A.N. And we have the second half of this story! Hopefully, it lives up to your guys' expectations. If not...sorry for getting your hopes up? But really, thanks again to my wonderful Beta on Tumblr who somehow managed to turn this floppy bit of scribble into a story.
Almost immediately, John's face slackened, all emotion wiped from it in an instant. It was as if a tidal wave of fury was being held back behind gates of unfeeling steel, cold and hard, but with the imminent threat still very much present.
That look, that lack of expression, was making Sherlock horribly uncomfortable. John was normally so easy to read, his face an open book, but now it was almost impossible to tell what was going through his head. So he took his hand back, settling it into its former position as he pondered his next move. Fortunately, he didn't have to make one, as his partner decided for him.
The next second, John had leaned over and pulled Sherlock out of his chair. Surprisingly, the detective didn't put up a fight as he was hauled into the kitchen, letting himself be sat down on one of the chairs (fortunately not the one he'd dripped acid on) as John continued to move around the kitchen, occasionally tossing things on the table and slamming cabinets.
Finally, the doctor sat down in the other chair next to Sherlock, noticing with some shock that his flatmate had already shed his coat, the dark material puddling onto the floor in a rustling heap. Underneath, a red patch stained the white shirt that Sherlock was in the process of removing, long fingers deftly undoing the buttons and smearing bits of red on the once-pristine material.
The shirt was pulled off, and Sherlock twisted to the side in order to give the doctor a better view of the injuries. The pale skin was marred by mottled bruises, the darkest being along his ribcage, while below that a deep gash curved diagonally into his flesh above the jutting hipbone. Blood was still leaking from it gently, free from the pressure that the detective's hand had put on it. Dried blood stuck to the skin, dark and angry-looking.
The anger roiled inside of John again as he studied the injuries, mouth pulling down at the corners for a moment before returning to that blank slate.
The bowl of warm water on the table nearly toppled over as John grabbed it, yanking it towards him. The rag in it was roughly wrung out, and Sherlock hissed as it was swiped over his skin. He clamped down, trying not to make any sound as the doctor continued.
Within a minute, the water was tinged pink, and grew steadily darker as time passed.
John barely took notice of what he was doing; his movements automated from too many years spent repeating the same actions. He was too caught up in his own thoughts—mainly, what the hell was wrong with the man in front of him?
What had Sherlock been thinking, not letting anyone know he'd been hurt? There was a possibility that it was his pride getting in the way. The man's ego was so large it was practically viewable from space, and absolutely infuriating at the very best. The detective was always prancing around, doing whatever he wanted and flaunting his intelligence wherever he went. John would also be first in line to admit that the younger man was indeed an idiot; allowing himself to be led into dangerous and nearly fatal situations with little thought for consequences.
But while he was a danger-addicted egomaniac with often-violent bouts of boredom, the doctor could never see him as stupid. He may have been an idiot…but he wasn't that much of an idiot…but hiding an injury this severe was silly and quite…well, stupid. It showed a staggering lack of thought, something that John didn't really think the detective was capable of, in all honesty.
A low grunt that nearly came across as a whimper immediately snapped John back to reality. The doctor looked up, and saw that Sherlock's eyes were shut, his jaw clenched tightly as he tilted his head back. A light sheen of sweat had appeared on his brow, and taut skin on white knuckles was gripping the back of the chair.
With a jolt, John realized that as he's delved deeper and deeper into his thoughts, he'd also been pressing down harder and harder. He released the pressure immediately, alarmed at himself.
"Jesus, I'm sorry," the doctor said, dropping the bloody towel into the basin.
Sherlock let out the breath he'd obviously been trying to hold, his body relaxing as the pressure on his side was removed. He gave a forced chuckle, wiping away the sweat on his face with the back of his hand.
"I'm fine," the detective sad, shaking his head minutely. "You're just helping me. Again," he added, a considerate afterthought.
It was John's turn to shake his head. "No, I didn't mean to…I mean, that shouldn't have hurt so much, I was just…" he trailed off, grasping for the right words. "I just wasn't thinking," he finished lamely.
Another chuckle, this one genuine. "I'm afraid you're wrong on that one, doctor. Your problem is that you were thinking too much."
"Yeah, I guess so."
There was a short silence as John pulled out thread and a clean needle, but Sherlock's tentative question nearly made him drop it in shock.
