John woke to a series of intermittent taps at his bedroom window. Frowning, he rolled onto his side and squinted at the numbers on his alarm clock. It read ten to two in the morning. Being on early shifts for the week, he’d been asleep for some time, ready to go into work for six.
Another tap. John groaned and swung his legs out of bed, pulling the curtains away from the window to peer down at the street below. Another small pebble hit the glass, having flown from a familiar figure’s hand. John opened the window.
‘What do you want?’ he asked quietly, grinning despite knowing that by all rights he should be annoyed about being woken before getting up for an early.
‘It’s me, let me up.’ Sherlock’s hat was pulled down low over his face, his hands disappearing quickly into his pockets.
‘I can see it’s you,’ John said softly, pulling his thick toweling robe off the end of the bed and wrapping it around himself, burrowing into its warmth. He smiled, sitting down on the windowsill. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, let me in,’ Sherlock hissed, lifting his head to look up at John. The light from the streetlamp threw his features into shadow, his hat concealing much of his face as it was.
‘It’s ten to two--’
‘I know full well it’s ten to two and unless you’d like me to wake your landlady--’
‘Skirting the edges of blackmail, Sherlock Holmes,’ John muttered, rolling his eyes and shaking his head before he pulled the window shut and made his way downstairs as quietly as possible. He slid the bolt across on the door and turned the key near silently, opening it just enough for Sherlock to come in. ‘Upstairs,’ John muttered, pushing Sherlock by the small of his back towards the first floor, where John’s flat was. Once they were both in the dingy hallway, John locked his front door and held his hand out for Sherlock’s coat, which Sherlock was unbuttoning, back turned. ‘What was it that couldn’t wait until morning, then?’ John asked, hanging the coat once it was handed to him.
‘I, ah, I’d rather appreciate your medical expertise,’ Sherlock replied, taking his hat off and turning to face John, whose eyebrows raised comically at the state of Sherlock’s face and hands. Sherlock’s right eye was swollen shut, a large purple bruise surrounding it. Dried blood crusted around his nose and just above his lips, the bottom one split. A shallow cut followed the line of his cheekbone, pinkish blood surrounding it. The skin of his knuckles was split open, his hands swollen and bloody.
‘What in God’s name have you done to yourself?’
‘I won!’ Sherlock cried defensively, wincing as his lip began to bleed again. John pushed Sherlock into the living room none too gently, ignoring the grimace from Sherlock at the sudden pressure from his hand.
‘Idiot of the year, I should imagine, and I mean that in the medical rather than the colloquial sense,’ John snapped. ‘Get in the kitchen, the light’s better.’
Sherlock followed John to the kitchen, moving awkwardly. He was in a loose shirt and braces, buttons undone nearly to his chest, sleeves rolled up to his elbow. His brown trousers were worn and the battered pair of boots on his feet were a world away from the usual perfectly-polished shoes Sherlock wore. A few dark bruises were scattered across his skin, looking worse than they probably were underneath the harsh kitchen light.
‘Sit down,’ John said, shaking his head at Sherlock again as he pulled a chair out, opening his doctor’s bag where it rested on the table. ‘It’s a bloody good job I steal things from the hospital, you know,’ John muttered as Sherlock lowered himself down onto the wooden chair, gritting his teeth as he did so.
At the sink, John scrubbed roughly at his hands with a reddish bar of carbolic soap, working the lather in between his fingers, under the beds of his nails and up his forearms. Once his hands were dry, he grabbed a tin bowl from under the sink and rinsed it out with water from the hot tap he still felt blessed to have. ‘What did you do, then?’ he asked Sherlock, pulling the curtains across the one window in the kitchen just to be safe before running the cold tap to fill the bowl.
‘I’m a bare-knuckle boxing champion,’ Sherlock said, attempting to look haughty. His black and blue and bleeding face and sweat-matted hair spoilt the illusion somewhat.
‘Of course you are.’ John rolled his eyes once again and poured a healthy measure of salt into the bowl of cold water, twisting the tap off.
‘I am, I told you I won!’
‘Shhh. You’ll wake everyone up.’ John glared at Sherlock, putting the bowl of water down on the table. ‘Hands in there. I don’t doubt for a second that you are, it’s just another...’ He found a bottle of aspirin in his bag and poured a glass of water. ‘It’s just another mad thing you... Just. Open your mouth.’
Obediently, Sherlock parted his lips, allowing John to place two pills on his tongue and bring the glass of water to his mouth, seeing as his hands were soaking in the bowl of cold saltwater. Sherlock swallowed them and licked his lips when John took the glass away, tasting fresh blood on his tongue.
‘Bare-knuckle boxing,’ John muttered, rummaging in a drawer until he found a clean dishcloth, running it under the tap and wringing it out. He laughed. ‘Only you.’
Sherlock grimaced when John dabbed gently at the blood around the cut on his cheek with the wet cloth.
