Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners, Arthur Conan Doyle and in their BBC version Stephen Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Stephen Thompson. The original characters and plot are mine. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N:This is the second request I got for Sherlock Holmes Week 2012 on DA - for Merisha, who requested a hurt/comfort, friendship fic.
N.B.: This story was betaed on FFnet by Zylstra and Rianna Lauren in record time. Many thanks to them and to Robina Snyder who took a look at it all the way from Russia!
The Adventure of the Mellow Face
221B Baker Street – a nice, quiet little place where decent people lived and thrived in peace. Or so the neighbours wished.
Sunday, 6 A.M.
John grumbled something incomprehensible in his sleep. Was this Sherlock's voice shouting? God, I have to listen to him every day already, can't I have some peace at least at night?
"John! John! Joooohn!"
John's eyes snapped open. The voice was in the distance, as if Sherlock had been calling from downstairs – and that last cry had been almost a wail. Jumping to his feet, the doctor rushed to their living room.
It was definitely coming from Sherlock's room. Not wasting a second, the good doctor ran to his friend's side, slamming the door open.
John blinked. Sherlock was lying in bed, whining as if he were going through death throes, his face half-buried in the pillow.
"What. The. Hell."
"John! I think I'm going to die."
"Oh, that you are," the ex-soldier growled back.
Sherlock turned to his flatmate and glared. John froze.
"What happened to your face?" he asked, befuddled by the swollen chin and right cheek of his friend.
Sherlock let his head fall back dramatically onto the pillow and bemoaned:
"God, what are you? A child?" John walked up to him and sat on the bed, cupping Sherlock's face gingerly to examine it. "What the... this is a bee sting. How did you get stung by a bee in bed?"
"How would I know! It huuurts, John, do something! Aren't you a doctor? Look how red it is, and how it has swollen. Maybe I'm allergic..."
"You're not allergic. With a sting to the face, you'd have choked yourself to death by now – I think."
John rolled his eyes.
"You're not wheezing, you have no difficulty breathing, no rash or swelling elsewhere..."
"Don't be ridiculous, Sherlock. This is just a sting!"
"Well, not everyone has been shot in war," Sherlock grumbled, burying his face into the blanket before remembering he'd been stung. He moaned.
John pulled away the blanket none too gently and without prior warning scraped the stinger with his fingernail, taking it out of the swollen face. Sherlock cried out. "That hurt!" he protested.
"You're an idiot," John simply retorted, looking at Sherlock's sullen face closely. "Why didn't you remove the stinger sooner? It would've reduced the amount of venom – and the swelling."
"And I was supposed to know that because...?" Sherlock mumbled.
"...it's basic knowledge?"
"I have you. I don't need basic knowledge for such trite things."
John let out a sigh, but couldn't quite hide the long-suffering smile that spread across his face.
"The first time I met you, I thought you looked like a twelve-year old. A brilliant, fascinating, childish git. But right now you're acting like a five year-old."
"And you're sounding like Mycroft," Sherlock retaliated. He did however listen to John, and stood up groggily.
His face was very red and swollen, and quite comically distorted. The ex-soldier couldn't help but laugh. Sherlock sent him an offended scowl and looked so miffed it only made John's giggles worse. Straightening up and gathering all the dignity he had left, Sherlock walked out of the room without a glance at his friend, raising his swollen chin haughtily.
John simply smiled, and followed.
Sherlock was pressed up against the sink of his bathroom, fidgeting as John held his chin up and put his hand down so he would stop pushing him back.
"Can't you be a little more gentle?"
"Oh, stop whining! It hurts now, but it'll get better."
John stopped washing the sting site with soap and water, and thought about what he'd just said when they were together in a bathroom behind a closed door.
He groaned. Sherlock arched an eyebrow as John resumed his task of cleaning the sting, making sure there was no part of the stinger left in it.
"Nothing. Just, without context..."
"Never mind," John smiled, amused. Sherlock wasn't only childish, but also very childlike sometimes. His candour and tactless bluntness were actually rather refreshing, he mused. "Here we go. You just have to take your antihistamine." He handed him the glass, and his lips curved up at Sherlock's grimace as he drank.
"See? You're all fine now. "
"You mean except for the fact that I look utterly ridiculous?"
"Except for that, yes. I'm surprised you even accepted to show it to me. I would've thought you were more the type to hide all day in your room."
