John checked the time.
He pocketed his phone, still smiling. He stepped up his pace despite knowing that Sherlock would arrive before him anyway. He'd been looking forward to tonight for over a week and was pleasantly surprised that Sherlock hadn't cancelled or forgotten about it. Doubly surprised, in fact, since Sherlock was coming from a late visit to the lab, and when that happened, all bets (and generally all events) were off.
John had a secret mission that he hoped to fulfil tonight. He'd decided to make it a personal goal to expose Sherlock to at least one piece of frivolous pop culture that his friend would be incapable of later deleting from his hard drive. John thought tonight's midnight showing of the B-movie modern classic "Bubba Ho-Tep" ought to do the job.
Before the movie, though, they were hooking up at Zambrowsky's Deli for the best late-night sandwiches in London. The deli had the added benefit of being less than five minutes' walk from the cinema.
John came around the corner expecting to see Sherlock already there waiting for him in the inevitable queue. His stride slowed a little when he failed to spot the familiar lanky form. He glanced down the alley where he knew Sherlock would have come from--his chosen short-cut whenever he went from lab to deli. As he turned, a fleeing body slammed into him, nearly knocking him off his feet.
"Sorry!" The kid was breathless, almost panicked. John grabbed onto him to keep them both from toppling over. The snow had long since melted, but the streets still had occasional icy patches and this shadowed alley was on of them. For a moment, as John steadied them both, their eyes met. The kid was truly terrified. His brown eyes were wide, and his face blanched almost paper-white with fear. "Sorry!" he practically shouted and wrenched himself from John's grip. He sprinted away and John soon lost sight of him.
He looked back down the alley then, wondering what on Earth could have frightened the kid so badly. An amused corner of his mind thought it could well have been Sherlock. He could be quite imposing in the right circumstances. And coming upon someone unexpectedly in a dark alley, greatcoat flapping widely as he walked, were definitely the right circumstances.
What John saw in the shadows was indeed terrifying, but not in the way he expected. Instead of Sherlock striding purposefully towards him, his usual bored smirk on his lips, John saw only a kneeling figure some yards away. He knew in an instant that it was Sherlock, but his brain refused to understand why he was there in such a position.
Instinct took over. John sprinted down the alley to his friend, heedless of potential ice underfoot. He made it without incident and knelt down. The full moon came out from behind high clouds at that moment, at just the right angle to illuminate the alley. John could see the red-black stain of blood where it seeped through his shirt and around Sherlock's pale fingers, pressed as they were to the right side of his belly. A tiny part of John's mind noted that he'd been right; Sherlock's coat had been open despite the late winter chill.
"Christ!" With that first stunned exclamation out of the way, training took over from instinct. "Let me see. Can you tell me what happened?"
Sherlock's voice was analytical, automatic as he began describing his attacker. "White male, approximately seventeen years old. Five feet, eight inches tall. Left-handed."
John moved Sherlock's hands out of the way and checked the wound while Sherlock came as close to babbling as he ever came. It wasn't too deep, fortunately, and it looked like a clean cut. But it was bleeding too much for him to be certain. Reclaiming Sherlock's hands, he pressed them hard against the wound. Sherlock hissed in a breath and shot him an angry glare. That look, more than anything, reassured John that it wasn't as bad as he feared.
"Sorry. I'm calling for help." John used his trouser leg to wipe blood--Sherlock's blood!--off his hand so he could dial his mobile without dropping it. Before he'd finished giving his medical assessment to the emergency operator, he could hear a siren in the distance, heading their way.
He sat down, ignoring the wet chill of ice and stone, and shifted so that he could take some of Sherlock's weight. "Lean on me. They'll be here any moment. I can already hear them coming." Normally, he'd have had the patient lie down, but shock had already set in and the last thing Sherlock needed was to be sprawled out on the freezing pavement. He was shaking badly enough as it was.
Sherlock half leaned, half slumped against him and John wrapped his arms around his friend, pressing a hand over Sherlock's where they held his wound. The blood was slowing now, John was happy to note.
"He surprised me." The words were quiet and John almost didn't hear them.
"He surprised me," Sherlock repeated with the same soft tone of astonishment. "His actions defied logical expectations." He turned his head enough that he could look John in the eye. "He surprised himself, too. He didn't mean to do it."
John was less ready to forgive. "He still did it."
Lestrade was used to late night calls from Sherlock Holmes, so he wasn't too surprised when his phone went off. However, those calls generally came when there was an active investigation. There wasn't one now that involved the self-titled Consulting Detective, so Lestrade was at a loss as to why his mobile was buzzing at nearly two in the morning.
"Lestrade," he answered sharply, more annoyed than anything else at being disturbed. His irritation turned to concern when it was not Sherlock but John Watson who greeted him.
"I'm sorry, Inspector. It's just-- I should probably have called the precinct. Sherlock's in hospital. He's been stabbed. Could you--?"
