Characters: John, Sherlock (Main), Sarah (this chapter)
Warnings/Triggers: swearing, blood, injuries, trauma, discussion of DNRs and withdrawal of life support, deals with depression and PTSD, features a character who cannot speak or move without difficulty, which some people may find upsetting.
Spoilers: Everything aired
Pairings: none, just epic friendship
Chapter Word count: 2,898
Beta/Britpicker: aelfgyfu_mead and aeron_lanart. All remaining errors are mine.
Summary: Sherlock is assaulted by an unknown assailant while John is away at a medical conference, leaving him with a severe brain injury. While his intellect and personality are intact, he's lost the use of his right-side limbs and his ability to speak freely. John suddenly finds himself as the main source of support, and possibly a caregiver, to a flatmate who is struggling to do the things he loves most. And Sherlock Holmes has never been the best of patients.
Author's notes: This story has a lot of headcanon for Sherlock's backstory, which starts this chapter. I've based it on what we canonly know about Sherlock on the show, what little we know from the original ACD canon, and then my own headcanon.
Previous chapters can be found here. The page will be updated as new chapters are posted.
Over the next week, things in continued much the same way. John visited Sherlock every day and calmed him down or cheered him up, depending on what sort of mood he was in.
Mycroft surprisingly came through on his promises. A selection of dry shampoo arrived at Baker Street by courier and John brought it in so Sherlock could clean up his hair somewhat. Another night, a full on feast was sent in for the night staff on Sherlock's ward. It was from some fancy restaurant John had never heard of, but Sherlock was very interested and the nurses were so delighted that he actually wanted to eat something, they happily let him take what he wanted from the spread. It wasn't much, but it was food and Sherlock ate it. They couldn't ask for more than that.
John sent e-mail updates to Mycroft, slightly warmer in tone than they had been in light of his showing some consideration for Sherlock. He felt a little like a father chronicling his child's progress. 'Sherlock did up his buttons today', 'Sherlock is working on his 'J' sounds', 'Sherlock balanced on his weak leg today'. The improvements were achingly slow and Sherlock had near daily strops about how boring it all was, but there was progress.
Sherlock had one benefit in that his vocabulary was enormous. If he couldn't say or think of the word he wanted, he had a huge variety of others to fit, some of which sent John scrambling for a dictionary. Sometimes, if all his English words were failing him, he tapped into his database of French and German. This often caused consternation to the hospital staff, who didn't know what to do when he yelled at them about his 'oreiller' or Hausschuhe.
Mostly conversations with Sherlock required concentration and creative thinking to get through. He spoke agramatically (which he hated, but couldn't seem to help), he used epithets for names he couldn't remember or say (John among them; Sherlock still called him 'doctor' if he needed to reference him and had a tendency to refer to pretty much anyone else as 'idiot'), he swapped syllables or words into weird orders and he used abstract concepts to refer to things (his overall injuries, for example, were always 'blood'). And then there were times when the dysphasia had no logic whatsoever. John spent nearly five minutes one day trying to figure out what an increasingly irate Sherlock wanted when he said 'apples', only to realize he actually meant 'socks'.
Aside from this, John had very little trouble following most of what Sherlock was saying. It might have been because he was used to patients with head injuries or under anaesthesia or sedation. Or maybe just because he knew Sherlock and how his mind tended to work. He often found himself laughing at or scolding something Sherlock was saying while everyone else in the room just looked confused. It also meant that by the time John arrived to visit each day, Sherlock was at the end of his rope with people not understanding him.
The main, problem, at least in Sherlock's mind, was keeping him entertained. The more he healed, the better he felt, and the better he felt, the worse he behaved. Molly was helpful, bringing in reports for him to look at and once letting him Skype an autopsy. John brought in his laptop for him. They played chess on a little travel version the nurse provided, which helped Sherlock's concentration, and John made Sherlock move the pieces with his right hand, which helped his coordination. They had the television hooked up, and Sherlock quickly became an expert on all the soaps, yelling at the characters about the various plot points they were failing to notice. This helped, but John had to talk him out of signing himself out of the hospital three times, and the hospital staff lost him for nearly an hour one day when he stole a wheelchair and rolled off to explore without anyone noticing.
They put him in the dressing gown with the symbol for 'stop this patient and see if he should be out on his own' after that. It didn't help. Sherlock simply took the dressing gown off and wandered around in his pyjamas.
John was aware, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he was stressed. He knew that he couldn't keep going at the pace he was going forever. He was visiting Sherlock and updating people about Sherlock, making sure Mrs Hudson was all right, going to work as much as possible to earn money to pay the rent since it was clear that there wouldn't be any coming in from cases in the near future, worrying about Sherlock, trying to keep up with his friends, trying to help Lestrade with the assault case as much as possible, worrying that it wasn't solved and there was someone out there who wanted Sherlock dead and hadn't succeeded. It felt like he was juggling ten clubs at once and if he failed to catch one of them, everything would come crashing down around him.
When he woke up the in morning, he often felt a sudden surge of panic, worried that he'd forgotten something or that he wasn't where he was supposed to be.
It all caught up with him at the surgery one day. He was sitting quietly in his office, trying to resist the urge to fall sleep, when Sarah stuck her head in.
“John?” she said. “You're out of patients.”
John blinked into awareness and looked at the clock. He realized he'd been sitting there for nearly fifteen minutes, waiting for a patient that wasn't coming. “Oh,” he said, stupidly.
Sarah came in and perched on the edge of his desk. “You know you can talk to me, if you need to,” she said. “I know it's hard. Sometimes it helps to talk someone not directly involved in the situation.”
“I'm fine,” John assured her. “Just tired.”
“Should you maybe take a day off?” she asked. “From everything. You've been here every day, and I really appreciate it, but I do have other people I can call in. And you've been to the hospital every day. It has to be tiring.”
“I have to go,” John explained. “There's no one else. He won't let Mycroft in and Mrs Hudson gets too upset and his mother is in Antarctica or some other edge of the world and he doesn't have any other friends, except maybe Molly or Lestrade, but they have jobs and I don't want to bother them. I don't mind doing it. He's my friend, so I want to help him. But I can't really do anything for him. I mean, I can prescribe medicine and repair internal organs and fucking put someone's intestines back inside them, but I can't do anything for him. And he's Sherlock and the worst thing that could happen to him is to take away his independence, so he's just constantly angry and impossible and it's hard not to lose patience with him, even though I know he has every right to be upset. And I've been just sort of going one day at a time, but now that I know he's going to live, I have to think about everything else that goes along with it. There's the money, which Mycroft will cover, but I can't ask him to pay the rent and I know Mrs Hudson will let it slide, but I can't expect her to go without because we can't pay her. And there's money in the bank account from previous cases, but that won't last forever. And—and—fuck.”
Sarah knelt next to his chair and wrapped him in a firm hug. He hadn't realized he'd been ranting until he stopped and now he sort of leaned into her, like he couldn't hold himself up any more.
“He's my best friend,” he said. “And I owe him so much. I don't want to let him down.”
Sarah rubbed his back and kept him in the hug until he started to feel silly, and leaned back again. She planted a comforting kiss on his forehead and he smiled a little.
“I think you've gone above and beyond the call of duty, soldier,” she said, gently. “No one can say you didn't do everything you needed to. But you can't help Sherlock if you make yourself sick. You need to rest. You need to decide what's most important. If you think that visiting Sherlock is what you should be doing, then you need to give up some other responsibilities. Do you have enough money for this month's rent?”
“Yes,” John said.
“Do you have enough money for food?”
She nodded. “Right, then I don't want to see you back here until you've had a break,” she said. “I will not call you, and if you come in, I will send you home.”
John laughed. “Fine, fine,” he said. “You're right.”
“And if you need help, you have to ask,” she said. “Because I'm sure we're all waiting to be asked, but we don't know what to do. So ask.”
“Yes ma'am,” John said. “I don't think there's anything anyone can do. I'm just... God, I'm exhausted.”
“Rest then,” she said. “Take care of yourself.” She leaned in like she was sharing a secret. “No one is going to judge you for it. And if they do, they're wankers. So sod them.”
“Wise words,” John said, with a solemn nod. “Thank you.”
She smiled. “You're welcome. Now get out of here.”
When John arrived at the hospital, Sherlock was sitting on the bed, one leg curled up beneath him, his bad one dangling off the side. He was watching Countdown on the telly; John could tell from the music.
“No, no! Stupid,” he told the screen, showing his paper to it. “All... letters easy.” He pointed to the word on his paper. Dictionary Corner announced that 'machinery' was possible and Sherlock nodded in satisfaction.
John never understood how Sherlock was such a genius, but seemed to be under the impression that the people on the telly could hear and see him.
“You see... see... film before?” he asked John.
John laughed. “Yeah, Sherlock, it's been on forever,” he said. “My mum watched it religiously. She was good at the maths.”
“Me same,” Sherlock said. “Good...good... at all.” He turned the telly off and pushed it away with his cane. John had finally convinced him to use it and Sherlock had quickly found it very helpful for poking things. “Dead—no, er, late.”
“I know, I'm sorry,” John said. “I was talking with Sarah.”
Sherlock frowned. “Comfort,” he said. “You... upset.”
“No, I'm fine,” John assured him.
“Wash red, but... still see,” Sherlock said, pointing to his forehead. “Her... er... colour. She... er... kiss. Not...” he searched for the word. “Shag still. So... er... comfort kiss.”
Not for the first time, John really, really wished Sherlock didn't notice as much as he did. “I'm fine,” he repeated.
Sherlock stared at him for a bit longer, then seemed to drop the subject. John moved over to the armchair and fell into it, trying not to show how tired he was. Sherlock's gaze followed him. “Sing... help start... er... today,” he said.
“Oh, the Melodic Intonation Therapy?” John asked. “How did that go?”
“Stupid,” Sherlock said, making a face. “Feel stupid. Em—embarrass.”
“Yeah, well you can either feel stupid or not speak properly,” John said. “Did it help?”
Sherlock shrugged one shoulder. “Fast sing,” he said. “More... not stops.”
