I don't own Sherlock.

This story was based on a prompt from - hm - livejournal, I think.


Sensory deprivation -8dreamcatcher8

Sherlock and John are held captive in a dark little room. After some time, they start casually touching each other as a means of grounding themselves. I want to see this progression during their captivity, and how they keep the habit when they're free again because it's comforting.


Consciousness came slowly. It filtered into John's brain like dappled sunlight through the net curtains of the flat, touching first one corner and then another, playing across the floorboards and furniture before finally spreading out to illuminate the whole room.

He was lying on a hard, smooth floor, his shoulder bumping the wall on one side; his arms and legs were unrestricted as far as he could tell, and there was no feel of a gag or blindfold. He seemed to be in shirt and trousers - no jumper or jacket, and no shoes, though there were socks on his feet.

As illuminations went, it wasn't much of one, John thought muzzily, though of course that could be a side effect of the headache which was currently hammering away at his temples. He withheld a groan - the situation was unknown as yet, better to not give anything away if he could help it - and fought to think past the pounding in his head, searching his memory for any clues that would tell him where he was or what had happened.

Nothing.

There had been toast and tea for breakfast that morning, John sitting opposite Sherlock at the table - Sherlock had been busy checking his emails on John's laptop - and then… nothing. A blank patch that spread from that moment to this, spanning who-knew-how-many minutes or hours or even days.

Memory loss. The thought appeared in his head. Headache. Possibly concussed. Possibly drugged.

And then, arriving like a late train to the station, where's Sherlock?

He'd have to risk it. Loathe as he was to give away any sliver of a tactical advantage, some things were just more important.

John took a breath and cracked his eyes open.

And opened them wide.

And then closed them and opened them again.

Nothing.

Literally. There was absolutely no difference between having his eyes closed and having them open. Pitch black darkness met him either way.

He lift a hand. Waved it in from of his face. Brought it close enough to touch his nose, his eyelashes.

There was nothing: no whisper of movement, no change from black to less-black.

Well. He appeared to be blind.

John fought down a rising wave of panic. There were any number of reasons that could explain the situation; permanent physical blindness was, as Sherlock would say, one possible explanation of some of the facts. Temporary blindness could be induced by a few drugs, and he did have a headache - that was another possible explanation. Or it could be that whoever had engineered this situation had applied blackout contact lenses to his eyes, or had simply put him in a room with no windows or light sources.

If this was Sherlock's fault, he was going to punch him.

And speaking of his resident genius, John thought it was about time he started trying to find him.

He moved into a crouch, halted there while he waited for his head to stop spinning, and then rose slowly to his feet, put a hand against the wall, took a step forward -

His foot made contact with a soft form. Caught off balance, he pitched forward, managed to twist sideways to hit the wall, and slid down it to sit heavily beside the prone figure. Heart hammering in his chest, he sat there for a moment, breath coming far too rapidly for such a small shock - the lack of sight was affecting his system more than he'd thought it would - and then he was moving, spurred into motion by burning curiosityworryadrenaline.

"Sherlock?"

The soft whisper sounded much too loud after the previous utter silence. John shifted onto his knees, reaching a hand out to feel the form, and yes that was Sherlock's shirt, Sherlock's arm, Sherlock's hand; he reversed the motion, running his hands over the broad shoulders, up to the tousled curls, over the ridiculous cheekbones and down to the torso. There was no sign of any injuries; his chest rose and fell reassuringly, mouth half-open as he breathed steadily, but he didn't wake up.

John was losing the battle against the panic clawing at his chest.

"Sherlock!"

It was no more than a loud whisper, but it filled the space they were in - the part of his brain not confused and disoriented noted that it was obviously not a large room. He prodded Sherlock with a forefinger, then, when that yielded no response, slapped his cheek lightly, "Sherlock! Wake up!"

Nothing.

He tried again, "Sherlock. Sherlock!"

Slap. Slap. Slap.

"Sherlock! Please wake up!"

And finally - finally - there was a muffled snort, and the steady breathing hitched for a second before settling into a discernibly different rhythm. "John?"

"Yeah, mate. I'm here." Already the panic was sinking, giving way to warm relief. Amazing what another human voice could do. John reached out a hand and grasped Sherlock's arm, letting the contact ground both of them, giving them a reference point in this murky swamp of sightlessness. "Now don't panic, but I can't see anything. Can you?"

A pause, and then, tersely, "Nothing."

He could imagine Sherlock's eyes blinking and blinking and blinking again, darting this way and that in a fruitless effort to make out anything in the darkness; but even those cat-like eyes couldn't help them here.

"Right," he said, squeezing the arm he held gently before letting go, "I thought that might be the case. Can you sit up?"

A grunt in reply, and the sound of movement as Sherlock levered himself upright and scooted back to lean against the wall.

John leant back himself, shifting until he was pressed shoulder-to-elbow against Sherlock. The reassuring sound of breathing filled the air around them.

