Author's notes: Here it finally is. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that it took me so long - and how happy I am that Like A Landslide is no longer a WIP.
So here is the final chapter. It contains 124 words starting with A. No wonder it turned out angsty, right? Enjoy!
They have been a couple for more than a year now, and Sherlock is still not good at doing an accident analysis on the changed dynamics of their relationship. Their anniversary is a bit awkward because Sherlock still does not understand what kind of problem John is carrying around with him. And as they are both lousy at talking about it, he has to learn it the hard way four days later.
Of course, afterwards Sherlock will blame himself for not being on alert in time. But the current case is brilliant, a murder covered up as an auto-erotic accident. Solving it includes analysing several obscure alkaloids, running through London at night to find an armadillo, and a fistfight with an androgynous mime that makes clear once again that John is so much more than an army doctor. Sherlock is filled with absolute adoration. Back home it becomes clear that winning a dirty fistfight works like an aphrodisiac for John, and that the attraction he feels towards Sherlock is still there. It takes them a really long time to fall asleep afterwards.
In the early morning, Sherlock sneaks out of bed silently. It was their first real sexual encounter after John started behaving strangely. Saying Sherlock is in a good mood would be a huge understatement. He has some of the Armenian cuisine left-overs for breakfast and continues analysing some of the alkaloids left, just for fun. He barely looks up when John enters the kitchen some hours later, only scans John quickly to see he is wearing the t-shirt that has the word "amore" written on it. John's favourite. Gift from Sherlock for their one-month anniversary.
He answers the affectionate kiss on his head with a hum, knowing that John is not insulted by his lack of attention. The better part of Sherlock's mind keeps thinking about chemicals while a little part of his brain listens to the lovely domestic background noises John creates. Kettle boiling, fridge door opening and closing, yesterday's mail being pushed aside, cups being placed on the counter with a little rattle.
Only when John makes a strange little noise does Sherlock's attention focus on him. He is only slightly alarmed and proudly presents the fact that he has learned social basics, "Are you all right?"
John's back is turned towards him, so he cannot read his face when John answers, "Sure, just a bit dizzy."
There are many reasons for that, Sherlock's mind offers. It could be the aftermath of a night full of all-consuming passion (unlikely, for John is in very good physical shape), his allergy against (mostly American) apples (did he eat one when he was at the Yard on his own? Unlikely), too much alcohol (but they only had one glass of whisky each last night) …
Then John turns around, a cup of tea (meant for Sherlock, no doubt) in his hands, and Sherlock sees his face turn ashen. His mind keeps listing reasons for that too, all of them disturbing. He stands up instantly, but before he can say something or reach him, John drops the cup. It hits the tiles of the kitchen floor and shatters. That is the only sound to be heard. John does not cry out in pain, does not even gasp when he collapses just a second afterwards.
It is absurd, really, for terrible things should be accompanied by terrible noise. No one should go down silently like that. You would expect some animalistic, painful screaming, right? Plus, a victim should show a terrible reaction, like a contorted face or a body twisted in agony. No one should go down with just a slightly astounded expression on his face. The absence of drama is what will haunt Sherlock the most during the weeks that will follow.
He is by John's side only seconds after his body hit the ground. Ignores the fact that his hands are trembling when he checks for vital signs. He finds none. Cardiac arrest, his minds delivers. Chances of survival exist only if ambulance is called fast and CPR is given immediately.
An unnatural calm spreads through Sherlock. He pulls out his mobile, puts it on speaker and makes the emergency call while moving John's limp body away from the counter, away from the shattered cup so he will have enough space to perform the CPR until the ambulance arrives. Should be eight minutes, given that the ambulance driver knows about the road works on Marylebone Road.
Then he starts with the chest compressions, steady and deep, then does mouth-to-mouth respiration. The back of his mind registers how wrong it feels that John's chest is not moving on its own and that John's usually so expressive face is lifeless. The better part of his mind tells him that he will not be able to keep up CPR with this intensity for another seven minutes.
