Title: Many Wounds
Author: cathedral carver
Word count: 4,700
Warnings: Sliver-thin skin slices, contusions
Summary: Lines and circles and 10,000 taste buds.
A/N: Very Happy (very belated) Birthday to arcsupport. I highly doubt it's angel down and kitten undercoat and fairy penguins being tickled, but I hope you enjoy, regardless.
It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.
~Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
The paper cut was an accident, of course, because who can plan a paper cut? And, who would want to? But still, John wondered about it later. Because, if anyone could plan for anything that was completely random and haphazard, it was Sherlock.
They were in the flat, and it was quiet, too quiet, and Sherlock was reading one of John's old medical textbooks (something about Wernicke encephalopathy, which John had forgotten about or had skipped over entirely, but he knew Sherlock would enlighten him at some point), and John was sorting through mail and circulars and bills and becoming more and more agitated because of money, and life, and money and—
"Ow," he muttered, pushing his palm against his mouth. Why the fuckdid paper cuts hurt so much? Why? As a doctor he felt he should know the answer to this, but at this exact moment, he did not. And he was too out of sorts to care. He sighed through his nose, blinked rapidly several times. He really was very weary, if this was enough to reduce him to tears—
He next became aware of a tall presence beside him, a cool hand on his wrist, pulling his hand from his mouth, a face leaning so close the nose almost touched John's skin.
"Paper cut," Sherlock announced.
"Hurts, I bet."
"Yeah. It does." John paused. "Sherlock—"
Sherlock made an impatient shushing sound and squeezed John's hand, forcing blood to the surface, tiny bulb of bright red bubbling on the pale skin.
"Sherlock—" John gasped.
Sherlock studied the drop of blood judiciously, as if he could actually see the erythrocytes and leukocytes with his naked eye. John watched Sherlock watching the blood. Then Sherlock reached behind him, grabbed a tissue, dabbed the spot carefully, gently, then swaddled the hand, pushing down, but not before a bit, a tiny bit of blood transferred itself from John's skin to Sherlock's.
Sherlock gave John's hand back to him.
"Thank you," John said. It sounded like a question.
"Of course," Sherlock said, his hand hovering around his own face, his own lips. And his finger, the one tainted with John's paper-cut blood, may very well have swept against Sherlock's tongue, briefly. Or not. John couldn't be sure. And he wasn't about to ask.
John tightened the tissue around his hand. Paper cuts fucking hurt, he thought again, absently. He made a mental note to find out why. Sherlock nodded briskly and went back to his book. John could hear cars outside, and people's voices, ordinary everyday noises. All of these sounds filled his ears. He tried to concentrate on those things, but he kept thinking about sliver-thin skin slices, almost too thin to be seen, and beads of blood and red, wet papillae and 10,000 taste buds.
Yes, it might have been an accident. But, then again, it might very well have been completely, totally, utterly on purpose.
At first glance, the stubbed toe was also an accident, but not entirely so, because it was definitely not John's fault the very large, very heavy, very unyielding anvil was sitting beside the couch where John usually happened to walk.
"Bloody hell," he shouted. Then, he doubled over, clutching his toes with both hands, a hundred creative curse words bubbling from between his clenched lips.
Then, Sherlock was there, hands on John's bent back, guiding John to the couch.
"Where—why—where did you get an anvil—" John sputtered. It was all he could manage.
"Sit," Sherlock ordered and John sat, because he had to, because his foot fucking hurt and his toe was probably broken and he wanted to have a look—
"Why—" he ground out.
But Sherlock wasn't answering, was already working John's sock off, very gently, was holding his foot in both hands, very gently, up to the light, studying the damage.
"This toe," he announced, pointing, but not touching, thank christ.
"Yes. God. Where did you find the—"
"Yes. Might lose the nail."
