The Heat of Healing
For a very little while this might have been the damn tone poem for 221B. There was a brief, strange period early in their first year together when too often one man, the other, or both were hurt, half-healed, or tending the other's wounds.
Pain was nothing new to John or Sherlock. Long before they knew each other they each knew the ache of bruises, the tenderness of stitched together skin, and though only one's a doctor, both are well-versed in the mechanics of how the body breaks and what it has to do to mend.
Always blood comes first, to clean the wound. Platelets, red blood cells, and fibrin come after, covering the wound in glass-brittle tissue. After that there may be gauze or plasters, casts or splints, the details depend on the depth of the damage. But there's one thing that always happens, no matter how small the wound or where it is on a man's body.
The wound gets hot.
This is when healing is truly on its way. Blood vessels that were constricted to aid clotting are now open wide so that blood can flow to the wound. The skin becomes flushed, tender. Sensitive.
The good doctor's put his hand over wounds to keep dirt out or blood in. He's seen more wrecked bodies than he can remember and been calm through trauma, tears, and pain. But John Watson learned something surprising the first week, the first day of his romance with Sherlock Holmes: He can't do any of that, not with this man.
The first time John saw Sherlock hurt—it was half a year ago and he needed four stitches, just four in his lip—he did three things he'd never done before.
* Stayed so close to Sherlock in A&E that he was within a metre of the man for two solid hours.
* Smart-mouthed, bossed, and bullied the doctor who cared for Sherlock until Sherlock asked him to leave the room. (He didn't.)
* And as Sherlock received those few small stitches the good doctor clenched his jaw so hard he had a god damn toothache for hours after.
Sherlock shifted in their bed, the one John had been pacing round for ten minutes—"What else do you want? Are you in pain? Would you like some toast? Should I bring up the post? What? Did you say something?"—and pulled the blanket away from his wounded shin.
After this first year each man will become less reckless, reining in his rashness because it's the only way he can think of to get the other to do the same. But this is not that time, this is their still tentative, confusing, possibly fucking magical first year, and twelve hours ago Sherlock went down for the count—though he caught the criminal, of course—his shin nearly fractured in a clumsy fall against a kerb, a swathe of skin four inches long scraped away raw and right over the shin bone.
It was the first time John had ever seen Sherlock stopped. It didn't happen right then but later, his calf was swollen, his shin black, blue, and bleeding.
John kept fidgeting beside the bed, neither near nor far, and frankly Sherlock was over it.
"John. Between my legs. Now."
John's as used to taking orders as he is to giving them, and contrary to what you may believe, a forceful man is often quite willing to be forced. John sat on the bed.
"Not there. Between my legs."
In case the location was a mystery, Sherlock spread those legs, the right more gingerly than the left. His dressing gown fell open along with his thighs.
John scowled at his lover's shin—the thin gauze Sherlock had applied himself needed changing but the moody git wouldn't let John touch it—and was about to boss and bully when Sherlock muttered, "For heaven's sake," and grabbed his lover's hand.
Both winced when palm pressed flat against injured flesh. But only one whispered as if offering an enticement: "The skin's hot, can you feel it?"
John's broad hand covered the wet wound (oh, he's touched much, much worse) and yes he felt the fever in the flesh. "It's your blood flowing, cells making new skin," the good doctor whispered back, reclaiming his hand. "It's the heat of healing."
The bad guys had been caught hours ago. John and Sherlock had given their statements at the Met. Eventually they'd gone to A&E (Sherlock wouldn't go before). Dinner had followed, they'd watched some telly, Sherlock had even taken a nap. So no one was running on manic energy now, no one was giddy with an adrenaline high.
No, these men were now running on something else entirely, something that will keep them awake through many nights well into their long, sometimes fractious future: Mutual need, mutual love, and to be frank, some extremely questionable desire.
Sometimes touching a bruise feels good. Sometimes scratching, biting, bending a little far, pulling a bit too much…sometimes making the body hurt makes the body better.
Well, for some people.
"Touch it John."
Over the years Sherlock will demand, boss and bully, he'll plead and beg and sometimes simply ask for the things he wants. And most times his lover will give them to him because in the giving John gets.
But not always.
"Does it hurt?"
The old Sherlock, the one before John, would have deemed the question tedious, an answer obvious. He'd have been disdainful, a royal pain in the arse. This Sherlock's not that one.
"It aches right down to the bone, but rising and falling, a sort of glissando of pain."
Dr. Watson knows there are many ways to soothe this sort of hurt.
Analgesic. Sleep. Touch.
Sherlock's had the first, has recently woke from the second. That just left…
"Be right back."
John wasn't gone long. When he returned he came freighted with a steaming bowl, flannel, towel, and scissors. He placed a gentle hand at the back of Sherlock's naked calf.
