Warnings: Nothing past PG13 (if that)
The next time John met up with 052 it was two months later. Someone knocked on the house door and John didn't dare think it coincidental that he was alone in his room at that time. Timid and yet somehow demanding, the two knocks had John raising an eyebrow. Who could be calling at this hour?
Not one of his squad. They knew they didn't need to knock. And his commander, Dimmock, was anything but timid. So, that left an unknown presence. Could be a local, in need of a doctor – they did that sometimes – or an insurgent, hoping to "show his dedication" by killing a soldier. John reached for his gun just as a third knock sounded.
"Yes?" he asked, moving to just behind the table, in case he needed to flip it and take cover. The door pushed open and suddenly the winged man barged into the room.
"John, I –" 052 blinked several times when he saw John and the gun, a small bit of fear creeping into his eyes. The younger man had probably staked out the place, waited until he knew the other men left, and then crept closer. Seeing a gun right away couldn't be very encouraging, though barging in wasn't the smartest idea…but, for whatever reason, 052 had decided he needed help, so…
John slowly lay his gun aside and smiled. "Hey, there. Didn't think I'd see you this soon. You good?"
In answer, 052 moved down the hall into the barrack's bedroom. John blinked again and then sighed. Abrupt as usual then. He followed after the man and found him perched on the edge of a bed like a gargoyle. John pushed the bedroom door closed and locked it after a moment's thought. Wouldn't do to have anyone walk in and start screaming bloody murder.
"So…"John floundered. Why's he here anyway? And at…John checked the cheap clock near his bed. 1600 hours. It's more than a bit early for him.
Usually the rumors about men seeing and hearing things go bump in the night didn't start until 1800 or 1900 hours. What had changed? What was so wrong that 052 felt the need to break habit and see him? Somehow, John didn't feel like it was just an urge to see him again.
"What's wrong?" he asked, leaning his gun against the wall.
"Hurt," the man said, flexing an ebony wing out slowly and fixing John with a guarded look.
John sucked in a breath. "Right then. Just give me a sec to get my things."
He could feel the man's eyes following him as he crossed the room and pulled his extra med bag out from under his bed. It felt raw, that penetrating gaze, as if the man could see every little secret John ever had. It unnerved John just a bit, but he brushed that off and turned around.
"So, what seems to be the problem?" he asked as he walked over, making sure he took his time so 052 could watch him and see he meant no harm.
Well, that was informative. John rolled his shoulders back. "The left wing, right?"
The man's response was to bring said wing in closer so that it almost trapped John between it and 052's body. John ignored the close proximity and placed his bag on the bed. Turning, he glanced over the wing and found the problem at once. A deep laceration – bullet grazing. A day old, at best, his mind supplied – cut through the carpometacarpus. John winced as he leaned closer to get a better look. The bullet had hit bone. How 052 wasn't screaming in agony, John would never know.
Doesn't mean he didn't when it happened.
"So," John said, picking through his med bag and withdrawing some gauze and rubbing alcohol. "Is it just the wing?"
052's eyes, which had been focused on the wall, snapped to him again. They narrowed and scrutinized John until the doctor almost wanted to shuffle his feet. How could he prove to 052 that he meant no harm? He couldn't very well just say it. John would bet good money that whoever had shot at him probably told him those lies all the time. Or maybe it'd been a lucky shot by one of the other squads last night. Squad 4 had mentioned a shadow following them. But they'd said nothing about shooting at it.
So that just leaves us with his former captors. John glanced out the window. "Hey, I don't have to worry about whoever did this coming around for a second try, do I? Cause, if that's the case I'd like my gun a bit closer, so I can protect you better."
052 blinked like an owl at him and tilted his head to the side, enhancing the birdlike characteristics. "No."
Catching the ambiguous answer, John gave a lopsided smile. "No, there aren't any more wounds or no I don't have to worry?"
The winged man's face softened a little. "Both."
"Uh-huh." John shook his head. He didn't really believe that. Not one bit. He'd seen how 052 had been favoring his right leg and how he flinched if he turned too fast. That meant a possible wound on the leg and some more than likely bruised or fractured ribs. But John knew that to gain 052's trust he'd have to play the young man's game…least, until he collapsed or admitted to the truth. Whichever came first. "Right. Well, then I'm just going to clean this wing up and wrap a bit of gauze round it."
