John was starting to think he should never work late.
It was only a couple of months since he'd been mugged leaving the surgery after a long day, and now here he was, being kidnapped. Sherlock wouldn't let him hear the end of this.
Faced with three men with guns, though, there really wasn't much he could do, he thought. He really didn't want to end up in hospital again so soon. Still, his mind was running scenarios, plotting escape routes, trying to get him out of this.
Then one of the men said, "We don't have time to fight, Dr. Watson. Mr. Moriarty is calling in his favor. You need to come with us. Now."
John blinked. There was no question he owed Jim a favor—so long as Jim was playing fair and not using this as an easy way to invite him to "play." But it wasn't like Jim would need him to come easily if he was just going to strap him to another bomb. His minion looked oddly urgent, too. Sincere, almost, if that could be said of any of Moriarty's people.
He gave a brusque nod and lowered his hands.
While not as polite as one of Mycroft's kidnapping-cum-invitations, this wasn't the worst abduction John had had. He didn't struggle when they bound his hands together with a plastic zip tie and bustled him into a waiting car. They were so efficient, it was only a matter of about 90 seconds between his first glimpse of them and him sitting pressed between two large men in the backseat of a car, blindfolded by the bag they'd placed over his head.
He tried to count turns and traffic lights as Sherlock would expect, but he was having trouble marshaling his thoughts. Eventually it occurred to him that the bag over his head had been impregnated with some drug—not enough to knock him out, just enough to make everything fuzzy.
He wasn't sure how long they drove, but before long, the car came to a halt and John was being ushered out. He was led carefully but quickly up several steps, through a door, and down a carpeted hallway. Down a flight of stairs, another long hallway (echoing, with hard cement underfoot), and then he heard a metal door close behind him and the bag was pulled from his head.
He swallowed hard. This looked like nothing so much as a torture chamber. Cement walls and floor, harsh light, a drain in the floor for easy clean-up. There was a table to the side covered in medical-looking instruments. Hooks in the ceiling. Honest-to-god manacles on the wall. John blinked against the light, trying to take deep breaths to clear his head, cursing himself for being so gullible.
"Over here," a voice called, and John froze momentarily at the sound.
To his surprise, he wasn't pulled or pushed or dragged over. In fact, the henchman to his right turned and cut loose the plastic ties around his wrists and just nodded him in the correct direction.
Confused now, John moved that way, pausing in surprise at the table of medical supplies—because that's exactly what they were. Not torture instruments, after all. Or, not when used correctly.
He stepped around a folding screen … and stopped in shock. Jim Moriarty was lying on a table, sweating profusely, eyes glazed. "Hi, Johnny." Jim's voice was weak. "I'm calling in my favor."
"Jesus, what happened?" John asked as he hurried over, doctor's instinct kicking in.
"A little. Misunderstanding," he gasped out as John saw the red bandage on his shoulder. He peered underneath it, swearing, as the henchman behind him helpfully said, "He's been shot."
John met Jim's eyes with that look of "Obvious, don't be stupid" that he was so used to sharing with Sherlock. "I can see that," he said. "How long ago? What have you done for it? Is there an exit wound?"
He was already examining the shoulder, noting the broken collarbone and the damage from the … yes, the bullet was still there. He cursed. "This is bad, Jim. You need surgery. You should be in hospital."
Jim shook his head. "Can't. Has to be you."
"Me? Don't you have your own doctors?" John was shocked. He couldn't possibly be serious, could he?"
"Can't trust them not to let me die," Jim said. "Know you won't."
John gave a harsh laugh and gave another look at the shoulder. "Jim, that might be out of my hands. I'm not joking when I say this is bad, and I haven't done surgery since Afghanistan. I can't possibly be your best choice!"
"You're my only choice. You're disgustingly, morally good, Johnny. I know you'll do everything you can. Sebastian promises not to hold it against you if I die, don't you, Seb?"
"Sure, boss," the large man said, but John caught the look in his eye that meant "If he dies, you die."
John knew the look and understood it. He had killed for Sherlock, after all—though killing a murderer wasn't exactly the same as killing a doctor whose patient died. That wasn't exactly the point right now, though, was it? He did owe Jim one, big, life-saving favor, and this was obviously it. "Fine," he agreed. "Where? Here?" He couldn't keep the disapproval from his voice.
Jim choked on a laugh, and Sebastian said, his voice icy, "This is the easiest room in the house to sterilize."
John could believe that, but decided to let that go. "There are things I need," he said. He took another look around the room, noting the tanks of oxygen and anesthesia by the wall, the monitors and equipment. "Is there a nurse? Someone has to monitor the anesthesia…."
