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24 January 2013 @ 09:59 am
 
Title: Lost for Words (Chapter 11 of 16)
Characters: John, Sherlock (Main), Violet Hunter (this chapter)
Rating: R
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:3,979
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:

I'm going to post three chapters today, because the story flows better if these three chapters can be read together. It can feel choppy otherwise. Apologies for the spam!

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.



<--PREVIOUS CHAPTER





The case seemed to have taken a lot out of Sherlock, and he spent most of the next week recovering himself. Normally, once a case was solved, he'd be dancing around for another one right away, but with the dark circles that had appeared under his eyes and the periodic blank look on his face, he didn't look up to much more. John was a bit worried Sherlock had done too much and had made himself sick. He seemed to be aware that he needed to take a break, however, which showed a self-awareness to which John was unaccustomed.

He seemed to be a bit calmer now, and more willing to devote his energy to getting well. John hadn't realized how stressed Sherlock had been until he was less stressed. He just took it as Sherlock being himself, but he could see in retrospect how wound up he had been. John suspected he was afraid that he was 'broken'. Solving the case and proving that he could still do it made him feel a bit more secure. This was all speculation, though, because who the hell ever knew what Sherlock Holmes was feeling?

In any case, John felt better about leaving him on his own and knowing he wouldn't do anything too stupid while he was gone. He started taking more shifts at the surgery and going out again, and so he was more relaxed as well.

Mrs Holmes seemed to agree that all was well, as she returned to Lincolnshire at the end of the week. She fortunately left before her plans for a family dinner came to fruition. It was one less Holmes to keep track of, so that made John's life easier.

The physio continued to show great improvements. Sherlock's right side was responding a bit more readily, and he was less clumsy when he moved around. He was a good multitasker and was capable of doing his exercises while he worked on an experiment or watched telly. John became used to the 'thump-thump' of Sherlock repeatedly throwing a ball against the wall and trying to catch it. He also became used to it hitting him in the back of the head when he missed it, which was more often than not. Sherlock briefly decided to use this as a method for getting John's attention when he didn't feel like speaking, but revised it when John started reciprocating.

“Can't... hit, injury!” he objected one day, after John's well-aimed return hit him in the shoulder. He feigned looking sad. “Not... fair.”

“Use your words, or I'll aim for somewhere that'll hurt a lot more,” John responded, picking up the ball that had rolled back to him and raising an eyebrow.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, but reconsidered his position. “Pass... er... er... Internet?” he asked.

“I hope you mean your laptop, because I don't think I can fit the Internet in my arms,” John said.

“Ha,” Sherlock said, sarcastically. He had retrieved his sarcasm now, even if his words weren't as scathing as usual. He managed to convey the sense of boredom just fine without them. “Shouldn't... er... tease. Injury. 'Cruel', apparently. Lady at... shop, spoke. Very... sorry for... er... er... child. Mrs Hus-don says... not trip let... by me.”

John brought the laptop to the kitchen for him. “Yeah, I don't think tripping children is exactly polite,” he said.

“Deserved,” Sherlock replied. “Small brat. Run and... scream. No... er... supervision. How... shop you all days? People.” He made a horrified face.

“Welcome to real life,” John said.

“Dislike,” Sherlock said, firmly. “Tedious. Too many... all... there and... erm... existing. Can't... not see all... too much. Dislike.”

“I should tell Violet about this,” John said, tossing the ball up in the air and catching it. “Two minutes ago you couldn't be arsed to say my name and now you won't shut up. Good technique, threatening you with violence.”

Sherlock's cane came up and hit the ball out of the air.

John noted that Sherlock didn't have to be able to speak to get the last word.




Within those first few weeks of Violet coming, John kept waiting for the day she'd pack in it. For whatever reason, though, she and Sherlock seemed to get along. As well as Sherlock got along with anyone, at least. He called her 'sensible' once, which was one of the highest compliments a person could receive from him. That didn't mean he wasn't an arse to her. Whenever John passed through the flat while she was there, he always seemed to be insulting her or arguing with her. And while she always looked frazzled by the end of the sessions, she seemed to take most of it in her stride.

