Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes, Doctor John Watson and all associated characters belong to the late, great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his estate, various studios and other companies. This pastiche is completely non-profit, and only for enjoyment and entertainment.
Warnings: Non-graphic violence, dark and adult themes, very light bad language
Authors Notes: Whoowhee, this one took me for a ride! I started writing, and it just took over; but I sure had fun doing it. I do love Sherlock Holmes. I loved the books in high school and still do; I loved the Granada version and I loved the new movie as well. I seesawed back and forth about which category to put this one in, but eventually I conceded that it was probably closer to the movie than the series or the books; just because the movie also had a modern feel about it.
Oh, and does anyone else think it just a little sad and worrying that Dr Watson was an Afghanistan war veteran and we still haven't stopped waging war in that place? I did.
Sanguine Analysis by Ryuuza Kochou
Chapter One: Observations on Dr John Watson
John Watson, MD, was surprised to discover on the carrier ride home that he did not remember much about the worst day of his life. Usually when a day is at its worst, the details were etched into steel on a hard wall of his memory; but even with his eidetic memory there was nothing but a confused tangle of screaming and gunfire, the air a blender made of fire and shrapnel and bullets and blood. He wonders idly if the nausea that leapt upon him like some jumping beast when the orderlies put down rat poison in the field hospital was a part of the infection and fever, or just the memory of all that blood spilling in the dust as the anti coagulants from the rat poison covering the shrapnel did their work.
The pain didn't count as a memory. The pain was still happening.
At the airport in London, a civilian flight to round off what had been a sleepless and hellish journey, an anti-war protester comes up to hurl epithets at Rathomy as the big man struggled to navigate around his missing leg with his crutches. Watson endures starbursts of agony as he leaps for the crippled man – or, the other crippled man. He doesn't know what instinct drives the tortuous act, what indicator told him the other soldier was going to blow. The set of the broad shoulders, the turning of his one remaining ankle, Watson doesn't know. All he knows is that Rathomy has a family waiting for him just as crippled by the war as he is, the protester is a kid they once all were and the blows won't make the pain from the ghost of his missing leg stop, not for a second. He hangs onto the bigger man, his shoulder somehow suffering worse than when the hollow point ripped through it, if that's even possible. He yells in his best Major voice for the Corporal to stand to attention and God help him he feel like the biggest heel on the planet when the man wavers as he tries to follow orders, his responses trained into a whole body and now lost on a body missing only ten percent. Ten percent was all it took.
But the absolute worst part, Watson knew as he ended up in an ungainly heap on the ground, his body shaking from the pain, was that Rathomy didn't really care. He didn't care about the kid, who stared at them torn between sneering and embarrassment. He didn't care about his body or his wounds, all of them: his ghost leg, the pain, the scars on his spirit, the gaping hole where his future now was. He just wept and wept and wept for the brother that wouldn't even bring his scars home while Watson held on.
As the paramedics loaded the broken Rathomy into the ambulance, Watson took his one bag over his good shoulder and his cane and forced himself to take every step for himself, no matter the pain that sucked the blood from him like a vampire. As he walked he thought about survival and bulwarks of compassion and ghosts. Watson truly believed in ghosts. He believed ghosts weren't as simple as life and death. Ghosts were lost limbs and lost nights and lost futures. Ghosts were pasts and healthy bodies that haunted the dusty fortresses of memory. As the cold became a rabid animal that bit into him, Watson never thought he'd prefer the kinds that were actually dead.
After spending the night staring at his hotel room walls, Watson went to his storage locker to stare at his boxes. It wasn't very big. He'd called himself a young man when he opened and packed this cell like room, almost twice as big as it needed to be, but the truth of it was he was still a young man, very young. Age on the inside didn't count. He felt even more intimidated by the world now than he had been then, fresh out of university and prepared to face the life reprogramming of the armed forces. He wondered what aspect he had lost in that time to make him feel such fear. After the war, horrors and all, he was wiser and much more educated than he had ever been. Surely the more you know, the more prepared you were to face life? Looking at what then seemed like too much bulk for a young man to carry and now seemed like a meagre collection for what felt like such a long life, Watson wasn't sure about that. Look at this. This was the abandoned detritus of a young and footloose student, diligent and well read, but not as travelled or as trained as the soldier who came back. What was this kid prepared for? Not for a destroyed shoulder and a braced leg, that was for damn sure.
Focus on the positives. That was what his physical therapist said to him. I don't care how bad you feel or how bad it gets, John. Now you can walk on a civilian street and buy yourself a coffee made by someone who wants you to have a good coffee and not just stay awake. That's a positive. You can walk down that street and not worry about getting shot or stepping on a mine. That's a positive. You can walk, John. That's a positive. Focus on the positives John. Never forget that it's not all bad news.
