It's John who finally finds Sherlock, that chilly January morning. John who takes one look at Sherlock's battered body and fires off two shots in rapid succession, hitting Sherlock's two captors squarely between the eyes and crumpling them to the floor even though they were already backing away with their hands raised and their guns clattering to the ground. Sherlock is dimly aware of other footfalls overhead, Mycroft's men clearing the old farmhouse, but his attention is squarely on John, good and honest and strong John, who is regarding him with something like pity in his soft brown eyes. Sherlock turns his head away, grinding his forehead into the dirt floor, covering his face with his hands as much as the chains on his wrists allow.
"Don't look," he rasps, his voice harsh from weeks of disuse. "I can't - don't look at me."
John's footsteps falter, then resume their steady approach. He doesn't try to speak, just kneels next to Sherlock's broken body - close enough Sherlock could have curled around him, if he had still been strong enough to move - and waits. Sherlock can hear his labored breaths - John had been running. Adrenaline, then, adrenaline and strenuous exercise and oh God, he's leaning over Sherlock's torso and running those cooly professional hands over Sherlock's chest and Sherlock can't control his violent flinch.
"Easy," John murmurs, as if Sherlock were a skittish wild animal in need of taming. And in some sense that might be true.
"John-" But then Sherlock can't think of any words, can't think of a single thing to say to express how grateful and mortified and ashamed he is, so he closes his mouth and curls further in on himself and tries not to fight off John's careful fingertips grazing over his ribcage. John doesn't comment on Sherlock's nakedness, on the obvious bruises dotting his back and hips and bare arse, and Sherlock finds that once again, he's grateful for John-the-soldier and John-the-medic and John-who-just-understands.
A noise at the door - Sherlock looks up, not able to conceal the instinctive tensing of his muscles. But it's Mycroft, ubiquitous umbrella in hand but with his suit jacket askew and his hair mussed on the right side. Who looks for a long moment at the two corpses sprawled near the far wall and raises an eyebrow.
"Accident?" he asks John.
"Very much on purpose," John replies through gritted teeth, never looking away from Sherlock's face, even as his gentle fingertips steal around to Sherlock's back, probing at the more recent burn marks and the long, angry welts.
Mycroft huffs, then nods. An uncomfortable pause. Then: "How is he?"
"Bastards were careful," John says darkly. "Prolonging it. Too early to tell if there will be permanent physical damage, but he needs his wrist set and he's going to need more patching up than I can do here. We've got to get him to hospital."
Sherlock clutches at John's arm, the pain in his broken wrist negligible compared to the sudden panic coursing through him. "No hospital," he croaks out in barely more than a whisper, the loudest his vocal chords will allow. "Want you."
John's lips compress. "Sherlock-"
He never begs. Even when his captors were doing their worst, their most painful experimentations on his body, Sherlock stayed silent. John understands the plea for what it is and grips Sherlock's undamaged hand in a tight squeeze.
"All right," he says.
And that is that.
Mycroft protests, tries to appeal to John's sense of logic, but Sherlock keeps gripping John's hand as tightly as he can and eventually even Mycroft has to accept the inevitable. He strides out of the room, and within minutes there is a stretcher at the door and an earnest young man is rifling through Sherlock's captors' pockets until he comes up with a hefty key, which he uses to unlock the steel cuffs around Sherlock's ankles and wrists. Sherlock does recoil, now, but the young man works quickly and efficiently and in less than a minute, he's helping John load Sherlock onto the stretcher. John drapes his own coat over Sherlock's naked body, then Mycroft is back with a heavy orange blanket which does nothing to stop Sherlock's tremors but at least hides his nudity from Mycroft's men.
"I can't fix you up alone," John murmurs from his position at the head of the stretcher, his lips nearly touching Sherlock's ear in an effort to not be overheard. "Would it be okay if I asked Molly to come over and help? Or someone else, if you'd rather."
Sherlock licks his lips and manages a tiny nod. He cares that John is seeing him like this - bloody, bruised, nearly non-verbal - but Molly is different. Molly is useful. Molly will pity him and he won’t care because it doesn’t matter what she thinks about him - only John. Once again, John has proven he understands Sherlock more than anyone else ever had.
The ride home is agonizing, but John is there at Sherlock’s side the entire time, fingers threaded through Sherlock’s matted, overgrown curls and murmuring a quiet litany containing nothing of substance whatsoever. It’s exactly what Sherlock needs. When they get back to 221B, Sherlock is unsurprised to see Mycroft’s influence in the open door, the absence of Mrs. Hudson, the hospital-style surgical table laid out incongruously in the center of the living room. Molly is nearby, dithering, but she perks up when John rattles off a string of military-style orders and she darts off into the kitchen to comply. The earnest young man from before helps John get Sherlock’s body transferred to the table, then bows in an overly formal manner and withdraws, presumably to go report back to Mycroft. Sherlock is left alone in the flat with John and an anxious Molly.
He often forgets that Molly has had actual medical training, too, but it’s evident in her steady stitches and her immediate understanding of everything John says. John starts her cleaning and suturing the deep gash on Sherlock’s left ankle as he himself inspects the charred spots on Sherlock’s back.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly, before wiping something over Sherlock’s skin which causes it to absolutely catch fire once more. Sherlock chokes back a shout, holding it in for John’s sake, so John won’t feel worse about doing what has to be done. John’s forehead wrinkles anyway, that pinched look when he’s concerned about something, and Sherlock hates himself even more for being the cause of that concern. There’s nothing he can say, though, nothing to make the situation any less real, so he bites the inside of his cheek and tries not to make a sound.
John and Molly work mostly in silence, their only speech the staccato of medical terminology necessary to maneuver around each other’s work. John keeps Molly busy on Sherlock’s extremities - his fractured wrist, the gouges where the manacles cut into his ankles, the welts across the bottoms of his feet - while he himself focuses on Sherlock’s core. Sherlock knows exactly what John is seeing, has spent many lonely hours in the dark cataloging his own injuries. Serious burns on his back, ranging from first- to third-degree in places. Several shallow cuts on his abdomen and around his groin, some of which are infected and none of which were prone to healing properly as long as Sherlock was being held captive in the dark, in the dirt basement, malnourished and dehydrated. Bruises all over, evidence of his captors’ casual wallops whenever they returned him to his room and chained him down again. And bloody, cracked fissures in and around his arse, which Sherlock was never able to really see and couldn’t bear to touch.
John does look and touch, now, carefully professional. He’s not stupid, he knows what causes that kind of tissue tearing, and Sherlock can’t bear for John to know. The reality of being held down and used is one thing, but having John know is infinitely worse. He never says a word, though, just keeps the blanket angled so Molly can’t see, doesn’t know the way he knows. Molly might guess, but she says nothing either.
The whole process takes hours. Sherlock dozes for some of it, caught halfway between the pain and the relief in knowing his captors are dead and he is back home. Home. He may be physically back in 221B, but he’ll never be home again.