“I rather like working with him,” she said, as John walked her to the door after a session one day. She said this like it was a deep dark secret she was confessing. “He keeps me on my toes. I have to work to keep him focused because he gets bored so easily. It's a challenge, and I like challenges. And he's interesting, if you can get him going on something he likes. Plus, if you ask him to practice something, he always comes back with it practised. It's rewarding.”

She worked with John too, giving him techniques to help Sherlock along. “You need to be a bit more firm,” she said. “You don't make him work for it because you understand him even when his speech isn't properly formed. It's a lazy way to do things. It's not your fault—you can't help understanding him. But forcing him to stop and really think will help him out.”

“Sherlock is always moving at the speed of light,” John said. “His brain is so fast, he can't bother to slow down. I don't think he has the patience to be slow and so he sort of depends on the people who understand him. I don't know if it's laziness or just... trying to keep himself sane.”

Violet nodded. “It's still not helping him,” she said. “He needs to rebuild the pathways. You may have to push him and ask him to correct himself. I know it seems like bullying, but it'll help in the long run. I'm trying to encourage him to struggle through or talk around the problem words instead of writing things down. He's not used to making mistakes, I don't think. I think he's used to learning things very easily, and he wants to skip the hard part and be better. He's improving, but it's going to take a while. I'm waiting for that to sink in, still. He's still at the stage where he thinks if he gets angry enough and fights enough, he can beat it. I'm afraid it doesn't work that way.”

"I'm pretty sure that's how Sherlock thinks everything works," John said. "He bypasses all the formalities and gets right to the point."

"I thought it was just me," she said, with a smile. "I do think he's improving, though. More than I would have expected for this stage of his recovery. He just needs some patience."

"Good luck," John said.

She laughed and thanked him, then went on her way.

She was right; there was improvement happening. It was slow—so slow that John sometimes didn't even notice it—but it was there. Sherlock wasn't necessarily improving with finding words or his fluency, but he regained his confidence, and that was really what he needed. He needed to feel comfortable making mistakes so he could attempt to fix them, rather than trying to cover them up and making them worse.

So things went on and life went on and Sherlock started to solve cases more regularly and with greater ease. Violet was extremely accommodating, working with him at the lab if he was there, or at Scotland Yard if he was there, or Skyping with him if he was somewhere she couldn't get to. John was never sure if he should be pleased that Sherlock was keeping his appointments or annoyed that he thought he could drag Violet around the city with him. Either way, if she ever asked for a reference, he was going to write her an essay.

The overarching problem was that Sherlock's assault case still hadn't been solved.

And it was driving him mad.

They were nearly two months after the crime and the longer it took, the colder the trail became. Sherlock spent hours in front of the mind map and trolling through old cases and fact files in search of similar MOs, but he couldn't find anything to help. There were certain things he had figured out. He knew the attacker was 6'2" and right-handed, based on the angle of the blow. His wound had been swabbed at the hospital, before he was taken in to surgery, and one of the tests run on it found trace amounts of motor oil. Sherlock had already suspect he had probably been hit with a wheel brace, based on the shape of the wound. The motor oil fit in well with that theory. Unfortunately, there were plenty of 6'2", right-handed men who owned wheel braces in London, and without a suspect to apply the facts to, they were pretty much useless.

What it came down to in the end was that he needed to remember, and he couldn't remember. John thought there was progress being made and still had hope that it would all come together in the end. Sherlock wasn't as hopeful, but he was stubborn, so he wasn't inclined to give up.

