"How bad is it?"
Sherlock startled awake at the sound of John's voice, although there was no way he could've fallen asleep, even for a moment. No way. John. John's awake. John's alive. Of course he's alive. John's all right. No. No. John's speaking. He can speak. Of course he can speak. Don't be an idiot. He's fine. No. But he's awake. John's awake. John.
He pushed down the useless thoughts that threatened to overwhelm him and focused on the man in the hospital bed in front of him. John was awake. He had been sedated for almost a full day after the surgery but now he was awake. Sherlock reached through the rails on the bed and carefully squeezed John's left hand; John's fingers twitched weakly in response. He could move. His fingers, at least. On one hand. Relief. Love. Fear. The emotions surged before Sherlock could stop them.
"How bad?" John repeated. His voice was a dry croak that threatened Sherlock's self-control again.
Sherlock let his gaze travel the length of the bed, checking for any voluntary movement other than the twitch of John's fingers in his. Nothing. He was half-certain he would vomit if he had to repeat everything the doctors had told him, so all he said was, "T-9."
"Okay," John said. Sherlock could feel his own heart beating very fast; John's stayed steady, its rhythm broadcast by the monitor next to the bed.
"The surgery went well. They've been waiting for you to wake up to do more tests."
John nodded and closed his eyes. "Not yet." He squeezed Sherlock's hand, harder this time. Sherlock squeezed back, and bent awkwardly over the railing to brush his lips against John's knuckles. He felt John's other hand tangle briefly in his hair and had to bite back a whimper of relief. Of course he can move his arms. Both arms. Don't overreact. The injury was mid-spine: T-9, the ninth thoracic vertebra; John would still have movement in most of his upper body. But hearing the doctor read it off a chart and having the proof of John's hand carding gently through his curls were two completely different experiences.
A minute later and John was asleep again. Sherlock wanted to wake him up and grab him by the shoulders and shake him and demand that he try to wiggle his toes, kick his legs, stand up and walk. He wanted to weave his hands into John's hair and kiss him until they both couldn't breathe. He wanted to crawl into bed next to him and cry himself to sleep. Instead he just settled back into the moulded plastic chair, leaving his fingers wrapped in John's, waiting, waiting.
He knew John could likely remember what happened; he hadn't hit his head or lost consciousness at all. Sherlock himself would never forget a moment of it. Some memories he could delete or over-write with ease. Others he would try to dismiss but they would slip into the hidden rooms of his mind palace, occasionally surprising him when he least expected it. And then there were memories like this, events that replayed every time he closed his eyes, intensifying and magnifying each time he relived them.
It wasn't even a suspect they were chasing, just a witness. A possible witness. A kid who'd probably been too high to even notice the man being murdered in the flat across the hall, but Sherlock wanted to talk to him, so while Lestrade and Donovan stayed downstairs interviewing the landlord, Sherlock had grabbed John by the arm and they'd gone after him. The kid had taken one look at them and fled, out of his flat, down the stairs, and doubtless out the front door. There were police all over the street out front, though, so the kid would head down the alley, hoping to slip off undetected into the night. Predictable and slow. Sherlock would be there first.
He opened the flat's only window and climbed out onto the fire escape, a cold draught of wind catching and lifting the tails of his coat. John was right behind him, of course, not hesitating to follow as Sherlock bounded out and down the stairs, and then he wasn't behind him anymore. The soft groan of the old metal creaking beneath Sherlock's feet became an ungodly screech as the rusted stairs gave way, pulling away from the building's wall as John clamoured down them.
Sherlock was already on the lower landing. He turned back and lunged toward the railing but not in time; John was on the ground in the alley below, his body twisted beneath a section of the broken stairs. It took Sherlock every long-neglected bit of self-preservation he possessed not to leap over the railing after him. Instead, he flew to the other side of the fire escape and yanked at the ladder it held, feeling pieces of the metal flake off beneath his gloved hands.
"I'm coming, John! Don't move! I'll be right there!" He wasn't sure if he shouted it out loud or just in his head, but he was on and down the ladder before it even finished descending, his feet barely touching the rungs, more of a slide than a climb, and it still wasn't fast enough.
He had his phone out before his feet hit the ground, for the first time appreciating the "Emergency Call" button he'd always seen as a rather vulgar intrusion on the lock screen. "Ambulance!" he shouted, as soon as the call was picked up, trying to pull the chunk of stairway off John without dropping the phone. "Don't move! Don't," he said to John, and crouched down next to his head while he gave the dispatcher the address and told her what had happened.
Sherlock settled his hand on John's shoulder as he answered the dispatcher's increasingly inane questions. John reached up and grabbed his hand, his grip tight and desperate. "Stop moving," Sherlock commanded again, then screamed into the phone, "He's 44 years old, how can that possibly matter? You have the address-get an ambulance here now!" He wanted to pitch the phone away into the darkness so he could focus on John, but he needed to make sure the dispatcher understood that there could not possibly be anything more important happening in the city than John Watson lying injured in this alleyway. He shoved the phone up between his ear and shoulder so he could have both hands free for John, and then someone was pulling the phone away from him and Sherlock had never been happier to see Sally Donovan than he was at that moment. She squatted next to them and calmly answered all of the operator's idiotic questions and after a moment Sherlock was able to tune her out and concentrate on John.
