Summary: Sherlock may be the common denominator for Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade and Molly, but when a routine surgery briefly takes John out of commission, it becomes apparent that someone else is responsible for drawing them together. Takes place sometime after TGG and before THoB.
This introspective piece has two different sources of inspiration: first, the Christmas party scene in ASiB. Apart from Jeanette (AKA "the boring teacher"), the little gathering at 221b was made up of the main characters, and it occurred to me that, while Mrs. Hudson, Molly and Lestrade might not have gotten to know each other if it hadn't been for Sherlock, John was probably the one who had arranged the get-together, taking their casual association to a deeper level. It got me thinking that, though Sherlock is the one around whom they flock and on whom they focus their attention, John is the one who, in his own quiet, unobtrusive way, ties them together into a sort of pseudo-family.
The second source of inspiration comes from BlueSkye12, who has written a very compelling series of stories focusing on the short-term and potential long-term effects that John might experience from being shot – something the show doesn't go into, but that BlueSkye12 handles in a beautifully understated way that doesn't mess with the show's canon while staying realistically true to the ramifications of a career-ending injury such as John suffered. I'm dedicating this one to her. :-)
"Okay, gimme," Lestrade said somewhat impatiently from where he stood at the foot of the examination table.
Sherlock straightened up from inspecting the body, sliding his magnifier closed. He opened his mouth to address John first, then froze as his eyes fell on the conspicuously empty space across the table. He blinked, nonplussed. He knew John wasn't there, felt his absence as a constant, uncomfortable wrongness, the way he might feel if he'd left his coat behind. Knowing it and feeling it didn't stop Sherlock from forgetting it, though – probably in part because he still kept up a running commentary to his friend in the privacy of his own head.
Sherlock gave Lestrade a sidewise glance. The DI hadn't seemed to sense anything amiss, but Molly, who was standing next to him, wore a slight frown. She saw more than Sherlock generally gave her credit for, particularly where he – and matters of the heart – were concerned, and Sherlock hastily tried to cover his momentary lapse by spinning off a string of rapid-fire deductions that Lestrade did his best to jot down (a trick he'd copied from John). He was just opening his mouth to ask a question when two audible text alerts (his own and Sherlock's) sounded, simultaneous with a quiet buzz from Molly's phone (which was apparently set to vibrate only).
Sherlock resisted the knee-jerk urge to demand that John hand him his phone and retrieved it from his pocket himself. The text was from Mike Stamford. Sherlock opened it at once.
Procedure went well, John came thru fine. In recovery, will move him to gen ward in 1-2 hrs.
Sherlock released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and looked up, tucking the phone back into his pocket. Lestrade and Molly were both looking at their own phones. Lestrade huffed a sigh of relief and glanced at Molly, who was beaming.
"Well, that's good to hear…I take it you're on Mike's distribution list too, Molly?" the gravelly voiced DI asked.
"Yes, he said he'd let me know when John was out of surgery. I'm glad it went all right."
"Well, and why wouldn't it," Sherlock asked crossly, bending over the body once again. "John has had several operations on his wounded shoulder, and this one was, as he explained it, a relatively simple procedure to remove a temporary fixation plate."
"Well, it's the first operation – and hopefully the last – since we've known him, and I think he was downplaying it, myself. He's been through hell with that shoulder," Lestrade replied, with an unconscious sympathetic wince.
Sherlock straightened again suddenly as a pleasant thought occurred to him. "I asked John to retain the plate for me, since he won't be needing it anymore…I hope he remembered to tell the surgeon."
Molly looked alarmed. "I'm…I'm not sure that's allowed, Sherlock."
Lestrade guffawed. "C'mon Sherlock, let's get on with this…maybe by the time we're done John'll be settled in the ward and we can pop in and say hello. I can give you and Mrs. Hudson a lift back to Baker Street, too, if you like."
Sherlock snorted, bending over the body once again. "Mrs. Hudson can ride in a police car if she likes, Lestrade. I'll get a cab."
He tried to sound dismissive, but he couldn't quite keep the smile off his face, which annoyed him. It had been a simple procedure, after all; there really had never been anything to worry about…this odd sense of relief he felt at knowing it was all over and that John was all right (of course he's all right…there was never any question about it!) was foolish.
Sherlock wasn't putting on nearly as convincing an act as he probably thought he was, Lestrade thought – at least, not to the detective inspector, who had known him for some time. The younger man had been agitated and slightly off-balance all day, starting to speak to John and/or looking for him before catching himself, clearly anxious about his friend's well-being for all his pretended indifference. For that matter, Lestrade was anxious, too, even though John had reassured them that this procedure was simple enough. But he had quickly come to like the unassuming retired army doctor with the careful smile. Though Lestrade sensed there was more to him – a lot more – than met the eye, John was likeable and easy to get along with. Unlike the antisocial Sherlock, John would occasionally join Lestrade, sometimes with other Yarders, for a pint or two or to follow a match. What intrigued Lestrade most about John, however, was how neatly he seemed to fit with Sherlock, in a way no one else ever had. Lestrade had never thought he'd see the day when Sherlock Holmes would choose to be friends with someone, nor the day when someone would voluntarily prefer the company of Sherlock. Somehow, though, these two clicked, and Lestrade would have liked John for no other reason than that he suspected that this was the man who would take the difficult consulting detective from great to good.
But even if John and Sherlock had not become fast friends it would have been hard not to like the doctor, Lestrade thought, quickening his pace to match Sherlock's as they made their way through the hospital hallway towards John's room. Hell, even Donovan liked John, and she didn't easily warm up to many people, nor was she inclined to like someone who liked Sherlock Holmes. But she liked John, though, Lestrade suspected, she didn't quite respect him. More fool her, the DI thought as they entered John's ward and made their way down the row of cubicles to John's, which the nurse at the door had told them was at the far end of the room. She's used to digging deep, but in John's case she's not looking deep enough…there's a lot more to this bloke than what shows on the surface.
Lestrade's musings stuttered to a halt as they rounded the partially drawn curtain that afforded John's space some privacy.
Both Lestrade and Sherlock came to a sudden halt. Bloody hell, the DI thought. He called this procedure simple?!
John was lying on his back, his head resting against two pillows. His features were drawn and he was very pale. His eyes were closed, and the lids appeared to be slightly bruised. The head of the bed was raised slightly. The sheet and a thin, pale blue blanket were drawn up just over where his ribs began. His left arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged, the arm folded clumsily across his chest like a broken wing and strapped in place, immoble. His right arm rested straight down at his side, atop the bedding. An IV line was inserted into the back of his hand, taped in place. Lestrade saw what appeared to be a rather unusually wide, white band around John's right wrist – patient ID bracelet? He wondered. It didn't look quite right...
Mrs. Hudson was sitting in a very uncomfortable-looking plastic chair on John's right side. She did not appear to have noticed Lestrade or Sherlock; her eyes were on the magazine she held in her right hand. Her left hand rested on the bed, and Lestrade smiled a little when he saw that her fingers were entwined with John's.
A sudden, sharp intake of breath to his left drew Lestrade's eyes to Sherlock. To his surprise, the detective wore a fierce, almost feral expression, glaring at John's and Mrs. Hudson's joined hands. "What the hell–" he hissed angrily, and strode into the cubicle, being careful not to step too loudly and disturb the sleeping patient, but moving purposefully towards Mrs. Hudson.
Bloody hell, is he jealous? Lestrade thought bewilderedly as Mrs. Hudson quickly yet carefully disengaged her hand from John's. But then he saw that Sherlock was fumbling at the ID bracelet, tugging at it with his long, nervous fingers. Lestrade's puzzlement increased until he heard the soft, tearing rrrrriiip of Velcro coming undone, and then he understood.
The white band was not a patient ID bracelet. It was a restraint.
Sherlock spun to face his landlady, his coat whirling out and around him. "You let them, Mrs. Hudson?" he whispered furiously as he stepped to the foot of the bed and flung the blankets up over John's shins, exposing his bare feet. Sure enough, there were restraints binding the doctor's ankles as well. Sherlock swore under his breath and set about removing them.
"Oh, Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson said softly. Her eyes were mournful. "You weren't here, you didn't see. They were afraid he'd hurt himself. I was afraid he'd hurt himself."
"He got a bit combative when he was coming round from the anesthesia," explained a low voice from behind Lestrade. The detective inspector turned and found a portly, kind-faced, bespectacled man dressed in a white lab coat standing next to him. He was holding a chart in one hand.
"Mike, good to see you, mate," Lestrade said, offering his hand to the doctor. A nice bloke, Mike – Greg had seen him in passing when visiting the morgue at Bart's, but he'd only got to know the man when John began bringing him along on pub nights. "Thanks for the text updates, yeah?"
"My pleasure, Greg. I've been looking in on John between classes throughout the day. Thought I'd stop by once more before I headed home." He looked past Lestrade to the quiet, still figure in the hospital bed.
"What do you mean by 'combative?' That doesn't sound like John," Lestrade murmured.
Mike grunted. "It's not uncommon with combat veterans. Particularly if they've been wounded in action. And John's surgery was right in the area where he'd been hit originally…combine that with his PTSD, and…well, it was to be expected, I suppose."
"Should his highness be doing that, then?" Greg asked, nodding towards Sherlock (though he could understand it – it made Greg's own stomach twist in an odd way to see their friend strapped down like that). Sherlock had covered John's newly freed feet and was now moving the blankets further down the doctor's waist, exposing another restraint which Sherlock immediately began to unfasten without taking any notice of Dr. Stamford.
