Blood bubbled between his fingers with each exhale his Guide made, and Sherlock found himself split between the desire to demand John be quiet or beg him to tell the Sentinel what to do.
The blood was bright and surreal, vivid crimson against the stark cream of John’s shirt. It bloomed and soaked, and Sherlock watched with stunned fascination as it swirled into the street, mixing with the motor oil and rainwater of the gutter.
When Sherlock had been young, very young, his mother had taken him to a fair. He had watched ceramic discs being painted and spun, the dramatic colours twirling together to create a beautiful, randomized pattern to be taken home as keepsakes. He hadn’t wanted one at the time, but even then he had a vague sense of appreciation for the textures and the bizarre beauty.
He watched, senses hyperaware, facts coming unbidden.
John’s blood (copper, metal, dynamic nucleic acid), the colours (ruby, red-wine, wet) the rain (hydrogen, oxygen, dust—petricor) the streaks of grease—
“Sher—stay with me. Sher—“ John winced and heaved a stuttering, painful breath and Sherlock clutched at him tighter, palm pressing into the gunshot wound.
“You’re not, you’re zoning. I can’t help—“
“I’m here!” He barked, blinking rapidly and giving himself a sharp, mental shake.
“Promise me you won’t zone. I need you here—.”
“I promise, John.“
“The—“ John reached with his good arm, fingers grasping and Sherlock lurched, snatching the radio and headset just beyond his Guide’s grasp. “Press harder,” John gritted at him and Sherlock heaved, pressing the heel of his hand into John’s chest, but the blood continued to seep past his skin.
“What’s the tower?” Sherlock fumbled with the radio in his hand, fingers slick with John’s blood as he balanced the device along with his pressure of John’s wound.
“It’s ah, three. Tower three ah fuck!” John gave a hard shudder. “I don’t remember it hurting this much the last time.” He was slick with sweat, beading just under his hairline and he attempted a smile but it was grim.
Last time was your shoulder. Last time missed major organs (lungs, heart). This time it’s your chest (ventral thorax). This time it isn’t clean (armor piercing, hollow-point—
“Sherlock!” John’s voice bordered on panic, and the Sentinel forced his switch hard, jerking his head and gripping the radio and pressing the receiver.
“Tower ah, three. Sentinel-Guide pair seventeen, repeat 1-7. We ah, Guide down repeat Guide down, over.”
John’s heartbeat was loud inside Sherlock’s body, thundering through him as he released the side button. The static was terrible, an agonizing thirty-three seconds until they received a crackled response.
“Copy 1-7, information received. Do you have the package?”
“Negative tower, the ah, suspect escaped. Send aid immediately. Uh, over.”
“Copy 1-7, information received. Target evaded. Status on Guide-Sentinel pairs thirteen and twenty-two. Repeat status on 1-3 and 2-2, over.”
Sherlock swallowed and looked to John helplessly. The Guide shook his head.
“How do you know?” Sherlock asked quietly, eyes wide and straining in the dark, trying to keep focus on John’s face.
“I can’t… feel them…Any of them.” John gasped and twisted in pain in Sherlock’s hold.
Sherlock pressed the button. “Negative tower three, 1-3 and 2-2 are—“ He fumbled, the protocol fleeing his mind. This was John’s area, not his own. But John was—
“Dying. Dead.” He decided. “They’re dead. They’re all … Send aid. Requesting aid immediately Guide 1-7 down. Please.” His voice shook to his own horror as he depressed the button.
“Negative 1-7. Last air-wing out seeking target.”
“Fuck your target!” He shouted into the air.
“Sher—“ John reached, weakly, but Sherlock pulled the radio back and John’s arm collapsed into his own lap. “They won’t come if… they think it’s…just me…” John’s voice was so tired, so weary and his eyes began to roll back.
John no no John John John
“Tower three, Sentinel down. Repeat Sentinel Holmes is down!”
“Copy 1-7, air-wing being redirected to your location.”
