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Medical Misadventures

Chapter Text

John had touched Sherlock's chest in some form, off and on, clothed and unclothed, since they'd met.

Sometimes it was a deliberate poke that accompanied a harsh raising of John's voice.  Those times were, they both would have readily admitted, almost always deserved.

He had touched him when changing dressings after there had been a gunshot wound.  Despite the trauma and emotional aftermath of the shooter's identity, there had been care-taking in that manner.  John had been meticulous in keeping the dressing clean and dry, using adhesive remover to ensure Sherlock's sensitive skin didn't suffer, taping minimally, cleaning and applying appropriate medication to the wound.  They weren't sharing a bed then, but it was still a jointly intimate encounter each time.  Only John changed the dressings.  Only Sherlock needed John in quite that manner.

There was even the touching after that devastating gunshot in the aquarium, John's forehead to Sherlock's dress shirt, feeling muscle twitch and tensing as Sherlock's arms slowly and gently moved, held, comforted.

Things had changed, eventually, after John had moved back in.  Touching Sherlock had taken on new parameters, new boundaries - touching was casual, heated, a promise, or a tease.  They shared a bed, their bodies, their very lives, everything - with one small exception.

One of John's favourite lie positions was when Sherlock slept on his back with John curled into the angle between chest and bicep.  The faintest smattering of chest hair was something they both enjoyed John's tickling of, the soft pad of his thumb or finger brushing and pressing. 

There was a downside, however, every now and again.  Not all of John's associations with Sherlock's chest, specifically with touching Sherlock's chest, however, were pleasant.  Quite the opposite, actually.

++

2310

A deep shadow crossed over John's face as Sherlock slunk into the room.  The London streets outside the flat were still, quiet, in this dark hour.

"I'm awake," John muttered quietly.  "How'd it go?"

"Fine.  Over."  His tone was somber and he sounded exhausted.  "Your night was all right?"

"Yes."  John rolled so he could watch Sherlock's movements, knew by sound in the darkened room when he was sliding off trousers, tossing his shirt in the pile of dry cleaning, pulling on pyjamas.  "Rosie missed you, I think."

"I'm sure she didn't.  But thanks for saying so."

"These evenings are hard on you," John observed, testing the waters a little.  He was sensing and hearing and feeling Sherlock's emotional drain, his fatigue, his regret.  The strain was evident in the tightness of his voice.

"Yes.  I would rather be here.  Or anywhere but there.  But Eurus seems to be responding."  Wisely, John knew that Sherlock would elaborate - or not - when he was ready.  "She connects with the violin, thus with me, more than anything else that's been attempted."  Carpet muffled footsteps and Sherlock was bedside.  "It's necessary."

"Mycroft?"

"He's distraught.  And I can't say without good cause.  He inflicted a lot of pain on our parents.  Unnecessarily, I may add."  Sherlock did not usually editorialise along those lines.

John found the unusual statement worthy of a response, even a moderately lame one.  "He meant well."

"As is often the way."

"Meaning well?  Or hurting your parents?"

"Causing pain to the ones we love most."  A puffed out breath gave him opportunity to regroup, restate his quandary.  "Meaning well but still hurting people."

There was a lump in John's throat as he shifted position to accommodate Sherlock sliding up next to him to lay on his back, and then beckoning with his outstretched arm.  Swallowing hard, John wriggled over, his warm and still somewhat sleepy body grateful for the familiarity and closeness Sherlock was offering even after his own draining evening.  They adjusted quickly, John's knee over Sherlock's thigh, Sherlock's arm nestling up against John's back, loosely drawing him a bit closer.  John's free arm stretched out across Sherlock's chest, feeling bone and muscle and life, then rested lightly across Sherlock's trim belly, low enough to not impinge his chest expansion as he breathed, high enough not to be particularly stimulating.

His hand stilled there on Sherlock's torso, rising and falling gently, the ebb and flow of respiration.  Meaning well, hurting people:  Sherlock's words must have been echoing faintly in John's mind as he drifted away to sleep.

++

0158

John'd rested, slumbering, the occasional twitch, the rapid eye movements unnoticed, the faintest rhythmic clench of arm and leg.  One moment he was sleeping, tucked in Sherlock's embrace, his head over his shoulder and their legs entwined.  But the next...  an almost violent inhale.  A catecholamine rush, triggered by the synergy of thoughts, skin, words spoken, and John's residual regret yielding the uncontrollable nightmare.

He awakened with an abrupt, horrified gasp, much louder in his own head apparently, as Sherlock did not stir beyond a subtle repositioning.  The dream was sketchy, not particularly remembered, except for the fighting, punch-throwing rage, the heart-pounding adrenaline surge of the exertion, until he'd managed to awaken himself in sheer terror.  The awakening had come, dramatically and suddenly, when his dream-self had kicked, connected.  Even in the dream, the sound of boot hitting body was startlingly nauseating and realistic, as was the memory of the groan that had followed impact. 

A reflexive response to sit up, to escape, to flee the bed had John tensed and ready to fling himself out, but Sherlock's arm tightened around behind him.  So still completely alert, poised to react, coiled, ready to run, he forced his body immobile and stayed put.  His mind was under siege, all directions turned inward as he regretted, again, his behaviour.  His inexcusable behaviour.

Sherlock brushed a hand along John's arm, a brief touch, a reminder, an offer, and then it stilled, relaxed even in his barely-awakening state.  The expressions, the demonstrations of affection and comfort, had been one of the biggest surprises about sharing a bed with the man, John mused.  Even tired, his mind was still managed to remain actively engaged, and he knew when John needed the connection and the intimacy.  And a small amount of restraint, a plea even half-asleep, stay here.

John listened quietly, breathing deeply, appreciating the way Sherlock had barely roused, offering himself and his presence, then gliding back toward a deeper stage of slumber.  But John lay awake, hearing Sherlock's heart thudding under his ear, slowing down to his normal resting heart rate in the fifties.  There was the comforting swoosh of air moving in bronchioles and larger air passages, the sound of the faintest rumble of what was not loud enough to be a snore.  It was comfortable, white, background noise.

Before he had conscious thought of doing it, John's fingers drifted lightly over Sherlock's ribs.  The night terrors - thankfully - didn't come often thank god, but when they did, it was still vivid and shockingly realistic.  His mind and his fingers spread out, remembering...

++

One of the nights Sherlock had been out, John had been puttering around the flat in the lateness of the hour.  He couldn't afford a place on his own any longer, so on the third invitation from Sherlock, had moved in with Rosie to Baker Street, and shared the room with his daughter upstairs.  He had clicked the telly on, finding a late-night talk show for background noise, began shuffling through some of the accumulated paperwork on their shared desk.  A haphazard stack of neglected case detritus, paid invoices, receipts, bank records, and other miscellany of their lives since John had moved back in would help pass the time until Sherlock returned.  The sharing of the flat progressed to sharing of their bodies, and bedrooms were still technically separate but they always slept in Sherlock's.

He filed things, discarded others, and had just stumbled on a statement from an apparent hospital visit.  It must, John realized, have been before the whole Eurus showdown at Sherrinford.  His musings were interrupted when he heard footsteps hustling up the steps as Sherlock returned.  Quickly, John took in a few things about the statement - an A&E visit, a visit summary, radiology reports and pharmacy charges - as the door opened.  It only took Sherlock a moment to hang up his coat, take in the paper in John's hand, and make an effort to show no outward display of any reaction whatsoever.

"Get things settled over the the Met?" John asked, mouth slightly dry, wanting immediate information but not wanting to attack and put Sherlock on the defensive.  The paper had been hot in his hand, burning with the unknown details John had not had a chance to glean.  A case gone bad, a drug relapse, a collapse secondary to not eating? he wondered.  Roughed up from one of his seedier clientele or contacts?

"Of course.  Imbeciles, though, the lot of them. Could have been done much sooner."  He raised a brow at John's endeavors.  "Catching up on paperwork, are you?" he asked with a prodding edge in his voice. The moment of eye contact was very much an I see you what you have, so you might as well ask me.

"What is this, then?" John looked at the statement again and back up, taking into account Sherlock's obvious reluctance, braced himself for a drug-related overdose or something along those lines. "You got yourself into trouble?"

"I'll take that.  That shouldn't be here."  And Sherlock held out an imperious hand, waited for John's obedience.  And this time, didn't get it.

"No, I think not." John then turned his attention back to the records in his hand, flipped the top title page to see the more detailed summary.

"Don't, John. I'm warning you." He had aimed for light, missed. "Please."

"Got yourself in too deep, then, did y--"  And John's words trailed off as he saw the radiology report. And finally noticed the precise date. The details fell together along with the absolute sinking feeling that started behind his eyes and plummeted through his stomach and into the floor, taking his breath and leaving behind...

... brokenness.

No.

++

0219

From his position on his side, he slowed and calmed his breathing, let his fingers barely shift across the lower costal border.  The bruising was gone. There was no open skin, no abrasion. There was no longer the John Watson sized imprint of a boot-shaped wound.

But the words, the xray, the medical summary - not to leave out the deed itself - were forever embedded, burned, into John's memory. Although there was no mention of their existence, he wondered about whether or not photographs had been taken of the injuries.

Under his sensitive fingertips, he could still barely feel the slightest ridge of the now-stable fracture line, the scar tissue of calcium and bony deposits that were part of the healing process.

 ++

Four views were obtained from standard PA, lateral, and oblique angles. There are six comminuted rib fractures along the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs of the right anterior chest wall; three are slightly displaced.  There is no pneumothorax.  Inspiratory effort is markedly reduced. There is no hemidiaphragm elevation. No hemothorax is observed.  

Lateral view on inspiration reveals mild flail chest with displacement more prominently apparent.  Vasculature appears normal.  Fluid volume seems appropriate. Mild atelectatic markings are noted bilaterally, with differential diagnoses including poor inspiratory effort related to pain, costochondritis, early pneumonia, or micro-emboli. Clinical correllation is advised.

Stat wet reading called to treating physician.

++

0221

Slow and light, his fingers traced the outline, imagining the deep purple of early bruise stages. The colour had faded to just barely, faintly green by the time John did actually see the area for the first time, many weeks later. The ridge was slightly smaller, but very hard and fused, would likely never go away. It was a symbol of John's poignant memory and bitter regret.  His swallow was tight, and he closed his eyes tightly as his fingers faintly circled the area, feather-light.

"Stop it," came the whisper from the pillow.

Immediately, John's hand as well as his breath froze, paused. He knew his eyes were wide in the dark bedroom, and he could see the faintest glimmer of Sherlock's open eyes staring back at him. They were steady, watching him in the safety and security of their bed, their haven. The arm across his back moved, slid, held him while the other hand reached up to join John's fingers over the echo of the injury.

Sherlock's voice was a little stronger, more awake, still gentle. "It was a long time ago." With a little thought, John could have counted the time in weeks and days, decided not to argue.

Out of necessity, the buildup of carbon dioxide, the inability to do anything else, John gave in and took a hitchy, awkward breath.

"You were influenced by Eurus. She stoked your anger. Directed it."

"But I -"

"She played you."

Breathing felt terrible, and he couldn't get enough air. His voice came out rough, a whisper of regret and unthinkable self-loathing. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry."

The apology was not the first.

++

Chief complaint:  rib pain.

35 year old male seen and evaluated in A&E s/p injury 3 days prior, brought to A&E by his brother, who was present at time of exam.  Pt reports injury was sustained in a slip-and-fall accident over concrete kerbing.  He reports no other injuries were sustained, however, there are several scabbed facial wounds about right nare and circumoral tissues consistent with direct impact of a fist, both in location and injury pattern.  When questioned directly, pt denied involvement in any altercation. This is the first medical evaluation post injury.  

There is extensive bruising from the lower right costal border extending anteriorly to approximately fourth intercostal space.  Some displacement was noted even to light palpation.  Clothing was removed at this time of the examination to reveal a moderate flail chest excursion on inspiration mid-clavicular line, over the fifth through seventh rib area. Inpatient admission was recommended but the patient declined. I advised that healing would be accelerated through rib plating procedure and discussed the prevalence of pneumothorax and associated risks of atelectasis developing into pneumonia but the patient declined this as well. Radiographic imaging was obtained, resulted, and reviewed with the patient and his brother at bedside.  Incidentally, the brother recommended admission to the hospital as well.

Ribs were wrapped for comfort. Narcotics were administered and the patient was monitored for two hours before being allowed to leave the facility. Of note, the patient was most anxious for discharge with pain medication prescription. There were frequent complaints regarding the necessity of monitoring following opioid administration and a brief threat to sign out against medical advice.

The patient's family member was called from the room at one point. Once alone with the patient, I advised him of his rights to document the wound, file a police report, and if warranted, press charges in the case of assault. He advised me that he did not believe he would gain anything by pressing charges against the concrete kurbing, at which point I informed him that concrete kerbing left neither boot shaped contusions nor patterns consistent with knuckle injuries about the face.  

Discharge instructions:  Report immediately to A&E or call 999 in the event of acute shortness of breath or other worsening symptoms. Return to your regular provider in 2-4 weeks, or sooner if symptoms have not greatly improved. Take pain medications exactly as prescribed.

Discharge diagnosis:  Multiple acute rib fractures of anterior right ribs numbers 4-7. Flail chest, moderate. Injury reported as blunt trauma but is more consistent with assault and battery. Additional workup, reporting, surgical repair, and admission were declined by the patient.

++

0230

In their bedroom, in their bed, both wide awake, John waited.  When Sherlock did not immediately respond to John's apology, John whispered it again, "Sorry."

The long fingers that surrounded John's, still over Sherlock's chest, tightened reassuringly.  "I've long ago forgiven you."

"I can't unsee the xrays, the doctor's report."  

"It's ok."

"No, it's really not. People die of rib fractures, of flail chest, of complic-"

"I didn't. I'm fine. I was never in danger." Both of them recognised the lie.

"I'm sorry."

"Please.  You know how I feel about repetition."

He couldn't help poking at him just a bit, feeling a degree of security there in the dark, in Sherlock's easy embrace. They had been over this, and Sherlock had been surprisingly tolerant. "No, tell me again?"

++

Upon realisation of what had transpired that night, John had little other thought than the need to get away.  For some reason, putting some distance between himself and Baker Street, between himself and Sherlock, was what he wanted.  The discovery was profound and terrible, and he stared at the paperwork until Sherlock took it from him, set it aside.  He was unable to remember later exactly what he may have said, although he was fairly certain it started with a mantra of ohmygod and deteriorated in profanity and coherency, in all likelihood.  His mind could only find two exit strategies - one being his bedroom which would have made him captive if Sherlock wanted to find him, and the other being only slightly better, having to deal with the cold, damp London weather at night.  John did remember standing up that night, still completely uncertain as to which direction was preferable, but Sherlock simply had one word for him.

"No."

John's attention was then held, and Sherlock turned off the telly, turned on another light, toed off his shoes. The ordinary actions just seem to make the viciousness of what John had done that much worse.  "Sherlock, oh my god."

"No, John.  Stop it," he'd said again. "Listen to me." John stood stock still, unable to look at Sherlock, unable to consider what had happened, what he'd done. "Get your bag."

"What?" He did look at Sherlock then, could see his fingers begin at the top buttons of his shirt, starting to unbutton.

"Get your bag. Your stethoscope. Examine me for yourself."

"Not necessary. I don't need to see it."  John could feel that his mouth was dry, cracking, dusty, threatening to ruin the thin line of control he was clinging to.  He opted for something approaching honesty.  "I don't want to."

Sherlock's long fingers paused mid-button. "So you say. I think you do. It's better than imagining the worst. There's still a bruise. A lump over some of the fracture lines. Remineralisation?" He paused, making sure John was at least partially engaged.

"Osteoclastic remodeling."

"See for yourself.  It's been what, maybe eight weeks now, almost nine. It's hardly tender any longer."

John heard a noise then, a response to Sherlock's admission of the remaining tenderness of the injury, even after all this time, realised belatedly it came from his own throat.  His bag was in the front hall near the door, and he numbly retrieved it, then had turned back around to find Sherlock shirtless, standing quietly, arms loosely at his side.

"I'd really rather not."

The composure in Sherlock's facial expression was what did finally motivate John to action when Sherlock simply spoke his name again.

Circling around behind him, John watched the evenness of Sherlock's chest and shoulders, normal respiratory movements, then returned to the front to see the same thing. "Just my hands," he said in warning, not wanting to see Sherlock flinch to his touch, reaching out somewhat tremulous clinician hands toward the front of Sherlock's right rib cage. The skin contact settled him then, and muscle memory took over as he assessed, sliding into physician mode. He'd begun at the clavicle, palpating ribs starting with number two, sliding from sternum to axilla at first, letting his fingers splay out as he did so.  He found no abnormality until he'd identified the fourth rib, feeling both fracture lines, non-displaced, but certainly the ridge of calcium deposits palpable. There'd been similar findings in some other areas as expected, and John tapped carefully, hearing and feeling normal resonance and percussive tones. He'd taken his stethoscope, as Sherlock had suggested, listened carefully in all lung fields, front and back, hearing Sherlock's normal slightly diminished breath sounds consistent with his remote history of smoking. It was when John had removed the earpieces that he managed to meet Sherlock's eyes since this impromptu exam had begun.

"I haven't."

"Haven't what?" John said quietly.

"Had a cigarette since." John nearly snorted at his own surprise at Sherlock deducing the vector of his thoughts.

"Congratulations then, on finally, once and for all, quitting."

"For the moment, anyway."

"Sherlock," John said. He set the stethoscope aside, laid his hand flat over Sherlock's ribs, then, over where all the fractures had been, placed his other hand behind Sherlock's back to steady them both.  "Deep breath," he'd cued and then waited, paying close attention to the feelings under his fingers.  "Again, a few more times," and when Sherlock had complied, he said, "Edges feel tight. Do you still feel unsteadiness along here, or the sensation of rubbing or grating?"

"Not for the last week or ten days." Sherlock had then looked down at John's hands, used his own to isolate John's index finger, settled the tip of it on a spot closer to the xiphoid directly over one of the more prominent fracture lines.  "This is the sorest spot.  A little point tender if you press hard. Which I'd prefer that you don't."

"No, I think kicking those weeks ago was probably enough pain inflicted for the time being, yeah?" Self-deprecating, John's tone was tight and cynical. When John had moved to take his hands away, Sherlock had held on, pressing John's palms against his chest. The touch remained stagnant for a moment, until Sherlock arched his back just slightly into John's touch, pressing down over John's hand.

The electricity of the moment grew, changed, heated up. The places there skin had been touching seemed to sparkle and sizzle.  Sherlock sighed, one of those deep breaths again unprompted, letting his hands slide up toward John's wrists. "Can I ...  Would it be all right if I ...?" He was broadcasting loudly that there was a kiss coming, to begin with anyway, his head inclining, mouth slightly parted, a hesitant, gentle approach.

"Not yet," John said, stiffening up his arms. "Not like this. Not after just finding this out."

"Yes, exactly now.  Completely because of this." He pressed his lips home, let them settle a bit on John's mouth, then angling a bit deeper. "And if that's all we do tonight, that's fine. But I think we've waited long enough, and suffered enough, the both of us."  Sherlock's thumb brushed idly over John's unadorned ring finger, then moved smoothly to his left shoulder, passing the backs of his finger along where he knew John's war wound to be. "Grab the monitor, although Rosie wouldn't dare awaken tonight of all nights, would she?"

"Unlikely." He tipped his forehead against Sherlock's shoulder, restful, peaceful, simply reveling in the nearness, the lack of angst between them in the moment. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. But no pressure, no expectations. Just thinking that neither of us wants to be alone tonight, yeah?"

++

0235

Sherlock pulled John closer, hearing John's hair brustling against the pillow as they slid closer, the faint crackle of fiber and linen.  Of course, he knew that John still had the occasional nightmare, whether it be flashbacks from Afghanistan, Barts, his meltdown, or something else entirely.  Protectively, he pressed his lips against John's temple, dragging his lips from temple to John's cheek as his fingers sought John's faintly stubbled jaw. Gently, he tipped John's face toward him, and then in slow motion eased closer until their breath touched, followed by the faintest brush of lip. John exhaled deeply, relaxing into Sherlock's embrace, feeling the tip of Sherlock's tongue come up against his lip, his teeth, dipping a little deeper into his mouth.

"You all right?"  Sherlock's voice was low and raw, very different than the polished diction he usually displayed in public and during day hours.

"I am now."

There was an easy breath, the touch of fingers, of familiarity, and of acceptance.

"You sleepy?"  John asked the question that often was his very earliest stages of foreplay.

"I take it you're not?" There was a smile that John could feel against his face and hear in the shape of the words as Sherlock answered. The shared body heat beneath the covers was already warm, and now rising as Sherlock dragged their bodies closer. John dug his toes into the mattress, angling his thigh toward Sherlock's own. The faintest tweak of Sherlock's thumb over John's sensitive nipple elicited the expected deep breath from John, so he kept at it. His fingers brushed at the shiny, pink shoulder wound. "You know, we both have our scars, don't we?"

"We do, yeah."  John's fingers lightly brushed over Sherlock's ribs again, over the well healed round scar from where he'd been shot, even tracing the few he had access to on his back.  "They tell quite a story, don't they?"

"That they do." Sherlock's hand slid round the back of John's neck adjusting and angling their mouths together again, the increasing spiral of warmth and heat.  John could feel muscle tightening in his legs as Sherlock shifted, moving his knee up toward John's body, searching, seeking, interested.  "But they don't define us."

"I suppose not." John sounded a bit dubious as Sherlock began a slow roll, easing John onto his back, supporting his own body weight on an elbow.  "Some of my scars don't show."

"Let me kiss your scars, then," Sherlock said, pressing his lips again to John's shoulder first, the white ridge of his old healed wound, then his temple, his forehead.

John brought up a hand to push Sherlock just marginally away.  In the moment as they were unmoving, eyes locked, John's words failed him. There was so much fullness, so much he wanted to convey - thank you, I'm sorry, I love our life together, we're okay - and couldn't.  Sherlock's hand slid into his hair, his thumb catching the corner of John's eye - then brushed away at the faintest first traces of the hint of wetness there.

"I know," he breathed ever-so-softly, responding to what he'd seen so plainly in John's face. "Me too."

 

 

++  fin  ++ 

Chapter Text

Lestrade disconnected, repocketed his mobile, hoping his facial expression wasn't too upset at what he'd just been told.  John was on scene, waiting for Sherlock, who had also been summoned by text but he'd arrived first.  There was broken glass, a crowd of onlookers, an old newspaper advert, random details that likely needed Sherlock to connect the dots, John supposed as he surveyed the area, missing the activity surrounding Greg.  A grim look about him, Greg approached John, speaking almost immediately, low and intense. "It's Sherlock. He's in the A&E at Barts."  John's breath caught, and he stared at Greg with an impatient plea demanding more information. "You need to go, in the damn police car. Immediately. Call me if you need anything."

John had no fewer than eight questions to ask but Lestrade shook his head, a somber set to his mouth, effectively brooking no further discussion. "Let me know," he said in closing, and pointed to the waiting car, where the lights and sirens were quickly employed to expedite their trip. The vehicle didn't stop until they were pulling up at the awning of the hospital entrance. John could feel the heaviness in the pit of his stomach, the sense that this was more than just an injury, based on Greg's silence, refusal to disclose, disappointment evident in his carriage that he'd tried ineffectively to keep from John. Something was definitely amiss.

John could hear the bellowing as soon as the doors of the A&E opened.  The department was busy, full, and the yelling was all John could hear. But it was definitely Sherlock, obviously not well, based on tone, pitch, and slurring of the words. The department, in fact, was rather full and the pace was such that activity in all directions seemed ridiculously overstimulating. But Sherlock's distress was urgent, alarming, all that kept drawing him closer toward the sound. There was a uniformed policeman outside the door, hovering in the hallway. It was a newer officer on the Met, and John nodded at him.

The doctor on call that evening saw John approach, and it was one John knew and respected, a lovely competent woman who was both gentle when needed but could quickly summon a harsh, don't mess with me, commanding A&E presence. They'd had enough conversations over connections or patients or other healthcare-related encounters that John knew they'd both served in the military, and both loved London. "John," Dr. Land said, reaching out a hand, a perfunctory and quick shake.

"Stephanie," he said, returning her greeting.

"I'm glad you're here." Her brow furrowed as they could hear pressured and mostly nonsensical speech from within the room, and the voice of someone else trying to engage with him. "He's not well."

He sobered. "I can hear that. What's going on?"

From behind the doors, the unhappy voice. "Let me out! I demand it!"

"Not sure if it's a closed head injury or drug ingestion."

"He's clean," John said almost reflexively, quickly, the statement a wish, a claim possibly unfounded, and they both knew it. There was a huge pause, a hard swallow, and John spoke again, "At least, I..." his words trailed off.

Stephanie angled her body back to John at his spoken words, her brows furrowed, skeptical and shaking her head slightly. "I'm not sure, John. In his more cooperative moments earlier, he said something about a bad batch."  Her delivery was gentle, slow, and cautious.

Pensive, John heard his worst fear confirmed, spoken aloud. Substance, drug use, Sherlock's Achilles heel, his weakness, his pressure point. He'd been mentally afraid to go there concretely on the way over, although it had niggled the back of his thoughts. Hearing it now was sickening. It explained the affect of Greg, the close-lipped driver, the uncooperative behaviour, and the agitated speech coming loudly from within the closed glass doors.

"Get away from me!" came the next yell and a nurse emerged through the doorway, leaving the room.

She was shaking her head apologetically. "I can't get close enough. And he's not listening at all."

Stephanie nodded, speaking then to John. "Reasoning has failed, but I'm willing to let you have a crack at him. If you're unsuccessful, the officer's here in case, and our hospital security is close, and we will take him down, restraints, sedation, whatever necessary to get a look at him. For his own safety." She explained that all efforts to examine him had been futile, that they'd been advised that John may be the last resort, and so they continued to try as they both monitored and waited for John's arrival. "He's definitely escalating, though."

"It's amazing he's here at all." Ready to help if at all possible, John rested his hand on the door of Sherlock's room, where he could hear rapid speech, not always intelligible, and vague paranoid flight of ideas. "He's quite disoriented."

"There's a large haematoma, here on his head," she said, reaching toward the back of her own head to demonstrate location.

"Head injury, then perhaps?" and even John could hear the wish in the phrase.

Stephanie was continuing, "and he was pretty groggy when he was brought in. He was calm for a brief time, and then it was like flipping a switch."

"Cooperation's not necessarily his strength on a good day," John tried to joke with the truth, smiled weakly, and blew out a discouraged breath of resignation.

There was a clash and a loud metal sound from within the room, something heavy and solid, furniture perhaps.  It was pierced by a growl and then another demand to be released. "Let me OUT!"

John could hear the loud breathing, the incontrollable acting out. Sherlock had been essentially clean for a long time, as far as John knew. He tamped down on the anger at his relapse, if that's what it was, focusing on establishing a diagnosis, preventing injury, possibly treating something that was physical and not drug-related. God, he hoped...  While he hadn't specifically extracted a drug-free promise from him, he didn't feel it had been necessary, and that thought was enough to give John mild nauseating discouragement. He thought he knew him better than this. "I'll give it a whirl, but I wouldn't hesitate to call security. He's a threat to himself and everyone else like this. Plus, the longer we wait, it might delay treatment for something physiological." He could hear the denial in his voice, despite his logic telling him otherwise, and he glanced at Stephanie to see her looking at him with compassion, and something else - pity.

After sliding the door open soundlessly, John found the room half-lit, the lights over the bed casting an upward glow rather than the bright fluorescents overhead. Sherlock had knocked over a chair and the overbed table, and was leaning against a wall. His eyes glittered darkly and fiercely as he looked at John, a caged animal threatened by an intruder. His hair was wild, mussed, and his eyes were bright but red-rimmed. There was such agitation just simmering, and John could see that Sherlock was barely holding on, ready to detonate.

"Sherlock?" He tried to keep his voice low, calm.

"Don't you dare come any closer."

"It's John."

"You're in it too. I can tell. You lie, you all lie."

"Sherlock."

"Don't come any closer. I'm warning you..."

Turning his head to look over at Stephanie, John shook his head as he backed away a bit, recognising the inability to reach Sherlock, seeing the signs of something terribly mind-altering. "Call them. This isn't safe, the way he is."

Stephanie nodded sympathetically at John. To the nurse in the hall, she said, "Have them call security, slowly. Not the overhead alert. Let's see if we can do this calmly." John was grateful for that, at least. The last thing John wanted to subject Sherlock to was a lunge and tackle session, if possible, which would certainly be potentially dangerous for him, strong as he was, and possibly risky to the staff as well.

"Get out of my way, I'm leaving." With that threat, Sherlock approached John, eyes blazing almost as if unseeing, his stance aggressive, offensive, and threatening. "I will hurt you."

"No you won't. Tell me what's wrong?"

"There is nothing wrong. And everything is wrong! But I need to leave. He's getting away."

"Did you take something tonight?" The slightest hesitation gave John hope. "Are you using?"

"The cigarette was wonky." Sinister eyes, dark and very dilated, pierced into John. "But the needle was new." Great, John's inner voice responded, and he could feel his mouth get dry.

"What was in it?"

"Haven't a clue." This was sickeningly followed by an inappropriate chuckle, and John's chest clenched, his heart sinking at the near-confession not to mention the stupidity of what he'd apparently gotten into.

"Can you sit down?" John tried to make the request sound logical. "Let Dr. Land take a look at you, make sure you're all right."

At this, John had reached out a tentative hand, slowly, hoping to persuade and guide Sherlock into the chair nearby, the one he didn't upend. The touch never actually landed, but even the thought of it, however, was extremely and instantly counterproductive, and Sherlock let out a howl again, yelling about people being out to get him, the injustice of being where he was, and the need to escape. "Don't touch me!"

From the door, Dr. Land spoke low, said, "Security's on their way. And we're coming in," she said, entering along with the officer who'd been simply monitoring the situation. Someone flipped on the overhead lights, and in Sherlock's brief distraction, John avoided the sudden lurch in his direction as Sherlock swung a rather powerful barrage of fists. Unfortunately for John, he did manage to have his hand grabbed in Sherlock's tight fist on the follow-through. 

The squeezing of Sherlock's hand, surprisingly strong, almost took John's breath away as he could feel the bones in his knuckles grating and crunching. The grip was tenacious, vicelike, and despite John's evasive manoeuvers and a rather strong shove against Sherlock's wrist, he was unable to pull out of Sherlock's nearly inhuman strength to free himself. He was a bit concerned that much more force was actually going to cause serious soft tissue injury, or even break a bone. John wrapped his other arm around Sherlock in an attempt to limit his potential to hurt either of them.

The first officer to arrive strode directly for the pair, inserted himself into the fray, and there was struggling as Sherlock, clearly out of his mind, responded to all sorts of non-existent perceptions of danger, as he yelled and flailed, finally and abruptly letting go of John's hand to grab at then push away the officer who was separating them.

"Floor," John breathed, and positioned himself just behind Sherlock's long legs as the officer immobilised Sherlock's nearest arm and forced the three of them in a slow, controlled lowering to the floor. It was still a thud of a drop onto Sherlock's back, with John then holding down his legs while the officer held the one arm while Sherlock's other arm wreaked havoc wherever it could find. 

And, with random thrashing and evading all attempts to secure it, it found plenty of havoc - hair pulling, slapping, punching, reaching for any object within reach to then swing at the group. John was reminded, even as Sherlock bowed at the back and tried to twist his legs from his grasp, of the videos he'd seen of the death roll of an alligator - where there was unheralded strength, superhuman twisting, and certain defeat.

Stephanie threw herself over that arm and Sherlock managed to even move it while it was pinned, or mostly pinned, underneath her. Herculean, definitely, John thought again, and it had to be drug-induced, trying to reach out an arm to help her but having his own battle with Sherlock's powerful long legs.

A pair of security guards hustled in, and before long, each person had an extremity under control and Sherlock struggled for quite a few minutes until finally, his strength about tapped out, he surrendered, albeit John was sure it was only temporary. Sherlock laying twisted and immobilised on the floor, held still. John stared intently at Sherlock, noted pulse points pounding, chest heaving with the previous exertion, and his hair was sweaty, face flushed. His gaze, panicked and mostly unfocused, traversed the room, didn't stop on anything in particular, and then he closed his eyes tightly.

Stephanie surrendered her limb to one of the other security personnel, and lowered the stretcher there in the room to as low as it would go. One of the nurses stood by to help direct, and the doctor spoke. "I'm calling this. My count, we move to the bed. Watch his airway," she said as precaution to one of the guards who was holding down Sherlock's chest over his ribs to prevent the flailing that had been going on. "Those on the near side can kneel on the bed or walk around. We do this right, slow and careful, and no one gets hurt. Ready?"

There was a faint chorus of affirmative, positive replies, including John's, who flexed his hand and was pleased to find that, now that it had been freed, that it was sore but not damaged. He knew there was bruising, but he was thankful that he was relatively unscathed.

"We stand on one, step on two, and lower to the stretcher as a unit on three." There were nods and preparations as the group shifted grasps on the still-struggling and tense Sherlock to facilitate the lift. "My count. One," and Sherlock was lifted, body held and supported by the many attending, "two," and John and two others stepped across the stretcher, "three."

Once Sherlock was on the bed, he regained a sudden burst of energy and flung himself nearly up off the stretcher. John was not surprised in the least that Sherlock had been waiting for an opportune moment to act up again. He howled, wriggling free of a few hands holding him not quite securely enough, his head clunking heads with the security guard who had just barely loosened enough to step around to the other side. The loud thunk of skull against skull somehow managed to jar John's very teeth in response even though his head was not involved in the collision at all.

"Shit!" the guard who'd been hit hissed angrily. "Jesus Christ, hold him!" As expected then, arms tightened, hands holding and restricting Sherlock's every movement, down on the bed, to the point where even though John knew it had to be done, he worried that there was excessive force involved and Sherlock was going to be injured.

"Leathers," Stephanie ordered, and they must have been already on their way. Almost immediately, a nurse handed over a basin of leather restraints, and one at a time, these were applied and then locked with sturdy clasps to the bedframe. One of the staff connected heart monitor (tachycardia, 160, no surprise), cycled a blood pressure, attached pulse oximeter (stable). Some of the crowd dispersed, then, and Stephanie spoke to the nurse. "Tox screen, blood and urine. Chemistry panel. Pan-cultures. IV fluids wide open. Twelve lead. We'll get a CAT scan of the head once it's remotely possible." Scissors were produced by another nurse, and the rest of Sherlock's clothing was removed. There were some new bruises, John could see, thinking back to the previous night where he'd lain in bed with this man, their bodies pressed tight, his lips over the hipbone - and then lower - of this now very different man. It was, he thought, quite a contrast. And some of the findings were indeed new, beyond the psychological.

"That's new," John said, watching a patient gown be draped and then fastened on, "the bruise on his pelvis. I don't think we just did that getting him restrain--" and as he spoke he glanced at Sherlock and there was a relaxed expression about Sherlock's face as their eyes met, the briefest of normalcy of his features, and then a lightning-quick wink. John felt like he'd been shocked into abrupt silence in the middle of his word. The rest of the staff was either focused on the orders of the doctor, dealing with the limbs that were still tensed and attempting to move, or on providing patient care and completely not paying attention to John or to Sherlock's face.

Quick as a flash, the wink was gone, the fleeting connection severed, and John struggled to finish his sentence, "--restrained and on the stretcher." He hoped his pause was not excessive, that his words were believable but needn't have worried as in that moment, Sherlock began to fight again with renewed motivation, his growl from within the depths of his chest and the intermittent pulling at each limb against the leathers distracting everyone else to the task of attempting to calm him, prevent injury, and ensure scene safety.

Stephanie exhaled audibly as Sherlock wrenched his head toward one of the staff members who was attempting to hold his head against the mattress, his mouth open, teeth bared, again out of his mind. She was close to his head, and grabbed at his fringe to hold his head still as she got right into his face to snarl. "No biting. Do that again and we will hood you." She was referring to the very thin, mesh hood that could be placed over a spitting or biting patient without compromising the airway.

John's thoughts whorled within. An act? Had he really seen an intentional message, or just imagined the wink? What on earth was Sherlock up to?

When they had a moment, he was going to read him the riot act for failing to let him in on the plan, on the bloody scheme before calling him to act in it, if that's what it was.

He stepped to Sherlock's side as one of the nurses brought over an IV start basket. Sherlock tensed, released, tensed the arm, managing to wriggle it enough to make the nurse hesitant.

"I can help hold him. Or, did you want me to get that?" John offered, thinking that cannulating one of Sherlock's veins would be a healthy way to express some of his own niggling frustration, causing that brief bit of discomfort would be somewhat satisfying, in a dark humoured kind of way. "Started quite a few in the Army."

The nurse turned questioning eyes to Stephanie, who shrugged and nodded. "We aren't going to turn down help."

"We'll hold. What size do you want?  A twenty?"

John shook his head, having learned that large bore IV sizes were imperative in the face of trauma, and that was what he was most comfortable inserting. "Eighteen please."

With renewed activity, a burst of movement, Sherlock stared up at the crowd with wild eyes and began to yell again. "No. Absolutely not. Get away from me. He's going to poison me." Sherlock's speech was rapid, and he continued along that topic as John donned gloves, slid a tourniquet around his upper arm, watched for an antecubital vein to fill. The words gave way to simply sounds, unhappy moans. Perversely, John hoped Sherlock was well aware of who was wielding the needle now.

"Hold still, Sherlock." John flicked at the basilic, noting no other recent marks or signs of injection there on Sherlock's dominant arm. He knew, however, if he was doing his own injecting, it would of course have been using his dominant hand on the non-dominant arm for dexterity and easier access. "Going to feel a needlestick here," he cautioned even as the nurse who was holding Sherlock at the shoulder and at the wrist to try to prevent further squirming tightened her grasp. A puncture, a flashback, a cannulation, occlusion of the vein as John attached extension then was handed a vacutainer and set of lab tubes, he worked with one of the other nurses across from him as they jointly filled the culture tubes first, then the rest, then he released the tourniquet and connected the IV tubing. The clear dressing secured everything, and John hoped, given how much Sherlock was sweating from exertion, that everything would stay in place. The fluid began to infuse rapidly, and John stood upright, snapped off his gloves, watching Sherlock with sad, discouraged eyes. This man was absolutely foreign to John, a far cry from the one he shared a flat, not to mention his body, with.

Sherlock was again out of control, flailing and pulling as much as he could, unable to keep still. John thought, watching how he flailed, hearing the terrible words and phrases indicating how out of touch with reality he was, that he must have imagined the wink. Of course he'd imagined it, he considered as he heard the venomous paranoia Sherlock was displaying, his speech staccato and pressured. Chalking it up to wishful thinking again, John sighed, stepped back as the bright overhead lights were flicked off as Sherlock moaned with what must have been pain or severe distress of some type.

Even Sherlock wasn't that good of an actor, he thought initially, considering this entirely too raw and real. Then John recalled various events over their history - the rooftop, the tube car, the charade with Janine - and paused again. One of the moans was sort of reminiscent of The Woman, and John hesitated again, recalling the very believable deception with Irene. Maybe he was that good of an actor and had made that sound intentionally to signal John somehow?

"Let's try one milligram of lorazepam, soon as we get the UDS." Her gaze was solemn and heavy as she glanced at John, a security guard who was still there, and the nurses. "I don't suppose he's going to like the urinary catheterisation too much either."

A sheet was draped over him, but not before the nurse and Stephanie took the opportunity to unshackle and fully assess Sherlock's left arm. There were several, angry red, recent track marks along his median cubital vein, and Stephanie cleared her throat to make sure John saw, which he already had. One of the marks was fresh enough that all the activity had actually left a dot of blood on his skin. The nausea that overtook John was strong enough that Stephanie touched his arm in response to his pallor and sadness. Her words were supposed to be encouraging, he thought, as she patted his shoulder, saying, "Sometimes we're the last to know, they're just that good at hiding things." She had to wait as Sherlock's yells seemed to punctuate her commiseration. "Try not to worry. We'll find out what he took."

Just get him better so I can bloody give him holy hell for this madness. He left that unsaid, teeth clenching and eyes glaring at the stretcher.

One of the nurses arrived with a straight cath kit, and John took that moment to step out, unable to watch more being done to Sherlock and definitely unwilling to assist in any form. The vehemence of Sherlock's verbal objections escalated then in both volume and ferocity as care was being rendered. The noise and distress conveyed from behind the closed door of Sherlock's room was loud enough and upsetting enough that John only waited a few minutes then strode through the outermost A&E doors, his hands shaking with anxiety and barely holding in his rage. A burst of cold air hit him in the face as he did, and even as he found it refreshing, he pulled his coat around him closer, protective, and tucked his hands into his pockets to find his mobile.

++

To Greg:  It's bad. What do you already know? JHW

                                  Nothing concrete. Finishing here soon, I'll try to find you. G

To Mrs. Hudson:  At hospital with Sherlock. Will be in touch. Goodnight kisses to Rosie please? John

                                  That's fine, dear. She's happy, just had a bottle, and going to bed soon. Martha

To Mycroft:  Have you been withholding information from me?  He left this unsigned.

                                   It was not acknowledged as read. There was no answer.

++

Part of him expected to see Mycroft striding through hospital doors, or at least Anthea, but neither happened. John scrolled through his most recent text exchange with Sherlock from earlier in the day, where John had simply made contact and Sherlock's curt reply indicated he was meeting a new client and preparing to researching a case.

Resisting the urge to dash his mobile to the kerb in escalating frustration, he jammed it back into his jacket, and as he did, the corner of a card inside his pocket caught and stabbed the edge of his finger. He hissed with discomfort at the pain under his fingernail, pulled out the card. It was a business card he'd never seen before, from the hospital, and he certainly hadn't put it in his pocket. There was a name on the front that John didn't recognise, several handwritten unfamiliar words on the back. Before he could delve into either bit, the doors opened and he was no longer alone.

"John Watson?" John nodded, turning to the speaker, who was a young professional with a clipboard and notepaper. "I've been assigned as Sherlock's case worker. I will help coordinate his admission, provision of care, and then transfer to an appropriate inpatient facility when he's medically cleared."

"For what? I should think a discharge home should suffice."

Her head angled, expression firm as she looked skeptically at John. "Generally patients who overdose this seriously should seek professional, inpatient treatment for a duration of time. We recommend a minimum of twenty-one days."

"He won't need it." He could have elaborated that Sherlock's brother would see to appropriate therapy if needed, and wanted to point out that they still didn't really know what was going on in the first place.

"Dr. Land seemed certain this was an overdose." John could see all the words she wanted to throw at him, the platitudes of Sherlock's habit, John's denial, using phrases like 'enabling' and 'poor choices,' and why her recommendations made sense to her. Her verbal response, when it came, actually caught John off guard. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?"

"That he's using again."

"I'm not sure he is. This might've been a one-off."

"You realise an addict is always considered an addict."

"Not Sherlock. He's not using regularly. I would know it."

"Mr. Watson, denial is..."

John interrupted. "I'm not in denial. But neither do we have all the facts." He had no intention of these strangers deciding on the best treatment plan for Sherlock, and his annoyance came through loud and clear in the tone of his voice.

"You realise addicts are highly skilled at hiding things, and I see it all day every day that families are often the last to know." She quirked an eyebrow at John. "Unfortunately, the relapse rate can lead to serious overdose. I think we can be grateful that at least for the moment, he was brought here in time."

Something about her attitude seemed to rub against John's psyche, and he tried to take a deep breath, calm himself. If nothing else, he would save the more forceful arguments for when there was actually something worthy. Had the day been less stressful, he would have found amusement in the knowledge that he lived with an intermittent mad genius, he certainly knew the adage about choosing his battles.

Before he could respond to her comments about relapse, she was continuing. "As I mentioned, he's not medically cleared yet of course, but we have several referral options to some very good rehabilitation clinics in the area." Her fingers plucked at her clipboard, removed a sheet that was already freed and unfastened. "Here is the list, but I highly recommend the second one on the list, it's already circled for you."

"This conversation is quite premature," John said, feeling particularly protective and unwilling to really even listen. His sense of overwhelmedness seemed to derail his next few planned sentences.

She stepped smoothly into the empty space. "We have his history," she said, patting her paperwork. "I understand he's been in drug rehabilitation previously, but we can work to obtain the rest of those records and get him sent where they are best equipped to help him." Smiling with very little feeling, she tried to nod sympathetically at John but it came across as hollow to him. "Sometimes our counselors recommend putting quite a bit of distance, separation, between families. Or partners. Without meaning to, current situations can certainly be enabling to ..." She dropped a few catch phrases like 'learned patterns of behaviour' and John decided enough was enough.

"I'm sorry," John said, cutting her off. "We are not having this conversation now. I'm not leaving him, there will be no separation." The words came out quite harsh between his angrily clenched teeth, but John felt that was preferable than what his tightening fists were intending. "Now excuse me."

"Of course, it is up to you if you choose something less successful. You'll have time for these discussions with his health team, who will be in charge of making the best decision for him." The snap of John's eyes to this outsider was instant as she tried to assert her control, her territory, hinting that John was not the one in charge here. Her attitude was both abrasive and condescending.

Rather than argue with her again, he simply stared back with cold, blue, furious eyes before giving a simple nod. "We'll see," he breathed quietly. "What did you say your name was?"

With a wan smile, she handed him a business card, which he took read, tried not to stare at.

It was identical to the one that was currently in his pocket.

John knew, then, and his blood seemed to run cold even as he knew that cold blood was indeed a medical impossibility. He knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt. Sherlock had definitely winked at him. The game was most assuredly on.

++

When John returned to the room where he'd left Sherlock, he was surprised to find it empty of stretcher and patient and staff. One of the techs who'd helped earlier in keeping Sherlock safe nodded when she saw him, told him she was just about to go find more information. "CAT scan I think. Just went over."

John perused the refuse, the rubble, the detritus of the events of the recent hour or so. Near the trash can - busy medical staff, not always spot on with their aim at the bin - were gloves, gauze, empty wrappers, end caps from medications, and alcohol pad wrappers. On the counter was the empty packaging from the straight catheter kit they'd used to obtain specimens and cultures. A bag containing Sherlock's cut clothing was nearby, and John idly reached for Sherlock's pockets looking for ... anything. All were empty - no keys, no mobile, no money.

Like the aftermath of a storm, John thought, glancing around the sloppy room. Flicking off the obnoxious overhead light, he eased into a chair to wait.

++

Sherlock was sonorous on the stretcher when he arrived back in the A&E bay from the imaging he'd had, and John made eye contact with the tech assigned to him, a mandatory sitter in attendance within arms reach, because of the nature of the restraints. The doctor poked her head in. "Waiting on some lab work, but the wet read on the CAT scan is normal."

John could have told them that, he thought, fingering the card in his pocket. Sherlock's exhales were puffing now, a bit louder than previously, but clearly he was still sedated. "All right." The restraints creaked a bit from the stretcher as Sherlock must have tried to get comfortable, couldn't. "I'll be here."

"I'll stop back in with those results, but in the meantime, we're getting him an inpatient room." From down the hall, John could hear Stephanie's name being called, and she smiled at him. "Hang in there, okay?"

She was gone before John could answer.

++

Sherlock had been long settled in a private room and was still sleeping and largely unarousable when John had finally decided he had to get home to Rosie, catch a few hours sleep before the next day started in earnest. "Look," he said to Sherlock's sleeping form. "I'm pretty pissed at you. This was ..." John searched for a strong enough word with his sleep-deprived mind. "...a shitty thing to do to me, and your tox screen can't be faked, you know." His urine drug screen had lit up with several substances, and John was more than a little angry. "We will talk about this." With a roll of the eyes, he glanced again at the companion in the room, knowing he had to maintain appearances for this to work. "Rather, I will talk and you will listen. If there's anything to salvage here, you've gotta make some changes, you ... bastard." While the sitter didn't actually turn to look at either of them, John could see from where he stood that his eyebrows raised, so he definitely heard.

There was no change in Sherlock's breathing, no movement of his eyes under his closed lids, no change in heart rate.

"I'll be back in the morning." John swallowed hard over his dry mouth, glanced at the IV pump, the heart monitor, and at the requisite presence of the tech who was trying hard to act as if she wasn't paying attention. "Just know that if they get their way, you're going to an inpatient rehab for a long time." He left out the fact that Rosie was mere days away from her first independent steps, from walking, a milestone. Sherlock had been coaching her, good naturedly trying to teach her the movements and speed the process along. And now it looked as if he'd be missing it. "Maybe rehab is what you wanted all along." John could almost feel moisture behind his eyelids, and he grabbed at Sherlock's hand, touching the restraint even as he did so, and found Sherlock's thumb and pinkie fingers stretched out awkwardly opposed, the middle three fingers mildly contorted and tense across his palm. He straightened them out against a bit of resistance before patting his hand lightly. "I'll be back in a few hours."

It wasn't until he was in the doorway that he realised Sherlock's hand was formatted in the sign language letter for Y.  Was he answering Yes? Apparently that was the response to John's question, that rehab was indeed what he wanted all along? He hesitated mid-stride to glance back at the form of the patient, still unmoving and unchanged in the bed, breathing easily, deeply, appearing to sleep. But on the side of Sherlock's face that was toward John and away from the tech there in the room, John could see a very slight change. The dimple had returned, that slight, typical smirk in John's direction, the faintest smile with the very smallest point of Sherlock's mouth.

While John had stated that (and actually had intended to) he needed to go home to Rosie, to get a bit of shut-eye, he knew that actually, he had work, research, and preparations to attend. Hopefully Sherlock had left a trail of what he had discovered and what he hoped to find. The day was likely to be full of more Sherlock-mediated surprises, and he was going to need to be ready for whatever the mad genius had in store for him.

++

His internet search history was mildly helpful, with various rehab centers and NHS regulations surrounding them, but the more helpful piece of the mystery was in the letter Sherlock must've received only very recently. A woman had written a highly charged and emotional request for help, stating that her drug-addicted daughter was in grave danger and likely to be moved within a few days from a specific rehab center to a halfway house of sorts across the country. She had vague facts, but mostly relied on things she knew about her daughter and that there was hidden communication buried in the letter the patient had written, which she noted she was enclosing. John couldn't find that letter, but the name of the rehab center was the same one Sherlock had hastily scribbled on the back of the case manager's business card. The letter reiterated that there was something shady going on, that patients had disappeared particularly when there were family dynamics, estrangement, or even hints of parents disowning one of their kids.