He gave Sherlock several minutes (or what felt like several minutes, anyway - he had a light-up button on his watch, but said watch was conspicuous in its absence, and it was hard to count the seconds passing when there were so many other topics clamouring for his attention) before murmuring, "Any ideas?"

"Mmm," followed by more silence, which meant that Sherlock was still chasing down his train of thought and wasn't quite ready to share any hypotheses yet.

John closed his eyes against the darkness, stretched his legs out in front of him, and waited patiently.

Time passed - how long, John couldn't have said; the utter lack of light was disorientating in more ways than one - and then Sherlock drew a sharp breath and said, "Right. There are a few possibilities, but I've narrowed it down to the most likely, and we'll know more when we've explored this space, unless you've already done so…?"

John shook his head, remembered Sherlock wouldn't be able to see him, and was about to verbalise his response when the genius went on.

"No, I didn't think so. Your first impulse would be to check on me, of course - sentiment, John, it'll get you into trouble one of these days. Not that I don't appreciate the thought."

John huffed a breath, an involuntary grin tugging at his lips.

"So we need to explore this space: judging by the relative volume and acoustics of our voices - "

"Your voice, you mean - "

" - It isn't very large, I would guess maybe twenty feet by twenty feet at most. It's possible that we have been blinded by something coming into direct contact with our eyes, whether an aerosol dispersed drug or a physical barrier, but I don't think it's likely - I for one don't feel anything obstructing my sight, not even a contact lens, and there are none of the usual symptoms of blinding agents, which would generally induce stinging eyes and stabbing headaches."

"I have a headache," John put in.

"As do I, but it's more a dull throbbing than stabbing sensation. Yours?"

"The same."

"Which would indicate - "

"A knockout drug. Could be any of a number of short-term sedatives, probably mixed with a mild amnesiac to make us forget exactly how we ended up here." John felt a stir of uneasiness at the memory blank.

"We don't know which sedative, or which amnesiac, for that matter, but then it hardly matters at this stage anyway: the headaches should dissipate within the next hour or so, and figuring out how we got here is fairly simple."

John turned his head to look into the darkness where Sherlock was sitting. Even though he knew the man was right there - their arms were pressed together, for goodness' sake - he couldn't make out anything in the gloom. "Oh?"

"The last thing I remember was sitting at the dining table checking my emails over breakfast. I was already debating ordering Thai later on for lunch; depending on the time frame, they most likely either slipped something into our takeaway order or simply knocked first one then the other of us out when the food was delivered."

John shook his head, "Simple when you put it like that. Alright, so?"

"So we know the how, the what and the when. We'll find out the immediate where shortly; that leaves who and why. Let's start with who: Moriarty."

Try as he might, John couldn't stop his breath hitching at the name, "Do you think so?"

"Oh yes," came the calm reply, "It's rather more crude than his usual style, but nevertheless the whole scenario has his scent all over it. No bombs this time, you'll be relieved to know: he won't re-use old ideas like that."

"Very relieving," John muttered dryly.

"What his game is, though…" Sherlock blew out a breath, and John could hear him scrubbing a hand through his hair, "At this stage I've no idea. I need more data."

"Shall we explore the room, then? Find out a bit more about just where we are?"

"That would be the logical thing to do, yes."

John eased to his feet, bracing himself on the wall as a precaution - the headache had faded significantly, but it was still present, throbbing dully between his temples.

"Alright?" Sherlock murmured, voice emerging from the darkness some inches above him.

"Fine," he answered. "You take that side, I'll take this? Keep one hand on the wall and follow it along - I know you think it's a small room, but we're better to be safe than sorry. I really don't want one of us getting lost in this gloom. And Sherlock - " he reached out a hand, groping slightly until he could get a grip on the man's shoulder, "be careful, yeah? There could be anything out there."

"Yes, John," in tones of amused patience.

"Good." He released Sherlock's shoulder, placed his right hand against the wall, and took a halting step forward.

The floor didn't give way beneath him, there were no spinning blades coming out of the wall or corpses tumbling from the ceiling. He dared to breathe a bit easier and took another step, and another. One more step, and his outstretched left hand hit the wall as it turned ninety degrees.

"I've got a corner here, Sherlock."

"So do I, and there's what feels like a mattress in it."

John blinked - purely out of reflex, as it made no difference to his sight - and repeated flatly, "A mattress."

"Mmm. Single mattress, thin, narrow, lying on the floor in this corner. Long edge against the wall we were just following, short side against the wall I'm about to follow. Obviously our captor wants us to be comfortable."

"Obviously," John breathed. "This situation is very odd."

"Quite. Shall we continue?"

"Yeah. Ah, I'm turning to my left now."

"Do keep up," the wry voice came from what was now his left and some feet ahead, "I'm already at the top corner. There's a toilet here."

John raised his eyebrows, "Definitely wants us to be comfortable. Is there loo paper? And why do you keep finding everything? Slow down and let me find something, would you?"

