When John Met Vee
perfectly honourable but lawless
The bedsit he found was tiny; with or without his cane, he could get from one end to the other in less than five steps, a comforting thought. Claustrophobia had never been a problem for him before, and he wasn't going to let it be now. If worse came to worst, he could flop down on his belly and let the eight feet of air above him swirl, uncontained and suggestive of vastness.
It lacked colour, its dull beige walls nothing like Clara's vibrant scarlets and indigoes, and he shivered in his chilly bed, covered only in inadequate sheets worn thin but not soft by too much washing with bleach. He pulled on a thick jumper and curled his toes inside his woolly socks and drifted off to sleep.
It might have been the soothing warmth of the jumper that did it, but his dream started with the shimmery air of Afghanistan, that clean bright heat on his back as he pulled his armband on, red cross lying snugly on his bicep, and all too soon the cross turned into a bullseye and he was down, hearing screams, feeling his breath scrape through his throat, his leg buckle, his shoulder catch fire, his helmet pull against the grain of his sweaty hair, the agony and the excruciating slowness of it all. There were fingers on his chest, scrabbling uselessly at the cloth that covered him, and it was only when he rolled and shifted, the ground giving way beneath him, that he realised that the fingers were his own, that no one had heard the scream that had punched out of him over the noises of bullets whistling and soldiers shouting orders and imprecations. There, surrounded by the men who called him Doc and pretended to disobey his orders, John understood two things: he was not going to die, and he was utterly alone.
He woke unrefreshed, ate a mealy apple, and drank a cup of tea so tasteless he should have saved the sugar.
His leg twinged. He told it to fuck off and went for a walk.
The winter sun over London seemed like a weak runner-up to the one he'd been battling under, the one he actually missed. That unrelenting sun had browned his skin and turned the hair on his arms crisply gold; without it, he was sinking back into a mouse-coloured non-entity.
He laughed at himself then, unsure if it was his own saner self or Harry whose voice he heard in his head at that, wry and plain: Keep moaning about the sun and you'll sound like one of those born-again Druids you found hilarious back at uni. He probably had eyes just as mad, mad enough that even his own inner voice balked at what should have been the next chastisement: Keep moaning about the heat and you'll sound like you miss the war, like you wish you still had blood in your eyes and a fallen comrade under your hands.
But no one seemed to notice his stark, staring eyes in his careworn face, not the man to whom he handed over his rent, not the girl who sold him coffee every third morning – he couldn't afford the good stuff more often than that, and he wasn't about to go back to drinking swill.
He stumbled as he walked through the park, long habit making his pace brisk even though he had nowhere to go, and had to stump along with that hateful cane, the curve of the handle like a bludgeon in his hand.
Military bureaucracy was all about reinventing the wheel at every opportunity. Medical personnel weren't supposed to be on the front lines, true, but he could hardly be the first doctor who'd been injured and invalided; still, he was passed around from one office to another, no one quite sure what to do with him, no one willing to just ask him what he wanted.
Someone along the way must have stamped his file with a symbol that meant let the shrinks deal with it and there was a note with his pension cheque informing him that an appointment had been made on his behalf.
Going would at least fill a few hours of his day. Even if she didn't have the magic words that would repair the tenuous link between his mind and his leg, she might still be of some use. That turned out not to be the case. It seemed she thought that the magic words should be his.
Why he was in such a hurry all the time seemed to be one of those questions he had enough sense to ask but not to actually answer; it wasn't as if his bedsit looked any more appealing in the daylight, weak light only highlighting instead of banishing its air of dinginess. Nevertheless, he stumped through the park, making quite good time, and it occurred to him that speed, motion itself, might be enough to keep the worst of his unhappiness at bay. He eyed the energetic joggers and the winter-bare trees, not registering the call of "John!" until the voice continued, "John Watson!"
"Stamford – Mike Stamford," the man introduced himself and John fumbled for enough courtesy to hold out his hand and say hello. That minimum evidently wasn't enough to keep his expression from twisting, though Mike misread it, saying self-deprecatingly, "Yeah, I know, I got fat."
"No," John demurred; it wasn't that Mike had got fat that surprised him, it was that Mike had clearly become exactly what he had promised, back when they were twenty and had known nothing about the world. Mike at that age had been big-boned, hearty, with a sweet face and a pleasant voice, and here he was, a lifetime later, none of those qualities jarred out of place. It had been too long since John had seen anyone whose life could be plotted like a straight line on a graph; the soldiers he'd served with were killed, wounded, or traumatised, and certainly Harry's own line spiked and swerved with each drink she took, wrecking her marriage and sabotaging her chances of happiness.
