He can see from the scowl on John's face that what he's done is a Bit Not Good. Sherlock glances out the window of the cab. His reflection is pouting. What difference does it make if he puts himself in danger? As long as the case is solved, that's all Sherlock cares about. It's all he's ever cared about. And so what if that rookie was shot in the process? He should know better, but then, perhaps that would be expecting too much.
The cab pulls up in front of Baker Street. John pays the man and gets out silently, Sherlock trailing behind. Mrs Hudson is out and they walk upstairs with no interruptions. No sooner has Sherlock crossed the threshold than John's hand is on the back of his neck. He subsides immediately, the words dying on his lips before they can escape. John's eyes are hard, his mouth a thin line. He marches Sherlock into the kitchen.
He says one word.
Sherlock does as ordered. There's no point in making it subtle or sexy; John will see straight through it for the manipulation it is and it will only make him angrier. He leaves his trousers and pants on the ground and slings his shirt over the back of the kitchen chair. Normally he'd make an effort to clean up but tonight he doesn't feel like it and John doesn’t tell him to so he doesn’t.
"Bend over the table."
The sharply issued command has him moving before he registers it. The table is at about waist height. Sherlock didn't discover until afterwards that John bought it for precisely that reason. He bends over it, stomach and chest flat against the surface. It's just long enough that his head can rest comfortably without hanging over the edge into space. John steps up behind him and kicks his legs apart, then kneels. Methodically, he binds Sherlock's ankles to the table legs with the leather cuffs that are waiting. Then he straightens up and slides Sherlock's hands into more cuffs, ones that go from his wrists to his elbows, preventing even him from escaping.
"You just don't get it," John says, trailing a hand down Sherlock's back. "These idiotic, bloody foolish things you do don't affect just you, Sherlock. It seems like no matter how many times I command you to stay safe, you consistently ignore me. And while normally I'm amazed by your strength of will, there are times when I find it aggravating."
"John - "
"No." His voice is low, strained, and shuts Sherlock up instantly. "No talking. I don't want to hear your excuses. That could've been you."
Sherlock wants to say something, wants to explain, protest, give excuses, but it takes a great deal of strength to overcome a direct order when he's feeling good. Right now, he's flying high on the post-case adrenaline, but underneath it is the exhaustion that has been building for days; it’s just waiting for a chance to make him crash. He squirms instead, aware that he is helpless, and while part of him enjoys it he's beginning to wonder if he's pushed too far this time.
John leaves the room but comes right back. There's something in his hand, something that makes an odd whistling sound as his arm moves. "I have something special for you," he says. "Hopefully it will make you learn your lesson."
Deliberately, Sherlock wiggles his bum, an invitation, the only way to say 'give me the best you've got'. John exhales a breathy laugh.
"I don't think you'll feel that way when we're done."
The first blow surprises Sherlock, makes him jump. Usually John warns him first. Then again, this is about punishment, not about play. He closes his eyes and wonders at the strange feeling, his mind automatically analyzing the sensation as John begins a series of steady blows that go from the top of his buttocks down to the crease of his thighs and even in between, awkward though the angle gets. It hurts, of course. Whatever John is striking him with is wiry, thin, with a flexibility that makes it sting when it strikes. Yet it's not nearly as bad as the riding crop or worse yet, the cane. What about this is a punishment? Sherlock can't figure it out and right now that's the worse part.
John is, as always, painstaking in his methods. He doesn't stop until every inch of his canvas has been painted at least once. At last, he stops and steps back. Without a word, he turns and walks out of the kitchen, leaving Sherlock alone, bound and trapped, where anyone could walk in on him. Sherlock knows that John will leave him there until he feels Sherlock is ready to properly apologize, which will likely be hours considering that his bum just feels a bit warm at the moment. He's in for a rough night.
He drops his head back onto the table and shifts restlessly. If he's lucky he'll go to sleep and John will feel guilty and un-strap him, but there's a reason why John moved in right away: it'll take a while before Sherlock settles down enough to sleep. As boredom sets in, Sherlock's mind begins to wander. The case is over but he did have a particularly interesting experiment going on before Lestrade texted them. It wouldn't take much to re-do the - oh.
The skin that John was paying attention to is beginning to sting. No, not a sting, more of a slow burn. Sherlock shifts again, a little wriggle, and frowns into the table. It starts high, at the top of his buttocks where John began, and slowly begins to spread down his cheeks, to the crease of his thighs, to in between. Within a handful of minutes his entire bottom is one burn that doesn't stop. It keeps getting worse.
He takes a deep breath and tries to ignore it. He's felt worse, after all. The last time John used the cane for a punishment comes to mind; Sherlock couldn't sit down for a solid week without flinching after that, and his bum was an interesting shade of purple for far longer. He tries to go back to thinking about his experiment. When that doesn't work, he goes over the details of the case, just in case he missed something.
But that's boring and it's really not helping to distract him. The stinging and burning genuinely hurts, like someone has taken a bunch of tiny needles and is stabbing him all over, continuously. His whole bum feels a couple degrees hotter than the rest of his body. A whimper rises in his throat, but he swallows it before the sound can escape. He can get through this.
