Author's Note: This is a missing scene set immediately following Sherlock's rescue of John from the smugglers toward the end of The Blind Banker. Written as a sequel to The Saracen Assassin, another of my stories set during The Blind Banker, but this can easily be read totally independently of that. Remember that reviews are love, and I hope you enjoy my take on what happened after their adventures in the tunnels.
Not in Very Good Nick
John limped slowly back to the police car after saying goodnight to Sarah. To Sherlock's disgust, he had insisted on searching her flat for any signs of danger despite the fact that the consulting detective had pronounced the threat entirely at an end. The Black Lotus was routed. The Black Lotus general, Shan, though she had escaped, was on the run and would have no reason to strike at Sarah again. He'd insisted on this last in a tone that made it clear to John that Sherlock still didn't entirely understand why the smugglers had involved Sarah in the first place. John's flatmate was already both stunned and appalled that the villains had been convinced, however briefly, that John was Sherlock. Insulted. That was the word for it. Having John, an ordinary idiot, mistaken for him clearly irked the genius. That the smugglers should have considered Sarah of any importance whatsoever was simply baffling. Sherlock certainly didn't consider her to be important. John wasn't entirely certain that Sherlock considered him to be important except as the fellow who ran his sleuthing errands, fetched the groceries from the market and made tea at irregular intervals. God, John would kill for a cup of tea right now.
The constable who'd driven them here was waiting in the car with Sherlock, having also dismissed John's concern as paranoia. The puppy, goodness knew he couldn't be more than twenty-five, did at least hop out of the car and open up the rear door for John as he came limping out of Sarah's building. Sherlock lounged in the front passenger seat while John climbed in the back. It was against policy to let civilians ride in the front of police carfs, but Sherlock had flatly refused to ride in the back, threatening to walk all the way back to Baker Street if it came to that. Dimmock, showing unexpected flexibility of mind, had caved and given his unsought consultant his way. Though why Sherlock objected so strenuously to riding in the back of police car, John could only guess at. He supposed it probably stemmed from his flatmate's time as a junkie. Or perhaps it had more to do with the frequency with which the police had, in the past, blamed Sherlock for the very murders he helped them solve. Whatever the reason, Sherlock was absolutely intransigent on this one issue. The fact that he'd agreed to ride in the ruddy car at all was still something of a surprise. John had been so certain they'd be heading home in a taxi. Still, having Sherlock up front had at least given John a chance to cuddle somewhat awkwardly with a tired and thoroughly overwhelmed Sarah. The cuddling had been… nice. So had the snogging. Apparently, saving her life made up, at least somewhat, for having endangered it in the first place. He might not be in the clover, but he wasn't quite in the doghouse.
Sherlock was completely silent on the ride back to the flat, entirely focused on his mobile. The constable was chatty enough for three, however, and John spent the remainder of the trip home answering the bloke's questions with what few functioning brain cells he had left after three days of chases, shoot outs, arrests, abductions and far, far too little sleep and food. When they arrived at 221b, Sherlock immediately bounded out of the car and dashed inside without so much as a thank you for the callow constable. John thanked him for both of them, and then headed up to the flat at a slightly more sedate pace. When he reached the sitting room, it was to find Sherlock already ensconced in his favorite chair, computer open on his lap, the piles of books that had covered the chair shoved haphazardly onto the floor. John's chair, the sofa, most of the floor and every other available surface in the place were still covered by the personal libraries of two dead men. Why couldn't they both have used e-readers? Shaking his sore head, the blood that had dried in his hair and down the side of his face itching abominably, John headed for the kitchen and the cuppa that was all he'd been able to think about for the last hour.
"Tea," Sherlock said quietly without looking up as John passed him. It was neither a question nor a request. Oh, no. It was one of his flatmate's typically imperious pronouncements. It wasn't even truly a demand, for a demand implied some expectation of being potentially refused. It was simply a statement. I will sit here like a lump and you will get me tea. Strained to the breaking point, John's temper surged to the fore.
"I am tired, Sherlock! It won't kill you to do something for yourself for a change!"
His flatmate looked up, the expression on his normally imperious features almost comical in its shock.
"Really, John. I see no need to become emotional over a simple request for tea," Sherlock remonstrated, his voice unusually soft.