He wondered how exactly Mike had recognised him, given that his current appearance seemed far removed from the first-class surgeon with a devoted wife and brilliant children he'd meant to be by this time. He swallowed around the knot in his throat when the most plausible explanation – that Mike had known, or at least assumed, all along that John would end up like this, bitter, broken, and entirely on his own – finally struck him, nudged along by Mike's ready memory for his love of London and the name of his recalcitrant sibling. John grimaced, but Mike apparently took it as a smile, for he hauled John off, leading the way to the absurdly overpriced coffee shop on the corner.
The man Mike introduced him to was clearly mad, shamming expressions like he'd been taught to do so by a tutor in humanity who'd had an infinite supply of patience but only a limited time with his pupil; John honestly could not remember when he'd last seen a smile so blatantly pasted on. And yet, what was the point of it all? The smile was not properly motivated by good feeling and all it did was draw attention to the oddness of the man's pale face – but then John felt his own mouth stretch in a reflexive smile, an automated response to such a gesture, and understood that he'd been reading the man incorrectly. Sherlock Holmes wasn't showing off with his clever guesses; what he was doing was laying out his habits like a surgeon laying out his shining tools before making the first clean cut.
It was intriguing enough that John felt some stirring inside himself, a desire to follow through and meet the fellow at the flat he'd picked out. The man's easy dismissal of the female doctor who'd fetched him coffee grated on John, but the realisation that Harry, just by virtue of being herself, female of the species, had dinged the accuracy of those improbable, impossibly specific guesses to a substantial degree gave him a trump card of his own. He remembered that in Afghanistan, right up until the moment he'd been shot, the luck of the Watsons had been something of a byword.
Mike looked abashed as the man swept out of the room, going on in his posh accent about his riding crop. "Let me buy you lunch," Mike said, "and then I've got to be back for an afternoon lecture. There's a really nice place round the corner that I can't bring myself to go to alone."
That was lovely and graceful of Mike, to make it seem like John was the one bestowing favours, and he nearly rebelled against the kindliness, feeling like a man waiting for an elderly uncle's long-coveted inheritance. He told himself sharply not to be stupid and let Mike buy whatever he was in the mood for. Rustic Italian, it turned out, and he was glad thirty minutes later that he'd made such a resolution.
Mike evidently hadn't changed, was still the same boy at heart he'd been twenty years before, when the two of them had been the most notorious pranksters in the history of Barts; John sat back and didn't try to make out what Mike was whispering to their waitress, a very pretty girl, but he surprised himself with his laughter when he saw what Mike had contrived to put in front of him: a plate of pasta with mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, olives, and chicken. The waitress smiled uncertainly while the two of them wheezed with laughter at the sight of the undigested version of what they'd encountered upon doing their first autopsy, cutting open the stomach to find a lovely meal that they'd pretended to critique, pondering the "woodsy notes" of the mushrooms and the "organic quality" of the chicken. "You're crazy, your friend is crazy –" John sputtered.
"You're the one who's laughing, mate," Mike said, still giggling and wiping his eyes.
John got home, pleasantly full, and decided he might just go see the place that that nutter had picked out. It had to be better than this, and Mike had implicitly vouched for the man.
It was strange to shoot in the dark, to take aim across a sea of blackness unrelieved by the artificial light of a firefight. Squeezing the trigger and shouting his mad new flatmate's name – attempting to save someone by firing a gun – felt like the last scene of an odd, sidewinding dream.
He dropped to the floor as soon as he saw the cabbie keel over, tucked the warm gun into the back of his waistband, and began his crawl out of the room.
Soon enough, there were lights and bustling bodies everywhere. He couldn't trust his jacket to conceal the shape of the weapon, so he fell back on as good an approximation of parade rest as his shoulder would allow, keeping his hands clasped behind him and his wrists crossed just over the small of his back, and concentrated on looking as uninvolved and innocent as he could manage, given that he was twenty years out of practice.