Sherlock frowned, at a loss.
"Why would I want to hide from you?"
"Well, you said it yourself. You look ridiculous."
"But it's you. Why should I care?"
John smirked behind his sigh and shook his head.
Sherlock shrugged, deciding that John wasn't making much sense – nothing unusual, after all.
For the umpteenth time this morning, John looked up from his laptop to see Sherlock sprawled on the couch, wearing his hideous blue bathrobe and sulking.
"I heard you the first time," John remarked.
"You didn't answer."
"What do you want?"
"You've just had one!"
"But it hurts!"
They glared at each other, but as always, John lost the battle and gave in.
"I'll give you one in the afternoon."
"And tonight?" Sherlock pressed.
"Sure. But you'll have to get it yourself."
As the detective sent him a questioning look, John added:
"Dinner out. With Pam. Remember? I told you yesterday."
Sherlock pouted, displeasure clear on his face, and rolled on his other side, back to John.
"Whatever you want to waste your time with..."
He fell silent for five minutes, then:
"Yes, Sherlock..." the doctor replied tiredly.
"I need more ice. It's all melted now."
"You don't even need ice anymore – you're just supposed to apply it for twenty minutes and it's been, what? Two hours? Three?"
"But it's still swollen..."
John nodded, his eyes back on his computer screen.
"It seems like you reacted pretty badly to it – probably because you didn't remove that stinger quickly enough..."
"I called you for at least five minutes!" Sherlock protested, his gaze accusing.
"Can't you even do that without me?" John mocked – but his voice was tinged with motherly tenderness.
Sherlock, however, seemed to have missed it, for he scoffed, vexed, and replied with some contempt:
"There are a number of things I can do myself. And there are others for which I don't see why I should bother."
"So you have me."
"So I have you."
Sherlock looked so serious John couldn't help but burst out laughing.
"What?" the consulting detective inquired sharply. "What's so funny?"
"You are," John let out between two giggles. "You're such a spoilt brat, yet you're so bloody regal about it..."
Sherlock made a face, but remained quiet... for at least ten minutes.
When he'd woken up that morning from the pain radiating from his chin, Sherlock had felt groggy and shocked. Everything was rather vague, and he had no idea how a bee could have possibly entered his room. Because he knew when to recognize a bee sting.
At first though, he'd been so surprised he hadn't even thought of the possible cause for his pain. His first reaction had been to cry out and call John's name – wasn't he his personal doctor? It seemed only like the natural thing to do. His gaze had come across a dead bee lying on the flow a little further down the bed, so his theory had been confirmed. Still, it was too early in the morning for him to deal with such things personally, and so he'd kept calling. Again. And again. And again. Until John's silence and lateness started to annoy him, and instead of getting up himself to take care of it, he shouted even more. This proved quite effective, and a minute later his flatmate was there by his side.
John Watson had burst into his life just some year and a half ago. Yet in such a short span of time, the ex-soldier had managed to become not only his flatmate, but also his doctor, personal blogger, bodyguard – and even his friend. All of this was new to Sherlock, but the latter especially was so unfamiliar to the consulting detective that he'd been at a loss at first. When John had been ready to sacrifice his own life for him during the pool incident, Sherlock had realized that John wasn't even what most people called a 'friend' – a person with whom one appreciates spending time with, with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.
Sherlock didn't just appreciate spending time with John, nor did he care much for affection in general. Rather, John's presence had pervaded his everyday life to such an extent that the detective no longer conceived it without him in it. John was great to bounce back ideas – as a conductor of light, he was much more convincing than the skull. Unlike the skull, he also made sure Sherlock ate enough, did not smoke, and wasn't killed by the first criminal they went after – which was, naturally, quite an advantage. Overall, John was Sherlock's best asset – and more than that, their bond was so complementary that the doctor also benefited from their partnership. John needed the thrill and the danger; Sherlock needed someone to watch his back.