"Yes gauze. It'll keep the sand out."
"No." And the man puffed his right wing out and if John had been any other man, he might've been intimidated by how much larger it made the six foot man appear. How it made shadows seem to appear and loom over them. How it made the room seem even smaller and like it was closing in around him. But John being John wasn't impressed, so…
"Yes." He unscrewed the rubbing alcohol's top and poured some onto a clean rag. "I'm the doctor and I get last say, so gauze it is."
The man hissed.
John raised an eyebrow. "Acting like an animal will get you nowhere."
A hurt look passed through 052's face before he hunched in and riveted his gaze on the floor, all arguments silenced. John bit his lip at the subservient attitude, but knew he couldn't let up on this. 052 had to know the boundaries in a doctor-patient relationship. New ones that John would use to show 052 that he meant no harm and cared for him. That fixing him up didn't mean John would then hurt him.
"You know," John started as he started to sanitize the wound, focusing on minimizing the sting while still being effective enough to clean the dried blood from it – along with all the sand. From experience, John knew how horrible salt was in a cut, as well as the sting of cleaning it out, so 052's stoic silence amazed him. "You're not an animal."
052's gaze felt like a thousand pounds as the man stared holes into the side of John's head. "Yes."
John paused and glanced up. "I'm going to assume that was a 'yes, I'm not an animal' and not a 'yes, I am an animal'. Because you are not an animal, regardless of what anyone else has told you. And, before you say anything about parrots or monkeys, I'll go ahead and tell you I've met those type of animals and you're nothing like them."
052's face softened a bit more and something a bit vulnerable settled in the corners of his eyes. Some raw and open. The winged man didn't say anything in return though. Yet John still felt he'd overcome a huge hurdle just now. Maybe the man had been told he was nothing more than an animal all his life or maybe he'd just never been treated with respect. Either way, John resolved to –
Whoa, jumping the gun a little aren't we? John warned himself. You know next to nothing about this guy…except, of course, he spared your life and trusts you enough to treat his wounds.
Why 052 had spared his life and why the man thought to trust him was something beyond John. He hadn't done anything special, barring this right now, to prove himself to 052. John shook his head and went back to the wound. Dab, wipe, dab, wipe. Over and over John repeated this until the cut bled clean blood. Then he reached for the gauze.
A pale, thin hand snatched it away.
John froze and counted to ten before straightening and facing 052 head on. "Give it back."
Right. Time to step it up a notch and find things out. "All right, spill," John crossed his arms across his chest. "Why no gauze?"
052's eyes shuttered. "Bad."
"Bad how? Bad, cause people will see or bad cause that's what it usually means?" John asked. "I told you before, I'm not going to hurt you. Remember? Hippocratic oath's still in play."
The winged man shifted in his perched position and clenched the rolled gauze. He opened his mouth several times, but then just as quickly closed it. He shook his head and pulled the hand with the gauze closer. "It…hurts."
John frowned. "Hurts how? Are you allergic to something in it? Does it gives you hives or trouble breathing?"
That would complicate things. Cotton gauze was abundant, but the original silk ones were more difficult to get, though John knew the medic a few houses down that had some. He could, if 052 didn't get too twitchy, pop out a few seconds and run to ask for some. Say he wanted one just in case he ran into someone with a cotton allergy. Sure, he might get laughed at and receive more than a few raised eyebrows, but John could pretty much guarantee he'd get one.
"I can go get another brand of gauze if you're allergic," he told 052.
The man shook his head, long locks whipping around. "No allergies."
"Afterward? When they fix you?"
052 narrowed his eyes and silently snarled at him. John took that as an emphatic 'yes'. So, that…made things a tad harder. John had thought he'd gotten it across to the winged man that he was different from those people. He'd explained the Hippocratic Oath and 052 had come seeking his aid. But then…
I've no idea just how long they've had him or what they've done. John took a deep breath. And it's not like we're best friends or anything. We barely know each other. And one nut bar doesn't mean a thing really.
"Right." John held his hand out for the gauze. He'd thought to be firm on this, but now he realized it needed to be baby steps. "No gauze this time. Can I have it back though? We don't exactly have an unlimited amount right now."
