Sherlock is aware, vaguely, that someone is screaming. He is aware of rancid, burning engine and people shouting, doors slamming. He is aware of the concrete beneath his knees and the sound of his sobs echoing inside his skull. He can see his hands shaking uncontrollably in front of him. He can feel his heartbeat in his eyes.
He moves in a daze, scrambling across the rough grey pavement and falling limply into the road. People are calling out, footsteps keep getting louder and then fading away, and John is lying, staring up at the sky with half-lidded eyes, his legs still wrapped around his twisted red bike. Sherlock can't breathe. He is boneless, his limbs refusing to co-operate and he pitches forward, shaking so badly he knows he is going to be sick soon.
"John," he whispers hoarsely, swallowing hard and blinking away the fuzziness of the world. Sherlock drags his hand along the road and reaches for his brother's fingers, holding them tight. "John. John. John." He keeps saying it, the word coming past his lips with a compulsive need that he cannot quell. People are crouching near him - one of them tries to take his hand away and Sherlock screams, lashes out. "DON'T TOUCH HIM!"
They back away; he can hear sirens as their shrill screeching rents the air. He can hear an indicator clicking, he can feel the huge shadow of a lorry blotting out the winter sun, he can see his mother's hair as it slowly darkens with blood. He can feel snow seeping into his clothes, wetting his cheeks.
"John." Sherlock isn't even aware of the word slipping out, he simply says it, over and over again. His fingers are clenched painfully tight around the other boy's. People are muttering around them, their words like the buzzing of angry wasps, but Sherlock cannot hear what they are saying. "John," he whispers, his head rolling against the hard road as he floats, anchored by his right hand and nothing else, clinging to John as he drifts away. "John." John's name is everything; the only thing Sherlock knows, the only thing he can bring himself to remember as he wanders lazily through nothingness. And then another word occurs to him, a word that seems important, and Sherlock forces himself back inside his head. It's louder in there, too loud, but inside his head he has words, and he has a mouth to speak them.
It is winter. It is his birthday.
It's snowing. Mycroft is crumpled and broken and his seat-belt is still plugged in.
Mummy is lying in the road. Her blood smells like warm sponge cake.
The clicking fills Sherlock's head, louder than the sirens and the engines. Turn left. The arrow blinks inside the car, but Sherlock can't see it. Everything else seems broken, but the little arrow works. It continues to click, and his heart rate changes to match. He is cold. He is scared. Daddy is nowhere to be seen. His cake is yellow against the dirty snow and grey road. The icing is blue. It was going to be a nice cake. It's broken, now. Everything is broken and Sherlock is floating, floating, floating; all that's left is the click click click and the smell of warm cake, fresh from the oven.
It is summer. The sun is bright overhead. There is a siren, screaming. People talking, shifting, their shadows convulsing over the two boys in the road. There is no cake. It is John's birthday. He is nine.
"John." With difficulty, Sherlock pulls himself back into his head once again, his fingers tightening where they had gone limp. John's fingers grip his in return, and Sherlock chokes as he retches, rolling over as his stomach empties itself of breakfast and he is crying, sobbing so hard his ribs tremble and John's eyes are opening wide as Sherlock spits warm bile onto the concrete.
"Hurts." John draws a raspy breath and people converge at once, asking questions, questions, questions.
"Shut up!" Sherlock shouts at them, breathless. They are non-people, blurry nothings that he cannot distinguish between, but they do shut up. They fall back a step and for a second Sherlock thinks it is because of him, but then he registers the sirens; they had faded away but they're close now, another engine roaring so loud Sherlock freezes and curls into John, who hisses and lets out a cry.
"My leg!" he shrieks, face crumpling with horror and pain. "My leg! Greg! My leg! My leg is hurting! Greg! Greg! Please!" He begins crying, anguished sobs that Sherlock can feel through his hand and he shifts away, his breathing picking up again.
People in green shove through the crowd and crouch beside John. They try and pry Sherlock's hand from him, but Sherlock shakes his head fiercely and clings on. John is crying terribly now, the kind of sound that Sherlock knows he will never forget, fits and starts with short, breathless silences between.
"Let us help him, we need to help him." Someone is speaking to Sherlock, their face floating in front of him but when they try and undo his grip he surges into motion, kicking out and screeching, careful not to hit John or jolt him through his pincer grip.
"No!" Sherlock cries out. "No! No no no! Greg! Greg!"
Someone else is with John, leaning over him, calming him down and checking him over. Someone takes Sherlock's hand in an unarguable grip and prises him away from John, lifting him bodily even as Sherlock fights with all of his limbs, shrieking and struggling like a cat as he is carried away, screaming for John, for Greg, for a mother long dead. He cannot see, cannot think, only knows with a terrifying certainty: John - John is every breath, every heartbeat, the only thing that matters and he is gone.
"JOHN! JOHN! PLEASE, NO - PLEASE, JOHN!" His screams are buried in the shoulder of the medic whose arms he is in, his kicks slowing as he realises their ineffectiveness. Slowly, Sherlock becomes aware that the person carrying him is speaking, low and calm.
"-fine, okay? He is going to be absolutely fine, do you hear me? John is going to be okay, we are going to make him better and fix him up good as new. Can you understand that?" It's a man, his voice vibrating in his chest.
Sherlock can't think, can't see, can't feel. He is numb but for the knowledge of John, limp and exhausted and streaming tears he is barely aware of.
Sherlock goes rigid when he recognises the voice and straightens, struggling away from the paramedic's arms and twisting. "Greg! Greg!"
Lestrade is sprinting towards him, caught for a moment between Sherlock and the ambulance John is being loaded into. He is pale and terrified but calm, and if he is shocked that Sherlock has just called for him, he doesn't show it. There are people flocking to him, forming a barrier so that Sherlock can't see him and he struggles with greater fury until he flings himself right out of the arms that have hold of him.
He nearly buckles as he hits the ground, knees weak, but he runs forward, staggering against the crowd and using his elbows and feet to get people out of his way until he can cling to Lestrade's waist. Greg lifts him without trouble, cradling him and from here, Sherlock can feel the man's thrumming heart.
"What happened? What happened?" He keeps saying it, but Sherlock doesn't have the words any more; he sighs sadly and his head rolls on Lestrade's shoulder as the man turns and steps into the ambulance, cramming himself into the corner and adjusting Sherlock so he can hold him with one arm while the other takes John's hand and holds tight.
"John," Sherlock whispers, voice muffled against Greg's shirt.
"He's right here, Sherlock," Lestrade replies from somewhere far away. "He's going to be okay."
Sherlock does not like the hospital. The air tastes sharp on his tongue, and there is a constant hum of machinery and phones and low, stern voices. His doctor arrived a little while ago, but Sherlock refused to speak to him; he will not leave Lestrade's side, and Lestrade will not leave the chairs in the empty waiting room where they have been deposited, pending news on John's condition.
Every now and then, Lestrade will reach over and give Sherlock's hand a squeeze, or ruffle his hair, or gently shake his shoulder. It feels like solidarity, and Sherlock is grateful for it, but nothing will make him feel better. He has stopped shaking, though he still feels unsteady inside, but he cannot get the images to stop playing behind his eyelids. When he closes his eyes, he sees John hitting the bonnet of the car and he hears the metallic crunch of his shiny red bicycle, the scream wrenched from the other boy, the screech of brakes and onlookers, an indicator from months and months ago - from Before, seconds Before, that said turning left.
The sun is high, blazing summer through the windows, bright light falling in sheets across the floor, draped through the glass and rippling over radiators and hard plastic chairs made for waiting. Sherlock fidgets, caught between curling up in the uncomfortable chair or sliding to the floor to wander around. He keeps switching between the two, pacing across to the water machine to fill a plastic cup, bringing it back and setting it down beside the army of them he has already collected before he retakes his seat, starts the process over in ten minutes time.
"You sure you don't wanna speak to Dr Anderson?" Lestrade asks, voice husky.
Sherlock shakes his head. "No," he says, feeling the way the word presses against his tongue and swelling inside with something that feels out of place in this dire hospital. "No," he says again, because he can.
Lestrade nods, understands, and texts something on his phone. Dr Anderson is the man Sherlock speaks to every week, in an office with chairs and toys and notebooks for colouring, if you want. Sherlock normally just sits in the big chair opposite the desk, leaning on the dark wood and drawing pictures. Sometimes they play a board game with a dice, while Dr Anderson asks gentle questions that Sherlock never answers. He could answer today, he thinks, if Dr Anderson were to ask, but Sherlock doesn't want to. It is nice to have the choice, though.
He came by and spoke to Lestrade, and he spoke to Sherlock, but Sherlock didn't say anything and, after he spoke to Lestrade again, he left. Sherlock will see him soon, he knows; he understands that Dr Anderson and Lestrade are worried, because John has been hurt by a car, and Sherlock does not like cars. He understands that, but he doesn't want to talk about it yet. Maybe he won't want to talk about it ever, except with John, safe inside a blanket fort with a wind-up torch.
"John," Sherlock whispers under his breath. He does it every few minutes, to make sure he still can. Lestrade glances across at him and pats him on the shoulder, and when he leaves his hand there for a moment, Sherlock can feel it shaking. "He'll be okay," he says, staring directly at Lestrade's face. He has been told this a number of times, usually by Lestrade himself, but Sherlock thinks maybe the man needs to hear it this time.
