Title: We All Float On
Prompt: #13, we all float on
John is, once again, overcome with the burning desire to atone.
John's always believed very firmly that mistakes are made to be learned from, but somehow, when a soldier – a friend – jumps in front of you to shelter you from a bomb blast, it suddenly gets very hard to make this personal philosophy comply; all he can see is blood, and shrapnel wounds, and the only thing in his mind is his own voice internally screaming, they don't train you at Bart's for this.
The soldier dies in John's arms – John is strangely struck by the urge to hold his hand, and tell him everything will be okay, even though his fingers are cold and numb, and there is no pulse in his wrist, or neck, or heart. Instead, when they take him away, John balls his hands into fists, and tells everyone who asks that he's fine.
He waits until later, when he's by himself, to cry.
People talk about the blast less and less, and although no-one forgets, the issue is no longer at the forefront of everyone's mind. Soldiers know what they're signing up for. These things can't be helped – such is the nature of war. "A Tragedy" claims the newspaper covering the story; Harry had clipped the article out, and sent it to John, as if it would make him feel better.
No-one blames John for the deaths, apart from John.
Months have passed, and although John can no longer remember what it felt like to cradle a dying man in his arms, or have his hands slick with the blood of someone who you can't save, the overwhelming feeling of guilt is rather less forgettable.
When John is shot, the burst of pain in his shoulder feels vindicated, and it's like a release. For a moment, all his guilt is free to flow away, as everything fades into haziness, then whiteness, then pure, perfect white.
When he wakes up in hospital, John is struck with the undeniable feeling that he should not be there. He hadn't tried to get himself killed by any means – he'd become a doctor to save lives, and suicide seemed the height of hypocrisy – but he hadn't expected to live.
Sat up in the crisp, clean hospital bed, John checks his pulse points over and over again. It seems like little more than a cruel joke. When the nurse walks in to check on him, the sight of him bolt upright in bed almost makes her drop her armful of paper work.
"Is everything alright, sir?" she asks carefully.
I'm not supposed to be alive, John tries to say, but the words come out, "Fine thanks," instead.
"Wounded in action," declare the papers that will send John back to London. He doesn't quite yet know if he's grateful or not.
On his last night, the boys throw a kind-of party for him; it's not much, but it's the best they can do, given the circumstances. He can see them eying his crutch with a mixture of pity and distain. They write down telephone numbers and contact details for when they get back home. It's all very pleasant, very normal, very strained.
On the trip back home, John loses the paper with their details on, but after about 10 minutes of frantic searching, he concedes it's not such a great loss. He doubts that they'll even notice that he never got in contact.
It doesn't take long for John to realise that the fact he lived wasn't a mistake, because living is by far a worse state. Harry's drinking has only gotten worse, and everything seems so much more expensive now, so much so that he can barely afford the bare essentials to survive, and most of all, there's his bloody useless leg.
Psychosomatic, his psychiatrist repeats to him, like it's a magic spell to make it all better, but it doesn't help, and John refuses to write his blog, and to be frank, everything has just turned out to be shit.
Fucking leg, John thinks as he drags it around London. He can't shake the voice out of his head that says, you deserve this.
John visits a church; as a child, he vaguely recalls his Catholic grandparents, and stuffy stone buildings, and the thick scent of incense coating the back of his throat. He finds a pew near the back, and watches the way the light falls through the stained glass, the colour of gemstones. He puts a pound coin in a box, and lights a candle. Donations to soldiers, claims the charity box.
He considers locking himself in the tiny box to confess – forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – but he can't bring himself to do it. He doesn't know if this makes him braver or more cowardly; it takes a long time before he realises it just makes him honest.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most remarkable people John has ever had the fortune – and at the same time, perhaps, the misfortune – to meet. He's harsh and callous, and cures John's limp within 48 hours of meeting him.
"How did you know," John asks Sherlock one day, "what to do about my leg?"
Sherlock's eyes bore into him, the blue-grey of the sky reflecting the sea on a stormy day, "Because you're an idiot. Your mind works in exactly the same way as everybody else's,"
John knows by now that Sherlock uses the word 'idiot' liberally, and the term encompasses almost everyone that isn't Sherlock himself (or Mycroft, although Sherlock is loathe to admit it). He also knows that when Sherlock calls him an idiot, he doesn't mean to cause offence, because in Sherlock's eyes, an 'idiot' is exactly what John is – it's more a crude portrayal of the brutal facts than an insult. Of course, compared to Sherlock, he is an idiot.
It doesn't stop the words from stinging, though.
One night, John wakes up, and there is Sherlock, stood at the foot of his bed. The curtains are open, throwing opal half-light into the room, highlighting the profile of Sherlock's face; his brow, his jaw, his neck.
Sherlock leans in, crawls over the bed, over John, until they're level, eye-to-eye. John knows what happens next; the same thing that happens in movies, and corny, romantic books, the same things that don't, shouldn't, happen to him.
They kiss; it is awkward because of their position, all nose and teeth and lips, but heartfelt, and John tangles his fingers in Sherlock's hair. It's wrong, of course it is, but at the same time John's completely sure he's not making a mistake. At the same time, it's perfectly, wonderfully right. Sherlock is everywhere; John can feel his hands, mouth, even the flutter of his eyelids on every inch of his skin, and it's like Sherlock's consuming him, but in an entirely pleasant way.
When Sherlock puts his hands down John's boxers, a harsh, strangled cry wrenches itself from John's throat. It's not quite a 'stop', and Sherlock doesn't. John isn't sure whether Sherlock would have stopped or not, even if he'd asked.