"No. Just me," Sebastian told him.
"Have you ever assisted an operation before?"
"No, but I've helped in the field in the army. For this," he lightly accented the word, "I'll do whatever you tell me."
John glared at him. "You had better, because this is going to be hard enough … this operation, under these conditions … Jesus." He ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath. It wasn't any worse than a battlefield, was it? "Okay, do we have an x-ray? I need to see exactly what the damage is. I need a place to scrub up, and I need to make sure you have all the supplies I need. I also need to send a text to Sherlock."
Sebastian shook his head. "No. Absolutely not."
John was equally firm. "I have to. After … last time … he gets very antsy if I don't turn up on time. If I don't let him know I'm safe, he's going to tear the city apart, and knowing that, I won't be able to concentrate. You can read the text before I send it, and you can turn my phone off afterward so it can't be traced, but I have to let him know I'm not bleeding to death in the street again. This is not negotiable."
"Do it," Jim said. "Whatever Johnny needs, Seb. S'an order."
Sebastian nodded and John pulled out his phone.
-Safe but delayed. Jim called in his favor. Don't know when I'll be home. Don't worry. JW
He showed Sebastian the text and, at his nod, hit Send and then powered down the phone, handing it to him and walking over to the sink. His mind was racing, throwing all the worst-case scenarios in front of his mind's eye. There was no way this room was sterile enough. The equipment would be lacking. His tremor would return and he would bungle the surgery. The surgery would be fine, but the unmonitored anesthesia would kill him. He would do everything right, and Sebastian would kill him anyway.
Scrubbing his arms, he shook his head. Focus, John. You've done more with less in Afghanistan. He looked around and found a pair of scrubs along with a mask and gloves. He pulled in another breath. He could do this.
He pulled off his coat and jumper and pulled the scrubs on over his clothes, and then looked at his shoes and sighed. God only knew how many germs had been tracked in. "How clean is this room?" he asked, hearing the familiar surgeon's snap to his voice.
"It was cleaned an hour ago," Sebastian said.
"And how many people have walked through here since? Never mind." John walked over to the tanks of gas and tried to run numbers in his head, taking in Jim's body mass, loss of blood … "Blood. Do we have blood, or at least an IV?"
Sebastian nodded to a cooler by the door. "Fresh this afternoon."
"And you didn't … right." John thought a moment, then snagged two bags and hooked them onto the stand near Jim's operating table, started the lines, and taped them down. What else was he missing? He had performed hundreds of surgeries, but never without at least one trained person to assist. "Bring that nitrous over here."
He looked at Jim. "I'm sorry. Without someone to monitor, I don't dare put you all the way under. Between the nitrous and the morphine in the drip, you shouldn't feel anything, but you're not going to be completely asleep. Can you deal with that?"
Jim laughed. "Doctor, I can deal with anything you can hand out."
John nodded. "Right." He placed the mask over Jim's face and turned on the gas, then went back to the sink to scrub again. "Sebastian, I need your help with the gloves."
Moments later, he was back at the table, "Okay, Jim. I'm ready to start. You shouldn't feel anything, but I need you to NOT move, no matter what." God help me if he does, he thought, and looking at Sebastian, he picked up the scalpel and began.
Two hours later, John took the last stitch and reached for the bandages. "You can ease off on the nitrous now," he told Sebastian, suddenly reeling with exhaustion. What the hell time was it, anyway? He'd been up since six this morning and had left the clinic late tonight, and that had to be … his mind just stopped calculating. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He checked Jim's vitals again and nodded. "That's all I can do right now. Everything went well. With proper care, he should be fine. The bullet's out, the tear is repaired. I don't see any serious nerve damage—though I can't guarantee 100% recovery from a bullet that passed so near the nerve junction, but any loss of motion should be minimal. Believe me, I know."
He found himself unconsciously shifting his own tired shoulder out of sympathy and stopped. "The blood is replacing what he lost. Everything looks good. If he can avoid infection, he should be fine." He looked up at Sebastian, who looked skeptical. "Look, you were watching the whole time, and I'm far too tired to lie, even if I wanted to. And I wouldn't lie about a patient in any case."
After a long measuring look, Sebastian finally nodded and gestured to a cot John hadn't noticed earlier. "Get some rest, doctor."
John raised an eyebrow, wanting to remind the man of his promise to let John go, but thought better of it. He was too tired. The cot looked impossibly inviting, and—he admitted it to himself—he'd want to see how Jim was when he woke up. So he just nodded and lay down. He was asleep before he could even reach for the blanket.
