Disclaimer: Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, I don't own Sherlock and likely neither do you. ;)
A/N: Yesterday I couldn't concentrate on my work and I was depressed out of my skull when this story popped into my head. I like to believe that writing fanfiction is at least 'productive', even if it's less productive than writing my paper.
This is intended to be a h/c bromance-like story, but if you put on your slash-shipping-glasses, I guess you can make whatever you want out of it. However, I like the idea of John and Sherlock having a bromantic relationship; I mean, why can't they be soul-mates or whatever and NOT be a 'romantic couple'? So, in other words, not slash (unless you really want to read it like that). Hope you enjoy! ^_^
Warning: Graphic descriptions of a child injured, and copious mentions of blood. I think the term it 'trigger-something'? So yes, you have been warned.
A Doctor's Blood-Stained Hands
Sherlock could only stare as John frantically pumped the boy's heart over and over. The doctor was up to his wrists inside the child's chest cavity, doing his best to keep him alive for long enough for the ambulance to arrive. The boy had been the latest in a serial bomber's streak of human bombs. The detective and Scotland Yard had been hot on the psychopath's heels, but they had been unable to prevent his latest bomb from going off in the middle of the plaza. So far there had been four victims, two they had been able to save, and two that had been horribly torn apart by the killer's sadistic statement against society.
The first casualty had been the first kidnapped child, a nine year old girl who had been positioned by the psychopath a block away from Scotland Yard; a clear message of his intentions. Sherlock and John had been brought into the case right away and together with Lestrade's team they had decoded the clues to the next two victims in time to save them. As much as Sherlock loved an interesting criminal mastermind, he had to admit even he felt disturbed by the killer's method of operation. But if he was perturbed by the events of the last two days, it was nothing compared to John.
The ex-army doctor had taken it as his personal mission to track down and capture the serial bomber and possibly beat his brains in with his own fists. Throughout the case he had voiced his outrage and disgust at the killer's actions, urging Sherlock to capture him as quickly as possible. And in the end they did it; they found the killer, but not before he claimed his fourth and final victim.
The detective, the doctor and the Yarders had arrived at the scene just in time to see the bomb go off, and John had rushed head first into the center of it. The explosive device had been strapped to a ten year old boy this time and had torn most of the right side of his torso to shreds. As John crouched next to the mauled body, Sherlock caught sight of the grisly scene, battling internally between averting his eyes and staring in shock. The young genius could only watch as John's surgeon hands flew over the child's body, feeling for a pulse and quickly taking stock of his severe injuries.
The child's right arm barely clung to his small body, and the gaping hole in his right side made Sherlock's mind scream 'Wrong!' over and over. He wasn't the type to faint at gore, but there was something instinctively and inherently vile in seeing a child's life ripped apart like this.
The sounds of sirens penetrated the haze in his mind, and Sherlock averted his eyes for just a second to look at the approaching ambulance before switching them back onto John. The doctor had one hand deep into the boy's chest, presumably pumping his heart back to life, while his other one applied compresses to the gaping wound in an attempt to stop the massive flow of blood escaping the small body.
Sherlock could just hear John's whispered prayers as he did his best to keep the dying child alive.
"Please, please, don't die. Please, come on, come on. Stay with me, please, please, just stay."
In Sherlock's mind he knew they should probably get John off the boy; trying to keep him alive was not only futile but almost wrong in itself. Surely it would be a kindness to let him die as quickly as possible. Regardless of his reasoning, Sherlock couldn't make himself tell John to let him go; he knew the doctor had to do what he could, had to give him his best chance of survival, even though they all knew it was useless.
Finally the paramedics arrived and John moved away, shaking his head in frustration. The child was dead, and the paramedics efficiently wrapped him in a body bag as the rest of them stared in stunned horror.
