Characters: John, Sherlock (Main), Mrs Hudson, Mrs 'Mummy' Holmes (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: 4,646
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.
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.
“Good,” Mrs Hudson said, when John told her what was going on. She had his burned hand running under cold water. “He needs to do that.”
John was surprised that she wasn't more concerned about it. “But... it's Sherlock,” he said, as though she hadn't fully understood. “Sherlock. Sherlock is crying.”
“Yes, I heard you,” she said. “And it's a good thing. He has quite a lot of pent up emotion and he needs to let it out. We all need a good cry once in awhile. Even Sherlock Holmes. We should probably give him some proper privacy. Let's go out for tea.”
John accepted the towel she handed to him and patted the burned area dry. “Is that...will he be okay?” he asked. “I mean, he's really upset.”
“If you were that upset, would you want him hovering around you?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“No,” John admitted. “Yeah, okay. I see your point.”
“Besides, there's no one better than a mother for comforting,” Mrs Hudson said.
And as she rubbed aloe over the burn and put a plaster on it and pulled him out of the flat, John decided that he quite agreed.
They went to Angelo's for dinner, since Mrs Hudson fancied Italian and John fancied cheap. Angelo gave anyone associated with Sherlock a discount. He greeted them warmly and put them at the 'best table in the house, for the best friend and la padrona of Sherlock Holmes!'. This meant the table by the window. They even got a candle. John sincerely hoped that he didn't think he and Mrs Hudson were on a date.
The meal was good, as good as was expected, and he and Mrs Hudson ended up in a sort of philosophical conversation about Sherlock.
“He doesn't realize he needs people,” she said. “He thinks he doesn't, but he depends on us all the same. He's not comfortable trusting people. He's better since you came along. You've both changed, really.”
“I've changed?” John asked, surprised.
“Of course you have, dear. Everyone changes when they meet new people,” Mrs Hudson said. “You're calmer and happier than when I first met you. I thought you were a bit lost then. You've found yourself now. And Sherlock, well, he's better for having you around. And you're better for having him around. And I'm better for having you both around. That's how it works.”
John smiled a little at that. “We're better for having you around, too,” he said. She patted his hand affectionately. “What was he like when you first met him? You knew him before I did.”
“Oh, he was the same in a lot of ways,” Mrs Hudson said, with fondness. “But I liked him. I don't think he was used to that. Sherlock's spent his whole life with people hating him. They don't like him because he's smarter than them. So he hates people in advance and when he finds someone, like you or me, who likes him just as he is, with no conditions, it makes him very confused. He's so ready to fight with the world, he doesn't know what to do when it doesn't fight back.”
John tried to process this. He supposed it made sense. “Why do we like him?” he asked.
Mrs Hudson laughed. “Heaven knows, dear,” she said. “I suspect you and I like the excitement. He's a good boy, underneath it all.” John looked at her, sceptical. “He is. You'll see. He'll show it one day.”
John felt a little better for hearing all this, but he was still faced with the fact that he had a very depressed, at the moment somewhat hysterical, flatmate who didn't want anything to do with him. “I hope his mum helps,” he said. “I don't know what to do—if I should leave him alone or keep nagging at him.”
“I think you need a night off,” Mrs Hudson said. “You let someone else worry for you. His mum will take care of him. That's what mums are for. Now, I intend to order pudding and stop fussing, and you should, too.”
John grinned. “Yes ma'am,” he said. “You're a very wise woman, Mrs H.”
“I know, dear,” she said. “You're quite lucky to have me around.”
They'd given Sherlock about two hours to collect himself, but John still went upstairs apprehensively when they arrived home, peeking into the living room with one foot poised to retreat if necessary. Sherlock wasn't there, just Mrs Holmes who was reading a book on the sofa, as if she lived there.
“Hello,” she greeted him. “Sherlock's having a bit of a lie down. He's quite exhausted. How was your meal? Italian, was it?”
“Yes, how did you—?” John asked.
“You're holding garlic bread,” she pointed out.
John looked down at the plastic container in his hand. Angelo had sent it home with him for Sherlock because 'once he ate a whole slice of it' and that apparently meant that it was his favourite.
“Oh, right,” John said, with a laugh. He set the container down on the coffee table. “How's Sherlock?”
