The snow came again, heavier this time, wet. It tapped against the bedroom window audibly and John thought it was oddly metronome like, similar to the clock ticking on the wall or the pulse beating in Sherlock’s wrist.
He was asleep. Deeply, apocalyptically asleep in John’s bed. He was asleep and even if his short hair was mussed and his lips were parted, breath coming and going in muted little snores he was absolutely stunning.
They’d not spoken much. Scant words, glances, scoffs and nods, but they’d said volumes.
‘Austria or Switzerland?’
Sherlock’s brows wrinkled for a moment in confusion, then slowly his lips curled upward in a lopsided grin; ‘My-my-my… What HAVE you been up to?’
They’d had tea and sat in silence. Sherlock’s eyes had lingered a little too long on the photos on the mantle, John and Iris Jade together… He looked stunned, confused, but shook it off quickly enough.
John paged through the medical file, speaking only when he came across a passage that needed clarified; “Necrotic tissue?”
“Seven inches of my small intestine, three of my large intestine…” He paused and hiked up his shirt exposing the fading pink scars on his abdomen; “The colostomy bag was the worst. And honestly, that is all I have to say on the subject.”
John nodded; “How long ago was the reversal?”
“Ten months… Everything’s back to normal on that front.”
“Good, good…” And another lapse of silence followed fifteen minutes later by; “The Vertebrae?”
“It doesn’t seem to affect my range of movement unless I get too cold… It aches horribly and I lose some function in my legs due to the pain… And if that happens it’s more likely that the pins and plates have caused me to stiffen up like a rusted child’s toy.”
“Barometric pressure… Riding aeroplanes can cause similar symptoms.”
“I know,” He winces.
Another silence. Thirty minutes; “Oh… You’re allergic to Heparin?”
His brows lift and he nods, seems a little proud of it, “Yes.”
“Hmm… You don’t like the bracelet I take it. Pinches?”
“Yes, you’ve opted for the medallion and you hate necklaces… Same reason you rarely ever wear a tie.”
“Really?” His expression was smug. “Perhaps I don’t wear a tie because I find them tedious.”
John considers this for three seconds; “No… You think they abbreviate your neck, you don’t wear a tie because you’re a vain bastard—AND you had childhood asthma, anything around your neck makes you feel as though you’re choking… but you wear a scarf because you got pneumonia once and your mother said it was because you didn’t wear a scarf out in the snow. Doesn’t cause the same reaction a tie does because the knot can be easily and quickly undone—Thus the long chain on the medallion.”
“Mycroft, not mother.”
“Mycroft hates scarves as much as you hate ties.”
“He thinks they’re too easily turned into garrotes.”
Sherlock snorted. “Touché.”
The evening had progressed similarly until the sun had set and John had looked up from the paperwork to see Sherlock’s chin bowed forward on his chest, hands clasped between his knees, perfectly and entirely asleep. He’d sat there in the growing darkness and watched him. The steady rise and fall of his chest, the pout of his lips the fan of lashes on his cheeks. He’d watched until he noticed the delicate shivers running through the taller man’s frame from the chill in the room and it was only then he realized the fire was out. He put the file aside, built the flames up again and stood over Sherlock for a long while watching him… Astounded, shocked… relieved.
He wasn’t sure how he convinced Sherlock to go to bed. He remembered holding those crutches as Sherlock forced himself to his feet, how his limbs shook and his cheeks were pale, eyes clouded. He’d moved so stiffly and slid beneath the quilts by inches. Easing himself down, one leg up, over a few more inches, other leg up down onto his back… It was fluid he’d done this innumerable times, climbing in and out of a bed while compensating for his injuries. But seeing it made it real to John… Made the idea of broken bone and rent flesh solidify in his mind’s eye.
Medication came next, five bottles of it in Sherlock’s bag. John took them out one by one and passed them over for Sherlock to open and self-administer. Pain and inflammation, antibiotic, “Sinuses again?”
Sherlock grunted wordlessly and swallowed them down.
Next was anti-anxiety, John was familiar with this one himself and said nothing. The last he hesitated in holding out, his hand shook, “Anticonvulsant.”
Sherlock didn’t look at him, took the bottle gently and gave a solemn nod.
It sobered him and John turned away, folding Sherlock’s jeans over the foot of the bed. When he turned around again Sherlock was spread out on the mattress, eyes closed, breathing even. His medication lined up on the bedside table, ready for morning.
So, John had sat there by the bed and watched Sherlock sleep, contemplated touching him, brushing fingertips over his brow, taking his pulse, dipping his fingertip into that teardrop of scar tissue at Sherlock’s hairline, tracing that scar back through his hair and over the dome of his skull, trying to differentiate where bone ended and the surgical plate began. But he couldn’t do it. He was afraid to reach out and touch him. Afraid his hand would sink through Sherlock’s form as if he weren’t there at all, like it had Before… Like he’d tried to convince himself hadn’t happened.
Sherlock was alive, therefore he couldn’t have been all… all Not-Quite-There around the Baker Street flat. Not possible. John had just conjured it all up in his head, hallucinations, dementia, delusions. Hadn’t John had a great uncle with Alzheimer’s? Did symptoms manifest in one’s forties?
John rubbed his mouth and continued to stare, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, heart skittering erratically in his chest.
Sherlock Holmes was asleep in his bed.
There was only one way to know for sure, because part of John wanted the whole experience with a not-quite-there Sherlock to have been a hallucination, even though that in itself would negate everything he’d slowly come to believe during his relationship with Iris Jade… He wanted, stubbornly, to forget about the way Sherlock’s head would bleed when he used too much energy, or how he’d had to keep the pink phone plugged in so Sherlock could draw from it, or how much he liked to speculate how he’d died and what it meant that he could move about unseen and unfelt.
None of it made any bit of logical sense and yet John wanted it all to be true, even though Sherlock lying there now defied what little otherworldly sense it made in John’s head.
Sherlock took a deep breath and John leaned back in his seat, awed and overwhelmed by the solid, physical presence there before him, memorized how Sherlock’s chest rose steadily beneath the quilt as he inhaled and deflated as he sighed his breath out again. His head turned on the pillow and John could just make out the colour of his eyes between cracked lids, the intensity of his gaze doubled by John’s willingness—eagerness—for it to read him.
Sherlock’s right hand came up to rest atop the blanket, fingers drumming slowly. He stayed like that much longer than John expected, left hand curled limply by his cheek where it had been resting in sleep, his drumming fingers, the crinkle of breath thin lines at the corners of his eyes, the subtle uplift of the edge of his lips.
“You’re alive,” John said under his breath, squeezing his hands together to keep from reaching out and touching.
Sherlock snorted noncommittally, as if to say ‘obviously’ or perhaps ‘you’re just realizing this now?’ and his fingers kept drumming.
John took a slow breath and leaned back, hands lifting to rub grit from his eyes as he forced himself to stand; “Are you warm enough?”
John scratched his palms on his shirtfront and tried not to look Sherlock in the eye, afraid if he did that his thoughts would be to easily deciphered. “I… I’m going to have some toast… I’ll—“
“I’ll join you.”
John ground his teeth and nodded, turning to find the faded jeans Sherlock had been wearing when he’d appeared the day before. He heard Sherlock push himself into a sitting position and the scrape of palms over stubble covered cheeks. A jaw cracking yawn and… strangely, something akin to that sound of sleepy contentment one makes upon waking, that satisfied stretch noise when all one’s muscles are relaxed and un-fatigued and for that instant everything seems right with the world. He’d never heard Sherlock make that sound before and he couldn’t help but turn to investigate.
Sherlock was sitting up left hand rubbing his right, looking somehow lost in a baggy tee shirt with his short hair mussed and his face still a little puffy from sleep. He looked entirely too human and oddly John thought he’d never looked more terrifyingly real.
He turned, eyebrows up, now picking absently at a little spot on his jaw.
“Do… do you remember anything?”
Sherlock’s brows drew down again and his eyes flicked to John’s hands, to his eyes and to the set of his jaw. He was silent for a five count and let his hand fall back to his lap, tongue working about the backs of his teeth. He took a breath and met John’s gaze fully;
“I remember the salt.”
John’s hands tightened where he seemed to be attempting to wring the life from Sherlock’s trousers.
