Evening fellow Sherlockians! Normally my work has been Supernatural based, but recently I have developed an obsession with the wonder that is Sherlock and couldn't resist writing a little story (um well, when I say little...) :) I love both characters but I am definitely a John girl. He's just too adorable for words :D
Anyhoo, hope you enjoy my little fic. It is quite dark and as I mentioned in the summary it has mentions of torture and rape so if it makes you uncomfortable for goodness sake don't read it! Oh and this story is a Sherlock and John friendship, however I love a bit of Sherlock/John love so if people want to read this as slash then I will not object! :D Set any time in season 2 before Reichenbach (did you all cry at that? I DID) but after the pool scene. Slight spoilers for the pool but not really.Just want to thank my friend Emma (deviantart name HikariShadows - she will be posting really good Sherlock fics there at some point!) for reading this and making sure it was publish-worthy :D
Reviews are love :D
Disclaimer: I clearly do not own any of the characters or whatever - credit goes to Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis for this! You make me so happy!
Dr John Watson stood in front of the bathroom mirror, nervously fiddling with the collar of his uniform. He had been dreading this day for over two years. He knew that his dear friend Mark Henderson had to be dead – he had been missing for far too long. But he had been able to maintain a sliver of hope that he would miraculously be rescued. The inevitable sad news had arrived the previous week, informing him that the body of the young Private was being flown home the following Thursday. Sarah had not hesitated in giving John the day off – in fact, she told him not to return to work until the Monday, letting him grieve. John cringed when he remembered how sympathetic she had been – he did not deserve it. Mark had a beautiful wife, two twin boys and loving parents. John had a drunkard for a sister who barely gave him the time of day. No one would really miss him if he had died. But Mark – Mark had a family, people who loved him, who needed him. John often thought of the day Mark had gone missing. He and John had been captured by a gang of terrorists in Afghanistan and suffered horrendous torture. Somehow, after weeks of captivity, John had managed to escape. He had searched for Mark in the warehouse they were kept in, but had been unable to find the man. So he ran, trying to find help. Unfortunately, when he returned with reinforcements, both captors and prisoner had disappeared. John never truly forgave himself for leaving, thinking if he had looked a little harder he would have found Mark. Deep down, he knew that if he had remained in the building, the guards would have found him and more than likely killed him on the spot. But that didn't stop him feeling immense guilt for not being able to save his comrade. No one knew the full extent of the suffering the two men experienced in that place. John was only willing to tell other people that they were "not treated well" – mostly to save Mark's family from any more pain.
John jumped as a loud pounding on the bathroom door interrupted his thoughts.
"For the love of God John, there is only one bathroom in this place and I need to use it!" Sherlock yelled.
John sighed. "All right, I'm coming." He opened the door and trudged out of the room, briefly shooting the detective a seriously, don't piss me off today glance.
Sherlock just rolled his eyes and entered the room, slamming the door behind him. John sighed again and made his way into the living room, awaiting the arrival of his taxi. He spent the next 20 minutes wondering whether or not his shoes needed a clean, or whether he should polish his buttons again. Sherlock tried explaining his "amazing" discoveries on their latest case several times and got increasingly frustrated when John either ignored him or mumbled "great Sherlock" every so often.
"Honestly John, aren't you in the least bit interested in how I solved this case?"
"Frankly Sherlock – no, I'm not."
If John hadn't been in such a foul mood, he would have laughed and the look of complete shock on Sherlock's face.
"I do not believe you truly meant that John, you ALWAYS want to know! You constantly pester me for explanations. It gets quite annoying after a while."
John was about to point out that Sherlock would explain regardless of whether or not John wanted to know, but decided against it. He couldn't deal with fighting the man's ego at that moment. "Look, you know I am usually interested in what you have to say, but in case you hadn't noticed I am about to go to a funeral. I don't really care about anything else just now. Why can't you tell me tomorrow?"
"Because I want to tell you now." Sherlock looked at him as though John was a complete idiot.
"I'm sorry, I just can't." Thankfully, a car horn sounded outside, followed by Mrs Hudson's voice. "Dr Watson, your taxi is here!"
John stood and looked at his flatmate, who had resorted to childishly sulking by the window, staring at the awaiting vehicle as though it was something spewed by Satan. Selfish bastard, John thought angrily. He turned, grabbed the flowers off the coffee table and left the room, muttering a goodbye to Sherlock (which was of course ignored) and headed down the stairs. He gave Mrs Hudson a farewell kiss on the cheek and she squeezed his shoulder in return, eyes full of sympathy. John said his goodbyes and sat in the taxi. As it left the street, John glanced up at the window of 221B, to see the scowling detective staring back at him. He turned away and focused on the horrendous hours ahead.
