It took Sherlock's assailed mind the length of the staircase to process that the person coming down it was his mother. Later, he couldn't remember seeing Mycroft there at all.
The screams that had been echoing in his ears died down to loud whimpering, and it was so hard to breath, and everything hurt so much…
Then she was there.
She was holding him close, and it was her scent that convinced him that this had to be real. She smelt right.
Suddenly, he was aware he was crying, and that he had been for some time. It was different now, because she was holding him close, and he could let go, and she would manage everything. Uncle Avery couldn't hurt him when she was here – that was not a reasoned, rational decision, that was just the truth.
Then he became even more aware of the pain, and he cried because of that. And he was out of breath, desperately, agonisingly out of breath, and he gasped like a fish out of water, until someone slipped a mask over his face, and it became a little less difficult.
Mum was still talking to him as he was moved onto a stretcher, his leg now immobilised in a fluorescent plastic foam splint. He asked why it was such a bright colour, but he didn't hear the answer.
Then there was the slow procession to the accident and emergency ward, Mum still holding his hand, and bending her head down to his level, so that he could see her. When he hurt, and looked away for a moment, she just told him to keep his eyes fixed on her, and he felt a little better. He wasn't sure what else she was saying, but it was nice, he thought.
His leg was badly broken. People around him were worried, but Mum was there, and that was OK. Time passed. He thought he slept. He was still out of sync with his surroundings, but Mum was there, and that was OK.
They were wheeling down the corridor again. They were in a small room with lots of shelves, with lots of packets and boxes on the shelves, and a row of deep metal sinks. There were doors at either end of the room, and he caught a glimpse through the far door of bright equipment and lights. Then a doctor dressed all in blue was injecting some white stuff into the plastic tube in his hand, and he felt overwhelmingly sleepy, but Mum was there, and that was OK.
There were snatches of things happening afterwards, of a long room with lots of nurses in blue and green, and lots of other people in beds. Of moving again. People had called him Will, and he thought he had protested – they seemed to be calling him Sherlock now. But it was all too fragmented to make any sense.
The first time he was properly awake, he found himself back in his cubicle on the children's ward. He looked around for his Mum, calling out, and she was there in a soft rustle of fabric, and a thin mist of scent.
"Hello, my darling. I'm here." He blinked slightly. It seemed almost strange that he could understand her words. He held her hand tightly.
"Are you better now?" he croaked, as this was an enormously important question.
"Lots better than I was, my poor little sausage. I have to be on medication for a long time, but it should stop me getting so ill again. I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you for such a long time." Her voice had gone a bit thick and wrong, but he supposed she must be upset that he had suffered as he had. He really didn't want to upset her, it worried him a lot that she might have to leave again, so he squeezed back as hard as he could when she drew him into a hug, even though it really hurt the drain in his side.
She drew back a little, but stayed stroking his forehead and holding his hand. He stared up at her, searching her face for changes. The muscles in her face were working normally again. When she had been ill, they had been all slack and blank, her face artificially smoothed. He hadn't liked it; her face was normally so expressive. Now, everything was mobile again, but she had more lines. Deep lines of worry drawn on her face. It was upsetting, and he felt tremendously guilty as he realised a lot of that worry must be down to him.
"Please don't you be sorry Mum. You were ill. I'm sorry I ran away."
"You are my brave, brave boy. It must have seemed the only way, and you've done so well. We know what happened."
Shelock tensed in fear. What did they know? Would he be punished when he was better? Could Mum protect him from Avery? It had seemed so certain when he first saw her, but was that just a little boy's confindence in the omnipotence of his parents, totally unjustified in real life? What if she wasn't strong enough to look after him? And he couldn't tell her - he couldn't worry her with what had happened after he'd already put her through the anxiety of him running away.
"Sherlock. Avery is dead."
The words rung in his head. Did that mean… what did that mean? He was trembling, but he couldn't account for it.
"Yes. Not everyone thinks I should tell you everything yet, as you're still not very well, but I know my boy, and I think you'll be better knowing all you can know. So - we know what Avery did to you. That he… touched you inappropriately. Hurt you. We know about the horrible photographs in his shed, and that you saw them. And, you have to understand, you are not to blame for any of it. You are a child. You are his victim, horrid as that sounds, but you must not take any of the blame for this, mon cher."
It was like a tidal wave of relief. He didn't like being a victim, but it was better than being a criminal. His Mum carried on talking.
"The things he did to you are the most illegal things in our society. Abusing a child, as Avery did to you, is considered so terrible that the prisoners in the jail, violent thieves and murderers, will attack and beat up or kill people who did what Avery did, because even they know that it's an unspeakably evil thing to do to a child, especially because the child often doesn't realised that there's a way out."
He'd been right then. If he'd told somebody, Avery would have been locked up and he wouldn't have needed to run away. He realised his face was wet. Mum dried some of the tears with her thumbs.
"I was stupid," he croaked, feeling a new source of shame; a hot, angry one, directed at himself this time.
"No, my darling, no. Avery was a clever man. I have no doubt he made you feel like you couldn't tell anyone. You may be very grown up for your age, but you were still a little boy when he started hurting you, and he was supposed to be the person you trusted."