Sherlock glanced down at his own hands, observed them picking nervously at the quilt and stilled the movement before he looked up again; “Does that suffice?”
John let his breath out all at once and loosened his hold on Sherlock’s trousers, handing them over carefully, making sure their fingers touched before he let them go; “Yeah… Yeah that’ll do it,” And he went out of the room with a smile on his face.
Mycroft had known what was going to happen the instant he patched into the adjacent building’s security cameras and saw his brother standing on that roof with… with That Man. He’d known and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. Mycroft didn’t take the inability to do anything well, and he’d thought frantically, eyes wide, fingers pressed so harshly to his lips they’d bruised and watched with a sort of helpless fascination as Sherlock had plunged…
He’d watched it all… made himself—Sherlock didn’t deserve this, so he’d watched.
They’d taken Sherlock’s body—broken and bloody and nearly in pieces into Barts. John Watson following on his own stretcher because the poor man had lost consciousness—Mycroft hadn’t called, hadn’t said anything, just straightened his clothes and had gone to Bart’s to collect his brother’s remains…
Molly was waiting, eyes wide, voice high and frightened—“Quickly—Please—PLEASE!”
She had Sherlock’s wounds packed with gauze, lying on a table, his clothes cut quickly—haphazardly—from his body, bags of ice pressed around him.
“He’s still alive!” She said in a hiss, catching Mycroft’s hand and pressing it to the side of Sherlock’s bloody throat. “I-I had to shock him—He was in V-Fib, and n-now I don’t know what to do!” She was stroking her hands over her hair pushing it compulsively back, pulling at her collar, staring and looking away in a panic. “I know dead bodies, not living ones. If I t-try anything I’ll kill him!” Her face fell and Mycroft knew she was thinking of that man in medical school, her first patient. Died of a blood clot to the brain, completely undetected. She’d blamed herself and switched her course of study.
It was also obvious she wanted to run for help but was stopping herself. Sherlock had made her promise. Had made her swear on everything she’d ever felt for him.
“He made me promise… Made me promise not to get anyone, that if he was too badly hurt for me to patch him up to call John, but John’s up stairs unconscious and I-I don’t—“ Her breath caught in her throat and she hiccoughed.
Mycroft had many employees. His assistant, his driver, his associates. But he trusted only two of them with something so… important.
His hands shook as he lifted his phone to his ear and his voice was low, growled out in a tone he’d never heard come from his own throat before. Desperate, demanding—He sounded like Sherlock; “Get here now… Have transport ready—somewhere obscure, isolated—severe head trauma…”
“On my way,” She spoke calmly, evenly and ended the call without saying anything else.
The ice was what saved him, Mycroft would come to find out. Molly’s quick thinking to bring his temperature down to below hypothermic slowed his heart rate and held the swelling at bay, preventing more serious injury to his brain and spinal cord.
The ice assured that, should there be no infection and should he survive the wounds themselves, he would have a fighting chance of one day being able to at least feed himself again.
The flight was horrific. Three times Sherlock stopped breathing, his right lung was collapsed, his blood pressure dropped steadily and he’d lost so much blood what was leaking out now was no longer red, but thin and practically translucent from being diluted by fluids and plasma constantly pouring into him.
It wasn’t hard to stage an accident, wasn’t hard to slip in, himself and Ms. Caruthers dressed as Swiss paramedics, claiming they’d been called in to collect a rock climber who’d lost his footing and fallen fifty feet.
“Had to hike five kilometers in to get him…” She said in impeccable German.
Mycroft kept his head down, expression scrunched into character and after Sherlock was safely in the doctor’s care he and Ms. Caruthers disappeared… Two hours later he had the documentation he needed, had changed and arrived back at the hospital in a new guise.
“My brother—“ He didn’t have to feign emotion at all, merely had to remember different names in place of his own and Sherlock’s; “Ivan… I was told he was brought here? I-I’ve brought his medical files…”
Ivan Sigerson… Age Thirty-Five, past recreational drug abuse—clean seven and a half years. Has had his tonsils removed as well as wisdom teeth and a stabbing twelve years ago… “He was attacked in Singapore while on holiday. Nicked his liver but the damage was superficial and healed without invasive surgery.”
Mycroft didn’t mention that surgery hadn’t been needed because Sherlock hadn’t gone to hospital for the injury until it was nearly a week old and the wound had reopened. They didn’t need to know that.
The doctor nodded and guided Mycroft—Wolfgang, eldest of three sons of a Norwegian banker and a school teacher from Northern England… Sherlock would have a laugh at his expense later, he knew he would—into a private wait room. For sixteen hours Mycroft sat, paced, held his head in his hands and remained completely isolated in hopes of keeping this secret.
The doctor said there was a fifty-fifty chance he would live… And God, but did Mycroft feel that fifty-fifty every day that passed. Every morning before he opened his eyes that question would flash like a neon sign across the forefront of his mind; ‘Will he die today?’
He couldn’t make himself eat and when he did it tasted stale and colourless. Nothing mattered but for the robotic rise and fall of Sherlock’s broken chest, forced into motion—forced to breathe—by machines.
He didn’t seem human any longer—didn’t seem like Sherlock at all, pale and bloodied—swollen beneath blankets, bandages and blackened bruises.
His whole right side was a mess of wires and drainage tubes and metal cages holding his bones together. His face was naught but one large enflamed bruise. Eyes swollen and crusted shut, gauze bloody and wrapped around his head, misshaped because the doctor said they’d been forced to cut away parts of his skull so his brain was not torn apart inside his head as it swelled.
Depressed open skull fracture, they’d said. It would be a miracle if there wasn’t infection and necrotic tissue.
Mycroft was sick thinking of what that would mean… Parts of Sherlock’s brain rotting away. He didn’t want to, hated it—sank his fingernails into his wrists to try and fight it back but he could imagine it, could see the paths Sherlock’s life would take if it happened and Mycroft didn’t know which would be the bigger mercy, letting him die or saving his life at the cost of his very mind.
Had it been a mistake? Collecting him from Bart’s? Had it been a huge mistake and Sherlock would have been better off dead compared to the uncertain life the doctors were telling him would be left?
So he sat there. And he waited… and he tried not to think of what the future would bring. He ate tasteless food, he slept, he forced himself through nightmares, he woke and he asked himself that same question; ‘Will he die today?’
There wasn’t much else Mycroft could have done, concerning Moriarty… But he still felt as if there was. Still felt as if he could have just put a bullet in the little bastard’s brain a year ago or done something differently… Something less controlled and impartial… Something more Sherlock.
But he hadn’t and now here he was, sitting at his baby brother’s bedside waiting for that fifty-fifty chance to flip out of his favour.
The days crept by like years.
Sherlock didn’t wake, he was breathing on his own but that electric thrum one felt under their skin when in his presence was completely absent.
Every day that passed, even as he healed physically, he slipped farther and farther away.
One of the nurses offered to shave him, weeks later, since the thin hair on his face had grown quite long by then and the bandages on his head had been removed— Mycroft had been hypnotized by that, he could see Sherlock’s scalp where they’d shorn all his hair off. There was an ugly black wound on the side of his head, stitched closed and heavily bruised, in addition to a long curved incision beginning at his hairline behind his ear, arching back, up—around and ending at his hairline, mid brow. The stitches there were small and delicate and below them Mycroft could SEE the missing puzzle pieces of his brother’s skull and the generous curve of his very brain. He could still imagine it putrefying, necrotizing… having to be removed like so much useless fetid animal flesh—
He would never admit it, but while that nurse did what she’d offered Mycroft crept down two floors and emptied his stomach in the men’s toilets near the café then physically had to remove himself from the hospital for a long few hours to centre himself. He sat in the hospital courtyard and stared out over the valley below. The little village he’d never noticed before, the river and falls the village were named for. It all seemed so bucolic, so—so picturesque while inside that building to his back, fourth floor, third room on the left hand side of the corridor his brother only had a fifty-fifty chance of living, and an even slimmer chance of ever waking up… forget about being the same man he’d been before this mess.
Mycroft felt helpless and he’d never done helpless well. It wasn’t part of his vocabulary or his extensive repertoire, so he sat there watching fat fluffy clouds that reminded him of meringue and made him feel vaguely nauseated—and one after the other let three cigarettes burn to ash between his fingers.