There was nothing else helpful on the card. Given the sloppy, hasty handwriting on the back, this had must have, John realised, gone down quickly. The front of the card offered no help save the case worker's name. He still couldn't specifically recall when, during their struggle, Sherlock had managed to get the business card into John's jacket pocket without being seen and without John noticing. It was a credit to his acting skills, his diversionary tactics, and the very believable drug-induced show he'd been putting on there in the A&E. But the name on the card was the key, and John knew it.

Eventually, fatigue and emotional exhaustion overcame the motivation he had to continue to search, not to mention that he was not thinking perhaps as clearly as he should. Stretching out on the couch, he sighed again, feeling the emptiness of the flat and the aching that was apparently going to be with him until he sorted this out. Mostly though, he just missed Sherlock, and it felt quite unsolved, not being able to talk with him, make sure he was gong to be all right - and then give him all sorts for the positive drug screen. His eyes were heavy, and a few minutes nap would be most welcome, he realised, there in the rather empty and forlorn flat.

++

"Shh, there's your papa, he's sleeping." Mrs. Hudson's voice was quiet and gentle, but still pierced John's slumber.

"No," John said, lying, thinking he'd only been asleep a minute or two. "I'm awake."

He forced up on an elbow, feeling the aches of couch-sleeping and knowing there were pillow creases on the side of his face.  "Hi Rosie-cheeks!" Sitting upright with a great deal of effort, he made his body respond, brain engaging as he reached for the little girl who was reaching for him. Her arms and body were extra sweet as he hugged her. Within a few moments, however, she was pushing to get down on the floor to her small toybox that sat by his chair.

"Didn't give you too much problem, then, Mrs. Hudson?"

"Not a great sleeper, but once she stopped fighting it, she was out like a light." John grinned as she continued animatedly, "I blame Sherlock for her poor sleep habits. Where is he?"

"Well, he ended up staying at the hospital, finishing up some work," he said, stepping around the truth. "In fact, I may hope to visit today, maybe without Rosie later, see if I can help him out."

His sentence did not seem to make Mrs. Hudson feel better, but she only frowned with concern and it was clear she didn't believe John's casual assessment.

Stretching a bit, he realised he'd actually slept a few hours and a cup of tea would greatly help his day begin more smoothly. "Has she eaten breakfast?" He took a few steps toward the kitchen while Rosie began pulling out toys from the box, another new trick, simply emptying it and then looking for something else to destroy or dismantle.

"Not as such. Kept reaching for the biscuits, but I brought her toast up with us. And her bag."

"Thanks ever so, I can't imagine what I would do..."

"Now shush, John. You know I would have her as often as you'll let me." He gave Mrs. Hudson a quick hug, even as she reassured John that she would be expecting Rosie later in the day.

++

John wondered how Rosie was immune to changing the game to "put the toys back in the box" despite all efforts, and finally he gave up as he sat with her, opening the occasional website and re-reading the letter. The rehab center, second on the list, John found with almost a disturbing brochure available on line.  It seemed to cater, to recruit, to specialise in patients with non-supportive families, those who had been abandoned or disowned. One of the issues addressed in the FAQ site surrounded the concept of tough love, where for the good of the patient, there needed to be not only a clean break, but in certain situations a lengthy one as well.

He made a few phone calls, after privatising his own mobile number, the first to the detox unit of the center, where he gave a fake name and asked about confidentiality, then mentioned the possibility of abandoning, cutting off, or disowning the fictitious patient in need of services. The answer, "well, that happens from time to time, and that type of placement is something our facility specialises in, these recalcitrant or impossible cases." John wondered exactly what happened to these difficult cases.

Another phone call, under another assumed name was to the hospital to determine the expected hours of the unfriendly case worker he'd met previously. It seemed that cutting ties with Sherlock, giving a credible history that he had no one and that John was done, irrevokably finished, would hopefully equip Sherlock for what seemed to be the direction of the letter from the concerned mom. While the thought sickened him, he knew in his gut that a falling out would set Sherlock up well. Partially, as he considered his upcoming role in Sherlock's adventure, he was almost grateful that his sleep deprivation would probably make his own tirade much easier. And hopefully more believable.

"Ready, Rosie? We have a bit of work to do here. And then, if Mrs. Hudson has recovered, you can take your nap there this afternoon?"

A toy went over Rosie's shoulder, followed by another. John took that as a yes.

++

Sherlock's room was empty when he arrived, and John could feel a sickening dread that he had already been somehow medically cleared, discharged, and transferred without his knowledge. It made the high emotion easier and more real as he went to the desk. Summoning and stoking his inner anger, John let his boots click loud and harsh on the lino. "Where is he?" he fumed to the nurse who had the misfortune to look up at him.  John had not been expecting this specifically but he adroitly changed plans and used it to launch his fury, gather attention, and further his supposed mission. He hoped anyway, given that he was flying blindly after Sherlock's mysterious, secretive plan. He looked up with spit in his eye just as Sherlock was being wheeled down the hallway toward John, where every person in earshot was already turned in their direction. From the wheelchair, Sherlock looked particularly fragile, exhausted, and thin.

"What the hell?" He stood up tall, tense, scowling intensely at Sherlock and the poor technician who was pushing his chair. John took a step or two toward Sherlock with barely concealed hostility. "I found your stash, the whole bloody lot of it."

One of the nurses approached, attempting to step between John and Sherlock and motioning the tech to push him around behind her, to the room. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"You can get out of my way. I found paraphernalia, lots of it. Contact numbers of sources and suppliers."

"Can we please take this out of the hallway, sir?"

Her placating tone actually did irritate John more, although he felt terrible for how uncomfortable she must have been, how uncertain. "Oh, of course. He's a captive audience in that room now, isn't he?" He knew he was staring daggers, posture aggressive, his voice not exactly yelling but strong and plenty loud. As intended.

He could have heard a pin drop behind him, and the wheelchair in which Sherlock'd been sitting reappeared, empty, in the hallway. One of the nurses came up, "He's just returned from a chest xray, I'll get him settled and then you can visit, talk things over calmly perhaps?"

"Are you his assigned nurse today?"

"I am," she said a little uncertainly, but meeting John's expression directly.

"Then you know what's going on here, of course," he said with a bit of condescension, then turned back toward the room. "I think we're a little bit out of calm territory," John voiced low, "don't you?" and he strode in through the open doorway. As expected, he heard one of the staff pick up the phone, request case management department, and asked for someone to come up immediately and gave the room number. Perfect. He was fairly certain they would call security next, but he would certainly be ready to leave before they arrived with figurative guns blazing.

"I am done with your games, and done with your lies." John kept his distance from the bed as he eyeballed Sherlock to see how he was faring. Tired, red-rimmed eyes under curls that even seemed weighted watched him with concern, hands still and pale over his lap.

"John, I -"

"Stop. I will have my say, I will talk, you will listen, and that's it." There were footsteps in the doorway over his shoulder behind him, while in front of him, Sherlock had been ushered back to the bed, his IV reconnected, a sheet smoothed over him. The tech who was assigned to him was a thin little slip of a young woman, whose eyes were huge with alarm as she looked between the two men.

"Not one word," John said drawing out the phrase slowly, and as he did, he smoothed his finger and thumb over his upper lip where a mustache would have been, and Sherlock saw with wide eyes, then met his gaze intently, just as John had wanted him to.

++

He'd said that before, from a mouth garnished with a mustache, in a restaurant, wearing a suit, ring in his pocket, and also with an audience. The pain of the uttering was vivid and still gut-wrenching after all this time. Then, and perhaps moreso now, it had been revealing of the depth of the pain Sherlock had unwillingly and to a lesser degree unknowingly inflicted.  Do you remember? John wondered as he stroked his upper lip again. My mustache and yours that day? Because I definitely do.

++

Not one word. The look that connected John to Sherlock, and Sherlock to John, was one of remembrance and acknowledgement and of a deep, emotional hurt. Of the beginning of a terrible misunderstanding, miscommunication, and the first step of a difficult path. In the gaze was also an acknowledgement of the game that they were both playing. The memory was burned into John's mind, and he'd chosen to revisit it to make this little charade even more believable.

John took a breath, and began, "You're an addict. You told me you were clean, and I believed you. You said you had it under control, and here we are."

Sherlock's face was a study in stoicism, his blue eyes cool, his mouth passive. To his credit, as John had requested, he did not speak.

"In fact," and he knew he needed to get a boldfaced lie in early that Sherlock would not question that John was deliberately and intentionally putting on a show, "our landlady is threatening to evict us because of your dreadful behaviour these last weeks."

++

Mrs. Hudson, in fact, had stated something emphatically to the opposite just a day or so ago to them both, that she was so appreciative of their presence, that now that Sherlock had resumed a stable relationship, that he was her "favourite eldest child, Sherlock, and it's almost as if you could do no wrong, you know," had been her words. "I would overlook almost everything from you."

++

John let his steps carry him across the room, where he turned dramatically, heels still very loud in the room which, save for John's own tirade, was still and hushed. Facing the door and hearing a gathering in the hallway, he pointed a finger at Sherlock again. "How dare you bring drugs into our home, with my daughter. How dare you expose my daughter to that."

++

Just the other night, Rosie had been unpacking her toybox (again), and chortled with glee when she located a favourite stuffed purple monkey. She burbled and clapped and shook it while both John and Sherlock looked on. Clamping the toy in her mouth between her teeth, she turned, making a crawling beeline for Sherlock only to stop when she reached him, hold out the toy in success and excitement. "Da!" She used the word interchangeably for them both, and they hadn't quite settled on making a distinction yet. Sherlock thought it not only fine, but cute as a button.

"That's adorable, that she comes to you first to show you things," John had said, "I think it's because you show her exciting things too." The laughter of the men joined Rosie when John continued, "Although you seem to prefer your excitement with body parts or something mouldy or otherwise disgusting."

He'd taken the toy, chucked the baby under her chin, engaging with her and making a quick monkey noise. "Perhaps," Sherlock had agreed. "But when she's hungry or upset or hurt, she wants you and you alone."

The nostalgic moment had been quick to settle on John. "It's why we're so good together, and good for her." Bright blue eyes looked back seriously at John, who added, "She needs us both, our Rosie."

++

John's pronoun choice did not go unnoticed either, and John couldn't tell if the flicker he'd seen on Sherlock's expression was one of shock or of admiration for John's performance. "I'm boxing up your things, you are not welcome back. Ever. You've jeopardised all of it, both of us, and I want nothing more to do with you."

"John, I -"

"Did I say you could speak?" He interrupted harshly, hearing the arrival of the case manager and recognising her voice behind him. "Did you hear me, and understand what I said, or are you still under the influence? Of multiple things, I may add." John repeated his statements for benefit of those listening. The emotion built, and he could easily remember the pain of some of their remote history which added hurt to his voice and resolution to what the words were saying despite being completely untrue, unfounded, and unapplicable.

"You left me once before, remember, and I waited for you. I watched you nearly destroy me," and his voice broke right there, picturing the skyline above this very hospital, the billowing of coat and the cry of his own heartbreak. Catching his breath, he swallowed as he stared at Sherlock. "Well this time, I'm done, I've had enough, and I'm not waiting." From within his pocket inside his jacket, he pulled out the deerstalker, flung it onto the bed. "It's over. We are done."

++

"You lost the bet. I get to choose tonight."

"John, last time you chose something, you ended up wrenching your back with whatever ridiculous position we were trying."

"Oh, no. Tonight it's retribution for your pausing to check your bloody appearance in the mirror in the lobby of the hotel, and your little delay nearly got us run down in the street."

There was a hiss of a surrendering exhale, a clench of Sherlock's jaw, and he sighed. "Fine. What are you choosing?"

"You're wearing the hat. From start to finish." Sherlock had groused about the hat, hated what it would ultimately do to his curls.

"Start to finish of what, John, that ridiculous crap telly show you like?"

"Nope, start to finish," John advised him with a grin. "Starting now," and he slid the hat over Sherlock's head, kissed him full on, fingers moving hastily to shirt buttons even as he pressed against him with the rest of his body.

"Start to finish," Sherlock echoed, "it'll be my pleasure before it's over."

"You're going to have hat hair by the time I'm done with you."

"Guess I better decide to love the hat, then, yeah?"

"That is all you'll be wearing by then, that's for sure."

++

Sherlock put his hand on the hat as it had landed next to him in the hospital bed, his face a careful study of solemn hurt, eyes downcast, but the hand over the hat brought back the sentiment after, that night in bed with the hat. After, he'd taken it off then, both of them had been quite thoroughly satisfied. Clutching the deerstalker firmly in hand, he'd chuckled at the ridiculousness of the accessory and what they'd just put it through. His curls had indeed been sweaty and mussed, and John had greatly enjoyed running his fingers through the tangle.

"Favourite hat ever," he'd breathed, and John's hand had covered his as it held the hat there in their bedroom, where he'd whispered his agreement. The hat had been on the bedpost ever since, going on several weeks.

John could hear people in the doorway, in the hall, an expectant and horrified small group gathered and watching.  He turned on his heel, and in the movement of the room, became aware there was cool wetness on his face, and he'd been crying. Dear lord, he'd gotten carried away in the moment. A nurse stepped out of his way, and the social worker was there, eyes also wide as he approached.  She laid a hand on his arm, "Dr. Watson, we met yesterday, remember? Let's talk, my office is ..."

"No," John said, flat toned and quiet. Wearily, he brushed his fingers across his cheeks, reaching again for the ire and not finding it at all; he was simply exhausted and spent. "He's pushed me one time too many, and I am done here." For effect, he pivoted enough to look back at Sherlock. "It's over," he said again with finality.

Despite the hand on his arm, which he shrugged off, and the voice calling his name, which he ignored, he left the room. His crisp footsteps were all he could hear as he strode from the room, unit, and building.

Over the next few hours, he ignored calls from the social worker, Sherlock's admitting physician, and Mycroft. They all left benign voicemails, advising him of updates related to Sherlock's plan of care except for Mycroft, who left a cryptic message where he flatly said that he was shocked at this turn of events and he hoped that John knew what he was doing.

++

Another voicemail was left closer to suppertime, and John had been ready to put Rosie in the bath. Later, when he listened, it was the caseworker again.

"Dr. Watson, we wanted to let you know that Sherlock Holmes is being transferred very soon to a short term clinic, where he will spend approximately 48 hours before being transferred to another center." The case manager continued a moment, listing the name of the very facility at the crux of this case, and his breath caught a little when she told him that there were no visiting hours and no phone calls for the first ten days of treatment, if he'd even wanted such a thing.

++

The texts arrived shortly after that, in a flurry. He supposed Sherlock had been unwisely left unattended for a few minutes and that he was on borrowed time, texting quickly while he could.

Thanks for the phone and the money hidden in the hat, well done

They will likely confiscate this so contact may end soon

Human trafficking ring, likely linked ultimately with Russia

Mycroft is well versed and will be providing reinforcements

Expect a week as inpatient to bring down the top responsible

And find the missing patient

From there on it will probably be boring

Tell Rosie absolutely no walking until I get home

One. more. word. - brilliant. SH

John could no sooner not respond than stop breathing. Quickly he typed, 

              Be careful, be safe. John

You too

              I could throttle you for the positive tox screens by the way. John

Necessary for the case

               Stupid and foolish. John

GTG

John was moderately impressed that Sherlock knew some text abbreviations even as he hoped he had time for one more to get through.

               Come home to me soon. John

There was no answer, and John steeled himself for a long night.

Later, after a real thunderstorm outside the windows at Baker Street in addition to a Rosie-centric storm inside the flat with a very unhappy daughter that evening, John had finally, finally put grouchy, overtired Rosie to bed and was feeling restless, aimless, unsettled. He texted Mycroft for an update and received only a terse answer that he must learn patience and there was nothing reportable as yet. He resisted the urge to fire back a text at Mycroft to bugger off but didn't want to aggravate him just yet.

He fell asleep with the phone under his pillow, even knowing that it was unlikely to have any updates. When he awoke, his hand was still on it. Checking the screen, there were no messages.

++

"I'll put her down, then?" Sherlock asked John, a formality. He certainly didn't need permission, but didn't want to overstep just yet. After ten days apart, Rosie had been more than a little tentative at first but had warmed up remarkably over the course of the afternoon. John had been just a bit distant in his own way, too, but an hour of a ridiculous television show with Sherlock's head on his thigh had done wonders to ground him again, allow him to fully exhale, the worry and tension finally abating.

It had felt much longer than the mere days it had been, and John's heart was feeling full and settled. "Of course," he said moving over to press a kiss against the back of her already sleeping head. "'Night princess."

The days that he'd been gone, Sherlock had indeed missed her first steps, although she was certainly showing off for him now, making up for lost time.  She was grinning, taking a few steps in his direction frequently, bringing him anything her chubby hands found to show him, before falling against her padded, nappy-clad bum. The day had been spent in quiet togetherness, simply being present all of them in the same room, eating in close proximity, watching Rosie sleep, holding hands at times, touching as they passed each other, brushing against whatever they could in the normality of their not-all-that-normal lives together. The flat finally felt as if balance had been restored.

That said, John had pored through the file Sherlock had given him, and was eagerly looking forward to hearing the unreported (and possibly unreportable) details. The human trafficking ring hadn't been disbanded yet, but they had names up the chain, and a few leads on where the money was being channeled toward. There was information on greedy caseworkers who apparently received bonuses for referrals, to placement facilities poorly staffed, Sherlock had managed to close most of the case, identify the counselors who were apparently behaving unethically, supplying and demanding things - people, as if they were commodities or resources to be used. The letter that had started the investigation was now in the hands of British authorities, and thanks to Sherlock's unauthorised snooping through confidential records (that much, John could tell) the girl had been located, clean and sober for the present, to the relief of all involved.

When Sherlock returned to the sitting room, it was with empty arms (save the baby monitor) and wearing a comfortable dressing gown over soft tee shirt and sleep pants. But he was nervous, and chose to project something else entirely as he sat down, tipped his head back, sighing. "God, I missed this. Institutional pyjamas are hideous patterns and terribly coarse fabric."

"Hardships, certainly. You and your sensitive skin should be entitled to combat pay." John's gaze was steady and he watched, humoured, as Sherlock fussed with the pillow. Picked it up, put it down, picked it up again.

"You like my skin," Sherlock protested but weakly at that, and once again set the pillow down. "Or so I seem to remember." He unfolded off the couch, unable to relax.

"I'll refresh your memory shortly," John said, hedging as Sherlock moved to lock the front door. He rose to help close up for the night, starting with a lamp and then the curtains. Sherlock was watching him, studying him, waiting. John opted for a direct approach. "What's on your mind now, yeah? Go ahead, I can tell there's something. I mean, obviously."

"I should have told you right, off, though," and he let the sentence hang. John wasn't taking the piss, simply waited Sherlock out. "When they found the mobile, it was still inside the hat. Which they for some reason, perhaps at my hinting, they destroyed it trying to verify there was nothing else hidden away." The smirk was nearly impossible to quench completely. "It was a complete and total loss, sadly."

"Not exactly bad news to you, in my opinion. You look rather chuffed about it, in fact."

"I won't miss what it does to my hair."

"Vain git, yeah. You and your hair."

"You missed me. Fuss all you want, but I can tell you did."

"True." He smiled fondly, considering how lonely he'd felt when Rosie had actually taken her first steps and he'd scooped her up, laughing and praising her, then looking around feeling a bit lost. It had been quite empty without Sherlock to share that moment with. "I have some news for you, too."

In typical fashion, Sherlock knew there was something brewing, something pending in that John was rather unsuccessfully intending to rattle him with, and, Sherlock unworriedly chewed the corner of his lower lip while gesturing with his hand out wide for John to get on with it.

"Field trip tomorrow." The raising of John's brow and serious set of the eyes was a nice touch, Sherlock decided. "Barts."

"Expected as much. Going to go for some outpatient laboratory testing, are we?" Sherlock Holmes needs to pee in a jar, he didn't need to say again.

"Indeed we are. But something else as well."

"The suspense is killing me, John, just enlighten me." His voice dripped sarcasm. Bored, John!

"New hat shopping. Need something for the bedpost again."

"Matching ones, then. So choose carefully."

"No, you're Sherlock Holmes, you wear the hat."

"But not to bed, then, ever again."

"Speaking of bed," John began, stretching out his hand in an appeal, "I checked to make sure we have appropriate supplies."

Sherlock took his arm, needing no further encouragement. "Thought you'd never ask."

++

~~  fin  ~~

 

Chapter Text

"I'm sure it's nothing," Sherlock said, bent double at the waist there in the sitting room.

"Of course you are."  John shook the newspaper, having already advised Sherlock hours ago of his professional opinion, several working diagnoses, as well as his offer to accompany him to the A&E, where he belonged.

"You have no compassion."

"I have plenty.  You are the most stubborn person I've ever met."  Despite John's holding the newspaper, he kept a watchful eye on Sherlock.  As he'd said previously, that timing is everything, and he would be ready to make a move when the iron was hot.  "Full stop, without a doubt."

"It's something I ate."

"We had the same thing, obviously ... " and John let his voice trail off.  "Never mind, we've been over this.  If it's nothing, perhaps you'd like to accompany me on a nice, brisk walk down to the store, do a little shopping?"

"I'm not leaving the flat.  The last thing I want is to be out if the vomiting returns.  Or worse," and he gestured to the loo and left unspoken that there had been an urgent trip of the other type of GI distress.

Shrugging, John'd had about enough.  There was a pallor to Sherlock's colour, and a few beads of sweat across his forehead.  While Sherlock had refused letting John check his temperature, he'd enough physician experience to recognise the fever anyway.  Earlier, he'd pressed his lips against Sherlock's temple, could feel the heat and radiance coming from him.  "All right.  There's plenty to do here, then."  He set the newspaper aside, looked around energetically as if planning.  "We'll rearrange the furniture, then.  I'd like to try the couch over here..."  Sherlock groaned, pressing his hand into his right side, bending low, reflexively drawing his knee up toward his chest.  

"John."  The drawn-out, plaintive use of his name was followed by a few grumbles about pain and some repetitions of the word ouch.

"Are you ready to listen to me yet?"

Rather than answer, Sherlock's pale skin picked up a greenish hue and he dashed into the loo, hobbling the best he could with the gnawing discomfort.  John could hear retching and dry heaving, and came to stand in the open doorway in case Sherlock needed assistance.  He may be particularly frustrated, but he wasn't heartless.

"Maybe it was the toxic lab substances from a few days ago?"  He stopped at the sink, still mostly doubled over, to brush his teeth.

"You know, perhaps you'd just like to humour me and do one simple thing.  It will determine whether or not you need the hospital."

Sherlock raised dark eyes to John's face, curious, interested, and not entirely closed off.  "I'm listening."

"Jump."  When Sherlock's brow creased in confusion, John clarified.  "Straight up and down, just once."

"How will that help?"

"It can be diagnostic."  John took one of Sherlock's elbows, guided him back out to the sitting room, then let go, gesturing with his arm in a get-on-with-it kind of movement.  "Unless you want to lay down and let me examine your abdomen.  You know, McBurney's point and all."

"Jump?"

"Yes."

A quick bend of Sherlock's legs, a bit of distance between his feet and the floor, and almost quicker than John could have described, Sherlock was momentarily on the floor, crumpled in a six foot tangled mess of groaning, curls, and rather contorted limbs.  The moan started as a hiss, changed to an 'N' sound, then resolved on a low 'uhhhhhh.'

John stood, hands on his hips, feeling faint remorse having predicted the outcome and now at least hoping Sherlock could no longer legitimately refuse what needed to happen.

From within the rubble, the heap of flatmate, there was a pause and then a somewhat strained baritone voice, "How was this helpful?"

"We've just diagnosed appendicitis.  Congratulations."

++

John had called ahead, and Mrs. Hudson came up to stay with Rosie, and once they'd arrived in the A&E, things progressed rather quickly.  The CAT scan was ordered, and a dose or two of narcotics for Sherlock's rather exquisite pain symptoms.  The surgeon came round to give them the news officially, and before long, Sherlock had been gowned, consented, crossmatched, and the OR staff arrived to the holding area to greet their next patient and verify the plan.

"Name, date of birth, and your expected procedure?"

"If you know none of that, I'm leaving immediately to find a hospital that doesn't hire idiots."

"Sherlock."  John's hand lightly brushed at Sherlock's upper arm, a reminder of his presence and an attempt at being comforting.

"You can't possibly believe this is good practice."

John was quick to assure him, "It is good practice."  There was a resolute stubborn set to Sherlock's mouth, so John bent his head low to his ear, whispered very quietly.  "Answer the questions, immediately and truthfully, or I'll tell them you have urinary retention and need to be catheterised.  And then I'll volunteer to do it."  Sherlock's eyes snapped to John to consider the seriousness of the threat and was met with John's steady, authoritative gaze and the faintest rise of one eyebrow.

"Sherlock Holmes, appendectomy."  He muttered his date of birth, shot a miserable glance at John.

One of the OR staff handed him a surgical head covering.  "Put this on, please Mr. Holmes."

"Dear lord, no."  At John's quizzical look, he turned a horrified glance to the lot of them standing at bedside.  "It's floral.  Absolutely not."

"I was afraid of this," John said, making a disappointed tsk-ing sound, pausing for effect, and was quickly the centre of attention given the dramatic solemnity of his words.  "We'll have to shave his head, then.  If you have clippers, I'll give you a hand."

The cap was on before he'd finished the end of the sentence, and John smiled down at him, reassuringly patting him on the back of his hand. He steeled his own nerves, hoping to convey only easy-going confidence despite the actual inner qualms.  John glanced at the team, who seemed to be fully assembled and ready to move on, so he began to take a step back, letting the activity also help to cover the nervousness he himself was feeling. While it was a minor surgical procedure, it was still surgery, and anaesthesia, and Sherlock's appendix was, according to the imaging that had been done, severely inflamed and ready to burst.

"See you in a bit," he said fondly, touching the probably-hated surgical cap and then giving Sherlock's shoulder a quick squeeze. Had they been more prone to physical demonstration in public, John might have leaned in for a quick peck or a hug. As it was, Sherlock nodded resolutely, a grimace of pain flickering across his features again, and the stretcher and the surgical team began to roll through the now-open automated doors into the depths of the surgical suite.

John envied him the anaesthetic and sedation.  At least he would get to sleep through the time John would spend trying not to worry.

++

Almost all of John's concerns faded away when the recovery room nurse summoned him through the restricted access doorway.  "He's asking for you," she said, "so."  Her paper covered shoes were quiet compared to John's as he fell into step with her to get to Sherlock's bedside.  "We usually don't let family in here, but ..."

"He was merely asking?"

"Well," she began.

"Enough said," John breathed, catching her eye apologetically.  "I know how he can get."

"He came awake talking gibberish, or so we thought, and then someone realised it was a Russian dialect or something Slavic.  When we asked him to translate, he called us all morons and then demanded you be brought to him."  John wondered how offensive he'd been and if he needed to send flowers or something.  "We held him off as long as we could, but..." she smiled at him, and he shrugged, commiserating with the knowledge.

They hesitated at the doorway to the open-area post op unit.  "Probably a wise decision.  He would have gotten unpleasant, and ..."

The nurse snickered just a little.

"Right," John agreed as he joined in the chuckle, "more unpleasant, and when he's feeling put upon, unfortunately he notices things..."

"He asked why the nurse anaesthetist was sleeping with one of the OR techs ..." and her voice halted there, "Nevermind," she finished.  "We'd suspected, but ..."

"Like I said, he notices."

They both abruptly were interrupted at the sound of a moan and an imperious voice, "Where is he?"

"I'm so sorry," John muttered to the nurse, making tracks for the bedside where Sherlock lay.  His floral head covering had been removed already, not surprisingly.  "Hey nice bed-head you're sporting there."

"What took you so long?" he demanded.  "I've been awake for a long time now waiting for you."

One of the techs nudged over a wheeled stool for John, who perched on it as he mostly ignored Sherlock's rant, taking in the monitor - sinus tach 118, respiratory rate 9, blood pressure 84/50.  His oxygen level was good and as John glanced at the rapidly infusing IV and then at the oxygen flowmeter, Sherlock must have noticed that and quickly brought up a hand to pull the nasal cannula off his face.

Except that John caught his hand, mid-air, prior to his snatching at it.  "No."

"Don't need it."

"You clear the anaesthesia quicker with it in place."  Sherlock was still trying to wrest it from John's steadying hand and failing, given John had not been recently under either sedation or general anaesthesia and had more strength and coordination.  "Let it be."

He did stop fussing about that, let his hand relax underneath John's fingers for the moment.  "Maybe I just wanted you to hold my hand."

"No you didn't."

"How long is my incision?  I want to see it right now."

"Usually not too long, maybe two centimetres.  And you can look later, once the dressing is off."

"I'm probably haemorrhaging, and no one's checked it in minutes."

John hadn't seen this much feistiness in Sherlock for a bit.  "Has he had narcotics yet?" he asked, directing the question at the nurse who had come back over.

She consulted the clip, nodded.  "Couple doses as he was just beginning to wake up.  Moaned a few times."  She checked the IV rate, sped it up.  "Blood pressure's still a mite low.  We'll cycle it again very soon, it'll come up with the fluids."

"Mind if I take a look at the dressing?"

She gave a wary glance at the patient, who was still glaring at them both, and if John'd had a death wish, he would have grinned at the faces Sherlock was making as he tried to dislodge the oxygen tubing from under his nose without using his hands.  "At your own risk," she said, patting them both before she walked away.

Gingerly, John lifted the edges of the heated blanket, slid Sherlock's patient gown aside, and discovered a very clean, small, white bandage taped to his lower right abdomen.  "Just my fingers, lightly," he warned before sliding a gentle hand over the flat belly.  He hesitated when Sherlock sucked in a breath.  "Sorry.  Pain?"

"No, but your hands are freezing.  Get someone to check your circulation while you're here."  John was pleased to see that there was no evidence of bleeding, no distention, and Sherlock fussed at him again.  "Or maybe check to see if you still have a pulse or something."

"You do realise they don't hand out warm blankets to anyone other than the patients, right?  Bit drafty in the waiting room."  He rubbed his hands together briskly before touching Sherlock again.

Sherlock tried to look down where John's hand rested on him, couldn't see too much without raising his head.  "Look all right?"

"Dressed, can't see the size, but it's small.  Feels okay though."

"Yeah, well, I'm glad it does to you.  Because you're pushing on it, and it's sore!"  He tried to lean up on an elbow again, and John turned his attention back to the wound.  "And your hands are still cold."

The surgeon approached, then, said hello again to them both as he took in Sherlock's vital signs, which were improved, the dressing, and his overall presentation.  "All went perfectly.  You'll heal up just fine."

"How many stitches?"

"None."

"Staples?" Sherlock asked, caught off guard by his answer.

"Glue.  It's a fairly small incision, the edges came together fine.  Leave it alone, and the skin closure will just peel off normally in a week or two."

Both patient and doctor turned to investigate why John gave a small snort at that direction. John could sense a teachable moment. "You heard that, right? Leave it alone? Sherlock, you did hear that, right?" They both turned to him. "You have to leave it alone, no peeling it off to open yourself up and ... investigate or poke around your insides."

The concerned look the surgeon shot at John was nothing short of priceless. Except for the horrified look it morphed into as Sherlock muttered, "Like to see you stop me."

++

Not much longer, and they were wheeled up to the room where Sherlock would spend the night.  John stepped to the waiting room to ring Mrs. Hudson.  After he'd confirmed that everything was right as rain there at home, that Rosie was doing splendidly, he realised she would shortly be tucked in for the night. He gave Mrs. Hudson a brief summary of how Sherlock was faring, and he'd disconnected the call and had just rounded the corner into Sherlock's room to hear Sherlock giving the nurse a hard time. Again. Or, more accurately, still.  Based on what little John'd overheard, the fussing seemed to be about a plethora of things - his diet of clear liquids, the compression devices on his legs to prevent stagnant blood, and something about pain medication restrictions.

The tension in the room was almost palpable, so John interjected.  "I apologise for my partner's charming disposition.  You have my permission for sedation, restraints, or calling security if he gets too ornery."  To the nurse, he winked quickly to just completely make sure she knew he was teasing, then John crossed to Sherlock's side to stand arms akimbo at his bed.  "You know I'm here to help you, but please cooperate. You need their help much more than they need things to worry about.  The nurses are busy, Sherlock, and they know what they're doing. What is the problem?"

"I don't understand why I can't have that patient controlled analgesia.  Then I wouldn't have to bother them at all when I need pain medication."

For a few minutes, they had to stop talking so Sherlock could get comfortable in the bed, and in the repositioning, he started to cough just a bit, likely just due to the breathing tube he'd had during surgery. John stood close to help if he was needed, after handing him a 'hug me' pillow to help splint his incision to minimise pain while coughing.

"Because the plan is that tomorrow you'll transition to oral pain medications so you can go home."  The nurse explained briefly that his only jobs tonight were to be comfortable, take deep breaths for pneumonia prevention, tolerate his diet tonight, have stable vital signs with no fever.  Then she told him that, at some point, he would be expected to get up to use the loo, and some lab work was ordered for the morning.  She made sure he was paying attention before reminding him that he would likely be discharged home tomorrow with a pain pill prescription.

A dangerous expression passed Sherlock's features, then, driven by something John would never know what, but he quickly felt concerned as Sherlock grimaced, guarding his abdomen, and turned to John, then. "Maybe I don't want to go home tomorrow. Perhaps I'm in an unsafe environment at home. You know, being hurt, hit or frightened by someone in my life." John tried not to react to that, recognising the phrasing of the domestic violence screenings that had obviously just been completed.

"Okay, then. I think that's probably my cue to leave." John tried not to be too obvious about shaking his head in disbelief.

"Wait! I was kidding of course. Teasing." He looked awkwardly between John and the nurse, who looked mildly concerned as she glanced between them. "What is wrong with the lot of you?"

"Bit not good, joking about that," John said quietly and the nurse had a mildly exasperated, puzzled look about her again. John figured it wouldn't be the last Sherlock-induced frustration of her shift.

"Can you give us a minute, please, Dr. Watson?" John knew he was being asked to step out so that Sherlock could again be questioned about his home situation, rescreened and probably provided resources just in case the nurse felt he was unsafe.

Sherlock's impatient voice was loud enough for John to hear as he walked into the hallway as requested, starting with "wait!" which John ignored, and then a few phrases about "ridiculous," "obviously I was lying," and then, "oh for gods sake, bring him back in."

It would have been a toss-up, when John re-entered the room whose apologetic look was more sincere, John's or the nurse's.  She completed a few more minutes of questions, and then make sure Sherlock had the call bell before surveying the scene carefully once more and leaving them alone.

"You realise if we've been flagged, Mycroft will get wind of it and he would still be able to make me disappear without a trace."

"Shut up. None of you have any sense of humour anymore." Sherlock tried to stretch out in the bed, guarding his right abdomen while attempting to get comfortable.

"You just can't do that. Please try to behave?" John requested, slipping into the chair by the bed and exhaling.

"Can you call my doctor?" John stared, waiting, as Sherlock began ramping up, becoming more animated.  "If they're going to send me home tomorrow, maybe I could just go tonight?"

"No. You need the hospital for IV pain meds, they'll monitor you overnight, make sure the anaesthesia clears safely, dose your antibiotics, make sure you're safe. Tomorrow."

"Don't lock the door, then, at home. I'll call a cab and be along a little later." As if ready to carry through on his threat, he made a motion as if he was going to get out of bed to do exactly that. Until, when trying to sit up, the incision made itself known rather strongly. He paused, then rested back against the bed, having not really made much progress anyway. "On second thought..."

John tried not to giggle. "Stay here tonight.  Rest." When John looked over at him, his eyes were closed and his head was tipped back against the pillow. "You'll be fine. But stay, please."

"Good idea." His hand slid along the right side of his abdomen, splinting and supporting. Sucking in a breath of discomfort, he added, "Wow, that's getting sharp."

They visited a few more minutes, and finally Sherlock agreed to a dose of IV pain medicine. John waited until the dose had been given before kissing him goodnight with the promise to return tomorrow to bring him home.

John stopped at the desk to say good night to the nurses and to remind them that if for any reason they needed him to return, or talk to the patient by phone, that he was available. His nurse smiled, "We can handle him. Although his reputation does proceed him. Along with his antics already." There was a sparkle in her eye, and John was grateful that she was being a good sport about it all.

John was not fully comforted by her confidence, knowing Sherlock the way he did, so he reiterated, "No, really, if you need anything, just ring me."

From down the hallway, within the depths of the room they could hear grumbling, the sounds of the bed raising and lowering, and then finally something striking the floor with a clatter. John sighed and moved to go investigate, but one of the patient care techs rounded the corner and went in herself, calling out cheerfully and engaging in animated although one-sided conversation. The nurse was checking the computer screen, apparently checking Sherlock's care plan and orders. "It's pretty straight forward, here, the plan. Pain meds if he needs them, when he needs them, IV fluids. Clear liquids tonight, then he can eat a regular breakfast tomorrow morning, and then usually our open appy's are discharged by lunchtime or so. Another dose of cefazolin tonight and in the morning, along with his sub-q heparin."

John tried not to groan or roll his eyes, but he clenched his teeth a bit in self-restraint.  There was no need to alarm the nursing staff unnecessarily, so he settled on the question, "Are you back in the morning?"

"Of course."

John let the grin come, then, and from his pocket produced one of Sherlock's business cards. He flipped it over, wrote his mobile number on it, handed it to her. "My mobile. You'll need this when you bring in his heparin dose in the morning." While Sherlock's mobile was tucked away in the belonging bag in his room, he didn't exactly trust Sherlock to be forthcoming to provide it and considered this a safer option.

The nurse looked up, surprised.  "I doubt it. Shouldn't be necessary."

John could only nod as he folded her hands around the card. "Trust me. I'll be waiting for your call."

She was skeptical but nodded slowly anyway, tucking the card under the clip of his chart. "All right."

++

John knew morning med passes usually started at 0730, so he was not surprised when his mobile rang shortly after that, from Sherlock's mobile. He attempted for a casual tone, saying hello and then listening to the rapid-fire barrage of complaints from the patient as expected. He parried with what he knew was going to be annoying just in its over-the-top pleasantness. "Oh, good morning, Sherlock. Nice to hear from you. Shut up and get the heparin injection. For god's sake, it's a bloody needle, a tiny one for all that."

"John."

"I am not about to lose you to a blasted DVT that turns into a PE." Silence. "Pulmonary embolisms are likely the number one killer of hospitalised patients. Don't join the statistic." Still silence. John took a deep breath, gripping the phone carefuly, choosing his words. "Come on, you're smarter than this. Much smarter."  In the pause that followed that veiled implication that refusal is stupid, don't be stupid, you're not stupid, John could hear breathing. "Make me proud of you, now.  You can do this." The condescension in his tone was very deliberate. "Put the nurse back on the phone now please."  Shuffling sounds ensued.

"Dr. Watson?"

"It's John, and yes, I'm here."  John tried to imagine Sherlock lying there in the private room, in the hospital bed, and unfortunately could draw from plenty of actual memories of him actually there, pale, tubes, monitor leads. He couldn't stop both the smile and the shaking of his own head in sympathy for the nurse who did still have Sherlock to deal with in the flesh, face to face. "I think he'll take it now. Try not to let him refuse?"

"Thanks for your help. He's flashing me some stomach now, a good sign, then."

"I'll see you in a couple of hours."  You'll be ready to get rid of him, he could have added, didn't.

"Fine."  

As the call disconnected, he could hear a few words of Sherlock's most sarcastic tone "... you'd better be very skilled at giving injections, or ..."

++

The phone rang a bit later, again originating from Sherlock's mobile of course. In hindsight, John should probably have brought that home under the pretense of recharging it or something. The snarl came immediately when John answered. Sherlock went on the instant attack. "I hope you're satisfied."

The sip of tea was particularly calming as John steeled himself for yet another confrontation. Rosie was sitting in her infant seat on the table, a wrist toy holding her attention for the moment. He shook the paper slightly as he set it down, knowing Sherlock would be able to hear it, trying to convey that John was relaxed about whatever was coming. "Doing ok?"

"Come pick me up immediately." Before John could respond, Sherlock snarled. "Bring clothing."

"Has the surgeon been by to discharge you?"

"No."  Sherlock was rather incensed, as John had known he would be, at John's relaxed, even-keeled tone. "He's in the operating room again. And he's got patients to see to - me! Unacceptable. One of the nurses mentioned that if it goes a long time, they'd send a junior doctor in his place."

"I was a junior doctor once. It'll be fine. A simple discharge into my capable hands."

John knew that he was about to be played, and was not disappointed. "Please come get me now." Sherlock's voice was thick with emotion and with the wobble of what sounded like it could have been very close to being very upset. "I don't want to stay any longer."

"You can't leave until you have been discharged.  With instructions, and pain medication prescriptions.  And you still need one more dose of your IV antibiotic before you can leave. When is that due, Sherlock, hmm?" John could hear the sulk exploding and tried hard to keep the smile out of his voice. "I know that you know it, just as well as I do.  Not until noon."

"It's already nine-thirty.  You should be here with me."

"And miss the peace and quiet here at home, with Rosie, my tea and the news? Not a chance."

"You're being deliberately cruel."

"No, I'm not. Listen to me:  relax. Follow instructions. Let the process work. Are you due for pain medication? You know, you can't have the IV hydromorphone once you're discharged, after you leave, obviously, so you might as well get good pain relief this morning."

"I am sore."  The voice was quiet, and John set the paper aside, put his mug in the sink as he stood up while Sherlock continued, in a huff. "It's due, yes."

"Good, ring the nurse and ask nicely.  Then take a nap or something." Taking a quick look around the flat, John was reminded again how empty and quiet and lackluster it seemed without Sherlock. It was a reminder for him that while Sherlock did drive him round the bend often, they still had a very good thing going, the two of them. "I'll be over soon, to keep you company."

"How soon?"

"Sherlock."

"John."

"You do recall that cabs don't appear magically for me when you're not with me."

"Just come get me now, I'll skip the dose of cefazolin or whatever it is. I'm fine and -" John could hear a loud inhale, the quivering back in his voice when he continued, "- I want to come home."

There was a snuffling sound then, and Sherlock's voice was thick as he repeated the phrase, and John's eye narrowed at it, just a little, but he softened up anyway as he pinched the bridge of his nose.  He held the phone tight as he rubbed the back of his neck.  Both were gestures he did quite frequently, all Sherlock related. "No, you're not skipping the dose. Perhaps, had you listened to me yesterday, had this taken care of when symptoms first started rather than to delay, let the inflammation get right to the point of perforation like you did, maybe that would be a possibility. But it's not. You're not risking infection or peritonitis just because you're unhappy."

"How soon?"

"What is your rush?  The surgeon has to come, the antibiotic, these things all take time."  There was actually very little John still had to do to get ready to bring Sherlock home - the flat was clean, the sheets fresh, the refrigerator stocked, and Mrs. Hudson was already lined up to take care of Rosie in a little while. "Be patient, love."

"I am a patient," he groused, irritatated, with the snarl back, and then his voice lowered, "I didn't sleep well, and you should be here." The vibrato was back, the emotional plea in his voice that was almost unheard of, and John knew he was grinning just a bit without having to see a mirror. In all likelihood, he suspected that despite how he sounded, Sherlock may also be wearing a snide grin, too.  "You don't understand how awful this is for me."

I understand plenty, John didn't say. Instead, he sighed, knew he was in for a long haul of recovery with a surly patient/flatmate/partner once he was discharged, and tried to be encouraging instead, telling Sherlock, "Get your pain medicine.  I'll be there when I get there."

"John?"

"See you soon."

John hung up but didn't set the mobile down, composed a text.

++

Did you get that?"

Mycroft did not disappoint, answered almost immediately.  Of course. MH

He's going to be most unhappy when he finds out. Was he smiling?

What sort of question is that, John. Of course he was. Rather clear on the video feed. Whining and some external diaphragmatic manipulation, also very obvious. MH

I look forward to seeing it

It will be powerful motivation, having this to hold over his head. MH

Send me the link when you can.

Still watching live feed. MH

Hopefully he fell asleep?

Hardly. You'd best get over there. A nurse is rather displeased with him at the moment, and he appears to be threatening to remove his IV. MH

He can't go anywhere without clothes.

Certainly you haven't forgotten Buckingham Palace? MH

Ugh, and he has access to plenty of sheets!

Exactly.  MH

Right.  I'll make sure to give your camera a royal salute when I get there, just for you.

Don't let him see you do it. And it is unnecessary. MH

Oh, no, actually I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for the help.

Good luck bringing him home.  Going to need it. MH

Actually, now that we have ammunition against him, I have to say that the flat is terribly boring without him.

John! He's ... oh dear lord. MH

What?

He's mooning the camera. He's on to us. MH

On my way.

++

Other texts arrived to John's phone as he rode over in the cab, and continued to be delivered as he entered the hospital.

He's asking me for clothes, John. And he sounds upset. Aren't you going over soon? Molly

I'm going to have his phone number blocked and service discontinued if he doesn't stop hassling me. Greg

I just got the strangest text from Sherlock. Sounded urgent, and he's asking for you. What's going on? Sarah

I have turned off the camera - my retinas should not have had to see that. MH

And then from Sherlock himself, John almost laughed out loud multiple times, and would have been more concerned had he not been assured he was still hospitalised.

Let's go. SH

Where are you? SH

Come at once! SH

Your silence is not funny. SH

Get over here. SH

John, I mean it. SH

I'm ready to leave now. SH

How fast can they run this antibiotic in? The nurse says 30 minutes but faster would be ok, right?

I'm speeding it up, now.  You have ten minutes to get here. SH

How do you reset the lock on these IV pumps? SH

I don't understand why they locked it. Do they lock everyone's or just mine? SH

What did you tell them, you cad? SH

John was just passing by the nurses station when the threat of arson reached his mobile. I swear, if you aren't here in 2 minutes I'm leaving. I will get home without your assistance and set fire to all your clothing. SH  

One of the nurses seemed very relieved to see John, and rose with some urgency to approach him. John held up a hand as she did as if to say he would take care of it as he quickly entered Sherlock's room.

John's incoming text tone sounded again right then, Sherlock's of course, and Sherlock was a rather large pile of irritation as he sat in the bed, arms crossed, an unhappy scowl on his face as he looked at John when he heard the sound.  And shatter your RAMC mug. SH

"Morning sunshine," John said in a light, easy tone.  He crossed the room, kissed the top of Sherlock's head.  "Brought you some clothes, soon as that's done I'll help you get dressed."  He tilted the antibiotic to see how much was remaining in the bag, and let his hand slide down the side of Sherlock's angular and still annoyed cheekbone, brushed his fingers against Sherlock's clenching jaw. "No need to threaten my coffee mug any longer."

++

The coffee mug was still very serviceable and all of John's clothing remained intact, and Sherlock had arrived home without incident, bloodshed, or meltdown. Afternoon light came through the window into a Baker Street sitting room full of sleeping people.

Rosie lay on her back in the day cot, thumb having slid out of her mouth, her blanket askew. Every now and again, her mouth would make sucking motions around the thumb that hovered in the air beyond her lips. It was rare that any noise came from her, a quiet sleeper, all tucked in for a nice nap.

Sherlock and John were on the couch, John at one end, head tipped back against the tall cushion and his slippered feet stretched out in front of him, resting on the coffee table. He'd been exhausted, too, and when the nap had been suggested, he'd been all in. For all that he'd had to do that morning so far, it felt wonderful, and while he was hoping never to have to confess to it, he had actually slept very little overnight in the flat without Sherlock at home.

Sherlock lay on his side, head on John's thigh, curled protectively around his very sore belly. His dark hair was unruly, softly framing his pale face, draping the back of his neck. There was a fleecy blanket over him, and he had relaxed in sleep so much that his mouth was actually open just a little. His hand rested also on John's leg, close enough so he probably could have felt his own breathing, his fingers following the muscled contour, staking their claim, asserting their belonging and intending to remain exactly where they were.  

Three sleepy people continued to nap on as a fourth climbed the stairs on silent feet, just to check in, see if they needed anything, offer assistance, and drop off some shopping - nappies for Rosie, some bakery items for the adults, a new box of PG Tips tea - all of this placed just inside the door.  Obviously, taking in the slumber, the peace and quiet of the flat, nothing was needed and certainly disturbing anyone was a frightful idea to everyone.

Mrs. Hudson smiled to herself as she looked up from the telly to see the visitor arrive, ascend, descend, and then prepare to leave.  She'd risen to stand at her own open door so as not to run any risk whatsoever of bothering anyone.  With a very low voice, she nodded and said, "I'll check in on them frequently, don't you worry, Mr. Holmes."

Mycroft gripped his umbrella, nodded to her fondly, and returned to the waiting vehicle.

Chapter Text

The room was chilly, from actual ambient temperature or nerves or a combination of both, he couldn't be sure.  The thin scrubs the tech handed John were surreal, brought back a plethora of associations from med school, surgery, times he’d been on the other side of the bed, the doctor and not the patient.  They offered almost no insulation against the chill.  He was also wearing thin, rough, textured non-slip socks that barely covered more than his feet.  Both techs had greeted him and were ignoring him presently as adjustments were made to the machine.  He was almost inconsequential to the process, he thought, and then chided himself for his grousing.  A certain degree of power assertion happened as soon as a patient rolled through the door - stop at registration, wear this wristband, sit over here, put your mobile away, change here, sit and wait.  It was all disempowering and humiliating and designed to keep the patient in their bloody place.  He told himself these things were all necessary.

Still, John hated it.

Sherlock had only raised a passing eyebrow when John had mentioned his appointment the evening before.  “You ok?”

“Just getting more information.  That’s all.  Scar tissue in the shoulder.  Probably need an xray.”

Sherlock had simply stared, taking in all about John, who attempted and likely failed to keep his expression innocent, neutral, and guileless.  “I can go with you if you want.”

