He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, holding onto the night table to regain his equilibrium as his vision clouded for a moment.
“How do you feel?” John asked minutes later, when they were waiting for Lestrade outside the front door of 221B Baker Street. “Any symptoms yet?”
Sherlock knew John was conscious he wasn’t alright, and the fact that he was still asking about it made him nervous.
“I’m fine, stop fussing!” he snapped back, but the tone of his remark wasn’t as rude as he intended.
He swayed a little and John was quick to steady him. Sherlock didn’t thank him, of course, but neither did he try to hold back.
“I see, you’re fine. Let me know if things get worse, will you?” the doctor asked.
Sherlock nodded and went silent.
John felt sorry for his friend. Mycroft was Sherlock’s only family; the detective deeply cared for him as much as Mycroft cared for his little brother. John had always wondered why they were always bickering when they were together, as if to disguise the love they felt for each other; not finding any logical reason for a similar behaviour, he had come to the conclusion that it was a Holmes thing.
When Lestrade arrived Sherlock gave the taxi driver the address of a suburban area of London. The cab ride was made in silence: Sherlock was lost in his thoughts, John was worried for his mate’s health and the DI was still trying to catalogue and organize all the information about the case that John had given him on the phone.
Sherlock left the car first as soon as they arrived at their destination, leaving John and Lestrade behind. The doctor hurried to reach him, determined to keep an eye on his still high friend; the DI paid the driver and joined the pair.
“What now?” John asked.
“Must find him, must find him…” Sherlock murmured, pacing nervously, still caught in a dreamy state.
John and Lestrade exchanged a worried glance.
The doctor approached the younger man quietly, resting his hand on the detective’s arm, in order to get his attention. Sherlock flinched at John’s touch and looked at him, his eyes bigger than ever; the doctor saw fear and anger on his sharp features; Sherlock gasped, as if waking up from a nightmare, a frown forming between his eyebrows.
“Are you with us?” John asked and when Sherlock nodded his head he released a breath he hadn’t noticed he was holding.
“What was that? A flashback?” he inquired.
“Sort of,” Sherlock replied matter of factly. “For a moment, I thought I was back when I was 11. A side effect of the drug.”
“Wonderful,” Lestrade exclaimed behind them in a sarcastic tone.
The detective turned to him and pinned him with an angry stare, but before he could say anything the older man excused himself to Sherlock, holding up both hands.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to talk out loud. I just don’t see how we are going to find Mycroft if you are not able to distinguish the past from the present,” the DI stated.
“I am fine!” Sherlock snarled back “If you two could just stop worrying about me and help me, for once!”
The DI was about to reply but the doctor silenced him with a cold stare, warning him to keep his mouth closed, then approached his distressed friend once again.
“Sherlock, come on. Don’t be like that. We’re here to help, you know that.”
The detective took a deep breath and turned towards John, hands in his hair and a pained expression on his strong features. John wasn’t sure if he was speaking to his adult arrogant stubborn friend now or to an 11 year old scared boy. Anyway he didn’t want to press the subject on him.
“Do you know where Mycroft is?” the doctor asked.
The detective nodded his curly head.
“Then take us there, so we can save him, the inspector can arrest the man and we can go back home.”
Sherlock nodded again.
“Do you know where he is?” the DI urged.
“He is in the cellar of the bar where Mycroft found me”.
The three men ran in the direction of the bar, now closed and abandoned, but with the sign still in place. The sign had the same bright letters that were used in the photo that was sent to Sherlock.
The front door of the bar was open and Sherlock slipped in. The place was exactly as he remembered it and for a second he felt he was about to pass out, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest and his breath coming out as short staccato gasps, the past melting with the present in a strange combination of smells, sounds and colours as the deserted bar came back to life in front of his eyes. The sensation faded as he felt John’s hands on him, anchoring him to reality.
Sherlock blinked and he was back to the present. He found the stairs to the cellar and gestured to John and Lestrade to follow him and to be silent. Then he descended the few steps to the underground level.
The cellar was dirty and wet. It was empty, except for a small wooden table and a couple of chairs, one of them occupied by his brother. A few candles on the table were the only lights, leaving the room partially in the shadows.
