"Retrograde amnesia, Mycroft. It's quite common after a head trauma."
Mycroft was still staring at Sherlock, who was quiet but scanned the room and the people in it restlessly.
"I know, John, but that doesn't make it better, does it?" he said with a frown.
He turned his head when the doctors entered the ICU. The intensive care specialist gave John a strange look, something between appreciation and annoyance. The nurse had apparently talked to him when she had been away to fetch the wheelchair. John wondered if he would dare say anything, but he obviously knew better than to oppose against Mycroft and remained silent.
"Let's see, Mr Holmes," the neurologist addressed Sherlock, giving him a typical doctor-smile, which was friendly but didn't hold any personal concern.
Sherlock looked back at the doctor, and his face screwed up into a grimace that was also meant to be a smile – a typical Sherlock-smile, fake and mocking.
John snorted at the sight of it, feeling some relief about the fact that despite his amnesia, Sherlock was still involuntarily himself.
The doctor had apparently noticed the mockery in his patient's expression, too, as he looked slightly annoyed before putting on a less exaggerated smile.
"Well then, Mr Holmes let's see what has happened to your memory."
A number of questions mainly to be answered with "yes" or "no" followed; general questions like whether he knew which year it was, and more specific questions like his own name and the names of his mother and father. Sherlock was given different possibilities to make answering less strenuous. John and Mycroft watched silently, although John noticed that Sherlock's brother was restless and could hardly restrain himself from interrupting. John, too, had to suppress the urge to simply ask Sherlock, if he didn't know his flatmate and friend anymore. It's me, John! he wanted to say, however knowing that there was absolutely no sense in doing so. Sherlock didn't remember.
During the course of the questioning, John's heart sank more and more. It was retrograde amnesia Sherlock was suffering from, but a severe form of it. The Consulting Detective couldn't remember his entire life back to his early childhood days. He didn't know his own name, had only guessed from the times he had been addressed by the doctors, Mycroft or John; he couldn't recall his parents' names, simply couldn't remember anything. Mycroft's expression derailed with every question that was answered with a "no". The doctors were very careful, letting Sherlock pause whenever he needed to, however, after a couple of questions, the exhausted patient had to deliver his answer by tapping his finger once for a "no" and twice for a "yes".
At some point he didn't reply anymore as he had no longer been able to stay awake. Mycroft cast a glance at John, so openly displaying his feelings that the latter was taken aback. He saw sorrow and pain - and something else he couldn't really put his finger on. Regret?
"A word, Mr Holmes," the doctor addressed Mycroft and gestured in the direction of the anteroom. All but nurse Deborah left the room and John felt somewhat left behind, although he knew that he couldn't leave the ICU, nor was he entitled to be given any information on Sherlock's record directly from the doctors. He had to wait. Again.
John took a couple of deep breaths, fighting the overwhelming tiredness that befell him. As normal as amnesia was after a head trauma and a long-term sedation, the extent of it was really alarming. They could only hope that time would bring back some of the memories. John's felt his head drop on his chest and immediately jerked backwards. He needed to get back to bed and rest as he wasn't of any help to Sherlock if he didn't recover soon.
"Do you want me to put you to bed?" Deborah asked, having apparently forgiven him his insistence on getting up, giving him a sweet smile.
"In the literal sense of it, yes. Thank you," he replied with a rather weak grin.
"You do overestimate your physical state a bit, Dr Watson. Don't you?" she countered with a wink. John felt a little eased; flirting was a good remedy although he was absolutely aware of the crudity of his remark. The only thing he still noticed after he had been put to bed was a reassuring pat from Deborah.
The next time John woke up, Mycroft was again sitting at his brother's bedside, his gaze set on Sherlock, although he didn't really appear to see him. John wondered if it was just the effect of the artificial ICU light that made the older Holmes appear as pale as the younger one, or if he wasn't well. Maybe he also eventually needed some rest.
"Mycroft?" John tried.
The addressed man blinked a couple of times as if trying to focus.
"Yes, John," he replied with a monotone voice.
"What are they planning to do?"
Mycroft sighed, looking down at his hands before setting his eyes on John.
"Nothing. They'll remove the permanent EEG tomorrow, have him sedated for another forty-eight hours after the operation and then wait to see what will happen. So, nothing in particular."
The desperation in Mycroft's voice was clearly audible. John sensed that it had to be terrible for the older Holmes to be confined to doing nothing for yet another time.
"Waiting. Yes, I guess that's mainly what you can do. Mycroft, if you ask me, we have to get home to Baker Street as soon as possible. Familiar surroundings will help him to remember."