Lestrade practically jumped from the bed before John finished speaking. "Which one?" he demanded, grabbing his trousers from the floor where they'd been unceremoniously dumped earlier that night. He pulled them on.
"Railway Park. He's stable--"
"I'll be right there." Lestrade hung up and shoved the phone into his pocket.
Behind him, Sophie stretched and half sat up in the bed. "What is it?"
He pulled on a t-shirt and went hunting for socks and shoes. "That was John Watson. Sherlock's been stabbed."
She was fully awake at that. "Do you need me to come with you?"
He continued dressing swiftly. "No, thanks. I'll call you when I know more."
He paused then, just long enough to meet her concerned, blue-eyed gaze. "Thank you." He kissed her quickly and, grabbing coat and keys, hurried out.
Dawn was breaking by the time the sketch artist parted from Sherlock's company. The woman yawned hugely and looked more than a bit put out at having had to come to the hospital at such an outrageously early hour. Still, she had the sketch completed and she handed the laptop computer over to Lestrade before heading off to find coffee.
John looked over the inspector's shoulder at the computer screen and drew a startled breath at the sight of a familiar face.
"You recognize him?"
John nodded. "Yeah. He nearly knocked me over. Just before I spotted Sherlock in the alley--" He paused, unable to stifle the shudder than ran through him. Lestrade made no comment, merely waited in silence for him to go on. "He was running away. I didn't know why then or I'd have done more to stop him." He clenched and unclenched his fists instinctively, only peripherally aware of doing so. Images of might-have-beens flickered in his mind. A couple of good punches would have taken the kid down. He was sure of it. But those same imagined blows would have delayed John finding his friend, and that would have been unacceptable. He forced his hands to relax again at his sides.
"I'm going to send this in and see if it turns up any known criminals," Lestrade said. "Don't get your hopes up, though. To be honest, I don't suspect we'll have much luck. There's a chance he's in our system, but there's an equal chance he's just a street kid who made a mistake tonight."
"He certainly did that." The anger in John's voice made Lestrade turn and look closely at him. He closed the laptop on the face of Sherlock's attacker.
"Promise me you're not going looking for this kid on your own." John tried to look innocent and failed utterly. Lestrade's expression grew hard. "There are professionals who can handle this. Let us do our jobs."
It took a moment, but finally John forced himself to nod. "I promise I won't go looking for him on my own."
"All right. I'm heading out. Are you staying or going?"
"I'm staying for now. I need to talk to him, if he's still awake." John yawned, the mere suggestion of sleep enough to trigger the involuntary response.
"Get some sleep. I'll call you when I have any news."
"Thanks. Inspector? Can you send me that picture?"
John shrugged and did a better job at seeming ingenuous. "So I'll have it for reference. In case Sherlock or I remember anything more about the guy." As if Sherlock, even in sluggish, post-operative, medicated mode wouldn't have been absolutely accurate and thorough in his recall of his assailant.
If Lestrade doubted John's veracity, he didn't show it. He simply nodded once.
"Thanks again," said John.
Lestrade departed without another word, laptop securely tucked under one arm. John didn't watch him go. Instead, he slipped into the room where he knew he would find Sherlock.
Out in the hall, the hospital was waking up, but in here the shades were drawn and the lights were low. Sherlock appeared to be asleep, his dark hair a stark contrast to the white of the bed linens. His face was pale, but in the usual way, not in the way of the horrible pallor he'd had when the EMTs had wheeled him from the ambulance into A&E.
John pulled up a chair, determined not to wake him, and equally determined to wait until he woke on his own.
He yawned again as he sat. Adrenaline had long since worn off and he was exhausted.
Sherlock's eyes opened and he looked over at John.
"Sorry. Did I wake you?" John asked, his voice low and gentle.
"Do you need anything? Water?" He started to reach for the plastic pitcher on the bed tray, but Sherlock shook his head. "What about meds? Are you in pain at all? Do I need to get them to adjust the dosage?"
"John, stop." Sherlock started to reach out a hand, but was stopped by the tug of the IV. John leaned in and took the almost-offered hand carefully in his own. He meant to offer comfort but couldn't help feeling that he was the one on the receiving end. "Go home, John. Get some sleep."
"Go home," Sherlock repeated and although his voice was still a bit weak, there was enough strength in it to make John listen. Still, John hesitated until: "Please."
John could count on one hand the times he's heard Sherlock say 'please' in that genuine tone. It was a tone, and therefore a request, he couldn't deny. "You're sure you'll be all right?"
"I'll be bored to tears less than two minutes after you go."
John chuckled at that. That was his Sherlock talking. That wry quip did as much for him now as the angry look had done in the alley last night. "I'll come by this afternoon. Can I bring you back anything?"
"Just your company and perhaps my violin?"
"They won't let you play it in here, even if you're up to it." John didn't know how much physical strain it was to play a violin, but he did know there was no way the nurses on the ward would let him do it.
"Let me worry about that."
