He's so still now. That's the thing that bothers John most. It used to be that he could barely sit down for five minutes without popping up again to pace or shout or play the violin. Even when he was in the depths of one of his contemplative moods, there was always something sparking, something spinning, something moving behind those cool grey eyes. Now, he lies almost painfully still. His eyes stare constantly at the place where his long-fingered hands lie limp on the bed sheet, elegant despite the IVs and needles bisecting them.
"Sherlock, I've brought some food. Your favorite biscuits? Remember?" John can't resist the little nudge.
Sherlock's gaze swings in his direction for just a moment, and he raises the plastic shopping bag hopefully. Sherlock faces him for a few seconds, washed-out eyes in a face as blank as a sheet of paper. Then he goes back to his fingers. It occurs to John that maybe Sherlock doesn't see him at all. Maybe, in Sherlock's eyes, he just fades away into the olive green paint of the hospital's walls, an indistinguishable, human-shaped smudge.
The next time, John comes prepared. He's looked up every relevant study published in the past fifteen years, trolled endless support forums, even researched youtube videos of recovering amnesia patients miraculously dancing the waltz or playing piano. That last one gave him an idea, and now he approaches the bed with Sherlock's old Stradivarius tucked under one arm and a fistful of sheet music in the other. Sherlock is sitting up in the bed studying his empty hands in silence. He looks much better now, though there are still a few bandages around his head and the stubborn IV clings to his left arm. John doesn't bother to announce himself, simply sits and pulls the violin from its case. He pauses, cradling the instrument awkwardly. What next? He had planned on explaining (cheerfully, of course) what the violin was, what it meant to Sherlock, how he always used to love playing it. Maybe even tell a few stories of spontaneous Mendelssohn marathons at two in the morning and irate neighbors the day after. But now that he's facing Sherlock, all that talking suddenly seems impossible. He wouldn't even know how to begin. Finally, he just leans forward and places the violin silently in Sherlock's lap.
Everything is still for a long moment. Then Sherlock's right hand, trapped between the body of the instrument and his thigh, twitches and curls around the smooth wood. John lets out a sigh of air, realizing for the first time that he was holding his breath. Sherlock ignores him. The pale hand slides gently out from under the violin, and Sherlock rests it on top of the bridge. He resumes staring.
Nothing happens for another hour and a half. At six, visiting hours are over, and John goes home.
Sherlock hasn't spoken in almost a month. There are whispers of brain damage in the halls, and while John glares at every nurse and doctor he passes, he knows that they're right. He knows that amnesia this profound rarely presents itself alone, that cerebral edema and hemorrhaging could just as easily have provoked dementia or even catatonia, that the damage may be permanent. He knows all these things, but he doesn't let himself believe them, because that would be heresy.
They move back into 221 B five days later. John is not surprised to find Mycroft planted calmly in the middle of the flat when they arrive, as if it were his home they were returning to and not their own. John nods a curt hello, most of his attention focused on guiding Sherlock unsteadily into the sitting room.
"Sit down now, there you go," he says, gently pushing Sherlock onto the sofa. Sherlock complies, sinking into the worn material. He leans forward with his elbows balanced on his knees, hands clasped. He stares down into them.
John can't resist pausing to admire the picture he makes. Sitting like that, you'd almost think that nothing had changed. John's eyes crinkle slightly at the edges. It's almost a smile.
"What a waste."
Mycroft is also looking at Sherlock. His expression doesn't look any different than usual to John, but he doesn't think it's fair to judge Mycroft by normal standards. Surely, his brother's illness is hurting him as much as it hurts John. Or maybe it doesn't. For some reason, John can't find the will to care what Mycroft's feeling. He's too empty to get angry, too full to provide sympathy. It's very odd, so he goes into the kitchen to make tea.
When he returns with two steaming cups, Mycroft is gone. There's a check on the table with enough zeros on the end that John can quit the locum work he's been doing. He has a full-time job now.
John is bathing Sherlock when his mobile rings. He lets it go to voice mail, because Sherlock likes the bath. He’ll sit quietly for ages patting the water with his palms down, as John rubs a soapy washcloth over his back and scrubs his hair with baby shampoo.
“Close your eyes,” John reminds Sherlock before dousing his head with clean water. He’s careful to dry Sherlock’s face as soon as he’s done with rinsing, or else Sherlock will open his eyes too soon and they’ll sting.
Once he’s finished, John rests against the wall while Sherlock plays. The tub is so tiny that Sherlock has to fold nearly in half to fit, and his knees and torso still stick out absurdly. John wonders at how the body can heal so perfectly (creamy, unblemished skin, the few scars along his arm and face already fading to pink, bruises barely visible) while the damage inside remains unchanging. Even his hair has grown back an inch or two.
Sherlock continues to pat the cooling bath water, raising and lowering his open hands with methodic regularity. It reminds John unexpectedly of Harry when she was very small, how she always hated getting into the bath and then never wanted to leave. She had also been mesmerized by the ripples she could make, hitting the water with less precision but more joy. John stops short of asking himself whether Sherlock is happy.
“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” he asks, even though it’s not really a question. He bends down and taps the water by Sherlock’s right knee with a finger. Sherlock stops moving, his hands held aloft. He waits until all of John’s ripples have disappeared into the cacophony of the bathwater before resuming his ritual.
“John! You won’t believe it, but I just met the most gorgeous woman, brunette, curvy, god, and she’s smart. She works at a school, teacher or librarian or something, dunno, anyway, she’s just your type, I know ‘cause I’d be all over her if she wasn’t straight as a goddamn arrow. Thought you might be needing some company, so give me a ring and I’ll introduce—”
“Oh, hullo Greg. How’re things?”
“Fine, fine, you know. You?”
“Yeah. Well. Oh, I wanted to let you know we caught the last sniper. Bastard ran to Denmark. We’re waiting for the extradition papers to come through, but it should be any day now.”
“Ah. That’s good.”
“Right. Eh, look…I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you since Sherlock got out of the hospital. I want to, but work’s been busy since Moriarty and…all that.”
“Don’t worry about it. We understand.”
“Maybe next week?”
“Anytime. Send me a text.”
“Sure. See you soon then.”
There’s a rhythm to their days now that they never had before. John’s honestly surprised to find that this doesn’t bother him at all. He keeps his cane by his bed within easy reach, half expecting to wake up one morning crippled by the monotony of it all. Yet, the days come and go, and inexplicably he’s fine. He stopped posting updates on his blog long ago, but now he starts writing again in regular Word documents that no one else will see. The content doesn’t actually change that much.
It’s morning. John is sipping tea as he reads the paper. Sherlock lounges on the sofa opposite, his eyes glued to the pads of his fingers. His tea sits on the table nearby, ignored. After a while, John sighs and puts down his empty cup, closing the paper.
“Sherlock, you didn’t drink your tea.”
Sunlight drifts through the window in precious ribbons, falling across Sherlock’s cheekbones and highlighting his sharp features. John can see speckles of dust floating in the air above Sherlock’s head. One comes to rest on his eleventh-from-the-left eyelash. John’s counted them all.
He doesn’t really know why he does it. Later, he will say that it just seemed like the right thing to do—like when the music swells in a dramatic movie scene. The soundtrack of life propelling him forward. He reaches across the coffee table and covers Sherlock’s right hand with his own.
“What are you looking at?” he asks.
Sherlock is still staring down at their intertwined hands when he answers. His lips part and a soft gust of breath escapes. It’s hardly a word, barely a sound, really.
“Aaah,” he replies, and his hand tightens just a bit around John’s.