His mobile finally came back from the experts, who had managed to retrieve a bit of the text messaging data. The call history and app info were gone forever. What they had recovered was mostly gibberish, with a few words and parts of words legible here and there. The last message on the phone was almost completely garbled except for what might be 'case' but could easily have been any other word that began with a C and ended with an E and had two other letters between. It seemed the most likely word, though they all admitted they were grasping at straws. Lestrade pointed out that the best way to lure Sherlock somewhere would be with a promise of a case.

“F'I was going to try and kill you, and I might someday, I'd definitely tell you I had a case for you,” Lestrade said. “Then I'd tell you to meet me somewhere to discuss it and hit you before you had a chance to realize what was happening. Because with you, of course, you'd know right away I was lying. So I'd have to act fast.”

“You seem to have thought this out very carefully,” John noted, with a smirk.

“I was trying to solve this case at one point,” Lestrade defended himself. “I was trying to think like the assailant. But I won't lie, the thought of killing him has crossed my mind.”

Sherlock looked like this wasn't news to him. “No... er... gun,” he said. “You say... gun in, er... pouch, no... pocket. So, I not... alarmed.”

“Yeah, that's why I think he must have acted right away,” Lestrade said. “You didn't draw your weapon, so you must have been caught off-guard. Which suggests someone you knew or that you were unprepared. But if you knew them, you wouldn't have brought the gun at all. Unless you thought the case was going to be dangerous.”

Sherlock gave him a surprised look. “Logic,” he said. “You... having sense.”

“I am a copper,” Lestrade said. “I've been one for a while, in fact. I'm not completely useless.”

“Don't... delusion self,” Sherlock replied.

Lestrade rolled his eyes. “Such a charming personality,” he muttered. “Don't know why I ever thought about killing him.”




“Just so I know,” John said, when they were back at the flat and he was adding what little new evidence there was to the wall. “We don't think it's Moriarty, right? I mean, you would have told me if you thought that.”

Sherlock made a weird bob-shake gesture with his head. “No, yes,” he said. “No... not. Yes... tell. Too... er... er... crude, for... for...” he frowned. “Name can't.” He shot John a stubborn look. “Not singing.”

“No, fair enough,” John said. “I'll let that slide. If you can't say his name, I'm not going to make you.”

Sherlock nodded. “When... he acts... will be... er, subtle,” he explained. “Will be... clever. This is... not clever. Caveman... able. Any... could do. Just... lucky to...” he made a gliding motion. “Slip and... unnoticed.”

John was relieved to hear that. Not even Baskerville had made him as afraid as he was in the presence of Moriarty. That night at the pool was one of the worst of his life. He didn't like the thought of him being involved with this—or anything. He didn't like the thought of him out there lurking while Sherlock was unable to defend himself either. From how Sherlock had analysed him, however, John didn't think Moriarty would like to 'play' with Sherlock like this. He'd want him at his best. Which was some comfort, in an odd, terrifying way.

“Maybe you need to step back and... let it go a little?” John suggested, as Sherlock settled in for what John predicted would be another hours-long staring session. “Maybe you're too close to the problem? If you could separate yourself...”

“Can... forest and trees,” Sherlock replied. “Can separate. Not... emotions.”

John gave him a sceptical look. “Yeah, I know, Spock,” he said. “Just don't go insane.”

“Ball,” Sherlock said, holding out his hand.

“Full sentence,” John replied.

Sherlock made a face. “P-pass, pass... ball me...” he said, his eyes rolled upwards as he concentrated. He shook his head and started over. “I want... ball.”

“Close enough,” John said, and retrieved the squash ball from the table.

He left Sherlock staring at the mind map, the steady thump-thump of the ball hitting the wall following him upstairs.




John had nightmares again that night. It had been a few days since the last one, but he imagined going over the assault case again with Sherlock had triggered something.

He woke up in a sweat and took a few moments to calm himself. Sometimes he was able to roll over and go back to sleep, but tonight he was too wound up. He padded downstairs to get some tea and calm down.