Sherlock wasn't going anywhere.
First things first. John gave the gauze over Sherlock's scrape a cranky side-long glance.
As soon as they'd returned from A&E Sherlock had undressed the injury so it could 'breathe.' They'd had words. John shouted. Sherlock shouted back. Mrs. Hudson knocked and they both shut up. Afterward they'd whisper-hissed invective at one another until the lanky one said, "Oh for god's sake," and 'compromised' with a single layer of gauze, grouching "Are you happy?" before hobbling to the bedroom.
John hadn't been, and he reiterated that now with his squinty gaze and vague harumphing sounds.
The good doctor shushed his sweetheart and pressed blunt-nosed scissors against skin. He quickly snipped the gauze in two. One half fell away, the other held fast by…well there's no other word for it: Ooze.
Here's the thing though. John's always thought beautiful the almost-crystalline lattice that forms over scrapes. The colors are rare, the fretwork delicate, and of course it's a sign that the body's doing what it ought. If you want to find a bright side to a bit of blood and gore, there you have it, courtesy of Dr. Watson.
"Hold still." John rung out the hot flannel, pressed it gently to his lover's wound. Sherlock took a deep, shuddery breath and let himself go boneless, head bumping back against the headboard, arms falling open.
John pressed the steamy cloth against Sherlock's skin again and again, until the wound was clean. He dried it and dressed it in a thick, narrow band of gauze that only just covered the scrape.
They'd half-started another fight over that last bit—Sherlock trotted out the whole 'breathing' thing again—but the doctor found his patient suddenly compliant when he pressed his lips gently over a warm drop of water meandering down Sherlock's shin. When he trailed his tongue close to that tender border where perfect skin met raw, the nerve endings tingled, the sensation so sharp it felt as if something burned.
At last on the same page—and that page wasn't one found in any medical journal or how-to text—doctor and patient got down to the business of healing.
John ran a slow, hard-soft fingernail alongside his lover's bandage.
Sherlock smiled. "That…" he said softly, "…hurts."
John shook his head, one short nail making a slow, sharp journey along the edge of a clean, thick bandage. "No, what hurts is watching when you fall."
John ran careful fingers firmly down either side of the gauze, watched goosebumps rise fast along his lover's long leg. "I went cold, adrenaline cold. And noisy. Did you hear me?"
Sherlock rarely hurt himself as a little boy. An intense curiosity wasn't yet paired with a physical disregard for his body. Still, growing children are ungainly things and running once—after what he can't recall, was it a rabbit?—another kerb had had it out for him. He ran right off the edge of it, tripped into the road, badly skinning both knees and his palms. His fourteen-year-old brother had tended the bloody wounds and Sherlock still remembers the low, breathless sounds Mycroft made every time Sherlock keened in pain.
"You called my name…except all you could say was Shhhhhhhhh."
John nodded, "Some weird part of me thought I could undo what just happened. I kept shaking my head, thinking I just needed to press something on a keyboard and you'd stand back up."
Unconsciously John's hand clenched around the back of Sherlock's calf. "And that's what you did, you stupid arse. You know, I'm still trying to figure out if you're my beautiful miracle on spread-me legs, or mentally defective."
Sherlock grew still, his face going grave, intense. "Oh John I think we both know the answer to that." The good detective spread his legs.
John's giggle fit lasted twenty two seconds (Sherlock counted). It terminated with the detective making a long-armed reach for his love while tucking his bad leg under his good one for leverage.
That sound, that wounded groan, hissed out of John's throat again and he jerked his entire body away from Sherlock, then swarmed close, moving on instinct.
He straightened out his lover's leg and pressed his entire palm against the wound, spreading, diffusing, who knows maybe absorbing some of the terrible ache.
It takes less than a second for the body to fire signals along neural pathways, to cause a body to fold in on itself in pain, break into a sweat, moan. And just as little time for relief to flood as hot as blood along those same paths.
Sherlock pressed both of his hands over the back of John's, dropped his forehead to his raised knee and moaned, lavish and loud.
There's something called misattribution of arousal and John's pretty sure Sherlock's its definition. In the good detective's case it's a tendency to mentally associate his body's physical signs of pain—a ramped heartbeat, breathlessness, sudden sweat—with sexual arousal.
Sherlock moaned again locking his fingers together over John's palm and pressing.
"Shhhhhhh…" hissed the good doctor, "Shhhhhh," unsure whether he was trying to soothe or speak or—
It didn't matter. What mattered was the guttural sound of Sherlock chanting low, "God, god, god."
And what also mattered, very much and to both of them, was knowing that they shouldn't do what they were doing but that they were going to continue doing it without regret.
Misattribution of arousal…maybe John has a tendency toward it too, it wouldn't surprise him. Sometimes he thinks he's just a damn festival of dichotomous traits—a doctor who shoots people, a patient man who can be incited to absurd rages, a healer who finds pleasure in hurting the man he loves more than any other.
