Medical conferences were a mix of pure boredom and bottom shelf alcohol. It was a chance to meet colleagues and have mini reunions with old classmates while boosting the resume. It was also a way to become spectacularly hungover after shagging a knockout blond doctor from Wales who sucked you off until you screamed for mercy twice.
John Watson, M.D., swallowed two naproxen with a shot of hotel coffee as he entered the large hall. Even though the lights were dimmed to a pleasant morning glow, he squinted and moved to the back of the room. It was laid out with rectangular tables and chairs that stretched from wall to wall. Nursing his rolling stomach, John sat on the side aisle in case he had to make a hasty retreat.
Medical professionals filtered in, some looking well rested, others more haggard looking than John. Greg Lestrade, R.N., filtered in wearing sunglasses and sat beside John.
"I heard you last night. Through two sets of walls."
John had the good sense to blush. He scooted himself to put his back to Greg, causing the other man to giggle. "Just giving it to you, mate," Greg said, "All I did was drink some beer and fall asleep. I don't understand how you can point someone out and just get them to go to bed with you. It's a skill."
John looked at Greg, "I didn't point at her. I promise. She and I struck up a friendly conversation. I was lonely. Invited her back to my place. That was it! Nothing more than that. We shared some drinks. She was willing, we got a little loud, it's been a long time."
Greg looked John up and down. He pursed his lips and said, "By a long time, you mean one and a half days since the conference started?"
John groaned and closed his eyes against the rattle in his skull. "No, it was at least six weeks. I saw a chance and I took it. You have opportunity, you can do the same."
Greg grinned. The room had filled out and the morning session was set to begin in 10 minutes. He gestured to the front, "Well, I've got someone I've been talking to. We had a drink last night and talked for a long time. I got her number. She's a peach. I can't wait for you to meet her."
Greg gestured to the front stage. The only person on the stage was a nurse in her 70s preparing her notes on the first topic of the day, Medication Addiction Management. John looked between her and Greg.
"Oh for god's sake, are you still drunk?"
Greg huffed, using his finger to push John's jaw and turn his head to the left. "No, you idiot, over there."
John saw to the left of the stage were two raises chairs. He hadn't really noticed the people sitting there the previous days, but now he saw a petite woman with brown hair and a talk bloke with slicked back brunett hair. They wore only shades of black and gray. As John watched, he finally realized they were using sign language to sign back and forth to one another and to someone else in the audience.
John looked back at Greg, "Wait, the sign language interpreter up there?"
Greg looked at John, "Yes. She's extremely cool. There are a couple seats closer to the front. Let's move up there."
Before John could protest, Greg had grabbed his arm and dragged him to the front, easily visible to the interpreters. John was transfixed for a moment, watching them sign back and forth, curious about what they could be communicating. After a few minutes, the tall bloke turned over to look at them, then gestured to the female interpreter. The female interpreter came over, her face red.
"Hi, Molly!" Greg said, but was cut off by her sharp tone.
"Please stop staring. It's rude. It's like eavesdropping. You're upsetting Sherlock. I don't need him cranky this early in the morning," She turned on her heel and returned to her chair, both interpreters settling in as the nurse went to the podium to check the mic to begin the session.
The mic squeal caused John's head to pound. Though he was just told not to stare at them, the tall man, Sherlock was impossible to fully ignore. As the mic squealed when tapped, John noticed everyone winced, but Sherlock was completely still. Sherlock watched the crowd, but didn't react himself. Instead, he turned his chair so he could both see the speaker and the audience at the same time.
"Hey," John tapped Greg's shoulder, "That girl you're interested in, her friend Sherlock, is he Deaf?"
Greg glanced over at the two interpreters quickly, watching them begin to sign as the speaker started to drone on about opiates and their addictive qualities. He tried to be subtle, but he turned back to John quickly as he felt the man's glare.
"I'm not sure. When I was chatting up Molly last night he came up and talked to her. Well, by talking, they signed. I just figured it was the fastest way for them to communicate. That, or they wanted to talk about me."
John squirmed, the scratches on his back a pleasant annoyance. He watched the speaker drone on and on, his head pounding. He felt himself nodding off, so he poked Greg again to keep himself awake. There was only so much he could listen to regarding drug interactions, addiction and treatment. He leaned over to Greg.
"How does one interpret from a hearing person in sign language if you're Deaf?" John's eyes flitted from Sherlock back to Greg, "I mean, I don't get it. If he's Deaf, how does he know what's being said in order to interpret?"
Greg turned and looked at John, raising his eyes to also watch the man's hands flying through signs as Molly sat a moment to rest. Greg shook his head at John, "You are an idiot. What kind of question is that? Who the fuck cares. Pay attention to the seminar."
John was fascinated by the tall brunett. How could he, if he were Deaf himself, interpret what was being said? He ignored Greg, and spoke again.
"I mean, he looks bloody brilliant. He's got gorgeous hair and eyes. Legs for days. Long fingers."
