The occasional something was so vague and tender and warm, reaching into the incorporeality and preventing him from crossing the line and dissolving his mind from his body entirely.
And all of a sudden, there was suction, strong and painful. He himself materialized. The peaceful emptiness was gone and suddenly his mind was filled with images flashing like a high-speed slideshow, images of rain and blood. A bullet hole and a scream. His own scream. The bullet hole in Sherlock's head. His friend - dead.
He couldn't breathe. He tried to suck in air, but it still felt as if there was no oxygen in the gas that filled his lungs. He had to breathe faster. It didn't help. He felt as if ants were crawling over his body, coming from the fingers up his arms, the prickling becoming unbearable. He couldn't move to get rid of them and he still couldn't get enough air in. He was suffocating. Very distantly he heard the ants whisper. He had never before heard them and it was terrifying.
Very slowly the feeling of the iron weight in his chest decreased and made breathing easier. The ants had apparently let go of him and made their ways back to where they had come from, leaving a light tingling on his skin. The pictures in his mind lost their cruelty and disappeared into his subconscious, leaving him exhausted and afraid of their return.
He now realised that the ants' whispering had in fact been people talking. It seemed as if his brain was turning up the volume to outside sounds. His mind, however, was so veiled that he couldn't understand them. He wasn't sure if he wanted to understand them.
Now that his brain took up its work, the nerves transmitting data from the body towards it, he felt pain. Everywhere. He had a notion that it was connected with the pictures in his mind, but they were locked away currently, so he couldn't put the pieces together. He tried to assess the discomfort. It was inside him, burning like fire. Rather a smouldering than an open fire. Pain medication. He had no idea where the thought came from, but he knew he was right. The pain killers made it impossible to determine where the source of the discomfort was.
He heard a groan that was closer than the indistinct whispers and suddenly felt the same tender warmth he could remember distantly from the emptiness. It was on his forehead, his cheek, his hand. A touch. Whose touch?
"Shush," he heard a whisper, a female voice, familiar, but he had difficulties identifying it.
He tried to say something, opened his mouth, but exhaling so much air that it would make his vocal cords vibrate was an unattainable task. His throat hurt, it was sore.
Slowly, the world around him materialized and the perception of his body and the sounds surrounding him became a little clearer, although he couldn't muster the energy to open his eyes. He felt his fingers that were still prickling a tiny bit. He must have hyperventilated.
Suddenly, one image made its way back from his subconscious to appear in front of his eyes – that of Sherlock lying dead.
There was the groan again, and he realized that the sound was coming from himself. He couldn't help it. He felt panic crawling into his body. It wasn't a dream; the image was the last thing he remembered before he had passed out. There was more that he should remember, but he couldn't. Sherlock... dead! The thought filled his brain, leaving no space for other thinking processes. It was about to take his breath again.
There were the gentle touch and the soothing voice again. Molly's voice. Why was Molly there? Was he in the morgue?! Unconscious in the morgue – that was a bit not good. Was she doing an autopsy on him? No, she was talking to him. She wouldn't normally talk to the bodies she was about to cut up. He was cold and he needed to open his eyes and he was subconsciously aware of his thoughts being weird and confused. He was wakening.
"Shush, John, calm down, he's alive. Sherlock is alive."
Sherlock. Is. Alive. Why did she say that? Why did she lie to him? He didn't remember much, however, the picture of his best friend lying dead in the cold rain wasn't a dream. He finally forced his eyes open, blinking a couple of times to chase away the blur, trying to focus on something. There were a couple of unknown faces above him, staring at him. Slowly, a familiar face came into his vision – the face that belonged to the voice that had talked to him. Molly.
"Hi John," she greeted him, "I'm glad you're awake."
He just stared at her.
A bright light suddenly flashed into his eyes and disappeared instantly.
"Normal reaction of the pupils," said one of the faces. A doctor. He averted his gaze from Molly, looking around as much as possible without moving. He was in a hospital. Again a hospital! He felt the light breath of oxygen in his nostrils and the equipment he was able to see clearly belonged to an intensive care unit. What exactly had happened? He looked back at Molly, his eyes wide open now.
"How are you? ...not that I expect you to say you're fine, I know you can't be, but... are you in pain?"
"Sh... Sher...," he was too weak to finish the word and he closed his eyes in exasperation. He needed to know what she had meant by "Sherlock is alive" for it couldn't possibly be true. He had seen the hole in his head!
"Sherlock? He's here, over there." Molly tilted her head into a direction away from his own bed.