Lestrade's lips pull into a smile and his eyes are too bright for a moment. He pulls Sherlock into a hug, and Sherlock pulls his legs up to wrap around Lestrade's hips, clinging to him like a koala he saw in a library book, and he can feel warm wetness on his neck until Lestrade subtly wipes it away. "He'll be okay," Sherlock repeats softly.
"I know, kiddo," Lestrade says heavily. "He's gonna be just fine." He pulls back, hands set on Sherlock's shoulders so he can look him in the eye. "I'm worried about you right now, actually. I know you don't want Anderson, but if you change your mind, you just let me know and he'll be here, right?"
Sherlock nods. "Right," he repeats, and the word is small and sharp, in front of his teeth in an instant and gone the next.
He slides away from Lestrade to fetch another cup of water, setting it down beside the others and tipping a little of it into one of the others, to make the levels match. Lestrade watches him in silence.
There are twenty three cups of water surrounding them by the time a nurse paces through the swinging doors at the end of the room, a clipboard in her hands. "John Watson?" she calls out, and Sherlock turns so fast he knocks two of the cups over with his toes. Lestrade surges to his feet, catches Sherlock's hand and hurries toward her.
"Yes, that's us," he says quickly. "How is he? Can we see him?"
The nurse offers a kind smile over the clipboard. "He's doing just fine, sir. The surgery on his leg went well - he's sleeping, but you can come on through."
Sherlock's thoughts descend into a blur of nothing as he jogs along at Lestrade's side, both of them quick-paced in their frantic hurry to see John, to reassure themselves that he is still the same, that he is alright, that he's safe.
They walk through corridors and corridors, past waiting families and more water machines, welcome desks and closed doors, until they come to the right one. The nurse opens the door and slips inside, gesturing Lestrade and Sherlock through a moment later. Inside is another nurse and, tiny in the huge bed and all wired up to machines, is-
"John," Sherlock breathes, darting around Lestrade to press close to the bedside, a terrible pressure that had been about his chest loosening as he looks over the familiar face. John is bruised and he has a gauze patch on his forehead, pale chest exposed with little sucker pads attached and trailing off to a machine that beeps periodically, tucked up to the waist in pale yellow hospital blankets, but still John.
Sherlock lets out a sigh and brushes his fingers across John's hand before sitting down hard on the floor and promptly bursting into tears.
When John stirs, everyone in the room is instantly attuned to him, and he lets out a wet cough. His eyelids struggle, flickering for several long moments before they open a slit, his forehead creasing at the surprising amount of effort it takes. John's hand moves an abrupt inch, like an exaggerated twitch, before he lets out a short breath.
"Sh'lock," he mumbles, eyes opening a little wider.
Sherlock stands on the chair Lestrade had nudged closer to the bed when they first took up their posts in the room and leans over as far as he dares, smiling happily into John's sleepy eyes.
"You're awake," he says, sniffing before he starts to cry again. "John. John." The name spills past his lips before Sherlock can help himself; it is his lifeline, his mantra, and it feels so much more real with the boy himself right here. Sherlock sniffs again and his fingers grasp for John's hand, placing them gently together so as not to disturb the tubes that tangle the other into the bed. "Hello," he says to the boy, for the very first time. "Hello John." His fingers tighten without his consent, gripping suddenly and quickly to reassure himself this is all real.
John is blinking slowly, fighting to keep his eyes open, but he smiles so wide Sherlock can see all of the gaps where he's missing teeth. He lets out a contented sigh and nods carefully against his pillows. "You sound…just like…I knew you would," he murmurs, and his eyes slide closed again.
Sherlock watches him for a moment, lips parted because there are so many things he has been so desperate to say to John, but suddenly he can remember none of them. It doesn't matter, though, because they have all the time in the world; they have days and weeks and months - they have years and Sherlock can fill them with as many words as he likes; he can tell John about the turtles he reads about, and he can tell John that his jumper is on inside out, and he can tell John that he wants extra cheese on his pizza and chocolate ice cream with strawberry sauce. He can tell him that it's alright after John has had a nightmare and he can make sure John knows that he's perfect, that he's the best thing that's happened to Sherlock in a long time and that no matter what John thinks about everything that's happened to him, Sherlock is still going to love him for it.
They have forever, so it doesn't matter that Sherlock's throat feels closed up with relief or that John is drifting back to sleep, because they will have all the moments after, when John wakes up and when Sherlock thinks of all the things he's always wanted to say to him.
Sherlock will always be haunted by his Before - that's not something that will ever go away - but he can weather out the After; he and John can work out how to keep moving forward and, maybe, learn how to love Now.