Dotted with craggy tors, the moors stretched away from a line of dark, closely-cluttered trees in rugged, rolling hills. Early morning dew glimmered over the verdant expanse, softening the stark scenery. The haze of sunrise still hung in the air, the horizon blurred by fog and the mist clinging to the bordering woods. Birdsong drifted on a light breeze, and the sun’s wan light shone down through sparse cloud cover. Untamed, the view hinted at wild, fertile bleakness, static but for a single galloping horse and the man bent low on its saddled back.
Dirt flew up from the surging legs of the large, dappled grey horse, the ground vibrating beneath thundering hooves. A white blaze upon its face, the animal tossed its head and galloped with ears pricked forward. Crouched low in the saddle, reins held firm in each hand, John gripped the horse’s heaving sides with his knees. The morning had a chill to it, and the wind playing through his hair blew sharp against his flushed face.
“Come on, Blaze,” John called, giving the horse a firm tap with his heels, “is that all you’ve got?”
Neck outstretched, Blaze bared his teeth and whinnied. His muscular legs were a blur as he put on a burst of speed, taking the words as a challenge. Laughing with delight, John leaned forward to keep his balance as they thundered over the rambling terrain.
Thick clods of black dirt burst up from the earth with every strike of Blaze’s hooves upon the ground, making John feel like something run wild. It felt like flying, the two of them untethered from the Earth by the sheer speed at which they crossed the moors. Once a famous racehorse, Silver Blaze undoubtedly relished the chance to show John what he was made of, and John never could resist letting him stretch his legs. Though it had been months since John felt the need to escape the world, he still delighted in the sensation of weightlessness that stole over him when they galloped.
Blaze tossed his head again, and John knew it was time for a reprieve. He slowed the horse to an easier stride, bringing their break-neck run down to a trot. Blaze huffed loudly through flaring nostrils and flicked his tail against his side and John’s leg, making John chide him fondly.
“None of that, you brat,” he scolded, firmly patting the horse’s neck with the flat of his hand. “Not if you want those extra oats when we get back to the clinic.”
The horse nickered and bobbed his head, and John grinned.
“Glad we could come to an agreement,” he teased. “Alright, back we go.” John turned Blaze back the way they’d come with a tug of the reins. They maintained a quick trot for the return trip, and it was late morning when the familiar red-brick walls of Doyle House — what John called ‘the clinic’ — came into view.
A sprawling manor, Doyle House Clinic was named for its landed gentry titleholders, the Doyle family. Over the years, the property had expanded until it covered a large patch of Dartmoor moorland before passing to the family's last living descendant, Andrew Doyle. Working as a practicing trauma surgeon in his youth, Doyle had made a name for himself in the medical community. Upon retirement, finding the property far too large for his solitary self, he’d remade the estate. Rather than let the three-storey building, with its twelve bedrooms, three floors, and two guest dwellings, fall victim to moths and dust, Andrew converted the manor. Now, it comfortably housed twenty residents at max capacity, serving as a ‘health resort’ for high-class clientele — primarily government officials, military personnel, and the occasional celebrity. Well into his eighties, Andrew Doyle functioned as the head of the facility. He handled the hiring of doctors, therapists, addiction specialists and other professionals needed to support those who arrived at the manor’s doors requiring intensive care.
Three years ago, John had been one such person. While serving his third tour in Afghanistan, a bullet to the shoulder had ended his Royal Army Medical Corps career. The wound nearly killed him, and the resulting infection almost succeeded where the bullet failed. But — against all odds — John had survived. Invalided back to England, he’d struggled to acclimate to civilian life and his new physical limitations. It wasn’t until he ran into an old friend, a man named Mike Stamford, that John heard about Doyle House. With one phone call, he'd found himself on the way to Dartmoor.
When he’d first arrived, John expected to be no more than a patient. He thought he would do his time and be on his way within a few months. To his surprise, Andrew Doyle welcomed John not only with a smile and firm handshake but a glowing recommendation from Stamford, a job offer, and on-site lodgings. It had all seemed too good to be true. But three years later, John was still at Doyle House, feeling less and less like his life was just a dream that he’d yet to wake from. The work did him good. It gave him purpose where John had once felt aimless. The doctors, therapists and physio specialists at the clinic provided all the help he needed. Now, John got by with the occasional ‘top up’ and filled his days with riding, swimming, and work. He was a bit lonely some days, but, with all things considered, Doyle House wasn’t a bad place for an ex-soldier like him to end up.
