It had all started with a rather unusual cult, bent on achieving enlightenment through ingestion of some strange cocktail of substances as set out by an Elizabethan-age manuscript. It had been a diary kept by a relatively high-level clergyman, in which he’d detailed the confessions of all the people in the region who had, under torture, admitted witchcraft. One woman had apparently been particularly creative, and had detailed a procedure by which one could attain ultimate knowledge. This had, of course, intrigued Sherlock, leading him to take on the cases of the cult’s victims (apparently, quite a number of the ingredients consisted of vital pieces of the human anatomy, which had been surgically removed from their previous hosts with little concern for whether the bodies in question could survive the procedures). Unfortunately, the cult in question had become aware of the consulting detective’s attentions, and decided he’d be an excellent sacrifice.
So John had been forced to make another last-minute rescue, illegal gun blaring as he raced to save his oft-captured flatmate and more-than-friend.
At that moment, John was glad he was a doctor. Because the sight of someone one knew, someone one cared for laid open on an operating table, while never easy, would undoubtedly have caused someone in another profession to lose consciousness then and there.
Sherlock was thankfully unconscious, secured to a perfectly clean metal operating table that looked quite out of place in the abandoned factory the group in question had been using for its base. Monitors beeped and the floor was littered with animal bones and spent sutures, and three young people in full surgical attire were crowded against the wall behind the whole arrangement, eyes darting as they made futile attempts to hide their bloody gloves.
But John’s eyes went to the light blue surgical sheets that covered his flatmate’s midsection, and to the gaping abdominal cavity they circled. He took in the reports from the monitors and, gun still trained on the cowering trio, stepped up to the operating table.
John wasn’t scared. In an emergency, he never felt anything but calm. It was an excellent quality for a doctor, a soldier, and anyone who had an emotional attachment to Sherlock Holmes. So when he looked down into his friend’s very person, John’s reactions were clinical. Which was a good thing because, if he’d made room for emotion, there wouldn't have been room for anything else.
Just then, Lestrade caught up, closely flanked by his team. John indicated the cowering medical students (Sherlock had deduced days ago that it was medical students being used to perform the ersatz surgeries), and Lestrade took over covering them with his own gun while Sergeant Donovan handcuffed the three. She and Lestrade were speaking, but John couldn’t hear them. Emergency first, background noise later.
Dr. Watson had seen a lot in his career, but never anything like this. Not only had those children cut in to Sherlock, needlessly hurt his Sherlock, they had done so in a manner that was both cruel and criminally unsafe.
The first thing John noticed was that far too many internal organs were visible. The inside of a healthy human body is a net of membranes and fats within which the vital organs are safely nestled. But in this case, such protection had been cut away, sloppily patched to prevent the worst of the bleeding. And there was bleeding. This was to be expected with any abdominal surgery, but that was hardly a comfort. The too-visible internal organs, intestines and the like, looked like aluminium cans that had been kicked once too many, and John noted at least four large burn marks. Only the steady beeping of the heart monitor kept him from shooting the perpetrators then and there.
The heart monitor, and common sense. His Sherlock needed a doctor, a real doctor, and now. John could help best by being this doctor.
John blinked, noticed that Lestrade was shaking him by one shoulder. Both the Detective Inspector and Sergeant Donovan were hanging back, and the long body on the floor seemed to indicate that Anderson had fainted. Lestrade was still talking, but John interrupted, indicating one of the three now-handcuffed medical students.
“Let me talk to her.”
Lestrade paused, then seemed to decide that it was alright and nodded for the girl to approach. Most of her face was hidden by a surgical mask, but her eyes were terrified. She started bawling right away.
“We didn’t want to!” she wailed. “We didn’t know what we were doing! Dan’s friend just brought us the organs for his group, said they were animal parts, and we just cauterized the shapes he wanted! Today was the first time any of us knew they were human, and they had guns, and—”
“What did you do, exactly?” Lestrade might want the girl’s full story, but John was only concerned with a very specific piece of it. The young student skipped ahead, eager to oblige.
“Well we didn’t want to hurt anyone, so we did what they said as safely as we could. They’d already knocked the guy out, but there wasn’t any gas so we had to use injections to keep him out. It took a lot, but Jason monitored that,” she indicated one of her compatriots, “and Dan and I did the cutting.” Her eyes grew wide over her mask as she realized how callous that had sounded, but a look from John kept her talking.
“We were as safe as we could, but one of them said to remove everything but the organs, and cauterize the shapes on all of those, and somebody kept chanting something I couldn’t understand except that I think it was Latin, and throwing all this salt over the surgical field!”
There, John prodded her. “You’re sure it was salt?”
She looked even more panicked, but answered, “I think it was, at least mostly, because of how the tissue responded.”
“And the shapes? How many?”
“Pentagrams, mostly. Thirteen in all, though you can’t see all of them because of the blood. I tried to clamp off everything, but it just wouldn’t . . . it’s only my second year!”
John shook his head. He was in a place of perfect tunnel vision now, seeing nothing but the problem at hand and thinking nothing but how to fix it. He turned to the girl one last time, nodding to himself.
“Where do you scrub up?”
Lestrade was having a bad day. Not only had they arrived too late to find any of the willing criminals, there had been the business of Sherlock cut nearly in two. When Doctor Watson had decided to operate something in the detective’s mind said that it wasn’t protocol, and common sense dictated that no doctor should operate on someone they cared for, but the ambulance hadn’t arrived yet and he hadn’t really been in the mood to face down the blade of a scalpel.
Dr. Watson had mostly finished by the time the ambulance finally found them, of course, and the doctors in the hospital decided that he’d done too good a job to justify operating a second time. No one in that hospital, or any other, probably, had dealt with a case even remotely similar to this, but the detective was stable and appeared to be doing well. Lestrade wished he could say the same for Dr. Watson.
As soon as John had tied off the last stitch, he’d crashed. Falling loosely to his knees, the doctor had let the suture scissors clink to the floor and dumbly removed his gloves. The med student had gone to pieces again, trying to take his pulse, but he’d pushed her away, insisting on going in the ambulance with Sherlock. That had been over eighteen hours ago.
