Gunfire rattled over John's head. He was used to the sound by now—some primitive part of him even enjoyed the thrill it sent running through his veins. War was hell. Of course it was, but maybe if all those civvies who wrote about it without knowing it came here, they would feel the same rush and understand that hell's burn felt better than any high could.
"Watson!" a voice to John's right bellowed. John wriggled around to see one of the boys fresh from London beaming at him. "Beautiful day, ain't it? I'm workin' on m' suntan m'self. Think m' girlfriend will like it?"
"Only if she gets to see it! Keep your head—"
John's warning came too late. The boy's head jerked back suddenly in an explosion of blood and brains. With a cry, John flung himself towards him, even though he knew it was too late. In the brief moment when his body was suspended in the air above the safety zone, John's left shoulder exploded. Yelling, he slammed into the hot desert sand as something scalding and scarlet—blood, John thought in a daze, Christ, I'm bleeding—poured down his arm. God, no!
The men who had shot John were yelling in Arabic, what, he couldn't tell, and bullets zipped over John's head. No—John reached for his gun and then vomited when the pain in his shoulder seared down his body to his right leg. The boy's gun was closer to him than his own gun, if only he could grab it—bile in his mouth, blood in the sand, the boy's mouth forever silently screaming—reach, dammit, reach!
Gun. Yes. John had it. The trigger—God, his arm—pull the damn trigger—explosion. Shrieks. God. Shrieks. Curses in Arabic. Trigger—squeeze.
Two bodies beside the British boy now. Brown-faced. Dead. John's bullets in them.
God, shoulder, God—
A figure appeared over John's head. There was a rifle pointed at his forehead. A flash of light—a howl—
Please, God, don't let me die!
John reached for his gun, but it wasn't there. Where was it? Where was it?
The British baritone knew his name. John gasped for air as he squinted through the searing sunlight at the person bending over him. Pale…dark-haired…coat collar flipped up…
Then the desert dissolved, the pain in John's shoulder receded to a dull throb, and John stared wildly into the face of his new flatmate. "Sher—Sherlock?"
The consulting detective frowned at him. "You're gulping air. Stop it. You won't calm down until you take slow, deep breaths."
Instantly, John shook his head. "Fine," he tried to say. "I'm fine," but he still smelled fire and sand. If I breathe any deeper, then I will cry, and I will not let that happen in front of Sherlock!
"Your left hand is trembling," Sherlock observed. "You're holding the same shoulder stiffly. While you were asleep, you were reaching your right hand down to your hip where you would wear a holster. You were yelling, not words, just sound. That means you were dreaming-"
"I know what I was dreaming, Sherlock!" John snapped. Sherlock paused mid-sentence. Slowly, he closed his mouth and backed out of John's bedroom. As soon as the door swung shut, John rolled onto his stomach and buried the sting of tears in his pillow.
When John finally stumbled into the sitting room, sweaty and shaking, he found a cup of tea sitting by his favorite armchair. He eyed Sherlock curiously before he took a sip. The warm liquid relaxed the tense muscles around John's throat enough for him to croak, "Thank you."
"Mm," Sherlock hummed from the couch. John took the sound to mean 'you're welcome,' although only Sherlock could communicate it with such disinterest. John opened his mouth to speak again, but Sherlock held up a hand. "Wait." His brow furrowed while he scrolled through the texts on his phone. Then, all of a sudden, a grin broke over his face. "Get up, John! Lestrade wants us. A pair of schoolchildren has been murdered."
"And this is a good thing?" John mumbled, more to himself than to Sherlock, who was already halfway out the door. "Did you say Lestrade wants 'us'? Me as well?"
"Yes! Come on, John!" Sherlock called from the door.
Quickly, John set his teacup on the arm of the chair and bounded down the stairs. Only wisps of Afghanistan followed him out of 221B Baker Street. By the time he and Sherlock reached the crime scene, John's wounded shoulder didn't even twinge.