Mycroft Holmes was still gagged, but the blindfold was gone. Sherlock looked at him in order to understand if he was hurt and when the older man nodded in his direction, as if to say that he was alright, the detective released his breath.
Sherlock scanned the room in search of Mycroft’s kidnapper but the man caught him by surprise coming out of a recess in the solid brick wall behind him.
Sherlock quickly turned his back to his brother to see a familiar face. The man was older than he remembered, of course, but pretty much the same, still dressed in a ruined and dirty coat. His smile was missing almost all its teeth now. He was smiling at Sherlock. And walking towards him with a gun aimed at his chest.
Sherlock, who was standing protectively before his brother, instinctively took a step back.
“Sherlock, dear boy, please don’t be afraid of me,” the man spoke in a mellifluous voice, stopping a few meters from him.
The detective shivered at the sound of the man’s voice. But he soon regained his composure.
“I’m not afraid of you,” he answered in a firm voice.
The kidnapper and child murderer smiled again.
“I’m so happy to hear that. You see, when I was in prison there was only thing to help me to go on. You know what it was?” he asked.
“Of course I know. You wanted to see me again and decided to kidnap my brother in order to get my attention. Well, your plan worked. You can let him go now”.
The man clapped at the detective.
“My clever little boy, I am so proud of you. You’re right, I’m not interested in your brother, he’s so… boring! I had to gag him in order to not hear his babblings. By the way, did you like the photo I sent you? I put a blindfold on him, just to make the scene more dramatic. It worked, didn’t it? It was a lovely touch, admit it.”
“As I told before, your plan worked. Now that you’ve got me, you must let him go.”
The man gave a short laugh.
“I was told you didn’t care for your brother, they were wrong. You… LOVE… him?”
“If you are going to play games with me, you must know that…”
“… you are the one and only consultant detective in the world, because you invented the job. Yes, I know, you’re very clever and you have two friends with you. They could easily kill me, if that’s what you want. I am not stupid, Sherly boy. But, you see, I was so lonely when I was in prison and I was always thinking of you and now I want to talk to you. Talking. For real. So please, indulge me.”
“Or what? What if I don’t? What if my friends kill you now?”
“I’m afraid there is a little problem with that. Your brother is sitting on a bomb, it’s not activated right now but I can switch it on with my phone. I have no intention of using it, however, but I will if you won’t do what I asked.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened at the mention of a bomb. John and Lestrade, on the stairway, exchanged a worried look. Mycroft tried to speak through the gag with no avail.
It was impossible to know if the man was bluffing; so Sherlock reluctantly played along with his game.
“What do you want?”
“I want to know if you love your brother. It’s not a difficult question. Do you love him, Sherly?”
“Yes, I do love him.”
The murderer clapped at him again.
“Bravo, Sherlock! It was difficult for you to say it, I know. I’m proud of you.”
“Anything else you want to talk about? I’ve got a suggestion. You let Mycroft go and I will take his place and we can talk all you want. You said you’re not interested in him. You’ve got me. You don’t need him anymore.”
The man huffed and pondered the proposal. Mycroft again muttered unintelligible words through the gag.
“Fine with me,” the man finally replied and gestured for Sherlock to untie the elder Homes from the chair, the gun securely in his hand and aimed at the detective. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Sherlock knelt beside his brother, loosening the ropes at his ankles and hands and finally throwing away the gag. Mycroft tried to speak but Sherlock silenced him. “Please, just go. You’re safe now.”
Before he could reply, the murderer pointed the gun at Sherlock’s head.
“I suggest you do as your brother told you. Thank you for your kind participation. Now please, leave us alone.”
Mycroft reached the stairs where John and Lestrade were observing the scene. From their position, they could only see the table with the two candles, the man’s back and Sherlock’s feet.
Lestrade and John had their guns ready to fire but they couldn’t risk Sherlock’s life, especially because Sherlock was now sat on a bomb with a gun aimed at him.
Mycroft was fumbling in the pockets of his coat to retrieve his phone in order to call a backup unit to help them, his hands still shaky and quite useless because of the long period of being bound to a chair.
The cellar was silent, except for the harsh breaths of the murderer and the quieter ones of the detective.