John always made sure to turn up to important events at least half an hour early and this occasion was no exception. Hardly anyone had arrived, apart from the family and pallbearers, but he expected that most would only turn up to the ceremony in the church graveyard. John had wanted to be with Alice as her husband's body arrived at the airfield, flown straight in from Afghanistan. It was the least he could do. He had only met her a couple of times when he was brought back, but she never stayed long – she only wanted to know what he could tell her about Mark. He wanted to offer the poor woman as much support as he could. As soon as John left the taxi, the young blonde woman walked up to him and pulled him into a warm embrace.
"Thank you for coming, Dr Watson. This means a lot."
"It's the least I could do Alice. But please, Mark was a dear friend to me, there is no need for formalities here. Call me John." He smiled at her. She returned the smile, although it never reached her eyes. They were full of despair from the realisation that she was finally saying goodbye to the man she loved. John handed her the flowers and spoke softly.
"These are for you. Mark told me that white lilies were you favourite." He blushed slightly, feeling strangely awkward. If Alice noticed, she didn't let on.
"Thank you John. You are right, they are my favourite. But if it's OK with you, I would like to leave them at his grave. A gift from both of us."
"Of course." John smiled at her again.
"I should return to the others. Please, join us." She took his arm and the two walked towards the rest of the family. Both Mark and Alice's parents were there, as well as two young boys that John instantly recognised as Mark and Alice's children from the photos Mark had often shown him. Each of the adults shook hands with John while the young boys clung on to their mother. When John shook hands with Mark's father, a war veteran from the eighties, he noticed a coldness from the man that unnerved him. He barely spoke to John, simply muttering a quick hello and not looking in his eyes. John assumed the man was uncomfortable displaying his grief in front of a stranger, so John remained silent after giving his condolences.
Other soldiers arrived as the plane landed. Most John did not recognise, although he vaguely remembered treating a couple of the men for some minor injuries sustained in the battlefield. Each gave their condolences to the family and nodded to him, as a mark of respect to a fellow soldier. John nodded back, although he felt uncomfortable being so formal. The soldiers stood behind the family and John went to join them to give the family space. However, he was stopped by Alice, who was clinging to his arm in a similar fashion to the way her children held onto her.
"Please John, stay with me. Mark had many friends in the army, but he spoke of none as fondly as he did of you. He considered you his best friend there. So here, you are a part of the family." John simply nodded and placed his arms around the young woman's shoulder. He held her as the coffin was taken from the place and she broke down into painful sobs. He was too young to die, John thought. And she is too young to be left alone. Both husband and wife were only 25 (well, Mark would have been 25 had he been alive that day), just kids in John's eyes. He heard Mark's parents sobbing behind, being comforted by Alice's parents. The boys were holding hands and crying as their mother wept. They were too young to understand what was happening – they only knew something was distressing their mother and that distressed them. No one should have to go through their pain. Losing a child, losing a husband, losing a father. It's not fair on them. John felt like crying with them, but he had to stay strong for Alice. He removed his left arm from Alice while still holding her with the right and saluted as the coffin passed. Once the coffin was in the hearse, John led Alice and the children to the awaiting car that would take them to the church. Through her tears, Alice begged him to accompany her in the car as her parents and in-laws were taking a separate car. He could not refuse the broken women and kept his arm around her all the way to the church.
John paid little attention to the priest as they buried his friend, his focus solely on Alice. The woman was falling apart and there was nothing he could do. Her parents had taken the children to console them, knowing that Alice just wasn't capable at that moment. John didn't understand why Alice had wanted him with her, but he wasn't going to leave her alone. Finally, the body of Mark Henderson was laid to rest and the ceremony ended. The guests quietly left the grave and headed to their cars, ready to go to the memorial service being held at the nearby church hall. Alice wanted to stay with Mark for a while longer, so John stayed with her. He read the tombstone at the top of the grave:
Pvt. Mark Peter Henderson
Beloved son, husband, father, friend and hero.
Gone, but not forgotten.
As he read the last statement, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Dr Watson, I must speak with you." Mark's father boomed. His voice was cold and almost threatening. He heard his wife whisper "No Arthur, please. Not here. Not now."
John let go of the distraught Alice and walked with the man to a spot a few feet away, while Alice's father resumed the position of comforter.
"I must know something doctor." Arthur had yet to look at John, but he could detect anger in the man's voice. "Why didn't you help him? Why did you leave my son to die?"
John should have expected this question – it was something he had been asking himself for over two years – but he was taken aback. He didn't know what he could say to make things right.