"Would you…rather talk?"
John stared at the consulting detective, who almost seemed…embarrassed, not meeting his eyes. Was Sherlock, master of avoiding emotional conflict (always claiming there were never any in the first place), really asking him if he wanted to talk things over? It was an offer John couldn't refuse.
"Amazing," he said, smiling. "You always accuse me of never using my brain, but the second I try, then you want to talk?"
"Well," Sherlock said airily, sounding much more like his normal self, "there is a time and place for everything. You happen to start thinking at the most inopportune moments."
The two shared a laugh, and for that moment they could pretend that nothing had happened before reality set back in, with a bleeding detective and an angry doctor.
Carefully, John began to thread the needle, keeping his eyes carefully on his work.
"So," Sherlock said carefully, also keeping his gaze pointedly away from the other man. "Care to tell me what's, ah…on your mind, then?"
John almost smiled in satisfaction at the sound of the detective, usually so eloquent with his words, stumbling over the sentence like a somewhat normal person.
"You're not going to answer without me asking first?" he said, a bit more harsh than necessary. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the younger man shift slightly.
"It would probably be more beneficial for the both of us if I don't answer preemptively," Sherlock answered.
John pursed his lips mockingly. "Yeah, that might be better." He leaned back for a second as he carefully knotted the stitching thread. "Well, I guess I'll get the biggest problem out of the way first. Why the hell didn't you tell me you were hurt this badly?"
Sherlock let out a quiet huff. "Of course you go right for that."
"Well, it's been bugging me."
"I could tell."
There was a short silence, until John figured that Sherlock needed just a bit more prompting.
"So, then…what is the reason?"
"I'm thinking," Sherlock muttered. John huffed; temper beginning to flare a bit again.
"Why, so you can lie to me?"
"Possibly. It may be better than the truth."
That really wasn't helping. "What's the truth?" the doctor pressed.
"I'm not sure."
John snorted, until he looked up and caught sight of Sherlock's utterly frustrated expression, and it hit him. "Wait a minute…you mean that, don't you."
"Oh, come on, let's not make a fuss—"
"You honestly don't know why you lied to me."
Sherlock huffed again, frustration building into annoyance. "I didn't lie, John."
"You told me you were fine. That was a lie," the doctor countered.
"Well, I felt fine."
"But you weren't fine, and you knew it."
Sherlock finally conceded. "Fine, I suppose I did know. To an extent."
"Then why didn't you tell me?" John said insistently.
"I tried!" Sherlock said loudly, his irritation finally winning out over his restraint, backed into a corner as he was. However, it made John stop cold.
"When?" he finally spluttered.
"In the cab," Sherlock said, more quietly now. "I nearly said something, but decided against it."
Sherlock sighed, tucking a hand beneath his chin. "Because you thought that Lestrade was right about me."
As he was talking, John leaned forward, placing the top of the needle to the skin. Glancing up, he caught the detective's small nod and proceeded to begin stitching carefully.
A small note of strain tinged Sherlock's words despite his best efforts as John continued with his ministrations. "You seemed very convinced by his argument, something I was very much hoping against, and when you told me that he was correct in his thinking…well, I simply decided to forget the entire issue and neglect to tell you about this little problem."
"Little?" the doctor said incredulously. "Sherlock, you're getting stitches in your kitchen and dribbling blood on the floor. In what way is this a 'little' problem?" "Perhaps it isn't, then," Sherlock consented. "But my reasoning does not change."
"Reasoning? Please, you chose not to tell me out of spite and pride."
"Partially, I suppose. Such an injury shows a distinct lack of skills, ones that I most certainly have," the detective sniffed, almost haughty through the pain. "But I also didn't need you constantly bringing up this one aberrant example in an attempt to keep me from doing my job the way I have always done it."
"What, nearly getting yourself killed?"
Sherlock's eyes flashed angrily as he turned to look at the doctor for the first time since they'd moved to the kitchen. "And that," he snapped, "is precisely what I was talking about. You think I won't survive, but I was doing just fine before you came along."
"Oh, really? Because from everything I've heard," John snapped right back, tugging a bit harder on the thread than necessary, "you seemed to be a crazed junkie running around, pissing people off, and getting shot."