Mycroft often wondered, in the later days of those first four months, what was going on in Sherlock’s mind… If anything could anymore. What would he think of all this? Would he find it dull or fascinating? Would he delete it afterward, or would he keep it as a reminder.
Sherlock’s hair had always grown quickly and it was a little bit of a relief when it grew enough to cover the incision and scarring. The colour was lighter since this hair had never once been subjected to colourant or harsh chemicals, just a few shades darker than Mycroft’s own and over the following weeks he found himself watching as it slowly began to curl… First it had appeared straight, short and almost Roman, but a few weeks later it had become almost—fuzzy, wild and standing up at odd angles, and as time passed the curls separated themselves from the mass and Sherlock looked nineteen again, young and innocent asleep and recovering from having his tonsils removed.
Mycroft wanted to brush his hand over his brow but was so afraid of hurting him, of causing further damage to his mind so he restrained himself and instead gripped his left hand tightly.
That was the night Sherlock’s eyes opened for the first time.
The doctor had said it was possible for his eyes to open reflexively or his face to twitch, or his body move, but such things did not imply he was waking from the coma.
When Mycroft looked up from his book and saw pale eyes turned in his direction he nearly soiled himself. So surprised he was that he called out instinctually his brother’s name—not the invented one written on his identification cuff. Luckily there was no one else within hearing distance, but Mycroft chided himself afterward for such an egregious lack of control;
He blinked lazily and his eyes turned slowly and seemed to take in the room, then fluttered closed again and didn’t reopen for three days.
This time Mycroft was asleep, but a nurse told him the following morning that she’d come in to collect his vitals and found ‘Ivan’ looking around.
Mycroft watched closely every day for the next month and there was nothing… He was beginning to lose hope—but Sherlock continued to live so the fifty-fifty was in favour still. There was no sign of infection, his mind was still physically whole, even if the damage to it was yet unknown.
He noticed a trend early into those first few months, after Sherlock had been removed from the respirator, after the sedatives had been weaned away; every so often Sherlock seemed to move. His arms, hands and shoulders would tremble, as if he were attempting to force himself to wake. His eyelids would flutter and his heart rate would go up. Mycroft didn’t know what was happening but it made something hot and excited burn in his chest. Perhaps Sherlock was waking up? Perhaps this was a good sign.
The doctors asked permission to perform a test, monitor and record Sherlock’s brain waves and function to see if he truly was waking or if this, what they called ‘posturing’, was something dangerous.
After forty-eight hours of observation by a machine, staring at wires and probes glued to Sherlock’s scalp a coloured sticker had been placed on the front of his medical file. Mycroft found himself staring at it every time a doctor came into the room with cold dread in his stomach.
Epilepsy, most assuredly not something he’d ever have thought would impact him or his family. Then again, considering Sherlock’s injuries, he was surprised the condition seemed so easily controlled. However, there was still a chance, for the data collected by that machine and several scans had revealed more activity. Activity in many different parts of Sherlock’s brain that usually didn’t light up like that in someone deeply comatose. He was thinking, Mycroft told himself, Sherlock was still in there and he was thinking! He could HEAR what was going on around him and his brain reacted to it even if his body did not! It was a wonderful, gleaming sliver of a chance that everything would be alright and Mycroft latched onto it like a man possessed.
Four and a half months gone now and the doctors said that despite the evidence that Sherlock could hear them it was highly unlikely his brother would ever wake from this coma and it would be wise to consider moving him to a permanent care facility. There were many they could recommend.
Mycroft didn’t want to give up hope, it was all he had to cling to, hope and the stubborn helpless denial of a family member who simply refused to acknowledge that their loved one was most likely never going to recover. That they would never meet eyes and share a laugh, or a cup of tea or a meal or even a hug again. It was irrational and burning with sentiment and Mycroft, more than once, found himself sitting in the courtyard, his back to the room—now moved to the ground floor, out of intensive care—and having cigarettes as if they were going out of fashion, he made himself stop when the nurse commented on his coughing and for a few days amused himself with those sticky, inconvenient patches on his arms to dull the ITCH under his skin when he was without them.
No wonder Sherlock had been so mad when he’d been trying to quit… Well, at least now he wouldn’t have to worry about it, any withdrawl he would have experienced without nicotine was long since passed without his acknowledgement.
“Congratulations, brother, you’ve successfully quit smoking.”
And then, two weeks later Mycroft was settling in to sleep in that familiar—uncomfortable—chair, when he’d looked up and noticed Sherlock’s eyes were open. Staring out the window at the moonlight on the trees… There was something different. The very room felt—felt fuller.
His heart nearly stopped—
Sherlock took a slow breath and let it out and it was then Mycroft noticed the moisture on his brother’s temples and that, unlike before, his eyes seemed to focus, to SEE and to—to observe, albeit sluggishly.
“Sherlock?” He said it quieter this time, hopefully, his heart needing to hear it to continue its frantic thudding in his chest.
And those silvery blue eyes turned to meet his, lips moving but no sound escaping;
For a few days he didn’t know where he was, or truthfully, who was around him. He felt strangely… muffled. Almost as if he were wrapped in thick cotton batting, or big fluffy quilts. Warm and dulled, his senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing all dimmed considerably. It was fine for those few days. Restful—and he was so very tired, but after that it just became irritating.
A few fluttery white clad women came in and out of the room, prodded this, pulled at that. Through it all though, there was a hand closed firmly around his left. Every so often someone floating behind that hand said his name inquisitively, or sadly, or sometimes pleadingly, others the person remained silent.
He didn’t really wonder who that person was until the third morning and then, for some reason, he realized how odd it was that someone was touching him and he turned his eyes toward the stranger and encountered a familiar face grown pale and thin with worry, but try as he might he couldn’t force his tongue to cooperate and the sound that came out was not at all what he intended. Broken and high on a voice that was five months disused.
Mycroft’s eyes lifted from his book and locked on his brother’s face—so pale and still slightly swollen beneath the bandages swathing his head. His heart beat quickly and for a moment he could do nothing but stare into those unfocused eyes, so much like his own. “Sorry?”
Sherlock’s tongue flicked over his lower lip and his mouth quirked up reflexively at one corner; “Goats arses…” He seemed very pleased with himself, expression whimsical, loose, his tongue not quite familiar enough moving in his mouth once more to make the words completely articulate. They came out in a tragic slur as if the left side of his face couldn’t quite keep up with the right.
Mycroft’s throat ached but he swallowed it down and gave his brother’s hand a squeeze, focusing on the book in his lap so he wouldn’t have to look at him, trying to distract himself. Trying futilely to convince himself that this was not the final sign that the fall had damaged Sherlock more than physically. Unlike broken bones and bleeding organs and seizures that could be controlled with little pills, this was irreparable. Mycroft tried not to think that Sherlock would spend the rest of his life without the brilliance—without thoughts more complex than those of a child.
Mycroft felt himself swallowing to alleviate the burn of emotion, nostrils flared trying to draw in breath to remain calm. No, he wouldn’t think about it, not now. It was still too early. Four months was still too early to tell. He smiled kindly, the gesture somehow hollow feeling when Sherlock’s lips quirked up as well but his eyes remained somehow inquisitive, confused.
“It’s alright, just rest for now. You’re perfectly safe.”
Sherlock didn’t look to have understood him at all. There was no recognition in his gaze, no spark, no flame… Nothing.
There was a small cottage in the village below the mountain. Mycroft had rented it for himself but had rarely sat foot in it the past five months. There had been no point, the most important thing to him was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life.
Sherlock’s bones were mostly healed, he had sensation in his lower extremities, had kicked a doctor for hiking up the sheets and testing the reflexes in his feet. His reflexes were sluggish, but present, a miracle in itself. The doctor ascertained that theoretically ‘Ivan’ should be able to walk again… then again, ‘Theoretically’ it was possible to travel through time and step to the side faster that the speed of light.
