Characters: John, Sherlock (Main), Molly, Lestrade, Violet Hunter (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:4,133
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.
Violet Hunter is borrowed from the original ACD canon story "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". I hold out hope that she'll get a kickass interpretation at some point in the series, but for the moment, I've used her to my own ends.
Previous chapters can be found here. The page will be updated as new chapters are posted. You can also find the story at A03 and FF.net.
Sherlock's first couple of weeks at home involved a lot of trial and error. John e-mailed Stamford and a few other people to see if anyone knew of a good speech and language therapist who was willing to make house calls. Within twenty-four hours, John had a list of eight names. He consulted with Sherlock—who dismissed three directly—and researched on the internet and eventually narrowed down the list to four names. They each specialized in either head injuries or working with children or both. John thought those were the most important skills for someone working with Sherlock to have.
The first two each came in for one trial session and refused to come back. The third seemed to think it had gone well, but Sherlock wouldn't let him come back. He was so worked up, he couldn't even articulate what the problem was. He just kept saying 'no' and also 'pumpkin'. John couldn't figure out if the latter meant anything or if it was just one of Sherlock's random dysphasia moments. Either way, it was clear that it wouldn't be in Sherlock's best interest to continue with that therapist.
The fourth one turned out to be the charm. Violet Hunter was a few years younger than Sherlock and pretty in a sensible sort of way, with beautiful chestnut hair and a face full of freckles. She seemed very self-possessed and a had no-nonsense sort of demeanour. Honestly, John's first thought was that Sherlock was going to walk all over her. She was just the sort of self-confident person Sherlock loved to tear down.
John been absenting himself during the sessions, feeling as though it was a private sort of thing. He was sure Sherlock didn't want him around when he was struggling and making silly mistakes. He'd made a habit of going down to Mrs Hudson's flat for that period of time, but when Violet came for her trial session, he sneaked back upstairs on the pretext of getting his laptop. After the last therapist, he wanted to make sure Sherlock wasn't torturing her or being tortured by her.
“Well, that's the first time anyone has made those pictures into a murder mystery,” she was saying, when he entered the flat. They were at the kitchen table and Sherlock appeared to be working on one of his experiments while they did their session. “Usually I ask people to put them in order and tell me a story and they come up with something about boys picking apples for their mother. But now that you point it out, that wheelbarrow is awfully large for getting apples. Do you really think you could fit a corpse in there?”
“Chop... chop, yes,” Sherlock replied, making a graphic slicing gesture with his hand.
“Yeah, yeah, I can see that,” Violet agreed. She appeared to be undisturbed by the mental image.
John knew they'd found the right match.
Violet was happy to return and Sherlock gave the enthusiastic approval of 'fine' when John asked. So they arranged for Violet to come in three times a week for 45-minute sessions. John didn't think Sherlock could take much more than that, and Violet said that he was a hard enough worker that it was enough.
“I like him, he's mental,” she said.
Definitely the right match.
Sherlock agreed to leave the flat for physio, which he did twice a week on the days Violet wasn't there, then had the weekends off. He was diligent about doing his exercises every day, though, so again, that was enough time. Progress inched along, and though there wasn't obvious improvement day-to-day, comparison to a month before, or two weeks before or even one week before showed that it was happening.
The sleeping problem wasn't so easy to fix. Sherlock wasn't a good sleeper at the best of times, and his brain damage wasn't helping anything. He couldn't seem to drop off to sleep, even with chamomile tea or valerian root pills. He was tired and genuinely seemed to be trying to sleep, but every morning John would come down to find an awake Sherlock, even grumpier than the day before. John was having trouble keeping his patience and was getting pretty desperate to find something that worked.
Then, one day he was standing in the tea aisle comparing various relaxation teas when a woman toting six children grabbed a box off the shelf, shoved it into his hands with a knowing nod and carried on.
Sherlock drank it that night and within five minutes had drooped so far in his seat that he was practically snogging his microscope. He went to bed even earlier than John, which had never happened in the history of them knowing each other.
John came down in the morning to find Sherlock dutifully watching children's telly. It was a suggestion Violet had made to help improve his spontaneous speech. Kids shows focussed a lot on grammar and phonemes, so it was an easy way to practice. Questions like 'do you know any other words that start with B?' or 'what words rhyme with cat?' allowed Sherlock to think in those terms and find the right words and use them correctly without much forethought. Also, children's shows tended to talk directly to the viewer, so it was like a practice conversation for Sherlock, with simple, to the point communication. And since he already spoke to the telly anyway, it wasn't like he felt silly about it.
“Have you seen the dog?” the girl on the screen asked, as John made coffee.
“Yes,” Sherlock replied, slowly. “The dog... behind. The dog... the dog... dog... isbehind. Stupid child, just... just... look!”
