Warnings: medical torture, graphic violence
Spoilers: arguably fuzzy ones for "The Great Game," but nothing really specific
Disclaimer: Sherlock and related characters and situations are the property of the BBC. Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. No money changed hands and no copyright infringement is intended or implied.
Author's Notes: Those warnings are not a joke this time. At all. This is the darkest fic I have ever written, so if those are going to bother you, then please, I'd rather loose a few readers than leave anyone genuinely traumatized.

IANAD, so any medical students reading this, please chime in with suggestions and corrections.

Written in response to a prompt from the sherlockbbc_fic meme on LiveJournal.

The package arrived at Baker Street in the mid-morning. Sherlock, who would probably never give up his night owl habits, was still asleep and John almost didn't bother getting him up except that there was a cluster of small red dots, hand-drawn onto the brown paper the box was wrapped in with the words "Remember our date at the pool?" scrawled underneath it.

He forced his way into Sherlock's room and yanked the pillows out from under the Great Detective's head.

"John?" Sherlock asked, instantly awake and irritated. He turned a ferocious glare on John, the effect of which was completely undermined by his hair sticking in every direction all at once. "What on earth—?"

"Moriarty's sent us a message," John told him, unceremoniously shoving the box into his hands.

Sherlock practically dropped it. "Are you mad? Be careful!"

John gave him a withering look. "I know you're not on form until you've had coffee, but even I can tell it's been through the post. If movement were going to set it off, there'd be a Royal Mail truck in smithereens somewhere."

Sherlock nodded. "All right. Coffee first, then."

Thirty seconds later they were seated at the kitchen table, and Sherlock was bolting his coffee and gazing at the box. "Paper, generic brown wrapping. Could've come from anywhere in the UK. Markers that made the dots…" He leaned in close and sniffed the marks. "Also generic. Now, handwriting." He examined the writing of the address and the brief note. "Whoever wrote this was most likely a woman, and most likely under stress at the time. I think we can assume Moriarty has stolen someone's handwriting."

John sighed and put his toast down. So much for breakfast.

Sherlock turned the package over. "Tape unremarkable. I didn't expect much from Moriarty, but nothing? I'm actually impressed."

"Sherlock!" John hissed.

Sherlock focused on him for a moment, then blinked. "Right. Sorry." He pulled off the wrapping and opened the box inside. There was a piece of paper, a key, and a small device.

"That," John said quietly, "looks like a detonator." He paused. "Part of one."

Sherlock scanned the paper then passed it to John.

Obviously, it's a bomb. Somewhere very crowded. Lots of small children and pets and other heart-breaking headline news things. And it will go off, soon—unless you stop it. You have half of the device to disarm it. The other half you'll have to come get.

55 Lombard Road, Battersea - #301

Oh, and if the police even seem to deviate from their usual activities for any reason, I'm going to assume you called them and set the bomb off. But you can bring your pet, if you like.

John frowned. "Where's that?"

"It's a storage building," Sherlock answered. "Bring the key and the device."

John scrambled to his feet. "You realize, of course, that this is a trap."

"Naturally," Sherlock agreed. "But what choice do we have?"

It was about fifteen minutes by cab before they arrived at Big Yellow Self Storage and Sherlock was carefully inspecting the locks and the outside of storage pod number 301.

"Nothing out here," Sherlock said.

John did not make the obvious rejoinder that there didn't need to be in order for this to be stunningly dangerous as he fitted the key into the lock and turned.

The padlock came off easily and John pulled the pod open slowly, listening for anything that might give away trouble. Nothing happened.

They entered slowly. Inside was one of the most bizarre set-ups John had ever seen. The walls of the pod had been covered in clean plastic sheeting. A large battery unit lit the entire inside of the pod by florescent lights hung from the ceiling. There was a sink with a huge jug of water hung above it with the label, "STERILISED, OF COURSE" and a tray of clean and shiny surgical instruments. A huge clock hung on the far wall with 11.00 circled in red and underlined three times. From the clock, a set of wires led down the wall to a small, closed, cardboard box on the floor. It was labeled "BOOM!" in big balloon letters, surrounded by a red and yellow pointy background.