The knots his stomach had tied itself into untwisted abruptly when he realised Sherlock was the only one who'd seen through his who, me? posturing, and he was more than ready to suggest food when Sherlock beat him to the punch. They moved quickly away from Sherlock's rapacious-looking brother and his flat-out gorgeous assistant and headed for the takeaway place Sherlock recommended. There was a woman there, thick black hair peeking out from beneath a bandana, covered in a light but nearly uniform sprinkling of white dust. Like she was the cocaine fairy, he thought bitterly, recalling one of the many revelations of the day, but then she turned and he saw her face in three-quarter profile and wondered why she seemed so familiar. Had he seen her earlier, outside Barts, or maybe two nights ago, doing her weekly shop at the same time he did his? He smiled at her and got a smile in return, but no flash of recognition lit her eyes. He shrugged, pressed himself against the wall so that she'd have room to get by with her bag of food, and tried to work out just what he could afford.
An Unexpected Meeting
intentionally delighted in
"Really, sir, I don't think –"
"I was there too, you know! At my wedding!"
Vee was already smiling to herself at the sounds of Sally and Greg bickering and she walked into the kitchen still trying to fasten the necklace around her throat. Greg, silly man, hadn't offered Sal any tea or anything, and Sally was polite enough not to barge into even a friend's kitchen. She turned her back on her husband and he automatically took the ends of the necklace and clasped them together for her. "Tea, Sally? Chai or English?"
"Chai, please," Sally said, raising an eyebrow at Greg, who thought he was being subtle when he shifted his empty mug an inch, the sound of it sliding along the table evidently meant to act like a Pavlovian bell and prompt one of them to offer him some as well. "Does that sound mean 'get me some tea, Sergeant' or 'may I have a cup of tea, please'?"
"The latter. Definitely," Greg said, and it was just lucky for him Vee found him irresistible. She nudged the tin of biscuits over to Sally, who opened it and helped herself to one before setting the container on the table. Greg hummed with pleasure as he selected a biscuit coated on one end with dark chocolate.
"Right, I think he knows not to talk with his mouth full," Vee said, getting the small airtight packet of chai leaves and spices down from the curved corner shelf and spooning the proper amount for three into the teapot. "What's the plan for today, then, Sally?"
"You know my sister's getting married –"
"To that American bloke?" Greg interrupted, retreating back into silence and wisely cramming his mouth with a second biscuit when he saw the looks he was getting.
"To, as correctly noted, the American bloke, Kevin, and the wedding's going to be there in Texas, but somehow his relatives have got the idea that Englishwomen wear stupid hats for every occasion, and they want all of the bridesmaids to wear something along the lines of the most hideous Easter bonnets that ever sat on a posh tart's head."
Vee grinned as she poured the boiling water. "And we get to pick them? Do you have to wear one of these?"
"No, because I'm not a bridesmaid; Mamie understood that I couldn't call a halt to murder investigations just to have spa days and get my hair straightened. I'm lucky the boss is giving me a few days to fly there and back at all."
Greg looked up, decided it wasn't worth defending himself, and subsided, snagging a third biscuit. He could, Vee knew, eat every biscuit in sight and still only have that incipient belly, that appealing softness, while she was getting wider by the minute. Not that that was the issue at hand, she told herself sternly as she finished preparing the tea.
"Then this could be fun, don't you think?" Vee said, handing round the mugs of milky chai.
"I'm trusting your artistic eye to pick out the most revolting ones in the shops," Sally said, clinking their mugs together in a pledge of sisterhood.
She was braiding up her hair to hide the effects that hours of millinery had had on it, letting her coffee cool in front of her, when Sally – still sporting the marks that various ribbons and pins had had on her deflated curls – looked at a table across the café and said, surprise evident in her tone, "I think that's John Watson."
Vee was just thinking that the name sounded vaguely familiar when she saw an unmistakeable head of wheat-coloured hair, more of a mop than the last time she'd seen it, and remembered that the man was Sherlock Holmes's flatmate and friend. Greg had mentioned that the man had been able to get Sherlock to give a straight answer instead of posturing simply by snapping out a question; he'd sounded mightily impressed.
"John!" Sally called, beckoning him over when he raised his head and unerringly located their table. He went through the pantomime of are you sure? and I'd hate to interrupt, I'd be happy to keep clear of your conversation entirely – somebody's mummy had raised him right – but Sally kept gesturing, so he smiled politely and pulled an empty chair to their table, his cup of tea in one hand and a newspaper tucked under his arm.