Now, John was sitting in the hospital room holding his best friend’s hand with two fingers absently on the pulsepoint, only half-aware of the outside world. He’d listened to the doctors, of course, but they couldn’t tell him much more than he knew already. Stable, and no indicators of brain damage, but it was a case with no precedent so the outcome was unclear.
John held the back of Sherlock’s hand to his own forehead. Unprecedented. It was a good word to describe everything about the consulting detective, as well as everything about John’s own life since meeting him. Unprecedented to be the flatmate of someone so strange and amazing. Unprecedented to grow closer to him, in spite of it all, than you’d been to anyone else ever. Unprecedented for him to ask if you loved him, unprecedented to answer honestly, and most unprecedented of all for him to respond in the way he had. For him to look down so nervous and tell you that he knew he wasn’t good at this, but that it made him glad that you loved him, and that he didn’t respond like other people but that if he did, his response would be that he loved you back.
Which had been followed by an honest smile, a kiss on tip-toe, and a night, week, and month of time that were unprecedentedly wonderful. It was like Sherlock had already filled every aspect of John’s life but one, and that last piece had finally been put in place. It had been strange in the most amazing way possible.
But now, this.
Sherlock’s anesthesia should have worn off over twelve hours ago, but he still had not shown signs of regaining consciousness. Preliminary blood tests hadn’t shown any chemical to account for it, so brain scans had been ordered to verify that the consulting detective’s mind was indeed functioning. These had (to John’s unutterable relief) shown that Sherlock was, quite simply, asleep. When faced with stimulation the wave patterns became characteristic of a wakeful person (or, as wakeful as could be expected on that quantity of pain medication), but still no exterior response. Everyone was puzzled, but it was agreed that no more be done until it was humane to tone down the pain meds. That would be a few days later, minimum.
So John’s closest person in the world was present, perhaps even aware to some extent, but trapped in his own skin. Still, Sherlock was alive, and safe, and that was more wonderful than John could say. Everything else was just details and time.
“Don’t worry,” John whispered, moving even closer to his love’s head and holding his hand even tighter, fingers drawn to that reassuring pulse. “I’ve got you, and it’s all going to be fine.”
Then, Mycroft walked in.
“Are you sure Moriarty is involved?” John’s voice was calm.
“Undeniably. Possibly in no more than consulting capacity, but security protocols must be taken. Surely you understand the gravity of the situation, and it was necessary you be informed. But know that the matter is well in hand.”
John looked up, sharply. “Well in hand, as in the usual surveillance but more so? That hasn’t exactly been effective to this point.”
Mycroft bristled a little at this, showing more emotion than John had ever seen from him. “You are insinuating that my watch has been useless. Do you have any idea how many times it has saved my brother’s life? Has saved yours?”
John’s gaze was steady. “Not useless, no. And I’m grateful. But it hasn’t been enough. And quite frankly, hospitals are dangerous. All the workers can be accounted for at any hour of the day, theoretically, but there are too many people, too many possible weapons, and too many variables. Too many chances for something to go wrong.” John started scanning the hall behind through the half-open door, already on guard for the man in the bed.
Mycroft cracked his patent-worthy half smile, indignation expertly smothered. “Ever the soldier, Dr. Watson. Looking for a more defensible position, I take it. Very well, where would you suggest?”
John blinked, a bit taken aback, before responding. “Baker Street would be as good as anywhere. Not much in the way of comings and goings, and Mrs. Hudson knows who we usually associate with. You wouldn’t have to bother moving the cameras and microphones we both know you’ve installed about the flat, and I already know all the ins and outs in case something does go wrong.”
“And you will be administering all medical treatment yourself?” Mycroft said, once again with that condescending smile.
John stood firm. “Everyone keeps saying that this case is unprecedented, which means there is no expert to consult. All they’ll be doing here is supportive care, which any general practitioner knows how to do. I’ll borrow what I need from Sarah or from here. But I’m not trusting Sherlock’s safety to anyone else. Not now.”
Mycroft raised his eyebrows, but only said, “I suppose I should have expected no less, Doctor. Arrangements will be made. And,” he added, as if placating a small child, “I’ll be sure you know it isn’t Moriarty who is making them.”
As Mycroft left, John turned back to Sherlock. His Sherlock. Moriarty wouldn’t be taking him away without a fight.
John sat on the edge of the bed they shared, looking down at Sherlock. Aside from the heart monitor, one could almost believe that he’d simply caught his detective in a rare moment of sleep. John grinned to himself—like that would ever happen. The only times Sherlock slept were when he and John were together. This was quite possibly because, without John’s regular patterns of eating and sleeping to remind him, Sherlock simply forgot that bodies need maintenance. Two months ago, when they’d been on a train home from an out-of-town case (“The Misplaced Mare,” in John’s blog), the doctor had been forced to verbally inform the mad detective that he was tired and should sleep. Sherlock had argued, but John had made the case that the violin and experiments were at the flat and the train didn’t have internet, so sleeping now would not be any more boring than whatever else he could be doing. Sherlock had looked pleased, then proud, and told John that he’d made an excellent point. The detective then proceeded to wrap himself slightly tighter in his coat before falling asleep almost immediately, looking like a delicately balanced statue as he bobbed with the motion of the train. At the time, John had wanted to move to the seat beside his detective, to hold him and keep him steady while he slept, but the doctor had held himself back. The last thing he wanted to do was alienate the most important person in his world. John desperately wished that the change in the nature of their relationship had occurred sooner, that he might have had such a memory to visit now.
The doctor shook his head and took Sherlock’s pulse for the third time in the last minute. Although both Mycroft and Lestrade had taken precautions, John had taken up the mantle of Sherlock’s last line of defense. To that end, he had moved as many of the necessities of life as possible to the bedroom he now shared with Sherlock (so that he’d be present in case of an emergency), started keeping his gun within arm’s length at all times, and even, when he could think of no other measures to take, had closed all the curtains against hypothetical snipers. Perhaps it was paranoia, but this was Moriarty they were talking about.
John pressed his fingers a bit harder to Sherlock’s pulsepoint. He looked absolutely helpless. But John would keep him safe, would protect him no matter what happened.
Just then, Sherlock twitched and started to shiver. John’s eyes widened in excitement before he realized that the movement wasn’t voluntary; rather, it reminded John of his childhood dog having a nightmare.
