Disclaimer – John's ambition for a career in laparoscopic and bloodless surgery comes from his CV in The Blind Banker, the characters belong to ACD and BBC.
AN – Something of a computer glitch means I can't presently access the final chapter of "Hope for Heros" from where I currently am but in the meantime hope you enjoy this.
And in our main story today snow continues to cause chaos across much of the country as Britain remains gripped in what may well turn out to be the coldest winter since records began.
This particular morning John Watson wasn't really listening to the television news as he spooned his cereal into his mouth and flicked through the morning paper, a mug of hot tea at his side. Even though, it was now second nature for him to layer a t-shirt and a shirt under his jumper against the worse the British winter could offer, most of his attention was focused on waiting. Any moment now would come the telltale clink of the letterbox, followed by the soft thunk of a pile of post hitting the mat.
Keeping anything a secret from Sherlock Holmes was no easy thing. John knew that getting to the post before Mrs Hudson saw the letter's tell tale red franking mark on the outside of the envelope would be key. He supposed it wasn't so unusual for a Doctor to be getting correspondence from the General Medical Council. But he couldn't risk her mentioning it to Sherlock. His flatmate might have a lofty disdain for all things he considered normal and thus boring, but if he decided he did want to know something he was utterly relentless until he got to the truth.
"Even with his friends?" Harry had asked when he had been trying to explain why it wasn't the best idea for her to meet Sherlock just yet. "I mean, I thought all that was reserved for murderers and the like?"
"Especially with his friends," John had replied. And contrary to Donovan's opinion Sherlock did have one or two of those. "I think it's sort of his way of showing an interest."
It helped that this whole sorry business had begun before John had made Sherlock's acquaintance so the consulting detective was utterly ignorant of the existence of the GMC review board. Also, the same pride that was preventing John from sharing this news with his flatmate had also stopped him from telling Mike Stamford about it at their first meeting. So, if f John could only ensure that nothing relating to the board's enquiry or its findings ever made their way into the flat at 221b Baker Street then Sherlock Holmes never needed to know anything about any of this.
He counted his blessings that this was a week where Sherlock had been sufficiently interested in a case Lestrade had produced to spend the last four days chasing around London on no food and almost no sleep. Yesterday, they had finally caught their murderer; Sherlock had been on that temporary high which came from the flush of success, had finally condescended to eat. A recent favour for a Greek Taverna proprietor saw them sharing plate after plate of mezethes, (John had passed on the octopus). When they had finally returned to 221b Baker Street Sherlock, deciding for once to sleep in his own bed, had taken himself off and not yet emerged.
With reflexes honed under fire John was already up and moving down the stairs before the clink became a thunk. Scooping up the small pile of post now lying by the front door he swiftly scanned the envelopes, tucking one thin manila window example safely into his pocket, before extracting Mrs Hudson's post, placing that on the chair in the hall as usual, and carrying the rest of it upsairs to the flat.
"Anything for me?" Sherlock asked, as he wandered in wearing a grey t-shirt and pyjama pants under his dressing gown and flopped on the couch. "I'd kill for a good murder right now. Soo booored."
"There's bills," John advised him. Not bothering to point out that it had been mere hours since their last case and that Sherlock had spent most of those asleep. "Your phone, your mobile broadband, your tailor and my phone. You're paying that one too, by the way."
At that, Sherlock twisted around to look at him, outrage writ large all over his features "And why am I paying for your phone exactly?"
"I don't know, maybe, because you use it more than I do?" John fixed him with a level look.
Sherlock huffed dramatically, but he didn't argue so John took that as a small victory. Carefully keeping the amusement off his face he decided to push his luck, just a little.
"You could do the shopping too, if you want something to do? The list is on the table."
"I said I was bored, not comatose." Sherlock grumped.
"Fine," John declared, picking up his short dark jacket and shrugging into it. "I'll go. It's Thursday, so it'll probably be full of pensioners. I might be a while."
"Don't forget the milk." Was Sherlock's only reply.
Just in case Sherlock was watching from the window John took care to head off in the direction of the nearest Tesco Express at 110 Baker Street. Then he simply began to walk, feeling the presence of the manilla envelope in his pocket weighing him down. He was both desperate to know and equally dreading the news it might contain. So, for now he just walked, ignoring the biting cold and threatening clouds, until his leg began to ache and his face felt numb with cold.
Looking around he realised he was right across the other side of Regent's Park, not far from London Zoo. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he sought out a nearby bench and sank gratefully onto its wooden slats. Putting his hand in his pocket he pulled out the envelope, noting with a mixture of emotions the way his damned hand was shaking yet again. Still, he hadn't been a soldier for nothing, so he summoned all his courage and ripped open the envelope and unfolded the single type written sheet inside.
Afterwards he had no idea how long he had been sitting there. Long enough for the morning light to sink into the gloom of a British mid-winter afternoon. Long enough for his body to stiffen up, his lips to crack and his extremities grow numb. Just not long enough to deaden the burning pain of loss and the raging fury of waste that spiralled around his thoughts. If he couldn't bea soldieror a surgeon then what bloody use was he? He supposed he would have no choice but to change his CV now.
"You look like a man who could use a good cup of coffee, but in the absence of that, I suppose this will have to do."
John blinked at the familiar lidded cup from his favourite "Criterion" coffee shop, which had materialised in front of him, a thin, warm, tendril of steam rising up out of the small sippy hole. Automatically, he reached out to take it, focusing on its warmth as his fingers curled around it, rather than on the rather unexpected figure of Mycroft Holmes who wrapped his wool coat a little tighter around him before settling himself beside him on the bench, his matching cup looking slightly incongruous, held almost at arms length in a well manicured hand. Grateful to have a target for all his anger and frustration John spoke in a clipped tone.