Mycroft held very little faith in ‘theoretically’. He was a man of certainties, of deduction and reasoning and probable cause. He saw value in people and purpose and everyone he came into contact with may one day prove vital to something so he remembered the little things, but he did not put much faith in theory, or fantasy. He was a realist. Optimism was for the weak, cynicism was for the lazy. Mycroft put his faith in what he saw, what he could see and touch, taste and smell and all his senses were telling him Sherlock was hurt and that it was quite possible that the man he had known his brother to be before plunging from the rooftop of Bart’s was for all accounts and purposes, dead. Now there was a wounded practically helpless version of Sherlock Holmes and he was Mycroft’s responsibility.
Mycroft Holmes had never considered himself a very ‘caring’ person. He cared for his brother, for his family, yes. But it was never the kind of hands-on care that required one to change bandages, wipe preverbal asses and spoon pudding into someone’s mouth. He cared for his family in the ways that he had once believed mattered most. He kept his brother out of trouble as often as he was able, made sure what trouble he did find himself mired in was dealt with in a quick and private manner. He had gardeners to tend to his mother’s roses when she was having a bad day and cooks to make sure the aging woman had everything she could ever desire to eat or drink. He visited weekly for tea and an early supper, took care of the finances and ensured comfort all around. He dutifully visited father’s grave twice yearly and every so often took it upon himself to make sure Sherlock and John’s bills were paid, a few quid here and there never hurt anybody, and it wasn’t like Sherlock actually paid attention to his own banking account, he could get most everything he needed for free so why should he bother.
Mycroft cared in a calm, practical, removed sort of way that included very little muss and even less fuss… But apparently, he also had the potential and the desire to care in the other ways as well, the ways that left him alone in that cottage with his brother save the two days a week a nurse would come by and take over while Mycroft sat in the little study with his head in his hands trying to reconcile this new reality with all his other responsibilities.
How was he going to continue ensuring the free world ran smoothly if Sherlock was doing naught but gritting his teeth and knocking his bowl of porridge off the table babbling about rat poison in his pores? How was Mycroft to do anything substantial again when he couldn’t even convince his brother that the image on the flash card he was looking at was a rectangle not a phone or a sofa, and that he shouldn’t be afraid of common table condiments.
It was more difficult than he had realized, trying to be nurse, therapist, and nanny all at once. Keeping his cool when in the middle of the night he’d be awoken suddenly by a shout from the other room. Nonsensical screaming and things crashing to the floor from the bedside table.
Mycroft shot from his bed and across the hallway going right to his brother before he even remembered the light was off and all the illumination that was there was from the streetlight on the corner, dull and orange and ghastly against Sherlock’s pale skin.
The heart monitor by the bed was beeping and blinking and Sherlock was struggling with his clothing. The water cup on the side table across the room a puddle on the floor.
“No!” He was saying, “Nononono!”
Mycroft untangled fingers from bed sheets and trapped his brother’s arms between them, holding him tightly and feeling as if he himself would fly apart at the seams.
It had been nearly two months of this now and Mycroft couldn’t remember when he’d had more than an hour of sleep. He’d relax enough, secure in his own room with the door shut, pretending nothing outside those four walls and the cavern of his blankets existed, relax just enough to begin to doze and Sherlock would call him. Scream or shout or sob or the bed alarm pinned to the back of Sherlock’s shirt would go off alerting Mycroft that he was trying to sit up and such an action could be catastrophic if he should fall. Mycroft would have to get up, have to rub the sleep from his eyes, wash his hands and go to his brother. Sit for hours while Sherlock rambled, panic on his face, eyes wide and burning with confusion and rage, fingers biting into Mycroft’s wrists because he just couldn’t understand.
Mycroft began to wonder, if maybe it had been wrong to remove Sherlock from Bart’s, maybe it would have been more of a mercy to let his brother go instead of condemn him to a lifetime of this… THIS.
Had he made a horrible, horrible mistake?
Mycroft would wait, would pet a hand over his brother’s brow skirting the bandaging and the vulnerable, too terribly exposed portions of his head hidden under the protective plastic cap, he would sigh and smile and sit there holding him until Sherlock calmed or slid back into sleep or until the sun came up and routines needed to be upheld. Measuring fluid intake and output, cleaning the room, replacing the colostomy bag adhered to Sherlock’s stomach, fighting with him because Sherlock hated being bathed, calmly letting Sherlock tire himself out so the deed could be completed with as little physical and mental trauma to either of them as possible. Breakfast, medicine, clean up, physical therapy (once a week Elsabet the nurse would do this if Sherlock allowed her, it was rare that he would) after that debacle would be more fluid monitoring. Depending on his brother’s mood, perhaps Mycroft would read a book to him and everything would seem worth it when he could glance up and see Sherlock’s lips moving, trying and usually failing but trying just the same to repeat to himself what Mycroft was saying. Then Sherlock would scowl at him and grit his teeth when he realized Mycroft was watching him and go silent for hours. The flashcards were met with usual resistance. Sherlock would latch onto the rectangle, the ‘phone’ and dog he called a canary and insist that there was sense to his reasoning. Banging his fists on the table and throwing the cards into the floor by the handful. Sometimes he would curse violently, others it would seem he could get half a sentence out; “I hate—I… I’m—I’m not! I’m NOT!”
And Mycroft would sit there calmly, a hand on his arm and wait for the tantrum to end, pick up the cards and start again, hold up one card in trembling fingers and try to school his features into something calm and compassionate while inside he wanted to scream, wanted to shout that it wasn’t fair, dear GOD it wasn’t fair! Then supper and Sherlock would throw a tantrum, would knock the bowl into the floor or stubbornly purse his lips and refuse to be fed. Sometimes he would attempt to feed himself, get fed up with missing and throw the spoon at Mycroft or try to bite when his elder brother took over the task of utensil captain. Another fight trying to clean Sherlock up for bed, more medicine, fluid monitoring, checklists, maybe if Sherlock was calmer Mycroft would read again, if not Mycroft would still read, but not aloud, or would attempt to work, call his assistant or sit by the bed holding his brother’s hand until Sherlock fell asleep.
And in an hour, sometimes two, the process would repeat.
It had been nearly eight months since The Fall and Mycroft had completely given up on trying to dress as he normally did, he’d had so many ties and jackets and waistcoats ruined by Sherlock flinging pudding and jelly and even once being sick on him, Elsabet had procured two pair of medical issue scrubs and Mycroft wore them with as much dignity as a man slowly dying of exhaustion could muster.
Today had not been a good day, one obstacle after another. No sleep the night before and Sherlock had fluctuated from screaming at the top of his voice and throwing everything he got his hands on, to utter and complete silence, lying there limp and as if dead. There was no middle ground, just the two extremes or a horrifying silence accompanied by a twisted expression of barely concealed rage and trembling hands that seemed to itch for something to destroy.
Mycroft had never looked forward to Elsabet’s arrival more than he did in that moment. The woman seemed to have an infinite well of patience and considering who she dealt with Mycroft was beginning to wonder if perhaps she weren’t an earthbound saint… He would have to take it up with the local bishop to put her in the running. He shuffled the cards about and held up one, teeth on edge, face schooled and calm while inside he wanted to shout right back at his brother and put his fist through the plaster.
Sherlock looked at him, eyes red and watery, face flushed and politely poked out his tongue.
Mycroft sighed and let his hands rest on the tabletop for a long minute to collect himself. He turned the card so he could gaze at the little cartoon figure, thinking that he’d never hated anything more, cleared his throat and tried again. “Dog.”
He got a rude farting noise from between pursed lips.
“I admit, it’s a yellow dog and that seems odd, but it is supposed to be a dog, if you would just say it we could move on,” He was becoming exasperated and he knew it, but could do nothing else but force himself to speak anyway.
And Sherlock seemed to deflate, fingers scratching at the table top, eyes distant and gazing out the window toward the trees; “Cann-nnary…”
Elsabet spoke impeccable English and the two days a week she would come over she immersed herself in ‘Ivan’. When he wouldn’t allow her to touch him for physical therapy she would present sheets of paper and inexpensive, colourful crayons and just listen while he spoke. She seemed to be trying to find an explanation for what he was saying. Tapping the paper she’d given him with a blunt nail while he spoke and examining what he begrudgingly scribbled out while he rambled through his teeth.
