Collateral Damage

Summary: Sherlock was initially jealous of Major James Sholto, but when the major opens his eyes to what exactly Sherlock means to John, Sherlock becomes frightened instead. Character study; spoilers for TSoT. Just an idea for a one-shot I had after seeing the episode...I often feel as though John responds (probably subconsciously) to Sherlock as he would to a commanding officer, on some level.

"Mr. Holmes…a word, if you will. Please."

Sherlock paused in trailing after John and Mary, the medical professionals, as they quietly began conferring with the paramedics regarding their patient, and turned instead to face the recently stabilized Major James Sholto, settled on a trolley and awaiting transport to the nearest hospital.

Sherlock studied the wounded man in the back of the ambulance for a moment. Sholto's pale eyes were fastened gravely on Sherlock's, his gaze as calm and steady as ever. There was something noble, almost beautiful in his ravaged face, in the clear, steady eyes that looked unafraid at life even as they carried the weight of the world. Injured as he was, the habit of command still hung heavy about him. Sholto appeared as though he might have been addressing a military panel, rather than awaiting transport to a hospital for life-saving treatment. Even the "please" sounded as though it had been tacked onto his request as an afterthought, so it wouldn't sound so much like an order.

This was the man John had followed before he left the Army, before Sherlock. This man, a pariah to so many others, had earned John Watson's hard-won trust and respect. John remained loyal to this man when most others had forsaken him, saw qualities in him that he found admirable when few others could.

Sherlock suddenly wished he hadn't saved him. Sholto seemed to read the thought in his face and smiled grimly.

"You needn't be jealous of me, Mr. Holmes. It's plain to see that you are his CO, now, for all he claims to have taken to civilian life."

Sherlock couldn't stop his lips from quirking up slightly at that, thinking of John's reaction to his use of the term previous commander outside the barracks. "He would object to hearing our relationship categorized that way."

"That's because you're his friend."

"And you're not?" Sherlock asked bluntly.

Sholto hesitated. "In a manner of speaking," he said finally. "There are few people in this world whom I value more highly than John Watson. But the uniform – whether I'm wearing it or not – stands between us, and it always will. He still calls me 'sir,' you'll have noticed."

Sherlock had noticed. Of course he had.

"Of course you have," Sholto echoed his unspoken agreement. "And maybe you've also noticed that I can't bring myself to correct him."

Yes, Sherlock had noticed that, too – and it had secretly pleased and relieved him.

Sholto smiled slightly. His steady eyes on Sherlock's were unnerving…it was as though he knew what Sherlock was thinking. Sherlock wondered briefly if this was what John meant when he said people felt that Sherlock was leveling an X-ray beam at them with his "observations"…he felt exposed by Sholto's clear-eyed, piercing gaze.

"As I said, you needn't be jealous of me, Mr. Holmes," Sholto repeated with that slight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "John obeyed my orders because he had to. That he came to respect and trust me over time – something I don't underrate, because his respect and trust are certainly worth having, nor are they easy to come by – doesn't change that fact. He obeys your orders because he wants to."

Sherlock felt unaccountably uncomfortable, almost frightened. "I don't order him, and he doesn't–"

"Oh, you do, and he does," Sholto retorted. "I saw the way he snapped to when you spit out your code during your speech. He'd follow you into hell, Mr. Holmes, with no hesitation whatsoever. I know John Watson, and I could see it in his face. He'd follow you to death. He would die for you if he believed it would keep you safe."

For one of the few times in his life, Sherlock felt frozen, unable to speak. He suddenly flashed back to watching John at his faux grave in the cemetery, how John had stood at attention and then spun on his heel in a respectful about-face as he dismissed himself from what he thought was Sherlock's presence. Sherlock had not understood this at the time, but now, in light of what Sholto was saying…

"You want to be careful with him, Mr. Holmes," Sholto said gravely, his eyes never leaving Sherlock's. There was something magnetic in his stare. "If, when we were serving together, I had ordered John to his certain death, he would have gone. He would have gone, knowing he would die, because I would have ordered him to do it…because I would have deemed it to be right and proper." Sholto closed his eyes briefly as though the mere memory of that weight of responsibility wearied him, then opened them to meet Sherlock's again. "I meant what I said…I don't approve of collateral damage. But I'm a soldier, Mr. Holmes. An officer. It would have pained me to do it, but if I'd had to, if it had been necessary, I would have ordered John to his death, and I would have been able to live with that heavy burden afterwards. Would you?"

Sherlock simply started at the prone man, feeling as though something large and hard and painful was lodged in his throat. He jumped a little when a voice at his shoulder spoke suddenly.

"We're ready to take him now, sir."

Sherlock stepped aside to let the paramedic pass, he eyes never leaving Sholto's. John suddenly materialized at Sherlock's elbow, murmuring reassuring words to his old commander as the paramedics moved in on him, then backing away as the ambulance doors were secured and the vehicle pulled out. John put a hand on Sherlock's shoulder, while on his other side Mary slipped her arm through Sherlock's, and together the happy couple led the consulting detective back into the venue. Loose ends were tied up and an arrest was made; music was played and a toast given, and while John and Mary and their guests danced happily, Sherlock slipped away. He felt a little lonely and a little left out, but then he remembered the look of joy on John's face when he saw Sholto arrive at the reception, a look that he, Sherlock, was intimately familiar with because he had seen it directed at himself on numerous occasions, and he heard Sholto's voice in his head – you want to be careful with him, Mr. Holmes – and he felt a little sick.

He had vowed to be there for John and his family, and he would keep that vow, come what may, because John Watson becoming collateral damage was not a burden he could live with. Maybe Major James Sholto could, but Sherlock Holmes – contrary to popular belief – was not so cold and detached as all that.