“He's fine,” she said. “I was just waiting until you came back, so there would be someone with him if he needs anything. I'm going to go in a bit.”
“How did you get him to lie down?” John asked.
She laughed. “Practice,” she said. “Thirty-four years of it. You can imagine what it was like trying to get him to nap as a child. He started doing flips out of his cot at thirteen months. He'd be so angry to be there, he'd start jumping up and down and then sort of somersault over the side, then he'd run to the door and open it, all before you'd taken two steps down the hall. The paediatrician insisted it wasn't possible for a toddler to do that, but he did.”
John grinned. “God, I can't even picture Sherlock as a kid,” he said. “What was he like? Was he always like this?”
“Always,” she said, with emphasis. “He wasn't too much trouble so long as you kept him busy. Take away his toys or stop playing games with him and he'd be finding something to get into within seconds.”
“Same as now,” John noted.
Mrs Holmes laughed. “He hit his milestones so early and he's so bright, he never knew what to do with himself,” she said. “Mycroft was always very... precise. He's as bright as Sherlock, but he was always aware of what he was doing and what he was going to be doing and how it should be done. Sherlock always seemed slightly surprised at how he'd arrived where he was. As though he was moving so fast, he couldn't keep track of everything. Mycroft always had a natural ability to focus his thoughts. Sherlock had to learn how to do that. I think he overdoes it now—he gets too absorbed and narrows in too much, sometimes to his detriment. My mother-in-law used to say he was like a dog with a bone. Just like his father, really.”
John felt like he'd learned more about how Sherlock Holmes' mind worked in the last few hours than he had in the entire year and a half he'd known him.
“I've invited him to come to a concert tomorrow night,” she said. “And I'm hoping he'll accept. I've planted the seed. We'll see what grows once he's had a bit to stew over it.” She put her book down and stood up. “I think I'll go. I've done what I can here. He'll get stroppy if he thinks I'm hovering. You can give me a ring if you need me.”
John thanked her and saw her down to the door. “Do you think he's all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, firmly. “Sherlock has always been very good about recovering after a setback, but sometimes he needs to break down before he can pick himself up again. He needs to open the wound and let all the infection out before it can heal. I have him sorted for the moment. Now I have to work on the other son. Mycroft is lamenting his lack of omnipotence. I have to go remind him he isn't actually all powerful, nor all seeing.” She gave him a critical look. “I'll remind you of the same thing.”
John squirmed a little under her gaze, and nodded. “I know,” he said. “Thank you for coming. I'll keep an eye on Sherlock.”
“I know you will,” Mrs Holmes said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
She left and John went back upstairs, hoping that she had done some good.
He decided to take Mrs Hudson's advice and try not to worry. He felt like he used to at the end of long shifts in med school or the army—like he'd been caring for so long that if anyone asked him to give one more fuck, he was going to lose it. The last couple of months had felt like one long shift, made even worse by how emotionally involved with it he was. He was sick of being frustrated and guilty and exhausted and angry. He needed a break, even a small one.
So he watched a few admittedly lowbrow sitcoms on the telly and got caught up with his blog and read for a while. It helped, a little. It wasn't enough, but it kept him sane for the moment. That's all he could hope for, for now.
Sherlock woke up around eleven-thirty that night—or he left his room at least. He didn't look very rested, if he had been sleeping. He was pale and haggard and his eyes were a bit puffy and had deep, dark circles underneath them. He wandered out to the living room, his eyes darting over at John a few times. He went over to his violin case and brought it back to the chair with him, playing pizzicato. John hadn't seen him go near the instrument since that disastrous first attempt to play. He decided to take it as a sign of hope.
There was a long, awkward silence, which John realized he was going to have to break.
“Hey,” he said, neutrally.
“Hello,” Sherlock said, neutrally.
“Your mum's left,” John said, unnecessarily.
“Ov-obvious,” Sherlock said, snootily.
John returned to his book. Sherlock plucked at the violin, his right index finger moving in small spasms, but with enough dexterity to keep the rhythm.
“You... garlic smell,” Sherlock said, after a bit. “Angelo?”
“Yeah, Mrs H and I went out for dinner,” John said. “He sent garlic bread, if you want some.”
Sherlock looked at the box on the coffee table like it was poison. “No,” he said.
John smirked down at his book. Sherlock returned to plucking. There was another silence.
