Coda to 1x2, The Blind Banker.
The title is a reference to the song of the same name by Snow Patrol.
I should probably point out that I have absolutely no idea how to treat bruises like this, and also that I wrote this at 3am when I really couldn't be bothered to check. Other than that, hope it's at least vaguely enjoyable!
It's three days after the incident in the tunnels that John notices something different about Sherlock.
'Incident' is something of a loose term; John would be more inclined to call it kidnapping, a frightening capture in which he was the poor sod caught up in the middle of Sherlock and his bloody enemies, but Sherlock seems to think of it as a neatly rounded end to a case, and John can't be bothered to argue the point with him. What is a terrifying near-death experience at the hands of a vicious Chinese gang between friends, after all? It's not so much the fact that he knows he will lose – because really, what else can you do when you're arguing with Sherlock – as the fact that it's just so tiring. John gets tired of many things around Sherlock. He gets tired of always being the one who has to trek to the nearest Tesco because his flatmate refuses to move from the settee because he's thinking, or stepping out of his flat and finding himself smoothly herded into a sleek black car to have a friendly little chat with Mycroft ('Mycroft, stop it, please, it's creepy,' John had stated hotly, the last time it happened, but Mycroft had merely raised an imperious eyebrow, and John had given it up as a lost cause).
He gets tired of having to abandon meals after no more than a couple of mouthfuls because Sherlock's seen something so vitally important and dazzlingly interesting that he cannot possibly wait for John to finish eating before bounding over to look at it. And while he's on that note, John also gets very tired of having to practically force-feed his flatmate. He's lost count of the number of times he's had to give Sherlock a hard shove in the direction of the settee and hand him something, anything, to eat, whilst John stands with his arms folded in the doorway, steadfastly refusing to move until Sherlock has eaten enough to stop him collapsing on his latest crime scene.
Sherlock is brilliant. John is the first, and often only, person to admit this. When he moved in with Sherlock, John had not realised he was signing up to look after someone who can list 243 types of tobacco ash but who forgets that sleep is, believe it or not, necessary. But somehow he'd fallen into the role with surprising ease. John is as used to shielding Sherlock from disdainful stares as he is used to finding all manner of bizarre experiments piled haphazardly on their kitchen table. He does it partly for Sherlock's sake, because no matter how sociopathic he claims to be, John can't believe he likes hearing the muttered insults, or catching the dirty looks (not that he helps himself, but that's another matter entirely). But he does it mostly for his own sake, as selfish as that sounds. Something in his chest curls up into a tight, protective ball whenever he hears the mutters of 'freak' that follow Sherlock everywhere. Sherlock might brush them off with a cold, careless smirk, but John doesn't find that so easy. He doesn't like hearing people degrade his best friend like that. So he does his best to put up with Sherlock's irritating habits and quirks. He swallows his temper when Sherlock forgets that John can't always keep up with him, and he takes care of Sherlock when he won't take care of himself. Sherlock is brilliant, but Sherlock forgets things, easy things. That's why he needs John.
And that's why John is so angry when he notices the marks.
He's not angry with Sherlock. Not this time, at least. He thinks he must have a special category in his mind where Sherlock-directed anger is stored, and this doesn't come from there. Oh, he's annoyed with him, of course he is; that's his general state around Sherlock, most of the time. Exasperated annoyance which he can never quite act on because it's outweighed by fondness. No, this anger is directed at himself. For not noticing, not thinking to ask, not checking. And he calls himself a doctor. John pinches the bridge of his nose and exhales slowly, closing his eyes before speaking.
'Sherlock.' No response. John opens his eyes and finds Sherlock staring intently at something through his microscope, and pointedly ignoring John. 'Sherlock.'
'If you're planning on standing there repeating my name over and over, you might as well pull up a chair,' Sherlock drawls. He still doesn't look at John, but his shoulders are ever so slightly hunched. John wonders if he'd have noticed such a subtle change in body language before he met Sherlock. Probably not. He'd have noticed the scarf, though. They actually have the heating on in the flat for once, and there's no reason for Sherlock to have the scarf still wrapped around his neck. Unless he was hiding something. Which, judging by the way John caught him wincing and rubbing at his neck a few minutes ago, he is.
'I'm not leaving until you let me look.' John decides that straightforwardness is the best way to succeed. Well, he hopes it is. It is Sherlock he's dealing with, after all. He may well end up standing here until 3 in the morning before Sherlock deems it possible for John to look him over.
'I did offer a chair,' Sherlock replies, with the air of someone talking to the intentionally dense. John wonders if the 'counting to ten' tactic will work this time. It never has before.
'Just let me - ' he tries.