He'd been reading the classifieds, poor man, marking adverts of note with a red marker that had stained his fingers. He caught them both looking and Vee saw the moment he made the decision to address Sally's professional observational skills and ignore her own gold-medal nosiness. "Sherlock doesn't get those eyeballs for free, you know," he said in a genial aside to Sally, then extended his hand in her direction. "Sorry, I'm John Watson. Sally here –" he nodded, too purely friendly to be a sham "– knows my flatmate."
The calluses on his hand spoke well of him, Vee thought, and she grinned back at him. "I haven't met him, but I've heard enough to be intensely curious." At John Watson's puzzled expression, she clarified: "I'm Veena Venkatram, Greg Lestrade's wife."
His appreciative gaze intensified, but all the outward show he made was a smile. "It's very good to meet you." He shifted his weight in the chair a bit, fingers curling tensely around the edge of the table for a moment as if the motion had cost him something, and Vee realised that John Watson, contrary to all the reports she'd heard, didn't carry his cane with him. He was eyeing Sally too seriously for Vee to want to interrupt his contemplation by asking why, so she waited until he spoke again, surprised by where he led the conversation. "You've no interest in hearing me apologise for him, have you?" he asked Sally, evidently trusting Sal to be sharp enough to intuit his meaning.
Sally shook her head and stirred another packet of sugar into her coffee, ignoring her apple pastry. "I'll tell you what you could do for me, though," she said, sucking her spoon dry. At his encouraging nod, she said, "Get out of there, while you still can. I'm not saying he's going to do something to you, necessarily, but he is going to do something, and you seem like too decent a bloke to get caught up in it."
Vee hadn't expected Sally to be so direct or so finite in her terms; there was no operatic pleading or logical case-building. They were a well-matched pair, in fact, Sally and John Watson, one pushing and the other pulling and then reversing course without a hitch. His eyes were down, studying the simulated woodgrain of the cheap plastic table, and when he looked back up, Sally retreated to her cup of coffee.
"I'll be careful. And if he keeps insisting on my presence, rest assured it won't come without me delivering a few home truths, namely: how not to be an utter prat."
"Godspeed, Doctor Watson," Sally murmured into her coffee and Vee couldn't help giggling at the absolute earnestness of her tone.
John Watson looked over at her with rather a cheeky grin; it was rather fun not to be treated as the boss's wife – Sally always being the exception, dark girls together – or as an artist with something very serious and deep to communicate through the medium of marble or some such thing. "What's the worst you've heard, then?" he asked, only half-serious, and raised an eyebrow as she silently ticked off a few hair-raising incidents before settling on a good one.
"He's cute," she pointed out once she and Sal were back on the tube. "And not thinking about how cute he is, which is rare." At Sal's pointedly raised eyebrow, she shook her head. "We're not talking about Greg; he's dim beyond belief when it comes to his own appeal."
Sally rolled her eyes and went back to the original subject. "Did he seem at all interested in me?" she asked, as if empirical proof were all it would take to shut Vee up.
Vee thought back. "Yeah, actually. Not in a 'hey, look at me trying to impress you' way, but definitely in a 'you're the prettiest DS I've ever seen, and I keep showing up at crime scenes' way."
"Because he's dragged there by a man who'd give a Bedlam matron the screaming horrors!" Sally bit out exasperatedly.
"Seriously, Sal, he does look like he's just waiting for a word of encouragement . . . oh, no, wait. It is over with that creepy forensics man, the one with the whiny voice, isn't it? Isn't it?"
Sally shook her head no just once, and Vee swallowed the rest of her lecture. No point telling someone who didn't want to be told; no point in showing Sally how easily the unhappy look on her face could be traced back to the man she let into her bed.
"John Watson and Sally," Vee announced as they tucked into pizza and wine, and Greg choked.
"I thought he was shagging Holmes," he said, throwing down his crust and narrowing his eyes when Vee shook her head definitively. John's eyes had been steady as he looked at Sally with a deeply buried hope, after all, and he hadn't evaded or rationalised any of Sherlock's shittier qualities. "Did Sal say something to you?"
"We bumped into him after we'd found the most nightmarish hats, that's all," Vee said smoothly. "I liked the look of him."
"Oh-ho," Greg chortled, as if he'd caught her out. Stupid, darling man. "Liked the little blond doctor, did you? Enough to want to live vicariously through Sal?"
Vee fluttered her eyelashes and feigned ignorance. "He's a doctor?" She finished her slice of garlicky pizza with one enormous bite and washed it down with the red, waiting for him to catch up.