“Mummy... music... er... billets... er... paper... paper—tickets,” Sherlock said, after a bit. He was looking down at the violin, but his eyes rolled up to watch John. “Yester—, no...er... er... night follows... tonight.”
“Tomorrow,” John supplied.
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “That's why... er... London she comes. For... music and... visits. Check on me and... invite.”
John was more than happy to accept that slightly skewed version of events. Sherlock made it sound like the concert was her first priority and looking in on him was a side trip. If that made him feel better, John would play along.
“You gonna go?” he asked.
“I... think yes,” Sherlock said. “But... see have to. Will see.”
John gave an encouraging nod, but didn't want to seem too pushy for fear of Sherlock baulking on principle.
“She... invites same... you,” Sherlock went on. “Can... ticket get. Says. You can't... come if—if want.”
John tried to parse that sentence, wondering why Mrs Holmes hadn't invited him herself. Maybe she wanted to leave it up to Sherlock whether he wanted him along or not. “Do you mean I'm not allowed to come or I can choose not to come?” he asked.
“Second,” Sherlock said.
“Oh, then I choose not to come,” John said. “No offence, but your mum is scary.”
“Why... why you think... I... London live?” Sherlock asked, with a smirk. “And she... long train away.”
John laughed. Sherlock smiled down at the violin. John waited a bit longer, struggling with whether or not to inquire into how Sherlock was feeling. He seemed—well, he seemed exhausted—but a little less tense than he had been. John didn't want to pry.
“You...stare,” Sherlock told him. “Stop. Fine... me. I... fine. I...” he struggled with the words and John suspected it wasn't just the dysphasia at work. He was trying to decide how to express himself. “I... never... hard doing... doing things. Always... easy. All things easy. Yes?” John nodded. “Now... hard all things. I speech wrong and... hands and feet broken. I can't... approach. I don't... skills have for being... not good. I need better and... angry. So... my thoughts and... er... trapped? Very tired and... cross. I'm... cross.”
“I've noticed that,” John said. “I remember... I mean, it was different for me, because I wasn't... trapped, like you put it. Not physically, anyway. But I remember how it feels to be sort of... separate from what you want to do and what you can do. And being just... stuck. Stuck in place and not sure where to go.”
Sherlock nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Yes. I... agree.” He looked over at John. “How... fix? How... not stuck?”
John smiled. “If I recall correctly,” he said. “This nutter asked me to be his flatmate and I started solving crimes.”
Sherlock didn't know what to do with that. He looked confused and maybe—maybe—a bit touched. “Oh,” he said.
“Look, I don't want to sound like a motivational speaker, but you have to look at what you can do, not what you can't do,” John said. “When you woke up at the hospital, you couldn't hold a pen. You can play the violin now—not play-play, but you're making music with it. You couldn't get two words in a row out, now you can do full sentences sometimes. You couldn't say my name and now you bellow it up the stairs when there's a crime scene to go to. Those are tangible things, things that you can measure. I mean, you're a long way from normal, not that you've ever been normal, but compared to how it was at the start, you're brilliant.”
Sherlock nodded, though he didn't look very convinced.
“And whatever you need to do to get better is what you need to do,” John went on, while he had Sherlock's attention. “And I know we're crowding you, because we want to help. So I can stop hassling you if you want me to, and leave you alone. Or I can help. Or if you need to get right away and take a holiday somewhere or visit your mum or have your mum around, whatever. But this sitting around sulking isn't going to accomplish anything. And maybe you're not ready to stop doing that yet, that's fine. But... you know... you aren't going to get better until you do.”
Sherlock nodded again.
“Okay, I'm done now,” John said. “Sorry. I just, felt like it needed to be said. I'll sod off. I have to work in the morning, I should probably get to bed anyway. And you should probably practice apologizing to Violet. She'll be back tomorrow.” Sherlock made a face. “You good?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said. He searched for his words again, his eyes roaming around. “I... you're not... wrong.”
John laughed. “There's a first,” he said. “Thanks.” He stood up and headed for the stairs, but turned back at the door. “Sorry, just one more thing. I'm not a genius, so maybe this is a stupid idea. But if you're tired, maybe you should sleep.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Right you,” he said. “Not... genius.”
“Yeah, I know,” John said, with a grin. “Goodnight.”