When the blanket is dropped on his shoulders, he doesn’t even show a flicker of response and Sally crosses her arms and takes a courtesy step back, thinking hard.
Sherlock blinks twice, before raising his head to her in a vacant stare, arms hung over his thighs as he sits in the hard, plastic chair of the waiting room. He’s drenched; shirt clinging tight to his chest in what Sally’s limited ability tells her is Guide blood, petrol, water and oils. His arms are streaked up to the elbow in blood that is beginning to dry and brown.
He looks so young, she thinks. Face pale in sharp contrast to his dark hair now flat against his temples, clothes looking much larger on his soaking frame, like a sodden cat, all skin and bones underneath.
“They’re bringing in a Temp for you.”
“I don’t need a Temp,” Sherlock says after a moment, eyes back to staring at the floor, a bit of a defensive growl in the tone. “I’m not in danger of zoning.”
“No?” She curls her lip a bit.
“No, as long as… John’s my Guide. That won’t happen…I promised.” The last two words shiver out of his throat and he sits back, hands starting to shake.
“You’re in shock,” she says, in a voice more gentle than she can ever remember saying to any Sentinel.
“He is in surgery.” She takes a step, heel clicking with a pierced strike on the tile, eyeing him sharply. “It wasn’t your fault.”
He snorts in disgust and she manages both rein in her impulse to slap him in the same thought that grips her to grab him by his wet collar.
“Listen to me,” she snarls, and his eyes are wide and bright mere inches away. “Of all the Sentinels I have ever met, you are by far my least favorite. I could go as far as to say I hate your very guts, and I believe neither of us would argue that point.
“So when I tell you that this is not your fault, that means that I am telling you the truth. Because if it were your fault, you can bet your skinny ass I would be the very first person to let you know. Do you hear me?”
She releases him, not waiting for a response. She turns away and stalks off before stopping, her hands on her hips and head bowed.
“They weren’t going to come for him.” Sherlock says to her back. “They only came because they thought it was me.” He looks down at his blood-coated hands. “He is not disposable, Sally. None of them are.”
“Clean yourself up.” She says after a moment, before she straightens her posture and continues to walk away.
Sherlock scrubbed his arms and hands raw, skin red and flaming from the heat of the water. He watched John’s blood sweep down the drain. He felt himself tilt, vision tunneling before he pulled back and away, shutting off the tap with an angry shove.
Making his way into John’s room, his Guide looks so small in the hospital bed, tightly tucked in with IV lines drawing out of his arms.
He hesitated by the door, feeling wary and slightly unwelcome.
Just as he was about to turn and grasp the handle, John’s murmured with his eyes closed, “C’mere.”
John’s eyes blearily opened, and his good arm gave a soft pat to the sheets. “Sherlock. C’mere.”
Sherlock approached, sweeping off his coat and depositing it on the lone steel chair and continuing on, sliding into the small bed and curling around his Guide carefully, scared to jostle or dislodge the machines.
Sherlock’s head on John’s good shoulder, John shifted to place a palm on Sherlock’s nape, before sliding fingers up his scalp, the Sentinel shivering at the intimate, calming touch.
“Alright?” John asked quietly.
“No.” Came the quick response. “Decidedly not alright.”
“I’ll be okay. We’re okay.” John murmured in a still weak voice, chest and lungs working hard.
“And the next time?” Sherlock lifted his head to look John in the eyes. “And the time after that?”
“We’re always okay. It’s what we do. It’s the price.”
They were quiet for a long time, Sherlock calculating each breath of John’s body, the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. He knew if he concentrated hard enough, he could calculate the exact degree the bullet had entered his Guide’s body, could determine exactly down to the ounce how much blood was lost—
“Shh,” John soothed, fingers shifting in Sherlock’s curls, and the Sentinel’s mind switched focus. “Stay with me?” John’s eyes closed, head lowering and he gave a sleepy noise. “Stay with me.”
Sherlock nodded into John’s side, fingers tightening around the sheets, eyes hard with fierce determination. “Always.”