Notes: Random fic based on this concept I had. Part of my series.
Asexual!Sherlock/Straight!John (platonic romance, established relationship)
Your Pain in My Hands
It's an old injury. Over a decade old, now. He went through physical therapy after surgery, once he returned from Afghanistan, and all things considered, the wound healed nicely. His range of motion is virtually identical to what it was prior to getting shot. But damn it all—he's getting older. Sometimes, the shoulder acts up.
When it's too cold outside or when he sleeps on it wrong or sometimes after lifting weights or other heavy objects or running around London with Sherlock on a case, his bad shoulder burns and aches and stiffens up to the point where he can barely move his arm in any direction. Even when he lets his arm hang motionless at his side, he can feel the shoulder pulsing with pain, ready to flare at a wrong move. He could get a prescription for a strong painkiller if he wanted, but he doesn't like the way opioids make him drowsy. He tries ibuprofen but it doesn't help much.
What does help is Sherlock. He has always recognized instantly when John was experiencing pain, and at some point in their relationship, he began to actively treat the bad shoulder. Now, it is routine. He goes about it quietly, without waiting for John to ask. One glance and he goes into the kitchen for the frozen compress or the heated compress, depending upon what he thinks will help John most on that particular occasion. He allows John to sit with it for about an hour, the heat relaxing the muscles a bit or the cold bringing down the inflammation. He hands John a mug of hot tea and sits with him on the sofa until the compress has maximized its usefulness.
Today, it's the hot one. John sits with it heavy on his shoulder, that arm in his lap and his mug of tea in the opposite hand. He has the telly tuned to the news. Sherlock's pacing between kitchen and sitting room, hands on his hips, thinking about Lord only knows what. He's just finished a case two days ago, and it's the weekend now, which means he's relaxed and recuperating and in a good mood. It's raining outside, the sound receding into the background, daylight gray through the windows. John watches the news with only casual interest, lifting his mug up and down from his lips in a slow rhythm and glancing over at Sherlock periodically.
"It'll only get worse," John says.
"Hmm?" says Sherlock, stepping in some kind of circle in the clear center of the room.
"The bloody shoulder. It'll only get worse when I'm old."
"Perhaps. Or stay about the same. It all depends how well you care for it now."
"Everything's worse when you're old."
Sherlock decides not to make a comment about preventative dying. "You're whining," he says instead.
John makes a face, as if to say he's perfectly entitled to whine. He drinks the last of his tea and Sherlock takes the lukewarm compress away, back into the kitchen.
John gets up off the sofa and moves to sit in Sherlock's favorite chair, holding his left arm stiffly to his side. Sherlock hops onto the back of it, sitting nimbly with his feet on the armrests.
John hisses the moment Sherlock's hands close over the pain. Sherlock begins to massage gently, sandwiching his hands over the front and back of the shoulder. He uses the heels of his palms as well as his fingertips, sometimes tilting the pads of his hands inward. Gradually, as he feels John's muscles begin to yield, he increases pressure. His thumbs dig into the hot center of scar tissue, and he feels John's whole body tense for a few seconds.
John is mostly silent, except for the occasional groan and curse. Sherlock never says a word, blue eyes focusing on the shoulder, as if he can actually see the muscles through John's shirt. He works at a steady, consistent pace, his long fingers pinpointing familiar areas, recognizing the knot patterns and the place where the bullet lodged. Touching the shoulder turns Sherlock somber, reminds him what could have been the end of John and the beginning of their relationship. It bothers him that there isn't anything he can do to heal John once and for all, that this massaging is the most relief he can offer.
He doesn't stop working the shoulder until his own hands are too tired and beginning to cramp. John never tells him to stop, not even once the pain has subsided into the dullest ache, almost a phantom. He'll take as much help as he can get.
Sherlock's hands grow still. He cranes his neck down and kisses the back of John's shoulder tenderly, strokes his thumb over the spot once. He wraps his arms around John's neck, pulling him close and tucking his face against the back of John's head.
"Thank you," John says, feeling much better. He's smiling.
Sherlock doesn't reply, eyes shut.
John comes home to a dark flat: no lights on, the curtains drawn shut over the windows. He can make out Sherlock's shape on the sofa, by the light he lets in through the open door. Sherlock's lying down, thumb and forefinger pressed into his forehead. He keeps his eyes squeezed shut.
Sherlock has a long list of things, people, and places deserving of his contempt. Headaches definitely fall into the top three—not because he has a strong intolerance for pain but because they stop him from thinking, from working. Fortunately, a headache is a rare thing in his experience, but when it happens, it's enough to drive him mad with frustration.
John theorizes that the headaches are a direct result of Sherlock's brain going into overload, like a computer with too many programs running at the same time. Sherlock thinks this is absurd. Yet the headaches never come when he's on downtime between cases. They don't come when he's lying around the flat bored or relaxing. There's a pattern: they come in the midst of his difficult cases, the ones that take him longer than the usual week to solve. They come at the height of his mental frenzy, when he's about to find the answer but still needs that final puzzle piece.