And on a hospital table, strapped down only by his arms and waist—

"Lestrade!" Sherlock breathed, rushing forwards. The detective inspector blearily opened his eyes and tried to focus on them. Sherlock noticed a note on a toe-tag and yanked it off Lestrade's foot.

"Oh no," Lestrade said, though it came out as more of a moan. "He said you'd hurt me when you came. Please don't hurt me anymore."

John frowned and strode over. He lifted his index finger. "Follow my finger," he instructed Lestrade. He moved it slowly to the side. Lestrade's eyes lazily headed in the appropriate direction nowhere near the right speed. His pupil response was also poor. "Definitely drugged," John said. "Though that's wearing off."

Sherlock was even more pale than he usually was as he handed the toe-tag note wordlessly to John.

You made it! The second half of the device is with our friend, DI Lestrade, and it will also disarm the device attached to your clock. I've left Dr. Watson some equipment for retrieving what you need. You have until the time indicated on the clock to complete your work.

Enjoy, doctor.

John frowned. "He wouldn't…" He trailed off when he got a proper look at Lestrade. There was an odd bulge on the man's left ribs.

Under his skin.

"10.30," John muttered. "Thirty minutes to do surgery." He walked up to Lestrade and said, "You have half of a device implanted inside your skin." He had gone into breaking-the-bad-news mode without even thinking about it. His voice was calm, and didn't shake. He could do this. "We were told that we had to retrieve it and use it to disarm a bomb hidden somewhere in London."

Sherlock was stripping off his coat and examining the plastic sheeting.

"I can't get up," Lestrade said, his voice slurring a little less.

John nodded, and released the restraints on his arms and waist. "Your first instinct is going to be to move around, but with a foreign object embedded in your skin, so I would advise you to stay still for a moment. Now, hang on, Detective Inspector. I need to double-check something."

John went back to look at the tray of equipment he'd been given and his heart sank as he realized his first impression had been correct.

There was no anesthetic. Not even a stout liquor. Nothing. And, of course, whatever drug they'd given Lestrade was wearing off, so no help from that quarter, either.

Sherlock came over. "Nothing. No leads anywhere. Everything is too generic. How are you coming?" he said very quietly.

"I can get the object out of Lestrade, but there's no anesthetic," John whispered back.

Sherlock stared. "You can't possibly be serious!"

"If that little box is what it looks like, he'll die if I don't! And I'll need someone to assist, which is, at the moment, basically you."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "I can't do that." John ignored him in favor of pulling off his jacket and jumper and dragging his sleeves up above the elbows. A moment later, Sherlock was joining him. Sherlock pulled the tray of instruments over beside Lestrade's left side and cut off Lestrade's shirt. Then Sherlock tied on John's surgical mask and John scrubbed up. They went over and joined Lestrade and John quietly and calmly explained the situation to him.

"I'm going to work as fast as I can, so it will be over as quickly as possible, all right?"

There was a long pause and then Lestrade said, "Put the restraints back on." His eyes were clear now, and his speech wasn't slurred, but terror-sharp.

John nodded and hated himself a bit for breathing an internal sigh of relief as he nodded to Sherlock to refasten the leather cuffs around Lestrade's wrists and waist. This was going to sit badly enough on his conscious as it was without needing to worry about doing it over Lestrade's protests.

"It's going to be difficult, but try to struggle as little as possible. It will help me work and it will be safer for you."

Lestrade nodded. "Sherlock, you may need to hold me down, just to be sure."

"I—" Sherlock cut himself off and placed his hands on Lestrade's shoulders. Gently, at the moment, though. And he gave one of the shoulders an awkward pat.