Sherlock approached John as the doctor stood up shakily, his bloodied hands held out in front of him, his eyes fixed on the blood dripping off them. The detective took one of the shock blankets form the ambulance, thoroughly ignoring the paramedics' annoyed shouts, and came to a stop in front of the trembling doctor.
Gingerly, Sherlock used the blanket to wipe John's hands, noting how the doctor flinched at his actions.
"John-" he started.
"Don't. Don't Sherlock. Just…I.. I need to get home." John spun around on the spot and started to walk away briskly.
"John!" Lestrade called out, but the ex-soldier just kept on walking away, turning a corner and disappearing from view.
Sherlock glared at the Detective Inspector. "What do you think?"
Lestrade shook his head sadly. "I can't imagine what he's going through. This has to be one of the most horrid things I've ever seen in this job."
Sherlock ignored him, his mind focused on the fleeing doctor, wondering whether he should go after him or not. He started to walk in the direction John had gone when Lestrade stopped him.
"Sherlock, I need to get your statement. I actually need John's too, especially given that last bit, but that can wait, I suppose. But this is too important, I can't let you go just yet."
Reluctantly, the younger man acquiesced, hoping John would be alright until he could check up on him. He sent him a text saying JOHN, JUST BREATHE. I'LL BE THERE SHORTLY. LSTRD IN THE WAY. JUST BREATHE. SH. knowing the doctor had to be beating himself over not being able to save the boy.
John couldn't remember arriving in Baker Street, and he could barely remember walking up the stairs or stepping into their flat. His mobile chimed in his pocket, but the sound failed to register on John's shock-filled mind. All he could think about was the blood and the boy; the boy dying in his arms, looking up at him with glassy eyes, begging him to save him and then slipping away. And the blood, steadily bleeding out of him because some sick fuck had strapped a bomb to his chest.
So much blood, staining everything. The pavement where he'd been kneeling as he tended to the child had become a puddle of blood, circling the both of them, seeping into John's jeans, staining.
And it was in his hands. It had gotten deep into his pores, under his fingernails, clinging to his skin with that overpowering iron smell so that Sherlock's attempts to clean his hands had barely accomplished anything at all.
It was Afghanistan all over again. His hands stained with innocent people's blood; people who had no place in politicians and zealots' wars but who got hurt nonetheless. How many children had he held as they died, their bodies disfigured by mines, grenades and bullet fire? How many parents had he had to console because he couldn't save their children? How many times had he been forced to abandon civilian casualties because they had to pull out of the area?
John looked down at his hands, at the blood, real or imagined, that still stained them. His hands shook, with rage, horror and despair, and he felt his stomach twist painfully in his gut as the smell of death and blood hit him and made him nauseous.
Without realizing it, John found himself in the bathroom, his hands thrust under the hot water tap, as he scrubbed them over and over again. Absentmindedly he wrenched a cloth towel from the ring next to the sink and used it to rub at his skin in his attempt to rid himself of the blood and the smell.
The first thing Sherlock noticed when he entered 221B was the cloud of steam pouring out of the bathroom accompanied by the sound of rushing water. He arrived maybe ten minutes after John, having sped through Lestrade's questions and then bribed a cabby into breaking a couple of speed limit laws. Standing in his living room now, Sherlock crossed the flat in three long strides and stopped short at the entrance to the bathroom, frozen in his tracks at the sight of John's bloodied hands held under the hot water tap.
The water was obviously scalding, but the doctor gave no indication of discomfort other than the frenetic scrubbing over and over and the rapid, almost hyperventilated, breathing.
Sherlock snapped out of his shock, quickly reaching out, wrenching John's hands away from the hot water, and turning the hot water tap off. He then turned the cold water on and thrust John's mangled hands under it. The change seemed to snap John's mind slightly back to reality, but not enough for him to register what he was doing.
"No! No! I have to clean them. There's so much blood. I have to get it off… let go of me! I HAVE TO!"
"John! There's blood because you've rubbed the skin off your hands! Stop struggling and calm down!"
