Chapter 4—Safety in Fear.
John gets the unfortunate moniker of the 'Boogeyman' at Main Camp soon after, and that morphs into him being their 'Little Nightmare', and 'Captain Scream' and a dozen other joking names worse than the last, all coming down to the fact that it is much harder to appear harmless in uniform.
Again, it didn't help that he regularly had a scalpel in hand or a gun in his arms, but he took some comfort in the fact that his team knew enough of the truth to deal with it.
He didn't appreciate the giggles when he slipped and scared someone, but that was mostly because that made it look like he did it on purpose.
However there was the little problem that the newer men and women, the ones who didn't know John, thought the nicknames were significantly less playful He would be fine with this to a point, but it inevitably meant that they hesitated before coming to him with injuries.
So his solution? Give them a more plausible reason for the nicknames.
Now he told horror stories after dinner.
One thing about having the childhood he had was that he was never short on scary stories.
He watched murder acted out before bed, he'd seen fake blood coat walls and flood hallways and sometimes imagined what it would be like to find a bath full of blood, or severed limbs hidden under his sheets, but that wasn't the best sort of story to tell soldiers.
No, those sorts of stories would give a thrill to these people, the sort a kid would get from playing a shoot-em-up game, because these were people who lived through people-killing-people kind of death.
It was stories like these that allowed them to imagine that the killer in the story is someone on The Other Side, and while he cycled through what scared people it was good enough for the rookies, but as they matured, got used to it all, those stories didn't keep them from wondering why John was so scary.
So he kept things fresh with unstoppable monsters, one that turned bullets into hornets, knives into wriggling snakes, and bombs into camel spiders in their pockets.
He could have gone far enough to give everyone nightmares, but always stopped short. Always.
Because a thrill, that jolt of fear they got in remembering his stories, was usually enough for them to go on without making stupid mistakes, because his Aunt is right.
(She usually was.)
Because fear is not something to be afraid of, and he knew how to use it.
If someone is less likely to take a risk when their adrenaline is up because of a remembered fear and caution in the back of their mind… that was good.
If they didn't go looking for risks getting their adrenaline up, even better.
And it meant that when new guys are placed under his care they don't jump when he moves unexpectedly, then that means there are a few less holes for him to patch up in the future.
The new guys, Catch and Perry, are friends from Wales thankful not to get split up, and don't understand why they should trust John when he says to duck or get down.
They'll learn, not the least because he ends up walking through their dreams with thoughts of what would happen if they got themselves or one another shot because they didn't trust that John knew when there was a sniper.
They seem horribly young.
They talk about their dreams, which is something new, and the rest of the team trade looks but don't say anything when Catch and Perry (who were always together and were soon being known as the single unit of Catch-and-Perry) immediately dive when John barks out a warning.
They were a little jumpy, now, but they were working through it.
Everyone has their own theology in the army: that thing or entity that they pray to, that they ask things of in the heat of battle (please God, let me live), that thing that they can think of and be uplifted while crawling through muck and entrails to find their comrades.
Theists of all sorts make their way through the ranks, meet and greet with others of same and contrasting religions, and there's not one person who will mock or question another person's beliefs—
Not one person who lasts.
He knows in a base way that there's belief in a Higher Power through his unit, usually named God for lack of a better name, but that didn't mean anything, really.
Jaime saying 'Oh god, oh god, oh god' was him saying 'please, let me be lucky this time, please let me make it through it', because he believed in Luck and superstition.
When Robbie said it, he was actually praying for God's favor, when Bill said it, it was a general appeal for something to help them out, for all of them to stay safe, and when John said it…
He liked the idea of there being a higher power, and liked the idea of some being out there who was always watching out for you, so when he said "Please God, let me live," he meant it in just that way. A request to the cosmos, a hope to be heard if there was someone or something out there to hear him, but ultimately he couldn't tell if there was anything happening up there.
(Or down, honestly he couldn't begin to guess where a being like that would prefer to be, and he didn't bother trying to parse it out)
He didn't know, so he didn't bother waiting around for it, because why should he wait around for a possibility when he could go out and do something himself? Why should he wait when his inaction could save someone's life?
He thought this must be what other doctors must feel, the hope but unwillingness to wait, or at least he hoped so, but religion was one topic that didn't come up easily, did not come up at all, so he was content with his confusing hopeful Agnosticism.
There was, however, one power he could believe in, and that was his Aunt Marsha.