Mycroft knew Sherlock had always had a knack for drawing things, when he needed to he could be quite precise. He had a sense of how things would naturally look from every angle and it bruised a little, he could tell, because Sherlock’s hands shook too badly for anything he attempted to put on the paper to be recognizable. Sometimes Sherlock even threw or broke the crayon and pushed the papers off the table completely with a snarl.
There were a few haphazard, large drawings of what Mycroft vaguely recognized as furniture on the table now and below his hand was a crooked drawing of a chair Sherlock named ‘Arse basket’ with a growl, stabbing the image with his fingertip and willing Elsabet to understand.
“Chair,” She said calmly, meeting his gaze.
Sherlock’s shoulders squared and he scraped his tongue about the backs of his teeth, as if working himself up to what he was about to say. “Stage… shit… SHIT—Share—no, no MINE… HOME!”
Elsabet cocked her head to the side, squinted at him and pointed at the image; “Your chair.”
And Sherlock’s shoulders dropped his eyes went wide and his lips parted. He blinked at her for a second and tapped the drawing; “Mine.”
Mycroft left them alone and went to his study. Three months and all he’d been able to understand was that Sherlock could draw a ‘chair’ and claim it as his… Did this constitute a breakthrough or was it evidence to the contrary?
Sherlock’s doctor had been saying for months now that this was the plateau, that it was unlikely any major improvements would occur after this stage, he had been hinting for what felt like a hundred years that ‘Ivan’ needed to be moved into a permanent care facility. Mycroft ignored the man, changed the subject every time it was broached, he wanted merely to sleep, but try as he might he couldn’t make himself, couldn’t let himself relax with that strange woman in his home, alone with his brother. His brother who most likely would never be well enough to care for himself ever again, who may oh so innocently reveal himself and cause the remainder of Moriarty’s organization to fall onto them.
Mycroft rubbed his face and wondered if it would it have been simpler, safer, to have let Sherlock die?
“It’s alright, calm down. You’ve nothing to be frightened about!”
Sherlock wouldn’t listen, couldn’t, wasn’t capable of understanding. He was afraid and in pain and he didn’t know where he was. It was the middle of the night and he didn’t know anything.
Mycroft was afraid, exhausted and felt utterly hopeless because Sherlock wouldn’t lie still and if he didn’t stop thrashing, didn’t stop screaming Mycroft knew in his heart he would just lose himself completely. He’d reached the end of his rope, his ‘limitless’ patience had reached its limit and he’d had enough. Ten months gone and Mycroft had had enough.
“Sherlock, please—PLEASE, just go to sleep. Just—just one night, that’s all I want, just sleep for one night so I can rest… Aren’t you tired? I-I can’t believe you’re not tired of this! You use more energy than I do and I can’t take it anymore,” He laughed, amused and terrified, “Can you believe that? You’ve broken me, see?”
Sherlock didn’t, just kept trying to pound his head with his hands, growling and cursing and shouting inarticulately for what felt like hours, then he would go limp for a few moments and sob, wail about dinosaurs, just listen, please! Not him! And the screaming would start again.
It was a struggle, Sherlock had regained a modicum of blunt inelegant strength in his arms and he flailed desperately and it took all of Mycroft’s concentration to pin his hands between them again and dodge his brother’s gnashing teeth and the weak kicking of his left leg, the right still too wounded to cooperate with his healing pelvis and spine.
Mycroft couldn’t find words and instead just bowed his head to rest on Sherlock’s chest, up under his chin so the buckle on his head protector bit into his scalp, letting those long fingers curl in his pyjama top like an eagle’s talons. Let himself fall into the thud of Sherlock’s heart and the knowledge that this was it. This was the moment Mycroft had never even conceived of, never planned for because he hadn’t known it was possible to be able to suddenly just turn his back on his own brother. This was the moment he decided, quite easily considering his own mental state, that it was over. He was done… He couldn’t handle this any longer and the only comfort he took in it was that tomorrow he would call the doctor and arrange for his brother to go into permanent care and he would finally be able to sleep for more than twenty minutes. He would finally be able to rest and centre himself, would be able to regain his equilibrium and sanity and he wouldn’t feel so… so useless!
“You’re alright, Sherlock… I-I promise you’re alright,” He took a slow deep breath and gripped tighter to his brother; “I’m sorry… I didn’t want this, I didn’t, but he was right. It’s what’s best for you… It’s what’s best.”
“No… NO! Can’t! DON’T! I’m n-not! I-I’m not him! Don’t p-push me!” Sherlock was sobbing wetly, uncontrollably, his whole body limp once more, defeated eyes on the ceiling, “I’m not—not Anderson… I’m not!”
The air felt thick and Mycroft lifted his head slowly, staring down at his brother in confusion. That was a new one. “Anderson?”
Sherlock looked at him, eyes bloodshot and streaming, face flushed and blotchy; “Not… not him,” His sobs wrenched up a notch; “’m not Anderson… D-don’t p-push me. I-I-I’m n-not. I’m—I’m not!”
And something made an almost audible CLICK in Mycroft’s head, his hands came up, framing his brother’s face and the voice that came out surely couldn’t be his own. Surely that tortured undignified scratching thing was not his voice; “No! God—Sherlock, you’re—you’re not stupid!”
Sherlock’s teeth ground together and his eyes shut tightly; “Not—I’m not!”
“You’re not stupid! Why—why would you think that!”
“I-I c-can’t feel it! In my mouth… It won’t… isn’t there.”
Mycroft hesitated, took a deep breath and for the first time actually thought about those words, what his brother was trying to say instead of what actually came out; ‘I can’t feel it. In my mouth…’ can’t feel what? ‘It won’t… isn’t there.’
“You can’t say it?”
Sherlock’s fingers dug into his neck.
“Sherlock… do—do you understand me?”
He made a wet sobbing noise and nodded.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Do you know who you are?”
Mycroft felt his lips curl up but nodded in return. “Not stupid… That’s right… Can you say your name?”
“Sher’—Sure—Itchy. SHIT! Sherly… No, nonono! S‘V-van’ buts not. Its NOT…” He snarled and kicked out with his left foot at nothing in frustration; “Fuckin’ hell… ” He gulped in a few unsteady breaths and went limp again, hid his face in Mycroft’s collar; “Please-PLEASE! Don’t push me. D-don’t bury me. Don’t go.”
“I won’t… I’m not… not ever.”
Mycroft climbed into the bed with him, letting Sherlock rest against him, fingers biting until bruises shaped like Sherlock’s fingerprints were left on his skin. He couldn’t move away, even if he’d wanted to because he finally realized, as frustrated and horrible as he’d felt these past few months, Sherlock had been doubly so because although he had been hurt he was still in there, still functioning and he’d been trapped within himself. No wonder he screamed so much.
There was hope… Dear, GOD there WAS! Sherlock was still there, could still understand, the words weren’t there, but SHERLOCK was, words were a technicality that could be swiftly overcome.
Elsabet found them like that the next morning, sprawled together in the bed, no longer clinging but seemingly comfortable in the same space together. She prepared breakfast and Ivan’s medication, gently prodded Mr. Wolfgang awake and ushered him out to make himself presentable for the day to commence.
When Mycroft came out of his room an hour later, still dazed and craving sleep like a drowning man craved air Sherlock was propped up in the chair by his bedside watching it snow.
It seemed so much… so much lighter in that room now, little things Mycroft had believed were signs of Sherlock’s debilitation he now recognized as his brother struggling to translate what was happening in his head into something that the outside world would understand something he’d not been good at even before this catastrophe.
The sloppy crayon images stacked neatly on the tabletop mostly centered around furniture or something with horns and tendrils. Pieces of clothing, mostly shirts and trousers, a pair of shoes and underpants, they were all things Sherlock wanted, but because of the tubes and wires and his lack of mobility, he had been denied.
The world seemed more focused as Mycroft came into the room and took a seat to Sherlock’s left and picked up his book. “Would you like me to read?”
He got a grunt in return and that was it, Sherlock seemed entranced by the snow fluttering past the window.
Mycroft read quietly, glancing up every so often to see his brother’s lips moving, trying to form the words. He managed some and couldn’t others, others still he had to pause, face wrinkled in concentration as he repeated what Mycroft had said slowly to himself, relearning his vocabulary. Trying with all his might to bring back what his injury had taken from him.