It took longer than it should have, which meant Greg was still stuck on the idea of Sherlock and Watson together; she had to admit it made for a very pretty picture. "You – you –" he said, as if she'd seriously been considering leaving him for anyone else, even someone made to order.
"Idiot," she said fondly, and he nodded happily, shifting closer so that she didn't have to reach quite as far to fist her hand in his soft t-shirt. Just a plain white undershirt, really, the kind she bought three to a pack at M&S for him, but it was warmed through with the heat of his body and he was looking down at her with those eyes getting darker by the millisecond and she would have had to be made of stone not to pull him nearer still. That cotton vest smelt like him, though he'd done nothing more strenuous than paperwork and getting up to refill his coffee cup, and she buried her nose against the line on his neck where fabric first covered skin.
His mouth was rough and prickly with stubble and he tasted like Italian spices and French wine. His hand drifted low on her belly; he was always direct rather than coy or elusive, but he knew how to take his time, to make sure they were on the same page. "Yes," she said into his mouth, just to speed things up a bit, and at that he hauled her into his lap.
She'd been thinking of Sunday-morning tea-and-biscuits comfort when she'd picked out the kitchen chairs, but there was no denying that for this equally domestic, much more dynamic purpose, their solid craftsmanship was much appreciated. She squeezed him tight, fingers gripping those broad shoulders she'd been using as her measure for all of the heroic men she created, smiling at the first touch of his hands under her prim plum-coloured blouse.
"Come on," she said, just as he breathed out, "Now," and she stood up from his lap and led him into their bedroom, walking backwards so as not to miss a moment of that talented mouth, wondering as they went how long a coherent sentence they could make just trading off words like that, back and forth. Her blouse and bra were gone before she remembered coherence was highly overrated.
All Very Professional
Even in his dream, John knew there was something wrong with what he was hearing. No one – native or soldier – had made noises like that; he shouldn't even have been able to hear noises like that over the barrage of bullets his brain was so generously supplying.
He snapped out of his dream, the gunfire vanishing instantaneously, though the wretched wailing did not. God Almighty, could that possibly be what Sherlock had meant when he'd blithely mentioned that he played the violin? It was almost inconceivable that anyone – that 'Mummy' that Mycroft had mentioned, possibly, certainly not anyone like a nanny, who had to answer to a higher authority – could have thought it a good idea to give a boy as wilful as Sherlock an instrument as capable of being misused as a violin.
Pulling his pillow over his head, he lay there, sweating and cursing and trying to spare at least one thought in three for Mrs. Hudson, who really deserved better than to have one of London's top two unstable nutters under her roof.
He needed an escape hatch, even from this bloody gorgeous flat, because Sherlock looked like he was on course to take over John's entire life without pausing for breath, and if he wanted to keep even a vestige of freedom, he'd have to get a job. Right. Tomorrow, or later today, he was going to find a teashop not overrun with chatterers and go through listings in the paper, applying his whole mind to the task.
Sherlock had switched into playing something tonal and altogether beautiful while John had been making up his mind, but that wasn't enough to sway him from his course.
Make Your Own Hours the top advert read, but digitised medical transcription surely required that its practitioners were comfortable with technology; he liked to say that he'd simply missed the email revolution, being in the desert and more concerned with thermometers than laptops, but the real truth was that he couldn't bring himself to trust that the stated messages were all that was being sent and received. It was never that simple.
Harry hadn't written, but Clara had, a few times, before those messages trickled out and were replaced by her familiar signature on the cards tucked into his care packages of tea and sugar and jumpers and photographs. But those emails he'd pored over obsessively, wondering what fresh hell Harry was putting her wife through if the emails had timestamps like 04:23, then second-guessing himself to wonder which time zone the stamp reflected. And the words were like a code, such tiny, heavy words, as if Clara were pressing them into double and triple duty, each bearing the burden of extra layers of meaning. I miss you was markedly different from we miss you; did Clara think Harry was writing on her own, then? Or was she determined to keep her relationship with John free from the poison seeping through her feelings for his sister?