‘Alright?’ John asked quietly, cupping Sherlock’s jaw and tilting his head back gently.
‘Stings,’ Sherlock replied.
‘This won’t sting half as much as the cream I’m going to put on you. Just be glad you don’t need stitches.’
Humming, Sherlock flexed his fingers slowly in the bowl of water.
‘How long ago did your nosebleed stop?’ John wiped the dark, crusty blood away from Sherlock’s nostrils and filtrum.
‘When I was about halfway here.’
John nodded and tilted Sherlock’s head forwards again. ‘And you’re not concussed?’ He rinsed the cloth through, the water running off it brown at first.
‘I was lucid enough to walk to your flat, but you’re the expert.’
One eyebrow lifting at the unexpected compliment, John smiled and went back to Sherlock. ‘You’re not. At least, you’re not showing any signs of concussion. Any blows to the head in this no doubt entirely legal bare-knuckle boxing match?’
‘Mainly my face and torso,’ Sherlock replied, mouth pulling into a half-grin. Fresh blood spilt from his lip again, which John chased with the clean cloth, dabbing carefully at his lips.
‘No missing teeth?’
‘Mm. Glad to hear it,’ John murmured, leaning in close and kissing Sherlock as gently as he could. Sherlock lifted one hand out of the bowl of saltwater and gripped John’s bicep through the thick towelling of John’s dressing gown. He sighed, stroking his hand up and down John’s arm as he deepened the kiss. He paid his injuries no mind as he brushed his tongue against John’s, tipping his head backwards when one of John’s hands fisted in his hair.
‘I’m not sure it’s entirely proper to kiss one’s patients, Doctor Watson,’ Sherlock said with a wry smile when John pulled away with bloody lips.
‘Perfectly acceptable when they’re as maddening as you,’ John replied, kissing the curve of Sherlock’s grin before wiping Sherlock’s blood off his mouth with the damp cloth. He went over to the sink and rinsed another cloth through, wringing it out and folding it into a neat square, placing it over Sherlock’s black eye. ‘Hold that there,’ he said, lifting Sherlock’s hand to press against the cloth.
A draught whistled through a crack in the window frame above the sink as John washed his hands again. He picked up the tube of acriflavine cream off the table and squeezed the thick, bright yellow, strong-smelling substance out onto his fingertip. ‘This will sting,’ he said, spreading a thin layer over and around the cut on Sherlock’s cheek.
‘It smells repulsive,’ Sherlock mumbled, wrinkling his nose and grimacing at the feel of the cream on his skin. ‘And it hurts.’
‘That means it’s working,’ John said with a kindly doctor’s smile. ‘Stand up.’
Sherlock stood with a groan, holding the damp cloth to his eye still. John untucked Sherlock’s shirt from his trousers and lifted it, examining the bruises on Sherlock’s pale skin.
‘No cuts, that’s good,’ John said, quickly applying some of the yellow cream to Sherlock’s knuckles before screwing the cap back on the tube and replacing everything neatly in his bag. ‘I’d run you a cool bath to soak in but the plumbing would be far too loud at this hour.’ He lifted Sherlock shirt again and spread his hand across a large violet bruise just underneath Sherlock’s ribcage, rubbing gently with his thumb. ‘Come to bed?’
‘John, I will hardly be able to--’
‘No, not...’ John laughed and let Sherlock’s shirt fall, the cotton hanging over his wrist. ‘Not for that. Just.. come and sleep.’
‘Oh, I see.’ Sherlock nodded. ‘Yes, alright.’
John smiled and walked out of the kitchen, waiting until Sherlock was in the living room too before turning the light off. ‘Anyway, you’ve got a bob on yourself, thinking I’d want to with you looking like that,’ he laughed, going into his bedroom and turning the lamp on, Sherlock following close behind.
‘I’m a champion boxer, of course you’d want to,’ Sherlock said, watching as John straightened the bottom sheet and re-folded one of the hospital corners before beating some life into the pillows and throwing the sheets and blanket back. John laughed again and took a spare vest out of one of his drawers, throwing it onto the bed.
‘Champion idiot,’ John said, kissing Sherlock’s chest as he eased Sherlock’s braces off his shoulders, unbuttoning his shirt and slipping the vest over his head. ‘Careful with your bruises.’
‘Thank you, the notion hadn’t occurred to me,’ Sherlock said, rolling his eyes and pushing his trousers down, his movements slow and limited as he climbed into John’s bed.
‘Shut up and go to sleep, you ungrateful sod.’ John’s voice held no malice as he hung his dressing gown up and slid under the covers next to Sherlock, wrapping his hand around Sherlock’s wrist, index and middle finger resting over where Sherlock’s pulse jumped underneath his skin.
Sherlock turned the lamp off and turned his head to brush a kiss against John’s temple. In the darkness, John smiled, the steady beat of Sherlock’s pulse against his fingertips and the sound of Sherlock breathing next to him easing him off to sleep.