052 scanned him up and down several times, toyed with the gauze, and then thrust the cotton ball at John's chest. John stumbled back a few steps at the abrupt and strong shove, but caught the gauze all the same. 052's eyes widened, almost as if he hadn't know his own strength, and he hunched in a bit more. John softened his stance. No need for the winged man to think he would get into trouble for a little overreacting.
"Thanks," John said instead. He slowly moved back over and put the gauze into his med bag. 052 watched his every move with unblinking eyes. It unnerved John more than a bit and he had to wonder if 052 knew that and did it on purpose, just to offset him. Something made John think it wasn't out of the realm of possibilities. 052 had a look in his eyes that said he knew more than he let on.
He'd have to, given all he's been through…whatever that is.
"So," John said. "Anything else I can help with? Nut bar? I've a few on the night stand if you want them."
052 glanced over at the stand and frowned. "And your food?"
Huh. John gave a crooked grin. "They feed us more than that, if that's what you're asking. The bars are just treats sent from home. Everyone gets a share and those are mine. I can eat them or give them to someone else. Whatever I want."
John took a breath. That'd been a mouthful, more than he usually said, but 052 seemed like the type to appreciate in-depth explanations. That, and John wanted him to know that he wouldn't be starving anyone by taking the bars….or that John would get in trouble. It's be interesting, explaining where they went, but John knew how to cover for himself.
"So, want them?" John asked.
052 licked his blue tinted lips – John hoped it was a part of his bird-like makeup and not a hint that the man had hypothermia – and nodded. Well, more jerked his head in something that resembled a nod. John got the idea anyway and snatched the bars up, holding them out to 052. The thin hand reached out and plucked them from John's palm.
"If you want," John tried, "I can save my next ones for you too."
For some reason that ticked the winged man off and he threw the bars to the floor. "No!"
John recoiled. He'd thought he might be going too fast for the man. But he had to try, right? John bit the inside of his lip and exhaled. Right. Time to try and fix this. A short burst of humor ran through John. He'd had to do more fixing with this man than anything else. It was like a bloody landmine. One misstep and Boom! He had another mess to repair.
"Okay, then, I won't save them." John promised.
052 grabbed his hair and yanked on it. Hard. John resisted the urge to physically stop the man from hurting himself. It twisted his insides to see someone looking so lost and angry. Reminded him too vividly of his sister and patients too far gone to help. Well, not this patient. John wouldn't let it be too late for 052.
"What's wrong?" John asked. "What'd I do?"
The winged man glared at him and curled his lip up into a silent snarl. The wings lifted a bit and curled around John, almost as if 052 was making sure the other man couldn't escape. John accepted the performance – because that's what it was – with outward calm, though inwardly the volatile action freaked him out. He couldn't let on about that though. 052 had to see him as strong, as well as calm and helpful. John drew himself up and put an unrelenting look into his eyes.
Time for hard ball.
"I told you before, acting like an animal will get you nothing." John folded his arms across his chest. "So, stop it. I know you know better."
052 surged to his feet, wings flaring out wide, and towered over John. "How?"
John flinched back, his arms coming to his sides in a tight stance, but he forced himself to stay where he was. Okay, right. This got ugly quick. His fingers twitched to hold his gun, to give himself a small modicum of protection should 052 decide to become hostile, but it stood against the wall, all the way across the room. John wouldn't be able to reach it in time. Plus, it would only exacerbate this, not help. John needed a calm head for this one. He took a deep breath.
Defuse the situation. Use your words, not your fists.
"Regardless of what you may have heard around town, I can't read minds." John snarked, hoping the sarcasm would penetrate the thick fog of anger that seem to be surrounding 052. "You're gonna have to be more specific. How, what?"
"How do you know? What proof?" 052 poked him in the chest. "How!"
Okay, we're getting somewhere now. Though John was still at a bit of a loss. He could feel a niggling in the back of his mind, but it refused to come forward. He should know what 052 was alluding toward, he could feel he should. Why couldn't he then? John sighed and rubbed his temples. He glanced up at 052. "I know you think that's more specific, and it probably is, but I'm stupid right now. What are you freaking out about?"
"Not freaking out!" 052 snarled.
"Fine. What are you…interested in knowing?"
"You're different. Why?"