"Make it hurt," Sherlock hissed, fingers unlacing, hands hovering over John's hand, the one still pressed careful over an aching wound. "Please make it hurt."
John rose on his knees between Sherlock's legs, fingers barely touching a pale bandage on a pale shin. "There may be a hairline fracture here. They couldn't make it out on your films, they're not sure. Care, careful, yes?"
Sherlock's long-fingered hands still hovered, shaking, because though John Watson's body may rarely show signs of internal stress, Sherlock's had no such armor, not in front of this man. "Yes."
They were both breathing fast, ragged, and not for the first time John wondered if they were too much alike with this, or if it's just one of them starting the other each time. He's pretty sure it's both.
Thoughts, too many of them, Sherlock could see them flit-dancing behind John's eyes, so Sherlock sunk the fingers of one trembling hand into the hair at the back of his lover's head and tugged him close, until they both slipped down, until John was on top of his bare love, and they were laid out long on the bed.
Read textbooks and they'll tell you fevers are caused by things like heatstroke, hyperthermia, flu. In no medical tome that he's read will they mention desire, but Sherlock's here to tell you that sometimes, when John's aroused, his body goes a little hot, a little fevered, oh call it maybe two degrees.
And Sherlock can feel it, of course he can. He can see a shift of dust motes in the air, legacy of a man having recently run through a room; he can notice the faintest roundness at the jaw of a coroner, legacy of her three pound weight gain; and he can feel the spike of warmth in the skin of a man he touches every day, as often as he can, and often when he shouldn't.
John's just-licked mouth slicked across Sherlock's, his tongue sliding inside. He pushed every small inch of himself against his lover, who welcomed the weight, wrapping two arms and one good leg around his sweetheart's body. When John pulled back a little to breathe and groan against Sherlock's mouth, the good detective rubbed his against John's, then against his cheeks and chin and neck. "Hot," he murmured, slicking his tongue along John's skin to taste the faintest trace of salt from the faintest sheen of sweat.
John laughed, because some night Sherlock likes to warm himself against John's body, crawling beneath covers and against his sleeping lover, long, icy feet propped against doctorly shins as if beside a fire. Usually there's waking and swearing. Sometimes there's flailing limbs or wrestling for covers. Sometimes there's more.
"More," Sherlock said, tapping the inside of his bad leg against John's hip to make himself clear.
Reaching behind him, John hooked his arm under Sherlock's leg. Sherlock hummed his approval, a hum that went a little ragged when John carefully tugged Sherlock's leg up, then over his broad shoulder.
They both stilled then, letting a sweat-sharp wave of bad pain wash away. And then, with a graceless grab at the headboard to maximize his leverage, Sherlock swung his unwounded leg over John's other shoulder.
Hands white-knuckled and holding tight Sherlock waited for John to move. John obliged with slow, languorous thrusts of his fully-clothed hips against Sherlock's bare arse.
The humming started up again, a low, steady sound of pleasure, a sound that spiked then morphed to something dark and needy when John reached over his own shoulder and danced fingers along Sherlock's wounded shin.
Feedback. Every lover feeds on his lover's pleasure and John's no different. He rocked harder against Sherlock's arse, grunting because every thrust was perfect, every thrust no where near getting him off.
They're both happy to drag sex out most times because more of this is a feast, more is everything, more is making up for lost time, more is just damn well more.
Sherlock drew his bad leg closer to his own head, making John's reach easier but again the bad pain iced his body cold and despite himself he clamped his eyes closed and groaned.
Nine months ago, when they first became lovers, John would have stopped dead, stopped this, but now is not then and so all he did was gentle and focus his movements, so that Sherlock had one simple distraction, the long, slow rub of John's clothed erection against the spread cheeks of his arse.
After long seconds the breathy, good, good humming started up again and John gently pressed the pads of four fingers right at the edge of a bandage, kissed Sherlock's mouth, then whispered, "Hang on."
Holding up his weight with one hand, John slid the other between them and opened his jeans. It took some doing but after awhile he managed to get his erection over the top of his briefs and through the open front of his trousers.
Sherlock shook his head—no, no, no—in happy approval of this absurdly sexy development.
John glanced toward the nightstand but his long-armed lover had already grabbed the small bottle of mineral oil from it. Uncapping it with his teeth—
—he tilted it over John's open palm. Seconds later the good doctor was slick and sliding into Sherlock until soft-scratchy denim and a zipper's metal teeth pressed against bare skin.
"Hurt," a soft breath against John's mouth, "me."
