John could have sworn there were only seventeen stairs to their flat. He hadn’t actually counted them in a while, naturally, but the rhythm of it was ingrained in his sense memory. Seventeen. He was certain.
For some reason, this night (or morning, he supposed), the seventeen had concertinaed out to about a hundred. Each of them terribly steep and horribly uneven, and personally and vindictively determined to pitch him down to the bottom again.
He leaned more firmly against Sherlock for stability and tried for the third time to mount the first step.
“Ow,” said Sherlock. He stumbled slightly and grabbed at John’s elbow for support.
“Shit. Ow. Let go,” said John.
They were both much too tired to put much energy into it, but it genuinely hurt too much to say nothing at all.
Thus, they made their way to their flat, haltingly, limping, muttering vague curses. Saying ‘ow’ a lot.
They paused at the threshold, wondering how to get into the flat. They’d done it a million times before, obviously, but the trick of it seemed beyond them for the moment, standing side by side as they were. The traditional method, of entering one at a time, was rendered difficult to impossible by the fact that if they stopped propping each other up, they might both fall down.
Sherlock solved the problem by leaning his weight on the handle until it gave and the door swung open, while John clung onto the waistband of Sherlock’s trousers to keep the detective from falling on his face. Then Sherlock leaned on one side of the door jamb and allowed John to topple in a controlled manner until he was leaning on the other side of the frame. Then they… sort of shuffled a bit. After a second they stumbled into the living room. They leaned against each other like a wonky A-frame and surveyed their options.
The sofa was nearest. By mutual, unspoken consent, Sherlock and John staggered in its general direction and lowered themselves onto it, still leaning on each other.
“How’s your knee?” Sherlock asked.
“Fine. Not broken. I guess that constitutes ‘fine’. How’s your head?”
“Not broken, so also ‘fine’. Your elbow?”
“Recently re-assaulted, but I’ll live. Your left canine?”
Sherlock prodded at the tooth with his tongue. “Not actually loose. Thank you.”
“Well, next time, duck, and I won’t hit you.”
“Next time, shout ‘duck’ as a warning. I was somewhat preoccupied at the time.”
“The one-armed man with the knife. I remember.” A snort of laughter escaped John, and then he began to giggle.
“What?” Sherlock wanted to know.
John puffed his chest out, tucked his chin down and said in a gruff German accent: “Und zo ze Great Sherlock Holmes meets his match!”
Sherlock made a whuff of laughter, followed by ‘Ow!’ and then, in a much better German accent: “Any last vords, Herr Holmes?”
“Mind the gap!” John and Sherlock roared out together, with matching eyebrows raised in exaggerated sardonic warning. They collapsed against each other, giggling, saying ‘ow’.
“Not funny, really,” said John, “He frightened the life out of that poor train driver.”
“Oh, I grabbed his scarf in plenty of time. There was hardly any real danger he’d fall onto the tracks.”
“Or have his head taken off by the train. You reeled him in just in time.”
“Nice work with the trident, by the way, John.”
“Trident? Really? Not a pitchfork?”
“Definitely a trident.” Sherlock sketched the shape in the air, or tried to, but he couldn't raise his arms very far.
“Hmm,” said John, sounding pleased but unable to form vowels for a moment.
For several minutes they just sat there, very possibly falling asleep. Then, in a huge effort, John sat straight, pulled his jumper and shirt in a single tangled mass over his head. This turned out to be a bad mistake. The top button was still done up and everything got caught under his chin.
“Bugger,” he said, and “Ow,” from behind a lump of blue cotton and oatmeal wool.
Sherlock had to lean more heavily on John for a second while he worked his fingers into the mess, released the entrapping button, and helped John pull the garments off.
“Shit,” said John, “That was hard bloody work.”
Sherlock tried next. He tugged at his coat, ineffectually at best. John had to help him. While Sherlock leaned at a perilous angle one way, he managed to get Sherlock’s left arm out of the sleeve. Then Sherlock leaned against John again, and they both tried to retrieve Sherlock’s right arm from the other sleeve. They had to stop to rest three times and were giggling helplessly again by the fourth, nominally successful time. Mostly they’d just bundled up the coat on Sherlock’s right side and the coat just slithered off of its own accord.
John glanced up the stairs to his room at the top.
“I can’t,” he said.
Sherlock didn’t even bother looking at his much closer bedroom door. “Me either.” He sagged back on the sofa, tousled head dropped against the leather. Then he sort of fell sideways. John leaned forward a little, so that he was perched on the edge of the seat. while Sherlock sprawled the length of the sofa behind him.
“Comfy?” he asked.
John considered slithering down to the floor but, frankly, that was also too far away. Instead, he just tilted sideways and drew his knees up. His bundled jumper was conveniently jammed up near the arm, perfect placement for a pillow, even if Sherlock had already nicked half of it.
The sofa seemed a bit narrow and John’s position precarious, but then Sherlock slung an arm around John’s waist.
“Ow,” said John and then ‘’s nice.”
And, spooned like that, they dozed off.
John reluctantly cracked an eye open a short time later. Someone was drawing a blanket over his shoulders.
“Looks like you boys had a difficult night,” said Mrs Hudson, slightly fussing but otherwise quite kind, “Out to all hours and it took you so long getting up the stairs. Are you all right? Should I call a doctor?”
“Am a doctor,” said John, or at least he thought he said it. Against his ear someone made a ‘mmff’ of protest, with which he agreed heartily. An arm tightened around his waist and John closed his eyes, snagged the blanket with his least sore fingers and pulled the material over his nose. It was nice and warm, and the ache was a lovely, even, all over pain, which was very nearly better than having random stabbing pains.
“Well, I’ll leave you two to sleep then, will I?”
