"It's like a secret garden up here," John marveled as he stepped up, for the first time, onto Sherlock's rooftop hideaway. And indeed, it was; a strand of rope lights wound around the floor of the tiny balcony and looped over the top of the wrought-iron guard rails, which appeared to be painstakingly soldered together as every few posts was in an entirely different design. In each of the corners stood a twisted, gnarled bonsai tree of a respectable height. "How did you convince Mrs. Hudson to let you put this up here? And how did you do this without me knowing?"
"That was one of my favorite books as a child." Sherlock sighed and flopped into a worn plastic lawn chair with an erratic polka dot design. A firm wind ripped over the tops of the houses of Baker Street, and the detective adjusted his scarf more firmly around his neck.
"Sorry? What book?"
"The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Colin always reminded me of myself." Staring off into the distance for a moment, he snapped to attention as a small firecracker went off in the street below. "Are you going to be alright tonight?" He turned to look at his companion, who was busily unscrewing the cap of one of the Thermoses they brought up with them.
"What do you mean?" John's tongue stuck out just slightly as he fumbled with the steel bottle, his thick gloves making it difficult to attain traction. With a snort of frustration he whipped off his left glove and finally poured them both a small cup of strong black tea. "My shoulder hasn't been bothering me for weeks, it should be-"
"I wasn't talking about that," Sherlock interrupted. "The fireworks. It's a … common symptom for veterans to startle at them. Because, they, they …" For once the great detective was at a loss for words, struggling to delicately phrase his concern.
"Because they sound like bombs; I know. I'll be fine, I think." He handed over one of the steaming cups, which Sherlock accepted wordlessly and cradled in his palms. "But, uh, thank you for the concern. It's nice of you." His flatmate merely grunted in reply, and he nodded: typical Sherlock.
They sat in silence for a few moments before the entire sky burst into brilliant light, greens and pinks and blues sparkling. John jolted at the sudden noise and took a deep breath, steadying himself before Sherlock could note his reaction. The last thing he needed was his colleague gloating over accurately predicting the doctor's reflexive panic.
As the show continued and the noises became louder, John felt his skin crawling and his head beginning to pound with fear. Over and over again he practiced what his therapist had taught him; to remind himself that he was in a safe place, to logically point out the differences in the situations, to count numbers and focus on his heart rate. But none of it seemed to be working.
When the pyrotechnics progressed to red flares that exploded into Roman Candles, John started panting and shaking, the memories of tracer ammunition immediately fresh in his mind. The colors were swimming before him and he was sure that he was about to pass out and fall right off the balcony onto the street below.
His vision went black and he felt sick with relief: despite the embarrassment of unconsciousness, at least when he woke up the show would likely be over. Then he realized the noises were still as loud as ever and his face was buried in the thick wool of a Belstaff coat.
"Sherlock, what the-"
"Quiet, John. Just focus on breathing. I should have known that this was a bad idea." His flatmate's words were muffled by the wool, but he could still feel it resonating through his own cheekbones, as if Sherlock's voice was a soothing wave crashing over him, replacing the terror. Strong arms patted and rubbed his back, keeping him rooted in the present and fighting back the overwhelming flood of the past. Tentatively he stuck his arms out in front of him and curled them around Sherlock's thin back; the grip around him tightened in response, so close he could feel the detective's each exhale.
They sat there like that, breathing together, until the last firework roared out over the London skyline. Gradually the two men parted and Sherlock picked up John's discarded cup, pouring the cold tea over the balcony and replacing it with still-warm liquid from the Thermos. The doctor accepted it gratefully and threw it down his throat with a sigh. "Not an auspicious start to the new year."
His friend's head snapped up and turned to him, confused. "What do you mean?"
"Having a panic attack on your secret balcony and having you nearly choke me with your coat. A little embarrassing."
The detective looked miffed. "Absolutely not. It means you're finally working through the past. I consider that excellent progress."
"Yeah?" John offered a tentative smile, lit by the phosphorous afterglow in the sky.
Sherlock reached for his hand to pull him up and lead him down the rickety ladder back downstairs. "Yes. And I'll be there with you throughout the process to assist in any way I can. If you'd like."
"Of course I do." John stopped for a moment and laughed. "I'd be lost without my boffin."