"Mrs Hudson," he yells, and starts the second round of compression and ventilation. When she comes into the kitchen, he is into the third round. His mind, without having asked for permission, deduces what kind of meal she is preparing from the pattern of dirt on her apron. Asparagus.
She starts to babble, but Sherlock cuts her off. "Go down to Speedy's, find someone who can help me with CPR," he snaps, then starts the fourth round. Sweat is already running down his face.
During the fifth round he breaks three of John's ribs.
During the sixth round, Mrs. Hudson returns with a young woman. Au pair from Azerbaijan, his mind automatically delivers, auburn hair dyed black, almond eyes, considered attractive by most English men, avaricious, lives in an attic, current boyfriend Arsenal fan. She takes over after the seventh round for two minutes while Sherlock leans heavily against the kitchen wall, panting.
They have taken four more turns each when the ambulance finally arrives. One of the three paramedics has recently crossed the Atlantic Ocean, one of them is an asexual atheist and lives alone. The third one hates the tattoo on her ankle. There are further deductions hammering into Sherlock's awareness and he clings to them as to a lifeline. Because if he stopped deducing he would start feeling and that is a luxury he cannot afford right now.
He watches them preparing John to start defibrillation. Strangely what touches him the most is that they have to cut open John's favourite shirt. Defibrillation is rather unspectacular in real life. John's body does not jerk violently. It only twitches slightly. John's head lolls to the side. His hands look like they are cramped. Nothing else happens.
The second time is as unspectacular as the first. After the third time one of the paramedics claims that he can feel a pulse. With a subtle gasp John starts breathing again. Sherlock's mind tells him that even though in about sixty percent of all cases the heart starts beating again, only five to ten percent of all patients with sudden cardiac arrest survive in the end. The paramedic with the adorable nose explains to Sherlock that in hospital they will have to search for the reason of the cardiac arrest and check John for brain damage.
Sherlock is polite and appreciates it when Mrs Hudson volunteers to stay with John in the ambulance. The paramedics and the au pair and Mrs Hudson leave all together and take brain-damaged or not brain-damaged John on the stretcher with them. Sherlock watches from the living room window as the ambulance drives away.
Before he can control it a thought crosses his mind. Good thing they did not spend money on the advanced booking of those expensive opera tickets John wanted to have. The business conditions said no right of return even in cases of death.
Sherlock takes a deep breath that somehow gets caught in his chest. He tries again and is slightly annoyed when he fails to breathe out properly.
The next thing he knows is that he is on the bathroom floor, violently vomiting while crying his heart out, his body shaking, his hands clutching to whatever part of Mycroft they can grasp. For the first time in his life Sherlock is glad that Mycroft always keeps replacing cameras and bugs Sherlock throws out every week.
Later he will surely be ashamed of it but right now Sherlock willingly lets his big brother take over. The Bathroom Incident lasts for twelve minutes. When Sherlock is done vomiting, Mycroft forces him to undress and shoves him under a hot shower. When Sherlock comes out of the bathroom, only slightly shaking now, his brother has found out that one of the letters on the kitchen counter had been prepared with a rare contact poison and has already informed the hospital that the antidote against it is on its way.
Sherlock is pulled into one of Mycroft's black cars and taken to the hospital. During the ride he avoids looking into Mycroft's eyes at all costs but secretly sneaks his hand onto his brother's armpit for reassurance. The fact that caring is not an advantage hammers inside his head. When they arrive at the hospital, Mrs Hudson embraces Sherlock and then Mycroft and leads Sherlock to the waiting room.
And then he waits.
Waiting is not good of course. Leaves him with more than enough time at hand to ponder how he could have missed the poisoned letters. (By being an arrogant sod, obviously, who thinks he is invulnerable and hence does not check their flat for death traps often enough. Even though he might have attracted the attention of three potentially lethal enemies only last month.)
Waiting also makes painfully clear how the alienation between him and John started. There is an ache in his chest that spreads when he thinks about how often John must have sat in a waiting room like this, worried for Sherlock's life.