"I thought the police wouldn't help me. They didn't believe me before."
"They weren't to know that such a small child would be so very clever. It would be an illogical conclusion to come to, if you think about it – most small children aren't cleverer than the police. But I understand that it would make you think that way."
"How did Uncle Avery die?" It seemed so strange to say the words. It was as if his Uncle had split in two, now he was gone, and there was the kind, funny man, who let him ride on his back, who read to him, who he adored and who seemed to adore him back, and the monster who had dogged his worst dreams for months and months. Grief warred with satisfaction and relief, until he really didn't know how to feel.
"He killed himself, Sherlock. He knew he was going to get caught, and I think he felt terribly guilty, too. He wrote a letter, saying how very sorry he was – as he should be."
That was a shock.
"How did he do it?" Maybe, if he had all the information, it would make more sense.
"He jumped from the top of Deep Dene quarry. It would have been quick." He wasn't sure if Mum was relieved or resentful about that.
Sherlock thought about climbing the quarry, above the sharp rocks, hewn away to make jagged square teeth, the detritus of broken blocks of stone with spindly weeds pushing up through the gaps at the bottom; remembered the feel of dry, rough stone beneath his fingers, the wind lifting his hair, looking down and the dizzy feeling at the thought of falling and being dashed to pieces. He imagined it again now; the rush of air, the ground rushing up faster and faster, and then the collision: different bits of rock would strike different parts of the fragile body in different places, snapping bone and tearing flesh, spilling the body's soft insides out. He felt slightly sick.
"How did he know he was going to get caught?"
"Two days after you ran away, Mycroft realised he was acting strangely, and followed him to the shed in the allotments. He found the photographs, but Avery heard him coming and hit him over the head. God knows what would have happened next, but that young policeman who's been sitting by your bed had been keeping an eye on the place and interrupted them. He must have known then it was hopeless."
Two days. I hadn't even found the Hay Wain by that time. All that work, all that time, I could have been home.
A strange buzzing was filling his head, as his brain made valiant but fleeting efforts to process all the thought filaments that were tangling together within it. Many of his thoughts were conflicting, and he felt too tired to resolve them. The buzzing increased in volume, until it became an almost unbearable pressure, and he clutched at his head, torn between wanting the buzzing to escape, and stopping it blowing his skull off. Then the pressure spread to his chest and throat, and everything ached.
His Mum was holding him, and he buried his face into where her neck met her shoulder, only realising he was sobbing when he heard her tell him to have a good cry, and that everything would be alright in the end. He breathed in deeply between gasps, and she still smelt familiar, of home and safe. He thought again about how worried she must have been, and felt guilty. He felt glad, overjoyed, that she was here, and real, not the strange shadow of herself she had been when he had last seen her. He felt relieved, and angry, and fiercely glad that his Uncle was dead, whilst simultaneously sad, regretful and guilty. He longed to be home, but he didn't want to go back to his own bed, where Avery had hurt him.
After a while, his mind seemed to empty a little, and he just let himself rest with his mother, glad of the interlude of quiet.
He slept then, and when he woke up, Mycroft was there. His brother looked a lot older than he remembered. He experienced a brief flare of resentment that Mycroft and foisted Avery on him in the first place, but it faded quickly. He hadn't had time to feel wary, before Mycroft was seizing his hand. His head was still woolly from sleep and medication, so it took him a while to realise his elder brother was gabbling a profuse apology. He mentioned that letter, and Sherlock felt the blush rising to his face as the awkward young man tried to explain to him what he had thought Sherlock was describing in it. He didn't think he liked seeing Mycroft flustered. It didn't sit right with the universe. He tried to change the subject.
"I hear you were the one who thought Avery had done something wrong".
Mycroft's finger's squeezed around his, involuntarily, Sherlock thought.
"It didn't seem right. The way he was acting. There were details that didn't add up; between what the school told me and what he'd said. Little details, such as it being quite plain that you had been in the habit of hiding poor Aramis down the side of your bed." He picked up the raggedy stuffed spaniel as he spoke, running a confirmatory finger down the balder patch on the shoulder where the wall had rubbed the fur short. Sherlock found himself tucking the animal rather defensively under his arm as Mycroft gave him back.
"You'll have to tell me in more detail later, how you worked it out."
"If you wish. I only wish I could have realised something sooner. But at least I realised eventually, and we've been able to remove that threat. I promise, I will never allow anything like this to happen again."
He spoke so earnestly that Sherlock felt a little unnerved again, but conversely fighting a desire to laugh. His big brother seemed a stranger suddenly, and he began to be rather overwhelmed. He allowed his eyes to drift shut, and he could hear Mycroft breathing, feel himself being studied. They stayed like this for some time, until he really could feel himself starting to drift off to sleep. Then Mycroft got up and walked away.
Many belated thanks for the lovely reviews you've left, and for the favourites and follows. Much appreciated, despite the snails pace of my writing these days. I've just been re-reading the reviews for this story, and getting a real glow - thanks to all of you, but especially those who've gone to so much effort with the detail.
And, just so you know, this story has a fair way to go yet...