It's the throbbing in his head that wakes him.
Disoriented, it seems to him as if his skin has been stretched taut across unfamiliar bones, limbs heavy between cool white sheets, his arms, empty.
Twinge in the right shoulder. Sharp pain in the left hip. Fell harder than I thought when I rolled, trying to get to—
The pounding in his head intensifies with the gallop of his heart.
"Where is he?" His voice is rough, and the effort of speech brings on a spasm of coughing. Must bring paper masks when dealing with a madman favouring explosives. He levers his body upright until his lungs clear enough for him to breathe again.
"Where's John?" His eyes are gritty, too. No wonder he's out of sorts. He can't be expected to function optimally when he can neither see nor breathe. He'll just find John and they'll go back to the flat. Some tea, or perhaps a shower first, and they'll both be well sorted.
But Sherlock's attempt to sit hasn't gone well and now his head is swimming. Don't recall a blow to the head. Perhaps dehydration?
"Let me go," he hisses at the hands trying to push him back onto a mountain of pillows. "I must find John. I had him. He was—"
He'd been right here, the cuts in his skin bright with blood, scarlet liquid against the coating of dust even now choking Sherlock's lungs. Clutched against his chest where Sherlock could at least feel him, the solid weight of his body reassuring, even though he didn't know how to stop the bleeding and couldn't understand why John wouldn't open his eyes.
Wake up. John, wakeup.
"Mr Holmes, I must insist."
The hands are attached to a haggard looking nurse, though she has no call to look so exhausted; the room resembles a hotel more than a hospital. He clutches the sheets between his fingers. Four hundred thread count. Hardly hospital issue. Must be a VIP room.
"Get off me, you twit," Sherlock mutters, batting her hands away as he attempts to launch himself from the bed.
Mycroft. Finally. He might actually be useful for once. Even if he is assisting the nurse settling him back onto the bed.
"Where is he, Mycroft?"
His brother's silence, his hand, heavy on his shoulder nearly stops Sherlock's heart. This, more than anything, sends ice shooting through his veins. His silence, more than the austerity of the room with its subtle signs of technology hidden behind smooth wood veneer or the tube snaking into his hand or the one wrapped around his face (delivering what is undoubtedly superfluous oxygen).
Damn and blast.
"Tell me," he whispers, eyes closed against whatever Mycroft is to relay.
It takes him too long to answer, and Sherlock feels the whoosh of blood in his head and the rise of bile in his throat that means he will be grateful for that mountain of pillows at his back.
Until, at last, his brother speaks.
His hands are pressed against the glass. It may be the only thing holding him up now that he's got that ridiculous wheelchair out of his way. But it's John on the other side of the barrier and a nurse even more exasperating than the first is insisting he's not permitted inside.
Mycroft will sort her out, but in the meantime, Sherlock's sending every tendril of spare energy through the glass. To John. John, who looks terrifyingly small beneath monitor leads and looming equipment that Sherlock knows is supporting his body until it can sustain life on its own.
None of this stops him from wanting to rip every last tube and wire away and take care of it all himself.
Take care of John.
He hears Mycroft behind him. Breathing.
"It's my fault," says Sherlock. "Moriarty would never have gone after him if not for me."
Mycroft's soft huff of breath disagrees.
"You are not responsible for the actions of a madman, Sherlock."
He sounds so certain. He always had, ever since they'd been children.
"Irrelevant," Sherlock says, "when the outcome is the same."
Mycroft's face reflects in the glass and for a moment, Sherlock sees the two of them superimposed like a double-exposed image. His brother and John layered one on top of the other beneath Sherlock's destructive hands.
Perhaps he's better off with me behind the glass. Proximity to me has done him no favours.
"You can go in now, Sherlock. Do try not to antagonise the nurses."
He hesitates, but he can no more stay away from John than he can stop the beating of his own heart.
It takes him a long time to make his way to John's bedside.
Intensive care is loud (how can one possibly be expected to get well under such an assault?), but Sherlock is sure that his steady whisper trumps the incessant clicking and beeping of the life support equipment.
It's stream of consciousness, mostly. Sharing the flow of his thoughts, tangled with eruptions of nonsense that wind their way into his otherwise relentlessly organised mind.
Stay with me, John. Don't go.
He lays his head on the pillow next to John, his voice a whisper in his ear. He's not sure if he says his thoughts out loud. Maybe John can hear them even if he doesn't.
I'm sorry, John. I'm so sorry.
Only the hiss of the respirator answers him.
John's face is too pale, and Sherlock wants to trace the dark hollows under his eyes with his fingertips. He settles for scowling at the nurse when she comes in to take his vitals and quizzing the doctor relentlessly when he comes in to report on John's test results.
"The doctor says that your scans are clear, John," Sherlock tells him later. It's one of the oddities of this bubble they're in. He can scarcely stop himself from saying the other man's name, though they're often the only two in the room.
John. His name. An unlikely prayer. Wake up, John.
"They say you just need to rest." Sherlock's hand encircles John's. He's sure he read that touch is essential for healing. He spares John nothing. "You'll be all right. It simply takes time." He's not sure who he's talking to, just then, can hardly avoid the evidence growing before his own eyes that it is he who needs reassurance. He, whose gut is in knots with the waiting.