Sherlock himself has never really been shaken by the huge number of injuries he has sustained over time. He has long ago accepted the fact that they are adventure addicts. And yet he has been a careless arsehole for he never wondered how scared John must have been every single time Sherlock got hurt.
Because Sherlock is scared to death right now. He allows himself to feel anger again for being so careless, hoping it might drive the fear away.
It does not work. Now he is angry and scared at the same time. And very close to do something that would bring him an anti social behaviour order. Which would be not good. One surely gets arrested for destroying hospital property like empty chairs or tables with useless magazines on them. He tries to restrain himself but whenever he looks at the empty chair next to him John's absence becomes painfully clear.
Molly drops by later on so Mrs Hudson can go home.
Apparently there are rituals one has to obey when waiting in a hospital. Like drinking too much coffee and feeling all shivery inside. Or getting a cramp in one's abdominal muscles from sitting on the edge of the chair. Or learning that the doctors are "still busy over your partner" and being left to the painful ambiguity of this statement.
Molly is very helpful and makes sure Sherlock executes all those rituals. He wonders if he would get away with killing her by claiming to have suffered from amnesia or if the annoyed woman from the other side of the room might give him an alibi.
In the end, he refrains from killing Molly. Instead, he tries to smile when she provides him with a Snickers even though he does not have any appetite at all.
After a while, Sherlock realises that he is playing with a sheet of paper. It's used and wrinkled and came from the depth of his coat pockets. It is a copy of his letter to Mary. The one with Molly's notes on it. For some reason, his glance falls on point 13 ("He is strangely forgiving when drugged for research. Refrain from doing so anyway, your chemical knowledge is insufficient."), and tears rush into his eyes momentarily and there is a certain amount of anarchy inside his head. When the storm clears, a doctor is standing in front of him and Molly is tactfully stepping on his toe again and again.
"What?" he says, for he did not hear a single word the doctor said. Ponders apologising but dismisses it. He's surely not the first one to be absent-minded here in this dreadful room.
"We are finished with our examination. You might see him now," the doctor tells him. He says many other things as well, like John's arteries being all right and his brain being basically all right and that they will have to arrange an appointment for occupational therapy soon to fix the harmless harm done to the brain. But all that really matters to Sherlock and what really makes his heart doing a rather artistic stunt is, "You might see him now".
The way to John's room is endless. Sherlock is sure Molly leads him in circles, for this God forsaken hospital can never be that big and all the walls look the same. The smell of antiseptic alcohol hurts his nose. The smell of diseases and deaths hurts his soul.
But John will be all right, the doctor said. Only a little problem with his speech and his fine motor skills. Only a little problem. Whatever that means. And the broken ribs of course. Nothing serious.
After four endless minutes, they finally arrive at John's room. Sherlock musters up an aristocratic attitude, erectness and all, takes a deep breath and ignores the fact that he is still scared like hell. Opens the door and feels his false erectness crumble to dust again instantly.
John looks alien to him, small and pale and helpless and alone and hurt and small. For a second, Sherlock is sure that his feet will turn his body around on their own accord and make him run away as fast as he can. Instead, he remains standing on the doorstep, frozen. If today would be the arrival date of an asteroid hitting earth, destroying the entire planet right now, Sherlock would not mind. It would be better than seeing John like this.
Molly's last good deed before leaving is shoving Sherlock into the room and closing the door from the outside.
For a second, Sherlock thinks that John is asleep and feels shamefully glad about not having to face him right now. Then John turns his head, sees Sherlock and smiles. "Sherlock," he says groggily.
Only that he doesn't say Sherlock, not really. He stretches the S and slurs the O and it sounds more like "ssssssh'lck". Sherlock swallows hard. The atmosphere is thick with awkwardness and pain and a loss of words.
"John" he says, not really eloquently. He remains standing in the door, staring at John, wondering if there is some alternate universe in which he knows how to go on from here.
He feels his body walking towards John's bed. His hand places itself on the part of the blanket that covers John's belly. He watches John reaching out for the hand but missing it by several centimetres. "Only a little problem," the doctor said. Sherlock briefly wonders if it is April Fool's day already or if the doctor had lied to comfort him.