"Request? Request? Like anything you ever say is just a request. You don't make requests. You make demands, or better yet, you say nothing at all and just expect everyone to do everything for you – everything's that's dull that is. You know, all those unimportant little things like going to the market and cooking and cleaning and doing the – literally – bloody laundry! Then there's the running about after criminals, texting serial killers, getting arrested and generally having no life to speak of beyond your work. And do you even care that I fell asleep during my first day of locum work, the first work I've been able to do as a doctor since I got back from Afghanistan? No! Do you care that they're going to give me an ASBO, a fact which I will have to explain somehow when I apply for work in the future? No! Do you care that Sarah, if she had any sense at all, would never want to see me again after what has to be an epic level disaster of a first date? Yes, because you're probably delighted that there won't be anything to distract me from taking care of you!"
"John – " Sherlock began, still speaking in that strangely soft tone, but John wasn't ready to hear him.
"I am tired. I am thirsty, hungry, sleepy and achy. I am worn out, worn down and finished being your lackey for the day. Get you own damn tea!"
"Fine. You needn't make any tea if you feel so strongly about it," Sherlock said, in his usual petulant post-case tones. His voice broke repeatedly, and John, who had resumed his march to the kitchen, turned back, brows furrowing.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with your voice? Are you coming down with a cold? You told me you weren't – " John ground to a halt, suddenly remembering one aspect of their night's adventures that had completely slipped his mind in his obsession with making certain that Sarah was okay and still speaking to him. "Did you let the paramedics examine you?" he demanded suspiciously.
"What for?" his flatmate replied sulkily.
"What for?" John repeated incredulously. "What for! You were throttled Sherlock! Some people might consider that worthy of examination!"
"It's not serious," Sherlock said with as much hauteur as the distinct croak in his voice would allow. "Past experience has shown me that – "
"Past experience? Just how many people have throttled you?"
"Overall or just on this case?" Sherlock asked, looking as if he were genuinely pondering the answer.
"On this case… BLOODY HELL!" John shouted as revelation dawned. "Soo Lin's apartment, when you came out squeaking, you'd been attacked, hadn't you? Hadn't you!"
"I fail to see the relevance – "
"Relevance! I… you… sit down, shut up and take off your coat and scarf. Now!"
"I am sitting," Sherlock countered pathetically, reminding John strongly of the twelve-year-old his flatmate had seemed like on John's first day at 221b. Gesturing firmly for Sherlock to remain in his chair and do as he was told, John bolted up the stairs to his own room where he grabbed the bag of rudimentary medical supplies he'd begun to put by in expectation of exactly this sort of situation. He didn't have much, yet, due to limited financial resources, but it would have to do. He got back to the sitting room to find that, for once, Sherlock had complied with his orders. The laptop was sitting propped against the side of the chair, and the coat and scarf had been thrown across a stack of books.
"Now," John said, kneeling on the floor in front of Sherlock's chair and rifling through the bag, "did you even tell the paramedics that you'd been hurt?"
"There was no need," he croaked. "I'm fine."
"Yes, well, since I'm the doctor and you're just the world's only consulting detective, why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
Now that the scarf and coat were out of the way, John could clearly see the ligature marks on Sherlock's throat from where the Chinese smuggler had tried to throttle him with a scarf. They were red and inflamed and layered over the top of older contusions that just begun to darken to a nice, plum shade. John was right. That stubborn fool had been throttled twice in two days and hadn't bothered to mention it.
Though he'd stopped to turn on every lamp and light in the sitting room and kitchen, the room still had a dim quality to it at this time of night, so John pulled the small penlight from his bag and used that to examine Sherlock's throat more closely. The skin around his flatmate's throat was red and looked slightly swollen in places. John laid the back of fingers against the more prominent of the contusions and was unsurprised to feel noticeable heat coming off it.
"Does it hurt?" he asked. Sherlock scowled at him grumpily, not quite meeting his eyes, and John took that for a yes.
"I'm going to feel your throat," John said calmly, in his best medical manner. "Give a shout if any of this hurts. Seriously, it could be important."
Sherlock nodded, and John placed his fingers on each side of Sherlock's throat near the clavicle and then began to slowly work his way upward. He was careful to keep his touch light, only palpating spots very gently when he had to. To his relief, the damage seemed slight despite the double dose of ligature strangulation. Shan had said, now he came to think of it, that there had been three attacks. One at the museum, one at the circus, and… he should have realised sooner that Sherlock had to have been attacked at some point and simply hadn't told him. It was the damned Saracen Assassin all over again. What was it going to take to make Sherlock understand that he needed to confide these little incidents to John? He wasn't working alone anymore. How he'd survived working alone for so long honestly puzzled John as it was. The madman didn't even pause to eat unless there was someone around to remind him.