John had barely blinked.  “Not necessary.”  He spoke the truth about the scar tissue but failed to mention the axillary lymph nodes, lumps under both armpits.  He also deliberately failed to mention the phrase Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma that had been a part of the differential diagnosis from John’s GP, who had already seen him and evaluated John's concerns.  It was bilateral lymph node swelling, and now determining the cause was next.

The MRI scanner was oppressive looking, a gigantic beast with a hole that had a sinister open mouth.  John smirked at his own reaction to the room as the tech gestured to the table.  "Up you pop," she told him, patting the table with a rote little disclaimer about machine safety as she helped him situate.  The thin scrubs were no protection against the coolness of the equipment, and he couldn’t stop the shiver, blaming perhaps unjustly more the climate than his anxiety.  "We’ll get you a warm blanket in a tick.  The room has to be cool for the safety of the machines.”

In short order, he was positioned, wedged in place, the cage at the back of his head left off, as his brain was not included.  The warm blanket stayed warm long enough only to minutely take the edge off, and John wondered if artifact from shivering was going to be a problem.  The tech handed him earplugs, which he pressed home, and then headphones were offered, which he slid into place.  They’d asked him for a music preference, and he shrugged and said alternative pop, even knowing it didn’t matter, as the only break in the scans would be mere seconds and beyond that, he would hear nothing except loud and obnoxious clicking, whirring, pounding, tapping, and hammering of the magnet.  A call bell was pressed into his hand along with a reminder to only use it for emergencies, and a smiling face appeared briefly as he was shuttled into the machine.  The door clicked shut.  Idly, he wondered if shivering would be an emergency if it threatened the clarity of his images.

“Scan starts now, this first one's short, only about 8 minutes.”  Coldplay sounded in his ears for a few seconds before the pounding began, leaving him alone with his thoughts.  Medical knowledge, knowing too much, he said to himself overtop the noise, working hard not to shake his head for real, was definitely a curse when it came to one’s own situation.  In short order inside the machine, he was borrowing trouble, disturbing results, and envisioning all the sequelae from a bad diagnosis - a chest wall port, chemo-induced alopecia, peripheral neuropathy, weight loss from vomiting, anaemia ...   These were the unpleasant thoughts as he lay, trying to keep all tone from his muscle as the relentless hammering continued, obtaining data that could have major ramifications on his future.

The scan, they'd told him, would last about a half-hour total, in divided portions, with an interlude of a few measures of song, and an announcement each time by the tech with a curt, scripted encouragement, “Doing great, next scan is twelve minutes, starting... now!”

His thoughts ranged the gamut of what he would tell Sherlock, what the range of results might be - from the dreaded scenario of metastatic cancer (unlikely) to also rather bad Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Hodgkins would be preferable, with it’s better cure rates and outlook, but of course something benign would be his first choice, or even more preferable, nothing other than the expected scar tissue and early arthritis.  Sherlock would fuss at him for not speaking up immediately, he knew, but right now Sherlock was in the middle of a consuming project that was occupying much of his thoughts and John knew he was better left to task.  The clicking, by the end of the third section of the scan, was beginning to give him a dull, occipital headache.  He could imagine the thrumming that pounded through his chest, looking for nodes, looking for tumour, looking of course for scar tissue in his repaired shoulder joint and upper chest.  Fibrous scarring was still very likely, and no matter the MRI results, he would need arthroscopy at best, but once John had noticed the lymph nodes under his arm, then discovered more, it seemed prudent to get all the information required before proceeding with any surgical procedure of any type.

The tech’s voice finally sounded, “All done, just checking for motion artifact on that last set.  Be there in a minute to get you out.”

The open air at his feet, his connection to the main room, was soon punctuated by two techs, one of whom hit a button, sliding the table out, took the headphones.  They helped him sit up, steadied him as he swung his legs over the trolley.   Exhausted, John sat a moment and wondered why he was so worn out, then he handed the call bell cord back and slid so that his feet touched the floor.  Both technicians reached out reflexively to make sure he didn't take an unscheduled meeting with the floor, and that was even sobering, that they felt the need to provide contact guard as he simply climbed off the bloody procedure table.  Somehow he didn't yet consider himself in the realms of the sick, injured, or ill like so many of the patients who came through these outpatient testing protocols.  John knew better than to ask for any type of results, and he intentionally did not search their faces for any signs of their interpretation, their unofficial knowledge of the results.  He popped out the earplugs to bin them, and they directed him back to the dressing room.  Changing quickly, he whisked back the curtain to the men’s waiting room, followed the signs to reception, where he would eventually exit.  At checkout, he was handed the disc of his actual images, and the receptionist wished him a good day as he pocketed the CD and his paperwork.  He'd barely turned to get his coat from the waiting area when he happened to look across the waiting room.  While the department was empty, the waiting room was not.

Sherlock was watching him, studying him carefully, soberly, and there was something emotional and heartfelt as they made eye contact.  The connection was both wonderful and awful - thanks for being here and I'm sorry this could be bad.  Wordlessly, they met at the door to the MRI centre, and John opened it, pushing through first.  Pensive, John kept his head down as he moved toward along the hallway toward the exit of the hospital.  Legs fell into step next to him, familiar legs, familiar stride, familiar shoes, long coat with collar flipped up.  For all that hinged on the test and the results all of which was an unknown variable, some things just didn't change - and for the company and the familiarity and the monotony of it all, even something as basic as keeping step together, John was grateful.  As they neared the doors, John could see that it was raining again, and he let his pace slow, gritting his teeth just a bit, the familiar London weather not evoking the same pleasure as Sherlock's company.

“How was it?”  Sherlock's body language was tentative, unreadable, as he kept very much to himself and did not invade John's personal space.

“You tell me.”  He’d been saying that more often these days, choosing the path of least resistance when having discussions with his flatmate.  

In answer, Sherlock pulled at John's sleeve so they were out of the main lobby traffic area, and he reached for John's hand, found it icy.  He let his warm fingers envelop them, and had they been in a more private location, he would have brought their joined hands to his mouth to blow warm air over them.  “If you were cold, why didn’t you ask for a blanket?”

“I did, I had one.”

“You were longer than I expected.”

“I said this wasn’t necessary, for you to meet me, to come with me.”

“You also said they were just looking for scar tissue.”

"I also never said exactly where I was going and what test I was having done either."  After all these years, John was not surprised that Sherlock had not only realised there was more to the story, but tracked down John's test, location, and time.

"Why would you not tell me?"

"You always fuss about not having all the facts, about needing all available information."

"You've been worried.  I could have shared that with you."

"Let's wait until there's a reading on this."

"You've already imagined no fewer than two surgical procedures, a multitude of expected treatments and their side-effects, all completely premature, you realise, and for all I know, you've already designated a medical power of attorney."

John smirked, angled his head with a sigh of frustration, and weighed his words.  Again, Sherlock was on the mark.  "My POA is you of course.  Rosie's too young."  At eight, she was an absolute delight, smartly perceptive, with John's features and occasionally, John's quick temper.  "But yes, I've gone there a bit in my head."

"Worst case scenario?"

"Cancer.  Possibly Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma."

"Treatable."

"Depending, but yes."

"You'll need a biopsy, probably?"

"Maybe.  They call it staging, yes."

Sherlock hesitated himself at that, glanced at the doorway.  "You need a minute?"

"Not especially."  John found his face unreadable - his usual detachment, but wondered if he was projecting his own need onto John with the 'needing a minute' question.  "Do you?  It'll be fine, you know.  Can't change a thing by worrying over it."

"Fine, of course," he said dismissively, "but I've plans.  We're spending the rest of the morning in bed.  Rosie has music rehearsal today, so we have hours until she'll be due home."  Finishing buttoning their respective coats, Sherlock smiled at him.  "You slept terribly and so did I, thanks to your bloody tossing and fretting.  I can think of a few things that will help you sleep," and at this his eyebrows waggled playfully at John, despite the somber discussion, "and we are taking a nap together.  We can lay in bed and listen to the rain lulling us back sleep.  You like that."

"Got it all figured out, do you?" John asked him as they stepped out the door and a cab appeared under Sherlock's raised arm.

Once they were safely out of the rain, Sherlock leaned forward to give their destination, then sat back.  "It's viral lymphadenopathy, you know."

"And you're certain of this how?"

"Because three weeks ago, maybe longer, you had that low grade fever, a couple days of joint stiffness.  You probably don't even recall that.  Then two weeks ago, there was that rash that showed up one morning, and you mistakenly blamed it on something you ate."  Actually, John's first accusation had been that Sherlock had dome something to their laundry.  Again.  He was continuing, though.  "Viral.  The lump under your left arm was a few days after that, then the right a few days after that.  Points to a post-viral syndrome."

"And you graduated med school when?"  John let his narrow eye communicate his suspicions, and he left his doubt unspoken for the moment.  "I didn't realise you paid attention to my axillary lymph node situation."

"Please."  The coat flared out as he crossed an ankle over a knee there in the back seat.  "I know your body probably better than you do.  I also know it was tender, which is not typical of NHL."

John shot him a look.

"I've been watching you discreetly.  And reading."

"On diagnose your own terminal illness dot com?"

He didn't specifically answer other than to half-smile and remind John he's never been good at clearing his search histories.  "Berk, your medical books of course.  Is your spleen enlarged?"

"No, but that's a rare finding anyway.  Look, my lab work so far looks okay, and I should have these MRI results by next week."

Had John not been watching closely, he would have missed the one-sided, Sherlock smirk that appeared and then disappeared, fading like one of Mycroft's diets.  "Or tonight," he volunteered just a little bit sheepishly.

John kept his eyes focused on Sherlock, who turned away and refused to make eye contact, but John was patient, waited until the cab actually stopped at their address and shifted into park.  "Here you are," the cabbie prompted.

In a rare burst of exiting the cab first, John flung the door wide and strode quickly, matter of factly, to the door leaving Sherlock to take care of the fare.  He threw his jacket on the couch, toed off his shoes in the main room, and began unbuttoning his shirt as he meandered the hallway to enter the bedroom.

"Why are you upset?"  Sherlock was still fully clad in coat and shoes and everything else, and he posed the question from the doorway as he watched John from across the room.  

"What did you do?"

"It was just a phone call.  Someone who owes me a favour, going to do a wet reading on your scan and agreed to call you tonight.  Call you.  Your cell number.  You don't have to take the call, and you don't have to bloody tell me."  John stripped to his pants, flung back the duvet, climbed into bed, letting his arms rest, folded, behind his head.  Sherlock leaned against the door jamb, uncertain.  "Why would you choose to wait longer?  You're medical, you know how this works."

"Yes.  I also know that these are my decisions, mine to manage."  Fussing at him mobile a moment, he set an alarm and then set the mobile aside as the wind increased, rattling the shutter and whistling across the angle of the window.

"Can I still join you?"  Sherlock's tone was cautious.

"Half your room, too."  John let his arm come to rest across his eyes as he listened to the rain pick up in intensity.  He knew Sherlock meant well, softened his tone.  "Of course.  I'd like that, actually."

The Belstaff ended up hung up, with Sherlock's clothes neatly folded, set aside, and he seemed reluctant to intrude.  "I'm sorry if I overstepped."

"I'm sorry for not telling you everything."

The bed dipped as Sherlock removed clothing and slid in next to John.  "May I?" he asked, voice serious and thoughtful.

Moving his arm a bit to look at Sherlock, John breathed deeply, knowing what he was being asked. He nodded.

Tentatively and gently, Sherlock's fingers located and then investigated the axillary lumps, first the swollen nodes under John's left arm and then sliding gently over to the right.  "Tender?" he asked when John drew in a breath.

"Bit," he conceded.  "Mostly I was hoping that you wouldn't find them and would inform me I have an overactive imagination and hallucinated the whole thing."

"You've already been to your GP.  You knew differently.  And that they're there."

"Yes."

Sherlock could read John quite well, and that he was vibrating with stress despite his stoicism and quietness.  "What would you like right now?"

"Oh god, this must be really serious, if you're giving me that kind of a choice?"

"Shut up.  Back to plan A, I'm just taking what I want, then."  With a gentle hand, he pressed on John's arms until they were no longer up over his head, and once John was more comfortable, he pressed his lips against John's neck, sucking and nibbling just like John always liked.  "Budge over."

++

They'd had a nice afternoon with Rosie, and had a lighthearted if somewhat stilted supper together, and Rosie had eventually been tucked in bed.  When John's mobile rang later, and they could both see the caller ID as that from the radiology department, they exchanged quick eye contact.  John connected the call on speaker phone while Sherlock muted the telly that they weren't really paying attention to anyway.

"Hello."

"I'm calling for Dr. John Watson, this is Dr. Collier, a radiologist over at the hospital."

"Yes, speaking."

"Date of birth please." John answered quietly and she continued. "All right, I have some test results for you.  Have a seat, get comfortable."  There was a bit of a pause, a low key voice, and John could feel his heart begin to pound, echoing in his ears and thrumming for all he was worth across his arms.  "So, I already see the name of your GP who ordered your test here, but do you have a surgeon in mind?  I can certainly forward these results if you have one."

What kind of surgeon, John wondered.  General surgeon for biopsy or orthopedist for intervention?  "I do not."  John kept his voice even and refused to look at Sherlock, but could feel eyes piercing his face as he stared at the mobile intently.

"Okay, then Dr. Watson. Your MRI showed..."

++

MRI images were obtained using standard technique and protocols and reveal extensive and proliferative scar tissue development in and around the left scapular region and AC joint.  There is significant osteoarthritic-overgrowth along an old fracture line along the acromion process with some arthritic changes along the internal greater tuberosity.  Given the patient's history, this is secondary to GSW with repair approximately twelve years previously.  No specific ligament abnormalities are visualised on either right or left images.  However, there is diffuse, uniform lymphadenopathy in bilateral axillary lymph regions, without abscess with slightly more involvement on the left.  Arthroscopic procedure should be given serious consideration for relief of the severe and extensive presence of adhesions and scarring across the humeral head into the left glenoid cavity and scapula.  Clinical correlation is suggested to rule out infectious process that is evidenced in the lymphadenopathy.  Consider viral source more likely than bacterial, given the lack of encapsulated abscess.  There is no evidence of any other active disease or malignancy.  Of note, well-healed right clavicular fracture, likely a very old finding.

++

There was a faint sound of bubbling and the scent of acrid plastic as he awakened, became aware.  A rigid clip was on his finger, and a blood pressure cuff inflated across his right upper arm.  A background murmuring of footsteps and quiet voices, along with an occasional beep and blip interspersed with the sound of rubber wheels on lino, patient stretchers being moved.  There was a heaviness across his entire body, and a block of time was gone, evaporated, missing, curiously absent.  A blanket covered most of him, and an unsnapped patient gown exposed his left chest.  Pervasive skin tingling and decreased extremity sensations on his right arm ended in fingers feeling icy and curled up with each other, his hand feeling foreign even to himself as he wriggled his thumb and index fingers.  His left arm was conspicuously numb.  He could feel the shivers starting in his lower back, radiating up and making his teeth chatter and his jaw clench.  His eyelids were heavy, and he rested behind them.  A squeeze touched him reassuringly on his right hand, and he laboured to get and keep his eyes open for a moment.  The foreign feeling of his own hand was actually not his own hand, he realised, but someone else's.  Sherlock.  In the typically-restricted post operative ward. Of course.

"What are you doing here?"

Smile. "I asked. Nicely, even."

John's heavy eyelids closed again, and he didn't particularly care.  "Right. You lied."  He could feel Sherlock's fingers warm around his own, the sensation of their skin touching a reassuring lifeline behind his sleepy consciousness.

"I may have mentioned that you have PTSD and not always a smooth emergence from anaesthesia."

"Clever."  He tried to shimmy down deeper under the blanket, ineffectively.  "And not on my pre-anaesthesia evaluation."

"Yeah, well, you're a decorated war vet and embarrassed about your emotional fragility, so you don't like to mention it."

"But you do."

"When it gets me what I want, yes."

"Manipulative wanker," John said, fondly.

"A useful skill, sometimes."

There was the IV in the back of his hand, and a coolness diffusing along his wrist and up his arm.  "Another blanket?" he asked low, between shudders of his teeth.

"Maybe I could get under there with you?"  Sherlock bent low, letting his forehead touch John's temple in a conveyed message of togetherness and comfort. "We could spoon."

"Blanket," John insisted again.  Glancing down at his shoulder, he could see two small dressings and an ice pack in his peripheral vision.  The expected immobiliser and folded blanket behind his left arm were still an odd sensation to see but not feel.  His routine arthroscopy to remove scar tissue was done, and he could sense the relief even as a mild twinge of discomfort niggled over his shoulder joint.  The surgeon had advised him that if the procedure ended up being extensive that they would likely place a long-acting, opioid along his op site to decrease postoperative pain.  He figured, based on the numbness, that this had likely been done.

One of the nurses heard John's request, and came over to apply a hot blanket over him, then insulate it with the blanket he'd been covered with.  She peered down at him intently.  "Sleeping beauty awakens, I see.  You've been a mite slow to emerge."

"Yeah, well.  Boring company," he said giving Sherlock's hand in his own an affectionate if somewhat numb, squeeze.

"This one's been very worried, staring at you as if you were going to vanish or something if he looked away."

"Or stop breathing.  You know, they actually have monitors on me to keep an eye on that," John said in a whisper.

There was a harsh, cautionary noise from within Sherlock's throat, and he attempted a diversionary tactic.  "Do you need fresh ice yet?"

"No, it's fine."  The gravel in his voice spoke of recent abuse and the presence of a breathing tube, and he coughed a few times attempting to clear it.  "It's fine, and I'm fine."

"It's sweet."  The nurse raised the ice pack to check for bleeding, touched her fingertips lightly across the upper part of his shoulder to assess for crepitus, and glanced down at his fingers.  Cooperatively and with anticipatory knowledge, John wriggled them obediently.  The smile on her face reached her eyes, and she replaced the ice.  "Doctors are either really great patients, or really terrible ones."  Turning a quick smile at Sherlock, she checked the IV rate and adjusted the blanket again.  "Let me know when you need pain medicine."

"I will, thanks."

"I'll take some," Sherlock offered, and, smiling, she shook her head and walked away.

"Yeah, they've never heard that before."

"How long do we have to stay here?"

"You're free to go anytime."  Careful of his IV, John pulled the blanket up around his neck, tucking it in, feeling the continual chill.  "Me?  I'd love a bit more peace and quiet.  And another nap."

"You slept all morning, in the OR suite and here."

"Anaesthesia is not sleep."  Turning his head slightly on the pillow, he let his eyes close, decided to answer Sherlock's question less he chase down a staff member and demand attention.  "The doc will want to talk to me, and we move from here to the other area again.  Home in a couple of hours I guess."

Despite not being able to see him, John knew the moment when Sherlock rolled his eyes, shifted restlessly on the stool he was on, and looked around the room, bored and itchy.  "John."

"Stop it.  Sit still here or go somewhere else."

++

A few hours later, as John promised, they'd been seen by John's surgeon, and were indeed leaving the hospital, taking a cab across every annoying irregularity in the road to jostle and bump John's body.  In short order, they were back in their flat.  However, John was beginning to think perhaps he should have taken the surgeon up on the opportunity to spend the night inpatient.  Sherlock was going to drive him nutters if he kept this up.

"No, the pillow is fine, stop fussing."  In the moments that followed, John began to wonder if Mycroft would deign to make a house call and remove Sherlock by force to prevent bloodshed, which at this point could have been either or both of them, depending on whose frustration was mounting the quickest.  Sherlock was annoyingly churlish and intolerant and relentless as he fussed.  "I don't need another pain pill.  Lunch, no not hungry, really.  Put those instructions back on the table where they belong, please.  I need them for my follow-up appointment."

The self-control John maintained was admirable:

"No, I'm not going to get up and get your mobile for you."

"My immobiliser is not too tight, thanks."

"You just refreshed the ice ten minutes ago, it's fine."

And then John realised what the problem was likely, and - hopefully - a restorative way to at least minimise it.

"Actually," he began, and waited until Sherlock had looked over with enough attention to actually - he hoped - listen.  "Maybe there is something, and I do need help," he continued.  "Loo, first, and then I'll tell you."  He hesitated at the door, declining actual assistance beyond a steadying arm to the doorway.  "Sweatpants, seriously, I can manage them."  As a concession, he did leave the door open and tried not to chuckle at the way Sherlock paced, hovered, and thankfully resisted accompanying him to the toilet.

"It's your non-dominant hand, John, what if ...?"

"No, I'm fine.  I've got this.  And seriously, it's just...  For chrissake, let me urinate in peace."  At Sherlock's troubled countenance, John did feel a bloom of compassion in his chest, and smiled in response to it.  "All right," he said, standing and adjusting clothing.  "Back to the couch?"

He did finally agree to a pain pill, knowing, as the doctor had warned him, that the anaesthetic block administered intraoperatively would wear off and the real discomfort would escalate.  With carefully polite requests, he directed Sherlock in the support of pillows, blanket, and then he chose a movie they'd both seen, one that he'd enjoyed and Sherlock tolerated.  The restlessness John was feeling was only mildly contrived as he tried to find a comfortable spot on the couch, and after a few failed attempts at settling it, he sighed.

"I hate to ask, but maybe..."

Sherlock's sharp eyes honed in on John's face.  "Please. Figure it out and get yourself sorted. This unending inability to settle yourself is becoming wearisome."

"Do you even hear yourself, Sherlock?  Your restlessness is also quite annoying. You know, this has not been an easy day for me, either."

"You got to go to sleep."

"I know, and you had to wait and you were worried.  But it's over, and everything's fine."  A small furrow appeared between Sherlock's brows, but he was quiet.  "You did just fine," he assured him, then could see Sherlock's face relax and the soothing effect of a deep exhale.  "Can we just, I don't know, get rid of this pillow.  Maybe I could lean against you instead?  That's always worked before, and I'm a mite chilly, still.  A little combined body heat would help me."  Sherlock nodded, pensive, and John directed him to perhaps grab his mobile and slip off his shoes first, both of which were quickly accomplished.  Carefully, John waited until Sherlock was tucked in the corner of the couch, and eased his sore body up against him, wedging comfortably and lightly into the solidness of his chest.  Sherlock placed the ice pack over his still clean and dry dressings, and John nodded with a whispered thanks.  When he stopped wriggling, Sherlock let his arm gently tuck in overtop of the blanket, drawing John very slightly close up against him.  "The blanket?  Maybe a little higher?"

"Rosie can get in after school?" Sherlock confirmed before making those final adjustments to their position, before they got to the point, intertwined and too enmeshed, that for him to have to get up again would be disruptive.

"Mrs. Hudson is watching for her, and the door's unlocked."

He consulted his mobile.  "We have a few hours until then, anyway."

John did notice that the two of them there, snuggled together, was better for both John's pain and Sherlock's anxiety than it had been.  "This is nice," and he breathed deeply a few times, feeling the pain pill starting to kick in perhaps, or the comfort of Sherlock's embrace, or maybe just that the chill was gone.  Either way, he appreciated it, and let his eyes drift close as he could feel Sherlock watching him.  He smiled, finally feeling like they both could settle now, and with a satisfied, quiet voice, said, "Just what the doctor ordered."  Some of the tension in Sherlock's upper body seemed to diminish then plateau, a few more deep breaths and his muscles relaxed a bit more.  Under the blanket was warm, comforting, familiar.

And before John passed from awake into very lightly almost sleeping, he could feel Sherlock smile against his hair and his arm tighten just barely, almost imperceptibly, around him.

++

Epilogue

Sherlock's eyes were huge but John's back was turned.  Mrs. Hudson had just dropped off their post, and John slit open the envelope from Bart's as he sat down with a cuppa.  It was records from his surgery, some imaging reports, the op report note, and discharge summary.  "Wonder why they sent this, maybe it's a standard of care now?" he mused, taking out several folded sheets and shaking them.  Then skimming the contents, he read a few phrases out loud, "... under satisfactory general anaesthesia ... simple laparoscopic shoulder arthroscopy ... debridement arthritic surfaces... "  Sherlock held his breath waiting for the words 'needle aspiration' but they didn't come.

Sherlock used long fingers to pluck at one of the back pages hoping to prevent John from seeing it, but was unable without drawing undue attention.  He picked up the page John had set down when he was done with it, read it himself.  "You have a well healed right clavicle fracture?"  John paused in his reading, looked over.  "How'd you do that?"

"Chased Harry out of a tree.  It was rather brilliant right up until the branch broke.  I think I was maybe ten.  Spent a couple miserable weeks in a figure-eight..."  When he stopped speaking, Sherlock also grew quiet as he watched John read, then after a bit, watched John stare off toward the window.  There was a puzzled expression on his face, and the paperwork absently wilted toward the tabletop.  

Seizing the moment, Sherlock collected the discarded paperwork, glanced through it, then turned, looking concernedly at John while folding the reports back up.  He sensed John was displeased, but he wasn't sure the origin.

"What is it?" Sherlock asked without emotion.  "Something amiss?"  Perhaps there was still hope that John was just remembering the postoperative pain, the physical therapy, the healing.  Or the pre-procedural worrying they'd both done.

"I didn't know they aspirated one of the lymph nodes."

"Wouldn't that be expected, since they were working right in that area?"

"No.  It's very much a surprise."  John could almost feel the vibes of heightened emotion emanating from the man across from him, who had already folded up all the paperwork and put it away.  Quite a veteran to Sherlock's behaviour, John considered that this was consistent with actions someone would take if they were hiding evidence.  And more, hiding in plain sight, as Sherlock found the most clever.  After a moment of silence, John planned his words carefully and spoke.  "Interesting that there's no report on it, no pathology.  It's not on the consent form I signed, really not mentioned anywhere other than the briefest statement, in passing, in the procedural report."

Sherlock was stonily silent, but John did notice that his foot had just barely begin tremoring against the floor, mostly under the table, mostly obscured, but not entirely.

"Also interesting they sent this at all.  I certainly didn't request it."

"Hmm.  That is curious.  Fascinating, as a matter of fact.  The medical community is typically so thorough."  The sarcasm was yet another of Sherlock's tactics, designed to throw John off by diverting his attention or otherwise shifting focus.  "They did operate on the correct shoulder, however.  So that's something."

"Sherlock."  John could smell conspiracy.  He spoke the name again as Sherlock seemed suddenly interested in attempting to locate his mobile.  "I certainly didn't request it."  His emphasis made it obvious to Sherlock that he'd been found out.

"What?"  In that moment, Sherlock knew his game was up, decided on a hail mary, though he never would have called it that.  "What exactly are you saying?  Because I don't think I care for your accusation."  John almost chuckled, knowing Sherlock at his most defensive usually launched some offensive attack.

"Spill it."  John stared, intent, eyes wide open as he leaned forward in his chair.  Snatching the now-full again envelope, he waved it between them.

"I have no idea what you're referring to."

"Yes, you do. What did you do?  Tell me, or..."

"Or what?  

"Or I will bin all of those specimens, all of them."  He jerked a thumb over in the direction of the racks on the counter and implied by inclusion those within the refrigerator.  "And I will continue to do so until the end of time."

"That's ridiculous."

"Don't test me."

Sherlock's mouth pursed, thinking, plotting.  The look about his mouth was akin to the surrender of throwing up his hands.  "Fine. I may have requested your medical records. And I may have also requested fluid samples."

John was stone-faced, silent, emotionless for the moment. His skin was both pale and flushed at the same time, and he sought clarification. "Without telling me?"

"It was just a phone call.  I made a quick phone call to your surgeon," nervously, he started to ramble, offering excuse over explanation over justification.

"You had no right."

There was a pointed moment where he wanted to continue to defend himself, then clenched his teeth.  John could see him considering his own response, and was not unhappy that for the moment he just kept quiet.  When time dragged on and grew too uncomfortable, he sank a bit in the chair and muttered, "They're your records.  I had them sent to you."

"As if that makes everything all right."

"It does.  I violated nothing."

"Except my privacy and my confidential records and my lymph node that you had no right asking the surgeon to ...  molest!"  John's word choice brought a chuckle to both of them, briefly.  "What's more, you were hoping I would be at work when they arrived."

"Mrs. Hudson was not supposed to bring it up, I told her I would collect it."  John's eyebrow raised, and he was amused, slightly anyway, despite the yet another infringement on his person.

"For her hip, of course."

"Of course. To save her having to navigate the steps."

"So thoughtful of you."

Sherlock's answering one-sided grin was still, John thought, after all these years, very sweet and charming.

"How did you make the sample hand-off without my noticing?"

His tone was almost disdainful. "Oh please, you'd had anaesthesia and sedation and the syringes were small."

"Syringes, plural?"

"Folded up inside your post operative instructions and then quite easily slid into my coat pocket."  Sherlock shook his head.  "Pathetic, actually, that no one noticed.  It wasn't challenging in the least."

John chewed on a lip as he pondered his options, which were decidedly few.  If nothing else, he reckoned, Sherlock did mean well.  And he crossed boundaries so often he was probably barely aware that he'd done so - this was nothing new.  John sighed.  "So?"

"So?" Sherlock repeated.  "What do you mean by that?"

"So what did my fluid samples, my illegally obtained, unethically acquired fluid samples, show?"

A connection of eye contact, that brief acknowledgement of you know I really had your best interest at heart coupled with John's I know you didn't mean this to be hurtful look.  "It was viral lymphadenopathy...  I told you that from the very beginning."

Chapter Text

Neither of them got rattled too quickly when plans changed last minute, there was a no-show, or a faint wrinkle in Sherlock's dress shirt, although he cared most about that last one to be honest.  Overall, John was less spontaneous and made much more effort than Sherlock did to keep appointments and act responsibly.  Sherlock was getting there, and it had been a few weeks since he'd forgotten something of great magnitude.

So one night, when he was the one at Baker Street waiting for John, his first thought had been that he in fact had missed something and was supposed to be somewhere else.  While he was double checking his mobile calendar and some notes on the refrigerator, a text arrived.  At first the texts weren't all that out of the ordinary. 

i'm going to be late

You were supposed to bring dinner. SH

a bit busy

Not hungry anyway.  I only eat to keep you from nagging me. SH

(no reply)

Where are you anyway? SH

i'll be home soon

You didn't answer my question. SH

i know, talk when i get home, somethings come up

The back of Sherlock's neck prickled.  Not only was John very much a stickler for mealtimes, he was even more attuned to using proper punctuation in text messages.

++

Where is John Watson? SH

It is not my turn to watch him, brother dearest.  

Sherlock seethed when he read that, as intended, and inside his head he could hear Mycroft's dripping snide tone in the text.

Tell me, or I will publish one of those childhood pictures I'm sure you would rather not be made public. I shall start with the humiliating bathtub photo and scurry quickly along to the one of you and the butler when you were 14.  Shall I continue? SH

Barts A&E

Details immediately. You know I hate repetitious threats. SH

Minor injury. Police report. Shouldn't be much longer, but you could still make it over there if you leave post haste.

Sherlock left that unanswered and barely noticed when another text came through shortly thereafter. You're welcome. And wise choice on the tube, cab would have run into traffic.

++

John was just tucking his coat around his shoulder, being careful of the white gauze around his left hand when Sherlock attempted to charm but finally coerced his way into the "Authorized Entry Only" barricade in the A&E.  Their eyes met - Sherlock's concerned, John's serious, and the nurse's sharp eyes took in the visitor.

"He's with you?"

"Yes."  At her nod, she considered the clipboard in her hand, took back the biro that John had just somehow managed to sign his name with, and turned back to him. "Last chance for pain medication before you leave."

"Still a mite numb. I'm fine."

"Fill the prescription on the way home. Hand wounds can..."

John hushed her. "I'm good. Thanks for everything. And yes, I'll stop at the chemists."

Sherlock approached, and very quickly chose to simply stay out of John's way and not delay their departure. There was something rattling just under John's skin, under the very guarded expression of his eyes, that must have communicated very clearly to Sherlock that John was most anxious to leave the department. He chose silence, wanting to give John what he seemed to be needing most at the moment, although there were plenty of things he wanted to glean from John himself and their surroundings. John pocketed his paperwork, nudged open the door with the back of his shoulder, and eased out of the treatment room. The hallways were routinely bustling, people in various stages of evaluation, locomotion, and waiting. They were standing outside the exit doors before any words were spoken.

"You could have called me. I would have come right over, you know."  Sherlock spoke kindly despite feeling a bit put-out. He knew John well enough after all these years to know there was a reason of some sort. Even if it was a tedious reason, he knew.

"I wasn't in the mood to have you call me an idiot right yet. Still not, actually." His words were terse, eeked between tightly muscled jaws, and he gestured with his unbandaged arm at Sherlock. "Cab'd be nice about now." The hesitation in Sherlock's response gave John pause - he senses my fury - and they shared a look. "Please?" John gritted out.

"It'll cost you," he said quietly, stepping closer to the street and sniffing each direction as if trying to scent for a cab. "Information, eventually."

Since the phrases were mandates, John did not feel the need to agree, simply clenched his teeth together and looked away.  Shortly there was a hack pulling up, and the ride was quiet after Sherlock had given the driver directions for the chemist located only a block from home.  They would easily walk home from there.

++

The stop at the chemist had been quick, and Sherlock had waited wisely outside, sensing John needed a bit of space before enlightening him. So rather than turn his steps toward their flat, he chose instead the half block further away, away from most of the activity.  Tucking the bag inside his coat, John leaned against a corner of a half-wall, and gathered his thoughts and his breath.

"Got 27 stitches across here," he said, lifting his hand up to show Sherlock the area on the fleshy part of his hand at the base of his little finger and across toward the palm, stopping closer to his wrist.

"You fell?" Sherlock raised his own fingers to lightly rest on John's bandage.  "Trying to catch yourself?"  Looking closer, inspecting it for the first time, he could see multiple abrasions across the backs of all the knuckles of John's left hand peeking through the gauze, took note of that, picked up John's right hand to find a few less severe marks there. Oh, of course. "You got in a fight."  Flexing the fingers of his right hand, John nodded quietly. When there was no verbal response, Sherlock continued, asking, "How's the other guy look?"

"Not good. Pretty bad, all said. Split his lip. Then knocked out a couple of teeth." There was a curious raise of Sherlock's eyebrow.

"Deserved, then."

"Oh yes. Should have knocked out more teeth, apparently. The bastard still managed to, quite effectively, bite me."

"He bit you. He bit you?"  For all Sherlock hated redundancy, he still stooped to it at times. "Like a rabid dog?"

"Well, certainly not like a radioactive rabbit."

Sherlock pondered this, considered John Watson and the things that have angered him in the past, knew John had been working today. "Protecting someone I would suppose."

++

John stood, then, and Sherlock matched him, arm to arm, not really touching, as John elaborated on the crazy events.  He'd been closing physician, had just finished with his final two patients when there was a walk-in, a middle aged man and a very ill-appearing child of about ten.  The adult was seeking help with the child who continued to complain of cough, sore throat and fever, and the receptionist had very calmly explained that they don't take walk-ins, and that the office had just finished all appointments. She attempted to give him information and directions to the A&E, but he just stared, annoyed, at her.

While the office was indeed closing, John had stayed late on more than one occasion when there was a need, and he didn't care for how the child looked. "Are you established patients?" John had asked, scrutinising both adult and child quickly, concernedly.  Walking over, he'd told Sherlock, every bit of his skin and hackles rose as he took in the obvious dynamics of the pair.  There was something dark, something, as he thought about it now, something very wrong.

"Never mind," the man had groused, muttering something about going to an urgent care clinic and herding the child in the direction of the door.  While the receptionist turned back to finish closing, John had misgivings and, since he was done, he gathered his coat and followed at a discreet distance.  "So I kept them in sight, and, oh god, Sherlock, it turned my stomach.  He was rough, but worse, even without him raising a hand, the child was obviously terrified - terrified - of him."  Once John had approached, offered assistance, and confronted the man calmly, however, everything turned to a nightmare, and there had been a scuffle. The child ran off while John chased the man to tackle him in the nearest alley. There had been punching, and John related that he'd landed more than a few and the man somehow managed to nearly get away.  He left out some of the details of the teeth crunching under his fists, that he enjoyed it and was only momentarily distracted enough for the man to lunge strongly enough to get John's hand in his mouth and bite.  There was quite a bit of blood, "really rather bloody both ways, mine and his."  The police had been summoned, they'd both been taken to the A&E, and John hoped that the child had truly managed to get away.

"What possessed you to attack instead of calling someone?" Sherlock was still calm. "Might have been better to keep them in sight from a distance."

"There was no time. The child was in danger, or so it seemed, of course I just acted. I got the impression, truly, that he was being trafficked."

"Based on?"

"Just had the impression. I knew something, the kid had haunted eyes, this beaten look about him, a ghost, a shell. I could just tell. There were times in the army, I knew, sometimes medically, or something else. Call it intuition."

"Oh yes, you're often spot on. Spot on, you and your deductions. Perhaps you recall flirting with a stranger on the tube, good call, that time."

"Sod off.  Because there are times I just know."

"Right, my brother, that first meeting. You were convinced he meant me harm."

"The dramatic kidnapping must've thrown me that time. He doesn't count. Bad example."

"Eurus.  Picked right up on that one as well, good choice for a counselor."

"Shut up, you know what I mean."

"You only asked that I not call you an idiot. You never said I couldn't name names. And then of course Mary."

They connected eyes, and John's voice dropped, quiet and tense, almost too calm. "That was a low blow, even for you, Sherlock, seriously." John wanted to remind him that he was the one injured here, he was the one with the right to be angry, but kept quiet and hoped Sherlock would settle down.

"Shall I go on? Or can I call you an idiot now?"

"Right now I am definitely questioning my choice of flatmate."

"I'm more than that, you know. Husband." Sherlock was definitely wound up when he played that reminder.

"So is that added to the list of people I should have had better insight regarding, and avoided? Husband?"

"No, just thought you needed reminding."

"Right, as if I'd forgotten."

"You love me." Sherlock stated that as if daring John to contradict him. "Or at least you're supposed to."

"I do, yes, but right this moment, I find I don't like you very much."

"You chose me."

"We chose each other."

"You could have been hurt. You risked yourself carelessly." Ah, there it was, John realised, the reason Sherlock was being a total arse. John heard the undertones of concern beneath the words, despite Sherlock's prickly aggressiveness.

"I had no choice. And he deserved worse."

Sherlock stood mostly still, his mind whirling and his eyes holding John's for a long moment, and the high tension seemed to ease off a little. With a small nod of being ready to move on, he let his eyes take in John's stance, his clothing, his body. "Any other injuries?"

"Other than my pride?  No, mostly just my hands. He caught a couple across here," John said, brushing lightly across his lower rib areas. "Xray was negative." John gazed off into the distance a bit, unseeing. "Lestrade said he was going to try to track down the kid. They've been aware of a prostitution ring, that now they think may involve children, across town. I wish I knew the kid was all right. Didn't see where he - or she, I suppose - was going."

"I'll bet you were wishing you had your gun."

"No, it's probably a very expedient thing I didn't. I don't even think your brother would have been able to clear me if that had been the case. God I was so angry." John shook his head sadly, blew out a breath, looking down at his hand briefly before meeting Sherlock's gaze quietly. There was a sideways smile, then, and John did feel better now that Sherlock knew. Or at least knew some of it. "Thanks for coming over. I was, actually, getting ready to call you. We should get home before Rosie worries."  At fifteen, Rosie was rather independent, self-motivated, and unafraid.

"She is not a worrier, and you know she probably hasn't particularly missed either of us. I'm sure she's fine."

+++

They'd just entered the flat on Baker Street, could hear Rosie's music playing from the upstairs, and John fished out the package from the chemist out of his coat pocket, set it aside. "We're home," he said in the direction of the stairs, and received an answering muffled hello in return. The music then halted abruptly, and they knew she'd likely just plugged in headphones.

"Tea?" John said.

"Are you asking or offering?" At the roll of John's eyes, Sherlock chuckled. "Asking, then. Just this once, I'll make it." There was a quick flurry of activity in the kitchen, and then Sherlock was back as the kettle heated. "What is that?" Sherlock asked, looking with interest at the bag.  "Prophylactic antibiotics?"

"No, they're not indicated but for rare exceptions like bacterial meningitis." John explained that he'd already been given a jab of immune globulin for Hepatitis B protection. Source patient testing was underway, for both of them given the dual exposure of each to the other's blood. There would be results available for hepatitis and HIV the following day. He mentioned that there would be re-testing in about four weeks, at which point there would hopefully be conclusive negative results with the window for sero-conversion addressed.

"You're obviously negative. Would you consider him to be high risk?" Sherlock asked.

"Hard to say. Tough lifestyle. They'll call me tomorrow or day next with results, in case there will be necessary post-exposure therapy." He glanced at the bag. "This is just pain medicine. And condoms."

"What?" Sherlock asked quickly, his face immediately connecting the dots of what John had told him and showing how displeased he was at that news. "That's ridiculous. I hardly think -"

John held up a hand, not looking to engage verbally in the discussion at the moment.  "Non negotiable."

"I disagree."

"You have no say in it."

He held up his left hand, letting his thumb flick at the plain platinum band. "I believe actually that I do."

John mirrored his gesture, flashing his scalloped edged platinum band back in Sherlock's vision, as he tried to tamp down his aggravation and temper. It was perhaps more impactful than when Sherlock had done it, given the sutures and bulky bandage over John's left, dominant hand.  "I will never risk your health. Never." Strong in delivery and in content, John's words hovered in the room as their eyes drilled in to each other, held, locked, both highly impassioned about the topic.  Had John taken a moment to reflect, it would have occurred to him that neither was actually angry at the other, but at the circumstance, the perp, the unaccounted for variable in the equation. Not distracted however, John was aiming for clarity, summation, and finality as he leaned closer to growl, "Never. Again."  

Unfortunately for John and then for them both, John's voice caught, broke, the emotion of their experiences just below the surface, with John's guilt on these rare occasions just simmering away ready to boil. Sherlock sighed, having hoped for an argument win and now he'd been relegated to providing aid and comfort - gladly, except for the unclaimed outcome. Closing the last few centimetres between them, he drew John close. His long arms wrapped around John's shoulders, one sliding easily to John's waist, pulling their bodies tight. His other hand briefly pressed the back of John's head, angling it so that John's cheek was against Sherlock's collarbone.  He knew John would resist initially, that it would be long mental minutes of reliving what in John's mind was still terribly traumatic - that boot-kicking after the few punches to the face that day so very long ago in the morgue. To a lesser degree, he would still be vaguely aware of Mary's actions namely the shooting that had occurred due to John's proximity, the need for Sherlock to take drastic evasive manoeuvers off the roof, and even Sherlock's predisposition in the past to substances. John was completely unwilling to risk any of it, ever, again.

For whatever else John and Sherlock were known for being good at, they excelled at knowing the very core of what the other needed. John knew when Sherlock needed space, or needed the rare cigarette, or needed John to give him a good glaring at a crime scene when his mouth ran away with him. He knew the times Sherlock needed prompting when his social graces were failing, which was still fairly often. John knew when Sherlock needed to be just very slightly dominated between the sheets, holding him immobile and issuing quiet orders, and then praising when they were lying sweaty and sated in each others arms. They both just knew.

Sherlock had discovered how best to handle John, too. It actually didn't come up often, but when it did, Sherlock had learned his steady, solid, almost restrictive hug was the absolute best medicine as John's mind went through the stages: regret, anger at himself for lack of self control, denial that he was worthy of Sherlock, that he was still for some reason lovable but chosen, and finally, that moment where John's shoulders relaxed again. Right about the same time his body would relax against Sherlock was when his mind finally settled on the security of their relationship. Sherlock pressed lips against John's sandy brown head, even as he could feel the faintest movement of John's injured hand as he brought it up to shoulder height. The furrow between John's brows evidenced the discomfort, and Sherlock could well imagine the hand had to be throbbing.

"Here, sit. Elevate that. Ice?" Sherlock waited for John's nod and then supplied pillow, ice pack, and John's mug of tea. John sipped, then stared at the limb, slid his uninjured fingers against his wedding band, letting a small smile of triumph and satisfaction on his face. Worth it, read the subtitle of expression.

++

There were two phone calls of interest to John's mobile the next day.

The first was Lestrade.  "Thought you'd like to know, we found the boy. He'll be all right."

"Thank god."

"Sick as shit, docs say with pneumonia. Been admitted, hydrated, whatever it is you people do. Located parents." Lestrade's voice was solemn, serious on the other end of the phone, and John knew that the involvement of kids drew out a whole new kind of pursuit of justice in many people. "Abused. Said he used to have to ..." Greg's voice trailed off. "Never mind, I'm sure you can figure out the rest. They'll get him set up with social services."

"And therapy too, I'm sure," John breathed, resting his head back as he sat there on the couch. "Good to hear."

"He thought you'd been killed, John. Actually thought we were there to arrest him for some reason. Sounds like he's been stuck in a living nightmare for a long time."

"And the perp?"

"Really exquisitely bruised today. Lovely colours.  Mouth's a mess. Nice job."

"That wasn't what I meant," John retorted, although he was rather chuffed to hear it.

"He's locked up for a long time now." Greg told him, as well, that they were hoping to get a lot of information from the man, and John could hear the chuckle in his voice that he was tactfully trying to suppress as he added, "Once he can speak more clearly, that is."

"Serves him right. And more."

They both knew that jail was rough on criminals like him, though neither said it. "How are you?" Greg said after clearing his throat, closing the subject. "Sore?"

"God yes. Hand throbs like it's on fire. But I'm ok, thanks." John stared at his very swollen and slightly purpling fingers, flexed them slightly and noting the tight pain across his entire hand. He glanced up as Sherlock returned with take away for dinner, John's request for Thai. "Appreciate the update. And the quick help yesterday." The arriving officer yesterday had very promptly cuffed the man, summoned an ambulance for them both, and then immediately sent others to search for the boy.

John had angled the phone away from his ear, knowing Sherlock would be interested as Lestrade chatted a few more minutes about the network, the details.  Sherlock finally spoke. "Tell George he should be grateful you intervened, led to a fairly large discovery I believe." Sherlock interjected.

In John's ear, Lestrade chuckled, "Tell him he's right on all counts except the name thing. Again. It's getting old after all these years."

"Talk soon," John said and rang off.

The second call was later that evening from John's treating physician in the A&E. "Dr. Watson?"

"Yes." As required, there was a brief two patient identifier conversation as John sat up more straight in the chair, as if that would prepare him any better to listen. "I was hoping to hear from you tonight."

"I have lab results. On you, yourself, all negative." Papers rustled in the background. "HIV, Hep B surface antigen, Hep A IgM antibodies all negative. Your Hep B antibody levels are detectable from your vaccination series."

"As expected."

"Anti-HCV antibody was not detected. That'll get repeated in four weeks." John wasn't terribly interested in his own labs, so kept quiet so the doc would continue. "The man in question also tested negative for everything. There was no Hep B antibody - not a surprise as he probably never'd been immunised."

"Did he have liver function tests run, too?"

"Slight elevation in ALT and AST, but bilirubin was normal. It is my understanding that he will have repeated labwork as well?"

"So I was advised."

"Any questions?"

"Not really."

"Follow up instructions would include monitor for fever, hepatomegaly, signs of jaundice, dark urine. Be aware of the possibility of blood exchange - obviously no blood donation, safe sex until you're cleared, call your GP for any questions or symptoms."

++

It ended up being a four-week long battle. What started as Sherlock simply being Sherlock, it became more of a test of wills.

"No, god Sherlock, you can't do that! Get a condom first."

"Wait, get off me, let me get a condom on first."

"I swear on all that's holy, if you bite me with the intent to draw blood, I will take scissors to your Belstaff. Hand me a condom."

"I don't care if you're swallowing or not, you can't - stop it! Let go of me!"

"That is not a safe sex practice."

"If you're going to wake me up like that, it'd be nice if you were completely prepared."

"If you move your mouth one more centimetre closer to me, I'm calling Mrs. Hudson."

"No, entering a little is still entering. Get away from me until there's appropriate protection."

"God, Sherlock. Please, please, please, just stop, until I get this on."

"No, drawing the sample early is not a good idea."

++

Lab work was expertly drawn by one of the nurses in John's office on day 28 and sent by courier to the hospital as was their usual practice.

Sherlock arrived several hours later, grinning, spoke to the woman behind the desk. The receptionist who came to let John know that he was here looked mildly concerned, and when John arrived to the central office lobby a few minutes later, the grin on Sherlock's eager face had turned predatory.

John spoke to the woman first. "My next patient?"

"Room two."

"I'll be right there," he advised the nurse, then led Sherlock down the hall to his office, closed the door behind them. "What is the matter with you? I'm working."

"Negative." He pulled out a faxed lab result report from within his inside coat pocket, handed it over to John.

"It was all just drawn this morning," John began, glancing through the results to find Sherlock correct. Upon seeing Sherlock's smug expression, he let his protest trail off. "Did you ...?"

Sherlock was already nodding his head, eyes sparkling and excited. "You'd be amazed what a little family influence can accomplish."

"I'm still working. Not sure why you showed up."

"Consider this foreplay, Dr. Watson," he said, low, reaching out a long finger to tease the edge of John's white coat, flick at his embroidered name on the left breast, then hook inside John's collar.  Slowly, he drew him closer, pressed anxious and heated lips against John's, then wriggled across his jaw to his neck. "Or maybe I wanted to do something unprotected and unsafe, like bite you."

"I have to say, that's still not all that funny." He consulted his watch for the time. "I have patients waiting. I'll see you at home in a bit, all right?" 

++

John consulted his mobile, checked a few blog links and social media while he was on his way. A few of the other passengers looked askance at him when he burst out laughing.

Why is there a bathtub picture of your brother all over my blog? Dear lord my eyes are on fire.

Keep scrolling... SH

Bloody fantastic, you two have taken your sibling feud to MY BLOG.

I thought you liked pictures of me from my childhood? SH

I do. And you made a dashing pirate, even as a toddler. Kept the curls, lost the blond, I see. But I could do without the snide commentary. And you never answered why?

He did not seem to sense the urgency of my request for expedient test results. And the bathtub was probably preferable to the compromising ones of him with the butler. SH 

You realise I'm deleting these when I get home?

You realise that I have already changed your password? SH

Chapter Text

"What on earth is wrong with you?"

Sherlock's words caught him off guard, as he'd been curled up on the couch trying to breathe through a spasm of pain.  "Wrenched my lower back."  John's voice was tight.  "Reaching for a mug this morning."

