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The Third Brother

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The voice, familiar in its sharp-edged baritone, seemed far away, spoken through a layer of thick cotton.


As John Watson's consciousness slowly returned to him, so too did the all-consuming pain that burned along his nerves, white-hot and crippling. His breath came to him in one sharp gasp that he immediately regretted, escaping in a moan hissed between clenched teeth. For a moment he could do nothing more than lie still and try to simply breathe, which at the moment was no easy task when each draw in made the pain more acute, more staggering. He hadn't hurt this badly since Afghanistan.

Dear God, he really hoped he hadn't been shot again.

The memory of war snapped that never-forgotten military training back into place and he forced himself to school his breathing into something shallow but close to even while trying to assess the situation. He was laying on his side, of that he was aware. Recovery position. He was in severe pain from some form of penetrating trauma, judging by the centralization of it all... though the agony seemed to burn to every inch of his body. Nerve damage? Already his heart was beginning to sink, panic threatening to break through the calm he'd forced to settle over himself, but rather than dwell he continued to take in the situation as quickly as possible. A glance down showed blood on the ground - reasonable loss but not severe, likely class 2 hemhorraging, he told himself in a bid to keep his mind focused on anything but pain - and someone's knees beside him, clad in dark slacks and surrounded by the drape of a familiar wool coat pooling on either side. It was only then that John turned his head enough to glance up at the pale eyes staring down at him in... anger? Distress? It was hard to say. Either way, there was an unfamiliar edge of panic in his friend's gaze that John assumed to be imagined due to his own state of near-delirium. That was Sherlock Homes looking him over, after all. The man didn't know the meaning of panic.

It was only once they locked eyes that Sherlock bared his teeth in a snarl.

"You're an idiot."

Well. That was a little more familiar.

John tilted his head to speak but all that escaped him was another gasp that he bit off sharply, eyes screwing shut against the wave of nausea accompanying the fire consuming his right side. God, he'd forgotten what it was to hurt this badly, and to be honest he'd hoped he'd never have any situation that forced him to recall how bloody awful it was... but that was the risk one ran when spending their days with the world's only consulting detective. Was that how this had happened? It must have been; why else would that brilliant, intelligent, absolutely insufferable man be there? John found himself distracted by the thought of Sherlock settled beside him like a watchful hawk (or patient vulture?) and the world seemed far away again, dark and uninviting.

"Stay awake, John." The edge in Sherlock's voice brought him back from the cusp of unconsciousness with the unfamiliarity of it. Was that... fear? It couldn't be. "You couldn't have lost more than a litre of blood; you've no excuse for going into shock from a wound like that." The continued strain in the man's tone was enough to hold the doctor's attention, his eyes forcing open slowly to stare up at him with a look that carried an impressive level of irritation given his condition.

"Are you seriously," a pause as he attempted to focus, to breathe, "dictating when I can go into shock?" The thought was preposterous enough to keep his attention on his friend, though he certainly wouldn't have considered it the least bit surprising.

"You have no reason to go into shock when the primary issue is pain over blood loss," Sherlock reiterated with an air of stubborn frustration, glowering down at him in such a petulant way that for a moment John almost wanted to laugh aloud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Laughter would feel nothing short of life-threatening at the moment, however, so he refrained and simply permitted himself a somewhat defeated sigh. No use arguing the matter; better instead to try and figure out what was going on, what sort of damage he'd suffered and, hopefully, the ETA on an emergency team to get them out of whatever mess they'd ended up in. With every attempt to recall how he'd ended up collapsed on his side half-conscious he found himself left with little more than a hazy recollection of yelling and motion and a nausea that threatened to turn his stomach further than he could bear.

"What happened?"

The look Sherlock offered him was one of annoyed impatience, as though walking John through the process was a waste of precious time, but a glare of weary agitation was enough to stave off any vocal complaint. Instead Sherlock leaned over to briefly offer his wound a once-over before opening his mouth to speak, closing it with a pause of trepidation, then finally opening it once again.