He looked down to see that he'd managed to cover his hands in ink while circling items in the columns at random. When he heard his name being called in a voice he couldn't quite place, he looked up and saw Sally Donovan, gorgeous as ever, beckoning him over. There was another woman sitting with her who looked like she was experiencing the same light déjà vu that he was, though she was no closer to putting a name to his face. Just before she introduced herself, he had it; he'd seen her photo on Lestrade's mobile, when they'd all been puzzling out where Jennifer Wilson's phone might have got to, and then where that great git known as Sherlock Holmes could have misplaced himself.
John let her be for a moment while he exchanged courtesies with Sally. He wasn't blind, after all, and Sally was a woman worth looking at, all long legs and determined jaw and intelligent eyes. And he could hardly fault her for her antipathy toward Sherlock; he was going on his instinct to trust the man, but if hers steered her in the opposite direction, who was he to override her gut with his? Sherlock was a prize arse, to be sure, and he'd never have made his life easier by demonstrating anything other than smug superiority in front of Sally.
Despite the pink tissue paper peeking out of the many bags surrounding her, promising frothy lingerie and languorous ease, Sally was brisk and efficient in reiterating her warning, and John let her words sink into him. He couldn't explain it even to himself without embarrassment about puffing up his own importance, but he understood Sally, got her; they'd both looked at the world and determined that they were willing to sacrifice their blood and breath if that was what it took to make a better one. Of course there were good and bad cops, good and bad soldiers, but the impulse was clean in her, and he hoped in himself as well.
He memorised how she prepared her coffee – two sugars, and enough milk that its colour matched her skin – and listened to the pleasant sounds of women's voices sweetening the air around him.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said in a near-whisper, looking back wistfully at the pub where he and John had settled in for a pint and a testing of the waters, "are you sure about this?" When Sherlock didn't deign to answer, Lestrade shrugged and kept pace with the man, John a step behind them both. The song that had been playing in the pub was running through John's mind still, and through Greg's too, evidently, given that he was absent-mindedly humming the chorus.
"Of course I am certain that the man has gone to ground in this area, and this is the most likely of the three possibilities. Perhaps you could make a bit more noise and set the suspect running again," Sherlock suggested frostily, several minutes later, as if there had been no pause at all.
"Hsst," John hushed them both peremptorily. He'd never been one of those what use will algebra be in the real world? kids, but it seemed a little ridiculous that the lessons of Afghanistan should be applicable to real life outside of a war zone. Or maybe what was ridiculous was that this was his real life, unpaid assistant to an unpaid consultant to the Met. "I'm seeing movement inside."
There was an aggressive gleam of satisfaction on Sherlock's pale face; John's view of it was cut off by Lestrade moving in front of both of them, putting himself in the lead. Protect the civilians was clearly at the top of Lestrade's list on how to be a good DI, and it spoke well enough of him as a man that John didn't voice any of his protests about not being an average civilian. Greg was buttoning his coat as he went and John remembered that he needed to hide his hair if he was going to be hunting killers in the dark. He tugged his navy blue t-shirt out from under his jumper and twisted it round his head. Sherlock, still with his white shirtfront gleaming expensively, looked at the two of them like they were the crazy ones. John felt like a nanny or possibly Mummy when he reached out to button Sherlock's coat for him; belatedly, stupidly, he realised he could simply have borrowed Sherlock's precious scarf to hide his too-light hair.
Which meant that when Greg stepped forward, his pale checked shirt almost completely covered up, he did so without either of them as backup, and was lost immediately to the gloom within the – what was it, a warehouse? A factory? Something large and cavernous, at any rate, and no place for three unarmed men to be taking on a lunatic who had a demonstrable knowledge of knives and rather a knack for finding soft, vulnerable places to strike.
It still surprised John, how much it hurt to know half of himself was gone, even as he thought this is where I belong. Sherlock impatiently ignored all of John's medical advice, used him as a sounding board and as backup instead, and here he was now, skulking in the dark, his hands – no longer capable of healing – curled into a bruiser's fists. He'd made himself no better than this, into someone who could cope with things that Lestrade, or even Sherlock, for all his look at me, I'm such a sociopath posturing, simply could not. He pushed past his flatmate, barrelling forward to assume the lead. His bad shoulder struck something warm and pliant – had to be the killer – and in so doing, knocked the man off course. The knife in the bastard's hand swooped down, the motion like the predatory dive of a hawk, one stray beam of moonlight shining off the blade and Greg's silver hair, and the sight was enough to pull John's stomach into his throat.
