A/N: Legend* has it Patrick Homes listened to Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies on repeat while writing Stains. I followed in his footsteps to write this. Except what I came up with was far less ableist. (And I normally like Patrick Homes as a writer. I just think Stains was a real letdown compared to his usual handling of neurodivergence.)
Chapter title from the aforementioned Pixies song.
(* - Actually he just tweeted it when the episode aired. But "legend has it" sounds way cooler.)
I know John being back at work so easily is a bit implausible, but try to just go with it. I needed it to happen for the sake of the plot. Similarly, I know he's been a really nasty person in the fic so far. Just try and keep in mind that, as far as John knows, the people around him are untrustworthy and trying to sabotage him, and he's reacting accordingly. A certain interaction that seems innocuous and well-intentioned from Roxanna's, or Henrik's, or David's perspective might look very different from John's point of view.
To NeverNeverLady: Henrik is enabling John for basically the same reasons he enabled John in the show - because he's in denial about the seriousness of John's issues. He looks up to John a lot and sees him as a sort of symbol of hope, and he doesn't know what he's supposed to do if that symbol of hope isn't as perfect as Henrik thought he was. :(
You were bang on the money with the self-harm thing - that's actually going to be a plot point in future chapters, the fact that it isn't as easy as just putting away all the obvious sharp things and being done with it. We're going to see more of Henrik struggling with his own mental health issues in future chapters, as well.
John had expected his first day back at work to go better than this.
He was prepared to deal with people asking him if he was really ready to go back, despite the fact that he did exactly what Abigail Tate asked. She never said how much time he'd have to take off, after all. Surely three days was more than enough. And his head is much clearer now – yes, he's upset about Lana, of course he is, but he's not deeply shaken by it as he was in the first few days after her… her…
Anyway, John has other things that need his attention now. Like work, and getting ready for it. So as he finishes drying off after his shower, he quickly wraps his towel around his chest (because he doesn't want to have to look at himself in the mirror), and starts to search for his shaving kit.
And then he realises he can't find it.
Or rather, he can find it, but all his razors are gone.
"Henrik?!" he shouts, frustrated. He knows exactly why Henrik's done this. John had even made an agreement with him, when he had first admitted he had a tendency towards hurting himself. He regrets that agreement now. Of course Henrik was going to take advantage of it.
Of course Henrik figured out the truth. Even when John tried his best to hide it from him.
John really can't trust anyone anymore, can he? Henrik was supposed to understand, damn it. If anyone could understand, John really thought it would be Henrik.
Henrik enters the room a few seconds later. "John? You called out for me. What is it?"
Jesus Christ, John can't take that faux-confused tone right now. "Don't play innocent with me, Henrik, you're not the good liar you think you are. You've gone and got rid of all my razors."
"I didn't get rid of them," Henrik replies. "That would've been unreasonable. I put them up there," he points to that stupid locking cabinet on the wall, too high to be within John's reach even if he had the key, "so you couldn't hurt yourself with them. I'll get one out for you now, on one condition: I stay with you until you're done shaving."
"What is this, a psych ward?" John says bitterly.
Henrik just frowns at him. "I'm doing this to keep you out of one of those, John. Remember when you told me about this? That you used to cut? And we promised that if you ever started doing it again, I could take reasonable measures to keep you safe?"
"But this isn't like that! I made one impulsive mistake, Henrik."
"It looked like more than one to me."
"I won't do it again," John insists. "Look, I just want to shave already, alright? I don't want to waste any more time before work."
"I'm sorry, what?! 'Before work'?! John, you've only been off three days–"
"Ms. Tate made no specifications as to how much time I had to take off. And I'm feeling better now, okay? Just get the damn things out."
Henrik doesn't say anything more, just follows John's directions, and John tries to ignore how humiliated he feels as Henrik watches him shave.
"John's what?!" Roxanna yells into the phone.
She knew John hadn't been making very good decisions lately. She's been suspicious of the trial for months now, despite David, Henrik and John himself all trying to promise her John knew what he was doing.
But for him to return to work three days after being asked to take time off?! This can't possibly end well.
"That was my exact reaction," Henrik sighs, his voice sounding fuzzy on the phone speaker. "But I don't know that there's anything we can do about it. We can't exactly talk to Ms. Tate again, can we? He'll probably just get permanently suspended, and I don't think either of us want that."
Henrik's right: the four of them have found themselves in an impossible situation. John isn't well, that's plain as day, to the point that even Henrik and David are admitting it now. But there's only so many times Roxanna (because no one else has the guts to do it) can go to Abigail and say she's worried about John's mental health before John gets suspended for good.