"This is not a little problem," he blurts out.
John looks at him as if he had grown antennas on his head or something. Then he averts his eyes.
He is ashamed, Sherlock deduces, because of his apparent lack of fine motor skills. Probably even ashamed for nearly dying. John can be very stupid in that regard some times. But that is fine, really, because Stupid John is something Sherlock can handle perfectly.
"Stop being an idiot," he huffs and places John's hand onto his own.
"I love you," John answers, his words still painfully slurred.
"So what," Sherlock pretends to pout, "I love you too. No reason to be idiotically ashamed for being poisoned."
John's mouth does a funny thing that would surely be a smile had his nerves not suffered from the contact poison. Sherlock cannot help but beam at him. There is nothing ambiguous left when suddenly they have their arms around each other and Sherlock gently kisses John.
Strange how disasters sometimes make everything all right again.
The following days turn out to be a strange mixture of boredom and domesticity and fear and relief. Sherlock tries to entertain John with stories he made up but pretends to be true, like the anecdote about the absent-minded archbishop who got killed in a rather spectacular accident while chiming the dome bells with an axe in his hand.
Only briefly does Sherlock think of the advice he gave Mary in his letter concerning John's need for intellectual stimulation. ("Remain being intellectually challenging for him. See attachment 3 for Adult Education programmes around Kensington.")
It seems like a lifetime ago that he wrote that letter. But then, here in the purgatory of hospitalness, even having breakfast that morning seems like a lifetime ago. And how wrong he had got John in that respect. He had seriously thought it would be advisable for Mary to take an A level in Algebra to talk to him about aberrations or something.
And yes, aberrations might not have something to do with algebra but analysis but that is not the point here. They could also have talked about aliphatic and aromatic amines, it would have never made John love her enough.
The point is that John is perfectly happy with Sherlock sitting by his side, just spending time with him.
And Sherlock is perfectly happy with John being alive.
When Sherlock gives a detailed and completely fictional report on the murder of an accordion player he found guilty because his boarding pass showed that he had taken the aisle seat in an aircraft after being accused of accepting bribes at the "Arabian night" section of a spa, both of them cannot deny their arousal.
"We really need to see such a spa soon," John says. Well, he nearly says that. His speech is still slurred but Sherlock's brain is almost able to ignore that. Then John sobers.
Because it has been made clear by the young doctor that John will not be able to take part in any "all-night activities", as she had put it blushingly.
"No armchair sex, no anilingus," Sherlock translated for John who smirked.
"Maybe decent lazy afternoon sex will be possible," he answered and the alabaster skin of the young doctor flushed even more deeply.
So no, no secret sex at a spa for quite a while.
The funny thing about the most gruesome event in Sherlock's life is that John is completely back to his old self again. Well, with the language problem and slight coordination difficulties, yes. But he is loving Sherlock again without restraint.
When John is awake all afternoon for the second time in a row, Sherlock brings board games. He hates all of them and so does John. But moving those little meeples will surely increase John's motor skills and so they try to make the best of it.
Then Sherlock remembers the advice he once gave to Mary in that letter (7 When you cannot avoid playing board games with him, do not play by the rules. Bend them. He will complain, but he will adore you for it as well, if rule bending is done in an intellectually appealing way.) and he sticks to it.
Soon they are both making up so many new rules to Stratego that they have to giggle with every move they make.
"There is no way your spy can move that many squares and he is called spy and not consulting detective" John complains at one point.
"Yes, he can," Sherlock huffs, "because of his eternal attraction to your captain." He awaits approval and gets it in form of a not well-placed but heartfelt kiss. Awesome!
After a while they start having visitors.
The first one is Lestrade who hands Sherlock a manila folder from an unsolved case. John's interested glance is the only reason Sherlock bothers to look at it. He needs three minutes to find out that the acid attack was carried out by an actor who acted as ambassador of Abu Dhabi using a dead spy's alias. Ridiculous, really, for even among his ancient ancestors there is no one with an Arabian background, plus you cannot be the ambassador of a city. And the fact that he kept saying appetiser instead of aperitif should have told Lestrade everything he had to know. Stupid moron.
