I'm not fully happy with this, but I wanted to post it before the episode was too far away. So here it is. There's no real plot, just missing scenes and moments between John and Caitlin and John and Clarice after afterMath.
It's not part of my Sense series per say, but it operates on the same headcanons, especially regarding John's abilities. We got an actual mention of sensory overload too in that episode, and multiple confirmations that John can actually get hurt, so it's nearly canon anyway!
Enjoy and tell me what you think!
Caitlin watches John's sudden outburst of violence, punching the water heater, and realizes this is the first time she's ever been afraid of him. In the year they've known each other, she hasn't once seen John lose control of his carefully constructed composure. She's never thought of him as a danger to her.
She's known from the first day how strong he is, when he stood in front of her children and let himself get hit by half a truck at full speed, but he's always seems so calm and disciplined. He's the quietest of them all. They've all had meltdowns, crying fits and bursts of anger, moments when they lost it, but never John. At least never in front of her.
But he's falling apart, and she's been too engrossed in her own problems to see it. She hadn't realized how much he's been blaming himself all this time, so focused on Andy that everything else became secondary to her.
"John?" she asks when he doesn't seem to come out of his trance-like state, staring motionless at the walls.
Caitlin realizes a little guiltily that if it were Marcos or Clarice in this situation, let alone her own family, she would already be hugging them. Instead, she involuntarily recoils when John turns to her. He takes a step back until he's not within arm's reach anymore.
"I'm sorry," she says. She's not even talking about Michael's death anymore, only about her instinctive reaction.
John nods. "It's okay," he brushes it off. He doesn't even look surprised or hurt, like he's long used to it. Caitlin bites her lip.
"Should we go back out?" she asks. "Doctor Kelsey is being taken care of, but there's some cleaning to do."
"Sure," John says, his eyes avoiding Michael's body.
"I'll take care of him," Caitlin says, nodding toward Michael. "But let me at least bandage your hands first, okay?"
"Caitlin, I don't need−"
"John, you're bleeding."
John looks down at his hand, which is in fact covered in blood. He must have busted the already damaged skin when punching the water heater.
"Fine," he says.
Caitlin leads him out of the secret room and back to an exam room. She shows him to a chair, rather than to the table, as he's unlikely to appreciate being treated like a patient right now.
Neither of them speaks while she cleans and bandages his bleeding right hand. Despite John's assurances that he heals faster, Caitlin is privately worried about the state of his burned skin. Anyone else would be unable to use their hands for weeks with burns like that, but she's seen him pick things up and even carry someone in his arms, giving no indication that it even hurt. His pain tolerance−or his acting abilities−must be incredibly high.
John looks lost in his thoughts, aside from a few winces, and Caitlin respects that. God knows she's go plenty to think about herself. Everything that happened today, for a start. Which reminds her−
"John, there's something I haven't told you."
"Yes?" John snaps out of his reverie to look up at her.
"It's Graph," Caitlin says. "He had an overdose before you came back."
"What? What happened? I thought you got him off the drugs."
"I...gave him some. So he could help us through the mental hospital's security."
John's hand twitches in hers, and she lets go of it hurriedly, dropping the gauze she's holding in the same move. John freezes when he catches her eyes, and a brutal shudder goes through him. He curls in on himself, hugging himself with his arms, and Caitlin realizes he's trying to get as far away from her as he can without actually leaving his chair. He's reigning himself in, brutally.
She stares, unable to think of anything to do. He's angry with her, for the second time today, and for the second time she can't help being scared of him. Even though he's hurting himself rather than lashing out at her.
John closes his eyes briefly, and when he opens them he's composed again. He relaxes his arms and pretends not to notice Caitlin's slight flinch when he stands up.
She doesn't miss the slight tremor in his bandaged hand, or the tight fist his still untreated left hand is making, which has to hurt.
"Is he okay?"
"He should be," Caitlin answers.
John's hand relaxes minutely.
"It's been a long day," he says. "But we'll talk about this tomorrow."
Caitlin nods, trying to make up for her terrible reactions−she's done nothing but hurt him, today−by openly acknowledging his position as their leader. She knows Reed and her tend to dismiss him, even now. They believe in their right to make their own decisions, but after today, she's not sure why they should. They did everything wrong, and it got Lauren hurt. They almost killed a man, and it was all for nothing.
John is guarded, more controlled than them all, and that's exactly why he's a good leader. He knows what happens when you lose control.
