Notes: Had to write a sequel to my last fic "Bless You and Keep You." So here it is! This won't make much sense unless you go read that other fic first, just FYI.

Warnings: Very brief references to a non-con situation.

Asexual!Sherlock/Straight!John (platonic romance, established relationship).

Intensive Care

John waits outside in the hall as Sherlock goes through x-rays and follows him and the nurse back to the exam room afterward. The nurse leaves them to wait for the doctor on duty, and Sherlock sits on the exam table looking small and miserable. It's past one in the morning, and he's beyond exhausted. John stands in front of him, heavy on his feet, and lets Sherlock lean against his chest, head resting on John's shoulder. He rubs circles on Sherlock's back, and they don't speak.

The doctor turns out to be a young woman, looking unfairly alert for this time of night; she even offers a brief smile as she shuts the door behind her. She introduces herself as Dr. Ingham and John tries his best to be friendly, since Sherlock is in no condition to bother. She brings the x-rays with her; not a single broken bone, fortunately. They beat Sherlock to subdue him, then, not for its own sake.

"You reported that Mr. Holmes will be needing a fairly thorough physical examination, correct?"

John nods, looking at her over his shoulder, with Sherlock still limp against his chest. He appreciates that Dr. Ingham doesn't seem likely to ask what happened; John's not sure how plausible a lie he can think up right now.

"You're welcome to stay in the room if you like, Mister…?" she says to John.

"Dr. Watson. I'll stay, thanks."

"All right. Mr. Holmes, if you would please remove your shirt, we can get started and have you out of here in no time."

Sherlock stiffens. John feels it and turns his attention to him. Sherlock pushes himself upright but braces his right hand on John's left shoulder. His red, puffy eyes meet John's, and he says, "I want you."

John gives him an inquisitive look, almost shaking his head.

"I want you to do it," Sherlock says.

Dr. Ingham is silent behind John, and he doesn't understand why Sherlock's requesting this. But Sherlock's fingers press hard into John's bad shoulder, almost painful.


John frowns but nods. Sherlock drops his hand and John turns away to speak to Dr. Ingham in a low tone, a little embarrassed and very apologetic.

"Look, he—he's had a really rough night. I think he would be more comfortable if I did the examination. I know that sounds ridiculous, and I'm sorry for wasting your time. But I would appreciate it if you let me."

He must look pathetic enough because she doesn't attempt to argue with him. She just gives a small nod, pursing her lips, a slight trace of compassion in her eyes.

"If you need anything, please let me or one of the nurses know," she says, before leaving the room.

John turns to Sherlock, who's already unbuttoning his shirt as if it's the most laborious task in the world. John quietly pushes his hands away and finishes the last four buttons.

"You're okay with this?" he says.

"It has to be done," says Sherlock. "Just do it quickly."

He shivers as he takes off the shirt, and John almost cringes at the sight of his exposed torso: too thin, ghostly pale, extensive bruising across the chest and back and around the shoulders. He doesn't see any lacerations, which he's grateful for; the less he has to fix up, the better for Sherlock. John pulls on a pair of disposable latex gloves from the box on the counter. He stands in front of Sherlock again, right up at his knees, and looks at him tenderly.

"Hey," he says. Sherlock doesn't look at him. John lifts his hand up to Sherlock's face and strokes over the left side, pushing back dark curls. He takes Sherlock's face in both hands and they look at each other. "You're safe with me. I promise. You can always tell me to stop."

Sherlock nods a little. He lies down and John begins to look him over. He picks up each of Sherlock's wrists and inspects the bruising there; he wouldn't be surprised if one or both of them are strained. He lifts each arm and asks Sherlock if it hurts, which it does. John presses his fingers carefully around Sherlock's shoulders, especially around the joints. The muscles there are swollen but the shoulders themselves don't appear to be significantly damaged; pain is from having hung in that position too long. John feels Sherlock's neck for any damage there, though he doesn't expect to find it. The mild concussion has already been noted. John begins to feel out Sherlock's chest, working from the collarbones down, being as gentle as he can around the bruising. He doesn't bother prodding at Sherlock's ribs, now that they know nothing's broken, so he quickly moves over them down to Sherlock's belly, pressing fingertips into that tender flesh. He uses more pressure there, and Sherlock only makes one sharp inhale. John glances at him.