He needs two more minutes to figure out that Lestrade brought the cold case only because he was scared of John's condition and didn't know how to behave. When realising that, Sherlock gets the strange feeling that as John's partner he is supposed to say something meaningful to Lestrade.
"I have to stay away from John's anal area for some time but otherwise he was rather lucky."
Judging from Lestrade's and John's face the quality of that statement can be described as ambivalent at best. But then, Lestrade brought an autograph of Anderson as a get-better present. That does not show a high EQ either. Isn't there a saying about a glass house and throwing stones?
The second visitor, surprisingly, is Harry. Sherlock gracefully ignores the fact that her brother's near death has caused a short but severe setback. He keeps in mind his own wise words about dealing with her (19 Get along with Harry, but do not become her best friend. John will prefer it if you and Harry are relaxed in each other's company, but he will also need you to complain to whenever she drinks again. For more detailed instructions on how to get along with Harry but just barely so, see attachment 2.) and acts accordingly.
Which is difficult because Harry starts sobbing the moment she sees John in his hospital bed.
"Alas, John!" she says again and again. She mentions that John nearly died so often that Sherlock's chest starts hurting in a peculiar way. When he is sure that he has been nice for ample time, he starts commenting on the aerobics leotard she is wearing but not the ale she had last night.
When Harry is gone, Sherlock wordlessly climbs into John's very narrow bed and refuses to let him go for eighty-four minutes. He breathes in John's smell, feels John's hair on his cheek and the slightly trembling movement of John's thumb on his arm.
"When we're old and grey and you are writing my autobiography and you mention this," Sherlock informs John, "you will leave out the fact that I was crying."
John tries to stroke away the tears with his fingers and manages to do so without gouging Sherlock's eyes. "You have to write your autobiography yourself, you git," he whispers. "That's why it is called auto-biography."
Sherlock huffs this away. "I am not good at writing. Besides, no one will know. People are idiots, remember? And we can include an asterisk on the cover that explains how you are my ghost-writer."
They both fall silent for a while. Sherlock remembers that first time he told John about people being idiots. It still feels incredible to see how far they have come since then.
"The letter," John say suddenly.
Sherlock is still occupied with his memories of meeting John and needs some time until he realises which letter John is talking about. The letter John was never supposed to read. (The letter itself said so in its final point 20, "John is not to see this mail. It could result in a profound change of heart and is therefore not in your interest. Learn it by heart. It will be erased from all servers in two hours sharp.")
"That letter was written brilliantly," John says affectionately, "we would not be here together now otherwise, right?"
That, Sherlock has to admit. He makes an affirmative sound and continues pressing his nose against John's temple.
"I love the ending the most. It always makes me smile,"John goes on, apparently not willing to dwell on it in silence. Like the rest of the letter, Sherlock of course knows the ending by heart.
("As I am the one who broke him, it should be me attempting to do the mending, but he has made his decision on that topic clear. You are far from being perfect for the job, but then, neither am I. You will be unable to give him what he needs concerning points 3, 4 and 8. Do not be alarmed, I have failed at points 5, 9, 13 and 19 on a regular basis and his feelings for me have never changed. It is only point 11 that will be unforgiven.")
They have talked about it before, and Sherlock knows that it was his apparent selflessness that made John leave Mary. A character trait he is sure has not existed before John entered his life.
John finally falls silent again and Sherlock can continue to listen to John's breathing. A warm feeling spreads in his stomach because he realises that John is alive and loving him and he will be listening to John's breathing for decades to come.
Which is perfect because it is exactly what Sherlock intends to do.
Author's notes: Thanks to all those who gave me the words for this wonderful promt. I would have never written about an absent-minded archbishop and his axe without you.
Thanks to all who patiently followed and to all whose comments encouraged me not to give up. Biggest thanks to my wonderful betas, Katzedecimal, Grizzy, Davina and GoSherlocked. Like my other fics, this one wouldn't be half as good without you.