Some unapologetic angst and a dose of old fashioned h/c. (Also a couple of naughty words - well, John was in the army - and some non-graphic injuries).
John drops the mug, hot tea splashing over his fingers. Broken china skitters across the kitchen floor. Outside, someone’s screaming.
There’s a siren. No, it’s a car alarm. And John’s running, pounding down the stairs.
“Move it!” Carter yells, waving them on as they race across the dirt toward the Chinook. Its blades are already whipping up a sandstorm, and John’s not got his goggles on yet.
“Fuck,” he curses, fumbling as he runs.
“Jesus,” Evans shouts, pacing him easily with her long-legged stride. “He’s in a shitty mood today.”
John grins. “When isn’t he?”
They strap in, adrenaline pounding in time with the chopper blades. “Did you hear what it is?”
“IED,” she says, cinching her straps tight. “Two casualties. North-east of Sangin.”
“Not yet.” She shrugs. “Hey? What’s going to happen? Tomorrow’s my birthday.”
John smiles. “You’re a bloody jinx, Evans.”
“I’m your lucky charm, and don’t forget it.”
His answer is swamped by the engine noise as the pilot takes off and they swoop into the air, swinging around over Camp Bastion and out into the wild.
He almost runs into Mrs Hudson. “John?” she says as he manhandles her out of the way. “What was that?”
“Stay here. Stay inside.” Flinging open the door he dashes out, into chaos.
Several things hit him at once – the cab, front and back doors gaping open. A teenage girl with her hands over her mouth, screaming and screaming. A clot of panicking people and someone motionless on the ground.
“Does anyone know first aid?” A man, phone in one hand, is casting around with wild eyes. “Does anyone know first aid?”
Ghosts assault him and for a moment he’s frozen. He can smell the dust, feel the heat. Far away, he can hear the phantom scream of an incoming rocket piercing the desert sky.
Not this, he thinks. Not this again.
And then he’s moving through the cold November morning, the low sun slanting into his eyes as he pushes his way through the crowd. “I’m a doctor,” he barks. “Let me through.”
The crowd pulls back, simply a blur. They don’t matter. He sees only what’s important, the world in the sharpest possible focus. And he sees it all at once. There’s a man down, lying still on the pavement. The cab driver is hovering over him, ashen, not daring to touch.
“Someone shot him.”
He doesn’t know who speaks, doesn’t care. Redundant information. The casualty’s conscious, long fingers plucking feebly at his coat. John notices all this in the exact same moment he recognises the milk-white face.
It feels like a blow to the gut, stealing his breath. But only for an instant. Training kicks in, blanks out everything else - nothing but Captain John Watson and the job remains. He can smell cordite and diesel oil, drops to his knees and expects it to be sand, not the cold winter pavement.
“Where are you hit?” He grabs Sherlock’s chin in the fingers of one hand. His face is colourless, eyes unfocused. “Sherlock, tell me where you’re hit.”
Sherlock blinks. “John?” His breathing is fast and shallow. There’s blood on his lips.
“Stay still.” He pulls back Sherlock’s scarf and coat, revealing crimson blooms against the crisp white shirt. He’s got no gloves. Doesn’t matter. He yanks back the jacket, buttons pop from the shirt. The entry point is the left upper sternal border and there’s a deadly hiss coming from the wound. He puts his palm over it, presses down. Sherlock curses and grabs at his wrist.
John looks up, clocks the faces watching him. “You,” he says to the man shouting for first aid. “Name?”
“Call an ambulance, Mick. Baker Street, 221b. Got it?”
Mick nods and stabs at his phone with shaking fingers.
“John…” Sherlock’s hand falls limp against his own. It feels cold, bloodless.
“It’s okay,” John says. “It’s going to be okay.” Except that Sherlock is already cyanotic and there are flecks of blood on his lips.
“Bel…” Sherlock coughs. “John, Bel…”
John ignores him, scans the crowd. The screaming teen is shaking like a leaf – no use. The cabby’s in shock – no use. He sees a sturdy middle-aged woman, shopping in one hand, put her arm around the screaming girl. “You,” John says, pointing at the woman. “Leave her, come here.”