"I made a slight... miscalculation," he offered with a hint of awkwardness, gaze falling to the side. "The twin brothers -- it seems they were actually triplets." Temporarily distracted by the topic, his mouth twisted sourly with a mutter of, "It's always something, I always miss one damned-" Johh's breath caught in a quiet stifling of pain, regaining Sherlock's attention. "The third brother was waiting for us in the sewing room and he-" Pale eyes fell back to the wound in John's side that, while felt quite acutely, he'd not even seen yet. "I didn't expect him to be there, and he didn't hesitate to strike; apparently my proving the gloves couldn't possibly have belonged to the dead gardener didn't sit well with him. You caught sight of him before me and..." He trailed off, staring helplessly at the tattered cloth to the edge of John's belly. "You put yourself between the blade and me, which was completely idiotic. I could have stopped him on my own."

Admittedly, John hadn't heard most of what Sherlock had prattled on about; the pain remained constant, making it difficult to focus on the endless stream of words that his friend had a habit of spewing out at the most inopportune times. Still, he'd caught just enough to know he'd been stabbed... and yet it hurt far more than it should, even with all of the bleeding. It couldn't have resulted in a perforation - even in his current state, he doubted he'd be able to miss the smell - but the pain felt like...

"Sherlock," he choked out, voice strangled to his own ears, "the knife-"

"-broke off," the detective replied in a tone that seemed to waver in a way John was quite unfamiliar with. "A weakness in the metal that didn't do well with the strain of your twisting away. It's still inside the wound."

"Then the suspect-" His eyes darted about wildly. Had he escaped? Sherlock couldn't have let him, could he?

"He's gone, John. Now shut up and stop squirming about, you're just going to hurt yourself further. Emergency services should be here within the hour; we're a ways out, and I had barely enough signal to get a text to Lestrade." There was a note of finality to his voice that broached no arguement nor discussion over the inarguable fact: Sherlock Holmes had let the suspect get away. Why? He could have chased him down and come back for John later, the wound was hardly something for him to stay around for, barely a scratch-

"-up, John!"

His eyes flew open in shock, and the resulting spasm that shot through him brought the pain back tenfold. Sherlock had him by the shoulder, the panic clear in the lines of his face and the brightness of his eyes. Had he blacked out again? For a moment he could only study his friend's face in confusion, breath labored and sweat beading at his brow. Something was wrong. The blade? Emergency services would arrive soon enough so his best bet was not to tamper with the wound, but the pain was so severe that he wondered if he truly would go into shock at this rate.

"Sherlock, I need... I need to see the wound." He moved to try and sit himself up only to cry out, the tendrils of agony wrapping up his side and along his spine, vision blacking out temporarily. He heard Sherlock call his name - that seemed to be the theme for the evening - but it was scarcely heard over the ringing white noise that briefly dominated his hearing. When the world came back into focus he realized his head had been relocated to rest against Sherlock's thigh as the man gripped at his arm, white-knuckled in his hold.

"I need to see it," he reiterated weakly, wetting his lips. "Mirror...?"

Hesitating only a moment, the dark-haired detective leaned to the side to grasp something off the nearby table before displaying the hand mirror to his companion. John couldn't even lift his arm to grasp it, the mere idea of motion enough to make bile rise in his throat and a twinge of pain twist through his belly. Without being directed, Sherlock leaned to place the mirror near the injury, angling it until John could see the damage he'd suffered. The blood was soaked into the tatters of his shirt, the flesh angry and torn; he could see the exposed layer of fat, along with the deep red tissue beneath. With a little extra tilt to the mirror he caught sight of the blade buried inside, the very edge barely visible within all that meat and blood.

"I-I think it's pressed up against a ventral root- a, a nerve," he managed, squinting to try and keep his gaze steady. That would explain the mounting pain that seemed to burn into every inch of his body, making him feel so nauseous it was all he could do to not turn his head to the side and empty the contents of his stomach all over the floor. He wouldn't last the hour with things as they were. "It... It has to come out."

Sherlock glanced up from the mirror with a frown, regarding him seriously. "You know better than to take it out; you'll only damage the tissue further, maybe even perforate something. Besides, you can't even move."

There was no arguing with either point, really; he was risking further hemorrhaging with the idea, and he could scarcely lift his arm, let alone probe his own wound to try and recover a sharp piece of metal. Still, he could see the damaged tissue clearly enough, and Sherlock's knowledge of human anatomy was just as good as John's...

"Right," he breathed, leaning his head back against Sherlock's knee and steeling himself. "You'll have to be the one to take it out."

