I disclaim anything recognizable as Sherlockian. It's all genius but unfortunately not mine. I also disclaim one very fitting word from Zadie Smith. Further, I disclaim the artwork that inspired this fic - a piece by ReaperSun which can be found on that Tumblr at post 14059804422 (don't look yet if you don't want to be story-spoiled). I spotted the piece elsewhere in my post-Reichenbach haze and found the image compelling. So I set myself a challenge to get the boys there and back. I did my best. And as a writer, it's good to be back.
A promise: this is the last time I play fast and loose with medical reality. I stayed as true as I could to what I do know, but I am only a baby student. From now on I will research.
Trigger warning in effect.
These are the important things that happened.
Sherlock of course would disagree. He would want to tell you about the exact mechanism of his survival, his discovery of the toxin, the identity of the criminals. But this is not Sherlock's story alone, and in any case he doesn't always know what is good for him.
So. These are the important things.
Practically it starts with a badly-timed visit to a flat, or perhaps earlier with a fall from a rooftop, or even earlier with the appearance of a man called Moriarty. Truly, though, it starts with a phone call.
Molly. Excellent, I was just going to call you, are you back yet? I have –
Not now, Sher, not now. I'm not back but I'm trying to get a flight. I got a call from your landlady today.
From Mrs. Hudson?
Yes. Sherlock, it's John. He's got himself hurt quite badly apparently… she didn't give me any details, she was too upset… said she thought I ought to go see him in hospital as we're, well, and he's… anyway I'm trying to get a seat on a flight today but there's only two and they're packed full. Sherlock, are you there?
How would Mrs. Hudson know?
He was in the flat. I don't know why. She found him in the flat. She was too upset to stay with him. He's alone, Sher, and…
How bad is it? What did she say exactly?
She said… she said, you should go be with him while you can… she said he wasn't conscious and there was so much, and then she got all garbled and had to hang up.
Where is he?
You have to tell me what to say.
Sherlock? Is that you?
Of course it's me, who else would call you like this? Obvious.
Sorry. Bit frazzled. What to say to whom?
To John. When he wakes up. If he wakes up.
If he wakes up? Is that a, a –
Well I don't know, do I? I had to sneak in, dressed up in a big veil, I couldn't talk to anyone.
You own a burqa?
You don't? That's not the point. The point is, I don't do people. John usually does people and I do, well, everything else, but right now John is lying in hospital with his wrists all bandaged up so you have to tell me what to say.
That's what I said.
You see why you have to tell me what to say.
Molly stares at nothing and wishes he weren't making her think. This isn't news to think about. This is news to dance around, prodding and pulling back, until you and reality acclimatize to each other.
What for? You've been very helpful –
No, that's what you say. To John.
Oh. (Beat.) Why would I say that?
Because what you really want to say is that you're very upset that he's hurt, and you feel partly responsible for it, and you wish you could go back and stop it from happening.
… But I can't say all that.
No. So you say, I'm sorry.
And I'm sorry will say all that for me?
Yes. But you have to say it right Sher, don't say it like yourself. Say it like you mean it. Practice on me.
No. Try again. Are you in the room with him now?
Look at him. Look at his face. Molly looks at the posted standby list, at her name unmoving from number thirty-one, and wishes she were looking at John. He always hides so much, even from her, even now, but she never dreamed he was hiding this. She wants to tell him she's sorry. Sherlock is a poor emissary.
Molly second-guesses herself.
I'm sorry, he says again, John, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
No it isn't. It was broken.
That's what made it perfect. Trust me.
John will know?
If you say it like that, John will know exactly what you mean.
And from there…
Honestly? I have no idea. He'll have to process that you're alive. Sherlock.
I'm very glad you're there with him.
All right! I'll hang up now. Don't get caught. But do call again if you need anything.
I will. Molly – are you and John –
I don't know. Maybe sort of something? I don't know.
It's like an unsolved problem, this itch in his brain, or more precisely it's like one of the temporarily insoluble problems with which he sometimes wrestles. Sherlock considers it a defect in his reasoning, indeed in his character, that occasionally when there remains nothing to do on a case other than wait for developments, his mind will attempt to wander casewards anyway. It is a waste of time and resources and he's mostly trained himself out of it. But this, today, is like that. John's wrists. The unanswerable question.