"How's the pain?" he says.

"Tolerable. If you don't touch it. Your hands are cold."

John nods. "It's unlikely you have any internal damage but I want to be sure."

There's a sonogram machine tucked up against one of the walls near the exam table. John checks a couple different drawers before finding the right tube of gel. Sherlock shivers when John squirts a dollop on his belly, and John squeezes his bony shoulder briefly. He turns on the machine and rolls the wand into the gel, moving it over Sherlock's stomach, liver, intestines and watching the screen for any sign of bleeding. He looks longer than he needs to because he wants to be sure, but he doesn't find anything amiss. Thank God. He wipes Sherlock's belly clean with a tissue and picks up Dr. Ingham's stethoscope that she left on the counter for him.

Sherlock sits up and John rests a hand on his back, comforting, thumb stroking over a tiny spot. He rests the cold metal chest piece over Sherlock's heart and Sherlock takes a breath without being told. John feels a wave of relief rush through him as he listens: lungs expanding to full capacity with air, deflating as they should, heartbeat steady and strong. He listens to that familiar and glorious sound through three of Sherlock's deliberate inhale-exhales.

"Sounds good," he says. He drops his hand down to Sherlock's lower back. The bruising on Sherlock's back is much less severe, but John feels out the kidneys anyway, other hand on Sherlock's chest.

Satisfied, he moves away and takes off the stethoscope, setting it back down on the counter. He snaps off the gloves and drops them in the bin. When he turns toward Sherlock again, it is with sober resolve. "You're sure no one touched you anywhere else?"

Saying the words out loud twists John's guts.

"I'm sure," Sherlock says, not looking at him. "Not like that."

"I don't mean to be difficult but if anybody did, at all, that requires treatment."

Sherlock apparently doesn't even have it in him to be annoyed right now. "I'm sure, John."


"She got close."

John freezes.

"If you had come a minute later, she would have—"

Sherlock stops.

"But she didn't," says John.

Sherlock shakes his head. John closes the space between them and wraps his arms around Sherlock, warming the other man. Sherlock, who feels so fragile to John, returns the hug. They remain that way for a long stretch, and John closes his eyes and just breathes in gratitude.

When they pull apart and John rests his hands on Sherlock's shoulders, Sherlock tells him what Alexie said: that he shouldn't die a virgin. He doesn't look at John in the eye when he repeats this, and he murmurs the words. Doesn't say anything else, makes no commentary, simply restates what Alexie Varnham said.

John is so glad he killed her.

He takes Sherlock's face in his hands again, making firm eye contact. Sherlock doesn't need to comment on her words; John can hear exactly what isn't said. "Listen to me. There is nothing wrong with you. You're fine, more than fine. That woman was a sodding bitch."

Sherlock lowers his eyes, not smiling.

"Sherlock," John says, leaning toward him, their faces mere inches apart. He searches the other man's bright blue eyes. "I mean it. She was wrong. They were all wrong. She had no right to do that to you. No one does."

John touches his forehead to Sherlock's and closes his eyes. "I love you," he says softly. "I love you just as you are." He pulls back and they look at each other again. "You know that, don't you?"

Sherlock appears as if he might cry, and it wrenches John's heart.

"You know what I am?" Sherlock says. "Do you really know, John?"

What he means is: does John understand it, does he accept it not just for Sherlock but outside of him too.

John smiles. "I know every part of you. I love every part of you."

Hands still holding Sherlock face and fingers in Sherlock's hair, he kisses just above the bridge of Sherlock's nose. When he pulls back, he sees new tears have rolled down the white face. Sherlock stares at him, lips pressed tightly together as if to prevent them from trembling. John feels his own eyes burning, throat closing painfully. He wipes at one tear with the thumb of his left hand—then leans in and kisses at the tears on the opposite cheek. He can feel Sherlock's face contorting as more tears come but ignores it. One by one, gently, he kisses them away until Sherlock circles arms around his waist and pulls them back into a hug. John cups his hand over the back of Sherlock's head as Sherlock silently holds his breath and wets John's shirt.

