It had started with a limp in the morning. John would scowl at Sherlock when he mentioned it and snapped that just because it was psychosomatic didn't mean it didn't hurt. He looked more tired these days and it was not hard for Sherlock to deduce that the pain was keeping his friend awake at night. He had not heard him yelling in his sleep much lately either.
It spurred Sherlock on to work harder to find interesting cases that brought them out of the house and into the adrenaline inducing line of fire, sometimes literally the line of fire.
At first it seemed to work. John looked happier when he ran along after Sherlock and they laughed together when they got home talking late into the night.
Then suddenly it wasn't working any longer. John wasn't keeping up with Sherlock as they sprinted after thugs. He didn't complain at first but he looked drawn and kept sitting down a lot more. Sherlock was confused, he thought he had cured the limping but it kept returning at the most inopportune of moments.
Sherlock had tried not mentioning it, first when he realized that John really was limping, then in the middle of the day as they were following a suspect on a bike. John had stopped, telling Sherlock to go on ahead and Sherlock did. When he returned, having realized that the man he had been chasing was not the desired delivery man he found John sat on a fire escape looking miserable and rubbing at his leg with frustrated ferocity.
"John, what happened, why is your leg playing up like this?" Sherlock asked placing a hand gently on his friend's knee. "I don't know, it shouldn't hurt like this, it's just my addled brain making it up. And Sally calls you a freak" John laughed slightly but there was little real humour in his voice just stinging sarcasm. "It feels like the damn shrapnel is still in there grinding away, why would I make something like that up. Stupid, stupid, stupid" his voice was strained and Sherlock could not help but feel rather frustrated. It was inconvenient to say the least.
He stretched a hand out to John who reluctantly took it. Sherlock could tell John was trying not to lean to heavily on him but this just resulted in the limp becoming more pronounced and Sherlock wrapped him more tightly taking his weight despite John's attempts to prevent it. "You should see your physiotherapist; my adrenaline cure is clearly not working any longer." Sherlock said quietly and John shrugged as well as he could with Sherlock's arm tightly wrapped around him "What's the point, it didn't help then, why would it help now"
When they returned home John slumped in his chair eyes fixed on his feet as he rubbed absentmindedly against his offending leg. Sherlock sat down opposite him and watched his flatmate in silence for several long minutes. "John?" he prompted but John was thousands of miles away in the sweltering heat of a war-torn country.
"John?" he tried again and this time John looked up at him with a strangely blank expression. "What is it Sherlock?" he asked. "Would you tell me what happened?" Sherlock asked in a gentle voice and John gave out a little laugh. "My leg's started hurting again, I tried to push trough the pain but it wasn't enough, I had to stop. I thought that was pretty obvious." He sounded sad and resigned.
"I mean when it first happened. I know it wasn't entirely psychosomatic, I've seen the scar, and I'd like to know what happened." John looked at him for a second before answering. I was hit by shrapnel from an exploding car. I was lucky, it didn't hit anything major but it went deep, nicked the bone, it hurt like hell and I was on crutches for three months before they would let me back in the hospital to work again." John's description was entirely matter of fact and Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
"Why was it traumatic" he asked and John gave him a bewildered look. "Were you not listening to me Sherlock? Car bomb, shrapnel in my leg, three months of painful recovery, most people would call that traumatic." There was frustration in John's voice but also something else that Sherlock could not quite identify. "You're not most people John. Now are you going to tell me the whole story or do I have to try to deduce it?" Sherlock said patiently but firmly.
A dense silence settled over the room and Sherlock began to think that John really wasn't going to tell him when the doctor heaved a sigh and staring out the window started to speak.
"It was my first tour in Afghanistan. I'd barely even arrived yet and I was still doing training at a hospital in Kandahar. There was a threat against the hospital and we were told to evacuate as many of the patients as possible. Other hospitals were sending ambulances and we were carting the patients down to be taken by these or other cars brought in to help with the evacuation to the surrounding medical facilities. I was scared out of my mind and felt useless so I tried to take initiative. There was a lack of wheelchairs to move the patients so I took this young girl and carried her out to the waiting ambulances. She only had a broken leg so she was easy to move. I had almost reached one of the ambulances when a car to our right blew up sending us to the ground…."
John grew silent and to his horror Sherlock saw tears rise to his eyes although they did not spill over. "I landed on her…" John's breath hitched "… I cracked her skull open against the pavement as I fell on her. She cushioned my landing possibly saving my life but she died in my arms. She had a broken leg, and I tried to play the hero and it killed her"
Silence fell again as John collected himself and Sherlock tried to find useful words to say, aware that his lack of sentiment was currently a disadvantage when trying to help John, it prevented him from fully understanding. Eventually John continued "They put me in the ambulance instead of her, they left her there on the pavement…" John grew silent and did not speak again. They just sat there in silence.