Sherlock chuckled in the darkness, "If you insist. I'll just perch here, shall I? On the toilet."

A moment's silence as John took another few steps forward, and then Sherlock added, "Mattress, toilet, and pitch darkness. You're right, this is odd."

John was drawing breath to snark a No, you don't say? when his foot struck something.

"I've got something!"

He eased into a crouch, reaching out with both hands to trace the lines of the object, "Feels like a cardboard box, there are… bottles… in it. Not small bottles, either, maybe a litre or two each. There's eight of them…"

They were arranged in a rough square, three to a row, but there was a gap in the top row. John plunged a hand down into the opening, wanting to make sure he hadn't missed anything; his hand struck something soft, and he touched it cautiously before picking it up, unable to quite place what it was -

And then it was dropping out of his hand back into the box, and he was leaping back from the corner with a yell, heart pounding, nausea rising in his throat -

"John!"

Strong hands grasped his upper arms - when had Sherlock moved? - and held him tight. John's hands rose to clutch at the man's shirt, desperate for the physical contact, needing something to ground him in the here and now. He swallowed a wave of nausea and told himself firmly that no, there were no helicopters, and that was definitely not sand under his feet.

"John?"

"'m alright," he managed to gasp through shaking lips, "Jus' - give me a minute, yeah? And if you could make the gunfire go away that'd be great."

In his mind's eye, he could see the frown that flashed across Sherlock's face, "There is no gunfire."

"Yeah?" he panted. "Tell that to my mind."

He couldn't say why this had set his PTSD off. A combination of factors, probably: the pitch darkness, the unknown situation, the lingering headache and then the unforeseen horror in the box… one hellish scenario reminding him of another hellish scenario.

They stood there for a long while, Sherlock steady and solid as John trembled and fought back the memories. Finally the images faded, and he eased back slightly; Sherlock's grip on his arms loosened in response, and the lanky genius said quietly, "Alright now?"

"Yeah," John swallowed and licked dry lips, "Thanks. Sorry."

"Don't," the hands tightened for a moment in emphasis. "Don't apologise, not for that. It's fine."

John nodded, letting go of Sherlock's shirt and bringing a hand up to scrub wearily at his face, "Right. Okay."

"What was it?" The question was demanding, but there was a slight hesitation to it, as if Sherlock wasn't sure what his reaction would be.

John felt his stomach roil, "It - "

He broke off, took a deep breath, flexed his hand to get rid of the phantom feel of it, and tried again, "A finger. Left hand, ring finger, probably female from the size of it, very clean cut - "

"Alright," Sherlock broke in softly, and John registered that he had been rambling, "It's alright, John, you've had a shock but you're fine, okay, you'll be fine."

"Of course I'll be fine," he snapped, 'It just - just took me by surprise, okay? Dark room, cardboard box, bottles - I wasn't exactly expecting an amputated finger to be casually dropped in the mix."

"Mmm," a thoughtful hum from Sherlock, and then the hands were dropping from his shoulders and there was the sound of movement.

"Sherlock?" For the life of him he couldn't keep the hint of panic out of his voice.

"I'm here, John. Just checking the box."

He made for the corner blindly, bumping into the crouched form of Sherlock, and his hand came down on the man's shoulder, "Don't run off, okay? This is disorientating enough without you disappearing at whim."

He was answered with the sound of fingers tapping against a plastic bottle, then a lid unscrewing, followed by a cautious sniff and the sound of sipping liquid.

"It's water. Unadulterated."

"As far as you can tell, anyway," John murmured, shifting close enough to brush against the man's back and letting his hand fall, "Anything else?"

Nails scratched against cardboard, and John realised that Sherlock had picked up the finger and was memorising the feel of it.

"Please don't stick that in your pocket when you're done," he added. "Just leave it where you found it, yeah?"

"I'd hardly keep the focus of your recent trauma on my person, John. I'm not that insensitive."

"Yeah, you are," John muttered under his breath.

Sherlock chose to ignore this rather than reply with a blatant falsehood. A minute, maybe two, and then he was standing up and grabbing John's elbow, steering him across the room, "We might as well be comfortable. That mattress is there for us, there's no harm in making use of it."

John waited until they were situated side-by-side on the mattress, backs against the wall, before saying, "Okay, what have you got?"

"A brief run-down of the room layout: it's square, roughly fifteen feet each side, and completely light proof. For ease, the wall behind us will be referred to as the south wall and the wall in front the north: to our right the east, and to our left the west. I've no idea if that is in any way accurate, but it will do for quick reference."

He grunted agreement.

"We are sitting on a mattress in the south-west corner with our backs to the south wall. In the north-west corner there is a toilet, presumably working, though I didn't actually check. In the north-east corner there is a cardboard box containing eight two-litre bottles of unadulterated water and one severed human finger, the latter belonging to a divorced forty-something-year-old woman who is now dead. She was a school teacher, either kindergarten or early primary."

