"JOHN! Behind you!"
The choked warning came a moment too late as the thick end of a pool cue cracked across John's back. Unlike the movies, pool cues are surprisingly unyielding, especially so when forced into contact with the soft layers of skin and muscle stretched across a doctor's torso. John arched back, and then quickly doubled over the edge of the billiard table, gasping in pain.
Grinning maniacally, the looming assailant reared back, and with a feral roar swung the cue again.
"NO!" Sherlock screamed. At least, his intention was to scream. As it happened, he had been engaged in his own hand to hand combat with an ogre of a man. At the last moment he had blindsided Sherlock, and the consulting detective found himself in a choke hold, his larynx being agonizingly constricted in the crook of the much larger man's elbow. He swung his legs back with as much ferocity as his oxygen depleted body would allow, and missed his intended target. The choke hold tightened.
Though his vision blurred momentarily, Sherlock saw the slightest movement as John barely cocked his head enough to watch his own attacker take his shot. John's hand clamped down on something nearly imperceptibly, and he ducked just as the pool cue whizzed past his head. With a grunt John jumped to full military height, and Sherlock realized the man wielding the cue was nearly double the Captain's size.
Stunned at a miss, but recognizing a challenge when presented with one, the criminal lowered his shoulder and charged at the rigid doctor. Sherlock clawed and kicked at his captor, who merely tightened his hold and laughed. "Not enjoying the show?"
John braced himself for impact, and tracked his assailant's motions. Left shoulder forward. Low stance. Exposed right side. Not ideal, but he could work with it. John lowered his own stance just slightly, knowing his attacker would over compensate and follow suit in order to cause the greatest trauma to his core. Just as he felt the brute's breath and spittle, John once again stood full upright, reared his left arm back, and punched the other man in the jaw with all the force of his body.
As the criminal careened into John the raucous room was silenced by the sickening sound of bones crushing and sinew popping. The two men were entangled in a macabre embrace, and in what seemed like slow motion to Sherlock, they wavered upright for a moment, and when one of them, no one could quite tell who, attempted to pull himself free, they twisted around in a gruesome dance. The larger man collapsed on top of John, pinning him to the pool table at shoulder level. There was another nauseating crunch as a body was forced into an unnatural position, and they slid to the floor.
Neither man moved.
Sherlock, in a last ditch attempt to free himself feigned going limp, in hopes his own attacker would release him. As it turned out, the act was unnecessary. Recognizing that police and rescue would soon arrive, Sherlock was unceremoniously tossed to the grimy floor as the brute joined the mass of rowdy patrons making an exodus to the pub's exit.
"John," Sherlock rasped. "John!" He stumbled as he forced himself up. Dizziness overtook him, and he caught himself on the bar. "Call," he demanded of the unphased bartender, and slid one of Lestrade's well-worn business cards across the bar. He tapped it impatiently. "Now." The bartender shrugged, revealing no emotion, and dialed the number.
Sherlock turned to the tangle of men on the floor, with a slight shove off the bar, propelled himself to where John lay trapped under the hulk of a man. He stumbled slightly, but caught himself on the billiard table. Dropping to his knees he exerted his whole being into rolling the massive weight off of John. Ignoring the unconscious suspect, Sherlock checked John's pulse. Rapid. As expected. He placed his hand on John's right shoulder and lightly shook him. "John?"
"Stop! Stop. Oh God. Please stop." John swatted Sherlock's hand away and the movement made him groan in pain.
"You're hurt!" Sherlock growled. He hovered over John, quick hands examining John's head for contusions, and even quicker eyes scanning his face and eye movement for signs of concussion.
"Very astute, Sherlock. Now please. Get off me, and help me up. This floor is disgusting." With his left hand, John shoved Sherlock away and moved to sit upright. A wave of pain washed over him. "Nope. Not happening." With a gasp he lowered himself back down and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Lestrade's on his way. He'll bring help. Just hang on, okay? Don't... don't die." Sherlock looked stricken. John was in pain, but he couldn't figure out the cause. And this was all his fault.
The case had taken an unexpected turn. Sherlock had heard of an elaborate scheme to rob a bank from his homeless network. The plan involved detailed knowledge of the tunnels and sewage lines running under London. The robbery wasn't set to happen for another two days, so what harm could come from Sherlock dragging John into the ancient network of tunnels in order to pin down the most likely route the criminals would take.