If he had to be honest, however, John was a little more than that. When he'd offered to give his life so his flatmate could run away, Sherlock had felt no happiness whatsoever: he'd been shocked, and terrified. What his brain had registered at first was that 1) This was a great opportunity to stay alive 2) He couldn't take it. Conclusion: John was great because he cared enough to make Sherlock his number one priority; and John was a threat because Sherlock couldn't treat him like a pawn, as he surely could have. John was a good man, and because of him, Sherlock started to like "good". Or at least, he bothered asking when he wasn't sure whether something was good or not. He'd never wasted the time to do so, before: good and bad, right and wrong... They were such relative concepts, and hardly relevant to his job. He divided the population more easily into stupid (almost everyone) and clever. It didn't mean clever was better, it was just...interesting. Different. Just like good was different from bad. Sherlock never thought it worth the trouble to wonder which one was better "morally speaking". As a matter of convenience (especially with Big Brother looming), he decided it was always better to be on the side of the Law.
John, however, seemed to have his own moral principles beyond the law and what was considered to be socially acceptable. He would shoot a man to save a life if said man was a murderer, even if he risked a trial for it - and even if it was still killing. He would give up his own life to save that of a friend, without any hesitation. If there was a hero in the story, it was undoubtedly John – not Sherlock.
And so surprisingly, Sherlock found himself annoyed when John looked at him with disappointment in his gaze. Sherlock liked the admiring gaze, the one that marvelled at his brilliance and was always enthralled by his deductions. But he hated John's disapproving or disappointed look, because it made him feel something he very rarely felt: something between remorse and shame. Something that compelled him to be forgiven for some unfathomable reasons.
What Sherlock did not mind though was John helping him with things he would never dare ask of anyone else. That bee sting, for instance. John had been right. With everyone else, Sherlock would've spent the day hidden in his room, because he abhorred being ridiculous in the eyes of others – arrogant, detestable, infuriating even were fine. People were too stupid to judge his actions anyway. But to be considered grotesque? Never. Being used to be called "Freak" was still something different entirely. In other words, Sherlock did not like being mocked in any way, especially when his physical aspect was concerned, and he could do nothing about it. Having a bee sting on the face was such a situation.
But John wasn't like everyone else in that aspect. Sherlock didn't mind having him around even when he felt grotesque – and he certainly was, with that red face, the swelling spreading all the way to the cheekbone, the ear, the mouth and top of his throat. But first of all, John could help: he was a doctor. And even if he would never admit it out loud, Sherlock liked to be pampered. He absolutely wouldn't let just anyone do it (and by that, he meant anyone but John), but his princely attitude and mentality liked to be served hand and foot. John was the perfect companion for this, and Sherlock would trust him with his body and well-being over anyone.
Thus were his musings as he lay indolently on the couch like a pasha, his gaze fixed on John, who was presently writing his blog. About me, Sherlock thought with some satisfaction. Then he frowned.
"You're not going to talk about the bee, are you?"
"Why, do you want me to?"
"No." He glared and tried to look intimidating, but he could tell by John's sparkling eyes that it wasn't working. "You can write about bees if you want, but not about me..."
"I never thought I'd hear you say that."
"Oh, shut up."
John chuckled, looking back at his screen. "I know nothing about bees – and who would care about that anyway?"
"I do," Sherlock mumbled almost inaudibly, protest clear in his voice.
"You like bees?"
"... If you say so."
Sherlock scoffed and winced at once as the sting was still sore.
"You all right?" John asked.
"Bees are the most fascinating living creatures on earth after humans," Sherlock went on, blatantly ignoring his friend. John shrugged. "In fact, they are a lot more interesting than most ordinary people." He stared pointedly, and this time the doctor scowled.
At this Sherlock thought it good to avert his gaze, in a (failed) attempt at meekness. He missed John shaking his head, and his fondly mocking smile.
"Not hungry..." Sherlock growled. "Bored... give me your gun?"
John stared, holding in his left hand a plate with a sandwich, and a cup of water in the other. Sherlock went for the sheepish look. "Please?"
Well, that was fast, the detective thought, sulking. "I can't eat anyway," he grumbled.
John arched an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Mouth's too swollen."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"And I'm dizzy..."
"Sherlock, you...what?" John put the plate and cup on the table and put his palm on his friend's forehead. "You're quite hot."
The doctor rolled his eyes. "We'll check your temperature after lunch."
"I can't eat a sandwich!"
"Fine! I'll feed you mashed potatoes like a baby then!"
"I'll have the sandwich."
John grumbled something about capricious twats, but as he tried to bite into his bread Sherlock found that he hadn't been as picky as he thought at first. He really was having a hard time with the sandwich, and it hurt. Did that stupid bee really have to sting me so close to the lips?
