Slowly, cautiously, he opened his eyes. His head was throbbing, his mouth was dry. Something was stopping his left arm from moving freely. Blinking to focus, he registered the plastic tube linked to it. Panicking slightly he closed his eyes again, squeezing them shut as if he could erase the image.
He had absolutely no idea where he was or what had happened to him. He had no memory of how he had got here. Almost painfully he forced his brain into motion. It felt slow, rusty even, as if it needed a good dose of motor oil, like his bicycle when he had left it out in the rain too long. What did he know? He was lying in a bed with crisp white sheets. He reached out a tentative foot to explore them with his toe. Yes, starched thick cotton sheets. The drip in his arm suggested that he was ill. He certainly felt ill. Apart from his head, his muscles ached as if he had run for hours through the woods at home; like the day that he had inadvertently strolled into a shoot on the neighbour’s land. Lost in thought he had suddenly realised that he was on the wrong side of a line of men, with rifles aimed towards him. Half-hidden by the tree-line, any sudden movement could easily be mistaken for a bird before they realised that this mammal didn’t have wings. He had run for several miles, heart pounding, before he had rationalised events enough to slow down and acknowledge that these men were shooting birds not teenage boys, and were unlikely to be pursuing himJ.
He opened his eyes again, cautiously, squinting against the bright light. Hospital room, yes, good. He had been correct. Bedside cabinet, empty of anything other than a plastic cup of water with a straw. Why the straw? He must have been more ill than he thought. Where were his things? He was never without a book, why were there no books here? Chair in the corner, nothing else. The light from the window suggested that it was late afternoon or early evening. What time of year was it? He couldn’t even remember that. Fighting back panic again he observed the light coming through the window. He couldn’t see any trees, but the light was dappled; leaves on the trees then, but not warm enough for summer. Spring then, late spring, April or the first few weeks or May maybe. Why couldn’t he remember?
He jumped as the door softly clicked opened and a nurse in a white uniform came into the room. ‘Hello Sherlock,’ she said, ‘nice to see you awake. We didn’t think that you were ever going to wake up.’ He winced at the word ‘nice’; horrible word, insipid, meaningless, but decided to let it go this time. The woman looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t remember who she was, or where he had met her before.
He frowned at her, trying to find the memories, so carefully filed and stacked to make them easily accessible. He had spent hours, days working on his memory storage facility, but it was gone; part erased, part shuffled, as if a burglar had entered his head while he slept and swept all of the files into one chaotic heap of information on the floor.
‘How are you feeling? Headache?’
He started to nod and then groaned as the throbbing in his head increased exponentially. ‘Yes,’ he whispered, instead. His voice sounded croaky, as if from disuse. His throat was sore too, he realised, and his mouth was dry, so dry. His lips cracked, his tongue coated and almost sticking to the roof of his mouth.
‘Water?’ the nurse asked, as if picking up on his discomfort. She was picking up on his discomfort, of course, that was what she was trained to do. Stupid, so stupid, and so slow. What was wrong with him?
The cup with a straw had appeared next to him, she had moved almost silently, and in this drowsy and slow state he hadn’t even noticed. He, Sherlock Holmes, who noticed everything, who had been training himself for years to pick up sounds, sights, smells that other mere mortals did not, hadn’t even heard her move across the room. Gratefully he drank, surprised when she took the cup away before he had finished.
‘Not too much,’ she said, ‘you can have some more in a minute You’re still recovering from the anaesthetic, don’t want to make yourself sick. I’ll go and get you some painkillers for that headache.’ As the door clicked shut behind her, Sherlock struggled to assimilate this new information.