"It hurts." John had not lost his gift for stating the obvious. Sherlock pulled off his gloves and wrapped both hands around John's, some vague instinct telling him the skin-to-skin contact would be comforting.
Comforting. That's what he was supposed to be now. "Don't move," he repeated, and then had to stop himself from saying every other thought that passed through his mind. You may have a spinal cord injury. Your right leg is bent at an awkward angle beneath your left, but you don't appear to have noticed. I don't see any blood, which is good, but I'm afraid you may have lost control of your bladder. Now your leg is twitching-you can't feel that, can you? Can you? Oh, John. Help. He forced himself to exhale and speak again. "The ambulance will be here soon."
"Cold," John said.
"You're going into shock." Shit. Shit. Shit shit shit.
"I know," John said. "Still feel cold, though."
He had to let go of John's hand and stand up to take his coat off. It was cold, the air tonight, and Sherlock felt himself naked and exposed as he draped his heavy wool coat carefully over John. He could hear sirens now, though. Donovan had stepped away to the end of the alley to direct the paramedics, and there was no sign of the boy they'd been chasing. He'd probably heard the crash of breaking metal and run the other way, never even came near this godforsaken alleyway. Sherlock had led John out onto the traitorous fire escape for nothing. Stupid. He turned and kicked at the broken metal with the side of his foot. A small piece shot off to bounce against the wall; the rest of it just sat there, taunting and still.
"Sherlock." John's broken voice caught at him and a hand wrapped around his ankle.
"Stop fucking moving," Sherlock said, crouching down again, anger bubbling up, not at John but directed at him anyway.
"Don't leave me alone."
"I'm not. Of course I'm not. Don't be ridiculous." He softened his voice, though he knew he would find no happy medium between anger and tears.
Donovan skidded down the alley toward them, leading two uniformed men with a stretcher. Sherlock let her tug him out of the way. That was surprising; he would've expected himself to recoil at her touch, say something cutting. Instead he slid back on his rear until his back hit the wall of the building behind him. He drew his knees up to his chest and stayed there, shivering, watching as the paramedics hunched over John. They were moving too slowly, he thought; John should be in the ambulance by now, but they didn't even have him on the backboard yet. The reason why appeared a few moments later, in the form of two more first responders who raced down the alley to join them. The four of them spread out around John and proceeded to lift him onto the backboard. Sherlock thought they would've rolled him onto it; there must be a reason for the different technique. This was the kind of thing he would usually find interesting, except-.
He rocked up onto his knees and vomited what little food he had in his stomach. He was still dry-heaving when Donovan grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. "Come on." The paramedics were loading John into the ambulance. Donovan picked Sherlock's coat up off the ground and shoved it at him. "And here's your phone back. Come on, now, I don't want to have to drive you to the hospital."
He let her keep her hand on his arm and told himself it wasn't because he was too unsteady to walk to the end of the alley on his own. John was already in the ambulance when they got there; Sherlock couldn't see his face from where he stood outside, just his body, strapped to the board, and the edge of the rigid plastic collar that ringed his neck. One paramedic was inside with him; another stood outside, in Sherlock's way. He tried to push past him to climb in beside John.
The man put his hand on Sherlock's chest to stop him. He had two inches and three or four stone on Sherlock, but Sherlock was quite certain he could knock all the other man's teeth out and leave him bleeding on the ground if he needed to.
"Let him ride. It's his husband." Donovan punctuated the lie with a hand against Sherlock's back, urging him forward. He glanced back at her; he was going to have to be nice to her for a long time in exchange for all the small favours she was doing tonight.
"I don't care who he is. If he's going to be sick again he has to ride up front. I won't have him upsetting the patient."
As if a little vomiting would upset John. Sherlock scrubbed his hand over his mouth. "I won't be sick again." He pulled himself up to his full height and tried to look composed and sure of himself. If he'd been wearing his coat instead of clutching it against his chest and shivering that might have been more effective.
The paramedic glared at him and Donovan shifted forward as if preparing to fight and then from inside the ambulance John spoke. "Let him in." He didn't sound hurt-his voice was pure Dr Watson with just an edge of Captain Watson, commanding and steady, and the paramedic grimaced and turned sideways to look at his patient and Sherlock scrambled up into the back of the ambulance before anyone could say anything more.
The paramedic frowned and then shrugged and climbed into the ambulance, pulling the doors shut behind them. He pointed to a small chair that folded out from the wall and said, "Sit there. No distractions." Sherlock sat, hunched into the chair but with his feet stretched out, trying to be simultaneously as close to John and as unobtrusive as possible.