It seemed just 5 minutes later when he felt a surprisingly gentle hand on his shoulder. "Doc? Get up."
John opened his eyes, instantly awake thanks to years of emergency calls. He sat up, pushing back the blanket from his shoulders. "What is it?"
"He's waking up."
John nodded. "Right." He stood up and only when he felt the harsh concrete through his socks realized that someone had taken off his shoes. He gave Sebastian a curious look, but the man had already turned away. John rubbed his face in his hands and then, leaving his shoes behind, followed him across the room.
His eyes went first to Jim's face, noting the color (better than last night), and then to the monitors tracking his heartbeat and respiration. He nodded, and wished he had a chart to note the numbers. "It looks good," he said as much to himself as to anyone else. "Jim? Jim, how are you feeling?"
"Like I've got a hole in my shoulder," came the reply. "Jeez, Johnny, did it hurt this much when you were shot?"
John gave a weary smile. "Probably. I've tried to forget it. It looks like you should heal just fine, though, as long as you manage to avoid infection—which might be challenging, though I did everything I could to prevent it. I don't see any damage that won't heal. You've got a broken collarbone and a big hole in the muscle right now, so it's going to take some time. I didn't see any obvious nerve damage, though, so hopefully you'll avoid that. We won't know for sure until the swelling goes down. It's going to hurt like hell for a few days, though."
Jim nodded. "Pain and I are old friends."
Um, right, thought John. "You're going to need physical therapy, you know, to get the range of motion back. The more therapy you manage, the better the recovery. But let the healing process start first, yeah? You look like you've got good post-op care, here." He looked up at Sebastian. "Don't let him get away with anything to jeopardize his recovery."
Sebastian just looked at him, and John started to feel nervous. Were they expecting him to stick around for Jim's recovery? There was no way Sherlock would stand for that. A few more hours were doable, but anything longer than 24 and he would have a conniption. Of course, John had no idea what time it was right now, either. He just knew he was tired, and his nap hadn't done much except underscore how badly his adrenalin had crashed. He couldn't remember the last time he ate, either.
He tried not to show how relieved he was when Jim said, "Then there's no reason for you to stay, is there, Johnny?"
"Not unless you need me to," said John, "But really, at this point, it's more about getting rest and giving the body a chance to heal than anything else. I'll leave you a prescription for painkillers and some antibiotics, too."
"That's really not necessary, doctor," said Sebastian smoothly, and John grimaced. Considering the makeshift operating theater, he had no doubt they could get all the medication they needed.
"Okay, then, that's one less thing to worry about." He cleared his throat. "I want updates, though. We might still be on opposite sides, or whatever, but if something goes wrong, I want to know about it."
"Oh, believe me, doctor. You will." Sebastian's grin was terrifying, but John stood his ground and glared right back at him.
"Don't threaten me, Sebastian. I'm a doctor, and right now, Jim is my patient. I take this seriously."
There was a chuckle from the bed. "Now, Seb, don't scare the poor man. He did us a favor, remember."
"He didn't have a choice." Sebastian wasn't backing down, either.
John just cocked his head, eyes steady as he felt his temper flare. "Oh, yes I did. It might not have ended well for any of us, but I could have refused. But I owed a favor and I'm a doctor—of course I helped. Your gun had nothing to do with it. The fact that I operated in a bloody torture chamber didn't matter. I did it because it was the right thing to do! Now, are you going to keep me informed on Jim's condition or not?"
He was almost surprised when Sebastian's eyes flicked ever so slightly downward, as he agreed. God, he was just so tired. He stepped over to Jim and bent to check his bandages, giving Sebastian instructions on how often to change them, what danger signs to look for.
He hadn't realized how close Sebastian was standing until he was straightening up. He felt a prick at his neck and cursed. His last thought was a hope that he wouldn't be manacled to the wall when he woke up.
Sherlock was lying on the couch, trying to be calm.
He had been trying to be calm since John had failed to return from work last night. He had been trying since he got John's text telling him he was with Moriarty. He had been trying since he had been unable to get through to John's phone. He had been trying to be calm ever since Mycroft told him they had been unable to track the car John had been forced into.
The pictures from John's kidnapping had made Sherlock anything but calm. They weren't violent, but something about seeing his friend surrounded by three large men all holding guns ate at Sherlock's concentration. And seeing the look on John's face as he submitted to being cuffed?
He needed to be calm.
