Author's Note: I make no promises whatsoever for updating this story in a timely manner. It still doesn't have a proper plot outlined in my head. If WIPs drive you insane, seriously, don't read this. But I will try to not make the wait quite as long for the next bit.
Sherlock's first thought upon wakening was that there were too many people in the room. If pressed, he wouldn't have been able to say why. It wasn't that he heard them whispering, shuffling around; the room was almost silent except for the usual noises which told him he was in a hospital room almost before he knew he was awake. The air just felt heavy, pressed upon, radiating the sort of atmosphere which a large crowd forced into an enclosed space might give off.
Then, just when he wanted to fight the lethargy, to force himself completely into wakefulness just to get them to go away, the atmosphere cleared, and there were only two in the room. Both were familiar. One smelt of perfume and its lips pressed briefly against his forehead.
"Get well, baby," a voice whispered. And if he had had any strength, he might have mumbled something like 'yes, Mummy'. Instead he went back to sleep.
The second awakening, or perhaps the third or fourth, he finally worked up to opening his eyes. He expected to see John, and for a moment he did, sitting on the chair, face twisted with worry and crying in a way that was completely un-John-like. Perhaps that was how Sherlock was able to see through it so quickly, because the next moment he saw quite clearly that he was alone. There was no John, not even a doctor or nurse, just beeping equipment.
He felt strange. Like he had woken up but gone on dreaming all the same. If he hadn't experienced them before, he would have been tempted to blame whatever pain killers they had him on, but that wasn't quite it. He shifted, trying to pull himself into a more comfortable position, and noticed his arm. It hurt, but in a distant way as though the pain couldn't touch him. It was bandaged.
He was also thirsty; desperately thirsty in fact. If he had called out, which would make no sense as no one was there, then he suspected only a croak would have emerged. He didn't try to speak anyway. He stared at the chair where John was not.
Ghost John was still there. Sherlock couldn't see him, not really, but he was there. John had been there. Sherlock knew that for a number of reasons, starting with his analysis of John's character and ending with the cup of tea placed on the left side of the chair. None of those reasons included apparitions or feelings or the swirl of muddy color occasionally deepening to pure blue or wisps of deep red that was clinging over the chair. Because the colors weren't there anymore than John was there and his eyes didn't want to look anymore and his head was beginning to throb in time with the beeping and then to ache in a way his arm still didn't.
So he closed his eyes and didn't see the way the colors still burned on the inside of his lids.
He opened them again when a doctor came in, and the doctor didn't hurt his head because the colors clinging around him were so pale that Sherlock could decide he didn't see them at all. It was obviously an optical illusion anyway, since the man was wearing a white coat.
"Where's John," was the first thing Sherlock tried to say, and it turned out he was right about his voice croaking, not that the doctor seemed to mind. The doctor gave him some ice chips and told him he was doing well, except for having a bit of a fever, and he wanted to ask a few questions.
Sherlock didn't want to answer. He wanted John to come back. Seeing ghost John in that chair had made him uneasy in a way that was both horrendously unrational and annoyingly unshakeable. Obviously John had not turned into a ghost. The details around why Sherlock was waking up in a hospital bed were a bit hazy, but he distinctly remembered being alone when he was injured, and therefore John couldn't have been injured himself. Not to mention all the other concrete signs that John had been there before.
The doctor, however, was persistent, and maintained an easy, pleasant persona even after Sherlock told him he was either a widower or a cheater and that the woman he was sleeping with had a severe overbite. The doctor merely admitted, far too calmly, to widower and didn't ask Sherlock how he could possibly know but instead demanded stupid questions like the name of the prime minister and animals starting with 'H'. The first he admitted to knowing grudgingly and the second led to a brief argument as to whether hydatids counted or if hyraxes were something Sherlock had made up. Sherlock was just getting ready to really defend himself too and perhaps rile up Dr. Smiles-too-much into reacting when a voice interrupted.
"You forget solar systems and the universe, but you know what a hyrax is?" said a voice at the door, and Sherlock promptly dropped the entire conversation in favor of looking at John.
Real John, not ghost John. The colors were still there, as though ghost John were trying to meld himself with real John. Obviously Sherlock was hallucinating or something, most likely due to his medication or fever. The doctor who Sherlock hadn't bothered to learn the name of could see John too, so that part wasn't a hallucination.
"There was a case I had," Sherlock explained briefly, still staring. John was smiling in that easy way he had as though he hadn't been sitting in that chair worrying for however long it had been before Sherlock woke up. The hallucination colors were choppy and agitated and rather distracting by being only halfway there, vanishing to nothing whenever he tried to get a proper look. "You look…" solid, real, powerful "tired."
"Yes, well," he said, and then, "New rule, Sherlock. If you ever run ahead like that again, I will stab you myself."
"You're lying," Sherlock said instantly, a curious jerk reaction that he hadn't quite meant to vocalize. But John was lying…and he wasn't. It was interesting. The red was flaring slightly, though John's expression didn't change.
"Serious, Sherlock, running ahead is bad."
"Yes," Sherlock answered, because that was true, and something in John's expression, or maybe the hallucination bit, relaxed. It was all tied together and it made it hard to remember that the colors which seemed to scream everything it meant to be John weren't real.
"Well," said Dr. Too-Cheerful, "Do you want to keep going or do you need a minute?" Which was obviously a trick question; either Sherlock admitted to needing a break or Sherlock gave permission for the nuisance to continue. So Sherlock refused to answer. He didn't need the other doctor anyway, now that his own proper doctor was back. "Sherlock?"
"Give us a minute," John said with a placating smile and finally the doctor left. Then it was just John and John was staring and Sherlock was looking back, trying to fill in the gaps of his own memory. Slowly, John approached the bed until they could have touched, if they wanted.
"You're awake," John said, obvious, but said quietly. Sherlock didn't quite know how to respond to that. If it were someone else, he'd probably berate them for saying something so pointless. But it was John, and sometimes John said things that meant something else, like a puzzle, so it wasn't annoying at all.
"Yes," Sherlock answered, because he couldn't work out what John wanted this time, and then, as long as they were sharing the obvious, "You weren't here." He didn't mean it as a reprimand, but John still flinched. "I mean, you were here before. I could see your tea, and you left your colors all over the chair, except that part isn't real."
"Colors?" John asked, and he looked a bit worried again, and Sherlock hadn't meant to mention the colors. Still, they were there, and Sherlock was finding it very hard to care. Except that John was worried.
"You were here but you weren't real," he explained, trying to make the worried look go away so John would look comfortable again. And Sherlock's head hurt again and his arm was throbbing, and John was radiating in ways he wasn't supposed to. Like he might not be any more real than ghost John. So Sherlock stuck out his hand and poked him, then stroked his fingers across a very solid, vibrantly real chest that was warm and safe and John.
"My chest hurts. Why does my chest hurt if it was my arm that got stabbed?" And it did hurt, all at once and unexpectedly, pain breaking sharply even as he stubbornly kept stroking John's sweater.
"Chest compressions can do that," John answered, covering his hand with his own, and it was warm and lovely but his head hurt. John was saying something very significant and it wasn't making sense.
"I don't remember…" he said, frowning and not liking the way his memory over the past few days was as insubstantial as the smoky colors still dancing like fire around John's head.
"You were a bit dead at the time," John answered, his tone light and gentle and exactly the opposite of the way dark lines crept through the red and blue. Sherlock frowned. And John was smiling and that was good even if fear and anger were hiding around the edges. Sherlock was too busy with this new puzzle to properly answer but John didn't seem to mind. He kept talking, maybe to Sherlock, maybe to the darkness. "You…we thought…you went into shock. Your heart stopped. We didn't know…how you might wake up."
"Hence Dr. Sunshine's tests," Sherlock answered, processing this while he continued to stroke the fuzziness that meant John was still solid.
"Dr. Sun…you mean Dr. Charles?" John was still worried, but he was also smiling. So Sherlock smiled back and tried, for once, not to connect the facts together into the only possible truth.
Sherlock is seeing things that aren't there. Sherlock's brain went without oxygen for longer than is medically recommended. It could be the drugs, it could be the fever. But unlikely. He's been on drugs before. Dr. Annoying told him the fever was low. Remove the impossible and whatever remains, however…distasteful, terrifying, unwanted…must be the truth. Sherlock has brain damage.
He doesn't tell John this. He lets John fuss over him, even lets him call the other doctor back in. Both John and Sherlock ignore how unusual it is for Sherlock to latch onto John's hand or how equally unusual it is for John to hold on just as tightly. They are warm and they are alive.
And maybe, the next time he wakes up, he will be properly cured. The colors will go away.