A/N: This is the long-awaited epilogue to "Shock Blanket" (Chapter Two of my Near Death Experience fic). If you are confused as to the nature and origins of Sherlock's injuries/illness in this story, you may consult that one for more details.
Also, this is going to be a two-parter or possibly more. Originally I was going to do it as a oneshot, but I'm not done yet and am leaving for Chicago tomorrow for work. I will not have access to a proper computer while I'm there, so… I figured half was better than nothing, right? When I get back next weekend I'll post the rest.
One. Two. Three. Four. Sherlock counts the steps as he navigates them at a painfully slow rate. He knows if he can just get up the stairs, then he'll be home, and he can lie down. He feels John's fingers in the small of his back and notices that he has stopped midway up the stairs. He needs a moment. John silently acquiesces. Only a moment ago the doctor had been raging about against medical advice and do you know what that means Sherlock and pneumonia is serious and Sherlock also thought he heard something about tramadol but that would just be stupid. Now, though, now John is very quiet. He is also standing very close behind – Sherlock knows this is because John feels there is a very real danger of falling down the stairs.
Well, that wouldn't be so bad. He's only made it up four of them.
His chest burns with an all-encompassing fire – broken ribs complain at each inhalation, and every breath rattles deep in his lungs. Not to mention his whole body is just sore from swimming in that damn river.
Which, by the way, was only two days ago.
John argued, of course, as Sherlock was signing the DAMA waiver, but Sherlock could not be convinced to stay in hospital any longer. John didn't want to admit it, but he agreed that there was every possibility that Sherlock's discomfort just from being in that place might compound his condition rather than improve it. Still, it went against his every instinct and he had told him so – "Sherlock, you need to be under the care of a doctor." A wolfish smile at this. Haven't I got one? "I am not your doctor." No, but you're a doctor. A better one than what I have here.
"Come on, Sherlock."
The detective snaps back to the present. John's hand on his back is gently insistent now. The stairway is drafty and Sherlock is swaying; best to get inside. Sherlock holds his breath and moves steadily up three more stairs. Stops for breath. Three more. A pause. Last stair.
Sherlock's vision darkens abruptly.
John slides a hand under his arm and steadies him. "Breathe," he reminds him, because Sherlock holds his breath when he's in pain. It's a natural response, autonomic, but most people eventually remember to resume respiration.
Most people also stay in hospital when they're told, but most people aren't him.
Sherlock takes a breath and his world bursts into dizzying colour. The breath hisses out through his teeth and he takes another. They're shallow breaths, and he never feels that they are enough, but anything more substantial causes the most exquisitely blinding pain in his side.
A hand at his low back again. John is pushing him through the door to their flat; Sherlock doesn't remember hearing him unlock the door, much less open it, but he goes through anyway. The door closes behind him and steady hands are tugging off his coat – "Ah!" – and he notices that his knees feel very unsteady. He weaves toward the sofa.
The journey from hospital to flat has exhausted Sherlock, but as much as he wants to drop himself bodily onto the cushions as is his customary habit, he refrains. That would hurt. A lot. Instead he lowers himself carefully down and sits, head lolling back a bit as he rests.
John is by his side a moment later, unwinding the scarf from his throat. Oh. Forgot about that. The cashmere slips over his skin, and a cool hand places itself against his forehead. "You should lie down," John says, walking away to hang the scarf on the coatrack. He glances back in time to see Sherlock shake his head stiffly. "It was less of a suggestion, more of an order," John amends, returning to the sofa. He arranges a couple of the throw pillows for support and guides Sherlock away from the back of the sofa. An unpleasant sound thrums in the back of the detective's throat at the movement, but he doesn't protest. He stretches out on his back and sighs as deeply as he dares, eyes closing of their own accord.
The other end of the sofa sinks a little under John's weight. Sherlock feels the doctor fiddling with something and cracks an eye open to see him unlacing his boots.
"Stop doctoring me," Sherlock commands.
"I'm not doctoring," John replies easily, glancing up at his charge. "I'd like to see you take your own shoes off, I'm sure it'd work out splendidly." The words are spoken with the intonation of a challenge, but it's one that Sherlock doesn't rise to. John gives him a pointed look and the detective shuts his eyes again.
He doesn't mean to fall asleep. He wants to work, he has cases that need attention – the case of the girl by the river is still pending – and sleep is so pointless anyway, but something cool is being pressed against his skin and for a moment he's just comfortable enough that he… simply… drops off.
Some time later, he is only borderline aware that John is speaking to him. John's fingers press into his shoulder, encouraging him upright. Sherlock groans at the pain caused by the movement, and John murmurs something intended to be comforting, before pushing two tablets into Sherlock's palm. He squints down at the medicines, unsure. One of them is the antibiotic for the pneumonia – fine – but the other…?
"Paracetamol," John answers the question Sherlock hasn't yet asked. "It'll help to bring down your fever and take the edge off the pain."
For a moment – just a moment – Sherlock considers arguing. Not because he thinks paracetamol poses any sort of risk to his sobriety, but because it's just the Sherlock thing to do. He changes his mind at the last moment. Nope. Not worth it. No sense wasting energy on a pointless endeavour. He tosses back both pills with the tea John is offering. He falls asleep sitting up only a few minutes later.