He was forcing himself to wait, forcing himself not to tear around the city, not to tear the city to the ground looking for John. According to John's text (assuming it had been written by John, of course), he had only expected to be delayed. Theoretically, there was nothing to be worried about. No reason not to be calm.
So here Sherlock was, reclining on the couch, fingers steepled in front of him, looking the very picture of Calm. Under the surface, though, his brain worked itself into a panic, trying to run on too many nerves and too little data.
Which is why, when the doorbell rang, his body was up off the couch and headed toward the stairs before even his brain could react.
He found a cabbie on the steps. "You Sherlock Holmes? I was told to bring him here," the man said, gesturing toward the cab at the curb.
Sherlock was already opening the door of the cab. John was sprawled on the backseat, completely unconscious. Sherlock tried to wake him, but there was no response. He couldn't see any injuries, which he supposed was reassuring, but … why wouldn't he wake up?
"Where did you find him?" he asked the driver, voice sharp. "Was he like this?"
"Over near Embankment. Two of his mates flagged me down and told me to see him home. They said he'd had a bit too much to drink last night, and gave me a big enough tip not to worry about him being sick in the car. That's awful to try to clean up, you know. It takes days to get the smell out. But he did nothing but sleep the whole way."
The man drew breath to continue, but Sherlock interrupted. "Two men? What did they look like?"
"Oh, normal blokes, I suppose. Wore black leather coats, like your friend, same kind of haircuts. They were just ordinary people." He scratched the back of his head and then glanced at his meter. "Can you get him out of the car already, then? I've got a living to make and I can't sit here all day."
With the cabbie's help, Sherlock managed to get John in a fireman's lift and maneuvered him up the stairs and into the sitting room. He laid him on the couch, still concerned that he hadn't shown any signs of waking. His color was good and his breathing steady, though, which was reassuring.
Sherlock studied his flatmate. He didn't smell any alcohol—not the drinking kind—but there was definitely a scent of antiseptic clinging to his skin. His hands and wrists were red and dry, as if they'd been scrubbed vigorously, and there were marks near his ears from a surgical mask. He wondered at the lack of shoes, though.
He wondered what "favor" Jim had called in. The signs pointed to one that required not just a doctor, but a surgeon. At that time of night, it was most likely an attack, much like the one that had put John in hospital two months ago—not that he could picture any mugger stupid enough to attack Jim Moriarty. But neither could he imagine Jim calling in John's services for anyone else. So far as he knew, Jim Moriarty had no close associates.
He covered John with a blanket, sent a quick text to Mycroft, and then just … observed. John had clearly been drugged (he could see the needle mark at the back of his neck), but it seemed that the worst of its effects had passed, and that he was just sleeping now. Exhausted, then, which after his long day yesterday was understandable—long even before the abduction. If you add a high-pressure surgery on top of that … John could be asleep for hours.
Sherlock's mind offered dozens of things he could be doing. He could be tracking down the cab, having Mycroft tracing it back to see the men who'd flagged it down for John's ride home. He could be examining the traces of dirt on the bottom of John's socks to determine where he had been. There were plenty of things he could be doing.
Yet all he wanted to do was sit here and watch John sleep. This was a new phenomenon, really, only dating back to John's mugging two months ago. Prior to that, he had studied John's sleep mostly to forecast nightmares or judge fatigue levels. But since he had almost died from that knife wound … Sherlock found just watching John sleep and breathe remarkably comforting.
John stirred under the blanket and Sherlock's gaze focused sharply. But no, he wasn't waking up, just shifting to a new position. Should he adjust the pillow under his head? He really should have carried him upstairs to his bed, Sherlock thought, though one flight had been difficult enough. After a night in Moriarty's custody, though, he deserved a restful sleep, didn't he?
This was agony. He wanted to know what had happened, and he couldn't learn anything until John was awake.
Striving for patience (and wanting to distance himself from the temptation of a good poke) Sherlock went to the desk and opened his laptop. He started tracing the cab, eyes darting frequently over to the couch, where John had started to snore softly.
John woke suddenly. Where the hell …? He sat up quickly, too quickly, automatically on alert. It wasn't until he realized that he was in 221B that his heart rate started to return to normal. For one brief moment, he wondered if it had all been a nightmare.
Then Sherlock hurried in from the kitchen, saying his name with such concern, that John realized that no, it had all been real.
He scrubbed his face with his hands, taking stock. He was still exhausted, but not to the point of having muscle tremors. There was a nagging headache, too, but that could be from anything—fatigue, low blood sugar, or simply a carryover from whatever they'd used to knock him out. Or all three. And he desperately wanted a shower.