Silence hung briefly between them.

"You're joking."

John let his eyes fall closed, trying to make peace with the fact that, moments from now, he would be dealing with a knowledgable ameteur digging into his lacerated side without the benefit of anasthesia to prevent him from passing out. He had survived worse in Afghanistan; this should be a walk in the park, shouldn't it? A horribly painful, possibly fatal walk in the park.

"I'm completely serious, now get... get the gloves out of my left pocket before I change-"

"I can't," Sherlock interjected sharply, staring down at him with an unreadable gaze. It seemed he was making a concentrated effort not to look at the wound, his eyes boring into John's in a way that actually made the wounded doctor want to squirm under the weight of it.

"I'll walk you through it," John reassured him, with as much conviction as he could muster... which, frankly, wasn't that much. "We'll touch none of the other debris and just... just cover the wound until the parametics arrive, it won't be so bad."

"I can't," the brunette repeated, voice nearly breaking at the end -- and it was only then that John realized what he was seeing in the Sherlock's eyes: the great, unflappable detective was afraid, and the revelation was so shocking that for a moment, words completely failed him. The man looked almost child-like in his distress, a little boy faced with the possibility of meaningful loss for the first time in his strange and lonesome life. The pain seemed far away, at least for a moment, as butterflies spread through his stomach at the thought that Sherlock Holmes cared enough for his life that the risk of his violent depature was too much to bear. He'd never felt so special.

Of course, there wasn't really time to reflect on it for as long as he would like. Who knew how bad the nerve damage could be?

"Sherlock." He kept his voice as soothing as possible, though the tremble it carried did little to help. "I'm going to be fine. Look at me." He held his gaze, swallowing thickly and forcing the calm into his tone. "I'm going to be fine. We'll do this, and I'll be all right. Understand?"

"I should have verified the birth records," Sherlock offered in a tone that was as sullen as it was repentant. "It's always one stupid bloody thing that I miss."

It was strange to hear such a great man speak so softly.

"The gloves, Sherlock. Please." Though it made him dizzy with pain to do so, his hand rose to give his friend's knee a weak and encouraging squeeze. Any longer and he might faint again, and he'd already had quite enough of that. They stared at one another in silence for what felt like a lifetime before Sherlock leaned forward and slid his fingers into John's coat pocket, withdrawing the small bag containing his examiner's gloves. Relief was evident in John's eyes along with miserable resignation. No doubt about it: this was really going to hurt.

With a bit more coaxing Sherlock finally pulled the blue vinyl gloves onto his hands, frowning down at the man resting against his leg. After a moment's consideration he reached into his breast pocket, drawing out a leather badge wallet - one of the many he'd filched from Lestrade, John recognized - and placing it on the doctor's chest. He knew exactly what it was for: something to bite down on while his friend dug about in the meat of his side, should the pain be too much to bear without cracking his teeth. A thoughtful gesture, at least. John pursed his lips together and shifted as carefully as he could to be able to look down at his bloodied side, squinting against the sweat that threatened to roll down his brow.

"The mirror," he requested softly, trying to ignore the sound of his heart hammering in his ears. He felt dizzy with anticipation of pain, mouth going dry when Sherlock lifted the hand mirror and angled it just so to give him full view of the wound. The longer he waited, the more frightened he would be; it was now or never. He drew in a slow breath in through his nose, holding it as long as he could before exhaling out through his mouth.

"Come on, then. Let's get started."

Sherlock was quiet for a moment before wordlessly laying his free hand beside the wound, staring at the tatters of cloth on either side and waiting for direction. It was a strange thing, to have the great Sherlock Holmes so quiet, listening to John for once rather than the other way around. It would have been empowering if he wasn't so absorbed in the fact that his entire body felt like it had been dipped in needles and electricity. He wet his lips, then carefully moved one hand up to take the edge of the mirror, easing Sherlock's fingers away to hold it in his stead; the man was going to need both hands for this.

"Alright." No more waiting. The sooner this was done, the sooner he could pass the hell out and wake up in a nice, clean hospital bed, doped up on a ridiculous amount of morphine. "I need you to ease the sides open enough to get your fingers in; we've nothing to use in place of forceps so you'll need to keep them there. Just... try not to widen it too much."