To say that Sherlock instantly was better would be a lie. Depression didn't work that way. What he was, though, was a little less grumpy and more open to communicating. He patched things up with Violet, though John wasn't sure if an apology ever took place or they just called a truce. He also went out to the concert with his mum and seemed to enjoy himself, though it took a lot out of him physically.
Mrs Holmes stayed in town for a week and did her best to cajole John into having lunch with the family, but all plans fell through, much to his relief. Thank God for crises in other countries that required Mycroft's urgent attention. John had no desire to try and sit in the middle of that mess. Sherlock was in no mood to forgive Mycroft, and Mycroft was in no mood to forgive himself. Mrs Holmes returned home and resumed her previous role of acting as though she didn't exist. Which was an odd way to parent, but seemed to work.
Sherlock still didn't have much drive to do anything without being forced, but he was starting to look less like death warmed over and behaving more like his usual self. John actually found himself mentally cheering when he opened the freezer to find a severed hand in it.
He had a very strange life.
Eventually, Sherlock hit what John thought was the acceptance stage of his grief. He seemed to be ready to acknowledge that he was not well and needed to get better. He started to sleep and, though it was nowhere near the ten hours a night he was supposed to be getting post-head injury, it was almost every night. He started to look less like a zombie. And, surprise, once he was sleeping, other things started to come more easily and so he was in a better mood all around.
He started to work on cases again, and they were still hard, but he pushed through and kept going, rather than shutting down. He seemed unusually unfocussed and taking longer to move from point to point. John assumed it was part of the head injury; that he wasn't as streamlined as before because of his mind palace still being 'messy', as he put it. He was trying to wade through huge amounts of information stored there, which was no longer in nice little compartments.
“I... can't... words,” he told John, after a particularly difficult case.
They were sitting in the living room, John trying to make sense of his case notes, so he could write a blog entry. It was harder to follow Sherlock's train of thought since his head injury, which made it harder to write about how the case was solved. A lot of it still remained trapped in Sherlock's head.
“Sorry?” John said, looking up from his notes.
Sherlock made a gesture of holding a book. “I can't... comprehension. I look and... not... remember.”
“You can't read?” John asked.
“No, can read but... not... absorb,” Sherlock explained. “I... not... learn very... much.”
John waited, not sure where this was going and not wanting to say the wrong thing. He wasn't sure if this was Sherlock venting, which was an improvement over sulking, or if there was more to it than that.
“You didn't tell me that,” John said, after Sherlock didn't seem inclined to continue. Sherlock shrugged. “So, you can understand the words but not follow the... story or whatever.”
Sherlock nodded. “When... drop,” he said, miming putting a book down. “And leave. All... gone. I... forget all. Or... I read and... have to... over and over again to understand. I can... newspaper and... short word stories, but... not more long. Can... function. But not... er... good function.”
“That's another head injury thing,” John said. “People with strokes have that problem. Sometimes they can't read the words at all. I think yours is probably more a concentration thing, though. I've noticed you're a bit... scattered.”
“Violet says... er... practice,” Sherlock went on, looking embarrassed. “But... can't, because... if not... remember... can't... I can't know... if right.”
There was another silence here, where John felt the only response was 'that's unfortunate'. Then he realized what was going on. “Sherlock,” he said, with a smile. “Are you asking for help with your homework?”
Sherlock shot him an annoyed look. “Not... child,” he complained. “But... yes.”
“What are we reading?” John asked.
Sherlock looked a little surprised. “Okay?” he said. “You... want to help?”
“Of course I do,” John said. “We all want to help, Sherlock. Give me something useful to do and I'll do it. So, what are we reading?”
Sherlock tossed a paperback his way. It was a copy of And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie.
“You know... er... er... report-no, no, erm, writer?” Sherlock asked. “Violet says... I like her. Because mystery? But... never read. She surprised.”
“Me too,” John said. “You practically are Hercule Poirot. And you know, I'm pretty much Hastings. That's really weird now that I think about it.”
Sherlock gave him a blank look. “I don't know... them,” he said.
John shook his head. He sometimes wondered what Sherlock did all his life. If he ever did anything for fun as a kid. “I don't think they're in this one,” he said, scanning over the back cover. “This is a classic, though. You might like it. I think I read it way, way back. I don't remember much about it. It had a different name then. Ten Little Indians, I think. Anyway, I'm happy to read it again and ask you questions, or discuss it or whatever you need. We can just go a chapter at a time. I can get a copy for myself and keep up with you. Does that work?”