But John had fallen asleep already, and Sherlock hadn’t even woken up, so Mrs Hudson tip-toed out and let them alone.
Their next visitors, a few hours later, weren’t half so thoughtful.
John opened his bleary eyes a second time because the sniggering noise was horrible and someone was looming. John was not fond of waking to find people looming over him. Looming, in the past, never meant anything good. If he had been the slightest bit capable of movement, he’d have broken the loomer’s nose.
As it was, this morning would have been a good morning for assassins. Luckily, it only brought Donovans and Lestrades.
John would have preferred assassins.
“Don’t you two make a pretty picture?”
“Piss off.” John wasn’t sure that was as distinct as he’d have liked. He would have tried again, only Sherlock grunted an unhappy ‘mmff’ in his ear.
“Leave off, Donovan,” John heard Lestrade’s voice from somewhere past the sofa.
“Yes, leave off, Donovan,” said Sherlock wearily, “We’re sleeping.”
“Mmff,” agreed John, “Piss off.” That was more distinct this time.
“You have some explaining to do,” said Lestrade.
“We left a note with the catch,” said Sherlock. Then Sherlock buried his face into the back of John’s neck and snuggled down to get more sleep.
“We did get a letter pinned to three unconscious bodies, yes, Sherlock.”
“Excellent. Goodbye, then, Lestrade.”
“Jesus!” John snapped the blanket back, tried to sit up, fell off the sofa and swore with little imagination but a great deal of feeling as he jarred his knee again. He glared at Lestrade with his one unblackened eye, his torso a patchwork of bruises in a distinct three-prong pattern and a nasty contusion on his elbow, “Piss off and let me sleep!”
“Sleep,” agreed Sherlock. He reached a long arm over the edge of the sofa until he found John’s shoulder and tugged on it. “Blanket, John.”
John sat with his head in his hands, either disgruntled and despairing or nodding off again. Possibly all three.
“You’ve still got the blanket, Sherlock,” said Lestrade.
“John,” repeated Sherlock, tugging on a lock of John’s hair. “Sleep.”
Heaving a great sigh, which sounded to Lestrade a lot like ‘ow’, John crawled back onto the sofa, burrowed his head into the jumper-pillow and groaned. Sherlock managed to half cover John with the blanket again, but gave up in exhaustion, his arm slung around John’s chest, before the job was done.
Donovan and Lestrade just blinked at them, noting the vast, purple bruise along Sherlock’s cheek, eyebrow and forehead, the ugly welts around his wrists and the prong-patterned bruising and scratches on his upper arms and chest.
And then they thought about the three men with slightly less bruising and the evidence bags attached to their persons like a variety of flotation devices, the whole tied off with what had looked like a strange three-tined pitchfork in the centre.
And then they thought that perhaps the consulting detective and his blogger deserved a bit of a sleep in after all. Time enough this afternoon to get statements.
Lestrade paused long enough to draw the blanket up and tuck it around the men's shoulders. He patted John's shoulder, but stopped when he thought he heard first John, then Sherlock, say 'ow' in muffled tones.
It didn’t stop Donovan and Lestrade both taking pictures on their phones, of course. It’d be madness to let a moment like this go to waste, after all.
John and Sherlock managed to limp into the station in the mid afternoon, in grudging response to Lestrade's thirty-odd texts and voice messages. Sherlock had found John's old cane (wedged at the back of the wardrobe) and bullied him into using it - "This limp isn't psychosomatic, John, don't be an idiot." Sherlock was doing a mostly excellent job of concealing the fact he had bruised ribs to go with his vividly hued face.
On the way to Lestrade's office, they saw, pinned to the message board where they could not have missed them, two photo printouts.
John and Sherlock regarded the images of the two of them asleep on the sofa with studiously bland expressions.
"I used to have a teddy bear. Our dog Plutarch chewed it to pieces when I was four." said Sherlock, apropos of nothing, apparently,
John tilted his head to one side, as though that would give him a better view.
"It's a miracle I didn't fall off," he observed. His eyes were tracking the shape of Sherlock's arm under the blanket, gripping him firmly. He didn't remember that. Well, he did remember feeling both sore and safe for about ten seconds before nodding off.
Someone behind them snorted in undignified merriment at their expense. Sherlock scowled. John's mouth twitched in a suppressed grin.
"Isn't this where you usually say something about the way they're going to talk?" said Sherlock snippily.
"Yeah, but what does it matter, eh? It's all they ever do, like you say. And my reputation here is already ruined." The grin became less suppressed.
Beside him, Sherlock, without making a sound or seeming to move, settled his posture into less cranky lines.
Still looking at the photos, John thought about those nights in Afghanistan when his medical team had been forced to spend the night in bunkers because of enemy fire. Once, the team and six patients had been holed up for three days until an airborne unit was able to drive the attackers off. Too many people in too small a space, cloistered in with the smell of blood and medicine. Nothing wrong with bunking in with a brother in arms when the situation demanded it. There were worse things. At least Sherlock didn't snore. Or suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome. Or fart in his sleep. Or drool.
"It's also not like anyone from Scotland Yard kept a maniac from spearing me through the thigh with a trident," John said at last. "Thanks for that."
Sherlock blinked. "And thank you for not letting that one-armed brute punch me in the kidneys a second time."
John's grin broke out properly at last. Then he fished in his shirt pocket for the pen he always kept there, leaned across and drew a moustache and glasses on a picture of his own sleeping face. Sherlock took the pen and drew devil's horns on his own forehead in the same picture. John pointed out that devils have tails. Sherlock obligingly added one.
They regarded their handiwork, giggled, then limped and hobbled their way to Lestrade's office to explain themselves.