Unfortunately, two days before the actual robbery was also the perfect time for the robbers to conduct a dry run of their heist.
The consulting detective and his blogger, with no notice to Scotland Yard, specifically D.I. Lestrade, had followed the tunnels to a trap door that opened into the storage closet of a nearby pub. As they neared their exit, the door creaked open from the other side. Before he could turn away, Sherlock was dragged up into the bar by his lapels, and engaged in a fist fight with a man who had nearly 100 pounds and about 6 inches in height on him. John scrambled to Sherlock's aide only to be knocked away by the second beast of a man.
"Die?" John wheezed a laugh. "I'm not dying." He stopped short as he noticed Sherlock's worried countenance. He was more pale than usual, and an angry bruise was surfacing around his neck. "Hey...hey, are you okay? Sherlock, look at me, let me see your neck."
"Irrelevant," Sherlock huffed, though at the doctor's pointed glare Sherlock pulled his scarf away and shrugged his great coat down over his shoulders. "Just a bruise. I'm fine."
John relaxed slightly. "Fine. Now, help me up, yeah?"
"John, I'm not completely convinced you haven't suffered spinal trauma. The ambulance should be here any moment. Please, just..."
"Sherlock, I'm a doctor. I think I would know if I had spinal trauma. Look..." John slowly and deliberately lifted both legs, one at a time, bending them at the knee, and wiggling his feet.
"Still, during your, ah, altercation," Sherlock began. John snorted at the word choice. "There was a distinct sound of bones being crushed upon your assailant making physical contact with you."
"Jaw," John interrupted. "Broke his jaw. Punched him with the eight ball in my hand."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, but unable to resist his curiosity, he scrambled over the unmoving criminal, rolled him onto his back, and examined him closely. John's assessment had been accurate, the man's jaw was indeed shattered. The force of the blow had also caused damage to the nasal cavity. The man would live, but solid foods would not be an option for a very long time.
"Hmm. Adequately done, John." Sherlock nodded and turned toward the doctor, who had managed on his own to work himself into an upright seated position.
"Glad you approve," John grunted as he huffed in pain.
"No really... very well executed," Sherlock hoped his sincerity was evident. From the pleased look on John's face, he knew he had been understood.
"Sherlock, I know Lestrade's coming, but should you maybe restrain sleeping beauty there? If he wakes up, he's going to be angry. You can use my belt... but... I'm going to need... help." John blushed, but set to work trying to undo the clasp with only his left hand.
"What." It wasn't a question. Or a statement really. Sherlock was truly confused.
"I want you to use my belt to restrain gargantuan over there, but I can't take it off with one hand." John looked steadily at the consulting detective, despite the heat that spread across his cheeks. He quickly realized Sherlock wasn't understanding.
"When we toppled over and hit the pool table, the blob over there was dead weight. Caught my right arm on the table. Dislocated the shoulder."
In an instant Sherlock was back invading John's personal space. "I'm sorry, John. I didn't realize earlier, when I touched your shoulder. What else? What else is wrong?"
With a chuckle, and a grimace John responded, "Well, obviously the shoulder. My good one too. Lovely." He paused and inhaled deeply, then winced in pain. "Possibly a few cracked ribs... or at least a few bruised ribs. Bloodied left knuckles; that guy's face must be made of steel. And the bruise on my back will be there for a while."
Sherlock was still just inches away, looking rather unconvinced. "I'll be fine. Really. Now please... And I cannot believe I'm saying this... Take my belt off. Do it quickly before Donovan and Anderson get here." He sighed, "People will definitely talk."
Sherlock hesitated, but with a reassuring nod from John, he removed the belt and quickly secured the criminal's hands. Using his own belt he secured the feet. No sooner was he done than an agonized moan rose from the massive man.
"Right. Now help me up. I'm not going to be down here when he wakes up," John's Captain voice emerged from the weary looking man. If he hadn't been injured and propped up on the floor of a filthy dive in one of the more seedy parts of town, the contrast would have been comical.
Sherlock wasn't laughing.
"Tell me what to do. I don't want to hurt you." Sherlock stood to his feet.
"It's going to hurt. Just, here..." Using his feet and left hand John scooted away from the leg of the pool table he was leaning on. "Now, get behind me, put your hand under my left arm and pull me up. Use my belt loop if you need to."