“Good. If you hear something read aloud, do you remember it?” John asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “Only... pen—wrote words, mind... wanders.”
“All right, well we can use that at crime scenes and stuff, when you really need it,” John said. “I can read whatever you need aloud to you, until your focus improves. That way you won't have to keep checking things.”
Sherlock nodded again. “Before, I try to... only solve cases,” he explained. “I try to... be well just enough for that. But now... I want all well. Want better, all better.”
John smiled. “Good,” he said. “Good. I'm glad to hear that.” He tossed the book back to Sherlock. “We'll start tomorrow.”
Sherlock threw himself in to his recovery the way he usually threw himself into cases. He worked so hard that John had to sometimes get him to relax a little about it. He locked himself in his room for hours at a time, and for a while John was worried that he was slipping into the depression again, or doing something not quite legal. However, when he stuck his ear to the door one day, he could hear Sherlock singing and talking to himself. John left him alone after that.
Once Sherlock started to properly recover, John found that under all the stress and guilt and frustration, he was just bloody tired. At first he tried to keep going and ignore it, but eventually he had to give himself permission to be tired. He took every opportunity to sleep, and once he started to feel rested, life stopped being such an overwhelming existence of trying to fix problems or prevent problems from arising or waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It started to feel less like one long shift and more like life. A life that he had enjoyed before the assault and could enjoy afterwards too, even if it was a bit different.
John did what he could to help Sherlock, but if he told him to back off, he did. There were still strops and fights and days when John wanted to leave the flat and possibly the city or the country, but he made it through. He and Sherlock worked their way through And Then There Were None, though it took ages to do. At the beginning, Sherlock had to read chapters over and over again before he could talk about what happened in them. He seemed to like the story, though, which kept him going and declared Christie to be an 'acceptable' author. By the end, Sherlock could remember not only what happened in that chapter, but the chapter before and the beginning and middle and criticize John for not putting the clues together himself.
The physio came along brilliantly. In addition to the constant ball throwing, Sherlock also took up crocheting, which, despite everything that John had seen since he'd met Sherlock, was still the weirdest thing he had ever walked in on him doing. He and Mrs Hudson were sitting on the sofa, both crocheting.
“Laugh and... die,” Sherlock told him, without looking up.
“After my friend had a stroke, she took up knitting to help with her hands,” Mrs Hudson explained, as John continued to gape. “I thought it might help Sherlock, but he didn't want to try before when I offered. He said yes today, though.” She was obviously very proud of herself for getting him to try. “The knitting didn't go so well, so we've gone with crocheting instead. He's doing very well.”
“Has... maths,” Sherlock added. “And... logic and... thinking. Pattern from... change wool loops.”
“Okay...” John said. “Whatever floats your boat, mate. If it helps, go to it.”
And it did help, though Sherlock lost interest in it after about a week. Still, by the time he was around the four month mark post-injury, Sherlock was pretty much fully mobile again. He was still a bit clumsy with his right hand and sometimes unconsciously swapped hands if he was overtired, but he was mostly back to his normal, agile self with ninja-like reflexes.
The speech was another matter. He worked at it with a will, but there was just no hurrying it along. He improved, slowly, and found his words more easily and with fewer pauses between them. His writing improved a lot as well, especially once he could write with his dominant hand again. But his grammar was still dodgy and when he was tired, it all fell to pieces.
He also went through an odd phase that John thought of as 'word salad', where he had all the words, but not in any sort of order. He would say things like 'Lestrade murder called crime scene now' and John would have to find the syntax himself. It was like he was so excited to have all the words, he ran ahead of himself and didn't care which order they came out in. That settled down after a while, and Sherlock continued to improve as the months went on. Violet worked hard with him and he worked hard for her, but John noticed that they seemed to have hit a plateau. He wondered if Sherlock was as good as he was going to get.
If that was the case, though, it was okay. Sherlock could solve cases and carry on conversations with enough fluency for people to understand him and that was really all he needed. If this was it, if he never improved beyond this point, Sherlock could live with it. John could live with it. And considering how bad it had been at the start, it was more than he could have hoped for.
And it was enough.