"The perils of the vertically challenged."

"Har har."

Sherlock took in the set of John's jaw, the body language, knew the discomfort had to be fairly high on the scale for John to be exhibiting this many signs of pain. "You take anything?"

"Yes.  Nothing I have in my stash touches this.  I have a GP appointment soon."  He was hoping for something stronger, a muscle relaxant perhaps. It was a distant thought that further imaging would be required. Herniated disc or impinged nerve were at the top of his suspicions - something that would just require time, rest, and maybe a little additional pharmacologic help.

"You going to be able to make it there?"

"Can't see any way round it, so I guess I have no choice.  Can't stay like this, that's for sure."  Another cramp beneath John's ribs in the back seized up, drawing a bit of a moan which before long had turned to a shallow-breathed gasp punctuated by "Ow."

"Want me to go with?"

"No.  Rosie'll be expecting you.  She likes having one of us here when she gets home from school."  Sherlock did not correct him, and they both knew that John liked someone to be there and Rosie, at fourteen, couldn't have cared less.

"She's wasting her time with ridiculous educational busy-work..." and John tuned him out as he ranted for quite a few minutes about the evils of public schools and how the system is churning out mindless idiots.  It was indicative of John's distress that he didn't correct Sherlock's perceptions.

++

John turned the doorknob to enter the flat, his jaw set in determination and his back still a wreck of what felt a hot, twisty knife. Soaked in salt. On fire. And with a dull, serrated edge. "Not at all what I thought," he muttered at Sherlock's questioning glance. "Apparently I have a rather large renal calculi. Kidney stone."

The studying look Sherlock gave John was quick, thorough. "Are you supposed to be home?"

The smirk John let Sherlock see was rather telling. "I had permission. Sort of."

"They wanted to admit you, you refused." With narrowed, all-seeing eyes, Sherlock took in John's pallor, the tightness of his face, the discomfort blatantly obvious, and shook his head. "You probably should have taken them up on that. For pain relief, if nothing else."

"I can hydrate here, lay low." The helpful practitioner he'd seen had given him a water bottle to drink at the appointment, and, although he'd had good intentions, John set it still very nearly full on the table near the couch.  Gingerly, he carefully folded his body into the cushions with what he hoped a mostly-stifled groan. "It's just over four millimetres by ultrasound, but low in my right ureter. It will hopefully pass."

"Four millimetres? Doesn't sound all that impressive."

"I think what I love most about you is your compassion." He tried to get comfortable but couldn't escape the stab in his back, gave up, let the pain drive him into the framework of the furniture. "Next time you're bored, look up the number of nerve endings in the human ureter, keeping in mind that the typical diameter of said ureter is three millimetres. Do the math. Last I heard, four is greater than three."

"Pain makes you irritable," Sherlock began but halted abruptly. Rosie galumphed down the steps in a thud and clatter of teenaged feet and a barrage of sentences all strung together that included, best John could hear, something about dinner with a friend, spending the night, thanks papa, bye dad, and in a breeze of unzipped jacket and a long ponytail she was through the doorway. To her credit, John did vaguely recall plans and thought he might have actually approved these. He heard Sherlock catch her still on the stairwell, confirm her location, destination, and that she had her mobile before stepping aside to the window in order wave at the occupants of the car that had arrived to gather her.

"Besides, home is so relaxing," John said as if Hurricane Rosie didn't interrupt him at all, "and I have you to take care of me," he said with a shallow snort of sincerity. Both of them hoped - for John's well-being and knowing Sherlock's weaknesses including all things caretaking (he left that to John, thank you very much) - John's needs would be both short-lived and not serious.

"I trust you have plans B, C, and D also lined up." When John narrowed an eye in his direction, Sherlock clarified. "I'm historically not all that reliable."

"For better or worse, sickness or ... something. I seem to recall words to that effect." Leaning into the cushions, John attempted a mild stretch and was rewarded by a continuous aching in his right lower back.  He closed his eyes, toed off his shoes, and pulled the fleecy blanket down over him. "It's cold in here. Freezing, actually."

"No it's not. And aren't you supposed to be hydrating? Want something warm instead?"

"Warm? Yes, urine with a stone in it. But not to drink."

"Please stop," Sherlock retorted.

"You deserve it for the height criticism earlier."

"John." John opened one eye but other than that didn't move a muscle. "Drink up."  Sherlock raised an eyebrow at the water that was certainly within John's reach.

"Bloody nag."

"Sickness and health, John, was the end of that quote. Your efforts to restore health would be most appreciated. Have something, before you go to sleep." Maintaining his current position, which was completely still with that one eye staring up at Sherlock, he dragged the blanket closer up under his chin. Sherlock continued to stand there, arms akimbo, trying to glare John into obedience. "Were you surprised about the kidney stone?"

"Floored. Really thought it was my back. Stones don't run in my family, I've never had one. And not enjoying anything about this one." Having spoken, he let his eye drift closed. "Gimme a minute, and I'll drink something."

John may have nodded off, or attempted to - anything to escape the constant thrum, pound, and spasm, and Sherlock may have gotten distracted for a bit. Quite a long time had elapsed, longer than either intended in truth, before Sherlock stood at John's feet again for a few minutes watching him before speaking then nudging him. "John."

"Just 'nother minute."

"Sit up and drink something. You exempted yourself from recommended medical therapy including hospitalisation and now you're being belligerent. Drink something."

He leaned up on an elbow, took the bottle to his mouth, a small swallow, flopped his upper body back down. It was only a matter of not even a full minute when he lurched from the couch to limp sideways, hunched over and in what would have been comical except that he was in such obvious pain.  He found the loo, where he promptly emptied his stomach contents. Sherlock, uncertain, stood in the living room as John crawled back into some sort of foetal position on the couch. "You sure you're all right?"

"Quite. Nap first, thanks," he muttered as he drew the blanket tighter around him. His physician mind helpfully supplied something about fever reduction, but he closed his eyes willing away the nausea, he hoped, and waited for the shivering to abate. He just needed to sleep.

++

He awakened to the sound of air. Air rushing, heated air over his chest, up his nose, the bitter chemical scent unpleasant, plasticky, and acrid.  He raised both arms to investigate his face, get rid of this terrible smell, when he found his arms slow to respond, hindered, heavy.  Other than his eyes, he felt rather disconnected, numb, oddly distant. His eyes were still too heavy to open, but the smell was pungent and unpleasant. Last time he recalled a stench like this it was related to something Sherlock had incinerated over the hob in the kitchen.

As consciousness increased, one sense at a time, first with tactile awareness and then olfaction, something else came rampantly into play: discomfort.  That's when he became aware that there was pain, starting in his very consciousness, just behind his eyes, spreading outward in every direction. And unfortunately, it was still escalating.

It was reminiscent of the terrible soreness he'd had the day after the hugest military exercise of their unit in training, the final trial by fire (many kilometres carrying heavy packs and unrelenting officers and the push of the squad to the breaking point, both muscles and psyches absolutely screaming).  He was certain he'd been run over, dropped, dragged, beaten, and pounded, both back then and now. His eyes hurt, his throat hurt, his mouth was dry. While he'd managed to get his eyes open, they were not open far, and all that was in his line of vision was a blanket and bright light overhead.

There was muscular soreness of muscles John had no recollection of using since basic (if ever), and then he recalled the couch in the flat. And the shaking. "Hello?" he tried to whisper, and his voice was absent, so he attempted to clear his throat. Or had that all been imagined, a dream, a bizarre idea.

"John? John!" The raspy voice arrived along with two very concerned hands to his arm, and Sherlock's face appeared then in his line of vision. "Thank god." The touch of Sherlock's hands to his arm hurt, simply the awareness of Sherlock's hands, the light pressure, and had he been able, he would have pulled away moaning.

Thank god, really? John wondered about how grateful he was, because if John felt bad, Sherlock certainly looked worse - much, much worse. There were shadows and bags and stubble and fatigue to the point of near collapse.  How on earth had John missed what had to amount to an apocalypse?  Sherlock shouldn't be upright, as bad as he looked, which was worse than Sherlock at the lowest of drug days, the most strung out of withdrawal, the GI bug that had left him down for a day, the despairing of times over their years. Had the flat blown up again? Or worse, London?

The rushing air over him obscured most of the sound in the area, so he didn't hear the approach of anyone else, nor was he expecting anyone else, so there was an element of surprise when a strange face appeared above him. It was a woman he'd never seen, a scrub top, a name badge. "Awake, finally! Good to see. How are you feeling Dr. Watson?"

John blinked, first at the stranger, then over at Sherlock, turning his head slightly as it occurred to him that he himself was wearing an oxygen cannula and in all likelihood was apparently in a hospital. In a hospital bed. There was beeping, faintly, up over his shoulder and monitor leads across his chest that disappeared alongside his face, going out of sight in his peripheral vision. Part of him wanted to get up so that Sherlock could get in the bed, as clearly he needed to be there much more than John did. But even attempting to speak, move, or think was hurting his head, and with jumbled thoughts he stared hard at Sherlock who was staring equally hard back at him.

"You've no idea what happened, do you?" Sherlock said softly, more a statement than a question.

His voice cooperated only marginally enough to let the "no" be faintly audible, so he shook his head instead. There was serious disconnect within his thought processes, and he blinked a few times hoping to clear his head. A humming background noise and a foggy awareness made concentrating difficult. John's ill brain had trouble focusing on content, as he kept getting distracted by the shape of Sherlock's mouth as he talked, the whisper of the blanket overtop of him, the cuff around his upper arm, and the sensation that he truly had no idea what was going on.

God, he thought as Sherlock's mouth formed words, tongue visible at times under the faintly crooked lower teeth, the stubble of -- good god, stubble? John's mind derailed, jumped the tracks, crumpled in a heap in a deserted train station. Whatever this is, it is serious, and we might be in trouble.

Sherlock was thinking the same thing. Now, he wondered, exactly how much of this endless nightmare am I looking to tell John about, hm?

++

From the beginning, then...  Baker Street, almost a week previously.

"No. 'M fine." John's arms, legs, mouth did not seem to be cooperating. "Help me up." He shut his eyes against the dizziness of the room, the spinning, the way the walls and furniture were hazy and fluid, coming closer to him then fading away. Eyes closed, it seemed to move the shape-distortion within his head, and he wondered idly if his brain had jelled, melted, was somehow in flux. There was a water bottle that John made something of an attempt to reach, knocked it over, didn't care.

"You need the hospital."

"No. I. Refuuuuuse." The words were shaky, weak in tone, not John's normal voice at all. Sherlock watched him, there at his elbow, unsure what this very bizarre, obviously ill, unpredictable version of John was going to do. Though his eyes were now closed, Sherlock had gotten a good look at them, and they'd been alarming. Unfocused, unseeing, uncomprehending. The lights may have been on but there was definitely no one at home. There was lateral nystagmus, which Sherlock recognised because of his previous distant experiences with mind-altering substances, knew it was a sign of central involvement. The eyes made John not even look like himself, they were just that odd - dull and disconnected. "Loo."

John sat, overcompensated, nearly tumbled over the other direction on the couch, righted himself as if completely inebriated. Reaching a hand out to steady him, prevent injury, Sherlock noticed a couple of even more disturbing things, more unsettling than his eyes: his muscles were shaking, trembling, as if coming from deep within the core of his gut, moving so hard he was having trouble controlling the position of his body. And he was beyond warm, hot, raging, an inferno, heat simply radiating centrally. His hands, feet were cool, but his neck, armpits, trunk - hot, moist, flaming.

On wobbly legs, John did somehow manage to upright his body, stand, take a step toward the hallway. Sherlock stepped up immediately behind him, holding both arms, bracing a leg behind John in case he tipped over backward, which seemed unbelievably a sure thing. Despite it being a short trek, they were both breathing hard by the time Sherlock had actually helped John with his pyjamas and made sure he was seated before moving to the hall, door open, poised for action if necessary. "Don't get up," he said, "I'll help you."

"Piss off. And go 'way," John said, voice vibrating and teeth chattering.

There was very short, minimal sounds of urine hitting toilet water, and the abnormally low-pitched guttural moan brought Sherlock back to the doorway, on even more high alert than previously. "John?"

"Burns," he breathed, tight. With surprising quickness, John garnered enough strength to launch himself from his seated position, slide pants almost back to his waist, and promptly crumple to the floor.

Sherlock's mobile appeared, his own hands shaking slightly as he strode to John's side, the 999 already dialing. "Need an ambulance. 221b Baker Street." He answered a few more questions with increasing frustration, stayed on the line for a few moments, and with great effort, did not lose control or be otherwise impossibly difficult with the moronic, simpleton of a dispatcher on the line. The instructions included, before the operator disconnected the call, to protect the patient from further injury, to unlock the flat door, and to keep his mobile at hand in case further contact was needed.

He tucked a bath towel under John's head, then rushed to the sitting room to not only unlock the door but to leave it ajar. By the time he returned to John's side, John's eyes were open, glazed, scarily staring forward. Crouching down, he took John's hand, squeezed it, and took a deep breath. The hand in his was hot, clammy, a positively bounding pulse at the base of John's thumb. "They'll be here soon to collect us, hold on." He tugged at John's pyjamas, which were mostly in place, happened to catch a glimpse of the toilet. It was bright red in color despite the dilutional effect of the water, and there was a pungent, foul odor. He closed the lid, flushed. What was taking them so long?

++

From the hallway, Sherlock watched the paramedics quickly brainstorm, determine the best way to begin treating John, who was completely out of it. His skin was paler than Sherlock thought was compatible with life, but his cheeks were flushed, head sweaty, eyes vacant and glassy when the paramedic pried one open. The shaking had begun in earnest as Sherlock waited long minutes for the squad to arrive, arms, legs, body, shoulders, head. He would later be educated enough to call the shaking rigours. He was glad for the previous instructions to protect John's head, and even more so when, as the paramedics moved the ambulance stretcher to the hallway, John began to thrash uncontrollably in the throes of a full-on seizure. It was much different, movements of all four limbs, head, torso uncontrolled, randomly, unidirectional.

"He's seizing," someone said, and Sherlock wasn't sure if it wasn't himself. Either way, all present had noticed immediately and were appropriately alarmed, and the medics became even more focused.

"Careful of his head," the one cautioned the other as they moved to protect John's body from self-harm.

"There's no line!"

"Febrile, I'm sure. Thirty-nine at least. Seizure history?" was the quick question to which Sherlock snarled an immediate no. And then the medic's brows furrowed as he looked at Sherlock pointedly. "No recent drug use, no withdrawal, as far as you know?"

"Of course not. Kidney stone, as I explained. He has a prescription for ... something for pain. He hadn't even taken one yet." Sherlock was getting annoyed, and the medics were having a hard time in the small room. "I explained all this already."

"Seizure activity is new." They managed to, collectively, manage to lift John with some difficulty, and place him solidly on the low-to-the-floor stretcher in the hallway. "Should get a line," and abruptly the seizure stopped. John's body was still for a long moment, completely still, and all three pairs of eyes were riveted on his non-rising chest. The medic nearest most of the equipment uttered a quiet curse, the other medic shook John's shoulder forcefully calling out a loud 'hey.' He turned for the rescue airway box, and just as he had cracked open the sealed box, John gasped and then resumed then continued breathing, deeply and abnormally quick.

Sherlock didn't realise he himself was holding his own breath as they strapped John in, which Sherlock thought was a fine idea in case the seizures began again. "A line," the other agreed, "and then we transport." Each man put a tourniquet over John's upper arm, one on each side.

"Wow, circulatory collapse," one noted to the other. "Almost nothing to speak of on this arm, you?"

"Nothing."

From out in the sitting room, Sherlock could hear Mrs. Hudson's door, having heard the commotion.  She was audibly upset and calling out for them, so he went to assure her - lying if necessary - that John was going to be fine, that he would keep her updated, but for the moment, they were all a little busy. By the time Sherlock had ushered her back down the stairs, the medics had placed a rather frightening looking large needle into the top of John's lower leg bone just below the knee. Working as a team, they anchored it, taped it down, and connected a large IV bag to it. "Wide open," the one said watching the fluid drip rapidly. To Sherlock he said only, "Going to take him to Barts, it's the closest."

"Grab his records, would you?" the other medic added.

Sherlock was nodding as he picked up the bag of John's medications, his discharge instructions, and pocketed both mobiles. While he knew seizure activity was a frightening medical emergency, he didn't care at all for the lifelessness John was now displaying. One of the medics had already connected him to a heart monitor, and even Sherlock's untrained eye could tell that everything was abnormal.  Too fast, too hot, too everything - except purposeful moving.

Damn John and his refusing admission, he thought, and then half-smiled, knowing he was also known for that very misdeed - guilty as charged. The medics skillfully manouevered through the room, down the stairs, out the door, to the back of the ambulance, beckoned Sherlock inside, and took off - lights and sirens.  Sherlock's mind supplied that the lights and sirens was not necessarily a good sign either.  John seized again just as they arrived in the A&E ward.

++ 

The A&E staff had the trauma bay doors open, and there was a complete flurry of activity as John's stretcher rolled through the door, arms and legs shaking, head keeping time side to side. Sherlock could barely keep up with the overload, the sensory stimulation, so many things and people speaking and acting, doing and treating.

"Lorazepam."

"Sats are okay, holding on intubation for now."

"Need more IV access!"

"Seizure stopped."

"Does he have any allergies?"  

Sherlock looked up at that question to address the speaker who was looking at him, shook his head, "Not to medications. Bee stings."

"Just sent labs, cultures, ABG. Blood felt absolutely hot in the tubes."

"12 lead looks ok, tachy, 160." A pink handout went from tech to nurse to physician, all of whom shrugged as if it didn't matter, and Sherlock wanted to start bashing heads together. It all mattered, he wanted to yell. This is John.

"Maybe the oxygen'll slow his respiratory rate down."

Sherlock continued to hover on the outskirts of the large room, could barely see John through the throng of the healthcare team. Snippets of medical statements lingered and narrated the rush of activity.

"IV paracetamol's in."

"Think this is postictal?"

"Sweated off all his monitor leads again."

"Urologist is on his way. Bladder's soft right now, hold on the catheter."

There was a low whistle, and one of the nurses spoke, "Lab just called, Lactic's 8.5."

Clipboard in hand, one of the A&E docs approached Sherlock. "Family, yes?"

"Husband."

"Quick recap: Biggest issue septic shock. Probably pyelonephritis secondary to renal calculi - infection above the kidney stone. His blood cultures will be positive, I'm sure of that without a doubt. Febrile seizure, seems to have resolved." They both watched the blood pressure cycle on John's arm, and whatever update Sherlock was going to get was thwarted by John's systolic blood pressure in the 50s. He'd been hovering in the low 80s for a few minutes. The nurse glanced over, asked, "Norepinephrine?"

"Fluids are wide?" he clarified, then nodded, "Add the pressors, start the norepi at two, yes."

It was a few more minutes until the doctor felt he had a moment to update Sherlock a bit more completely on John's condition. He was on his third liter of IV fluids, had a triple lumen catheter in the internal jugular vein of his neck, and had been started on vasopressors. Cultures had been obtained, and once the urologist arrived and placed a urinary catheter, he would be given broad-spectrum IV antibiotic therapy. Eventually, depending on how he responded to the blood pressure med, they would move him to the ICU, monitor all vital signs. They watched, as Sherlock looked on, while the nurses gathered supplies, then turned John to evaluate his back, wash him down quickly, evaluate for petechiae, and obtain a core temp. The nurse spoke quietly to the doc as it registered, "39.8.  And that's after the IV paracetamol. Oh, and the urologist just got here."

The doc's mobile vibrated, and he checked it, eyeing up the relative calm of the room, taking in the patient's not-quite stability and that the nurses had things well under control. "Pretty high. Might need a cooling blanket if it goes up. Good thing you got him here when you did. You don't get much more septic than he is right now and survive."

++

Sherlock couldn't decide if he liked the urologist or despised him. He was matter of fact, dealing very urgently with John's condition, attempted to almost immediately banish Sherlock from the room while he placed the catheter and then John would be needing a CAT scan to determine whether or not there would be a stent placed or a nephrostomy tube. It would be handled in the OR either way, the exact procedure depending on the presence and degree of John's hydronephrosis. He also mentioned that, because of the seizure activity even though they felt it was fever-related, that a CAT scan of John's brain would be done as well while he was there.

"I have some questions," Sherlock began, and the urologist nodded but did not engage, then gestured wide to the door and simply waited.

"I will answer every one of them, but right now, we need to make sure there's no acute obstruction, get the antibiotics started, and evaluate what else is going on in there. And we need to act fast before there are either more seizures, or more kidney damage." 

The nurse intervened then, touching Sherlock on the arm with very gentle nudging pressure toward the doorway. "I'll send for you as soon as we're done here. It's not..." she began, then changed her mind at finishing the sentence.

"It's not what?" Sherlock dug in his heels and pressed, already imagining the answer.

"It's not pleasant to watch. I'll call you right off, so if you could just step out for just a moment, okay?"

Sherlock went only as far as the hallway, just barely turning the corner from John's A&E room, then planted himself and had absolutely no inclination that he could be forced any further away than that. His mouth was dry, but went much drier as he could hear the glass door partition slide closed, and John's nonsensical moaning even audible through all of that. The mobile in his hand was no distraction at all, so he repocketed it, and he could feel his heart pounding errantly, lighting up his head with each rapid beat. His mind wandered a bit down the various chemical names of the hormones released in stress before another moan, much louder now followed by one very sharp cry - obviously there was fleeting, acute pain - from John brought him actually moving toward the door again. The door continued to slide open.

The nurse sidestepped him, whispered something about getting pain medication, and Sherlock met the doctor in the room as he was washing his hands. Nodding toward the bed, "Catheter's in, see? Bit blood-tinged, stone might be on the move again."

"His urine was bloody at home. And rather... foul."

"Points to infection, then, almost certainly. I'm going to get him added to the OR schedule just as soon as the CAT scan is done and I have a reading."

"Risks?" Sherlock kept his question succinct.

"More risky not to do it. We'll only place a stent quickly alongside the stone. Patients shower bacteria anyway, with any stone manipulation. There's often a lot of bacteria, pus, built up behind the stone, so it's dangerous to attempt anything more now.  By adding the stent we avoid the toxin buildup and salvage his kidney. He'll get antibiotics, which are actually running now," he gestured to the running IV, "and stabilise before we go back in to get the stone, maybe in a week or ten days depending on how quickly this all turns around."

Sherlock looked hard at the surgeon, the one he would be trusting John to, hearing what he was saying and rather surprised that the source of the problem - the stone - would be remaining inside.

"I know, it's a bit counter-intuitive, but it's evidence based." He inspected the tubing - bright red - and tipped it to drain into the bag, where it was even deeper red. "You should probably be prepared for him to actually get a little sicker than he is now."

A little sicker?

The dry mouth came without warning, and Sherlock considered the last few hours and wondered exactly how much sicker and unstable John's body would be able to handle.

The nurse came back, scanned whatever pain medicine she'd brought, and administered it slowly as she explained what she was doing, that they would probably see a bit more hypotension with the pain medication but that there was titratable medication to compensate for that. John was restless, pale, listless, and looked frankly as terrible as Sherlock had ever seen him. A clipboard, biro, and consent form for both operative procedure as well as transfusion of blood and blood products, appeared in Sherlock's vision. With a careful steady glance at the physician, who seemed confident, the doctor nodded and watched as Sherlock signed in two places with a flair, handed it back.

"Come with us to CAT scan, there's a little waiting room there," the nurse said. "He seems to be calmer when you're here. And truthfully, so do you."

 ++

The small waiting room outside the CAT scanner was filled with outdated, wrinkled magazines that were missing their covers. A television flicked silently with a local, terribly done news channel, and a phone rang from within one of the nearby offices four times before going into voicemail.

'Maybe a half hour,' they had said.

It had been twenty-one minutes before Sherlock heard steps of interest coming from the other end of the department. Without needing visual confirmation, he knew the moment Mycroft was close.

"Update?"

"Waiting on the scan. OR hopefully from here."

Mycroft nodded, his astute and calculating eyes taking in Sherlock's demeanor and stress level. Talking, he knew, would only serve to aggravate him, so he folded silently into one of the plastic-encased chairs.

Both brothers looked up as a familiar man in surgical scrubs approached. The urologist from earlier. "Radiologist just called me, hydronephrosis looks moderate, which is an abnormal finding but treatable so that's good. I want to see the films with the radiologist, and there's an OR available in about a half hour. I want Mr. Watson in it, so I'll be in touch in a minute or so."

"Dr. Watson," Mycroft muttered, as the doctor passed through the door marked with a red plaque, Absolutely No Admittance.

Mycroft simply stood still, waiting and watching Sherlock, seeming to absorb everything he knew Sherlock would be disinclined to say anyway.

"Thanks for coming." He was staring at his hands even as he spoke to Mycroft. The pads of his fingers touched, pressed together, steepled, folded. The mirror images, to Sherlock, were not mirrors at all - the asymmetry of fingerprints, of the wedding ring, of the various callouses from the violin or writing implement. Mycroft watched as he flexed his fingers, nails making contact, and then with a pop he separated them, turning his sharp eyes at Mycroft.  There was laser focus, bright irises widening and narrowing as images were received.

"Indeed."

"Rosie ..."

"I will see to it. And enlist Molly if necessary."

Shrugging, Sherlock stared down toward the door with enough intensity, Mycroft thought, to perhaps see right through it looking for John. "OR can't come soon enough. To fix this."

Inclining his head, Mycroft reached inside his jacket pocket, pulled out a charging cord. "You'll need this."

Sherlock looked at him blankly.

"I presume you're staying?" At Sherlock's nod, Mycroft continued, "Lifeline, then."

"A sign of the times when the list of necessities for a critical illness is topped by a charging cable."

One of the technicians came out then, spoke to Sherlock. "The docs are putting their heads together, reviewing images. The OR called, however, and they're waiting on us now." She touched Sherlock's upper arm. "You look a little pale, you all right?"

"Yes, fine."

She looked doubtful, glanced at Mycroft as if seeking confirmation. "I'll see to him," he advised, casting a glance at his brother who did in fact seem a bit more paler than his usual alabaster.

"We'll come right back by this way, so you can walk up with us."

Sherlock was remembering his words, just moments ago, that the OR can't come soon enough. The wave of anxiety that rolled through him made him question the truth of that.  Now that the time was here, he was feeling very uncertain, wondering if anaesthesia in this state would prove a bad idea.

++

The urologist had been very quick, in Mycroft's opinion, but to Sherlock it felt an absolute eternity. "How'd it go?" Sherlock asked, then mentally chastised himself, as obviously he had arrived to the postoperative waiting area tell them exactly that.

"Went fine. There was a lot of purulence behind the stone, but the flow from his right kidney seemed good once the stent was placed. Blood pressure dropped some, expected. He'll have an hour in recovery, then he'll go to ICU, where you can see him for a bit."

"Oh, he'll be staying," Mycroft told him. There was an imperious delivery with very little question that this would be carried out and adhered to in no uncertain terms.

There was a lot of eye blinking for a moment as the surgeon looked between them, then addressed Sherlock. "That's fine of course, we'll clear it with the nurses." He had more to say, and as Sherlock picked up on the impending bad news, he squelched a wave of his own queasiness, focusing on the words that came out next. "There was some bleeding from bladder, kidney, or ureter during the case, some clot. Either from the stone or the procedure or the infection. Less likely a coagulopathy, but we'll be keeping a close eye on it. The catheter he has is a three way. We'll be running sterile fluids into the bladder, continuously irrigating, and it'll drain into the bag hooked on the bed."

Sherlock said nothing, but must have grimaced minutely, so the surgeon continued.

"It's standard care, routine when there is bleeding, it's safer than running the risk of haemorrhage. It's to prevent clot, monitor bleeding. Probably stay running for a few days." A hand settled briefly on Sherlock's arm, and he resisted the urge to shrug out from under it as the surgeon nodded and left.

The waiting room was restless people displaying nervous activity, electronic devices failing to distract, and a wealth of information overload. Sherlock considered stalking the hallways in search of something to do, a destination, an outlet, anything to keep his mind off whatever horrible thing must be happening to John behind the doors where Sherlock couldn't see, couldn't monitor, could only imagine...

"Holmes?"

The word shook him a bit, startling him, as he was not expecting to be updated again for at least another forty-five minutes. More bad news?

A young woman in scrubs approached, and Sherlock stood, taking in all about her in a few moments glance - stressed, sent on this errand to fetch him, something is wrong, John is either upset or unstable or both, another complication, she is unhappily married three children, thinking of going to nursing school...

"The nurse asked me to get you."

"What is the matter?"

"I'm not sure. Just sent me in search of you." Mycroft stood as well, and the technician glanced at them both.

Mycroft placed a cautionary hand on his Sherlock's arm, a show of support and to prevent him from fussing too much that might delay him being escorted to John's side. "I'll be seeing you later, then, Sherlock. Please keep me updated?" Anxious to get to John, Sherlock heard something about Rosie as he nodded, and then Mycroft was gone.

Falling into step with his escort, he could hear the sound of John's voice from quite a ways off - through the doors, down the hall, and from a considerable distance as he was led through locked access doors.

There were two nurses and an anaesthesiologist at John's bedside, each one in turn holding the agitated patient to prevent harm. "I just gave him a bit of midazolam, let's give it a minute," and Sherlock arrived bedside wanting desperately to help and comfort John while simultaneously staying out of the way of the people who had both power and medication to hopefully calm him down.

Oxygen tubing was replaced, and one of the nurses pressed just lightly on John's shoulder - the bad one, Sherlock wanted to forcibly swat her hands away - to ease him back into the bed, then tucked a blanket around him. He settled only a moment, and the anaesthesiologist nodded to Sherlock. "Here you go, maybe just hold here a bit," and he moved aside so Sherlock could take his place. As the urologist had said, there was a large bag hanging at the foot of the bed, dripping down to disappear under the covers, then a dark pink tubing was coming out from a different spot and draining into a large bag. In the bag, the urine was punch colour, and Sherlock looked away from that as John tried to sit up again.

The mumbling and calling out began again in earnest, absolute nonsense with an occasional clear but inappropriate context.

He leaned close, hoping to speak a few calming words, but before he could even get John's name out, John's fist swung out in Sherlock's direction.

"Jesus Christ, just let me die." There was despair and brokenness, and he repeated it. Each time John said it, it tore Sherlock up a little bit more.

"John," he spoke low, trying to be calm, reasonable, soothing. Thrashing at times, still only a few seconds, both Sherlock and one of the nurses tried to redirect John's confusion to no avail. They settled for preventing John from hurting himself. Sherlock had given up on trying to argue or reason with John, not this far gone out of his head.

The nurse appeared from John's side, drew a curtain about the bed as she came back to help him. "The ICU nurse is coming over, we'll both take him to the ICU, and I'll give report on the way there, where it's less..." she looked around, seeing other various, calm, quiet, cooperative, non-agitated patients with curtains being pulled around their beds.

"Disruptive?" Sherlock offered as John yelled out again, nonsense this time or perhaps another language entirely, though Sherlock thought not. "Upsetting?"

"Something like that."

"Don't let me live like this. Just let me die!" he wailed again.

"I have a bit more dilaudid here, and then we'll head to the unit. It's close, just across the hall."

"Sherlock, please," John begged although to no one in particular, and then that seemed to become his mantra, his phrase, occasionally punctuated with a low moan, until the pain medication seemed to be helping. Sherlock couldn't tell if John actually knew he was there, or was calling out for him wondering where the hell he was. Either option was unpleasant, and John's distress was obvious and terrible to watch.

"We don't usually have family in here, in recovery," the second nurse said as the ICU nurse arrived and seemed startled to see a non-staff member at the bedside.  She had a clipboard and report sheet in hand, as the PACU nurse continued, "but he's the only thing keeping Dr. Watson remotely calm." Sherlock glanced up in time to see a raised questioning eyebrow, and there was a small snicker, "Yes, this is calmer."

"I'm Jess. I'll be his nurse until morning," she said, watching the phases of restlessness and listening to John beg, yet again, to be allowed to die. "War vet?" she suggested. "PTSD can do this sometimes."

"And anaesthesia. And full-blown septic shock," the PACU nurse agreed, then began to give a very preliminary report with a few clarifications by Sherlock regarding history and A&E treatment.

Jess approached John's head, said a quiet hello, and he froze, opened his eyes wide to stare at her, silent and emotionless for not even ten seconds, and then he threw back his head and cursed then yowled, "Get away from me."

Good lord, Sherlock wondered why the move hadn't already happened, away from loud open spaces and other people and in this clearly unsuited location. He took John's face between his hands, turned his face so that they were inches apart. His words were clear, serious, and gently assertive. "Shh, John. Stop it. You're safe. You had surgery. Now let them take care of you."

"NO!" Thrash, flail, groan. "Oh god, Stop!"

"You're safe, you're safe," he spoke again, slowly and clearly, as he watched staff attending to transport preparations - the monitor was detached and the oxygen tank connected, IV checked. "You're safe," he tried once more.

John burst into tears at that, big loud choking sobs with an occasional "Oh god," thrown in. The current state, with John crying, was particularly hard on all of them, Sherlock the most. John was strong, capable, and not prone to displays of emotion like this. Sherlock breathed once, deep, settled his own nerves as the staff also seemed to steel themselves amidst John's upset. Releasing the brake on the bed, which was apparently the signal to leave, they were shortly on their way to the ICU and John's sobs had turned to the heart-wrenching intermittent gulp, his eyes red and glassy, his cheeks mottled.

A little bit sicker, the surgeon had said? Sherlock wondered exactly what the definition of a little bit would end up looking like.

++

They'd no sooner arrived in the ICU and re-locked the bed when John made a curious sound deep in his throat accompanied by a strange hiccough, and the quick-thinking nurse lunged for the small kidney basin to bring it to John's mouth and tilted his head just in the nick of time for him to be sick.

One of the nurses stepped out of the room to get medication for nausea. "Not uncommon with all that's going on, anaesthesia, narcotics, sepsis, the antibiotics. He's already had three different IV ones, broad spectrum coverage. This was spurred on by the motion. This'll help, it's ondansetron."

Over the next hour, John did actually seem to calm just a bit. His blood pressure dropped again, requiring the vasopressor he was getting to be increased, along with quite a bit of fluids. They drew more blood samples from the IV in his neck, and removed the intraosseous line that had been placed there on the flat on Baker Street.

That thought stopped Sherlock cold, and he pulled out his mobile.

Are you home with Rosie? SH

She is with Molly for dinner, then spending the night with her at both of their requests. I am home. MH

There might have been a mess left behind from earlier, when the ambulance came. SH

Baker Street has been set to rights. The floor looked like the aftermath of a medical disaster. I took care of it before Rosie arrived. MH

Thanks. SH

Do try not to worry. Take care of John, I will concern myself with the rest. MH

Sherlock did not answer, tucking the mobile in his pocket to hold one of John's constantly moving arms.  His pocket buzzed again, but his hands were occupied. John kept calling out, restless, despite medications, a quieter environment, and attempts to calm him.  It was a long time before Sherlock got a moment to read the final text that arrived from Mycroft.  John would want me to remind you to take care of yourself, as well. Please consider that he will need you hale and hearty as he recovers. MH

++

"Seriously, John. Lay back. I mean it, you're a patient here."

"Whadja do t'me?" his voice weakly stumbled over the words.

"You had a kidney stone. Have," he corrected.

"No, never had one. No history." John's eyes were in two states - feral or glassy - and Sherlock didn't care for either of their statuses.  "Liar."

"No, really, listen -"

The confusion was readily apparent in John's face, and he said, "Get out of my way, I'm leaving."

Sherlock held a strong hand over the shoulder John was trying to lift until he flumped back exhausted into the ICU bed, really never having given much resistance or effort. In John's weakened state, Sherlock was glad for even that minimal attempt and then more grateful when John seemed to fall back to sleep.

++

The bladder irrigation continued overnight, and each time they tried to slow it down, the bleeding increased. He'd been medicated a few times for pain, and his mentation had not cleared at all. Had it not been for Sherlock standing vigil, John would have needed a staff member in constant attendance, he was just that restlessness and uncontrollable.

"Why are his platelets low?" Sherlock asked, eyeing the printout of John's morning labs that the intensivist had handed him. "The haemoglobin, I understand, is low because of the bleeding."

"Sepsis can definitely lower platelet count. They're actually fairly fragile cells, and they can drop profoundly in septic shock like this. We'll keep a close eye on that, but I'm going to order him at least a unit of blood for today."

"How long until his mental status improves?"

At that question, the intensivist shrugged, glanced around at the monitor, at the patient, at the clock. "That can take a while. He'll improve each day. CAT scan of his head was normal on arrival, and there have been no more seizures. Fever may also still come and go, also expected, and that doesn't help mentation any."

"Are we missing anything? Is there something else that could be causing this?"

The answer was delivered with a fond, patient smile. "It's hard to wait, but he'll get there."

Sherlock was not reassured nor was he believing that. Not until he had John fully back.

++

"I want to go home."

"I know. Me too." Sherlock saw no reason to sidestep around that one.

"My dad's keys are in the car. You wanna drive?"

"Not especially." The glimpses John kept showing were somewhat surprising. "And you don't have a license."

"Where's the loo?"

Sherlock tried to make a connection between driving home and needing the loo. "You want to drive to the loo at home?"

"I need to take a piss. God, so bad. Now!"

Sherlock moved to the other side of the bed to make sure the catheter wasn't kinked or otherwise caught in John's body or other equipment. When it seemed all right, and John continued to complain, he poked his head out into the hallway. John's nurse was already on her way to investigate, as John's heart rate had abruptly elevated. Sherlock explained his distress as the nurse silenced the high heart rate alarm.

A bit of troubleshooting and adjusting of the continuous bladder irrigation yielded a few clots then free-flowing pink tinged urine, which seemed to offer John some physical relief, and Sherlock some emotional assurance that there was nothing overtly wrong.

"Maybe we could stop for chips on the way to your house?"

Sherlock sighed. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Okay." John's eyes were still glassy but bright for a bit as he looked at Sherlock and then gazed about the room a bit, trying to make sense of things, and for a moment, Sherlock thought he was perhaps suddenly well, oriented, processing, and back.  The sense of relief started to come flooding in, and he didn't realise how upset John's altered mental state was affecting him, until it became apparent John was still confused and disoriented, when he asked, "Did you just hear a cow mooing?"

++

Two nurses came in a little later, one of them carrying a bag of packed red blood cells, tubing, paperwork, and in short minutes they had identified John by name as well as wristband and confirmation of birthdate, which thankfully, John still had a grip on. The blood, one of them explained to the one who was listening as well as to the one who was hallucinating, would drip in slowly over three or four hours. Sherlock found the steady slow drip of the packed cells mesmerising, the viscosity and droplet shape ever evolving, infusing into John's battered system to aid in oxygen delivery and tissue perfusion.  The bag was labeled boldly as O -.

"I'm a universal donor," John muttered in between something about the ocean and something else random about a pencil. On some distant level, some of his medical faculties were still somewhat processing, albeit in the background most of the time.

"That you are."

"You're AB +. A universal recipient." Sherlock nodded, and John continued, "You take from everyone."

"It's why we're good together," Sherlock mused, then glanced at the bedside table. "Do you want something else to drink, John?"

"A pint?"

Sherlock breathed out in amusement, and said, "No. But I have water here, it's a more acceptable beverage for you today."

With a very perplexed expression and for long moments John stared, then shook his head. He stared intently at the bag of blood that was infusing, then reached out a shaky hand to Sherlock's lapel, gripping and clinging, his face unhappy and signs of distress beginning to show. He searched high and low on Sherlock's face, moving his hair away from his forehead as if intently trying to find something. He was escalating, getting upset, becoming almost frantic in his movements. A high pitched, two-toned alarm sounded in the room, and Sherlock could see with a quick glance that all sections of the heart monitor were blinking - heart rate too fast, respiratory rate too fast, oxygen saturation not picking up, blood pressure unobtainable due to motion artifact.

For as much as John had some details still connecting, what with knowing their blood types, he was off again, his eyes no longer sharp as he fussed at Sherlock's head. Unsure of what was troubling him, Sherlock let him explore even while holding his hand loosely, and asked, "What's the matter?" John was still searching Sherlock's hair, forehead. "John? Are you in pain?"

"I thought I saw blood, your blood, your head cracked open. You were laying on..." and then his voice choked up and his eyes grew huge and wet, tears spilling out. "Oh god, you're dead." A deep breath and then a few more shaky words, coupled with John trying to sit forward in the bed, pushing against Sherlock's arms, that filled Sherlock with both dread and fear. "Oh god, let me through, he's my friend!"

Sherlock stayed focused, determined to reach John somehow, drag him back from the past if possible. He got closer to him, close to those eyes that looked like John's but weren't somehow. "Shh, I'm fine. You were just imagining it, there's nothing wrong," he said softly, letting John cling tight and holding him as best he could given all the paraphernalia and bedrails in the way.

The words continued, and there was a timid tap on the doorframe of John's room. "Are you guys okay?" came the quiet question of the nurse. "Do you need me, or need anything?" Sherlock could see her hesitating at the foot of John's bed, hearing his quiet breakdown and truly wanting to help in some way.

While he wanted to yell Fix This! Immediately, he knew that would be unhelpful, so he stroked John's hair. "Give us a few. Please." Sherlock said in an impassioned low tone, and he could hear the door slide shut and then a moment later the heart monitor was silenced from the desk. Catching John's hand, he held it to where, years before, there had actually been the appearance of blood drizzled there by one of the select few who'd known and helped. "See? We're fine."

"I don't believe you. Let me through. I have to see," he kept insisting in a voice that was both upset and traumatised.

Sherlock kissed John's temple, offering reassurances that just weren't comprehended. He moved the IV pole holding John's blood transfusion back over his shoulder and out of sight.

For a brief period of time, Sherlock sat, holding John's hand, afraid to let go, afraid to take a deep breath, concerned that even a small noise in the room would set him off again. Staring at John, pale against the white pillow, he watched carefully for increased distress, and could both feel and sense when the nurse stood also assessing the room from the doorway.

At one point, a hand touched his shoulder. "Doing all right?" came the quiet question from John's nurse. "Seems better."

Not wishing to speak and perhaps rouse John again, he shrugged.

"Let me know. I'm either at the doorway or only a few steps away."

In his peripheral vision, only having eyes for John at the moment, Sherlock was aware that Jess checked the flow of the bladder irrigation, the IV pumps, the heart monitor leads, fine-tuned the oxygen flowmeter, all the while peering carefully at John. A methodical review from head to toe, all the spaces and tubes and lines and wires in between, did leave Sherlock at least feeling that John was exactly where he belonged, where people other than himself were also being attentive. He was grateful for all the pieces of the day that had led them to this very spot.

++

"What are you doing here?" John asked for the fourth time in as many minutes. Restlessly, he grabbed at his patient gown, barely missing the IV tubing, then yanked the monitor leads. Again. Which Sherlock replaced. Again. "Aren't we late for class?"

"No, John. Not late. Sick. You should rest."

"All right." John ceased all movement, closed his eyes, and within three seconds was awake, restlessly moving again, hand tangled in his oxygen and pulse oximeter cable. His leg came up, tethered somewhat by the sequential compression devices on his legs, toe snagging the flexible tubing of the urinary catheter, and both he and Sherlock hissed for different reasons as it began to stretch tight when John straightened his knee. Sherlock's hand darted out to unhitch the tubing so it was no longer to tension.

"Something's wrong." John's eyes were open, still, and he was looking around but not comprehending, not understanding. "Very, very wrong."

"I know." No kidding. Sherlock had no idea if John was somehow addressing the catheter or not, decided not to pursue it because it was pervasively true no matter what John was referencing. "You'll be okay soon."

He sent Rosie another text message, knowing by now she'd be home from school. Dad's restless, trying to get him to sleep. Hang tight there, all right. Molly'll be better company than he is right now. He watched the message delivery go from delivered to read, and Rosie sent back a thumbs up.

One of John's legs launched from the bed to sprawl over the siderail, blanket, various tubings to dangle in mid air. Sherlock wondered if he was having profuse muscle pain from all the electrolyte shifting and underuse, build up of lactic acid and then hydration as he gently lifted the vagrant leg, returned it back in bed, left his hand over it, hoping the touch might be calming. John's hand sprung toward his face, dislodging oxygen from only one ear then grabbed the pillow from under his own head only to fling it over the upper siderail to the floor. Again. He debated leaving the pillow there, but then decided to pick it up, replace it under John's head. At least fussing at the pillow was better than fussing at any of his lines and wires.

It was going to be, Sherlock realised, another long night ahead of them both.

++

John's ICU room was getting terribly familiar to Sherlock.  There was a recliner obtained for him that had been relegated to the corner during the day, and unfortunately seldom occupied at night either, given John's restlessness and need for protection from his addled state. John may have been restless and out of it during the day hours, but at night he was agitated. A few times, depending on the pace of the rest of the unit, one of the nurses would come to keep Sherlock company, help with the flinging limbs and to attempt to redirect, reorient, or distract. 

He knew where the mouth care items were, the linens, the supplies in the room. He knew when they arrived to turn and reposition John, checking his core temp every few hours. He knew when med passes were, and specifically when John's antibiotics were due. The nurses station was not far down the hall, and he could recognise not only the footsteps of John's nurse but had identified several different computers on wheels by the sound they made.  The one with the clicky wheel seemed to have the fastest scanner for medications, so Sherlock was usually grateful for that one. He knew where the graduate container was kept when they measured John's voluminous urine output.

His own ICU days years ago were mostly hazy, given the morphine and the fact that he'd been so devastated by that turn of events.  All in all, he thought the hazy forgetfulness would be preferable to these vivid perceptions of just how sick John was, that recovery was so slow as to be almost no progress at all. He loathed it.

John seemed to moan loudest when being moved to his affected kidney side, to the right, and so Sherlock usually requested that the longer turn be done in the opposite direction while they washed, assessed, checked his temperature, listened to his lungs, changed sheets, or simply rubbed lotion before repositioning.

He was getting sick of the monotony, of the non-progress, of the constant worrying. As one long day turned into yet another interminable night, he wondered when he would be able to exhale fully again.

++

He dragged the recliner to John's bedside, so he would be within arms reach if needed, hoping the proximity of his physical presence would be soothing. Another antibiotic was hanging, and attempts to decrease the blood pressure medication had so far been unsuccessful.  The blood products had helped somewhat, as John had been given another unit of cells earlier in the day.  His blood pressure and heart rate were better while they were infusing, but now his numbers were shifting to the abnormally low end of things again. Any little activity boosted his heart rate dramatically, and one of the nurses explained it was due to his lack of reserve. His heart rate simply increased as demand increased in order to keep up with his perfusion needs.

And he was still disoriented. "I'm getting out of here, soon as they dim the lights."

"What?" Sherlock thought John's voice almost seemed more normal, but he obviously was still not himself.

"Look, are you in or out? Helping me or not?"

"Helping, of course. But we can't leave yet." It was always a fine line with his confusion, if he was going to make it better or annoy him by playing along.

"Did you bring the paint?"

"What paint?"

"For Old Man Carber's fence. Whadja think?"

Sherlock had never heard the story of John the Graffiti artist, or John the Juvenile Defacer of Property. "Bad idea."

"Then I'll go by myself. Cover for me if housemaster comes in?"

"Well," he hedged, "I guess I'm hardly about to leave you on your own now." His words hung heavy in the room, poignant and meaningful if only to himself. Don't you dare leave me either.

++

Sherlock had managed to dissuade the patient of the strange idea of vandalism, and John had dozed off for a bit with the assistance of both pain medication and the IV medication for his fever.

It was, in keeping with how it had been, a short-lived respite. "I need to get in here, quick!" John said, brushing at the hands holding him. He pulled at the covers even as the covers kept being straightened over him. John flung them down, Sherlock pulled them back up, an odd game of tug-of-war. "Let go, go hide somewhere else!"

"You're still in the hospital, John." Sherlock said quietly, knowing it wasn't going to be of any benefit.

"Of course I'm in the hospital, and I need to find a good hiding place."

"Why?" Sherlock asked, indulging the confusion for a moment.

"To win, of course. Hospital's almost empty, no wounded. Hide and seek, winner gets the bottle of hooch, where've you been?"

"John, really, I --"

"Quick, he'll be coming!" John's hands pushed at him. "Go find your own."

John's legs swung over one of the siderails, the heart rate alarm sounded again, and Sherlock was tired of the attempts at reasoning when nothing ever worked. "Please stop. You're tired, you'll fall."

"I'm going to win this game, now beat it!"

Sherlock was exhausted, mentally and physically. "Okay, you hide here, I'll go find somewhere else. But you should keep quiet or they'll find you. Maybe keep as still as you can."

Nodding, John pulled the blanket up to his nose, then hunched down a bit in the bed. Within a few minutes, his heart rate had settled, and breathing had evened out. Sherlock glanced at the bedside monitor, thinking just perhaps, maybe, finally, John might have actually fallen asleep.

And then the blood pressure cuff pumped up automatically again - oh dear lord, can we not catch a break here? - and John's eyes opened briskly at the stimulus. "Have you seen my trainers? I think they're in Sid's car?" he asked, off on an entirely different tangent.

++

The nurse was trying to explain things to John, whose eyes were wide in only partial comprehension, "You're lying to me, I don't believe you."

"Bladder spasms can be pretty common with the CBI. Your urologist was thinking about stopping it later tonight, see how it goes." The nurse patted his shoulder, moved the IV stand closer to show him the closed system.  

John's hand crept under the sheet, searching. Sherlock noticed and caught it. "I don't think that's a good idea."

The nurse shrugged.  "Maybe it will reassure him." She snagged a glove from the rack, slid John's hand into it. "Here, just lightly. Tubing, penis, here's the irrigation port." John's fingers touched lightly, crept downward from his pelvis to his thigh. The continuous irrigation had been slowed down, and once John's urine stayed nicely yellow as it should have been, it would hopefully be capped. "Right, there's the stat-lock. Holding device." Sherlock caught her eye, briefly, then continued to watch John. "Prevents anything you blokes consider terribly precious from getting tugged or otherwise threatened."

John's hand relaxed, eyes closed, and he breathed out. "Feels much bigger than that. But Stan, we shouldn't be here in the cadaver lab. Someone will catch us." 