After a quick glance at the two monitors that were displaying Sherlock’s vital signs (slightly distressed, but not dangerous enough to call for medical intervention), John joined him on the bed. He stroked his flatmate’s head with the hand that wasn’t circling his wrist, murmuring softly.
“Shhhh . . . don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I’ve got you. It’s John, and I’ve got you. I promise.”
John knew that even if Sherlock was awake beneath his eyelids, the detective would be so out of his skull on pain meds that he probably wouldn’t be able to understand the words. And his detective wasn’t the sort to respond to just a calming tone of voice.
In a moment of inspiration, John shifted his grip on Sherlock’s hand and arranged it so that while John’s two fingers pressed into Sherlock’s wrist, Sherlock’s fingers pressed into the pulsepoint of John’s. Almost immediately, the detective settled back into a more peaceful facsimile of sleep.
“See?” John said softly. “My pulse means that I’m here. And as long as I’m here, I’ve got you, and you’re safe, and everything is going to be fine.”
Then, he leaned down and kissed the brow of his consulting detective. And perhaps it was John’s imagination, but he was sure that Sherlock’s fingers pressed down just a bit harder.
A week had passed, and John’s life had fallen into a sort of pattern. With the drop in pain meds, Sherlock had become more aware if not more mobile. John no longer needed an EEG to determine if his detective was awake, he could see it in his face. Sherlock always seemed to be wearing some sort of facial expression while conscious, even if it was so faint that no one but John could have noticed.
More often than not the expression in question could be termed “annoyed.” Occasionally it moved into “slightly panicked,” but when that happened John would speak to him, would hold him, and things would be alright again. “Shhh,” he said, softly. “I know. But everything is going to be fine, I promise. I’ve got you.” Then, he would put Sherlock’s fingers over his pulse, and the detective would calm down.
But John had eat, and check the shipments of medical equipment, and get telephone updates from Mycroft, and therefore couldn’t be speaking in Sherlock's ear twenty-four/seven. So on the third day after the reduction in pain medication, John asked the elder Holmes if radio could be included in that day's shipment of IV bags. He soon found a few stations that seemed promising—local news for the daytime and classical music for the night—and John knew that he was better off for it, and was certain Sherlock was, too.
Security wasn’t much of an issue where John was concerned, except that he always, always kept the curtains closed and his gun on hand. Mycroft was doing his best, but that wasn’t always enough, after all. And John didn’t have to hurt their odds any.
So at night, when John would climb into bed with his consulting detective, keeping their fingers on each other’s wrists as they listened to the music over the radio, he could whisper, “I’ve got you, and you’re safe.” And he would be absolutely certain that it was as true as it could ever be, as true as it would always be as long as they lived.
John was concerned with Mycroft's lack of progress, but didn't resent taking care of Sherlock. He knew his detective, and how he resented hospitals. Once, when forced into an overnight stay after exposure to an unidentified acid, Sherlock had taken out his frustration by stealing every bottle of every controlled substance on half the hospital floor. No one on staff could figure out how he'd managed to un- and re-lock all seventeen storage boxes without use of a single key, never mind how he'd spirited the contents to the roof. John hadn't quite managed to keep from laughing even at the time, to the chagrin of the handful of administrators begging him to please take his pet madman home.
His madman was home now, at least.
John looked over at the bed. Sherlock seemed to be asleep at the moment, and the flat was silent with the exceptions of the beeping heart monitor and the chattering radio. Most of the machines had been returned to-- well, wherever Mycroft had gotten them from. John had kept the heart monitor, and the ultrasound machine was dark and silent in a corner, but the rest of the more advanced equipment had gone. John had even put a nail in the wall to take the place of an IV stand after he'd nearly tripped over the spindly thing once too often. Now, the room was much easier to move about in.
Sherlock was furrowing his eyebrows now, a sure sign that he was awake, so John walked over and powered up the ultrasound. He used the hulking thing to make sure there was nothing horribly wrong with his flatmate's healing process, even if it were unlikely that there would be any significant change in the appearance of his detective's abdominal cavity over mere twenty-four hour intervals. John wondered how aware Sherlock was, and knew that if he were currently capable of such an action, he would point out the foolishness of John wasting his time and effort in such a way, but the doctor couldn't help himself. It was hard enough limiting himself to only once a day.
Actually, John mentally amended, Sherlock would probably take the opportunity of having an ultrasound machine in the flat to try some new experiments on dead things.
John hiked up the pajama shirt he'd put on his flatmate and spread the ultrasound jelly over the impossibly pale skin. He was careful to avoid the pale pink incision site, even if danger of infection was virtually past.
The doctor looked up as the heart monitor started to beep a bit faster. "I know, it's cold. I tried warming the bottle up a bit, but if I'd waited too long you'd have fallen asleep again and you might not have woken up until morning. Tomorrow, I'll plan further ahead."
John sighed. He wasn't sure if Sherlock could hear him, but at least the heart monitor had calmed down. He removed the ultrasound wand from its notch and ran it back and forth through the stretch of clear jelly, eyes focused on the black-and-white screen. As he'd expected, the grainy image didn't show anything different from what it had shown yesterday. No suspicious masses, no unidentifiable bodies, just organs reasonably close to where they should be.
Which was good, of course, but it all reminded John that there was nothing proactive to be done for his flatmate. Tissue would repair, stitches would dissolve, and inflammation would go down, all with time. And until then, sit on the bed with an eye on the door and your gun in your hand.
Sitting quietly on the edge of a bed with a gun in his hand gave the doctor an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. All in all, it was far too similar to those first miserable weeks in the bedsit, before he'd ever met Sherlock. John had been alone then, too.
John shook his head as he shut off the machine and wiped ultrasound jelly off his Sherlock's midsection. He wasn't alone, Sherlock was here. Here, and trapped, and relying on John to keep his body in good working order towards the day that he could use it again. And no matter how far away that day was, it made John's current situation infinitely better than his former one. Last time, the doctor had been waiting to die. This time, he was waiting for both of them to live. John gave Sherlock's wrist a squeeze, letting his steady pulse prove the point to every recess of the doctor's mind.
