Hi! This one-shot is my answer to a prompt on the BBC Sherlock prompt meme whose exact wording was: "I would LOVE anyone who wrote something where John really only lets Sherlock touch him - whatever the reason. John is okay with touching other people but only in the most professional sense; Sherlock is the only who gets to touch John."
I hope you'll like it, please don't hesitate to tell me if you spot a mistake!
Control. That's what it all came back to. He sometimes felt as if being a soldier, being part of this great mechanism that was the army, had robbed him of his own self – surely at least part of it had flown out his body alongside his blood. It didn't use to matter much then; any void in him was amply filled by screams and camaraderie and petty superiors and sand and red and noise and horror and excitement. Feeling empty would have been a relief.
But then this had been taken from him too, and a great silence had replaced the fracas. Silence from the peers he had left three years previous, silence from his family, except for Harry's uncomfortable texts; silence from the hospitals and clinics to answer his queries for some work, any work. Only the dreams weren't silent, and he woke from those gasping for breath and refusing to acknowledge the sharp busts of pain beneath his ribs that couldn't be longing but still acted the part pretty well.
So John settled in a routine. Routine was good – his therapist had said so. Routine was comfortable, and more than that, routine meant he had control. Woke up at nine – or rose, since most often he had already been awake for a few hours when the alarm-clock rang – and stared at his empty blog page for half an hour. Showered and dressed in twenty minutes. Drank the hotel's tea and swallowed the bread he wasn't allowed to stash in his room but still did because his finances demanded it. Spent his morning browsing for job offers, occasionally glancing disinterestedly through the adverts of people looking for flatmates. Lunched at one, in a small pub down the street, rarely more than a sandwich because London fares were simply too expensive. Took a walk around Regent's Park, leaning on his cane because it created a lovingly regular 'pac!' and proved every time it struck the ground that he was still in charge of his own health, even if he did have to get therapy.
It was during one of those walks that his routine spiralled out of control once more. The man that called out to him from a bench broke the first rule when he recognised him; the man he was then introduced to proceeded to cheerfully trample the rest of the rules using a phone, a wink, outrageous deductions and a truly comfortable set of rooms near Marylebone. The pink corpse and subsequent chase in London were mere consequences of their meeting.
His new flatmate was the definition of uncontrollable and the condition was apparently contagious, considering body parts soon started to be more common in the kitchen than actual food was and skulls became quite the conversationalists in their new little world in Baker Street. John came to discover that his time wasn't only his anymore, but he was okay with it because really routine was just another word for boredom.
It still meant that he had to find new ways to assuage his need to take decisions for himself; and progressively, unconsciously, he began to try and control everything that could be considered an exterior stimulus. Controlling what he saw and heard was nigh impossible but he still tried, planting himself in front of stupid TV-shows he devoted his entire attention to. His sense of smell was easier, even though Sherlock launched some terribly effective chemistry-based attacks. Taste was simpler still, considering he did most of the groceries and cooking. But it was in touch that he found a real retrieve.
He decided what to touch, and when. It was certainly the case with items, but even making sure that nobody got to touch him unless he decided that it was fine was simple. He didn't realise what he was doing at first; certainly, Mycroft wanting to touch his hand was spooky enough that he would have refused even before Afghanistan. However, when he avoided all of Mrs Hudson's well-meaning hugs and flinched as Harry reached over to tousle his hair for the millionth time, some conclusions had to be drawn.
He worried a bit at first – what was a doctor who disliked being touched? But as his only job right then seemed to be Sherlock Holmes's flatmate, a full-time job for sure, he decided it was fine.
Not long after his realization, he found out his avoidance of any touch he didn't instigate could still prove embarrassing when Lestrade suddenly reached out for him at a crime scene and he almost stumbled on his own feet to make sure he wouldn't be touched by the man, backing away and into his flatmate. Surprised by the violence of his own reaction, blushing furiously and avoiding the Inspector's startled eyes, he wondered how long it would take before rumours circulated around the Yard about his potentially abusive parents or lovers.
His discomfiture was such that it took him nearly twenty seconds to become conscious of his position, barely two inches in front of his flatmate, who had automatically put a hand to his shoulder to stop him from backing further into him. He immediately lifted his eyes to meet grey ones and winced apologetically. He only got a raised eyebrow in response, but that didn't surprise him, considering Sherlock had a very specific definition of what constituted personal space (an empty stadium wouldn't be enough when he fell into one of his blackest moods, but it was pretty much inexistent at any other time). No, what surprised him was his own lack of reaction to the other man's proximity. Being unexpectedly touched by Sherlock wasn't awkward, it wasn't uncomfortable. No sense of intrusion accompanied the hand; he only felt the actual point of contact, a warm spot on his shoulder which he could have sworn created more heat than his sweater did.
This development deserved further contemplation, and John grew pensive for the rest of the day as he tried to remember any other instances when he might have had unprepared contact with his flatmate. His attempts were pretty much made in vain and he resolved to study whether such events occurred in the next days, never noticing Sherlock's frankly speculating gaze on him as they got back to Baker Street.
His study certainly brought interesting results; apparently, Sherlock and he touched all the time. They sat side by side for their Bond marathons. Their shoulders brushed as they ate on the same side of the table because the other half was taken by urgent experiments. Sherlock was always helping (forcing) him to put his jacket on so that he could come along on the most ridiculous of purchases, and he usually found a reason to grab his arm (and not let go) on those as well.
And not once had John felt the need to draw away from his flatmate and friend.
Truly perplexed, wondering if his need to be the investigator of any kind of contact had discretely faded away, he decided on an experiment. The next morning he arrived a little early at work for a change, holding two coffees, and proceeded to exchange pleasantries with Sarah, his boss, standing a slightest bit closer to her than was proper. Sure enough, after a few exchanges on the London weather (where his inability to talk in anything other than a slightly stilted tone informed him that he had apparently unlearnt how to small-talk in those few months with his new flatmate!) she laughed a little at one of his remarks and innocently reached up to – he assumed – either touch or lightly shake his shoulder. He couldn't help himself; he flinched, and the kind woman's hand dropped back to her side without touching him. He almost groaned at the suspicious look that crossed her face; he had had received enough of those in his two previous visits to the Yard to last him a lifetime and certainly didn't need to get them at work as well.
Now thoroughly confused, John took care of the day's patients before going back to the apartment, where he absently let an impatient Sherlock take off his jacket and push him on the sofa to watch another Bond movie; apparently, the detective had surmounted his repugnance concerning the lack of sensible plot enough to appreciate the action scenes. Half-way through the film, John knew what his next step should be.
If Ella had been surprised by John's decision to make an appointment after two months of silence, she certainly didn't show it. However her eyebrows slowly rose to her hairline as the ex-soldier explained why he was there.
"John, do you really mean to tell me you're here because you've discovered you had troubles being touched?"
He tersely nodded.
"Well I'm sorry to say this is not exactly news to me."
It was John's turn to look surprised; although he didn't share the Holmes brothers' poor opinion of his assigned therapist, he didn't see how she could have known that, having only observed him from across a room.
"We've talked about that, don't you remember? At length, really. I see to recall one whole hour spent on arguing about your trust issues."
John's mouth, who had opened to let out that he didn't remember anything about this, abruptly closed.
"My trust issues? Is that what it's all about?"
Her gaze sharpened as she let her notepad drop on her knees and slightly leant forward.
"Well, certainly, John, or at least I believe so. Why, what did you think it was about?"
"I…I considered it a way to gain back control over my life; the control I'd lost both in Afghanistan and in coming back here, and…"
His voice faded as she simply smiled at him.
"I see you've become much more self-aware since we last saw each other. Certainly a need for control is tied in there, but the main problem is that you can't manage to relax around the people near you. If you could find someone you trusted implicitly, no doubt you could relinquish your need to control everything when in this person's presence. And that means you'd be able to…exchange touch without feeling uncomfortable."
She was obviously choosing her words carefully and John felt a flash of gratitude even as he understood what she hinted at; to experience real intimacy again, he'd need to get his barriers down. But he had a last puzzle for her to examine.
"Actually, I've…sort of already found it. Him. I mean, the person – no, a person – I feel comfortable with."
Her smile grew.
"This is great news, John. Am I right in assuming you're talking about your flatmate? Oh, don't look surprised; just because you've decided not to come to our sessions anymore doesn't mean I can't try and stay in touch, and certainly your blog has told me enough about him. In any case, I'm glad you can feel safe at home, at least; it's the most important part, you know. The rest will come on its own, you just have to be patient."
Absently thanking Ella, John rose to his feet and left the room. He had learnt quite a lot today. Apparently, his safe haven was a place where furniture constantly threatened to spill its contents over an unfortunate passer-by, eyeballs exploded in the microwave and fake(?) drug busts were regularly organised to requisition evidence "borrowed" from lurid crime scenes. What's more, the only person he trusted was a self-diagnosed sociopath who stole the aforementioned evidence and somehow only experimented on various body parts in the kitchen when John was trying to cook in there. But it was okay, really, because this ridiculous man was also a fascinating genius with no concept of personal space who never apologized except with expertly-played violin sonatas and who sat very near him on the couch to watch bad action movies.
And when he at last got home, he deliberately brushed by Sherlock, who was currently lying on the couch, generally being bored and typing on his iPhone; and when his hand was absently grabbed and very lightly squeezed, he smiled and squeezed back.