This is what Sherlock does while he waits: pulls his legs up onto the clunky hospital chair and forces his thoughts down other paths. He theorizes about the cases in the morning paper and throws out most of the possibilities, solving one and tabling several others for the time being. He steeples his fingers together and works out new experiments. He organizes his mind palace.
Eventually he grows quite bored. Absent his usual solutions for boredom - he is doing his utmost not to attract any attention, as he is technically not permitted here and also technically dead - he brings the chair alongside the bed and lays his head down by John's bandaged left wrist. For a moment he thinks about those bandages but he can't get anywhere past the gauze so he blocks it off, again. Eventually he sleeps.
He remembers slowly. His bed, in his room, at the flat – but no, Mike's sofa bed… or the little room at the vet's… under the smell of plastic and food is something a little sharp, a little industrial.
Right. He's in hospital. They sedated him, for the pain. How long?
There's the ceiling. The IV stand, with nothing hung at the moment. John blinks a few times, adjusting to the light, then turns his head to investigate the odd, close heaviness by his left arm.
He's got it wrong. He's still dreaming.
The clinician in him notes the acceleration of his heartbeat, the disruption of his breaths. He knows that hair, those pale hands, those fucking cheekbones. This is impossible, he thinks, and the little Sherlock-voice in his head says no, just highly improbable, and then his hand moves independently of thought, seeking out the pulse he never found on that bloodied sidewalk outside St. Bart's. As soon as he moves, though, Sherlock's eyes snap open and lock onto his own.
He has nothing to say. There is nothing to say. John pushes himself into something approximating upright and then reaches out, still disbelieving, to prod Sherlock's arm. It is solid. "You're alive," he manages. His own supporting arm is shaking.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock says, muffled by his own clothing, "I'm sorry, John, I'm so sorry." The words crack and melt at the edges.
"Shut up," John says. Losing the battle to stay upright, he falls forward onto that stupid black overcoat with the upturned bloody collar and he holds on, just a little. It's all right because Sherlock has got handfuls of the sheet at his legs, still apologizing in a breathless stream, like an incantation, if either of them believed in such things. His voice vibrates through John's skull. "Shut up," John says again, fiercely, and this time Sherlock obeys. For an eternal moment they both breathe, ragged and bowed and holding on.
"You're alive," John says. "You've been alive all this time."
"You bastard. I should clock you one right in the nose."
Sherlock laughs low and rumbling without moving. Finally John puts his back into it and levers himself up again. His wrists burn (so does most of his body) but he doesn't want to lie flat. "Little help."
"Right." They get the bed canted at the proper angle and then sit back and regard each other.
John is just about to demand details when Sherlock reaches for his arm, folding his slender fingers over the bandage at the wrist. "John," he says hoarsely. He's studying the gauze like a particularly challenging riddle.
"Ye-es," John says cautiously. "They did the wrists tight, that's all. That's nothing really." His raw wrists are the least of his medical problems, he's sure.
The confusion that crosses Sherlock's face is so rare that John spares a moment, from the insistent aches, to enjoy it. "They?"
"Yes, they. Lestrade said he would call when he'd got an idea who they were… probably someone to do with you, after all, hanging around our old place…" John trails off, growing confused himself now. "Something wrong?"
Sherlock is still holding his wrist in both hands, staring. "Then you didn't…"
John sets his mind in case-mode to trail the other's train of thought. Then he recoils. "What? No. Christ. No. What's wrong with you?"
"But…" Sherlock shakes his head, closes his eyes. John takes the opportunity to yank his arm away, trying to ignore how much effort this costs him. He believed I'd hurt myself is enough new complication for the moment.
"Clearly I was mistaken."
"So what happened?"
"Big blokes. Too many for me. That's not – Sher – how the hell did you survive that fall?"
But before Sherlock can reply there is a knock at the door and he flips something out of his lap over his head. Long, black, small slit at the eyes.
"You own a burqa?" John mutters, then starts and addresses the entering young doctor. "Hello there."
"My sister," John says. "Recent convert. Doesn't talk much. Anyway."
"Yes. Would you prefer that we spoke alone?" She's making a note on her pad, ponytail bobbing.
"No," John says, more forcefully than he intends. "No. It's fine." If Sherlock leaves, he might not come back. And also –
"All right then." And she begins.