"No! You don't understand! You don't understand! Please, make it stop! Get it off, please!"
Sherlock has now bodily wrestling with John, his arms wrapped around either side of the shorter man as he struggled to keep the doctor's injured hands under the freezing water. John bucked and shook against him, lost in whatever traumatic hell his mind was producing for him.
"John, listen to me. You're hurting yourself. You need to stop."
John's body was trembling, shaking violently as his mind flittered between reality and the need to rid himself of his waking nightmare.
"Their blood… it's on my hands… I can't get it off… they're all DEAD!"
Sherlock didn't know what to do or say. Did he tell John that he was fine? He wasn't; that was patently obvious. Nothing was right; the boy was dead, and whoever else John was thinking of were likely dead as well.
"John, you're not making it better by hurting yourself. Just… calm down."
The doctor continued to struggle in the detective's grip until his strength suddenly left him and he collapsed boneless against Sherlock's chest, his body racked with hearty sobs that were wrenched from his throat desperately. Sherlock quickly wrapped an arm around the doctor's chest and slowly lowered them both to the floor as John's legs gave out in defeat. The detective could feel John's convulsive sobs as the doctor bent forward and cried openly and ashamedly, his ill-treated hands held in the air in front of him uselessly.
Sherlock had never seen another person break down so thoroughly, and he tentatively bent his body so that it followed the contour of John's, holding the doctor and trying to offer whatever comfort he could. Rubbing one hand in circles up and down John's back, Sherlock simply held the ex-soldier as he vent his frustration and his sorrow.
"Shhh, John, it's alright, you're alright." He didn't know what else to say.
"It's not alright." John hiccupped. "It's not alright! They're all dead! I couldn't save them and they're all dead!"
"John, it's not your fault. You know this. You know you can't save everyone." Sherlock deduced that John's words were directed at more than the children used by the serial bomber.
"I can feel their blood, Sherlock. It's always there… it's there…" John sobbed in despair.
"Then remember them John, remember them if you must, but do not make the mistake of putting the blame on yourself." He might be able to delete things from his mind, but he knew John didn't have that luxury. He had to live with the events he'd witnessed, and he had to come to terms with them.
John shuddered in Sherlock's arms. "Why?"
Sherlock mulled John's question over in his mind. Why was he plagued with this burden? Because it was inevitable. Why did those children have to die? Because they were hurt horribly by other people's thoughtless or psychotic actions. The detective felt that these answers, however correct, did not do John's pain justice, so he just kept silence and held the ex-army doctor tightly. No words could make it better, and no words could nor should stop John from venting his frustration and sorrow. So Sherlock just held him; held him while John sobbed loudly into his shirt, knowing John had never allowed himself to cry before.
When John calmed down enough Sherlock helped him to his feet and practically carried him to the living room when his knee threatened to give out from under him. Sitting him down on the couch, the detective silently fetched their first aid kit and proceeded to inspect the damage John had done to his hands.
"I think it looks worse than it is, although you managed to do a pretty number on your hands."
John stared almost blankly, not entirely registering Sherlock's words. He was tired, mentally, emotionally and physically, and the dull throb in his hands was echoed by a dull throb in his heart. Deep down he knew his hands would be aching painfully soon enough, but at the moment it was as though his mind was filtering out the pain. Maybe, he thought fleetingly, you could only feel one pain at a time, and his emotional pain was overpowering the physical one. Or maybe he was just in shock and couldn't register the injuries he'd done to his hands just yet.
Sherlock carefully turned John's hands around in order to determine where best to begin. The backs of his hands were the worse off, but closer inspection revealed only a couple of blisters and some tearing caused by John's incessant scrubbing. The hands were bright red but there weren't any major injuries.
"This will sting." Sherlock warned as he carefully applied disinfectant to the cuts, mindful of only putting it on the cuts and not on the burns. John's blank face showed how far away his mind was drifting.
