"Somebody left here in a hurry three days ago."
John was still fuming inside, so he clenched his teeth and tried not to react too explosively.
"Soo Lin Yao," Sherlock gasped, his voice breaking. "We have to find her."
The vowels sounded as if he was getting a nasty throat infection, but John ignored the painful sound for the moment.
Of course, for some people the clues would just lie on the street. Like an envelope marked with the name of the museum - and used as a letter, apparently.
"We could start with dis," Sherlock suggested, choking.
"OK, now I'm worried," John stopped the detective before he could walk away. "Come here, let me check your throat. You sound very weird."
"No way you're chec..." Sherlock coughed, "anything, in the middle of the street! We have a case!"
"And you have..." John pulled on the blue scarf, uncovering a ring of quickly darkening bruises around Sherlock's neck. "Dear God! What happened in there? Was there..." he glanced up and then back at the flat. "Someone was inside, am I right?"
"None of your..."
"Am I right?"
He reached up, placing one hand on the side of Sherlock's jaw and the taller man shuddered at the touch. John willed himself to speak slowly and cautiously.
"Sherlock, was there someone in the flat with you? Did they attack you?"
The detective squeezed his eyes shut and squirmed. It wasn't a confirmation, but it was... close enough.
"Fuck. All that time I was standing here like an ass and someone inside was trying to..."
"Strangle me," Sherlock coughed. "With a shirt - or a sheet, not sure. Wasn't paying attention."
John pulled the collar of the Belstaff aside and slowly checked the bruised area with his fingertips. The ugly contrast between the broken capillaries and the milky white alabaster of the skin around them was... rather jarring.
"Swallow," he ordered harshly. "Any blockages?"
"No," came a croaky response.
"Normally..." John sighed. "Normally the treatment of strangulation injuries would begin with a visit to psychiatric ward," he paused, "as most cases are the outcome of suicide attempts. We can safely eliminate this aspect. You will have very vivid bruising - the scarf will have to stay on for several weeks - and then there are the internal injuries..."
He frowned and tried to recall the specifics. No. He needed a reference for this.
"Home," he said decisively. "Now."
He stepped towards the street and looked around, keeping a tight hold on the black wool sleeve.
"Shut up before you do yourself more damage."
And a miracle happened.
A cab stopped. Right in front of them.
"Where to, friends?"
The ride was quiet - Sherlock was obviously tired of trying to argue with John and John trying to remember as much as he could of potential damage.
"First, a cold pack. Good thing I always keep a few in the freezer... Naproxen will be the best here... And we'll have to check your reflexes."
He saw Sherlock's widened eyes alighting on him, but shook his head. There was no reason to frighten his friend more.
In the living room, he busied himself with finding the painkiller and the cold compresses which, wrapped in a kitchen towel, went around the neck.
"The cold will help to manage the bruising, too," he added as he handed Sherlock a pill and a glass of water. "Now take this and sit with your lovely ice collar, just like that. Tell me if you feel faint or have trouble swallowing. I need to check something."
He took a few breaths and watched as Sherlock took the painkiller and managed to wash it down without visible signs of distress while John dug for the relevant textbook.
"Now... I'm just repeating this out loud for my own sake, so let me just go through the checklist. You don't have any cuts around your neck, one thing I don't have to worry about. The surface bruising we'll manage with arnica gel," he pulled out a small tube. "Voice box and windpipe - you can talk and you can swallow, so this should be fine. Main arteries in the neck..."
His hands shook as he carefully touched his friend's bruised skin.
"Didn't have time," Sherlock croaked. "Didn't press enough."
"And you aren't feeling faint? Woozy? Nauseous?"
"None," Sherlock sighed. "Can we go to the museum now? Because, seriously..."
"Close your eyes, put your hands to the sides," John ordered calmly, overriding the pained rasping. "Now. And touch your nose with your left index finger."
There was a moment of silence as Sherlock almost poked out his eye as a result of that little test and the detective looked in surprise at his own digit.
"I can't go to the hospital," he said slowly, trying to straighten himself. "I gave to..."
"Sherlock," John picked up his friend's hands from where he was picking at the cold compress with shaky movements. "This is not something you can ignore. You were being strangled. We don't know what kind of effects that had. We could be..." he swallowed. "We could be looking at brain injury."
Pale eyes widened as Sherlock's hands tightened on John's fingers.
"I feel fine," the raspy baritone wavered for a moment. "I'm not... I'm OK, I'm not... Brain damaged!"
"I will be with you every step of the way," John assured him. "But you must have this looked at. Ultrasonogram is the least... Sherlock, there are studies, death can happen up to two days after initial injury. You have to get this diagnosed."
"You do it," the pale detective demanded. "Diagnose."
"How?! I don't even have the needed machinery! Now, please. I'm not going to call for an ambulance, but I need you to leave this coldpack in place and come with me to the cab. Then we're going to Barts and you will get this seen to. I will stay with you, but I can't treat you, and definitely not here."
Sherlock was breathing shallowly but rapidly, watching him in silence from his place on the couch.
"I promise, I will be there for you, all the way. Now, let's go. The cab is waiting."
"Come on, we need to..."
"John, call Mycroft."
He saw the grimace on his friend's face that had nothing to do with his bruised throat.
"What for? I mean, I suppose I should, he is your brother..."
"They won't let you stay," he whispered. "Mycroft can make them."
"Well, that is a risk..." he frowned and picked up Sherlock's mobile. "Very well."
He felt his free hand being grasped in the detective's long, cold fingers. Trembling, long, cold fingers.
His gaze met the green eyes of the man looking at him in fear.
"Don't worry," he said, hearing the signal and waiting for Mycroft Holmes to pick up. "I won't leave you alone there. Mycroft? This is John. We need your assistance. Yes, I'm afraid it's a rather pressing problem..."