While many believe the Hippocratic oath includes the phrase to "first, do no harm," it doesn't and never did. An oath that does not bind, it's a voluntary pledge and for John—that rarest of healers, one who has again and again done harm—its most vital tenant has always been: I will remember that there is an art to medicine, as well as a science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
John buried his fevered face against Sherlock's neck when warm fingers laced in his hair and pulled him close. The army doctor may be the one who runs hot, but he's also the one who relishes heat and there's been more than one late night where just the feel of Sherlock's blood-warm body behind him was enough to spike his temperature and make him need.
John trembled now, just like his lover, and each time gentle fingers played at the edges of a simple wound Sherlock shook harder and so John did, too. It was a chest-hitching feedback loop, one body in concert with the other until they moved in a sweaty, perfect rhythm, one giddy with pleasure, the other pleasured by pain.
John reached again and again, and for each slow and shallow thrust of his hips he played the fingers of one hand along a rare divide, a place where healing flesh met whole.
Sherlock clamped his eyes tight-closed and everything fell away but the push, the pain…the pain…the beautiful p—
Shuddering, John arched his back, open-mouthed and groaning.
Sherlock concentrated on John sleepily nibbling on his neck. "Mmmm?"
John pressed a hand between Sherlock's legs. "You're still hard. Why don't you want me to go down on you?"
Sherlock splashed a smile into the dark. "Like that."
The good doctor nibbled a little more. "I know you do. You like lots of naughty phrases." John ran his palm up Sherlock's belly. "So…I could go down on you. I could jerk you off. I could eat you out. I could suck—ouch!"
"Go to sleep John Watson."
Silence for long seconds and then, "Why?"
Sherlock sighed and not for the first time thought that, in some ways, he was wearing off on John. "You know why."
Though John's ability to deduce cryptic consulting detectives was all his own. "You like it because it hurts."
Sherlock pushed up into a hand that was no longer there, felt his heart trip faster. "Not…hurts…" He braced his good leg on the bed, again thrust against nothing in the dark. "…it's a…" He flexed his bad leg, pressed his foot against the mattress and groaned, "…wonderful ache."
John whispered, "Tell me more."
Sherlock didn't want to talk. He wanted to drift along in this rare place where it felt like his entire body hummed, and tiny, tender pains pricked across his skin like cold fireworks. He wanted to listen to his flesh so that he wouldn't hear his brain.
"It's like listening to my violin."
You can hear a smile if you listen close, the soft huff of a breath, a tiny click of teeth. Or you can feel it change as your lover presses a kiss against your shoulder.
"It's a symphony of the very small. Tiny notes…"
The musician warmed to his subject, darning long fingers through midnight light, his gaze darting around in the dark. "Music can't be deduced, and neither can pain. It's…"
Another kiss, a faint smile pressed against flesh, "Emotional."
"…I was going to say pure. It's simple, it's complex, it can be studied and detailed or you can simply drown in it, let it consume you. It becomes you. You become it." Suddenly Sherlock scowled in the dark.
You can hear that, too, if you listen close. It sounds like a tall man shutting his mouth with an annoyed grunt, it sounds like that man realizing he's a god damn idiot.
Sometimes Sherlock forgot. Forgot John didn't need pain described to him. Forgot that he knew about it firsthand, each bitter note, each percussive crash. I'm sorry. Sometimes the more he wants to say it the harder it is to say. So he said something else. "Tell me."
Now it was John grunting, annoyed. God damn it but the good doctor does hate getting his own back. He can push and prod Sherlock all day—"Eat this" "Tell me more" "Why" "Why" "Why"—but when he's pushed and prodded, well…god damn it.
Maybe if he said nothing, Sherlock would get bored. He gets bored all the time. Bored, bored, bored. More than once John's just let a silence linger, knowing the big brained genius would launch himself off along some other track, some—
Other than the four people who saved his life, John's talked about getting shot to no one. But if the good doctor can ask his lover to explain the workings of his rare brain, isn't it right to give the same back?
John waited a little, gathered his thoughts. Then…
"It was…the worst pain I've ever known. But I think part of it was the misery of feeling I failed. Of knowing I'd gone where I shouldn't have, did what I wasn't meant to do. And because of that maybe I'd never again do what I was made for." John stroked Sherlock's belly over and over. "There was no one there to distract me from that. And so the pain was just…pain."
They both said nothing for so long you'd be forgiven for thinking they slept. But eventually one took hold of the other and placed his hot hand over a warm erection.
John sighed in relief, and rose to his knees. And then the slightly fevered ex-army doctor did what he was made for. With the heat of his body, his mouth, his hands, his heart…he healed.
Anarion's prompt was 'heat' and my first thought was the warmth of a healing wound. Seemed just right for John and Sherlock. P.S. The medical writer in me feels compelled to remind you: If a wound stays hot for a long while, it could be infected. Go get it checked. P.P.S. Sorry for the delay in "Long Time Coming," and "This Time No." Life.