Sherlock was bored. More bored than he could ever remember being, as there wasn't even visual stimulation to break the monotony. Having one's eyelids shut in spite of all efforts tended to produce that result. Well, that and frustration. And even more frustrating exhaustion.
The last time Sherlock had tried to open his eyes the heart monitor clipped to his finger started giving warning beeps and John had almost certainly been about to sedate him when it luckily evened out again.
John was the only acceptable part of this equation. If Sherlock had to be completely helpless, he'd certainly have chosen no other companion. Not only was the doctor excellent at his craft (every medical action John had taken since Sherlock had become lucid enough to deduce them had been expertly performed), John knew Sherlock. The radio was an excellent idea, even if it's quality proved the device to be a gift from Mycroft. And the choice of a local news station rather than a more global one spared the detective the intricacies of politics in favor of personal interest stories that spoke far more about the state of his beloved London. Also, there was the challenge of solving reported crimes from others' observations alone (quite a challenge, as it seemed not one officer involved in any of the cases described possessed a working pair of eyes). All in all, the news station was the second best thing to John.
Closely followed by the music. Sherlock wasn't completely bored by music, which was an infinite improvement over the relative silence of the first two lucid days, although he did much prefer the local news. John was surely aware of this, so the only explanation for the switching back and forth was that the doctor was trying to instill in his flatmate a sense of time of day. If it were merely to break up the monotony, the time between the switching of stations wouldn't be so consistent from one day to the next.
Sherlock of course knew the time down to the hour (it was obvious from the sounds John made bustling about the room and, more occasionally, about the rest of the flat) even if the detective's own paltry internal clock was working further below par than usual. Sherlock found himself drifting into sleep or drug-induced unconsciousness with frustrating frequency. The absence of boredom was a welcome reprieve, but it all reminded Sherlock just how far he was from control of his person.
As far as Sherlock had deduced, he had minimal control over some muscles, just not the ones that mattered. He could move his facial features without much concentration, and even twitch fingers and toes with some effort, but the rest was practically useless. All his gravity-fighting muscles, the arms, legs, neck and whatnot, were utterly beyond the detective's control. He couldn't even open his eyes.
It was nearly unbearable.
At least John seemed to understand that. For all that he could be so dull at times, John always understood the most important things. Sherlock felt his lips twitch a bit, and fluttered his fingers against John's sleeping wrist before sinking towards the darkness again.
John was always talking to him, trying to reassure him that everything would be alright. But so long as he felt his John's pulse beneath his fingers, all the rest was obvious.
Sherlock was glad John talked to him. It was frustrating, not being able to ask any follow-up questions, but the doctor was fairly competent at anticipating them. So Sherlock knew exactly what had transpired from the time John had come to his rescue to the present, when John was still technically rescuing him. The gap between Sherlock feeling the pinch of a hypodermic in his thigh muscle and John's arrival at the factory was still a mystery, though one that had been rather cleared up by later evidence. Sherlock hoped John had photographed his internal organs, though he knew that to be rather unlikely. It just wasn't a John-like thing to do. Ah, well. He'd just have to be content with the ultrasound films.
Just having to be content with things had become a theme lately. Two weeks of almost-continuous consciousness and absolutely no physical control had been something of a nightmare. In fact, if Sherlock slept more often, he was sure he would be having nightmares about this eventually. John would probably have the nightmares for him, come to think of it. The doctor certainly did everything else for him.
Though hopefully he wouldn't have to for much longer. The detective knew his pain meds had been reduced again before John even told him, and movement was getting easier. Now, Sherlock could move his fingers almost without effort, and he'd even managed to work his jaw a few hours previously. John had noticed the movement, as his head had been resting by Sherlock's shoulder at the time, but the doctor's excited intake of breath had been drowned out by the frantic beeping of the heart monitor. John had silenced it, but admonished his flatmate with an angry "Don't DO that!" before softening a bit.
"I know, it's frustrating as anything, but if you're going to do something that sets the heart monitor off, could you at least wait until morning? I know you know what time it is."
At that, Sherlock had felt himself smile.
This time, John had practically gasped. "So . . . you can hear me?"
Sherlock responded by raising an eyebrow.
John full-out laughed in happiness. "And you didn't think to try and let me know? Didn't you know that I've been looking for some sign that you're--well--In There since the hospital? Never mind, you probably didn't understand why it was important." John's admonishing words couldn't hide his obvious pleasure at the new circumstances. Had Sherlock known John's awareness of this would have such an impact, he would have notified the man sooner. The detective cocked his head, or tried to. What actually happened was certainly more akin to twitching it to one side before being overtaken by an impressive wave of exhaustion. The heart monitor started beeping again, and Sherlock felt John's hand on the side of his face. His doctor had silenced the monitor for the second time in as many minutes before sliding back into bed with the detective.
"We'll talk more tomorrow, and you're going to show me how much you can do. But I think we both ought to get some rest for the time being."
At that point, Sherlock had been tempted to try pushing closer to his doctor, but he didn't want to set the heart monitor off again and he really was very tired. But when John took his wrist, as he always did before allowing himself to fall asleep, Sherlock determinedly pressed his fingers against John's pulsepoint.
John pressed his forehead against the side of Sherlock's face in affectionate response, and the last thing the detective heard that night was, "I missed you, and I'm glad you're back."
“Okay, Sherlock, open up.” John was attempting to get Sherlock to at least drink something. Sherlock had been immensely frustrated that he was still unable to speak even with the use of his jaw, but John was still ecstatic at his detective’s improvement. The prospect of his Sherlock eating and drinking by mouth instead of IV was an exciting one to John, even if it wasn’t to the detective himself. So, to that end, the doctor had propped his detective up with what seemed like every pillow in the flat, and was now trying to coax Sherlock to drink tea.
Internally screaming in frustration at how small his steps towards regaining independence were, the detective relented and opened his mouth a few centimeters.
John pressed the mug to his detective’s lower lip and slowly started to tip the liquid into his mouth. The first swallow went fine, as did the second, but by the third the detective was tiring. Unable to keep up, he felt a few drops of the warm liquid track their way down his chin. Sherlock let his head tip backward and made a sound he hoped passed for an angry, frustrated moan. Even to his own ears, he sounded weak.