Another agonizing few minutes pass by. Sherlock strains to hear any more sounds from John, but the flat is quiet. Has John left? It wouldn't be the first time he has slipped out without Sherlock's notice. The thought of being left alone with this pain makes his breathing constrict, but he fights through it, taking slow, even breaths until the panic has settled. John would never truly hurt him which means that, however much this hurts, it's not as serious as his brain is trying to make it out to be.
But oh. It really does hurt in a way that Sherlock's not used to. It's easy to ignore pain when he's on a case, to brush it aside in favour of concentrating on the evidence. And even afterward, he tolerates it because it happened during the case, which automatically makes it worthwhile. Anything for The Work. He doesn't understand why John doesn't understand that. This, though, there is nothing to focus on but the pain.
He wriggles again, thighs shifting in his bonds, like moving will help. Just when he thinks it can’t get worse, the burning seems to increase ever so slightly. Sherlock pants, breath coming in low, shallow gasps, and grinds himself against the table. The pressure against his cock hurts; he's not aroused, not even slightly. But it's a small distraction from the hollow, stabbing pain consuming the rest of him. A high-pitched keening sound reaches his ears and he shudders when he realizes that it’s coming from him.
The hand on the small of his back actually startles him. He jerks in surprise, heart skipping a beat. It's John, he knows that instantly, even if the pain in his backside makes it hard to think.
"Sherlock," John says. His voice is a shade warmer than it was. "You may speak."
"John..." It's a struggle to think about what to say. He's squirming constantly now, the movement not even conscious. "I'm sorry."
"Are you? Or are you just telling me what you think I want to hear?"
"No. I'm - " A genuine yelp of pain comes out when John's hand trails too low. Instantly, the pressure that was agonizing disappears and he breathes out shakily. "I just... It was the work, John, the work. I had to catch them, had to solve the case, it was the work, the work..." He's babbling, he knows, the words rolling out without a care. "The work, John, the work. The work..."
"Shhh, Sherlock." John moves around in front of him. He's changed into one of his favourite jumpers. He reaches out and cups Sherlock's cheek, forcing their eyes to meet, and runs his thumb over Sherlock's lower lip. "Listen to me very carefully. This is not an order. I want you to say yes because you want to. Do you understand?"
His head tips ever so slightly into a nod.
"Every time you risk yourself unnecessarily, it hurts me, Lestrade, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson... everyone who cares about you. None of us want to see you in pain. Do you know what it does to me to punish you like this? I hate it. I want to care for you, Sherlock, and give you pleasure, but I can't do that when you make such foolish decisions. I know the work is important to you, but you have to come first. I want you to promise me that from now on you'll stop taking risks that aren't necessary." His eyes narrow slightly. "And by necessary, I mean risks that could result in you being in danger when there is another way to resolve the situation. Sometimes a calculated risk is acceptable but talk to me first and we'll work it out. Agreed?"
Sherlock stares at him and tries to think. It's harder than it should be. He hates to let anything interfere with The Work. But he can tell John won't let this go. He thinks about the rookie who got shot, who was taken to Bart's, and the tension in John's face. He closes his eyes. "Alright."
John stays for a moment, examining his face, making sure he's being honest. Finally, an approving smile crosses his face. "Good. I'm holding you to that."
"I'd expect nothing less."
John chuckles at the comment and moves away. Sherlock experiences a fleeting sense of panic that’s being left alone again until he feels warm hands tugging at the bonds to his ankles, unbuckling them. John helps him to straighten up and then catches him when Sherlock's legs buckle. Moving is agony; every step brings a fresh wave of burning. He whimpers and John shushes him, half-carrying him over to the couch. He helps Sherlock to lie down on his stomach.
"Stay there. I've got something to ease the pain," he says.
Sherlock has no desire to move. He remains very still as John kneels next to him and takes out a roll of what looks like packing tape. He tears off a strip and folds it so that the sticky side is facing out, then begins tapping it over Sherlock's skin. It hurts and Sherlock can't help crying out. John's hand rubs his back soothingly but he keeps doing it, carefully and slowly, until every inch of burning space has been patted by the tape.
"That's to remove the nettles," he explains, his voice a low, rumbling murmur in the darkening room. "And this will help with the sting."
The cool cream is a relief. Sherlock moans softly as John gently spreads it out and rubs it in. It still stings, but the burning is lessening.
"Better?" John asks softly.
"Here, drink this." A glass of water is held to Sherlock's lips and he drinks obediently, realizing for the first time how thirsty he was. John puts the empty glass aside and sits down in the space where Sherlock's head was, then guides his head down onto his warm lap.
"John..." Sherlock mumbles, his eyes partially lidded with exhaustion. Now that he can think, or at least try, he can feel wetness on his cheeks. Interesting. "I really am sorry."
"I know you are, Sherlock." John's hand lands on his head and begins to slowly stroke his hair. "I heard from Lestrade. Davies is going to be fine."
Davies. Sherlock assumes that's the name of that rookie, the one who saw Sherlock stand up and popped up to join him. "S'good."
"Yes, very good." John sounds amused and affectionate. "Go to sleep, my Sherlock. I'll be here when you wake up."
The burning has completely subsided and only a lingering sting remains; nothing like it was before. Sherlock feels heavy with an exhaustion that seems to be dragging him down. He doesn't fight it. He closes his eyes, relishing in the feeling of John's steady hand stroking through his hair. They can negotiate the terms of what an "acceptable" risk is tomorrow. For now, he sighs and curls closer to John, sliding easily into sleep.