John trailed off. Greg turned back to front, and without even looking at John, he raised his left hand and flicked John in the ear as hard as he could, snapping the cartilage. John winced, yelping, the pain exacerbated by the surprise and his pounding head. Two women in the row ahead of them turned around and looked, one shushed him. All John could do was mouth the word sorry.
John then took his middle knuckle of his right hand and dug it into the fleshy part of the top of Greg's thigh. Greg didn't flinch, didn't move and didn't even change his breathing pattern. He spoke calmly and evenly, stating, "For a well respected, military war veteran and medical professional that is supposed to give a presentation at this conference you are acting as a 14 year old child."
John whispered, "You started it," which caused Greg to bite his lips to hold back a giggle. The speaker ended her portion, indicating a longer break between sessions. John sighed "Thank god," and headed right for the refreshments, grabbing another coffee. He jumped as he felt someone come right up behind him.
The tall drink of water with the unforgettable name, Sherlock was hovering behind him. He looked thunderous, face and neck flushed and perspiration on his brow. At first, John assumed he was simply in his way to get water before his next strenuous interpreting session. John sidestepped, getting out of Sherlock's path, but the man followed him, leaving only scant inches between the two. The tall man gestured the sign for phone.
John assumed that something might have happened, so he handed over his hand-me-down phone without question. Sherlock typed furiously, only looking down at his keyboard in quick glances, eyes steel grey and pupils wide. John didn't understand why he looked so furious and agitated. John began to open his mouth and Sherlock made a universal gesture for be quiet - a sharp opening and closing of his fingers spread and then collapsing down to his thumb, mimicking an open mouth closing. John waited, silent, head cocked to the side. The man hit backspace a few times, then shoved the phone at John to read what he'd typed on his own phone.
Quit gaping at me. You look like a fish gasping for air.
John looked up, "I'm not gaping at you-" Sherlock cut him off again, making the same be quiet gesture, so John kept his head down and read silently.
I know you're military by the way you carry yourself and your military haircut. You have a tan that isn't for vanity's sake or vacation. You jump at loud noises and your eyes always flit to the door, ready to defend yourself and others. You are an incredible slag, sleeping with anyone and everyone. You are squirming under injuries from last night's activities. I may be Deaf, but I am not an idiot. I can read lips and seek clarification from my hearing interpreting partner as needed. I can read most everyone as an open book. That's why I can interpret but still be Deaf. Do your research. I know everything about you by looking at you. I just can't tell if it's Afghanistan or Iraq or if a man or woman was in your bed last night, and who in your family is an alcoholic."
John looked up. The other man was perfectly still, hands clenched, ready to spar. John couldn't help smiling, "That is amazing. Absolutely brilliant. How could you possibly know all that about me? Or my sister? That's fantastic. Genius."
Molly, the other interpreter, came up and touched Sherlock on the shoulder, pointing at her wristwatch. He gave a few gestures that John didn't understand, and then Molly spoke extremely clearly, loud enough for others to hear, "How dare you make fun of him for being Deaf. What is wrong with you?"
John stared, looking between the two of them. He realized his mouth was open and he was gaping again, so he shut his mouth, trying desperately for a proper response. Finally, he said, "He's a genius. I didn't know how he did it."
Molly and Sherlock looked at him, Molly's eyebrow tweaked and Sherlock's face completely unreadable. John stood there, wondering how he had managed to come across as an inconsiderate arsehole to two strangers within the span of one presentation. The three of them didn't say a word. They just stared, and John felt his face heat up, but he held his ground. When the next speaker began to test the microphone, the two interpreters left him standing alone by the coffee.
John's head was pounding worse than ever after the encounter, so he went to Greg and told him he was begging off so he could work on his own presentation for the next morning. Greg crossed his arms, shook his head and simply said, "You need to get your shit together, Watson. You're behaving as absolute trash." Greg walked away and sat up front, Molly giving him a small wave and smile as he sat down.
John went back to the hotel, drank some water and laid on the bed, wondering how he had changed from being a decorated war veteran injured in battle to an abrasive man who slept with anyone who approached him at a conference. The old John Watson would have gotten along with Molly or Sherlock, and would've appreciated all the new information for his field. He wouldn't have been so spectacularly bored that he would've felt the need to act like a child. The old John Watson would be appalled at the current version of himself.
John Watson, M.D. fell asleep for three hours, lulled into a dreamless sleep. When he woke, he decided to change the topic of his speech to something he felt was closer to the truth. Something that the crowd needed to hear. He scratched out and rewrote sections, understanding that he needed to talk about his life after the army as a type of therapy. He had hidden from it too long, and it had taken a toll on his ability to form meaningful relationships with others.
He finished his speech, quickly stripping down to pants and crawling back under the covers around midnight. He set his alarm for early the next morning so he would have plenty of time to get ready. He told himself it was not to impress the bloke he'd just met that day, but a good way to calm his nerves.
He woke with a start, his alarm blaring and a pounding he thought was in his head. Half asleep, it took him too long to realize that someone was pounding on the door to his hotel room. He threw on a shirt, instinct to cover the scarring that marked most of his chest, and he opened the door a quarter of the way.