"John, we're not..."

There was a giggle from the bed, and John's voice began again, "And how did I end up with this in me? Lose a bet or something? Bit not good. I don't think Dr. Monroe would approve of this."

"You're fine, and no one's..."

"I'm pulling this out now."

"No!" both Sherlock and the nurse lunged for John's hands, managed to successfully intervene in time. "Stop, you're fine." They'd both watched how John responded - direct commands were much better, and surprisingly he listened much better to Sherlock than to anyone else. "Rest a while." All were relieved when John's eyes drifted shut and his arms relaxed. With minimal disruption, the nurse pulled the glove off John's hand and tucked the sheets in to help keep things beneath the covers safe and out of direct reach. Her hand was warm on Sherlock's shoulder as they both watched John sort of rest. It lasted a full fifteen seconds this time before his legs were moving again, his head turning side to side, and none of his words making any sense. Every now and again he would whimper or otherwise exhale loudly, a sound of distress and discomfort and a completely automatic response or reflex. It was so hard to listen to, this expression of whatever inner torment John was experiencing. What made it harder was that even when John was resting or lightly dozing, he was still responding to a lot of negative stimulus or pain despite all that was being done on his behalf.

Sherlock swallowed hard, looked away while the nurse discarded John's glove along with her own before washing her hands again. She watched the monitor, heard the whimper, gingerly patted John's forehead then pressed her hand in lightly along his temple, "Temp's probably on it's way back up. He's warm, and he seems to get more confused right before."

++

The curtain opened sometime the following day. Sherlock would have been hard pressed to know the date and day without a quick check of his mobile. But it was light outside, anyway, and John's nurse poked her head in. "Now a good time?"

Molly exchanged a look with Sherlock, then smiled over at Rosie, "You ready?" Molly was helping out with transport, meals, ensuring Rosie had what she needed, and was spending time and overnights with their daughter - sometimes at home on Baker Street and the rest in her own flat. Between Molly and Mycroft, they were all managing ... perhaps not quite well, but managing.

Rosie was already crammed in a corner, not appreciating anything about visiting her father, who wasn't terribly aware she was even there. Standing, she nodded, wrapping her own arms across herself as if making herself smaller would diminish what was going on. The nurse picked up on her demeanor, of course. "He'll be all right. It just takes time."

Looking completely unconvinced, the nurse glanced at John, whose eyes were still closed but underneath it he was restless, clearly not relaxed or comfortable. Rosie's eyes seemed huge, and the nurse noticed they were beginning to get moist. "I can't...  I don't like... He's not ..." and she gestured at John in the bed, the opposite, obviously, of what she was used to seeing him as - which included vibrant, commanding, and larger than life. Most of the time, John wasn't at all himself, let alone oriented enough to have meaningful conversations.

The heart monitor alarmed, and Rosie seemed ready to scamper from the room. Her visits were brief, but at least she managed a quick visit from time to time. "It's all right," Sherlock said, coming over to embrace Rosie although she continued to be as huggable as a prickly upset porcupine. "He hears us talking, maybe he heard you. You want to tell him anything?" She shook her head immediately, long locks falling forward and she looked pointedly at Molly.

The nurse and Molly were both ready to rescue, and Molly turned to join her in the doorway, still in the room, wanting to help the girl.  The nurse reached out over John, silenced the monitor. "Your daughter's here, John, she's fine. Just wants you to get better. And she'll be back later." When it was just Sherlock in the room again, she smiled, shook her head. "It's hard, isn't it?"

"She's never seen him like this." Sherlock stood, stared, hands in his pockets. "Some improvement would be nice, John, anytime now, would be good."

"I can get another nurse, if you don't want to help me." Over the patient in the bed, Sherlock's eyes met the nurses as if accepting a challenge. She continued, "It's just a turn, temp check, wipe down, range of motion. Things you're getting pretty good at helping with, to be honest."

There was a deep breath, inhale, exhale. After these last days being present and being (at least in the beginning, reluctantly) recruited to help with John's care, he knew that he would never willingly have gone into medicine. Too close, too much touching, too much personal invasion. But this was John, and he had decided that if there was care to be done, it should be by someone who genuinely cared for John. "No, I can help. This is fine."

Together, they repositioned, wiped down John's sweaty body quickly, found his core temp to be barely elevated, pulled him up in the bed, then before turning him to lie on one side, they each stood on opposite sides of the bed, began working John's stiff limbs. The nurse took the side of the bed that had most of the lines - PICC line now as the triple lumen had been removed, and IV medicines, urinary catheter without the continuous irrigation system now - but they worked major muscle groups very gently. Even the barest movement seemed triggering to John's discomfort, there was resistance, some moaning, and definite tenderness when the nurse flexed his sore joints.

The look Sherlock gave her was both inquisitive and territorial, as if he thought she should cease immediately if it was causing pain. She let loose a broad smile. "It's necessary, just regular range of motion. Without it, his recovery will be delayed, and he'll lose muscle mass, definitely be stiff and weak for a longer time if it doesn't get done." She flexed his hip, extended his leg again, was rewarded by the same sort of deep moan from the patient, although less so and he definitely had more flexibility than the first time. Silencing the monitor again, she nodded at Sherlock, encouraged, "Now your side, go ahead."

++

The hospital at night, Sherlock decided was much nicer, much calmer, less chaos, less visitors, less physicians. Although in John's room, there was less sleeping and more restlessness. The agitated state at night was getting tedious, Sherlock decided, and one of the nurses offered to sit with John for a bit if Sherlock wanted to go home, or try to sleep.

"No but thanks. Can't we just tie him to the bed?" Sherlock mused, posing the question to Ann, who was the nurse assigned to them that night.

She chuckled. "Restraints are frowned on."

"Maybe we could just leave the lights on? He's better during the day," he said, then paused while John moaned something about a bicycle helmet.

"Can try that, but there's something to be said for circadian rhythms, the attempt to maintain distinct day and night schedules even like this," she said, catching John's hand again as he scooted it across his chest, pulling at the sheet, oxygen tubing, gown, and holding it away from further mischief. "Otherwise, you might be taking him home with his days and nights completely mixed up."

"I'd take that over this, to be certain."

John's free hand reached up as if perhaps selecting a book off an illusionary bookshelf in front of him, then the hand stretched out toward Sherlock's arm, pushing as if trying to move him out of the way. 

Ann smiled, shaking her head when John's legs moved in synchrony then over the siderail. "The picture of your daughter is adorable," she offered, glancing at the small frame on the counter. It was one Molly had taken last year, and showed the three of them, Rosie in the center, and it was grins and faces, all pressed together with arms and laughter. Rosie had brought it with her earlier, Sherlock figured at Molly's suggestion, to leave at John's bedside. "I hear she was in to visit today."

"She was." Sherlock watched as John's movements stilled, knew it wouldn't last, but kept watch with vigilance. "She just wants him home, but I can't imagine bringing him home like this, that's for certain."

"He couldn't go home like this, anyway, not until he's stable, afebrile, delined of course. But once he's better, I mean, it'll be just like bringing a newborn home. All interrupted sleep and exhaustion."

"I wouldn't know about the newborn phase. We weren't together then." Sherlock wondered at why he was suddenly and atypically talkative, saw her surprised look. "I mean, I knew him, but ..." John's sudden yell cut his sentence off, and he shrugged off whatever he'd been about to say.

"Oh," she interjected, "I didn't mean to seem as if I was asking or prying." John sat bolt upright then, and the response of Sherlock and Ann was immediate. John's arm flung around Sherlock's neck, and for a moment, Sherlock returned the hug, hoping it would be calming and comforting and helpful.

A tired voice came from the body wearing the patient gown, "Sherlock," and Ann watched as there were arms tightening - Sherlock's trying to convey solidarity, John's searching for relief and connection even with confused thought processes. "Make it stop."

"I'd like to, believe me," Sherlock said, his face along the side of John's head. "You're okay."

Silently, John relaxed back into the pillows, his eyes closed, but Sherlock still did not let go completely. It seemed that John would be calmer again for as long as it lasted, and Ann picked up the photo. "You know, most people don't stay all night. It says a lot about you."

Sherlock watched as she eyed the picture, considered the two of them, the helpfulness and the dedication. He looked away then, back at John directly, whose eyes were closed again and more relaxed than they'd been moments before. Hopefully another catnap, then. Ann set the frame down, dimmed the already dim light just a bit more. Her glance at him was one of gratitude and something approaching respect, although for Sherlock it was... it just was. "Where else would I be?" he said quietly. "This is right where I belong."

++

"Ice chip, Dr. Watson?"  There was a friendly face with a styrofoam cup and plastic spoon.  The ice chip felt ridiculously heavenly, and he savoured each cold millilitre that trickled down his throat as he listened to the emptying of containers, streaming liquid, the flushing afterward, the handwashing and the computer at the doorway. As he tried to assimilate the data, he watched as two new IV bags were hung. There was a large volume one that had a dilution of potassium chloride, and another with a purple label he recognised as norepinephrine.

Levophed? as in Leave-'em-dead-on-levophed?  and he must've spoken that phrase out loud, apparently, as the nurse chuckled, watching his gaze.  She smiled as she spiked the new bag, tossed the old one, and then patted his shoulder. "Weaning it down slowly. I don't imagine you'll need it much longer.  BP's much improved."

"Sherlock?" The blood pressure cuff cycled again, and John considered that Sherlock had really outdone himself this time if he'd managed to actually give John hypotension. The fog covered most of his mind, and he thought at first this might have been one of Sherlock's schemes - a case? - and then considered this must be Afghanistan.  Dear lord, this was the mother of all hangovers. Or Sherlock had done something. No, couldn't be, as Sherlock had bled out on a kerb years before. Or this was chemical warfare in Afghanistan?

"He'd just stepped out, I think having lunch with your daughter?"

"I don't have a daughter." And then something like a breeze ruffled a cobweb of his mind, stirring up random flecks of dusty tangents of memory. "Wait, I do. Don't I?" There was confusion, and head pain, and body pain, and the pain of a whole different type, as he was aware that he was still very, very out of it. "Are we still in Afghanistan?"

"London. Barts. You've had a fever. And apparently fever dreams." She showed John the photo frame of he, Sherlock and Rosie, which drew a look of consternation and then apparently John was overwhelmed, and he seemed disconnected and more confused.

"Oh." She handed him a container of juice, which he took and emptied, then groaned. "Cold. Too fast."

"Actually your fever is probably up again, and it's time to check anyway. Can you roll over for me, or should I get help?"

That connected with his fevered mind, and he repeated, "Roll over?" Her nod conveyed that she didn't seem to be joking and that he'd just compromised any oral temperature accuracy with the chilled apple juice. "Not necessary. I'm fine."

"You've had a fever, Dr. Watson."

"John."

"John. Your choices are you roll over, or I find help and roll you."

"No thanks," he said. "Not necessary."

"Not exactly optional." The nurse raised a brow, waited.

He could feel heat radiating through him, thought about protesting, refusing, fighting. Opting to save his energy for more important things such as figuring out what the hell had happened to him, he surrendered. "I can turn, and then can you help me get dressed? I must be due in surgery soon."

"You know you're in the hospital, right, John?"

"Obviously, and I'm pretty sure my shift starts soon."

He was still talking about changing into scrubs when Sherlock arrived with Rosie.

++

Some irritability surfaced after Rosie left, to the point where John was much more animated, a bit more energy. His blood pressure normalised, and he ended up off the vasopressors entirely, and Sherlock was grateful he was feeling better except for the fact that he had more energy to argue, complain, and threaten to leave.

The nurse would come in when needed, and had a few suggestions - movie trivia, listening to music, twenty questions, or the "tell me a story about..." idea. None seemed to help do anything but make John more adamant that he had to get out of this room "to go upstairs to bed".

"John, please, you exhaust me. We'll talk in the morning about that. This is your bed," and the spiel went on from there to very little avail. Despite using words such as 'belligerent' and 'defiant,' John continued to live up to both of them, to insist he had somewhere to go.

"No, really, I just feel gross." He threw back the linens again. "I need to get dressed and go to work."

The nurse smiled at both of them again. "You want a break, Sherlock? Go take a walk or something. Or go home and shower? You haven't left for more than ten minutes at a shot since he got here."

Part of him wanted to argue, that yes, he'd managed a shower - several in fact - and to return in approximately nineteen minutes with Mycroft's transportation assistance. "No, I'm fine. But I do have a thought: Can you wash his hair? Or can I, if you provide me the means? He gets rather crabby, and this is probably driving him nutters."

It seemed to be just the trick, despite the rather glorious mess both Sherlock and the nurse made with the water, shampoo, multiple towels, and graduate cylinder that they poured over John's head as it rested in the curved edge of a new bedpan. John seemed to relax, whether it was their gloved hands massaging or the warm water or perhaps even the sensation of feeling clean and somewhat human again when they were done.

The two hours that John (and by association, Sherlock) slept afterward felt like a little slice of heaven.

++

John's temp had been normal through the evening, and he'd required less pain medication. The nurse warned Sherlock that he would almost certainly move out of the ICU the following day if he continued to improve. And barring any set-backs overnight. The thought was a startling one to Sherlock as he imagined John with less monitoring, less attention, more vulnerable. What if he got sicker again?

"Even if he's still confused?"

"Especially if he's still confused. We used to call this ICU psychosis, but it's actually delirium - sleep deprivation, pain, sensory overload, all this stimulation, on top of his septic shock and everything else."

"PTSD." Sherlock volunteered that, and the nurse nodded. "So a more normal day and night routine might help?"

"It almost always does." Doubtful, Sherlock gave her a disbelieving look and took in John's heart monitor, the room, the IV fluids, all of his present fragile state. The nurse smiled knowingly at his anxiety leaving the ICU setting, and addressed it directly. "His doc won't move him unless he's really ready. Don't worry, it's always a little scary leaving ICU."

John's restlessness came back, though, and Sherlock vigilantly listened for limbs escaping the siderails or linens being flung aside in preparation for a bed exit. Sherlock listened to the staff down the hall in the ICU nurses station, dealing with alarms, answering call bells at all hours.  He was surprised when he could hear some of them making plans for their middle of the night lunch and realised it was three in the morning. John continued to sort of sleep-not-sleep, his breathing at times deep and normal, and his heart rate settling in the sixties when he was actually asleep then climb quickly into the low one-hundreds when he was awake. The restlessness, on the heels of the discussion of delirium, made sense. John hadn't slept a block of time since prior to admission - it had all been brief naps with the aid of narcotics, sedation, anaesthesia, or sheer exhaustion. John's nurse poked her head in, saw Sherlock bright eyed in the glow from the equipment, smiled fondly at him. They had all experienced enough of The Restlessness of Dr. John Watson to know that Sherlock's presence bedside was invaluable. In those moments - albeit quite rare - when Sherlock needed to step away, John was almost always in danger of climbing out of bed, restlessly flinging himself toward the siderails, and one time he did manage to get himself prone and required three nurses plus waiting for the eventual return, conveniently, of Sherlock to safely untangle him from his IV lines, monitor cords, catheter, and blood pressure cuff without incident.

"You want anything to eat?" Smiling faintly, Sherlock simply shook his head, and she left. Vaguely, Sherlock wondered if Mycroft had been in touch with the nursing staff regarding his usual disregard for good nutrition. The faintest disturbance in the room did manage to awaken John, and his heart rate alarm sounded.  

Sherlock leaned in close, "Shh, you're fine," and a moment or two later, John whimpered mildly in his throat. "Just rest, relax your shoulders, close your eyes." He turned his lips to John's hair, ruffled it a bit. "Deep breath," he said and continued for a few moments, saying whatever soothing thing that came to mind, letting his thumb come up to John's face as he'd seen one of the nurses doing when he'd returned after one of his infrequent longer stints away to change clothes and breathe outside London air. He let his fingers brush slowly from eye and cheekbone area toward his ear, down into John's hair.  The calming effect of what he'd seen previously had been remarkable, effective, soothing, and John seemed to quiet with great speed since he'd employed it a few times, himself.

"Sherlock," came the whisper, and Sherlock held his breath, paused, waiting.  Nothing further came, and he toed a chair close to the side of the bed.  Lowering the siderail, he eased his upper body toward John's pillow, letting his head rest along with the front of his shoulder, there next to John, in John's bed, on the mattress. John's breathing still seemed deep, the body's compensatory response to infection, attempting to re-balance acid-base metabolism, cool off with exhalation of warmer air, but at least he was resting.  Keeping his thumb still very minimally moving on John's temple now, he let his own eyes close, wishing he could telepathically convey healing and health and restoration to John.  His mind helpfully wandered off somewhere, thinking of acid base ions and the exchange of carbon dioxide and then a few other chemical equations until he felt John moving again.  With a turn and swirl of John's head, he had turned and slid his face toward Sherlock, his nose coming to rest against Sherlock's head, hair, and into the warm space between his neck and collarbone.  John was inhaling, breathing him in, smelling what must have been familiar. Sherlock moved his body position a bit closer, and could almost immediately feel some of the muscle tension leaving John's chest and shoulders. Their breathing patterns synchronised as if simply by long-standing habit.

"I want to go home." John's voice was quiet, broken, low, almost plaintive.

"I know. Soon as you're well."

"Hmm." Slowly, John's face seemed to relax more under Sherlock's touch. "That feels nice."

"You can sleep now. You're all right, and I'm staying with you."

"When is the dentist coming in? Been waiting a long time."

Sherlock tried not to sigh with discouragement when John continued to demonstrate he was not yet thinking clearly. Part of Sherlock wondered if John was responding to the strangely odd smell of the oxygen he was still wearing, earlier associating it somehow on some level with a dental visit. He opted not to engage with John's confusion this time. It could have been simply that he'd helped John brush his teeth a few hours previously. "I know," he answered. "Rest. We'll go home soon."

"'K."  John nodded off shortly after that reassurance, and Sherlock stayed right where he was, a human siderail, offering as much comfort and safety as he could. He let his fingers twine with John's, feeling the odd emptiness of John's unadorned ring finger. He was so swollen, one of the nurses had talked with him about the need to remove it, then had painstakingly and carefully, with a large amount of liquid soap and a phlebotomy tourniquet, managed to ease the jewellery over the swollen finger. It was taped to John's smartphone, which was shut off and was safely on the counter, waiting until it was requested.

Hands entwined, he let his eyes drift closed, and they both managed to fall asleep after a few minutes, lying close, touching as best they could. Both John and Sherlock were unaware that John's nurse came in silently, drawing a blanket around Sherlock's shoulders as he leaned against John.  Their hands had stayed clasped, a united pair, holding each to the other, both of them asleep, their fingers intertwined.

++++++++++++++++

"You've no idea what happened, do you?" Sherlock asked again, more a statement than a question.

"Not really."

++

John heard very little of what Sherlock was telling him, remembered none of that. For all his good points, Sherlock followed very few rules, particularly ones he disagreed with. And was not above making up stories, stretching the truth, or bold-faced lying when it suited him. This had to be one of his tricks, games, or "it's for a case!"

Identifying Sherlock as a full stop liar, he believed almost none of it. "We shouldn't be here," he whispered.

"You belong here."

"We can't just stroll into a hotel and take one of their suites."

"Hospital."

"No it's not." The smirk on John's face made Sherlock long for his restoration to full health. "We aren't in Baskerville, are we?"

"John."

"How is it possible that I think I hear my mum?" John's mum had passed when John was younger. "Are we dead?"

Sherlock wanted to put his head in his hands, or bang it against a wall, perhaps. Instead, he smiled. "You're fine. We're allowed to stay here. Please rest. We'll talk when you wake up."

"I'm sorry."

"No reason to apologise."

"None of this makes sense."

"You're getting better. And I'll explain it as often as you need."

"You said I had a fever."

"Yes. Over thirty nine for a while."

"You're lying. This is a warming blanket." John touched the edge of the forced-air blanket over him, looked over at Sherlock with skepticism as if daring him to explain. "Makes no sense."

"You've been low today, shivering and such. It's been a few days since --"

"Days? Sherlock, what the hell?"

"Shhh, I explained it all --"

"Jesus Christ, you've gotta get me out of here."

++

And so it was with a great deal of concern that the intensivist transferred a confused although slightly more interactive patient out of the ICU. The catheter was removed, the hard-wired heart monitor changed to a telemetry unit, the IVs capped, and a brief stint out of bed to a chair just to be sure John would tolerate it before the move was official.

The transfer seemed to absolutely exhaust everyone - transferring nurse, receiving nurse, patient, and family. Once he seemed to be very deeply asleep, Sherlock and Rosie stepped out for a moment, leaving John quite solidly sleeping.

John was nothing if not opportunistic. When he opened his eyes after a very brief catnap and found his room empty, he pulled off the wires his hand found over his chest - that was odd - and started to swing his feet off the bed as much as he was able, given the special stockings still on his legs. He was just reaching down to remove them, leaning quite far over the siderail, actually, when there were feet hurrying toward him.

"Whoa," said one of the nurses, rushing in to prevent him from getting further out of the bed. She'd seen the heart monitor lead disconnect and come immediately to investigate. The ICU nurse who had given her report earlier in the day had warned her that the patient was still occasionally confused and frequently impulsive. "Please don't get up without help."

"What are you going on about?"

"Call bell is right here," she said, tapping it where it was just by his hand.

"I'm ready to go now."

"Go? Go where? You need the urinal?" and she offered the object to him.

"No. Home. I'm ready to go."

"Not just yet, Dr. Watson." She offered to help situate him in the high backed chair in the room, and he nodded. In his still somewhat addled mind, the chair was closer to the door than the bed was. "Any idea where you are and what day it is?" She was glad they'd considered his unpredictability when they'd placed his room directly opposite the nurses station as she activated a chair alarm and reattached his heart monitor.

He glanced at her, at her name badge, at the wall chart and read the answer from it, although clearly he had no personal connection with the information.

"There's a sandwich if you want, you should probably eat something while you sit."

"No need, I'll eat later at home." John's eyes were back to the board that showed his nurse's name and the date. The plan for the day, as noted on the whiteboard, listed 'welcome to intermediate care,' 'out of bed,' and 'normal body temperature.' The nurse tucked a blanket over him, handed him the nurse bell, and pulled the overbed table where he could reach it. And hopefully, the nurse considered, where it would keep him occupied in the chair until his family returned. "Where are my clothes?"

"Probably sent home long ago, with your daughter. Or with Sherlock, although I'm not sure he's left your side, not much anyway."

"Rosie was here?" John seemed upset at that. "What was he thinking, bringing her in? I'm sorry, just... I'll leave, this was all a big misunderstanding."  Sherlock had done something. Something terrible. He'd been beaten or drugged, slipped a substance of some sort that had given him such physical symptoms to make him seem to credibly belong in the hospital.

"I'm not sure about home so soon, Dr. Watson. You've been pretty sick."

From behind John's pasted on skeptical smile, it was obvious he didn't believe her one iota. "I'm fine." Shifting in the chair, however, as if to challenge his statement, he grimaced and sucked in a hissing breath of discomfort as his side and lower back must've spasmed with the motion. "Ow."

"You have a stent in, might be a little uncomfortable."

"A stent?" John seemed reflective, and added, "a cardiac stent?"

The nurse shook her head, clarifying, "Right ureteral stent."

Clearly disbelieving, he let his hand slide along his right side, as if trying to parse what was underneath his skin. In doing so, he caught sight of the PICC line extensions in his right arm. "Oh shit," he whispered. "How long has this been in?"

The nurse watched him cautiously and was very aware that he was just beginning to make some sense out of what he was seeing. "Date's on the dressing," she said, reading it to him. "They removed your triple lumen once you were more stable." The nurse spoke gently as she watched John's hand come up to search for the plaster that was still over the site on his neck. With wide eyes and a serious look, he watched the nurse again as he tried to remember. "You were pretty sick," she said again.

"I don't remember any of this."

"You had a febrile seizure, sepsis. An IO line. Remember Sherlock told you about them putting that in in your flat?"

"No shit?" he whispered then immediately looked apologetic at the profanity.

She smiled in what she hoped was reassuring. "You're better."

"Some of this sounds familiar." He narrowed an eye. "Kidney stone?"

She nodded. "Sherlock's been here almost non-stop, and only stepped out for a quick walk with Rosie because you were finally sleeping."

"Should I apologise for him being a prat?"

The laughter was loud and spontaneous at that. "No. He's been a lifeline, keeping you from hurting yourself." An overhead page sounded in the hallway, and she gestured to the doorway, "I'll be back to check on you. And it's been hours since you had a pain pill. You ready for a dose now?"

"I don't want it, I'm sure I'll be fine once I ..." and his voice trailed off as he searched the room again, restlessly looking for something useful. Or, the nurse suspected, his clothes - she wouldn't put it past him to simply get dressed and leave if unattended, and so was grateful his clothes weren't here. His gaze stopped abruptly and he straightened up in the chair, grimacing again as the twinge hit his right side again. "Is that my mobile over there?"

The nurse nodded, and then at his nonverbal request, she placed the device in his hand. John smiled and powered it up.

++

Where are you? Get your bloody arse back up here. 

There was a brief pause while the digital communication went from the third floor to the first as there was delivery via whatever wifi nodes and satellites and internet.  Then, an ellipsis, a sudden staring of two men at very different places in the same building with hawklike focus on a mobile screen.

Immediately. JHW

++

The cafeteria worker was used to seeing various personnel, families, and volunteers summoned by text or mobile. She certainly was used to seeing an almost instant departure from whatever table was occupied with or without food being consumed, so when a man and young teenage girl seemed to almost vanish, she didn't think too much of it.  The girl had eaten most of a yoghurt, but the man had left behind an almost full cup of tea.

She hoped whatever emergency they were responding to, that everything was going to be okay. Their trash was easily collected, chairs pushed in, and it was as if they'd never been there.

When Sherlock arrived at John's new room with Rosie in tow a few minutes later, and somewhat out of breath although he managed to hide that fairly well, he found John trying to force his wedding ring over his very swollen finger.

"I don't recommend forcing it," Sherlock said from the doorway, testing the waters of John's mentation. "One of the nurses worked rather diligently to get that off without a ring cutter, you see. Nice to find you out of bed though."

John could have said many things ranging from the stubble on Sherlock's face to the weather to something inappropriately including the word bugger, but the sight of Rosie changed his word choices. He settled on a growled, "What have you done with my clothes?"

From behind Sherlock's shoulder, Rosie pressed against him a little bit, using him for a shield against whatever unknown variables awaited them in her father's room. "We'll bring them when they're needed." He slid an arm around Rosie for moral and emotional support and led the way into the room, glancing at the new surroundings, which didn't feel quite right yet.  There was a dearth of monitoring equipment, less nurse availability, and an overall sense of if he's not that sick anymore, let's go home. "Rosie and I were just..."

"Yes, I heard." His face softened then into a grin, seeing her, having a vaguest hint that they'd been apart too long. He held out a hand that trembled as he extended it toward Rosie. "Hi sweetheart." When she hung back a little, timid and ... afraid of him?, he glanced with concern at Sherlock. "What's wrong?"

At Rosie's quietness, Sherlock interjected, hugging her slightly from the side and not letting her cower behind him any longer. "It's been a mite overwhelming, hasn't it?"

Unshed tears welled up in her eyes, and she could only stare at the man in the chair who finally seemed to have his wits about him. "Dad?" A trainered foot approached cautiously and two opposing hands raised, outstretched and needy. The one weak and shaking with intention, the other uncertain and in desperate search of comfort and stability. "Do you have any idea..."

Their fingers touched, and just the skin on skin contact triggered an almost avalanche of movement. Rosie issued a small drawn-out yelp as John reached out both arms to hug her. It was clumsy and sore and awkward and desperate. Despite the soreness of everything from his toes and upward, John drew her close, easing her trim build into his blanket-covered lap.

Sherlock tucked a bed pillow under John's trembling arm that was supporting Rosie just for an extra bolster. He shifted, guided her into a more comfortable and secure position, tucked her head under his chin, and the easy embrace seemed to settle, morph into easy familiarity.

Sherlock watched John's telemetry monitor, saw his heart rate rise then return to normal baseline. "I'm sorry," John whispered to her. "I'm sorry. You've been so strong, I'm sure, and I'm getting better now."

"Finally," Rosie tried to quip, but the quaver in her voice gave away her emotion, and John's hand brushed at her back. "It's been a long week."

"I lost a whole lot of those days." John glanced over at the board again, as if to confirm that the day, date, and plan hadn't somehow changed while he wasn't watching.

Sherlock leaned a hip against the counter in the room. "We remember a lot of it vividly. Sadly there is no video to prove it to you."

Faint smiles showed up then, and the higher stress level in the room started to dissipate. John shifted to reach for his water, took a sip, and he said, "Thank god," and even his chuckle was tired sounding as he added, "Rosie would have it all over facebook or something by now."

"No, I don't want to remember any of it." Her words were vehement, emphatic, and she pulled back to look at him - the father, the daughter exchanging looks that spoke of all they had in common, of the constancy of what they had. Her fingers, solid and steady, poked at his nose as they'd been doing to each other since -- well, since forever. The smile John gave her was one of sweet happiness although it was tired and pale looking. Rosie ducked her head again, resting on John's shoulder, drawing her long legs up impossibly to curl into the cubic space of barely any mass at all. Her whisper, though, was a commanding presence in the room, spoken from the spot she nestled into. "I thought I was going to lose you too."

Even as John's arms tightened, he waved a hand in Sherlock's direction, beckoning him to join them. It was long minutes before any of them wanted to move, and in the end it was John who finally moaned and then chuckled. "I'm really sorry, this really is wonderful, but my legs are asleep, and if I don't get back in bed, I'm probably going to fall over."

++

Baker Street

There was a whimper from the man on the side of the bed closest to the doorway, and shortly after another one, longer.

Rosie pulled the blanket over both herself and over John's shoulder. "Why does he still do that?" she asked in a quiet voice, glancing over at Sherlock to see if he was paying attention to her or otherwise engrossed in something else. "Sounds like somebody kicking a puppy."

"Pain, probably. It's been a bit since he's taken anything."

"Stubborn," Rosie agreed.

"And a high pain tolerance." There was another whimper, and he amended, "When he's awake, anyway." Sherlock set his mobile aside, patted Rosie's shoulder as she lay under the duvet in her pyjamas, John in his as well, but Sherlock atop the duvet, clothed in case there was company or something else requiring at least one of them to be presentable.

John had just been discharged from the hospital that afternoon, in fairly good spirits but lacking strength. Just the activity of getting from wheelchair to cab and then up the steps of the flat had absolutely exhausted him. Sherlock had stripped him of everything, added pyjamas to his thin and aching body, and tucked him into bed. Rosie had come home from school, eaten dinner, and was now watching TV from the confines of their huge bed. While Sherlock was not a huge fan of a party in his and John's own bedroom, he knew she needed the security of - finally - having John home and hopefully on the road to recovery. It had been a long week for them all.

++

"You're sure he's ready to be discharged?" Sherlock had asked the doctor.

"Oh for god's sake, Sherlock," John had muttered under his breath. "I'm fine."

A dirty look passed between the tall man standing and the gaunt man sitting in a chair dressed in a sweatshirt and track pants. The words 'You're not fine' were as audible in the room as if Sherlock had spoken them - and he certainly was thinking them loudly enough.

The doctor, to his credit, had addressed Sherlock. "What specifically are your concerns?"

"For starters, the potential for reinfection. The recurrence of sepsis in patients with profound septic shock is astronomically, unacceptably high." He paused for breath, and the physician was just ready to answer when he launched another barrage. "His nutritional state is terrible, he is weak, his renal function is not normal --"

The doctor held up a hand, and Sherlock did actually pause then. "First, I hear you about sepsis recurrence, and we are all going to be working to prevent that. His instructions are pretty clear on what to check for, his follow up care, repeat lab work." There was a pause and a lingering eye contact as the doctor seemed to be reminding Sherlock to back off just a little, to be trusting. "We have him on the right antibiotics, and his fever's been down over twenty-four hours now. You'll recall what his cultures grew -"

"E coli, yes, in his blood."

"So he's well covered now. He'll do better at home. His own routine, his own things, a diet better than hospital fare. He's been given his discharge instructions," and at this the doctor did turn to John, who had said paperwork folded in his pocket and patted it, "and your prescription for antibiotic therapy. Your dose for today is due at?" and he paused to let John speak. 

"Six tonight."

"Look," he said, "you took care of him at home when he got sick, and have been here all week, you'll know if for some reason he takes a bad turn. Bring him back, or call me." He handed Sherlock a business card. "He's ready, I assure you."

++

There in the bedroom, John looked anything but ready. There was no energy, no stamina, but Sherlock did admit with trepidation that he much preferred him here at home. Rosie flipped through the telly channels again, settled on something teenaged, and smirked as she looked over at Sherlock, who as expected, rolled his eyes silently at her selection. Grinning in satisfaction, she increased the volume just enough to make the statement she was seeking.

"Rubbish," came the muffled voice from the pillow. "Absolute trash," John said again, then an eye slitted open and he reached out an arm to Rosie.

She turned toward him, tucking her head on his shoulder for a few minutes, then sniffed, her face crumpling up in displeasure as she did. "God, dad, your breath. And you need a shower."

"I don't recall inviting you in here," Sherlock teased as he could see John tighten his arms around his daughter to hold her snugly.  He obviously needed a bit of a cuddle with Rosie, too, as much if not more than she had needed to be laying close. "In fact, maybe pop out and make a piece of toast?"

There was an enormous sigh as she inwardly must have weighed the benefit-risk ratio of the request, sat up to comply. "Don't change the channel, I'll be right back."

"As if," Sherlock warned good-naturedly as he commandeered the remote, as she left the room with much heavier footsteps than should have been possible, expressing every bit of her presence. "Pain pill after you eat," he said.

"Need the toilet," John said quietly, as if dreading both the needed relocation and the activity. "And a shower and scrub, according to the princess."

"I'm not sure you're up for that. Maybe later, but a bath, and not unattended."

"God, I know, it'd feel good, but maybe tomorrow."

Sherlock flipped through channels, settled on a re-run of something Rosie might actually not fuss too hard over, pulled the duvet off John and waited for him to sit up on his own terms. There were a few minutes of bobbling, leaning, shuffling, and nervous waiting, but soon they were both in the loo and Sherlock handed John a toothbrush as he sat.

"I don't know if I can do both..." he began. "It's a very odd feeling, still, knowing that stent is in, feels abnormal. Heavy."

"Quit whining. Just go, and brush, before you fall over. Again. In here." John looked up as if surprised, or as if he'd forgotten. He'd been told the story and it still sounded foreign, as if had never happened. Or happened to someone else. "Not looking to repeat that nightmare."

"Oh," he said, more subdued, and there were sounds of brushing. "I don't suppose you'll give me a moment of privacy," he said, leaning over to spit into the sink and handing the brush to Sherlock to rinse.

"Not a snowball's chance in hell." Sherlock leaned over, turned on the tap again, waited.

John glared. "Stop staring. This is not a command performance. You're not help--" and he stopped abruptly as something else started, the sound of the loo filled with another type of running water noise.

Rosie had flipped the television show back, but John was too exhausted to fuss, managing a few bites of toast before falling very quickly, and very deeply asleep. There was no moaning at all, just the deep, slow, rhythmic sounds of relaxed breathing. In some ways, Sherlock found it musical, calming. It was definitely not the breathing from the previous week that required listening to, alarmed, worried something even worse was about to happen.

There was a slight hitch in the breathing pattern, one of passing from one stage of sleep to another, but it was different enough that even Rosie noticed, met eyes with Sherlock until the pattern was re-established once more.

"Does he have any idea how sick he was?" she asked, quiet and low.

"No, an inkling, I suppose. A bit here and there. I'll tell him more down the road again if he asks. Maybe someday you'll want to know the whole story, too."

"We're lucky, that this..." and she gestured at his very still, sleeping form. "You know he'll ask. He'll want to know everything, when he's ready."

"Eventually," Sherlock concurred. "And there's no reason not to tell him if he wants to know."

"So if I asked you, for the whole story, you'd tell me?" The directness in Rosie at that moment was striking, and Sherlock had a direct glimpse of what John must've been like in the army, issuing orders, commanding a med unit, performing complicated surgery.  Head on, eyes wide open. In some ways, it seemed a full frontal attack without the aggression.

"The whole story." Parroting her words back to her gave him a moment to collect his thoughts.

"You offered. The whole story. I'm ready." There was a serious demeanor, a calm steadiness to Rosie, and clearly she was talking about much more than John's illness. "I'm asking," she clarified.

"Tell you what, exactly? The whole story about...?" Sherlock could feel his heart pound a bit, catecholamines circulating, ready for whatever answer this girl's question would detonate on this conversation.

"About my mum." The quiet words were both calm and matter-of-fact. "I mean, I've heard some..."

"You'll have to be more specific than that."

"Did she have any idea what she was really doing? When she died. When she stepped in front of the bullet meant for you. Maybe she was sick and no one knew?"

"I don't know the answers to those questions. What did your dad say?"

"He didn't think so, but he wasn't looking to really answer me." There was another stuttering, easy sighing breath, and Rosie certainly seemed at peace. "I just want to know why. Why did she have to do that?"

Sherlock's mind whirled from one bad answer to another - suicide - selfish - she chose death on her own terms and means - abandonment. His hand was in Rosie's hand before he even consciously thought he needed to reach her, touch her, connect. "She loved you, she loved your dad." Unbidden, the remembrance of the video, of Mary leaving instructions - giving him a case, her directive to save John Watson, and then go to hell, Sherlock, none of which he nor John would ever, ever share with Rosie. He pushed his mind back to the teen watching him, Rosie, who was such a conglomeration of the three of them. "I don't think she had all the answers, either."

Rosie looked back at him, contemplatively.

"Sometimes, you just act. Something presents itself, you have to make a split-second decision. You know what you want to do, and you do it." Sherlock's words were careful in their delivery.

There was some rapid blinking, Sherlock noticed, as she pondered that a moment. For a few seconds, Sherlock seemed to forget how to breathe as he could see John's thoughtful, calculating expression in Rosie, as if they were identical. For a moment, it was as if they shared the same face, from the features to the emotion and the thoughts that were so visible. She caught the rapt expression of his own. "What?" she asked him with a bit of uncomfortable cheekiness.

"You looked just like him, there."

"I just don't understand how..." she let that trail off, not wanting to put words to the feeling.

"I'm not sure it's possible to know. But she loved you with everything she had, of that you can be certain. And so does your dad." The pause after that sentence, where Rosie waited expectantly for him to add himself to the list titled 'people who love Rosie,' and when he didn't immediately, she got sassy and flung her hands out as if requesting it. "Oh, all right, I suppose I'm a bit fond of you too. Never a doubt, from either of us."

"Funny way of showing it, letting himself get that sick." On this topic, Sherlock was infinitely more comfortable, and she scowled a little at him. "He should have known better."

"It came on him pretty quick," Sherlock reminded her. "And doctors aren't necessarily great patients, as you already know."

"I thought you said the doctor wanted to admit him and he refused. You can't play both teams, here."

"I could if you would let me get away with it."

"You've raised me to catch a lot of things. So you have no grounds to complain when I'm clever." They exchanged a glance and then a smile. "I'm just glad I didn't lose him too."

Everything about Sherlock's expression echoed me too, and his brows waggled at her. "Please feel free to give him grief when he's more fully recovered, mind you, about being a terribly stubborn patient."

"As if I need more suggestions to give him grief." There was enough innuendo to her statement that Sherlock knew immediately there was something else, something secretive. Expectantly, he turned a curious, insightful gaze at her, gestured for her to get on with it.

And with that, she tucked back a huge lock of her long hair to expose the top of her ear, which was newly pierced with a small, shiny, diamond stud. "Oh dear lord, he's really not going to appreciate that." Sherlock glanced down to assure John was still sleeping. "Gold post?"

"And hypoallergenic. And a diamond chip." She tucked the hair in, leaving the earring exposed. "You don't seem to mind."

"Your father will, however." Sherlock looked at her hard. "Did Molly do that for you?"

"Of course she did. I told her I had permission, that it just slipped both of your minds with dad being sick and all. Turned on a few tears, and she bought it right off." His head cocked as if to admonish her for that, and she pounced. "Oh, please, I've learned boatloads from you along those lines, and she's told me... You should be proud of me, you know. It's complimentary to your own skill set."

The look they then exchanged was partial admiration for manipulative behaviour, they both knew it, knew John would not approve on any level. Sherlock tipped his head, a grudging display of respect even as both of their eyes sparkled at the deception. "Depending on my mood when he finds out," Sherlock began quiet and conspiratorily, "I may run some interference for you." Rosie's hopeful look was too precious, and Sherlock reached out to touch the tiny earring. "It looks nice. Keep it clean, and make sure..."

"I know," she whined a little, and rolled her eyes. "I may save the unveiling of the tattoo for later then."

"Grounded," came the hoarse whisper from the pillow. Surprised, both Sherlock and Rosie glanced down to stare at John, who by all counts looked as if he were still deeply asleep. "You are both so grounded."

++

The course of the evening saw three people grateful to be in the confines of the same flat, in pyjamas, and overall on the mend. John calmed down about the earring and was relieved that the discussion of the tattoo was unfounded. Rosie lost some of her clinginess, having settled after a few hours lounging around with both parents, and went to bed with smiles and hugs and a promise to keep her ear looked after.

"What else do you need?" Sherlock stood at the foot of the bed, watching John. "Water bottle, pain pills, extra pillow."

"I know you said tomorrow, but I really don't want to wait," John began, pulling a bit at his tee shirt and the expression on his face conveying his dissatisfaction.

"You want a shower."

"Yes."

"No."

"Please?"

"Bath." With a deep sigh, Sherlock surrendered with a nod. "I'll help you. Under no circumstance are you doing any of this alone..."

"Of course not. And I have vague recollections of you stepping pretty far out of your comfort zone, by the way. Well, plus the nurses ratted you out. Bed baths and range of motion and other nursing duties."

"Those nurses worked hard, John. I had no idea."

"I hear you helped quite a bit."

"You were a nightmare," Sherlock blurted out. "So yes, let's do it. Because I'm exhausted, and I've earned the right to a good night's sleep afterward."

"I'll feel so much better, seriously, if you don't mind...?"

"This will go just fine as long as you shut up and do things my way."

++

Not much time had gone by before John was again laying down in the bed he loved with the man he cherished. His body had been scrubbed, hair washed, everything dried and some of him lotioned (!), hair combed. Sherlock had made him wait, wrapped in a blanket as he perched in their bedroom chair, while he changed the sheets. Teeth brushed, bladder emptied - less hesitancy than previously - and light extinguished. John considered pain medication but didn't think the residual discomfort would be enough to actually keep him awake.

"You good?" Sherlock asked, tying his own sleep pants, and plugging in both of their mobiles before coming to stand yet again by the bed.

"Not really."

"What is it?"

"It all feels so unreal. Like a dream, like everything is just... unsettled."

"Not surprising. I mean, not that I would have wanted you to remember all of that, how bad it was, but losing a chunk of time like that is disconcerting." The men were both not unaware of the long journey - not just the past week, but all of it - that had led them to this point. "What else do you want now?"

"Please get in here. Now. With me." Even in the dim room, Sherlock could see the serious glint of John's tired eyes. "I mean it, that's all I need. Just you."

"Looking forward to it."

Sherlock smoothed down his own tee shirt, slid into the bed, adjusted his pillow, then stretched out an arm to John.  It was a slower process than usual, but it only took a few minor and cautious adjustments for John to find that sweet spot, that comfortable place where his head fit just so against Sherlock's shoulder. His pillow, tugged into place just over Sherlock's arm, felt wonderful and cradling. Familiar. Their limbs found positions of comfort, Sherlock's arm loosely holding him behind his back, his arm across Sherlock's ribs, his knee slotted up over Sherlock's thigh. They fit snug but relaxed, like interlocking puzzle pieces.

There was a moment for them both, where there was an exhale and a righting of their collective world, an alignment of the planets Holmes and Watson back into proper orbits. Sherlock smiled, letting his hand brush lightly over John's arm and he pressed his lips to John's freshly shampooed hair. Gratitude hung heavy in the room between and around them, evident in the easy embrace and the intimacy of them together again, in bed, safe and on-the-mend. "Welcome home," he whispered. He had wondered, so very long ago in the hospital, if he would ever breathe easily again. And now, he had his answer, as he exhaled fully, there in the flat on Baker Street, both his arms and his heart full.

++

Epilogue

"God, I'll be glad when this is over," John said, his gait almost back to normal for the moment as they walked through the doors of the hospital that led to the Outpatient Surgery Services department. Chuckling, he cleared his throat, "Funny, soon as you can't drink anything, that's all you want, eh?"

Making a small sound in his throat to at least acknowledge John's statement, Sherlock couldn't quite figure out what on earth was the matter with himself. Palms sweaty, heart pounding, throat thick, roving nausea between the pit of his stomach into his ribs. While he wanted to say something supportive to John, after all it was John who would shortly be put in a patient gown, a cap over his head, John who was having another IV placed, and a procedure today, and he would be rolled through doors to be whisked away out of Sherlock's sight. There would be general anaesthesia, stone removal, probably another stent placed, and John who would have to deal with postoperative pain. Again. It was John, not him. "Of course," he tried to say lightly.

John didn't miss the forced answer. "You okay?" Sherlock turned his face away from John, clenched his teeth and reminded himself inwardly to both get-a-grip and hold-yourself-together. John's hand clamped around his elbow, pulled him out of the main hallway to a pair of chairs tucked in an unoccupied corner. "Sherlock?" John's hand grabbed at Sherlock's jaw, trying to force eye contact, trying to turn Sherlock's head toward him even as Sherlock resisted. "Oh god please, I'm sorry!"

"You're sorry?" Sherlock spat out, and when he turned, he knew John could see that his eyes were too bright, too glistening. John's hand dropped off of Sherlock's face when Sherlock asked it again, "You're sorry?!"

"I didn't realise, we should have, I could have..."

"No, I'm fine, you're fine. This is why we're here. We press on, this is the day they fix everything, get this out once and for all," Sherlock was trying too hard, they both could hear it and he let a few other protests fade. "It's all fine."

"Say it," John finally said as the silence hovered loud, anxiety and energy radiating from the top of Sherlock's curls to the tip of his expensive leather shoes. "Put words to it, it'll help if you say it." The Captain Watson voice made a rare appearance, an order issued with the military tone, bearing, and authority. It was calm, and Sherlock's heart - anything but calm - raced in response.

"I almost lost you here. And I can't shake the..." he took a shuddery breath, changed tacks, and continued, "Just walking through the doors, being here, it all just hit me again. Vividly."

The tender look on John's face made Sherlock feel even worse, when this day was about John and John's medical situation, Sherlock felt as if he'd let him down, failed him, demanded center stage and coddling. John, ever in care-taking mode, looking out for everyone else ahead of himself, shrugged. "I'll reschedule. It's no big deal."

"Absolutely not. Absolutely not. No."

"Please call Mycroft, then. At least you won't have to wait alone."

"No. That isn't nec -" and Sherlock let the word die abruptly in the middle, as over John's shoulder, leaning casually against the wall, was his brother. There was a look of understanding, of compassion, coupled with the irritating smug-ness of knowing his presence would be needed ahead of time.

Mycroft was already on the move, timing his entrance as he approached. "Hello, Sherlock," came the words from behind them both as polished footsteps narrowed the gap. "John."

There was eye contact and connection and expressions where they had a moment of acknowledgement, why all three of them were there in the hospital hallway and why particularly the Holmes' brothers held each others' gaze for a few charged minutes.

"Thought I'd swing by and keep you both company this morning, if that's all right with you, John."

John couldn't stop the smirk, the reaction uncontrived as he realised that Mycroft not only knew when and where, but that Sherlock would have had unpleasant associations. To spare his pride, John made a face as if it was a concession on their parts. "I suppose, long as it's okay with Sherlock."

"You may be surprised to know that the patient on the schedule ahead of you, John, has canceled unexpectedly. So there should be absolutely no waiting at all for you, and you should both be home before lunch today as a result."

"Hmm. Imagine that," John said trying not to cringe at what Mycroft was indirectly alluding to. "My lucky streak here continues, doesn't it?" He took Sherlock's arm, leading and being led down the hallway again, the journey continuing. "Better now?" he murmured, "You'll be okay?" low and to Sherlock alone.

There was a sniff and a nod and a change in the angle of Sherlock's head as he walked, but the tension and tight carriage was mostly gone.

The lift door was already opening for them, and they stepped inside. "I don't know where you get these ideas that I have such control over everyday, common events such as an OR schedule, the surgical team, and selecting the most skilled IV provider to meet you here."

As they entered the check-in area, there was an air of expectancy, and the trio was greeted quickly and ushered into the holding area.

"I don't suppose you've hand-chosen who's going to start my IV, have you?"

If John had been looking, he would have seen the wink Mycroft directed at Sherlock.

"This way, gentlemen," the receptionist interrupted, holding a clipboard. "Right in here, Dr. Watson," and she led them to a closed door, which then opened as they approached, into a two-roomed private section, where there was only one bed, monitor, desk, and several people clearly waiting for him. John was fairly certain one of them was the chairperson of the entire vascular division of the hospital, and he was holding a tray of intravenous start kit supplies. John did not miss the nod from him to Mycroft.

John turned an eye to Mycroft. "You were saying what again?" John glanced around, trying not to smirk. "That you had nothing to do with my being assigned to the private suite here in the department with its own private staff?"

To his credit, he didn't try to deny it, simply gestured to the depths of the room. "I do believe, John, that the patient apparel and warm blankets are for you. Sherlock, there is high speed secure internet access right here by the flat screen and wet-bar for us." John and Sherlock exchanged a look, and there was a relaxed look about Sherlock that was also a relief to John. "I do trust you'll not unleash a cyber-attack today?"

One of the nurses holding a name band approached John, asked for his name and date of birth, applied the bracelet to his wrist. "If you could just change into this," she said, handing him a printed patient gown, "we'll get things underway for you."

A charged moment held them all, then, and John nodded. "Glad things have been taken care of, yes I believe we're ready to put all this behind us after today." There was a glance between the brothers, silent agreement, and John reached out his hand - wedding ring restored, which they could bloody well just tape to his finger this time, staying on, ta - to Sherlock, who looked only a second before reaching his own hand to link with John's. "And in case I forget to say it later, thank you for everything."