"Sir, I am truly sorry. I couldn't find him. I tried, but I couldn't see him. I needed help to search for him, that's why I went back. I thought the kidnappers would have come looking for me or prepared to fight, not run away. There – there was nothing more I could do." John looked to the ground, too ashamed to look the man in the face. For a while Arthur didn't speak and John chanced a look at the man. Eventually Arthur faced him, fury evident in his eyes. Suddenly, the man punched John hard in the face, sending the doctor to the ground.
"He should never have died, you bastard!" Arthur was screaming at him, consumed by an uncontrollable rage. "You're a doctor, you are supposed to SAVE people, not leave them to rot! It should have been you! My son was too good, you complete waste of space!" Arthur kicked him in the abdomen as he ranted, sending waves of pain rattling through his body. He was capable of fighting back, but he could not harm the man. He had every right to be angry at John, so he accepted the beating.
"ARTHUR, STOP!" he heard Alice screaming through the tears. "Leave him alone! He did everything he could for Mark, he doesn't deserve this!" But I do, Alice, John thought grimly. Arthur's wife was pulling at his arm, begging him to let go as Alice screamed. Eventually, the man stopped the relentless beating and stormed off to the car, leaving John bloody on the ground. His wife quickly followed and Alice rushed to John's side.
"Oh John!" she sobbed. "I'm so sorry for that! Are you all right?"
John coughed and spat out blood from his split lip. "Don't worry about me Alice. I've had worse." He smiled, trying to ease the young woman's mind.
"He had no right to do that." She whispered, helping John to his feet and walking him to the car. Her father left to join her mother and sons, only after Alice's insistence.
"Of course he did. He lost his son and is grieving. He feels angry and needs someone to blame. I survived when Mark didn't; I couldn't find him in that warehouse. It's understandable for him to feel such animosity towards me. I would understand if you all did." Both sat in the car and Alice gave him a tissue to stem the bleeding on his lip until they could access a first aid kit at the hall. The boys ran into the car, no longer wanting to be separated from their mother. They seemed terrified of John. I must look a mess, he thought miserably.
After consoling her children, she turned back to John. "I feel no animosity towards you – none of us do. Deep down, I know Arthur doesn't truly blame you. Like you said, he's just angry and looking for someone to take his frustrations out on. If you feel like you need forgiveness, then I will not hesitate to forgive. I know you did everything you could to save him." She paused as her breath hitched and John placed a comforting hand on her arm. Once she regained her composure, she continued. "When Mark wrote to me, he always mentioned you. He really looked up to you. He would tell me how amazed he was as he watched you patch up your comrades, seemingly so calm. Although he knew how troubled you were when you couldn't save someone. A local girl, no more than seven, died in your arms as you tried to save her and Mark told me how upset you were. You were the most caring of any of the medical staff and did everything you could. You were a hero to my husband, John. Did you know that after a few weeks of service, he wanted to end it all?" John looked astonished and shook his head. "Yes, he didn't want to live anymore. He couldn't handle the suffering of those around him or living in constant fear of his on safety. But you saved him, John. It's clear you didn't know the extent of his despair, but you saw how troubled he was and helped him. You sat with him every night as he spoke of his troubles, but by the end of each night he would feel so happy because of you. He said, and I quote, 'I owe my life to John Watson. Without him, I would surely be dead. He truly is a great man and I consider him my best friend, aside from you, Alice.' So tell me, how can I possibly hate you? My husband was dead either way, but you gave him hope. You let him live just for a while longer. You gave him friendship and expected nothing in return. I can't hate the man who saved him." She smiled warmly and John knew she was being genuine. His eyes became moist and he had to turn away, pretending to attend to his lip. Once calm, he looked back to Alice and hugged her.
"Thank you. I'm so sorry you had to lose him. He will be greatly missed." As he hugged her, he felt a tug on his sleeve and saw one of the boys looking at him.
"Thanks Mr Wassen," the child of four cried. "You are daddy's friend. I miss daddy. But mum says you made him better before he went away." His brother was nodding in agreement. Alice turned to her sons and grinned, holding them tightly.
"I miss him too. He loved you all so much, he talked about you all the time. Look after your mother Harry, and you too, Fred. Your dad would be so proud." He smiled as the boys nodded and embraced their mother. "We'll look after you mummy, we promise!"
John spent much of the memorial service being treated by the first aider at the town hall. He made it back to hear Alice's speech, offering silent support. As everyone prepared to leave, Arthur approached him.
"I… I apologise for my behaviour, Dr Watson. I just want you to know… I… I don't blame you for what happened. I just miss my son." The old sergeant looked to the floor, completely broken.
"It's all right sir. I understand why you did it. Just forget about it. I'm truly sorry for your loss."