John closes the door gently, careful to make as little noise as possible. His footsteps are soft and deliberate, as he approaches the sofa and kneels down next to it.
"Hey," he says, murmuring. Sherlock has his left hand resting on his belly; John lays his own hand over it. "Are you all right?"
"How bad is it?"
John grimaces. Sherlock keeps his eyes closed, thumb and forefinger of his right hand rubbing at his forehead.
"What have you taken?" John says.
"Ibuprofen. Four pills. Hour ago. No change."
"What can I do?"
Sherlock doesn't answer. John waits, watching his face, his hand unmoving over Sherlock's. He listens to Sherlock breathe, a steady but labored sound.
"Sit up for me," John says.
Sherlock doesn't move for a moment; when he pushes himself up into a sitting position, he barely cracks open his eyelids. John slides onto the sofa behind him, sitting cross-legged. Sherlock lies back down, knees bent and his head in John's lap.
John takes Sherlock's head in his hands, first only touching and holding. He handles it as if it were a fragile, expensive object. He feels the weight of Sherlock's head in his hands, the soft and thick curls in his fingers. He starts to massage Sherlock's scalp with his thumbs, his other fingers still at first. Sherlock hums long and low but he doesn't sound particularly pained. John moves his other fingertips in tiny circles where they rest against Sherlock's scalp. He lays Sherlock's head back down on his legs again and lays his hands on him again, thumbs pressing and stroking across Sherlock's forehead, fingers poised over Sherlock's skull and massaging in circles again.
His thumbs sweep out from the midpoint of Sherlock's hairline and move down the length of his forehead, then run from the bridge of his nose along his eyebrows.
Sherlock doesn't move the whole time John massages and doesn't say a word. John can't see his face clearly in the dark but he can feel it and hear his breathing. He doesn't know if he's helping but he's at least not causing more pain.
He moves his hands underneath the back of Sherlock's skull again and massages the base with his fingertips. He doesn't know how much time passes, but he sits there for a long time, the two of them silent.
"Thank you," Sherlock says eventually. "Better."
"Good," says John, his hands slower now, caressing more than massaging.
Neither of them moves. Sherlock's eyes are closed, and John's hands are tender. John listens to Sherlock's breathing slow and grow quieter. He holds Sherlock's head in his hands like it's the most precious thing in all the universe. He holds it, touches it, as if it is his personal duty to care for it. He knows its value—that which cannot be expressed in numbers or words. He holds in his hands what makes Sherlock who he is, the man John loves most in the world. Inside this skull is the most brilliant of minds John has ever encountered, magnificent, beautiful, awe-inspiring.
John handles Sherlock's head with the most intimate of loves but also with the knowledge, the reverence, of a doctor. The brain is so vulnerable, the skull too fragile; this, more than any other part of Sherlock's body, possesses his mortality.
John lifts Sherlock's head up just a little, curves his own back to lean forward, closes his eyes and presses a long kiss to Sherlock's brow, his hands hidden in Sherlock's curls.
And Sherlock smiles, in spite of the pain. He can feel the symphonies in John's pose.
John dreams of Sherlock dying in his arms and when he wakes up, his leg hurts like hell. He feels the pain even as he lies still in bed, and he curses under his breath. He reaches down and touches his thigh, waits a few minutes, but the pain doesn't fade. He stares up at the ceiling, resigning to this being a day where he'll have to use the damn cane. He's not sure where it is, it's been so long since he used it; he hopes it's in the closet.
He decides not to call out for Sherlock or to attempt getting out of bed yet. He lies there, looking at the ceiling, only vaguely remembering his nightmare. At least the pain connected him to reality right away; otherwise, he might have spent this entire day in a foul mood.
He picks up his pocket watch where it lies on his night table and checks the time. Half past ten. It's raining outside, he can hear it.
Sherlock comes in eventually, sees that John's awake, and pauses. He's wearing a pair of jeans with his button up-shirt today, which means he has no intention of going out for anything.
"Are you spending all day in here?" he says.
"I might," says John, fingers discreetly worrying the muscles in his thigh. Sherlock glances at the spot, though the movement is nearly invisible beneath the blanket.
"Are you in pain?"
John sighs. "Just the damn leg."
Sherlock stands at the opposite side of the bed, hands on his hips, and stares at him.
"Please," says John.
"You must be hungry."
Sherlock nods and leaves the room. John listens to him in the kitchen for the next twenty minutes, touching his leg with one hand and checking his mobile with the other.
Sherlock returns carrying a tray in both his hands. He sets it down on John's night table and sits on the bed next to him, as John sits up and leans against his pillow. Sherlock hands him the mug of tea and John drinks about half of it before handing it back. Sherlock offers him the plate: two poached eggs, two slices of buttered toast, and a sausage. John puts the plate in his lap and eats, while Sherlock sips on his own mug of tea.