What she tells them then is more or less exactly what he feared. What some part of him knew from that driving pain localized mainly everywhere. What he knows now though is that he has an extra weapon in his corner. He asks to see his chart and looks it over with a clinical eye, right up until she mentions sedation again.
"That's not necessary," he says, "I – " and then he has to pause to make room for the shooting through his side.
"Dr. Watson," she says, "we are trying to buy you time." He can see her assessing him, choosing a tactic. She chooses blunt. "We're worried about this, whatever it is, reaching your brain. If we don't figure it out in time, you will die."
Next to him the veiled figure makes a sudden, sharp movement. John passes him the chart absently.
"Let's buy you more time," she presses.
"It's just," he says, "my – my sister's only just got here, and we – haven't seen each other in quite some time."
"Of course. I'll come back in a few minutes, shall I?"
How's the pain?
No, actually. I need the facts, not your damned military stoicism.
Fair enough. John describes the pain, its waves, its sharp radiation up the side of his neck. He answers every question thrown his way exactly as he knows Sherlock would want it if this were any other case: the encounter, the assailants, the scattering of syringes. A mystery poison. There is a new undercurrent in the room now, swift and dangerous: this cannot fail.
Finally Sherlock looks straight at him, eyes piercing through the slit of his veil.
Seven. Visiting the flat ought to narrow it down.
Right. Okay. How did you do it?
This isn't the time –
Oh no. No. You sit right there and you tell me everything and when you go you leave a note or something so I know this wasn't a hallucination.
The details will take hours.
Give me an outline then.
What do you know?
I know that was you on the sidewalk when I couldn't find a pulse. I know that was you on the phone…. You were behind that call about Mrs. Hudson.
You knew that the moment you saw her.
She didn't know anything, of course. It was Molly. Molly helped me. He wasn't watching her.
But he was – ah – watching me?
There was a gun pointed at your head. Yours, Lestrade's, Mrs. Hudson's. There was only one way to call them off.
But he didn't think of Molly. No one ever does.
I do. So do you, it seems.
More so now. So Molly and I…
And so Sherlock talks. He's good at talking, especially boasting. He stops briefly only when the young doctor comes back to push the sedative, and as soon as she's gone he talks on, flipping the veil up one last time so John can see his face. When John's eyes slip shut Sherlock keeps talking, when his breathing evens into sleep still he forges on to the end and then he stands up. I'll be back. With the answer. I will.
He does it of course. John's faith in him is complete and while this is something Sherlock generally attempts to discourage, today he is just as pleased not to have failed that. Especially after his worrisome failure of deduction earlier.
En route back to hospital, having already made the necessary arrangements, he calls Molly.
"He didn't do it."
She doesn't ask who or what, just lets out a long, hissing breath. Sherlock explains what did happen, with all the details; and she waits patiently to the end before saying, "I got a flight. I should make it to you in about five hours. Is John going to be all right?"
"I don't know," Sherlock says, and hangs up.
Sometime after midnight Molly clatters into the room, shedding purse and suitcase at the door and going straight to John. She kisses his temple, smoothes his hair. "He looks so small," she says aloud.
From behind her Sherlock answers, "Doesn't usually sleep all curled up like that. Probably the pain."
He perches on a chair in the shadow of the door, hands folded up under his chin, eyes closed. Molly turns just to raise an eyebrow at him. "What are you doing?"
"Thinking. I've got the what and the who, the second helped with the first, but I'm still narrowing down the why and the where are they now."
"I meant, why are you sitting over there?"
One eye cracks open. "I had to sit somewhere."
"You're not wearing your burqa."
"Hospital staff knock."
And he's not visible from the doorway. Molly looks from him to the door to the bed and back again. Then she swoops down on him without warning and plants a kiss on his cheek.
"What was that for?" he asks with an irritated shake of the head.
She says simply, "You're sitting in his line of sight."
She smiles, and it's only a little fake, and she pulls over a chair to sit beside him.
Late. Later than that, even.
I stopped at the wrong conclusion.
Before, with the wrists. Sudden hospitalization, pallor, only apparent bandages at the wrists – wrists cut. An idiot could have made that deduction. You did.
You got further? Oh, just tell me, let's have all the bad news at once.
I just wondered. He's a doctor after all. The chance of his attempting this and not succeeding would be low.
It's all right, Sherlock.
It isn't. I drew one conclusion and then just – stopped – like I couldn't go any farther.