After a brief hesitation, Sherlock did as he was told; his left hand moved over the laceration, forefinger and thumb sliding just past the torn skin and carefully splaying it open a few precious centimetres. The gentle touch did little to ease the sensation, John's breath catching fiercely as his body went rigid with pain. It jarred the blade buried inside him, sending pulses of agony through every fiber of his flesh. It took all he had not to close his eyes against it, focusing on the reflection in the hand mirror. He had to concentrate. With a small tilt to adjust, he was offered a view of the very tip of the snapped blade edge, shining from the fluorescent overhead. At least they didn't have to do any digging around to get to it.

"You're white as a sheet," Sherlock murmured unhappily, eying his face with uncharacteristic concern. John ignored the observation, keeping his focus on the task.

"It's going to be s-slippery, you're going to have trouble getting a good grip. You need to wriggle it out. It looks like..." He squinted at the reflection, trying to force his eyes to focus. "It looks like your index is right above the, the large intestine. You have to make sure not to perforate the tissue in the process."

Sherlock mumbled something that sounded very much like Obviously, shaking his head and sliding his fingers inside the wound. The pain, while expected, was still enough to make John's vision briefly go dark, his head snapping back against his friend's thigh unbidden. The fingers inside of him stilled while he panted harshly and considered taking the leather in his mouth... but his direction was still needed. The tunnelling blackness around his eyes finally dissipated to the very edges of his sight, though his ears were still ringing too much to even hear what he assumed were Sherlock's protests over proceeding.

"Do it," he hissed out, blinking heavily to clear his vision. Finally the fingers began to move again, the sensation both wholly disturbing (he doubted he'd ever be able to describe what it felt like to have someone's hand brush against part of his colon) and more agonizing than he could have possibly prepared himself for. On the plus side, the strain was so much that he could feel his heart begin to race, adrenaline flooding his system and taking the edge off enough to allow him to stay conscious -- for the moment. He watched in relative silence as fingers closed around the edge of the blade, began to pull... and slipped.

Sound was the first thing to return, bringing him the rasps of his own haggard breathing and Sherlock's voice speaking over them, low and desperate. Something about having a proper grip and things that could have been apologies, had Sherlock Holmes been capable of such a thing -- but that part had to be his imagination. The reflection of blood-slicked vinyl came back into focus, showing the exposed metal to be millimeters higher than it was before. Progress, he reassured himself silently, trying to keep positive.

"Alright, now just-" His voice broke, and he swallowed before continuing. "Just work it up three milimetres to your right." The blade eased upwards and John could not bite back the whimper that bubbled up in his throat, hand beginning to tremble so violently that the mirror barely showed him the edges of his chest, let alone the hand probing in his side. He tried to steady himself but it was no use, his entire arm quaking from the shoulder down. This was no good. He had to get himself in control, or else they would have to give up completely and he didn't think he'd be able to stand it-

The feel of soft hair brushing against his forehead drew his thoughts away, his eyes flickering up in surprised confusion. Sherlock's forehead was almost close enough to touch John's, hair falling down around him in an almost protective curtain. His breathing was slow and even, soothing the tremor in his hand and easing his own gasps to something more managable that didn't leave him quite so light-headed. The man above him continued to lead with his breathing and John did his best to match, eyes falling closed. When he opened them again the mirror finally laid still, offering a proper view of the lacerated tissue and the metal still inside.

"Two millimetres to your left," John whispered hoarsely, and the blade was eased further out, his teeth clenching together to keep from screaming. He could get through this. They just had to do it a little bit at a time and he would be alright. Sherlock was here, wasn't he? That was enough reason to keep himself together.

Progress was slow going: each pull was like nails driving into his flesh, requiring a moment's rest while he regained his senses and Sherlock encouraged his breathing back to something close to normal. What could only have been minutes seemed like an eternity of suffering, the hateful blade stubborn to move and difficult for Sherlock to grasp. It seemed like they would never manage this task, John cursing himself for suggesting it in the first place. What he thought to be the nineth millimetre - he'd lost track, to be honest - offered a sudden and surprising respite, however; it seemed that, finally, the blade was no longer pressed against the damaged nerve extending out of his spine, easing the pain to levels that were bordering on managable.

His basis of comparison was growing decidedly skewed.

