses or abandoned houses. One time Mycroft had discovered him strolling around a bad neighbourhood and, after harshly reprimanding him, he made Sherlock promise to never walk alone in those places. Sherlock agreed, just to end the conversation, and of course didn’t remain faithful to his promise.
He met people who lived on the streets and in the abandoned warehouses; they were actually kind to him, and they became friends, somehow, because Sherlock was always respectful of them and treated them as equals. In return they showed him a lot of safe places where he could stay and warned him where not to go alone. Sherlock trusted homeless people and always followed their advice.
This neighbourhood, however, was new to him. He didn’t know why he had decided to explore it today, maybe because he wanted to feel the thrill of adrenaline in his veins: exploring a new place always gave him that particular feeling of bravery mixed with fear that he was always searching for.
Knowing he couldn’t spend the night outside in the rain, the boy scanned his surroundings once again: there were many buildings in the road and they all looked shattered and abandoned. Some of them had their windows boarded over, impossible to go in. Sherlock had always made a point of not breaking into a private property, if that meant breaking windows or doors. So he went on and soon found an old building, clearly abandoned, but not boarded up.
It was indeed a beautiful building, three floors high with a big hall on the ground floor; every floor had big windows perfectly aligned with the others on different floors and the façade was decorated with classic details, now barely visible under layers of filth and dust. A big heavy wooden door was hanging half-open on rusty hinges. The doors and windows looked like black eyes of a sleeping monster.
Sherlock was scared, but also more than a bit excited at the idea of exploring an abandoned building. The building looked promising, a potential source of mysteries and discoveries. At the same time, he was afraid to enter it. Nobody knew where he was, what if anything happened to him? Despite the fact that he wasn’t going to admit it, his biggest worry was disappointing his parents and his brother, more than he had already done. But he was cold and he was tired. So he took his decision.
Sherlock’s first steps inside the hall of the building seemed to echo forever, but the effect was probably amplified by his fear. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the inside, he was able to see his surroundings more clearly: the hall was empty, and the floor was covered with debris and garbage. At the end of the large room there was a stairwell.
Ignoring the little voice in his mind telling him not to go any further, he decided to explore the first floor. And then the second.
Every turn of a corridor and every closed door caused his heart to beat faster in anticipation of a possible fright, and because he didn’t know what to expect to see. The truth was that he didn’t see anything, nor did he hear anything, except for the sound of his steps on the filthy floor. The building was deserted. Most of the rooms were empty. The adventure was a waste of time.
Feeling utterly disappointed by the exploration, he decided to spend the rest of the night in a room on the first floor that seemed in better condition than the rest of the building. He sat near the window, facing the door so he would be able to see if someone entered it. Young Sherlock was determined not to fall asleep. His homeless friends always warned him about the dangers of falling asleep in an unsure place.
After a few hours, however, he lost his battle with consciousness.
He woke up some time later at a familiar smell. Butter and chocolate biscuits. His favourite.
For a second, he thought he was at home. But the hard floor he was lying on and the still-wet clothes he was wearing told him otherwise.
“Wake up, curly head,” an unknown voice called to him.
Now fully awake, Sherlock recalled the events of the previous night and panicked, opening tired eyes to see he wasn’t alone anymore. A man in his thirties, as filthy as the old ruined coat twice his size he was wearing above a double layer of raggedy clothes, was studying him closely. Sherlock could smell the alcohol on his clothes and in his breath.
“So, you got lost?” the man asked.
Sherlock didn’t reply immediately. He thought that if he didn’t talk to the man then probably he would be left alone.
“Cat got your tongue?” the man asked again.
When Sherlock ignored him for the second time, the stranger chuckled to himself.
“You’re being too silent, pretty boy. I’m not going to hurt you if that is your worry. I was surprised to find you here, though.”
The man scrutinized the boy once again.
“You know, pretty, you remind me of Davy. Such a sweet boy, Davy was. He had a curly head, just like you. He liked chocolate biscuits. You want some?” the man asked, smiling and revealing horrible bad teeth.
Sherlock almost gagged at the sight. He shook his head no.