So what else is there left to do? They just have to try and keep an eye on John as best they can, Roxanna supposes, make sure he doesn't go too far off the rails.
So much for stopping John from going too far off the rails.
Roxanna walks into John's lab to find him writing something down. She assumes it's something about the trial, but John quickly clutches the piece of paper to his chest once he hears her enter the room, so she can't see it for herself.
"You come to spy on me again?"
Roxanna crosses her arms and leans back against the wall. "I'm not spying on you."
"If you hate the trial so much, why don't you just quit?"
Roxanna blinks. Where did that come from? How is John making these conclusions? "What?"
"You've been trying to take me down this entire time. I don't know where it comes from, if you think a mere grudge is something worth ruining my career over, or if you truly do somehow find something about the trial to be unethical, but either way–"
"John. I don't know where on Earth you're getting any of this. I haven't been trying to take you down. I just disagree with some of the choices you've been making."
"Well, how about when you told Ms. Tate you were 'concerned'," John makes air quotes as he speaks, "about my 'mental health'?"
Goddammit. Where is Roxanna even supposed to start on responding to this? How does one even respond to the idea that caring about their friends is some kind of crime?
John fills Roxanna's silence with his own words. "Yes, I know it was you who did it. You get off on that, don't you? Trying to get people fired because they're not using Macmillan-approved coping mechanisms. Well, find a new party trick."
"John. Listen to me. I did it because I care about you."
A flash of what seems like confusion crosses John's face, before he quickly snaps back to anger. "Try being less patronising about it next time, perhaps. If you think I've lost the plot, at least grow some balls and say that."
Roxanna sighs. "Look, John. I don't know what to tell you. Do you want to hear me say those things? Because I haven't been saying them. Or thinking them, for that matter."
"What about what you said earlier?"
That throws Roxanna off guard. "What did I say earlier that made you think I'd decided you'd 'lost the plot'?"
John shakes his head. "Nevermind. It's not important."
"John. I think… I think you're ill, and it's affecting the quality of your work, and you need help to get better. That's it."
John rolls his eyes. "I'm not ill. Just because I see things differently to you doesn't make me sick. Now just leave me alone, you're ruining my concentration."
Henrik's trying to make dinner after his shift.
He doubts it's going to work out, but he tries to get started on it anyway, because it's not fair for John to keep on doing everything for himself like this – he deserves a chance to rest.
Henrik has just turned the oven on when John comes into the room. Just as Henrik had expected, John quickly asks "mind if I take over?"
"I kind of do, actually," Henrik admits, fed up with trying to pretend otherwise. "You're doing so much already. Work, cooking, everything. Surely you need a break."
"But Henrik, I know how to do this."
"Are you sure? You never seemed particularly enthusiastic about cooking before. In fact, you've nearly set the place on fire while cooking on several different occasions. You actually seemed glad when I'd take over before. What's changed?"
"I don't mean–" John begins, "That's not– I know how to make sure the food is safe."
Henrik sighs. Here's another thing he's fed up with: how cryptic John is being. He keeps saying all these worrying things, and then refusing to explain to Henrik what he means by them. "What do you mean 'safe', John?"
"Well – you know. Safe. Not poisoned or contaminated or anything."
"You think I'd poison you?"
"No!" John practically shouts. It almost makes Henrik jump. "Not you. Someone else. Fame comes with its sacrifices. You understand that, surely. And one of those sacrifices is that… a lot of people don't like me, Henrik. They don't trust me. They might want to hurt me."
Henrik is really starting to panic now. The only thing he can think to take from this is that John's much more ill than he thought.
He gently lays his hands on John's shoulders, and says "Darling, no one is going to poison you. How would they do that, hm? We're the only ones who live here, and I think we'd know if anyone had broken in."
"Not if they're good at covering their tracks!" John argues, pulling away from Henrik's touch. "And I – people are trying to take me down, Henrik. Lots of people. Have you seen some of the rumours? On the internet, in the tabloids? People think I'm a fraud, they think the trial is a lie, they–"
"John. People will say a lot of things. But the chances of anyone actually harming you are very slim. You know, after… after… I heard a lot of awful things about myself in the news. I read even worse things on the internet. But in real life… I got a lot of stares, and some nasty comments, but no one tried to hurt me. And if nothing happened to me, even when my son… I certainly don't think anything's going to happen to you. I know the loudest voices are often the negative ones, but most people think you're a hero. They think the work you've been doing is very admirable."
"You don't understand, they're after me! They're after me, and I even – I even think Rox might be working with them, I think she might be being paid to take the trial down from the inside and I don't know who to trust anymore, I don't even know if I can trust you and I'm so scared. They want me dead, Henrik, and I–" John stops, there, as if realising he's said too much.
