Summary: Four times John didn't want to talk about the war and one time he did.
Warning: deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and memories of war
Disclaimer: The world of Sherlock Holmes does not belong to me.
Sherlock Holmes was quite aware of John Watson's first impression of him, but as odd as John found Sherlock, he felt that John was even more interesting. After all, not many would have been so willing to run into danger with someone they just met- or even agree to share a flat with someone they only knew for sixty seconds. And most would certainly not be willing to kill someone to save someone they just met, even if it were to save that someone from danger. He studied John now as they sat in the quiet Chinese cafe. John was going on and on about how he had always been interested in police work but managed to find the medical field instead. Sherlock didn't take in a single word he said, finding what John wasn't saying much more interesting.
His voice was slightly higher than normal, and he was speaking at an impressively fast pace considering he was eating as well. John's eyes stayed glued to the table, and his hands, his hands were trembling like mad. Suddenly John stopped speaking; his chop sticks slipped out of his hand, and his wrist accidently bumped against a glass of water, sending the drink tumbling to the floor. John jumped at the sound of breaking glass but didn't dare to move as though he were trying to pretend that what happened did not actually happen.
"John-" Sherlock began carefully, unsure what the right thing to say was. "John, your hand."
The doctor grabbed his right hand, which was now beginning to bleed. As one hand clung to the other the shaking finally ceased. John's abnormal breathing was harsh and unsteady as he slowly seemed to become aware of his surroundings again. The restaurant staff was now staring at them; a bead of sweat was now trickling down John's forehead. Sherlock remained silent, understanding what was happening. John was still fresh out of the war. The sights and sounds of the battlefield were playing in his mind, Sherlock could see it in his eyes. John was still little more than a stranger to him, but even Sherlock wasn't cold enough to let something like this go unnoticed.
"Yes, yes I'm aware of that."
John didn't say anything more about it the rest of the night.
Over the next few months they began to know each other better, and John didn't even blink at the absurd things his flatmate did. The body parts that were shipped to the house, the random kidnappings by Mycroft just to see how Sherlock was doing, the number of times Sherlock came home, dripping in blood from some bizarre injury from a case John didn't even know about- most days his flatmate didn't even seem to take notice.
That was, until one Sunday during the third month of their lease. Sherlock came home from a rather bizarre case involving a fisherman who had disappeared, leaving his boat behind in the middle of the river. After a violent encounter with one of the suspects Sherlock appeared at 221B with a rather nasty shoulder wound. As soon as he entered the flat John went to search for the first aid kit, ordering Sherlock not to bleed all over the couch "again". Sherlock was being treated to an irritating lecture about the danger of pursuing suspects alone when John suddenly stopped.
The bottle of rubbing alcohol John was holding fell to the ground. John's hands flew to his ears, as though blocking out a painfully loud noise. Sherlock stared at him in confusion, wondering what to do, when John began shouting as though he were trying to speak over a helicopter.
"We've got to get you inside!"
Sherlock blinked, too in shock to say anything as he realized what was happening: another flashback.
"The wound's too deep!" John continued.
His eyes were glazed over, and he tugged at Sherlock's hand, as though trying to pull him to his feet.
"It's just a cut, John-"
For a split second Sherlock panicked, realizing he had no idea what to do. He had heard about people who had post-traumatic stress disorder. He knew what the symptoms were. He heard Lestrade talk about it many times. It was one of the reasons why Lestrade reminded him after every case that the department had a counselor if he ever needed to talk. But he wasn't sure what to actually do about it.
"Sir, we have to-"
"John!" Sherlock exclaimed, grabbing onto John's arms.
John sat in silence, breathing deeply as his eyes blinked rapidly. The lines in his forehead twisted in confusion before he dropped his head to his hands. John let out a groan, clearly embarrassed.
"Did I just say all that out loud?" John muttered.
Sherlock still could only stare at him, wondering if it was in his place to say anything at all.
"Do you- do you want to talk about it?" He offered, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Emotions were one aspect of human life he had never particularly been good at dealing with.
He almost felt relieved when John shook his head and stood up. It wasn't that he was that he didn't care; he simply wasn't sure what to do. He was afraid that saying the wrong thing would be worse than saying nothing at all. He watched as John poured himself a cup of tea; his hands still trembled lightly as he held onto the cup, staring into space.