"He should be all right now," Mike said reassuringly, stepping past Lestrade to the foot of John's bed. "They'd have removed them sooner, but he's been out of it most of the afternoon and they didn't want to disturb him." A look of fond sympathy came over his round face as he looked at his old school chum, and he gently took hold of John's left foot through the blankets. "You've had a rough old time of it, haven't you mate?" he said softly. He gave John's foot a light squeeze, then let it go with a quick pat and turned away. John did not stir at all.
"Good to see you, Greg. If John wakes up before you go, let him know I'll be around tomorrow. 'Night, Sherlock." He took off down the aisle without waiting for an answer from Sherlock – which was just as well, for Sherlock, in the process of drawing the covers back up over John's bare torso now that the restraints were off, didn't even bother to look up.
As Greg stepped further into the cubicle, there was a soft tap on the metal curtain frame. He turned to see Molly Hooper peering in.
"Just thought I'd pop in before I went home…how is he, then?" she whispered, looking from Sherlock to Mrs. Hudson to Lestrade, then back to Sherlock.
"The poor dear came through surgery very well, his doctor said," Mrs. Hudson replied in a low voice. "The removed the plate and some scar tissue, too, which they hope will give him a better range of motion after he's had some more physical therapy." She sighed then, and looked sadly back down at John. "They said there's nothing that can be done about the nerve damage in his hand, though…that it shouldn't keep him from being a general practitioner, but his days as a surgeon are definitely over."
"He already knew that," Sherlock broke in impatiently (though he still took care to keep his voice down). "He doesn't have time for that sort of thing anymore, anyway, now that he's my assistant."
Lestrade approached the bed. "Looks like he's well out of it. We should let him rest. Would you like a lift back to Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson?"
"That's very kind of you, dear," said Mrs. Hudson, setting aside her magazine and rising from her chair. "Coming, Sherlock?"
"I'll stay for a bit."
Mrs. Hudson nodded, then leaned down and, very gently, pressed a kiss to John's forehead. "Good night, love," she whispered. "I'll see you in the morning."
"'Night, Mum," John mumbled groggily without opening his eyes.
Mrs. Hudson's eyes at once filled with sentimental tears. "Oh!" she cried softly, and immediately leaned down to kiss John again. Molly smiled warmly, her own eyes tearing up. Greg grinned. Sherlock huffed and rolled his eyes, but anyone could see he was secretly pleased. He flung off his coat and settled into Mrs. Hudson's recently vacated chair, drawing up his feet and turning his attention to his phone.
Lestrade took Mrs. Hudson's arm in his and led her and Molly away. Once they were on the lift, Mrs. Hudson invited them both to tea; Molly accepted, and so, to his own surprise, did Greg – why not, after all, he thought; his wife was away and he had nothing else on.
As the two women chatted, it suddenly occurred to Lestrade that, while many people might assume, looking at this unlikely circle of friends, that Sherlock Holmes was the catalyst, it was actually John Watson who had brought them all together. Greg had known Sherlock for years and Molly and Mike in passing. Had John never come along, he supposed he would have met Mrs. Hudson eventually, too, as Sherlock had been bound and determined to move into Baker Street after his landlord on Montague Street had given him the push. No, Sherlock might be the sun in their little solar system, but it was John Watson, the tough little ex-soldier with the prematurely greying sandy hair, who had somehow drawn them into a tighter orbit around the turbulent detective.
He could feel it was late, even without opening his eyes. John's head rolled slowly to the right on his pillow, and he fastened a bleary gaze onto the long, blurry figure folded into the chair beside him. He blinked a bit, and Sherlock's distinct profile slowly swam into focus.
"Hey." John's voice was a cracked whisper, and he winced slightly and closed his eyes, swallowing drily.
Sherlock frowned in concern, setting his phone aside and sitting up straighter while unconsciously leaning closer. "All right?"
"Yeah," John managed, opening his eyes again. "Throat's a bit dry…they put a tube down, during."
"Can I…get you anything? A drink?"
John motioned weakly to the rolling tray by the foot of the bed with the first two fingers of his right hand. "Cup?"
The paper cup had a plastic spoon in it. When Sherlock picked it up, he saw that it was partly filled with melting ice chips. John slowly lifted his hand, but it trembled, and Sherlock gently pressed it back to his side.
"Let me." He scooped up an ice chip on the spoon, giving it a brief shake so it wouldn't drip too much. "Open," he commanded.
John raised his eyebrows, but acquiesced. Sherlock dropped the ice chip into his friend's mouth, and John closed his eyes and sucked on it a moment before swallowing it down. He breathed a huff of air out through his nose in relief and opened his eyes again.