John gaped, "You got that from a severed finger that you couldn't even see?"

"Mmm. My deductions aren't solely based on visual observation, you know."

"No, I know, but still.…" He shook his head and gathered himself. "Right. So?"

"So we still don't know what Moriarty's game is," was the frustrated reply, "Beyond the fact that he has no intention of killing us outright, or even torturing us at this stage, and that the dead woman has something to do with it."

"You're sure it's him?"

"Yes."

John couldn't stop the sudden shiver that ran through him. Pressed as they were against each other, Sherlock had to have felt it, but he made no comment.

"I don't think there's anything we can do, Sherlock."

The genius exhaled a frustrated breath, "I know. It's infuriating."

John nudged him with an elbow, "Breathe, mate. I'm going to go use the loo, and when I get back you can take me through exactly how you knew that the woman was a kindy teacher and all the rest of it. Okay?"

A hum of agreement.

John gripped his shoulder lightly before making his way to the north-west corner and taking care of business. When he returned, he'd barely sat back down before Sherlock was shifting across to press shoulder-to-elbow against him.

"Sherlock?" John's puzzlement was clearly reflected in his voice.

"I couldn't see you," was the curt response, "or feel you. Could hear you, but - "

John flushed, suddenly glad for the all-enveloping darkness, and finished for him, "It's not the same."

"Exactly."

John gave him a moment before gently prodding, "So. This woman, then. How did you know?"

There came the deep inhale that signalled the start of a monologue, "You yourself knew she was female from your brief interaction with her severed finger - the size of it, the proportions of the metacarpals, even the texture of the skin, they're all telling signs. Left hand and ring finger, again obvious to deduce from the shaping of the bones and the flesh, not to mention the very obvious indent and staining where her wedding and engagement rings have sat for the last few decades before being removed for good sometime in the last year. The age is somewhat trickier: it's one area where sight would be an advantage, but extrapolating from the length of time she was married and the skin texture, not to mention the length of the nail, somewhere in her forties is a fairly safe bet. Probably the latter half of that age bracket, but there's not enough evidence to support that, it's mere conjecture at this stage.

"The finger was severed after her death - you would have known that if you'd held it for more than two seconds: the lack of bleeding, the way the tendons are lying, it's obvious - and fairly recently, as evidenced by the lack of advanced decomposition. School teacher, this is where it helps to have a good nose - I could feel traces of paint under the nail, sniffing it proved it to be cheap finger-paint, water based of course so it washed out of the children's clothes. What recently divorced forty-something-year-old woman would have water-based finger paint on their hand? An early primary school or kindergarten teacher."

John couldn't stop the low chuckle that escaped him, vibrating out into the still air of the darkened room, "Incredible. As brilliant as ever. You're one in a million, you know that?"

There was a silence that suggested Sherlock was preening; then he said abruptly, "Not one in a million, really. Two in a million at the least - don't forget Mycroft."

"He hasn't made it his life's work to be able to know water-based finger paint by smell," John pointed out wryly.

"Perhaps not, but he knows the Minister for Transport by his accent," Sherlock muttered, not sounding entirely appeased.

"So you're both geniuses - genii?"

"Geniuses."

"Why can't you just accept that you're both a hundred times smarter than the rest of world, and be done with it?"

Sherlock scoffed and didn't reply.

John sighed, "Right."

They devolved into a comfortable silence, the only sound in the dark room their gentle breathing. Time passed. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours, John couldn't tell.

Feeling the familiar tickle of thirst at the back of his throat, he eased to his feet, gripped Sherlock's shoulder briefly with a murmured "back soon," and crossed to the north east corner. The grisly memory of the severed finger was heavy in his thoughts: it took a moment to psych himself up in order to actually slip his hand into the box and grab one of the eight bottles of water before returning to the mattress and sinking back down beside Sherlock.

"Here," he nudged his resident genius with the bottle, "You should drink some water, I don't want you getting dehydrated."

Sherlock took it without a word. There came the sound of the lid unscrewing, rapid swallowing, and then the bottle being capped once more. A slim hand touched his arm, and John took the bottle back and had a drink from it himself, feeling the ache of hunger ease slightly now that there was something in his stomach.

"You really don't know what we're doing here?" he asked, setting the now significantly lighter bottle down on the floor beside the mattress.

He felt Sherlock shrug, "Not at this stage. Insufficient data."

"Bit of a puzzle, alright. Pitch black room, bottled water, a mattress, a toilet, and a severed finger," John frowned into the darkness, and then sighed, "Blowed if I know."

Conversation temporarily exhausted, they sat in silence. Sherlock left at one point to use the toilet, communicating his intention by the simple expedient of putting a hand on John's arm briefly; John himself left for the same purpose some time after, idly tapping on the wall in morse code so that Sherlock would know where he was while he was gone.

"Are you just tapping randomly," came the quiet question out of the darkness, "Or is that some sort of code?"