"Thank you." Arthur's pained eyes met John's briefly, before turning and leaving with his grief-stricken wife.
John said his goodbyes to the rest of the family, promising Alice to keep in touch and left for home.
Mrs Hudson silently prayed to whoever was out there for the ground to swallow her whole. She was convinced she was losing her mind as her crazed tenant bragged about his brilliant deductions in his latest case. She didn't understand a single word the man was saying, with the possible exception of "but it was the wrong shoes! They were just too small for her feet, if only by a centimetre! The body was dressed and the scene staged!" Finally, she could take no more.
"Mr Holmes! As impressed as I am by your wondrous powers of deduction, I really do not understand a word you are saying! I really need to carry on with my housework. You have been confusing me for well over four hours and I honestly need a break!"
Sherlock glared at her and huffed, "well I wouldn't need to if John was here! Honestly, couldn't they have made that damned funeral tomorrow?"
"Mr Holmes!" Mrs Hudson was shocked by the man's total lack of tact and sensitivity. "A man has died – a friend of the doctor's no less – show some respect! The world doesn't revolve around you!"
This actually made Sherlock feel a little guilty. "You are right Mrs Hudson, I apologise for my bluntness. I meant no disrespect to the deceased. I am just used to celebrating the end of a successful case with John – the man is desperate to hear how I solve them."
Can't imagine why, Mrs Hudson thought. "Well Mr Holmes, that may be so, but I think tonight may be a good time to break that tradition."
"But when John returns –"
"When Dr Watson comes home he will be in no mood for your antics! The man is in mourning. He never speaks of the young soldier, but one can tell how close they were. I think, Sherlock Holmes, it would be good of you to give the man some space – and, God forbid, a little sympathy?"
Sherlock sulked, but he knew Mrs Hudson was right. He had never wasted his time with emotions. In his mind, caring would only cause pain, so he never bothered. But Watson was the complete opposite. The man cared too much as far as Sherlock was concerned. Tonight, he knew he had to be "nice" to John, but comfort was not his strong point.
"Fine, I will not speak of the case. I could bother Lestrade, but the man keeps ignoring my calls. I will have to wait until tomorrow."
Mrs Hudson rolled her eyes and left the flat, as Sherlock picked up his violin and began to play. She was thankful that he had chosen the instrument as a cure for boredom over shooting more holes in her walls, or destroying a room as his latest experiment exploded. As the old landlady reached her door, she heard a car pull up outside the house and glanced out of the window to see a rather dishevelled looking doctor stumble towards the house. Gasping, she quickly opened the door.
"Doctor! Oh my word, what happened to you? Are you all right? Shall I call a… another doctor?"
John shook his head and tried to smile at her. "I'm fine Mrs Hudson. Mark's father just… lost his temper. It looks worse than it is, just a few scrapes. Don't worry yourself." He nodded to the bemused woman and slowly clambered the stairs to his flat. Mrs Hudson debated on whether or not she should help the man, but his tone suggested that he wanted to be left alone for the time being. She made a mental note to check on him in the morning and returned to her own flat, desperate to sleep off the mental exhaustion after an afternoon with the mad detective.
John quietly entered the flat, hoping to sneak past Sherlock as the man played his violin. Sadly, luck just wasn't with John that day.
"Ah John, you're ba- oh. Someone attacked you at a funeral? That's a little disrespectful…"
John laughed a humourless laugh. "Mark's father. He was upset and needed something – or in this case someone – to take his anger out on. The man's ex-military so it did a little more damage than one would expect from an older man, but nothing that can't be fixed. I'm going to change." John sped up the stairs to his bedroom, needing to remove the uniform.
Ten minutes later, John made his way downstairs and into the kitchen to get some water.
"I'll have tea, thanks!" Sherlock yelled from the other room. John rolled his eyes, but made the man a drink without complaint.
He returned to the living room and placed Sherlock's mug on the coffee table. The detective had finished playing the violin and just sat waiting for John. Once handing him his tea, John said goodnight and turned to go to bed, when the detective's voice stopped him.
"It has barely turned five John, is it not a little early for sleep?"
"Most days yes, but I'm tired. It hasn't been a great day, I just want it to end."
Sherlock stayed silent, but John could tell that the conversation was not over, so he waited for him to continue.
"Do you… um… want to… err… talk?"
John was taken aback. "Come again?"
"Mrs Hudson's suggestion. It's what people do in situations like this, isn't it? When one's friend is distressed, one must offer them a 'talk'. So I am offering."
John had to admit, this sudden change in Sherlock's normally sociopathic behaviour baffled him, but appreciated that he was trying. Besides, he couldn't help feeling a slight contentment at being so openly referred to as Sherlock's "friend".