"Okay." John put on a pair of gloves and tested the area with some of the gauze and watched as Lestrade flinched a bit, but not too much. Some pain then, from just having it implanted, but mostly the man was terrified. His skin felt fever-hot to the touch. He could see the line where the device had been implanted, but that had been done at least two days ago. The skin there was already starting to knit back together.

John looked at him and said, "Try to relax as much as you can. I'll warn you when we get to the part that's going to hurt, all right? Until then, take deep breaths." He noted the time (10.40), picked up the rubbing alcohol, and started in on cleaning the skin over the object.

After a few moments Lestrade said, "Say something, either of you. This quiet is driving me mad!" The detective inspector's usually calm face was a mask of fear.

John thought for a moment and said, "I can talk you through what I'm doing, if you like?"

Lestrade frowned and then shrugged. "Why not?"

"Okay," John nodded. "Right now, I'm cleaning your skin. It's just regular rubbing alcohol. Obviously Moriarty has made this environment fairly clean, but infection is still a risk. And, by the looks of your skin here, that object was implanted two days ago, at least, making infection a more serious problem. The first step towards minimizing the risk is to get your skin as clean as possible."

A moment later and he was talking his way through getting some gauze ready to soak up excess blood. As he prepped Lestrade, he noticed the man's breathing evening out. Sherlock also seemed calmer and more centered. John wasn't sure how long that would last, though.

He picked up his scalpel. "All right, detective inspector," he said quietly. "Now comes the hard part. I'm going to make an incision along the top of the object and down one of the sides. It's going to hurt, and your instinct will be to resist, but I'm going to need you to do your best to stay calm and still, okay?"

Lestrade blinked. All focus now. He looked determined, actually. "All right, doctor."

John looked up at Sherlock, who seemed a great deal less steady. But he gave a shaky nod.

"Sherlock's going to hold your shoulders still now," John told Lestrade, nodding back at Sherlock.

Sherlock pressed down on Lestrade's shoulders.

"Okay," John said, laying the scalpel against Lestrade's skin. "You're going to feel a sharp pain." And with that, he cut down. Deep. Deeper than he ever had with someone not under anesthesia before.

Lestrade flinched and cried out, but—and clearly the man was much braver than even John had given him credit for—he managed to stay mostly still. John worked as fast as he could, but the newness and tenderness of the skin growing back probably only made this hurt worse.

Lestrade was more than flinching now. He made half-committed movements away from John's knife and then would try and relax, only to fail and try to escape again, futilely between Sherlock's hands on his shoulders and the restraint on his waist.

The moments seemed to go on forever, even though John worked as fast as he could. Without anyone to suction away the blood that welled up, he had to periodically stop and soak as much of it as possible into some gauze so he could see to go on. In the, probably vain, hope that it would help some, he told Lestrade when he finished cutting along the top and moved to do the side. He wasn't entirely sure that his patient heard him, though, but there was nothing for it but to keep going. Finally, John laid down his scalpel.

Lestrade, able to refocus without the immediate pain, looked at the clock in terror. "You've only got ten minutes! Just kill me now and pull it out!"

"You idiot," Sherlock snapped back. "You're the only man at Scotland Yard even half-way competent. No one else would be worth working with."

Lestrade froze and stared at Sherlock in surprise.

"I'm done with the initial cut," John said. "That wasn't the only painful part, but it probably was the worst," he explained. "I know it hurts, Lestrade, but this won't actually take much longer."

What looked like the corner of a plastic bag was already poking out of the incision in Lestrade's skin. John frowned and got out a pair of clamps.

"All right. I am going to have to peel back your skin a bit. This won't hurt as much as the incision, but it will be painful. I'm attaching the clamps now," he said, as he did so.

Lestrade inhaled sharply. There were tears rolling down his cheeks, but he didn't speak anymore.

"And pulling your skin just slightly back," John told him.

