Flashback – PTSD!John drabble

One would assume that the dazzling blink of London summer would be the catalyst for flashbacks; that the weak heat of southern England would be enough, anywhere near enough, to mimic the great, dreadful force of Afghanistan, with its raving, dry heat that sucked the water from bones, that broke lips open with the strength of a prize fighter. Though the dreamy, wet humidity that besieged London made his knees swell and slowed his walk – often inciting impatient shouts of 'Come along!' from Sherlock – it did blessedly did not incur flashbacks.

No, it was the cold that made John remember.

London winter was an entity in its own right, a needling, vicious beast that tied any rheumatic limbs up tight in their own tendons, froze tongues on contact, made icicles out of eyes. John's damaged shoulder seemed to be a favorite target, because all during the cold months it became nearly impossible to attain a full degree of motion, his shoulder so stiff he could barely raise his arm above his head. The pain, over and over and over again, each time he steadied a paper on the table or handed Sherlock his phone, forced him to think back to the war, to The Injury.

There was no escape during the winter. He was constantly surrounded by a blizzard of memory; looking into a dead friend's eyes one last time before pushing them closed, moving on. Trying fruitlessly to resuscitate a soldier who had a wife and two kids waiting at home. Standing over the limp body of an Afghani girl, caught in friendly fire, calling again and again for backup as he shielded her dying brother – and no response came. Listening to Harry's slurred voice over a crackling telephone line as she berated him for abandoning her, hanging up mid-sentence when a chopper full of wounded soldiers screamed down from above. The guilt, the endless guilt: of never doing enough, never saving enough, never being enough – for anyone, anywhere, least of all himself. And his shoulder kept aching, inflaming the thoughts to a new frenzy until he could barely breathe.

He was sitting close to the fire in the living room when Sherlock returned from Bart's, lost in memory as the heat infiltrated his stiff tissue. The detective took one look at him and strode over, kneeling down in front of him.

"You're remembering the war," he said quietly, reaching up his gloved finger to pat at the moistness of John's cheek.

"Yes." Watson's voice scratched out of his throat and he coughed.

"Your shoulder hurts."

"Brilliant deduction."

"And because your shoulder hurts, it reminds you of the war and makes you feel guilty that you lived where others died."

"Sparkling form tonight, Sherlock," John replied absently. He was about to turn away when his vision was obscured by a wall of white skin; Sherlock was leaning over him, a hand on his damaged shoulder, crystalline eyes staring straight into his.

"It's not your fault." Sherlock sounded husky, serious; his hand palpated the shoulder gently but firmly, coaxing it to relax.

"I know it's not."

"You know, but you don't believe. You can't save everyone, John, no more than I can solve all the murders in the world. And you did enough – more than enough. You saved five people the day you were shot: that's more than many save their entire lives. You are enough."

The two men stared at each other for a long moment: blue eyes into quartz, two souls lain bare in the dim light of the whispering fire. Sherlock's hand still worked tenderly at the sore flesh of John's shoulder as he pressed his forehead against the doctor's, never breaking eye contact.

Holmes' voice dropped to a murmur; the vibrations in his chest reverberated though John's skin, enfolding him in the detective's declaration. "I know that it hurts, John – I saw that the day I met you. But I know you are strong enough to overcome it. And I don't say that lightly."

John smiled quietly, his eyes closing with pleasure at the soothing touch of Sherlock's massage. "I know you don't."

A moment of silence stretched on, broken only by the crackling fire, before the two men moved apart from each other, Sherlock giving John's shoulder a final squeeze before heading to his bedroom. Before he shut the door, however, the detective turned around, looking once again at his flatmate.

"John?"

"Yes?"

"… for purely selfish reasons, I am beyond grateful that you survived."

A light snow began to dust the windows, dimming the light from outside. John watched Sherlock for a long moment before dropping his head, hiding a smile.

"I am too."