John smiled. It was hard not to tease Sherlock about it, but he was very, very serious about his telly watching, and John didn't want to discourage him. He simply became used to having his breakfast in front of talking pigs and dancing alphabet blocks.
John went out with his coffee now and sat quietly until the show was finished.
“Did you sleep?” he asked, when Sherlock's attention was free again.
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “For... while.”
“What time did you get up?” John said.
Sherlock looked at his watch, counting under his breath. Numbers were hard for him to pick out of the air. He could name them in sequence, but trying to spontaneously find the right one was hard. “One, two, three,” he mumbled. “Three.”
“So, about four hours, not too bad,” John said.
“More tired now,” Sherlock complained. “Sleep and... now more tired.”
“You will be, until you get caught up,” John said.
“Also...” Sherlock struggled here, his eyes rolling upwards in search of the word. He shook his head, unable to come up with it. He put his hand on his chest and pressed down. “Heavy. Heavy sleep.” He tried again for the word. “Hag-ridden.”
“Hag-ridden,” John repeated. “Sorry Sherlock, I don't know what you mean. Can you use different words?”
“Will write,” Sherlock said, snagging a pad of paper on the table with his cane and pulling it over. It fell on the floor and he continued to corral it with his cane, until he could bend down and pick it up. He had a pen in his pocket and wrote on the paper, showing it to John.
'Sleeep par all siis'. John mouthed the sounds to himself a few times until it made sense.
“Oh! Sleep paralysis,” he said. “Okay. Yeah. Sorry, I've never heard it called hag-ridden before.”
Sherlock frowned. “Lore,” he explained. “Lore... story. Must be... er... hard drive. Didn't know. Since... in-jur-y... palace all... er...” He made a swirling gesture around his head. “Messy. Not... er... order. All facts... run around. Need can't... find, but find... not need. Say... proper name.”
“Sleep paralysis,” John said.
“Sleep para-sis,” Sherlock tried. “Last night, sleep para-sis.”
“Have you had it before?” John asked.
“Yes. When... when... drugs,” Sherlock replied, making a gesture over his shoulder that John had figured out meant he was indicating a past thing. His verb conjugation was dodgy, so he tended to indicate tenses with movement. “And also... when... dream awake.” He wrote again. “Loo-cid. Loo-cid dream. Sometimes.”
“Well, any sleep problems you had before will be worse post-head trauma,” John said. “It's like your sleeping habits get reset. That's why your insomnia is worse, too. It all goes with that.”
“Don't like,” Sherlock grumbled.
“It won't be forever,” John promised. “Just until you get a normal sleep pattern going again. Or what passes for normal with you.”
Sherlock was pretty good about continuing to drink the tea and going to bed at a reasonable hour. He complained and moaned and got stroppy, but in the end he seemed to want to get better and was willing to do what he needed to do. John suspected that, though he wouldn't admit it, he was also pretty exhausted.
As well as the sleep paralysis, he also had night terrors for those first few nights. The first time it happened, John was still in the living room after Sherlock had gone to bed and rushed down the hall when Sherlock began screaming. It took him longer than it should have to recognize it for what it was. He'd seen enough of them in Afghanistan. Night terrors were common in patients with PTSD. John himself had apparently had them after he was shot, but he, of course, had no memory of it.
Sherlock was backed up against his headboard, as close he could get and had his good hand out in front of him like he was fending off something. He was sweating and bolt upright and staring ahead in blank horror. He made no response to John speaking to him or even seemed to be aware John was there. John was on the verge of calling for Mrs Hudson, as though she would be able to fix it, when he realized what was happening.
“It's okay, Sherlock,” John said, in soothing tones. He tried to think of what Sherlock would find comforting to hear. Logic, probably. “I know it seems real, but it's not. You're having a nightmare. You're safe.” Sherlock whimpered softly. “It's okay. You're fine. Just relax. Everything is fine.”
He continued this sort of chanting for about a minute, using his best 'doctor voice', not sure if Sherlock could even hear. Then Sherlock started to relax a little and soon he lay back down, his eyes closed and he was back asleep. John let out a long, nervous breath and tossed his blanket back over him.
He wondered if the Queen gave out knighthoods for heroic acts of flatsharing.
Adjusting to life outside Baker Street was perhaps even harder for Sherlock. He was a man who was used to bouncing around the city with ease, and now he stumbled and limped and had to use the disabled access. There was also a problem with people understanding him when he spoke. It was hard for those who knew Sherlock well to follow him, but for strangers, it was nearly impossible. With his limp and his weak arm and his speech problem, people tended to assume he was someone with a mental disability and would drop into that high squeaky voice that they used with children. It drove Sherlock mad and he—who had never failed to leave with the last word in his life—started to go silent and write or gesture instead. John had to encourage him to keep practising and keep trying and be patient with people, even as he himself wanted to smack them across the face.