Sherlock was still muttering protests while he picked Lestrade's pocket and John could just make out a few words and phrases here and there – "It's his arm, not any of the tendons in his leg; he can still walk" was the longest but not even close to the most scathing – but John was in no mood to humour him. Lestrade's spilling blood was appalling in how it differed not one bit from that of any of the soldiers he'd failed to save.
It seemed Sherlock wasn't used to being ignored; once they were all in the cab, he swivelled to take the folding seat and shifted until he was in John's line of sight. He even spoke a bit louder, as if the problem was that John had gone hard of hearing rather than selectively deaf. The cabbie took a considering look at the three of them, clearly wondering if the warrant card Sherlock had flashed was worth the trouble of passengers seemingly ready to come to blows in the backseat. "I thought you would insist on a hospital," Sherlock accused, though it was unclear which of them was his target.
Greg took it upon himself to answer, which was beyond John, who felt his jaw soldered shut with anger at Sherlock's lack of proper emotion. "Don't need one, surely." Greg gave a grunt of pain but couldn't manage to twist his head far enough around to get a good look at his own mangled arm. "Got a good kit back at the flat," Greg finished with a hopeful glance at John, who did his best to smile and nod because it wasn't Greg's fault that Sherlock had led him blithely into danger, and relayed the address Greg gave him to the driver.
It should have been Greg's moment, but Sherlock of course stole the show, barking out his deductions as to the extent of the injuries to Lestrade's terrified wife, whose hands shook as she switched off the stove burners. Vee, that was her name; he remembered it just as Greg said it as soothingly as he could. "Doctor Watson," she said, plaintively, voice rising in the four syllables until it harmonised with Sherlock's unceasing flow of words.
"Call me John," he said, "and tell me where I can find your medical supplies." He watched her hands instead of listening to her incoherent words and found the kit on his first try, hurrying back to where Lestrade sat patiently bleeding on his own sofa, red deepening the colour of the elephants that appeared with geometric regularity on the throw tossed over the back.
Sherlock was still speaking, but John spared him no attention; Sherlock's voice was too purely beautiful, too overwhelming for John to be able to hear any nuances that might have been there. He flicked his eyes once at his flatmate, noting the gesticulating hands and the pristine pallor of his ivory shirtfront, peeping out between the dark wings of his coat, and felt his own pulse keep thudding regularly even when he caught a glimpse of the one mark Sherlock bore – a thin stripe of Greg's blood spattered across his neck, just dotting the origami of his pale shirt collar.
When Sherlock stalked out of the flat a moment later, coat swirling behind him, no doubt to supervise the arrest of the man they'd left handcuffed to heavy machinery, John felt half the tension in the air dissipate. "Not so bad, right?" Greg asked with an unconvincing grin at his wife, nodding his chin at the jagged wound John had cleaned with alcohol.
"That depends if you mean that –" she gestured at his pink-tinged arm "– or that," she finished with a cock of her head toward the door Sherlock had just used; when Greg started to laugh, she gave a tremulous smile, mouth stretching beneath eyes bright with unshed tears. John nodded at her and those tears spilled over without prompting any more. He watched her hand find Greg's hair and stroke through it.
How long had Greg been putting up with Sherlock? Five years, hadn't he said? Christ, that was far too long, but at least he had someone who grew brighter at the sight of him waiting for him at home.
That was more than he had managed, anyway, John thought as he bandaged Greg's heavy bicep, leaving Vee to apply whatever magic kisses were necessary as he put their medical kit back to rights.
The Final Push
i will not eat my heart alone
The hammering on the door made her jump, the oil she was pouring sent astray and taking some of the mustard seeds in the pot along for the ride. It couldn't be the worst news, she told herself sternly, if only because no one would be that eager to tell her that Greg had died. Which meant that Greg was most likely hurt, quite possibly just on the other side of the door, and waiting for her to get her legs in gear was not helping him in the least. She ran for it, but the flat wasn't long enough to need a running start, so she had to catch herself, palms against the door, chest heaving, before she could work the lock and latch and swing the door open wide.
Greg's head was lolling on his neck like a cut sunflower, too heavy even for its thick stem, but he seemed to be trying to lift his head to make eye contact with her and smile reassuringly. Doctor Watson, holding him up, didn't bother trying to placate her; he just moved in, pulling Greg along with him, and got them into the flat and on the sofa before she could do much more than blink at the tall, spare figure of Sherlock Holmes, perfect from his tousled crown of hair to the expensive shine of his shoes. The leather of his gloves creaked as he flexed his fingers and the sound was like an admission of guilt; there was all too short a line to be drawn between one of Holmes' so-called brilliant ideas and her husband bleeding on the blanket she'd had since she was twelve years old.
