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Lost for Words

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Phone calls at three in the morning were never about good things.

John was in Barcelona for a medical conference. He was woken up by his mobile ringing and fumbled around in the unfamiliar hotel bed, trying to untangle himself to answer it. He knew right away it couldn't be good news. If he were at home, he might expect Sherlock to be calling him from the first floor of the flat, trying to get him up for a case. But here, when Sherlock probably hadn't even noticed he was gone? It had to be bad.

He managed to grab his mobile and get it to his ear, flailing out with his other hand to steady himself against the bedside table and not fall out of bed. “Hello?” he said.

“Sorry to wake you Dr Watson,” Mycroft's voice said. John's stomach turned to ice. Mycroft calling him was very bad. “I'm afraid Sherlock's been involved in an incident. I think you should come home.”

John was already out of bed and trying to find clothes. “What happened?” he demanded.

“He was attacked,” Mycroft said. “I don't know all the details. It's unclear what he was doing, but he was found in the street by one of his Homeless Network. I've rerouted a private flight to land at El Prat. It will be there in half an hour and wait ten minutes. I suggest you be on it, if at all possible.”

John was throwing things into his suitcase now and decided that he could replace everything in the loo, so he ignored it. “How bad?” he asked.

“I don't have all the details,” Mycroft repeated. “But...he's unconscious. And I understand most of the trauma is to his head.”

John closed his eyes, briefly. “I'm on my way.”

Overall, it could have been worse for Sherlock. There was a sizeable subdural haematoma and some swelling of his brain. The haematoma had been drained with a simple burr hole procedure and most of the swelling went down quite quickly. No one had been able to tell John if there would be any brain damage and he'd sat for long time in the hospital waiting room, trying to avoid thinking about things like DNRs and withdrawing life support. Sherlock Holmes without his cognitive functions would not want to live.

Mycroft was no help whatsoever. He had the power of attorney, but John felt like it would be easier to reach God by phone than Mycroft. He spoke to secretaries and assistants, all them assuring him that Mr Holmes would return his call as soon as possible. Finally, after Sherlock had been unconscious for two days post-surgery, John was forced to scour through Sherlock's address book and find the private, emergency line to Mycroft. Scour was a bit of a strong word, as there were only two names in it and one of them was John's.

Mycroft was in a meeting. “I trust your judgement, Doctor,” he said, in a low voice. “I can't leave here at the moment. Do what you feel is necessary and I will support your decision. You'll know better than I what the right thing to do is.”

“It doesn't work that way,” John said, exasperated. “I don't have the power here, Mycroft. I need you here.”

“If it becomes urgent, I will come,” Mycroft said. “Until then, you are a far better judge than I am.”

John couldn't really argue with that. It was logical. It was Holmesian. It was annoying as hell. “They're going to do another MRI,” he said. “We'll see if the swelling has gone down any further. If it hasn't, we may have to think about...”

“I understand,” Mycroft said.

John thought he finally sounded a bit perturbed, but maybe he was just hoping to get any sort of response from him so much that he was hearing things. Iceman, that's what Sherlock said they called him. He thought it was very apt.

“If he wakes up and he's not... himself,” John added. “You need to tell them no extraordinary measures. He wouldn't want that.”

“I agree,” Mycroft said, and the coolness was back again. “Is that all?”

“Yeah,” John said. “I'll ring you if something needs to be decided on.”

Mycroft barely had time to thank him and say goodbye. John leaned against the hospital wall and tried to control his temper. Getting angry wouldn't help anyone, though angry was what he felt. Angry at Mycroft, angry at himself for going away and leaving Sherlock open to attack, angry at Sherlock for going out on his own. He was angry at everything.

Because if he was angry, he didn't have to be scared.

The MRI showed some improvement in regards to the intracranial pressure and John decided to give Sherlock a little bit longer to pull through before he made any big decisions. Sherlock was stubborn as hell, and if there was any way he could make himself wake up, he would. John felt he owed him the chance to try.

His faith was well-placed.

