AN - Thank you so much to everyone who has responded to this. I've really appreciated your feedback. Hope you continue to enjoy the final instalment. If anyone's interested I'm thinking of writing a 'sort of' tag to the Great Game because I really think Sherlock needs to reconsider his views on heroes after what John did! What do you think?
Sherlock paced more than usual as he considered Mycroft's words. When that didn't help he took up the violin and tried to lose himself in its complex melodies. He applied four nicotine patches to his bare forearm. Then he stared at the wall for a bit. This was not supposed to be happening. This wasn't supposed to be possible. He was Sherlock Holmes, one of the greatest minds of the 21st Century and he really didn't like it when his brother was right.
It was all John's fault.
The man had never said anything about his twice weekly visits to his therapist. The first time he had gone, he had simply slipped on his coat and told Mrs Hudson he was popping out for an hour. It was only when Sherlock needed to borrow his phone almost half an hour later that he realised he had gone, although, it hadn't taken a great deal of deduction to ascertain his movements after the fact. According to Mrs Hudson he could have been a bit more tactful about that.
"Where have you been?"He had asked, from his prone position on the couch, without bothering to open his eyes. "I needed to borrow your phone."
"I went out."
Sherlock was slightly surprised when nothing more was forthcoming. It wasn't like John to pass up the opportunity to comment on the fact that he was still lounging around in his pyjamas or fuss over the excessive nicotine patches. Instead, Watson had sat down and picked up the newspaper, in what to most people would be an obvious attempt to put an end to the conversation, which, of course, only served to pique Holmes curiosity. Genuinely interested now, he sat up and swung his legs around, steepling his fingers under his chin as he surveyed his new flatmate.
"You've changed into a jacket and tie so appearances were important. Not a romantic liaison, you're only wearing your second best aftershave, but not a job interview either. Not with those shoes."
"Sorry, what's wrong with my shoes?" Watson scowled.
"You chose the suede ones, rather than leather, so comfort over first impressions, which suggests this person already knows something about you, but not a friend or a family member, you'd meet them for lunch or a coffee, take your time. It's not like you have anything else to do."
"Yes, thank you so much for pointing that out." The scowl deepened.
"No, you told Mrs Hudson you would be gone for just over an hour. So, some kind of an appointment then," Sherlock continued as if he hadn't spoken, not noticing that Watson's mood was growing increasingly sour. "Not a haircut, that's obvious, nor the dentist, the smell does linger so, same for hospitals, you wouldn't go to a GP, like most doctor's you make the worst patient."
"I went to see my therapist," Watson told him, as he threw the paper aside. "There, are you happy now? I have to go twice a week. It's a thirty minute appointment. It takes fifteen minutes to get there and fifteen minutes to get back. Now would you like to know what colour underwear I put on this morning or can I have the least bit of bloody privacy?"
"I've offended you," Holmes realised. "Honestly John, its nothing to be ashamed of. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a recognised.."
"You just don't get it, do you?" Watson surged to his feet in frustration. His shoulder throbbed. His therapist had tried to make him talk about things he really didn't want to re-visit, Harry had left him another unwelcome message and he hadn't heard anything from that GP practice he'd contacted about a job. "If I had wanted you to know where I had gone, I would have told you. That's how friendship is supposed to work!"
"Oh, so now I have to pretend to be deaf, dumb, blind and ignorant to fit in with your delicate sensibilities?" Sherlock feeling put out in his turn had demanded caustically.
"You know what?" John had given him a murderous look. "Just piss off."
After that, Watson had made sure to stop off in a local park or cafe before returning home from his appointments and Sherlock had carefully avoiding talking about his therapy sessions. Now he decided that what he needed was a plan of action. Pulling out Watson's laptop he began surfing the internet. It took longer than he expected, necessitating numerous visits to specialist libraries to check out relevant periodicals but as the hours passed into days he gradually satisfied himself that he was up to speed with present thinking. Once he was fully prepared he took to the sofa to wait for Watson to come home.
He sprang to his feet as soon as the other man appeared in the doorway, carrying two bags of groceries and looking tried and slightly damp from the light autumn drizzle. Ignoring all of that Holmes immediately rushed over, seizing him by the arm and dragging him towards the couch.
"Here, you have to lie down here."
"Sherlock, I need to put the shopping away," John didn't try very hard to shake off his grip. He had learnt from experience that it was far quicker to just go along with whatever was on his flatmate's mind. "Can I at least take my coat off.?"
"Never mind the shopping, this is important," Sherlock put his hands on his shoulders and pressed him into a supine position. Mystified John lay back as Sherlock narrowed his eyes in thought. "Cushions," He declared. "We need more cushions."
Dashing around the living room he piled several of the items behind John's head. Then he stood back as if to admire his handiwork and his expression creased into a frown. "Do you think we should remove your shoes?"
"I have no idea," Watson regarded him calmly. It was a little disconcerting how normal this kind of thing had become. "It might depend on what you are planning to do?"