Swallowing his nerves away, Sherlock glanced down at his half-healed shoulder.
"I'll go finish cleaning up," he said.
John didn't reply.
Sherlock had just returned from his secret trip to Karachi, and while he could rest well knowing Irene was alive his mind couldn't help but to wonder to her. He constantly wondered where she was and how she was doing. His thoughts went from the innocent worrying to persistent anxiety, which seemed to only be healed when he had his violin in hand and a mournful melody filled the flat. Though he found the appropriate ending to the piece he wrote after meeting Irene, Sherlock couldn't bring himself to put the song aside. Even John didn't argue when the tune was played on repeat for weeks.
That afternoon the tune filled the flat once more. John sat on the sofa, reading the morning's paper as the day ticked by. He had nearly finished the piece when a loud pop made his heart leap. Though the steady hands of an experienced violinist did not let the violin fall, and Sherlock was able to recover quickly from the shock of a string breaking, he noticed John violently flinched at the sound.
"Jesus, Sherlock!" John exclaimed, jumping to his feet. Sherlock looked at him, surprised. He'd broken many a violin string since John moved in. It was nothing unusual, simply a result of him spending too many hours of the day practicing. Never once had John reacted to the noise.
"It's just a broken string, John," Sherlock said.
He watched his flatmate carefully as John shook his head, pacing the floor in anger. There were the trembling hands, the wild, confused eyes. Sherlock took a deep breath and let the violin rest by his side. Months had past since John's last flashback, and he had assumed his flatmate was moving on well. When John continued to argue with him, he began to doubt his judgement.
"Just a broken string?" John said. "You nearly gave me a heart attack! It's always something with you, isn't it? You know, some of us would just like some peace and quiet, just for once!"
"I've about had it with you, Sherlock," John continued, "I swear-"
He left it at that as he stormed out of the room, and Sherlock would have otherwise accepted this as just another one of their arguments had it not been for John's hands, which still shook as he tried to hide them in the pockets of his jacket.
A noticeable tension hung in the air after they returned from Baskerville. John was clearly still pissed off at him for drugging him in the name of an experiment, and he made a point to not accept any food or drinks from Sherlock for days. Sherlock accepted this bitter attitude and decided to use the silence of the flat to his advantage as he spent his days and nights solving case after case that Lestrade brought to him- without even leaving the flat.
That night, at four in the morning, it was time to check on his experiment. His hand had nearly reached the restroom door when it opened for him, and John stepped into the hallway, stunned to realize that he was not the only one awake.
They stared at each other, Sherlock taking in John's swollen, red, eyes and the tear-stained cheeks that even a splash of cold water was not able to hide. John's hair was a sweaty mess, and his hands were shaking.
He was surprised when John offered to speak first.
"Fish in the bathtub? Really Sherlock?"
Shaking his head, John walked past him, ignoring the fact that he had obviously woken up from a horrible nightmare. Sherlock paused, wondering if he should have said something. He leaned into the restroom, glancing down at the fish swimming in the bathtub to count how many were still alive.
"And there's no way the fish did it!" John shouted from down the hall. "Fish don't kill people!"
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock closed the bathroom door. He didn't bother to reply, making the mistake of hoping that perhaps all wasn't as bad as it seemed.
He was wrong.
Two weeks after Moriarty re-appeared Sherlock stumbled into the sitting room at three in the morning, groggy from a sleepless night. He was determined to finish his latest experiment, though he would only admit to himself this was only because science was the only thing distracting him from worrying about Moriarty. The flat was silent as he headed to the kitchen for a cup of tea, and nothing could have been prepared for the sudden outburst of:
Spinning around, Sherlock was startled to find that John had fallen asleep on the couch and was now sitting up, back and shoulders perfectly straight, with a gun pointed straight at him. John's fingers shook as they melted around the trigger, and Sherlock struggled to decide on the best way to stop this.
Luckily, John seemed to snap out of this one himself.
John lowered the gun, letting it fall to the floor, as he fell back into the couch. As Sherlock walked towards him John covered his face with his arms, breathing so rapidly that it almost sounded as though he could have been crying as Sherlock took a seat in the chair across from him. Sherlock studied him for a moment, watching as his breathing gradually steadied and the trembling in his hands slowly stopped. When John still didn't acknowledge him, Sherlock said:
"You've been sleeping with a gun by your side?"