Sherlock grunted when John palpated the area around his larynx. "Sorry. Looks like you've got some oedema here," John apologised. "It's probably why your voice is getting worse. Doesn't seem too bad, though."
"Good," Sherlock croaked. "I wouldn't want to worry Mrs. Hudson."
John grinned. "No, we wouldn't want that." He continued his examination, feeling carefully around the area of the hyoid bone. Sherlock should probably have an x-ray done, but he doubted he could convince his flatmate to pop out for one now. Especially not when John himself had refused the paramedics determined attempts to get him to go to the A&E. He knew it was somewhat foolish, but John'd had enough injuries during his time in the RAMC not to get too worked up over a simple coshing, even if it had knocked him out for a brief while. It would hurt, but his vision was okay and his memory seemed unimpaired, so he diagnosed himself as well enough to be getting on with things, and he firmly quashed the little voice in the back of his head that kept reminding him what kind of fool for a patient a doctor had when he treated himself. It wasn't like he hadn't been a fool before.
As satisfied as he could be that nothing in Sherlock's neck actually seemed fractured, John turned his attention to his flatmate's circulatory system. Sherlock yanked his hand back when went to take it, but John simply smacked it and held on more firmly. "Leave off," Sherlock squeaked. "There's nothing wrong with my hands."
"No, but I'd really rather not try to take your pulse on your neck right now, so shut it and be still," John ordered. Not satisfied with the reading he was getting on Sherlock's pulse, he pulled his second-hand sphygmomanometer and aged stethoscope from his bag. He positioned the first on Sherlock's arm, tucked the stethoscope against the inner skin of his elbow and listened intently. "One-ten over seventy-five. That's alright then," he announced, putting the instruments carefully back in his bag.
"I told you, I'm – " Sherlock's grumble broke off and he pulled away as John shone the light across his eyes, checking for burst blood vessels and proper dilation.
"What could possibly be in my eye that would explain anything!" Sherlock protested, glaring at John with renewed vigor.
"Don't be ignorant and stop whinging."
"I am not whinging!"
"Sounds like whinging to me," John said before clicking the penlight off and standing up. "So, the bad news is that your throat is going to be sore for a while. The good news is that there's no sign of serious damage to your throat or of cerebral ischemia. The great news is that you are now going to be treated like a prince."
"I beg your pardon," Sherlock said uncertainly, slumping back into the chair and looking poutier than ever.
"Well, half a prince," John temporised. "Prince: protection, rest, ice, NSAIDs, compression and elevation. Protection is a little bloody late, but do try not to get strangled again before this one has time to heal properly."
"Rest is important, so no talking."
"I absolutely refuse to – "
"You told me when we first met that you sometimes go days on end without speaking. This is the time implement it. Your larynx needs time to recover."
"Any other commands, Doctor?" Sherlock muttered acidly, the effect entirely ruined by the croak that broke up the word commands.
"Compression is out since that's the source of the problem to start with, so we'll just round things off with ice, anti-inflammatories and elevation."
John fetched a glass of water from the kitchen tap, and put the kettle on to boil while he was about it. Then, retrieving some Ibuprofen from his bag, he presented the water and two of the pills to Sherlock, who took them with only a minor grumble. While he waited for the tea to finish, John wandered into the bathroom and cleaned some of the dried blood off his own face. He clutched the sides of the pedestal sink and leaned against it, head hanging. God, he was tired. When he heard the kettle whistle, he trundled back into the kitchen and poured a cup of tea for Sherlock and one for himself. He sat Sherlock's cuppa down on one of the taller stacks of books by his flatmate's armchair and then perched on the arm of his own chair, the only surface left to sit on.
"Once you've drunk your tea, we'll start icing your throat."
Sherlock nodded absently.
"Look, I'm sorry for losing my temper," John began, only to have the younger man shake his head at him emphatically. "Sherlock, I mean it. I shouldn't – "
"If you insist on apologizing, I am going to violate the prohibition against speaking."
"No. You shouldn't talk."
