Since John had suffered horrible abuse several weeks ago, which Sherlock had been forced to witness, John had made good progress in his recovery by faithfully going to physiotherapy and actively participating in therapy to heal from the physical as well as emotional, mental and psychological trauma. His memory of the events was still mostly shrouded. He'd been told the bare facts, but didn't know who had violated him. Not that it mattered to him. What was done was done, the past. Get over it, move on. He really wanted his life to get back to normal, with Sherlock, before this ugly interruption.
As it was, though, Sherlock's recovery from this trauma was not going well, obviously: he refused to take cases, was extremely quiet, needed to keep distance between himself and John, hadn't even stayed at Baker Street for a while now. Despite this John knew that Sherlock cared for him. So why was he like this? John hoped Sherlock would be able to live with him at Baker Street again soon. In the meantime he missed his friend dearly, wished there was something he could do to help his best friend, anything to take away the pain Sherlock still apparently suffered.
John was at an appointment with his physiotherapist when one of the exercises caused him to grimace in pain and he heard "I'm sorry" whispered close to his ear. There were only a few more sessions scheduled, he noted gladly afterwards, as he picked up a few groceries on his way home. It was a nice day, the air smelled fresh. He wondered what Sherlock was doing right now. Yes, John missed him! As he walked back to Baker Street and up the stairs to the flat a feeling kept tugging at him. He wasn't sure what it was but tried to identify it, frowning. ... "I'm sorry" ... : he'd heard that before ... ... ...
... When? ... Then? ... WHO had said that THEN? ...
He closed his eyes, put his hand over his eyes, sighed, swallowed hard as a hazy memory tried to grow into fact. Yes, someone had said "I'm sorry" THEN. That then-voice sounded like Sherlock's. Very quiet and very sad. John rubbed his face, took in a deep breath, again. He hoped that what this memory appeared to suggest was not what really happened! He started to feel sick from realizing the implications. He picked up his phone from the table beside his chair to call Mycroft who had been with them at the hospital initially.
"Hello, John, how can I help you today?" It was slightly disconcerting to hear Mycroft's calm voice when John was starting to almost panic inside.
"Um, Mycroft, I seem to remember something. I need confirmation, though. I don't trust myself to be alone in case it's true. Can you please come over?" John said quietly, his voice slightly quivering.
"Yes, of course, John. I'll be there shortly. See you then." was the prompt reassuring answer at which John exhaled a sigh of relief. Meanwhile his hands had started shaking. And his concern for Sherlock was growing by the second. Mycroft couldn't be here soon enough!
A short while later John heard Mycroft come up the stairs, knock at the door to announce himself, walk into the flat. He stopped by John's chair, put his hand on John's good shoulder and squeezed firmly but gently, then sat on the couch. He took a breath. "John, I'm so sorry. What do you remember?"
John's hands were still shaking. He had trouble looking at Mycroft. "I was at the physiotherapist's today. One of the exercises caused me pain, he said 'I'm sorry' by my ear. And then, afterwards, I started to think that I had heard that before. And I was wondering when. And then, and then ... I think Sherlock said 'I'm sorry' to me back then, it sounded like him." he choked out, tears starting to fill his eyes. "I need to know if it was him. Mycroft ..."
Mycroft breathed in. "John ... my brother's actions since you both were rescued lead me to surmise that he was forced to do something for which he despises himself. I offered to listen to him, that I'd keep his confidence, not judge him, but he hasn't confessed to me directly, and his therapist certainly had no success in getting through to him, to open up." Mycroft looked worried.
"Do you know where he is? I need to speak with him!" John managed to chew out. He sniffled and added "I have a bad feeling ..."
Mycroft pulled out his phone, dialed a number, and asked whoever was on the end of the line to locate Sherlock ASAP, to call him back with the information as soon as possible. "Yes, I need that information right away. Hurry up! Please."
2. feeling guilty
Sherlock hated himself. He hated himself for what he had been forced to do to John to keep him alive. Yes, he got John back alive to Baker Street, and that had been the objective, and John was recovering from this horrible ordeal, also not (yet) remembering who had violated him. It was only a question of time though before John would remember, wouldn't he, and then he'd hate Sherlock, too, wouldn't he? Sherlock was grateful that John was safe and alive and recovering. That's what mattered most to him. Whether John, once he remembered, would still want Sherlock in his life did not matter.
Since he had told no one exactly what he had been forced to do - had done - he was left still carrying the great guilt and pain and shame he felt for having had to violate John. Sherlock hurt deeply over it, he didn't dare hope that John would forgive him IF he'd remember. WHEN ... wasn't it just a matter of time?
Mycroft had offered to help. The therapist had offered to help - obviously that was a completely fruitless endeavor, a complete waste of his time. He'd gone to his latest therapy session only to appease the therapist and Mycroft, to get them off his back, make them think he was o.k. John had tried to speak with him, but he had refused. The only way to keep John safe in the future, to keep people that wanted to hurt Sherlock by doing it through hurting John, would be to keep himself away from John. Thus he chose to not live at Baker Street now. Yes, he missed being with his friend. But really, what were his options? He felt he was running out of them ...