"All right. I wouldn't be surprised in the least. If you'll just—"
"And in a hell of a lot of pain, so if you'll just—"
Sherlock was wrestling his phone from his jacket pocket, fumbling slightly, one-handed, then pointing, angling and click.
John gaped. But, really, he was not surprised. Nothing, he thought, could surprise him anymore. Not in the Sherlock Universe.
"You took a picture."
"Your toe, specifically."
"Why?" John shook his head. "No. Wait. I don't think I want to know, actually."
Sherlock opened his mouth, then closed it, shook his own head.
"No, you probably don't."
"How did you do that?" Sherlock demanded, breathing on John's neck from behind. It had been so quiet in the kitchen that Sherlock managed to sneak up on him as he stood at the counter. John jumped, sloshing hot tea over his fingers.
Sherlock was peering over John's shoulder, pointing at John's exposed wrist. Oh. A small scrape just there.
"Uh. I don't know, actually." And, he didn't. And, he couldn't believe Sherlock had even seen it in the first place. But of course, of he course he did.
"Does it hurt?"
"Not as much as scalding tea on skin does, thanks."
He ran cold water over the red spot until the sting was numbed, shut off the water and turned around. The kitchen was, once again, still and empty, cup of tea cooling, single ice cube poised rather artfully beside it.
It was as good as an apology, John supposed.
Three people were dead. That much was true. It was also true that John was tired and distracted and not paying full attention to the noise and busyness around him because it was also true that someone had played his violin until almost 3 a.m. That someone was now charging here and there like a dark galloping horse, his feet slamming into the floorboards, his voice ringing with impatience and disdain. He'd already managed to insult both Lestrade and Sally to the point that John was sure they'd be kicked out within a half hour. Fine. Would suit him fine.
John tried to stay out of his way, stay out of everyone's way, if possible, because sometimes he just didn't fit, the angles were wrong and the puzzles were too complex and his brain shorted out, and what the hell was he even doing here, in the first place? Days like this one supplied no ready answer.
The room was small with slanted, low-hanging ceilings, and after John made a half-hearted show of squatting and gazing at the body closest to him (strangled, no doubt, but Sherlock was asking, demanding, to know which kind of material was used, and fuck if John knew, he had no clue, didn't really care at the moment, either), he sighed and shook his head and stood up abruptly, the top of his head slamming into the ceiling with enough force to make stars dance behind his skull. The shock made him go still, the pain radiating up and down his body in slow, electric waves. He almost thought he'd be sick, right there, all over the dead body.
And wouldn't Lestrade love that.
When he opened his eyes, Sally was watching, her face arranged in a surprisingly believable display of sympathy. She was, as far as John could tell, the only one who had seen the incident. He smiled sheepishly and opened his mouth to say something witty and self-deprecating, but then Sherlock was bounding into the room, taking up all the extra space, using up all the extra oxygen and John was left dizzy and light-headed and nauseous.
Finally, finally it was over and they were leaving, Sherlock nattering on about some detail John had missed, everyone had missed (Wool, John, had to be wool. Did you even seethe abrasion on his neck?) and as they passed Sally, she smiled almost kindly and lifted her chin.
"You all right?" she asked. John nodded, then winced.
"What do you mean, is he all right?" Sherlock whirled and glared at John. "What happened?"
"Hit his head—"
"Sit," Sherlock barked, loudly enough that John's teeth clicked together and he bit his tongue.
"Sherlock," John hissed through yet another wave of pain. His face was red. He could feel it. "Not herefor christ's sake."
"Fine," Sherlock hissed back. "Later, then." He made it sound like a promise.
"Freak," Sally muttered, and for once John didn't give a fuck.
And John thought he'd forgotten the whole affair until they got in the cab. Of course, he was wrong, because before they even started moving, he felt Sherlock's long fingers in his hair.
"Do you know what quiet means? It means shut up."
John shut up. Mostly because the sensation of Sherlock's fingers moving through his hair, over his scalp, searching for the spot, the tender spot, the bump, the lump, was mesmerizing and wholly unnerving. Everything was coming unhinged at an alarming rate.
"Ah," Sherlock murmured, his fingers hovering, almost not touching, but still touching. "You'll need ice on that."
"Right," John said at last. His tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth. "Yes. Thanks."
"Hmm." Sherlock hummed, then sighed, but didn't remove his hand. In fact, he left it there, on the top of John's head, for the rest of the cab ride, his fingers absently stroking little lines and circles into his scalp. John wondered idly if he was working out the final moments of the three dead bodies, or maybe formulating the chemical compounds for a new experiment, then realized it didn't really matter. Didn't matter at all.
Line, circle, line, circle. Jesus wept.
John bit at his moan with his teeth, let his hand drop to his lap, concealing, he hoped, the exquisite hardness blooming there, though lord knew, Sherlock already knew. Already saw. Of course. Of course he had.
Pay attention, John told himself. Pay very close attention to what your body is telling you right now. It's important. But his brain was sparking white-hot and coherent thought was moving very far away and the cerebral cortex was not receiving important messages from any part of his body, blood-engorged or otherwise.
So, he thought, instead: How do I do this? How do I pretend this is something less than it actually is? How do I not notice this man and his fingers and his face and his mouth and oh god his fingers.
How how how how how?
Then there was a morning he awoke and stretched in pale sunshine, feeling his spine crackcrack and his aging muscles protest, but it was good. There was a day off and he'd slept relatively well and the flat didn't smell of smoke or decaying flesh and Sherlock wasn't bellowing and it was good.
He settled in the chair with his tea and his paper, wholly intending not to move for hours, when he noticed his hand. Knuckles on his left hand grazed and red, sore, now that he noticed. He flexed his fingers several times and frowned. What the—
"Wasn't there last night before you went to bed," Sherlock said from his spot on the couch. He had three dead mice in a dish on the table in front of him, two white, one brown. He was staring at them with rapt attention. "You probably did it when you turned over too quickly, knocking the bedside table with your knuckles. You do flail around quite violently, at times, you know."
John stared at him for a full minute, willing him to look up, to make eye contact.
"What, do you sit and watch me sleep or something?" John laughed, nervously. Why was he nervous? Something soft and warm curled in his chest. He ignored it.
Sherlock's eyes flicked up at him and away, a nanosecond of contact, but his question was greeted with thunderous silence. John slapped the paper down on his lap.
Sometimes John turned around and Sherlock was just there, right there and sometimes he pointed, like now.
"Blood," said Sherlock, pointing.
"Blood—" Sherlock repeated. "Just there." And the tip of one long, cool finger brushed against the warm skin of John's neck (John tried valiantly not to shiver or let his eyes flutter shut but he's fairly sure he failed on both counts). When the finger pulled back there was a flat smear of red on the tip. Sherlock studied it
"Shaving," John rasped, then cleared his throat.
Sherlock leaned forward, to have a closer look, thought John, because that's what Sherlock did, always had to take a closer look at things. But, John was wrong, as he so often was. Sherlock kept leaning, kept leaning, kept leaning, until his mouth was on John's neckand his tongue snaked out and touched the spot on John's neck, just once, like an iguana, John thought (An iguana? Do iguanas do that thing with their tongue? Maybe. Yet another topic to research), very quickly, very thoroughly, very efficiently.
This was more, so very much more than just looking. This was licking.
John stood very, very still and didn't breathe, because he didn't know what else to do. He could feel Sherlock's breath, heavy and slow, over his neck, and the tip of his tongue, well, licking. Sherlock made a small humming sound, then pulled back.
"What is it with you and my blood, anyway?" And various other parts of my body?
Sherlock held up his hand, silencing him. He closed his eyes, concentrated.
"Sherlock, that was—" John's words felt heavy, as if weighted down by sand, which was also, come to think of it, what his throat felt like it was filled with.
Sherlock's eyes snapped open.
"That was what?"
(weird erotic disgusting arousing)
John shook his head. He couldn't think clearly, and to be quite honest, he had no clue what thatwas at all. He wasn't sure he really wanted to know.
"Nothing." John swallowed hard. "I just think you're turning into a vampire or something."
"Well, maybe yours," Sherlock said after a moment.
"Yours," Sherlock clarified. "Just your personal vampire."
"Right." John laughed shakily. He didn't know what to do with his hands. He shoved them in his pockets. His heart was still beating way too fast. It was making his vision white around the edges. "Well, better not, either way. You'd probably drain me dry."
Sherlock stared and nodded thoughtfully, his eyes going dark before he finally looked away. "Yes. I probably would."
He was walking from the loo to his bedroom, hair damp, clad only in a robe and boxer shorts, when Sherlock pounced. He was down on his hands and knees, hands wrapped firmly around John's calf.
"Bruise," he announced, his fingers skittering over the dark spot.
"Yes, Sherlock," John said as patiently as he could. "It's a bruise. Very good."
Sherlock sat back on his knees, looked up at John, dark hair tumbling across pale forehead. John held his breath. "You're incredibly accident prone these days."
John could only stare down at him, because he was remembering exactly how he got this flesh mark, how Sherlock, after not eating and not sleeping for three days straight had staggered into the flat, eyes closing before the door had shut, had let John guide him, had collapsed in an exhausted stupor in John's bed, had stolen all of John's blankets and proceeded to kick him, during his tumultuous sleep, not once but twice, quite soundly on the leg.
"Hard to avoid accidents in this place," he said instead.
"Are you implying this is my fault?"
"Yes, Sherlock, that is absolutely and completely what I am implying. I'm saying it. Out loud. This one is most definitely your fault."
And he walked off, and he was immensely grateful that Sherlock didn't press for details.
John didn't even bother closing doors anymore. Bedroom, storage area, there was no point, especially since Sherlock seemed stupendously enamoured of any and all activities John might engage in while encased between four small walls. So, he was not surprised in the least when Sherlock sought him out exactly 39 seconds after he entered the loo. Dark, tousled head poking around the corner, eyes alight, mouth twitching.
"What are you doing?"
John sighed. "Nothing."
Sherlock shook his head. His curls bounced.
"Right. Mending my finger."
"What's wrong with it?"
John sighed again. "Bite. Got bitten at the surgery."
Sherlock looked horrified and mesmerized at once. It was an interesting combination. He crowded even further into John's space, all but elbowing him out of the way so he could grab John's hand and peer down at the wound.
"It's a bite mark." He sounded confused.
"Right. Just told you that."
"I don't understand."
The flesh was torn and ragged around the tip of John's index finger.
"One of my patients got a little…upset with me today."
"I was examining him."
Sherlock huffed. He looked personally affronted. "Did you smack him?"
"No, Sherlock, I did not smack him. He was two years old with a raging fever. Understandably he didn't want me attempting to peer down his throat."
"Tonsils," Sherlock said.
"Yes, as it turns out. How did you—"
Sherlock waved a hand. "Still." He very reluctantly let go of John's hand. "You're going to need a tetanus shot, you realize. The human mouth—"
"Yes, Sherlock, I know. Thank you. I'm quite up to date on my inoculations. You may be surprised to learn this isn't the first time it's happened."
John finished disinfecting the wound, dried it and was about to bandage it when Sherlock took the plaster from him and did the work himself. John stood very, very still, watching Sherlock's hands move swiftly and efficiently, with infinite tenderness, then he left, without cleaning up the mess he'd left behind, the plaster wrappings and dripping cloth, but John wasn't thinking about that as he stared down at his wrapped finger.
He was thinking he wished Sherlock had kissed it.
He was surprised it didn't happen more often.