John rolled his eyes heavenwards; of course he couldn't even get some privacy while on the loo. "It's Morse Code."

"Ah," in a tone of voice that said I've heard about that but I don't know how to apply it.

"Give me another two minutes and I'll teach it to you," John sighed, "I'm not having you go around ignorant of this, you never know when it could come in handy."

"There's nothing stopping you teaching me right now."

"Sherlock…"

"Not good?"

"Boundaries. I'm not teaching you Morse while I'm taking a dump."

There was a dismissive humph in response.

They made it through halfway through the alphabet before John caught himself yawning; he fell asleep at N, and woke some time later to find that he'd slumped against Sherlock, who had slumped against the wall and was himself quietly asleep. An involuntary smile curling at his lips, John closed his eyes again and went back to sleep.

Sherlock had memorised Morse Code by the time they cracked the second bottle of water at what was possibly lunchtime the next day and maybe midnight the day after that. It was perhaps a couple of hours before he was tapping out B-O-R-E-D on John's back.

"You can't be serious," John grumbled. They were the first spoken words in hours.

J-O-H-N-I-M-B-O-R-E-D.

He laid a hand on Sherlock's knee and tapped rapidly, W-H-A-T-D-O-Y-O-U-W-A-N-T-M-E-T-O-D-O-A-B-O-U-T-I-T-?

Sherlock's hand lifted from his back and settled again indecisively. Good, that would give him something to think about - it wasn't like the genius to give up at the first sign of a proper challenge.

A-G-A-I-N-S-L-O-W-E-R.

W-H-A-T-D-O-Y-O-U-W-A-N-T-M-E-T-O-D-O-A-B-O-U-T-I-T-?

L-A-S-T-O-N-E.

"It's a question mark," John said. "Two dits, two dahs, two dits. Like this," He demonstrated.

T-H-I-S-?

Y-E-S.

?-?-?-?-?

Y-E-S.

"You should drink some water," remarked Sherlock suddenly, "You haven't passed urine in the last… approximately five hours."

John ignored the blatant invasion of privacy - Sherlock rode roughshod over most social conventions, and after being the man's flatmate for a year John was learning to take it in stride, "There're only six bottles left. We need to conserve the supply, we don't know how long we'll be stuck here. For that matter, I've no idea how long we've been already."

"Two days," was the prompt reply, "I anticipate another four, but that said I'm not entirely sure what the point of this is or how we're actually going to get out of here."

"Should be safe enough to open another bottle, then."

John suited his actions to his words and chugged a good fraction of the bottle before passing it to Sherlock. Another two hours passed - or was it six? He didn't know. Couldn't tell. The constant unrelenting darkness was weighing on him; he was grateful for the warmth of Sherlock's body where it pressed against his side and the small touches to his shoulder when the genius was leaving the mattress or returning to it. Their communication was almost solely non-verbal, now: morse code, mainly, or longer touches of arms and elbows.

Sherlock was the first to lie down, stretching his long frame out along the mattress with a small sigh. John followed suit shortly after, feeling the rise and fall of Sherlock's measured breaths beside him. They lay side by side in silence, blinking into the darkness.

"You're shivering," Sherlock murmured at length.

So he was. "Guess I'm used to wearing my jumpers."

"Turn over."

"What?"

Sherlock grabbed John's hand and tapped out, R-O-L-L-O-V-E-R. "Onto your side," he clarified.

Mine not to reason why, John thought, and did as he was told, rolling onto his left side and staring out into the blank blackness of the room. There was a sudden warmth pressed against the length of his back, and a slim arm wrapped around his chest.

"Better?" the question vibrated quietly through the air above his head, close enough to stir tendrils of hair.

John hummed confirmation, resigned to the fact that if anyone but Greg rescued them the rumour mill would be humming for weeks. Sod them, he thought, and brought a hand up to loosely grasp Sherlock's arm.

T-H-A-N-K-S, he tapped.

There was a hint of an amused exhale from above his head.

John grinned and closed his eyes.

That became their routine over the next few days - or it could have been weeks: they slept a lot, talked seldom, and became used to the little grounding touches that were of equal reassurance to both of them. John continued to suffer from the slight cold, spending the days, such as they were, pressed shoulder to elbow against Sherlock and the nights cocooned in the taller man's warmth. The only reason he could find to explain his near-constant shivering was that he'd never fully acclimatised to the damp of London after the dry heat of Afghanistan, and his earlier flare up of PTSD had then exacerbated his body's response.

Time blurred into one long stream of wake-and-sit-and-lie-down-and-sleep. The darkness pressed in on all sides, infiltrating their waking thoughts and restless sleep alike. John didn't know how many days had passed and didn't care, and he suspected that Sherlock had stopped counting. The ache in his stomach grew worse as their water supply dwindled; it was hard to measure how much was left in a bottle solely by weight, and even restraining themselves they were soon down to their last two bottles.