John received a lot of comments to the effect of 'what a good man you are for helping him out like this', as though Sherlock was a family member he was burdened with or John was a social worker hired to take care of him. It used to be that everyone mistook him for Sherlock's boyfriend; now they mistook him for Sherlock's caregiver. The former was annoying, but the latter seemed somehow insulting. John had to fight to keep control of his own temper as well as try to soothe Sherlock's, and, on a few occasions, he failed at both.
Despite this, either John or Mrs Hudson went out with Sherlock every day, walking around the neighbourhood and going into shops or restaurants and practising normal life skills that Sherlock had to relearn or, in some cases learn for the first time as he'd never really bothered with them before.
John found he had a different kind of stress with Sherlock at home. When Sherlock was in hospital, he felt bad for not being there more. Now that Sherlock was home, he felt bad for being there too much. Before he was waiting for Sherlock to get better, now he was waiting to see what the next problem would be. He had Mycroft demanding e-mail updates and Mrs Holmes calling to check in, and sometimes it felt like there were Holmeses coming at him from all sides. There were days where he sincerely wished that he could stay back and throw money at the problem and get updated every once in awhile.
He was relieved to get called into work, thrilled to be out of the flat for a few hours. Sometimes he just went downstairs and sat calmly in Mrs Hudson's living room for a few minutes, not doing anything. She never commented on this, just stuck cups of tea in his hand and continued about her business.
The first two weeks were the hardest, then it eased off a bit. Sherlock started to find his way, and most of the everyday problems had been worked out. John had asked an occupational therapist he knew from the army to come in to the flat and help figure out what needed to be done. Bars and non-slip decals were installed in the bath so Sherlock could shower without risking a fall, and they put up a railing on the outside wall of the stairs, so he had something to grip going up and down. Sherlock had his hair cut short, so it was all more or less one length and he didn't have to fuss much with it. The barber did a good job with cutting it to hide the odd patch around his scar, but the shorter length made Sherlock look even more haggard than before.
How Sherlock was coping with all of this was hard to tell. He was frustrated and angry, and John thought a bit depressed, but that was Sherlock's default state anyway. He didn't want to talk about it, and John didn't even attempt to pass on the information about a support group the physiotherapist gave him. Those poor people there had been through enough without throwing Sherlock Holmes at them. He seemed to talk to Mrs Hudson a bit, and to Molly when she came to visit. John had an awful feeling he was going to lose it completely one day, but he couldn't figure out a way to prevent it.
He threw himself into trying to solve his assault case, but there was simply nothing there. Molly retested the DNA, but didn't come up with anything significant. Just that the attacker was a Caucasian male with brown hair. John passed a message onto the Homeless Network and received a few vague hints in reply. The man who had found Sherlock didn't have anything new to offer, insisting Sherlock was already down when he found him and there was no one in the area who might have done it.
Sherlock spent hours staring at the mind map, and John recognized him visiting his mind palace for long periods of time, but he always emerged looking frustrated. He couldn't remember anything useful.
“I want... out,” he declared to John, about two weeks after he'd come home. “I want out and murders and Barts and... and... er.... clues and... logic. I want crime. I want... do something. Something... with answers. Bored. Bored!”
“Call Lestrade, tell him,” John said.
Sherlock looked over at him, like a hopeful child. “Allowed?” he asked.
“I'm not your dad, Sherlock. Do what you want if you think you're up to it,” John said.
“I want... smoking,” Sherlock added.
“No,” John said. “You can have murders but you can't have cigarettes." He moaned at what he'd just said. "God, I am your dad.”
Lestrade didn't have anything for Sherlock right away, but a couple of days later he called to ask him to come to a crime scene. This was a very good thing as by that time Sherlock had declared he would kill everyone on the street for a cigarette, but no one would sell him any because he'd blackmailed all the shops. He decided he could probably steal some, but even with a good disguise his limp would be easily recognizable. He was still trying to work around this problem when John had gone to bed, and he was very relieved when Sherlock bellowed his name up the stairs and banged his cane on the wall to wake him up in the morning. That could only mean a case, and it was about damn time for a case.
It wasn't exactly the crime of the century, or anything John would put down as memorable, but it was a good case to start back on. Not too much running around required and enough of a challenge for Sherlock to be interested in it.
The crime scene crew showed surprising consideration for Sherlock's injuries for a group of people who didn't like him. The SOCO unit member who handed out gloves quickly saw that Sherlock was struggling with them and held them open so he just had to stick his hand in, like a surgeon prepping for an operation. Someone cleared their equipment out of the way when he limped over to the body so he had a safe path to walk. And even Anderson held out a hand while Sherlock found his balance in a crouch by the body, ready to intervene if he fell.
“I've made it clear that there's no be no mean-spirited teasing or jibes or anything,” Lestrade told John, in an low voice.“If there's a problem, let me know. They will be removed immediately.”