Not the chase, or the danger, the heart-ripping adrenaline, but the getting hurt. The actual physical, bodily damage.
One man, but one dangerous man, one dangerous man with a complicated and vital connection to a host of other dangerous men, and he and Sherlock were chasing him. The man was fast, used to being chased, but they were gaining. John was gaining and it was fun, it was so much fun, all fun and games, really, until someone got hurt.
And when John reached the man and grabbed the man and spun him around, it was still all good, and John felt quite accomplished and in control, until the man thrashed and twisted in John's arms, reared forward, then back, slamming his head hard into John's face.
Now, that hurt.
There was a sick, rubbery feeling of bone and cartilage meeting in a most unpleasant grinding sensation, followed by the immediate slick, hot gush of blood that always caught John off guard. Before he let go he managed to knee the man, hard, between the legs and shove him down, and then John himself staggered, but before his knees hit the ground, Sherlock's arms were around him.
John was aware of very little except for trying to lean back, but Sherlock was tipping his head forward, pinching his nose, stemming the tremendous flow of blood with the sleeve of his dark, woolen coat. John could feel the blood flowing, hot and heavy. He heard the dangerous man moaning on the ground not far away. He also heard Sherlock's voice, low and insistent, in his ear.
"Forward, John, forward. You run the risk of choking if you tip your head back, yes?"
John tried to nod, yes, yes, he'd completely forgotten, how long had it been since he had a nosebleed, for Christ's sake? Years and years and—
"I will kill him," Sherlock said so quietly only John could hear.
"No, you won't."
"Sherlock. That doesn't help," John wheezed, blood oozing down his throat.
"Making empty threats."
"Yes. Yes, I agree. But these are not empty."
Then Lestrade was there, panting, looking wildly around at the carnage and all the blood.
"Simpkins won't forget this, you realize," Lestrade said as dangerous man was hauled off and John's blood flow slowly ceased.
"How do you mean?"
"You…well John has taken down one of his best. He won't just let this go."
"What are you saying?" Sherlock snapped. He still hadn't let go of John. John didn't mind.
"I'm saying, watch your backs."
And they went home.
And Sherlock told John he'd sent his coat out to be cleaned of John's blood, but he lied. He only hid it in his closet for a week, then went right back to wearing it. He liked the stiffness of the sleeve. He liked running his fingers over it as he thought, particularly when he thought about John, which was often. He liked to smell it, raw and rusty. He wondered when other people might start to smell it, too, and what they might say. Insufficient data, thus far. Interesting experiment, though.
And life went on.
And John forgot to watch his back.
And it was a dark fucking alley.
And there were three of them.
And they set upon him.
And they had fists and feet and, god, one of them had a bloody pipe, or rock or—
And they were sending a warning, he realized, thank christ, because otherwise, he'd not be lying panting and swearing and sweating when it was all over. He'd be lying fucking dead.
Instead, in the end, when it was finally all over, he picked himself up and dusted himself off with hands that were surprisingly steady, and limped home, and everything would have been fine if Sherlock hadn't decided to fucking touch him.
The flat was dark. John negotiated the steep stairs with great care, feeling bruises of various shapes and sizes starting to grow on his thighs, his calves, his chest, his back.
He didn't want lights. He knew that. He preferred the dark right now, partly because though they had avoided his head and neck, the thought of anything bright shining in his face made him inexplicably queasy. He wanted his bed. But first, he wanted a glass of water. No, first he wanted to sit. He was shuffling towards to nearest chair when he heard a sound.
Sherlock, of course, was awake, curled into the corner of the couch, silent, brooding, watching.
"You're late," he said, his voice a white swirl of smoke in the dark.
John nodded, afraid the pain would seep into his voice. "Unforeseen detour. Sorry."
There was a long pause. John counted to 25 in his head, waiting. He was always waiting these days, it seemed, for something.
Fuck the sitting down. Fuck the water. He turned around.
"Show me," Sherlock said.