Sherlock woke up around ten o'clock that night, just as John was getting ready to go home and try to get some sleep. The nurse caught him as he was heading toward the lifts and he hurried back to the waiting room. He paced anxiously as Sherlock was assessed. His heart was pounding in his chest, terrified of what the report might be. He practically ambushed the doctor when she entered the room.

“Dr Watson?” she said. “Do you want to come with me to somewhere more private?”

John knew where that was—that was the Bad News Room. He did not want to go to the Bad News Room. “Just tell me, please,” he said.

She smiled and invited him to take a seat in a corner of the room. “Sherlock is doing very well,” she began. “He responded extremely well to the majority of the tests. His motor functions are very good, but he has some weakness on the right side. It isn't severe and should resolve with physio.”

John relaxed a little, but he knew that couldn't be the full report. “And?” he pressed.

“He has some retrograde amnesia about the incident, which is perfectly normal,” she went on. “And he didn't know the date.”

“He never knows the date,” John said.

“Or the current prime minister,” she said.

“He never knows the current prime minister,” John said.

“Oh. Well, then that's quite good,” she said. “Are you sure that's not out of character?”

“For Sherlock? No,” John said, with a relieved laugh. “Is that what you were worried about?”

“That's part of it,” she said. “But he's also showing signs of dysphasia. He answered our questions, but he struggled very hard to find the right words. He was able to write his name and some... er... opinions on our questions, but his verbal expression was very stilted. He understood everything we asked of him, so it seems to be expressive and not receptive.”

“Oh God,” John muttered, feeling a bit sick to his stomach.

“Really, Dr Watson, of all the possible outcomes, this is very good,” she said.

“I know, I understand that,” John said. “But you don't know Sherlock. Sherlock needs words. He needs to be able to speak. If he can't speak...” he shook his head.

“It may just be temporary, it's very early days yet,” she soothed. “And with these sorts of injuries, as I'm sure you know, recovery is absolutely possible. Sometimes it reverses itself very quickly. And if it doesn't, there are plenty of therapies to help him along. I understand his brain is used to working in unusual ways, as well, which will help. I can't promise a full recovery, but I do think Mr Holmes is capable of it, if anyone is.”

John nodded, trying not to be too panicked. She was right; if Sherlock had come through this with his brain mostly intact, it was better than most people. Sherlock probably wouldn't see it that way, though. He wondered if he was scared, not being able to communicate freely.

“Wait, if the hemiparesis is on the right, how did he write for you?” he asked.

She frowned. “Is he not left-handed?” she said. “He tried to pick up the pen with his right hand and then moved to the left one and wrote normally. I assumed that was his dominant one.”

John shrugged. “Can I see him?” he asked, deciding there were more important things to think about than Sherlock's cross-dominance.

“He's back asleep; we still want him resting and the assessment took a lot out of him,” she explained. “But you're welcome to look in on him if you'd like. I trust you to know what you shouldn't be doing.”

John was led into Sherlock's room. He looked to be resting comfortably, a lot of the tubes and machines gone now. He still had oxygen prongs in and part of his head was shaved from the burr hole procedure, giving him an odd, patched look. He was a bit black and blue from the beating, bruises starting to fade into yellow and puce now that they'd had a few days to heal. His ECG monitor beeped normal sinus rhythm and John always found that sound comforting. He checked his obs and reassured himself that Sherlock was all right.

As he turned to leave, he noticed a piece of paper on the rolling table. It had Sherlock's eccentric scrawl, a mix of capitals and lower-case letters all scribbled together. John noticed it was a bit off—spaced differently, like he wasn't sure how to judge the room he had on the page and some of the letters were squished together or bigger than the others. Some of the spelling was off too, which was very unlike Sherlock, but that was part of the dysphasia. His name was dashed across the top, with two R's in Sherlock, followed by 'I do nt kno' underneath. This was underlined several times, as though he'd had to emphasize it. Beneath that was 'teadius' and 'go a way'. John smiled.

At least Sherlock's personality was intact.

