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Worth an infection

BBC Sherlock

Rating 12 (slightly icky medical details, implicit slash)

Betaed by the lovely adrianes-string

Sherlock was in the kitchen observing earwigs when John came home, but he heard the slight irregularity of John's progress up the seventeen steps to 221B. By the time he'd noted down the last data points, and emerged into the living room, however, John was already firmly seated in his favourite armchair.

"The limp's not psychosomatic this time," Sherlock said, looking down at him.

"And good evening to you, too, darling," John replied wearily.

"You're not walking quite normally, but your gait sounded only slightly off, not enough to indicate any damage to your feet or ankles, a sprain or a sore toe. And from the way you're sitting, the pain's in your leg specifically, rather than any more general musculoskeletal problem. Probably your lower right leg."

"You're guessing," John replied, his expression caught between resignation and interest.

"No. You glanced down at it for a moment, to check that I couldn't see something between your trousers and your sock. Bandage perhaps, there's a slight extra bulk around the ankle area – dog bite? But why are you concealing it? An injury that you're embarrassed about in some way, which is very curious."

"No, it's just you who's very curious," John retorted. "OK, you want to see what's wrong with me?" He reached down to his right, pushing his sock down and his trouser leg up. "Cellulitis."

On John's lower leg was a large oval patch of inflamed skin, a shiny, near fluorescent red.  Around it was a wider ring of skin that was mottled a paler shade of pink, slightly swollen. It would have a different texture if he touched it, Sherlock thought, a tautness to the flesh. For a moment he was tempted to reach out a finger, but there was a stillness to John that said: The leg's hurting already, I'd prefer you not to make it worse.

"Cellulitis?" Sherlock said instead, his mind whirring. He ought to know.

"You've probably deleted knowledge of it, since it very rarely kills anyone," John said patiently. "Infection of the lower layers of the skin with staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria."

It seemed unnecessary to ask if it hurt, Sherlock decided, because it was obviously producing moderate discomfort, though not enough to disrupt John's normal routines.

"Treatment?" he asked instead.

"Antibiotics for mild cases like this. Plus paracetamol for the pain and inflammation."

"You've been to the doctor's? I mean you've got the antibiotics? Are you allowed to prescribe for yourself?"

"I talked to Sarah yesterday evening when it started getting bad and got some. Takes about forty-eight hours for them to kick in, so I'll be fine soon."

John had been fast asleep in their bed, by the time Sherlock had got back last night. And he hadn't woken up till after John had gone off to work this morning. Explained why he'd missed the signs earlier, but still...

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked. "You weren't planning to, were you?"

John shrugged, and said nothing, looking with resignation up at Sherlock.

"Embarrassment," Sherlock said. At the centre of the inflamed patch was a tiny mark, almost black. "You scratched yourself, probably when you helping Mrs Hudson getting rid of the brambles in the garden ten days ago. Only time recently you've been in shorts and with no socks, exposing the skin there. You cleaned the scratch, but didn't bother putting a plaster on it, it was so small. But it got infected. You're annoyed at your carelessness in letting that happen."

"Yes," said John. "I'm a doctor, I'm supposed to know about hygiene."

"But it's specifically me you were concealing it from; you had no hesitation in talking to Sarah. And I'm hardly in a position to criticise you for carelessness with bacteria, am I?"

He looked at John carefully; his gorgeous, worn face, his patient half-smile up at Sherlock. It was complicated sometimes being with someone, caring for someone. It required deductions of a kind he wasn't used to.

"You knew I was planning to break into Aldwych tube station later this evening," he said.

"You texted me earlier," John replied. "You said you wanted to check if you could hide a hydraulic press down there."

"And you thought if you told me your leg was bad I'd be tempted to go without you?"

John nodded, and then said. "I can walk mostly OK. I hoped you might not notice till we got there. Maybe not at all, if the evidence was exciting enough. Or not thought it was a priority."

"And when we got home? Suppose we'd wrapped up the case tonight?"

"I'd have showered and put on my pyjamas while you were sending off triumphant e-mails to all and sundry. Then given you a quick blow-job and said I was too tired for anything more."

