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Know When You've Been Beaten

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“Sherlock. Sherlock?” John crouches beside the consulting detective who is sprawled out on the floor. Sherlock’s silver-blue eyes have nearly disappeared behind his dilated pupils. He stares around the room, wide-eyed, seeming to look past John. He strains to sit up but only manages to flop around on the wooden floor like the world's most posh fish out of water.

“She really did a number on you, yeah?” John remarks glancing towards the window Irene Adler has just disappeared through. He pulls out his torch. He shines the light in Sherlock's eye, then points it away and brings it back. He tries the other eye, then sighs.

“Hardly any pupil constriction,” John mutters, “You’re pretty bloody high.” He presses two fingers in the crook of that long, pale neck where the hard jaw meets the throat, seeking a pulse. Sherlock's heartbeat seems steady, though elevated.

“Right. First thing's first… You're not going to like this bit,” he says to Sherlock, even though he knows his friend is likely too far gone to understand. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and dials Mycroft.

“Yeah, no time for chit chat, Mycroft. We got ambushed by some Americans with guns. One man dead, three injured, police on their way… Yeah, I know, but Sherlock is in a bad way. Irene injected him with something… no, but I think he’ll recover... Right now, I need you to get us out of here… Alright, downstairs in 5 minutes... We'll be there, just make sure you are.” John hangs up the phone with a huff.

“Where the bloody hell does he come off... acting like I failed to protect you,” he murmurs in Sherlock's direction. The detective just stares back, mouth moving wordlessly. John shakes his head. “Shit. Guess I did.” He sighs and scrubs a hand across his face. “But I'm here now, Sherlock.”

John looks Sherlock over. He considers that he should be able to carry the thinner man down the stairs. As much as Sherlock might surpasse the more compact ex-soldier in height, John certainly has him beat in weight and with his solid muscle mass.

Carrying him may be the quickest solution but that would certainly be awkward in more ways than one.

“Alright. To your feet.” He wraps Sherlock's long arm around his own neck and holds on to it. He uses the thrust of his legs and the leverage of his shoulders to pull Sherlock to his feet. The drugged man makes a choked whimper.

“You know you were the one who let her send me away... Sherlock bloody Holmes can handle it himself.” John's voice is bitter. “Goddamn idiot,” he mutters.

Sherlock wobbles on his legs and stares at him as wide-eyed as a newborn foal. John’s face softens and he almost giggles, his frustration melting away into fondness. It is strangely endearing to see this typically aloof and poised man so awkward and vulnerable.

With one of John's hands holding onto the arm around his shoulder and the other wrapped around Sherlock's slim waist, they move side-by-side as John half drags him to the door of the bedroom.

“Jooohhnn,” Sherlock finally manages to moan. His voice is thick and his speech slurs terribly, so he sounds drunk. John gives a short laugh.

“Ah, you found your words.” He strains as they start down the stairs and he has to work to counterbalance the gangly detective to keep them both from pitching forward and tumbling head first. “I was just getting used to finishing whole sentences,” John laughs. Sherlock’s head sags against his chest and lulls from side to side.

“Jooohhnn… Jawnnn…. Johhnn. John. John. John?”

“Ok. So you've found one word,” John laughs. He is panting and starting to perspire from wrestling with his surprisingly unwieldy companion down the first flight of stairs. He props the wobbly detective against the wall at the first landing a moment. Sherlock's large, silver eyes are blinking slowly and trying to focus on John's face.

“JOohn,” Sherlock slurs. “She beat me, John. Like a - like a corpse, John.” He appears to be making a concerted effort to be serious, but the muscles of his face don't seem to be cooperating. Emotions openly flicker over his features; confusion, anger, sadness, fear, pain.

John snorts. “Unusual uses for riding crops; suppose you have that in common.” John shakes his head back and forth, scoffing at the fact that the only woman he has ever seen Sherlock take an interest in (or at least get flustered enough to babble like an idiot) would of course be someone that outsmarts him, drugs him and beats him.

Sherlock’s head sags, a sullen expression settling over his lax features. John hoists Sherlock's arm around his shoulder again, grabs his waist and maneuvers them both to the stairs.

“Really didn't count on it being this hard, Sherlock. Little help would be nice. You're mostly dead weight.” Sherlock puts some effort into stiffening his legs, pushing into John with the odd angles they manage to catch.

“Just a means to an end, John,” Sherlock mumbles as they hobble down the stairs together. “Painful and ugly and hollow… always pain.”

They’ve made it down the last flight of stairs now. Tired, John rests his limp friend against the wall, pinning him upright with a firm hand on his chest and leans forward, breathing heavily from the effort.

“You’re not making a lot of sense now,” John mutters. He glances at the front door and rolls his shoulder to alleviate the growing ache.

“You know… John… It's just about - about taking… and pain… that's all… taking pleasure in inflicting is violence, John.”

John’s head whips up and he stares at Sherlock in awe and horror. Sherlock's head is hung, his dark, curly hair falling down over his eyes. He looks so young - small and defeated.

“Christ, Sherlock… you don't really-” John swallows around the tightness in his chest. “What the hell kind of experiences have you had?” He feels a sudden surge of anger towards whomever made his brilliant friend feel this way. He is glad one Irene Adler is no longer within his grasp or he might teach her a thing or two about violence. His stomach churns.

“Come on, let's get you the hell out of here,” John says grabbing Sherlock. His anger serves to give him the boost of strength he needs to get Sherlock quickly out the front door and onto the pavement, where a long black car immediately pulls up beside them. He carefully slides Sherlock into the car, then slips in beside him.

Anthea looks up from the opposite seat, her blackberry clutched in front of her with both hands; thumbs hovering over the keys. She takes them in with one glance and promptly returns her eyes to the screen to continue punching on the little buttons.

“Ta,” John says as the car pulls away from the pavement and slips into the flow of traffic. He hears the sirens whiz past them and sees the flashing lights through the tinted windows. Anthea glances up. “Tell Mycroft I said thanks,” John says trying to catch her eye. She makes a noncommittal sound of acknowledgement and goes back to tapping on her phone.

John turns his attention to Sherlock, who sits as a heap of long, uncoordinated limbs, leaning heavily against John's side. His legs are sprawled, his arms are limp and cast haphazardly at his sides and his head lolling against his chest. Sherlock half opens his heavy eyelids to look around and as soon as he notices John beside him, he rolls his head onto his friend's shoulder. John adjusts in his seat and glances at Anthea uncomfortably. She doesn't even lift her eyes.

“John.” Sherlock says the name as if reminding himself of something. His eyes are closed and he is breathing rapidly. John takes Sherlock's thin wrist and presses his fingertips into it to check his pulse. It is thumping wildly.

“I'm here, Sherlock,” John whispers reassuringly. He closes his hand around Sherlock's wrist and just holds it. Sherlock hums contentedly and after a moment his breathing slows as he relaxes further into John's side, head turning in to almost bury itself in John's shoulder.

“John is gentle,” Sherlock mumbles. “Won't hurt-”

John’s eyes widen and he feels a sudden rush of heat in his face and chest as realisation of what Sherlock is implying, given their earlier discussion, punches him in the chest. He looks at Anthea, who thankfully appears to still be completely focused on the little screen before her. He swallows roughly, then gives Sherlock's wrist a gentle squeeze.

“Shhh. You're delirious. It's the drugs,” John whispers. Sherlock’s brow furrows but he doesn't open his eyes or move his head from where he is huffing warm breaths into John's shoulder.

The car pulls up outside 221B and John commences hauling his drugged friend out of the car while Anthea does her best to ignore their existence. He mutters goodbye, though he knows she will neither hear nor respond, then he props Sherlock against himself and guides him inside.

Never did 17 stairs seem so impossibly far to traverse. John leans Sherlock up against the wall at the foot of the stairs to gather his strength and form a plan of attack.

“This is - This is the wall, John,” Sherlock exclaims, his voice still slurring. He straightens and smiles the largest, goofy smile John has ever seen. John laughs.

The wall, eh? What's so special about this wall?” John inquires glancing at the dingy wallpaper he'd seen a thousand times before. Sherlock looks around, beaming with child-like joy.

“You came back to life here, John... You stood right there and you laughed and you - you agreed to live with me… leaning right here, John.” Sherlock closes his eyes, tilting his head back, and flattens his palms against the wall. He strokes it lovingly. He looks like he's in utter bliss. John clears his throat, then purses his lips; feeling the burn at the back of his eyes.

“That's a bit... sentimental,” he mutters, reminding himself that Sherlock is drugged and would typically find such 'emotional drivel' intolerable. He takes a deep breath. “Come on then,” he says, slipping himself under Sherlock's arm. The detective is regaining some control over his limbs now, so the stairs aren't quite as bad as John feared initially, but he is still sweating profusely by the time they reach the top.

He wrestles Sherlock to the sitting room sofa and collapses beside him. Sweat is rolling down his face and he can feel it dripping underneath his shirt. He pulls his coat off and tosses it to the floor.

“God, you're hard work,” John grumbles undoing the top two buttons on his button down shirt.

“Worth it,” Sherlock states with a smug smirk.

John laughs. “Now there's the arrogant bastard I know and-” He stops short, startled by what he'd almost said. He glances at Sherlock, who is sprawled out with his eyes still closed. He makes no sign he heard or was following what John almost said.

John sighs and looks towards the kitchen. He would really like some tea but... he is hot and sweaty and it has been a hell of a day. As he runs through the whirlwind of events in his mind, he realises there is very little of his day that he can ‘process’ (as his therapist, Ella, would call it) by writing it in his blog.