"With Moriarty I figured you could never be too careful," he said.
He offered no further explanations.
Sherlock thought carefully as he considered what to say. Because this time, he had to say something.
"Was this another flashback?" He asked.
John hesitated, and he knew he was probably wondering why Sherlock would suddenly care.
"You know?" John replied.
He finally lowered his arms and looked at Sherlock, who nodded. Sighing, John sat up, rubbing his hands over his face before continuing:
"I-I thought I was doing well," John said, "the nightmares stopped. I mean, they started to be about chasing lunatics and almost getting blown up by some maniac, and not to mention the demon hound from Baskerville- but the war, it started to go away. The first week we met was the worst, with the cabbie, but after that, I was fine. I thought I was fine. I thought with all of this maybe I could finally get my mind off it."
The cabbie. The man John killed because of him. Sherlock didn't say anything, trying to hide the guilt he still felt from that night.
"The second time- with the shoulder wound?" Sherlock said.
"It was the smell," he admitted, "god, that smell-" he closed his eyes, looking as though he might be sick. "The smell of blood. Every day there were so many people. So many people to save, and at the time I didn't have time to stop and feel sorry for myself or to feel afraid. It was only afterwards, after I got home, that I realized the horror of what I had been through. The thought's made me sick ever sense..."
"And the violin string?"
"Sounded like a bomb going off."
They sat in silence for a moment. John didn't particularly look as though he were enjoying this heart-to-heart, and Sherlock still wasn't sure what he was supposed to say, but he thought it was better than allowing John to continue to live in misery.
"After Moriarty...after the bomb, the nightmares came back," he continued, "and every night I was in Afghanistan. There were days when I felt like I was walking through some hazy dream, like I was still fighting to get back to reality. I wake up and sometimes, sometimes I swear I'm back in the war. There are times when I can hear it, see it, smell it all around me. And I just...there has to be something wrong with me. I should be over this by now."
Sherlock still remained silent. He was too busy processing what John was telling him to realize that he should be saying something comforting in return. The thought of his flatmate walking around with these memories, constantly, every day made him consider John in a new light. He felt guilty when he considered how he originally judged how John was dealing with the war- assuming that if he was out fighting crime and dealing with a decent amount of adventure that he would be okay. The human mind continued to impress him. The way all of this could come back, just at a sound, at a smell-
"My therapist was the one who suggested the blog," John said, "but the blog doesn't erase the war. The blog doesn't even talk about the war. The blog just helps me ignore it. And I'm sorry. Jesus, Sherlock, I could have killed you!"
"But you didn't."
"I've yelled at you, so many times, when you didn't do anything-"
"I probably deserved it anyway."
"I could have shot you just now!" John said. "I- I just...I just need this to stop. It's silly, it's ridiculous. Why can't it just go away?"
They sat in silence as John's head fell to his hands once more, his palms pressed against his closed eyes.
"I could talk to Mycroft," Sherlock offered, "I'm sure he'd know someone who could help. Someone better than that therapist of yours, anyway."
John looked up at him. For a moment it looked like he was considering the offer, but then he let out a dry laugh and shook his head.
"I'm not going to be the cause of another fight between you and your brother."
"He's helped me before."
His eyes drifted away as John studied him, and at last it seemed like all traces of the war had left him- for now. His curious eyes watched as Sherlock stared into space, regretting letting his last sentence slip. Quietly, he added:
"But that's a story for another night."
Neither spoke for a moment until Sherlock remembered his original reason for getting up: tea. He silently walked into the kitchen and began to pour each of them a cup.
"Sherlock?" He neither looked up nor replied at the sound of John's voice. "If...if you want to talk to Mycroft. I mean, if it won't be too much trouble."
Sherlock smiled over the rim of his cup of tea. He walked back to the sitting room and handed John the cup of tea. John accepted the tea graciously, sipping the drink silently as Sherlock stared out into the early morning hours of London. It was hard to believe that somewhere out there, in a hell that Sherlock could never begin to imagine, John had actually lived through these things he was experiencing in flashbacks.
"Sherlock?" John said again.
He looked up at the sound of his name. John glanced at him, but only for a moment before staring at his tea again. His flatmate took a deep breath before saying: