Author's Note: This story begins immediately after The Great Game.
WARNING: For TBI. If that doesn't mean anything to you, then I guess you don't need to worry about the warning.
There had been two shots.
Waiting, back braced against the side of the cubicle, legs tensed and ready.
Waiting, power coiling in his body, his gaze narrow, focused on the gun in Sherlock's hand, and Sherlock's finger as it began to squeeze the trigger.
Waiting, past the point where there was any chance that Sherlock would change his mind or pause in his action, until the moment when the shot became inevitable.
Only then had he moved, releasing all that energy into a burst of acceleration which sent him flying across the tiled floor and straight into Sherlock, arms outstretched to wrap around him, body twisting to maximise his momentum as he sent them both plunging into the pool, even as the fireball from the bomb vest burst over their heads, the force of the blast sending them deep into the water.
Noise, light, pressure, lack of air, all sensations flooding his mind but none of them touching on the underlying horror as his brain caught up with his ears. Sherlock's unresponsiveness, the memory of his body jerking suddenly as John twisted him and the overwhelming, petrifying awareness that he had heard two shots.
Two shots, when there should only have been one…
John lurched awake, stiff and uncomfortable in the hospital chair, his gaze going immediately to the still figure on the bed, then to the read-outs on the machines banked up on either side.
He looked down at the hand which was wrapped in his own. The strong, capable hand which usually moved with such precision, such purpose. The long fingers which could tame a violin into surrendering its most exquisite notes. So fragile looking now, so still, the blue veins too evident through the pale, pale skin.
He almost smiled, thinking of Sherlock's reaction should he open his eyes and see John holding his hand. The eyebrow would most definitely quirk at such an imposition, he knew.
He shifted his gaze, as if by staring at Sherlock's eyebrows he could encourage their movement but there was nothing. His eyes roamed over the high cheekbones, the long jaw, the surprisingly full lips. The most alive, most aware, most vibrant person John had ever met – where had he gone?
Behind him, the door opened but John did not look round. The staff had tried to keep him out at first, insisting that he wasn't family, had no connection, no rights, but John had put his head down mulishly and refused to budge. Mycroft stepped in before they came close to dislodging him.
They only had a patient at all because of John, Mycroft pointed out, with an approving smile which John barely noticed. It was he who reached and twisted Sherlock, so that the bullet which would have entered the back of his head actually just skimmed across it instead.
There had been arguing but John hadn't listened any more. He had enough experience of the Holmes brothers to know who would win.
"No change?" It was Anthea, making her early morning check on Mycroft's behalf.
John shook his head. He did not want Anthea in the room. Anthea was not concerned about Sherlock. She didn't care whether the figure on the bed still housed his spirit or whether it was just a shell, an empty house. It did not matter to her; Sherlock was just an item on her agenda, she didn't care.
He glanced round. No bandage swathing her head. No needles in her arms. No ventilator keeping her breathing. Eyes open, conscious, alert, awake… he couldn't look at her for long. Why did it have to be Sherlock whose body was lying in this bed? So many other people, none of them so alive as Sherlock, none of them so unique, none of them so important.
As a doctor, John knew that it was wrong to think this way, of course he knew. To resent everyone else for walking and talking when Sherlock could not; it was wrong.
As a man, he didn't care. Better it was almost anybody else, better it was Anthea, better it was John himself, better it was anyone at all than Sherlock Holmes, who would leave such a hole in the world. When he next remembered to turn around, she had gone.
It had been six days and seven nights since the explosion.
The first night of panic, of horror; a blur of motion and colour in John's memory.
The journey in the ambulance, the blood, the shouting, the frantic activity with total stillness at its centre. No response from Sherlock, no reaction. Still alive but somehow already absent.
People prodding John, lights in his eyes. "Shock," they said. "You're in shock." Sitting to one side, back to the wall, staring at a man who wasn't there. Helpless.
The hospital. Sherlock whisked away, emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain. Repairing the damage from the bullet track which ran straight across the back of his skull. The desperate hope that he would survive.
Sitting in the waiting room, both hands shaking now, people talking but it was just noise, meaningless. Words in his head, round and round... Just live through the operation Sherlock, just don't die. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear. Don't die, Sherlock, just don't die. On and on, until he thought he would go mad.
Then the first day on his own, rudderless, lost.
A day of undrunk coffee and questions from the police which didn't mean anything, didn't make sense, were irrelevant – couldn't they see it didn't matter? What did it matter?
A day of waiting for Sherlock to wake up. To wake up and answer the questions, and demand to be released so that he could go home – didn't they know he had several experiments at critical stages?
A long day, an endless day, a day which went on and on as Sherlock didn't wake up, and didn't jump out of bed to hare off after Mori-bloody-arty, and didn't shout at John for being boring and predictable and an idiot, and didn't wake up... and he just didn't wake up.
Quiet that night. The beeping of the monitors, the hiss of the ventilator, fading into background noise.
'Sometimes, I don't talk for days on end,' Sherlock had warned him. 'Would that bother you?'
John hadn't actually replied to that question, but his answer would have been, 'No,' if he'd said anything at all. It bothered him now. He wouldn't say, 'No,' any more.
The second day, they brought in more experts. For the first time John wished he wasn't a doctor, that he didn't understand the significance of the Glasgow Coma Scale, that he was unfamiliar with the prognosis for Traumatic Brain Injury, that he didn't know how much Sherlock's chances had fallen once the 24 hour mark had passed.
Mycroft was there, he was talking to the doctors, asking questions, demanding information John knew they couldn't give him. No amount of power or leverage could deduce the mysteries of the human brain. There was no way to know when, or if, Sherlock would wake up, or how he would be affected.
The specialists were talking to Mycroft. John could hear them mention possible problems with memory, with speech, with vision, with balance. Sherlock might suffer from mood swings; his personality could be completely altered. The most likely issues would be with cognitive skills – attention, concentration, processing information, all the things which Sherlock most valued in himself, they could be gone.
Would he know? John wondered. If he woke up a different man, an average man, a man like everyone else, would he know what he had lost? Sometimes people didn't – they would emerge from coma in denial, unable to compare post-injury behaviour with pre-injury abilities, not understanding or accepting that they had changed. That would be better, John thought. For Sherlock, that would be better. When he woke up, they would see. When he woke up.
Days passing, merging into the nights, watching, waiting for Sherlock to return. People coming and going while John remained, almost as still as his friend, talking to him all the time. Telling him about their cases, about people they knew, even about the bloody solar system. Leaving only briefly and when he absolutely had to, when Mycroft came to take his place while he showered, ate, did the bare minimum to keep himself functioning.
Mycroft talking, and for him John tried to make an effort. For Sherlock's brother he tried, concentrating on the words, thinking what to say, pushing past the fog of denial in his head. The fog that said this wasn't really happening, that said 'You'll be woken by the violin at four in the morning', that said it was all a bad dream, the worst dream you've ever had; a dreadful business, no doubt, but it can't possibly be real.
Mycroft gave up after a while, looking at John with sympathy in his eyes even though it was his brother in the bed, his family who might never recover, still he smiled at John and patted his shoulder.
He had read the reports, he said, seen the statement John could barely remember making, interrogated the sniper responsible for the shooting. He knew what Moriarty had done, what John had tried to do, how much John had been willing to sacrifice to save his brother. He knew. He knew it all.
Six days and seven nights. One more day until John would have to go home. Go home and try to accept that Sherlock was probably gone, that the body in the bed was just that, a body. Not Sherlock any more. Not Sherlock ever again.
Seven days he had given himself. Seven days to hope and to pray to a God he didn't know was listening, wasn't sure he believed in, but he prayed anyway.
After seven days the ten percent chance of recovery went down to three. Ten per cent was quite good. Ten percent wasn't out of the question. You could hope, with ten percent, you could hope and you could still believe that Sherlock would open his eyes.
Open his eyes and see John sitting there, holding his hand even though Sherlock would hate that, would resent it, would not want John's emotions and sentiment dripping all over him.
He would pull his hand away and give John his most supercilious look, just as soon as he opened his eyes. Soon now, he would open his eyes. Open his eyes and see John, as he waited. Waited for his world to come back.
Darkness. Pain. Confusion. He was floating, disconnected, lost in the void. Disjointed memories, or were they? Were they memories, or visions? Images flashing through his mind. Impressions of noise, of light, of arms closing round him. The void rising up to swallow him again. Blackness.
A presence. A voice. Words not making sense, just sounds, no meaning, but familiar. Sounding warm, sounding safe, sounding like home. Fading.
Touch. Something touching him. Someone. One hand warmer than the other. Disparity. What was that? Who was touching him? Reaching...
John stared down at the hand he held, mouth open, eyes wide.
Had he imagined it? Had his prayers brought a miracle or had his longing just produced a delusion?
No, he was almost sure. Sherlock's hand had twitched. He waited, uncertain, afraid; hope was such a dangerous emotion.
It didn't happen again for several hours, then Sherlock's fingers definitely tightened. John glanced at the other hand – that was flexing too.
He reached for the buzzer, pressing the button that would bring the crowd, that would let Mycroft know his brother could be coming back, trying desperately to keep the treacherous hope tamped down; reminding himself that progress to Level II did not guarantee advancement to Level VIII and that Sherlock could stick at any point in the scale and remain there, lost in his head, for months or even years.
By evening, Sherlock was much more responsive, moving around in the bed, pulling at his bandages and lashing out if touched. He was off the ventilator, breathing for himself and talking, but his words were random, incoherent. His eyes were open but he wasn't looking at anybody, his gaze roaming, unfocused.
"Confused and agitated," the specialist told Mycroft. "Level IV on the Rancho scale. This is excellent." The man seemed delighted.
John allowed the hope in his chest a little room to grow, letting it unfurl just slightly, a cautious, tentative optimism, still braced for disappointment but getting stronger.
"Level III is the sticking point," the expert continued. "If he's made it this far, he is likely to progress further."
Mycroft muttered something and John heard tutting from the doctor. "No, no, I'm afraid that only happens on television. People don't just snap out of a coma; the brain isn't a light switch, it takes time to re-orient itself."
More muttering; John tuned it out, eyes steady on the figure of his best friend. He was taking in every detail, missing nothing. Watching every move made by the most important person in his life, who had yet to recognise or acknowledge him, but who was on his way back.
That night, John slept in a bed for the first time in a week. Admittedly, the bed was in one of the hospital visitor's rooms, he didn't actually leave the building, but Mycroft was sitting with his brother tonight and John didn't trust himself not to unthinkingly take Sherlock's hand, as he had become so used to doing. He didn't want to increase Sherlock's agitation; it was common for brain injury patients to dislike being touched, especially at first. Sometimes they even perceived any physical contact as pain.
It was too soon to judge how much the person who was coming back to them would be the Sherlock they knew. He was certainly making rapid progress – naturally, being Sherlock, he would be in a hurry. The smile almost made it onto John's face this time and he slept deeply, exhausted from his vigil, for once not dreaming of explosions or gunshots, but of Sherlock's eyes, and that penetrating gaze which swept over you and knew all your secrets. He'd have to watch out for that gaze, was John's last thought as he slipped into slumber; have to get his guard back up in the morning, or Sherlock would see... Sherlock would know... John slept.
Sherlock woke the next morning, knowing who he was. He listened to the beeping of machines and heard the rustling of someone crossing their legs in a chair next to him. He could feel a needle in his arm and his head hurt. Hospital, then. He opened his eyes; night time.
More rustling, then a voice. Mycroft, but he was talking nonsense – no change there, then. Sherlock smiled to himself.
He heard a door, footsteps. Wasn't anyone going to put the light on?
Someone was approaching, the stride well-known and sounding like home. "John?"
John's voice answered from his left, but the words sounded wrong. Sherlock turned his head.
John wouldn't wander around in the dark, surely? Was his head bandaged? He reached up to check. There was a bandage, but his face was uncovered.
Sherlock stretched out a hand, which was swiftly taken in a familiar hold.
"John, why can't I see you?"
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