With all the strength he could muster, John turned his head just a little bit and gasped in shock. That was Sherlock - alive. Kept alive, he corrected himself, but not dead as he had believed. A pang of coldness shot through his body. Sherlock was kept alive, but what if it that was it, if he was brain-dead and they were only ventilating him to keep his organs intact?
John felt bile coming up his gullet and while trying to supress the nausea, it burnt like fire in his sore throat. He choked and coughed, which sent beats of pain through his abdomen.
A doctor urged him to look him in the eyes and instructed him how to breathe away the nausea while Molly was stroking his hand.
"You'll be fine, John."
After his breath had evened out and the nausea had mostly vanished, John looked again over to his flatmate's bed. He heard Molly speak about Sherlock, how lucky he had been and that he was out of the most imminent danger; her words, though, didn't quite reach him instantly. It took him a few moments to realise what she had said. His vocal cords still failing on him, he just closed his eyes and tried to crack a smile of relief at Molly, who slightly squeezed his hand in understanding.
John wanted to ask a hundred questions, but his brain insisted on shutting down for a rest. Two words, however, were humming in his subconscious when he was drifting into sleep and he didn't have the faintest idea why they were there. They just didn't make sense, but he was unable to clear his mind from the repetition of the words "Don't go."
John didn't know how much time had passed since he had woken up first. He realised that he was drifting in and out of sleep, sometimes seeing Molly at his bedside and sometimes Mrs Hudson. In the very back of his mind he had so many questions, so many things that needed clarification, but he had felt too exhausted to even think about formulating a sensible sentence or process those that were spoken to him properly.
He had had strange dreams that still felt so real, dreams of him being in an entirely different world, a world full of green with waterfalls everywhere, watching human-like creatures with pointy ears discuss their intervention in a kind of war. It felt as if he had been right in the middle of it, however, he had seen everything from a curious angle, like a child or a dwarf. Together with some of the beings he had had to flee and suddenly there had been an aeroplane which he had climbed into, only to find Sherlock in the pilot's seat, preparing a take-off. On John's objection that he couldn't fly that plane, he had insisted on being the commander of that vessel and that he knew very well how to fly it. John had found himself pulling the yoke forcefully to lift the plane up above mountains that had suddenly come to life, throwing stones at them. The dreams had been so incredibly weird, and yet the images had been so real. He could still feel the echo of the feeling of the gravity pulling at his guts during the bumpy take-off.
Slowly, his senses took up their function and the confusing images as well as the feeling of cotton wool in his brain subsided gradually. He had distantly perceived that a doctor had talked to him, informing him about the reduction of the dosage of the sedative he was being administered due to hyperventilating in his awakening process. John couldn't remember anything.
He did remember the dreadful feeling of loss of his best friend, and the shock he had got at the first sight of Sherlock with the permanent EEG and his first thought of him being brain-dead. Either impression had been about to tear him apart; however, Molly had soothed him and reassured him that Sherlock wasn't dead. This weight had been taken off of his heart, and yet, now that his brain worked better and he regained access to his own medical knowledge, he felt new worry settle in his mind. The intracranial EEG wasn't a good sign, as wasn't the fact that Sherlock was still kept in an induced coma. As much as John tried to remember what exactly had happened, he wasn't able to. It was as if his mind had shut a door that he wasn't able to open. A door in his mind... – it rang a distant bell in him.
Suddenly everything shifted into place: it wasn't a door in his mind, it was Sherlock's mind palace: the abduction, the swastika and Sherlock's monogram on the dead body, their nightly walk through London in an attempt to find something out about the body or the killer, the car that had suddenly appeared out of nothing without the lights on, clearly aiming at them, the sight of Sherlock on the ground with blood running from his head. However, there were gaps. He remembered fidgeting for his gun, but he couldn't remember what had happened then and to him, why he himself was in such pain, albeit it was dull, suppressed by the medication he was administered through the drip.
All the pieces he had, however, made sense when put together. The ciphers on the body had in fact been a threat towards Sherlock and someone had apparently tried to kill him, but hadn't succeeded – fortunately. So far. The thought was nagging in his subconscious. He didn't know anything about his friend's condition, he was just assuming things from what he had been able to see from his bed as he hadn't been awake enough to talk to anyone.
When John finally managed to open his eyes, he didn't look into either of the women's faces he had expected. Instead, upon turning his head just a little bit, green eyes and a smile that he always found slightly artificial met his gaze – Mycroft.
"Good evening, John."