"Sherlock is at home. I'm sure he would welcome a visit."
"Drink your coffee, John." Mycroft instructed, not unkindly. "My brother is already going to be rather put out when he realises how effectively you have manipulated him without you contracting hyperthermia."
"Don't you have some crisis that requires your attention?" John asked, his tone slightly more conciliatory as he slipped obediently at his coffee, not remotely surprised to find it made exactly the way he liked it. "Or is that why you're here? You need Sherlock's help? Because I'm assuming you weren't just out for a stroll."
"No indeed," Mycroft agreed without a glimmer of surprise. This man hadn't befriended his little brother by being any kind of idiot. "However, I must confess to being rather concerned when it came to my attention that you had been sitting out in these sub-zero temperatures for some several hours. I am truly sorry for your loss."
John tensed slightly and the fingers of his right hand almost unconsciously found the now crumpled manila envelope now safely back in his pocket. He didn't bother asking how Mycroft had found out his bad news. The elder Holmes had probably known the review board's verdict long before he did. Somehow that knowledge made this whole thing seem that little bit more real and therefore even harder to deal with.
"It's not like anyone actually died." He tried.
"You'll forgive me if I chose to disagree," Unsurprisingly, Mycroft immediately saw right through his facade. Rather more surprising was the slim silver hip flask which he offered with a sympathetic look. At John's raised brow he smiled thinly. "Purely medicinal, of course."
Accepting the flask, John smothered his grin, before he took a long, warming drink of something he thought was brandy. It seemed slightly disloyal to Sherlock to like Mycroft this much, but John could see that, despite his irritating habits, the man really did have his younger brother's best interests at heart and watching out for Sherlock, who seemed to lack all sense of self preservation, as he knew from personal experience was more than a full time job. John couldn't help but feel that he and Mycroft were both on the same side. Certainly, John's own elder sister Harry had never displayed this level of care and interest in him. It wasn't solely the burn of the alcohol that warmed his chest, just a little.
"The ability to practice surgery was an integral part of the man you used to be," Mycroft was still talking. "And if I am not mistaken, it was a fundamental element of your more recent ambition to gain experience in accident and emergency medicine in order to work towards a career in laparoscopic and bloodless surgery. Am I wrong?"
"No, you're not wrong," John sighed. Now that surgery was off the menu for the foreseeable future he would have to re-think his career goals. He flexed his left hand whose sporadic and unpredictable spasms were at the root of the GMC's decision that his licence to practice surgery should be temporarily suspended until he was passed fit, which might take weeks, months or even years. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"At the time, I would imagine you were strongly motivated to continue your service to society. Such a selfless trait is really the only explanation for your willingness to put up with my little brother at his worst."
"Excuse me, what?" John frowned.
"What was it Inspector Lestrade said to you?" Mycroft mused. "Sherlock Holmes is a great man and one day, if we're very, very, lucky, he might even be a good one. You are a man who likes to save others, John, even if it must be from themselves, I'm sure you don't underestimate how many other people you are in fact helping by supporting my little brother in his pursuits."
"I'm not really doing anything," John protested, not bothering to point out that Mycroft usually referred to his brother's cases as 'trivia'. "Sherlock's the one who pulls off all the clever stuff."
"Now John, we both know that's not quite true. Sherlock needs you. You provide those little insights into humanity that he so struggles with. Not to mention that you have my eternal gratitude for being the only person other than Mummy and perhaps your redoubtable Mrs Hudson who had proved able to compel him to take the least bit of care of himself."
"Your eternal gratitude?" John eyed Mycroft speculatively. "I don't suppose that you could..?"
"Alas, no," Mycroft shook his head. "The machinations of the GMC are rather beyond my feeble reach. And when you have had time to reflect, I am sure that, despite your obvious passion for your work, you will agree that it's not in anyone's interest for you to pursue a career in surgery in the present circumstances. "
"You're right, of course," John rubbed at his brow. Despite only being up for a few hours he felt utterly exhausted. His head felt stuffed with cotton wool, his chest tight, his body totally numb and his very bones ached. "I suppose I'll think of something else."
"I would suggest that your first order of business is to remove yourself from this most inclement weather," Mycroft rose to his feet. As he did so, against all normal protocols which banned any but maintenance vehicles from this area of the park, a black car, with obscured windows glided to a stop on the gravel path in front of them. "My driver will take you home."
"That's very kind of you," John carefully braced himself, schooling his expression before he forced his protesting body to its feet. "But I have an errand I need to run first."
"All taken care of," At a discreet gesture from Mycroft, the boot popped open to reveal a trio of Tesco Express bags stuffed with all the kinds of things John had already written on his list. "I took the liberty of including some boxes of tissues, a bottle of olbus oil and some varieties of soup." Mycroft elaborated.
"Thank you," John's lips' quirked at this distinctly Holmesian version of caring. "I'm sure I'll be fine. I'm still a doctor if nothing else."
Mycroft waited until John Watson had sunk wearily into the soft, black leather seats and closed the door. He had already ensured that the driver had the heating on full blast and that there would be a fresh hot toddy of lemon, honey, whiskey and warm water waiting on the armrest. As the car glided away it occurred to him that Dr John Watson really needed to buy a better coat. He was also a man in utter denial.
"Oh, my dear chap," He sighed. "You really have no idea of your own importance. But I hope you will soon. Very soon."