It took a few days before John's visits to the hospital were timed with Sherlock's periods of being awake. They were keeping him very well sedated, because apparently Sherlock was 'agitated' when he was awake. John interpreted this to mean 'acting like Sherlock'. He kept trying to get out of bed and they didn't want him moving around too much when his brain was still recovering, especially with the hemiparesis, which made him more liable to fall. Finally, John managed to find him while he was upright.

“How are you?” John asked, taking a seat by the bed.

Sherlock frowned and furrowed his brow, his mouth opening and closing several times before he managed to get out “bored”.

John had to fight hard to keep his face neutral. It was sickening to see Sherlock—who used words as weapons, who collected and treasured words and worshipped them and scorned those who didn't have as many as him—struggle to say his favourite one. It made John's stomach twist.

He forced himself to laugh. “Hospitals aren't supposed to be exciting, Sherlock,” he said. “You need to rest.”

Sherlock made a face. “Bored,” he repeated. “Bored... bored.”

“Can I get you anything?” John asked. “Do you want a book or something? Your laptop?”

Sherlock's mouth moved again. He looked very frustrated when the words wouldn't come. John found it hard to watch him struggle, but didn't prompt and let Sherlock come to it himself.

“History,” he said. He seemed to know this wasn't right. “History... nnn-nnn.. er... er... new... history... now... history...”

John tried to parse this and figure out what Sherlock meant. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Can you use different words?”

“Words.... er... broken...” Sherlock said, annoyed. “Thoughts... blood.” He touched his head, where the sutures were. “Broken.”

“I know, Sherlock,” John said. “I'm sorry. Do you want to write for me?”

Sherlock nodded. John retrieved the notebook and pen he habitually carried with him. Sherlock had trouble holding it open with his right hand, which was slow to respond to his commands. John held it flat for him and Sherlock wrote with his left hand, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

“How come you can write so well with your left hand?” John asked.

Sherlock opened his mouth to explain, but nothing came out. He made a few 'er' noises and gestured a little, but couldn't seem to find any words. “Bored,” he settled on, in the end. “Bored.”

John wasn't sure if he found the question boring or if boredom had led to his ambidexterity. He suspected the latter was more likely. He could picture Sherlock being so bored that he decided to learn how write with the opposite hand or something equally insane for an experiment.

“Nooz papper,” John read, upside down, as Sherlock finished writing. He sounded it out a few times.“Oh, yeah, I get it now. Newspaper. History that's happening now. I can bring you some newspapers, sure. Anything else?” Sherlock wrote again. John laughed. “I can't bring you a murder, Sherlock. I don't think the nurses would approve.”

Sherlock pouted. He wrote again. John had to sound it out again. 'Orderlyy a fair hav'

“I don't care if the orderly is having an affair,” John said, with a roll of his eyes. “I doubt it affects his ability to do his job. I'm glad to see your powers of nosiness are still intact, though.”

“Still... smart,” Sherlock said, a bit urgently. “Still... smart. Smart. Not... er... gr... er... grammar... right... but... but... but... smart... always...”

John smirked. “I know, Sherlock,” he assured him. “You're still a clever arse.”

Sherlock nodded and grinned.

A man came in the next day to give Sherlock a full assessment, so they could come up with a treatment plan for him. John guessed he was some sort of occupational therapist, but he only introduced himself as 'Geordie'. He was a fatherly, grey-haired man with a deep, soothing Scottish voice and the feeling that he had nothing better to do than what he was doing at that particular moment.

John had requested to be present at the assessment, as he would be the one who would be interacting with Sherlock the most. He didn't like the term 'caregiver', but he knew that's basically what he was.

Geordie took Sherlock through a few exercises with his hands and feet first. Sherlock's right side was slow to respond, but he got all the tasks completed eventually. There were some memory and decision making tests next. Sherlock did pretty well with those. Then they moved on to the speech tests, starting with repetition. Sherlock did about fifty-fifty on those, able to repeat some words and a few short phrases, but having trouble with longer sentences.

Geordie held up a pen next. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. Sherlock nodded, looking insulted. “Can you tell me?”

Sherlock frowned and concentrated. “Tr... er... blue,” he said.

“Yes, the ink is blue,” Geordie said, in a praising tone of voice. “But what is the object itself called?”

“Pen,” Sherlock came up with, after several seconds of opening and closing his mouth and saying 'er...'.

“Perfect, great,” Geordie said, making a note on his paper. “What do you do with a pen?”

“Words,” Sherlock said, making a writing movement. “And... erm... maths and... and... and... pictures.”

“Great,” Geordie repeated. He made some more notes. John tried to read them, but they were too far away for him to do it without being obvious. Geordie touched his glasses next. “What about these?”

“Spectacles,” Sherlock said, without too much hesitation. “Broken... eyes... erm... erm... hear... no... er... look.”

“Perfect,” Geordie said. Sherlock rolled his eyes at John, who hid a smile.

Geordie pointed to John next. “Do you know who this is?” Sherlock nodded again. “Can you tell me his name?”

Sherlock looked over at John and opened his mouth. Nothing came out. He closed and opened it several times. “No, no,” he said. Or maybe 'know, know'. He looked annoyed and then a bit panicked and John really had to bite his tongue not to say his name for him. Sherlock looked back at Geordie and shook his head.

“That's all right,” Geordie soothed. “Can you tell me about him?”

Sherlock looked at John again. “Baker... Baker,” he said. “Baker.”

“That's our address,” John explained.

Geordie nodded, but put a finger to his lips and John clamped his mouth shut. “Tell me more, Sherlock,” he said. “What does he do?”

“Pills...” Sherlock said. “Pills... and... running... and... er... war. Also... words... stories... not... pen... words... keys... words.” He made a motion of typing on a keyboard. John guessed he was trying to explain about the blog. “Words.”

“Great,” Geordie said. “Can you tell me anything else?”

“Women,” Sherlock said and John chuckled at the disgusted tone in his voice. “And... pub... also... er... tea... tea and.... short...” John gave him a mock annoyed look at this and Sherlock grinned. “Me... follow...” he shook his head, as though disagreeing with himself. “No. No. Me...” he made an odd gesture John couldn't interpret, a sort of circular motion between the two of them. “Trouble... me... fix...”

“Do you want to write it?” Geordie asked. “Are you able to write?”

Sherlock nodded, and snatched the pen as soon as it was close enough. He scribbled on a piece of paper Geordie set down, then pushed it back.

“That's good, Sherlock,” Geordie said. “It's very good you can write. A lot of people can't after this sort of injury.” He looked down at the paper and took a moment to decipher it. “He assists you with your work? Is that right?” Sherlock nodded. “And what do you do for a living Sherlock? What does he assist you with?”

“Murder,” Sherlock answered, without hesitation.

John felt that interceding here was necessary. “Er, he's a detective,” he explained. “We solve murders.”

“Oh, I see,” Geordie said, looking a bit relieved.

“No, no,” Sherlock said. Or again, maybe 'know, know'. He pointed to the paper and Geordie handed it back to him. He wrote on it again and pushed it toward John.

He picked it up and read it. The words 'Jon H. Waaatson' were printed in capital letters and underlined twice, as though Sherlock were trying to prove that he remembered it.

“Know,” Sherlock said, and John knew which word he meant this time. “Know... you.”

John arrived home after Sherlock's test to find a new bag of knitting had appeared on the chair in the hallway. Mrs Hudson's response to stress seemed to be cleaning, baking, and knitting. In the week since Sherlock's attack, she'd made 221B spotless, and after she was out of things to polish, she moved on to baking until John really could not eat anything else—and now she was knitting. He'd already taken a bag of hats, mitts and scarves to the charity looking for them and dropped off a box of preemie hats at the nursery during one of his trips to the hospital.

She hurried out of her flat, as she always did when he came home after seeing Sherlock. “How is he?” she asked.

John gave her a reassuring smile, though he could have used some reassurance himself. “He's doing very well,” he said. “He had his assessment done and I got him to agree to a treatment plan, though I very much doubt he's going to cooperate with the therapy. His movement was a bit better today, I think.”

Mrs Hudson still looked worried . “But his speech?” she said. John shook his head. “Poor thing. Sherlock loves his words. Is he frustrated?”

“Yeah,” John admitted. “He's pretty annoyed. He's angry. That's good. It's a better response than feeling sorry for himself. Angry is a bit more productive.”

She nodded. “Poor thing,” she repeated. She sighed and changed the subject. “I made you lunch. And there's a cake in the fridge.”

John's stomach was not pleased about this, but he forced a smile and thanked her. He ate the lunch provided and managed a slice of cake, but decided that Mrs Hudson needed to see Sherlock before John's trousers didn't fit any longer.

Mrs Hudson was always a bit reluctant to visit anyone in hospital. John and Sherlock had both had their share of stays, but she didn't often come to visit. John didn't hold it against her—lots of people weren't comfortable in hospitals. She accepted his offer to come with him when he returned for proper visiting hours later that day, however. She knew Sherlock wasn't coming home any time soon.

“Now, he'll be speaking like a child or a person with a mental disability,” he prepared her, as they walked through the halls. “But his comprehension is still very good and he thinks normally, he just can't articulate it, so don't talk to him like a child or simplify your words. Just give him time to get out what he wants to say and if he doesn't make sense, ask him to repeat himself. Don't finish his sentences or help him out unless he asks you to.”

She nodded, looking a bit flustered. He smiled at her and knocked on Sherlock's door, then let her go in first.

John didn't know much about how Sherlock and Mrs Hudson met or why they seemed to like each other so much. She was the only person in the world that John had ever seen Sherlock be openly affectionate towards. He smiled when she nervously entered the room, looking pleased to see her, albeit in a guarded sort of way.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs Hudson said, hurrying over to the bed. “Oh my goodness! I've been so worried! What were you thinking, running off on your own like that? You could have been killed! Look at your poor head!”

Sherlock made a face like a scolded child and flinched away when she tried to touch the shaved area of his head. It was pretty nasty looking. The incision was open to the air now, so the stitches could be seen and there was a sort of dent where the hole in his skull had been made. “Fine,” he objected. She hugged him and he tensed up, but patted her on the back in a perfunctory way. “Sta... er... cease.”

She let go and stepped back, tears in her eyes. John brought a chair over for her to sit in. Sherlock pointed to the rolling table, where the pen and paper were located. John pushed it over to him and he started to write.

“Mrs... Hus-don... Hus-don...” he said, after he'd written it down. That was one of the techniques Geordie had suggested. For some reason, reading was sometimes easier than speaking spontaneously. “Hus-don.” He wrote again, but frowned and shook his head, then glared at John. “You... no.”

“Sorry,” John said, though he wasn't sure what he was apologizing for. “Have you tried singing it?” This earned him an even deeper glare. “Singing comes from a different part of the brain, Sherlock. It might be easier.”

Sherlock shook his head and turned his attention back to Mrs Hudson. She seemed to have gathered herself again. “Not... not... need... visit... need,” he told her.

“I know, dear,” she said. “I wanted to.” She lifted up the handbag she had with her and pulled out a little box. “I made tarts. I thought you might like something homemade, though I know you don't like to eat. But you should, because you need to be healthy. And I made you a scarf. John says yours is in evidence, so I don't want you to catch cold when you come home.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes, but dutifully took the objects and put them on the table. He looked to John, confused. “Edi-vence?” he asked.

“Yeah, Sherlock, they took your clothes for evidence,” John explained. “It's an assault case. They're investigating. Your scarf and coat were pretty bloodied up, from what I understand.”

Sherlock wrote again. “Die,” he said. He held up a hand before John could say anything. “Die...” He frowned and clasped his thumb and forefinger around the opposite wrist, like a bracelet. “Arrest.”

“No, they haven't arrested anyone,” John said.

Sherlock slapped the table in frustration. “Wrong,” he told John. He pointed to the paper. “Eyes.”

John leaned over. “Oh, DI! Sorry,” he said. Sherlock was reading it as a word and not the two individual letters. “Do you mean Lestrade? Is Lestrade on the case?” Sherlock nodded, making an 'obviously' gesture as he did so. “Yeah, Lestrade's in charge. He was pretty insistent on it. He'd like to chat with you, but he said not to rush you. So when you feel like you're ready, let me know.”

“Fine,” Sherlock said. “Fine... n-now. Fine.”

John was a bit sceptical that Sherlock was up to it, but he was already frustrated and John didn't want to fray any more nerves. “I'll give him a ring,” he said.

Sherlock nodded, content. He turned back to Mrs Hudson, who looked very concerned at his outburst. “Fine,” he assured her. “Not... not... rowy.”

It took John a second to figure out he meant 'worry'. Mrs Hudson didn't seem to need to decipher.

“You silly boy,” she said. “I'm always going to worry about you.”

Sherlock didn't know what to do with that. She smiled and patted his hand. He twitched his lips back at her. “,” he objected.

“Yes you are, you are a very silly boy,” Mrs Hudson insisted. “You have to promise me you won't ever wander out on your own like that again, it was a silly thing to do. You should have told someone where you were going.”

“Adult not... not... child,” Sherlock told her. “Not... have... have... erm... tell... all... moves.”

“You can't run around on your own,” Mrs Hudson said. “It's dangerous. If you'd had John with you, you might not have been hurt.”

“Very... good me,” Sherlock said, pompously. “Many... er... years... solo. Fine.”

“Yes, well you have people who care about you now,” Mrs Hudson said. “And who are your friends and can help you. You shouldn't be on your own when you're doing silly things.”

Sherlock reluctantly nodded, mostly, John suspected, to make her move on to a new subject. They chatted for a bit longer, Mrs Hudson doing most of the talking and Sherlock only saying a few words here and there. John chimed in to make up for Sherlock's lack of conversation. After about twenty minutes, Sherlock started to look tired. He would never say anything, but John knew how much an injury like his took out of a person. It was exhausting to try and do something that was hard for a long period of time. John could remember after he was shot, trying to build up the strength in his shoulder again. A shoulder that wouldn't do what he told it. He slept for weeks after he came home from Afghanistan.

“It looks like the nurse wants to check on Sherlock,” John said, taking the opportunity to extract themselves without implying that Sherlock was running out of steam. He'd just deny it and get offended. “We should probably give her some room to work.”

Mrs Hudson took the hint and got to her feet. “You behave yourself,” she told Sherlock, sternly. “I know the sort of patient you are. You be good for these nice nurses and doctors trying to look after you.” Sherlock stuck his nose in the air. Mrs Hudson smiled affectionately and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I'm glad you're all right, Sherlock.”

Sherlock flicked a smile at her. “Fine,” he said. “Not... rowy. Not... fuss.”

Mrs Hudson patted his hand and John said goodbye, then ushered her out to the hallway. The nurse greeted them as she passed, going into the room after they'd left. John waited while Mrs Hudson arranged her coat and scarf to her satisfaction.

“It's so nice that your mum came to visit,” the nurse said to Sherlock. John could hear her from the hallway.

“Not... mum,” Sherlock said, in a patronizing tone of voice. “Land—er—land-lady.”

“Oh, I see,” the nurse said. “It's still nice for her to visit though, isn't it?”

“Maybe,” Sherlock admitted.

John and Mrs Hudson took the lift down to the ground floor. Once inside, she started to cry. She fumbled in her handbag for tissues and John wasn't sure what to do.

“I'm sorry,” she said, with a sniff. “I didn't want to do it in front of him. I was so worried. My friends have had strokes and I was so afraid that he wouldn't be himself. I know his speech isn't right, but he's still him. When you described it, it seemed like a stroke and I—oh dear, I'm being silly. He's still himself, isn't he?”

John smiled and put his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her up to his side. He touched his head to hers. “Yeah, he's still Sherlock,” he said. “Lucky us, huh?”

She nodded and cried harder. John held on to her, feeling relieved himself. He'd made the choice to give Sherlock a chance to recover and he had to live with it, for better or worse. Thankfully, it was the right choice. Sherlock Holmes was still Sherlock Holmes. If nothing else, it was a place to start.