'I'm fine.' There's a certain amount of testiness to Sherlock's voice now. He's still staring into the microscope, but there's a crease between his brows which betrays his tension. John sighs. He mentally kicks straightforwardness aside, and opts for sincerity.
'Please, Sherlock,' he says quietly. 'I just want to check, okay? It won't take long. I'm worried. I know it doesn't matter to you, but just let me take a look? For my own peace of mind?'
For a moment, Sherlock's shoulders hunch a tiny bit more. Then he releases a breath and his shoulders slump as he finally looks away from the microscope and up at John. He doesn't say anything, but he inches his chair backwards away from the table and slowly begins to unwind his scarf.
'Thank you,' John tells him. Sherlock meets his eyes calmly. He still doesn't speak.
John steps forward as Sherlock lays the scarf on the table. He takes care to keep his face impassive and blank as he presses a hand gently to Sherlock's jaw, guiding him to tilt his head to allow John a better view. A leap of horror rises within him as the full extent of the bruising is revealed; mottled purple fading to yellow, discolouring the pale skin of Sherlock's neck. John remembers the assassin in the tunnels, the way he'd wrapped the silken scarf around Sherlock's neck and pulled. Granted, John had been a little preoccupied at the time, but he should have thought to check. There are slightly older bruises around the edges of the newer, livid ones. Strangulation, again: perhaps five days old. Around the time they were searching for Soo-Lin Yao, then. John recalls how hoarse Sherlock's voice had sounded after he'd been alone in her flat, and almost winces at his own ineptitude. Anger stings him, hard. How could he have not noticed? Sherlock shifts slightly under his fingers, and John pulls himself back to the task at hand. Self-directed anger can wait. Sherlock needs him now. He touches one of the bruises, gently; Sherlock barely suppresses a flinch. Painful, then. Tender, very tender. John nudges Sherlock to tilt his head the other way whilst John examines the opposite side of his neck. Sherlock moves slowly, with a pained sort of indifference which makes John simultaneously sad and exasperated. It wasn't lost on him that Sherlock thought it better to hide his injuries rather than let John deal with them. Out of pride? Quite possibly. John half-shakes his head. Git.
'Nasty,' John comments, stepping back. Sherlock straightens his head and eyes John almost cautiously. Waiting for the why-didn't-you-tell-me-you-enormous-plonker rant? John smiles slightly. 'I'll nip to Tesco, pick up some lozenges. They ought to soothe your throat a little. I might be able to get hold of some bruise salve, too. Other than that, try not to move your neck too much. And don't hunch over that bloody microscope so much, you'll make it worse.'
'My experiments,' Sherlock says in a voice which, coming from anyone else, would be a whine.
'Your experiments can wait,' John says perfectly reasonably, though the look Sherlock shoots him suggests it's not so much reasonable as wildly, impossibly, disgustingly unreasonable. 'Drama queen,' John mutters under his breath as he turns away, and from the way Sherlock narrows his eyes, he knows with an irresistible twinge of glee that he heard him. 'Oh, and Sherlock?' Sherlock looks at him questioningly, and John pauses for moment before selecting his words. 'Tell me, next time?'
Sherlock is still for moment. Then, slowly, he nods. John nods too, then reaches for his coat. 'To Tesco, then.'
John cooks that evening. Nothing unusual in that, but if he just so happens to coincidentally decide to make soup, which is remarkably easy to swallow, then neither of them comment on it. He tells Sherlock, sternly, to eat, and Sherlock complies for once. John has texted Lestrade asking him to avoid so much as hinting at a new case for a couple of days. Sherlock will be bored, he knows, but he needs the time to recuperate – and anyway, looking at him now, curled cat-like around a bowl of soup and pretending not to watch the characters in the boring/predictable/ridiculous/insert-Sherlock's-adjective-of-choice television shows, he seems... content, almost. He moans his way through Deal Or No Deal, gripes at Coronation Street and brightens, bizarrely, during The Simpsons. John tries hard to hide his smile, because he's got a vague, nagging suspicion that it's getting a bit soppy in its levels of affection. But it's Sherlock. This is what they do. Yeah, they solve crimes, John blogs about it, and Sherlock's day job is Being Brilliant In Ways You Lesser Mortals Cannot Hope To Mimic. But this is them, too. They lounge around 221B Baker Street in pyjamas and dressing gowns and drink tea and watch crappy television (or shout at it, as the case may be). Sherlock drives him up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other side, but that's just Sherlock, and he's just John. And this – this Wednesday afternoon, with Sherlock loudly pointing out the many inaccuracies in the logic of the latest TV dramas – this is just them.