"Thank you for the offer, but you don't have to do that."
"True, but it's obvious you want to. I'm willing to hear you out. Aren't you always telling me to act more human?"
"Well… yes… but this is jumping in at the deep end. I mean… if I talk, there's a good chance I'll have to speak about certain… events, that I had hoped never to mention to another person. It could open up a whole can of worms that won't be pleasant. Save yourself the trouble, Sherlock."
"John, this isn't about me. As Mrs Hudson so aptly put it, the world doesn't revolve around me. Personally, I do not understand the need to talk about things – although I confess I never allow myself to have problems that need sharing. But I know this is what normal people do. I consider you my friend, John, and I believe that I should at least attempt to be helpful." Sherlock motioned for his friend to sit next to him on the couch. Eventually John sat, keeping a slight distance between them. An awkward silence quickly developed.
"I… err… don't really know what to say." John confessed.
Sherlock nodded and thought about possible conversation starters. "Well… you could tell me about… Mark, was it? How you met, what he was like, how you became friends. That sort of thing."
John hesitated for a while, but finally spoke. "He was flown in to Afghanistan about a year after I arrived. He was a new recruit to the army, just a young private. To be honest, I don't think he was ready for such a horrendous war, but we needed more men. He was quiet and quite frankly, petrified. There was no time for him to sleep off the jet lag or to unpack his belongings – a gun was thrust into his arms and he was sent off to a nearby town where some local men were causing trouble. A few hours later he returned, carrying a fallen soldier. The poor kid was terrified and panicked. He yelled for me to help as he brought his injured comrade over to my tent. The injuries weren't overly serious, there was just a lot of blood that made it look far worse than it was. But he wouldn't leave the man's side. At first I was irritated as he constantly got in the way, but after a while I was able to work around him. As a doctor, I should have been comforting my patient, but it was Mark whom I had to calm and reassure. I'm glad the other man was unconscious, I'm not sure what he would have made of that scene." John chuckled at the memory. "Later that night I discovered that Mark had to share a tent with me. I had been alone in that tent for the year, so the company was strange, but not unwelcome. I was up most of the night letting the guy talk, telling me how much he wanted to be home with Alice – his wife – and their sons, Harry and Fred. Exhaustion finally consumed him at around 3am and I stayed awake the rest of the night, just making sure he was all right. We stayed up late most nights after that so that he could talk. Mark later told his wife that he had been contemplating suicide, but my late night chats with him had cheered him up enough to consider otherwise. I knew he was troubled, but I had no idea how serious it was. I'm glad I was able to help him through it though. I guess that's how we became so close. As he got more accustomed to his situation and his confidence grew, he even started to enjoy himself – well, as much as one can in a warzone. He even helped me out a couple of times when the stress of losing patients upset me. I broke down one night after a young Afghan girl of about seven died in my arms, begging me to save her when I was powerless to do so. He let me talk all night and stayed awake to make sure I was fine, just as I had done on his first night. He was a truly kind man. I could never confide in the other soldiers – sure, they were empathetic, but everyone was too wrapped up in their own problems, I couldn't bother them with mine. But Mark was different, he was so considerate to everyone. We became best friends out there. He really was a hero." John looked at Sherlock, who was staring intently at him. He seems… interested… he cares? John was a little surprised. Of course, Sherlock sensed it and smiled at John.
"Sounds like a good man. So how did he… disappear?"
"Well it was… he… we… we were at the scene of a battle… then… no, I'm sorry, I can't." John looked away from Sherlock as tears began to form in his eyes. He couldn't bear to remember that time.
"John?" Sherlock spoke softly. Dammit, how can he go from being an emotionless sociopath to a compassionate friend? How can he be so caring all of a sudden? And do it so well?
"John." He repeated. "It will surely help if you talk about it."
"I can't!" John started to raise his voice. He didn't mean to snap at Sherlock, who was – for once – trying to help, but it was too painful.
"Why not?" Oh God, that voice! It's too kind – it makes me want to talk to him. Goddammit!
"It hurts too much." John voice had lowered to a barely audible level.
Sherlock nodded and stared at his friend for a while. Sherlock had never seen John so lost before. So broken. He genuinely felt concern for his friend. So this is what it feels like to care? He thought to himself. No one had ever had this effect on him before – not even his own family. But John was one of the few people that actually liked Sherlock, had put up with the crazy. He helped the detective all the time, making sure he was properly fed and that he had a decent night's sleep during a case. John cared about him and Sherlock couldn't help but care back.