Often since coming out from wherever his mind had gone after that horrible day Sherlock felt a need to punish himself. He didn't know how to relieve the inner pressure and agitation he felt, how to get rid of the guilt and pain and shame. He felt alone and his insides and "heart", which he pretended he didn't have, hurt.
He had asked Mycroft to provide him with a small flat to stay at, to get away from Baker Street for now. Life was completely boring without John, and without the distraction of cases. He spent a lot of time just lying on his bed, in his mind palace, remembering times with John. Of course he didn't bother eating much, he'd even left his violin at Baker Street, no need for it here. He wished he could just stop being. What was he going to do with his life? Did he even want to live like this? So alone? - So alone, hated by himself, and most likely hated by John once he remembered?
Last night he'd snuck into a lab at St. Bart's and swiped a scalpel. He wanted to hurt himself because he couldn't live with himself like this anymore. It was getting all too much. Cigarettes didn't help, drugs didn't help, he didn't even bother with those. He thought if he'd hurt himself surely it would make this pain(!) stop, he wanted to see his own blood to prove ... what? That he was sorry? Yes! That he hated himself? Yes! That he deserved to die for what he'd done? Yes! All yes, yes, yes, just make it stop, stop, stop, can't take it anymore, need to stop ...
Through the loud thoughts in his head he hadn't noticed his phone ringing or vibrating from incoming text messages. Oblivious to the people concerned to reach him, trying to ascertain his safety, he got up from the bed, took all his clothes except for his boxers off, then went to the bathroom. He looked for the scalpel, right there by the sink. So where was he going to cut himself? He looked at his reflection in the mirror: he looked sad and angry with himself, and determined.
And then he felt something like rage, not just anger. Rage that he had been used. It didn't last long though. He wasn't thinking clearly at this point, tears started to flow from his eyes unbidden. He didn't really have a plan, wasn't sure whether he wanted to live or die, caught painfully in the middle, neither here nor there, still hating himself. He grabbed the scalpel and made a cut on his scalp, his chest, his elbow bends, one on the inside of one thigh ... He barely noticed any pain or the blood flowing along various parts of his body.
Next he turned his attention to that particularly hated part of his body that had been used to hurt John. He sat down on the white tiled floor, back resting on the tub, pulled his boxers down enough to get his member out, took it into one hand and made various cuts with the other: on the base on the side, on the base on the underside, along the relaxed shaft ... there are blood vessels there somewhere and he must have nicked something because he felt warm red fluid keep flowing slooowly... he pulled his boxers back up.
Then he pushed the hem of one boxer leg up high enough to expose his groin and tried feeling for the femoral artery. He swallowed. That's where he'd use the scalpel next, trying to figure out how to best make the incision. It was on the right? Or the left? Or on both sides of his body? Why couldn't he remember this simple fact? Then he just sat there, exhausted from the emotional turmoil, numb, shaking. His mind finally felt blank as he listened to his own breathing. His boxers were getting soaked and blood started to pool slowly around him, also from his arms.
When Mycroft received a call back about Sherlock's location it was to find out that his brother's phone hadn't been turned off, the GPS locator indicating at least the phone was at the small flat Mycroft had gotten him. He tried calling, John tried texting, but there was no answer. Mycroft offered to take John along to the flat to see if Sherlock was indeed there or whether he had gone out and left his phone behind. As a precaution, assuming his brother could be distraught, he requested one of the ambulances available to him to come wait for further instructions outside the flat.
"Sherlock, I'll see you shortly. Please don't hurt yourself! JW" John texted.
"Sherlock, I'm on my way. Wait for me, please! JW"
"Sherlock, don't leave. I need you. Please. JW"
None of those texts were acknowledged. There was no call back. Mycroft and John rode in silence, each lost in his own thoughts and fears of what they'd find at the flat. Obviously they were very concerned ... John was biting on his fist, blinking hard. He asked God to keep his friend safe. Mycroft clung to his umbrella handle, looking very somber.
Arriving at their destination they got out of the car quickly. Mycroft did have a key to his brother's flat, just in case it was ever needed, and opened the door with that. The flat was very quiet, very tidy, no piles, no experiments, no books, nothing indicating that Sherlock Holmes lived here. They noticed Sherlock's clothes lying by his bed and then saw him sitting on the bathroom floor through the open door, the red blood standing out in stark contrast to the white tiles. He was alive, thank God!
What followed was all rather not-dramatic: "Jesus Christ, Sherlock!" John exclaimed, his relief and concern written both on his face at the same time as he ran into the bathroom, threw himself on his knees, he didn't care whether he landed right in Sherlock's blood, and grabbed Sherlock in a tight embrace. His hair was longer than usual, he looked even paler, and his skin felt cool. "I know what you had to do, Sherlock, I'm so sorry. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you." And he kissed him on the head, and the forehead, and his cheek. Sherlock just let it happen, not hugging John back yet, surprised. He started to feel weak and his body began to hurt.