She turned, uncaring that she was offering Holmes only her back, and saw that she'd left the stove on. Flying over to turn off the burners didn't leave her with enough time to get her voice under control, and it showed when she ventured, "Doctor Watson?"
He had a smile comforting enough to draw her gaze away from the scarlet streaking down Greg's too-pale arm. "Call me John," he said, voice kind, and set about fixing her husband, hands steady and deft and gentle enough that she didn't see Greg's brow wrinkle once.
Vee would have been happy to put Greg back on the sofa, now divested of the bloodied blanket, and feed him there while he watched TV, but Greg was the one with all of the rules about proper mealtime etiquette, one of which was that there was to be no TV, no papers, no books, no work; he said he got enough of trying to eat over cases at work and when he got home all he wanted was a hot meal to eat and her to look at.
Even though the table was exactly the wrong height for him to be able to rest his bandaged arm comfortably on its surface, Greg still insisted on sitting there, as if that would be enough to convince her that he was just fine. She took her cues from the anxious frown John wore instead, watching as he unobtrusively guided Greg to his chair and got him settled. Not a pin-scratch frown, but a proper furrow; he had a face made for marble. Right. John was going to be her ally, whether he knew it or not. "Please stay," she said, and he looked up, startled, worried lines fading from his face.
She liked that he didn't bother to protest, that he understood that the trouble it would take to dish up an extra plate of food would be amply repaid by his expert eye on Greg, who was already looking more than a little drawn. John drew up a chair for himself and sat where he could keep watch. "Actually," he said, popping back up, "could I –? It's just I don't want to get this anywhere else." He gestured at the blood painting his jumper and trousers.
"Green bedroom, second drawer in the dresser," she said, nodding approvingly when he came padding back in his socks, wearing only his own t-shirt – RAMC stitched over the pocket – and Greg's oldest pair of pyjama bottoms, rolled several times at the waist to keep the legs short enough that John could walk unimpeded and also to make the waistband a little snugger; without his jumper providing misleading bulk, John was thin in a way that suggested illness rather than fitness. Despite the sight, she grinned at how crisp the fabric was – those pyjamas had lain in that dresser drawer for years, since neither she nor Greg had ever confided in either of his sisters that he preferred to sleep naked, wrapped around her.
Vee got the food on the table and let John serve himself. As she'd suspected, he went not for the mild dishes she made to accommodate Greg's palate but the stuff she'd grown up eating, spicy enough to sear taste buds and get the nose and eyes running. The sight of him happily devouring everything in front of him made her get up and head for the fridge, seeking out one of the glass jars that she kept screwed tightly shut. His eyes brightened when he caught sight of the fluorescent orange and maroon contents of the jar; she handed it to him so that he could twist off the top and he inhaled the released aroma reverently. Greg started to choke just from the scent, and she and John grinned conspiratorially at each other. "Lemon?" he guessed.
"Mango," she corrected, and dropped a few pieces of the pickle on his plate. She fished out another with a fork and bit into it with gusto. John raised an eyebrow as if to say he was impressed but not about to be fooled into a pissing contest with her.
"Two lunatics," Greg said with a tired smile. "Fantastic."
Her pleading eyes had never worked on anyone but Greg, but John didn't even make her make the attempt. Without exactly consulting either of them, he accompanied Greg to the sofa and put in the DVD Greg was apparently keen to watch. There wasn't much room between them – the sofa was small enough to foster snuggling when she and Greg were on it together – and if John managed to take advantage of the proximity to check Greg's forehead for fever, she wasn't about to interrupt her washing up to draw anyone's attention to that fact.
By the time she'd finished with the dishes and transferred the leftovers into colour-coded containers, the two of them were giggling like primary-schoolers at The Simpsons. Each of them apparently cherished the belief that his own impression of various characters was world-class, and what began as a friendly competition soon degenerated into name-calling as comparisons were drawn to Dr. Hibbert (and his atrocious jumpers) and Chief Wiggum (and his atrocious intellect). She stood in front of them, hands on her hips, and while they both automatically shifted sideways and craned their necks to see around her, soon the point she was silently making sunk in and they sank back, chastened. She'd hardly turned to go when the giggling started up again.