A/N: When reading The Adventure of the Three Garridebs (ACD) I was surprised by Holmes' reaction to Watson being shot while on a case, so I began to write this. Half way through writing this I realised how perfect it would be as a prequel to The Broken Man though it spoils the ending to it somewhat, so you should read The Broken Man first!
Sherlock Holmes felt like he was choking. There was an uncomfortable feeling inside, which desperate swallowing couldn't shift. It felt like someone had forced open his jaw and shoved something down his throat. It tasted horrid. Sherlock supposed it might be Victory.
The smell of disinfectant made him want to sneeze so he tried not to breathe. Breathing's boring. He thought of his own words and considered the fact that breathing was essential. He had had an intense need to breathe as he'd emerged frantically from the pool. The chlorine air had burnt his lungs as he had gasped, alerting him to the fact that he was alive. Yes, breathing had been essential. He was still doing it, even now. But John wasn't.
Sherlock didn't associate the hissing, artificial respiration as breathing. It served the purpose but lacked the frantic urgency of human breath. John Watson liked to be urgent, he liked to be frantic too, but as Sherlock observed his friend's calm form in front of him, he wasn't convinced the man was living. Of course he was alive, in the sense that the monitor beeped with every heartbeat, and his chest rose and fell with the force of mechanic respiration, but it wasn't John. It wasn't living.
Sherlock shifted in his seat, not knowing how long he'd been sat there. His hair was damp, and he decided that that was the cause of his sudden shiver. Sherlock closed his eyes and thought of the darkness, as he'd pulled himself out of the swimming pool and lay dazed on the broken tiles. The beams from several torches had bounced off the water, and through his damaged eardrums Sherlock had heard the cries of his name by a familiar voice. He couldn't see. Dust and darkness stung his eyes. Suddenly, a panic had gripped him by the chest. John. In the dim light Sherlock searched frantically, trying to call his friend's name. His voice wouldn't work.
The ceiling had fallen in in places, and Sherlock had felt suddenly enclosed in what was once a large, open space. He also felt very alone. Scrambling to his knees shakily, Sherlock had pulled himself along the tiled floor, wanting nothing more than to be pulled to his feet by the familiar face of his closest friend. It didn't happen.
Sherlock had remained hidden as his eyes had focussed on Lestrade, the D.I's voice seeming distant through the roar of fire hoses and sirens. Sherlock had frowned. Lestrade looked worried, frantic, and Sherlock suddenly saw why. By Lestrade's feet lay a motionless form. Paramedics had swarmed around the body, and were desperate in their actions to revive him. Sherlock hadn't been able to move. He wanted to hurl his way across the debris. But he froze to the spot. He couldn't breathe. His blood pumped loudly in his ears, and a dizziness overcame him. Suddenly, the drumming of his heart was pierced by the echoing words of the paramedic, scrambling John up on a stretcher and taking him out of Sherlock's sight.
Sherlock could hear Lestrade's voice, shouting angrily at someone, telling them to keep looking. Sherlock blinked at the blue lights as they faded away, taking John Watson with them. He needed to know, either way.
Leaving the wreckage and the anxious officials, Sherlock had made his way to John's side. Looking at the fragile man, Sherlock didn't want to leave John ever again. He knew this was foolish. It was just that Sherlock had never owned something so brave and obliging before. He had planned to keep John forever.
The door to the hospital room swung open and a nurse entered briskly with a smile. Sherlock was puzzled. Why was she smiling? He scowled at her as she passed him. The nurse took the chart from the end of John's bed and recorded something.
"Is he going to die?" Sherlock asked suddenly, and then felt foolish. The nurse looked startled at the question, and then smiled again. Sherlock thought she was rather inappropriate.
"He's doing well," she told him, before hesitating. "Are you family?"
"Sort of," Sherlock replied, his eyes fixed on John. The nurse frowned and moved towards Sherlock.
"Sir, you're wet," she stated.
"And you're hurt. Are you a patient? Did you come in through triage?"
Sherlock instinctively brought his hand up to his hairline, feeling the warm stickiness of blood.
"Sir? Someone will need to check you over. Have you seen a doctor?"
The nurse hesitated, concern written on her face. She told Sherlock about some forms, and how he needed to check in at the desk, but his head was clouded, and the voice seemed so far away. He nodded his agreement and the nurse headed for the door.
"He's my friend," he told her suddenly, his voice sounding loud in the small room. The nurse smiled, nodded, and left him alone.
Sherlock was surrounded by the beeping and hissing, the signs that his friend was still alive. The noises were getting on Sherlock's nerves. How was he supposed to think? He wanted to wrench the tube from John's throat and shake him by the shoulders, to tell him to breathe properly for goodness sake! Like a human being.
Instead he chewed on his lip and thought about how inconvenient this all was, because that was so much easier than admitting the truth; that Sherlock Holmes was frightened. He studied his friend in the bed, with his pale face, and sutured wounds. He thought of how John had saved his life that night and how he, Sherlock, had been foolish enough for one brief moment, to think that John could have been that monster who played the game so very well. Sherlock was cross with himself. John would never be a James Moriarty. He was a thousand times the man that Moriarty would ever be. And now he was lying in a hospital bed, all because of a taunting game that had become very, very real. Sherlock decided in that moment that he didn't want friends. He didn't deserve them anyway. Friends were an inconvenience, they slowed him down.
Sherlock's breath hitched in his chest and he surprised himself at the sound. What was wrong with him? He brought his hand up to his face and touched his warm cheeks. A damp trail ran underneath his fingers. He thought that this must be what it was like to feel. What? Guilt? He tried to physically shake it from his head. He wasn't working properly. He was broken. But he would fix it the only way he knew how.
The door opened again, and Sherlock expected to see the nurse. It was, however, someone else entirely.
"Oh, God," he groaned. "What do you want?"
Mycroft Holmes offered a smile with a raised eyebrow, one which always indicated to Sherlock that his brother thought he was up to no good.
"I thought I might find you here. The police are looking for you." Mycroft paused. "They think you're dead."
"And?" Sherlock mumbled.
"Will you not speak to them?"
"No." It was all Sherlock felt like saying. It was all he could seem to say. It was the only word he could use with confidence; everything else felt confusing and jumbled. He recalled, as a child, saying 'no' to his mother. He had thought it was a swear word. His mother became very upset with him. Sherlock had found it rather satisfying. He registered his brother's voice through his reverie.
"Aren't you going to prove them wrong?"
"Why?" Another word his mother despaired at.
"For goodness sake Sherlock! If you won't talk to them then at least talk to me."
"What's to say? I'm fine," he added for good measure.
"Sherlock!" Mycroft snapped, and gained the full attention of his younger brother for the first time since entering a room. "Your closest friend was strapped to explosives, while you were held at gun point by a madman who blew the building up," he said dryly. There was a brief moment of silence before Sherlock spoke, correcting him.
"Actually, that was me. I was that madman."
The realisation hit him in the face, almost as the cold chlorine water had. He had done this to John. Sherlock thought he was going to be sick. He gripped the arms of his chair tightly, turning his knuckles white.
"Shut up. Just go away!"
Mycroft lifted John's chart from the bed and perused it quietly. It was several moments before he spoke again.
"You've made quite a mess, haven't you?"
"So? It was only a swimming pool."
"That's not what I meant," Mycroft countered pointedly. Sherlock knew this.
"Poor John –"
"What are you going to do?"
Sherlock hesitated at this. His brain felt sluggish. He couldn't think straight. Perhaps a cigarette was needed. He twitched his fingers absentmindedly.
"Don't even think about it."
"Oh, fuck off Mycroft!" he snapped sulkily. Mycroft actually laughed.
"They say he's doing much better."
Sherlock nodded. He had a swelling in his stomach. He thought it might be hope, but he wasn't sure what hope felt like.
"I can't stay here," he said quietly.
"Well that much is obvious."
"No, Mycroft, listen! I can't do this anymore. This –" he wafted a hand at John as though he were a discarded toy. "Tonight, I screwed up. And the reason for that is lying there in that bed. I can't stay with him." His voice cracked at the words and he hated himself for it. Mycroft looked at his brother with as much compassion as Sherlock had ever seen from him.
"You need him, Sherlock."
"No." That word again. "I don't. Don't pretend you're concerned for him Mycroft, I know why you're here."
Mycroft would never admit it, of course, but Sherlock knew his brother's interest in his friendship with John was fuelled strongly from the fear of Sherlock's addiction reoccurring. He was as selfish as Sherlock in that respect. Maybe more so. At least Sherlock had been honest with John about why he'd wanted him around. John was a decent human being, and didn't deserve to be used and torn apart. Even Sherlock could acknowledge that.
"I have to go."
"Will you..." Sherlock hesitated as the words formed in his head. "Will you look after him?"
Sherlock tried a smile of gratitude. It sat awkwardly on his face.
"You know, he might follow you. He's cleverer than you give him credit for."
"He won't follow where I'm going," Sherlock muttered, more to himself than to his brother.
"Oh? And where's that?"
"Death, Mycroft." The brothers regarded each other in a significant silence. "Can you sort it?"
The younger man paced the room in frustration, running his hand through his unkempt hair.
"Mycroft, if I'm to do this, I need to do it now, before I'm seen. Now, do I have your help or not?"
"Sherlock, you will always have it," Mycroft told him, his words heavy with sincerity.
Sherlock headed for the bed and ran a hand through John's hair, observing the superficial wounds which covered the man's face.
"This will devastate him," Mycroft spoke from the doorway.
"He'll get over it," Sherlock mumbled.
"No, Sherlock, I don't think he will." Sherlock couldn't respond. "Look after yourself, Little Brother."
"I'll be in touch."
"No. Don't," Mycroft said firmly, and Sherlock nodded his understanding. With that, Mycroft spun and left the room at a pace.
Alone, Sherlock took a deep breath and kissed his friend gently on the forehead.
"Goodbye John," he said quietly, his eyes stinging. Tears are so pointless, he thought angrily. Tears won't change anything. "My John." He tore his eyes away and marched to the door.
Sherlock had gone. He didn't hear the monitors being switched off, or see the Doctor sign the discharge form. He didn't hear the soft cries which came from the rooms of 221b Baker Street in the dark of the night. He couldn't be a part of that life anymore. He could be the hero for once in his life; the hero that John had always wanted him to be. He could save John's life.
Sherlock Holmes had gone. He had left John Watson a broken man. Broken but alive.