John gave him a small smile. "All right." He squeezed Sherlock's hand and felt a reassuring squeeze in return before he let go. He stood, yawning again. "I'll see you this afternoon. With your violin."
John had to be woken up by the cab driver when they arrived at Baker Street. He paid the fellow, over-tipping in his exhaustion, and stumbled up the steps and inside.
Mrs. Hudson met him in the front hallway. "You've had a visitor this morning," she said by way of greeting.
"God. They're not here now, are they?" he asked. The prospect of having to face a stranger--or even a friend--at that moment was almost more than he could bear to think about.
"No. She's gone. Come into the kitchen for some tea."
"Thanks, but I just want my bed right now. It's been a hell of a night."
"I thought it must have been when she stopped by."
That caught his attention even through his haze of fatigue. "What? Who stopped by?"
"A mutual acquaintance of ours."
It wasn't like her to be so circumspect and John frowned.
Her tone turned soft. "Come see what she left you." She turned toward the kitchen, and John followed. "Not that I'm your secretary, mind you, but I told her she could leave it with me and I'd see you got it first thing when you came in. Where's Sherlock?"
"In hospital. He'll be fine," John added at her sharp and worried look.
"Hmm. I suppose so or you wouldn't be here now. There's what she left for you." She pointed and went to fill the electric kettle with fresh water.
On the table was a basket. In fact, it was the same basket that John was certain was currently in the back of his closet upstairs. This could be its twin, he supposed, but looking closer at the weave, the colour, the little nicks and frayed ends, he knew it wasn't. He knew that if he checked the closet, he would find the basket missing.
Inside it were familiar paper cones, labelled in a familiar hand. Herbs and powders. There were small jars, too. Honey and witch hazel astringent among them. For no good reason, John's stomach clenched in fear. "How did she know?"
Mrs. Hudson looked at him kindly. "How do you think, dear? Your debt's not repaid yet, though, is it?"
"No. I don't think so."
"There's a note."
There was. Tucked amidst the cones and jars. He hesitated. "I think I'll take it upstairs."
He took the basket and turned to go. "Mrs. Hudson?"
"I think I would like a cup of tea, if you wouldn't mind."
"I'll bring it up to you."
He climbed the stairs and it wasn't until he was seated alone at the dining table with a mug of tea beside him that he took the little folded card from the basket. He opened it and stared at the hand-written note.
Oil of birch and honey sweet.
It wasn't signed, but he didn't need it to be. He knew who'd written it. And he knew what part of it mattered most to him. He dug into the basket for the little vial he knew from her rhyme must be there. Small as it was, it wasn't hard to find. This glass tube was larger than the first, and full. He pulled a similar empty vial from his pocket. He'd carried it with him since the night Winnie had given it to him. The new one was twice the size of the old. Four doses, he deduced. He'd have to wait until Sherlock was discharged from hospital to give it to him. He didn't trust how the arcane potion would interact with modern medicines.
He yawned hugely, eyes drooping as long hours of stress and anxiety caught up with him at last. He folded his arms on the table and rested his head on them. He'd only take a moment, he told himself. Just a minute or two to gather the energy to get up and go to bed.
John slept there, winter sun blanketing him through the unshaded window, glass vials clutched in one hand, and dreamed of music.
His mobile chirped. John didn't stir.
Winnie reached out and took the phone from where it sat on the table by the basket and the forgotten mug of tea, and silenced it. John needed to sleep. This afternoon, he would wake surprisingly refreshed and find the message from Lestrade and its attached photo. John would then fulfil his promise to Sherlock precisely, and to the inspector less precisely.
She brushed a lock of blond hair back from his closed eyes. "Sleep well, John Watson. The day is coming when you'll return my kindness. Whether you like it or not."
Amnesty prompts from Watson's Woes: I'm not actually competing in the Watson's Woes Prompt Fic Challenge, although I've had great fun playing. Therefore, I feel perfectly justified in utilising some of the August Amnesty Prompts to continue a multi-part story that I started during the July Prompts. Here are the ones I've adapted for use in this fic.
2. Railway, white, snake, jump, sandwich. Use all five words in your fic.
4. Epistolary fic, post-it note style. Write an epistolary fic, but each portion of the fic can only be a line or two long; the amount of words one could fit on a post-it note. Whether you want to use text messaging, scraps of paper, table napkins, actual post-its, or whatever, the bits can only be a sentence or two at a time. If you want to do an art post, with actual sticky notes, then by all means go for it!
5. Actions speak louder than words; ergo, breaking someone's nose is a much more effective means of communicating than verbal riposte. Use that however it inspires you.
6. Gratuitous and shameless H/C/Schmoop. Cosy firelight, fuzzy slippers, hot tea, fleecy blankets, small gestures, kittens and unicorns, whatever brings out the schmooper in you.
9. Rhyme. Crackfic or not, true poetry or not, your entire fic must in some way rhyme. You may waive the 100-word minimum for this prompt.
Continued in Debts