"Well, I will admit, I am no expert on matters of the human heart – not the organ obviously, why I could tell you a lot – oh, sorry, lost track. Anyway, I may not be an expert on emotions having no real experiences of my own, but it is generally well known that if you keep something so psychologically traumatic bottled up inside for a long period of time it will lead to a downward spiral into severe clinical depression. You already suffer terribly from PTSD. You really need to talk about it. Have you told anyone before?"
John shook his head. "Not really. I mean, I obviously gave some information to the investigators, my fellow soldiers and Mark's family, but I never went into any particular detail. I didn't want to confront it and I couldn't bear to put Mark's family through any more pain."
"Surely they should know what happened to him?"
"They know enough. The details will only destroy them further. I never want them to know how he suffered." Sherlock noticed the tears returning to John's eyes, threatening to spill over. It worried him – not just because he generally uncomfortable around crying people (men especially), but for something to affect John this much… Sherlock starts to wonder if he really wants to know. No, stop it Sherlock! This is John we're talking about – he's upset and needs you. So stop being a freak and for once do something useful. Sherlock mentally cursed at his mind for the unnecessary insults, but swiftly returned his focus to John. He was looking at Sherlock, his eyes begging for help. But he could only help if John would share. Cautiously, he placed a hand on his friend's back, startling John a little. "Tell me. Take as long as you need. You know you need to do this."
John was trembling ever so slightly, fighting to retain his composure, He hated losing control, especially with an audience. He wasn't sure how Sherlock would handle it if John starting sobbing uncontrollably. But Sherlock was genuinely concerned for his welfare. Reluctantly, he agreed to tell the story that he had kept from everyone for the past two years.
Taking a sharp intake of breath, he began. "Well… as I said, it started with a battle in the nearby town. Rebel forces were shooting at us and we were vastly outnumbered. After what felt like hours of shooting, our commanding officer agreed that this was a losing battle and we had to retreat. Stupidly, I refused to leave right away, wanting to help those who had fallen. They were crying out to me, begging for help and I just couldn't leave them. Mark came back for me, telling me I had to leave. He eventually had to drag me out of there, only to have a bullet graze the side of his head for a moment. He fell to the ground, but miraculously remained conscious. He begged me to run, but I wouldn't. It was hard enough to leave the others, but there was no way I would leave him. So I brought his arm around my shoulder and with all the strength I could muster I ran with him. Unfortunately, the panic had caused me to become disorientated and I went the wrong way. When we were at a safe distance, I pulled Mark into an alley to examine him whilst concealing our identities. I'm telling you, I was full of awful mistakes that day! I conveniently dragged him into an alleyway where a group of men were hiding – they were part of a gang of terrorists, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting soldiers. I mean, what were the chances of that happening? Well I certainly made their job a helluva lot easier! Before either of us had time to react, we were chloroformed and taken to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. When I woke up, I found myself chained to the wall of a small, rather grubby cell. Mark was nowhere to be seen and I called out to him. To my relief, the walls were very thin and I could hear him call back. I figured that he was in the room next door and from what he told me, he appeared to be in a similar predicament. Our calls must have alerted our captors, because a couple of minutes later a group of masked men entered my cell. One was holding a video camera and another held a piece of paper in front of my face, telling me to 'memorize it and repeat to the camera' when they said so. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it was some sort of ransom demand and if our government didn't take the soldiers out of the country we would both die. After I spoke, the men wanted to 'prove that they weren't joking' and beat me, while that freak filmed it. I must've been screaming because I could just make out Mark's frantic pleas for the men to let me go. They left me bloody on the floor and did the same to Mark. I'm not sure how long afterwards they sent the video to Britain, but I was told there was a story about it on the news."
Sherlock couldn't stop himself gasping. He had vaguely remembered a story on the news about two soldiers being held captive by terrorists, but he held little interest in the war so had ignored the story. He couldn't believe that one of those men had been John, his best friend. "That…that was you?" Sherlock stammered.
"Yeah. They… they didn't show the video did they?" John was suddenly worried that Mark's family had seen the beating he had endured. He was relieved when Sherlock shook his head.
"Thank goodness, I did not want Mark's family to see that. I never saw exactly what happened, but the anguished screams I could hear from his cell told me it was bad, possibly worse than what happened to me."
Sherlock was afraid to ask, but he had to. "John, was that… was that the only time you were attacked?"