"Not me. You," Sherlock corrected. "Well, me of course, as well, but this is mostly about you."
"It is?" Watson took in his prone position, a dreadful suspicion growing in the back of his mind. "And why exactly am I lying on the couch?"
"I thought you'd be more comfortable." Sherlock said, as if it that was obvious. Watson supposed that to him it was. After all, Holmes spent a great deal of his time sprawled on the couch. He obviously thought it was comfortable. He realised the other man was still frowning. "A blanket isn't usual is it?" Holmes asked. "I didn't find any references to blankets. Just a comfortable position, a suitable ambient temperature and perhaps some soothing music to make the patient feel more relaxed. Shall I put on some Bach?"
He started hunting for his Ipod.
"Patient?" John did not like the sound of that. "Sherlock, forget the bloody Bach. Just tell me what is going on."
"You're going to talk about your nightmares," Sherlock informed him, as he swept a collection of things off the coffee table, sat himself down and regarded Watson expectantly. "So, when did they first start?"
"Sorry, no. I am not doing this." Watson sat up swinging his feet around, a scowl firmly fixed on his face, feeling entirely too much like one of Holmes numerous experiments. "I do enough talking with my therapist, thank you very much. Far too much in fact, for all the good it does."
"Then clearly she doesn't know how to ask the right questions," Sherlock pointed out.
"Sherlock, I'm not going to lie here and bare my soul just because you've got bored and there's nothing much good on the telly."
"Of course not," Holmes actually looked wounded. "Do you really imagine that I would have devoted so much of my time this last week to researching something to no purpose? But if you want to carry on as you are .."
"Wait a minute," Watson frowned. "I thought you said you were doing some private research for an important benefactor. You said you couldn't tell me anything about it because it was top secret. You even turned down Lestrade's invitation to speak at that International Conference at the Barbican to focus on it."
"I never said it was top secret, you just assumed it was because I wouldn't show it to you."
Watson stilled as he realised that he was the 'important benefactor' Sherlock had been burning the midnight oil for this last week. Every time he had tried to persuade the man to focus on his own needs and sleep for a bit or at least eat something, it had been his problems Holmes had been absorbed in. He smiled at the fact that Holmes considered him some one who had conferred a benefit in his life.
"And now ?" He enquired.
"Now I know which questions to ask," Sherlock said smugly. "And more importantly, I know you."
Watson refused to lie down again or even contemplate the Bach. So, they sat side by side on the sofa as he tried to focus on Holmes original question. He was slightly surprised to realise that it was much easier to talk about his nightmares in here, among the chaos and disorder of the increasingly familiar surroundings, than in had been in the almost Spartan surroundings of his therapist's office.
"I'm back in Afghanistan, obviously," John he began. "It's hot, there's lot of noise, voices shouting, gunfire. Then a pain in my shoulder knocks me to the ground and as I'm lying in the sand I can feel the blood, too much blood, running down my arm and soaking into the ground beneath me. I try to apply pressure to the wound but my hand starts shaking too much to get a decent grip and then a medic arrives."
He fell silent.
"And then what?" Sherlock asked.
"And then nothing," John shrugged. "I wake up."
"No," Sherlock's tone took on that cadence that said his mind was working overtime. "That doesn't make sense. This wasn't your first time under fire. It wasn't even your first time being shot."
"How could you possibly know that?" John bristled. "Did you hack into my service record?"
"Mycroft tried to show it to me, I declined," Sherlock waved that off as if it was unimportant. "You have a scar on your left bicep. Not enough to do any serious damage but unmistakably caused by a bullet wound."
"Of course I do," Watson shook his head. "Wait a minute. You talked to Mycroft about me?"
"It would be more accurate to say that Mycroft talked to me about you," Sherlock's tone was distracted as he continued to focus on the issue in hand. "When did you first have this nightmare? I mean, the very first time?"
Watson straightened slightly. He could see by Sherlock's expression that he thought he was onto something, which was interesting because this was the part that had never made any sense to John. In the heat and danger of Afghanistan when they had initially been fighting to save his life and then to keep him alive he'd been as well as could be expected. It was only once he found himself back in the safe grey drizzle of an English autumn that the nightmares had begun.
"Not until I was medevacced home." He considered that. "Mycroft told me that I missed the war."
"It's not the war you miss," Sherlock dismissed that, rising to his feet and pacing backwards and forwards as his thoughts fled onwards. "You chose to be a doctor so you could save lives, not take them. You don't shrink from violence and you're prepared to kill if you must but you have high moral principles, so you're not a man to glory in the pursuit of war for its own sake. But you have the mindset and bearing of a soldier, it was the first thing I noticed about you. Oh, of course, of course! Why didn't I realise it before!"
"Anytime you'd like to share." Watson commented mildly.
"John, John, John," In one swift movement, Sherlock leapt over the coffee table to sit back beside his friend, as he positively fizzed with excitement. "I need you to think. When you're having the dream and you look up and see the Medic. What does he say?"