There was an occasional scratching sound coming through the darkness from Sherlock's direction, usually lasting no more than two or three seconds; finally, when it started again and went on for more than ten seconds, John gave up.

"What's that noise?"

It stopped.

"Sherlock?"

"I was scratching my arm," came the quiet reply.

John thought about this for a moment, "Any particular reason?"

"It was itchy," there was a hint of an eye roll on his tone.

John nudged him with an elbow, ignoring the angry rumble of his stomach, "Itchy I can believe, but itchy every few hours for the last day or so?"

"I'm bored."

But bored Sherlock didn't scratch his arm until it sounded close to tearing the skin; bored Sherlock sulked or slept or wandered over to the water box to see if there was any extra data he could pick up on the severed finger. Bored Sherlock combined with itching Sherlock meant…

Oh.

"The cravings are back, then."

A slight noise of confirmation.

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Nothing springs to mind."

Later, when they lay down to sleep, John deliberately laid his hand on Sherlock's forearm, near the elbow.

A-L-R-I-G-H-T-? He tapped.

M-A-N-A-G-E-A-B-L-E.

"Let me know if it gets too bad, yeah?"

A sigh, "Yes, John."

Some time after waking the next morning, they finished the second last bottle of water. John was trying not to think about what would happen when the last bottle run out. They were conserving water as much as they could, resigned to dry lips and the constant ache of thirst between sporadic small sips. Their stomach were growling often, demanding sustenance; but there was none to be had, just the too-rare mouthfuls of water.

John's shivering grew worse. They took to lying down even while awake in an effort to stay warm, but the lack of food and sparse drink was draining his body's reserves, meaning he felt the cold more. Sherlock, too, was suffering, however much he tried to ignore his transport - he had had little enough reserves to begin with. John's head was pounding.

The last bottle of water grew lighter. John's heart sank.

"Listen - " his voice was little more than a rasping whisper.

"Don't," Sherlock said immediately, arm tightening around his chest where they lay on the mattress, "Don't start that. We'll make it, we've time enough yet for someone to find us."

"It's nothing you don't already know," John said, managing a tired smile in the darkness. After the past hours and days and maybe weeks of near-silence, he had to fight the urge to close his mouth and simply tap his message in Morse; but no, this had to be spoken aloud.

"To be fair, that is quite a broad range," came the half-heartedly sardonic remark from beside his ear.

"You're amazing," John murmured, "Absolutely fantastic, you know that? Best thing that's ever happened to me. It's been an honour - and will continue to be, I hope."

There was a slight huff, followed by the sound of Sherlock swallowing, "Likewise."

They were down to the last dribble of water, and then even that was gone.

They slept, and woke, and slept again. They were both shivering, now.

Sometime in the long hours after their second waking with no water, there was a sudden noise along the far wall, and a bright shaft of light appeared. John flinched, twisting his head away and clenching his eyes shut against the brightness, and then he was moving swiftly into a defensive crouch in front of the mattress, one hand raised to shade his squinting eyes, the other half-lifted and curled into a loose fist.

"John?" came a familiar rough voice, "Sherlock? Are you there?"

The words took a moment to penetrate John's brain; he managed a croaking, "Greg?"

"Yeah, mate, it's me," and was it John's imagination or had some of the strain lifted from the older man's tone?

"Lights," he said. The words felt like they were ripped from him, throat aching at having to speak at anything approaching a normal volume after days of dehydration and near-silence. Hopefully Greg would understand without him having to expound.

Evidently he did, "Sorry, they're already as low as I can manage. Any more and they'll be shut off completely."

"Off," John rasped. He wobbled on his feet, unused to the sudden movement and crouched position, and felt Sherlock steady him from behind.

The lights shut off, leaving only a dull glow filtering into the room from beyond the gap. There was the soft sound of advancing footsteps: John easily picked out the form of the Inspector coming closer.

"Are you two alright?" Greg steadied him with a hand on his elbow as he stood up before wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, "Mycroft's waiting up top, he wanted to keep an eye on the video feed in case anything happened. We've got an ambulance standing by, you'll be in hospital at least overnight, I'm afraid."

"Bit dehydrated and absolutely starved, but otherwise fine," John gripped the blanket and watched as Greg wrapped another blanket around Sherlock, who was already standing up, "Wait, there was a video feed?"

"Yeah," Greg replied briefly, glancing around to get his bearings before pointing to the empty south east corner, "In, ah, that corner there. There was a bit of an angle to it, it must be hidden pretty well up in the ceiling."

"Moriarty," Sherlock said hoarsely, the word sounding like a swear word.

"That's what we figured, yeah."

"But what was his game? Why did he do all this?"

"I'll tell you once we're upstairs, yeah?"

John and Sherlock made for the door, arms at each other's backs; Greg cast another look around the room, shot a thumbs-up at the corner where the camera was, and followed.