"Did you have a dream?" Sherlock says, as John finishes his food. He's looking at John quietly when he says it. John glances at him briefly and nods. Sherlock doesn't ask anything more. John puts his empty plate back on the tray and trades it for his tea. The two of them sit in silence, drinking.
"Any better?" Sherlock says, once John's mug is empty.
John fingers his thigh. "Maybe. I'd rather not walk on it just yet."
"I can bring your computer in here, if you want it."
"That would be good. Thanks." John looks at Sherlock's face thoughtfully. "Did you have a decent morning?"
"Haven't been awake much longer than you, only about an hour and a half. Slept in. Made myself breakfast. I've been reading the papers."
"How long's it been raining?"
"It was raining when I woke up." Sherlock rests his hands on John's bad leg. "Can I massage it for you?"
John nods. "Don't know what good it'll do, considering it's all in my head, but—"
Sherlock pulls back the blanket and lays both hands on John's thigh. He starts by pressing the meaty part of his palms inward. This isn't like massaging John's shoulder; there aren't any knots to loosen or scar tissue to soothe. There is nothing physically wrong. Sherlock does not seek to relieve the leg itself but to comfort John through touch. He chooses to focus on the leg because pain opens a person. A hug is always comforting but Sherlock touching the pain forces John to accept that Sherlock is here, with him, alive and safe.
John winces a little but doesn't make a sound. Sherlock keeps his eyes on John's thigh, his hands massaging deep into the muscles on all sides of it.
"Perhaps I'll bring my things in here too," Sherlock says. "Today's more suitable for reading, rather than experiments."
John smiles. "As long as you leave your violin in the sitting room."
"I'll play it later."
Sherlock works John's thigh for a few minutes before. When he stops, he looks at John, his hands still on the leg. John looks back but cannot tell the meaning in those bright blue eyes.
Sherlock pulls him into a hug, and John relaxes into it, closing his eyes and smelling Sherlock's clean shirt and warm skin. Sherlock holds him close and snug.
"It wasn't real," he says. "This is."
John soaks in those words. Sherlock pulls away, lays his hands on John's shoulders, and touches his forehead to John's.
"I'm right here," he says.
John cups his hand over the back of Sherlock's neck.
John's sitting on the sofa in the sitting room, watching Sherlock pace. Sherlock's hit a snag in his case: the latest piece of evidence doesn't match up with the rest of it, and he hasn't yet deciphered what it means. He picks at it like a bird at a knot, frustration approaching anger now, but John doesn't care about that. Instead, he notices the way Sherlock's been touching his stomach periodically over the last hour. Now, he keeps his right hand there as he moves back and forth through the room.
"Are you feeling okay?" John says.
Sherlock ignores him, muttering about evidence and idiots and what it all means. John watches his fingers curl into his stomach a little. Sherlock crosses over to the opposite end of the room but instead of turning back around, he stops at the mantel and leans against it, his back to John. A small hiss escapes him, like air out of a punctured balloon.
John gets up from the sofa and goes to the other man's side. He circles thumb and forefinger around Sherlock's arm, trying to look into his face.
"You're in pain," he says.
"It's nothing serious."
But Sherlock's leaning his weight against the mantel as if it hurts him to stand, and his face betrays him. John coaxes him away, leads him to the sofa with his hand at Sherlock's elbow. Sherlock lies down at his insistence.
"I'll go warm up a heating pad," John says, turning toward the kitchen. "And make you some tea."
"That isn't necessary. Could you—would you just?"
Sherlock holds out his arm, and John looks at him for a second before understanding what he wants. He hesitates because he thinks the heating pad and some tea would help, but Sherlock's looking at him expectantly. John moves to the sofa and lies down as Sherlock turns on his left side and makes as much room as he can. John takes him under one arm and pulls him close.
"Must be stress," Sherlock says. "At least it's not a bloody headache."
"Have you been eating?"
John hasn't been keeping track.
Sherlock exhales, closing his eyes, trying to calm his brain. The pain in his stomach burns and clenches cruel, but John is solid at his back. They lie quiet for a while, and John moves his hand down to Sherlock's belly. He starts to rub slow circles, his hand warm and gentle. Sherlock puts the case aside to focus on the feeling. They don't speak; the only sound in the flat is John's hand against the fine fabric of Sherlock's shirt.
"Let's go to bed," John says. "You'll think better in the morning, after some rest."
"Mmm," says Sherlock, which means he yields.
John stills his hand and holds onto Sherlock for a few minutes more, before getting up and leading Sherlock upstairs. Sherlock gets into bed and John goes back down to the kitchen for the heating pad. He brings Sherlock a glass of water too.
They fall asleep with John's hand on Sherlock's belly.