John holds him like that for a long time and hates the world. He hates that woman he killed all over again. He hates total strangers he has no proof of, for the ignorance and cruelty they would surely throw at Sherlock if they met him and knew what he is. In his own quiet way, John hates his own surrender to them. He cannot change the whole world; he knows that well enough by now. But there is one thing he can do.

"I will always protect you," he whispers to Sherlock. "With everything I am."

He means it. He doesn't care if he has to follow Sherlock everywhere until the day he dies. And he doesn't care if he does die for him one day. He wouldn't be surprised if he did. He'll be proud if he does.

Sherlock says in a voice deep with crying, "Your heart is enough."

They go home to Baker Street with a filled prescription for painkillers and John guides Sherlock upstairs to his bedroom. Tomorrow, they can start icing the bruises. It's nearly three in the morning, and John's amazed they're both still conscious. He goes down into the kitchen to make some tea because that seems the right thing to do when something's gone wrong. He takes a few moments, while the water's boiling, to lean against the kitchen counter with his hands and close his eyes and breathe. He's beyond worn out.

Killed six people today and saved Sherlock from getting raped. Just going to make myself a late night cuppa. Christ, my life is absurd.

He carries the steaming mugs upstairs slowly, wondering if Sherlock hasn't already fallen asleep. But the small lamp on John's night table is on and Sherlock's sitting up in bed. John hands him his tea and puts his own mug down on the table, before kicking off his shoes and disappearing into the bathroom.

They drink their tea in silence. Sherlock is composed again, his eyes dry and his hands steady. When they've both finished, John turns out the light and Sherlock turns on his side away from him. John lies down behind him and curls one arm gently around Sherlock's waist, resting his forehead at the base of Sherlock's neck.

"Is this all right?" he says.

"Yes," says Sherlock, sounding relieved.

John moves his hand up to rest over Sherlock's heart, feeling it beat. "Are you scared? It's okay if you're scared."

Sherlock doesn't answer.

"She's dead," says John. "She's never coming back. You're safe here, with me."

He and Sherlock are lying straight, not spooning. John's leg is draped over one of Sherlock's, and they're pressed softly together.

"What can I do to help?" John whispers.

"You're helping."

Neither of them speak for a moment.

"Will you talk?" says Sherlock. "Until I fall asleep."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Anything. Just want to hear your voice."

John smiles to himself. "Okay."

He thinks for a bit and starts whispering to Sherlock: he starts by recounting the walk he took in Regent's Park a few days ago, when Sherlock was too busy with his experiments. The sky was clear and blue and the birds were chirping. The ducks were swimming in the pond. He didn't have anything to feed them with so he just watched as he made his way round the path. There were bees in the foxgloves, and that made him think of Sherlock. He still doesn't know why Sherlock likes bees so much.

He whispers that he loves to see Sherlock smile and that he can tell the difference between the real smiles and the fake ones. Isn't Sherlock proud? John tells him that he recognizes the scent of Sherlock's cologne as if he's the only man on earth who wears it because Sherlock's been wearing the same brand all the years they've known each other. John can close his eyes and smell that scent and almost feel as if they're hugging, whether Sherlock's with him or not. Once, he thought he caught a whiff of it walking on a street somewhere, and he stopped in his tracks, expecting Sherlock to swoop down on him.

"But it wasn't you. I don't know where the smell came from…. I stood there until it was gone."

John tells him that he loves to hear Sherlock laugh; he should do it more often. He whispers that a few months ago, when he bought that bouquet for their dining table, it was a young man on the street who sold it to him.

"He said my wife would like them and I told him my husband wouldn't much care."

John has no idea if Sherlock's still awake, still listening, but he's starting to doze off himself. He's too sleepy to think anymore, so he starts to whisper "I love you" over and over, like a chant. The words are instinctual, thoughtless but true, and they slide out of John and over Sherlock in the dark like they might be able to cocoon him, keep him safe, dissolve every bruise of the body and heart. I love you, silence, I love you, silence. Beats a pulse between them, of them, winding the two of them together like two chambers of one heart, two lungs in one body.

He and Sherlock breathe in time with each other, slow and relaxed, and John doesn't notice when he finally falls asleep.