Something moved near the manor, drawing John out of his thoughts. Looking toward Doyle House, John saw a long, black sedan pass through the open gate, creeping up the long gravel drive. He watched with absent interest, rubbing Blaze’s neck with a distracted hand as the car pulled up outside the manor. “You think that’s a new client?” John asked the horse with a flicker of intrigue. Blaze twitched one of his ears back and stomped a foot into the dew-damp grass in response. John snorted his amusement and tangled a hand in the horse’s mane as he squinted against the sun.
The car stopped before the manor, and the driver-side front door opened. A tall man in a suit appeared, his attire overly formal for the time of day. He moved around to the back of the vehicle and opened the boot, pulling out a suitcase. Squinting harder, John saw the rear passenger-side door swing open.
A tall, slender man emerged, the sun glinting off natural red highlights in his dark, curly hair. Even from a distance, John could see a phone in the man’s hand and tell the conversation wasn’t a happy one. He couldn’t make out the words from where he sat on Blaze’s back, but the quality of the man’s deep voice carried on the cold breeze. He sounded furious. With a fierce scowl, the man shoved the phone into his pocket and stalked toward the front door. He moved with an awkward gait that was at odds with his trained posture, his pace slowed by a stiffness that was all too familiar to John.
Even from afar, John could see the evidence of pain in the man’s walk. His own lips twisted in a sympathetic grimace. That had been him, once, limping his way through the clinic’s front doors. Whoever the man was, he’d come to Doyle House for a reason, and that meant he needed help.
The man disappeared from view as John mused.
Buzzing with curiosity, John sat up, stretching his arms over his head. Blaze stood patiently, too well trained to shift with John’s hands off the reins. Patting the horse on the flank with no small amount of fondness, John said, “I think it’s time we got you rubbed down and back to your stall.” He looked thoughtfully at the manor and the black car still sitting out front. “It looks like I might soon have a new file sitting on my desk.”
The car jounced and lurched its way over the rough country road, making Sherlock’s stomach roil. Every bump, every water-logged pothole, had him clenching his teeth against the ripping pain in his head, the agony of his back, and the plaguing nausea. This rocky travel was a cruel form of torture, the coarse terrain making Sherlock’s still-healing injuries sing with pain. That, and the ragged edge of impending withdrawal, brought a sour taste to his mouth. Sherlock wasn’t yet in the thick of his sickness, but there was a hollow feeling in his bones and a metallic taste rising at the back of his throat that told him it wouldn’t be much longer. The shivers would set in first, and soon, and the sweat would stand out on his brow as his stomach began to twist. From there, Sherlock would find himself sunk deep into his own personal Hell. His brain would demand opiates as his stomach emptied itself of whatever remained after he’d sweated out all the moisture in his body from his pores.
Judging by past experience, Sherlock would be suffering within six hours, maybe sooner. His last hit hadn’t been nearly enough, fuelled by desperation as he’d scraped the bottom of his stash. Mycroft had intervened before Sherlock could acquire a top-up. There was no telling how much his brother's meddling had moved up the timeline of his withdrawal.
The urge to vomit brought Sherlock’s mind back to Mycroft, who was still droning away at him from the other end of the phone pressed to his ear.
“…I don’t know what could have possessed you to return to the drugs, Sherlock, especially in the state you came back to London in—”
“And whose fault was that?” Sherlock hissed, cutting his brother off in the middle of his chastising. “If I recall correctly, you were the one who sat and watched while they beat me for an hour.”
Mycroft’s response was sharp and reproachful, “I couldn’t very well stand up and announce myself right away, could I?”
A sudden, full-body tremour rippled through Sherlock, making his teeth click together as he cursed under his breath. The shivers were already starting, and it wouldn’t be long before all the rest followed. That knowledge sharpened his tongue, his breath hissing out in a furious growl. “I don’t want to hear your excuses again, Mycroft,” Sherlock seethed, wrapping his arms tightly over his roiling stomach. The gesture would do nothing to stop the tripling of his growing nausea, but Sherlock was helpless against the urge to try. “And I don’t see why I have to now humour you and your meddling.” Sherlock sniffed, his nose starting to run. “I was handling things just fine on my own.”
“If by ‘handling things’ you mean drugging yourself into a stupor with illegal opiates, then well done,” came Mycroft’s harsh retort over the phone, “you’ve succeeded.” A sigh followed the sarcasm. “Surely, I don’t need to explain to you why I couldn’t allow such behaviour to continue?”
“‘Couldn’t allow?’” Sherlock echoed, clenching his jaw in a futile effort to keep his teeth from chattering. He failed, stuttering out, “I’m not a bloody child, Mycroft. I don’t need you to handle me.”