Oh. And then it dawned on John, that allusive puzzle piece to 052's anger. The poor man couldn't wrap his head around John's kindness. It freaked him out and confused him, so the winged man lashed out, hoping to elicit a response that would explain it all. John's insides twisted once more.
"Because that's the way I'm built." John said. "I want to help other people. And, yes, you're people too."
052 snarled and slid a step away. His wings scraped the ceiling, sending bits of plaster flaking down. John sneezed and waved the dusty things away. It didn't really help, but it was the thought that counted, right?
"Form up!" a voice yelled outside the building.
052 stiffened, his wings snapping in until they curled around his body like a protective shell. John's eyes widened. His fellow soldiers were back. He cursed under his breath. Not good. Really, really not good. They couldn't see 052. Not yet. They weren't ready for it. John scanned the room.
"Can you fit through that window?" John asked, pointing to the rather large on a few feet away.
052 glanced at it. "Yes."
"Good. Do it. I'll distract them." John marched over to the door, unlocked it, and strode out without a backward glance. Every second counted here. He met his roommates just as they walked into the main area of the two room building. He plastered on a grin and shook his head.
"Bring the rest of the desert in with you?" he asked.
"Nah, leaving that for you, John," one of them, Lestrade, winked. "Thought it the perfect 'welcome home' present."
"How kind of you." John snorted as the rest of eight man unit chuckled. Then a thought ran through his head and he pushed the smile off his face. "How'd it go out there? Any movement?"
"Not even a blink," Anderson grumbled. "Why are we patrolling this place? No one's seen anything and there've been no reports of unfriendlies."
John shrugged. "Not our job to ask."
"Sure. Right." Lestrade said and then stomped into their room.
John forced himself to stay right where he was. He'd given 052 all the time he could. Either he'd gotten out through that window or Lestrade would be screaming bloody murder any second now. But time went by and no yelling came forth, so John allowed himself to relax and follow Lestrade back into their room. He found the older man kicking his boots off with a relieved sigh. 052 wasn't in sight.
John heaved a quiet sigh of relief. Thank God.
A pungent smell of foot odor wafted over and John glared at Lestrade. "You know you'll just have to put those on in a few minutes."
Lestrade grinned and wiggled his sock covered toes. "Yep."
"The smell would kill a wild boar," Anderson groaned as he sauntered in. A few of the other men mock gagged as they entered the bedroom as well. Lestrade shot them all the stink eye.
"Live with it," Lestrade sighed, stretching his feet out. "I swear I feel like these things glue themselves to my feet."
"If only," John snarked.
Lestrade rolled his eyes and flipped over to catch a quick rest before they went out on patrol. "So, anything happen while we were out?"
"Nothing much," John said. If you discount the winged man I just helped.
"You off toilet scrubbing and canteen duty yet?" Anderson asked, brushing his short hair of all the sand that always seemed to collect itself on it.
John nodded. "Think so."
"Dimmock was ticked off at you, man."
"Don't remind me. If I never see another toilet, it'll be too soon."
Lestrade glanced over his shoulder. "Well, you asked for it, breaking your gun to smithereens. I still can't figure it. What'd you do, break up with your girlfriend or something?"
John shrugged. "Or something. Look it's over. I'll actually be joining you all for dinner today, instead of serving it, so shut it or you'll be sorry."
"I know," Anderson moaned, throwing a hand over his eyes. "And I was just getting used to the quiet and normality. Hey, Lestrade, think Dimmock will consider benching Watson another few days if we ask?"
"In your dreams," Lestrade said. "Now, hush, I want to catch a few zzz's."
"Only a few?" John couldn't help but asked.
A lazy eye glared at him from across the room. "Keep it up, Watson. I know where you keep your secret Crunchie stash and I will take it."
"Fine, fine," John said, waving his hand placatingly. "Come on, Anderson, let's leave him to his beauty sleep."
A pillow flew across the room at him. John caught it and chuckled. "I hope you don't think I'm returning this."
John lobbed the pillow back over and walked out of the room with Anderson. "Come on, let's make sure I'm not on tonight's dinner crew. Then we'll collect Lestrade and the rest of these back water barbarians."
A chorus of shouts and howls followed them out the barrack. John only grinned at Anderson and laughed.
That's it folks. Hope you like. :D
A special thanks to my beta, a-really-angry-sorceress. She's wonderful and really helped me get my English characters to sound English and get my military right. :D