Sherlock without pants in the palace... Fighting Sherlock in the alley... A naked Irene Adler on Sherlock's lap... Being held at gunpoint while Sherlock tried to deduce a code... Sherlock's odd confession... Whatever Sherlock was suggesting in the car.

John scrubs his face with his hands.

“When did this become my life,” he mutters with a half smile. He looks around the flat, his eyes coming to rest on a drugged Sherlock. “I'm going to take a shower.” He hoists himself to his feet with a weary groan. He's about to step away when Sherlock suddenly lurches forward and grabs the fabric of his trousers at the knee.

“Don't go, John,” he pleads. He looks up at John with confusion and fear in his wide eyes.

“It's just a shower. I'll be right there.” John points down the hall. Sherlock’s other hand wraps around his leg, fingertips digging into his inner thigh just above his knee. “Oi!” John exclaims with a jump.

“I need you, John. Stay,” Sherlock growls squeezing his eyes closed. He pulls John's leg to him with surprising strength and presses his face against his outer thigh, like a frightened child.

“I have a terribly dark and demented mind which I have endeavored to fill with every manner of fact about the worst misdeeds of humanity... You're the only thing that shuts it off, John,” Sherlock whispers into the fabric of John's trousers.

John isn't sure what to do with this. He pats Sherlock's head uneasily, trying to sooth him. He stares down at the mess of black curls and the long, lean body clinging to him desperately and feels a deeply buried emotion rushing up to overwhelm him. Just before he nearly does or says something stupid, he takes a deep breath and beats it all back with reason.

“You're on a hell of a drug trip right now, Sherlock. You don't even know what you're saying and, thankfully for you, you're not likely to remember one bit of this in the morning.” John gently peels Sherlock off his leg. Sherlock flops back on the couch appearing boneless, eyes still closed. John lets out a long breath of relief.

“Alright. I need a shower.” John looks down at himself and is grateful that what he feels happening below the waist isn't apparent. “I really do,” He mutters as he untucks his shirt to be safe that the most observant person he knows doesn't realise what all his sweetly vulnerable confessions are doing to John. It's just been... a strange day. John turns his eyes back on Sherlock, who is not moving. “You stay there, Sherlock,” he instructs.

John has two more buttons undone on his shirt and has made it to the bathroom door when he hears the loud thud in the sitting room. He hurries back to find Sherlock sprawled on the floor, desperately trying to get to his hands and knees. He has John's hastily discarded coat clutched in one hand.

“John. John. John,” he's muttering. “Where'd he go? How'd I lose him?

“Sherlock?” John says softly as he looks on in confusion.

“John?” His voice is thick with anguish and determination. He tries to push himself up onto his feet. The room could have been an ice skating rink for as much difficulty as he is having getting his feet under himself. John crosses the room, wraps his arms around Sherlock's lean chest and hauls him to his feet. Sherlock provides little help at all, his stiff legs making him flop over John at an angle. He rests his head in the crook of John's neck and inhales deeply.

“I thought you'd gone, and my Mind Palace is all dark and I can't find your room, and you won't come when I call -” Sherlock rambles against John's neck.

“Alright,” John says calmly. He is grateful for his military training which automatically kicks in when he is under stress, flooding him with a sense of calm and control. “We are getting you to bed and you are going to stay there until this all wears off,” he says, employing the commanding tone from his days of being an army Captain. He pulls Sherlock to his side and helps him down the hall to his bedroom.

John drops Sherlock on the bed. Sherlock falls flat on his back then pulls himself up to lean back on his elbows. He looks up at John with a strangely inviting look that John promptly tells himself he is not seeing.

He decides he is certainly not going to try to get Sherlock out of his fine suit and into a pair of pajamas when Sherlock is looking at him like that and saying things… things he really shouldn't say. John opts for yanking Sherlock's shoes off, throwing his legs up on the bed and tucking him under the duvet.

Sherlock stares up at him from under the covers with wide eyes, confused and vulnerable in a way that strikes at John's core. John sighs and starts to walk to the door. He hesitates, stops and turns around.

“Sherlock,” John steps forward and waits until Sherlock appears completely focused on him.

“John,” he whispers. His eyes latch onto John like a lifeline.

“I know you're going to forget this all tomorrow, but if somehow… somehow your big, beautiful brain can hold onto something from tonight, please let it be this, Sherlock…” John takes another step forward and leans down over his friend. Sherlock blinks up at him.

“It doesn't have to be those things - those things you said before. Sex doesn't have to be like that. Not with the right person and not when you love and care for each other. It's beautiful and wonderful and just… really, really good. It is the most you can give and as close as you can get to another person... I know you usually call me a romantic or overly sentimental for things like that, but it can be true... I hope you give someone a chance to show you that some day, Sherlock.” John briefly presses his hand down on Sherlock's shoulder then turns and leaves.