John’s hands were right there immediately, one cradling the back of the detective’s head while the other cleaned his face with what felt like a dishtowel. Then, Sherlock felt a warm presence all up his side, as John joined him against the mountain of pillows. John was speaking, saying something about how he couldn’t even imagine how frustrating it must be, but Sherlock was too tired to focus. So instead, the detective twitched his head sideways against the John’s, and the doctor responded by taking his wrist. The room was silent with the exception of the voices coming through the radio, and within minutes both living occupants were asleep, resting against each other in the pillow nest.
Several hours later, John tried with the tea again and Sherlock didn’t get tired until five swallows.
Tea led to applesauce, and applesauce led to oatmeal as another week passed. Sherlock still couldn’t open his eyes or speak intelligibly, but he managed to communicate what he wanted well enough by emoting facially and vocally. It went a bit like a game of Twenty Questions, but John knew his detective well enough to narrow most possibilities. Plus, almost anything Sherlock could be saying could be narrowed down to “Come here” or “I’m bored/I hate the world,” (more commonly). Keeping Sherlock fed was entirely John’s job, as the detective was no more likely to try to request food than he generally was to obtain it himself. But all in all, it wasn’t so horrible an existence for either of them. Well, Sherlock may have considered it horrible, but John was still counting his blessings. As far as he was concerned, having his Sherlock alive and with him was so much better than he could have expected, nothing else really mattered.
Sherlock had even started solving cases again. He and John had developed a system in which John would read e-mailed requests for help aloud, and Sherlock would do his best to indicate the solutions to people’s puzzles. John ended up with a far greater knowledge of how many mundane cases he and Sherlock were given on a regular basis, as the only ones they could solve under the circumstances were ones that didn’t require the detective to directly observe anything. And yet, he still solved nearly all of them, usually before John had finished reading their descriptions. These were the cases that Sherlock would normally turn down before John got a chance to see them, but as far as entertaining his detective was concerned, they were the best the doctor could do under the circumstances.
Today had been an alright day so far, but something seemed to be bothering Sherlock. He hadn’t made a sound for hours, but the detective’s facial expression showed a range from pondering concentration to abject misery. Finally, John had to ask.
“What’s bothering you?”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, sorry, forgot. Yes or no questions. So . . . are you bored?”
Sherlock waited a long moment, then groaned. “Mmmmnnn.”
“Of course you are, you’re always bored. But it’s not just that, is it?”
“Does anything hurt?”
“Nnnnn.” That one sounded annoyed, and no wonder. John had a feeling Sherlock could lose a limb and not ask for an increase in pain meds. Not when pain meds were indirectly responsible for his lack of physical control, at least.
“Okay . . . are you hungry?”
“Didn’t really expect so. Is it anything I’m likely to guess?”
Sherlock gave an approximation of a horizontal shrug, then turned his head away from John. He looked uncomfortable, but seemed to be trying to hide it from the doctor, or at least get John to stop trying to figure out what it was.
“Give me a minute.” John stood up and went over to the desk, returning with his laptop. He opened it without turning it on, and placed his detective’s hands over the keys.
“I know you can’t type yet. But if you could just, I don’t know, tap the right key? I might be able to get some idea of what you’re trying to say.”
Sherlock gave a disgruntled shift, but didn’t pull his hands away. He raised his index finger and touched a letter. John spoke it aloud.
Sherlock rolled his eyes without opening them, but gave an affirmative, “Mmmm.”
“Alright, bathroom then. Suppose I should have guessed that, you’ve been eating after all, and catheters are for urine, which is only cellular waste. But you knew that.”
Sherlock gave John a look that could kill. Well, he still couldn’t open his eyes, so the effects were somewhat lessened, but it was still a look that could do some serious damage.
“Okay, I’ll just stop talking then.”
Getting Sherlock to the bathroom wasn’t easy; even if the detective wasn’t heavy, he was still long. But eventually they made it to the flat’s full bath, and with only minimal bumps and bruises to both doctor and patient.
John settled his detective on the toilet seat, pyjama bottoms around his ankles. He was saved the trouble of wondering what to do next when Sherlock overbalanced and nearly fell forward, saved only by one of John’s hands. Which is how John ended up on his knees in front of the toilet, supporting his friend and pretending he was somewhere else while Sherlock was almost certainly doing the same.
They spent several minutes like this, John waiting for any indication that Sherlock had, well, completed. But after five, and then ten minutes, nothing had happened. John’s knees had started to hurt by this point, so he half-straightened, looking behind Sherlock to check the toilet bowl. Still nothing, but as he went to kneel back down, he realized that his detective was shaking. Sherlock’s face was pinched, and there were even tear tracks down his cheeks.
“Sherlock, what’s wrong?” John couldn’t tell if he was reacting to muscle strain, frustration, or even shame. One seemed as likely as the next.
John’s detective didn’t respond other than to curl even further in on himself, twisting his face away from the doctor.
“Hey,” John whispered as he leaned in, putting a grounding hand on the detective’s back. “It’s alright. We’ve got nowhere to be.”
John put his two arms around his detective. “You’ve got no idea how well you’ve been doing. Most people would’ve given up by now, or gone out of their heads entirely. But you’re still here, and you’re still you. Amazing.”
Sherlock was still shaking, but no longer trying to hide it. He’d unfolded a little, let himself lean heavily on John. The detective twitched his fingers against the doctor’s leg.
Understanding immediately, John wrapped one arm further around his consulting detective, holding him, while taking his wrist in the other hand. Sherlock’s pulse was fast but slowing, and John was sure the same could be said for his own. He pressed his fingers against Sherlock’s pulsepoint, and felt the answering press against his own. “Amazing,” he repeated, breathing into Sherlock’s hair.
John couldn’t have said how long they stayed like that, Sherlock softly shaking and John whispering completely true endearments. The doctor was dimly aware that his knees were still hurting, but he honestly couldn’t bring himself to care at the moment. Knees were never bruised in nobler circumstances.
Some time later, and John couldn’t have said if it was minutes or hours, he felt Sherlock stiffen, and heard a few soft little splashes. The doctor gave it a minute, before asking, “Done?” John felt the dig of a chin nodding into his back.