The woman glances around.
“Yes, you. Come here.”
“What can I do?” she says. It’s a good start.
“I need your bag.” He gestures to her shopping. “The carrier bag.”
She’s confused for a moment and he snatches it from her, upending half of Tescos all over the pavement. “Squeamish about blood?”
“I don’t think so,” she says, a tremor in her voice. “I’ve had three kids.”
He almost smiles at that. “Come here.” He takes the plastic bag in his hands and smoothes it over the wound on Sherlock’s chest. “I need you to hold this in place, like this. Leave one side open. Got it?”
Her hands tremble, but she doesn’t hesitate as she puts her hands over the plastic bag. It flutters with Sherlock’s escaping breath.
“Press firmly,” he says. “You’re keeping him alive.”
“Baker Street,” Mick is saying into the phone, one hand over his ear to block out the traffic and the panic. Cars are hooting, impatient in the growing jam. The girl’s still screaming. “Outside a sandwich shop. Um, Snappy Sandwiches? It’s—”
“It’s 221,” John barks, then holds out his hand. “Give me the phone.”
Fingers slippery with blood, he puts the phone to his ear. “Dispatch? My name is Doctor John Watson. We’re outside 221b Baker Street, on the left coming from Marylebone. Tell the MTF it’s a gunshot wound to the chest, suspected pneumothorax.”
“MTF?” the voice on the other end of the phone is distant, tinny.
“Paramedics,” he amends, shoving the phone back at Mick. To the woman he says, “Keep that over the wound, I’m going to roll him onto his side – toward you.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“Yeah. The helicopter’s on its way.”
“An air ambulance?” she says, shuffling sideways as he crouches next to her, pulling Sherlock’s arm toward him. “Where will they land that?”
“What?” He tugs gently, and Sherlock mutters between shallow breaths as he rolls.
“You said a helicopter was—”
“Ambulance,” he snaps, embarrassed. “I meant ambulance.”
“John?” Sherlock’s voice is a gasping whisper, he can only hear it because he’s so close.
“It’s okay, the ambulance is coming.”
“I know. I’ll call Mycroft.”
“No!” He stirs in protest and the woman’s hands slip over his chest.
“Stay still!” John barks. In the distance he can hear sirens. But there are always sirens in London. They sweep past the end of the road and don’t stop.
“Brother,” Sherlock says again, moving his head. His voice is vague, fading. “Tell…”
“It’s going to be okay,” John says. He runs a hand over Sherlock’s back, down his side, and can’t find an exit wound. That’s good – less blood loss – and bad, depending on where the bullet’s lodged. He cups his hand to Sherlock’s cheek, leaves bloody fingerprints on his blue-tinged skin. “You’re going to be okay…”
“You’re going to be okay,” he tells the lad. “We’re getting you out of here.”
It’s a lie, though. Death haunts those fading eyes. Child’s eyes, in a boy’s face. A child dying for Queen and country, thousands of miles from home. John feels sick, angry and sick.
There’s a sob in the lad’s throat, raspy and wet. “I want my mum.”
John draws him closer, sheltering him as gunfire screams overhead. Holding him tight. “I know, son,” he says, eyes burning. He strokes a hand over the boy’s clammy, gritty forehead. “You’ll be home soon.”
And then the rockets come...
There’s a disturbance, a ripple in the crowd.
John’s never been so glad to see the police, all swagger in their stab-vests and utility belts. Another siren draws closer, long wails breaking into impatient chirrups as it tries to nose through the traffic-clogged street.
“Move back,” a PC barks, shoving the crowd away. “Give them some room.”
The on-lookers retreat, letting the sun shine down, bright against the white and scarlet of Sherlock’s shirt.
Sherlock’s shirt. John swallows a surge of panic, his head swimming like a greenhorn nurse in theatre.
“Move your car!” someone shouts from behind him. John blinks, cranes his neck to see an ambulance stalled, lights flashing, and paramedics spilling out, weaving through the crowd.