++

~fin~

 

Chapter Text

John closed the programme brochure as the speaker droned on. The topic was something that both didn’t interest him and didn’t apply to him, but he was in the far corner of the room, part of a smaller breakout group on the second day of the three-day medical conference he'd been strongly encouraged by his employer to attend. He slid his mobile to his lap, no messages, checked the time, swiped into his mail, nothing new in the inbox but for two adverts for a pharmacy discount and a medical supply house. Delete. Briefly, he considered opening his social media account just for something to read, to look at, but did not want to risk being rude to the speaker. He took a deep breath, glanced about the room, stared at the screen and got slightly distracted by a typo in the presentation. Lame, he could hear Sherlock’s voice critiquing the media. Unacceptable. Unprofessional.

His mind wandered to other things. He thought about texting Rosie. She’d had a rather puzzling blow-up a few days before he’d had to leave for the conference, and things had been stilted since. There had been other times recently that there was a rough patch, where her reactions were strangely extreme, and he cautioned himself what he cautioned other parents of teens: It's normal, it will pass. But it was hard, particularly while they were far apart. He could viscerally recall the stiff hug when he’d left, the quiet monotone replies she’d given at his farewell and last minute instructions. Although, at just about fourteen, she was rather independent and self-sufficient. And Sherlock was home of course. John thought about texting him instead, but didn’t want to unleash a barrage of ill-timed texts during this session, and didn’t particularly want the “I told you so” when Sherlock deduced that John was bored.

He settled for discreetly texting Rosie.

Hey just checking in. Hope things are going all right.

(read receipts on, the message was read, a brief ellipsis, and John received a hand symbol for okay)

How was school today?

All right. I was going to text you anyway. Is now a bad time?

Of course not. What's up?

(ellipsis, typing, typing, typing, entered text, deleted text, typing).

John tried not to stare, wondering at her unusual texting delay, let his eyes watch the speaker and whiteboard while his peripheral vision kept checking his mobile.

Finally a new message arrived, I’m sorry I yelled at you the other day.

John considered that a lot of time had been required for those short words and his brow furrowed in speculation. There was a warmth in his chest at the apology, and he was quick to respond. It’s okay, I understand

I don’t think you do. Had a little visitor yesterday that explained it.

John puzzled, head cocked, wondering who'd come to see her. Friend, Molly, Mrs. Hudson, Greg, or Aunt Harry? He looked at the speaker again with unseeing eyes for a few moments, then gave up and fired back the word at her. Visitor?

God, dad, please  - you're a doctor, figure it out

Visitor, visitor, visitor? It clicked then for John, and his stomach lurched, just a bit. Oh, okay. He hit send while his throat constricted. God, she was growing up fast, faster, too fast! Grown up, a beautiful young woman. His mind whirled with how best to respond. Of the monthly recurrent kind I presume?

(she sent back a face-palming emoji)

Now I understand

Duh. John smiled at her very usual response, the 'duh' being one of her favourite words that she bestowed regularly on both he and Sherlock. Even Sherlock had tried it out once on him for added effect when he’d been rather spectacularly distracted, and John accused him (correctly) that the word 'duh' was just a younger person's vernacular for deeming someone an idiot.

All right. Are you feeling okay? Need anything?

Yes okay, feeling fine, and no, I hardly think in the past twelve hours I’ve exhausted the abundant supplies you humiliated me with last year.

Of course, just checking. He perused the syllabus and program guide again, wishing for an expedient end to this session, thought about acting as if summoned urgently (dismissed it) then composed another text. This session I’m in is another hour, can I call you after that? I can step out immediately if you'd prefer.

God no, don't! Headed out to a film with Ellen and her mom, leaving soon.

All right, thanks for telling me, wish I was home.

Why? I’m fine. Despite my utter mortification at the time, thanks to you I have not been unprepared for this.

John smiled then carefully blanked out his expression when he glanced up and found the speaker watching him, having caught sight of both his smile and his inattention. Feeling oddly guilty, he faced forward, forcing himself to at least feign attention for a few minutes hoping to alleviate the lack of focus. He considered that as medical professionals, there were frequent interruptions when other obligations became more pressing or even urgent at times.

It’s a big deal, I suppose, a milestone. Would like to be there to give you a hug.

Ugh stop dad. And if you tell Papa, I will murder you. Pretty sure PMS is a valid defence.

++

Sherlock inclined his head at the outside door opening, closing hard, then the hurried sound of shoes on the steps. Rosie’s home, he knew, and he stood with a deep breath and a roll of his eyes even though no one was present to witness it.

Rosie stopped abruptly as Sherlock opened the door, gasping with surprise at his presence just inside, where he'd barely given her enough room to enter the flat.

“Geez, you scared me! What’s the matter with you?!” she had gasped quickly and tried to lean away.

Just as quickly, Sherlock reached out, grabbed her about the waist and pulled her inside, letting the door close. "Oh good, you're home." His eyes were sparkling at her, and she waited, fully expecting him to release her.

A burst of nervous laughter sounded, and she said, "Obviously, duh," as she resisted and fussed, pressing at him with both hands, one of which held her mobile. He straightened out an arm, his own mobile a distance away. "Unhand me." She hadn't quite perfected John's ability to imperiously order Sherlock around yet.

“Sssh, hold still just long enough....” he muttered with a grin as he drew their heads together, and then took a photo of the two of them. “There, fine.”

Laughing while trying to talk, “Stop! Don’t do that!” she squealed, and pushed away with good-natured displeasure even as he released his grip about her trim form. Then, arms akimbo, she faced him with an exasperated expression, a little out of breath and surprised at his behaviour. “What the hell!?”

At her word choice, he hesitated, the grin changing shape a bit, raised a brow, and said, “Language.”

“Then don’t provoke me.” Neither mentioned John’s predilection to occasional profanity even as he complained when either of them infrequently let one slip. There was a mildly amused look on his face, Rosie noted, so she let a smirk begin, squelched it, and after a moment had gone by, she slid out of her coat, went to hang it up. “And I thought the movie was dramatic, I’d forgotten how unpredictable coming home to you can be.”

Not addressing her complaint, he held out his mobile to her then, showing the photo. “Permission to send this to your father?”

The picture was actually rather capturing of the activity and energy of the moment, with Sherlock’s smile and Rosie’s eyes squinted shut, her mouth open and head thrown back, a hand visible against his collar. She was grinning, smiling, her mouth either protesting or laughing. Huffing, she gestured with both hands as if surrendering. “Whatever.” And then she must have had a thought occur to her suddenly and froze, glanced at Sherlock with seriousness until he returned her gaze. With quiet determination, she studied him with a pointedly lasered expression, as if perhaps expecting a reason to get angry. “What did he tell you?” she finally asked in a low tone. She seemed ready to pounce on his reaction.

The eye contact was shrewd on her end and guarded on his as they squared off. Rosie watched Sherlock decide exactly how to answer her. “That I should give you a hug from him tonight, is all.” He considered his mobile, touching buttons and shortly there was the sound of an out-going text message, and then Sherlock turned aside, choosing to hopefully defuse the tension before it grew. “Apparently he misses you, or something. Or more likely, he was bored in one of the conference sessions he was attending.”

Rosie kept quiet, scrutinising him, her eyes narrowed as she watched Sherlock casually slide into his chair and reach for the telly remote. 

Sherlock could feel Rosie continuing to stare, after a moment let his eyes flick back to her as she stood there. It was disconcerting sometimes when he caught a glimpse of either Mary's expression or John's mannerism somehow marvelously combined in this perceptive, blond, spitfire of a teenager, who was most importantly unique and her own person. “Need something? Another hug, perhaps?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows, deliberately prodding her just a little, and he leaned forward and moved his hands as if preparing to push up from the chair.

“God no,” and the phrase was enough of a motivating impetus for her to flee the room, quick legs taking her hustling up the stairs. Moments later, he could hear the music turned up loud, quite the message that she wanted Sherlock to stay away, given that she chose an artist about whom Sherlock had recently complained had a pervasive lack of musical talent.

Sherlock smiled after her, pleased that Rosie had chosen not to confront him any further about the encounter when it was so obvious that they all knew the reason and motivation for the hug. As if she wouldn't pick up on John's odd request. His mobile buzzed, a new message from John.

Thanks. Great pic. She’s doing all right?

Want me to go ask her again? That won’t raise any suspicion at all. SH

No, don’t. Of course not. Just curious.

Sherlock couldn’t resist adding, I was brilliant. She doesn’t suspect a thing. SH

I doubt that, she doesn't miss much. Either way, I’ll still be glad when I can see for myself

Well, just don’t make it awkward for us. She so loved being ambushed by a parent in absentia. SH

lol, agreed, she looks perfectly thrilled in that pic

You asked me to hug her, I was just following directions. SH

For once.

You're welcome, by the way. SH

Physical touch is always important, moreso now, know what I mean?

I’m begging you, stop. We’re fine, she’s fine, and we’ll see you tomorrow night. SH

I just wish I were there. You're sure?

Yes I'm sure, thanks for the trust. SH

Sherlock

She had a good time at the movie although I'm sure it was lame and mindless. Stomped upstairs, playing music too loud, something annoying and synthesised. How much more fine can it get? SH

Smiling at Sherlock's message, John checked the time again, then consulted the map, as he was beginning to recognise the familiar train stops as he got closer to London. He left the message unread and unanswered, opened the photo again, and shook his head at Rosie's expression in Sherlock's forced hug. God, he would be glad to get home and felt no remorse for leaving the conference early. He'd attended the programmes most interesting, and when he'd checked out of the hotel early, he simply stated the truth - he needed to be home. The smile on Sherlock's face in the photo gave him additional cause to grin fondly in consideration, at those who shared his life. He thought perhaps he would set the photo as his phone background, and just as he was beginning to do so, another text from Sherlock arrived.

Do you want me to meet you at the train station? My best estimate is that you're about ten minutes out. SH

 

Chapter Text

The envelope must have arrived in the post long ago, got tucked into a leaning stack on their desk and mostly forgotten about in the hustle between cases, work at the clinic, and spontaneous restaurant trips to prevent starvation.  It remained in clandestine hiding and ended up further down in the stack as more was added to the top.  It wasn't until a few weeks later that it was discovered and questioned.

"What is this?"  John held the still-sealed envelope aloft, feeling his heart pounding, the faintest hint of stress causing a moderate increase in rate as well.  He had a niggling feeling of dread.

Sherlock looked over, shrugged. "Unimportant, I'm sure."

John leaned back in the chair, waited, then when a few moments had passed and Sherlock had long since engrossed himself in his laptop (John's own laptop, naturally, par for the course), he cleared his throat, waited.

Heading toward irritated, Sherlock finally rose to the bait. "What is it?  Certainly the world as I know it will not be changed dramatically by the contents of that harmless looking paper..."  His voice trailed off as John retrieved from his shirt pocket a folded envelope, an opened one, exactly the same in every way except addressee, and held it up.  John's was addressed to him, forwarded from somewhere, and had ended up at his work address. His was opened; Sherlock's was not. And John very definitely had his attention now.

"What is it?" Sherlock asked again except as if he actually cared this time.  "Hmmm?"  A laser-sharp focus on John's envelope seemed to be imprinting on Sherlock's brain, and he rose quickly, snatched the sealed one John was holding only to stand there as Sherlock opened his own, read the contents quickly.  John could tell by the spacing that it appeared to be the same content and layout of his own, at least from a distance.

He set it down, studied the envelope briefly including probably the angle of the stamp and the casually hand-written address. Another shrug, and he stated, "As I said, unimportant."

It was no surprise to John after all these years together, Sherlock's aloofness and disregard for much of humanity and their tiny little problems. Particularly problems that did not impact him personally. He aimed close to home, asking, "What if it was Rosie in need?"

"That's completely different." Sherlock spoke matter-of-factly, completely believing what he was saying.

"It's not to this mum."

"She'll find someone else."

John watched as Sherlock set the letter aside, and knew, had the bin been closer, it would have been tossed there. "She's trying to find a bone marrow donor for her son. She's looking for a relative, you did catch that in the letter?"

"A relative." Their eyes met, with Sherlock's narrowing suspiciously at John, who made another mental hash mark in the I-figured-something-out-before Sherlock column. "We both received letters."

John pulled the letter from the envelope in silent agreement, unfolded it. Except for name, they were identical.

"It would seem we both donated sperm at the same clinic during approximately the same time frame," and even as Sherlock spoke the sentence, he was cataloging John's demeanor, expression, body language, and arriving at what was very definitely an unexpected conclusion.

"That took you longer than I expected."

Sherlock seemed amused, smiling even as he fussed at John. "I didn't think they took short sperm donors, so it's not surprising that this was not my first determination, or even a primary consideration." There was an impish smile as well as an imperious tilt of the head as Sherlock glanced down at him. "I distinctly remember the pre-screening criteria."

"It was overlooked due to a few of my other," and here John hesitated, paused to subtly clear his throat, "qualifications."

"Please go on."

"Well, IQ range for one thing, and good physical and genetic predisposition to good health and longevity. A below average prevalence of chronic familial diseases, which obviously apply to you as well." Sherlock looked bored at that, waiting with an almost annoyance, gesturing for John to continue, to 'get on with it.' It was surprisingly hard to swallow in preparation, but John's chin lifted as he began to speak. "Extra motility, and very high sperm count. Very high. Almost off the charts." It was a long time ago, but he could still remember the first two reports from the bank repository, and the six-month thawed specimen statistics as well, that not only did his sample maintain motility, but managed to be especially hardy under cold-frozen and then thawed conditions.

"How did I not know about this?"

"My sperm count or my superior motility? I am shocked." John couldn't help the chuckle. Trust the two of them, he considered, to be having a discussion about this topic at all, after having been together for so long. "It is surprising that you hadn't deduced it, truthfully. Taste, or something."

"Well, under a microscope, your semen does actually have quite a bit of movement on the slide, particularly after a caffeinated bev--"

"Stop. Please, just stop talking. Please don't study my bodily fluids without asking."

"You're not usually squeamish about medical sciences, you know."

"It's ... I don't know, rather personal."

"You do have a daughter. So the fact that your sperm defied whatever barrier method you were using before Rosie should not be the least bit surprising to anyone."

"No disclosing any of this on social media, Sherlock. I mean it. Off limits. So," John began, ready to shift the focus anywhere but on his own ejaculatory habits, "what's more curious is why?" When Sherlock did not immediately respond, as if he didn't even hear John's question, John pressed, "Why did you get involved with sperm donation?"

The bristling of Sherlock's body language was subtle, and he fired back, "Why is that so surprising to you?"

"It was just, well, unexpected you'd be donating sperm. For posterity? Genetic superiority? Looking to improve the idiocy of England through your efforts?" For some reason, this line of thinking was suddenly funny, and John chuckled, "Your single-handed efforts, get it?"

"Dear lord, your prepubescent humour is astoundingly bad."

"Something just come over you, this idea? Wanking as community service? For Queen and --"

"John."

"Just never saw you as a philanthropist."

A few moments and John managed to control the giggles, and once Sherlock felt it was safe to give a serious answer, he countered with a question of his own. "I would suppose my reasons were not that different than yours."

"I'll bet they were," John quipped back. At Sherlock's skeptical expression, John shrugged before continuing.  "I got involved for the money, I was a broke med student, no steady girlfriend at the time, and agreeable to the many stipulations and requirements, so." He let his hand gesture finish the sentence.

Sherlock's face was unreadable, serious, and in a quiet voice he said, "There was a time I needed the money as well. Mycroft controlled the funds, and so I had to find other ways around him."

John was puzzled for just long enough for the meaning to sink in. Oooohh. John understood completely. Drug money, in all likelihood, from long ago. "And you were able to pass the drug screen requirements?"

"I cleaned up long enough to donate."

"How crazy was that, to sober up and get clean only to secure enough money to then go and buy drugs again and start using?"

"Not just sober up, but a full detox. One of my first. And it was more about the creative means and thwarting Mycroft's attempts to control me." There was a smirk. "Although I would agree it does sound a mite foolish the way you phrased it."

"I also didn't think they allowed any man who'd ever had sex with another man to donate."

"I hadn't yet, at that time." He spoke without embarrassment, the fact of his virginity then a simple statement. "Although I did find their selection of pornography in the donation suite a bit lacking in variety. And vanilla even given the obvious gender preferences most donors were seeking."

"So," John pressed forward, remembering the awkwardness of collection, especially at first, and thinking of Sherlock doing the same. Perhaps even in the same room. "The letter."

"Yes, the agency is idiotic, obviously. Imbeciles. Losing exact clinical records of sperm samples to this particular woman as far as dates go. It's amazing they were even successful with the artificial insemination at all." Sherlock would have continued had John not glared.

"He's twenty now, so this was more than twenty years ago. Paper records are of course vulnerable, and who knows what their digital files might have looked like then. And something could have happened to them as well." When Sherlock still looked intolerant, John added, "Mistakes happen, you know."

"You're quick to defend them."

"People are fallible." 

"Plus, this was supposed to be anonymous."

"This letter is only from the clinic. Not from the mum." John shrugged. "I wonder how many others received letters." 

Sherlock sizzled with an intense reaction, his voice and tone and body language practically vibrating. "The whole thing is highly irregular. They've violated the contract - this is contact that was promised to be avoided."

"Perhaps, but they haven't compromised your identity to her, and she is desperate," John hedged, and Sherlock made a face at his empathetic understanding. "You did the donation out of desperation, too, if you ponder it that way. And without citing examples, I think it's only fair to remind you that you have gone to rather extreme measures to solve your own problems too, before you go all high and mighty on her or the situation." John waited until his thoughts were organised. "Wouldn't you go to great lengths, be willing to break rules, or at least try every option available, if it were Ro--"

"Don't. Don't say it." Sherlock interrupted quickly, and was emphatic, harsh, closed.

"It's just a request for consideration."

"Explain this to me, the specifics. What exactly does she want?"

John could have restated the facts of the letter, that a single mum was searching for her son's genetic relative, for the source of the sperm donor years before. The letter explained that a mix-up at the fertility clinic had put apparently John, Sherlock, and who knows how many others now on the receiving end of this unusual request. Records had been lost, and while the details of that particular mishap were vague, they had narrowed the possibilities to a range of donors and were seeking cooperation. John settled for stating the appeal from a medical perspective. "Her son has ALL. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Cancer of the white blood cells - a bone marrow dysfunction. The patient loses their entire immune system, so any infection is potentially life-threatening. One of the treatments is stem cell transplantation, and one of the sources of stem cells, which can be curative, is bone marrow." He waited until Sherlock nodded. "Higher success rates are with identical twins, siblings, or primary relatives. Allogeneic sources." 

"Right. So they match the patient to various markers of willing donors?"

"They do. HLA typing." Sherlock's eyes drilled into John's without blinking, but John didn't back down. "Human leukocyte antigen."

"You missed my emphasis, John, on the word willing."

"No, I didn't. I'm ignoring it." John was not taking the piss on whatever had Sherlock in a bit of a stir. "So the more antigens that match, the better the chances."

"I'm not doing it."

There was some closed emotion, a potent energy radiating from Sherlock, that almost seemed a warning to John, an unswerving statement of fact.  So John simply kept silent, absurdly quiet given the enormity of the discussions that could have been had. From carefully downcast eyes toward a journal that he thumbed through, he watched Sherlock escape into something barely holding his interest at the table. John got to the end of the periodical, not having any recollection of any of the contents, then muttered something about dinner, stood to put action to statement, setting his letter aside. Though he didn't turn to verify, he could feel Sherlock's gaze take in the letter placement, and then on his retreating back as he entered the kitchen.

It did not pass by John's attention that Sherlock turned more than a few inquisitive glances at Rosie later that evening as they busied themselves with a typical Baker Street evening - telly, notebook, laptop, etc. John wondered about it, but didn't mention it again, though, until he and Sherlock'd both crawled into bed much later.

"Are you all right?" he asked low and in what he hoped was a non-threatening voice. Darkness of the bedroom was barely disturbed from the faint streetlamps glow behind the draperies, and the duvet settled over them both to hold in the warmth.

Sherlock's tone was flat. "Fine." John settled back on the pillow, tucked his toes under Sherlock's calf, and waited until Sherlock had turned on his side toward him. As was their usual ritual of finding their preferred falling-asleep position, Sherlock let his arm rest very lightly over John's waistband, his fingers dipping briefly across John's naval before resting along the curve of his abdomen. His chin slotted over John's pectoral muscle, his hand easily fitting into the space between them, and Sherlock's knee rubbing just barely along John's inner thigh. "Don't try to get me to agree."

"Never planned on it. But don't avoid figuring out why this has upset you."

John was a little bit surprised when Sherlock's body tightened, his arms and legs pinning and holding him firm, clinging tight, as if trying to absorb himself within John's skin. "I'm not upset."

"Sure you're not," and, as John had anticipated, the little bit of condescension in John's delivery was all the motivation Sherlock needed to launch a barrage of statements.

"I don't want to know. If there is a child, now a grown man almost, I don't want to know. I would always wonder where he is, especially if he's critically ill. Maybe it was my gene that predisposed him to this, to this... defect." John wanted to interrupt, tell him that ALL is not hereditary, but he was already moving on and with even more emotion. "I don't want to care about him, and I surely don't want to lose him. Not knowing is better." Moved with compassion at his confession, his fear, John's arms snuggled him closer, and he tucked Sherlock's head toward his own, kissing him softly. Sherlock was tense, and although he responded to the snog, he was still displeased and unsettled. "So don't try to talk me into it. And if you do end up pursuing this, you are not to involve me more than absolutely necessary."

++

The patient on the stretcher moaned a bit, pushing at the hand that was reinserting the oxygen cannula. "Stop," he said from behind closed eyes, resisting against the hand trying to outwit him. He could hear his own voice was gravelly and rough, and he was still groggy, sore, and a bit dizzy from the anaesthesia.

"You need this. Seriously, just for a bit longer." The standing man spoke the order, placing the prongs into the lying mans nares, secure the tubings behind ears, and was relieved when the opposition halted for the time being.

"I want to go home."

"Then shut up and wear your oxygen while you wake up more." There was the tucking of a blanket up toward a stubbled chin. "We go home when they say we can, but there's a few hours here yet. They explained all of this to you. To us." The hand crept up again, and was promptly noticed and thusly intercepted. "Leave that in please."

"It smells like new plastic. Or like when there was that mishap involving that serving dish melting in the micro."

There were feet approaching then, and there in the outpatient surgery services, John and Sherlock both looked up as the surgeon approached and greeted them. "Ah, good to see you both, you're two of my favourite patients today," he said, looking intently at the patient then visitor, and then at the heart monitor, the IV infusing, and the pairs of eyes watching him in return. "How are you feeling?"

"All right, I suppose. Some pain."

"You'll be tender for sure."

"Tender is a lie. An avoidance of calling pain what it is: pain."

"It's going to hurt, then," he conceded with a small smile, "and it takes a couple of days to really start to rebuild your cell counts, so you might feel a little tired."

There was another face immediately preceding the interruption. "Another lie."

"A partial truth, perhaps, but not a lie." The doc set both hands on the siderail as he spoke, appreciating if nothing else the ability to find a small amount of humour in the situation and in a hospital setting after a surgical procedure. "You should plan on laying low a few days while you eat well and hydrate." He glanced around. "A very noble thing, though, and worth it. Your marrow, from what I gather, will be infused later today. You'll get your own red blood cells back once it's separated out in our lab downstairs."

A bit of shifting and a grimace along the stretcher had the surgeon patting the shoulder of the patient who scowled. "Ouch. How many injection sites did you need?"

"Exactly as I'd explained, six total, three on each side. It gives us the best sample."

One of the nurses stopped by, exchanged a few words with the surgeon, then said, "Brought you a warm blanket, that usually feels pretty good. And let me know when you need pain medicine."

"Anytime, then. Before it gets worse."

"I'll bring it right over." She smiled at them both. "What number would you rate --" your pain on the scale?

"Six."

"You are certainly entitled. And then I'll need to turn you, check your back again, make sure there's no bleeding."

"Then pain medicine first. Definitely."

++

From the recliner and the chair, they both stared from time to time at the unit of blood labeled both 'autologous' and AB + dripping slowly into an antecubital vein. Both John and Sherlock had their hands clasped on the arm of the recliner between them. After the mandatory time in recovery and then outpatient services, they had been wheeled to the infusion suite, where recliners took up the periphery of the room, many occupied. Some of the bags that were dripping, Sherlock noticed, were deep red, others straw color, one smaller bag actually very pale golden. When Sherlock asked, from their vantage point in the suite, John discreetly identified them as packed red cells, fresh frozen plasma, and platelets. There was also a patient or two simply receiving hydration, plain IV bags infusing by gravity as well.

They kept their voices low enough to be respectful, and at one point, the man standing bent low to ask, "So has this been mostly what you were expecting? Of the whole day, procedure to this?"

From the recliner, the answer was thoughtful. "I suppose. I thought the discomfort would have been more point tender, where the needles were placed, but actually it's very sore across the whole of my pelvis."

There was a nod. "Hopefully it won't linger too long."

They were interrupted by one of the staff, who approached to ask questions of her own. "Feeling all right? Not shaky or dizzy?" The infusion nurse had checked temperature and blood pressures as required, but had come to talk to them both when she had a moment. The story of why they were there was coming out, casually in their conversation, in drips and drabs.

"I'm good. An anaphylactic reaction would be very unlikely, given that these are my own cells."

She met eyes with the visitor as she looked down at the patient. "I would agree, but we treat all transfusions carefully." The smile was perhaps a bit more forced, but then they all relaxed, and the story continued to unfold. "So the fertility clinic did what? How is that kind of mistake even possible?" Her voice was low in order to keep the private conversation close at hand.

John chuckled a little, "I know, being in healthcare makes you wonder at the breadth of that, with records today."

Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes at their conversation. "Dear lord you are both gullible for a story. Not everything is face value, and not everyone is truthful. The boys mum could just as easily have bribed someone in the office staff to send letters to a large volume of patients hoping that someone in London, or at least fairly locally, would match well against what her son needed." John and the nurse both stared at Sherlock. "There were plenty of records, and it may be that nothing was missing. It was all, most likely, about the availability of stem cells, but could have also been motivated by an exchange of money and the hope to increase the number of people willing to donate." His eyes were wide, serious, and looking back at John's absolutely incredulous expression. "And hopeful that a match, of course, would result."

"You can't possibly know that for certain." John wondered if there was a hint of truth in it, perhaps if Mycroft had looked into it, or if Sherlock was bluffing. A call bell went off then, and the nurse moved off, taking care of one of the other patients and then a phone rang. "Do you have any proof? That's a fairly crazy accusation."

Sherlock's lips formed a tighter line, a snidely enigmatic smile. "Perhaps. But think about the hook. You have a group of young adults - men - who are otherwise very healthy, who are not unfamiliar with the medical needs in the community. They have made donations previously. There is the suspicion that there might be a blood relative who might be in dire straits, and an actual patient with a terrible, legitimate medical need. Even if they send twenty letters, they might get ten people willing to be screened as donors, and if they are directed donations for testing, perhaps this boy would get preference at the stem cells. Who's to say what actually might have gone on?"

"You're guessing."

"I'm suspicious."

"How long have you suspected this?"

"Since fairly early on."

"Why didn't you say something earlier?"

"Because you were hoping this would happen. You wanted a shot at helping, at another miracle." Sherlock gestured at the room, at the red tubing, plucked at the wristband that encircled his arm as it rested on the recliner. "That there'd be a match." Their eyes met. "You just didn't expect it to be me going through with this, occupying the chair."

++

John's shift at the surgery and the drama of his own day paled when, upon entering the flat, Sherlock was standing there, one arm impatiently on his hip and the other hand brandishing some folded paper.

It was a letter on the same cream coloured envelope, the same stationery. John recognised it immediately, and whatever thoughts he'd had on anything about the day, his arrival home, his usual banter with Sherlock and Rosie, all taking a back burner.

"We got mail," Sherlock said. "I waited until you got home to open it."

There was a moment where John thought about resisting, opted not to. With a tilt of his head and a bit of a snort he couldn't stop, he grinned. "How'd you manage that? Waiting isn't your strong suit."

In answer, Sherlock slid up his sleeve to reveal two nicotine patches and something else that had obviously been Sherlock's diversionary activity:  a colour-coded anatomical map delineating his veins, arteries, and even bony outlines, all very properly done with a steady hand and painstaking detail. Slowly, he let his thumb brush warmly over Sherlock's brachial artery, his skin feeling even more warm and tingly than usual, vibrating with energy.  John slid his fingers down Sherlock's forearm and imagined himself following that path with his breath, kissing the inside of Sherlock's wrist. "I'm impressed. And I want to study that later, as I would imagine you don't want to wait any longer."

Both eased down side-by-side on the couch, and Sherlock ripped open the letter, unfolded it. John reached up one hand to steady the paper, and with the other, he rested his hand on Sherlock's thigh, his wrist and fingers twisting around to tuck along Sherlock's leg, the warmth and connection solid, familiar. Sherlock dropped a hand to John's arm, squeezed in response, and began to read out loud.

"I am pleased to inform you that bone marrow transplantation performed three months ago has been determined highly successful, with normalisation of counts, lack of any infectious processes, and, based on the last available lab work, the medical oncologist is cautiously optimistic that the patient will achieve full remission. From all of us at the agency, as well as from our liaisons at NHS blood and transplant, thank you very much for your donation. Both the patient and his family are also, of course, very grateful, and I am enclosing a personal note from them, as well.  Of course, we had requested that there are no names or other identifiers and that it be left unsigned, but know it is heartfelt and genuine."

A second piece of paper had been enclosed, and in careful script was the note.

"To our very generous benefactor: When I heard there was a match, and that you were willing, I dropped to my knees and cried tears of relief and dared to hope that perhaps, as sick as my son has been and this path we have walked since his leukaemia diagnosis, he might actually live to see adulthood. Thank you so much for undergoing an uncomfortable procedure to help him.  Also, while I know it's a long time ago, I am also grateful for your donation to the fertility center that brought him to me in the first place. I am forever indebted."

++

Months elapsed, and many cases and miles and adventures later, John was awakened one night when Sherlock got out of bed and didn't return. His own sleep, elusive, seemed unobtainable, and so he padded to the sitting room to investigate. He found Sherlock engrossed in both laptops, which were side by side.

"Research again, at this time of night?" John's voice was quiet, given the hour and underuse. "Anything of interest?"

"You could say that." A myriad of emotions flickered across Sherlock's face - from almost a guilty one to a guarded one to one of resignation. "I found him. A photo at least."

"Found who?" John couldn't recall that there were missing persons cases or an outstanding criminal that the Met was still trying to locate.

"Him," was all Sherlock said, but he turned one of the laptop screens so John could see the photo that had been enlarged to take up most of it.

Bright blue eyes stared back from a very pleasantly smiling young man, early twenties, John thought. "Who is this?" There was a long, mostly regal nose, a broad smile, and light brown hair. The hair itself was short, but showed faint curling tendencies at the nape, where it was longer. He was thin, with pale skin, a few freckles, and sparkling eyes somewhere on the blue-green spectrum. A very small gap stuck out between the man's two front teeth, and the smile was broad enough that he had to have been laughing when the candid photo was taken. John shrugged, "I don't recognise him, although he looks familiar I suppose."

"Funny word, familiar, isn't it?" he said cryptically, then got huffy, "But, god, your mind before tea is just pathetic. Abysmally slow."

Turning his gaze to Sherlock, he could only glare. "Pardon me for not being on my game in the middle of the bloody night." While he might have been inclined to guess or try to figure it out, Sherlock's snippy attitude kept him from engaging. The last thing he wanted to do was encourage early-hour mind games, or heaven knew he would be unleashing more nocturnal madness into their already, at times, chaotic routines.

John could see Sherlock's jaw change shape as his teeth gritted together. "Maybe this will help with your feeble --"

"That's enough." John interrupted before the insult was completely uttered.

Sherlock tapped a couple of keys, brought up two other photos that John had no problem identifying - one of Sherlock as a young teen, of course before John had met him. He was toothy, gangly, and hadn't quite grown into himself yet. Next to it was another that John'd never seen, a portrait showing him grinning almost painfully, as if forced by a terrible photographer. John leaned in closer to see this younger version of Sherlock, with his lighter brown curls and a slight gap between his front teeth. And surprisingly, a smattering of freckles across his nose.

It struck him then, the stranger's picture, and who it might have been. "Wait, is that..." the bone marrow, stem cell, recipient?

"Of course it is."

"How on earth..." did you manage to find him?

"Uni article. He's a top scholar, featured in the student paper for overcoming hardship of his leukaemia diagnosis and how a stranger saved his life." Sherlock poked at the other computer to wake up the screen, and John could see exactly what Sherlock was describing, a photo of the young man and write-up. "It wasn't hard to figure out. Age fits, and we already knew he was local, then the timing of his story, etc."

"It could be coincidental."

With a squinty expression that conveyed his partial doubt, he shrugged. "You know how I feel about coincidence."

"I do," John agreed. "But it bears a reminder." Both looked again at the photo on the computer monitor. "So how certain are you, exactly?" John asked.

"Well, I'm not, truth told. But there are some similarities. Features that are, as you said, familiar. The root of the word family, you see. And then there is that dreaded Holmes' space between his teeth."

John couldn't help himself as he looked Sherlock square on, poking his thumb at Sherlock's mouth, which Sherlock opened slightly at the pressure. He then let John slide his thumbnail in to rest between his central incisors, which were of course tight with no evidence of a gap. An eyebrow quirked up, and Sherlock rolled his eyes.

"Orthodontics, of course." He pulled his head back from John's inquisitive hand. "Obviously."

John zoomed in on the photo, and could see the mildly prominent cheekbones if he looked hard, could see the shape of Sherlock's eyes staring back. "I mean, I was a fairly strong HLA match, which by itself isn't conclusive of course. But there are some features I see, and this," he gestured at the boy's mouth on the screen, "it definitely runs in my family." The light brown hair, though, John thought, was making it challenging. The hair colour was much less Sherlock and more similar to Mycroft's colouring. But the cheekbones and the freckles, particularly comparing Sherlock at the younger age to the photo of the young man, were remarkably similar as John compared them side-by-side.

John tilted the computer screen toward himself, settling for a few minutes to read the article. "Chemistry major." John tapped the screen at the bottom of the article. "And top of his class, grade-wise."

"Also circumstantial evidence, at best."

"I should think it still somewhat flattering." John watched Sherlock, who was carefully neutral and unruffled. "I mean, if it is him."

There was an odd angle of Sherlock's head, and John might have considered his expression to be somewhat proud right before he schooled back to neutrality. "I don't want a relationship with him, you know. So get those thoughts out of your head. He's managing just fine."

John's hand was reaching for Sherlock's before he became aware that he was going to do so. There was a warm squeeze, the holding of fingers, a pair of palms that were also warm, one mildly sweaty though Sherlock would have denied it, and John couldn't stop the observation. "You're right. He's fine now." His referral to the fact that he wasn't fine before was obvious, and well-received, he could see, when Sherlock did actually smile gently and then more broadly at John's point. Their heads were close together, and the mood grew a bit more somber at the evening it had been, and it was intensified by the silence of the late-hour London streets and the building stillness. John's finger brushed over Sherlock's wedding ring, breathed deep, enjoying their nearness. He spoke, low and intimate, "You're a good man. And you did a good thing."

Hesitating just long enough for John to know that he'd heard him, his one-sided smile came back then, and he nearly snorted as he responded energetically, "Dear lord, don't let that get out. I do have a reputation to maintain."

"All right, you, well done," John stood up, reached a hand toward Sherlock as he did, expectantly. "Then come back to bed. I find I'm not exactly sleepy anymore, and I think we can find something to pass the time for a bit. Maybe a nap before the night is over." John closed the laptop, then returned to study Sherlock's face, letting his fingers trail along Sherlock's curls, along his ear, then to grasp his jaw as they both leaned toward each other. With warm lips followed by a gently persuasive tongue, he deepened the kiss and led the way back toward the bedroom on quiet feet.

 

~fin~

  

Chapter Text

The black cloud circling Sherlock's head was only a shade away from being literal. And it was an angry black storm cloud, John could see from across the room as soon as he and Rosie entered the flat after running a couple of errands together, some shopping, and a quick walk in the park.

Rosie could even tell that the energy in the flat was probably best left to the adults, and quickly plotted her retreat. "Homework," she sighed immediately, escaping with the skill of the practiced, and disappeared up the stairs to her room. Moments later, there was the sound of soft music and frequent tones from incoming texts, social media, and whatever the other notifications of a well-connected teenager sounded like that week.

John glanced about, hoping to get an early inclination as to what Sherlock was in such a funk about. There was paperwork on the desk, a package from the chemists next to that, and a plaster on Sherlock's forearm. Actually, he noted at second appreciation, two of them, in fact.

"Care to enlighten me?"

"Mycroft and his bloody meddling. He's the only one who would dare attempt to pull something like this off."

While Sherlock sulked a bit more, wordlessly sitting there in a huff in his chair - for god's sake, he could even sit loudly when he chose - John picked up the paperwork while eyeing the chemist's bag.  The paperwork had an appointment time for the end of the month written across the top at the Outpatient Services Center and in the bag, Picolax. And John knew, understood, then, that Mycroft had somehow manipulated Sherlock into both a doctor's screening appointment and some very routine, recommended medical testing.

"I'm not doing that." His glance flicked to the colonoscopy prep but he did not elaborate, nor was it necessary to explain.

"It's not a big deal. Mine was three years ago, remember?"

The expression on Sherlock's face clearly gave way that he recalled no such thing. "I think I would remember that."

"I'm pretty sure you accompanied me. And complained because I was keeping you from ..." John paused, trying to remember himself. "...something about a zoo crime? Hyena or some such?"

"Right, now that I rememberCoyote kidnapping. Animal smuggling for profit," he continued with vivid recall of detail. "Yes, of that I have vivid recollection of. Quite an unusual mystery."

"Actually, I think you ended up leaving me early to help Lestrade."

"Solved the case, though, once I made an inquiry to purchase one of the endangered animals..."

"Nice to know where my health rates on your attention span."

There was a disdainful noise along with an off-hand gesture of boredom. "Doesn't matter. I'm not doing it."

With a bit of gentle persuasion, John drew the story out of what had prompted the apparent office visit and now Sherlock's refusal to cooperate with medical recommendations. Mycroft had summoned him with a partial truth, dangling a teasing detail about Sherlock's presence being required to deduce a mysterious ailment based on a collection of symptoms. The meeting place ended up being the medical office, where a "fake" appointment - or something that was supposed to resemble one - and a blood draw had been mentioned, one that Mycroft had initially hinted was needed to get inside information. Sherlock had then rather quickly figured that Mycroft had deceived him, but the ball was already rolling. John could well imagine the snorting and the stare-down between the Holmes' brothers. He was rather impressed, actually, that Mycroft had managed to accomplish as much as he had done that morning.

Sherlock was still aggravatedly speaking. "So just because they found a suspicious polyp on him, he feels the screening is suddenly a dire emergency and requires my timely compliance. I think not."

"You heard the physician explain why it's necessary? That colon cancer screening saves lives, particularly when there is risk that runs in families?" Sherlock knew better than to try to argue against scientific, evidence-based medicine and so kept quiet for the moment but the set of his stubborn jaw deepened. John opined, "I think you should do it."

"Did you read the description of the test, the prep?" John let his hands spread open a bit, waiting for Sherlock to remember that John had personally had the testing done previously and had both experiential and professional knowledge surrounding it. "Oh, right. Well, nothing about it sounds like something I would do voluntarily."

Briefly, John considered telling him that he and Mycroft could arrange to have it done on a non-voluntary basis, opted against it. "There's quite a bit of statistical evidence to support -"

Sherlock cut him off. "Mycroft didn't do it right at age fifty either. Perhaps when I'm fifty-eight like he is, I'll consider it. Maybe." There was a harrumph and he leveled a warning gaze at John. "Not any time soon."

John narrowed an eye back at him while raising an eyebrow. "Poor choice. You don't usually let fear stop you from anything." He drew out the word. Intentionally cool, he turned away with very carefully maintained nonchalance, sensing the wisdom of moving forward. "So what was the bloodwork they ran?"

"It took the phlebotomist two tries to obtain my specimen." He gestured at the plasters and then ripped them off in frustration. One of them was already starting to bruise. "She was horridly incompetent."

John knew it wouldn't help matters to remind Sherlock that his veins were not the easiest to find at baseline, and perhaps harder to find when he was mildly dehydrated, which he may have been as well. "And they ran...?" John prompted again.

"PSA level and cardiovascular profile." He somehow managed to look even more bored and irritated. "Prostate specific antigen and cholesterol levels."

"Ta, familiar with the terminology," John sniped back, but there was no acknowledgement from Sherlock.

"Results should be available tomorrow sometime, they said."

John flipped through the paperwork to see the explanation of the bloodwork, wondering at the timing of Sherlock's labwork and if the criteria had changed specifically regarding the PSA. "Did you even bother to read this?" John watched Sherlock's exasperation begin to turn in his direction, and rose to meet it. "Apparently not, because it says right here that men should have no prostate stimulation for forty-eight hours prior to the blood being drawn, which includes bike riding, strenuous exercise, ejaculation, or a digital rectal exam." That finally got his attention. "I'm surmising you didn't have an exam -"

"God no."

" - and am fairly certain you haven't ridden a bicycle lately, but the other, yeah? Didn't they ask you?"

He had the good grace to colour slightly. "They asked if I'd read the instructions, if it was appropriate to draw the blood today." He poked at the faint red marks with the pad of his fingertips, his lips pursed and thinned. "I should have used that as a reason to not have it done, apparently. But they didn't elaborate beyond that."

"So rather than reading it and following directions, you just said fine." John grinned at his predictable unwillingness to comply with directions. "It's very likely, then, as you recall based on certain activities last night, and again this morning," and at this point, John could not help but chuckle at him with amusement, "the result is probably going to be falsely elevated."

A curious tilt to Sherlock's head showed up, and John's smile broadened a little when Sherlock added, "And yesterday morning."

John heard him clearly, but was puzzled, and stared back at him, waiting for clarification.

"You'd already gone to work, and ..." he let the sentence hang as his cheeks coloured a little further, creeping down his neck. "I had more important things to do, and it was bothering me, so I ..."

"Took care of it yourself?" John supplied, trying to suppress the grin that was threatening. It had been months since Sherlock had tried to downplay his body's needs and complaining about his transport.

He shrugged. "I'm not having blood work redrawn, either, if the level comes back high."

"You've never minded needles before."

"I draw the line at being a practice manikin for phlebotomists-in-training."

Pressing slightly, deciding that one last skirmish might help, John tried to quantify Sherlock's reluctance, and asked, "Are you afraid they're going to find something wrong?" Sherlock met his eyes, the gaze cool and silently unemotional, stared for a few long moments. John continued, "Because on the very slim chance that they find anything on either appropriately performed test, catching things early in the course is the way to prevent bigger problems later, that are harder to treat." When Sherlock was stonily silent, John tacked on a somber conclusion. "Sometimes not particularly treatable at all if they are not discovered in time."

Frustrated, Sherlock stood, picked up the paperwork and the chemist bag, dropped it unceremoniously in the trash. Glaring at John in both defiance and challenge, he simply stated, "No."

John smiled. "Bet I can change your mind."

"You may not use sex as a weapon." Sherlock huffed, and John calmly peered back, unfazed, so Sherlock continued, adding, "It's unethical to use sex as a weapon."

"We'll see how you feel after a period of abstinence. Your hand is only good company for so long, you know."

"Don't be ridiculous. You realise denying me is denying yourself too." John shrugged at first, then Sherlock took a step backwards. "And you've just discovered my habits," he said, emphasising the word, "are perhaps more liberal than yours, that might bother you quite a bit more than it will affect me."

An eyebrow raised as John considered the truth of his assertion but did not engage with Sherlock regarding the frequency he did or didn't take matters in hand. "Then I will have to find something better to help persuade you."

"You have very little leverage. I can still refuse."

"I guarantee I will come up with something," John conceded, but leaned in to make sure Sherlock was paying attention. "And I will shamelessly exploit whatever opportunity presents itself, to my advantage."

++

As it turned out, John didn't have to wait long. And Sherlock, surprisingly, was distracted and single-minded about something else, and so John was able to get a bit of creative persuasion in play and then by him before it was too late.

One particular stroppy day, during a stretch of very few cases or anything in particular to hold Sherlock's interest for very long, to pass the time, John and Sherlock were actually cleaning the flat. There was disposing of old periodicals - I mean, really, Sherlock, who needs to keep paper copies of anything these days, have you not heard of digital journal editions? - and filing of records - seriously, John, no one is going to come looking for the grade from your uni exam scores or the letter from when you were accepted into the RAMC - it was actually progressing. Just when they had actually made a terrible mess of many things and the piles were just ready to be reassembled into crates much smaller and more organized, there was an interruption: Lestrade. He texted Sherlock with a dangling promise that something was brewing, offered an evolving case that might escalate into something a bit bigger and more exciting. 

"Lestrade has a case!"

"What he said was, he might."

"John."

"It can wait ten minutes until we're done this last bit, Sherlock." Stony silence. "We are at a crucial point here, the chaos before it gets better, almost done. You can certainly stay and help finish what you started."

"But -"

"There's no way we can leave it like this now." John gestured at the stacks, at the seriously terrible piles that were poised, with a little effort, to be finally done. "It won't take the two of us long at all."

"No." Sherlock was nearly rattling off his foundation with the need to leave immediately. "The work comes first, and you know it."

John aimed for - and successfully hit - a fairly casual response. "I'll finish it, then, all of this." The grin on Sherlock's face was huge, all-encompassing, and John tamped down on the faintest hint of guilt at what he was doing. "But in exchange you'll do something for me, then. And return the favour."

"Fine, fine." He was already pocketing mobile and reaching for his coat and John could tell he was already mentally at the crime scene envisioning potential solutions in his mind.

"Write the letters IOU and initial it, then."

"John, I need to leave immediately!"

Assertively holding out paper and biro, John waited for him to scribble several marks on the tablet, and then watched Sherlock dash out the door. The flying coattails created enough turbulence that a few of the stacks of papers actually needed to be straightened again.

The paperwork actually didn't take much time at all, and John reveled in the accomplishment, at the new organization of their sitting room. In the midst of the order, he set the scribbled promise of his flatmate atop the appointment paperwork and the chemist bag - all of which he'd rescued from the bin those days ago - and met Sherlock at the crime scene.

++

Sherlock's first awareness was of noise and something that smelled both bitter and chemical in his nasal passages. Oxygen? Turning his head to avoid it, he could hear the faint crinkle of coated plastic near his ear. A woman was speaking, "That's it. You need to get rid of more of that air, and you'll feel less cramping. Do that again a few times and you'll feel better." Oh dear lord, had someone just encouraged him to actually, intentionally emit ... a basal body function? His mind wandered again, the spasm easing. He realised he was missing a block of time and let his mind drift back under, feeling both heavy and floating.

A noise sounded behind him, over his shoulder, followed by less discomfort low in his abdomen, realised that there had been a moan initiated by him and a curling of his legs upward to help relieve the vague fullness in his gut. The startling revelation - the cause and effect and the connection - was what gave him the wakefulness required to open his eyes with alarm. The noise had definitely come from him, and now he was being requested to do it again? His gaze focused - oxygen tubing, starched white pillowcase, a stretcher siderail - and John sitting directly in his line of vision, watching him with steady, bright eyes.

"There you are." Random pieces of the morning floated in Sherlock's peripheral consciousness, coalesced, sharpened. "Welcome back." The morning had been a flow of activity: Arrival at the outpatient procedure area, the IV that had been placed (first attempt, to everyone's relief), the coordination of care when John had suggested that his repeat PSA level could be completed at the same time (such common sense, that Dr. Watson, in both combining needlesticks as well as forty-eight hours of abstinence just to be prepared). Sherlock recalled the gastroenterologist's arrival, placement of oxygen, the stretcher being adjusted, John's departure from his bedside, the anaesthesia that had been lightly administered, the stinging and tingling in his wrist vein, and then ... nothing ... until awakening to the sound and sensation of his own passing of gas. "You're all finished, Sherlock. Everything went fine."

"'s done? It went all right?" The voice John loved was slower than usual, quiet.

John's hand was warm on Sherlock's arm. "Yes. Done, and everything was fine."

Sherlock's face grimaced again, responding to sensations within of discomfort. Bringing up a finger to locate with intent to remove the oxygen in his nose, Sherlock's hand was intercepted and held by John's warm grasp.

"No. Leave that in a few minutes. Your oxygen saturations were a mite low with the sedation. Let yourself wake up some more." John let go of the hand he held to brush the fringe off Sherlock's brow. "Feel all right?"

"Not especially." Sherlock's voice was quiet, the sedation he'd received making his words a bit slurred still. "Cramping a bit, lower."

"Yeah, well, that's from the air they have to use in order to see everything properly inside. The camera needs a bit of room, so they inflate the colon. But it's done and there are pictures for you," John offered, gesturing toward the small silver table at the bedside. "You'll need to get rid of that air."

"I think not."

"It's necessary."

"No."

"Sherlock."

"It's rude. And unacceptable."

"Not here, it's not." John kept his voice low in his attempt to reason with Sherlock's obstinence. "Oh please, it's not like it's anything other than compressed air from your procedure, and you need to get rid of it." Sherlock shook his head, narrowing an eye at John in displeasure. "Just let it out."

"Sod off."

"Dear lord, even immediately after sedation you're bloody stubborn." John chuckled, then, "Suit yourself. It can be rather uncomfortable if you don't, but well, it's your choice."

"When can we leave?"

"You can barely pick your head off the pillow yet."

"Don't underestimate me."

"I believe over the years together, I have learned that quite well, ta."

Sherlock's eyes closed briefly, his breathing slow and even. When he opened them again, the pale blue eyes took a moment to focus on John again. "It went all right?" he asked, his eyes still just a bit half-masted and foggy. John knew it wasn't uncommon to be a mite repetitive.

"It did. Which I already told you," he patted Sherlock's arm again with a fond, tolerant smile. "And I'll tell you again in case you forget and ask me another time."