Elsabet brought in breakfast for ‘Ivan’ and watched patiently as he leaned over the table and carefully began to feed himself. His hands still shook and it took quite a bit of effort, but he managed the first few bites with minimal mess and Elsabet gave a satisfied nod, deciding to leave the brothers alone for a while, wondering to herself what had caused the tension to ease between the two.
It was quiet for a few moments before Sherlock spoke again, interrupting Mycroft’s recitation.
“I d-don’t like—like oysters.”
Mycroft blinked and glanced up at him again; “What?”
He motioned to the porridge he’d been given.
Mycroft chuckled. “No, I suppose I don’t much like it either… But it’s all your stomach can handle at the moment. Especially considering the medication you’re on. Finish it off and I’ll see about getting some tea for you.”
Sherlock’s bandaged brow was wrinkled with concentration, his eyes blazing with purpose. “How?”
“There’s a shop somewhere nearby, surely.”
“B-bang, sad-said… Phone the d-doctor man,” it seemed to take most of his energy and though his eyes remained somehow feverish the tension in his expression bled away.
Mycroft repeated the phrase in his head, trying to clarify it. Who on earth? “Try again… Slowly.”
Sherlock snarled and pointed at his porridge; “Want grapes… Pudding.”
That he did understand, Mycroft noted the page in his book and put it aside, pausing only for a moment to call to Elsabet ask that some different food be brought in. Perhaps some grape flavoured jelly if there was any left.
Sherlock seemed unaffected by the food, small jiggling cubes of grape jelly. He didn’t protest at all when Mycroft rolled up his sleeves and presented the spoon because the disaster of watching Sherlock try to feed himself some the night before was still fresh in his memory… and in the carpet from what he could see. Sherlock didn’t say anything about being fed, merely ate in silence, eyes locked on his brother’s. Once he’d had as much as he wanted he tried again.
“Doctor… where’s he gone?”
Mycroft put the spoon down and nudged the bowl away and took up his book again; “Your doctor is at the hospital, we’re going there tomorrow to see him about your upcoming operation.”
“Excuse me?” Mycroft blinked, affronted.
“Oh…” Mycroft thought for half a second, then locked eyes with Sherlock; “Oh… You mean…”
Mycroft suppressed a grin; “I’ll have him looked in on.”
Sherlock’s brow wrinkled in confusion.
Mycroft cleared his throat and spoke slower; “I’ll find out.”
That appeased him because he relaxed back into his seat and began idly scratching at a bit of tape on his stomach.
Language progression was slow on the whole. Some words reappeared in Sherlock’s vocabulary only to vanish again a few days later, replaced by others. If he was particularly agitated any sense of organization to his words vanished and he was left spluttering and gesticulating wildly in frustration, often throwing whatever he had in his hands or nearby.
“Calm down,” Mycroft would say, gripping a flailing hand; “Go slowly.”
Sometimes Sherlock would jerk his hand away and ignore the sentiment, others he would dig his nails in and take an exaggeratedly deep breath to let out between pursed lips in a rude approximation of a wet balloon loosing air.
It was frustrating beyond belief for both of them, but Sherlock was determined, Mycroft could see it in his eyes. In the way he snarled at himself and how his lips twitched as he thought carefully over what he was trying, or getting ready to say.
“Aphasia,” The doctor said, “It’s likely to clear up on its own, or he may struggle with it the rest of his life. “Considering the extent of his injuries I’d say this is getting away easy.”
Mycroft tried to remain impartial, but he couldn’t help but feel smug each time Sherlock managed to finish a complete sentence without losing words, even if they were simple sentences.
The surgery to replace the exorcised portion of Sherlock’s skull happened on a Thursday afternoon. The ‘Cap’ was carefully removed from its protective pouch in his abdomen and replaced along with a set of two metal plates that stood in for the bits of bone that were too small and damaged to be pieced back together. The surgery took longer than expected but there were no significant ‘hiccups’ as the surgeon had put it.
“Ivan will be permitted to leave in three or four days.”
Mycroft checked on him, saw him in the post op still drugged and regarding the nurses hovering over him with something akin to malice as they fitted a smock over his nakedness and tucked him away in a bed.
They’d cut his hair off again, Mycroft was loathe for it, but there was nothing to be done. It was just hair after all, it would grow back.
Sherlock blinked at him, pupils still too large, eyes watery from the anesthesia and released a low drawn out curse as he looked away, flapping one thin hand in Mycroft’s direction as if to dismiss him. “Bugger off…”
Mycroft left him there, strangely enough, in high spirits and slept the next thirty-two hours straight with a clear conscience.
Sherlock was awake when he returned late that afternoon and wrinkled his nose at the hospital scrubs his brother was wearing, as if noticing them for the first time and said in a growl; “Your forearms are scary… Take them off.”
Then, of course, came the crux of the whole thing. The stitches carefully removed from Sherlock’s scalp, bandages still in place for extra protection, that ridiculous plastic cap Sherlock had hated with such a fiery passion fitted over it all. They made a trip to the hospital a week later for therapy sessions and Evaluations, Mycroft driving, Sherlock in the passenger seat, ill-tempered because he still couldn’t stand and sitting up caused his back and pelvis to ache. Every twist and turn in the road or bump went like lightning through him.
Mycroft rolled his eyes; “I’ve been driving much longer than you have, thank you.”
“Liar. Slow down…” A hand came up, bracing himself for the next turn. “Fat idiot.”
“You wound me, brother, deeply.”
The therapists all wore the same expression when ‘Ivan’ left. A relief mixed with anxiety and barely controlled rage. Apparently Sherlock was feeling in top form today, because he was smiling broadly, crookedly when Mycroft pushed him out of the ward. The therapists had tested him quite thoroughly and found ‘Ivan’ could still understand letters and numbers even if he verbally named them wrong, could still in fact read though not too very complicated texts, and not aloud. He could also tell his left side from his right side and although there was hearing loss could still hear better than most.
His eyes though… that was another matter. Thirty minutes with the optometrist and Sherlock’s smug spirit had been knocked from its preverbal high horse.
The Optometrist proclaimed, quite simply that Ivan would need glasses to accomplish any reading, or really any walking about on the street. “It’s not uncommon,” She said, “Considering the extent of the brain damage and the blood clots putting pressure on his optic nerves, it’s very lucky he can see or hear at all.
Sherlock hated the glasses. They were ugly and pinched his nose and scratched under the bandages on his head. He hated them with such a fiery, all consuming passion if he even saw them, or heard someone mention them he became even more bitter and foul tempered than usual and only admitted defeat and wore them when he realized holding the book he’d been given by Elsabet up to his nose didn’t make the letters any clearer. Or, it could have been the written report Mycroft gave him the day after the glasses had been delivered, ten neatly typed pages detailing the past eleven and a half months of John Watson’s life and his assurance that Sherlock would not be read this report aloud.
It took Sherlock three days to read the first three pages. When Mycroft came in after lunch to sit with him he noticed Sherlock had gone pale and the pages were nowhere to be seen.
“Have you finished it already?”
Mycroft found the pages later stuffed haphazardly into his brother’s pillow case, he contemplated asking about it but changed his mind when he saw on the fourth page there were smeared bits of ink as if moisture had fallen on it and he put the pages back quickly.
Over the next few weeks Mycroft delivered two books to his brother and watched in amusement as he slowly worked his way through them. Sherlock could read well enough silently, but sometimes words became ‘stuck’, their meaning evading him even though he knew, at one time, he’d had their definition memorized. It frustrated him, that was obvious, but he pushed through it anyway.
He got headaches easily when he spent too much time focusing on the books and Mycroft had to take them away twice because Sherlock’s speech, which had evened out to mostly consistent albeit not as low and professional as it had been before, began to slur and his hands to shake in a way that was more than worrying.
Mycroft called the doctor after he’d made his brother lie down on the sofa with a cool cloth over his face and halfway through the call realized the consequences of overexertion.