“Let them through,” a policewoman snaps. “Get back!”
And then they’re there, edging the woman out of the way – he didn’t even ask her name – and taking over.
“It’s a pnumorthorax,” John says, but his voice sounds weird. Rough and not his own. “Patient’s cyanotic. Give me a fourteen gauge—”
“You’re a doctor?” the paramedic says, calm and efficient. She looks about twelve and keeps her eyes down when she speaks, her latex-clad hand gingerly peeling away the Tesco bag.
She nods. “My brother’s in the army. Royal Irish.”
“I need a fourteen-gauge—”
“You need to leave it to us, doc.” She opens her bag, then glances past John’s shoulder to say, “We’ll need the spine board and a large bore saline IV.”
“No,” John says. “You need to deal with the—”
“Doc,” she smiles, but it’s stretched thin. “Let me do my job, okay? We’re going to get your friend to the hospital.”
There’s a hand on his shoulder, another paramedic behind him. Big, fortyish, competent. “I’ll take it from here, mate,” he says, nudging John out of the way as he starts to set up the IV. “He’ll be okay, you did well.”
You did well?
He wants to protest. He wants to yell ‘I’ve handled more fucking traumas than you’ll ever see!’ But he can’t because there’s a ringing in his ears and he ducks, instinctively, against the backwash of the incoming Chinook. Someone bumps his shoulder and all he can see is—
Evans, down and bleeding out. Bleeding into the sand next to the lad who lost his legs. He tries to reach her, crawling on his belly, but he’s so fucking scared and the rocket-blast left his whole head ringing and all he can hear is wild white noise and the rattle of gunfire, and Carter’s yelling but he can’t make out the words and then an impact knocks him sideways, twisting, landing him flat on his back and there’s pain and screaming, and he thinks it might be him, and his shoulder’s on fire and the world’s turning white and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, he can’t—
“John?” There’s a hand on his arm. “John, what’s going on? Is that Sherlock?”
He gasps at the cold air in his lungs, at the sudden dislocation, and his knees sag. Mrs Hudson has to hold him up. He hasn’t flashed back like that in months. Ever, maybe.
He shivers, cold sweat chilling him in the cold nip of November.
He wipes a hand over his face, tries to remember himself. “Yes,” he says, half there and half lost. “Um, he was shot.”
Sherlock was shot. He feels light-headed, strange.
“Oh my goodness!” Her hands fly to her mouth in horror. “Outside our house?”
He touches Mrs Hudson’s arm, grounding himself as much as comforting her. “I’ll go with him to the hospital,” he says, blinking in this bright, weird reality. “I should go with him.”
But the paramedics have other ideas. “Are you family?” they ask as he tries to climb in after the gurney.
He can see Sherlock in the rig, intubated and with a saline IV. They’ve put in a chest tube too. Good.
“Um,” John says. “I’m his brother.”
They don’t look convinced, but don’t argue either. He knows what they think and doesn’t care as he squashes into the back of the ambulance. He drops his head into his hands, safer that way. He’s still raw, shaking from the flashback and the shock of seeing Sherlock— The last thing he wants to do is faint. Or cry.
“Did you see what happened?” the paramedic asks, voice pitched to be neutral. He’s used that voice himself, on the guys with the thousand yard stare. “The police will need to talk to you if you did.”
“I just heard a gunshot,” John says, staring at the corrugated floor. His voice is shaking, threatening to break. He swallows. “I, um, I was in the kitchen.”
“Here you go, love.” The woman drapes a blanket over his shoulders. “You’re in shock.”
“Yeah.” She doesn’t know the half of it.
They go to University College Hospital and it somehow takes forever and five minutes. John jogs along behind as they rush the gurney into A&E, but he can only go so far before there’s a hand on his arm and he’s told ‘no further’.
“I’m a doctor,” he explains to the nurse, but without much conviction because he’s heard it himself and he knows it doesn’t matter. He’s not a doctor here. And anyway, the police need to talk to him.