No amount of atheism skepticism would stop him from believing in her.
John sees the American who'd mocked his worry for his Mum again nearly a year later.
He's not nearly so cocky, a tired look about his eyes and the hint of fear clutched tight behind his teeth like a bit, and maybe a John from a year ago would feel vindicated. Would feel some sense of accomplishment.
Hah, that arse was afraid because of him, now. He wouldn't be mocking other people's fears now, would he?
Well no, he wouldn't, but he was also around to protect his comrades, and so John tries something he hasn't ever tried before.
He takes away his night fears. The little, scrabbling things that were born of John walking through his dreams are tramped down, no longer the menacing things they were.
Within the first week of the Americans reaching their camp, the difference in the man is staggering.
John just feels tired. Felt like a remembrance of tired, because he was awake and alert and feeling sound, but there was that pressing cottoning thing around his head and pressing at his eyes, and this is probably what it feels like to let go of a grudge you weren't properly maintaining anyway.
The night before they're set to head off on their own, John finds a quiet spot to sit and think.
The darkness, as ever, was a comfort, and he considered what he'd left behind during a vengeful walk through someone's head.
John always knew what he left in people's heads at night; sometimes some new fears, resolutions of others… he'd never left behind the little demons that were in the American's head.
It was a strange thing to think on, now that he had so much more control over himself in the Grey Space, that he could have trampled through like that, left spaces for more permanent monsters to take residence.
He wondered how many people were still victims caught in the monsters he left behind.
A noise behind him had him turning; it was someone clearing his throat.
It was the American.
John didn't glare, didn't frown, only blinked, confused.
"I er, well, that is… I just wanted to…" he shrugged, clearly uncomfortable, and John didn't know where he was going with his stuttering.
"Is everything alright?" He thought he'd gotten all the demons…
"Wha-yeah, yeah I'm good, it's just… I… I realize that last time we were around each other I was, um, rude and er, indelicate, so I just…"
John felt his eyebrows go up.
An apology. Huh.
"I just—how's your mom? Is she doing okay?"
Johns throat clogged up.
"Oh, oh I'm just—I'm sorry for, I just—"
He looked like he was actually panicking, and John supposed that yes, it would be a bit of a shock to find that he'd mocked another man for worrying about his mother, only to find that the next time you saw him his mother had died…
John couldn't imagine the feeling.
A bit not good, he supposed, but then John had been taught not to pick at other people's worries and problems.
He shook his head. If he had to think on it he'd get annoyed again, and he was aware enough of his bad temper to know when to rein it in.
"Never mind," he interrupted the man, "it wasn't your fault, and all you did back then was make an arse of yourself." He gave him a flat smile, and was about to turn back to staring into the darkness when he thought of one more thing to say.
"Just be careful next time you've decided to be a prat. Others might not be so forgiving." He almost said sorry for the dreams, but really he thought they were equal now. He turned his back and resolutely didn't think on the fact that it had taken a week for the man to find him to apologize.
He listened to him leaving, and had a brief moment of annoyance when the other man parted with a new fear.
The mental image of his own eyes, glowing blue in the shadows of his face, was transferred to a dozen half-remembered night terrors and back again, and he frowned.
He'd gotten rid of those, no need to be bringing them up again.
Some people were just ungrateful…
Back at the center of camp, the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers watched their Captain and the man walking away from him.
Catch and Perry didn't recognize him, and Bill told them the gist of it.
They both glared, affronted on behalf of their captain, but were kept back when they wanted to go after him.
Bill and Terry were the ones to find him, later, before thy left for their new stationing.
"Mind if we talk to you for a moment, friend?"
"What do you want? I said sorry to your Captain already…"
Bill shook his head.
"It's not about that… John is a forgiving sort of guy, and we're not here to fight his battles for him."
"We just wanted to…" Terry searched for the right phrasing, "Warn you. Yeah, that's the right word. Oh, no, we aren't going to threaten you. Just a word of advice, really…"
"You should just watch who you say things like that to." Bills lips twisted into a wry smile. "Say it to the wrong person and it'll haunt you long after you get your head out your arse."
"Yeah, haunts you all right… A real nightmare, if you get my gist." He elbowed the other man with a wink and let Bill drag him away, grinning.
The other man was pale, confused, and frightened when they left, a memory of electric blue eyes in darkness stuck in his mind.
The next time he's on leave, his Father dies of heart attack.