Mycroft was sitting at his bedside, dressed in the usual ICU clothing. Despite the seriousness of the situation, John felt a giggle in his throat. The protective cap looked particularly ludicrous on the personified British Government, who would have serious problems keeping his authority towards his men when being dressed like that.
"Evening?" John wondered, his voice all croaky due to his still quite sore throat.
"Yes. You were woken from the induced coma four days ago in the morning; however, your responsiveness had been a bit ... weak since then. How are you feeling?"
It was a strange thing to be asked about your condition by Mycroft, and John scrutinised the other man trying to find the underlying purpose in the question. He had to admit to himself, though, that it seemed that Sherlock's brother was just asking for the sake of knowing how he really was. Mycroft neither had any deceptive traces in his gaze nor did he avert it. He just looked at him.
"I feel like... I have been... run over by a car," John replied, the image fitting his current condition quite well.
Curiously enough, Mycroft laughed..
"You never lose your sense of humour, do you?" he asked, still smiling.
John was slightly confused, although the possibility that the choice of image of how he felt came closer to reality than had crossed his mind so far, was beginning to dawn on him.
"I was... indeed...?"
"Yes, John, you were, in fact, run over by a car. Well, to be precise, you were catapulted over a car after it had hit you."
"No. But what can you remember?"
There they were. This was not a well-meant visit – not entirely at least – but an interrogation.
John closed his eyes for a moment.
"Look, John, I'm not here to blame you for anything, quite the contrary, but we need to know what happened to find the one pulling the strings behind all this."
Mycroft's voice sounded tired – and despairing. When John opened his eyes again he found the same traces in the older man's face and eyes. It seemed that Sherlock's brother was hiding his personal agitation and covering it with his professional duties. The feeling of resistance against Mycroft and his questions that had been building up in John suddenly dissolved. Each time anew he caught himself inwardly accusing Mycroft of being cold as a stone, but by now he really should know better.
"You once again proved me right, John," the older Holmes added quietly.
"Right? With what?"
"You will never be anything else but a soldier, Afghanistan is everywhere you are. Your theatre of war is now at my brother's side and your instincts haven't suffered at all from your recent tendency towards laziness and an over-indulgence in takeaway food, leading to a general reduction in physical fitness."
John looked at Mycroft, puzzled. It was a special Holmes-characteristic to encipher a message in a mixture of facts and insults, so that a normal person was unable to understand the core of it.
"What are you talking about?"
"You saved him. You shot the man in the car. If you hadn't, he would have shot straight and Sherlock would be dead."
The doctor's eyes opened wide. A faint memory of him pointing a gun at the front window of the car made its way up from his subconscious.
"Thank you, John. I do appreciate your abilities."
John was too baffled to say anything and it simply felt strange to hear Mycroft thanking him for the third time in only a few months' time for saving Sherlock's life; and even for him being himself – a soldier.
"... just... self-interest," John mumbled, grinning weakly at Mycroft, although he absolutely meant it and he was sure that Sherlock's brother wouldn't see anything humorous in it either.
"Now, John, what I know so far is that you and Sherlock went to the Met to meet your friend Lestrade – I assume to get my brother some criminal riddle to occupy his mind with – and that in the evening you suddenly texted me that he was in danger." Mycroft slightly tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, looking at him patronizingly. "DI Lestrade reported to me about the dead homeless man with the branding. Is there any connection that I should know of, John?"
"Suppose so," John admitted. He really didn't feel like talking as the dull but constant throbbing in his abdomen and his leg were quite irritating; not so much painful, but distracting. With a shock he had realised that his leg was fixated with an Ilizarov-apparatus, which meant that it was fractured, most likely multiple times. He hadn't had the chance to talk to anybody about his injuries, but John sensed that the pain in the upper part of his body resulted from internal injuries, which were frequent when losing a frontal fight with a car. On the other hand he knew it was important to tell Mycroft what he knew. So he mustered all his remaining strength and talked.
"The branding... Sherlock said... it was a warning for him. When... when you put the lines together differently, you... get... a swastika, an S and an H." John closed his eyes, the fatigue pulling his eyelids down and making it almost impossible to open them again.
"Don't sleep, John, just a few more questions, then I will let you rest. It is obvious that Sherlock saw a connection to the Tabun poisoning in it, but is there any proof of the theory?"
John was already half asleep and only managed to get out an unvoiced "No". He was subconsciously wondering how Mycroft had made the leap to the Tabun so quickly – it had to be something in the Holmes genes that made it possible for both brothers to grasp things so very fast.
Very distantly he heard
Sherlock's brother sigh before some shuffling sounds accompanied John into his