A/N: This chapter is very specifically dedicated to HOS70, who gave me the idea for it and requested that it be written. I hope you enjoy it, all of you.
(February 4th, 2011)
John was glad to be going home, glad it was Friday. He was not on the Saturday rotation the following day, which he was also happy about, because they'd done one of their monthly late Friday drop-in clinics again and he was past tired. It made for a long day, twelve hours of dealing with routine complaints and some issues that were more serious and would require specialists and repeat visits.
He smiled ruefully to himself when he realized that a twelve-hour day in Afghanistan would have been a short day.
Going soft, Watson, he told himself, adjusting the grocery bag in his arms as he walked up Baker Street toward the flat, searching in his coat pocket for his keys.
The day had been made a bit longer by the grocery list that Sherlock had sent him, one item at a time, spaced out across the day, presumably as the genius he called his partner realized what they needed. Of course, Sherlock would not just go get it himself; he would point out, if pressed, that John had to be out later that evening anyway, and it was no trouble for him to stop off at the shops on his way home.
No trouble at all.
Particularly not for Sherlock.
The first text had read:
The second, not long after:
It had then been a couple of hours until the next instalment, and Sherlock had actually called that time.
"Very funny, John," he'd said to John's voicemail, since the doctor had been busy with patients then. "I found it. What is your obsession with this? It's quite unhealthy, you know. And we need more sugar, so you'd best buy that as well."
John grinned at the memory – he knew Sherlock enjoyed the little challenge of finding the tea sugar tin. Although he'd gotten himself in trouble the previous week by hiding it in Mrs. Hudson's. Apparently, Sherlock actually had compunctions against going into their landlady's flat uninvited, which had surprised John to no small extent. He certainly had no boundaries when it came to John and never really had, and it fascinated John to learn that Sherlock drew lines and where those lines were.
He'd been creatively reprimanded for that the following night, when he hadn't really expected it, and had learned that Sherlock had a strong propensity for patience that John wouldn't have anticipated. Fortunately, at least, John didn't particularly mind this type of exquisite torture, because it did at least end in a very pleasurable way that left them both gasping and collapsed against one another. John, worn out, had slept especially well that night.
He grinned again, shaking his head, finally locating his keys while dodging another pedestrian.
Another text, later, had read:
And those biscuits with chocolate on. SH.
John was amazed by Sherlock's inability to remember the word HobNob. It wasn't as though it was long or difficult to say, but he continually referred to them as "those biscuits with chocolate on", although if he wanted plain ones, it was "those biscuits with chocolate on, but without the chocolate". Surely getting the name of the biscuits couldn't be more difficult?
Oh and bread. SH.
Mrs. Hudson wants kale. And carrots. SH.
We need carrots, too. SH.
And tea. Did I say that already? SH.
And soup. SH.
Don't get the bread from the store, get it from the bakery. The store bread is foul. And smells of mould. SH.
John knew this last was absolutely not true, but Sherlock preferred the bakery bread, although he'd have to suffer because the bakery closed two hours before John saw the last of his patients and Sherlock probably knew that, too, but disregarded it.
He was amused by Sherlock's insistence about appending his initials to the end of each text, as though the "message from Sherlock" alert might not be enough to tell John who it was, and as though anyone else would send these sorts of jumbled and disjointed messages and expect him to understand and obey them.
The list had kept going in about ten to fifteen minute increments until finally Sherlock had been satisfied or had gotten distracted with something else. John had been able to jot down a coherent list and pick all of it up. It hadn't taken too long, but he'd have to do a proper grocery run the next day, after making himself a decent list. Sherlock's attention span regarding what they needed was non-existent unless he happened to want whatever it was for some reason. John knew they needed more than the haphazard items on the Sherlock-list.
He let himself into the house, delivering Mrs. Hudson's small order of vegetables, then climbed the steeps stairs to his own flat, entertaining fantasies about an escalator or a lift or perhaps just Sherlock coming downstairs and carrying him up. Or at least taking the bag of groceries.
John grinned to himself again. All of these possibilities were unlikely.
He stepped into the flat and stopped up short, eyes widening quickly, looking around in confused shock.
It was a disaster.