No, bad news came in fat envelopes with words like 'discharge' in them.
Watson sighed and shook himself. He was, at heart, an optimist. He did focus on the positives. He focused on the positives that he was able to help others obtain. That gave him a sense of personal satisfaction just as good as a patient in full recovery. He thought of Rathomy weeping at the airport and thought this was no time to lose that trait.
So what did he have? The shoulder was blown out, literally, trapezius, deltoid, scapula bone and all, so rigged up with so many pins that his shoulder x-rays looked like construction scaffolding. A severed and repaired gastrocnemius and peronus longus with an incomplete fracture of the lateral and medial condyles, requiring a brace and a cane and an open wound to his dignity as an athlete...former athlete.
He had no kith or kin in London.
Watson thought about it. The WPC was taking care of his benefits and medical bills. It wasn't much, with the economy the way it was, but it was something. He had savings to last him a little while, even with the gambling.
It wasn't the pokies and slots variety, just the tracks and the card halls. It wasn't even a hobby. It just felt really good to take a risk that didn't have the possibility of ending in a spray of red. It felt just as good to lose as it did to win. When he lost, all he felt to a tremendous sense of relief that he had nothing important on the table to lose.
He looked at all the stuff a young ghost had left behind. Young doctor stuff rather than young soldier stuff. Well....it was a start.
Bulwark of compassion. That's what he needed, he had decided. Help others and you ultimately helped yourself.
He set out to help others, but found they were too busy trying to help him. Victims didn't need to help, that's what he was learning. He was learning what victim really meant. That certainly wasn't a positive.
From the outset Watson had refused to accept the mantle of victimhood with any grace. He tipped the script pills down the drain and told himself he'd live with every sharp, red hot needle of pain. He lived on analgesics and turning up the heat so high that he dreamed of deserts, trying to keep the biting animal of the cold at bay. One day, he told himself after a bad night, one day I'll have to go out and let myself get savaged by it. But at the moment he was still getting used to the stranger in the mirror and could only deal with one crisis at a time.
He fell back on his survival training; food, shelter, mission. Food was easy; even better, it was a positive. He liked a world where fresh food was a matter of course rather than a rare and coveted treat.
Shelter was proving to be disheartening. He didn't want to stay in the hotel forever. London was home base now, and Watson liked a space to call his own. The hotel was clean and serviceable, but impersonal. He needed to put the young doctor's stuff up on the walls. He needed to know he could call at least a part of that spirit back.
Mission, well...the mission was work. Gainful employment. The bulwark of compassion, helping others to help himself. But who wanted to hire a doctor who looked like he belonged in the next bed? The physical therapist was painfully neutral on whether he would fully regain use of the arm that was attached to the wreck of his shoulder. He volunteered at the veteran wings at the hospital, if only to remind himself he was a doctor, but every time he went he came away reminded of eyes and faces no longer there to see, and every time he felt like he was just pretending and they were just humouring him. That, he decided, was not a positive.
As he stared over the newspapers accumulated over the month, covered with marks and scratchings, he realized he was in a no-win scenario. To get shelter, he needed money. To get money he needed work. To get work he needed a working body, the lack of which was why he needed work and shelter in the first place. He was a doctor and a soldier. He didn't know how to be anything else. And now it seemed as if he couldn't do either.
He had that thought while he struggled to tie his bootlaces, and nearly cost himself a glazier throwing the boot across the room. Afterwards, he felt ashamed. He always hammered into his patients that despair was just cheap rotgut and you should never let yourself get drunk. When he looked at the boot lying across the room, he felt like a hypocrite.
As it turned out, he might be low on kith and kin but not on acquaintances. He had forgotten them; not because he did not care for them, it was simply that they had belonged to a young doctor and he had yet to call that spirit to him.
He was in the cafe around the corner, picking up a cappuccino before trying at the hospitals again (what can he say, he was either stubborn enough to teach to rocks, or a glutton for punishment, or both). Now good coffee, he could agree with the therapist, was definitely a positive.
"Watson? John Watson?"
It's been so long since anyone has used his name without title or rank, and for a moment Watson thought the call was not for him. But he turns and is reminded of books and libraries and exams of a young doctor. The spirit wasn't there yet, but just for a moment the scent of it was in the wind.
"It is you! Good grief, good fellow, I confess I wasn't entirely sure! You didn't look like that the last time I saw you!"
Ah, Stamford. Same annoyingly cheerful, energetic, unambitious, boyish manner, tempered by what might have been called wilful tactlessness if it wasn't for the sparkling childlike grin that completely removed any doubt that rudeness was in any way intended.
"I know what you mean," Watson replied dryly. It was dry, too. His voice seemed barely used since he'd arrived back home. And he did know exactly what Stamford meant. He could still count his ribs and vertebrae in the mirror even after a month and a half of regular good food. He'd never looked this way, ever, in his life. The sleek muscle tone he used on the rugby field was just another ghost.
But it was good to chat with Stamford; Stamford who knew him as a person and not a profession, however superficially. They bantered back and forth about the good old days, and Watson surprised himself by feeling very little bitterness or self-pity. When Stamford asked about his Watson's own life, Watson was glad to finally put into effect his promise to himself, which was to look his questioners in the eye and say without anger, or blame, or regret, what had happened to him while serving his country. He took his successful attempt as a positive. Each time he said it, he was sure it would get easier.
Of course, this lead to talking about his current status in which Watson tried to be completely honest, because he was genuinely an honest man, while trying to sound upbeat. Any disheartenment he felt was a burden he refused to share.
Stamford, it turned out, was a man with an answer.
"If you're looking for work in the medical field, my friend, I may be able to help you with a job in my area of expertise," Stamford offered. "It's not exactly general practice, but it's in the field. You need a lot of money to start or buy a practice these days, and working in the hospitals? Forget it. With the financial crash, hospitals aren't hiring. Hell, no one is hiring, anywhere."
"If no one is hiring, where is this job you offer?" Watson thought maybe Stamford could be tactful if he chose, because he had to realize that Watson was not the picture of health most doctors needed to be. "Where is there a position that ten people wouldn't be clamouring for before me? Let's face it; I'm not at my most impressive right at the moment."
Stamford gave a short bark of laughter. "Let's just say that appearance isn't worth the proverbial three pound note where I work. And the position is, in fact, mine. I'm moving out to the lazy countryside; I'm sick of London. My wife is sick of London. A small hamlet, that's the ticket. My position will be on the market soon, but I know you, Watson, and you're a solid fellow; and, seeing at how you rousted me off a bar room floor so that I would not miss my anatomy finals, I'd say I owe you one. I'd be happy to recommend you."
Watson waved a hand, flushed. "I only did that to see if you could actually pass while that hung over," he dismissed airily while Stamford grinned. "But I won't lie to you; I need whatever opportunity can be provided. Where do you work? Not a hospital, from what you said."
"With the police," Stamford look a long gulp of his coffee. "I'm attached to the coroner's office; medical examiner. Like I said, not exactly general practice."
Watson felt let down. He was not in the right place, mentally or emotionally, to be surrounded by death again; he'd always preferred living people. On the other hand, he was keenly aware of a diminishing bank account. He was rapidly heading into beggar and not chooser territory. "It's been a long time since pathology in medical school," he pointed out, not indicating he was for or against. "Are you sure I'd qualify?"
Stamford shrugged. "It wasn't so long ago that the training is outdated. My boss says since I'm abandoning ship I have to help in the process of replacing myself. You might need to take a course or two, but that'd be nothing new. Our office has a lot of turnover and you wouldn't be the first examiner taught on the fly. Plus, you're meticulous and reliable and punctual and diligent; I never once saw you miss a class, tutorial, week's readings or a lab, and you handled medicine and a part time rugby career. I could pick a worse replacement. They've got to make me look good." He gave a wink.
Watson grinned. "That's certainly a priority."
"Look, Dr Nokey will have final say but he'll listen to my recommendation. Come on, let me pay back my debt before I disappear into obscurity."
"And get out of interviews."
Stamford nodded solemnly. "And that, of course."
It's not quite he smooth ride that Stamford blithely describes. Doctor Nokey is an old man, with the crotchetiness and pride that old age brings, which was fine with Watson. The man was a brilliant pathologist, and he could actually care less about Watson's physical state. After a solid month of rejections, that's a positive.
After being glared at and interrogated by a truly impressive set of eyebrows, he is on probation. For a week he does nothing but work in the morgue, learning over Nokey's shoulder. He'd lied or omitted or something to Stamford when he spoke about his pathology experience; his last autopsies were under a year ago, when he was drafted into service to identify and pronounce cause on battle field and civilian casualties, so he had been certified for pathology. Record, everything in pathology was about record. What happened when you got there, as opposed to how the hell you got there.
It turned out that the army had made him a ballistics expert, if only by accident, and Nokey needs one of those. He starts going out with Stamford to scenes in the latter man's last weeks, learning procedures. The blood pooling, the viciousness, the children, the old....it's not a positive. He squanders what amounts to what will be his first pay after the first day, after he wakes up shaking and sweating and ends up in the bathroom, trying to scrub the blood off. He doesn't even remember where he lost it; the next time he looks at his bank account, it's gone.