The only think he can say on it is that at least he hadn't been fighting with him before it happened.
He still feels that little hitch of fear in his throat when he thinks of his family and how easy it was to lose them, and he looks at Harry at the funeral, feeling it and hating it and loving it.
Harry is drunk, and he's tempted to make her afraid of alcohol, make her afraid of smoking, make her afraid of all the things she was killing herself with, but he just—
He wouldn't do it to family.
He couldn't do it to family.
He looks up from his lap straight into his Great Aunt's eyes
Eventually, Catch and Perry figure out that their Captain was a little different and, like the rest of their squad, accept it.
Accepted that John could find a target through a sandstorm, could find a sniper in the dead of night, could tell when they were walking into a trap, and could be trusted to simply know.
They accepted that sometimes their bright-eyed and blond Captains eyes went funny and dark, that his hair wasn't always blonde, and that just because someone's gone grey and corpse-like, it didn't mean that they were suffering from a condition.
It was a condition, of this they were sure, but Captain John Watson was hardly suffering from it.
It was harder to accept that sometimes the bullets they saw hit him didn't, that sometimes the holes in his uniform are the only holes on his person, but that was something they were learning to deal with.
Eventually, they would fit seamlessly into the beast that was the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, and all would be good.
Well, as good as it got when you're at war.
Except that then things go very bad.
It's hot and dry, except under the layers of uniform and equipment where it's boiling and sweaty.
It's loud and dirty, except when it suddenly goes muffled and spotty.
It's good, and it's bad, and they're almost done, almost have everyone, almost have everything figured, except…
John notices he's there almost too late; notices that in the length of time he'll take to twist out of the way, Catch would be in the line of sight, and the sniper is afraid, John makes him feel afraid, except…
Perry is on the ground, John is holding him together, and if the bullet hits him and misses him, it'll move through to Perry, and he won't survive the shock.
John shoves Catch out of the way, makes eye contact with Bill ("Sniper! Down!"), and then pain is exploding in his shoulder.
John has never consciously made sure he could be hit—wasn't sure that he could, not when someone was afraid like he could make them…
It's almost reassuring that he can choose to be hit, except that Bill was pressing on his shoulder, digging shrapnel out, and he only has enough time to keep the sniper from firing again—turns him to a gibbering mess, and doesn't even feel bad when he turns his gun on himself—before he's gone.
In the Grey Space, his Aunt is there to meet him, and is gone and back too many times, and for the first time he can't leave his Grey Space—almost doesn't want to.
But, ultimately, when he wakes up with a bandaged shoulder and a tremor in his hand, he's glad he isn't stuck there.
Almost changes his mind upon discovering the limp, doesn't.
Catch and Perry are crying when he leaves, and Bill is going, too.
Him, because of the end of his contract and his wife waiting for him, and John would have said he didn't need the company except that he was sedated the whole way back.
Physical Therapy is almost more torturous than getting shot.
Going to a Therapist for the transition from being a Captain to a civilian is worse than both.
John writes the horror stories he'd told around the campfire on it for fun, and knows that Ella Thomson isn't the sort to enjoy scary stories.
He doesn't even feel bad about it.
He goes for a walk when contemplating his dwindling funds gets too depressing, and almost leaves Harry's mobile behind.
He wants to give it back to her, but she's right in that he needs a phone, and it's too much of a bother to get a new one of his own, so he takes it, doesn't like it, and when he meets Mike in the park he exchanges numbers if only because Mike had stayed constant even after all this time.
He was still afraid of overly zealous religious people.
He still didn't flinch when John showed his teeth when smiling.
He's still a good guy.
And later, when he introduces John to one of the strangest men he'd ever met, he wants to say thank you to him so much.
Because John had been dealing with his shoulder aching, the phantom pains in his leg, the pain in his arse that is his Therapy sessions, and as much as he likes that Mike has stayed the same after all these years, change could be good.
And when a crazy man whirls from the room, and John is left staggering from the encounter, he finds he still can't get over the fact that Sherlock Holmes is afraid of Nothing.
Ah, and this is a bit more of a sad chapter than I was intending…
Hope you enjoyed anyway :D
And look! Sherlock! Not much of him, granted, but Sherlock!
And John got shot :( I know, and even last chapter I was complaining about my problem with including angst and sadness into a story…
Well, hope you all enjoyed, and if so or if not, please feel free to tell me so and why :D
Have a nice weekend!