"I think I'll have the mashed potatoes."
But John stopped complaining when he thought about how much he could gloat afterwards for having fed the genius consulting detective like an infant. Sherlock observed his brightening face, and scowled.
"You're not feeding me. I'm eating it myself."
John shrugged nonchalantly. "Fine. Then go prepare it yourself."
Sherlock looked so comically indignant John almost broke into a fit of giggles. But before he got the chance, the detective muttered:
"Just give me soup with a straw. I'll be fine."
"Yes, your majesty," John replied with a deriding bow before complying – ever the long-suffering friend and doctor.
After the threat of being fed the mashed potatoes, Sherlock was good and drank his soup quietly. He was feeling dizzier by the second, and wondered why in the world a bee sting should cause fever. Sherlock was, sadly, familiar with hyperthermia, but didn't usually get fevers – in fact, he didn't usually get sick at all. As he let John take his temperature, he hoped it wouldn't be too bad.
He had no such luck.
"39°C," John said with a frown. "That's high. How do you feel?"
"I just told you. Dizzy."
John checked his watch. "You still have an hour to wait before the next ibuprofen. We should probably alternate with Tylenol, in fact. In the meantime..."
He went away and was back a minute later with a cold compress, which he put on Sherlock's forehead.
"Lie on your back, you idiot. It'll fall if you keep squirming."
"I'm not squir–" the detective began, sounding offended.
"Shh. Just rest. Doctor's orders."
Sherlock sent him a sullen look, but moped in silence and obeyed.
An hour later, the giddiness and hotness hadn't got any better, and so Sherlock decided he was entitled to start whining again.
John turned the sound of the telly down and came up to his friend. He froze as his hand touched the very, very warm skin of his flatmate's face.
"You're burning! What the... A bee sting shouldn't cause fever, what's wrong with you?"
"Sorry for not being your everyday patient," Sherlock mumbled, looking quite satisfied with himself for not being ordinary, even in this aspect. John didn't even listen and took his temperature again, with evident urgency, his gestures swift and precise.
"40,3°C," he said blankly.
"Not good?" Sherlock asked, tilting his head to the side, his voice groggy.
"Not good at all," John confirmed, not even amused by the dazed face Sherlock was showing him. "You have to take a bath."
"Lukewarm. Come on, I'll help you to the bathroom."
"I don't need your... help," Sherlock finished, almost crashing to the floor, if John hadn't been there to catch him.
"Right. Let's go."
Slowly, they made it to the bathroom, where John had taken care of the stinger in the morning. The doctor put Sherlock in a chair and turned the water on, adjusting the temperature.
"Here we go. Don't lock the door, and call me if there's anything."
"I don't want to take a bath. I like showers," he complained.
"Sherlock, that's beside the point!" John snapped, before regretting his harsh tone and adding: "Look, you have a very high fever, all right? If we can't make it go down, I'll have to bring you to hospital."
At those words, the detective looked appalled and he recoiled.
"I don't want to!"
"Then be a good boy and take your bath," John ordered, his tone definite.
Sherlock didn't answer, but didn't move either. He just sat there sullenly, looking more light-headed by the second.
"Sherlock, I am not going to undress you and put you in tepid water myself, so get your butt in gear!"
Still, Sherlock did not move, and quite frankly he looked rather out of it.
"Come on, I can help you, but... Oh, scratch this, you're not even listening!"
John groaned. "Damn this..." He scrapped his head in annoyance, but only wavered a second before he settled to undress his befogged friend. "I swear to God, Sherlock, if Mycroft does have cameras in the flat, I...When this is over, I'm killing you myself."
In this moment however, he seemed very intent not to let Sherlock get worse and damage irreparably what was most important to him – his brain. And so John stripped him all the way down to his boxers, which he evidently left on, and managed more or less to put him into the bathtub without hurting him or spreading too much water on the floor.
"Jooohn... What are you doing?"
"Babysitting you, Sherlock."
"You've just stripped me."
"Because you refused to do so yourself, you git!"
"People would talk..." Sherlock chuckled groggily, fairly amused.
"You..." John didn't finish his sentence, but suddenly dropped Sherlock in the water. The detective didn't react fast enough, and fell under the water in surprise, gasping and waving his arms in a frenzy. When he emerged, he glared – at the door, for his vision was blurry and he was so dazed he wasn't sure where John was standing – and cried:
"You dropped me!"