Greg stood there, a love bite just visible below his collar. John raised his eyebrows. Greg growled at him, "Shut it. I've heard your alarm blaring for thirty minutes now. You're ruining my trip. First you yelled about that woman's hot mouth the night before, and now this."
John shrugged, "Yea, yea. I'm sorry...wait. Thirty minutes?" He slammed the door in Greg's face, Greg responded with "You fucking cunt wanker!" through the closed door. John looked at his phone and calculated he had fifteen minutes to get ready before he had to leave to go downstairs. No time to shower or really make sure he looked sharp in a freshly ironed shirt. Just enough time to get dressed in a polo and slacks and put a bit of product in his hair.
As John got ready as quickly as possible, he heard Greg through the door again, "Hurry up, you bloody idiot, five minutes before we have to get down there for sound testing. I hope you at least wrote a decent presentation that won't bore us to tears."
John left the room, grabbing his speech and room card, glaring at Greg and giving him the universal sign for Fuck You. He laughed, and they jogged to the elevator and downstairs to the hall just in time to see the staff bringing up his PowerPoint and placing a glass of water on the podium. Greg clapped John on the shoulder, told him good luck, and then moved to the front row to sit in front of Molly and Sherlock.
John realized everyone, including Molly, Greg and Sherlock were dressed in suits today. John remembered that a high profile researcher on cancer medication from Mayo clinic had traveled to London just to speak today. John felt underdressed. As he walked past the sign language interpreters, he saw Molly and Sherlock give some signs back and forth to one another. Molly laughed. John thought they might be talking about him. When he caught Sherlock's glare, he knew he was.
John shook it off and went up to the podium, pulling his notes from his back pocket. He introduced himself, and he heard some giggles to his right. He thought he had to be hearing things, so he continued, giving a framework for the discussion, laying out his time in Afghanistan and his time with the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. Again, sniggers and some signs from a couple audience members back to Sherlock Holmes. John paused for a moment, looking at Greg. Greg shook his head, mouthed Not good, mate.
Sherlock was either interpreting his words incorrectly to the Deaf members of the audience or he was bold enough to talk about him. Sherlock was the only one turned enough for him to see. He couldn't see Molly's face. He decided to beat them at their own game. He could be petty and vindictive, too.
John paused. Unfazed, Sherlock continued signing, the Deaf audience members giggling. John turned, cocked his hip out, putting his elbow on the podium, resting his cheek on his fist. A pose of boredom. Of waiting for Sherlock to finish. The minutes ticked by. The audience grew restless and turned, looking at the sign language interpreter have what appeared to be an off topic conversation while the speaker wasn't even giving his talk. Eventually, Sherlock caught on. Molly had poked him. Everyone looked between Sherlock and John. Sherlock looked pale.
"Are we ready?" John asked, staring directly at Sherlock, "Or am I interrupting your private conversations over there?" John waited. The audience gasped. Everyone turned to look over at Sherlock. Indignant, he waved in a forward sweeping motion for John to carry on. John spoke directly into the microphone, "Apparently, my story is boring to part of the audience. If I cause you to fall asleep you're welcome to find something else to do that is more exciting."
John gave a dazzling smile. That same smile that had made him the rumoured Three Continents Watson. He proceeded to talk about his history, making a point to turn away from the interpreters. It was apparent Sherlock had decided to give his own presentation on what John said, so there was no reason for John to stay turned for him to lip read.
John continued, explaining the difficulty of holding on to reality after a life-threatening injury took away his career. He went on to demonstrate how PTSD needed to be treated as a manageable disease to break the cycle of depression and listlessness that follows the loss of work and identity after a tour is over. John shared his current pattern of being afraid of commitment, of wandering through his life without a plan and of barely being able to form proper attachments. He explained how these failures are also on the spectrum of PTSD and present when a wounded veteran comes home. He kept his voice even, pleasantly surprising himself as he recounted the worse days after being shot in the shoulder. John described the months of physio and the ongoing therapy to stay the nightmares of his dying soldiers. As he finished, he felt lighter, having exposed some of his darkest secrets to a large room full of strangers, save Greg Lestrade.
He clicked off the PowerPoint, listening to the applause and seeing in the audience a few members raising their hands and shaking them back and forth. John caught Sherlock and Molly making the same sign, and he surmised it must mean applause. John caught Greg's eye, who shrugged and smiled, gesturing him to come sit beside him.
John sat down, purposely avoiding Sherlock's gaze. He hoped the man was embarrassed and furious. John knew that yesterday he'd spoken out of turn, but it had been an honest mistake from simple curiosity. After his presentation, he paid attention to the speakers, making notes and making a firm resolution to pay attention and do better.
As it wrapped up, he stood up and Greg hugged him, wrapping an arm around his neck and pulling him close, "I'm proud of you, Dr. Watson. It was important to tell that story."
John grinned back, eyes bright, "It's important for me to change based on my story. To get better. Not be stuck in the past and wallowing in what my life could've been."
Greg clapped his shoulder and left him to go to the interpreters and talk with Molly. John waved goodbye and went another direction. He knew part of his boredom was his work. He was going to change that immediately.