His thumb traces circles along the translucent skin inside John's wrist and with a quick glance to check they're alone, he brings his lips to ghost over the silky surface. He imagines he can feel the thrum of John's blood through his veins, wishes he could infuse his own lifeblood directly there, breathe vitality back into this man who—
"Change of shift, Mr Holmes," interrupts the nurse whose care of John he has been closely supervising.
"Carry on," he says, not lifting his eyes from John.
"That, I shall," she says. "And you will vacate the premises until we are done with report."
"I will not," he replies, horrified. What if John should need him, and he, tossed from the room like so much rubbish.
"It's an hour, Mr Holmes, and you look as if you could use a kip, yourself."
Unthinkable, to sleep when John has not yet woken.
But Mycroft isn't answering his texts (the prat), and so he sweeps from the room as best he can for a man with a mild concussion (perhaps there had been a glancing blow to the head after all) and bruised hip. The echoing corridors mock him with their windowless walls and their silence, and so he finds the elevator and the door out.
The night air is cool, bracing and cleaner than any he's tasted in the last twelve hours. But street sounds can't replace the cadence of the respirator that's been burned into his heart, and he breathes in time with it, though he's here on the sidewalk and John's in a hospital bed, tethered and tangled and unaware that Sherlock is terrified that when he finally pushes his way back into that glass room, it will all be disconnected, and John, laying there, smaller yet beneath the sheets and too still.
He stops short at the sound that comes from his throat.
No No No No
There's a bench at the edge of the walk and he sinks onto it, his head falling between his knees as he takes in long shuddering breaths. His face is wet, and his pulse is racing far too quickly for a man merely sitting on a bench, curled around himself as if he might protect his heart from breaking by hiding it beneath cloth and cleverness.
I will burn the heart out of you… Moriarty's words echo now, the portent of a future that Sherlock now knows is untenable. How could either of them have known that the heart Moriarty would burn out of Sherlock would be John?
Does John know? Has he deduced it? In matters of the heart John is often faster and far more accurate than I.
How could it have taken so long to see what has been before his eyes all along? My blogger. My friend. My—
One must always, always follow the evidence.
Even—especially—the evidence of one's own unruly heart.
Nothing and everything has changed in the hour since Sherlock was ejected from John's room. More significant than the replacement of one harried looking nurse for another is the startling absence of the respirator.
"He's breathing well on his own now," says the nurse, and smiles a bit when Sherlock can only nod, the knot in his throat precluding a more articulate response.
Sherlock waits for her to go, meets her speculative glance with a steady one. Watches as she pulls the curtain just enough to shield him from the eyes observing them beyond the glass. He blinks back the sudden blur in his vision and reaches for John's hand. He holds it between his own, as if he could anchor John to this world, tether him to Sherlock by sheer force of will and need.
"My life would be intolerable without you, John," he whispers. He can't hear him anyway, Sherlock tells himself. He won't remember these words he cannot help but say out loud. "I need you. Please."
His only answer, the steady cadence of the monitors.
He's so tired, and the steady blip blip blip is like a hammer to his head. Can I be sure they are doing their job properly? What if they miss an arrhythmia or another ominous sign?
There's nothing for it. He scoots closer to the bed and lays his head on John's chest. He's careful not to hurt him, not to impede his newly liberated breath. Just, he has to be sure. Has to check for himself that John's heart is beating, that its steady thrumthrumthrum never, ever stops.
It's here, with John's heart and breath and life surging beneath him that Sherlock finally falls asleep.
Later, when he wakes, he will wonder at John's fingers threaded through his hair.
Later, still, alone together at last in the very private hospital room Mycroft has secured for them after far too many days of blood draws and intravenous drips, and maddening interruptions. Yes, all right, it's possible I antagonised one of the nurses, but she had it coming, Sherlock climbs into bed with John, his arms wrapped around him, asleep the moment he lays his ear against John's chest. This time, John's voice, still rough from injury and the toll of recovery, wakes him.
"Took you long enough," he rasps, and Sherlock looks up, surprised. But John's expression is soft, his eyes, warm. Sherlock's chest tightens and his vision blurs. (must ask the nurse about that)
"The evidence was obscure," he says, but John is smiling and he knows it's hopeless.
"I thought it was quite evident, actually," says John.
The doctors have said the broken bones and contusions will heal but John is still weak. Too weak to move much, and certainly not quickly. Even so, he shifts his body so that he can press his ear against Sherlock's chest. He slips his arms around Sherlock's narrow torso and lets out a contented sigh.
"All I have to do is listen," he says. "All the evidence you could possibly need is here. It's all right here."
a/n: Kudos to the alpha/beta/cheerleading team (aka: the village) of dreams: annietalbot, bluestocking79, pyjamapants12, sc010f, and Subvers. Your touch always makes my writing and storytelling better. This is my first story in the Sherlock fandom. Since I had no plans to write in this fandom to begin with, it's clear that I have no idea whether this will be my last. ;) *covers the eyes of those who fear I've abandoned Severus* I couldn't help it, guys. Sherlock wouldn't stop talking.