John Watson stood on the pavement outside St. Bart's, his ears buzzing and his mouth filled with bile. A pool of blood, shockingly dark against the concrete, crawled sluggishly toward his shoes, and he did nothing to move out of its way. The last of the crowd had mostly dissipated after the stretcher had been wheeled inside, with just one young woman casting a final concerned glance over her shoulder before shuffling away. Aside from the blood and the man heaving sickly breaths through his nose beside it, nothing had visibly changed.
Something significant had happened, something life-altering (life-ending) and unspeakable, but John couldn't summon the mental energy to examine it yet. The images passed before his unseeing eyes like the crap telly he'd put on for background noise while he blogged, and he let them slide away into his subconscious without a second glance. He was vaguely aware that his head hurt, rather badly in fact, and that his hand was shaking; but the only signal he received from his brain was to stand still, in this spot, and so he did.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been standing there—or how long he would have continued to do so—when a small, nimble hand slipped around his elbow and tugged. He turned his head stupidly, staring down at the hand without comprehending, and Molly Hooper's face craned into view.
“John,” she said, and it shook him partly out of his reverie; he focused on her face, trying to deduce it, trying to read her expression. The wind caught at her scrubs, making his eyes flick reflexively toward the motion, and his stomach twisted violently at the smear of blood down her front. She followed his gaze and made a small sound of distress, turning her body so he couldn't see.
“You'd better come inside,” Molly said, stepping forward, and unable to form words, he followed.
She deposited him in a chair in the lobby, pushing a polystyrene cup of lukewarm water into his hands. He lifted it to his mouth, lowered it again, lifted it back up. He couldn't seem to drink it. He couldn't seem to do much of anything, actually. How could it possibly be this difficult to exist?
“You don't have to drink that,” said a familiar voice, and fingers lifted the cup gently from his grasp. He looked up to see Greg Lestrade standing over him, pale as a ghost and sheened with sweat.
“Greg,” John said, and then stopped. It wasn't a greeting; he'd intended to say something, ask him something, but the question had left him as soon as he'd said Lestrade's name. It didn't matter, apparently. Lestrade ran a hand over his face as though John had accused him of murder.
“Jesus, John,” he said, his voice shaking terribly. “I can't believe—they called me, and I came straight away—I just—how was I to know?” John didn't have to ask. The resigned expression as Lestrade had placed—him—under arrest; the disappointment in his eyes, the pulsing in his jaw had said it all. Lestrade felt at least partially responsible, and John was inclined to agree with him.
“Doesn't matter, does it?” John asked at last, his voice oddly calm. The ringing in his ears made it all sound far away. Perhaps it was; perhaps this was actually happening to someone else. “You thought he was guilty. Even if you'd known he was—what he was going to do, you'd have done the same fucking thing.” The profanity seemed to startle Lestrade, bringing his gaze up to meet John's, and he clenched his fists.
“I'm a police officer, John,” he said defensively. “Christ's sake, what was I supposed to do?”
John had a few choice ideas for what Lestrade could go and do, but he was prevented from listing them by the abrupt appearance of Mycroft Holmes. He walked into the lobby, arms stiff at his sides, and John straightened; without his umbrella and his arrogant, self-important walk, he was hardly recognizable. Here was a Mycroft in the throes of grief, and John suddenly didn't know how he was going to have this conversation. Molly walked a few steps behind Mycroft, her face streaked with tears. John rose out of his seat as they approached.
“He isn't dead,” Mycroft said without preamble, and John wished he hadn't bothered to stand up; his knees buckled and he caught the arm of the chair just in time to guide himself back into it. At his side, Lestrade let out a whoosh of breath. John peered up at Molly, who gazed back at him through red-rimmed eyes, and found he could not feel relief just yet.
“He is not dead,” Mycroft repeated, as though to remind himself, “but he is in a coma. He suffered a great deal of blood loss and immense trauma to the head. His left shoulder is broken, and his left lung is collapsed. It's a miracle he survived.” Mycroft didn't sound like someone delivering news of a miracle, John thought. He sounded like someone who'd had the rug pulled out from under him. But of course, this was his baby brother; even a frigid bastard like Mycroft was bound to be upset.
Brother. Your own brother, and you blabbed about his entire life to this maniac. Suddenly John remembered why any of this had happened in the first place. He felt a murderous, blinding hatred that seemed to shoot out in all directions at once: toward Moriarty, whose obsession had driven them all to this; to Lestrade, who had so easily lost faith in one who needed it so badly; but most of all, more than he had ever hated anything in his life, he hated Mycroft. Mycroft, who had sold his brother out to the most dangerous criminal on Earth. He found he could not sit here one more instant without physically attacking the man. He stood, anger flowing hot into his limbs and giving him strength.
“Can I see him?” he asked Molly, carefully avoiding eye contact with the other two. She glanced at Mycroft nervously, and John's jaw clenched.
“I'm not sure whether that's a good idea,” she said weakly. “He looks—well—”
“Let John see him,” Mycroft said, and John wanted to punch his name out of his mouth. “He is a doctor, after all.”
“All right, then,” Molly said, and for the second time, John followed in silence.
* * * * *
John stood just inside the closed door of Bart's poshest private room, his left hand gripping and releasing reflexively. A few feet away, there was a bed, and in that bed, theoretically, was Sherlock Holmes. John couldn't see him, though. All he could see was a frail, sunken figure, its head shaven and bundled beneath bandages, the whole body festooned absurdly in tubes and wires and plasters.
The clouds outside the window shifted a little, the sunlight throwing Sherlock's right cheekbone into sharp relief, and that was better: there was the haughty face, the hollows for the imperious eyes. It all looked alien and bare without the fringe of dark curls, but it was recognizable. John stepped closer, then closer, until finally he stood at the side of the bed, gazing down at what had become of his friend.
He heard the door click open, and spoke without turning his head. “Could you give me a moment, please?” he asked in a low voice, afraid to disturb the fragile creature in the bed.
“You don't have to whisper,” came Mycroft's voice. “He's not going to wake up.”
John gripped the bed rail with both hands, fighting to control his rage. “You don't know that.”
“I misspoke,” Mycroft corrected. “I didn't mean to imply he would never wake up, though I am assured the likelihood is slim. I simply meant you would not disturb him by speaking.”
“God, do you ever switch off?” John blurted, glaring at him and making a vague gesture with one hand. “Could you just be a person for once? Is that even possible?”
Mycroft regarded him with an arched eyebrow, then replied flatly, “'You can't just turn it off and on like a tap.'”
“Don't,” John hissed through clenched teeth, “don't you dare stand there and quote him to me. You don't get to—”
“Get out, Mycroft.” With effort, John reined in his temper and turned his back. “Just go.”
Mycroft remained silent for a moment, but did not leave. John could feel his rage simmering somewhere in his hunched shoulders; he really was in no mood for the platitudes and double-talk. He found that he wasn't even surprised Mycroft had knowledge of an offhand remark from a private conversation. Nothing was beyond his scope of knowledge—nothing, it seemed, except the depths of Moriarty's obsessive interest in his little brother.
“This was never meant to happen,” Mycroft said at last, and John didn't bother responding, just reached down and touched Sherlock's pulse point with his fingertips. There had been no pulse; he'd been sure of it, absolutely sure—and yet, now, he felt the beat of Sherlock's heart fluttering away in his wrist. He heard the door open and close, and as he sank into the chair beside Sherlock's bed, he thought to himself that Mycroft had been right about one thing—Sherlock's survival had indeed been a miracle.
Now, just one more, John thought. Open your eyes, Sherlock.