John closed his eyes and shook his head, much to Sherlock's dismay. "I wish. We were severely beaten and tortured every night – it became a tradition. It got increasingly worse when their demands weren't even given a response by the government. We were rarely fed and we got one glass of filthy water a day. I'm surprised I didn't die of cholera or malnourishment. Mark wasn't coping as well as me, what with his previous injuries and his weak immune system. He would always speak to me afterwards, but one night he suddenly stopped talking, only giving barely audible grunts to let me know he was alive. So the next night, I begged the men to leave him alone until he got better. I told them they could do what the Hell they wanted to me as long as they gave Mark time to heal. Surprisingly, the men agreed. They didn't touch him for a couple of weeks, allowing him to recover some of his strength."
John stopped talking, as though replaying the events in his head. Sherlock asked the next question he really didn't want to know the answer to. "What did they do to you in the meantime?" John didn't answer him directly, but the look in his eyes told Sherlock everything.
"Oh God! They – raped you?" Sherlock tried to suppress the urge to vomit on the floor at the thought of those men hurting John like that.
John scrunched his eyes shut and tried to swallow the lump in his throat, nodding at Sherlock's accurate deduction. "I had to agree to let them do it if I wanted them to leave Mark alone. I didn't hesitate – if I said no Mark would die, what else could I have done?"
Sherlock couldn't answer that, so instead he waited for John to continue.
"We were there for four months, but it felt like a lifetime. To this day, I still don't know how I managed to cope. Maybe if Mark hadn't been there, I would have just given up fighting. As our physical strength diminished, they gave up chaining us to the wall, knowing that if we tried to attack them we could easily be restrained. They took that for granted though. For some reason, on the last day I spent there, they only sent one guard in with my meal. The idiot even turned his back on me and just stood there. It was like he was daring me to make a move. Well, I accepted that challenge. I picked up the tray and smashed it over his head, knocking him out cold, grabbed his keys and ran out." Sherlock smiled at the mental image of John attacking the clearly inept guard, and for John's quick thinking in a time of need. He was proud of his friend.
"I went straight to the next cell to get Mark, but he was gone. I went along the whole row of cells, peering into the rooms, but he was nowhere to be seen. It made no sense! Not once had either of us been moved from the rooms we were initially thrown into and now all of a sudden they had moved him? I ran upstairs hoping to search there, but I could hear voices in the distance. I knew I had to get out of there and bring help for Mark. I quickly spotted the exit and swiftly made my way out of there. Then, I ran. I sprinted as fast as I could and didn't stop. I had no idea where I was so couldn't locate our base, but I knew I had to keep running. Luck must have been on my side that day, because I eventually came across a small town where some of our regiment were patrolling. My sergeant spotted me and they rushed to my side. They wanted to take me back for medical attention, but I refused. We needed to find Mark. Reluctantly, they agreed and called for back-up. I was in the pick-up, trying to direct them to the building. When we finally arrived, I had to be held back while they searched for Mark. After about fifteen minutes, they came back out – alone. They had searched the entire building, but there was no one there. No Mark, no terrorists. It was empty. Even the guard I had attacked was gone. I tried to go in and search for myself, but they had to pull me back. I gave them all such a hard time. It was unfair of me – they were only trying to help. But you have to understand, I needed to find him! I couldn't leave him, not after everything! I had left him alone to find help and then he just disappeared! I had to get him back! I HAD TO!" John was practically screaming at Sherlock, waving his arms around frantically, as though he thought Sherlock was judging him for leaving Mark.
"John, it's all right, calm down! I understand why you did what you did. It's all right, just breathe." Sherlock had moved his hand onto John's shoulder, partially to comfort him and partially to restrain his flailing arm. John was close to a panic attack, the memories clearly too much for him. His breathing became laboured and he was shaking violently.
"It's not all right Sherlock! If I had just tried harder, I could have saved him! Instead, I left him and because of me he's dead! This is all my fault!" The tears that had previously been threatening to fall were now streaming down John's face. His shaking was worsening and his breathing far too rapid for Sherlock's liking. Sherlock had no idea what to do – he was convinced John was near to a full blown panic attack, but didn't know how to help. Sherlock had never needed to deal with a person suffering from a panic attack as he knew there would always be someone else to help out – these days that person was nearly always John. Right there and then he wished he had paid attention to how John calmed one of the hysterical victims they encountered. He was tempted to shout for Mrs Hudson, but he knew John needed him to do something there and then. In a panic, Sherlock pushed John forward so that he was bent over at a 90 degree angle with his head resting in between his legs and rubbed his back in a soothing motion. He had no clue if this would help John, but it felt like the right thing to do. He then decided talking to John might help. "John, please calm down! This isn't your fault, you need to understand that. There is nothing you could have done for him. You would have just gotten yourself killed in the process. It's – not – your – fault." He emphasized each word to make John listen. Much to his relief, John was beginning to calm down – his trembling had eased and his breathing returning to normal. Well you were lucky there, Sherlock told himself, I think he hasn't noticed that you are completely clueless. After about ten minutes, John brought himself back to an upright position, rubbing his face.