Sherlock looked furious, and it was probably only the pain that kept him from getting up and storming out.
"And you think you're helping me, do you?"
"If by that you mean I'm doing my damndest to keep you from killing yourself, then yes, I am!"
"Fantastic job you're doing, then. How did you put it? I'm getting stitches in my kitchen?"
John recoiled slightly, stung, before retaliating. "You're not bleeding to death in an easy chair. I'd call that a step in the right direction."
"Please. I could have taken care of it."
"Really," the doctor said, dripping the end of the thread and the needle on the table on the clean dish, the end still attached to the bloody gash. He stared Sherlock in the eye, his face grim. "If I walked out that door right now and not come back, what would you do?"
A frigid silence immediately fell, and Sherlock blinked, eyes widening slightly. The ultimatum hung in the air, ominous and clear.
The detective felt his companion's gaze, his own pale eyes flickering around the flat as thought the answer was hiding there, as concealed as one of his clues.
"If I said that I was going to continue helping people," Sherlock finally said, "would you stay?"
"No," the doctor answered sharply. "Because that's not what you do. You're not in it to help anyone feel better, you do it because you're bored and you get some kind of sick pleasure out of proving yourself smarter than everyone else, and catching people who think they got away with it."
The detective eyes him for a second before settling back into the seat. "There you have it then," he said quietly. "I suppose I'd just go back to that." He stared back at the wall, his expression a mixture of some odd satisfaction and what could almost be interpreted as sadness. John couldn't help but feel as though he had just passed some sort of test.
The detective twisted around, reaching for the needle and thread, clearly intending on attempting to finish the job himself until John swatted his hands away.
"I'll finish it. You'll only mess it up," the doctor said firmly, trying not to think about the look of resignation that Sherlock was valiantly trying to hide. But the detective allowed himself to be pushed back, jaw clenching as the needle moved in and out as gently as the doctor could manage.
The door opened suddenly, and Mrs. Hudson's voice floated through the flat. "Are you all right then, dears? I heard shouting, and it woke me up, so I just thought—"
Their landlady's words cut off abruptly as she caught sight of them and practically shrieked. John couldn't really blame her, with bits of blood dabbled around the kitchen and John sewing shut a gaping wound in his colleague's side.
"Sherlock, what have you done?" she demanded, and John couldn't help but commend her on a fast recovery.
"It's nothing, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock said dismissively, as John once again dug the needle into his side. It was obvious that he didn't want her here, not bothering to look over at her. "Fell off a building, must have hit something on the way down is all."
"Oh, is that all?" she said, the sarcasm almost making her words heavy, in a way. "There's blood everywhere!"
"I'll take care of it," John reassured her, something nagging at him now. He wanted her out almost as much as the detective, now, so he could confront him about it. "Don't worry about it. It's late, you should go back to bed."
"I'm not cleaning that up—"
"I will," the doctor repeated, hastily interrupting her.
She eyed them for a second longer, with John staring at her and Sherlock pointedly ignoring her, before she shook her head, turning around. "Always something going wrong for you two," she said, voice growing fainter. "Just don't expect me to do any of the cleaning for you on this one. I can't stand blood—" her voice finally cut off as the door shut behind her with a snap.
"She'll be up here first thing tomorrow with a mop and a bucket," Sherlock muttered, but John had his mind on the thing that had been bugging him.
"Why did you lie to her?"
Sherlock blinked at him, but the doctor wasn't fooled at all by the purposefully blank face. He frowned, shaking his head.
"No more games, Sherlock. Just tell me, why did you lie? You didn't hit anything when you fell."
"How do you know I lied?"
"The cut," John answered, tugging the thread gently through. "It's just that, a cut, because if you got caught on something it would be jagged and a lot more messy. This is too clean." He glanced up at the detective, who was looking back curiously.
"A good observation," Sherlock concurred.
"Then you got cut during the fight. But why would you lie about that to Mrs. Hudson? You've told her other blatant truths about getting in fights and what you've been keeping in the fridge, so why? What possible reason could you have?"
The consulting detective was still staring at him, and John could practically see the wheels working inside his mind, whirring away at speeds he couldn't even begin to imagine. Yet out of that, a suspicion was still nagging at him that he couldn't help but vocalize.
"Unless…you weren't lying to her," he continued, his meaning clear.
