Note: Takes place during Season 1, when the folks at Scotland Yard don't know John all that well yet. Not beta'd or Brit-picked, so all mistakes are my own. As always, I own nothing but my own plot. The world and the characters belong to the BBC and Doyle-I just like to play here.
"So, what do we know about this crime scene?" John asked as they got out of the cab.
Sherlock shrugged, waiting while John paid the driver. "Lestrade didn't say much, just that he wanted you here."
"Me?" John asked, surprised. "Why me?"
"He didn't say. Perhaps he's finally given up on Anderson and needs your medical skills," Sherlock told him, ducking under the crime scene tape and holding it up for his friend.
"I'm better with live people."
"True, but even so, you're still better than Anderson," Sherlock told him with a small smile as they were directed to the back of the winding alley to meet Lestrade.
The detective was just coming to meet them. "Good, you're here," he said. "We've got a dead body, no ID yet. It looks like a simple mugging, but …."
"But you needed to see John. Why?"
"There was no wallet, but we found this near the body." Lestrade held out a creased photo of two soldiers, laughing in the bright sun of Afghanistan. A stranger and … John.
"No," John breathed. "Not Bill."
"So, you know him, John?" Lestrade asked.
"Bill Murray." John swallowed. "Is it him?"
"We're not sure yet. The face is … we need someone to ID him." Lestrade hesitated, looking at John's pale face. "You did know him, right? Will you be okay?"
"Oh, yes, I knew him," was all John said, but Sherlock saw the way his lips tightened. Whoever Bill Murray was, he meant a lot to John.
John was in a daze as he walked around the corner. He barely even noticed the bustling officers, didn't blink at the bright lights. He only had eyes for the dead man lying in a pool of blood. He'd obviously been beaten before being stabbed, but his knuckles testified that he had put up a fight. John swallowed hard, not yet able to look at the man's face. He drew a hard breath and focused on the hands and then felt the tension in his shoulders subside.
"What?" Sherlock's voice was unusually gentle behind him. "What do you see?"
"His hands. There's no …" John paused to pull in a deeper breath, trying to collect his thoughts and then said with relief, "It's not Bill. He had a scar on the back of his left hand from an accident in basic training. There was a tattoo on his wrist, also, but this man doesn't."
He looked at the face then. The poor man had indeed been beaten before being killed, but it was not Bill's face. Other than the hair being the same color and similar builds, they looked nothing alike.
"So, you don't know him, then?" Lestrade asked, voice a mixture of relief for a friend and disappointment as a detective.
John shook his head. "No, I don't think so." Feeling calmer now, he looked more closely at the scene as Sherlock began to stalk around the body.
"Why did he have your picture, then?"
"Are you sure the picture was his?" asked John. "Why would a complete stranger be carrying that photo? Though I suppose the mugger could have been carrying it, and that's not likely, either."
"There was a third person here," Sherlock said, pointing with his finger. "See? The victim is wearing basic trainers and left scuffs in the dirt as he struggled with someone wearing Nikes—you can tell be the tread. There are marks over here. But, if you look here," he gestured to a spot next to the body, "Marks from boots, as well as a skid, as if someone had slid to their knees."
John stepped toward the body and nodded at the way the blood was smeared, the bloody fingerprints on the shirt. "Yeah. Someone tried to help him. Judging by the wound, though, he would have been dead too quickly."
"So … a good Samaritan who decided not to be caught on the scene?" Lestrade asked.
Sherlock nodded. "Exactly. Someone whose first instinct is to rush to help a combat victim, perhaps? John?"
John nodded slowly as he followed that thought to its logical end. "That would be just like Murray. In fact … hmm. I wouldn't be surprised …"
Voice trailing off, he turned on his heel and practically marched back out of the alley, Sherlock and Lestrade trailing behind. Ten feet from the barricade, John stopped and came to full attention and barked, "Murray! Report!"
He ignored the way every head turned toward him as he stood there, suddenly radiating authority, searching the crowd of gawkers. Even Donovan looked impressed, for the long moment of shocked silence, and then there was a sharp laugh from the crowd of onlookers as a man pushed his way forward. "Captain Watson! Corporal Murray reporting, sir!"
John returned his salute and then laughed, gesturing the man forward. He looked just the way John remembered him. Brown hair lightened at the tips from the sun, skin a golden tan, hints of blood on his hands. The only thing unfamiliar was his civilian clothing. John had never seen him out of uniform. "Bill! When did you get back? What are you doing here?"
John pounded him on the back and tried to blink away the tears that sprung into his eyes as Sally said, "Oh wonderful. You two know each other. What, are you long-lost brothers, or something?"
"Something like that, Donovan," John told her, still gripping Bill's hand. "Brothers-in arms, anyway. We served together in Afghanistan. Murray, here, was my medic and saved a lot of lives."
Sherlock's voice came from behind him. "He knows about your bad shoulder—he very carefully did not touch it during that manly embrace. He is genuinely glad to see you, even though he's surprised to. He obviously he thought you would have had more trouble with your injuries—he looked for your cane—and is relieved to see that is not the case. He felt responsible for your limp, for some reason, but not your shoulder. Interesting."
"Wow," said Bill. "That's…"
"Appalling, I know," Sally said. "We keep trying to break him of the habit, but he keeps showing up anyway."
"That's enough, Donovan." John's voice was firm and he was gratified to see her shut her mouth with a snap, unused to hearing him give orders. "Bill, this is Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, my flatmate and my best friend. Sherlock, this is Bill Murray, one of the best medics in the army. Also, Detective Inspector Lestrade, and, oh, Sgt. Sally Donovan. So, Bill, what are you doing in London?"
"I'm on leave, and was lucky enough to get home to meet my new nephew."
"Jenny and Sam had a kid? Congratulations, Bill!" John was thrilled for his friend. He knew how much he wanted kids of his own and would be over the moon at being an uncle. He could see Donovan getting impatient, though, and didn't want to task Lestrade's patience any further. "You're going to spoil him rotten. But that doesn't explain what you're doing here."
"I was in London actually hoping to look you up, Captain, but got distracted by the crime scene and couldn't help gawking. What's going on?
"Don't lie, Murray," John told him. "I played poker with you too many times not to know your tells. We know you were there, we just need to know why."
"What, are you a cop now, Captain?"
"If you could just answer the question, please," Lestrade put in, suddenly serious again. "You were on the scene earlier, weren't you?"
Bill shrugged. "It's a fair cop. Yeah, I was, but I was too late to do anything."
"What were you doing at a mugging?" Sally's voice was harsh.
"What do you think? I heard someone being attacked and stopped to see if I could help."
She looked skeptical, but John nodded. It was a professional hazard—he couldn't ignore a person in pain, either. Sally just tended to assume no-one other than a police officer would ever go out of their way to help someone—which, really, explained a lot about Sally. "Did you see anything, Bill?"
"Just him, lying on the ground with the knife next to him. I did what I could, but without supplies .. he'd lost too much blood. He was gone before I even got there."
"You didn't see his attacker?" Sherlock's voice was sharp.
Bill shook his head. "No, but I heard footsteps heading in the other direction. I think he must have heard me coming."
"So, why'd you leave, then?" asked Donovan. "Why didn't you at least call it in?"
"I did, but it took a while to find a pay phone."
"Why didn't you just … oh, of course. You didn't want to use your mobile because you didn't want the call to be traced, even though you know that seems suspicious. Why?" asked Sherlock.
Bill just smiled. "I've only got a short leave, I didn't want to spend all of it explaining things at the police station—especially since I was too late to do anything. It would have been different if I'd saved him, but all I did was look at the wound and take his pulse. I didn't see anything useful, don't know who he is. I just figured it would be better all around for me to stay anonymous."
Donovan was shaking her head but Lestrade just gave a nod. "Not actually true, but I'll let it pass this once. Now you're here, though, why don't you come back with us. I assume this is yours?" He held out the evidence bag with the photo.
"How did you … oh, don't tell me it fell out of my pocket! It's a good thing I didn't kill the bloke, I'm obviously not meant for a life of crime." Sherlock was back to examining the scene now, muttering to himself, while John stood by Bill. "Is that what you're doing here, Captain? They recognized you from the photo? How?"
"It wasn't hard since we see him several times a week," Lestrade said, eyes on Sherlock's flitting form.
"Several times a week? Captain, what have you been up to since you got out?"
John grinned. "Not a captain any more, Murray, and I told you. Sherlock's a Consulting Detective and I help out. We work with Lestrade on a regular basis."
"Too regular, if you ask me," came from Donovan.
"Nobody asked, Sally," Sherlock said from the other side of the alley. His eyes were intent on the ground, but he was obviously following the conversation.
"Anyway," John said, feeling like a primary school teacher, "When Lestrade saw my picture, he called us in." He and Bill gossiped about their army buddies while Sherlock stalked his way around the alley. He approached them long enough to grab Bill's hands to examine the nails before returning to Lestrade
"The killer is approximately 5'10" and young, going by the choice in trainers. No older than 25, at least, and left-handed—you can tell by the kill stroke. The prints left by the army boots—Mr. Murray, here—very definitely made a quick approach. You can see the skid marks, and the way the weight was on the toes prior to his inspection of the victim. His fingers bear this out because, even though he's washed them, there are traces of blood on his nails on both hands. Had he been the killer, there would only have been blood on the hand that held the knife. Also, there are no marks on his knuckles, so he obviously was not the man who beat the victim. He may have made an unwise choice in leaving the scene, but that was a lack of judgment, not because of guilt."
Sherlock glanced up and then added, "Though I disagree with John. I don't believe Mr. Murray returned out of curiosity or a sense of obligation, but because he realized his photo was missing and hoped to be able to retrieve it before it became evidence. He obviously was hoping to see John tonight, which is why he had the photo, but did not expect him here at the scene. He obviously doesn't read your blog, John."
"Well, not everybody does, Sherlock," John told him as he gave an apologetic glance at Bill. "He does that," he said apologetically.
"No complaints from me, since he backed up almost everything I said. Does this mean I can leave now?"
Lestrade stepped forward. "Unfortunately, we're going to need a statement, first. But afterward? I think I speak for all of us when I say we're hoping you have some embarrassing stories to share about John's days in the army. He's awfully close-lipped about it."
Bill just grinned. "Oh, yes. I've got some great stories."
Later, in the pub
"And then this idiot ran out to drag him back. It was the stupidest and bravest thing I'd ever seen," Bill said as he gestured toward John with his glass.
"That describes John in a nutshell, right there," Sherlock said. John was still trying to get used to the idea that Sherlock had joined them at the pub. He met Lestrade several times for a pint, but Sherlock had never deigned to come before.
"Oh, please," John said to Bill, "Like you never did the same."
A slow grin. "Well, sure, Captain, but that was for you. That's entirely different."
John just waved his hand. Bill had been as dedicated as he was to saving the lives of their mates, no matter what he might say now. It took him a minute before he realized the rest of the table had gone quiet. Damn.
"You were there?" Sherlock asked. "Of course you were, how did I miss that?"
Bill just nodded. "We weren't supposed to be out in the field, mind you. Or rather, Cap here wasn't, being a surgeon and all, but we were on a convoy that got attacked and he refused to stay where it was safe."
"It's not my job to stay safe," John muttered into his beer, knowing that Sherlock wouldn't let this go. "It's my job to save lives."
"And you did," Bill agreed. "I counted a dozen before you were stupid enough to break cover—again—and get yourself shot."
"Shot?" Donovan's voice was smaller than John had ever heard it.
"Yes, Sally," Sherlock snapped at her, "Do keep up. John was invalided home from the army because he was shot in the shoulder. How could you not know that?"
"It's not like he talks about it, Freak. How was I supposed to know?"
Sherlock started to open his mouth, but John got there first. "You couldn't," he said in that firm command voice of his. "No normal person could know just by looking at me that I'd been shot in the shoulder but yes, I was. And yes, Bill was the one who saved my life. Can we talk about something else now?"
"I don't think so," Sherlock said, "This is riveting."
Lestrade nodded. "I agree. I knew you'd been invalided home, John, but didn't realize you'd been shot. You were using a cane when I met you—I thought you'd hurt your leg?"
John just sighed and took another swig from his drink. He really didn't want to talk about this, though he'd known it was inevitable with Bill here. "The leg was nothing. It was the shoulder shot that invalided me out. Couldn't be a surgeon after that—too much nerve damage to make performing surgery possible."
"Which was their loss," Bill told him. "You were the best doc in the unit. With the way your shoulder was bleeding out, I was afraid that you were the only surgeon who would have been able to save you."
John shrugged again, trying to ignore the stares from his friends. "I've seen the chart, Bill. It wasn't that bad."
"You flat-lined, Captain. That counts as 'bad'," Bill told him in the fraught silence that had descended on the table. "You scared the hell out of me. It didn't help that you were sick with malaria for weeks, either. And then you get back home and you don't even write to tell me you're okay?"
Everyone at the table is staring at him now and John wants to crawl under it. He was proud of his service, not at all ashamed at having been wounded in the line of duty, but he nevertheless felt an obscure sense of weakness at having been one of those needing help rather than the one providing it. And now everyone knew. He forced himself to meet Bill's eyes. "I sent you my blog address, didn't I? And I know I thanked you, Bill."
Bill seemed to read something in his face because he relented and said, "Yeah, one lousy email, and that blog? What's with that, Captain? It was the most boring thing I've ever seen, and then suddenly you started writing murder mysteries—how the hell did that happen? When did you start writing fiction?"
Lestrade leaned forward. "It's not fiction, mate. It's all true."
"Hardly," Sherlock said with a snort. "Highly sensationalized renditions, but I suppose at least some of the facts are right."
"You're just jealous because my blog gets more hits than yours," John told him, hoping to steer the conversation away from his injury.
Bill was still staring. "Wait. That stuff on the blog is true?"
"That's what we're saying, Bill," Lestrade said. "You saved John's life so he could come home and chase after criminals with Sherlock, here."
Donovan finally found her voice again. "Yeah, hardly seems worth the effort now, does it? He could still die at any moment, plus he's got the Freak to deal with, poor bloke." Her voice trailed off as the others all turned to stare indignantly.
"It's nice to know you care," said John and then announced to the table, "I think Sally's had too much to drink."
"I, er… I didn't mean it the way it sounded, John," she stuttered, trying to find her way to an apology.
"Don't worry about it Sally," John told her. "Believe me, I know what you think of me."
Sherlock had leaned in, though. "You're letting her off too easily, John. She's made nothing but disparaging comments about you since you were introduced."
"Not true, Freak," Sally retorted. "I've been making disparaging comments about you. I'm just waiting to find out why John puts up with you—or the day you finally snap and kill the poor man. From what Bill's been saying, he deserves better."
John couldn't believe his ears. How had Bill's telling embarrassing stories about their army days devolved into yet another Sally/Sherlock spitting match? He met Lestrade's eyes for a moment as Bill, sensing the tension, asked, "Did John ever tell you folks how we met?"
Lestrade answered quickly, eager to help change the topic. "No. No, he didn't," he said and Bill launched into a highly edited version of how they'd met in boot camp and the prank they'd played on their commanding officer involving a goat, 10 yards of rubber hose and a barrel of vegetable oil from the canteen.
"Oh, God, I'm never going to be able to show my face again," John moaned. "I knew this was a mistake. If you don't stop right now, I'm going to have to tell them about the pony, Bill."
"Christ, no, Captain! Anything but that!" Bill put his hands together to beg, but John was merciless and started into the tale as his friend slumped down in his chair and hid his face. Sherlock looked particularly intrigued, analyzing everything in his body language. He started to open his mouth but John nudged him and just said, "Be nice," and continued his story.
Before long, the whole table was howling with laughter. Lestrade was telling about the first time he'd met Sherlock, and even Donovan had a few stories that were more funny than bitter.
And, miracle of miracles, Sherlock behaved himself and didn't strip anyone naked of their secrets once. He just sat with his glass of scotch and absorbed every detail, every nuance as the evening progressed. John wasn't sure if that was ultimately a good or bad thing, but at least it was quiet. Lord knew Bill was chattering enough for all of them.
By the time they called it quit for the night, there had been enough stories, enough alcohol, and enough sheer, intoxicating levity that John hoped that no-one would remember Bill's story about the day he'd been shot. It wasn't that he wasn't grateful. He knew Bill had saved his life. He knew how close he'd come to dying. (He was a doctor. He really did know how very, very close it had been.)
But that was the problem. If it hadn't been for Bill dragging him to safety and then managing to stop the bleeding long enough for John to make it to surgery, he wouldn't be here. He would never have survived to meet Sherlock Holmes and become part of the man's crazy, wild, wonderful life.
There were simply no words sufficient to the need.
Even before Sherlock, when John had been convalescing, he had had trouble thanking Bill—but that had been different. Then, John had been facing a bleak future with no friends, a lost career (two, really), and no useful skills. (Sure, he'd been to medical school, but he was a surgeon. He wasn't meant to diagnose sniffles all day long.) How do you thank someone to sentencing you to a long, gray life?
But then he'd met Sherlock and his world had exploded with color and excitement. Everything was new again, including him, and there simply were no words to express the sheer gratitude that he'd survived long enough to experience it.
In so many ways, he owed Bill everything, and there was no way he could repay that. He knew he should thank him, knew Bill deserved it, but … the words just never came. John had been on the receiving end of unnecessary thanks countless times, and both he and Bill knew—saving lives was the job. Thanks weren't necessary. In fact, they were downright uncomfortable.
But, still … sometimes they had to be said.
Which is why it was all too soon before Lestrade and Sally said their goodbyes. They shook Bill's hand and told him he was welcome in London any time—just not to mess with their crime scenes next time. If there was some hesitation, something different in their demeanor when they said goodnight to John, he tried to ignore it. He had never planned for his military service to be gossip fodder, but … nothing he could do now. Hopefully the hint of respect he read in their faces would help. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing for them to think of him as more than just Sherlock's sidekick.
He glanced over at Sherlock, but his face was unreadable as he watched Bill exchanging wisecracks with Lestrade. Sherlock had been avidly attentive as John and Bill shared war stories, and John wasn't sure what to make of that. He knew Sherlock would absorb the details—all for the ongoing quest for more data. John understood that. But he hadn't … reacted. Sherlock hadn't gushed about John being a hero. He hadn't looked appalled at the news of his injury, or excited at the tales of action. He hadn't been embarrassed at John's becoming a burden rather than a help, either … but then, that was John's problem, not Sherlock's. No, Sherlock had just seemed … interested, and John wasn't sure what to make of that. Who knew what was going on in that genius brain of his?
Now, though, John was havering on the pavement, facing Bill. This was John's chance to find the words. This was the moment, this was his chance to finally tell Bill how grateful he was (because he was, embarrassing though it was) … but still, all he could do was stand there, nothing coming to his tongue.
And then, a long arm was reaching past him and Sherlock's voice came over his shoulder. "Thank you, Bill. Thank you for saving his life for me."
Thus proving that the self-proclaimed sociopath wasn't as much of a stranger to emotions as he liked to pretend.
Thus proving that he knew John Watson better than he did himself.
And that, John supposed, said it all.