"Let me do your other hand," Caitlin says softly, overcoming her flight instinct to reach out to him.
John stays standing, motionless, for a moment longer then sits back down, straight and tense. Taking his hand, Caitlin can clearly see the bloody half-circles of his nails digging into his palms amid the burns.
She doesn't say anything, and simply goes back to cleaning the peeling skin, wincing along with John at the roughest spots. They stay silent until she's done bandaging his hand over the generously applied burn cream.
When she looks up, John doesn't look angry anymore, he looks tired. And it's almost worse.
Caitlin can barely remember a time, back when she first got to Headquarters, before they freed Reed and Lorna and found out about Pulse, when John didn't have shadows under his eyes, but now his face looks hollow, almost gaunt. He's paler than usual, too, but that might be because of his injuries.
"There," she says, letting go of his hand. "What about your chest?"
"What about it?" John asks.
"You got shot, and I'm pretty sure I saw burns earlier," Caitlin answers, unthinkingly reaching out. John shifts back, away from her.
"I'm fine. Nothing I can't handle on my own."
Caitlin considers insisting, but he gives her a look. Their interaction is tangibly tense as it is, and now's not the time to make it worse. It's been a long day.
"John, are you sleeping well?" she still takes the risk to ask when he stands back up and sways slightly.
John stares at her for a moment. "I don't think that's any of your business," he says. His voice is flat, emotionless, but Caitlin hears the rebuke for what it is. She's standing on eggshells with him.
"I'm just asking as your friend," she says softly.
"I can't do this right now," John answers, shaking his head. "Do you need me here?"
"No, I don't think so," Caitlin says, trying not to let her sadness sound in her voice. She has no right to feel hurt by him drawing away. He opened up to her, earlier, and she still let him see she was afraid of him. What kind of friend does that make her?
What kind of friend is she, when her first reaction was to blame him for letting Andy get away, for Lauren getting hurt?
"I need to go check on the others," Johns says, walking out of the room.
Caitlin lets him go with a sigh. There's nothing she can do for him right now, and she's got her family to think about.
When Clarice finally makes it home, John is sitting on their couch, head bowed, his elbows resting on his knees and his bandaged hands held carefully in front of him. He hasn't been able to relax even an inch, but he doesn't know anymore if it's because of the pain, or because he hasn't had any new from Clarice and Marcos in hours. Or because of the feeling of wrongness that permeates his whole being and makes it so hard to think.
Hearing Clarice unlock the door eases something in his chest, a little, as he stands up to welcome her, but the look on her face undoes that just as quickly.
She doesn't say anything, only opens her arms and launches herself at him for a hug. John has to physically struggle with himself not to recoil. He barely gets his sore hands out of the way in time.
"What happened?" he asks as she buries her face in his shoulder.
"I took the mutants to Erg," she starts replying, before she notices that he's holding her awkwardly. She pushes him back gently to look at him.
"John, your hands?" she asks, her voice full of concern, her own hands hovering as if she doesn't dare touch him.
"It's nothing," John shakes his head.
Clarice looks doubtfully at the mitten-like bandages covering his hands.
"Doesn't look like nothing to me," she says.
"The mutant who got hurt, Michael, his skin oozed acid. I was the only one who could touch him."
Clarice stops before she says anything more and shakes her head sadly. John knows what she wants to say, they've had this conversation too many times in the last few weeks. That he needs to stop sacrificing himself, to stop taking the punishment.
"It was his only chance," he says.
"Did he make it?"
John looks away. "No."
The knot in his throat is back. It's not even anger anymore, just plain old pain.
Grief. The pain that still takes him when he thinks of Pulse, of Sonya. Of Lorna, too, lately. Of Atlanta. Guilt.
"Come on," Clarice murmurs, guiding him back to the couch.
"What happened with Erg?" John manages to ask. He lets Clarice cuddle up to his side, keeping his hands out of the way, though even her touch is almost physically painful.
"I don't know if I did the right thing, taking them down there. He agreed to take them in, but only if they took the mark."
"Erg believes mutants should show who they are on the outside, even those who don't have a physical mutation. You saw the M on his face?"
"Yes," John answers, conscious that he's speaking in mono-syllables, but that's the best he can do right now. Clarice needs comfort, needs to tell her story, and he needs to know this information. That he's incredibly tired and hurting shouldn't matter.
"They burn it on their cheeks with heated blades. The mutants...they all said yes, but they're just out of a mental hospital! I mean, isn't that condemning them to another kind of prison? Living down there in the sewers, marked forever?"
Clarice has now found life again in her anguish, sitting up and gesturing. She's talking too loudly, but John can hardly blame her. He racks through his brain to find an appropriate answer.
"I think wherever they go, they're not going to find freedom," he says slowly−his voice too low, too rough. "They're fugitives, branded as dangerous. They've been through so many hardships… They're not going to go back to a normal life, sweetheart. Maybe Erg can protect them, at least."
"That's what I thought," Clarice says. "But now, I'm not so sure. It was awful. I don't think I'll ever get the smell of burnt flesh out of my nose."
John gently brings her closer until she's curled up against him again, despite his crawling skin.
"You stayed for that?"
"We couldn't just leave! I brought them down there."
"I understand," John murmurs sadly. "I just wish… I love you so much."
You'll forget the smell, he doesn't add. That's the easy part.
"I love you too," Clarice murmurs back.
John tries to lose himself in the scents of her hair, but he keeps seeing Michael's lifeless face staring up at him. Another brother, gone because he couldn't be better. He's got a tally of them in his head, and it keeps getting longer.
Clarice moves her head on his chest and John can't help grunting when she brushes against one of the burns there.
"What is it?" she asks, straightening up to look at him.
"Just some more burns," John says. "It's okay."
"Is there anywhere you didn't get injured today?"
John doesn't quite have the energy to raise to her provocation. "Yeah," he nods simply.
Clarice frowns at his lack of reaction.
"You sure you're okay?"
"I'm just tired," John says. It's the understatement of the century. It's been a day from hell, and all of it for nothing. Michael still died. Graph apparently had a heart attack. Lorna and Andy are still gone, and now the Inner Circle has put their hand on an unidentified mutant. They've got nothing.
John is exhausted. From months of trying, and failing. From months of trying to keep them from falling apart−but maybe they did fall apart, that day in Atlanta, and all he's been doing since has been grasping at straws.
"You got shot today, and then burned," Clarice says, following her own train of thoughts. "You've got to be hurting."
"Hmm," John nods vaguely.
"Will you at least take something for the pain?"
"John, why? And don't tell me they don't work on you."
"Tylenol doesn't. Anything stronger… I can't afford to get addicted again."
Clarice closes her eyes, as if the reminder is painful to her. John forgets, sometimes, that she's only known this for a few weeks. It's a part of him, now, the occasional cravings, the bad days, taking the punishment when he gets hurt because it's better than the alternative.
"There has to be something," she insists.
John shakes his head. Unbidden, he thinks of Reed, of their conversation this morning that seems like a lifetime away. Hearing about him developing powers was shocking enough, but to see him preparing to go down that road… John shivers. He knows, intimately, what it does to you and the people around you.
"There isn't," he says. He'll have to talk to Reed again, make him see this. If what it takes is John talking about his own experience...well, it won't be fun, but he'll do it. He just hopes it won't undermine him in the Struckers' eyes even more. They already don't see him as their leader, and John knows too well he doesn't deserve to be, not after Atlanta. "I used to take about every kind of painkiller and anti-anxiety pills there is, because my body processes things so fast that just one was never enough. There really isn't any that's safe now."
"Alright," Clarice nods, disappointed.
"Hey," John says, turning so he can face her. "It's okay. Really."
"I just hate seeing you in pain."
"I know. But it will go away."
Clarice stays silent, lost in her thoughts, through cooking them a late dinner. John does his best to help, but with his hands nearly useless he can't do much. He abandons after nearly dropping a plate and watches her instead from his chair at the table.
Clarice seems to steel herself when she puts the pan of pasta on the table between them.
"There's something I need to tell you," she says. "It's about Erg."
"I should have told you before, but..." she hesitates. Biting her lip, she shakes her head and starts again. "Back when we went to see him, Erg didn't just agree to help for free. He asked me to give him something in return. So I did."
"What was it?" John asks, a weight of lead settling in his gut.
Clarice closes her eyes, as if expecting him to be angry.
"Information," she answers. "About us, about the Underground. He wanted the names of the mutants we work with."
John tenses, then takes a breath to steady himself. He's lost control too many times already today, he who used to be so level-headed. He scared Caitlin. Clarice has never recoiled from him in fear, not even in his worst moments, but it doesn't mean she never will.