Not a typical Sherlock's-been-working-and-something-exploded disaster, because that was usually accompanied by some very mysterious and probably noxious odours and Sherlock either trying to look completely innocent (one expression he could never quite perfect) or grabbing John and launching into an excited explanation that never seemed to start precisely at the beginning, but partway through, as if John had been there the whole time and had been privy to what had happened.
But this time, the flat looked more like it had fallen victim to a tornado.
Or a ransacking.
John checked their locks quickly, but they'd been fine when he'd unlocked them and they had no scratches or marks on them. He glanced about again, noting the cushions pulled off of both chairs and the couch, every available drawer pulled open, the rug that had been under the coffee table now overturned and lying on said coffee table, the couch pulled away from its position against the wall, both chairs moved, the books on the bookshelves haphazardly removed, tossed on the floor or shuffled about on the shelves themselves.
It appeared whatever had been in any drawer had been removed, so there were all manner of papers and pens strewn about, as well as odds and ends, and John noted, scooping to clean these up quickly, several small bottles of lube they kept secreted about the flat in case of "emergencies".
"Sherlock?" he called, feeling a stab of unease, because it was likely this was his partner's doing, but he could not rule out that someone had broken in. It wouldn't be Mycroft or his people, not with this amount of mess. They'd have put everything back precisely and would have timed it when Sherlock was not going to be home.
It had the look of a drugs bust, but there were no police in evidence, and John would have heard Sherlock complaining to Lestrade by now or seen both of them with their heads bent over a case file, ignoring the other officers who were ostensibly searching the flat for drugs that weren't there.
Although, after the last time, Lestrade might be a bit suspicious. After all, he'd found that tin of white powder that was hidden away quite well. He'd been a bit taken aback when John and Sherlock had both collapsed on the couch when he'd presented it to them, roaring with laughter. John did not think he'd forget the expression on the DI's face when he realized it was simple sugar.
"Although addictive and toxic in large quantities," John had managed to point out between laughter, Sherlock laughing so hard beside him he'd gone gaspingly silent with tears streaming down his cheeks, "It's not actually considered illegal."
This did not have the same overtones.
"Sherlock?" John called nervously again. "You here?"
He heard a suspicious crash from their bedroom and winced at the sound of something breaking. A moment later, Sherlock was striding out, an accusatory look on his face, his grey eyes gleaming, bright and sharp. He was shockingly paler than normal, John noticed, but with two bright spots on his cheeks as though he'd been exerting himself. Looking around the flat, this seemed to be the case.
"Where is it?" Sherlock snapped, striding over to John, his long legs closing the distance between them easily.
"Um, where is what?" John managed, trying to catch up, to think of something Sherlock would be looking for. He'd already found the sugar tin, and that scarcely made him angry, even if he feigned annoyance.
"Your gun, John! Where's your gun!"
"Uh –" John started, caught off guard, adjusting the grocery bag in his arms. With a huff, Sherlock snatched it and put it aside on the floor, blocking John's access to it with his body. "Um, what? Why do you need my gun?"
"I don't!" Sherlock snapped. "Where is it?"
"What's wrong with yours?"
"John!" Sherlock shouted, grabbing John by the shoulders, startling the doctor but not, John noted with a flash of shock, actually grabbing John's old injury. He spun John around, so their positions were reversed, then leaned in close, grey eyes flashing.
"Tell me where it is!"
"It's with the passports, Sherlock," John managed to reply, still trying to catch up.
"You always kept it in the bedroom closet!" Sherlock shot back, accusingly, as if John had moved it just to thwart him.
"Yes, but –"
Sherlock didn't let him finish, striding away, clattering up the stairs to John's old bedroom, now the spare bedroom. John followed him quickly, shedding his coat once in the bedroom, watching Sherlock drag the dresser away from the wall and crouch down in a fluid movement, fingers working around the edges of the small panel that came loose to reveal a tiny and hidden storage space. John had discovered this upon moving in and had been secretly disappointed that there was no forgotten treasure stored in it, but it made a handy place for their passports and other important documentation that needed to be kept out of easy sight. He'd even purchased a small locking cash box, more for his own peace of mind, since it could probably be easily broken into with a hammer.
