A quick one-shot based on a two-second flashback from The Abominable Bride. Takes place in present day, but Sherlock is seventeen and Mycroft is twenty-four, because my understanding of how time works is sketchy at best. Any factual errors or general nonsense are my own fault.

Also, Mycroft is way more fun to write than I expected.


I bent down beside him, took his wrist in my hand, fumbled for his pulse.

Not again. No. Not like this.

It was there, but slow, so slow. Either Sherlock was training to win the London Marathon, or his heart was about to stop.

I swore and reached for my phone, queuing up my flashlight. I peeled back one eyelid, seeing if his pupil would follow the moving light. It did not. I swore more loudly and dialed emergency.

He looked like he was sleeping as the phone rang, but I had seen him asleep. Sleep did not look like this. This was the deep blue void beyond sleep. His eyes were half-open, but he did not see me. Did not see anyone. For God's sake, it was emergency, why wouldn't anyone pick up?

At last, a woman's voice in my ear. Young. Bored. Possibly chewing gum.

"Please state your location and the nature of your—"

"227 Rotterdam Circle. My brother's unresponsive. I need a medic."

"Unresponsive? What do you mean, unresponsive?"

For God's sake. If I get arrested for saving your life, Sherlock, I will kill you myself.

"He's overdosed. Is that more to your liking?" I was nearly shouting.

I could almost hear her leaning forward, suddenly interested.

"Overdosed on what?"

I pinned the phone between my ear and my shoulder and slipped both hands under Sherlock's body. He was limp. It was no effort at all to lay him on his side, keeping his airway clear. Of the two of us, at least I had done my research.

"Just dispatch the bloody medic." Now I was actually shouting.

"Dispatching," she said testily. "I'll need you to stay on the line with me until the medics arrive. Do you know what your brother took?"

I looked at the needle lying useless on the ground near him, the industrial-sized elastic he must have used as a tourniquet. I couldn't decide if I wanted to save him or slap him.

"Heroin," I said to the dispatcher. "About 300 milligrams, I think."

It had been exactly 296 milligrams. Even through the fog of panic, I could have told her the exact purity percentage, the country of origin, the personal hygiene habits of my younger brother's dealer, all from the evidence laid out in front of me on the floor. But I reasoned—rightly, I think—that in this case, less information was preferable to more in the eyes of the law.

She whistled, which I found unprofessional.

"The medics are on their way, sir. For now, I need you to stay with him. Make sure he's still breathing. Don't let him stop…"

"Good advice." The second time that year I'd shouted at someone over the phone, and within a minute of the first time. "Don't let him stop breathing. I'll just ask him politely not to die. He always does listen to me when I ask politely."

"Sir." I recognized her tone immediately: standard-issue first-responder calm. "I know this is frightening. But the only way you can help your brother is if you stay calm. Do you understand?"

I looked at my brother, feeling a sudden wave of nausea.

Oh, yes. I understood perfectly.

#

It took an agonizing space of some ten minutes before the distant wail of sirens screamed into Rotterdam Circle. A crush of uniformed medics spilled through the door, their gusto a bit much in my opinion. In moments of tension, some people leap into action—I tend toward irritation. I had half a mind to tell them this was a medical crisis, not a police raid.

The lead medic checked Sherlock's pulse, flashed a light toward his eyes, examined the nearby syringe. If I'd known this was all there was to it, I might have become a paramedic years ago.

"Come with us, young man," the lead medic told me. "They're expecting him at St. Bart's. We'll need some information from you."

While he spoke, another man bent down and scooped Sherlock up in his arms. They didn't bother with a stretcher. At this point, my brother weighed almost nothing. I probably could have carried him.

I followed the medics blankly, my head spinning, as we all loaded into the back of the ambulance and swerved back into traffic. I gripped the side of Sherlock's gurney to prevent me from flying into the opposite wall as the ambulance sped through a left turn. Of all the vehicles one would expect to come equipped with seatbelts.

Two medics hovered over my brother. I saw one reach into a refrigerated drawer in the ambulance and whip out a hypodermic needle—just what Sherlock needed, more needles. I turned away before I could see the sword-sharp point pierce his thigh. I knew the naloxone was what he needed, had always done the trick before. But asking me to watch as uniformed medics pumped my brother's veins full of anti-opioids seemed a bit much, especially as I was just now having difficulty remembering to breathe myself.

The remaining medic, the one who was neither driving nor sending my brother's neurons into a state of artificial frenzy, addressed me. He had a small memo pad in one hand, a ballpoint pen in another. I briefly admired his calm. I briefly considered vomiting.