As soon as Mycroft saw Sherlock's condition he had called up the paramedics. "Sherlock, you need medical attention, and then we'll take you to a hospital. Please don't be alarmed. John can be with you at all times, if you want." Sherlock just nodded quietly, let them check his vital signs, dress his wounds, of course they had noticed the ones under his boxers. How embarrassing was that to have your private parts handled in front of your elder brother, and John?! After tending to him for several minutes they asked if he could stand. He tried but found his vision blacking out. He sat back down. They came back with a stretcher, he managed to get himself onto it, a blanket was tucked over him.
Mycroft called for cleaners to take care of the flat while his driver followed the ambulance to the hospital. Once inside the ambulance John had grabbed Sherlock's hand, holding it tight, rubbing small circles on the back of it. They both found this comforting. He didn't understand how John was able to forgive him, but didn't ask. They both were quiet. Occasionally Sherlock dared look over at John to try to figure out his facial expression. John seemed lost in thought. "You scared me there, Sherlock. I forgive you, you know. - Please don't hurt yourself anymore." he said and squeezed his hand.
At the hospital Sherlock's wounds were properly cleaned, the ones that needed it stitched up and bandaged. He was informed that he'd be put on a closed ward until after his assessment next morning at the very least, they'd take it from there. Anticipating his usual reluctance, Mycroft encouraged Sherlock to participate in the assessment instead of blocking. He asked if he wanted John to stay with him overnight, he could make that possible if Sherlock wanted. Sherlock was grateful for the offer but declined, he needed time to think. Besides, he felt miserable that he got himself into this situation. His femoral artery endeavor hadn't gotten as far as he'd wanted. He felt pathetic that he hadn't even managed to ... In the ambulance John had asked him not to hurt himself anymore. But he still hated himself.
John had kissed him on his forehead again before leaving for the night. He'd be back in the morning. "Good night, Sherlock. We'll talk more tomorrow." What was it with all this physical affection John was showing him? Why was he not angry with Sherlock instead?
As promised, John came to visit in the morning. He pulled up a chair besides Sherlock's bed and held out his hand, inviting Sherlock to take it. Sherlock did take John's hand and wondered what John was about to say.
"You know, when I was still living at home my Dad was sick with alcoholism and often hit me. On the one hand I was afraid of him, and on the other I really resented him for it. If I had held on to this resentment I'd be bitter and twisted still now, even though he's been dead for several years. I realized life is really too short to hang on to resentment and unforgiveness. It's like a clogged dam, actually can make a person sick.
"What you had to do, Sherlock, is awful. I forgive you. I don't hold it against you. I want you back at Baker Street with me, like before. You hurting yourself the way you did shows that you still hold it against yourself, though. If I forgive you and don't hold it against you, what right do you have to hold it against yourself? You need to let it go, Sherlock. You need to forgive yourself as well. Please. - Maybe how you feel about yourself won't change in a millisecond, but you will start to feel better."
Sherlock contemplated what John was trying to convey to him: what freely given forgiveness really meant. "It's easier to keep hating myself. I don't know how to forgive myself." he said eventually.
"That's alright." said John. "Your thinking about whether you can forgive yourself because I already have forgiven you is a start!" John looked at him hopefully, smiling softly.
"But how? I don't know how." he questioned after a little while. If John thought it was so important that Sherlock forgive himself then he should try to find a way to do it. He was grateful John wanted to be with him like before.
"Sometimes when I don't know what to do, or how to do it, I ask God for help." John said. "There's nothing wrong with admitting that one doesn't know everything, that one needs help. Especially if it's something as difficult as forgiving oneself." John squeezed his had to reassure him.
Sherlock sighed. God. ?! THE maybe-probably-not/possibly-existing-whatever he had sent emergency-requests-for-help to on the very rare occasion that he found himself stuck in a seemingly impossible situation? Did John mean this God? Why did he talk of God at all?
"It's o.k. to ask God for help, Sherlock." John said again. "I'm right here with you. I can ask God to help you. And then you can ask yourself. I'll be right here."
Sherlock's heart began to beat faster. His eyes started filling with tears. John looked so calm and confident. He wasn't mad at all with Sherlock. How was this possible? Was forgiveness really possible? Just like that? Free for the asking?
John saw Sherlock blink several times and swallow, saw hope germinating in his painful eyes. "I'll ask first then," he said. "God, please help Sherlock to forgive himself. Thank you. Amen."
Sherlock gulped again. He grabbed John's hand even tighter. John was right, he did need help, no doubt about that. So he gathered what little hope he had, looked John in the eye and said "God, please help me: I need to forgive myself."
John kissed him on his forehead again, hugging him tight. This time Sherlock hugged him back.