Worriedly, Sherlock placed a hand on John's shoulder and shook the doctor gently.
"Come on John, don't go away now. Stay with me, alright."
John blinked slowly and he turned his head to look at the detective. Staring at the younger man for a few seconds as though trying to discern the meaning of his words, John nodded sluggishly.
"Good. Now this will definitely hurt, but I'll try to be quick about it. I don't suppose you have a better treatment for burns, do you?" Sherlock waited patiently for John to register his words. Finally, the doctor shook his head.
"And you're certain this stuff can treat your injuries? Should I take you to hospital?"
Again, John took a while to answer, feeling like his mind was swimming through treacle.
"S'not that serious."
"You're sure? You don't want to risk infection, do you?" Normally Sherlock would not give one iota about health procedures given that that was John's area of expertise and if there was anything particularly life threatening, the doctor would point it out vociferously. But with John's current state of mind, Sherlock had to take a more careful stance.
John stared at his mangled hands for a couple of seconds.
"First and second degree burns from scalding water, superficial lacerations and minor tearing of upper dermis. Apply cold water, antibiotic cream, cold bandages, change every few hours." He spouted mechanically, and Sherlock nodded in acceptance, satisfied in the knowledge that John's medical knowledge was independent of his emotional state of mind.
John flinched slightly when Sherlock spread the burn cream over his hands but seemed to visibly relax when the younger man finally wrapped his hands in the cold bandages he'd prepared earlier.
Sherlock could see John's eyelids drooping with sleep as he finished securing the bandages in place and giving the doctor's hands one final inspection. He considered taking John up to his room, but dismissed the idea when he saw the doctor sway tiredly in his seat.
With more gentleness than anyone who knew him would have thought him capable of, Sherlock stretched out on the couch and rearranged the shorter man so that he lay sideways partly on top of him and partly tucked into his side, wrapped in the safe circle of his arms. He carefully positioned John's hands on his chest and slowly ran his fingers through the doctor's hair. It wasn't long before John completely gave into blessed oblivion, all the stress and pain melting from his face as sleep overpowered him.
Sherlock contemplated the older man and the demons he carried. Sherlock had his own demons, things he had not been able to delete from his mental hard drive, but he was able to keep them in check effectively enough that he could function above and beyond the range of most people. Gazing down at John's sleeping form he realized that the ex-soldier was a lot like him. He also kept his feelings and his terrors well out of sight and seldom allowed them to intrude upon his everyday life. The doctor was strong, maybe even stronger than Sherlock, the younger man realized, for he wasn't sure how he would cope with the things John had experienced. As it was, Sherlock was already sociopathic, yet John had managed to remain fairly sane despite the events in his life.
Which was why he understood; although, he conceded, that might also be because John was the only person in the world for whom he allowed himself to care. He understood that if John was breaking down, it had to be horrible and inhuman, and knowing the doctor like he knew him, Sherlock couldn't blame the man for his collapse.
The detective glanced to his sleeping friend and instinctively tightened his arms around him, irrationally trying to shield him from the world, and allowed himself to succumb to sleep, hoping that sleep and the vow of friendship that united them would be enough to ease both his and John's nightmares.
John awoke to find himself resting on top of a lumpy yet not entirely unpleasant surface. As he shifted and braced a hand against the surface he was lying on, a sharp sting ran from his hand up his arm making John hiss in pain. The events of the day suddenly resurfaced and he realized he was lying on top of one Sherlock Holmes.
"Finally you're awake. Would you mind shifting so I can free my hand?"
John blushed intensely as he realized he had pinned one of Sherlock's arms between his body and the back of the sofa. He his blush deepened as the full awareness of lying on top of his flatmate made its way into his mind. He was neatly tucked between the couch and Sherlock's body, his head having been resting atop the detective's chest.
John shifted so that Sherlock could free his arm from under him, and made to get up before being stopped by the younger man.
"Let me see."