"Sorry about that," he mumbled.
Sherlock tried to cheer him up further. "It's Ok. You know, it sounds to me like he was already dead. Like you said, they never moved you before, so why would they suddenly move him then? He must have been dead already, so you couldn't have saved him anyway!" He was surprised that John did not respond well to that comment. He looked at Sherlock with wide eyes and his mouth was agape.
"He was… dead? No… no… they told me he was Ok…this whole time I prayed that he would be safe and he was already dead…." John looked away from Sherlock. Sherlock saw his shoulders shaking and thought he was en route to a panic attack again. However, he quickly realised that John was just crying. JUST crying? Dear God man that's not a good thing! Sherlock cursed himself. He returned his hand to John's shoulder.
"I'm sorry… I thought that would have made you feel better if you knew there was no way you could have saved him. I didn't think it would make you more upset."
John sniffed. "I know… it's Ok, I know you were trying to help… it's just… it's just…" But he couldn't continue. He finally broke and released heart-wrenching sobs. He still couldn't look at Sherlock, knowing he must have been making the man uncomfortable. He started to stand up so that he could cry in his room, but Sherlock stopped him.
"John it's Ok, you don't have to be ashamed. Stay here. It's all right." Although it pained him to do so, he brought John into his arms and allowed the man to cry into his chest. After some initial awkwardness, John settled into the comforting embrace and clung onto Sherlock's shirt as he sobbed, the pain he had been concealing for over two years finally spilling out of him. Sherlock held him as he cried, saying comforting words he remembered hearing John saying to others. To Sherlock they were complete nonsense, but to normal people they seemed to help.
They sat like that for well over an hour before John's sobs turned into mild hiccoughs. However, he wouldn't let go of Sherlock, and Sherlock wasn't about to push him away, no matter how much his back hurt from the awkward position they were sitting in.
"M'sry." John voice was muffled against Sherlock's chest. "M'st be sore." Sherlock had to laugh at that. Trust the doctor to care more about his welfare than his own well-being.
"Don't worry about it John. My back is hardly important right now." John instantly pulled back and Sherlock honestly missed the contact.
"I hurt your back, I'm sorry! I didn't think –"
"John, it's fine. Honestly. I'm the one who sat in an awkward position. My fault."
"Is it bad? Do you need a painkiller?"
"Will you stop worrying about my back!" Sherlock cringed at the tone of his voice as John visibly flinched. He was meant to be reassuring John, but it sounded more like he was scolding him. "Sorry, that sounded harsh. All I'm saying is, you're in a bad place right now and the last thing you need to concern yourself with is me. Please John, just for once, think about yourself? I know you tell me to stop being selfish, but being selfish is what you need to be right now!" John nodded and used his sleeve to wipe the tears from his face.
"Being selfish isn't really in my nature." He smiled at Sherlock, who was delighted to see some of the pain leave his features.
"You should try it, it's very soothing. Come on, you're exhausted. You need to go to bed."
"Well I was going to go earlier." John muttered light-heartedly.
"It was too early then. This is a much more ordinary bedtime." John looked at the clock.
"Jesus, it's eight already? Man I talk a lot don't I?" He chuckled.
Sherlock grinned. "Well that's nothing new. But seriously, you needed to do that. Maybe you don't realise it now, but that will have helped. At least, I think so."
"I think it did." John stood from the couch and made his way to the door. Before leaving the room, he turned to Sherlock. "Thank you. I know that must have made you uncomfortable. I really needed a friend and you came through for me. I won't forget this." He smiled warmly at Sherlock and then went to his room.
When the door closed, Sherlock whispered, "you're welcome, John." He picked up his violin and began to play a slow, soothing melody of his own creation, hoping that if John could hear it would allow him to settle into a peaceful slumber. He silently complimented himself on his success on comforting John and hoped that it would make him a better person. He had made a startling revelation about himself: he was capable of caring. He cared about John. He thought of Moriarty's words at that awful night at the pool.
"I'm going to burn the HEART out of you." Moriarty had spat.
"I have been reliably informed that I don't have one." Sherlock retorted.
Moriarty's grin sent shivers down his spine. "Now we both know that's not quite true."
At first, Sherlock didn't know what he had meant by that, but it was clear to him now. When it came to his best friend, he had a heart. John WAS his heart and from now on, Sherlock was going to do everything he could to protect him. No matter what, Moriarty was not going to carry out his threat and hurt John. Sherlock didn't care what happened to him, as long as John would be all right; and he would be. Sherlock would make sure of that.