"Shouldn't it be our home then? The home where he had spent most of his life?" Every now and then the usual cold Mycroft Holmes could be glimpsed at the surface, his comments snide and unexpected and yet true. It hadn't even crossed John's mind that Sherlock had had a home other than 221b Baker Street - at least none that he would call home with any affection. All the times Sherlock had spoken about his family home, it hadn't been all too positive, thus, John had assumed that home was where he was living now – the cosy chaos of their flat.
"Don't you think that it would probably be too much of a shock, huh?" John returned the question with his eyebrows raised, refuting the sting of the query, however, with a slight smirk.
"I will not stay in your ...cave at Baker Street. And you, John, won't be able to take care of Sherlock for a while as you have to recover yourself. Therefore, no!"
Damn it! Mycroft was right. This time his leg and, admittedly, general health status prevented that he could function as Sherlock's doctor and nurse. Stupid bloody leg! John was angry and he clenched his fists in order to not yell from frustration.
"We'll see!" he hissed between gritted teeth.
Mycroft shook his head. "There's nothing to see, John, just the facts, I'm afraid." He locked eyes with John and with a sincere tone in his voice added, "I really am." He then stood up from his chair, straightened his back and left the ICU.
John felt his heart pounding with rage. It wasn't Mycroft's fault, he was aware of it, but that didn't make it less vexatious. He growled and looked at Sherlock, only to find him staring at him. Although it was Sherlock, he seemed to be a stranger with the cables and the eyes that didn't reflect any recognition.
"Sherlock, sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." John remarked sheepishly.
"You didn't. Who are you?" he croaked straight up, although his voice was a little firmer than before.
John felt that this was a crucial moment and he had to choose his words very carefully, but the truth was simple.
"I'm... your flatmate, colleague and ... friend."
Sherlock still looked at him intently.
"Given you are my flatmate – why are you here? Why am I here? I mean, the two of us at the same time? Who am I?"
"Right... good questions. How much time do we have? I guess we're not in a hurry; it may take a while to explain it to you."
"Take your time, ... John, isn't it?"
For a split-second John thought Sherlock remembered, but with some disappointment he recalled having been addressed by his first name while Sherlock had been awake.
"Yes, John, that's me. John Watson. Do you want to have my mobile so you can refresh your deductions on me?"
Sherlock looked puzzled.
"Sorry, mate, it's just a bit... extraordinary,... this situation." John smiled apologetically. He felt slightly uncomfortable. "Ok, you want to know everything that I know about you? You may not like it entirely, so don't get pissed off. I won't be cheating."
John frowned. He had never personally experienced anybody with global retrograde amnesia and it was just odd to know a good deal about someone without the person himself having the faintest clue about himself. John felt awkward. He could very well recall when he had lectured Sherlock on his use of the word "fine", but he realised now that all his memories of their time together weren't shared memories any longer but just his own.
He would tell his friend everything he wanted to know, however, he was very well aware of the fact that what he could give away from their lives would always be biased, seen from only his point of view. He knew, though, that Sherlock's angle of seeing and judging things sometimes differed a lot from his own. Nevertheless, he had to try. Maybe talking about Sherlock's life would trigger the memories to come back.
So John talked and told Sherlock about the life they had spent together. He talked about their first encounter at the lab, their experiences during the cases, their rants, Mrs Hudson, Molly, Lestrade and so on and so forth. He tried to spice his stories with what had been particularly typical of Sherlock. However, he avoided talking about Mycroft's role in their lives and the latest incidents as it would have been incredibly difficult to explain all that. It could wait a little longer.
The man in the other ICU bed listened mostly without interrupting. Only when John told him about their experiences at the museum where Sherlock had almost lost the sick game against Moriarty due to his ignorance about the solar system, did he interfere.
"How can one not know that?" he questioned his bed neighbour.
The words got stuck in John's throat. "How can one not know that? Sherlock?!" he almost yelled. "That was precisely my question back then! Don't tell me now that you know about the solar system..."
"Everyone knows that the Earth goes around the Sun, the Moon around the Earth, that the planets closer to the sun are Venus and Mercury,..."
"Okay, okay, but how can you suddenly know about the solar system, which you were absolutely ignorant about a couple of months ago, but don't have a clue about your whole life?"
Sherlock pursed his lips. "Hmmm, no idea," he responded thoughtfully. "Have I really been that oblivious?"
"Erm, well, yes. Sometimes. It really depends. You weren't oblivious when it came to cigarette ash."
"Cigarette ash - I'm a freak, aren't I? At least that's what I get from what you tell me." He snorted contemptuously. John could only remotely imagine what it had to be like for Sherlock. If he were just Joe Bloggs, ordinary in every way, it would be much easier for him to understand, but he was Sherlock Holmes, the super sleuth, the genius brain, slightly Asperger.
"Sherlock, ...listen, when I met you first I thought you were a freak, but you proved me wrong very soon. You are... you."
"My brother is a freak, too, isn't he?"