Sherlock gently took John's injured hands checking the bandages for any sign of bleeding or unraveling. Satisfied with their state he laid them back on his chest, ignoring John's gaping face.
Regaining some of his composure and realizing it was useless to be embarrassed now after they'd spent several hours crammed on the couch together, John gingerly lowered his head back onto Sherlock's chest, listening to the genius' heartbeat.
"I'm sorry for today, Sherlock. I didn't mean to flip out like that. You are completely justified in thinking I'm an idiot."
Sherlock was expecting John to jump out of his arms and halfway across the room, so his actions and words took him slightly by surprise.
"I think you are an idiot for several reasons, but this is not one of them. I do wish you had not injured your hands, but I could not more blame you for reacting to a traumatic event than I could blame you for sneezing if you had a cold."
"You're saying I'm mentally sick."
"No, just mentally traumatized, maybe emotionally injured. I don't know, I'm not a psychiatrist and I place little value on the nonsense they sprout. However, the mind is not meant to be subjected to half-blown bodies and dying children; it seems to cope with difficulty over such matters."
"I'd never reacted like that before." John whispered.
"Which implies you've seen things like that several times before."
John shrugged slightly, an awkward move given his position.
"More than I care to count… or remember."
"And have you ever allowed yourself to mourn over these events?" Sherlock asked softly, already knowing what John's answer would be.
"You just.. don't." He left out the unspoken implication of 'in the army.'
Sherlock nodded as John's reply followed what he'd already concluded about the man.
"However, that doesn't mean you didn't need some release."
"That's rich coming from you." John whispered, but not harshly.
"Comparatively I have had little for which to be traumatized, plus being the way I am, it is quite difficult to express my feelings when I am upset. I have noticed that you have a similar difficulty when it comes to things that upset you, so today's breakdown is merely a result of being overwhelmed by too many… bad things."
"You've been thinking this over while I've been asleep, haven't you?"
Sherlock gave John a small smile. "Only the last seven and a half minutes. Conclusion, as I said, you're not an idiot."
"I can barely remember what happened. It felt like… like I was trapped in a loop… over and over and I couldn't stop, like I wasn't entirely there."
Sherlock chose to change the subject instead of allowing John to wallow in his misery even more.
"Will your hands recover?"
John looked at his bandaged hands. "Yeah, I think so. I'll check them properly later, but it looks like you did a good job. From what I remember, the lacerations aren't deep, so they shouldn't cause any lasting damage." John shook his head in disbelief at what he'd done, he could scarcely believe it.
Glancing at the clock, John noticed that it was already late evening, which meant they had slept through most of the afternoon.
"I'm going to order some food, I can't cook in this state."
He made to get up and Sherlock helped him as he couldn't lift himself properly without the aid of his hands.
"This is going to be inconvenient, isn't it?"
"You won't be able to write your blog."
John wasn't sure whether Sherlock was smug or genuinely sorry so he decided to let the comment slide. Looking back at the detective who had curled up on the sofa now that John was gone, the doctor felt a sudden wave of calm peace fill him. Sherlock might be thoughtless, selfish, insulting and dismissive, but he also knew John better than anyone, and while he could use this knowledge to mock and belittle the doctor, he instead tried to offer his unique but effective brand of comfort. Sherlock, John realized, cared, and what surprised John the most was the realization that he wasn't surprised by this fact.
Without thinking it twice, John leaned down toward Sherlock and affectionately placed a kiss against the young man's tousled locks. The detective looked up at John questioningly.
"Thank you." For understanding, for caring, for worrying, and for being there - things that could not be spoken but which were understood by the both of them.
A/N: Too ooc? I was really depressed when I wrote it and might have channeled that into the story. But now I'm happy. Hopefully this will make a couple of people happy until I can get back to my other stories (hopefully I'll have something new by the final week of May, after a conference at which I have to present, fingers crossed!). Thanks again for reading, and for all of your continual support! All the best!