Sometimes your brain doesn't work properly when you're upset. It's normal.
I'm not normal.
A tiny bit of normal will not hurt you.
It could have hurt John. I should have been investigating sooner.
Molly looks at John, at the lines across his brow looming in the nightlights. For weeks after the false fall she watched those lines etch deeper, helpless to fill them in.
Sherlock. If you use this as a reason to back away and stop caring, I will – I will sic Mrs. Hudson on you.
But you still thought of another explanation.
I've had a lot of practice working around my feelings.
He looks at her then, quietly, for a long moment.
Please, she says, Sher, just – don't think about it anymore. Don't back away from us.
Sherlock nods. She can almost see him filing the incident away with useless information, to be deleted. Something about it all breaks her heart.
This is what he remembers: there was another doctor in control of all his results and that was not so good… a voice from long ago… a familiar figure was moving towards him, saying his name low and urgent, and then was gone… more voices… and now. All is quiet. Something is ticking and something is beeping and someone is breathing and it may or may not be himself.
After a while he decides, on balance, that it must be time to look and see.
She smiles, enormously, and picks up his hand. Glad to see you join us. Shifting so he can see past her she adds, There he is. Under the burqa. We've been taking turns sleeping.
Long enough. Don't worry. It's only been one turn each really. But he was all heroic and solved what they'd given you and then figured out where they'd gone to ground so now he's tired. Yes, John, you're going to be all right now, I think. Can you follow my finger?
Oh shut up. You knew all along?
He missed you. Have you any idea how often I've wanted to tell you that? I told him every time I talked to him, because I could tell by his voice that he wasn't all right, you know, but then I'd see you and you were… I just wanted to tell you that he missed you too. But he made me promise. To look after you but not to tell you.
I hardly needed looking after.
You sort of did, actually.
But I… Molly.
She leans in impulsively to kiss his forehead. Yes?
Sherlock, earlier, he thought I –
Oh yes. The wrists. I know you'll instinctively do this because you're a man, but it really is best that you never bring that up again.
Well of course I won't, but why?
He had a slip. He was too upset to think further.
Are we talking about the same person?
Remarkably, yes. I have my psychoanalytic theories about it. And it certainly didn't look like there was anything else wrong with you. We knew almost nothing. It's not such an odd mistake.
If we weren't talking about Sherlock Holmes, you mean.
Please, John. Just leave it. You know how he can get.
All right. All right.
They leave the burqa over Sherlock's head when the medical team comes by to see their now-awake-and-recovering patient. The doctors have accepted the unusually tall veiled sister with the masculine hands along with Molly, whom they clearly believe to be the girlfriend. Neither John nor Molly attempts to clarify.
After they all debrief though, Molly sees them out and stands against the door as an extra precaution and then the last important thing happens, which is that John throws a newspaper at Sherlock's head to wake him up so that they can take each other in, now that both are (relatively) healthy and (indisputably) alive.
Sherlock sits up sharply and the reclining chair he's been lying on snaps upright, nearly throwing him to the floor. Ignoring their snickers, he uncovers his face and finds John. "You're all right?"
"Fine." He's leaning against his pillows, tired to the roots of his bones, but still this is true. And it's been a long time since he was able to say that. He says it again, just for that reason: "I'm fine."
The smile that starts up Sherlock's face makes Molly feel like she ought to leave the room. So she does.
"Are you two," Sherlock starts, eyeing the door as it closes behind her.
"We've been spending a lot of time together," John says, then opens his mouth as though to say more but can find no words. He just looks at his resurrected friend, who looks away.
"John," he says quietly. "John. I made a mistake."
"I know. Molly told me not to talk about it." He pauses, realizing finally what this mistake means, that it is staggering and godly. "I know why too."
"You do." Only partially a question.
"It's because you're an idiot," John says, and adds cheerily, "but don't worry. Practically everyone is."
"You don't have to look so pleased about it." But Sherlock snickers like it's another one of their terrible jokes and John moves on. He wants to know how they're going to play this, not that he knows the truth but the world still thinks Sherlock Holmes is a dead fraud. He wants to hear the details all over again since he wasn't all there the first time and he's pretty sure he missed the end. There are exponential amounts of things he wants to know – but there always are when Sherlock's around, and they've got time. So he starts with the most pressing question.
"Why on earth do you own a burqa?"