John was scanning the job offers in the paper when Sherlock wandered into the living room the next morning wearing a dark blue robe. He walked right past John and sank down on the couch, staring off into the distance.
"Not a morning person?" John said, glancing at his watch, which read 10:15 AM. When he didn't get a response from Sherlock he looked over at the other boy, who had his fingers steepled underneath his chin and had his gaze fixed on the opposite wall. "Sherlock?"
"There's an apprenticeship open at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. It's not far from here," Sherlock said, ignoring John's question.
John glanced down at the paper in his hands, and then reached over the side of his armchair and retrieved his laptop from the floor beside him. He popped the top open, and as he was typing 'St. Bartholomew's Hospital' into the search bar he said, "Do you have a job?"
John looked up from his screen, frowning slightly at Sherlock. "Why?" he asked.
"Boring," Sherlock said, drawing out the 'o'. "They're all so boring."
John clicked on the link for St. Bartholomew's website. "What about Scotland Yard?" he asked, squinting at the hospital's hours. "Your brother said yesterday that they had a position open for you if you wanted to take it."
"The 'detectives' of Scotland Yard," Sherlock said, his voice scornful. "Tripping over their own crime scenes."
John sighed. "All right, fine." He folded his laptop and stood up, setting the computer on the side table. "I'm going to St. Bartholomew's Hospital to ask about that apprenticeship. Hopefully they don't require a medical degree."
John felt a pang of sadness when he thought of medical school. Through high school, when he'd realized he had a passion for medicine, he'd taken every course available and applied for numerous scholarships, but despite all his hard work he'd graduated with barely £10,000 in scholarships—not enough for a compete medicinal degree. His parents, though they barely had any money to spare as it was, had promised to try and salvage enough money to send him to university.
Now they were gone.
John swallowed the lump that rose in his throat and left the flat before he could do anything embarrassing. It was only once he was in his car and pulling away from 221B Baker Street that he lost his hold on his emotions and hot tears spilled down his cheeks, leaving the taste of salt in John's mouth.
By the time he reached St. Bartholomew's Hospital John had wiped away all signs of his earlier distress and had filled the space left behind with a harsh determination. He slammed the car door behind him and walked briskly up to the clear double doors. Through them he could see a white-painted interior and a wooden counter, made distorted by the glass.
John pulled open one of the doors and slipped inside. The door shut behind him with a gust of air and a soft whooshing sound, and the young girl standing behind the counter looked up with an automatic smile.
"Hello, welcome to St. Bartholomew's Hospital," she said as John approached the counter. "How may I help you?"
"I heard you had an apprenticeship open here?" John said, sounding slightly unsure. "I was wondering if I could apply."
The girl—who looked to be just a bit older than John—paused a moment before nodding. "Sure, I'll get the paperwork." She ducked momentarily below the counter, emerging a few moments later with a small packet of papers. "Fill these out please," she instructed, handing the stack to John
John took one of the pens from a basket on the counter and moved over to the small reception area, spending the next ten minutes filling out the forms and listening to the sounds of people exiting and entering the hospital, their shoes clicking on the polished tiles.
John signed the last piece of paper, standing up and approaching the girl behind the counter again. He handed the papers over. When she took them, he hesitated a moment, and then cautiously asked, "For this apprenticeship… would I need any sort of medical degree?"
There must have been something almost pleading in his voice, because the girl bit her lip before responding. "Well, the hospital normally requires a couple years of medical school before they hire anybody into a position."
John felt like somebody had kicked him in the stomach. "Oh." He nodded. "Well, then, I suppose I filled those out for nothing." He laughed shortly. "I'm sorry for wasting your time."
"Listen, um…" She looked down at the forms. "…John, I wish I could help you but I don't make the rules. Maybe if you talked to management?"
John was going to tell her not to worry about it—he thought that the bakery down the street from his flat had a hiring sign outside of it—when the phone rang. The girl gave John an apologetic look before picking up the phone mid-ring.
"St. Bartholomew's Hospital, how may I help you?" she asked. John turned away from the desk and was halfway to the door when he heard the girl say, "Sherlock, no." John looked over his shoulder at the girl, whose eyebrows were creased tightly. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I can't. He won't allow it." There was another pause, and the girl's eyes flicked towards John. "You can't keep calling in favors." Another brief silence. "Yes, yes I know, but this is too much."
John slowly walked back to the counter. The girl behind the counter shifted slightly and said, "OK, fine. I'll ask. But this is the last time!" The girl took the phone from her ear and closed her eyes for a moment before setting it back into the receiver.
John wasn't sure whether or not to inquire about the phone call, so he waited to see what the girl would do. She pivoted slightly, looking at John briefly. "Stay here," she said finally before turning and walking around the desk and into the reception area, disappearing down one of the halls branching off of the main area.
John waited a couple of minutes standing next to the desk before crossing the room and sinking down into one of the black plush waiting chairs, tapping his fingers nervously on the armrest.
That had been Sherlock on the phone. John told himself it was a coincidence that his new flatmate, who had suggested the job to him in the first place probably knowing full well he didn't have a college education, had called at that precise moment about some sort of favor, but it didn't seem very coincidental at all.
Two people came around the corner—a tall man with an air of importance surrounding him and the girl from behind the reception desk, wringing her hands nervously in front of her—and headed straight towards John. He stood up immediately, his head high. This must be management, then, or at least a part of it. They stopped in front of John, and John was momentarily glad that the hospital seemed to be so empty at the moment. If he was to be humiliated, at least it would be a small crowd. John felt as if the man's gaze was picking him apart, and he resisted the urge to fidget.
"John Watson?" the man said, and John gave him a brisk nod. "Sherlock Holmes has asked that we give you the apprenticeship open here at the hospital."
John swallowed his surprise. Sherlock, whom he'd just met yesterday and knew next to nothing about, was calling in favors for him? "And Molly has told me that you have no prior medical schooling," the man continued. The girl next to him—Molly—flushed slightly and looked at the ground. "Clearly you are not qualified for this job."
John felt a hope he didn't know had been rising inside of him come crashing down, shattering into a million tiny little pieces. He tried not to let it show on his face as he prepared to apologize to the man and make a hasty departure, but the man's next words stopped him.
"However, I owe Sherlock a significant favor, and so I've made the decision to give you the apprenticeship for 6 months. If, by the end of 6 months you've proved to be a valuable assistant here, we can consider a more permanent job—although if you ever plan on being an actual doctor here you will need a degree in medicine."
John, who had been listening in a sort of awe-struck trance, snapped out of it. "Yes, of course. Thank you so much!" Without thinking, John extended his hand to the man, and after a short pause the man took his hand and shook it firmly.
Without another word, the man turned and walked away, disappearing back down the hallway. Molly had a smile stretched across her face. "You'll start the day after tomorrow, then," she said. "Mornings from 8:00 to noon, probably."
"Thank you, Molly." Molly nodded. John, for the second time today, made to leave the hospital, but Molly stopped him.
"Just one more thing, John!" she called, and John paused, looking over his shoulder. Molly had an odd expression on her face. "How do you know Sherlock? I've never seen you with him before."
"I just moved here," John said. "I'm his flatmate."
Molly's forehead creased slightly. "Sherlock's not the type to get a flatmate."
"Neither am I," John said, giving Molly a small smile before stepping out into the warm summer air.
When John arrived back at the flat, just before noon, he was surprised to find it empty. "He's gone out, dear," Ms. Hudson called from his room. "I wouldn't wait up—he might not be back for hours yet."
"OK," John responded, waiting for a moment to see if Ms. Hudson was going to say anything else before swinging the door shut and leaning back against it for a moment, the silence in the flat enveloping him. Dust motes were floating in a ray of sunshine peeking in through a window half-covered by a worn purple curtain, and as John looked at the room—really looked—he saw not the boxes cluttering every corner or the wallpaper, peeling at the corners, but the armchair he already had begun to think of as his and Sherlock's robe, draped across the bed haphazardly.
This was his. This place, the people who lived in it and around it—Sherlock, Ms. Hudson—were a part of him now. John supposed it was ridiculous to have become attached so quickly—he'd only been here a day and half, after all—but he couldn't help thinking of 221B as home.
Did that make Ms. Hudson and Sherlock family?
John closed his eyes and slid down the door until he was sitting on the scuffed carpet. He put his head in his hands and made a strangled noise deep in his throat.
No. He might have accepted the flat as home, but nobody could step in and become his family. His mother's smile as she told him stories of faraway lands when he was little, his father setting him behind the wheel of a car for the first time and helping him navigate the rough country roads… nothing could become like that.
Something broke inside of John, and his hands became slick with salty tears as his body shook with sobs, each tremor fracturing him more and more until it felt as if there was nothing left to break. His breath came in gasps as he brought his hands down and hugged his knees against his chest, every memory of his parents causing a sharp spike of pain.
John pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, hard, in an effort to force the memories from his mind, but it was no use. Every detail stood out painstakingly clear in his mind.
And then, inevitably, John remembered the funeral.
It had been sunny. The sky had been unmarked with clouds, and the slightest breeze blew John's hair back from his forehead as he'd stood in the small graveyard, a crowd of black surrounding him.
It was too bright, he'd thought. What right did the sun have to shine when there was so much darkness below? Despite the heat, however, he'd been cold, numb to the bone, the voices consoling him muffled to his ears.
"John Watson?" the pastor had said, repeated it four times until someone had touched John on the arm and made him look up with glassy eyes, not quite seeing the faces in front of him. "Would you like to say some words for your parents?"
John had nodded, slowly, and then had walked through the crowd towards the coffins, suspended above two rectangular holes in the ground. They had parted for him, everybody giving him sympathetic looks, but he'd hardly noticed. The only thing he'd been able to see were the polished black surfaces of the coffins. They'd filled his vision, reflecting back the image of a young man that John hardly recognized as himself wearing a starched black suit and a blank expression.
John had stopped just in front of them. He hadn't said anything for a very long moment, and people had begun to stir restlessly behind him but he hadn't cared. His world had narrowed until it was just he, he and the coffins. He'd stretched a hand out and laid it tenderly on the one closest to him, feeling the polished surface slide underneath his fingers.
"Mom," he'd whispered, so softly he could barely hear himself. "Dad." He'd stopped and cleared his throat, trying to get rid of the suffocating feeling that had risen within him, before continuing. "Do you remember that time when I was 8 and I knocked on your door in the middle of the night because I'd had a nightmare? I'd dreamt that you were gone and I was all alone, and you had both knelt by my side and promised me that you weren't going anywhere, you'd be with me always?" John had paused for a moment, biting his lip to keep the tears that were threatening to come spilling out inside. "You broke your promise. You said you wouldn't leave, and now you're gone, and I can't stand the thought of you being…"
John had swallowed sharply, feeling eyes on him, before speaking again. "You did so much for me. Whenever I was about to give up on something, you stepped in and you helped me get through it. You took the impossible and made it possible."
John had taken his hand off the coffin and had let it drop limply to his side. "One more miracle," he'd said hoarsely. "Just one more miracle, please. Stop being dead." John had felt his voice catch in his throat. "Please, please, don't be dead!" He'd dropped to his knees, not caring if he dirtied his suit, and set his forehead on the coffin. He'd expected the tears to come then, but he'd only said, softly, "I need you."
John wasn't sure how long he sat curled up on the floor of his flat, immersed in the memories of his past, but when he finally looked up, his eyes red and raw, light was no longer filtering in through the window. The faint sound of traffic and people passing on the streets leaked in through the walls, but it wasn't loud enough to drown out the sound of John's heart, beating in his chest.
With one last rattling breath, John picked himself up off the ground and dusted himself off. Then, he headed towards the bathroom to wash away the memories.