He does remember the thugs that accosted....or at least, tried to accost him on the way back from whatever den of iniquity he stumbled into. There were no taunts and no leers, just an inefficient pincer from both sides. Too bad for them he was a soldier. Inefficient tactics had long ceased to hold sway over his fear. It had been too long since the man trying to kill him had been an amateur.
Afterwards, he lay in the gutter next to his attackers, his old wounds hurting much worse than his new ones. He guessed that was a positive hiding in a negative. There was an upper limit to pain and the old pain lessened the new pain. The two sides cancelled each other out. It wasn't anything. It just was.
He began to think about the paperwork required to carry his gun again. He'd left it alone in the storage locker. He didn't want to have it near him when the bad nights came. It was too easy.
How the hell did he get here?
Bulwark of compassion, Watson thinks on the day he found out about Rathomy's suicide; the neat, polite little card which told him to, please, not come to the funeral. He needs it. He needed to help people to help himself. He couldn't do that in this job. He needed to know he was helping a living person, not just mitigating the violation of a dead one. He feels like a failure as a soldier, as a protector, every futile, cold corpse that comes his way. He's tried all the arguments; that there are living people who need to know what happened to the dead, that need justice and closure, that they're the same as every soldier who came back to England staring at the inside of a body bag; they need to be bought home, somehow. The arguments don't stick. The weepers come and go, the numb just sign the forms carelessly, those so steeped in tragedy seem only to care about the money, and then there are those to whom no one comes at all...he's just a bearer of bad news in a bad world. It's not a positive. Even his wagonloads of ghosts feel like they're fading away.
It's on the tip of his tongue every day to tell Stamford and Nokey that the job doesn't suit; then he looks at his yo-yoing account, the product of bad nights and nightmares and pain, and realizes it is better to at least endure. Even if it's bad, even if it drains like blood from a bullet wound, it still keeps him anchored somewhere. Freedom, he was realizing, freedom from order and rank and procedure wasn't actually freeing, it was just a lack of control.
Again, John Watson must endure.
Stamford walks in abruptly, already halfway into packing his desk. "We've got a live one...well, you know."
Watson looks over at him from where he's filling out paperwork. "I have a feeling that joke is going to get old. I'm almost done."
"Nokey's happy with you....well, insofar as he's happy with anyone. You can do good work here."
Watson wondered if his ambivalence was so obvious that Stamford was still trying to sell this job. "Well, now I've got employment, all I need now is a place to stay."
"No luck?" Stamford looked over at the newspaper on the desk. It wasn't Watson's desk. Not yet.
"In this city a cot in the back of a bar is too expensive," Watson cast an unfriendly look at the unhelpful paper. "There are a few good places, but the only way I can afford it is to split the costs with someone."
Stamford's brow wrinkled. "You know, that's the second time today I've heard that."
Watson, rising slowly and reaching for his cane, pauses. "You know someone looking to share? Great, who is he?"
Stamford's young face twists into an odd grimace. "I don't think you'd like him." He grabs his medical bag.
"Look, after having maids rifling through my underwear every second day and banging my shins on the damn crooked cupboard door almost every night, I don't care if the man is a serial killer. I need a place!"
"You might prefer a serial killer after this guy, especially when he starts testing his poison compounds on you."
Watson stared at the other man, waiting for that to make sense.
Stamford just shrugs. "I don't mean that he does it maliciously, or anything. He'd probably test them on himself if he thought he could write about the effects while puking his guts up. He's kind of a science nut, emphasis on nut. The man's mad. You'll understand when you see him."
"He works here?" Watson asked, surprised. He was sure he'd met everyone in the morgue department.
"Hell no," Stamford chuckled, amused at some inner vision.
Watson shook his head and hefted his field kit over his shoulder. "So given that my social circle is composed of exactly you, Dr Nokey and the rather unsociable inmates of the morgue, why, exactly, would I meet him?"
"He's a kind of...specialist, I suppose. I can't really say what his actual job is though," Stamford shrugged. "He just kind of hangs around."
"The crime scenes. At least when he's not here instead, beating the corpses with blunt instruments for research purposes. Come on, we'd better go." Stamford didn't see the look of astonishment on Watson's face as he hunted for the departmental car keys.
"Some half rotted old tenement in Lauriston Gardens. They want at least two examiners there, apparently there's some very high level victim involved, so all of homicide is on deck. Nokey's doing some family scandal on the other side of town, so guess who's lucky?"
Watson sighed. What did Stamford think he'd been trying to figure out since he got home?
End Chapter One