They’re only a minute behind the ambulance, a sturdy copper taking him to one side and flipping open his notebook. He looks like he’s relishing the drama. John’s angry at first; how could anyone be enjoying this? Then he recognises his own hypocrisy and sinks down into a plastic chair, closing his eyes.
It’s over. Evans is dead before they’re evacuated, her bloodless face the last thing he sees when they zip shut the body bag. He turns away, stomach lurching as the helicopter banks. Carter’s hooking him up to an IV, face like carved granite. And something’s broken beyond repair. John closes his eyes…
“I need to take your name, sir.” The PC sounds like something from The Bill and he wonders if they’re trained to talk like that in the Met.
“Watson,” he says. “John Watson.”
“And your address?”
“221b Baker Street, NW1.”
“And how do you know the victim?”
“The victim?” He hates how impersonal it sounds – knows it’s exactly the word Sherlock would use. He opens his eyes, looks directly at the policeman. “He’s a friend,” he says. “We share a flat.”
PC Plod nods and writes something down. “What’s his name, sir?”
Eyebrows lift, and John’s not sure if it’s because he recognises the name or if he just thinks it’s strange. “And can you think of any reason why someone might want to harm Mr Holmes?”
“I can think of about a hundred.”
Plod’s gaze sharpens. “Go on…?”
John sighs. “He’s a…kind of private detective. He’s pissed a few people off.” He scratches a hand through his hair, only noticing the drying blood on his fingers when he drops his hand back into his lap. “Listen, could you contact DI Lestrade? He’ll probably want to know about this.”
Plod doesn’t like being upstaged. “Lestrade?”
“He’s with CID.”
“He would be,” Plod sniffs. “I just need to ask you a couple more questions first, sir. Can you tell me what you—?”
“John.” The cut-glass accent slices through the noise of the busy hospital. “Tell me everything.”
Relieved, John gets up. “Mycroft, thank God. But how did you—? Never mind.”
“I suppose this was the inevitable consequence of my brother’s little hobby,” Mycroft sighs, glancing around in disdain. Then he fixes John with an eviscerating look. “What do you know?”
“Well, it was a single gunshot wound to the chest, but I’m afraid it punctured his—”
“Not that,” Mycroft says with an impatient wave of his hand. “What do you know about the gunman?”
John blinks. “Um. Nothing. I— I was in the flat, I heard a gunshot and when I got out he was just—”
“Where had he been this morning?”
Mycroft’s eyes narrow in displeasure. “Was he conscious?”
“Yes, more or less.”
“And did he say anything about the shooter?”
“No. He was asking for you, that’s all.”
“For me?” There’s that familiar, derisive smile. “Unlikely. What did he say? Be precise.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Plod interrupts, “but who are you?”
Mycroft looks at the man as if he were something very dull crawling about in a petri dish. “Think of me as the person your boss turns to when he’s in trouble. And by ‘your boss’, I mean the Home Secretary.” His penetrating gaze returns to John. “Go on.”
John shakes his head, it feels too full, stuffed with sand and dirt. All he can see is the crimson bloom on Sherlock’s shirt, his ashen lips. “I don’t know,” he says. “I had other things on my mind.”
Mycroft tuts. “Disappointing.”
“Really?” John snaps. “Because those ‘other things’ included saving your brother’s life!”
Mycroft doesn’t answer, he certainly doesn’t say thank you. He just gets out his phone and dials. He walks away to speak, so John can’t hear. Not that he wants to. He slumps back into the plastic chair and glances up at the policeman. “He’s an arse,” he explains, with a nod toward Mycroft. “But I think he might actually run the country. Also, he’s Sherlock’s brother.”
The PC makes a note, hesitates, then says, “I’ll see about contacting that DI Lestrade of yours, sir.”
John just nods. He’d hand this case over too, if he could.
After the PC’s retreated, he’s left alone. More or less alone, with Mycroft stalking about near the long window and half a dozen of his less-than-subtle goons watching the doors. He supposes it’s normal in the Holmes family to care more about the perpetrator than the victim of a crime, even when the victim is family. That’s where generations of in-breeding and stiff upper lips gets you – somewhere between cold and frozen bloody solid.