“Different part of the brain,” John said. “That's why singing helps stammerers too.”
“Also pattern,” Sherlock said. “I... pattern.” He tapped rhythmically on the table in demonstration. “Good pattern... from... er... bow.” He made a gesture of playing the violin. “Good... pattern.”
“Great, Sherlock, that's really good,” John said, encouragingly. “I'm glad you're cooperating. It should help your fluency.”
“Feet now,” Sherlock announced, and started to get out of the bed. John stood up, ready to help him if he needed it. He put a bit of pressure on Sherlock's shoulder at one point, to help him balance on his bad leg until he'd sorted out what his feet were doing, but otherwise the movement was much smoother than it had been. “Try early but... nurse say... er... wait. Busy, so not feet... with me. Try anyway... but, er... security. Scold. Stupid because... 'cause... feet fine. Not... fall.”
“How many times have you fallen so far?” John pointed out. Sherlock's legs were black and blue from trying to move around when he shouldn't and crashing into things.
Sherlock scowled. “Before,” he said. “Now... not fall.”
“You're doing a lot better,” John admitted. “We should try and get you into a pool, work on your strength a little. I swam a lot for my shoulder.”
Sherlock took some unsteady steps toward the door, John keeping close to his side in case he stumbled. “Like... swam,” he said, sounding interested.
“Oh, I didn't know you liked to swim,” John said.
“Mamie beach,” Sherlock said.
John heard that as 'Miami beach', but didn't think that could be right. “Mamie?” he said.
“Old... old... mother,” Sherlock explained.
“Old mother...” John repeated. “Your mother?”
Sherlock frowned and stopped moving. John had noticed he had a bit of trouble walking and talking at the same time. Too much struggle in his brain, trying to do two hard things at once. “Old mother,” he said. “France. Mamie. You have... er... er... gran?”
“Oh, your grandmother,” John said. “She's French?”
“Dead,” Sherlock said, bluntly. “Not... French now. Past.”
“Right, she was French,” John said. “And she had a... beach?”
“Rooms... beach,” Sherlock explained. “Er.. h... h... maison.”
“I see. Her house was by the beach,” John said.
Sherlock made an exasperated face. “Not... not... parrot me,” he said. “I know... I know... what I speech. Like... like... echolalia, you.”
“Sorry,” John said. He often found it bemusing that short words were hard for Sherlock, but words like 'echolalia' seemed to jump into his mind. “What was she like, your Gran? Did you get along?”
Sherlock started to walk again, seeming to be pondering the question. They started on a loop of the ward. “Yes,” he said, stopping again after a bit. “She... same me.” He moved his hand around, like two eyes looking at things. “See. See and... and... smart. Pictures.” He made a motion of someone taking a photograph. “Tree... picture. In Baker. Know?”
“The black and white one?” John asked.
“She... takes,” Sherlock said.
“Oh, wow,” John said. He'd always liked that photograph. It was of a large tree, taking just at the right moment to capture a single leaf falling from it. It was minimal and sharp and precise. John had assumed that's why Sherlock liked it. He didn't know it had sentimental value. Maybe it didn't. “So you used to swim when you visited her?”
“Water... spectacles,” Sherlock said. “Schnorchel.. See... fish and plants. Samples for... ess-perments.”
“Ah, swimming for science, not fun,” John said. “That sounds like you.”
Sherlock gave him a confused look. “Science fun,” he said.
John laughed. Sherlock stopped talking now and concentrated on moving. John was surprised he'd got as much out of him as he did. Sherlock very rarely spoke about his childhood or young adulthood or anything that happened in the past. He lived purely in the present. John hoped it wasn't a sign of a personality change. That was possible with a brain injury to the frontal lobe. John suspected it was more that Sherlock was concentrating so hard on moving and speaking, he forgot to be a reclusive jerk.
The first few days that Sherlock had walked around, he'd had to stop several times to rest. Today they made it around without any pauses, though Sherlock was winded when they arrived back at his room. He went to the armchair, so John went to the bed.
“Patient,” Sherlock said, giving John a scrutinizing look. “Upset you... patient. Reason... for kiss. Upset you... because not... not... help him. Yes?” He'd clearly been puzzling this out the entire time they'd been walking.
John smiled, a bit sad. “Yeah, Sherlock. Yeah. That's exactly right.”
Sherlock nodded. “Sentiment, you,” he complained. “Not help all... everyone.”
“I know,” John said. He tried to change the subject. “Chess?”
“No,” Sherlock said. “You go... Baker. If... er... er... er...” he made a pouting face and indicated that's what John was doing. “No... fun. Go 'way.”
“I'm fine,” John insisted. “I'll be cheerful, I promise.”
Sherlock shook his head. “Go 'way,” he repeated. “Upset you, so... go. Bored.”
John had to wonder if Sherlock knew what was going on and was trying to get him to leave on purpose. It didn't seem much like Sherlock, though. “Are you sure?” Sherlock nodded, firmly. “All right. I'll be back tomorrow. I'll try to be more fun. Bye, Sherlock.”
“Bye... John,” Sherlock said.
John was already in the lift before he realized it was the first time Sherlock had said his name.