Sherlock snorted. "Why must it always be about you, John?"
"I don't know, you tell me," the doctor challenged, stopping his work once again to glare up at his companion. "You're sitting there, dodging questions and insulting me—"
"Sitting here? You happen to be shoving a needle into me—"
"See? There you go again!" John sighed, shaking his head slightly as he began the last few stitches. "Can't you just give me a straight answer instead of treating this as some kind of hide-and-seek mind game?"
Sherlock was still staring, and John could clearly feel it, but for once he didn't bother to look up to meet that pale gaze. The silence stretched on for another few seconds before the detective looked away, sighing heavily.
"I did get cut by the killer's knife, you were right about that. You were also correct on saying that I was lying to you indirectly when I was speaking with Mrs. Hudson. However, I only did it because…well, I really was trying to think, John. I didn't really want you to…" the words trailed off miserably as once again the verbose detective scrambling to put the sentence in order.
"You didn't want me to know…because of how I would react?" John finished, incredulous, and immediately noticed the wince that had nothing to do with the pain.
"Sort of…I guess so?"
Sherlock sounded completely unsure of himself, which made John believe him far more than if the detective had been looking him right in the eye.
"And since when have you cared how I felt?" the doctor accused, perhaps a bit more venomously than intended. "Actually, since when have you cared how anyone felt?"
Sherlock squirmed uncomfortably. "Possibly because…I…" He growled under his breath, obviously irritated by his own inability to verbalize his complicated thoughts. Finally, he tried again, purposefully. "Because, out of everyone I have met, I believe you are the only person whose opinion has mattered to me at all."
John's hands stopped as he pulled the final knot. "And…you think that this secret of yours would have changed my opinion of you?"
"Well, no, not exactly…"
"Please, just stop trying to hide things," the doctor said firmly, his mind still churning at the detective's words. He placed the needle aside as the small scissors deftly clipped the thread. "Sherlock, would you please just give me a straight answer?" He stripped off his bloody gloves, throwing them onto the table. "What aren't you telling me?"
Hesitation on his features, the detective pondered for a moment before saying slowly, "Perhaps that…I was not wounded in the fight itself, but rather it is…what led to the fight."
"But why would—"
And suddenly it all made sense, like someone had snapped their fingers and he'd understood. The deflection, the lying…he hadn't put himself in danger simply for kicks. His actions had been far more well-meaning, even noble, which was perhaps the reason that the doctor hadn't thought of it before.
His mind raced back to that dark, cold rooftop, his fun in his hand and his eyes searching fruitlessly, because the killer had known which was he was going to look first, as it was natural to look forward at the top of the stairs, had been counting on it. Unexpected, of course, was the lanky detective who had been right behind him.
"So…let me get this straight. You got this," he pointed at the neatly stitched cut, "because some crazed serial killer was trying to stab me?" John rubbed the bridge of his nose, guilt setting in as he recalled how angry he'd been earlier. "I'm sorry for—"
"Stop that," Sherlock said sharply, cutting him off. "That is precisely what I wanted to avoid. He waved a vague hand in John's direction, wrinkling his nose. "That…guilt. It's written all over your face. I didn't do it because I wanted you to feel some sort of obligation."
"So you want me to be your personal slave because I want to?"
"Yes, because you want to, not because of some debt you think you owe me. Simple."
John stared at the detective for a few seconds, his mind absorbing that bit of information. Finally, he mopped up the small remnants of blood on the pale skin, trying to hide the smile that was creeping across his face.
Sherlock stared at him suspiciously. "What?"
Shaking his head, John began to bandage up the cut and tape the detective's ribs, the grin still present on his face. "It's nothing."
"You're smiling, obviously pleased with something."
"Perhaps," John countered a bit mockingly.
"Well, then, what is it?"
The doctor chuckled, knowing it would only serve to irritate his companion further. "I was just thinking that it's a pity that the only witnesses to your first act of selflessness were me and a deranged killer who's just had both his legs broken."
Sherlock smiled, rolling his eyes in an almost embarrassed denial. "Oh, please. I had entirely selfish purposes, I assure you."
"Sums you up right there, doesn't it. Doing things for others just for yourself."
"Just about," Sherlock agreed with a quiet, pensive hum.
