John Watson's head jerked up at the sound of Sherlock's voice, which brought about a low, deep grown of pain as the sudden gesture re-awakened the agony of his back. He realized that he'd drifted off, yet again, from the heavy medication that he'd been given by the hospital earlier in the day, and silently cursed himself for doing so in front of Sherlock. He'd not moved from his position on the sofa, even when Sherlock had burst into the room with all the energy of old, nor had his friend requested him to do so.
"Sorry," John apologized. John kept his head steady, his eyes half-closed, as he tried to regulate his breathing and get his pain level back under control.
Sherlock's face swam into view only a foot away, and the steely gray eyes focused on him.
"You need to go to bed," he said in a stern voice.
John tried to give a shake of his head, but the first movement to the left made him freeze, and he slowly moved his head back in line. "I'm fine," he said in a strained voice.
The detective paused. "Do you know how long you've been unconscious?"
John opened his mouth, then closed it and glanced around. Nothing seemed much different. Sherlock had pushed for an early discharge from the hospital-earlier than even Mycroft had predicted-and brought himself back to Baker Street the very evening after he first woke up. He took advantage of Sherlock's absence to get some sleep but, of course, the enthusiastic return to his digs had resulted in lengthy and somewhat unwanted conversation.
"I've been asleep," John corrected him. "Not unconscious."
"No." Sherlock gave a quick shake of his head, and looked down as he removed his thin fingers from the inside of John's forearm. "You coughed, don't you remember? Four deep coughs. Then you passed out. You're not ready to be up yet, John."
"The same is to be said for you," he replied in a cross tone. "You've had a serious head injury, in case you've forgotten-"
"I know my situation," Sherlock interrupted. "But I don't think you fully realize yours."
With that, he brought one hand up and wiped swiftly at John's forehead, then held up his wet, shiny hand in front of John's eyes.
"You've got a fever. You're fighting infection, and you should be in bed. You've been unconscious," he pressed, "for nearly an hour now."
John blinked. "Well, to be honest, I'm a little worried about getting up. That's why I haven't." He paused. "I do have to pee like the proverbial racehorse, though. Can't put that off any longer."
With considerable assistance from Sherlock, John managed to sit up. He got to his feet, but held up one hand.
"One minute," he panted. "Just… things are getting a bit dark."
"Sit down. You're going to pass out."
"No, I'm not. I'm not going to-"
He passed out. He came to in a seated position, with Sherlock next to him. Sherlock had one elbow on the back of the sofa, his hand folded against his temple and a peculiar smile on his face.
John grunted. "You just love to be proved right, don't you?"
The smile widened, and the two men gave it another try. This time, John made it up without as much difficulty, and Sherlock slowly guided him to the toilet. He helped him through the door, then gave him another peculiar smile.
"Perhaps you should sit down for this process."
John pursed his lips together for a moment, then gave him a slight push. "I resent the implication to my masculinity," he replied with a deadpan look. "Now, please, close the door and let me get on with my business."
"Just try to keep your business within the confines of the porcelain," he advised. "I doubt Mrs. Hudson's sympathy towards your condition extends to mopping up after your poor aim."
Sherlock turned and left the room, closing the door firmly behind him, and John put one unsteady hand out and balanced himself with the sink. He closed his eyes, took in a few breaths, then opened them again and fumbled with the zipper of his trousers.
The self-satisfied smirk on Sherlock's face hadn't faded by the time John emerged, slowly and with a frown, into the hallway. The tall man leaned against the opposite wall, arms crossed, as he shuffled in his direction.
"I'm going to need some help," John said in a strained voice.
He shrugged off Sherlock's hand. "I don't mean walking," he clarified. "I mean, in terms of my bandages. They need changing. Is that all right?"
The smile faded and Sherlock gazed at him with wonder. "Do you mean, is it all right if I assist the man who saved my life? Only if you allow me that privilege."
They stared at one another for several moments, then John managed a slight nod, and they proceeded to his bedroom. It took a while for John, with Sherlock's help, to remove his jacket, shirt and undershirt, all of which he'd slept in. The button-down shirt and the undershirt bore the yellowish stains of the iodine used on the wounds. John called a halt to the process at that point, both hands half-raised in a quiet surrender.
"Pills," he panted. "Please."
Sherlock obediently returned to the sitting room and retrieved the pill bottle by the sofa, and came back with a fresh glass of water. He opened the lid and shook out two white pills from the brown plastic bottle, then capped it and set it beside the bed. John gulped down the medication, chased it with a swallow of water, then took several sips before he passed it back. Sherlock took it out of his hand and set it on the nightstand.
