Waiting rooms. John had always hated waiting rooms. As a doctor, a waiting room was like a prison where you were forced to sit in an uncomfortable chair with a few tacky paintings staring you down, unable to do anything useful whatsoever, despite your expertise. Every time he'd ever been in a waiting room, he had received bad news, so this time his heart was clenched and his breathing was unsteady and he could not for the life of him get his hands to stop shaking.
This particular waiting room was colder than comfortable, but he was thankful to at least have the room to himself. The waiting room's stark white walls were adorned with generic landscape paintings of an unspecific countryside. There was a vase of yellow flowers on the small table in the corner, probably an attempt to bring some cheer into the otherwise stark room, and the carpet was the same dull, burnt orange color as the upholstery on the uncomfortable chairs. There was a fist-sized hole in one of the walls, and John probably would have wondered about it if it weren't for those particular circumstances.
He had been waiting nine hours, with only two visits from the doctor and one from a nurse, asking if she could get him anything. The cup of tea he requested hours before was still sitting on the table next to the vase, untouched. He'd forgotten about it.
"We've taken him into surgery. He's lost a great deal of blood and there is some damage to his lung. It's difficult to tell how much damage, but we'll find out when we open him up, if you'll pardon my frankness," the surgeon had said, minutes after John and Lestrade had rushed Sherlock in. Lestrade had been called away during the first hour of surgery, leaving John to wait alone.
An alert-looking nurse entered the room and called for Mycroft, who had wordlessly departed about a half hour before. John told the nurse his name, and assured him that he was with the police department, although that was essentially a lie, but it worked well enough.
"He's in recovery," the nurse explained. "The bullet tore through quite a few important areas, but we've stitched him up as best we can, and we'll leave him with a breathing apparatus for a week or so in order to let his lung re-learn to work on its own. The surgery was… well, it was rather intense, and we had to use shock therapy twice to keep his heart beating, but besides that, he's doing fine now. His heart rate is steady and his lungs are functioning well with the apparatus. You may be able to visit him as soon as tomorrow morning."
John sipped hopelessly at powdery, lukewarm vending machine coffee. Mrs. Hudson showed up for an hour or two, brought him a change of clothes, as his were bloodied and torn. He shuffled down the hall to the men's room to change. She'd brought him a green flannel button-down and a thick tan sweater. It was as if she had known how cold it was in the waiting room.
He changed quickly and tossed the old clothing into the trash, unable to look at it without feeling a prickle behind his eyes and a tightness in his throat.
Mrs. Hudson left around nine-thirty that night under John's council, as she looked a bit faint, and roughly twenty minutes after that, the nurse returned, looking a bit perturbed.
"Dr. Watson? Follow me. Orders from on high."
John very nearly smiled. This had favor from Mycroft written all over it, and he was anxious to see his friend, even if it meant pissing off a few nurses.
Corridors had never seemed so long. No matter how pleased he was that he was being taken to Sherlock, John had to keep swallowing a knot in his throat, to take deep breaths and steady himself. The nurse was grumbling something about no one bothering to listen to medical professionals, but all the words blended together and John couldn't really focus.
She paused in front of an open doorway. Room 221, a plaque beside the doorframe read. What a lovely coincidence.
The nurse stepped in first.
"Have you brought him?"
"Yes, your majesty," she said rather dryly. John would've laughed had the circumstances been different. Sherlock had obviously been a right pain in the ass.
The nurse stepped back out of the room, nodding that it was fine for John to go inside.
John took two very apprehensive steps into the room, hand rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. It was a single-bed, corner room, and there was a vase of flowers in the window. John guessed that Mycroft had pulled some strings to arrange for such a nice room.
Sherlock was sitting up in bed, watching John closely, as if waiting to watch a building be demolished. His head was bandaged, a cut on his cheek mended, and John tried not to think about the bandages covering up the gunshot wound in Sherlock's chest, the wound that had been gushing blood hours before, the one John had pressed his hand against to help stop the blood flow, while he screamed for someone to call a paramedic.
Sherlock had almost died. John had already seen so much death, so much loss, but Sherlock was different.
Finally, Sherlock tried to break the heavy silence that hung in the air around them, looking around the room and over at the several machines he was hooked up to before asking, "not good?"
"A bit not good, yeah," John managed, clearing his throat, and Sherlock laughed.
That was all it took to collapse the building, to send John rushing forward and embracing his friend, arms wrapped around him, hands clutching the sleeves of the hospital gown as he leaned his head against Sherlock's shoulder. His face crumpled and tears gathered in his eyes, soaking into the thin material of the gown and he tried to calm himself subtly, wishing that there were some way to hide this from Sherlock, who noticed absolutely everything.
Sherlock, who surely knew that the man had a gun, and that John would have died if Sherlock hadn't shoved him out of the way, had taken the bullet, no questions asked. It had lodged itself in his right lung, and the only reason he had survived is that John had known precisely what to do and when to do it. Even as Sherlock was coughing up blood, his eyes lolling back in his head from the agony he fought against, John had kept control of the situation despite the tremor in his hands, the blur in his vision.
John hid his face against Sherlock's shoulder, wanting to apologize, wanting to make it up to him somehow, wanting to trade places with him. John had taken a bullet before. He knew what it felt like; he knew how to deal with it. Why had Sherlock saved him?
Sherlock had stiffened at the embrace, surprised at the sudden display of affection, as neither of them were particularly affectionate people—at least, not to each other, but John held onto him, just for a little while, but as tightly as he could manage.
When John finally spoke, his words were tear-soaked and muddled. "Sherlock… I'm… I'm so sorry."
Sherlock was surprised at the sudden knot in his throat, the prickle behind his eyes at the state of John's voice. A military man, John always kept his composure. And the fact that he was crying over Sherlock, over something that was not his fault at all… Sherlock was touched. Actually touched. He wasn't sure he'd ever felt that way before.
He reached up carefully to stroke John's hair.
"Shh," he cooed, and was surprised at how natural the gesture felt, "you have nothing to apologize for."
"No. No apologies." He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. He could never be sure about what his face was doing.
"You saved my life," John said quietly. Sherlock assumed the hushed tone was to help disguise the quaver in his voice.
"And I'd do it again if I had to. You know that, or at least you should, by now."
John pulled back to rub his eyes, and the way he kept his face turned away let Sherlock know that he was quite embarrassed. "I just don't understand why you would save me. I know how to handle a bullet. I've taken one before."
"John, that bullet would have killed you."
"Probably, yes, but it nearly killed you," John said into his sleeve, "so, why did you do it?"
Sherlock smiled, almost sheepishly. "Elementary."
John met Sherlock's eyes for the first time since the incident, and they both laughed, in a relieved sort of way, even though nothing was particularly funny.
John ran a sleeve over his face and gave a little shake, as if trying to snap himself out of his emotional display. "Well, how are you feeling?"
"Complete and utter shit."
John laughed, and Sherlock continued, "but I should be out of the hospital in the morning if—"
"No, no you won't. You'll stay right here and recover properly."
"Hospitals are dull."
John chortled. "Only Sherlock Holmes would be bored by his own near-death experience. You really are a piece of work."
Sherlock smiled, pleased that John seemed to be cheering up.
"You're going to need quite a bit of physical therapy, you know."
Sherlock scoffed. "Barely a scratch."
"Oh, shut up," John chuckled, shaking his head. "You know, you're a bit more pleasant when you're doped up on morphine, perhaps you should look into that when contemplating your next vice."
The detective smiled. "Oh, but then it wouldn't be any fun at all. Pestering you is one of life's great joys and I don't intend to stop."
It took a bit of adjustment, but even with a wounded, drugged-up, and not-quite-as-quick Sherlock who was looking at months of physical therapy, the conversation remained light and soon enough, John felt as though they were back in their flat at Baker's Street, shooting the breeze. All they needed was a microscope for Sherlock to peer into and a book or magazine for John to glance over periodically amidst Sherlock's long-winded rants about mitosis and tissue samples and the head in the fridge. Still, John knew now that Sherlock would be all right. Sherlock was incredibly resilient, although he often came across as anything but.
In the weeks that followed, it was amusing to John to see the way Sherlock kept eyeing him carefully, as if waiting for some repeat of his emotional display back in the hospital. John was still a bit embarrassed about it, but tried to forget it had ever happened and focused instead on aiding Sherlock in his recovery. Since John was a doctor, he was the one to aid Sherlock in his physical therapy, give him is medication, and take care of any re-bandaging or pulled stitches. He took great solace in being able to help his friend, no matter how much Sherlock milked the situation. John didn't really mind that he was: at least he wasn't gallivanting off to crime scenes and injuring himself even more, especially before his lungs were working properly.
Lestrade had forbid Sherlock to be anywhere in the vicinity of Scotland Yard for at least a month. He didn't call about cases, and when he did stop by it was only see how Sherlock was doing. Molly stopped by occasionally, with a sack full of fresh-baked bread ("the only thing on earth I can cook correctly," she had explained when she brought the first batch over) and a jar of marmalade. Mrs. Hudson kept the boys fed the rest of the time, and fussed over Sherlock to the point of infuriating.
They spent a great deal of time reading and watching crap television, which they always ended up yelling at. John ignored his blog, ignored most things, and only left to work at the clinic once a week and to get out when Sherlock was being unbearable. The rest of the time, he was right there, keeping Sherlock under constant vigil, but not quite to the point of annoying. The strange thing was, Sherlock never seemed to mind John looking out for him.
One night, they had decided to go out for some fresh air. The walk, John decided, would be good for Sherlock, as it had been four and a half weeks and they had removed the stitches two days before. They bundled up, bought some coffee, and walked down to the park, sitting down on a bench for Sherlock's benefit before they headed back.
John was watching a bird hop around in a pile of leaves when Sherlock spoke up.