But while Mycroft may be too well-bred to give a shit, John isn’t and he jumps up when a doctor comes back out through the double doors. He tries to find answers in the man’s face, but his brain is too dislocated and all he can see is the doctor’s professional veneer. “Mr Watson?” he says, glancing between John and Mycroft.
“That’s me,” John says. “How is he? What’s happening?”
“He’s stable,” the doctor says. “We’ve taken a chest x-ray and located the bullet. In gunshot wounds, the bullet can often travel—”
“I know,” John says. “I’m a doctor. RAMC.”
“Ah. Well, in that case…” He explains and John listens, absorbing the details and allowing himself to breathe out a little. The damage could have been a lot worse. The bullet could have made mincemeat of any number of organs as it tore through his body. Instead it’s just nicked a lung and cracked two ribs.
“You’ll need to do a surgical repair?”
The doctor nods. “We’re prepping him for surgery now.” He pauses and adds, “Lucky you were there, Doctor Watson.”
John doesn’t answer. He doesn’t feel lucky.
“You were lucky,” Harry tells him when she comes to visit.
Her breath smells of mints, her eyes are bloodshot. He doesn’t think she realises it’s obvious she’s been drinking. It’s not even lunch time yet.
“And thank God it’s over now, you won’t have to go back.”
“It’s not over,” he says.
She looks at him, then rummages through her bag. “Can I smoke in here?”
“It’s a hospital,” he points out. “So probably not.”
“I’ll open a window.” She lights up, half leaning out of the window, and takes a long drag. “They won’t send you back,” she says, as if she has some inside knowledge about army deployment. Or about him. “They can’t.”
He makes a sound halfway between a laugh and a grunt.
She takes another drag. “Jesus, John. You got shot in the shoulder but you’re walking with a bloody limp! Even I can see you’re fucked up.”
“I hurt my leg when I fell,” he says, a band tightening around his chest and head. “It’s bruising.”
She snorts, blows a long stream of smoke out into the bright spring morning. “I can’t believe you want to go back there.”
“I don’t want to--” He shakes his head, breathing through the frustration. “People died, Harry.” Jenny Evans died, she died the day before her twenty-sixth birthday and I couldn’t bloody save her. “Every single day, people are dying. And I can save them. I can make a difference.”
She looks at him, sharp-eyed despite the vodka, then shakes her head. “Do you have any idea what you’ve put Mum through?”
Do you? he wants to say, but he never was as cruel as his sister. He just shakes his head and looks out through the window: blue sky and the bright green of spring, the distant sound of children playing, the low hum of traffic. This doesn’t feel like his world anymore, he doesn’t belong here.
“Fine,” she says, stubbing out her cigarette on the windowsill. “I’m not surprised. You never did give a shit about the rest of us.”
“That’s not true.”
She ignores him, hooks her bag over her shoulder. “They won’t send you back, John,” she says. “It’s over. You can’t hide in the Army anymore, you’re going to have to come back and actually deal with the real world.”
“Ironic,” he says, “coming from you.”
And that’s the last thing he says to her for the next three months.
It’s late before he’s allowed in to see Sherlock. Outside it’s been dark for hours, autumn running fast toward winter. Mrs Hudson had been in earlier, bringing sandwiches and a flask of tea. She’d sat with him and patted his arm, tutting about the state of the world. “People shooting each other in the street. It’s like we’re living in New York, or something.”
Mycroft leaves at five, quite literally disappearing into the sunset. “Tell my brother to pay more attention next time,” he says over his shoulder. “He should have expected this.”
“Don’t you want to see him?” John’s astonished.
Mycroft just smiles. “My dear John, I already have.”
But it isn’t until closer to nine that John is allowed in to the ICU. The antiseptic smell, the squeak of his shoes on the floors, are discordantly familiar. It takes him a moment to understand why it feels wrong; this is the first time he’s stood here, on this side of the fence. Hospitals are usually places of work, not places of fear and anxiety. Not for him, not normally.