Grimacing, John ceased, just sitting and watching in silence as Sherlock drank his tea, his own largely forgotten. It felt a bit strange to be watching his flatmate so closely, but Sherlock was used to being scrutinised – hardly seemed to notice it, in fact – and it meant that John had something to look at other than the death threat smeared across their windows. Bollocks, getting that out was going to be a right pain in the arse.
As soon as Sherlock was finished with the first cup, John fetched the kettle to pour him a second one, trying to ignore the gradually increasing limp. Post traumatic stress, damn it to hell. He couldn't ignore, however, the way the kettle rattled alarmingly against the ceramic mug as he started to pour the hot water. Leaping up, Sherlock took the kettle from him and set it hastily aside.
"John, you're shaking," he croaked.
"It's fine. I'm fine," John protested as Sherlock guided him to sit in his chair.
"There is a large bump coming in on the side of your head. Were you knocked out?"
John sighed. "Not sure, but really, it's nothing. I'm just… tired."
"This is more than tired. Your limp is back, your hand is shaking and you're paler than me." Sherlock's eyes narrowed dangerously. "When did you eat last?"
John thought for a moment. He never had gotten any of Mrs. Hudson's nibbles, and they'd both been running about like madmen for days, and… "What day is it?" he asked.
"John, you need to eat!"
"You're a fine one to talk," John muttered, but he doubted that Sherlock even heard him. His flatmate had already wandered off, disappearing out the door and down the stairs. John sat there, contemplating food, contemplating his unfinished tea, contemplating sleep in his own bed, but everything just sounded like too much effort. What he should really do was get up and get a start on those windows. How he was supposed to sleep knowing that there was still an announcement of his impending death emblazoned across the windows of 221b was beyond him. But he did nothing. Instead, John just sat, shaking and wishing that he knew where the devil Sherlock had gotten off to.
He had his answer quickly enough. Sherlock returned with a bag strung over his arm and carrying a tray in his hands. Unceremoniously knocking the books off the small table by the chair, Sherlock set the tray down. Looking over, John saw two steaming bowls of soup, a plate of cold sausages and a small loaf of unsliced bread. "Where'd you get all that?" John demanded. "Mrs. Hudson hasn't been the supermarket yet."
"Mrs. Turner was delighted to be of assistance," Sherlock said, speaking of their neighbor and Mrs. Hudson's close friend, Marie Turner. Mrs. Hudson was always borrowing her computer, having none of her own, so she could leave comments on John's blog. "If her hair wasn't already up in curlers, she would have come over to fuss at you herself," Sherlock added ominously. "Consider yourself fortunate. The bag is full of pastries, for breakfast. Apparently, we need fattening up. Now, eat."
"I will if you will," John countered.
"Agreed," Sherlock said with a squeak and John couldn't help but laugh.
"Not in very good nick, are we?"
"We'll do well enough," Sherlock said.
Shrugging, John dug in, only slightly surprised when Sherlock renewed each of their tea cups, filling John's with more sugar and milk than tea, before leaning against the edge of John's chair to eat himself. As soon as they were both finished, not a single crumb left, Sherlock tidied the plates away… if you could consider the small clear patch on the floor away. Then he took John by the arm and hauled him to his feet.
"Now, you're for bed."
"I can't sleep," John protested. "Not until I clean the windows."
"But, it will only take a bit, and I – "
"No, John. You need sleep. No more fussing."
"I am not fussing!"
"Sounds like fussing. Would you prefer fretting?"
"Oh, bugger off," John said, shaking him off and marching the rest of the way up the stairs to his room on his own. He'd just managed to strip his clothes off and get between the covers, dreading the long, shaky hours of sleeplessness ahead, when Sherlock entered and plopped bonelessly into a chair beside the bed, his violin held in his long-fingered hands. "What are you doing?"
"Practicing," Sherlock said succinctly. "Now, stop interrupting and go to sleep."
"You have to practice up here? Now?"
"Sleep, John," Sherlock said before drawing the bow across the strings and beginning on a low, melodious air that seemed vaguely familiar at times, but totally strange at others.
John's eyes grew rapidly heavy, his thoughts scattering, and it was only with the greatest effort that he managed to say, "Don't forget to ice your neck," before he fell deeply asleep. He dreamed of Sarah and concerts and playing tag in the streets of London with a young boy who looked remarkably like a twelve-year-old Sherlock Holmes.
No smugglers, no death and no Afghanistan.