"Better?" Sherlock asked quietly.
"Yeah," John got out. His voice did sound a bit stronger. "Thanks."
Sherlock smiled as he set down the cup and settled back onto the chair. "Don't get used to it."
John smiled back. "Wouldn't dream of it." He made a move as though to sit up himself, then winced slightly and settled back, thinking better of it. "Timeizzit?" he mumbled, closing his eyes again.
"Just gone half two."
John blinked in surprise.
"How are you able to be here? It's long past visiting hours."
Sherlock shifted in his chair, propping his feet up on John's mattress. "Mycroft does occasionally have his uses."
John chuckled a bit at this, and Sherlock smiled one of his rare, genuine smiles (the kind that held no sarcasm) that only John seemed able to draw out of him.
"Did you manage to talk the surgeon into letting you keep the plate?" he asked slyly, and John laughed outright at this, despite the fact that it made him wince when he jarred his shoulder.
"I did, you git; you can have it tomorrow," he said with a grin. "Just do me a favor and don't experiment on it when I'm around, all right? I never want to see the sodding thing again." His smile faded and he added, with just the barest trace of bitterness, "I don't need reminding that I still have plenty of hardware left in me, even if that piece is out."
Sherlock's smile faded at this, too, and for a moment the two friends sat wrapped in a pensive silence.
"I hope–" John paused. There was just the slightest quaver in his voice. He swallowed, breathed in deeply through his nose, then continued more steadily. "I really hope this one is the end of it."
Sherlock looked at him, but John wouldn't meet his eyes. "How many surgeries does this make?" He asked quietly.
"Four," John answered lowly, still not looking up. "If you don't count the initial one to save my life, that is."
There was a silence, then John shifted a bit and glanced up with his usual easy smile. "Can't complain, though," he continued bracingly. "I got to keep my arm, thank God…it was a near thing, that." His smile fell away and he shuddered involuntarily.
Sherlock also shivered at the thought of John without his dominant arm…and what such an outcome might have done to his friend psychologically.
John looked a bit embarrassed suddenly. He changed the subject then, asking Sherlock to go into detail on the case he had just solved, and as Sherlock willingly obliged him (being sure to emphasize his own brilliance as much as possible, basking in the admiration in John's eyes as he did so), it occurred to the consulting detective that this was the closest Sherlock had ever heard John come to complaining about his war wound.
Sherlock talked and talked, keeping his voice down so as not to disturb the other patients and so draw the ire of the nurses on duty, only falling silent when John's eyes drifted wearily shut and his breathing evened out as he sank back into sleep.
Sherlock studied his slumbering friend dispassionately for a moment, his keen gaze taking in subtle clues to gauge his condition. His color was rather better than it had been when Sherlock had first arrived, a sign that the anesthesia was leaving his system. The bed was hard and narrow. John would probably wake up with a sore back tomorrow. The bound arm and shoulder looked uncomfortable, and would be a nuisance to deal with while John had to wear the brace. If it were Sherlock, he would have the blasted thing off bare moments after leaving the hospital, but he knew that John, by-the-book medical professional that he was, would wear it until he was told by his own doctor that he could dispense with it (the old adage that doctors make the worst patients did not seem to apply to John Watson – if anything, his dedication to his profession and military background seemed to inspire in him a sense of duty about following the directives of his own health care providers to the letter).
Tomorrow afternoon, if all goes well, John will be released from hospital. Mycroft had offered to send a car for them, but Sherlock had made sure to accept Lestrade's invitation to pick them up instead so he wouldn't have to endure having his brother's presence in the flat (it probably won't keep Mycroft from stopping by at some point anyway, however). Mrs. Hudson will make up the sofa and ply John with tea and all manner of things to eat. John will be feeling brighter, more alert with the anesthesia completely out of his system, and happy to be out of hospital. They will watch crap telly, maybe order takeout. Sherlock will play the violin or perhaps conduct an experiment, and John might shout at Sherlock if he becomes disruptive while John is trying to sleep, but there will be no real heat behind the words. He will be pleased to be home, and Sherlock will be pleased, too, because, even though John is not noisy as far as flat mates go, the flat still seems terribly quiet and empty when he isn't there.
And that is why – even though there are any number of things he could do tonight to pass the time in 221b, Sherlock decides to stay where he is for as long as the hospital staff will allow it. He pulls out his phone again and begins scrolling through his in box, looking for new and interesting case possibilities. The soft ticking of the keys as he responds to emails seems loud in the quiet ward, but he notes that the familiar sound doesn't seem to disturb John's slumber – indeed, the furrow in his friend's brow smooths out, and he relaxes a bit more against his pillow as though he were napping in his pet armchair on Baker Street, for this, to John, has become one of the sounds of home.