From the careful look the ward sister gives him – and the fact that he is the only visitor – he suspects that Mycroft has had a hand in this. He dares not imagine what the staff have been told – anything from John being Sherlock’s civil partner to his MI6 bodyguard. Potentially, both.
Sherlock’s bed is at the end of the six-bed ward, next to the wall. John takes a seat next to him, watching. Sherlock is sleeping. He has a chest tube in but is breathing on his own, IV fluids and pain meds dripping into his arm. Lucky, John thinks. Then corrects himself. Bloody unlucky.
He’d like to take a look at Sherlock’s chart, but thinks he’s probably being a little OCD about it. No reason they can’t do the job as well as he, better most likely, although—
“Don’t tell Mycroft.”
“Bloody hell!” He almost jumps out of the chair. “I thought you were asleep.”
Sherlock opens his eyes a fraction, heavy lidded. His voice is a rasp. “Almost.”
Recovering, John leans closer. “How do you feel?”
“How do you think?”
John shrugs, acknowledging the point. Stupid question. “Do you remember anything?”
“Everything.” He gives a small smile.
John smiles too, he can’t help himself. It’s a giddy release, to hear him talking. He scrubs his hands across his face. “Bloody hell, what a day.”
He looks up. “Yeah?”
Sherlock lifts a hand, barely, and makes a beckoning gesture. John leans closer and Sherlock whispers. “Don’t tell Mycroft...”
“He already knows. Hasn’t he been in to see you?”
Sherlock frowns. “No. About the gunman.”
“The gunman? Sherlock, now’s not exactly the time to be—”
“It was the brother,” Sherlock says, his voice scratchy. He coughs and grimaces at the pain. John glances up toward the ward sister; she’s watching them both with a frown.
“Shh,” John says, putting a quelling hand on Sherlock’s arm. “We can do this later.”
“The Belarus case,” Sherlock insists. “It was the brother. Revenge. Tell Lestrade…” Another cough and the ward sister is on her feet.
“Okay,” John capitulates, “I’ll tell Lestrade. Now shut up, unless you want to go back into surgery.”
Sherlock takes a couple of breaths, eyes closed. Gradually his face relaxes. The ward sister is still on her feet, still watching, but is staying next to her desk. For now.
John sits, hand on Sherlock’s arm, until he’s sure – almost sure – he’s asleep. His own exhaustion is sweeping over him too, a giant wave that’s been building all day, unleashed now by relief. Sherlock’s going to be okay. It’s time to go home, time to sleep.
He stands, gives Sherlock’s arm a squeeze, then turns away.
But the tips of his fingers are caught, Sherlock’s weak grip fumbling over his hand. “John?”
He turns back and Sherlock’s watching him, drowsy beneath heavy lids, but his gaze intent. When he speaks, it’s an earnest whisper. “In Arduis Fidelis, John.”
It’s both gratitude and a promise, an oath. Something catches in John’s throat and he has to blink fast, coughing before he can reply. “Yeah,” he nods, squeezing Sherlock’s hand. “Yeah.” Beneath his fingernails he can still see traces of dried blood. “Now get some bloody sleep, will you?”
Sherlock smiles and after a minute or two his breathing deepens and his grasp on John’s fingers slackens to nothing. John lets go, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets. After watching him a moment longer he turns to leave, passing the ward sister still busy at her desk. “Good luck,” he offers, with an apologetic smile she won’t understand. Yet.
On the way out he finds Lestrade pacing the corridor and passes on Sherlock’s message about the case he turned down in Belarus. Genuinely affected, Lestrade shakes his head. “Bloody hell, you’ve had a crappy day.”
But John just shrugs, heart inexplicably light. “Not so bad, in the end.”
Not so bad to find here, in London, what he’d thought lost forever in the brutal Afghan desert – comradeship, loyalty, and purpose.
That night he sleeps soundly in the quiet flat, untroubled by dreams for the first time in months.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! :)
In Arduis Fidelis is the motto of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and means ‘Faithful in Adversity’.