Along a dim corridor past a couple of uniformed officers, up a narrow flight of concrete stairs, and they emerged into a dimly-lit parking garage. An ambulance was parked nearby, along with Greg's Beamer, two squad cars, and one of Mycroft's ubiquitous black Jaguars. As they headed toward the ambulance Mycroft appeared from the Jag, some of the tense lines on his face clearing once he saw that they were upright and walking.

"Mycroft," Sherlock rasped, the greeting sounding like an insult as always, "It took you long enough."

"You may have handed us the key to the mystery, but it was nevertheless quite a complex case to unravel," the elder Holmes replied smoothly.

The ambulance doors swung open as they approached.

John blinked at him, "What key to what mystery?"

"This might explain things," Greg proffered a piece of folded paper, "It's a transcript of the message our Irish friend left on my work phone eight days ago. You can read it on the way to the hospital - I'll ride in the back with you, if I'm allowed - "

A nearby paramedic nodded permission.

"And answer any questions you have."

"I must get back to the office," Mycroft said, looking unaccustomedly weary, "There's rather of a backlog of work waiting for me. I'll be in tomorrow morning to check on things."

He nodded to them and retreated to the Jaguar. John, Sherlock, and Greg were soon loaded into the ambulance and on the move. Wrapped in their blankets and sipping bottled water - "Take it slow," the paramedic had warned them, "Don't guzzle it or you'll overwhelm your systems," - Sherlock and John sat side-by-side on the narrow stretcher and pressed together to read the transcript.

Hello, Greggy. I have a mystery for you - and I'm afraid you'll have to solve it without the help of your consulting detective and his doctor. You see, they're a little… indisposed.

In the next twenty four hours, there will be a murder. Solve it, and I'll tell you where they are. Feel free to call in Holmes Senior - I do love to see him beating himself up over his inability to protect his little brother. And speaking of Sherlock, you might like to check out the link that I'll leave you at the end of this message; who knows, you might see or hear something… valuable.

Don't panic, I'm not going to kill them. This is more a test of your response time than anything. But you'll want to be quick - time is ticking…

Much love to you and the boys.

At John's side, Sherlock's eyes were dark with fury. "Response time."

"Yeah," Greg nodded, looking slightly sick.

"It was a test. Just a test." With a snarl, Sherlock grabbed the paper from John and threw it at Greg, "It tells us nothing."

"That's why you're upset?" John grabbed his arm in time to stop the water bottle following the transcript, "Because of the lack of information?"

"It's the logical reaction," was the growled answer.

"No," John corrected as Sherlock slouched back against his side, "The logical reaction is to thank Greg for spending the last eight days solving a murder so that he could come and find us. In case you haven't noticed, he looks like he's been through hell - no offence, mate," he added.

He did, too: cognitive functions now somewhat back to normal, John looked at the older man under the lights of the ambulance and took note of the red-rimmed gritty eyes, the wrinkled shirt, the nicotine patch peeking past the cuff of his rolled up sleeve, and the general air of exhaustion about the man. He'd likely been working eighteen hours a day on the case, and the fact that it was John and Sherlock at stake would have heightened the tension and emotional turmoil.

Greg grinned wryly, "None taken. You should see yourself."

"Cheers," John returned.

He felt a sudden wave of exhaustion roll over him. Sherlock must have felt him slump; a slim hand removed the water bottle from his hand, and there was a warm arm at his back, tucking him into the man's side. A finger on his arm tapped S-L-E-E-P.

"Good idea," he agreed, and let his eyes slip closed.

The next time he opened them, it was to a dim white ceiling and a feeling of breathless panic because he couldn't feel Sherlock where's Sherlock where's Sherlock. He lunged upright, Sherlock's name tumbling from his lips, and felt a brawny hand grip his wrist.

"It's alright, John," Greg said softly, "He's right here, look."

And sure enough, there he was in the bed beside John, less than two feet away. His arm was dangling over the side of the bed, as if he'd rolled over and reached for John in his sleep - which, given how they'd spent most of the last eight days, probably wasn't far from the truth, John thought. He took a deep breath, deliberately calming himself. At least they weren't in separate rooms - Greg or Mycroft had probably made sure of that, knowing that even on a good day Sherlock was never far from John's mind, and vice versa, and that that would be even worse after the week they'd just had.

He stretched a hand across the gap between the beds, mindful of the IV line, and clasped Sherlock's hand, needing the physical contact just to remind himself that yes, they were both out of it safely.

"What's the damage?" he whispered.

Greg cracked a crooked grin and shook his head, "Just as you said, undernutrition and dehydration. The drip lines should have you on the way to rebounding by morning, and you'll be discharged as soon as they can do a final check up. You'll have to take it slow on the food front - start with soup and work your way up - but you're a doctor, you'll know all about that."

John nodded, fingers automatically tapping Y-E-A-H before he caught himself and repeated it verbally. "Yeah. Well, that's good news. What's the time?"