John carefully stretched another piece of tape along the second rib he'd found to be at the very least bruised—his earlier prodding had revealed that there were two ribs that had possibly been fractured, but he was still going to drag the detective into the hospital the next day for an x-ray no matter what kind of fuss he put up. "So," he said, placing another piece next to the other, "if I'm not allowed to feel guilty—"
"Which you're not."
"Am I allowed to say thank you?"
Immediately, the detective balked. "No."
"Sherlock," the doctor said sharply. "I'm trying to be serious."
His flatmate sighed, shooting John an uncomfortable look. "Fine," he mumbled. "You're…welcome," he ground out, obviously forced. Like he'd never been properly thanked before…which was more plausible the more that he thought about it.
Chuckling again, John placed the last piece of tape down, and Sherlock dropped his arm from where he'd propped it up on the table, his arm twisted awkwardly behind him. "See? That wasn't so hard, was it."
He was only given a condescending look for his troubles. "Which, the 'thank you' or the ribs?" Sherlock asked, beginning to stand up.
"Oh, we're not done with the ribs just yet," John said quickly, pulling the detective back down. Of course, his flatmate attempted to resist.
"I'm not walking around with my arm in a sling," Sherlock said firmly, his tone obviously implying that just the idea of it was the silliest thing he'd ever heard. The doctor, of course, had other plans.
"Yes, you are," John said curtly, his arm on the detective's shoulder keeping him in his seat.
"How are you expecting me to do my job with one of my arms tied down?"
"I'm expecting you to not do your job."
Sherlock bristled, and would have left had John's hand on his shoulder not kept him firmly where he sat. "Come now, let's be realistic here," the detective said. "You can't seriously expect me to sit around the flat all day with one arm—"
"You have broken ribs and a fairly decent laceration—"
"I have two bruised ribs and a papercut," Sherlock retorted, and a heavy silence fell as the two men glared at each other.
"Look," John said, not averting his gaze. "You can try and laugh it off any way you want, but you're still in pain and there's no use trying to hide it. You can forget about it for a while, sure, but the second you move it's going to hurt, and you know it damn well."
"You don't have to lead me around by the hand like a child," Sherlock replied. "I have dealt with things like this before, and it's not your job to keep me from my work."
"Really?" John said, mocking incredulity coloring his tone. "Because, last I checked, I'm a doctor and if I think it could be detrimental to your health, then yes…it is my job to keep you from doing yours. But," he said, interrupting his flatmate's reply with a raised finger. "I'll make a deal with you."
Sherlock eyed him suspiciously before leaning back in his seat, allowing John to drop his hand off the detective's shoulder. "And what kind of deal would that be?"
Crossing his arms, John continued with his proposition. "You can either wear the sling and I'll let you go help Lestrade, or you don't wear it and I'll make sure that you stay here until it's better."
The detective looked at him flatly, quirking an eyebrow. "You'll 'make sure' I stay here?"
"I'm a doctor and a soldier. I have my ways."
They stared at each other for another second before Sherlock pushed himself out of his seat with a huff. The lanky form disappeared into the other room, leaving John in the blood-dripped kitchen to clean up.
With a sigh, he stood as well, collecting the materials, until the detective's voice interrupted him, the words slightly muffled.
"What?" he called back. "Didn't quite catch that."
"I said I'm not wearing the damn thing when I'm here, only when I leave for a case."
John had to bite back laughter. "And you can't go around forgetting it, either. No running out the door."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"'Course you wouldn't," John grumbled sarcastically under his breath, dumping the red-tinged water into the sink, mildly surprised it wasn't being used for some experiment. "Just one big walking denial, you are." He raised his voice again. "And you're welcome, by the way."
A grunt was the only reply he got.
There is no one word that can sum him up. 'Genius' might come close, except for the glaringly obvious he happens to not know or care about. The way I've come to see it, he's a puzzle and an argument, this story that you want to piece together but mocks you every time you try. I know, that sounds rubbish, but try living with him. You'll get it.
I know this isn't the first time he's gone and done something incredibly stupid and got himself hurt, and I know for a fact that it's not going to be the last. Maybe I can't stop that, but I sure as hell am going to try and fix whatever he manages to screw up. Maybe one day he'll give up this bad habit of putting himself in constant danger, but until that time comes, I will have to settle for picking up the pieces.
Even if sometimes those pieces insult my intelligence.