"Hold on," John said. "Let's just wait a bit. About ten minutes. That should be good enough for it to kick in."
Sherlock blinked. "All right."
Both men sat in silence until finally John's breathing grew easier. Noticing the change in his friend's state, Sherlock went back to the bathroom and rummaged around, returning with John's supply of bandages in a square black nylon bag. He sat next to John on the bed and put one hand on his shoulder.
Sherlock's eyebrows went up. "Ready?"
"No," came the terse reply. Nevertheless, he turned and put his back to Sherlock.
It took considerable effort for Sherlock not to say anything. The stony silence of John Watson meant that the man knew what horrific wounds he had on his back-he made no jokes or casual statements regarding them, and Sherlock followed suit. Suggestions for conversation popped into his mind, ranging from John's time in Afghanistan to a humorous remark about an Alsatian, but he used what slight filter that he had between his brain and his mouth to burst those thought-bubbles before they could escape.
How the explosion had not severed John's spine, destroyed any major organs or caused massive bleeding had been a matter of speed, timing, angle and blatant good luck. Sherlock had hit the pool first, and with John's body over his, he knew himself to be fortunate not to have sustained more than one blow to the head (albeit with a heavy, sizable piece of concrete). John's own head had been tucked under Sherlock's arm as the smaller man tackled him, and thus he'd escaped a similar fate, but clearly the shrapnel that had cut into the area around his spine equaled the seriousness of Sherlock's own injury.
In addition to the obvious injuries, John had any number of small scrapes and bruises. With as much care as he could, Sherlock resolutely removed the large patches of gauze and tape against John's skin, and built up a small pile of the stained, sweaty materials in the middle of the bed. He disinfected the wounds, added the spent cotton balls to the collection, and applied fresh bandages, using as much care as he could to cover the stitches again in an orderly, professional manner. One paper package after another joined the pile as he pulled out the sterile gauze and taped it to John's pale back.
Finished with the task at hand, Sherlock stood up and crossed the room to where Mrs. Hudson had supplied a small trash can. He picked it up, gathered the refuse on the bed into the can, then returned it to its position in the corner. As he did so, John stood up and went to the dresser, removing a pair of pajamas.
"Jacket, please," he said, as he pointed to the discarded leather jacket against the wall. "I've got some antibiotics to take as well."
"Of course." Sherlock fetched the pills from John's pocket and handed him two, along with the water glass.
"You're quite welcome."
"Now, if you don't mind, I would like to get some sleep." He handed Sherlock the water glass again. "I would suggest that you do the same. After all, you're also fresh out of hospital, with another head wound to recover from."
Sherlock stared at him. "You've been talking to Mycroft."
John frowned. "No, he's been talking to me."
Sherlock hummed and looked away. "I'm sorry to burden you with extraneous information," he muttered.
"It's not as if I couldn't tell." John pointed at himself. "Doctor, remember? I'm trained to diagnose."
John tossed the pajamas onto the bed and carefully slipped the shirt on, buttoning it up with slow yet steady fingers, then paused with one hand on the waistband of his trousers.
"I've got it from here, thanks," he said with a solid look in Sherlock's direction.
"Ah. Right. Well, I'll just go and put this back."
Sherlock moved to pick up the nylon bag, but John made a noise and held up one hand.
"I'm afraid I'm still going to need that," he explained quickly. "I've got, ah… one more wound to treat."
"Oh, I can do it."
"No. No, I don't think you can, thanks. Right, then." He cleared his throat. "I've got this one."
Sherlock's eyebrows came down, only to rise up a moment later as he surmised where the remaining bandage on John's body might be located-and why it had been the process of sitting down which had caused him so much pain.
"All right. Good night, then."
"Good night, Sherlock. Get some sleep yourself. And let me know if you have any issues related to the head trauma. Double vision, vertigo, that sort of thing."
He gave a sharp nod. "Right. You're sure you're going to be able to-"
"I've got it," John interrupted. "Okay? Now, good night."
Taking the hint, Sherlock walked out and closed the door, then made his way back to the bathroom. He sealed himself into the room and turned on the hot water in the sink, washing his hands thoroughly, then left the water running noisily into the sink.
Then, with a grace that belied the situation at hand, he took two casual steps to the left, bent over and promptly vomited into the toilet.
Countless crime scenes and cadavers, he thought to himself as another wave of nausea swept over him, and it takes that to make me throw up. Ah, the high price that must be paid in the face of emotions!