"How did you know he says something?" Watson blinked.
"So, he does. He speaks?" Sherlock looked elated. "I knew it. What does he say?"
"You were guessing?" Watson protested. "Damn it, Sherlock the inside of my head isn't your personal playground. This is my life we're talking about."
"John, focus," Sherlock reached out and put a hand on either side of his face, forcing him to meet his gaze. "This is important. Think man, what does he say?"
"I don't know," John felt his frustration rising. "I don't remember."
"Yes, you do," Sherlock insisted. "You don't want to think about it. You push it to the back of your mind. But it's important enough that it's been keeping you awake night after night. Of course, you remember what it is. Come on, John, tell me what he says."
Anchored by Sherlock's firm grip on his face, held fast by his piercing gaze, John forced himself to look into that corner of his mind that caused his heart to race and his hands to become clammy, futilely tossing and turning in the bedclothes until he woke with a terrified cry.
"The medic," He realised, with a shock. "I can see his face. He's me."
"Good, John, that's very good" Sherlock encouraged, not sounding the least bit surprised. "Now what does he say?"
Still slightly reeling from that revelation, how on earth had he missed that? How had his therapist missed that? Watson nonetheless tried to do as he was asked. Closing his eyes he let Holmes steady presence ground him as he surrendered himself to the memories. He felt the heat, heard the gunfire, smelt the blood, too much blood and then his own face honed into view above his prone body.
"Alright, that's it, I'm done here," John surged to his feet, knocking Holmes hands aside in the process and refusing to acknowledge the slightly wounded look his abrupt retreat put on his friend's face. "I'm going back out."
"John," Sherlock's tone managed to be both steely and compassionate. "Please believe me when I tell you that I am not doing this solely for my own intellectual curiosity, if you do not face this now you will continue to be haunted by those nightmares. Is that really what you want?"
"No," Watson stopped in the doorway, dropping his head slightly in defeat. "Of course, it's not."
"Then tell me," Sherlock's tone was as close to pleading as John had ever heard. "Please?"
John sucked in his cheeks. He could not turn around, could not face this man as he gave voice to the answer that he demanded. But he prided himself on the fact that he had sufficient moral fibre to respond honestly. Stiffening his backbone and reaching down to the depths of his courage, he swallowed hard, over his suddenly dry throat.
"It's my own face looking down at me," He admitted. "And he says, 'this man is not worth saving."
He braced himself for Holmes reaction. He had no idea what it might be. The consulting detective had proved time and again that he didn't suffer fools gladly. Often his emotional empathy was lacking if not utterly non-existent. But he had also shown a degree of respect and admiration for John's courage and tenacity. Also had had seemed boyishly pleased by Watson's admiration for his abilities and his unusual tolerance of his mercurial moods. Even to the extent that John didn't think he was imagining things when he suspected Holmes was doing his best to be nice to him.
"So, I was right all along." Sherlock actually sounded amused of all things.
Watson tried, he really did. He took a calming breath, he clenched and un-clenched his fists, he even looked heavenwards for divine inspiration, but at heart he was a soldier rather than a saint, and this had already pushed him to his limits so in the end he simply turned on his heel to face the other man, not caring that his rage burned in his eyes.
"What the hell ..?" He demanded.
"You're an idiot." Sherlock informed him cheerfully.
Much too cheerfully, Watson's eyes narrowed. Even Sherlock Holmes wasn't quite so crassly oblivious. He might set out to deliberately goad the likes of Donovan and Anderson. He might, as with Jennifer Wilson's stillborn daughter, display an incredible lack of tact, but he was not to the type to rejoice in another's failings, unless, that person was a murder or some kind of psychotic maniac.
"I assume you have an explanation?" He asked carefully.
"Don't you see? Being injured was never the issue. You were a career soldier. As far you were concerned it was always a possibility. You also knew how effective the body is at repairing its self."
"It was only when you realised that your injury was serious enough to cut short your career that the nightmares started. You arrived back in England without a job, not much family to speak of, no real possessions even. Most of the friendships you had made were in the army, far too difficult to keep up with old friends back home when you're always moving around."
"So, my subconscious convinced me that I had nothing left worth living for." Watson nodded. It made a lot of sense. "And how am I an idiot, again?"
"Because there's a reason, I was looking for a flatmate," Sherlock was suddenly deadly serious. "It's the same reason I need the nicotine patches, that I take the piss out of people like Anderson, that I have occasionally used recreational drugs and that I talk to a skull more often than my own brother. And as far as I'm concerned the man who has alienated many of those problems is well worth saving."
"Right," Watson felt more than a little awkward as what the other man was trying to say gradually sunk in. As he thought back over recent weeks he realised just how much time and effort Homes had indeed put into saving him. If the world's only consulting detective had that kind of faith in him then just maybe he could face what the future might bring without being haunted by his past. "Well, um, thank you."
"You're welcome," Sherlock smiled. "Cocoa?"
"I'd love to," Watson shook his head ruefully. "But I forgot to buy any milk."