“Alright, then. I’ll just get you cleaned up.” John tipped Sherlock further against himself as he reached for the toilet paper. As he gently cleaned off his love, John noticed that Sherlock had turned further in on himself again. His head was twisted as far from John as it would go, and the detective seemed to be trying to curl up into a ball. If he’d been on a couch, he would have been facing the back of it.
So shame, then. Not warranted, but not entirely unexpected; it’s one thing, John had learned, to be entirely helpless, but straddling the line, living on the tantalizing border of independence, was a whole new level of miserable. The doctor had seen it more times than he could count, and thought relating that fact might be appreciated. Smiling sadly, John started, “Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed. I’m a doctor; I’ve dealt with far worse from people I’ve liked a lot less. You should hear some of the things that went on in residency, especially in the geriatric ward.”
Sherlock twitched his head back toward the doctor, to which John responded, “Yes, I’ll tell you, but no real names. And you can’t go deducing the names either.” John lifted Sherlock off the seat and settled him against the side of the bathtub, before continuing, “Or, at least when you do, don’t go trying to contact them for verification or anything.”
At that, the detective gave a little amused huff. John grinned in response as he washed his hands. He knew Sherlock couldn’t see him, but the doctor was confident that his detective knew he was smiling anyway.
John turned back to Sherlock and gathered him off the floor. Despite the previous moment’s levity, the detective still seemed largely closed off. It was nearly imperceptible, but the doctor had a lot of practice identifying his detective’s emotions. And when he saw this little sign of shame, he couldn’t help but hold a little tighter.
“I have an idea,” John whispered.
Sherlock didn’t make a sound, but the doctor knew he was listening.
“Instead of going back up right away, I’m going to give you a bath. It’s been a while, and I don’t relish making a trip back up those stairs just now anyway.” He spoke directly into Sherlock’s ear, hair tickling his nose.
The detective gave a little shrug, which John knew to mean that he would very much like to be clean, but didn’t want to ask. Didn’t want John to have to fill yet another need for him, didn’t want John to see him as weak in yet another way. The doctor was long used to such attitudes from patients, but it still hurt to see it in his Sherlock. John would do anything for his detective, and hardly resented an opportunity to show the affection he couldn’t always voice. And what better way to prove this to Sherlock than to go above and beyond the call?
“Here you go then,” said John, as he leaned his detective against his own torso, pulling off the soft gray shirt. Pyjama bottoms were divested in the same manner, and soon the detective was leaning naked against the side of the tub while John fiddled with the faucets. It was an old building, and it took the water a while to heat up, but the doctor took the opportunity to collect another set of Sherlock’s pyjamas from upstairs. By the time he got back the water was an acceptable temperature, so John started filling the tub.
Sherlock was turned to him with a somewhat accusatory air, clearly bothered by his absence, so John wordlessly handed the clean garments to his detective. After running his hands over the set for a few seconds, a light of recognition seemed to go on, and the consulting detective lay the pyjamas aside. John wouldn’t have been surprised if Sherlock could tell him their age, make, and even color from the quick textural perusal.
By that time the tub was mostly filled, so John put one arm under his detective’s shoulders and one under his knees, and with a “Here we go,” expertly lifted the gangly detective into the bathtub. Sherlock gave a little smile as the warm water soaked through his hair.
The doctor stood up to retrieve the shampoo, and in a stroke of inspiration grabbed his own towel from its hook. He pushed the towel under the water and tucked it behind Sherlock’s head, propping it up, before proceeding to lather the shampoo into the detective’s dark hair. It was hopelessly tangled, as one would expect after so many days of neglect, but John didn’t mind taking a bit more time. As the doctor alternated using shampoo, and conditioner, and more shampoo, and another conditioner, he fancied himself not just rubbing the bath products into his detective’s scalp, but paying some sort of homage to the brain underneath. That amazing, extraordinary, self-destructive brain that drove so many away but called to John like a beacon. The exact heart of what made his Sherlock so special, and so entirely his.
When Sherlock’s hair stopped actively trying to trap John’s fingers, the doctor grabbed soap and washcloth and gently started to clean his way down the rest of his detective’s body. Neither person made a sound as John worked, such communication rendered entirely superfluous. For in every fold of skin, plane of muscle, ridge of scar, and knob of bone the doctor covered and rinsed of soap, he inscribed just how much he cared for his detective, saying with his hands what he couldn’t with words.
By the time John got to the back of Sherlock’s right knee, he’d entered a sort of Zen state. The doctor was so far lost in his own head, he nearly missed the sparkle aimed his way from the head of the tub. But a light caught his eye, and John looked up to see Sherlock, his light eyes open, alert, and shining.
John grinned, feeling pinpricks behind his eyes as well as he leaned over and gathered his detective close in a damp hug.
“It’s all fine,” John heard himself whisper as he felt thin, wet fingers tentatively spider their way over and around his back, completing their circle. “It’s all going to be just fine.” And for the first time, John himself actually believed it.
I was worried about writing/posting this chapter, because months ago (when I was already considering this story) I read something similar and saw that it had been absolutely shredded by mean people making snarky comments. So please, do not hurt meee!
“John!” called Sherlock. Well, it wasn’t a very loud call, but being able to speak was infinitely better than the alternative. As was being able to see, and to walk, although the latter was what had gotten the detective into this predicament.
Sherlock was on the floor, torso in the kitchen but legs insistent on remaining in the living room. He’d been trying to reach his microscope (just because it was unlikely he had the fine motor control to manipulate the dials didn’t mean he couldn’t try). However, there had been a catch at the edge of the rug, and, unable to steady himself, the detective had come tumbling down.
Said detective gave an angry moan, and would probably have stayed where he was indefinitely if he hadn’t thought about what it would do to John to see him unmoving on the floor. So with his last vestige of patience, Sherlock wriggled and rolled his way back to the couch, ending by planting his face firmly on a seat cushion. Sitting on the cushion would be better for John’s peace of mind, but that was one step farther than Sherlock was capable of at the moment.