How was always the easiest question for Sherlock, both to ask and to answer. Now for the tricky one.

"Why would you do that?" he asked. "Pretend not to be ill, rather than telling me? It's not just about the case, is it?

John was examining his fingernails rather too carefully. "No," he said at last. "You find it difficult when people are hurt, the transport's broken. You want to fix it. But sometimes there isn't anything for you to do."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm taking the antibiotics. They're starting to work, but it'll take time for the infection to clear up. It's a problem that can't be immediately solved, by logic, sex or cups of tea. Doesn't leave much scope for you. Unless I start showing signs of septicaemia, which is a rare complication, and counts as a medical emergency."

"I could make cheery conversation to distract you from the pain," Sherlock suggested, hoping his eyes hadn't lit up at the words 'medical emergency'.

"You'd end up telling me I was lucky I didn't have necrotising fasciitis, and I'd have to throw something at you."

"Or I could cook this evening."

"Distract me from leg pain via stomach pain?" John replied, smiling. "I'll cook supper in a while. But the antibiotics have to be taken on an empty stomach, so it may be a bit later than normal. When were you planning to head off to Aldwych?"

"I'm not," he said. "You're better off resting your leg, and...I'd prefer...I'd  rather, what I mean to say is, it'd be more convenient not to go on my own." I sound ridiculous, he thought, pathetic, but John was smiling up at him understandingly.

"Just in case you find you need to dismantle the hydraulic press, which would involve some heavy lifting?"

"Exactly," Sherlock said, gratefully. "Besides, if I'm right, and I almost always am, it's been down there for months. It can wait another week."

"Forty-eight hours," John said firmly. "Less than that, probably. Thanks."

I'm no good at making things better, Sherlock thought bleakly, so John ends up thanking me for not making things worse.

"Thanks for what?" he said.

"Thinking I'm still worth deducing," John replied. "And because it'll be boring here tonight. You don't have to stay, you know. I'll probably just crash out after supper, I'm not going to be any sort of company."

"Doesn't matter," he replied hastily. He wanted to say something more, that it was having John around that mattered, whatever state he was in, but as usual the words on that topic eluded him. Whatever he'd say would just come out wrong. So instead, he reached out and touched John's cheek, and felt the warmth that was always inside John, even when he wasn't, as now, perhaps very slightly feverish. Must keep an eye on that, he thought, and then smiled.

"It's fine, John," he said, "Just fine."


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 18th, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC)
This story also seems oddly entwined with my weekend, during which I visited my godmother who has been suffering from cellulitis, and I then walked past my old room in Magpie Lane, remembering how my boyfriend tried to disguise his step when passing under my window with another woman, and when he finally turned up I asked if there was something wrong with his leg because I'd heard him limping as he went past with Kari...

I do admire the ingenuity of John's plan to distract Sherlock from noticing that there was anything wrong, even if he wasn't any better than my ex at pulling his deception off. Not to mention being touched by Sherlock's attempts at the new sort of deductions required for relationships, and his doing better than he thinks at appropriate responses.
Oct. 23rd, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
I had cellulitis myself this summer, not for the first time, so thought I might at least get something positive out of it. It's a frustratingly nasty thing to get from a very minor injury. I hope your godmother is now recovered.

Sherlock trying to do the 'comfort' bit of hurt/comfort is always interesting to write, because it's so obviously way outside his normal behaviour. I think he did quite well, here, although admittedly, it may help that John has low expectations.
Oct. 18th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
I have to say it: D'awwwwww!
This was wonderful. Sherlock fretting about John and what he wanted to do, as well. John deducing Sherlock, too. Oh, just lovely.
Oct. 18th, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC)
poor John - and poor Sherlock, for different reasons. very touching.
Oct. 18th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
aw! this is still so lovely!
Oct. 23rd, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for your betaing of this. I hope to put up the other fic you betaed sometime this week or next, but it may depend on how busy I am.
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC)
I really love Sherlock's voice in this. He is more caring and betrays more than he thinks.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )