Prompt: John copes with having a whole family die under his care.
Anna Milligan is a lovely woman, intelligent as well, with shining orange hair like fire, striking emerald eyes, and dreams of a beautiful future and life that she has never hesitates to share with anyone willing to listen. She’s brought so much hope to so many lives, with her smile and her words. She is everything one could want in a wife or a mother, and then she is so much more.
As Anna Milligan lies in a hospital bed, with clumps of hair that’s turned dull missing and the rest cut short, and with an oxygen tube strapped across her pale face and in her nose to help her breathe, her eyes are as bright as ever, filled with the hope and happiness that would fit anywhere but at the same time nowhere better than in the eyes and heart of a young woman who’s had cancer for years.
By Anna’s bedside, in three rickety plastic chairs, sit Anna’s husband, their nine-year-old son, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, who has the same beautiful eyes and hair as her mother. She’s so young, so full of life, it would be such a tragedy if her mother’s cancer ruined her as well.
As the beeps of the heart monitor to which Anna is hooked up begin to falter, the five working hearts in the room begin to quicken with the panic that fills them. Anna’s three family members sit still, terrified to move, with their eyes filled with the horror and despair of a million tragedies and more.
Among the two doctors in the room is John Watson, who had never before lost a patient. He has only been a doctor for a year or so, but he’s good- very good, tremendously good, as it’s been said. While his more practiced partner- an oncologist he’s assisting- remains relatively calm and skillful, John panics, but it doesn’t do a thing to save Anna’s life.
In Anna’s last moments, she mutters with a weak voice to match her weak heart, “Jeff, I love you, Megan, Joseph.” Her husband’s hand is in here, and he kisses her a final time as her green eyes go glassy and dry, with all the hope and love escaping them like a runaway phantom, a wisp of something strong that’s evaporated into the air.
John never forgets those eyes, that hair, that smile. He attends the funeral- he’s invited eagerly by the family- and the rest of his career is spent remembering that horrid moment and trying harder than ever before to prevent another. Though, it does happen, as it’s impossible for it not do, but it’s never as much of a shock as the first and it’s never so disappointing.
John Watson is a lone flower, surrounded on every side by miles and miles of cemetery. Each grave around him pulls on his heart, on his morality, siphons out his soul like it’s a ghost, a being that he is not and that is not him- and that soul has become so, so slippery in the fields of Afghanistan, he can’t possibly keep anything close to a firm grip.
There is so much blood, so much death. Men scream for him- “Doctor!” Many of them say nothing at all because their throats are too dry and their voices too weak. Maybe they’ve gotten shot in the throat. Maybe their head’s been blown off. Neither are common, but John’s seem them both. John’s seen everything there is too see.
Like every day- like every hour and every second of the gruesome days that never seem to end- John spots a man, collapsed on the sandy ground, convulsing with an open mouth that makes no sound and a bullet wound in his chest that spurts blood as freely as a fountain spurts water.
John rushes to the man, and as he kneels next to him, he can hear the shallow, unsteady breaths that force their way out of his throat. The breaths leave with whimpers, small gasps that hold so much more pain and anguish than a sound ever should. John presses a towel against the wound, but that towel, originally white, turns red easily as the blood spreads throughout. The bleeding won’t cease, John soon realizes- it’s hopeless to try and stop it, but John keeps trying, still, because it’s his job, because he can’t let this man die.
But this man is as good as dead, with the amount of blood he’s lost, and he can barely croak out his words, “Dr. Watson, John Watson,” with an enormous grin that reaches his eyes, which turns quickly into a grimace of pain, though the admiration in his eyes remains.
And John realizes that he can’t, he absolutely can’t let this man die, because he knows this man. This man is Jeff Milligan, the widow of the first patient to ever die in his care.
As Jeff’s soul slips away, it takes a piece of John’s with it, a piece that John will never get back, another piece like all the other fragments that have been torn away on the battlefield.
John Watson is a wilting flower- dry and brown in the graveyard in which he resides. Soon, nothing will be left but the grains of a crumbled, paper-thin petal.
John is the one to answer the door when DI Lestrade unexpectedly shows up, as Mrs. Hudson’s gone out and Sherlock is, as always, much too stubborn and lazy.
“John, hello,” Lestrade greets him, “may I speak to Sherlock?”
John shouts up the stairs, “Sherlock!”
“Busy!” Sherlock shouts in reply, though John knows he wasn’t busy a minute ago and he certainly isn’t now.
“I guess he’s busy,” John repeats, nonetheless, and shrugs. “Can I take a message?”
“Yeah, okay. Well, there’s a woman who’s being targeted by a murdered, and we need Sherlock’s help. It’s kind of urgent, can you let him know?”
“Yes, of course.”
And that is how John and Sherlock end up at Scotland Yard with the now twenty-five Megan Milligan.
“Oh, wow, I don’t know if you remember me, Megan,” says John when they meet again, touched and emotional with a heart that swells with love and pride. Even if he hadn’t been introduced, he could never forget those eyes. “I was your mother’s doctor, your father’s as well.”
“Dr. Watson. I could never forget you,” is Megan’s reply, said with a smile that lights up like a Christmas tree. “My dad loved you, said my mum loved you too. He spoke so highly of you, made you sound like a god. I didn’t know you were his doctor in Afghanistan, though- oh, he must have been so glad to see you, was he?”
“Yeah, yeah he was,” John says, weak in both the voice and the knees, sure that if Megan spoke for a second more he would full-out collapse.
Megan is kept in police custody for the next few days to protect her while Sherlock tracks down her possible murderer. John aids Sherlock to the best of his abilities, though he offers as well to be Megan’s escort when she goes out, about which both parties are ecstatic.
As the two walk through the park, the sun is warm and comfortable, and they talk about everyday things, mostly small talk- that is, until Megan slips her fingers between John’s and turns to face him when they stop walking, saying, “Dr. Watson, you’re very handsome, do you know that?”
John’s breath is knocked right out of his lungs by that, and he says nothing but he doesn’t have to say a thing, because Megan’s lips are pressing against his and it’s wonderful- warm and innocent and perfect in every conceivable way. John takes her other hand in his, feeling her pulse right down to her fingertips, which quickens as they kiss in the sun.
As they pull apart, the hope of a million stars shines in their eyes as well as the love of a million spouses all across the continents. John couldn’t save her parents but he can save her, his beautiful Megan, he’s sure of it. He’s sure with all of his heart and nothing in the world will stop him.
Suddenly, Megan collapses with a gasp that sounds like birdsong, and John holds that sound as close to his heart as he can as he drops to his knees, stares into Megan’s terrified eyes and gaping mouth, and turns to her side where he sees a fresh bullet-wound in her back leaking blood. “I love you, don’t leave me, god please don’t leave me,” he utters to the girl who can only sputter up blood as she tries to choke out words, before he calls 9-9-9 on his mobile and runs off to chase the gunman down.
John finds him, tackles him, and beats him to the brink of unconsciousness with his gun before shooting him thrice in the heart.
Never in his life or in his years of being a doctor has John cried because of someone he failed to save. As he rushes back to Megan and kneels next to her, she’s dead, dead beyond hope of saving, and John weeps unabashedly as he lies in the grass and pulls Megan’s limp, bloody body against his.
About a year after Megan’s death, John gets a call from the surgery on a day on which he isn’t working. “John, hello, this may be a bit uncalled for and I understand if you don’t want to come on,” says his coworker, Alice, “but a man got stabbed and when he was brought in, he saw your name on the schedule and he asked if you were available. Are you?”
“Do I know him?” John asks, wondering why anyone would possibly ask for him. “What’s his name?”
“Joseph Milligan,” replies Alice, as if she’s reading off a chart, which she probably is.
John’s already halfway out the door when he says, “Yes, yes, I’ll be right in,” hanging up his phone and tossing it haphazardly into his bag.
When John finds the right room and rushes inside, Alice tells him, “He was stabbed in the liver and he’s only got about a day.”
No, NO, John thinks and it reverberates in his head, the one thing keeping him from screaming it aloud being his reluctance to seem like a maniac at his work. Because he can’t do that, he walks over to the bed in which Joseph lies, bandaged and attached to IVs, and he pulls up a chair.
“Dr. Watson,” says Joseph, with nothing in his olive eyes but admiration. “Just wanted to see you.”
John is crying again, squeezing out miniscule tears that are by no means unnoticeable. Joseph is crying as well, and every second John looks at the boy, the crack is his heart splits further as if it’s being hammered at by a pick and chisel.
Joseph’s voice is weak and wavering. “Dr. Watson, you were with my father when he… when he died… weren’t you?”
“Yes,” John chokes, crossing one leg over the other and smiling because it’s so absurd, everything that’s happened with the Milligans. “Yes, I was.”
Joseph sinks his head into his pillow, relaxing his muscles but staring at John still. “Thank you. I’m glad he was with friends.”
“Friends,” John repeats, stunned, and he can’t help but smile again, a sad chuckle. “Your entire family died in my care.”
“And I will too,” Joseph says, and it’s another hard drilling at John’s heart, even though the boy sounds only content and he smiles as he speaks. “And I couldn’t be happier about that, Dr. Watson.”
John sits with Joseph for the rest of the day, after calling Sherlock to let him know. They exchange stories of their lives- John tells Joseph about his genius and maniac of a flatmate, Joseph tells John about absolutely everything, telling with laughs about the lunatic who mugged and stabbed him earlier in the day- and John rides a rollercoaster of hurt, love, and connection. John had never felt so connected to anyone in his life as he does to his patient, to this boy who is truly so much more than just his patient. When Alice comes in again to ask if there’s any family Joseph would like to phone, both he and John laugh, not because it is funny or a joke but because it is so ridiculously absurd.
When Joseph’s heart begins to fail, he refuses the defibrillator or resuscitation, wanting nothing more than to be with his doctor, his family’s doctor. John weeps tears of neither sadness nor love but a mixture of the two as he watches Joseph float away with his last words whispered softly, “Thank you, Dr. Watson.”