Sherlock's mouth tastes like Darjeeling tea and too little sleep, and his back is slick with sweat. John scraps his blunt nails down and across Sherlock's hips, and as Sherlock makes a deep, feline noise in the back of his throat, John's vision explodes into white.
When it's over, and John rouses himself from his post-orgasmic haze, he can see Sherlock staring at him, very intently; the way the moonlight falls makes his eyes look almost colourless, like glass beads. It's disconcerting.
John opens his mouth to say something – probably, "What the hell did we just do?", but before he gets a chance, Sherlock rolls out of bed and leaves. John spends the rest of the night staring at the ceiling of his bedroom; he doesn't want to fall asleep, in case he wakes up in the morning and thinks it was just a dream.
It happens again. And again.
Sometimes, John forgets that he doesn't have a limp anymore. It doesn't happen often, normally only after he's been sat down for too long; when he stands, his brain automatically distributes his weight unevenly on his legs, trying to compensate for a limp that is no longer there. He staggers, trying to regain his footing, remembering that he no longer needs a cane and his legs work perfectly fine now.
When John looks up, he sees Sherlock looking at him with a mixture of amusement and concern. The two expressions don't quite meld right on Sherlock's face. John doesn't know what to do, so he pretends that nothing happened. It's a blatant lie, but he's glad when Sherlock plays along.
Some nights, John feels like Sherlock is saving him, saving him, and John wants to say please, don't, it's too late, I'm not worth it, but he can never seem to find the words. Instead, he clings to Sherlock and thinks save me, save me, with every breath and heartbeat, and kisses him like a drowning man.
The world is full of selfish people, Sherlock told him one time, and John can't help but think it's true.
"Why do you always look like that?" Sherlock asks one night, when they're quiet and alone together, curled up on the sofa watching crap TV. The question seems to come out of the blue, although John has a weighty feeling on his chest, like this conversation has been coming, for a long time, "That look in your eyes, like you're drowning inside yourself, and no-one's going to save you. Normal people, they don't look like that – only if they think they're going to die, perhaps, and you're not in any immediate danger." Pause. "Are you?"
"What? I – no, Sherlock, I'm not in any danger, I just –"
"Because, I... I've seen terrible things,"
It's half an excuse, and half a confession. There is a pause, which is filled with dead friends, and dirty secrets, John expects Sherlock to say something insufferable like, "So have I," or "Stop moping and get a life, then, you sad git."
Sherlock says, "Tell me about them," and John wants to cry.
Sherlock has dragged John to a nightclub. It's seedy; the alcohol is warm and tastes watered down, and the music is too loud. They're supposed to be hunting down some prominent, underworld drug lord, but Sherlock seems antsy and distracted, and John can tell it's not because of the case.
Eventually, John allows himself to be pulled into the men's room, and then, much to his alarm, into a cubicle. Sherlock crushes John against the wall with his body weight, and Sherlock's hand's are everywhere; on his hips, around his neck, in his mouth, and for one dangerous, electrifying moment, over his eyes; they press down a little too hard for comfort, and John is certain for a moment that Sherlock will blind him - can almost feel the slick, warm rivulets of blood - but then the hands are gone again, and the cheap, fluorescent bathroom lights flood John's eyes.
Sherlock's hands move to John's flies. Within seconds, John's jeans are pooled around his ankles; John's breathe hitches in his back of his throat, and he can feel Sherlock smile against his neck.
When it's done, and they stumble out of the cubicle together, John keeps blinking, trying to reassure himself he can still see. His heart is beating very fast; he can feel his pulse in his ears and in his eyelids when he blinks.
Sherlock grabs him by the wrist and drags him out of the club.
"Why are we leaving?"
"Isn't it obvious? It was nothing but an everyday, domestic drug dealing scheme. Boring."
"But I thought –"
Sherlock leans over to John, seizes him by the collar, and shoves his tongue down John's throat. It's an effective way to shut him up.
Sherlock hails a taxi home; John says nothing - for the first time, he realises that the amount of trust he gives Sherlock is unnatural, given Sherlock's somewhat temperamental state of mind.
He also realises this doesn't mean he wouldn't let Sherlock do it to him all over again.
The first time John nearly dies on a case is the first night Sherlock spends entirely in John's bed.
It was entirely accidental; John had put himself in the firing line because he himself was too noble, and Sherlock too foolhardy. The bullet had missed him by inches, but it had missed him.
Sherlock is still trembling.
"Don't feel guilty," John murmurs into his mouth, and Sherlock allows himself to be rolled onto his back, with John on top of him.
They have sex often. John doesn't know whether or not it's anything other than physical for Sherlock; sometimes he thinks he sees something dangerous dancing in the corners of Sherlock's eyes when Sherlock looks at him, but John cannot place what that raw, animalistic emotion is, nor does he have any desire to.
For John himself, it's something much messier and darker. He can no longer tell if Sherlock is dragging him in a downwards spiral, or whether he was already spiralling downwards and just brought Sherlock along for the ride. Increasingly, it becomes easier and easier for John to become two separate people; easier and easier to separate his feelings for Sherlock. During the day, Sherlock is his friend and his closest companion; John loves him. However, at night, more dangerous feelings take over; all he knows is that when Sherlock's hands are on his body, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to forget everything. It makes it a hell of a lot easier to be someone else.
They have sex often, but John never considers Sherlock to be his lover.
Eventually, when the trigger's finally pulled, and the roof of the pool rains down on him, everything seems to slow down; the shards of wood and metal look like grotesque confetti, and to John, it almost comes as a relief. He thinks that Sherlock's been half killing him and half saving him for far too long.