It wasn’t as bad as the seizures Sherlock had suffered while still comatose, there was no vomit and he didn’t seem to vibrate in a chaotic and completely unnatural manner. He merely called out in a high, frightened voice; “My—“
Mycroft thought afterward that the truly most frightening thing had been the look of confusion and betrayal on Sherlock’s face as he’d tried to grip Mycroft’s shoulders and fought to breathe, each gasp rough and forced out again before he was ready. His muscles jumped and bunched erratically, seemingly without purpose and his hands curled back on his wrists, fingers biting into his palms, shaking—just shaking all over.
The doctor spoke calmly softly over the phone telling the two of them to remain calm, focus on breathing that it was frightening but everything would be alright and once it was over to come to the hospital for observation overnight, just in case, he’d said.
Sherlock didn’t want to go, was humiliated and angry and lashed out violently when Mycroft had to help him change out of his wet pants and trousers. He sat there on the shower chair in the bathroom with his still trembling hands over his face and muttered how much he hated this, how much he hated everything, Mycroft included, trying to hide the moisture on his face.
Blood tests and electronic probes glued to his scalp, twenty-four hours of feeling like a mechanical man and Sherlock was back in the cottage, glasses folded in their case on the table beside the pens and pencils the therapist had sent for him and the books he felt too ashamed to read.
It was dark, the moon shining through the window and Sherlock was still in his wheelchair, staring out at an angle through the window, between two pines in the neighboring lot to the silvery blue wedge of the waterfall he could see. It would be spring in London now, he told himself. Mrs. Hudson would be potting her ‘herbs’ in the back, setting them in her broom cupboard with the heat lamp and tending them daily. She would have tea with Mrs. Turner and listen how the old bat rattled on about her married ones and their plans.
John… John would be doing what he did, whatever that was now. Sherlock hadn’t the heart to finish reading the report Mycroft had given him. He’d got far enough in to recognise a name… A familiar name that made his blood run cold and memories tear through his head like strobe lights and he hadn’t been able to read a sentence more.
Real, he told himself in a reverent whisper. It’s all real.
His mind palace was in shambles and it pained him to even think about it.
Mycroft knew what was happening, because he had a similar condition. Spatial Thinking, as he had called it in his youth. Mapping out ideas in his head, correlating them with specific images or sounds or smells or sensations. Mycroft’s calendar extended into three dimensions of space in a mental Regent’s Park that changed depending on the weather, the season, and the time of day instead of the flat paper appendix Ms. Caruthers kept back in London. He’d heard Sherlock mention his Mind Palace once or twice, had mused at the idea because his own inner dialogue took place in his boyhood common room from the seat he’d taken every day after classes. It was plastered out on the walls, the floor the seats around him, the tabletops the ceiling, scrolled past the windows like passing days. It seemed exhausting that Sherlock had an entire Palace to clutter up.
“I must do some spring cleaning,” Sherlock said one morning, after breakfast. He was fidgeting in his seat, tapping out rhythms on the arm rests of his wheelchair.
Mycroft looked up from his tea, Sherlock’s speech had improved greatly after the doctors had weaned him onto a new anticonvulsant and the headaches from reading too much or thinking too much, or too much sunlight, were so rare now it wasn’t something Mycroft worried about; “You’re a little late, It’s summer now.”
“My mind rebels at stagnation… I’ve… I’ve been—been stagnanting.”
“And you’ve not been ‘stagnating’. You’ve been healing.”
Sherlock snarled and looked away. He’d hidden his safety cap again, Mycroft knew it was under the bed but hadn’t bothered to bend and fish it out again. His skull was in rights once more, much to Mycroft’s relief. Sherlock had spent more than a healthy amount of time before the operation examining the odd shape of his skull in the mirror, fascinated with it. Mycroft had been forced to stop him from touching it, thinking his brother’s fascination morbid and disturbing even more so than usual and he could tell just from the gleam in his eye what Sherlock was thinking. If he were being honest with himself would have to admit that had their situations been reversed, he would have been intrigued as well.
How often was it that a man could say he’d seen his own brain?
Thankfully though the fascination was gone now that he was healing once more and his hair was beginning to hide the scaring. On most days, because of the heat, he went without bandages, just to feel the air circulating across the back of his neck and brow.
“I can’t think like this… I feel choked… And whoever thought up this—THING—should be garroted with one,” He motioned to the tubes and wires leading from beneath the blanket over his lap.
Mycroft snorted in amusement; “Your intestines were in ruin, it was the only way they could be put back together and still allow your bowels to—“
“Don’t talk about my bowel.”
Mycroft shook his head; “Fine, what would you rather discuss? Perhaps your futile attempts in the bath this morning? I thought poor Elsabet had found you dead she screamed so loudly.”
Sherlock turned bright red and spluttered unintelligibly for a few seconds, completely incapable of speaking. He threw a pen at Mycroft who didn’t even move, just stared at his brother with his brow crooked up as it flew over his head and bounced on the carpet.
“I know you’ve been having difficulties, your unnatural moodiness is indication enough for that, but you shouldn’t fret, it’s normal considering the nature of your injury… And they do make medication for such things, perhaps we should have a chat with your doctor?”
Mycroft blinked innocently and was silent for almost a full ten minutes.
Sherlock stewed, red faced, for nearly three times that long, “When will this be… fixed?”
“Your intimate difficulties or the colostomy?”
“The fucking c’lostominy!”
Mycroft rolled his eyes, “Not yet.”
“I can’t stand it much longer. It’s horrible.”
“Again, your intimate—“
They lapsed into tense silence and Mycroft had believed the subject closed, but he was wrong.
“When can I crawl out of this chair?”
“You’ll undergo physical therapy, relearn how to walk and the doctors will advise you from there.”
“Can I eat solid food after they collapse my innards?”
“What? Collapse… Not collapse,” Mycroft paused, thinking of how to word it then gave up and just said it; “They’ll perform a reverse colostomy… It’s very straight forward, didn’t you look at the paperwork they sent you?”
“Of course I did… That didn’t explain what they were going to DO though!”
“Yes it did… Quite plainly I might add.”
Sherlock was quiet for a moment, thinking, then shook his head slowly, “I still need to clean…”
“You need to rest and stop pushing yourself. You’ve not had a convulsion for twenty-two days, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.”
“I’ve healed enough, why can’t I move on?” He clammed up suddenly, teeth clamped into his lip, eyes wide and turned his head toward the garden, watching the birds flit about in the hedgerow.
“You can’t put the cart before the horse, Sherlock. You’re very lucky to be alive.”
“I want to go home.”
“Moriarty’s agenda— The man was like an eel—“
“No, octopussy…” He scowled; “Octopeed…” A snarl, “He was a cancer, he ate into everything… only way to stop it is to chew it out.”
Sherlock paused and made a motion with his hands sawing one palm with the other fingers; “Not chew…” The motion changed into something like scissors. “Hot, with fire.”
Mycroft nodded in understanding, “We’ll have to burn it out.”
Sherlock flinched but didn’t protest. A few moments worth of silence later he opened his mouth as if to speak but shut it again and instead took to tapping his foot rhythmically and pulling at the short strands of his hair.
Mycroft took a drink of his tea.
“I’m dying…” Sherlock drooped forward across the table dramatically; “Entertain me,” He peered up at his brother over his folded arms expectantly.
“I think I much preferred it when you were incapable of speaking.”
“Intelligent people do not become ‘bored’. They find ways to entertain themselves.”
“Most other intelligent people aren’t trapped in wheelchairs with uncooperative genitalia and bits of their intestines poking out into bags tapped to their sides, are they?”
Mycroft choked into his cup, sat up and dabbed tea drops from his tie and waistcoat. “What would you have me do? There isn’t anything I can, or am willing to do about your— genitalia… and there are no puzzles here. Even if there were you are not well enough to solve anything more complicated than a jigsaw!”
“My mind has nothing to do with my body!”
“Transport, yes, how can I forget… Well, Sherlock, how did your mind react to having its transport broken against the pavement?”
“How did your indestructible mind fair when your skull was cracked like a damned egg and surgeons had to pick bits of bone from it!” Mycroft slapped his paper down on the table and leaned forward close to his brother; “How do you think I reacted thinking I’d just watched you kill yourself?”
Those eyes bored into his own like knives.
“You very nearly did kill yourself, Sherlock Holmes. You didn’t catch yourself miraculously at the last second, you didn’t narrowly escape your demise, you met it point blank. And if it hadn’t been for Molly Hooper you would be dead and buried right now and I wouldn’t be having this ridiculous conversation.”