At first he thought the 'thump-thump' noise was the pounding of his heart, but then he realized it was Sherlock tossing the ball around. He headed into the living room and found Sherlock sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out in front of him, his back to the coffee table and his laptop beside him. He was staring up at the wall. He threw the ball and it hit the fireplace and then the floor, bouncing back to him. His hand closed slightly too late to catch it and it slipped away. He retrieved it with his cane and threw it again.

“Night... er... night... scared?” he asked, without looking over to John. He caught the ball this time and threw it again.

“Yeah,” John said. “Was I, er—?”

“Not yell,” Sherlock assured him. “I see, no, er... listen?... Erm... creak bed. Toss turn.”

“Sorry,” John said. Sherlock shrugged. “Why are you on the floor?”

“New... er... new perspective,” Sherlock said.

John stared at him, critically. “Did you fall?” he asked.

“No,” Sherlock said, making a face. “I meant... meant for down. Just... faster than meant.”

John smirked. “Do you want tea?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sherlock said.

“Yes what?” John prompted.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Yes... I... erm... want... tea,” he said, slowly.

“I was just hoping for 'yes please',” John said. “But good job.”

Sherlock held the ball up threateningly and John ducked into the kitchen, laughing. He managed to find two clean cups. Well, one cup and a ramekin. He didn't know why they owned a ramekin, but it worked well enough and was not the weirdest thing he'd drunk tea out of since moving into 221B.

John set the mug on the coffee table behind Sherlock and put himself down in his armchair. “Have you been staring since I went to bed?” he asked.

“No, I... ess-perment-essperiment, some,” he said. “And... I memory.”

John's ramekin froze halfway to his mouth. “Memory—er, remember what?” he said.

“Test,” Sherlock said. “I memory... what... sent from... er... er... criminal.”

John's heart started to pound again. He tried not to get too excited. Every lead they'd had so far had fizzled out into nothing. There was a good chance it wouldn't help at all. “What did it say?” he asked.

Sherlock tossed his head backward, indicating a piece of paper on the coffee table. John picked it up and tried to decipher Sherlock's awkward left-handed scrawl and weird spelling. The ink was all smudged as John's lessons on how to curl his left-hand around to avoid smearing had not yet been taken to heart.

John sounded out the words to himself until they made sense. The first line translated to, 'I have a case for you, Mr Holmes. I need your help badly.'

The next line, presumably Sherlock's reply, said 'dee taiils'. That was fairly straightforward.

The next line read 'blaa blahh frend truble murder blahh'. John guessed that was Sherlock's opinion on what the details were.

The next line was the address to where Sherlock had been assaulted and words that translated to 'I promise the case will be worth your while. I can't tell you anything else like this. We have to meet in person.'

“And you went?” John said.

“Edi-edi... apparently,” Sherlock replied.

“You must have been bored,” John noted.

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed.

“Do you know who sent it? Did you remember the name?” John asked. Sherlock shook his head. “Well, if you've remembered one thing, the rest might come back. It's a start.” Sherlock nodded. “What made you remember?”

“Science,” Sherlock said, pointing to the kitchen. “I... same... er... chem-chem-cals. Chem-cals. Chemicals. I use tonight and... smell. Smell same. So... memory. Plus... test. Phone data. I... connect.”

“Smell is linked to memory,” John said. “I remember reading an article about that in a medical journal a little while ago. I suppose it makes sense. Don't huff any more chemicals, though. I don't think that's good in your state.”

Sherlock shrugged. He sipped at his tea and tossed the ball several more times. John had been keeping rough track of his success over the weeks and it seemed like he was catching it more often than he had been.

Sherlock tossed the ball one more time and then made absolutely no move to catch it. He remained motionless as it bounced over his shoulder, on to the coffee table and then on to the sofa. He looked suddenly pale and his eyes were wide and blank.

“Sherlock?” John said, fearing he was having some sort of focal seizure. “What's going on?”