"I didn't. Did I?" he whispered again, his voice sounding a little sleepy and young. A crease between his brows formed again, and John could see that he pulled his knees up toward his chest in an attempt to ease the spasm under his hands which pressed against his belly.

"It's okay. Sedation. You're still waking up."

"Home."

"You need to wake up more, first. And pass a bit more air."

"No." His eyes drifted closed again, and there was a twitching of both arms, the jerking myoclonus of lingering medications, as he nodded off again.

John could see him fighting to stay awake, and soothed, "Sleep a while. You're not ready to leave just yet."

"If properly motivated, I would wake up just fine." From behind closed eyelids, Sherlock missed John's indulgent smile.

One of the nurses arrived again, wrote down the latest vital signs and post-sedation assessment, and asked if Sherlock was ready for something to drink yet. His gruff, "I'll get something at home," went unanswered and she looked over at John, who breathed, "Ginger ale would be fine, please."

Moments later, a tech placed a cup at Sherlock's bedside. "I don't want it."

"If you want to leave, you should demonstrate to the nurses that you're ready and cooperative and awake enough to stumble out of here on your own power."

"Inna minute," he slurred, his head still heavy on the pillow.

"All right, speaking of motivation, I have your PSA results. In exchange for a bit of flatulence, I'll tell you the number."

He opened one bleary eye to insist, "They're my results and I demand them."

"I'm waiting."

"I'll get them from the nurse then."

"They're busy, and on to your antics already. We've been swapping stories while you've been sedated." The smile John bestowed on him was one of victory. "They won't be easily swayed."

"You're a wretch to bully me today."

"Just your bad fortune to be married to a physician who has connections, including your test results which at the moment, I have control of, and a bit of influence over you. I have something you want. Now, go on." Gesturing with his fingers at Sherlock's lower half, John had pulled out his no-nonsense tone of voice, and Sherlock could tell that he was done arguing. "Waiting," he reminded when Sherlock didn't respond.

There was an immediate, lengthy, and toneless passage of air and John smiled encouragingly. "Your PSA level was normal." There was another, shorter burst of air passing from the stretcher, and John could see Sherlock's face relax a bit, more comfortable even though he would never had admitted it.

"Normal."

John verified, "Not elevated at all."

Leaning up on an elbow, Sherlock stretched out his long, IV-tethered arm toward the cup next to him, took a full draw from it, set it back down. Almost as if a switch had been activated, his eyes were bright again and he was quite awake. "Give me that gauze," he ordered John, nodding toward the wall shelf.

"Let the nurse do it when it's ti--"

With a quick yank and a huffing roll of the eye, Sherlock had already grabbed the hub of the IV site and pulled it out, the tegaderm tugging viciously at skin and hair before coming loose. "Gauze, John."

"You're a bloody menace," he snarled as he lunged for the requested bandage, giving Sherlock a few squares even as he reached his hand over to shut off the roller clamp on the tubing to minimise the IV fluids now infusing into the bed. "Literally bloody," he growled as Sherlock chased the trickle of blood that snaked down over his wrist to dot the sheet. "Hold that tight so it stops bleeding."

"I think I know a bit about needles and veins," he protested, but he was doing exactly what John had instructed, so John kept quiet.

The nurse had caught sight of John grabbing gauze, and so came over shaking her head with a resigned expression. "Had enough, have you?" She binned the medical supplies now completely useless. "Looks like you're just about ready to leave, then? Think you can get dressed, and I'll get your paperwork sorted. We'll review your discharge instructions."

John had ripped off a piece of tape, offered to affix it to the gauze, and Sherlock made a displeased expression but held out his arm to let John apply it.

They were exiting the doors of the suite a few minutes later, and John sighed. "So my hopes for a quieter day, with your sedation and all, are a lost cause I suppose?"

"A quiet day is predictably boring." Sherlock had refused the wheelchair, choosing to give the nurse grief about the paperwork, the length of time his routine discharge was taking, and the fact that his sheets were damp from the spilled IV fluids. John had been ready, however, and had given Sherlock's arm a discreet pinch when he was about to turn a calculating eye on the nurse and in all likelihood divulge something both personal and inappropriate. "This is remarkable, the whole sedation experience. I'm simply missing about twenty-two minutes of the morning, and the return to consciousness was in waves. Olfaction first, then sensation of discomfort ..." 

"Speaking of, how are the cramps?"

"Fine." They hesitated only long enough at the kerb for Sherlock to raise an arm and a cab to materialise underneath. Once en route back to Baker Street, Sherlock continued with a few other observations and analysis, and soon they were at the door to the flat. "So, anyway," and his tone was dismissive, "at least that's over."

Without even a second thought, John was agreeing, "Yes, you're good for ten years now."

Sherlock's foot hesitated mid-stride. "What? Ten years? What on earth are you saying?"

"Recommended colonoscopy screening is every ten years, when there are no abnormal findings." The grin on John's face wasn't helping Sherlock's shocked reaction. "The nurse even went over that in your paperwork. Were you not listening at all?"

The elevated foot came down to the steps slowly. "I'm not doing this again in ten years."

"Sherlock."

"Not without a significant reward for doing it this time." John stared as Sherlock regained both his literal and mental footing and opened the door to the flat. "Which I'm about to collect from you."

"Oh, and what exactly do you have in mind?"

"Well, I'm already fairly clean -" Bright blue eyes twinkled into John's own expression, the degree of merriment and what Sherlock was implying very obvious, as they both knew the preparations for the test he'd just had could certainly be considered cleansing.

"Quite clean, in fact," John interjected cheekily as he followed Sherlock inside.

"Exactly. So, a shower first, and then..."

John edged the door closed, smiled as he hung up two coats, and watched Sherlock begin to unbutton his cuffs. "Long as you're up for it, I'm sure I can do something to reward you. Perhaps make you moan for a different reason than earlier this morning."

"I was not moaning."

"Be glad there is no video proof. Because, yes, you were moaning."

"You're exaggerating again."

"Truthfully, I like the moan better when I am the cause of them." Checking his mobile for the time, he jerked his chin toward the bathroom, knowing they had hours ahead of them, alone. "Shower, you. I'll meet you in the bedroom with tea."

There was a faint wraggle of Sherlock's eyebrow as he grinned. Smiles continued - in and out of the shower, into the bedroom, and later, on John's face as he drew his arms snugly around an exhausted and very sated - and finally sleeping - Sherlock. Pressing his lips against Sherlock's curls, he let his own eyes drift closed too, and a faint rumbling purr of contentment sounded in Sherlock's throat. A fitting and well-deserved moan, indeed.

 

Chapter Text

There was a lull in the telly when they first heard a clattering from Mrs. Hudson's flat beneath them, and in the same moment they looked at each other wondering which one of them should consider investigating if it was even going to be necessary at all. It would not have been unusual to hear a muffled dissatisfied tirade of their landlady cleaning up some sort of a spill or other everyday routine noise. But the game-changer happened almost right after that, when there was the definite and more prolonged sound of thumping - a loud, solid thud of something large falling over and taking out whatever was in the way. Nothing about that noise was normal or could be otherwise explained as benign.

Without a word, both men rose to their feet and scurried out the door, down the steps, to find Mrs. Hudson's door locked.

"Picks," John stated as Sherlock had already begun to bolt back up the steps, his long legs taking two at a time to maximize effort and expedite the task.

John pounded on the door jamb. "Mrs. Hudson? Are you quite all right?"

The silence was loud initially, everything focused on the non-response of their concern, the room within scarily silent, and then Sherlock's feet were returning, and John wasn't sure if he could hear anything from inside or not.

Sherlock, thankfully, was unrattled and set to work with his tools while John considered what they may find within the flat.  A fall, head injury, broken hip, perhaps trapped under furniture or some such, or perhaps simply a loss of consciousness while in the kitchen (though he hadn't heard glass or pottery, it was solid furnishings - chair, table, shelf perhaps). His mind wandered to topics like cardiac arrest, syncopal episode, or obstructed airway, or something else entirely.

Skillful as ever, Sherlock soon had the door swinging, and it opened wide for them both to find Martha Hudson laying on her side, one arm outstretched, the other underneath her. She had fallen as if one leg had simply given out under her, and there was a chair that she'd clearly tried to use to hold herself upright, with both chair and person now prone. A few things that usually occupied the table were also on the floor as if she had either dropped them or brushed them off in her collapse.

"Mrs. Hudson? Martha!" John said again, taking in immediately a few crucial things:  skin colour normal, breathing rapidly, eyes open and staring toward the doorway, a puzzled look about her. Quickly, he knelt by her side. A quick assessment, beyond what he could already see, included a rapid and irregular pulse, and when he supported her head to roll her over, keeping neck carefully aligned, he held each of her arms, straightened her legs, smoothed her clothing, and spoke to her, "You're all right. We're going to help you." Sherlock glanced around, piecing together what Mrs. Hudson may have been doing just before her collapse, so he missed some of the focused assessment John performed, who readily noted that there were deficits immediately apparent. John whipped out his mobile from his pocket, dialing 999. From the earpiece of the mobile, they could hear the dispatcher connect. "Need an ambulance. 221A Baker Street. 70 year old female suffering new onset of stroke symptoms." Sherlock's attention snapped to John, then quickly to Mrs. Hudson. John let his hand slide to Mrs. Hudson's face, which was now, Sherlock could see, mildly contorted as if she were in pain, and patted her shoulder. A guttural tone sounded from Mrs. Hudson as she tried to communicate.

Sherlock's head popped up at that. "A stroke?" he asked quietly, knowing John was occupied, although he heard the statement and nodded.

"My med kit?" he said quietly to Sherlock, "BP cuff for sure." To the phone, he said, "All right, I understand. Thank you." Responding to a query, he rattled off a few demographic details, his mobile number, listened a few moments longer, then disconnected the call. "Now Mrs. Hudson," he said smiling down at her, "if you wanted us to come visit, you certainly didn't have to go to all this trouble."

There was an answering grunt from Mrs. Hudson, and Sherlock could see that part of her mouth didn't move along with the sound.

John used his thumb to hold her eyelids open in turn, gently, and even as he did so, he said, "You realise I was hoping for scones tomorrow. Or those ginger things you do." Letting an exaggerated breath out, he shook his head, "I suppose I'll have to wait now," and he knelt by her side as he removed his handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the corner of her mouth, which was rather wet, Sherlock noticed. The men exchanged a glance, and John lifted his eyebrow as if to prompt Sherlock to get the items he'd requested.

From inside the doorway, Sherlock had hesitated, stock still, listening to John's fussing and in his opinion highly inappropriate humour attempts, and he muttered, "I hardly think now's the time for your prattle."

"Go," John directed at him, quiet and calm. "Please." Long legs sprinted yet again up the stairs, and returned rather quickly with the items John had asked for.

Another utterance of some phonetic, non-sensical sounds came from the woman, and her eyes were full of fear.  John smiled at her fondly, from just above her face, holding her hand - her hand farthest from him, and Sherlock noticed the completely limp nature of the closer hand John was watching. It was relaxed in an unnatural angle, flat against the floor, odd - and then he was saying something about Sherlock cleaning up before the ambulance arrived, but Sherlock couldn't hear over the noise thrumming in his head for a moment.  

John nudged him with his foot. "Oi."

"What is it now?" he snapped although he would have been unable to put a reason behind why he was prickly.

"I asked you to right the chair, would you? It's bothering Mrs. Hudson."

Feeling quite out of sorts, he stood. From the angle standing over both of these important people in his life, Sherlock could see Mrs Hudson's face better, and there was the crinkling of one eye and the slight upturn of her mouth. But it was wrong, unbalanced, and to Sherlock the room began to feel off-kilter and his own heart skittering just a bit. Her features were altered just on the one side.  Her nasolabial fold on the other side was distracting, and the unilateral muscle movement seemed to be buzzing. It was wrong, out of place, asymmetrical, and offensive to his ordered analytic mind. His mind replayed John's words, a stroke, and there was a wave of queasiness as he realised John had already taken her blood pressure.

"Sherlock. The chair."

With a mildly disjointed expression, Sherlock lifted the chair to its four legs and asked, "What was it?" He shook himself mentally, knowing that he needed to be efficient and on his game, and so he sought more data, more facts, wanting concrete, solvable things to focus on, rather than his somewhat presently unacceptable sentimental thoughts to work around.

John shot him a cautionary look, and brushed Mrs. Hudson's hair a bit as he spoke to her instead. "Blood pressure's a little high, it's a normal response in times like this. But we'll get you to the hospital," he said, soothing and confident, "get everything all sorted."

A bit of a thrash from Mrs. Hudson, from one arm only - her non-dominant arm, Sherlock noticed, and now that would be a problem, now, wouldn't it? - and John was quick to utter additional reassurances that she was going to be just fine, everything was all right, that he would stay with her, that help was on the way. Previously, Sherlock had always admired John's clinical skill and bedside competence when dealing with a medical emergency, when despite the circumstance somehow that part of him was comforting and he managed to maintain control without frightening the patient. Now, though, he was actually irritated by it, shouldn't he be upset and acting with appropriate urgency? A brief coherent thought was that John was indeed handling this well and could be as calm as he wanted here in this moment, because Sherlock was frightened enough for both of them.

On cue, there was a distant siren, and John looked up toward the door and then at Sherlock, and spoke easily and airily, to Sherlock, irritatingly calmly. "Maybe you could meet them? It's helpful to have someone outside when they're looking for street numbers." Sherlock bit back the retort that of course ambulance personnel knew his flat, knew them from their history, and then disappeared in a flash of curls and a typical huffing exhale at being told what to do. To Mrs. Hudson, John leaned in close. "Don't worry, I'll tell them I made the mess here. I would never have anyone thinking your housekeeping skills are anything less than exemplary."

++

Mrs. Hudson was very quickly assessed, with John being very impressed with the pointed exam of the paramedics who'd responded. In only a very few minutes, they'd performed a brief stroke scale, which John knew was highly predictive (and positive in this case), checked her vital signs, lifted her to the ambulance stretcher.

It pleased Sherlock a little that they'd spoken the statistics out loud rather than for him to be uninformed. "Heart rate 113, irregularly irregular. Respirs are 22. Pulse ox is 95. Pressures sky high, 184/100, and that was the lower of the two readings."

An IV was placed, they'd drawn a bouquet of lab tubes, and one of the medics was recording some information. John had already given her name, age, and most of her really rather brief health history. One of them noted he was going to need her current medications and her ID. "She keeps her pills in the kitchen," he said to them and Sherlock gathered them and then located her photo identification in her handbag.

A blanket was placed over her and the straps secured, and the men began to move toward the door. "We're taking her to Barts."

John was also standing, and to the man who'd spoken, he said, "No you're not."

A brief smile appeared on his face as he seemed to square off, already, in John's direction. "Barts is the closest, it's where we go."

"St. Georges in Tooting is where she needs to go."

"It's Barts. We have our protocols."

"Then call someone at dispatch command as you load her in the rig. You're wasting time." John had no trouble summoning his military stance, authority. He had certainly pulled rank on Sherlock often enough that Sherlock would have been entertained at watching him use it on someone else had it not been Mrs. Hudson who was in trouble, and at stake here. His tone was quiet, calm, and deadly lethal. "I insist. St. George's. They're a stroke center."

"And who are you again?" the medic snarked back at John, whose bearing seemed to command immediate obedience, and there was a brief moment of conflict and battle. John's serious and no-nonsense demand, coupled with his gaze that absolutely reigned supreme, and the medic seemed as if he were ready to give in.

"She's my aunt," Sherlock said easily, the lie impassioned and smooth. "We live upstairs, and if Dr. Watson says St. George's, that's where you're to take her." Sherlock could mimic John's assertiveness, and with a no-nonsense raise of one irritated brow, he told the medic, "Now let's go."

Nodding slightly, the paramedic held out a clipboard at Sherlock. "Sign here," he said tersely, holding out a biro as well. "St. George's it is."

++

John rode with Mrs. Hudson in the back of the ambulance, after a brief, non-verbal glance between he and Sherlock. The medics had offered accompaniment to only one of them, and directed this at Sherlock initially (being supposed family), but it made sense to all of them when the physician stepped in to the back, sitting where Mrs. Hudson could see him. Sherlock promised to follow right away, staying behind briefly to leave a note for Rosie, who would certainly be fine on her own a bit after she would come home from school in a few hours. A few text messages exchanged, and when Sherlock caught up with John, it was while she had just been taken to the CAT scanner. 

"Any changes?"

"Bit of eye deviation, still no words, blood pressure's still high. They treated it carefully. Soon as this is done, just a couple of minutes more, I'm sure, and they'll recheck it, likely give her more medication to get it down if it's still elevated."

"Why here and not Barts?"

"It's a large vessel occlusive stroke, based on her multiple deficits and stroke severity." He waited to make sure Sherlock was nodding, understanding him so far. "They do mechanical thrombectomy here. It's the only hospital in London right now that currently offers it."

"And that is what, exactly?"

"Usually they do fibrinolysis, medication that helps dissolve the clot. Here they give that medication first, and then go in with a special catheter right up into the large vessels of the brain, and using a retrieval device, they can thread a special coil right into the clot and remove it entirely. Done quickly enough, it can restore blood flow almost completely."

John could see a range of emotions cross Sherlock's eyes before he was able to hide it, squelch it. It was fear, plain and simple. "A catheter in the brain sounds risky. Unsafe." For as much as John appealed to Sherlock citing safety as a reason for caution, Sherlock now played it intentionally, seeking reassurance.

"If it was anyone else," John said, leaning in just a bit to make sure they were touching when he teased under these circumstances, "you would be rather excited about it." A flash of ire showed up in Sherlock's eyes, but before he could begin to battle with John over his humour, John shushed him with both word and his hand. "It can be. Nothing in medicine is without risk," he said softly as he linked his fingers into Sherlock's as they stood in the hallway watching the 'scanner in use' sign light up again. "But the difference is enormous in improved outcomes and substantially reduced residual deficits."

"So they give a medication that can potentiate bleeding, and then puncture a big vein so they can work a catheter into her brain so she can bleed more up there?"

John realised it sounded a bit crazy, but he'd been fascinated by the new therapy, and so was well informed on the process. "It works. And they use an artery, not a vein."

Sherlock snorted at that, "That's almost worse, yeah? Higher arterial pressures on a patient already hypertensive, isn't there now more risk of bleeding?" Sherlock's concern seemed to be escalating.

"Their stats are good here, and the doc has to read the scans first to see if she even qualifies. And by the way, as her nephew, they're likely going to be asking you to sign consent for it. You nutter."

"Wait. I have to agree to this risky treatment?"

"You identified yourself as next of kin, and she may not understand what's going on, and certainly she can't express herself reliably right now."

"Her sister..." Sherlock began.

"Is away on holiday. Belgium or something, as I recall." Now that John offered that information, it did sound familiar, and it occurred to Sherlock how out of his comfort zone he was, given that he hadn't recalled that independently.

"We can find her number..." The voice Sherlock was using was a bit more tentative, as he realised that locating her phone number would require some creativity, and then a humbling explanation of why he was involving another family member. Finding Mrs. Hudson's actual relative to handle this was going to be quite a process.

John's brow was furrowed as he cautioned him, "We can try, I suppose, but the delay could prove to be a problem." Sherlock's eyes were serious, calculating. "There might not be time."

"I don't like it. It seems like she could be worse off if they get this aggressive and she could bleed?" He began to recap some of what John had told him, summarising to attempt to make sense of what he understood. And he understood plenty.

Silently, John waited, ready to correct any misconceptions if needed, which he didn't, until Sherlock had stopped. Their eyes met, held, and John squeezed Sherlock's hand to make sure he was both listening and hearing what he was about to say. "It's good therapy. And if you for some crazy reason had to declare yourself as nearest relative, you need to make the decision as if you're speaking for her directly. So here's what you have to consider: would Mrs. Hudson be willing to live with a deficit? What would she choose?"

The question hovered. The energy in the room felt as if the roller coaster had just crested, potential energy changing to kinetic energy. It clung to the atmosphere around the two of them, insular in the small waiting alcove by the radiology suite there in the A&E of St. George's. His mind was clearly chasing down various outcomes, possibilities, weighing what he knew of Mrs. Hudson and what her future would be like if she were seriously affected with an impairment. "I don't think she would want a disability. She would be more of an all or nothing kind of a woman."

"Then you'll need to sign permission to proceed. Because if they offer it, and recommend it, it's her best shot at complete recovery." John too could feel the weight of the decision as Sherlock pondered it. "For what my opinion counts, I would agree with you. She would never want to burden anyone."

The 'scanner in use' light went off, and both men looked up a bit startled when the door opened and the technician and Mrs. Hudson emerged. "Radiologist is reading this now. He'll be over to talk to you in a couple minutes."

++

The clipboard was thrust at Sherlock again, and a biro, and his vision narrowed from seeing everything, seeing too much, seeing all of it - and honed in on the line on the form and the neurovascular interventionalist's finger that was pointing and waiting on his signature. Without looking, he knew John was watching his face, could feel his anxiety and uncertainty as to whether or not Sherlock was going to readily sign the consent form.

The archer's bow was pulled back, the arrow nocked. The string was tight, and there was an expectant air among all who were gathered.

The doc was speaking again. "Time is really important here, Mr. Holmes, for your aunt's treatment. I have the room prepped, the team waiting. We can start right away. I answered all of your questions. Do you need a few minutes to talk it over again?"

Sherlock pressed the tip of the biro to the paper, and could almost hear John's silent exhale of relief. Signing his name with his typical nearly illegible flair, he was vividly aware of his dry mouth as he handed consent form back to the man.  

The arrow sang from the bow.

"I'll let you know as soon as we're done."

++

"What if...?" Sherlock began again but John cleared his throat, shook his head, giving him a stern glare.

"She'll be fine."

"You don't know that."

"I don't, you're right. But it was the right thing to do."

"She might be furious with me."

"She's been furious with you before. You should be used to that." John didn't say that Mrs. Hudson having the capacity to be furious with Sherlock and express it would be quite a positive outcome. When they'd seen her last before the procedure, even the guttural sounds she'd been able to make previously in the A&E hadn't been a possibility. Her eyes had been open, but pupils deviated. Her right arm and leg had still been flaccid, the facial droop still pronounced but no worse, the drooling particularly troublesome that it was so obvious. John opted for a bit of levity. "Personally, I hope she is annoyed enough to perhaps throw a key to her flat at you, just in case. It would beat you having to pick the lock again."

Sherlock still looked worried, let out a huffing breath of annoyance directed at John.

John tried again. "And depending on the day, how annoying of a prat you've been, if she wants to swat you, hopefully with her dominant hand - or her non-dominant one for that matter - I may actually hold you still for her to get the best shot in."

Sherlock was nonplussed at John's attempt to distract him, his face still wrinkled with concern. "What if... " and with John's even more angry glare at his sentence beginning, he stopped himself, changed approaches. "If something happens, Rosie is going to be very upset with me." Rosie and Mrs. Hudson, of course, were very close, and Rosie had been known to fuss at both her papa and her dad if, in her opinion, they aggrieved Mrs. Hudson too much.

"Sherlock," John pleaded. "Stop borrowing trouble. They'll be a bit longer and then we should get an update." With his own rather warm hand, he reached out for Sherlock's cool and mildly clammy one. "Deep breath. We're all right. Rosie's all right." His thumb brushed over Sherlock's knuckles, and he flicked at Sherlock's wedding ring.

There was another not-quite-audible exhale, a sigh of at least attempting to follow John's lead. He touched at John's ring, then, in return. It was a start. They were in this together. And, Sherlock reasoned, his fingers tightening in John's grip, if there was upset from either Mrs. Hudson, or her sister, or Rosie, he was most assuredly taking John into the breach with him.

++

"Mr. Holmes," the words came at the same time the door opened, and both John and Sherlock stood up. Neither spoke, knowing the update would be coming and that to ask any question at this point would be ridiculous. John could sense the good news at the doctor's face, the set of his eyes, the faint purse of his lips that was not quite hinting at a smile but almost. "She's asking for you both."

"Thank god," John breathed and grinned and nearly chuckled as Sherlock stared, still trying to absorb why John was already celebrating. Shooting him a dark look, John realised he hadn't quite understood, so he added gently to Sherlock, knowing his internalised stress level, "She's speaking."

He would have expressed something else, hoping to lessen Sherlock's anxiety, except that the physician was already speaking again. "Access was uncomplicated. Groin site, catheters slid right in. We removed a very large M2 clot. There are some pictures of the actual clot size in her record, but here," he said, turning his body to show both John and Sherlock the printouts he was holding. "This is the before shot." He gestured to the image that showed some of the vasculature, highlighted in contrast, that swirled up the perimeter on one side of Mrs. Hudson's cerebral arterial circulation. There was some vessels visible, but overall, the image was dark and with only a few portions that could be seen on the lower part of the printout.

He lifted the second image from behind the first. "This is after. Just look at that." He waited a moment and John would have given a low whistle except that his mouth was surprisingly too dry rendering him unable, and settled for a very breathy 'wow.' "We removed the clot from right about in here," he pointed to a section, "and it had extended a bit along here." Three sets of eyes looked at the images that he then held side-by-side. The comparison was striking - the first a few vessels along the edge, the second, completely lit up, a tree-like progression of vessels and gray matter and arterial perfusion. "The therapy, fibrinolysis plus mechanical thrombectomy, kept all this area" he indicated on the image, "of her brain from dying, by restoring blood flow." He handed the papers out, and Sherlock reached out almost numbly to take them. "These are your copies. So, if you consider that we interrupted the stroke by removing the clot," and he held up his palm and placed it, heel of his hand to his ear and let his fingers wrap up along into his hair, "this represents the area of brain that had blood flow restored. Brain salvage. It would have been a huge, devastating, catastrophic stroke."

"Would have been," Sherlock echoed.

"You aunt is only 70, fairly young all things considered, and she has not likely developed the collateral circulation that say, an older person has.  Collateral circulation is protective in the older adult stroke patient. It's the phenomenon where as certain vessels narrow, others may compensate with more blood flow to help with brain perfusion."

"Similar to coronary circulation," John said to Sherlock, "where the younger patients don't always do as well for that reason." There had been a case once, where this had come up, and Sherlock nodded, remembering and comprehending the concept.

"Exactly," the doc said, looking at them both and waiting for their feedback or concerns to be voiced.

John waited only a moment for Sherlock, and when Sherlock deferred with both silence and hand squeeze for John to speak. He asked, "So overall, where are her symptoms right now?"

"Speaking fairly clearly. Mentating well. No facial droop at all, extra-ocular movement and acuity is restored. Right arm and leg are a bit weak, left leg of course is hard to assess given her femoral access. Weak, still." He handed the images to Sherlock, who took them gratefully, looking again from the first to the second. "This was a very good procedure. Good results by arteriogram. No complications. The alteplase of course will continue to help with likely relieving some of the residual symptoms, but overall her stroke scale is markedly improved." He paused, the expression as somber as he'd been since they'd met him. For emphasis, he spoke again, slower, "Markedly. And just so you know," and with that carrot dangling, he waited until he had their undivided attention, "it is unlikely we would have been this successful with the alteplase alone. It was a very large vessel occlusion, and therefore susceptible to retrieval."

Sherlock was focused on keeping a steady breathing rate and not panicking, John could see, so he filled the pause in conversation. "Good news, that."

The doc nodded, his smile genuine as he looked from one to the other. "I hear you had to override EMS wanting to take your aunt elsewhere." When they both nodded, he continued, "I think you saved her quite a bit of functioning. And probably her independence."

"Can we see her soon?" John asked, as he tucked his hand inside Sherlock's arm discreetly.

 "They're just monitoring the arterial puncture site over her femoral artery for a bit, and then you can both go on in. The nurse will send for you." He asked if they had any additional questions, then continued, "Her first words, after our obligatory name and orientation, were something about needing to get home to bake scones and ginger biscuits. We have persuaded her that she needs to stay here a few days."

Sherlock's head was already shaking indignantly at John as the doc left them alone. "See, I told you fussing at her about the baking you weren't going to get was ridiculous." John could have spluttered a harsh retort at him, but Sherlock continued quickly, the relief of the good report loosening his acerbic tongue. "You made her worry the whole time about what you said."

"Git."

"Berk."

"Wanker."

"Prat."

"Sod off."

John opted to end the sparring. "You know, you claimed to be her nephew. I should let you know that relationship now obligates you to do all the lifting, cleaning, helping, and visiting. Killing the bugs when she asks and you always send me down." Sherlock simply stared John down with the words he'd said, so John pressed in a bit farther. "And you should say thank you when she brings us those biscuits."

++

The door to the downstairs flat opened, and the voices carried up the stairs, and both John and Sherlock raised their heads at it. Since Mrs. Hudson's stroke, they'd been acutely sensitive to any noise from below their living quarters. Sherlock was fairly certain, by this point, that between Mrs. Hudson and her sister who'd been there for the last few days, that between the women, the toilet flushed at least thirty times a day. And he was attempting to determine why there was creaking between the walls of the rear room - rodent or insect or tetchy heating system, he wasn't quite sure. John had sternly warned him that now was not the time to broach the subject.

There was the faintest rolling, several sets of footsteps and the sound of a single point cane. "They're going out." Sherlock made his 'obvious' face at John. "Or she's leaving today then," John said and they opened the door to find Mrs. Hudson in the process of handing her sister a tin of biscuits.

"Take these with you, dear, please. You helped bake them." 

Both ladies looked up the stairs as John and Sherlock began to descend, and wanted to add their farewells to her departure.

John spoke first, "Taking off then? We're sorry to see you go."

"Obvious," Sherlock muttered beneath his breath.

"She doesn't need me anymore," Mrs. Hudson's sister said with a cute raise of the head and an almost whine. "Never did really." This, all of them knew, wasn't quite the truth, and although Mrs. Hudson was making great strides toward normalcy and her baseline full range of motion, she wasn't quite there. When she'd first come home from St. George's Hospital, she did actually need a little bit of help getting re-acclimated.

"You just can't stand the noise upstairs anymore, not one day longer," Mrs. Hudson said huffily and with great attitude, to her sister, raising her eyebrows at the boys.

Sherlock looked as if he were proud, while John's cheeks coloured.

"You'll have to visit again soon, you know."

"Bring your earplugs," Mrs. Hudson said in a stage whisper as if conveying a national secret, punctuating her sentence with a little stamp of her cane to the floor. Her glance in John and Sherlock's direction spoke of both fondness and amusement.

Mrs. Hudson hugged her sister once more as the cab honked the horn from the street. Sherlock held the door while John picked up the case and escorted her to the waiting vehicle.  Before getting inside, the smile she bestowed on both boys had echoes of Mrs. Hudson's smile, similar in both shape and sincerity. In response, John and Sherlock grinned at each other in realisation of not just the similarity but of the fullness, the symmetry, the restored function. Sherlock hung in the background while John stepped forward to give her a quick hug and make sure she was seated all right.

"I'm so grateful," she said to John then glanced over at Sherlock as well. "Take care of her, please?" she asked.

John could barely keep a straight face when Sherlock himself chuckled, and answered quickly, "As if she were my own family, of course."

"Family," she said, nodding her approval, as she got into the car.

Under his breath, John muttered, "You have no idea."

"Boys," Mrs. Hudson said from the doorway. "I have biscuits."

John watched Sherlock, who was closer, stop right next to her, touch her lightly as he entered the room ahead of Mrs. Hudson. "Biscuits! How shockingly surprising," he said dripping with sarcasm. "Probably your favourites, not mine."

"Shut it," John growled at him low. "Be nice."

John hesitated at the door to allow Mrs. Hudson to enter ahead of him who made a 'tsk' sound in Sherlock's direction, but with great fondness.  Her cane tapped lightly on the floor as she passed him. "I'll make tea," he offered, and set to it, knowing how each of them liked it, and Mrs. Hudson reached for the plate of biscuits. She'd leaned her cane against the counter, then left it there as she moved to the table unaided, and they both watched her, steadily, but they were on high alert. Once she'd taken a seat, John continued, looking pointedly from her to the cane once he'd captured her attention, "Forget something did you, there?"

She met his eyes, raised a brow at him. "I'll thank you not to fuss at me, John Watson. Eventually I will no longer need that, my physiotherapist tells me, and so to wean off of it, I have full permission, particularly when not alone or when there's ample furniture for support, to keep it close but not use it." Her air was almost haughty but she was smiling at him. "So keep your bloody opinions and your medical arrogance to yourself."

"Yes, John, please shut up," Sherlock agreed, knowing it was usually the two of them ganging up on him and appreciating the rarity of the chance to turn tables. "Though I do recall you forgetting your cane once." He grew dramatic, and orated, "Quite absent-minded, you were that night. Now, where were we? A restaurant of some sort, Angelo's I believe, across town, and you not only forgot it..."

"Yes, Sherlock, we all recall, now please shut it," he said as sweetly as those words are possible to utter. With a shoe overtop of Sherlock's foot, John pressed in and turned his smile back toward their landlady. "So how's the hand coming along? Still a little numb?"

"Not even a bit," she said proudly, touching the two fingers that'd had some residual tingling last she'd updated them. "And movement is almost one-hundred percent. See?" With that, she turned her hand palm up, then carefully touched her thumb to each finger, then spread them wide, then made a fist.

John chuckled even as he covered her clenched fist with his own hand. "We'll behave, I assure you, there's no need for punching."

"Not today, anyway," Sherlock added.

"Not yet," John agreed shooting him a veiled look.

The rest of their visit was short yet animated, and before the boys returned to the upstairs they reiterated that she was to call if she needed anything, for any reason, or even just to check in if she wanted.

She rose as if to shoo them from the room. "Or if the noise is too bad, more likely the reason. Now get!"

 ++

There was no case, no shopping to do, Rosie at school, nothing particularly on for the rest of their day. Sherlock was not only bored, but thoroughly relieved that Mrs. Hudson's recovery had been so profound, her cane relegated to the front closet and her rehabilitation sessions completed. The lack of stimulation coupled with the high demands of needing to burn off some of the excitement, celebrate the relief, had him nearly crawling out of his skin. And under John's.

John resisted his advances and his hints for a little while, mostly for the sheer thrill of giving Sherlock the reciprocal hard time that he felt entitled to, for all the grief that Sherlock regularly gave him. "Not now, I'm reading."

Sherlock of course was not deterred, and John was casual as he would occasionally need to respond verbally to Sherlock.

With a raised brow at Sherlock's foot that ended up in his lap, on his zipper, "Do you mind?"

There was the sound of the cap of lube being opened. "Don't spill that anywhere out here, please." John prided himself that he didn't even glance up from what he was reading. Not even to try to figure out where the lube had come from, nor to comment on the inappropriateness of the setting.

John ignored the unbuttoning of Sherlock's shirt, his cuffs, and the slide of his belt through his trouser loops. He pretended not to notice as Sherlock stood, huffy, that the rest of Sherlock's discarded clothing marked a trail back to the bedroom. "I will join you in a few minutes. Don't start without me, and don't make a mess."

From down the hallway, John could hear the sound of sheets snapping, of a pillow hitting the floor, and of Sherlock clearing his throat, attention-seeking.

"No, a few minutes means exactly that. I would like to finish this article I'm reading, and then ..." He stopped speaking as he could hear the jangle of something battery operated, a click, and then a buzzing sound, low speed for a brief time, and then higher. A breathy moan came then, that deep, sexy rumbling baritone 'oooooh' drawn out. Standing quickly, the magazine absently leaving his hands to make a forgotten rustling sound as if it half-fell, was half-thrown from John's possession, John untucked his shirt, reached for his own belt, started down the hall. "God, Sherlock."

++

Laying on his back later, perspiration cooling, John was somehow still wearing one sock, the rest of his clothing strewn in various spots of the floor that told the story of a quick trip from sitting room through hallway into the bedroom. Sherlock lay on his back also, both of them with slightly flushed faces, the sweat of exertion, of tension, of sweet release, telling more of the story. Not wanting to contribute to more heat elevation, John stretched out a leg to touch his toes against Sherlock's calf.

"Feel better now, do you?"

"Of course, even if you did give in too quickly. That was spectacular, and I want to try that on you next."

"Good lord, I might need a bit of time first." John couldn't help but smile in response to Sherlock's exuberance. "But I'm definitely on board with that idea."

Collectively, there were two very deep breaths, two bodies with an inhale, exhale, the biofeedback mediated lowering of heartrates, whether deliberate or not, the deep breath taking pulses from the nineties to the seventies, settling lower. Their breathing relaxed, ribs expanding with comfortable inhales, settling on an easy exhale. Had either been noticing, there was a lowering of shoulderblades, of the height and depth of arms, chests, even thighs relaxing.

John wriggled his toes, his insight into Sherlock's mental meanderings spot on, and he was curiously intrigued. "What's on your mind?"

Pausing just long enough to stretch his arms over his head, he smiled a bit at John's question, countering with one of his own. "What if the thrombectomy hadn't gone well?"

"It's unlike you to doubt your decisions."

"I'm not, particularly. But that was an interesting perspective, a study of the burden of responsibility. It could have set off a completely different chain of events."

"It's no different than solving a case. You make the best decision using the information available." John could almost feel the room temperature lowering, and his skin became just the faintest bit cooler, but he didn't want to interrupt their flow by reaching for the sheet. "It's like being a parent, too, which, by the way, you seem to have adjusted to rather well."

"It's different with Rosie. We influence her, shape her, if you will. She didn't get like this overnight. It's an ongoing relationship. I'm vested." Sherlock rubbed a tired hand through his fringe, letting his arm rest over his head. "With Mrs. Hudson's stroke, it was sudden. There was no time to prepare."

"It was the right thing." There was a comfortable lull in conversation. John ran a finger across Sherlock's skin, watching the development of goosebumps.

They both watched the movement, the response, and, amused, Sherlock breathed, "Yes, my piloerection capabilities are quite intact."

"You just like the word."

"I do," he admitted, catching John's eyes and grinning.

John circled back to the topic. "I would totally trust you to make decisions for me, too, by the way, if I can't make them myself."

With eyes now closed, he lifted his left hand, flicking his ring with his thumb. "I dare say the law requires it of me."

"I was trying to compliment you, or did you miss that?" He watched Sherlock's face smirk with displeasure, the giant berk. "Makes no mind, she's good, she's improving, she's back to pre-stroke abilities, really. I stand by what I told you earlier, that you made the decision on her behalf taking into account what she would have wanted. And I daresay she would never have wanted to live with a serious deficit. So in this case, the benefit clearly outweighed the risk."

"Her sister would have likely been miffed, had it gone poorly."

"Hard to say, given the positive outcome."

"I suppose."

They lay quietly, with the occasional flick of a finger over the other's skin, a touch of elbow or ankle, the syncronisation of their breathing as they rested. The silence was friendly, broken occasionally by either of them with an observation, question, or witty statement. 

"So who do you think is older, Mrs. Hudson or her sister?" John asked, and Sherlock shrugged with indifference, didn't pause much from his musings as he was presently investigating a freckle on the back of John's forearm. Maybe they're twins. Irish twins. Or actual, fraternal twins."

"No."

"Why do you say that?"

"You know how I feel about twins, it's never twins."

"I'm going to ask her next time I get a chance."

"It's unimportant," he said with disdain.

"I think it'd be interesting." John wriggled his fingers under Sherlock's arm. "And Mrs. Hudson likes talking about herself."

"Again, unimportant." Sherlock opened an eye even as John rolled his eyes at the repeated phrase, leaned up on an elbow. "So, you say I can make decisions on your behalf? Good to know," he continued, a sparkle in his eye and his smile, without waiting for John's reaction. "Because I've decided that you've had long enough to recuperate, and," there was a buzzing as he flipped a switch and began to roll toward John, "it is definitely your turn next."

++

~fin~

Chapter Text

The nurse came out to the waiting room and a collective, expectant hush fell. "Just a quick update, nearly ten centimetres and doing great.  Fetal heart tones are excellent, and I'm supposed to tell you to send wine, dark chocolate, and flowers to the genius who invented the epidural."

Sherlock squeezed John's hand that had gripped his own tightly, clenching in nervous anxiety and the desire for this all to be over. "Good, ta, appreciate it," John began in a thick voice, but the nurse had already let the door to the waiting room drift closed on slow hinges. They met eyes, glanced over at Greg Lestrade, and an appreciative and still slightly nervous sigh arose as the potential grandparents - all three of them - awaited the end of their kids' pregnancy adventure. The long-awaited news would be most welcome, and of course signify the beginning of a whole new adventure.

##

It hadn't been much of a shock when Rosie and Greg's youngest, Travis, began socialising as interested friends and progressed quickly to dating then courting, integrating two busy young adult lives into what seemed a good match. John approved and Sherlock tolerated, but Rosie and Travis were both happy and compatible. Rosie'd chosen a university close to London, graduating and landing employment nearby to where Travis already had a steady job. John was quite nonchalant one night when Travis rang John, asked permission to stop by. He glanced over at Sherlock and was puzzled at the way Sherlock had stared fiercely at him.

John stood up, refilled his beverage, straightening the pillow on the couch as he passed it as if there was nothing specifically remarkable going on, and Sherlock raised a mildly displeased brow in his direction. "You know why he's stopping over, John." Computer keys had stopped their clicking while Sherlock waited for John to respond. "Please tell me you do."

"They're coming to say hello. Stop by, a social visit." Weren't they? John wondered. "Some people do actually call first, and have manners enough to ring ahead of time." There was a meeting of the eyes, an amused smirk that John immediately recognised as indulgence and pity for his tiny little brain. "Despite all your efforts to the contrary, Rosie does have a working knowledge of not only polite but courteous behaviour."

"No, it's only Travis, he said 'I'll stop by' - he did not use the pronoun 'we.' He has a question for us, John, do keep up. Are you ready for it?"

##

Rosie and Travis had been married well over a year when Rosie had, albeit accidentally, nearly killed them both. A celebratory dinner for Travis' promotion at his economist job ended up a jovial affair, at their favourite haunt of a restaurant. Travis, mobile buzzing, had excused himself as plates were being cleared, something about a phone call he'd been waiting for. With great apology, he squeezed Rosie's shoulder and then dashed outside promising to return quickly.

"Dad, while he's gone, I have a question for you." John turned to look at her, eyes bright but clearly something important on her mind. "Did you and mum have trouble getting pregnant with me?"

At which point Sherlock nearly spit out then aspirated his wine, and it would have been questionable as to whether John had actually continued to breathe or not for a length of time.

Both Rosie and John turned startled eyes toward the very uncharacteristic, spluttering sound behind Sherlock's napkin, and Sherlock felt compelled to put on his best 'I'm surrounded by idiots' face' as he snorted once, laughing, then asked Rosie, "You do realise their wedding occurred in May and you were born six months later? Quite full term, I may add, given the screaming both parents were doing on the way to the hospital, which I vividly recall." Sherlock shrugged at Rosie's bewildered face. "We've certainly talked about that, didn't we?" Sherlock directed that question at John.

John squinted a bit, trying to remember. "Of course we did. I think... Never been a secret, that. I was certain we had told you that wedding story." He made a slightly apologetic face as he remembered Sherlock's announcement, Mary's distaste for the wine, her altered sense of smell, the way Sherlock had put it all together first and then bloody announced it to a room full of people. "I assumed you were aware."

"No, fairly certain I would have remembered that." She exchanged a hurt, pained look at John, then who smiled sadly at her then reached out to wrap her in the best hug he could manage at the time, given the dining table somewhat in the way. Rosie's voice was small but steady. "I mean, it's fine, but I didn't..." she let the words trail off as John's arms tightened a bit more around her. "And that wasn't the point of my question, anyway."

The chuckle from Sherlock's throat brought them back to the question. "Safe to conclude that's a resolute no, no problem with your parents conceiving you." Sherlock nudged a foot against John's, which was angled funny into the floor to enable the hug more, a non-verbal request to straighten up. "And here comes Travis back, to rescue us all from this extremely awkward and," he coughed once, "potentially dangerous conversation, thank god." Holding up his napkin, he cleared his throat a few more times, took a small sip of water, and then smiled as he swallowed without further incident.

At the conclusion of the meal, Sherlock distracted Travis enough that John managed to assure Rosie privately that if they were indeed trying to conceive, that it often took months. "So don't worry, it'll happen soon, I'm sure of it."

##

About six weeks later, there was a text message that John found on his mobile when he had a moment to check in between patients. My beta HCG is positive. Very positive. Off the charts positive.

##

John's mobile rang or buzzed now and again with Rosie's questions, usually by text.

When they were more urgent in her mind, she would ring. "I know my doctor says the nausea is actually a good thing, and that it will go away eventually, but if he's lying about this, how can I possibly trust him with anything else here?" This had come after a particularly difficult morning and John could hear the roughness from an overused throat. "Dad, really, this is awful."

"It'll pass. Sign of healthy hormone levels."

"Ugh, well, was mum this way?"

"Not quite this much, but some."

"Not a fan, I must say."

"Hang in there. Want me to pick you some carry out for dinner?"

"Absolutely not. Travis is doing fine, wonderful actually, he's an amazing cook - better than any carryout anywhere." He could hear the warmth in her voice. "And thankfully I usually have an appetite around dinnertime."

John laughed and she chatted a bit more before hanging up.

The next week it was a bit more of a memorable voice message, which he checked on his way home from work. Call me when you get this, I really need to ask you and then tell you something important. Her voice sounded both excited and brimming with news.

He opted to walk home rather than fight the background noise on the tube, so he dialed and pressed the phone to his ear when she picked up almost immediately.

"Do twins run in either of our families?" Rosie asked, charging immediately in with vigor. John had barely gotten the 'no' from his throat when she continued, "Because we've got a set of twins here!"

"What!?" Particularly grateful that he was by himself on the sidewalk, he stopped walking altogether, ducked into a small alcove to talk. "That's wonderful news!" He could picture her in the living room of their flat, grinning, hand protectively over the slight swell of her stomach (no wonder, he thought, that she was fussing she was showing so much already).

"So that explains the high beta-HCG, the crazy nausea, and the bump already."

"You've had a scan then?"

"Two heartbeats, yes. And a good size for the nine weeks we're at."

"Did the doctor say what kind of twins? Fraternal or identical?"

"He didn't, something about they'll get all that information at the next scan in a couple of months." Her giggle turned to a soft complaint. "I'm still queasy, though. Sometimes all day long."

"May linger a bit with multiples, sorry sweetheart," John said as the grin threatened both his face, the kerb, and all of central London as the news sunk in a bit more. "Still, I'm so excited for you and Travis! And us too, of course." Vividly he recalled the scan Mary'd had long ago, the measurements, the reassurance that all was well, the news that they were carrying a girl. "Bloody hell," he muttered, then, anticipating Sherlock's reaction, "Your papa's going to want to hear this from you."

"I know, I can't wait, he and his staunch twin objections. I'm calling him next!"

##

The mobile rang, and that fact both startled and worried him. He'd been expecting a text message, or a grainy, gray-toned photo even. In typical Rosie-fashion, she launched right out with the news. "Fraternal. And we've got a mixed set, dad. One of each."

##

Rosie called, texted, or rang fairly regularly with updates or questions, or just to catch up. She teased about them needing to choose what the babies would call them and had debates with Sherlock over the many variants of the word grandfather. Sherlock researched the history and many options available to them in a variety of languages, threatening John with a descriptor as frumpy as his jumpers. Like Opi. Or worse.

Travis rang much less often, but late one afternoon he did so as they'd just settled in for the latest Bourne movie. Sherlock was between cases and John on a longer stretch off from the surgery. Sherlock was already gearing up to be a little prickly, ready to heckle the film and gleefully torture John in the process (standard movie procedures for them), and had abruptly answered the landline. "Speak." He angled the phone enough that John would be able to hear as well, while John hit pause on the remote.

"Rosie just called me, from her OB appointment, says they're sending her over to the hospital for a non-stress test."

Without hesitation, Sherlock launched, "Ah, caller ID, still at work. Wanted to finish up a pointless presentation, your admin assistant cut out early and you're under the gun."

"No, I -"

Sherlock didn't give Travis a chance. "Perhaps you're meant to be on your way over there, then, and be with your wife?" he fired back quickly. "Or perhaps you would like to speak with Rosie's dad about shirking your husbandly responsibilities with our daughter?" There would have been more, everyone knew, and Sherlock on a roll of insults was not a specific thing any of them wanted Travis to be on the receiving end of.

Glaring, John intervened. He was already close to him, and pulled the phone out of Sherlock's hand. To Sherlock's credit, he released it fairly readily and shut his mouth, given John's annoyed stare and the preciousness of the subject at hand. Travis sounded stressed, and he was still speaking, "I'm almost on my way, and she didn't want to bother you, but I think she'd feel better..."

John could feel his heart do a little flip with anxiety, picturing Rosie worrying unnecessarily by herself waiting for Travis. "Want me to meet her there?"

Relief was evident in Travis' voice. "Yes, John, please? That would be nice. I would really feel better if you could."

"Did she say why the doctor wanted it?" He pressed the speaker on the phone, set it down so they could both hear. "Was she complaining about anything?"

"She had told me the babies seemed quieter since yesterday, less movement. Must've continued today."

"She's, what, thirty-two weeks?"

"Yes, give or take a couple days."

With a deliberate effort to be casual, John tried to sound reassuring. "I'm sure it's fine, these tests are fairly common. They like to see appropriate heart rate variability with fetal movement for both babies, is all. They can watch for decelerations..."

The squeeze of Sherlock's hand to John's knee was an attempt to shut up the medical report and a reminder that Travis had called for emotional support and for Rosie. "I'm all the way across town, but I'm leaving soon as I can."

"So you're admitting that your priorities -" Sherlock began but John gripped his hand firmly then harder on the top of his thigh until he clamped his mouth shut as well, as John intended.

"She insisted, said she was fine, it's precautionary, the doctor said."

"He's right. We'll probably beat you there, then, but see you soon." John powered off the television, loosened his pinch on Sherlock's leg.

"God yes, that'd be great. We'd both feel better if you were there." He was still breathing his thanks as he hung up amidst the sound of rustling and activity before the line disconnected.