Suddenly, the murderer’s gun fired a bullet and Sherlock and Mycroft’s kidnapper fell to the ground unmoving.
Mycroft, John and Lestrade screamed Sherlock’s name all together and they flew from the stairs to get to him.
“Sherlock, are you alright?” John asked.
The human heap murmured something. Lestrade approached the two men, gun still in his hands, and yelped in surprise when he heard Sherlock’s voice from under the murderer’s body asking for help.
“Get him off me, please,” Sherlock whispered.
The DI lifted the dead body off the detective, who appeared a little pale and out of breath but very much alive.
John and Mycroft were at his side immediately, John assessing his condition and taking his pulse, his elder brother simply staring at him in disbelief.
“You risked your life to save me, I’m impressed. Sherlock… what am I supposed to say?” the elder Holmes asked.
The detective smiled at him. “There wasn’t any bomb, you know. Besides, what I said - it’s true.”
Mycroft Holmes almost choked at hearing those words coming from his younger brother.
“Besides, the man’s plan wasn’t so brilliant and he was far too confident in himself,” Mycroft added.
“But still he kidnapped you,” Sherlock replied.
“He caught me off guard… Sherlock, are you alright? Are you hurt somewhere?” he asked, watching with concern as Sherlock shivered and almost convulsed on the dirty floor.
“Hold his head,” John commanded Myrcroft. “Sherlock, look at me. Don’t fall asleep. Your pulse is racing, you need to go to the hospital…”
“Hospital, what are you talking about?” Mycroft demanded. “Is he…?”
“It’s a long story. Now help me to get him on his feet.”
“No hospital… Tell Mycie, no hospital, I don’t want to go…” Sherlock pleaded.
“No hospital, I promise you. But let us help you,” Mycroft assured, taking his distressed brother in his arms and carrying him out of the abandoned building.
“What about the body in the cellar?” Lestrade asked.
The elder Holmes grunted as he sat on the floor outside the bar with his shivering brother still securely in his arms.
“I’ll send my men to take care of it. Now, please, I need to know what he has taken. Is there a list?”
“John… not his fault… You warned me, told me not to do it but it was the only way… I’m so sorry, My, so sorry… I disappointed you…” Sherlock murmured into his brother’s chest, on the verge of tears.
Mycroft held him close and reassured him with gentle words, saying that he was going to be fine, that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that he owed him his life. Sherlock sobbed quietly for some minutes and then became limp.
John checked his vitals and the three men released a long breath as John informed them that the detective was fine, all things considered.
“All things considered?” Mycroft asked suspiciously. “I didn’t mean to upset him before, but I need to know now. Doctor, please, enlighten me.”
John explained the whole story while they were waiting for Mycroft’s car. The elder Holmes looked at the bundle in his arms and smiled sadly.
“It’s my fault. Since the beginning. When he was 11 and he ran away from me and ended up spending the night at the mercy of a child murderer. It was my fault. When he gets hurt, it is always my fault. I am not able to protect him. I’m his older brother, I am supposed to take care of him but all I can do is to patch him up after he overdoses or after he faints trying to save my life. It was not supposed to be this way. Never.”
John thought he had never heard more sincere words from Mycroft and felt really sorry for him.
“You gave him the best options. That’s the best you could do for him. You cannot blame yourself for Sherlock’s choices. He hates to admit it but he knows you are there for him and you will always be. He cares for you as much as you care for him. He’s just unused to showing it to you or to the world,” the doctor offered.
“Exactly,” John nodded.
“Should I stay? When we take him back to Baker Street? Will he let me help him through the withdrawal?”
“I think you should ask him once he is more alert, as for now I would appreciate your help. If you don’t have any pressing business.”
Mycroft felt immensely relieved at the doctor’s words and stayed with his brother and the doctor for almost three days. He watched Sherlock sleep and he comforted him when the nightmares came to haunt him; he was the gentle voice to guide him back home when the flashbacks came; he slept with him when he needed someone to hold on to; he had blankets for him when he was cold and administered cool compresses when he was hot; they talked about Sherlock’s experiences.
And he realized that caring, sometimes, is an advantage.