“She packed you in ice… prevented your brain from swelling too badly in your skull and cutting that formidable mind of yours to bits… Also prevented swelling of your spinal cord, which I might add, is the only reason you’ve got a chance at being able to walk again! I didn’t save your life, those surgeons didn’t save your life, SHE did… Give that a thought before you start asking for puzzles. The only reason you’re still capable of complex thought is because of Molly Hooper. If it hadn’t been for her you’d be a corpse… You would BE one of those puzzles you love so much and there’d be no one about to solve it.”
“John could… You could…”
Mycroft hesitated, then sighed and shook his head; “If John Watson were capable of it, Sherlock, he would be doing it now… He’s not. He’s living in Sussex with a potter named Leslie who thinks she’s a psychic. He’s moved on! leave him out of this...” He leans close to his brother and speaks low, hoping to get his point across; “But me? Would I? If you weren’t alive now would I even be considering launching an inquiry? Or would I be doing as I’ve always done as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.”
Sherlock didn’t respond.
“There’s your riddle… Would I have taken your place if you’d died, or would I have abandoned your crusade?”
Sherlock was quiet for a week. He ate what was given to him, didn’t complain when Elsabet helped him through exercises, slept, bathed, worked through the flash cards and steadied his hand trying to teach himself to write again.
Eight days exactly from when Mycroft proposed the riddle Sherlock turned to him and answered.
“You would have… I know you would have. That’s what I held on to when I jumped, that John would be safe and if he couldn’t do it, you would pick up where I’d left off. Even if it had taken you years, secretly, quietly, you would have. And you would have been spectacular.”
Mycroft’s fingers tighten on his newspaper and that is the only reaction Sherlock gets, the barely perceptible crinkle of Swiss news print and a change of the energy in the air. He turns back to his own papers, carefully penning each letter and number and various combinations until it doesn’t appear to have been written by a child.
Mycroft folds his paper a while later and climbs to his feet. He disappears into the toilet for a bit, then goes to his room and comes out with an attaché case. He taps his fingers against it precisely twice before taking the seat across from his brother. Without a word he carefully removes Sherlock’s hands from the pen and stacks the papers aside, then opens the case and spills the news clippings, black and white photos and case notes in his own deliberate hand, across the table. Then leaves them there in a less than organized fashion.
Sherlock blinks through the lenses of his glasses looks up at the stern set of Mycroft’s lips then back to the stories unfolding in front of him with slight upward curl to his lips, he meets his brother’s eyes and there is a flame there that hasn’t been in months.
Mycroft loosens his tie; “Alright then.”
John couldn’t help but watch him eat. It was hypnotizing. Sherlock Holmes eating! No, not just eating. Eating well at that!
“What?” He said around a mouthful.
John shook his head; “Sorry… just… just haven’t seen you really tuck in before, it’s bizarre.”
Sherlock snorted; “I’ve come to understand how one can become addicted to food.”
“Yes, I lived nearly two years on semi-solids.”
John smiled; “Well, have some more eggs then.”
Sherlock finished what was on his plate and his milk then sat back carefully rubbing his stomach. John was opening his mouth to ask when he realized why Sherlock was doing it and decided some things were better left unsaid and left it at that.
“So, you not only sleep now, but you eat as well, anything else?”
Sherlock hummed and fished in his shirt collar for the medallion around his neck, pulling it off to show to John. “It’s all there,” He took up his tea and started on it slowly.
“Epilepsy… guessed that, the Heparin… Plates and pins…” John nodded; “What about the glasses?”
Sherlock spluttered into his tea.
“Oh, don’t play coy, I saw the dents on your nose… You hate them but you can’t wear contacts.”
“You muck about with caustic chemicals too often, contact lenses would be a liability.”
“Ah, logic suits you!”
John giggled and took another bite of his toast. “Alright, what else?”
“It’s all in the file.”
“Yes, but reading it and hearing it from your mouth are two different things. I can read ‘Epilepsy’ on a report but hearing you say ‘John, I’ve got it’ means something completely different.”
“I don’t know, but it does… it makes it personal.”
Sherlock cocked an eyebrow up; “So if you were to read that I’ve got blood flow problems it wouldn’t mean as much as me saying I’ve got them?”
“You’ve got blood flow problems?”
John sighed; “Yes, because reading about it I can pretend I don’t know… you saying it—it… it makes it unavoidable.”
“Epilepsy isn’t unavoidable? I’ve not had a Bad One in eighteen months but it’s still a possibility and you need to know.”
“Yes, I’d rather you know how to—“
John pointed to himself, “Doctor, Sherlock… I know what I’m doing.”
Sherlock still seemed unimpressed; “I’d rather not be looked after by an amateur, should I have a Bad One… And I know you’re a doctor, believe me I know that, but I still feel… I’m compelled to state the facts of it anyway because they need to be said.”
John leaned back in his seat, arms crossed. He swiped his lower lip with his tongue and narrowed his eyes as if looking at Sherlock for the first time; “Right then, let’s have it… It’s not just the convulsions, is it. There’s something else… It has to do with them or you wouldn’t have felt the need to lecture me on something I already know,” He lifted his chin; “Come on, out with it.”
Sherlock, in that moment, wasn’t sure he liked this new John. This John who didn’t have much trouble reading him as Sherlock could read another person. It was eerie to say the least. He cleared his throat, looked at his hands, looked up again and back down; “I—“
“It isn’t uncommon to lose control of one’s bladder or bowels during a seizure, Sherlock… I’ve got a bit of tact, I won’t be offended.”
He took a deep breath and let it out, glancing away for a moment before he tried to speak again but John beat him to it.
“I understand how you feel about it, I do, but it’s not something you can control and I’m not going to tease you over it… Hell, if someone does say something, or thinks of saying something, I’ll punch them in the neck!”
Sherlock felt the corner of his mouth twitch up and with a nod he let the matter drop. Maybe this new John wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
John uncrossed his arms and turned back to his breakfast. “Have you considered one of those dogs?”
“Yeah, the ones trained to aid a person who has convulsions.”
“Oh… No, I hadn’t,” He set back to rubbing his stomach; “They make dogs that do that sort of thing?”
John chuckled; “They train them, yes… I can look into it if you’d like. I've a list of things to look up.”
"Yes... Like, how can you remember It? You weren't really here."
He snorts; "Like hell I wasn't!"
"You're the psychic, not me."
"I'm not bloody psychic! Iris Jade said it was... was a sensitivity. I'm Sensitive."
Sherlock hummed noncommittally, and let out a jaw cracking yawn. He rubbed his face, then scratched his nails over his scalp and squinted at the clock on the wall, willing it closer so he wouldn’t have to either find his glasses or ask the time. By the angle of the sun in the windows he would think it to be about ten thirty, but as much as it pained him, his internal clock had been off since the Fall and he couldn’t quite get the hang of it yet.
“Well,” John said after he’d finished his tea and put the dishes in the sink; “I’ve got the day off, so we can do research. There are books here about this kind of thing… Should head to the shops first. Anything you’d like?”
Sherlock thought for a moment then nodded and carefully levered himself up, collecting his crutches from where they’d been sat in the corner. “Mind if I come with?”
John nearly fell out of his chair. “Oh… no, no I don’t mind but –er—can you walk that far?”
Sherlock paused and looked over his shoulder; “Is it far?”
“It’s not something to be taken lightly if you’re on crutches.”
Sherlock hummed; “You don’t have a trolley I take it.”
“No…” He didn’t mention that there was one in the back shed but he found it more of a trouble than it was worth. Besides, with Iris gone, two bags of groceries did him for a week. He had to give his head a shake. Two bags did one person… How long was Sherlock planning on staying?
“Sherlock… Are—are you back indefinitely?”
“Not yet, no… Mycroft’s taking care of things in London… I’d rather not go back like this. I’d like to be able to walk without assistance when I return, less suspicion that way.”
John rolled his eyes.
“Then everyone can think I did take advantage of that great big laundry truck, hmm?” He didn’t turn to look at John just gave the bedroom door a nudge until it clicked shut behind him.
John scowled, blinked and shook his head fondly. “Ya' mad bastard.”