‘Anaesthetic? This was new. An operation then? Why couldn’t he remember? Cautiously he performed a mental inventory of his body, stretching his arms, legs, concentrating on his torso one piece at a time. Nothing hurt excessively other than his head. What had the operation been on then? Tentatively he raised a hand to check his head. Curly, uncontrollable black hair still there, no scar that he could find. Frowning he let his hand drop onto the bed again and stared at it. There were marks on the back of it, small scabs along the lines of veins, where previous intravenous drips had been inserted. Looking up his arm he noted fresh cotton wool in the crease of his elbow; recent blood test then. How long had he been ill for? He had no idea. He was wearing some kind of hospital gown, he was lying in a hospital bed. Where was his father? Where was Mycroft? Where, more to the point was his mother? The thought of his mother made him feel physically sick. Pain, overwhelming and consuming sorrow flooded through him. Why? Dragging through the memories was like wading through mud. His mother was dead, he was sure, but how? Shuffling though the disordered stack, he found a memory of himself standing at a graveside with Mycroft, wearing a very grown up black overcoat, a trench-coat maybe, the first he had owned. He had rather liked it, he remembered; an unexpected bonus of the situation. Mycroft was standing next to him, close enough to reach out and touch, but of course he wouldn’t do that. Neither of them found it easy to express emotion, neither of them liked physical contact, even now. His father was several feet away, an expression of fury on his face. Why? What had his mother done to make his father so angry before her death?
Dead and gone then, The only person he had ever felt close to. The woman who sang like an angel, but had a temper even worse than his fathers; who could fly into the most unpredictable rages at the smallest provocation. He had loved her and been terrified of her in equal measure, but he missed her more than he could bear. Curling himself into a ball, he tried very hard not to cry. His father said that men, or boys who were becoming men didn’t cry, but the tears were starting to soak the pillow despite his best efforts. He stuffed his fist into his mouth to stop himself making a noise, just as he had when he was a skinny seven year old at boarding school for the first time. Twelve of them in a dormitory, half of them crying on any one night, and all trying to pretend that they were having the time of their lives, unable to confess their weakness, aware even then that emotion was not something to be proud of.
He was aware of the door opening, but could not stir himself enough to uncurl. A gentle hand on his shoulder. ‘Still bad? Can you take these tablets?’ He wanted them, the pounding in his head felt as if very thin, very long, silver knives were being forced into his brain again, and again, but his body refused to obey him. So he remained, curled in on himself, sobbing, unable to speak. Vaguely he had a memory that this had played out before. The soothing voice of the woman trying to persuade him to talk to her, to cooperate, him lying there, locked in on himself, unable not unwilling to obey. Even his body betraying him. He knew that she was talking, was grateful for her hand on his shoulder, for her presence, her calm, but her words had no meaning to him. They were sounds only, distant, empty. There was only the blackness and the fall, and his own pain.
The woman reached for his hand, initially he thought to hold it, then he felt a coldness sliding up his arm and realised that she had injected him with something. A sedative, he thought, as he slid into sleep, and not for the first time.
He was dimly aware in his sleep of people coming in and out of the room, of material being wrapped around his arm. A blood pressure cuff? Of the beeping of machinery, of voices trying to interact with him, but he was unable to respond to any of them. Mycroft he thought had been there for a while, sitting silent and straight-backed next to his bed. He lay very still, very quiet, cherishing the brief periods when he was able to think past the blackness, the rest of the time lost in the darkness of his sorrow, or the blissful emptiness of sleep. The plastic cup, the straw, the water, reappeared at regular intervals. Sometimes he drank, sometimes he didn’t. When he didn’t a soft sponge on a stick appeared, moistening his cracked lips and tongue.
Twice in those nightmare days he was vaguely aware of being wheeled down a long corridor where the light were too bright into a large room filled with too many people, deciding that ignorance was the best option he squeezed his eyes shut as he was slid across onto a hard table. There were straps on the table he realised, but they didn’t use them to strap him down. He was obviously though to be compliant with whatever torture they had lined up for him. Physical pain would be better than the mental pain, he thought dully, and who knows, maybe they would make a mistake and kill him, and that could only be a good thing.
But there was only a man with a kind face talking to him in words he could no longer understand, an oxygen mask over his face and a nurse holding his free hand as coldness spread up his arm again, and oblivion came fast.