"Name?" he asked me.

"My brother's or mine?"

He paused. "Both, I suppose."

"Mycroft Holmes."

"Spell that?"

I did. Twice.

"And him?"

"Sherlock."

I spelled that, too.

"Do you have a phone number on hand where we might reach your parents? How old is Shylock?"

Christ above. And these were the men to whom I trusted my brother's life.

I began to focus very hard on my breathing, reasoning that if my brain were occupied with the simple process of inhaling and exhaling, it would be impossible for me to worry about what would happen were Mum and Dad to discover that their precious second son had nearly stopped his own heart and lungs in a contagious-looking flat in South London. It would also, in theory, prevent me from being sick.

"Sherlock is seventeen. I am old enough to serve as his guardian. His parents need not be notified."

He blinked. "But, but surely…"

I made a valiant effort to look even older than twenty-four. "As the only current surrogate agent available, I have informed you that they need not be notified."

The medic stared, unsure of what to do with me. But then, this was nothing new. I'd never been the sort of person strangers knew what to do with.

Over the course of our five-minute journey, I handed over a wealth of information. Sherlock's date of birth (January 6), his blood type (B negative), his allergies (amoxicillin, of all the inconvenient nineteenth-century allergies), his drug history (extensive). It surprised me, as I spoke, that I'd somehow emptied out a corner of my brain and converted it into a walking encyclopedia about my younger brother. I wondered what I'd forgotten to make room for Sherlock's resting heart rate and blood pressure. The Library of Alexandria, set up in flames to make room for a few medical charts and a day planner.

The sound of Sherlock vomiting violently from behind me filled the ambulance. The naloxone must have been working. I refused to turn around.

#

When we arrived at St. Bart's, I hardly knew what happened next.

One moment we were in the ambulance, and then the next the medics were whisking us through the front door and into an elevator—"whisk" really being the only word for the perfunctory way they ushered me along, as if I were a somewhat bewildered hanger-on who it was less trouble simply to humor.

This assessment was not altogether false.

Sherlock was stretched out on a cold metal table, trembling, but breathing. The harsh lights made him seem even paler than he was. He was already quite pale. I saw a doctor with thick-rimmed glasses approaching quickly, pulling on gloves as she went.

And then, suddenly, I was outside of the room, and Sherlock was inside, and the door was shut.

I stood there stupidly, staring at the door. I didn't know what else to do. Sherlock wouldn't even want me here, were he currently capable of having an opinion on the matter. But I couldn't shake the feeling that in leaving him alone, I'd failed him.

One of the hundreds of thousands of times I'd failed him.

Me at fifteen, he at eight. When I let the bullying go on a full year before I said anything, because hard as it is to be a fifteen-year-old taking uni-level maths, it's even harder when you're associated with the third-year who cuts open rats in the schoolyard to see what their hearts look like.

Me at seventeen, he at ten. When I shouted at him through his closed bedroom door—he was avoiding me, he avoided me most of the time in those days, he still avoids me. When I demanded why, if he couldn't at least be normal, couldn't he use that massive brain of his to at least pretend? To hide, to blend in and get by, like I was doing?

Me at eighteen, he at eleven. When I left home and did not tell him I was leaving.

Me at nineteen, he at twelve. When I mailed him his birthday present: a five-pound note with a message jotted on an index card in pencil. "Don't do anything stupid and you'll live to see thirteen. —M."

It wasn't my fault, of course. It would take someone rather more diabolical than I to orchestrate Sherlock's downfall. Only Sherlock could do that. But if I had said something more useful, tried a little harder, come back…

A commotion was emanating from behind the exam room door. I heard raised voices and a flurry of feet, but did not stay to hear more. If they would not let me in, I couldn't stand here imagining what was happening. Imagination had never been my friend. If I lost control of my rational mind, I knew, it would be the end both of Sherlock and of me.

#

The downside of ensuring the medic didn't inform Mum and Dad of Sherlock's crash was that I was left to wander St. Bart's alone. To be sure, this was preferable to the immediate alternative. Dad would have wailed intolerably, and Mum would have cursed me into the very deepest circle of hell in lieu of a target more immediately responsible for her anger. But there was something to be said for having someone to talk to at a time like this, when I could hear the silences between my brother's heartbeats even from the floor below.

Me. Wanting someone to talk to. If Sherlock were conscious, he would have alerted the Telegraph.