"Hah, your brother? I have to admit that I don't know for sure. He's an enigma, that's more or less everything I know about him."
"Who's an enigma?"
Mycroft was standing by the door with his arms folded, the all too familiar fake smile on his face. John knew right away that he knew exactly who they were talking about.
"He says you are," Sherlock told his brother and John squirmed uncomfortably, although it wasn't a secret what he thought about the older Holmes. Mycroft's fake smile broadened, which actually looked more as if he was baring his teeth rather than making a friendly face.
"It may sometimes appear so. This, however, owes much to my profession."
"Three-piece suit under that ridiculous gown, hand-made shoes, polished to perfection, but not by you, your hands are perfectly manicured and have most likely not even touched a shoe brush in years. No pets, none at least that would show their affection by roving around your legs. No wife or other partner - you would have brought them already. Very busy then. Language and posture stilted – posh background but also necessity. Used to giving orders and to being instantly obeyed – government, but not just any random civil servant. Something more important, much more important..."
Sherlock had suddenly and despite his croaky voice rattled down a deduction on his brother. He was, however, apparently as stunned about it as were John and Mycroft.
After a moment's silence, John added, "Ta-dah: The government himself." He threw a glimpse at Mycroft who stood at the same spot as before, paralysed.
"The government," Sherlock repeated flatly. He then frowned. "What was that?"
His brother woke from his paralysis. "That was one of your infamous deductions, Sherlock. John, what did you tell him about me?"
"Um, nothing, I really didn't tell him anything about your profession. How could I anyway? I know nothing about it myself. - Sherlock, do you remember anything?"
Sherlock looked a little confused and shook his head. "It was just... there. Again," he said slightly pathetically. "I see. So that's what you meant when you said that I "read" people."
"Yeah." confirmed John, still baffled.
"And you say I'm quite good at it."
"Unsurpassable, I'd say."
"Do I do it often?"
"Not a single minute that you don't do it! It can be quite annoying."
"So how is it that I'm a sleuth but don't work for the government as well?"
Mycroft, who had so far just listened, laughed out loud. "That, brother dear, is a question that no one has ever been able to answer, not even you yourself. Although, I assume the reason for it lies in the fact that I work for the government."
"Oh! So, we don't get along very well. I thought so..." Sherlock's sentence trailed off.
Mycroft's face went blank and he changed the topic. "I came to let you know that I have arranged for the two of you to stay at my house as soon as your health condition allows it. There will be staff to look after you and take care of your treatment and physiotherapy."
"Mycroft!" John exclaimed. "I really don't want to be ungrateful, but we have already talked about this! I don't think it's a good idea and I won't go!"
Sherlock's brother had already turned half away and gave him a patronizing look over his shoulder. "Well, then, John. Tell me, in the first place, how you think you'll manage to get up the fifteen or so stairs to your flat!"
"Seventeen," Sherlock and John said in unison.
"How did you know?" John and Mycroft yelled at the same time, and for a moment it was dead quiet and the two men simply stared at Sherlock.
"Don't ask – I don't know!" Sherlock said defensively. "This ... feels like vomiting! I don't want it, I can't suppress it, it just pours out of my mouth!"
"Nice metaphor, Sherlock," John commented with a grin. It was, however, very promising that there were these fragments of memories. Maybe Mycroft wasn't that wrong at all to take Sherlock to his family home. It could help.
The door to the ICU had already opened when John called Mycroft. "Thanks for the offer. I'm looking forward to getting to know your family home."
Mycroft stood for a second, but didn't turn around. He nodded briefly and left.
"Interesting." Sherlock remarked before inhaling sharply. "John, what brought us here?" he asked sincerely, watching the hand with the IV cannula before gingerly touching the EEG cables on his head.
"You were shot on a case and I was run over by a car. That must do for the time being."
"That's unsatisfying." Sherlock complained, stifling a yawn.
"I know, Sherlock, I know, but a life like yours isn't told in an hour. It's quite a long story, actually, why we are here, and there are still very many gaps in it. I can't remember everything myself, so you have to be contented with this little information."
"You are afraid."
"Your voice is betraying you, John. What is it then?"
John was very uncomfortable. Was he really afraid? Of what? He realised that Sherlock had voiced what had been swirling in his subconscious: he was indeed afraid, afraid of an uncontrolled return of Sherlock's memories. Something had happened to Sherlock's mind palace. He had told him that he had once deleted his knowledge about the solar system, considering it simply unimportant, but he remembered now. So, apparently what had been banned to the depth of his subconscious was now re-emerging. John felt a pang of worry. Was there a literal crack in his friend's mind palace? He wasn't all that sure about his decision to agree to Mycroft's offer anymore, but he knew that he didn't have any other possibility if he wanted to stay with his friend.
"You're right, I
guess," John said quietly, but didn't get any response. Sherlock had
fallen asleep again.