The pub was crowded, but the patron in the corner did not care to pay attention to the more-than-a-little-drunk hustle and bustle surrounding him.
"Excuse me—is this seat taken?"
John Watson was abruptly pulled from his thoughts. The woman standing before him was young. Well… younger. Mid-twenties, perhaps No older than thirty. Sherlock would have been able to ascertain her actual age. Sherlock…
John shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Hmm…what?"
The woman shifted the two books in her arms in order to adjust the strap of her bag that had slipped from her shoulders. "That seat—next to you," she enunciated. "May I sit there?"
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Umm, yes, sure! Of course! By all means, here!" He scooted his chair further around the round table and moved the several glasses out of the way to make room for her books.
They sat in a rather awkward silence after she gave her order to a waitress ("Gin and tonic, please").
John fidgeted. "So… you're a, uh, university student?" he ventured, trying to make conversation.
She jumped, not expecting him to address her. "What? Oh, yes. Ph.D. candidate, actually. My dissertation defense is in about three months."
"What's your field?" he asked.
"I specialize in two fields: paleography and early-modern Britain, specifically the Wars of the Three Kingdoms."
John was intrigued. "Fascinating! The study of handwriting? I have a friend who…well…" he trailed off, his eyes gazing into the distance, unfocused. "I'm sorry. What?" he missed what she said.
He saw her eyes quickly dart to the empty glasses that had not been cleared away yet (no doubt wondering how inebriated he might be) before she repeated, "I asked what it is you do."
"Oh! Sorry. My mind is clearly elsewhere tonight. I'm a blogger…or was a blogger. Doctor! I'm a doctor. Dr. John Watson." He offered his hand. Smooth one, he thought sarcastically to himself.
She took it. "Jess Fielding. Soon to be Jessica-Fielding-comma-Ph.D." She grinned.
"American?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Damn!" she laughed. "Betrayed by the accent. New York—born and bred. I moved here nearly five years ago for grad school, and I haven't lost it yet!"
John studied her. She was petite—shorter than him, in fact! Finally, a woman shorter than me. He wasn't particularly interested in her, but he often cursed his genetics and how rare it was to be the taller person in a given situation. She had red hair cut to her chin; the curls she had clearly styled in the morning, while not fallen out, were rather limp as a result of a full day of doing whatever it was she did while being in the final stages of her dissertation. Given the professional nature of her dress, he assumed she served as a lecturer to undergraduate students as part of a financial aid package. Her look was rounded off with glasses whose blue frames matched her eyes.
He spaced out again.
Jess was looking at him concerned. "Dr. Watson—"
"John," he corrected, his attention back on her.
"John," she amended. "If I'm not being too nosy… are you quite alright?"
"Yes! Well, no." he was conflicted. "I wouldn't want to trouble you with it."
"I don't mind. I have nowhere to be tonight and you look like someone who has a lot on his mind." She glanced again to the empty glasses.
God, she must think I'm a lush. "I don't, I don't normally drink this much," he began haltingly. "I…lost a very… a very dear friend six months ago today."
Jess hesitantly reached out to grasp his hand. "You have my sincerest condolences. Were you involved?" She winced. "I'm sorry, that was pry—"
He slapped his free hand against the table. "No! We were not involved! Why does everyone think we were involved? We were not a couple!"
"I'm sorry for assum—oh!" Comprehension dawned on her face. "This friend was a man. And you're not—"
"No!" John asserted. "And would it bother you if I was? Gay, that is." He fixed her with a hard stare.
Jess shrugged. "Well, considering I'm bi myself, it makes it rather hard for me to throw stones. Glass houses and all that."
John sighed and looked at the window. Oh, fuck it, he thought. Rubbing his face, he said, "There might have been…feelings… on my part. He once told me he was married to his work and he wasn't looking for any sort of relationship. Fine. I admit it. I did have feelings for him. But it only ever was him. Only him. But now he's dead. Gone. And I watched him jump."
Jess's hands flew to her mouth as she gasped in horror, but John was too lost in his memories to notice. He was getting choked up now. "I tried to save him. I tried and tried and tried and they wouldn't let me. And—" His breathing was becoming ragged and his fingers were twitching.
Jess, immediately recognizing the beginning signs of a panic attack, glanced around the pub. They were starting to attract some attention. "C'mon," she said, soothingly. "Let's get you outside into some fresh air."
She left some money on the table and helped him outside.
There was a bench conveniently located about half a block away and she sat him down on it.
John was hyperventilating now. Somewhere, in the far reaches of his mind, his rational side was trying to recall what to do. He was a doctor—a good doctor! He should know how to do this, how to fix it. But the panic was just too much.
Jess gently pressed on his back so he could breathe between his knees. That hand remained there rubbing comforting circles, while her other took one of his hands and began to massage it to restore feeling.
"Shh… it's gonna be okay. Just take deep breaths and ride it out. It'll be all over soon."
Eventually, John's breathing evened out and he tried to sit upright. His world spun.
Jess steadied him then reached into her bag. She pulled out a Gatorade and opened it. "I know it's not a color found in nature, but it'll help your brain feel a little less woozy."
John took a long swig of it. The orange flavoring was just about as natural as the color of the drink, but it did make him feel a little better, a little less woozy, as she put it.
"How did you know about the panic attack?" John asked, looking at her.
She smiled commiseratingly. "I get them when I fly and whenever there's a thunderstorm—childhood traumas that I haven't gotten over. And I always keep a bottle of Gatorade on me in case I get a migraine. I'm prone to them. And if panic attacks affect you like they do me, you're head is feeling wrung out. The electrolytes will help with that."
They sat in silence while John collected himself. "I'm sorry you had to deal with that," he muttered. "I wasn't planning on sharing anything or being a bother and look at me. I fall to pieces in front of a virtual stranger."
Jess put a hand on his shoulder. "Please, don't worry yourself over it. I honestly don't mind. Besides, everyone needs to let go once in a while. From what you've told me, I think you're more than entitled to this. And I think we may have gotten past the strangers bit, don't you think?" she asked with a smile.
John chuckled. "Yes, I think you're right."
"Where do you live, John?" Jess asked. "I'm thinking we might want to get you home and lying down."
He nodded in agreement. "That sounds like a superb idea. It's quite convenient, really. Just around the corner on Baker Street. 221B."
"Fantastic! Up you get, Dr. Watson!" She helped him up. "There we go."
John raised an eyebrow at her exuberance. "You haven't by any chance worked with small children or the invalided, have you?"
Jess laughed. "I'll have you know, I was the best camp counselor Camp Higby had in 20 years!"
John nodded indulgently. "Oh yes, I'm sure you were."
When they reached the door to 221B Baker Street, he took out his key, unlocked it, and let them both inside. They were halfway up the stairs when they heard movement downstairs.
"John?" a voice called. "Is that you?"
"Mrs. Hudson," John whispered to Jess, "my landlady. Yes, Mrs. Hudson!" he called back.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade stopped by looking for you this afternoon." Mrs. Hudson came around the corner. "Oh! And who might you be, dear?"
Jess held out her hand for Mrs. Hudson to shake. "I'm Jess. I just ran into John in the pub 'round the corner and wanted to make sure he got home alright."
Mrs. Hudson took it. "That's very kind of you."
John gently pressed his hand against the small of Jess' back, guiding her up the stairs. "Good night, Mrs. Hudson."
Mrs. Hudson looked at them with a knowing twinkle in her eye. "Good night, dears."
When they got inside his Apartment Proper, John led Jess to the couch. "Would you like some coffee?" he offered.
"Umm," she leaned forward to peer into the kitchen where John had already disappeared. She heard him fumbling around with the coffee pot. "Are you sure you want to be making coffee? I mean, if you're going to make some for yourself, I will have a cup, but please don't go out of your way for me."
"No, no, it's all fine!" He called back.
A short while later, John returned to the living room with two steaming mugs. As he sat down, he offered her one. She accepted it with thanks.
"So," Jess began, "you're a doctor. What's your specialty?"
"I served in Afghanistan as a field surgeon, but I'm also qualified for general medicine." John answered. "I currently work part-time at a clinic in Covent Garden and I'll cover some Emergency Room shifts at St. Mary's if needed."
"You sound quite busy! And Afghanistan?" She paused. "Thank you."
"What?"John was confused.
"For serving. Thank you." Jess's eyes were glassy.
"You don't have to thank—"
"Yes I do," Jess interrupted. "Both my parents were working in the World Trade Center on 9/11." She looked away. "Mom didn't make it out, and Dad died from complications from the lung cancer he developed from breathing in the fumes about six years ago. You didn't have to go—you're not American, so you wouldn't have had that sense of patriotic duty, or at least not to the degree some of my classmates had when they enlisted after graduation. Besides, given how unpopular the war is back home now," she looked back to him, "people just don't thank our veterans enough for their sacrifices."
"Oh, umm," John could feel his ears turning red. "You're, uh, welcome." He changed the topic. "Would you explain some more about your dissertation?"
Jess looked excited. "Of course! So the Wars of the Three Kingdoms encompass the English Civil War, the Scottish Civil War, and the conquest of Ireland, right? Well, my dissertation is focusing on the conquest of Ireland and situating it within the Wars of Religion while using the Siege of Drogheda as my primary case study. The paleography really helps with the documents. But what's really challenging is when the author is using a shorthand that only he knows. I had that problem during my undergrad with this account book from 1692 I was working on and—oh, God. I'm rambling."
John laughed. "Don't worry. It's fine! I find it all so very fascinating!"
Jess buried her face in her hands. "Oh, it's such a huge problem!" she lamented. "My roommates back in undergrad would joke that they couldn't take me out in public. Just you wait until I get drunk—it gets worse! When that happens, I actually start to lecture!"
They talked for a while. Jess elaborated more on her parents and her younger years while John shared some of the fonder memories of his adventures with Sherlock. He found it to be a rather therapeutic experience. This woman had no idea who Sherlock was. When asked, she said it was she was buried in work and was lucky enough to know who the new Prime Minister was.
Suddenly, Jess's phone beeped with a text alert. She read it and exclaimed, "Crap! I didn't realize it was getting so late!"
John looked at the clock. It was getting on midnight; they had talked for almost three hours. He could not remember the last time he lost track of time like that. "Where do you live?" he asked.
Scrolling through her phone, she said, "Bayswater. And I don't have the number for a cab. Have you got one? Or is the Underground still running? I'm not usually out this late."
"Stay," John blurted out.
Jess's head shot up. "What?"
"Stay," he repeated. "It's a ways to the nearest Tube station and you wouldn't need cab fare. The, er, bed is large enough for two." John scratched his neck, surprised at his own offer.
Jess contemplated him with narrowed eyes while biting her lip. After a few moments, she said, "Alright."
As John led her into the bedroom, she amended, "Provided I don't wake up dead in the morning, of course."
He laughed at the oxymoron as he turned to see her typing on her cell phone. "Who are you texting?" he asked.
"One of my flatmates," she said with a grin. "Just in case I do end up dead in the morning, she's got your name and address." She dropped him a wink to let him know her teasing was good-natured.
John handed her one of his old shirts and pointed her in the direction of his bathroom so she could change. As he got ready for bed himself, he wondered at what he was doing. Here it was, the six-month anniversary of Sherlock's suicide, and he was about to have a woman in his bed. Was this moving on? He wasn't sure, and he wasn't sure he wanted to be. All he wanted was Sherlock back, but that was impossible. Sherlock was six feet under.
The bathroom door open and pulled him from his thoughts.
Jess emerged, the borrowed shirt falling to just below her bum. "I should warn you," she said. "I've been known to talk in my sleep and I'm a cuddler."
John smiled. "I think I can manage." He gestured to the bed. "Do you have a side you prefer?"
Jess shook her head. "I'm fine with whichever."
John got settled in bed and waited for her to get in as well before turning off the lights. Once they both found positions they liked, John tentatively wrapped his arm around Jess's waist.
"Are you alright with this?" he asked.
She shifted in his arms so she was facing him, her face just barely visible from the light coming in the window from the street. "If I wasn't comfortable sharing your bed, I would have insisted on calling for a cab. I just expect you to behave yourself."
John was thankful it was too dark for her to see his blush. "I… uh…" he stuttered. He had no intention of having sex with her.
Jess smiled, confident she had gotten her message across to him, and turned back around.
"Good night, Jess," he said.
"Mmm, good night, John," he heard her respond.
John then closed his eyes. It would be the most peaceful sleep he'd have in months.
A/N: So what do you think? Constructive criticism is always welcome! Do leave a review!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything recognizable from BBC's Sherlock or real life. I'm just borrowing John for a bit of fun.