The object had been sealed neatly inside a plastic bag. Probably sterile when it was implanted, to minimize infection. Still, it had been resting under Lestrade's skin for long enough that his body was trying to break it down, and aside from the heat, there was a smell from under his skin that John didn't like. He needed a hospital as soon as possible.

"Now," John said, looking to Lestrade, "I'm going to pull the object out. I'm going to do this as quickly as possible. Since it's been a few days, your body has started to grow around it so this will hurt. Are you ready?"

Lestrade gave an unsteady nod.

"Then here we go." John grasped the corner with his fingers, hoping they wouldn't be too slippery, and pulled. The bag came free at once and pulled out from under Lestrade's skin with a horrible, quiet, squelching sound. Lestrade gave a miserable yelp. There wasn't a tray to put it in, so he placed it onto a gauze pad that Sherlock quickly pulled out.

"Okay," John said, turning back to face Lestrade. "The hard part's over now. It's out. I'm going to bandage you up, but not stitch you since the first place you're going to go is hospital and they're going to want to check my work, all right? The pain's over. It's done."

"Will the hospital hurt me?" Lestrade asked quietly, in a tiny voice. "He didn't have any anesthetic putting it in, either."

John bit back an angry curse and focused on his work. "No." His hands moved efficiently, neatly bandaging the incision he'd made. "No, the hospital will have plenty of anesthetic and much prettier nurses."

Sherlock snorted as he pulled on a pair of gloves. Lestrade managed a weak smile.

No one mentioned that it was only three minutes to 11.00. Sherlock tore open the plastic wrapper of the device and matched it to the other half. It was a simple device, and so he flicked up the switch and then pressed the button on it. There was a click from inside the box beneath the clock.

All three men flinched.

When that was all that happened, Sherlock stripped off his gloves and turned back to Lestrade and said, "Say something, idiot!"

"Ow?" Lestrade whispered.

Sherlock nodded, face set and moved to turn away.

"Oy! Holmes," Lestrade said quietly, halting him, although he didn't quite look at the man this time.

"Thanks," said Lestrade, "for lying to me."

That got Sherlock's attention. "What do you mean?"

"The only person you can bear to work with," Lestrade said, with a slight smile. "Hardly likely."

Sherlock laid a hand on Lestrade's forehead absently, and stroked his thumb across the man's brow as he released the restraints around his arms. "I didn't lie," Sherlock told him. "You're the best, you know? Of the whole Yard, you're the absolute best."

The rest of the day was a blur of hospitals and police questions. Lestrade was now dosed up to the eyeballs with antibiotics and his prognosis was good, the bomb in the box had been real, but inside the box there'd been a note telling them that there had never been any other bomb. Just the threat of one.

And finally, the two of them made it back to Baker Street, Sherlock nearly spitting mad at the utter lack of any tangible lead from the pod, or the package they'd received, or Lestrade himself. John was just tiredly angry at the pointlessness of it all.

"There was no purpose," he finally said as Sherlock closed his computer and sat down. "He didn't have anything he wanted from us," John went on, "or Lestrade. He just…wasted our time. And made me hurt a friend for no good reason."

"Lestrade's a good man. He forgave you before you even touched him," Sherlock said, carelessly tossing personal information out as if it were irrelevant, the way he often did. "But it wasn't pointless. He was testing me. Both of us, really. He wanted to know how much we believed he's dangerous and now he knows we take him very seriously. But he also wanted to know if we would do what we had to, even if it were horrible, to stop him, and he knows we will. A draw for this round, I think."

John nearly threw something at his flatmate. "I don't care who won or not, Sherlock. I just wish I could wake up and find out today was a nightmare."

Sherlock turned his eyes onto John. Really focused on him for the first time that evening and then quietly said, "So do I."

They sat in silence for a moment and finally Sherlock said, "I can't think." He pulled out his violin, and John leaned back and closed his eyes. Sherlock's violin-playing couldn't chase away the day entirely, but it was certainly a good start.