"Your left arm? But, your bad shoulder..." Sherlock stayed frozen in his spot.
"Well, it's going to have to be my good shoulder, for a while at least. C'mon now."
It wasn't pretty, and there was a lot of grunting and apologizing, but the two managed to get John up from the sticky floor, and perched onto a bar stool as Lestrade and his team rushed in.
"What the..." Lestrade looked from the massive man bound on the floor to Sherlock's bruised neck to John cradling his arm and back to the man on the floor. "Okay, everything. Now."
"Stay here," Sherlock stated pointedly at John, and then walked Lestrade over to the trap door. John grunted, and nodded.
"Don't forget to mention that I'M the one who took that brute down, while the one you were mucking about with got away," John shouted after them. Sherlock rolled his eyes, huffed and waved him off. Lestrade struggled to hide a grin.
The explanation only took a few moments, but by the time Sherlock and Lestrade had returned to John's stool he had downed two shots of whiskey and had a third poised at his lips.
"Drinking on the job, doctor?" Lestrade laughed. "Really professional, yeah?"
"John?" Sherlock questioned. He already knew what John was going to say. "No. You need to go to the hospital. See a doctor."
"Nope. Just dulling the pain a bit. You're perfectly capable of popping this bloody thing back in place. I'll use your scarf as a sling," John attempted a shrug, but hissed in pain.
"Absolutely not. You're a doctor. You know full well the damage we could cause. Lestrade? Get a medic over here." Sherlock demanded.
Lestrade hesitated as he met John's glance.
"Fine, Lestrade you do it," John wasn't asking, he was ordering again.
"John, I think Sherlock's right..."
"Please Greg. Don't make me go to the hospital. Not tonight. They'll try to keep me. I'll have someone look at it tomorrow. Please." John was pleading now.
Swiping his hand over his face, Lestrade sighed in resignation. "Yeah, alright. Fine. Finish that drink first, there's a good man. Now stand up and brace yourself against the bar."
"Excuse me, what do you think..." Before Sherlock could adequately repremand either man, there was a horrendous crunch and pop, and John cried out in pain and swooned into Lestrade's chest. The D.I. steadied him easily, but was forcefully shoved aside by an enraged Sherlock.
"Idiots. Both of you." He snapped. "And what was that little exchange? Why can't you go to the hospital tonight John?"
"Just don't wanna go," John lightly slurred. The whiskey and pain were catching up with him. "Wanna go home."
"Not until one of you tells me what you're on about." He glared at Lestrade since John's head had begun drooping.
"Leave it be, Sherlock. Please. If John wants to discuss it, he'll tell you tomorrow," Lestrade's tone was even and measured.
With a grunt, Sherlock turned John around and leaned him against the bar. With deft hands and surprisingly gentle movements, he secured John's arm in a makeshift sling using his scarf. John really had thought of everything.
"Right. We're leaving," Sherlock snapped as he guided John to the door without a second look to Lestrade.
"What about the case? The other guy is still out there?" Lestrade cried after them.
"Oh, for the love of... He won't be that hard to find." Sherlock cast a glance at the bartender, who had remained oddly silent during the whole ordeal. "He works here. Possible relation... Son. No... Stepson, of our proprietor here. He'd be more than happy to talk, I'm sure. Especially since John made sure our friend over there," he nodded to the now awake, and very agitated criminal, "won't be talking any time soon." Sherlock looked at the drooping doctor with a brief flash of fondness, which was quickly replaced with an unreadable, icy glare. "Besides, this place is in violation of at least 11 VISIBLE health codes."
With that Sherlock blustered out the door, with John in tow, and quickly hailed a cab.
The cab ride to Baker Street was silent. Sherlock had made sure to sit to John's left, so the doctor could lean on him if need be. Slightly inebriated, and fully exhausted, John took advantage of the proffered shoulder and quickly dozed off, groaning in discomfort any time the cab hit a bump. Sherlock brooded. How had he missed the criminals potentially conducting a practice run? Even if the bartender was in on it, none of the men seemed intelligent enough to warrant that much preparation. How had he miscalculated his sparring partner's movements? He seldom faltered in hand to hand combat, but tonight he had, and John had ended up injured because of it. And what of the cryptic exchange between John and Lestrade? It had stopped the D.I. in his tracks. What did John have on him?
