Characters: John, Forrester (OC), Sherlock, Harry
Warnings: language, a racial slur (not used by any of our heros), slightly detailed descriptions of sutures being put in
Spoilers: Forrester basically sums up Somnus in the middle of this, so if you haven't read that, but would like to, beware of major spoilers.
Word count: 4,251
Summary: During a very odd case in Chicago, John winds up in the ER--and catches up with an old friend from medical school.
Author's Notes: This is extremely indulgent on my part. I just wanted Forrester and John to interact and... I seem to have written quite a lot. It also fills up the 'believe' prompt on my occhallenge table.
I'm setting this sometime in Series One or early Belgravia for Sherlock, somewhere in there. There is suturing going on here, so those with needle phobias might want to steer clear of this one.
I think I may have added a fictional backseat to Harry Dresden's jeep and invented superfast local anesthetic. Otherwise, I've tried to be as accurate as possible. Thank you youtube, for having not one, but two videos on how to suture!
Also, because I couldn't work it in without it sounding like weird exposition, Brandon is Forrester's brother, who works with John at the surgery. You can find him in Sick Day.
So far, this trip to Chicago for a case had not gone according to plan. Not that there was a plan when it came to working with Sherlock. He adapted to his environment, and John was usually in a mad dash to keep up. Still, John had never expected to wind up somehow liaised with a private investigator who tried to make people think he was a wizard or a Chicago police officer who was equal parts extremely attractive and extremely terrifying.
Nor did he expect to end up in the A&E with a severe gash to his forearm received in a warehouse full of cult members under the impression they were mythical creatures.
The only expected part of this whole trip was that he was about to see Darcy Forrester, an old friend of his from medical school. John hadn't seen him since he left school, but Stamford kept track of everyone and had been trying to get John back in touch with his old schoolmates. He and Forrester had e-mailed back and forth a few times, and Forrester followed his blog. He'd extended an invitation when he read that John was going to be headed his way. John had hoped to catch up with him at some point while he was in Chicago but not in an examination room at Cook County Hospital.
However, in one of those small world moments, Forrester turned out to be a friend of Harry Dresden, the private detective-wizard and, when John had come through the door with him, the nurse at the desk had hurried him off into a room and announced that she would call Dr Forrester. John had never been seen in an A&E so fast in his life. He couldn't tell if this was special treatment or some attempt to hide him from the public.
Dresden and Sherlock had left him there to continue working on the case, and now John was waiting for Forrester to sew up his arm.
“You know, when I said 'drop round and say hello while you're over here', I was thinking more a drink down't the pub or dinner with the Mrs,” Forrester said, as he entered John's room. “Getting yourself sliced open is a bit drastic, Watson.”
He looked exactly the same. Well, except he was a decade and a half older. There were grey threads in his hair, but everything else was pretty much how John remembered him, right down to the weird posh/Northern accent combination and the inability to match colours properly. Even John could see that his socks matched nothing else in his outfit, and John wasn't really one to talk.
John managed to grin, despite feeling slightly woozy from the pain in his arm. He had an extremely high pain tolerance but, for some reason, this wound was making him feel a bit off. Maybe the blood loss. It was a large wound; it had bled a lot before they stemmed it.
“Oh, y'know, just wanted to see your fancy job in person,” he said. “I thought you were a big time diagnostician, why are you slumming in the A&E?”
“When Dresden comes in, they call me,” Forrester said, taking a seat on the stool by John's bed and pulling on some gloves and a mask. “Standard operating procedure, I'm afraid. And we call it an ER here, you bloody limey. Let's take a look.” He unwrapped the towel from around John's forearm and gave a low whistle. “Christ, Watson! How did you do this?”
“I'm not sure. There was a lot of fire and running,” John said. “And a person who was wearing sort of these claw things, and he took a swipe at me. I don't really remember much. Sherlock dragged me out of the building.”
“That is precisely the same description everyone who comes in with Dresden gives me,” Forrester said, leaning over to get a better look at the wound. “'A lot of fire and running'. There's something in there.” He opened up a pair of forceps and inserted them into the wound. John hissed, involuntarily. “Sorry, mate. It's okay, I have it.” He pulled out a large black claw and laid it on the table. “Well. That's new.”
John nodded, silently. The pain in his arm evaporated quite suddenly. He relaxed his shoulders a little, relieved to have the nagging sting gone. “That's what he was wearing on his fingers. Gloves with them attached, maybe? Bloody lunatic. I think it's some sort of cult thing.”
Forrester examined the wound again and made sure it was clear of other debris, then rinsed it with some saline to clean it out.
“Ten quid on ten stitches to close,” John said.
“I can do it in eight,” Forrester countered. “Does the exchange rate apply?”
“No,” John said. “Ten quid in proper money. I'm not the one who abandoned queen and country, traitor.”
“Where are you living now? Flatshare in Westminister? Have you seen my nice big mansion?” Forrester said.
“You were always a posh git,” John said. “Now you're just an American posh git.”
“I was born in Hexham,” Forrester objected. He assumed an overdone Geordie accent: “Y'kin had yer gob, divvie.”
John laughed. He stopped Forrester before he could ask the question he was preparing: “I'm not allergic to lidocaine.”
Forrester's eyes crinkled at the corners. “I should know that. Didn't I have to sew you up that night you defended Zahida Shanzay's honour?” he said. “Three sutures to your scalp after you received a pint glass to the head.”
John groaned at the memory. “Someone called her a Paki whore,” he said. “And I might have had too much to drink, and I fancied her a lot...”
“Stamford and I had to sew you up in your little bedsit so the police wouldn't be brought in,” Forrester said. “Using the supplies you practised on all those chickens with. Your flat looked like a some sort of horror film for poultry, all those half-sewn breasts lying about.”
“Do you remember that night you and Stamford showed up at my flat too pissed to walk straight?” John said. “I had to keep you there for your own safety and try to sober you up for class in the morning, and you kept moaning about swarms of chickens seeking revenge.”
“Was that the night I got my tattoo?” Forrester said.
“No, that was a different night,” John said. “Because I was there for that, egging you on like a tosser.”
Forrester laughed. “Things always went badly when we were both pissed,” he said. “We were the sensible ones. Without our guidance, everyone ran mad.”
“How the fuck did we end up coming out of there with medical licenses?” John asked.
“I've often wondered that myself. I suspect we were graded on a curve,” Forrester said. “Freezing's going in now.”
John fell silent as the local was put in his arm. It took three jabs on either side to get the full length of the wound covered.
“How'd you get involved with Dresden?” he asked after Forrester was done.
“There was an epidemic a couple of years back,” Forrester explained. “Sleeping sickness. I've never seen anything like it. I still don't know what it was, really. A young police officer was the first victim. He worked with Lt. Murphy, Dresden's friend.”
“I've met her,” John said.
“The young man died,” Forrester went on. John could hear the strain in his voice—he was still upset about that. “It was an unusual death, so the police were involved. And the victims kept coming in. It was idiopathic—there was no apparent reason for it to spread, no connection between the victims. I couldn't even diagnose the patients with anything specific. They all simply fell asleep. They were all a one on the coma scale, but they were all in permanent REM sleep. They were dreaming constantly. They didn't go through the cycles of sleep. They didn't respond to pain stimulae. There was a mild fever but no infection, no lesions or growths of the brain. They were all tachycardic, but there was nothing wrong with their hearts. It was maddening!”
“Maybe...” John said, casting around in his knowledge banks for an explanation.
Forrester raised an eyebrow after he didn't finish the sentence. “Exactly.”
“How did you treat it?” John said.
“I tried to deal with the symptoms as best I could, but I couldn't get them to wake up,” Forrester said. “And some of them had sudden cardiac arrests and couldn't be resuscitated. Idiopathic as well. Then Lt. Murphy fell ill. And she woke up a few hours later without explanation. Dresden went into her room and she woke up. And after she woke up, everyone else woke up. No reason for that, either.”
“I've never heard of anything like that,” John said. “And I've seen some weird things overseas.”
“I asked Dresden if he did something, and he implied that he might have, but he wouldn't elaborate,” Forrester said. “And I still don't know what happened. I lost three patients, two of them far too young, and I can't explain it.”
John frowned. “You don't really believe in that stuff about Dresden?” he said. “I mean, that's just PR. He does what Sherlock does, really. He just has a fancy title.” Forrester didn't answer; he was getting the swaged needle into the needle holder. “Darcy?”
“Are you numb?” Forrester asked, lightly poking his arm with the syringe. John nodded. “Let me know if it hurts.”
He found the centre of the wound and began the first suture.
“I don't know,” he finally responded, his brow furrowed either in concentration or consternation. “Logically, I know it can't be true. But... he does things that are hard to explain.”
“Everything can be explained,” John argued. “I mean, Sherlock looks like a fucking mind-reader most of the time and that's all logic and observation. He could pull off being a psychic easily. He'd just rather everyone knew he was clever rather than thinking he was magical.”
Forrester nodded again. “I know that,” he said. “And it wasn't just the epidemic. I've seen some other things. I know it must have an explanation—all of it. But... until I get a definitive one, I prefer a more agnostic view of things.”
“That's fair,” John said. “Sorry. I'm used to living with Sherlock. I forget people are allowed to have different opinions.”
Forrester chuckled, softly. “No offense taken,” he said. “I'm aware how daft it is.”
He snipped the first suture and moved to the centre of the divided wound to start the next one.
“That's a nice knot you just threw,” John noted. “You used to be rubbish with sutures.”
“Funnily enough, it's somewhat easier to pick up if you don't have a red-faced little man yelling at you in a Scottish accent,” Forrester said.
John laughed. “I liked Clayton,” he said. “But yelling at each other in Scottish accents was my dad's side of the family's preferred method of communication. I was desensitized at an early age. Speaking of dads, I saw yours a few months ago. He was the judge at a hearing I had to testify at.”
“I heard about that,” Forrester said. “He mentioned that he'd seen a friend of mine. I asked him if that would be considered a conflict of interest, and he said 'I don't think so, I had no bloody clue who he was, even after he told me' and Mum said 'oh you remember John, he's the nice little one who joined the army'.”
John was now laughing too hard for Forrester to properly throw the knot, and he had to wait until the shaking subsided.
“Oh God,” John said when he could speak again. “Nice to know I made an impression. I thought your dad looked a bit confused, but I got up there just after Sherlock and that's the look everyone has after he speaks.”
“Don't feel bad, he never remembers Stamford either,” Forrester said. “And he was in my wedding party. You at least he hasn't seen since we were in school.”
“I think the last time I saw him was just before I left to join my regiment, after I left school,” John said. “He came to pick you up and take you home for a visit, and I was trying to get to the train depot and he gave me a lift over. He gave me a fiver for lunch and told me not to get myself blown-up. How old is he now? He looks exactly the same.”
Forrester's eyes crinkled at the story, though his smile was hidden behind his mask. “Sixty-five,” he said. “Mum keeps talking about him retiring, but he won't have any of it. She's taken to holidaying by herself. She says she's having more fun than if he came along, anyway.”
John grinned. “I see Brandon sometimes, at the surgery,” he added. “Forresters everywhere, can't get away from you lot.”
“We're pervasive,” Forrester agreed. “Taking over the world one government job at a time.”
They continued to chat and catch up while Forrester worked. John sometimes forgot that he had a life before the military, one that he had enjoyed. He hadn't kept in touch with his old friends while he was serving, and he tended to think of his life as 'before being shot' and 'after being shot'. He'd closed himself off from everyone. It was nice to remember that he hadn't always been alone, even if it sometimes felt like it.
Sherlock arrived when Forrester was throwing the knot on the seventh suture. He threw open the door with so little warning that Forrester jumped in his seat and dropped all of the thread he was winding around the needle holder.
“Aren't you done yet?” Sherlock complained. He looked over his shoulder and spoke to Dresden behind him. “I thought you said he was supposed to be good?”
Forrester snorted in amusement, apparently not affected by Sherlock's complaint. “I'm almost done. One more suture should do it.”
“Three more,” John countered.
“We shall see,” Forrester said. “Hello, Harry.”
“Hey Doc,” Dresden said, with a warm smile.
John made the introductions between Sherlock and Forrester. Sherlock put on one of his fake smiles briefly and made a noise like a friendly dolphin mimicking human speech, as though he couldn't be arsed to come up with an actual word. It sounded something like 'hnnn!'.
“Dresden thinks he's picked up the trail,” Sherlock said, his smile dropping from his face the moment it was no longer required. “Are you coming?”
“Not while this wound is still gaping open,” John said.
“Hurry up!” Sherlock ordered.
Dresden rolled his eyes behind Sherlock's back. He seemed like a very easy-going bloke and had put up with most of Sherlock's antics well so far but looked to be reaching his limits.
“Murph's got sciencey things running with the forensics people,” Dresden said. “Testing blood and stuff from the warehouse.”
“'Sciencey things'?” Sherlock quoted, in disgust. He picked up the story, apparently feeling Dresden wasn't up to the task. “It's taking ages, and I don't know anyone here. I tried to call Molly to take a look at the results, but she isn't answering her phone.”
“First of all, it's three in the morning in London,” John said. “And second, she's on compassionate leave.”
Sherlock looked surprised at this news. “What? Why?”
“Her dad died, remember?” John said.
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. “That was ages ago.”
“It was Monday,” John said. “And it's Wednesday.”
Sherlock looked like this didn't quite compute. “Well, whatever,” he said. “My point is, how am I suppose to know if anyone here is doing an acceptable job? I might as well run them myself. This Murphy wouldn't arrange it with the labs for me.”
“I have no control over the labs,” Forrester said before Sherlock could ask.
“Well, what's the point of you, then?” Sherlock snapped. He pulled his mobile from his pocket. “I'll try Lestrade again. Maybe he's come up with something on his end.”
“It's still three in the morning,” John said.
“If he's any good at his job, he'll have been up all night anyway,” Sherlock said. He frowned down at his mobile, slapping it a few times. “This has been acting up all day.” Next to him, Dresden took a large step to the right as though fearing some sort of physical attack. “There we go. I'll meet you at the jeep when you're done.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Forrester said, brightly.
John bit his lip to keep from laughing. Sherlock made the friendly dolphin sound again and left.
“You've read the blog,” John said, in response Forrester's raised eyebrow. “What were you expecting? He grows on you. Sort of.”
“So does staphylococcus,” Forrester said.
“Or warts,” Dresden added.
John laughed and nodded in agreement.
“And...” Forrester snipped the thread on the eighth suture. “Done. Ten quid, please.”
John looked over the wound, hoping to find somewhere where the skin was still gaping enough to warrant another suture. There wasn't anywhere. He sighed and retrieved his wallet, handing Forrester a tenner.
“What's that in American money?” Dresden wondered.
“Fifteen dollars?” Forrester said. “Give or take. A round at the pub, at least.”
“Nice,” Dresden said. “Er, before you wrap him up, can I take a look at the wound? Do you mind?”
“Of course,” Forrester said, like this was a perfectly normal request. “I'm going to get an ice pack for your cheek.”
Dresden touched the bruise on his face. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,” he said. “I didn't have ice at home.”
“You could have used snow,” John and Forrester said, in unison.
Dresden blinked at them. “Wow. Do they churn you guys out in double packs over there?”
“Yes, and send us out to conquer the world,” Forrester said. “God save the Queen!”
“God save the Queen!” John echoed, in droning, brainwashed voice.
Dresden grinned. He came over to John and raised an eyebrow, asking permission to look at the wound. John shrugged in bewilderment, no idea what Dresden would want to see. Unless it was just morbid curiosity.
Dresden bowed his head, not quite looking at the wound, but slightly below it. His eyes went a little blank and wide. John got the odd impression of being looked through, right past his skin and inside him. Dresden put his left hand up to his eye like he was blocking out a light that was too bright. John wiggled, feeling uncomfortably exposed for some reason. After a few moments, Dresden's head dropped and then raised, the blank look gone from his eyes.
“You should drink this,” he said, pulling a little vial of green syrup from his pocket.
“Why?” John said. “What is it?”
“It's a herbal thing,” Dresden said. “It'll keep the wound from...er, getting infected.”
John raised a sceptical eyebrow. “So will proper wound care,” he said. “I'm good, thanks.”
“John,” Forrester said.
John looked over and received a brief nod of encouragement. Forrester was using the same tone of voice that he used to when John had had too much to drink or needed to curb his temper. Forrester was a couple of years older and had always been as much of a pseudo-big brother as a friend. John recognized the big brother voice now.
“Okay,” John said, after a few moments. “No harm, I guess.”
He may not believe in Dresden, but he did believe in Forrester.
He downed the syrup in one gulp. It tasted like licorice and... something else he couldn't put his finger on. The giddy feeling he'd had since he'd been hurt seemed to melt away. He wondered if the placebo effect still worked even if a person didn't believe what they were taking would help them. It looked like it did.
Dresden wrapped the claw Forrester had pulled from the wound in some gauze and pocketed it. “Evidence,” he explained.
“Right,” John said.
Forrester handed Dresden an icepack. “Fifteen minutes on, fifteen off until the swelling goes down.”
“I remember,” Dresden said. “Not my first rodeo, Doc. Er, you know to—?”
“I'll dispose of everything,” Forrester said. “Appropriately.”
“Great. Thanks,” Dresden said. “I'm gonna make sure Holmes hasn't stolen my jeep. He tried to leave me behind earlier when he got excited.”
“I'll be out in a minute,” John said. “If you're still there.”
Dresden said goodbye to Forrester and hurried out.
“Don't ask,” Forrester said, as he took a seat again to finish binding the wound. “It's far simpler if you don't.”
John frowned. “This is the weirdest case I've ever worked,” he said. “And that's including the time Sherlock's laptop melted. And the time he stole the tour bus. And the time we found a body in a tree.”
“Well, this is about a one on my Scale of Unusual Cases,” Forrester said. “I haven't told you about the werewolves.”
“Ha,” John said, rolling his eyes.
Forrester unhooked his mask from one of his ears, letting it hang from the other. He was smiling, but a funny sort of knowing smile. “All right, good to go,” he said. “I won't give you the wound care speech. You can probably take the sutures out yourself when you think it's time.”
“Or get someone at the surgery to do it,” John said. He shifted his legs over the side of the table and got to his feet cautiously, aware that he might be a bit dizzy still. There was nothing. It was like it had all gone away in an instant. He felt great. Strange. “Thanks, Dars.”
“No worries,” Forrester said. “It was good to see you again, though not exactly how I would have liked. The offer for dinner is still open. Sammie will cook. She's dying to meet you.”
“I'll let you know if I have time after the case is over,” John said. “I'd like to meet her, too. Tell her I said hi, anyway.”
“I shall,” Forrester said. “Keep yourself out of further danger, if you can. You do realize you've exchanged one war zone for another, don't you?”
John nodded, with a sheepish smile. “Yeah, it's been pointed out to me.”
“You seem to enjoy it, so I suppose that's what matters,” Forrester said. “It's good that you've found something to keep you busy. I've had a lot of vets through here. A lot of them seemed lost. I'm glad you're not.”
John nodded. “Thanks.”
They exchanged handshakes and promises to keep in touch, John carrying the extra promise to pass on Forrester's regards to Stamford next time he saw him. John left the hospital and tried to find Dresden and Sherlock in the car park. He followed the sound of angry voices.
“I have no interest in ant vomit!” Sherlock was yelling. “I refuse to follow any trail based on an insect's stomach contents. It has no scientific basis whatsoever.”
“Look, you want to find the bad guys, listen to me,” Dresden replied, calmly. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Yes. Actual clues and logic,” Sherlock snapped back.
“Fine, use your clues and logic, and I'll meet you at the right place,” Dresden said. “If I haven't gotten there already and apprehended the suspects before you figure out what's going on.”
“I consider that highly unlikely,” Sherlock said, smugly. “And 'gotten' is not a proper word.” He looked over to John as he arrived. “Are you all right now?!” He was so worked up that this was practically snarled at John, turning what would have normally been a pretty considerate thing to say into something hostile-sounding instead.
“Yeah, m'good,” John said, making a 'calm down' gesture. “What's going on?”
“Dresden is attempting to convince me that he can track criminals by looking at ant vomit,” Sherlock said.
“Er... okay,” John said, trying not to show his scepticism in as much of an open manner as Sherlock was. “Right. So. How does that work?”
Dresden tapped his nose. “Trade secret,” he said. Sherlock snorted, derisively. “Look. Give me fifteen minutes. If I don't accomplish anything, we can part ways. But I haven't steered you wrong so far. Just let me work, and I'll get us where we need to be.”
Sherlock folded his arms stubbornly. John shrugged. They had a silent conversation, where John convinced him to let Dresden have a go. He was right—everything he'd done so far had brought them closer to the killers.
“Fine,” Sherlock said. He looked down at his watch. “Fifteen minutes starting now.”
“Great!” Dresden said. He pulled out a pair of sunglasses, despite it being 9:30 at night in the middle of winter. “Er, I need someone to punch me in the—”
Sherlock's fist connected with Dresden's cheek before he'd finished the sentence.
“Sherlock!” John scolded
“He asked me to!” Sherlock objected.
“It's fine,” Dresden said. “Thanks, Holmes.”
John shook his head. He decided it was probably best not to ask why Dresden needed to be punched in the face. He noticed Sherlock had gone for the cheek that wasn't already injured. John felt like this was a big step forward for him.
Dresden recovered himself and shook his head clear. “Perfect,” he said, cheerfully. “Hop in and follow me.”
Sherlock walked around to the far side of the jeep, while Dresden pulled his seat forward for John to get in the back. He sighed, looking heavenward for patience. He wasn't sure getting into a motorized vehicle with two madmen was a good idea.
He crawled into the back, where he had been relegated on the grounds that his legs didn't take up as much room. Sherlock was tall and Dresden was freakishly tall. Neither of them fit back there. Dresden clicked the seat back in place and hopped into the driver's seat. Now John was trapped, for better or worse.
“All right, here we go,” Dresden said. “I have to keep my eye on the trail, so someone shout if I'm driving towards any obstacles or anything.”
Sherlock nodded like this was reasonable. John wondered if it was too late at night to take up Forrester's offer for dinner. He supposed he didn't want to miss the action, though, not really. 'One war zone for another', indeed.
And just how John liked it.