I wandered down to the cafeteria for lack of anything better to do with my time. A dispiriting fluorescent cube with dispiriting people sitting at dispiriting Formica tables bolted to the floor, plastic napkin holders soldered to the tables. I considered getting something to eat, for the sole purpose of having something to do with my hands, but heard Sherlock's voice somewhere in the corner of my brain, sneering at me.

"You're looking well, Mycroft. The new diet's a success, I see."

It was rather hard going, taking nutritional advice from a heroin addict. I bought two Cadbury bars and ate them on my way back up the stairs, just to spite him.

I had managed to kill thirty minutes: a drop in the bucket, all things considered. I paced back and forth along the length of the small waiting room, measuring the steps like a convict. At some point I actually resorted to thumbing through a back issue of the Daily Mail, though there was something oddly comforting in its reliable uselessness.

An hour passed.

Then two.

It had been two o'clock when Sherlock had been admitted—this time of year, already almost sundown. By four thirty, when the nurse finally deigned to emerge from the room and address me, the street outside was utterly dark. As I set aside the Mail and stood up, I could see my own reflection clearly in the glass, converted from window to mirror by degrees as the sun set. I looked terrible. Perhaps a good thing I had spent the day alone.

"You're here for Sherlock Holmes?" the nurse asked, scathingly patronizing.

I deliberately cultivated my most mature, most capable tone of voice. The one that religiously avoided contractions and unnecessary inflection. The voice I planned to use during my practical examination for SIS in three months, assuming Sherlock could refrain from causing another disaster long enough for me to sit the exam.

"Yes," I replied. "Has there been a change in his condition?"

"Well, he's alive, if that's what you're asking."

I hadn't realized how much of a weight had been crushing my chest until it disappeared. I gripped the arm of the chair behind me. If it hadn't been there, I had no doubt I would have fallen. A sign of how much Sherlock's condition had clouded my judgment—I should have been able to tell at a glance what this hardly subtle orderly would tell me. Further proof that caring about anything put one at a disadvantage.

"May I see him?"

"You're family?"

I raised an eyebrow at the nurse. "Obviously."

He raised his hands in affronted surrender. "No need to get in a twist, I'm just asking. After sundown it's family only, that's all. Room 6B."

I pushed past him without another word. Ordinary people. It's no wonder I avoid speaking to them when I can.

6B was not far. I slipped through the door as another white-coated stranger was leaving—the paramedic who had administered the naloxone. He gave me a small smile when he saw me, which I did not return. There was no one else in the room, a small, dull hospital room with gray walls, translucent net curtains, and any number of medical instruments doing their utmost to keep my brother's heart beating and lungs expanding.

Sherlock was alive. That was the most I could say for him.

Lying there in bed, a barely distinguishable bump beneath the blankets, he looked almost like he had before I left home, when he was eleven. I hated him for it. It was impossible to be angry with him when he looked like this, so small, so pale, so, so…

I didn't know what.

He robbed me of words.

I wanted to hate him.

I hated that I couldn't.

I stood beside him a minute, watching his chest slowly rise and fall. Too slowly for my liking, but at least I could see it from here, at least I had that proof. I didn't want to look at him. I needed something else, anything else, to distract me from this tiny child that could have been Sherlock, and yet was not. It was too dark to look out the window. They had given Sherlock a single room, so conversation was right out, if I had been in the mood for conversation, which I was not sure I was. Television? Well, I was not yet that desperate.

I paced across the room to the small night table placed beside the bed. Ridiculous. As if patients in this particular ward strolled in regularly with an absolute surplus of belongings. As I hoped it would, the top drawer held a few abandoned items from the room's previous occupants. A hairbrush. A single navy blue sock. And—prize of all prizes—a battered paperback copy of Don Quixote. I would have preferred something less fanciful, but it was long, and so it would have to do.

Flinging myself down in the chair at Sherlock's bedside, I turned on the overhead light near his bed, flipped open to the first page, and began to stare at the words. Absorbing nothing. Understanding nothing. Absently turning pages as Sherlock's heart monitor beeped regularly, and his breath hissed in and out, and he continued to sleep.

#

When Sherlock awoke, it was past midnight.

He wasn't sure how long he'd slept. He didn't like it, not being certain. He didn't like the clouded feeling in the back of his brain, as if someone had taken the usual clarity of his thoughts and replaced it with a mess of cotton batting. He didn't like how tired he felt, or the agonizing pain in his head that flashed green-white painful with each movement.

And he certainly didn't like the feeling of the IV in the crook of his left elbow, indicating even to his weakened powers of deduction that this was a hospital, and he had done something to earn his place in it.