"Baker Street, gents," the cabbie broke the silence. Sherlock paid the driver, and helped the stumbling John out of the car.
"Alright, let's get you some aspirin and a proper sling, and into bed," Sherlock made every effort to keep his voice even. Lestrade was right. He'd let John sleep this off, and ask him his questions tomorrow.
"Tea?" John mumbled as he nearly tripped slowly climbing the steps to the flat.
"Of course," Sherlock agreed, helping John right himself on the steps, then steering him to his chair. "We need to get that jumper off." Sherlock thought a moment. "How attached to it are you? I'm thinking we cut it off."
John nodded, "Fine. Won't hurt that way."
Sherlock stepped into the kitchen to start the kettle. He retrieved John's medical kit, as well as his best pair of scissors and a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a kitchen towel.
"This will just take a minute, John." Sherlock dug in the kit and found the sling, as well as some aspirin. "Here. Need water?" John shook his head no and swallowed them dry. Sherlock could face any number of revolting things, but he would never understand how John could dry swallow pills. The very thought turned his stomach.
Very carefully Sherlock unwound his scarf from John's arm and slowly maneuvered him out of his coat. With as much care as possible Sherlock cut away John's jumper, being careful to snip along the seams. Maybe Mrs. Hudson could salvage it. He unbuttoned John's shirt and carefully slid it off, only causing John to cry out once. He decided it would be best to leave the undershirt in place.
"John, I'm going to check out the bruise on your back. Can you lean forward for me?" The drowsy doctor complied, and Sherlock eased the shirt up. The deep red line ran at a diagonal angle from just below his right shoulder blade all the way across his back to just below his left ribs. Black and purple tinged the skin around the line, and there were a few minor cuts. All told, the bruising was a band six inches wide for the entire length, and was only going to get worse. Sherlock quickly cleaned the wound and applied some ointment. No stitches would be necessary.
Sherlock noted the angry bruising forming around John's shoulder. The discoloration was visible through the shirt material.
Taking John's left hand up, Sherlock carefully cleaned the bloodied knuckles. The criminal's face had really done a number, but the reinforcement of the pool ball had helped prevent too much extensive damage. He would definitely need a hand x-ray, just to be sure. With feather light touch he applied ointment and bandages as necessary.
Work at the clinic would have to wait a few days. Sherlock set a mental reminder to contact someone and let them know John would not be in.
"Do you want to sleep with the sling on or off?" Sherlock asked. John thought about this, but Sherlock could tell his cognitive reasoning was shutting down quickly. "How about on? At least tonight, for support?"
"Yeah. Good," John nodded.
Sherlock bound John into the sling and slid the pack of frozen peas in against the shoulder.
"Ok. Bed now. Would my room be easier?" Sherlock was tentative.
"N...no. My bed." John started to stand, and swayed before plopping back down.
"Let me help." Taking John's left arm as gently as possible, Sherlock lifted him from his seat. The climb up the stairs was slow but uneventful. Angling John into his room, Sherlock remembered the tea. "John, you get comfortable, and I'll bring you some tea. I'll be right back."
He bounded down the stairs and to the kitchen, and had to wait impatiently for the tea to steep. Filling a glass with water, just in case, he returned to find John struggling to straighten his pillows. He placed the tea and water on the bedside table, thankful to realize it was located to John's left. He helped arrange the pillows in a slightly elevated position, and straightened John's covers around him.
Glancing around Sherlock noticed John's mobile on the floor near where he had kicked off his trousers. He retrieved the phone and plugged it into the charger, placing it also on the nightstand. Sherlock started to ask if John needed anything else, but the doctor's even breathing revealed he was already asleep. "Rest well, John," Sherlock whispered as he flipped off the overhead light.
John stirred. "Sherlock?" He called softly.
"I'm here, John."
"Don't go anywhere."
Sherlock furled his brow. "Do you want me to sit with you tonight John?"
"No... No... Just, don't leave. Okay? Promise... You won't leave again?" There was a hint of frantic in the plea, but not enough to actually rouse John from his prone state.
Sherlock was taken aback. Where was this coming from? "Of course John."
"Say you promise." Despite their urgency, John's words were getting softer and more slurred with sleep. Sherlock wondered if John would even remember this exchange tomorrow.
"I promise, John. I won't leave again."
John sighed, and almost as quickly as he woke was asleep once more.
"Curious," Sherlock stated to no one in particular.