"And you deserved it. Now stop dithering and stay still. You have to rest, or your temperature won't get any lower."
"No hospital..." Sherlock grumbled, slowly lowering his head until it was half-submerged, glaring at nowhere. John repressed a chuckle, and sighed.
"I'm not closing the door. Just call if there's anything – I'm in the next room."
He left and checked his watch. 3P.M. already. He growled.
"Hello, Pam? Yes, it's John... I'm sorry but I'm afraid I can't make it tonight. No... Well, yes. Yes, but... He's got a fever, you see... No, I mean a really high one! I had to put him in a bath and... No, Pam! With clothes on! Look, I..."
John looked at his mobile in disbelief.
"She just hung up," he commented dumbly. He groaned, tossing the phone away, and went to check on his troublesome flatmate.
"Sherlock?" he called, entering the bathroom. For a moment, he thought his friend was sleeping, but soon the pair of eyes filled with daggers was back on him.
"I'm not going to the hospital."
This time, John laughed wholeheartedly.
"Have you been stuck on that thought since I left?"
The detective grumbled back something inaudible as the doctor came to sit on the bathtub's edge.
"Let's check your temperature, shall we? And here's your medicine. It'll help reduce both the fever and the swelling." He waited for Sherlock to swallow the pill, then put the thermometer in his pouting mouth.
"38,7°C," he read after a while. Then looking up to his friend:
"That's great, Sherlock! You can come out. We'll put you in bed with cold compresses now."
As the day declined behind the windowpane, Sherlock was letting himself be dressed in light clothing. He was no longer feeling too dizzy to do it himself, but he was enjoying the unwavering attention. John's touch and manipulation weren't gentle. His hands were rough, not smooth in the least – the hands of a military doctor accustomed to life and death situations, and the urgency it entailed. His movements were nimble and rigorous: he did not waste any time with unnecessary gestures, and Sherlock liked it.
John took away the blankets and helped him lie down onto the mattress. Methodically, he placed cold compresses under his armpits, behind his neck and his knees. It was refreshing after the very mildly warm bath, and Sherlock forced himself to chase away the restlessness: he didn't like staying idle.
"I don't like being sick," he mumbled.
"You're not sick," John replied simply, finishing his work by putting a fresh towel on his flatmate's brow. "Here. Drink this."
John shook his head. "It hasn't been four hours yet. This is Pedialyte."
Sherlock frowned. "But I'm not a child."
"Yes you are," John retorted, a chuckle in his voice. "But apart from that, this is an electrolyte solution – it's good for fevers even in adults."
"You've made me drink water all day..." Sherlock bemoaned softly.
"And you'll thank me for it later," the doctor said as he stood to leave.
"Thank you," Sherlock murmured.
John couldn't tell whether his tone was sullen or shy.
It was 11P.M. when John turned off the telly and got ready to go to bed. He decided to check on his friend one last time – he was in fact quite surprised that Sherlock hadn't called him to whine yet.
Perhaps he's fallen asleep, he mused as he walked down the corridor and pushed the door to the detective's room.
Sherlock was indeed sleeping. John walked up to the bed and leant in to put his palm on his friend's forehead. The wet towel had fallen next to the pillow, probably because he'd moved in his sleep. His temperature seemed to have got better, but he was still warm.
John was about to retire to his room when suddenly a pale hand caught his wrist.
"Sherlock? It's John. Are you all right?"
"I know it's you," Sherlock grumbled. Then in a quieter voice: "Stay."
It was neihter a plea, nor a request. It was a demand, and John took it like one. A lenient smile spread across his face, overruling his resigned sigh.
"I'll get one of the armchairs."
Soon he was back with it, and settled next to the bed. Sherlock didn't offer to share, and it didn't even cross John's mind. Resting his head against his fist, he pondered how wrong Pam had been. Sherlock isn't your son, John! He's an adult, not a child: you don't have to take care of him always. But having Sherlock was like having a child. If Pam – like all the other women he had dated until now – couldn't understand that John would continue to take care of him and possibly make him his priority since he was more likely to end up in a life and death situation, then she wasn't the right one.
Yes, he mused, I'm doomed to put up with him for the rest of my life. And somehow, the thought made him fall asleep with a small smile gracing his lips.