He moaned quietly and opened his eyes, wincing as the light seared the back of his eyes. A small curse slipped from between his lips as he looked around. The clock on the wall opposite his bed read 12:21 a.m., but someone had left the overhead light on, wrecking hell on his sensitive retinas. He briefly considered tearing out the IV and turning the light off himself, damn the consequences.

Then he saw the person sitting underneath the dully burning lamp.

A young man in his early twenties slumped down sleeping in the room's only chair, his head drooping onto his left shoulder. A serious-looking person, dark hair cut military short, wearing a large black jumper and dark blue jeans as if clothing that displayed personality were punishable by hanging. His double-breasted wool coat had been thrown over the back of the chair. On the floor by his feet, a dog-eared paperback copy of Don Quixote had fallen face-down. Its pages, creased now at the corners, splayed outward in a woebegone fan.

As Sherlock watched, the corners of the young man's eyes twitched. The traces of a wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"Good morning, Sherlock," Mycroft said, his voice hoarse against the midnight quiet. He did not open his eyes.

"Do they know?" Sherlock didn't need to specify who. However brilliant, he was still seventeen, with a seventeen-year-old's fear of parental discovery.

Mycroft sighed and opened his eyes at last. He sat up straighter and arched his back, wincing slightly at an evident pain in his neck from sleeping in the chair.

"No," he replied. "I'm acting as your medical surrogate agent."

"Are you?" Sherlock tried to maneuver into a sitting position. It was harder going than he had expected, but he tried to hide his difficulties from Mycroft.

He was unsuccessful, but Mycroft did not say anything about it.

"Believe me, brother mine, it wasn't the way I intended to spend my Sunday afternoon either."

"Forgive me. You must have had something dreadfully important to do. Organizing drone strikes against a sovereign nation. Tea at Buckingham Palace."

"Oh, but what does any of that matter when I could have the opportunity to see you rise from the dead?"

Mycroft rose from the chair and slipped on his coat, doing up the buttons with mechanical precision. Sherlock frowned, not understanding, irritated that he did not understand.

"Where are you going?"

"It's nearly twelve thirty in the morning, Sherlock. Now that I'm convinced you will live until sunrise, I am going home."

If Sherlock had been asked twenty-four hours ago whether he would have wanted Mycroft to visit him in the hospital, he would have responded with a loud laugh and an opinion that the questioner was out of their mind. But seeing Mycroft reach into the pocket of his coat to double-check for his keys, he became suddenly convinced that his brother simply could not leave.

He opened his mouth to protest, but between the slowness of his thoughts and his unwillingness to give Mycroft an inch in the expectation of his taking a mile, he found he had no words. Annoyed, he closed his mouth again.

Mycroft, noticing, gave a short laugh.

"You've already risen from the dead, Lazarus. You can hardly do expect to outdo that trick this evening. Send me a text Monday afternoon."

And, flicking the overhead light off, he opened the door and stepped into the half-lit hallway, leaving Sherlock alone in the dark. The sound of his footsteps against the linoleum slowly faded, until a door closing at the far end of the hall silenced them entirely.

#

Three forty-five, Monday afternoon.

I sat in the upper drawing room of the Diogenes Club—the only place in this goldfish bowl of a city where I could be assured of a few minutes of respectable silence—pouring over my exam preparation notes. Not that I expected to need them. It would be a very special examiner indeed who could confront me with a question of intelligence and deduction that would pose any difficulty. From what I had seen of MI6 (more than they would have liked, I'm sure, given the secrecy incumbent upon the Secret Intelligence Service) the existence of such an examiner was unlikely.

But still. It never hurt to be prepared. And if I was going to sit the examination, I might as well dazzle them.

I squinted, attempting to decipher a page of my own handwriting—my project for the next two months, learn to write legibly—when my phone vibrated violently against the wooden reading table, sending up a sound like a dying calf. I snatched it up immediately and muffled the sound with my palm, weathering a wave of withering glares from the middle-aged club members sharing the room. Self-consciously, I looked down at the screen, taking in the message at a glance.

murder in hanover square last night. witnesses claim ghosts to blame. join me? -s

It wasn't ghosts. It was a non-unionized taxi driver causing a distraction so his cousin could eliminate a distant relative. I'd glanced over the police report that morning, it was quite obvious. But for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to tell Sherlock that. For some reason, I found myself smiling as I tapped out a quick reply.

all yours, brother mine. carpe diem. -m