"That's enough," John croaked out, laying the mirror down on his thigh and closing his eyes. Sherlock's fingers slid free of his friend's side, leaving him with a residual burn in place of the endless, violent pain from moment before. He still hurt - terribly so - but it was far better than what he'd been dealing with, and something he could confidently suffer through until help arrived. The relief that washed over him was so great he actually managed a short laugh, cheek resting against the warmth of his companion's thigh. He was exhausted, shaking, and sick to his stomach, but God was he feeling good right about now. He heard Sherlock strip off his sullied gloves, throwing them off to the side.

"Next time," he murmured, sounding miserable and weak, "don't act like some sort of ridiculous action film hero. I could have handled myself against him without incident."

Another weak chuckle escaped the doctor.

"Next time, don't get stabbed at," John retorted, his tone lacking any sort of bite. He was too tired to come up with anything better, and Sherlock seemed willing to concede the argument for now -- though it wouldn't be a surprise if he heard about this for the next week, walking through just how stupid and pointless his selfless gesture had been. That was alright. John knew it was worth it, no matter what evidence Sherlock laid out to him. His friend was safe, John wasn't dead, and they'd probably have enough evidence to hunt down the suspect once help arrived.

Consciousness escaped him again, a warm darkness settling over him despite his attempts to stave it off; he awoke to the sound of sirens nearby, dully aware of a hand stroking his hair, slow and reassuring. His eyes opened briefly, then closed immediately after when he heard the door open and footfalls enter the sewing room. People were speaking but it didn't seem to matter, everything seeming like it was happening to someone else and he was an observer, just a man in a movie theater trying to watch the show. He was too tired for this. It was too much to bother with. He just wanted to stay asleep.

This time when his eyes forced their way open, much more time seemed to have passed -- and he felt remarkably good. A slow look around revealed him to be in a white-walled hospital room, an IV hooked up to his arm and the sensor of an oximeter closed around his finger. There was some sparse, unappealing decoration in the form of a fake plant and a nondescript painting on the wall; not the ICU, then. That was a relief. Turning his head towards the window, he finally caught sight of a familiar face complete with high cheekbones and a mop of unruly hair, busied with looking down at the laptop he was furiously typing away at.

"That's my laptop," John pointed out weakly, and the clacking of keys ceased, Sherlock's gaze lifting to offer a quirked eyebrow and a disinterested stare.

"Four hours in surgery," He offered without acknowledging John's statement. "Abrasions along your large intestine and transverse colon, but no gastreointestinal perforation. The final count ended at twenty-two stitches. I've asked to have the removed blade framed for posterity's sake but the surgeon didn't seem to take my request seriously." His eyes darted briefly down to the blankets covering John's bandages, voice growing hushed.

"You were very lucky."

John began to sit up, but the withering look Sherlock gave him caused him to still immediately; he folded his hands over his chest instead, letting out a sigh. He was lucky, extremely so. He'd expect that he'd hear the same from the physician they would send in to speak with him, shortly before Sherlock annoyed him or her into an immediate retreat from his room. John was amazed the man hadn't gotten himself kicked out yet, truth be told. He looked to the window once again, squinting at the darkness outside.

"What time is it? Shouldn't you be at home...?"

The typing began again, one shoulder lifting and dropping in a dispassionate shrug. Sherlock seemed to be back to his normal self, paying his friend little mind as he lost himself in whatever it was that had his attention at the moment. All that fear, that concern, the hand in his hair... It seemed like a fever dream now, something he'd imagined in his delirious state. He found himself oddly disappointed, a feeling he did his best not to dwell on as he settled back into the pillows behind him. Whatever they had him on, it certainly had him tired, and the rest would do him good. Knowing he had no chance of catching Sherlock's attention now that he was engrossed in something far more interesting like violent splatter patterns or the many varieties of Norwegian moss, he allowed his eyes to drift close, slowly beginning to doze off once again.

The sound of the laptop being set aside wasn't quite enough to keep him awake, nor was the hand resting against his forehead, cool and reassuring. The last thing he was aware of was Sherlock's warm baritone speaking just above a whisper, fingers stroking up into his hair.

"Sleep well, John."

Too tired and drug-addled to address the uncharacteristic gesture, John Watson drifted off to sleep.