“If you don’t wish to be treated like a child, then you must stop acting like one.”
Sherlock glared out the window, refusing to validate Mycroft’s words with a reply. They’d finally left the rough country road behind, the car now rolling down a long gravel drive lined with thin, well-maintained Common Beech. Leaning forward, Sherlock saw an open gate in front of the vehicle. His scowl deepened. “I see you called ahead to arrange my imprisonment,” he said with vitriol, the phone clutched in a death grip.
A scoff drifted through the speaker. “Do stop being so dramatic, Sherlock. Of course I called ahead. You’re attending a prestigious program at a private clinic. You can’t just pop in unannounced.”
“Who said I wanted to ‘pop in’ at all?” Sherlock eyed the large, three-storey building dominating the view through the windshield. Tall windows and clinging English ivy marked the red-bricked facade, making the building look like something from a Jane Austen novel.
Sherlock hated it already. “I want to go home,” he said, his voice emerging far smaller than he’d intended. It sounded like a plea when he wanted it to be a demand.
There was a brief silence. When Mycroft spoke, he almost sounded apologetic. Almost. “You need help, Sherlock,” he said, soft but firm. “There are people who have been through less than what you experienced in Serbia, and it destroyed them. You don’t have to follow that path.”
“Don’t compare me to ordinary people,” Sherlock snapped, making Mycroft sigh again.
“I’m not,” his brother conceded, sounding tired. “But you do need help, Sherlock. You are my family, and I will not stand by while you destroy yourself one needle at a time.”
The car rolled to a gentle stop. Sulking in the backseat, Sherlock watched the driver remove his belongings from the boot. His things had been packed by several of Mycroft’s staff, and he wondered if they'd included all he would need. He knew his belongings would have been thoroughly searched for anything resembling drug paraphernalia — no chance for relief there.
Sherlock closed his eyes and scoffed at his brother. Leaning his head back against the leather seat, he asked quietly, “Am I at least allowed my violin?” He could do without just about everything else, but his violin was a necessity. When the withdrawal started, music was one of the few things that soothed the restless itch that grew beneath Sherlock’s skin and begged him to use again.
Mycroft’s harsh voice softened. “I made sure that it would be allowed.”
Sherlock nodded stiffly, his lips pressed into a thin line, wondering if his brother could see the gesture. The car might have been equipped with hidden cameras, and Mycroft could be watching him even now. Either way, Mycroft seemed to sense the nod.
“Just give the program a chance, Sherlock,” Mycroft said with something very close to a plea in his words. “I know you wouldn’t have come here on your own, and I know you resent me for my meddling. But I need you to try. If you won’t do it for me, then do it for yourself.” A pause. “Do it for the work. The sooner you recover, the sooner you can return to solving cases.” Mycroft’s voice turned coaxing. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
Sherlock swung his legs out of the car, the crushed white gravel of the drive shifting beneath his heels. A horrible surge of nausea washed over him when he tried to stand, and Sherlock closed his eyes against it. Waiting for the sensation to settle, he breathed slowly out his nose and spoke to his brother through his teeth. “What I want is for you to piss off, Mycroft.” His stomach finally settled enough for Sherlock to stand upright. He moved gingerly away from the car with the phone pressed hard to his ear as he forced his protesting legs to carry him forward. “And I promise nothing. As I said before, I am not a child, and I will not be treated like one. The sooner you realize that and let me leave this place, the sooner we’ll both be better for it.” Sherlock ended the call, already anticipating the impending scold in Mycroft’s inhalation.
Shoving the phone into his pocket, Sherlock paused and raised his eyes to the building before him. It seemed taller outside of the car and far more foreboding than it had appeared through the windshield. Sherlock took it in with a grim expression. He had no desire to be here and wanted even less to go inside. But there was nowhere left for him to go and no one to take him away, leaving him with no choice but to continue onward. Sherlock made his way to the front door with a slow, jerky gait, every step sending pain and nausea rolling through his body. Judging by the shakes vibrating through his hands, he didn't have long before the full force of his impending withdrawal dragged him down. His arms began to quiver, and Sherlock wished he'd had that last complete hit after all, silently cursing his brother's infuriating interference.
As he reached the door, Sherlock lifted his chin and straightened his shoulders. It hurt, but he refused to let the pain reduce him. He might not have come here of his own volition, but he'd be damned if he was going to crawl inside on his hands and knees, begging for respite from his own self-inflicted hell. Standing tall, Sherlock marched forward to meet his suffering head-on and with a stiff upper lip.