Sherlock pulled out the shoe box in which John kept his unloaded Browning and turned to glare at John, as if this whole sequence of events was somehow his fault and he had any idea what was going on.
"Why did you move it?" he snapped.
John made a helpless gesture with one hand.
"I did it between the last fake drugs bust and the one before. They never look behind the dresser, and I'm not really supposed to have it, you know."
"If by 'not really' you mean 'not at all'," Sherlock replied in a cool voice.
John frowned – was that was this was about? His misappropriation of his service revolver? And this was coming from Sherlock?
"What –" he started to ask.
"You could have injured someone with this!" Sherlock snapped, tucking the box beneath his right arm, holding himself with his right side slightly angled away from John, as if John was going to try leaping at him and snagging the box back. John knew full well that wouldn't work; Sherlock's reactions were as quick or quicker than his own, particularly when he was edgy about something.
"Um, yes, it's a gun," John said. "Which is why it's stored out of sight and unloaded. Sherlock, what is this about?"
Sherlock strode past him, clattering back down the stairs and John followed fast, starting to feel angry to cover his confusion.
In the living room, amidst the scatter of cushions and the displaced rug, Sherlock spun back to face him.
"Why did you keep it?" he demanded.
"Why did you keep it, John? I know you heard me correctly!"
John stopped up short, anger fading again to confusion.
"What – I don't know. I suppose it made me feel safer. I'm used to having it."
"Safer," Sherlock said flatly. "You were shot and it made you feel safer."
"Yes, I didn't shoot myself," John pointed out. "I'm a hell of a marksman, but not that good. And yes, safer, why not? It's not as though Afghanistan has a monopoly on danger. You have met some of the people you apprehend, right? And some of the people you work with? And yourself?"
"You hardly knew me or any of them when you came back," Sherlock snarled.
"Yes, but you don't have a monopoly on bad guys either, Sherlock. Really, what's going on? Why are you suddenly so upset about this?"
Sherlock jabbed his left index finger accusingly toward the telly, which was off, the screen black and blank, as if this somehow explained anything whatsoever. John followed the gesture, then looked back, more confused.
"You have nightmares still, and flashback sometimes. You still have friends over there who could be injured and killed at any moment, complete uncertainty, and you just have to live with that."
John nodded. He knew that. He did, as Sherlock pointed out, live with that.
"Yes, I know," he said. "But so?"
"So why did you keep your gun? A man with nightmares and flashbacks with a weapon? Do you think this is reasonable?"
"Sorry, you're asking me what's reasonable?" John snapped, beginning to feel annoyed again. "Where has this come from all of a sudden? You've never had a problem with me having a gun before. You've even brought it for me on cases!"
Sherlock stared at him as though he'd suddenly started speaking an incomprehensible foreign language, then threw himself into his chair, sans cushions, with a huff. He put the box on his lap, keeping both long-fingered hands closed protectively over it.
John sighed, righting the cushions of his own chair and sat down, pointedly indicating that he was sitting away from the gun and whatever Sherlock thought he might do with it.
"I watched a show," Sherlock muttered.
John blinked, still quite confused.
"What, on the telly?"
"Yes, of course on the telly, John! Where else would I watch a show? That isn't important!"
"So what is important?" John asked. "What was the show about?"
Sherlock slouched down further, his expression suddenly shuttered in the way John recognized as wanting to say something while, at the same time, not wanting to say it. John rested his hands comfortably on his stomach, lacing his fingers together, waiting. Whatever it was, it was enough to have caused Sherlock to nearly destroy their flat in a hunt for John's gun.
"A documentary," Sherlock said shortly, glowering at John as though it was his fault somehow that Sherlock had seen a documentary. "About wounded war veterans."
Ah, John thought. So it's not that he's angry. It's that he's upset.
For all his genius, Sherlock was somewhat like a child when it came to dealing with emotional upheaval and tended toward dramatics, although John would never say this out loud, for fear of what kind of dramatics would then be aimed at him.
John shifted, leaning forward somewhat, resting his elbows on his knees. He was unfamiliar with the documentary, although it didn't surprise him that one had been made, and he was not at all unfamiliar with being a wounded war vet.
"And what about it?" he asked.
Sherlock shifted, keeping his hands on the shoebox with the gun in it, chewing on his lower lip.
"I didn't know about – what it was like. For you."
"No," John agreed. "But then, I don't really talk about it. It wasn't particularly fun."
Sherlock gave a vehement nod, his eyes narrowing. So now he's upset that I didn't tell him? John thought, repressing a smile.
"You're not useless," Sherlock stated firmly.
John's lips twitched.
"I know, Sherlock. You've told me that many times. Although, you've also told me many times how wrong I am. But I have patients here who thank me on a regular basis for helping them as well."
"But you weren't doing that. When you were injured."
"No," John agreed. "I was doing something calling 'recovering'. You may have heard of it?"
Sherlock shot him a dark look and John held up his hands in a pacifying gesture.
"But you were bored."
John sighed, dropping his hands again.
"Yes, of course I was bored. Seventy-two hours before I got back here, I'd been in the midst of a gun battle, then I was in surgery, then on a plane, then I was suddenly back in England with nowhere to go and no job and doing nothing but eating morphine and sleeping. How could I not have been bored?"
Sherlock gave a single, curt nod.
"The programme. That's what it talked about. The ones without families, in halfway houses, suddenly useless."
John sighed, rubbing his forehead.
"Yeah," he agreed. The memories came rushing back – he didn't think about it much, but really, it had been only a year since he'd felt that horrible, crushing boredom, that sense of having no purpose other than to take up space and oxygen, that feeling of having had his skills shelved indefinitely so that he could do nothing of consequence.
The loneliness, the silence, the isolation.
Sherlock was watching him, grey eyes dark.
"John, some of those people, some of those men, shot themselves," he said quietly.
John drew a deep breath, nodding.
He'd woken up in the middle of an afternoon nap – he'd slept so much then for lack of anything better to do – to a gunshot. He'd managed to rouse himself quickly enough to be the second person at the scene, but it hadn't mattered, no one could have done anything. The man, a major and a psychiatrist even, had put his own misappropriated gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
John could still smell the blood, see the carnage in the tiny, sterile, impersonal halfway house flat.
"Yeah," he said, rubbing his right fist against his left palm absently, nodding.
The psychiatrist hadn't been the only one, but the worst. Shouldn't he, of all people, have had the tools to deal with it? He'd lost his right arm at the elbow. He'd pulled the trigger with his left hand.
He remembered another young man, a kid really, twenty-two, had been out there only five weeks before having both of his legs ripped to shreds by a roadside bomb. Joking in their physiotherapy sessions, promising John he'd walk again someday, that a bunch of torn muscle and broken bones and nerve damage weren't going to keep him off of his feet. He used to borrow John's cane and push his wheelchair around with it, telling John he was practicing with the cane for eventual future use.
He'd taken all of his sleeping medication and run himself a bath.
Sherlock was still watching him. His expression was so full John could barely read it, but he was fairly certain he knew what was coming.
"Did you want to?" Sherlock asked in a soft but inflectionless voice.
"Yes," John replied forthrightly.
When it was all so quiet. When it was just him, sitting in the tiny flat with Harry's second-hand phone as his only company, but even it was silent, because his sister wasn't going to call or visit and how many friends were still overseas, how many were dead? Too many. The rest, here, had moved on, didn't care, and he didn't know how to reach half of them in any case.
When he'd been nothing but an injured ex-soldier, not even a doctor anymore, because he couldn't walk properly and his shoulder hurt, ached, all of the time, when he slept, when he sat still, when he moved.
Sherlock looked away, then looked back, and there was such pain in his grey eyes that it stunned John, because he'd never seen anything quite so deep reflected in Sherlock's features.
"When?" Sherlock asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Only once," John said. Only once that he'd seriously considered it, but had thought about it on several occasions, when the silence and isolation pressed in too hard.
But only once, and he'd sat with the revolver that Sherlock was now holding in the box, and he understood why his partner was keeping it from him. He'd held the gun on his lap the way Sherlock was, but loaded, and without the box. Sat and stared at the wall, the off-white wall with nothing on it, listening to the faint tick of his watch as it sliced seconds off of his life, seconds that were going nowhere. He'd rubbed the cold metal absently.
No need to wonder what it was like to get shot.
He already knew.
