A/N: A small, fluffy and entirely pointless one-shot based off Sally Donovan's line during the Drugs Bust scene in ASiP: "Yeah, he's just a lunatic, and he'll always let you down." I always thought she sounded strangely hurt and disappointed in that scene, like she was on the verge of crying. So I wrote this to try and explain why.
Prove Me Wrong
John wore his white coat like armour. He donned it like a second skin, thicker and tougher than his own, an exoskeleton. When he slipped his arms through the sleeves, settled the lapels against his chest, clipped on his name badge and felt the gentle, swishing pressure against the back of his legs, he was apart. Separate from the pain, the worry, the sheer, crushing futility that surrounded him.
He didn't really need the armour at the surgery. It was all sniffles and blood tests and arthritis pain there. It was rare to deliver a truly devestating diagnosis. But in hospitals...in hospitals he needed that armour like he needed air. John felt. He felt for and with and about those people. The coat gave him permission to stop caring, just for a moment. To stave off the agony in his heart long enough to fight against its cause. To be objective until the time came to strip the armour away, and let it all slam into him, preferably when he was alone and sitting down and had a nice cup of tea in hand to ground him.
But right now John was in a hospital, and he didn't have his coat. Right now John was laid bare, exposed and vulnerable and he was bleeding with it because Sherlock was there, lying in the bed, and he couldn't breathe on his own.
People don't understand that about explosions. That it's not the heat, or the shrapnel, or even the pressure that gets you. It's what happens inside, when your lungs slam against the back of your ribcage and just as abruptly snap back into place. When your alveoli spasm and shrivel into almost nothing. When the air has no place to go, no matter how deeply you breathe. Sherlock had been safe from the heat, from the force and the shrapnel. But he'd gotten the shock wave, and it had ripped his lungs apart.
But he was mending. God help him, he was mending. Enough of his lungs remained intact to keep him alive, but only with the aid of artificial respiration. The drugs kept him under, kept him sleeping so his body could repair itself. Thank God he'd quit smoking. His lungs needed all the strength they could spare.
John stood outside the hospital room, gazing in at Mycroft as he sat at his brother's side, clasping Sherlock's hand. The nameless woman who was sometimes Anthea stood nearby, her hands empty and still for the first time since John had first seen her.
He didn't like being away from Sherlock, even if it was just a couple of metres, but Mycroft had seniority here. And Sherlock didn't need a crowd. So John waited, and watched, and bled.
There was a click of shoes on lino. John turned to see Sally Donovan striding toward him, her airy, tightly curled hair all but floating in the breeze of her motion. Such a pretty girl, to hold so much bitterness. He gritted his teeth and braced himself for more sniping about "the freak". He couldn't lose his temper, he reminded himself. Not here.
Sally came to a stop right in front of him, a manilla folder in her hand. She opened her mouth to speak, and John tensed.
"How is he?" The world screeched to a halt. Her voice was soft, genuine. Her face was almost blank, but here eyes were slightly crinkled in sincere concern.
"He's-he's fine. Or, um, he will be. Eventually. They got to him in time." He wasn't sure how to move in this new reality. Was the ground still solid?
She let out a tense breath. "That's good. We need him."
"S-sorry, are you...really Seargant Donovan?"
She smiled, tight-lipped and pained. "Yeah. Would you prefer I started bitching about him? 'Cause I can, but I thought it'd be better to act a bit more civil to an injured man's best friend."
John blinked. "Oh. I'm...I'm sorry."
She shook her head and extended the hand holding the folder. "Don't be. DI Lestrade wanted Sherlock to have this, when he wakes up. It's everything we've got on the arsonist. We'll send round any updates we get, too, so he'll be up to date when he comes to."
John took the folder, still feeling that sense of acute vertigo. This was...strange.
"He is a freak, you know." Sally said, but her voice was soft, almost fond. John wasn't sure if he could muster any indignation about it. "A normal man couldn't do what he does. Couldn't keep his head through it. It's lucky he's freakish. It's a good thing."
Was the floor tilting? Christ, he needed sleep.
"So why are you always on his case?" He couldn't help but ask.
She shrugged, smiling sadly, and looked in at the two brothers. Mycroft's eyes were dry, his face completely still, but somehow John knew the man was weeping.
"Because he wants me to be. Needs it. Just like he needs Anderson to hate him. Just like he needs Lestrade to scold him. Because he's a right arse when he's in a mood, which is always. He needs people, Dr Watson. He needs something to act against."
John blinked. "So...it's all a front, then?"
She snorted. "God, no. Can't stand the bastard. Doesn't mean I don't respect him, or what he does."
"Right...of course. Why? Do you hate him, I mean?"
She nodded toward the room. "Who's that man? I've seen him before, at crime scenes."
"Sherlock's brother. Mycroft."
She snorted. "Freak has a brother. Didn't see that one. You know he'd tell him to leave, right? He'd insist on being left alone, even now, even when he's in pain. He acts like he doesn't need us. Like he's not one of us. And that makes me mad. I mean...he's always lying. Pretending the rest of humanity doesn't exist until he finds one of us useful." She leaned against the door frame and raised a foot against it to brace herself. "Except you. For some reason. He sees you all the time."
"You always told me to stay away from him. Said I'd be better off taking up fishing."
She smiled. "I still think so. Never too late to come to your senses. But I think he needs you. You make him better." She pushed herself off the door with her shoulders and stood up. "That first night, at the Jennifer Wilson crime scene, I thought: 'Here's a bloke who's caught Sherlock Holmes's attention. Poor sod. He should run while he still can.' Then I thought, 'If he doesn't run, if he's brave or stupid enough to stay with the guy, maybe he'll get through to him.' So I figured either you'd take my advice and run for the hills, and you'd be safer and happier for it, or you'd ignore my advice and stick with him even more, and you'd be the kind of man who can withstand him. Either way, it couldn't hurt."
John snorted in disbelief. "It sounds almost like you worry about him."
She shook her head. "I just want him to stop disappointing me."
She smiled, but it was thin and drawn. "There's a good man in there. Somewhere. Lestrade sees it, and he's not the kind of man to get that sort of thing wrong. And I've seen glimpses of it, before he pushed them down. Just hints, here and there. He could be so much more than he is." She sounded hurt, almost heartbroken.
"If you really believe that, why do you always insist on saying how dangerous he is?"
Her smile turned mischievous. "Because if there's one thing Sherlock Holmes loves more than anything else, it's proving people wrong." She shrugged. "I'm just waiting for him to make me look like an idiot. He'll love it. The whole of Scotland Yard will have to eat crow. Of course, he'll have to prove himself wrong to do it. I guess that's why it's taking him so long."
John looked in at Sherlock, silent and still, partially hidden by wires and tubes.
"He took the blast for me." John said quietly.
Sally nodded. "Yeah. I know. I think you're his best chance. He cares about you. He won't say so, but he does. We can all see it. I think it's as close to love as he can get. If he puts anyone before himself, it'll be you." She met his eyes, and her gaze was intent. "Stick with him, yeah? I can give him an opponent, but he needs an ally. Even if he won't admit it."
She turned her head and gave one final, longing look at the man in the bed. When she spoke, her voice was quiet and small. "Help him prove me wrong, doctor. You're probably the only one who can." She inclined her head in parting, turned on her heel, and strode away.
John watched her go, suddenly very aware of how privileged he was to be Sherlock's friend. People like Sally only ever got to glimpse the good man hiding behind the great one. But John got to live with him. To eat and run and argue with him.
John got to hear him laugh.
He smiled, walking softly into Sherlock's room, nodding to Mycroft when he raised his head, expression still blank yet broken, and placed the folder on Sherlock's slow-moving chest.
Wake up, Sherlock. John thought, smiling fondly at the unconcious man.
You've got work to do.