He is angry, somewhere deep in the back of his mind, but true anger would take energy he's already spent. He only feels shaky, really, untethered. He leans forward on his elbows, fidgeting with the bandages on his hands, trying to center himself.
"I see," he says simply when he's found his words again.
Clarice looks about to cry, but he's simply unable to give her more comfort. Knowing her, she'd probably reject it anyway, say something about owning up to her decisions.
John has known she wasn't telling him the whole truth since the moment they came back from the sewers, but he didn't push, because he thought she might just need some time to think. That it was something personal, like he needed to wrap his head around what Evangeline told him.
Her spying on the Underground for Erg, giving him names, it's on a whole other level. It isn't personal, and it's liable to compromise their whole security. Everything they've built.
You think I'm going to let you destroy the rest of what we've built? Evangeline's voice echoes in his head.
But Clarice has come clean, now, hasn't she? And they did need that information about the data cables. John needs more time, more energy than he has now to untangle what it will mean for them as a group. The only thing he knows is that he has no ground to give anyone a lesson on responsibility.
On a personal level, John can't help feeling hurt that she didn't tell him. For a moment, he wonders if this is where their relationship is going, hiding things to protect each other. He's always known that in the current climate, in the middle of a war−because it's already a war, it has been since 7/15, however much they want to hide from that idea−being together was going to be hard. There are always other priorities, ones that involve life and death and other people, that were going to come between them. He just didn't imagine that their worry for each other was what would destroy them in the end.
Then he shakes his head, horrified at where his thoughts are going. Here he is, already imagining them breaking up over this. To his knowledge, the last thing Clarice hid from him before this was that she once ran with the Brotherhood, and once the shock passed, John understood he had no right to be angry with her. There are plenty of things in his past he doesn't talk about, and it doesn't reflect on how much he loves Clarice. Only on how many bad things routinely happen to mutants in this world.
Maybe seeing Marcos and Lorna, and how ideological differences destroyed what they had, is what makes him worry so much. What will happen, if Clarice decides she's better off living underground with the Morlocks, where she can finally be accepted for what she is? John knows she still feels different from the rest of them who don't look openly mutant, and he's starting to understand that this is something that will always set them apart.
John himself doesn't know where his need to redeem himself, to stop the Inner circle and get Lorna and Andy back, will lead him. Only that he hasn't been able to look at himself in a mirror in months.
Their future is uncertain at best, but they've known that for a long time. So what's changed? Is John really as desperate as Clarice thinks? Is she the one who is getting tired of fighting?
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Clarice says after a while.
Neither of them has done more than pick at their pasta. John stares at his plate and sees Michael's lifeless face, Caitlin's flinch, Lauren unconscious in his arms.
He can't bring himself to say it's okay, so he looks away instead.
What she did will probably be inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, it might even help them eventually. But it's one more blow, one more time someone doesn't trust his leadership−his friendship, his love.
"Why? Why didn't you tell me?"
Clarice meets his eyes then, for the first time since the beginning of their meal.
"I thought...you had so much on your mind already, and I didn't understand..."
Giving you hope is the worst possible thing I could do.
"I need to know these things, Clarice!" John explodes−only he doesn't, not really. He crosses his arms over his chest, mostly to keep himself from bending a fork in two, or hurting his hands further. "If I'm to lead this fight−"
Only he's not leading the fight any longer, is he? Not when no one recognizes him as their leader. No, he lost that right when he failed in Atlanta. Evangeline was right.
I gave you a cause. I didn't know that cause was doomed.
John suddenly remembers her, back when she believed. When she chained him to a bed and sat by his side because she thought they could win.
Sitting in Tex's Lounge with Lorna for the first time, when the Atlanta station was only an idea. They believed, then, too. Now Lorna believes in something else, and John…
What does he believe in?
"Listen, I don't know if we can win this fight anymore, or if we're running into a wall. But I believe in us. I love you, Clarice. I don't want to lose you. I don't want this to come between us."
"I love you too," Clarice murmurs.
They're as far away from each other emotionally as they can be, while sitting in the same room. It hurts, they're both tired and sore and they've seen too much pain today. John takes the first step, putting his bandaged hand on Clarice's, gently, ignoring the pain. She strokes his wrist with the tips of her fingers, avoiding the burns.
They'll talk about this again, later. When they've slept and settled down and worked through things in their head. For now they'll just focus on being together.