"Just after half two in the morning. You've got hours yet; go back to sleep, Johnny. I'll be right here if you need anything," Greg gripped John's wrist for a moment before releasing it and retreating to the couch that sat behind him.

"Greg."

The older man looked up.

"Thanks."

He held eye contact for a long moment and nodded, "Anytime."

John closed his eyes and slept.

The hardest part was getting Sherlock to wait until the doctor cleared them for discharge. In the end, John had to just about sit on him to stop his repeated attempts at getting out of bed, keeping one hand clamped over his wrist to stop him pulling the IV line out. Once cleared, Greg dropped them back at Baker Street personally, helped unpack the box of soups and other foodstuffs that had appeared at the same time as Mycroft, stayed long enough to fill the elder Holmes in on the situation, and then took his leave.

Mycroft left soon after, but not before making John promise to call him if they needed anything during their recovery. John had rolled his eyes but promised anyway. Sherlock had sulked on the couch.

Relaxing into the familiar routine, John made tea and brought the mugs to the couch. He nudged Sherlock until the lanky genius sat up, lowered himself onto the free seat without spilling any tea, and handed Sherlock his mug as the man leaned back into his side.

"Alright?"

The head of tousled curls nodded against his shoulder, "Lestrade's going to email me the digital records from a couple of cold cases."

John felt a rush of gratitude toward the Detective Inspector, "That's good. It'll stop you getting too bored and blowing the kitchen up again."

"That was once," Sherlock trailed off, grumbling.

It was a week before they were back onto proper solids and full-sized portions; a week of constant grounding touches when they saw each other, of working on the cold cases together, of idly falling back into Morse Code to communicate, and of sporadic nightmares.

On their first night back from the hospital, John jolted awake from uneasy dreams to find Sherlock standing hesitantly in the doorway.

"Come on, then."

He yawned and rolled over, feeling Sherlock curl against his back and drape a long arm over him.

"Nightmare?"

A soft noise of confirmation, and then, hesitantly, "It… that finger - in the box. It was yours."

Trying not to think about that too much, John brought both his hands up and drummed his fingers against Sherlock's arm, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5. "All there. Okay?"

"Mmm."

The second day was quiet, and the second night they both slept peacefully enough in their own beds. On the third night, John startled awake from a nightmare to find a sob caught in his throat, right leg burning with phantom pain where Moriarty had definitely not put a bullet through it before torturing Sherlock in their own private darkroom. He stared at the ceiling for all of two seconds before getting up and limping downstairs to Sherlock's room.

"Sherlock?"

There was a sleepy wordless murmur in reply, the form under the duvet shifting over to give John room to slide in. He did so, then reached out cautiously and dragged a trembling hand across Sherlock's shoulders and down his back, reassuring himself that his resident genius was unhurt and unscarred.

"John?"

"Moriarty didn't really shoot me in the thigh and then torture you in the darkroom… did he?"

"No, he didn't," there was a pause, and then the bedside light clicked on, "See? No injuries."

John drank in the sight of Sherlock's unmarred and bloodless body, automatically scanning for injuries and coming up with none. The knowledge let him finally relax, "Okay. Good."

The light turned off, and they settled down to sleep, John's head pillowed on Sherlock's shoulder.

The rest of week went by slowly; they solved the first of the cold cases on the morning of the fourth day, and John had to nearly sit on Sherlock again to stop him rushing out the door to present his conclusions to Greg.

"No, Sherlock - you're in no condition to be going anywhere, you're not even on full solids yet! Three more days, that's all. You can jolly well email Greg - or call him, even."

Sherlock finally gave in at the threat of John calling Mycroft, and busied himself on his laptop. John rolled his eyes and went off to take a shower. Greg dropped in after work, bringing Chinese takeaway with him, and they spent half the night poring over the case file while Sherlock expounded at length on his deductions.

By the fifth day they were back to proper food for all their meals, albeit still at half-portions in deference to their shrunken stomachs. The second cold case was solved by mid-afternoon on the sixth day, and on the seventh John declared them both fit for active duty.

The still-habitual use of Morse to communicate short messages drew some curious looks at their first post-darkroom crime scene. John stood behind Sherlock, who was crouching beside the body, and tapped A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G-? on his shoulder.

"No - at least, not much, but I can tell you he worked at a public library and was cheating on his wife," Sherlock replied.

Donovan, standing nearby, was openly smirking at John's hand on Sherlock's shoulder.

Greg was frowning, "I didn't ask - "

"John did."

"But he didn't say - "

"Since when does someone have to verbalise a question to ask something?"

And he was up and off, calling for John as he went. John exchanged a look with Greg that was half mutual eye roll and half apology, and jogged after the genius.

He seemed to spend half his life running after the man, it was true: but what else was there to do? Sit in an office and diagnose bog-standard flus and colds? Far better to have one adrenaline-filled life with Sherlock than a hundred lives without.

Grinning and shaking his head at his own sentimentality, John lengthened his stride to catch up with the lanky silhouette ahead.