Sherlock closed his eyes, huffed out a breath through his nose. He swallowed. "You're…hurt."
"You were late. You were limping when you walked in, but limping with both legs. You moved to sit in the closest chair, not your favourite chair. When you spoke it was almost a whisper, but you were putting effort into it, in order to cover it up, I guess. If you'd been attacked by street thugs, you would have reported it, and at the very least, you would have told me the second you saw I was sitting here. You've done neither, so for some reason you don't want me to know who attacked you. The reason you don't want to tell me is because you know the attackers are associated with Simpkins. You also know how I feel about these particular men and you are worried, because that is your way, and you think I will do something rash."
John almost smiled. Almost.
"I'm going to bed, Sherlock."
"It's not that bad. Nothing's broken. Promise."
"Show me," he said again, and his voice in the near dark was knife-blade sharp, cutting, dangerous, but also wavering and wary. He was afraid, John realized, with the startling insight he was sure Sherlock enjoyed on a minute-to-minute basis. He was afraid of what he was going to see.
Fine, then. Let him see. Let him see.
And as John's coat hit the floor with a muffled thud, the small table lamp flared beside Sherlock. John winced. He knew that would happen. He unbuttoned his shirt, little whispers of skin against cloth in the buttery light.
Then he half-naked, shivering, exposed. Sherlock dropped to his knees before him. John had never seen him look so shocked. See? Now you see.
"John," he breathed. "Oh, John."
He sat very still, on his haunches, studying John's half-naked form like John was some work of art. The marks were angry red, John realized, but the bruises were just beneath, just starting to form, and oh, they were glorious.
Sherlock raised his hands, let them hover without touching. He wouldn't touch yet. But he did start documenting.
"Fist. Fingers. Fist. Pipe. No. Knuckles. Fist. Foot. Foot. Rock? Fuck."
Then he did touch, light, light, fingers traced the contours, while his mouth outlined the colours to come.
"Purple. Violet. Black. Black. Brown, fading to yellow. Eventually."
John would make a beautiful rainbow.
"Sherlock—" John fought the almost uncontrollable desire to grab Sherlock's head, to pull it, closer, to pull it down.
Sherlock shook his head. "No. Not now. Don't disturb me." His hands mapped out the bruises in the dark, feeling where they started and where they ended.
"I know who they are. I know where they live." Sherlock was breathing too hard for someone who was barely moving.
"Sherlock. I'm serious. Don't you dare—"
"You don't understand—" Sherlock shook his head, unable to explain.
And because he was exhausted to the breaking point, and sore to the collapsing point, John didn't ask. He only took Sherlock's shaking hand and led him to the bedroom. Any room, any bed, didn't matter at that point. He just needed to lie down now, and lying down with Sherlock only made sense because. Well. This was all his fault anyway, wasn't it, and he should be here, with him, keeping his damaged capillaries and traumatized venules company . Sherlock's bed was cool and musty, but that was just fine and John found himself pushing his face into a pillow without wondering why. The mattress sagged next to him and Sherlock was there, eyes brilliant in his head, lips trembling.
"What is it?" John asked, but Sherlock wouldn't say. Neither one of them said very much for awhile.
"You must be more careful, John," he whispered finally.
John nodded. He leaned forward, closing the gap between them. He kissed Sherlock's forehead.
"John." Sherlock's eyes snapped up and caught John's and for a moment John couldn't catch his breath. "John."
"Yes," said John, because there was nothing else to say.
Sherlock pressed his head against John's mouth, then slid down, down, pressed forward again and pressed his lips to John's stomach. John felt Sherlock's breath hot hot hot on his skin. John wondered if, after everything else that had happened, if this, this simple, gentle gesture, would be his final undoing.
"You can't—" Sherlock stopped. "You need to—" He tried again. "You see, if anything should happen—"
"Yes," John said. "I understand."
"No," breathed Sherlock. "You really don't."