“Where is Davy?” the young detective asked in a small voice.
The homeless man smiled sadly.
“He’s gone. He left me, like the others.”
Sherlock swallowed hard. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end at the thought of how many other children the man was referring to.
“The… others?” he asked in a whisper.
“Yes, pretty, the others. Davy was the last to leave, but first there were James, Miles and Robert. Oh, and little Richard, he was the first one. They all left me.”
The stranger closed his eyes and rubbed his face with a big hand. Sherlock thought it was his chance to escape; he got on his feet and tried to run past him, but the man was quick to grab his arm in a death grip.
The man laughed at him.
“You boys will never learn. I’m sorry, pretty, I cannot let you go,” he stated, forcing Sherlock to sit beside him. “By the way, what’s your name? You got a name, don’t you?”
“Such an aristocratic name, it suits you. So, Sherlock, I want to show you one thing. It’s my treasure.”
The treasure consisted of a small square box. The stranger opened it to reveal its contents: five little objects. At first Sherlock didn’t understand what they were but it all became clear a few seconds later. They were trophies. Objects which belonged to the other children who had met the homeless man before him.
“What happened to the others?” the young detective asked.
The man carefully put the box on the floor beside him, sighing aloud.
“I told you, they left me.”
“Left in the sense they died?”
The man laughed at the remark.
“They tried to run away from me. After what I did for them. But I didn’t kill them, at least not all of them. Davy fell down the stairs, broke his neck. It was an accident,” he explained in a casual tone.
“And the others?” Sherlock asked then.
The stranger cast the boy an annoyed look.
“You know what, pretty? I liked you more when you were silent. But I’m sure we can do something about it.”
Sherlock knew it was now or never. The moment the man released the grip on his arm to get a cloth in his coat, Sherlock sprinted towards the door. The stranger let out an angry shout and tried to reach for him but Sherlock moved faster.
He ran down the stairs and into the hall, not knowing if the man was running after him. He just kept running despite the tightness of his chest and the burning sensation in his lungs, until he reached the main street. It was dawn. Sherlock’s only thought was to find a pub or a bar that was still open; the man wouldn’t be so mad as to follow him into a bar where other people were.
Finally he spotted the bright sign of a bar at the left corner of the block. He sprinted inside and collapsed on a chair near the counter. Sherlock wasn’t sure what happened in the next minute; he knew the owner was asking him his name and if he should call someone. Sherlock wasn’t sure if he answered the man but must have done because after some time he heard familiar footsteps approaching him.
“Mycie,” he cried in relief.
Mycroft held his little brother in his arms, shushing him. “Oh thank God, Sherlock. You ok?”
Sherlock sniffed and nodded.
“Let’s go home then,” the elder Holmes stated calmly. He thanked the bartender, and helped his brother to stand up and walk the few steps to his car.
It was only the next day that Sherlock told his brother about the man he had met and about the killings of five young boys. Mycroft paled at the revelation, realising his little brother had been at the mercy of the child kidnapper (and murderer) that the press had been talking about for the last few months. He informed the police and they came to the Holmes’ house to take a statement from Sherlock.
The man was found and arrested.
Both brothers returned to their usual life. Sherlock of course had nightmares about the events of that night for some time, but gradually things grew better and soon he was his usual stubborn self.
Sherlock panicked a few times while talking to John. Despite the drug, he didn’t feel completely detached as he had predicted. John helped by talking quietly to him, reminding Sherlock that it was just a memory and that he was safe.
When Sherlock was finished, John called him back to reality. Both he and the doctor were crying.
“I’m sorry, Sherlock,” John declared quietly.
“Not your fault,” the detective replied and pushed himself into a sitting position. “Now, John, we have work to do.”
John nodded his agreement.
“Are you up to it?” he asked worriedly.
The detective didn’t look so good at the moment.
“I think so. And anyway, we’d better move fast before any potential side-effects start. Honest!” he smiled to the doctor.
“Want me to call Lestrade?”
“Yes, but tell him to come alone. I know where Mycroft is and who kidnapped him.”
“Are you saying…?”
“Yes, it’s the same man. He wants revenge on me. Help me up.”