For the first time, John had the impression that it might not be a good idea to cross Lestrade. He had a fierce sort of parental air to him that day. John suddenly understood why everyone in the room was being so considerate.
It wasn't all smooth sailing. Sherlock was excited, and when he was excited, his speech was worse. It took ages for him to get his deductions out, having to talk around words he couldn't find, sometimes in long, convoluted paths. He grew frustrated with himself, and the more frustrated he became the more his speech foundered, and the more his speech foundered, the more frustrated he became. Lestrade was very patient, not even blinking if Sherlock had to sing or act out to get his point across and managing to make connections between what Sherlock was saying and what he meant.
“S'not really that much worse than normal,” he said, at one point. “I mean, I've seen him so sleep-deprived he could barely stand up straight and with such a high fever he was hallucinating and once he came in with 3/4 of his face frozen from the dentist. It's not any worse than that. He doesn't really make sense most of the time, anyway.”
Aside from the speaking, there was also the movement issue. Sherlock was used to running around and throwing himself on the floor to look at clues. Now he even found bending over hard to do, and John had to catch him a few times when he was too overzealous in his attempts to examine something.
Overall, though, Sherlock could do it. He still saw everything, he still deduced everything, he still put all the pieces together with his keen logic. Somewhere underneath the stumbled words and the clumsy limbs, he was still the clever detective .
Things went more smoothly at the lab, where Molly was almost psychic in her ability to know what he wanted even when he wasn't making sense or sometimes before he'd even said it. She was thrilled to see him and came dashing from across the room so enthusiastically that, for a moment, John thought Sherlock was going to use him as a human shield.
“I'm so glad you're back!” she said, wrapping her arms firmly around his waist and pressing her cheek to his chest. His arms remained limp at his sides and he gave John an alarmed look. “Sorry! I'm just... it's so nice to have you here again. I missed you.”
Sherlock gave her his 'Molly' smile, the charming, fake one he used when he wanted something from her. She beamed back and seemed very happy to run around and grab things for him or be an extra hand. John thought she was a bit of a confidence boost for him as well. She had a way of doing things for him that didn't seem like she was doing things for him.
John noticed he wrote things down more often than he normally would, and double-checked results, or would confer with Molly and then, five minutes later, check to make sure he was remembering it correctly. He scribbled on scraps of paper and his shirt cuff and, once, Molly's forearm. He rubbed at his forehead, but glared at John when he asked if he had a headache and tossed his head like an angry horse. John took that to mean 'yes, but fuck off'. So he did.
He seemed to find a second-wind around three in the afternoon—and then at six, when John was halfway through his first bite of pizza after having eaten nothing all day, Sherlock unceremoniously stood up, grabbed his cane and motorcycle jacket, and walked out of Barts. John was forced to leave the pizza behind as he made a dash to keep up with him, tossing a goodbye and thank you to Molly as he left.
It was nice to have things back to normal again.
Two hours later—two very long hours later—a killer had been caught and Sherlock was obviously exhausted. He was pale and his hands were trembling and he looked like he was about to fall over. The explanation of the facts to Lestrade took much longer than it normally would have and involved a whiteboard, drawings, charades and musical numbers to get through.
Sherlock sat slumped in the cab seat with a little satisfied smile on his face. He shook his head every time John tried to talk to him, and when he did speak—one-word sentences—his voice was hoarse from overuse. He was out of practice speaking that much and he couldn't seem to bring himself to speak any more.
John hovered behind him as they made their way up to 221B, even more worried Sherlock would fall on the stairs because he was so tired. They made it up safely, and Sherlock shrugged off his jacket and half-fell on to the couch.
“You look like crap,” John told him, bluntly.
“Fine,” Sherlock assured him.
John gave him a sceptical look, but left him alone. He had to learn his limits, and with Sherlock that always seemed to mean letting him go until he crashed and then picking up the pieces.
John went into the kitchen to find something for dinner. The only thing he'd had to eat that day was one bite of a pizza and several cups of coffee. He was feeling a bit peaky himself. He was out of practice running after Sherlock and found that he was a bit tired, too.
“I know it's probably a stupid question, but you haven't eaten all day, so do you want—”
John stopped as he exited the kitchen.
Sherlock was on his side on the couch, asleep. It looked like he'd simply fallen over and decided not to get up again. His bad arm dangled off the edge and one of his legs was bent awkwardly beneath him. John shook his head and went over, covering him with a blanket.
Sherlock stirred a little, reaching with his good arm to pick up the bad one and put it in a more comfortable position. “Solved,” he mumbled, contentedly. “Still... smart.”
“Yeah, I know Sherlock,” John said. “You've run yourself ragged proving you're clever. You're a bloody genius.”
He only received soft snoring in reply.