"Are you alright?"
John looked at Sherlock, brow furrowing. "What?"
Sherlock didn't meet his eyes. "I mean, are you doing well?"
"Sherlock, I've been around you the past several weeks nearly every hour. Observe."
"I have been. You've been quite normal."
"And that's alarming?"
John chuckled, rolling his eyes and taking a sip of coffee. "Medication making you a bit paranoid, is it?"
"I'm serious, John. After that first day in the hospital—"
"The first one, where I was waiting all day to hear whether or not my friend was alive? Yeah, I lost it for a bit there, but there's nothing to worry about. You're fine now. That's what I was concerned about."
"Just as I am concerned for you."
"Look, Sherlock, you have nothing to be worried about. I'm not the one who was recently shot," John said. "If I were you, I'd be more concerned with healing up."
"I've already done a splendid job of that. Besides, what would I do without my vigilant doctor shadowing me all day long?" Sherlock joked. John sighed. At least he'd been promoted from "blogger."
They picked up takeaway Chinese food on the way back, and Sherlock made it upstairs without too much wheezing (as his lungs had improved drastically over the few weeks under John's care). They turned on the first halfway decent movie they came across on television and watched while they ate. Tomorrow, it was likely Lestrade would show up, as it had been exactly one month since he made his rule about Sherlock staying away from Scotland Yard and not even thinking about work, and it was also likely that Lestrade was positively buried in questions he had for Sherlock. They were going to rebuild their normal life, albeit at a slow pace, what with Sherlock still having a ways to go in his recovery. Nonetheless, Sherlock seemed a bit more cheerful than he had been the entire month, and John was cheerful by proxy, so they found their night together to be quite pleasant.
It wasn't until John was doing up the dishes that Sherlock made his way into the kitchen, sitting down in one of the dining chairs. "John?"
"What is it, Sherlock?" John was scrubbing at a pot that they had used to heat up some soup for lunch, but hadn't bothered to put to soak and was becoming quite exasperated at the task.
"I want to thank you."
John dropped the pot into the sink; soapsuds splashed him. He ran a sleeve over his face. "Pardon?"
Sherlock was looking at him in that intense way he occasionally brought out to spook John into listening to him very closely, holding on to every word. "You've been a great deal of help and I would have been lost without your care."
John was rendered speechless, as Sherlock rarely expressed gratitude directly and usually took more sideways approaches, such as making positively horrible cups of coffee in an effort to do something nice, or stopping playing the violin when John announced he was going to bed (rather than playing relentlessly until dawn) and opting for quieter activities, such as pondering two hundred and forty ("Two hundred forty-three!") types of tobacco ash (or whatever it was Sherlock spent his time pondering: John would never know).
"You, uh… you're welcome," John stammered.
Sherlock held his gaze for a few more seconds, and nodded once, smiling sheepishly. "Would you… like some help?" He shifted his gaze to the sink.
It took a moment for John to realize what Sherlock meant. "Oh, no. I've got it. It's just that blasted pot. I think I'll let it soak overnight, bloody thing."
"Good idea." Those two words were rarely out of Sherlock's mouth without some note of sarcasm, and John smiled to himself, no matter how silly the sentiment, and began wiping down the counters. The flat was spic-and-span with all the free time he'd had.
Sherlock watched John work, not entirely sure why he was doing so but not bothering to analyze it, for once.
"You're my best friend, you know," he blurted as John was towel-drying the countertop. Once again, John whipped around.
"You took extra meds tonight, didn't you?"
"Would you please stop accrediting my sentiment to the painkillers? I am new to all of this, and treading lightly."
John smiled, still feeling confused. He wasn't used to Sherlock being nice to him. In fact, he wasn't used to Sherlock being nice, period.
Sherlock went on. "You're… well, you're probably the first person I've encountered who hasn't bored me to death in five minutes. You're actually quite pleasant to be around, even when I'm not." He quickly hopped off the subject. "Anyway, I think I'll be going to bed now. Big day tomorrow."
"Right," John said, just as eager to get away from the subject for fear of getting anywhere in the district of mushy. He and Sherlock didn't do sentiment well. They had a mutual understanding of their friendship, relationship, whatever it was, and they didn't feel the need to bring it up out loud very often. It was clear that they both wanted to keep it that way.
Sherlock did go to bed, and when John peeked in on him later, he found him actually asleep, curled up beneath his blankets. John went to the kitchen, poured Sherlock a glass of water, and put his pills in a small bowl, creeping in to set them on the bedside table before getting himself ready for bed.
As he lay down beneath the covers in his darkened upstairs bedroom, he couldn't help but smile to himself. Sherlock Holmes was not a man who understood sentiment, and yet he had expressed both gratitude and fondness in the same ten minutes, and had done so without mocking or sarcasm. John expected it would likely never happen again, but he spent the next hour or so running it back over and over in his mind, memorizing every detail of it, so he would always be able to remember the time that Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective with the heart of a machine, softened up.