“Did you say something, Sherlock?” John asked, emerging from the bathroom. He took in the sight before him with a sigh, which was better than panic at least. Without saying anything further, the doctor shrugged and lifted his detective fully onto the couch, exactly where he’d been before his little adventure. So much energy expended, and nothing at all to show for it. Sherlock rolled over to face the back of the couch. At least sulking wasn’t beyond his physical limits of the moment.
And there was nothing for it, a sulk there was to be. The microscope had been his last chance, his last hope at staving off the black mood that had been looming these past few days. All his life, Sherlock had lived in Schrodinger’s box. And at this moment, as at any moment when true boredom loomed, he knew there was nothing that could keep the vial of poison from spilling its contents. The detective could do nothing now but close his eyes and wait for the swirling gas of malaise to dissipate. With a pained expression, he settled to wait out his personal hell.
Then, dimly, Sherlock was aware of something on his feet. Or rather, under them. John had lifted Sherlock’s legs, seated himself on the couch (probably with a book, by the sound of it), and replaced said legs on his lap.
This was new. Throughout his life, the consulting detective had spent far too many stays in his box of poison, and had endured countless attempts by people with various levels of good intent to break him out of it. Mummy had tried to hug him free, Father had tried shouting, schoolmates had tried everything from tickling to fists to make him stop staring into space and speak. Mycroft had even had him arrested once, but nothing helped. Eventually, everyone had accepted that nothing worked, and had individually come to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to ignore Sherlock, to leave him alone to ride it out.
But now, John. He wasn’t trying to speak to Sherlock, or to otherwise distract him or force him from his prison. But at the same time, the doctor wasn’t leaving him alone to face his demons. John, as always, had found a third option.
With the simple touch of legs to feet, John was leaning against the outside of Sherlock’s box, making a patch of warmth for him to curl around or shun as he saw fit. A little action that spoke of someone waiting, someone who was with him in spirit now, and would be with him in truth when this spell passed. Someone who would be standing there to catch him as he staggered out of this personal hell, possibly with tea. And while Sherlock doubted it would make his stay in the box any shorter, it made it slightly more bearable.
They stayed like that for hours, until it was almost certainly too dark for John to read. And yet he stayed, well into the night, loath to leave Sherlock alone when his mind had so obviously turned against him. But finally, when the doctor was almost certain his detective had fallen into sleep, John carefully levered himself out from under the detective’s legs and stood. This was followed by a soft groan, as he stretched after so long in one position, and then an even softer one, as his semi-comatose detective apparently noticed his absence.
It was a good sign, John thought, and he leaned over Sherlock, one hand splayed across his back, and whispered, “It’s late. Would you like to come to bed?”
“Yes,” came the soft answer, and John responded by helping Sherlock into a standing position. The detective seemed far too tired for someone who had spent the majority of the day curled up on a couch, but his black moods always left him drained.
With one arm around his detective’s waist, John walked them both to bed. He hated that there was nothing much he could do to help when Sherlock’s moods took him, but the face pressed against the top of his head as they walked, and the heartbreaking smile when he settled them both under the covers, told the doctor that the little he’d done just might have been enough.
After Sherlock’s mood, things improved drastically. He wasn’t much better at walking for a sustained period of time, but was able to navigate the flat with short spurts of mobility. But most dramatically, the detective was in higher spirits than John had seen in weeks, maybe months. Propelling himself from chair to mantle to kitchen laboratory, solving case after case on his (or John’s) laptop, Sherlock had hardly ever seemed in more control of his faculties. Privately, John wondered if Sherlock’s black moods were his brain’s way of recalibrating. If that were true, it was certainly an effective, if heartbreaking method.
“Jooohn,” moaned the detective, “I want to go to the mooorgue!”
The doctor couldn’t help but grin at the familiarly childish tone. “Not yet, Sherlock. We don’t know if it’s safe out there. Besides, you were practically in a coma less than a week ago, you can stand another few days in the flat. Don’t you have any more cases you can take care of from here?”
“It’s never safe out there, and that’s what you like about it. And no about the cases.” The detective folded his arms around his knees, sunlight coming through the still-drawn curtains dappling his arms. Sherlock was currently perched on John’s chair, which John had already been occupying, but neither of them particularly minded the arrangement. “Finished those. I need to see the bodies for the last two Lestrade sent. There was a murder at a convention of identical triplets, John! And the other one involves monkeys! I have to solve these, they’re interesting,” he pouted.
John couldn’t help but laugh, but was more than a bit intrigued himself. “Triplets? So, if any of them did it, you can’t rely on DNA to know which one.”
Sherlock nodded enthusiastically. “Or to know which one was actually killed! I suspect one of the two surviving brothers may have taken the actual murdered party’s place.”
John grinned and kissed his detective. “Fine, I suppose we can go to the morgue tomorrow. It will give me time to arrange things with Mycroft and Lestrade, plus it’s unlikely you’d get access today anyway as it’s Molly’s day off.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’m perfectly capable of such a menial task as taking care of—Wait, Molly’s off? Why?”
“Sherlock, she does have a family. And things she does outside of work.”
The detective made a disgusted face, then, with a fair bit of effort, propelled himself off the chair and into the television set, then to the kitchen door. “I suppose I’ll just continue the fingerprint experiment, then. Could prove crucial to this case. You didn’t throw away my set of fingers, did you?”
“I had to, Sherlock, they were growing fuzz. But Molly sent some in a care package last week.”
“She clearly didn’t send all of them, John,” called the detective from the kitchen. “Molly sent six, and Mycroft added the other two himself. He even left a note, wants me to take a look. Do his work for him, more like.” And at that, the consulting detective promptly lost himself in his experiment.
Shaking his head, John returned to the book he’d been neglecting since Sherlock had come over and sat on it and him. Then, he was interrupted by the doorbell. A look at Sherlock confirmed that, so deep in his experiment, the detective hadn’t even noticed the interruption, so John made his way down the stairs to answer it. It was too early in the day to be one of Mycroft’s people with take-away, so John was slightly suspicious. Mrs. Hudson was out, and he assumed she may have left her key, but that didn’t stop the doctor from making sure his gun was still tucked in the back of his jeans.
John approached the door cautiously, better safe than sorry. He looked out the peep-hole and was met by the grinning face of none other than Jim Moriarty. And he was strapped to a bomb.