He looked up at Sherlock and summoned up a smile. "Miss me?"
"Don't be ridiculous, John. Where were you? What happened?"
"Jim called in his favor," John said wearily, leaning back against the cushions. "Someone shot him and apparently I was the only doctor he could trust not to try to kill him. There's irony, for you."
The steel blue eyes didn't leave his. "Since you're returned and unhurt, I assume it went well?"
John nodded. "That's not something I ever want to do again. My first operation since being shot a year ago, and it's on a lunatic criminal consultant, at gunpoint, in a bloody torture chamber. And I'm not kidding about that. I half expected to wake up chained to the wall." He glanced up at his friend. "So how did I get here?"
"It's a good question, actually. A cab delivered you a couple hours ago. He claimed that two men said you'd had too much to drink and paid him to bring you here. However, according to what I can gather, that cab number has not been in service all week."
"So … the cabbie was another of Moriarty's men?"
"Very possibly. If I show you a photo, could you identify him?"
"I can try," John said with a shrug. He started to stand, but fell back on the couch with a groan. He raised a hand when Sherlock leapt forward. "I'm fine, just tired. Especially my leg, which yes, I know, is psychosomatic. I was on my feet for hours operating last night."
Sherlock was studying him. "Have you eaten?"
"Not since lunch yesterday." He looked at the clock and raised his eyebrows. "That would explain a lot. Got anything in?"
"I'll order Chinese," Sherlock said.
"Right." John nodded and then heaved himself up off the couch. "And I need a shower. Did you want to test my clothes for spare DNA?" He grinned as Sherlock's eyes lit up. "Just try not to destroy them, will you?"
He started for the stairs and then turned, about to ask Sherlock to start the kettle for tea and then realized something. "Where the hell are my shoes?"
Several days later, John reached for the next chart and stepped into an examination room at the surgery. "How can I help you today, Mr. Moore?"
He looked up at the patient with a smile and then stopped short, letting the door close behind him.
The patient perched on the examination table said, "Well, I was shot a few days ago, and promised my doctor I'd follow up."
John's heart started beating again, and he nodded slowly. "Good. That's good." He looked down at the chart in his hands. "It says here you have a sprained wrist."
A careful shrug. "Seemed more discreet. I didn't want to … alarm … your colleagues. This time, anyway."
"Right. That was thoughtful." John drew another breath. "How's the shoulder, Jim? Any heat? Extraordinary pain?"
He stepped forward and pulled back the shirt to examine the incision. "It's healing well," he said after a moment.
"You did a good job," agreed Jim, and then reached for the box beside him. "This is yours."
John took it carefully. "It's not going to explode is it?"
"Just open it, Johnny." The voice was amused. Inside was a pair of expensive Italian leather shoes, polished to a high shine. Also his phone. "I was touched that you kept the phone I sent you," Jim said.
"Well, someone took mine and I needed a replacement. Of course, Sherlock insisted on testing it for explosives, poisons, tracking devices, bugs and all sorts of other things before he let me keep it." He glanced up at Jim. "I had misplaced a pair of shoes, too."
In his experience, consulting geniuses never said please or thank you, so this was as much thanks as he was likely to get. "Does this mean we're even now?"
Jim had finished buttoning his shirt and reached for the sling next to him. "I'd say so, wouldn't you? A life for a life?"
"Very biblical." John helped Jim slide his elbow into the sling. "And more to my taste than our previous … exchange."
"Saving lives? Boring." Jim's voice was casual, but his eyes were serious.
John huffed a laugh. "Not when it's your own. I've always found it more satisfying to save lives than to take them."
"And that's why we're on opposite sides, Johnny."
John met his patient's eyes. "Exactly. Nothing's changed."
Except, that for a long moment as the two men looked at each other, something had.
Then the moment was over. Jim slid from the examination table and reached for his jacket. "Take care of yourself, doctor. Until we meet again." He held out his hand.
"Until then," John agreed, shaking his hand, knowing this man would very likely kill him the next time they met. "Take care of that shoulder."
"You should take better care of your possessions, Dr. Watson," Jim Moriarty said, and now any warmth in the changeable voice was gone. "You cannot rely on me to help you again."
"Understood," said John, standing erect, a soldier again. "The game is on."
NOTE: I know nothing whatsoever about surgery more complicated than bandaging a paper cut and what I've seen on the occasional TV show. In other words, I have no idea what I'm talking about as John prepares to operate—luckily for all of us, he's much better at being a doctor than I am.
Not beta'd or Brit-picked, and naturally, I don't own anything of this world. I just like to play here.