It was mostly heat he remembered. Heat at his shoulder, heat screaming out along his nerves. Then pain, pain when Tricia's hands closed over the wounds, pain in his ears as she yelled at him up close, pain as his muscles, torn to shreds, were subjected to pressure.
If she hadn't been there.
If she hadn't gotten to him so quickly.
If she hadn't been a surgeon herself.
Maybe if it just hadn't been her, yelling at him, her voice so familiar, so full of command, something to latch onto, something that made sense when nothing else had.
He had almost heard her again, in the silence of his tiny flat, in the nothingness, and had sat very still, hands on his gun.
Jamie had died, bullet through the neck. If only the person who had hit John had hit a few centimetres over.
Then he remembered.
Oh, God, please don't let me die.
The desperate plea to a deity in which he scarcely believed anymore. Sitting alone in the tiny flat, he thought:
Oh, God, why didn't you let me die?
It would have been simpler.
Himself, Jamie, both dead from bullet wounds to the neck. Why not? Why just Jamie? Why had he gotten out lucky?
The thought had suddenly scared John, made him sick and angry at himself, and he'd looked down at the gun, stunned, shocked really, to find himself holding it.
And his phone had rung.
"Johnny, it's me, I only have a couple minutes but I wanted to say hello, see how you are."
And he remembered: Jamie was dead, he was in England, and she was still over there. What would it be like, for her, if they'd both died? Because she was masking the pain in her voice quite well, but not well enough, not for him. Fooling everyone else, maybe, but not John.
When she'd rung off, he'd put the gun on the table in front of him and unloaded it carefully, then pushed himself to his feet, using his cane to steady himself, and found a shoebox that had been left behind by one of the flat's previous occupants.
Hopefully someone who had not shot him- or herself, who had moved on, regained his or her life, found some purpose again.
It hadn't stopped the crushing boredom, the loneliness, the sense of uselessness, but at least it gave him a reason not to make that last, final decision.
That had been – what? About three weeks before he'd run into Mike Stamford, who told him of a friend of his who was looking for a flatmate in the city.
"But even then, I had things to live for, Sherlock," John said, meeting his partner's gaze again. "More things now."
Sherlock held John's eyes, then closed his own eyes momentarily, fingers tightening somewhat on the box.
"I'm not going to hurt myself," John promised.
Sherlock's eyes flew open.
"I –" he started, then clamped his lips shut tightly.
"You what?" John asked gently.
If possible, the detective slouched even further down in his chair.
"I don't want to lose you, John," he muttered, his words somewhat indistinct.
John was shocked into immobility for a moment – it was not often he heard Sherlock admit to anything like that. It wasn't the same as "I love you", which still took him by surprise, even though he knew that now. This was Sherlock admitting to what – for him – amounted to weakness. John didn't see it that way, but he knew his partner did.
"You won't," John promised. "I don't want to lose you either."
At this, Sherlock sat up straight, quickly.
"I've never –" he started.
"Oh, you flirt with death by chemistry set explosion all the time, Sherlock," John said, feeling the atmosphere lighten just a touch. "But I'm not – Look, I'm not in danger of hurting myself. Not for over a year now."
He paused, smiling slightly.
"Believe me, living with you is entirely the opposite of boredom."
Sherlock stared at him, then huffed a sigh, expression still displeased.
"I promise, Sherlock," John said.
Sherlock held his gaze for a long moment, then gave another curt nod, but at least, this time, his hold loosened somewhat on the box and the tension in his shoulders relaxed somewhat so that he sat a bit straighter.
"All right," Sherlock agreed, grey eyes still fixed on John.
John smiled, warmly. He thought about getting up and kissing Sherlock, but kept himself away from the gun deliberately, knowing Sherlock was still just on the verge of being convinced.
"Why don't you put that somewhere safe for awhile?" John suggested. "I'll get to work cleaning up in here. And next time you're worried about me, just come out and say it. I won't be upset about it."
Sherlock gave him a cool look, eyes slightly narrowed, then nodded. John went into the kitchen pointedly so that Sherlock could hide the gun for a few days and give himself some peace of mind. The doctor ignored all sounds coming from the rest of the flat, so he could truly say he didn't know where the Browning was, and set himself to straightening the disaster that they called their kitchen.