"John. John, my love, can you explain for me who 'they' are, please? These people you think Roxanna might be working with, these people that are trying to hurt you, do you know who they are? Do you know their names?"
John doesn't answer.
"I just want to help you," Henrik promises quietly. It's true, but not in the way he hopes John will take it. "I just want to keep you safe, and the more information I have, the better I can do that. Who are 'they', John?"
"I don't– I can't expl– you wouldn't understand!" John insists.
Henrik is quite certain that means even John himself doesn't know.
David's about to get started on making dinner for himself and Roxanna when his phone rings.
He thinks, for a second, of rejecting the call and getting back to whoever it is later, but then he looks at the screen and sees the call is from Henrik.
And whenever Henrik calls him lately, some part of David always fears the worst. For all he knows, John's gone and hurt himself again. Hell, for all he knows, it could be worse than that: John could be dead. John's behaviour is so hard to predict when he's like this, and it scares David.
David hurriedly answers the phone. "Henrik?"
"I'm worried about John. Actually, could you get Roxanna on the phone, please? I think both of you need to hear this."
"Okay. Okay, I'll get her. Just tell me he's not–"
"He's not in any physical danger, no. I've put away all the knives and razors so he can't harm himself. But I'm concerned about his mental state. Uh – can you put me on speakerphone? If you know how to do that. I still haven't figured it out."
David turns on the phone speaker. Then he quickly heads to the living room, where Roxanna is laying on the sofa while Emmerdale plays on the TV.
"Rox? Henrik's phoned. He says there's something we both need to hear about John."
"Oh, God, what is it now?"
Henrik sighs from the other end of the phone. "He told me this evening that there are people trying to hurt him, despite the fact that there is no evidence for this. And he also said – Roxanna, he thinks you might be working with these people. Whoever they are."
Roxanna groans in exhaustion. (David can't blame her.) "He said to me today that he 'knew' I thought he'd lost the plot – which I don't – and told me something I'd said earlier proved this. I can't think of anything I could've possibly said to him that would prove that. All we'd done until then was talk about today's Neuro patients and how to treat them."
It doesn't take long for David to make the connection. John had let it slip, once, that he 'saw things', as he put it, sometimes. David had been terribly worried by that and said John needed to seek help, that any number of things could be going on with him and they were all things that really needed treatment; John, however, had insisted he had learned how to cope with it by now and it was normal to him, and begged David not to tell anyone else.
David had agreed, then, afraid that if he did tell anyone he'd lose John's trust – which was an incredibly hard thing for anyone to gain in the first place, and if John started thinking he couldn't open up to David, then he probably wouldn't open up to anyone and that would be far worse.
Now, though, David wonders if he should have said something all those years ago. If saying something would have stopped them from getting to this point.
"Shit," Henrik mutters, before speaking up louder. "I don't – I'm used to John being paranoid, but I'm not sure I can even call this paranoia anymore. It's starting to sound like delusional thinking. I don't know how to deal with that, I don't know how to help him."
"If he's this ill, we need to do something," Roxanna says.
"But what? We can't go to Ms. Tate – I dread to think what John losing his job would do to him. And it's not as if I can just force him to get treatment, even if I wish he would. What options does that leave us with besides keeping an eye on him and hoping he doesn't get worse?" Henrik sighs.
"I have no idea either. But we can't just let him carry on like this. David? You're being strangely quiet. Do you have any ideas?"
David takes a deep breath. He hopes he won't end up regretting this. "Alright. Listen. Neither of you can tell John I told you this, okay? But he… he has recurring hallucinations. He told me about them once, but it was years ago so I guess I just hoped they'd stopped by now – but since he keeps bringing up things that never happened…"
Henrik thinks he can hear Roxanna whisper "oh my God" on the other side of the phone, but he's in too much shock himself to know for sure. He wants to believe this is some sort of cruel joke, but David wouldn't do that. Not at a time like this.
And it makes a terrifying amount of sense. Not just right now, either, but in general: Henrik can recall a few different occasions of John recounting things that never happened, conversations they never had. When Henrik questioned it, John had always apologised and said he was probably mixing it up with another interaction he'd had with someone else, but – the idea that, as far as John knew, those things did happen is far more plausible than him being so forgetful he couldn't remember whom he had certain conversations with.
…This means what John's going through right now, with the paranoid thinking and the references to interactions that never occurred, is likely a psychotic episode, isn't it?
Henrik would know how to help if John were experiencing a depressive episode, but he has very little experience helping someone through psychosis. He has no idea how to deal with this, no idea how to help John, and he'd be lying if he were to say that doesn't scare him.