John spluttered for a minute, the sight before him as terrifying as it was incongruous. Why was Moriarty strapped to a bomb? Well, probably because he wanted to be, considering the way he was grinning.
“Open up, Johnny-boy!” mouthed the consulting criminal. He moved his hand a bit, indicating the switch within. By the big red button on it, John figured it would detonate the bomb. Or possibly summon a genie, knowing Moriarty. Either way, opening the door seemed like the best option.
“How nice to see you, little pet!” squealed the deranged criminal as John cracked the door open. “May I come in?”
“Actually, I opened the door so you wouldn’t,” responded the doctor shortly. He checked over Moriarty’s shoulder to make sure no one else was on the street. Luckily, it was deserted.
“Oh, I didn’t want us to be interrupted,” said Moriarty, responding to John’s thoughts instead of his words. “Unless you don’t do what I say. In which case, I’ll be sure there are lots of innocent little bystanders to get blown to pieces by this,” he indicated his explosive vest. “By the way, isn’t it gorgeous? Black is really my color.”
“Why are you here?” demanded John, one hand curled around his gun.
Moriarty pouted. “Why, to visit Sherly, of course. I heard he wasn’t feeling well,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Well, you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” asked John. The past few months of dealing with the criminal classes, and Sherlock’s brother (where was Mycroft?), had eradicated whatever fear response the doctor hadn’t lost in Afghanistan. Now, he was just angry.
The consulting criminal schooled his face into a facsimile of guilt before brightening. “Yes, sorry about that, but to be fair how was I to know who they’d choose as a sacrifice? Anyway, they’re gone now, so no need to worry about that happening again. At least, not because of those amateurs. If anyone has the right to burn our Sherlock from the inside, it’s me. Only me.”
John fought against the repulsion in his gut. “You killed them? The whole cult?”
Moriarty laughed. “Why of course! They couldn’t live, after touching what was mine. So, I arranged some rather nasty accidents. Even for the medical students. Yes, they were forced to do what they did at gunpoint, but they still should have known better. So, I burned them alive,” sang the consulting criminal. Then he grinned again. “That’s what I really came to tell you two. That those mean people were all dead. Consider it a gift.”
The doctor shook his head, trying not to think about the three children Moriarty had just admitted to killing. “Leave,” spat John. “Now.”
The criminal pouted once more. “But I haven’t even seen Sherly yet! I’ll tell you what—send him down, and I’ll leave once our chat is done. Or, you can wait for the police to get here, and I’ll blow them all up when they do!” Moriarty indicated his vest. “Your choice, Johnny!” he called as the doctor slammed the door in his face.
John took a deep breath and blew it out noisily through his nose. What should he do? Get Sherlock was the obvious answer, but the doctor was loath to take his eyes off the shadow of Moriarty he could see from under the door. And besides, he wasn’t even entirely sure it was a good idea to get Sherlock involved. He still wasn’t at his best, but what choice did the doctor have, really? He’d just edge as far as he could up the stairs, tell Sherlock what was going on, threaten him with bodily harm if he did something stupid, and let the genius take care of it. It may not be a good plan, but John didn’t have a better one. As he backed towards the staircase, his hand rose unbidden to the gun in the back of his jeans.
James Moriarty was right in front of him, blind behind the door, and he had his gun.
He could end this right now.
John scoffed at his own foolishness, still tracking slowly backward. End Moriarty, and end himself and Sherlock along with him.
But would he though? This was an old building, one with solid construction, and Moriarty didn’t seem to be wearing half as many explosives as his victims from his first game with Sherlock. And the detective, up a level and towards the back of the flat with his experiment, should be fine in the case of a minor explosion. Mrs. Hudson was out, the street had been deserted and probably still was, would there ever be a better opportunity?
Making a decision, John changed the trajectory of his backward movement. He could see the shadows of Moriarty’s feet from under the door, keeping them in his line of sight as he tracked back as far as he could down the hallway. Once he’d gotten to Mrs. Hudson’s door, he stopped, and aimed.
“Hurry up, Johnny! You wouldn’t want me to get bored!” came from beyond the door.
Sorry if this reads a bit strangely, I wrote it and was so excited to post, I didn't have the patience for my usual editing process. Hope you like!
I wanted to make this wait another day so I could edit it, but I just couldn't wait.
Sherlock felt the concussive force of the blast from the kitchen, and it took him a fraction of a second to get from “Why is my microscope shaking?” to “JohnJohnJohnNoMustFindJohn!” By which time, he had already shot off his stool and tripped half way down the now-half-decimated staircase to 221’s former front hall.
The entryway was now more of a cavern, sealed behind a dam of rubble that had been their front door and surrounding supporting wall, but Sherlock had no time for that.
Legs flailing like a baby colt on roller skates, he leapt down what remained of the last five steps and came to a kneeling stop inches from the dust- and splinter-covered form of his army doctor, which was pressed against the side of the once-stairwell.
“John!” Sherlock batted blood-streaked hands from his doctor’s face, patting him down in search of serious injury.
The doctor clumsily attempted to push his hands away. “S’fine, Sherlock. S’all fine.”
Nodding absently to himself, the detective, satisfied that his John was in no immediate danger, took in the rubble of their flat. A minor whirlwind of deductions later, he turned back to the dazed soldier. “Who?”
John was scrubbing the worst of the dust off his face, and said through his sleeve, “Moriarty. But he’s almost cert’ly dead now—“ added the doctor as Sherlock unconsciously grabbed his shoulder, scanning the debris as if the madman were about to leap out and strike.
Pulled out of his anxious reverie, the detective settled back down next to his blogger. They sat like that for a moment, listening to the sirens as first-responders arrived to dig them out, when John broke the silence.
“He was wrong, you know.”
“Moriarty? About what in particular?”
John gave Sherlock a look as if he were the dull one, and then, breaking into a small smile, the doctor gave the detective’s chest a pointed look and said, “Not burned.”
Blinking away what wasn’t quite a tear, Sherlock pulled his blogger close, emphasizing his point as he replied, speaking into John’s hair, “No, my heart is perfectly safe.”
And that was how the first-responders found them as they cleared the rubble away, letting the sun shine in to 221 for the first time in quite a while.