John and Sherlock actually had long settled in to the prenatal testing centre, one on each side of Rosie, by the time Travis arrived. She was laying in the bed, head reclined, two transducers and it seemed to Sherlock several liters of clear gel on her belly. One of the monitors seemed steady and consistent, while the other one, the lower one which was picking up the lower-lying of the babies, was fleeting, in and out of transmission, and was requiring frequent repositioning. The nurse kept coming in to adjust it under the belly band, then gave John permission to try his hand at it, as the department was busy, in order to get a more consistent signal and prevent them from being there any longer than minimally necessary. The nurse had advised them all that the test was considered normal given certain accelerations, and without decelerations, over a minimum monitoring time of twenty minutes.

"Long as your daughter doesn't mind." Rosie was already rolling her eyes and nodding, holding tight to Travis' hand. "My Leopold's manoeuvers might be a little rusty with multiples, but we can figure it out." 

##

"Don't you want to feel?"

Johns glance snapped to Rosie's gleeful face as she grinned up at Sherlock, who stood across the sitting room watching them both with a wary eye.

"It's pretty wild, you know." The teasing tone and glimmer in her eye let them all know that she wasn't giving up until she'd gotten her way.

She was leaning back in the chair, feet up on the coffee table, and John's hand was pressed against her abdomen, swollen fairly substantially with thirty-three week or so twins.  John's hand pressed flat against what used to be a trim waist, and was rewarded with a swift kick, or a knee, or a head-butt. He chuckled. "That was an impressive one. Rugby player maybe?"

"Travis wants football. Or a dancer maybe." Rosie pressed her hand over John's as one of them shifted positions. "Think that's an elbow?"

John shrugged, noncommittal. "Maybe." He let his hands slide, trying to get a sense of where head may have been, but there was too much activity to really tell at the moment.

"Papa?"

He stared at Rosie and John, an expression reminiscent of perhaps someone who'd just eaten something questionable. "That's all right."

"I could probably guilt you into it," Rosie threatened, and they all knew she was speaking the truth. "You always used to say it's just transport."

"No thanks."

"Am I scaring you?" She seemed a mite less intent and more interested in Sherlock's apparent stalwart refusal. "I'm scaring you," she restated.

"You've been scaring me for many years now. Since before you were born." He seemed to back up a little, a small frown on his face as he chuckled at himself while John waited. "Think I'd be used to it by now."

 ++

"So the doctor asked for our labour plans." There is a sass in her voice and clearly she had been irked by the question.

"What did you tell him?"

"That eventually I plan to go into labour."

John shifted his mobile to his other ear as he finished the sentence he'd been typing into his blog draft, then saved it, lowered the laptop lid. "Good plan, Ro. Eventually, yes, you will go into labour. I'm sure he was pleased with your brilliant plan." John couldn't help the shake of his head as he considered the fact that Rosie had been annoyed by a relatively harmless question. Add a touch of hormones to her personality that could be slightly bristly when it came to dealing with some physicians (or anyone else) at the smallest provocation, and he was not surprised. "What he was asking, what he meant -"

"I know what he meant, duh."

"Now wait a minute there," he began, feeling his own slight offense at her previous teenage use of that word, duh.

"Dad, I -"

"I said wait," he cautioned, somehow being both gentle and firm, "please." While he could have continued speaking, he paused a good long time until he was certain she was listening and feeling slightly chastised. "You called me, here. If you need to rant, or vent, or simply complain, that's fine. You know I'll be happy to oblige."

"Sorry. But he wants us to decide now what we want. I have no idea." He listened as she began to describe the form they'd been given, the selections and options and the signature required by both labour partners.

John could hear Sherlock on the steps, his tread heavier than usual, carrying something then. He stood to at least open the door, to help out, and stood back more than a little surprised as Sherlock entered the flat.  Carrying a scimitar in one hand and a life-sized, somewhat mutilated manikin in the other. The staring continued, puzzled but not specifically alarmed, as Rosie mentioned the consent for an epidural and c-section being included, and John made a few humming acknowledgements between sentences as he watched Sherlock nail the manikin to the already hole-ridden wall.

"You know, Rosie. Pick your perfect labour scenario then, and you can always change your mind, decide in labour, truthfully. Hopefully it will go exactly as you've planned."

"I guess," she said, apparently a little miffed that he wasn't more animated or defensive in her honour.

He watched Sherlock absently let the Belstaff fall to the floor, place the curved sword in his hand, and then narrow his eyes at the manikin. To Rosie, John added, "I guess what the point of the paperwork and having a labour plan is that anything can happen, and well," he paused as Sherlock took a run at the wall, making a guttural grunting sound as he impaled the body right through the xiphoid process under the sternum, "sometimes you just never know what surprises await."

Hmmmmf, he could hear on the other end of the line and comically enough, also in the room as Sherlock struck the manikin again. Rosie finally acquiesced, "I guess. It was as much the attitude he gave me as anything else. Oh, Travis is home. And he's carrying flowers! Gotta run, thanks dad, say hi to papa."

As the line disconnected, he watched as Sherlock began measuring the difference between the entry point and exit point under the manikin's head. His words to his daughter certainly had been well and truly learned. You just never know, indeed.

When John slid into the kitchen to heat up some takeaway for them both for dinner, he returned to the sitting room eventually to let Sherlock know dinner was ready. He was not particularly surprised to find Sherlock and the manikin having a (thankfully) one-sided discussion regarding angle of injury and mechanism of exsanguination.

++

"Dad?"

John and Sherlock had been just about to enter the restaurant, an early dinner, when his mobile had vibrated. An actual call, with Rosie's information on the caller ID. "Hey, how's the new mum-to-be holding up?"

"I don't know," she said, uncharacteristicly tentative and timid, and John's stomach dropped. He could hear the warble, the stress in her voice.

"Tell me," he coaxed, stepping along with Sherlock away from the doorway. "What's wrong, luv?"

"What's early labour feel like?"

"Early labour?" John asked with an instantly dry mouth. "It varies. What kind of symptoms are you having?"

The breath he could hear was wobbly, and he sensed Rosie was trying to hold it together. "Mostly back pain, not awful. Intermittent. It started a while ago, so I took a nap, or tried to, but now I'm actually able to time them. At least I think I can."

"Did you call your doctor yet?"

"What do you think this phone call is, dad?"

"Rosie. Your actual doctor."

"No. I wasn't sure if this was worth bothering him or not. I'm maybe just crampy, is all. Maybe I'm just..." Her voice broke a little, and the quiet sob nearly gave John chest pains. "It's too early for them to come!"

"Still, if you're concerned, it's best to get checked out, yeah?" he aimed for relaxed encouragement and thought he'd come across all right. "Twins can be a mite early, and, who knows? Maybe it's just that apparently my grandchildren want to meet me?"

Rosie was not impressed with John's attempt to make her feel better. "They were hoping I'd get to at least thirty-seven weeks. I'm only just over thirty-five."

As he'd done all her life, he knew and then gave her what she needed - calm, medical facts, and a solid plan. He steadied himself and posed a few questions, then asked, "Any bleeding?"

"I didn't think so, but now I'm wondering if maybe yesterday, there was some bloody show maybe. I didn't think too much of it then." The ragged breath gave John quite the visual picture of her holding the phone, hand rubbing over gravid belly, long ponytail bouncing as she worried at her lip. "Dad?"

He glanced down at his own hands, thinking that if ever there would be a tremor or shake in his hands related to anxiety, this would be the time. His hands were rock steady. "Okay here's what you're going to do. Hang up with me, call your doctor, who will almost certainly have you to go to the hospital. Travis should bring your bags ..."

"Travis is out of town. That three day trip, remember?" They'd mentioned it previously, wanting to make sure they'd be in the vicinity. Both John and Sherlock had assured Travis that they would be fully available if Rosie needed anything.

"Right, I do, of course. Did you call him yet?"

"I tried, he didn't pick up, not sure if there's bad service or if his mobile's acting up because it wouldn't let me leave a message." Her breathing was hitching a bit, and John waited while she whispered, "There's another one, four minutes since the last cramp," and John could hear something of a cleansing breath like he remembered so long ago, and then Rosie was speaking again, "so I called you."

Sherlock had moved to stand next to John so he could hear most of the conversation and at this moment breathed the words Travis is an idiot.

"I guess I'll have to find the number for the hotel, and try to find him that way." Rosie was rattled and he could hear her losing the tight control she'd been clinging to. He took a more assertive tone.

"Tell you what, you call your doctor. And your papa and I, we will find Travis." 

John had to turn away, keeping his mobile away from Sherlock as the git breathed quietly "and kill him."  But Sherlock had already pulled out his own mobile and was texting Mycroft.

"Maybe your neighbour, what's her name, Linda? Think she could drive you to the hospital?"

"Probably." There was a bit of sniffling, then she sounded better. "She's home anyway."

"Ask her, then, if that's what your doctor says to do."

"I'm not sure," she said, trying to control her emotions. "I think maybe I'll just lay down, and it'll stop."

"How long's this been going on?"

"A few hours now."

"And you already did lay down, and it's not stopping. Call your doctor, Rosie." He glanced at Sherlock, who was responding to an incoming text and seemed pleased - or otherwise fratricidal - that Mycroft was being helpful. "It's time."

"All right, I will."

"Call me if you want us to come and get you there at home. Otherwise, we'll meet you over at the hospital in a little bit."

John heard a gulping gasp, followed by a bit of a moan, and there were obviously tears beginning. "You think this is labour, then?"

"It might be. It might stop all on it's own, still, sweetheart, all right?"

"This is scary." Her voice was back to timid and unsure.

That very minute, John would have given half his kingdom, he thought, in order to be there by her side, to hug her, assure her that she could do this. "I know. They'll probably want to put you on the fetal monitors, make sure everything's all right. Do an internal, see if there's any changes since the last one." He turned to look at Sherlock, wanting to believe his own words to their frightened daughter. "I know it's scary." Welcome to parenthood, John thought. Apparently it doesn't really ever change.

Sherlock's hand twined in his own, and there was a reassuring squeeze. John was mildly surprised to discover that both of their hands were damp. "Hang up, call your doctor," John reiterated. "And hey baby," he said quietly and gently, hesitating only until she hummed in acknowledgement, "it's going to be fine. Just fine."

##

Mycroft had indeed quickly located Travis, somehow arranged for his quick travel to the hospital, and they had barely seen him (wide-eyed, overwhelmed, and excited) before he was whisked inside the OB unit to Rosie's side, at which point they'd been banished to the waiting room. And it had been hours now.

Of the three of them in the waiting room, Sherlock was the most restless, standing to pace, to stalk to the windows, to move to the doorway as if able to hasten the news, staring at the small intercom as if he could will it to give them more updates.

"Settle, please, would you?" Greg said, frustrated, to Sherlock and then over at John, meeting John's tolerant eyes. Sherlock flopped into a chair right next to Greg, likely simply to annoy him. "You're not helping at all here."

"This is why men in waiting rooms used to smoke while they waited." Sherlock took the newspaper Greg handed him, barely glanced at the headlines, declared it "Boring!" and then turned to John.

"No, I'm fresh out of patches," John said in not quite a sing-songy voice. "And you quit smoking twenty years ago."

Greg was wearing his typical smirk as he shook his head sadly at them both, "More's the pity for us," he said to no one in particular, although John snickered at the comment.

From the window where he'd paced again, Sherlock's return glare was immediate and at least partially amused. "So what did you think of the kids' choices for the names, yeah?" John's eyes widened and froze at Sherlock's provoking question, because he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that no one knew the names. Travis and Rosie had been tight-lipped and stalwart in their refusal to disclose anything about their choices. And if John's eyes were wide, Greg was almost apoplectic.

They were over at Baker Street one evening when it had come to a head, resulting in Rosie's raised voice. "You know it's a boy and a girl, and we will introduce you in person, papa, so stop asking. And stop asking other people to ask us. And stop glaring!" Rosie had finally had to tell them - meaning Sherlock, primarily - that the subject was closed and further machinations would result in drastic measures - and she'd then threatened them that they could bloody well find out anything further on bloody social media rather than in person at all. "And if you enlist Uncle Mycroft to somehow find out by kidnapping or any other unethical means, I swear I will name them both after him. Somehow!" At this point, John had dragged Sherlock off to the bedroom and behind the closed - well, okay, slammed - door he had threatened his very person, telling him that this was no longer even remotely funny and he was not to jeopardise their attendance at the hospital waiting room for the birth. And he reminded Sherlock of one other crucial bit of leverage - that naming them Mycroft of both male and female varieties was even more frightening than the mould experiments and body part shenanigans that used to go in the kitchen.

Greg's speech center was still off-line, and Sherlock wasn't done poking the sleeping bear yet, adding, "Clever, we thought, wouldn't you say, John?"

Greg took the piss, unfortunately, and with a very flushed face and wild eyes stood up, himself, to square off with Sherlock. The spluttering and flushed face made Sherlock smug. "What? I have no idea, how dare they, did they tell you, I can't believe they would do -" and then he caught sight of John's facepalm, seeing both of their shoulders beginning to shake with mirth. "Oh, you're a right tosser, you are. Bloody both of you."

##

"In ascending order of height," John insisted as they followed the nurse's quick strides leading to the room where Rosie, Travis, and the newborns waited for the grandparents to arrive.

"Age order, youngest first," Sherlock suggested even as he let John into the lead.

"I would suggest by closest association of last name, these kids have the surname Lestrade, therefore..."

John chuckled at that. "I could still find fourteen ways to maim you. Murder, perhaps."

"And the crime would be unsolvable given that I can neither be forced to investigate nor testify against my own husband." Sherlock spoke quietly to Greg.

The nurse was grinning too at their antics as she stopped at the door and made sure to keep quite far out of their path. "Right in here, then."

Rosie was smiling broadly from the bed, arms full of a bundle wearing a pink hat, while Travis looked both thrilled and completely overwrought with his hip half-on, half-off the mattress next to her, holding a similarly-bundled, blue-topped tiny armful. There was a nurse still straightening up, packing away delivery supplies, covering fetal monitors and such, but was completely ignored and eventually slid from the room unnoticed. No one had eyes for anything other than the occupants of the bed. All four of them.

John actually managed first access, and quickly embraced Rosie, whose face was flushed with happiness (and likely exertion) and eyes gleaming. He kissed the side of her head, then eased back. "Congratulations, honey, we knew you'd be amazing. Feeling all right?"

The smile was wide in answer, but she said quietly, "Mostly, but ouch!" She nodded then, sharing a sweet smile with Travis and then looked down at the baby.

John was struck with the notion that his baby had just had two babies. Reminiscing, his hand came to Rosie's head first, then shifted to cradle the tiny baby in her arms and lingered there overtop Rosie's hands. "They're beautiful of course. And good sized." Despite being early, they were both quite a respectable birthweight. John glanced from one baby to the other, his voice initially thick and then too choked up to say much more.

"So," Sherlock said from the foot of the bed while Greg stood just a bit awkwardly, hands in his pockets, "please introduce us to Bonnie and Clyde."

"As if," Travis sparred with him. "Guess again. And it's not Amy and Rory, either."

Rosie laughed. "Not that you wouldn't have if I'd agreed to it."

"I think not," Greg said from his close vantage point. "I'm begging, please, just out with it!"

"This is Marie," Rosie said.

"And this is Artie," Travis added, and then they both burst into sharp, staccato, short-lived laughter. Even Greg rolled his eyes at their silly, dark humour.

"Dear lord, you're out of control," Sherlock muttered, and wisely decided to forgo any reference to medication induced giddiness. "Please. And contrary to what you may have been told, Sherlock is actually not a girls name."

Travis glanced at them all, still smiling, "No worries there," and while John chuckled and Sherlock bristled slightly, Travis held out his arms toward John. "Want to officially meet your grandson? This is Evan."

John was unprepared for the lump in his throat, recognising immediately the Welsh version of his own name as he found his arms full of a wriggling, fair skinned bundle. "Nice to meet you, Evan. Finally," he said and then cleared his throat a bit, of necessity, further words failing him. Tiny hands, tiny fingers came up toward the small face, and John was simply awed. Travis picked up his mobile which was close by, and a few photos were taken to commemorate the moment.

"Speechless, thank god," Sherlock said fondly, his arm brushing up behind John's back in a comforting reminder of his presence. "So, Rosie...?" and his free hand gestured at the baby still in her arms.

"I figured you'd like to guess, actually."

"It's not a guess," he said confidently, with an almost imperious know-it-all expression. "I suspect that her name is Catherine. Cat, for short."

Travis simply stared. "I don't know how he does it, or why I am still surprised." He nudged at Rosie, "You're sure you didn't tell him?"

"Of course not." She brushed lovingly over the baby in her arms, her hand coming to rest on Travis' leg next to her, then focused on Sherlock. "How did you know?"

He shared a look with John, both of them remembering that Catherine had been John's name choice before Rosamund was in fact settled upon, chosen by Mary. And while they loved everything about Rosie including her name, that moment had been particularly rough. There was the faintest reluctance in John's eyes, a plea not to dwell on the past, and so Sherlock smiled elusively. "Lucky guess."

"No it wasn't. You never guess." Rosie looked at him pointedly, challenging him, and waited for an explanation, which Sherlock definitely had no intention of giving without John's approval.

John watched as Greg impatiently cleared his throat, held out his hands. The baby slid gently from Rosie to Travis' father, full head of silver hair bent low as he grinned, ignoring the rest of the room for long minutes. 

John stood close to Rosie until Sherlock hooked a chair with his foot, dragged it over. Once seated, John leaned back in closer to Rosie, still holding Evan, the baby completely holding their attention. The baby sort of between them, John pressed in close again to Rosie, and said quietly, "Catherine was one of the names your mum and I had considered for you." A safe and mostly true response. "It's beautiful, and it suits her perfectly."

Travis was all grins, big smiles, and long arms as he hugged Rosie. His lips pressed into her hair, both of them smiling together with their eyes closed, at peace. There were several minutes of quiet solitude as John continued to watch his grandson in his arms, awake, eyes open, mouth open, faint blond hair in wisps under the little blue knit cap.

It was Sherlock who finally broke the lovely and victorious mood with a rather intolerant demand. "All right, you've both had long turns. For all I've said about twins, perhaps triplets would have been preferable, seeing that there are three of us and only two of them. So one of you, give over," he fussed imperiously.

The photo would later be framed of Sherlock holding not just one baby but both twins, with his smiles and laugh lines, eyes sparkling as he held both babies cradled safely in those long arms. 

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

If you like the lack of angst and the happy place this ends right here, there are two things, dear reader, that you should know:

1.  You may stop right here, and certainly quit this chapter now, scroll down (or up), move on with things, and wait for the last and final chapter of this series (seriously, it's almost all written), or

2.  Proceed knowing that the remainder of this chapter will ultimately end in a very nice, happy, satisfying place. It is a bit of a rough journey from here to there, and not medical in nature.  The twins are fine, the couples presently together are still together.  The focus of the story is Rosie and Travis, with a heavy helping of John's assistance. Rosie and Travis did not arrive where they are in a vacuum - they are the product of their respective upbringings, of nature and nurture, and all that comes with it.

You have been warned. And I do want to assure you, like John said to Rosie, it will be okay.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Dad."

Rosie's voice was tight and upset, angry and filled with something that instantly and fiercely triggered a huge protective streak within John. "I'm here." He could tell by inflection and by his gut instinct, that something was terribly, seriously wrong. Damn mobile ringing, not a good sign in most cases. He gripped it, tight.

"Can you come?" The tightly veiled control was being gripped. "Now?" There were small baby sounds, and John could well envision her holding one of the twins, trying to comfort or quiet or feed as she talked.

"I'll be right there." All of Sherlock's radar was tightly focused on John as he stood still and unmoving from across the room. "We will."

"Thanks. Hurry." He could just barely hear the broken sob before the line disconnected.

++

Rosie had nursed Evan while Sherlock changed Cat's nappy, then John coaxed a soft belch from Evan and tucked him on his back in the bassinette, while Rosie then fed Cat. The story had come out in agitated details - an inappropriate conversation, an indiscretion - punctuated with tears and the occasional profanity. From time to time, when one of those slipped out, she was not-subtly reminding anyone who heard it and knew John, that she was indeed his daughter through and through.

The somber group ended up in the living room, all three angry in varying degrees, where Rosie's red face vacillated between distraught and infuriated, and she seemed ready to collapse. She had been mid-sentence, unwilling to speak the rest, and ended with a forlorn, "So I told him to get out."

"Of course you did. He's fortunate there wasn't bodily injury," Sherlock breathed.

"And fortunate he was not facing either of us right at that moment," said John, trying to be calm, and deliberately did not look at Sherlock at all, not wanting to somehow make things any harder on any of them.

"Are you sure you have it right?" Sherlock again. Seeker of facts, truth, and without a doubt looking for confirmation before letting his anger consume him, or looking for a valid reason to unleash something on his son-in-law, John wondered.

"He said nothing happened. But the text messages on his phone are ... horrible. Flirty. Inappropriate for a married father of two. And they've been texting for a couple of weeks now." She poked at Travis's smashed mobile on the table and the screen lit up behind the starburst of broken glass. "He's lucky it was only this thrown at his head. Instead of a knife or a chair. And he is damned lucky nothing happened." Anger gave way almost right away to tears. "Supposedly."

"You don't believe him?" John asked quietly.

"I want to," she said in a soft answer. "I'm not sure, it was ..." and the tears started again. With a minimum of movement, now that the babies were finally down for a nap, John eased his arms around Rosie on the couch, settling her head into his shoulder. Finally, the hug he'd been itching for since the call earlier. Her tears quieted after a bit until there were only intermittent, shaky sobs of her shoulders. And a bit of snuffling, for which Sherlock located and handed her a kleenex. Rosie wiped her face, set the tissue aside, and eased back from John's embrace. "Sorry about your shirt."

"I'm not, it's one of the uglier ones anyway," Sherlock said quietly, deadpan. "No harm."

"Bit not good," Rosie offered sideways, smirking, having heard the phrase thrown at her papa often enough.

"Still true."

John glanced at the video monitor, where one of the babies was moving about, and there was the distinct noise of thumb-sucking. "So, sweetheart. There's no rush, no pressure, but what do you want right now?" He brushed some of the hair back, tucking it behind her ear, brushing at the well-healed hole at the top of her ear that she'd done as a teen. Both smiled at the poke and the memory. "What do you need from us, because you've got it, you know."

The sigh was both sad and resigned. "God, this bloody hurts." Glancing between Sherlock and John, she gave a small smile, then blew out a shaky exhale and her eyes filled again. "I don't know, I just didn't want to be alone." John's hand made large, slow circles on her back, smoothing her hair out of the way, and could feel her shaky exhales still.

Sherlock was looking out the window at the front of the flat. "Careful what you wish for. You're about to not be alone even further." His voice gentled as both Rosie and John looked at him expectantly, slightly dreading the words they knew were coming next. "Travis and Greg have just arrived."

The front walk to the door passed by the window of the room where they were, and there was an awkward moment of eye contact through the glass. And John felt a slight relief when Travis looked more than a little fearful. His own emotions ran to more than a little furious, skin tingling, fists ready to clench. How dare he? A deep breath went a long way, helped him de-escalate, and the irony was not lost on him. Not by a long shot. Text messages, nothing happened, it was nice getting to know you a little...

"No." Rosie stood, picked up the monitor, tears replaced again with irritation. "I am not ready to talk to him. And I don't want to hear what he has to say right now." She disappeared down the hallway, and the door shut carefully after her.

"If he's smart, he'll send Greg in first," Sherlock breathed as the footsteps sounded out on the landing.

"Human shield?" John quipped, getting to his feet, crossing to the door.

A quick rap and the outside door opened just as John pulled back on the inside one, intentionally, which left he and Travis almost toe-to-toe in one of the most awkward moments anyone present had likely ever encountered. The younger man clearly would have preferred to be anywhere but right there, with his wife's father apparently eager to administer some (supposedly) well-deserved justice. His cheeks were flushed, and he looked as if he'd been scolded all the way there. A brief glance at Greg's thoroughly displeased expression let them all know that that may have actually been the case.

Had anyone warned John that he would be standing in his daughter's home while she was crying in her bedroom over some folly of his son-in-law, he would completely have predicted punches first, no talking necessary. But that was not entirely the case, although he was plenty angry. Later, Sherlock would remind him that an angry yet quiet John Watson is actually infinitely more lethal, more dangerous than the fighting and yelling one. And much more intimidating.

"Travis," he said quickly, firing the first volley, a warning shot, as it were.

"John," Travis began, at first scanning the entirety of the room searching for Rosie, but then he glanced directly at John's solemn, intense face. Unable to maintain that for very long, he suddenly found something interesting about his shoes, the open door, and his face was both pale and flushed at the same time.

Sherlock addressed his questioning glance, and answered, "She's here. The babies are napping." Greg was still just outside the door, simply looking unhappily on and with a large degree of frustration apparent on his face as well. John's plan solidified, knowing that something had to be done to help begin to get this sorted. "A word, please. Let's step outside, shall we?" John said as pleasantly as he could muster even as he could feel both Sherlock's and Greg's eyes riveted on him. His rhetorical question had still come across shakingly furious despite his efforts. Travis's alarm was as palpable as a stinging London rainstorm, and all of them could see his panic. For a brief moment, John held out both hands, palms forward, as if to indicate that Sherlock and Greg were both to stay put, that he was all right and had it all under control. "Believe me, if I was planning on hitting you, I'd've done it already."

"I ..."

"Not really the kind of thing you're going to want to decline," Sherlock advised in a low, stage whisper, and Travis, trying not to gulp audibly, merely nodded.

"All right."

With wide eyes and heart pittering a fast beat, Travis turned about and headed outside again, wordlessly past his father, away from the house, leaving John to follow, and the men wondered for a brief moment if Travis might actually turn tail and run. Sherlock handed off John's jacket to a waiting arm, then stared at two receding backs as Greg came inside and the door closed.

++

A span of time had passed when Rosie appeared, and then her hurt face turned to quite surprised when they told her that Travis and John had gone for a walk, that John had wanted to talk with him.

Greg had said very little since coming inside, but at Rosie's speechlessness and very visible fear, he could only shake his head and state, "He didn't bring that unregistered, unlicensed gun, did he?"

The little frown and quiet gasp from Rosie gave Greg pause, and when Sherlock didn't confirm or deny the presence of John's revolver, Greg continued, "I'm fairly certain he has learned a bit of self-control after living with you for all these years."

"Not helpful," Rosie moaned. "Not helpful at all." She eased into a chair. "Although perhaps not a bad idea," she said, darkly, at which Greg's eyebrow's raised and he shook his head sadly.

"They're fine, and I have no idea if John's armed or not. When we got the call, we had no idea what we were walking into. I'm thinking John just wanted to instill a little fear of god in him." Sherlock actually was a bit surprised at John's quick decision and that he wasn't more visibly, fist-ready angry upon first seeing Travis. All too well he could recall the handful of times he'd been on the receiving end of John's violent temper, and he worked hard at not rubbing his face or his ribs at the distant memory.

"Or the fear of John Watson, which might actually be worse," Greg said. "I don't envy Travis that, mate. Not one little bit."

From the table where Travis's crushed mobile lay, it made a pathetic, discordant ping of an incoming text message. It riled Rosie up, and incensed, she nearly snarled. "If that's her again, he'd better stay out of this house for a bloody long time."

"Perhaps you'd like a hammer to finish the job?" Greg asked lightly, hoping the question would not be offensive.

Their eyes met, held. "For the mobile or for your son?" she asked even as her gaze narrowed, a bit of a caustic edge to her voice.

Greg hedged, his face flushing and his loyalties at least partially divided between his son, who was perhaps not being particularly wise, and his daughter-in-law, who had been hurt. "I was thinking for the mobile, actually."

Sherlock was looking perplexed. "I wonder which Travis would have chosen, had we offered him Rosie with a hammer in the living room, or Rosie's dad with his fists on the kerb."

"You've been playing too much Cluedo. But it's a good question," Greg shrugged, picking up one of the baby blankets that had been sitting on the chair next to him, flicking at the hem nervously.

Rosie offered beverages to Sherlock (who declined) and Greg (who accepted a pint) and moments later, there was thin crying coming through the baby monitor, and as they seemed wont to do, one twin woke the other. All in all, as they waited for John and Travis to return, not a bad diversion. 

++

Travis fell into step next to John, who donned his jacket and zipped it. They walked in weighty silence for a moment until they were out of view of the flat. "You're not luring me off somewhere to dispose of me, are you?" The directness of the question was at least appreciated, and John let his gait slow.

"Should I?" John studied his son-in-law. "Seems you have rather upset my daughter."

"I guess that depends." Travis's chin raised not quite imperceptibly. "Nothing happened."

"That's not entirely true, is it?" There was a stubbornness to Travis's silence, and John made a conscious effort to breathe and not to yell. Or more than only yell. "Tell me, Travis, where is your mobile right now?"

"I have no idea, exactly," he said, somewhat truthfully. "Last I saw it was flying at my head."

"Have you seen the condition it's in?" John asked him, then moved on, not wishing to be side-tracked. "Smashed up pretty good, from what I could see." He kept walking again and Travis followed next to him. "And with good reason, so it seems. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Nothing happened," he said again, and it was not quite a whining tone, but close to it.

John held up a hand. "This moment I have no intention of hurting you for hurting her, none at all, but if you say that again, I may reconsider. Understand?" Again with big eyes, he nodded. "I have a bit of a tale for you, something Rosie doesn't know. And after I'm done, if you'd like to tell her later, obviously that is your prerogative. And I'm all right if you choose to." He swallowed hard, the decision made. "Sherlock knows, of course."

There was a walking path through a park not far off from their house, one that John had thought, when the twins were older, it would be great fun and a nice walking outing, a small playground, benches, paths, a garden. Given that it was not crowded this time of day, John turned there as he began to solemnly tell his story. With truthful words, he plunged in, "Rosie was only a couple of months old when..." and he managed to explain about the woman he'd met on a crowded bus so very long ago, the thrill of a new interest, the exciting exchange of phone numbers, the flirting that started mostly innocently. He related that it had continued, messages only, until the temptation was such that finally he knew he was going to act on it, or that he needed to end it. He explained how tired he and Mary had been, busy with careers, the demands of life, how they'd no time for anything but a rather needy baby who didn't sleep much.

"And we only had one baby to deal with," he said softly. "So I can't imagine how tired you both are."

"Rosie gets up mostly," he whispered, his eyes tight as if he was just putting some of the pieces together. "So I don't have to." John hadn't known that, of course, and when Travis looked at him to see seething hostility in his face, he added, "I mean, she's nursing them, and I..." He let his excuse trail off.

John did not mention all the non-feeding things that still went on at night and that could have been done, and the silence John let hang was more convicting than any words he could have said. When he continued, it was while staring off along the skyline, speaking words aloud of a time he didn't think about too often. "And so I ended it with her, told her I wasn't free, that this wouldn't end well. Or at least I thought I had, but she found me again, and the connection hadn't really been broken." With quiet words, he left off the details about who the woman had been, simply explaining that Rosie's mum had died shortly after that point in time, and things halted, ended, irrevocably changed, and the break between John and the other woman permanently severed. "I have told myself for a long time that I was very fortunate that there was not an affair per se, of the physical type, but deep down, it might as well have been." Travis's eyes watched John's carefully, and John could still remember the guilt. "There was definitely an affair of the heart, you see. I was so very tempted." John stopped there with his words, and Travis seemed to almost miss a step and John knew he'd hit a nerve. "I think that's the more hurtful kind for a spouse, when emotion gets involved." Deliberately, he paused again, letting that sink in. "The other woman was meeting a need I had no business bringing to her. Mary never knew, but I did. And the guilt was ..." John's mind wandered to how, after Mary was gone, that he had heard her voice, had full on conversations with her, and how he had confessed to Sherlock about his divided attention, about the interest he'd had, what had almost happened. He recalled Sherlock's tender embrace in the living room at Baker Street. "... consuming. It almost ruined me."

As John had expected, Travis had no words. His expression, though, was guarded and serious, one of processing. And of identifying with John's story. And with his shame.

"A few things I have learned, having gone through that and the loss my family suffered, is that you can never think you're immune and never, ever let down your guard." John offered the bench that they were passing, in case Travis wanted to sit there, but he declined, and John didn't blame him for that. It was easier, smoother, less confrontational to keep walking. "Before I agreed to wear another wedding ring, Sherlock and I had a lot of really hard discussions, about acceptable boundaries. With our line of work, I was concerned about, you know, needing to compromise, or some other perhaps negotiable reason. We're very solid now, but it required some really hard discussions. And we have a commitment that transcends everything and everyone else, if you understand."

The whispered response, when it came, was quiet and monotone. "I think I do."

John shoved his hands in his pockets, steps still confident and sure, but his mouth quiet. He'd said enough, and opted to let the silence finish the job, give Travis time to reflect as they walked.

"Thank you for telling me. Trusting me with that." Travis seemed contrite, sincere. "And for not punching me."

The anger inside himself, John realised, was almost down to a very low simmer. His family was hurting, and he wanted to bring healing rather than inflict additional pain. "Eh, the afternoon is still young, you know."

++

"So what on earth did you say to Travis? Whatever it was, he won't tell me. But we talked long into the night, about a lot of things, dad, and ..." 

"I've given Travis permission to tell you."

"Yeah, well, he won't."

"Then perhaps it is not your concern. Not relevant." John tried to deliver that kindly, as he manoeuvered the double push chair on the sidewalk in the park. "I'm just glad things seem better."

"He checks in more, little texts or quick phone calls when he can. He's been careful to let me know every time he goes somewhere, when he'll be back, what he's doing."

"Rebuilding trust takes all of that effort. And time." John could definitely identify with having trust issues, and he and Sherlock had not come by that easily.

"I know." In the buggy, Evan lost his dummy, started to fuss, and Rosie righted that little problem before it grew to a bigger deal. "Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to ask you."

"Fire away," John told her.

"Well, just to get away every so often, Travis was thinking maybe if you and papa could come babysit one night a month, we would grab dinner out, if we could stay awake long enough," she said with a wry grin. He was already nodding. "And his dad would maybe come on a different night every now and again, just so we could have time without the babies."

"Date night. Of course," he reiterated.

"It'd be easier if you could come to our place, so we don't have to lug half the house over..."

"I already said yes."

Steadily, she looked at him with a frown. "I was expecting more of an argument."

"Why would you have to plead your case? It's important. We understand. Sherlock and I had Mrs. Hudson right downstairs when you got to be too much of a handful and we needed a night out."

Rosie nodded, the mention of Mrs. Hudson bringing a sweet smile to her face, then she grew serious. "So you're not still angry at him? At Travis?"

"Not especially." John considered her. "Matters more what you think."

"We'll be okay." Rosie gestured to the bench, their usual destination, and sat down when he nodded his agreement. "So will you tell me someday what you guys talked about? Obviously it must've been pretty good material."

He kept his face calm and hopefully unreadable, but knew he couldn't stop the smile lines at her determination. "Mind your own business, young lady."

"He's a good man, dad. I'm glad you're not still mad."

"You wouldn't have chosen him if he wasn't worth it."

"We have our moments, I guess. It's hard. But the talking, and I mean really hard, deep stuff, has been a good start." Cat started to fuss, then, and Rosie picked her up, handed her off immediately to John. "Know what I mean?"

John's history with Sherlock - all of the rough patches of their own, the hard times, the separations, the drama, the challenges - were in his mind, and he now, looking back, wouldn't change a thing about it. Their difficulties, and the very hard discussions they'd eventually had, were what made them stronger, immutable, forever. "Of course I do."

Across the park, a dog barked, families played, a bird flew overhead, the leaves rustled in the trees under the partially sunny sky, and a youngster giggled loudly from down the path. John picked up Rosie's hand with his, brushed his thumb over her bright and shiny wedding rings, drawing her attention to their joined hands, where his own ring resided, a bit of wear and tear over the years, but more meaningful for it, and Rosie sighed. "Beautiful day, yeah?"

Chapter Text

Sherlock laid down against the pillow, breathing hard, his chest heaving, the center of his sternum throbbing, muscles in his arms trembling and shaky.  John held his upper arm, eyes peering carefully into Sherlock’s dilated ones, the unspoken and unnecessary question - are you quite all right? - hovering in the air between them. The tee shirt Sherlock was wearing, bright white and very soft, John smoothed it back down over his ribs, making sure the wrinkles disappeared. His tender fingers slid carefully along Sherlock’s tingling skin at his waist, hypersensitive, then back to the shirt's front, a tender caress meant to soothe. His fingers just barely touched lightly, skimming along the center ridge, a quirky lopsided smile appeared then as he noticed Sherlock’s breath, a sigh, take it down a notch, relax.

Sherlock’s hand came up along John’s, his fingers brushing against John’s analytic, clinical ones, protective and curious. His chin dipped down as he looked at their hands, their fingers, touching the border of the aquacell dressing.

“I always thought it would be me first.” John edged a hip onto the bed, careful not to jostle the mattress. “You know, my genes and all.”

"That and your rather advanced age."

"Piss off, you."

“I have always been rather competitive.” Sherlock let his head ease back, gingerly, testing his limits. "Not that I wouldn't have given you first opportunity in this case, had I the choice."

“Well, maybe next time, don’t hurry so much up these bloody steps, yeah?” Please, no next time, let's not do this again. The smile they shared spoke exactly that, and more. No more medical scares please, at all.

“Just surgical pain, the incision. Not exertional. And not at all like before.” His breath eased, a slow steady exhale, and he continued. "And I wasn't hurrying up the steps, but I have been very ready to get home."

"Probably as much as the hospital was ready to be rid of you."

In answer, Sherlock smiled, face easy, laugh lines at his mouth and eyes. It was a settled smile, one of relief and of agreement.

“Sometimes people complain they can feel the wires settling, the two sides of the sternum kind of grating for the first couple of days. Week, maybe.”

Sherlock shook his head, pursed his lips, laid his palm more flat over the gel dressing that covered his entire sternum. John thought, not for the first time, that he was glad the incision was completely covered. Hopefully, he considered, it would keep Sherlock's inquisitive investigations surrounding his own wound to a minimum.

“I’ll wake you for lunch? Or do you want to just call me, or text me, when you want help back out to the kitchen?” His eyes flicked to Sherlock's mobile, within easy reach of the bed.

“Neither. You’re joining me.”

“I have stuff …” John began to protest, then heard the undertone, the nature of the request. He wanted John, wanted him nearby, needed his presence to be able to settle, to rest, to grasp that restorative sleep, where healing would begin. “Of course. A nap sounds …” he began again, then turned a sharp glance to Sherlock, a brow raised in caution. “No funny stuff.”

“God, John. Your mind, seriously. Is that what you think?”

“I could almost hear your thoughts when they were telling you about resuming sexual activities. And I’m surprised you didn’t just blurt out the first thing you were thinking.” John's shoes hit the floor, followed by his belt, and he tucked his toes under the duvet, pulled it up to both of their waists. As was his usual sleeping position, he was facing Sherlock, arm tucked under his head and pillow, knees bent, while Sherlock remained supine, supported on his own pillows, looking rigid and uncomfortable. “You’re good on meds until dinnertime, right?”

“Yes, and if you hand me one of them ever again and ask for my name and date of birth, I’m not going to be responsible for my actions.”

“You do realise you’re not all that responsible at baseline.”

“You probably don’t want to start issuing challenges when we’ve only just arrived home.”

“No worries. I know your name and date of birth. I might ask you about something else…” They both immediately could recall the barrage of questions over the past whirlwind of days since Sherlock's emergent CABG - coronary artery bypass grafting surgery.

Before John could ask a single question, Sherlock answered preemptively. “No I’m not hungry. No I don’t want a pain pill. Yes I’m warm enough. No it doesn’t hurt when I pee. Yes, I feel my stomach grumbling; yes, bowel function has returned. No, my ankles aren't swollen any longer. Left knee at incision site only a little tender. And yes, I am remembering to take deep breaths - ten times every hour while awake, which is every bloody hour of every bloody day because no one leaves me alone...”  He continued a few minutes, a few other sentences, until John gave up, slid his body a bit closer, placing one knee carefully over Sherlock’s non-incisioned thigh, an arm just below Sherlock’s waist away from any incisions, chest tube sites, epicardial pacer wires, or anything else that might still hurt. Dragging his pillow close to Sherlock’s shoulder, he tucked his own head close to Sherlock’s skin, his gaze landing point blank on the plaster that had been placed over where the large bore introducer of the internal jugular line had been in his neck. Sherlock hesitated, then, his tirade over and largely ineffective at getting a rise out of John as intended. “What are you doing?”

“Gee, I thought this was what you wanted.” John knew his voice sounded tentative, but the whole situation from Sherlock's body to his position to even the way he smelled of generic hospital soap and lotion was foreign and awkward feeling. It was no wonder that Sherlock was protesting. "My company, as requested."

“Shove closer. My shoulder is fine, your hand feels funny there, I swear I’m not about to break. It doesn’t feel like you next to me like this, and it’s unsettling.” John made a few minor adjustments and could feel Sherlock’s tension abate some.

“Didn’t sleep well without me?” John asked the question, softened it with the brush of his hand again very lightly over where he knew the chest tube sutures had been, vying for a space closer to Sherlock’s chest without hurting him.

“You know I didn’t. I’d wager you didn’t either.”

“No. This is much nicer.”

“How long did the surgeon say we had to wait again?”

“I think it was more about the arm restrictions and stressing the wires in your sternum. He didn’t give you a specific number of weeks, why?”

“Because I’m hard.” Sherlock's voice was raspy and low, a confession he obviously didn't want to be making.

“No.” The quickness of John's reply was automatic and serious.

"You mentioned it first. You said no funny stuff." John could feel Sherlock's arm tighten around his back. "And in doing so, you issued a challenge."

"Sherlock."

"You woke him up. This is your fault."

"Deep breath. We're absolutely not doing that after you're only home five minutes."

Sherlock wanted to argue that it had been at least an hour, wisely held his tongue as his mind worked out several resolutions and tried to calculate probabilities of what he could get away with.

"No," John said again, soothingly, his own body attempting to convey peace, tranquility, and hopefully something akin to a brick wall of non-responsiveness to Sherlock's quivering tension.

In answer, Sherlock made a few grinding motions with his pelvis. "I can't believe you, a man of medical sciences, doesn't want to help me. See if he still works at the very least, after all that's been done..."

“No, Sherlock. Seriously. I’ll get up, leave you to rest.” Pushing away very minimally at first, John scooted back and then off the edge of the bed before he could be grabbed, held, dragged, and otherwise coerced into staying. “You’re in pain. You’re supposed to be resting, taking it easy. The arm restrictions were six to eight weeks, so seriously, just ignore it…” and even as he talked, he could feel disapproval radiating off Sherlock in waves. Tall waves. Angry waves. “You’re on a beta-blocker, which can really affect blood flow.”

“Does it look like blood flow has in any way been affected?” Sherlock gently pulled back the duvet, lifting it to make sure John could see how tented his lounge pants were, and even from the side of the bed, John could see the few dots of wetness on the pyjamas. “Tell me. I’m waiting.”

“Not especially. But you really shouldn’t stress yourself, get your heart rate elevated.”

“So this state isn’t stressful? Shouldn’t you be acting like the domestic partner you are --"

"Husband."

"Fine, husband -- and relieving me of this stressful state?”

“I really don’t think it’s advisable.”

"Your argument about arm restrictions does not apply if I lay here nicely here on my back, by the way."

"Sherlock."

“Oh.” Sherlock brought his hand to his forehead. “I got it now. You’re the one who’s afraid.”

“With good reason. You had no warning signs, just sudden crushing chest pain. And three vessels bypassed. Three!”

“As you mentioned, the beta blocker should be protective. And we have nitro spray here if there’s pain. Which there won’t be. Unless you fail to help me and take care of this.” John could see Sherlock's jaw clench, his shoulders tense with irritation, and watched his eyes closed in something akin to defeat. And even as he was moved with compassion, he was quite aware that he was being played, beyond the shadow of a doubt. John could feel the very moment when he knew he was going to give in, knew it was nutters even as he knew in some ways, Sherlock was right and that he should choose his battles cautiously. The surrender was right between 'if I don’t do this for him he will do it himself' and 'he may have a point that relieving his frustration may be a good thing'.

“Fine.” If nothing else, perhaps it would help him sleep. John knew he was rationalising, knew he should, in all likelihood, leave Sherlock and hope he would fall asleep anyway, without stressing his body any further. Over the last decades they'd been together, everyone - everyone - knew John Watson had a difficult time saying no to Sherlock Holmes.

Abruptly, Sherlock turned his head to look over at John, who stood, hands on his hips, head bowed, by the side of the bed. “Wait, what? Did you actually agree?”

“Yes, it’s what you wanted.” Even so, John smiled at the apparent surprise in Sherlock's tone.

"Still surprising me after all these years," he said quietly, more to himself. “I didn’t actually expect you to go along with it.”

“My way," John warned. "My way or not at all.” John’s voice was low, calm, serious.

“I believe I’m already getting my way, if we’re going to be technically accurate.”

“Sherlock.”

“Fine. If it makes you feel better, you may certainly think of this as your way.”

“Hands at your sides. Under no circumstance, even right at the end, especially at orgasm, are you to hold your breath. Any pain, this is over. If I feel any irregular pulse, this is over. And don't think I won't be checking. Constantly. And if you have any kind of … event, I’m going to deny any knowledge whatsoever about what may have contributed it. You are also sworn to secrecy."

"If I survive said event, you mean."

"And no just blurting out to the surgeon at your next appointment, anything about this. No posting details on your blog. No rubbing it in my face, particularly if we are out in public." He waited until Sherlock at least nodded in acknowledgement of his conditions. "I can still change my mind. Your comment about survival is not helping your case in the least bit."

“Fine.”

John folded back the duvet and reached for his pyjama pants, tugged them only to Sherlock’s mid thigh, found the lube from the bedside table drawer, tucked it under his arm to warm it.  Tucking himself back up toward Sherlock’s head, he leaned in, gently touching Sherlock’s still mildly stubbled jaw, kissed three times. The touch of the jaw was reminiscent of when he’d seen Sherlock immediately post op, connected to a ventilator, endotracheal tube taped securely to this very jaw. His mouth had, of course, due to the tube, been open slightly, the smallest amount of saliva pooling there in the corner of his lip until John obtained permission from the CVICU nurse to suction it gently. Sherlock had been still, unmoving, unreversed from the anaesthesia at that time. There had been both pleural and mediastinal chest tubes, temporary epicardial pacing wires (unneeded, thank god), urinary catheter, pulmonary artery catheter, arterial line, a few cardiovascular medications infusing for the short, postoperative term. As the hours and then days progressed, each time John had seen him, there had been a few less tubes and lines. But the oral endotracheal tube had been the worst. Sherlock remembered almost all of it, vividly recalling the weaning processes, the horrible state of being awake and unable to talk, of the narcotic ebb and flow of analgesia. John would be glad to never look back on those times even as he couldn't unsee what Sherlock had looked like and the distress they'd both been in.

Sherlock's jaw now, tape-free and fully functional, however, changed shape as he reached for and clasped John's hand. When John turned his eyes to Sherlock, he smiled. “Stop it, stop remembering. We’re through that part.”

John blew out a breath, words coming - and not coming - with difficulty as he considered the turbulent waters they had both navigated over the last five days. I know, he wanted to say, we're fine, he wanted to add, but the hoarse dryness of his throat prevented him. But...

A long-fingered hand brushed at the faintly moist corner of John's eye, brushing over temple, cheek, into the silvery light brown hair. "I know," Sherlock breathed, slowly and gently. "We're fine." The fact that Sherlock had known the words John wanted, and uttered them for him, was grounding and intimate. "I promise." He left unspoken the actual promises, but John knew it was multi-faceted: to tell you if I have pain, to not die, to take it easy, to recover, to hold you, to always be there for you, to grow old with you...

John's hand trembled mildly as he stroked down Sherlock's ribs, over the flat plane of his abdomen, tickling in the curling hairs that led southward from his navel. "I should mention to you that this is going to be by manipulation only. I have no intention of swallowing anything." A flick of the bottle of lube, a dollop of liquid, a soft thump of the bottle as John tossed it aside.

"I love it when you talk dirty to me," Sherlock said, teasing, pressing up into John's then slicked hand. "I suppose you have a reason?"

"Of course." The sound of lubricated skin and sliding seemed loud in the stillness of the room for a moment, and John smiled as he caught Sherlock's eye. "All the medications you've had over the last five days would absolutely have to taste terribly bitter."

"I don't suppose..." Sherlock ventured.

"No. Not going to change my mind." John leaned up on an elbow, hand continuing to slide, and he used his other hand boldly to find Sherlock's femoral artery as threatened, reassured by the regular, steady thrum of Sherlock's pulse. Quickly, he calculated the heart rate in the high sixties. "There you go, close your eyes, luv." Slick, slide, more pressure, the slightest furrow of Sherlock's forehead. John watched Sherlock's heels dig into the mattress, his thighs tensed. "Deep breath, in and out, steady on." He could feel the imminence of Sherlock's completion, the thickening and throbbing in his hand, the hitch in Sherlock's breath. Shifting quickly, he let his other hand reach down low, pressing firmly those sensitive areas while Sherlock couldn't keep his hips from rising just a bit off the bed. Pulse rate elevated, John could tell, to the low seventies. "Here we go," John breathed, sliding his fingertip to that place where he knew the pressure would hasten things along. Sherlock's eyes snapped open, pupils blown, to meet John's loving gaze and they held there even as Sherlock moaned aloud, breathing deeply, hips tensed and tight, John's fingers now holding still as Sherlock coiled, breathed, tensed, breathed, released, "Beautiful," John whispered, pressing his lips to an unmarked and unscarred area of Sherlock's ribs.

Idly, he wiped off carefully Sherlock's pelvis and his hands, and pulled the duvet up covering them both. Even breathing and a light embrace told the rest of the story as two tired, satisfied men dozed. The shadow from behind the curtain changed angles slightly as the afternoon ambled away slowly.

++

Neither heard the key in the lock, nor the quiet footsteps of their daughter who'd let herself in, nor the sigh of contentment as she stood at the doorway watching for only a few seconds, seeing their easy and comfortable hold of each other. The smile on her lips was as warm as the depth of the love in her eyes as she stared only a few moments. Neither heard the receding steps, the door closing, nor the fullness of Rosie's utter contentment as she texted her Uncle Mycroft.

They're all right. Fine, in fact. <3

 

+++