“Shhh!” Sherlock said, waving his hand in irritation. “Need shush. Shush!”

“Okay, okay,” John said.

Sherlock's eyes closed and John recognized him heading into his mind palace. He sat in silence as Sherlock's hand moved like he was navigating around. The colour returned to his cheeks somewhat, but he still looked pale and shaky. John waited.

And waited.

And waited.

He waited so long, he must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew he was awoken by a clatter on the stairs and he jolted in to consciousness, finding himself slumped in his armchair. Sherlock was no longer on the floor. It took John a moment to organize his thoughts enough to realize what this meant. Then he leapt to his feet and ran to the stairs.

Sherlock was halfway down the first flight, sitting on the stairs and looking vaguely surprised. “Fine,” he called, before John asked. “Just... balance wrong.”

“That's why you're supposed to have someone with you, you clot,” John said, hurrying down to meet him. His attempts to help Sherlock up were soundly rebuffed, Sherlock jerking his elbow out of John's reach. “Where are you going?”

“Out,” Sherlock replied. He pulled himself to his feet and started his usual odd shuffle down the rest of the stairs.

“Where out?” John pressed. “It's—” he looked at his watch, which he wasn't wearing. All he saw was his wrist. He glanced to Sherlock's watch instead. “Four in the morning. It's still dark.”

“Out,” Sherlock repeated, stubbornly. “Alone. I go... alone. Want... alone.”

“You aren't,” John said. “You bloody well aren't.”

Sherlock stopped to glare at him. “Yes. Want... alone. You always... always... there! I... not want. I do... alone thing. Alone,” he said.

“No, Sherlock, the last time you went out in the dark on your own without telling anyone where you were going, you ended up in this mess in the first place,” John said.

“I... fire you!” Sherlock said, throwing up a hand in frustration. “You... free. I relieve from... duty. Not baby-sit. No... obligation.”

John frowned, surprised by the vehemence to Sherlock's words. “Is that why you think I'm doing this?” he asked. “Because of some sense of duty?” Sherlock shrugged. “You're my friend, Sherlock. I'm really put out that someone hit you in the head, and I'd like to make sure it doesn't happen again. Believe me, if it was duty, I'd have quit ages ago.”

Sherlock stared at him, looking confused. “I... wouldn't same,” he said. “If you... I wouldn't... er... help same.”

“Yes, well, I'm not a cold-hearted bastard,” John said. “And that's a fucking lie, so don't try to pull that sociopathic bit with me. Tell me where you're going.”

Sherlock sighed and reached into his pocket, pulling out a piece of folded paper. John took it and opened it up. There was a facial composition of a man on it, like a police sketch. In fact, that's probably what it was, because 'Property of Scotland Yard' and 'Not For Personal Use' were watermarked at the top of the page.

“Is this him?” John asked. “Did you remember?”

Sherlock nodded. “Blurry... but... I think right,” he said. “I can't... eyes and fur.” John assumed he meant 'hair', but didn't think he was in a mood to be corrected. “Cape—no... er... can't. See?”

“Yeah, you've put a hoodie on him,” John said. The face was almost entirely obscured by it, only the bottom of the nose and the mouth were clear. “That scar on his lip. It looks like a cleft lip repair.”

“Significant?” Sherlock asked.

“I dunno. Probably puts his age range in the 20's,” John said. “Any younger and the scar wouldn't be visible. Any older and it would be more noticeable. I don't know if that helps. Do you know who he is?”

“I... need confirm,” Sherlock said. “I need more... info. I go now... for that.”

“I'm coming with you,” John said. “Whether you like it or not. This is important. I want to help.”

Sherlock sighed and took the paper back from him. “You... cab behind,” he said. “Need silence. Need... thoughts. Need alone.”

“Fine,” John agreed. “But if you pull any tricks trying to lose me, I will find you and hit you in the head myself. Now, where are we going?”

Sherlock continued down the stairs.

“Mycroft.”




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