A/N: Here you are, the chapter you have all been waiting for, to find out what the article and phone had to do with anything. It took me a bit to sort out the details. :)
"I know it has taken me a long time to get back around to this article, and why that and the phone call disturbed me so much." John sighed again, knowing he couldn't put it off any longer.
Not that sharing his background had really been intentional delays, though. He knew the only way Sherlock was going to have a chance at experiencing anything like empathy, was if he had a good idea of what John had gone through.
Sherlock had managed to curb his impatience for a record length of time. John figured he'd better not press his luck.
Glancing over, he saw Sherlock was still waiting, reclining in his chair, his long legs stretched out towards the fire.
He rested his chin lightly on the tips of his fingers, looking back up at John through his lowered lids. His brow furrowed slightly over his piercing grey eyes, as he observed his friend. He deduced, quite correctly, that as hard as the other bits and pieces of his past had been, this was extremely difficult for John to explain.
There was a very raw, open, and recent grief in John's eyes, and marking his face. It was a testament to what had happened that night, that John was willing to let him see it.
"This article, um, these men…" John stopped and cleared his throat before trying again.
"As I skimmed through the paper the other morning, I came across this article. It said that a unit, out on maneuvers, had been ambushed by a group of insurgents. They were pinned down by heavy gunfire, when snipers began picking them off. The article says they managed to get an S.O.S. out before their radio was hit."
"The article released a few names, but not all of them, as family members had yet to be notified." John swallowed around the lump in his throat before he said, "It was enough for me to realize… to realize… that…" He stopped again, closing his eyes and taking several deep breaths to try to calm himself.
Sherlock quietly finished his sentence. "It was your unit. The special ops team you were in before you came home." His breath hissed in through his teeth at John's abrupt nod.
He thought back to the article. Now that he knew more about John's unit, he was able to put it together.
Four men had been killed, three injured, one of them critically, and two were MIA. Captain Evans, who had helped save John's life, was one of the ones listed as deceased. Roberts had been injured, but a Wilkinson and, most importantly Murray, were the ones listed as MIA.
Evans, Roberts, and Bill Murray. Those were the names Sherlock hadn't been able to track down. With a special ops team, they would have kept those names well covered. Only with knowing more of John's story had he recognized them.
"Murray is MIA, John?"
John's eyes had opened while Sherlock had been thinking. He was staring blindly down at the paper on his lap, his hand unconsciously rubbing his right leg.
"Yes. It happened about a week ago. The call I got was from the former commander of my team, Colonel Harrison. He'd been promoted, was home on a short leave, waiting to get connected with his new command. He was debriefed on what happened. He was the one I talked to on the phone, and then later met."
Sherlock hesitated before he asked, "Was he able to tell you any more than the article?"
The paper slid off John's lap unheeded, as he leaned his head against the back of his chair. His left hand clenched into a fist, as he struggled for control. His eyes stared unseeingly through Sherlock.
"He said they were sent out to supposedly secure an area from insurgents. In reality they were going in to collect information from a couple of informants. A couple went in, blended as civilians; someone with medical knowledge would be welcomed, so that was Murray."
"We'd done it before. Usually Murray and I were the ones to go in. We were snipers. We were covert ops. We were trained in the customs and culture, the language and how to blend in."
Sherlock stared at John blankly, as he processed this information. "That's why you are so fluent in Dari and Pashto," he said suddenly.
John continued, almost as if he hadn't heard him. His voice was almost a monotone. Sherlock slid to the edge of his chair, leaning forward to catch his words.
"It should have been and easy in, easy out job. Something went wrong. No one is sure what, as Murray and Wilkinson where the only ones directly in town. They did reconnect with the unit, but everyone felt a strain and decided to clear out early. They had the distinct impression that though they all had blended into the surrounding area, they were being watched."
"Wouldn't that many men be noticeable?" Sherlock asked.
"Not particularly," John replied, able to talk about the technical details. "Two men leaving the village wouldn't be suspicious, and a larger group would be left alone. But, they weren't this time. They were right that someone was watching them, and they walked into an ambush."
"Colonel Harrison said that most of the information came off of one of the injured, Roberts. When the other two recover enough to tell their part, we may get a clearer picture."
"They didn't have good protection, were being picked off one by one, though they were doing damage too, it wasn't enough. Murray and Wilkinson broke away to try to get a better angle and picked off a good number of them. Just as support finally came in, there was a last burst of gunfire and they were captured before they could make it back to the unit."
"The rescue team coming in had to take care of those they could. They had to lift off to get the wounded back to safety."
"They… they have men on the ground, searching. Only because the rescue team is positive they were taken alive… but with no word…" John's voice faded to a whisper at the end.
"John, if they were taken alive…" Sherlock started.
John looked away, his face almost grey in the faint light of dawn starting to peek around the curtains.
"The insurgents will keep them alive only as long as they think they have information that is important or useful. Or, if they think they are important enough to use as hostages, or if they have skills the insurgents need."
John shuddered, not wanting to think about the things Murray would be enduring right now, if he were still alive and in their hands.
At Sherlock's look, he confirmed, "They will do anything to get the information out of you. If you can hold out long enough, you might be lucky enough to be rescued, but that's only if you can withstand the 'punishment' they give for not saying anything."
"One more thing, Sherlock."
He immediately moved to kneel by John's chair when he saw the expression on his face.
John struggled to get the words out. "On Saturday, there is…. I have to go… Captain Evans. Doctor James Evans. His funeral. I need to be there. Colonel Harrison told… told me about it… and I – I…"
Suddenly, John pushed himself to his feet, taking a couple of steps away from his chair. Without warning, his right knee wavered, then buckled underneath him. Off balance, with nothing to grab on to, John dropped, his hands outstretched to catch himself.
Sherlock leaped to his feet and was next to John in an instant. He barely caught him in time, staggering under his weight. Breaking his fall, he eased the rest of the way to the floor with him.
The physical pain finally shredded John's tenuous control of his already frayed emotions. Hot tears fell, unchecked down John's face, onto Sherlock's arm still wrapped around his chest.
"Sherlock," he whispered, "I have to go. I need… I need to tell his wife, and his daughter, what he did. They need to know, how many lives he saved. I… have to tell them. If he hadn't gotten to me when he did, I would have bled out, right there."
His trembling intensified. "But all I can think about is Murray… where he is, what he's going through… if they're going to find him."
What condition will he be in if they do find him alive? Will the pain have driven him out of his mind? How badly will they have tortured him? Will he even be able to recognize friends and family?
Gasping with the effort to calm down, John pulled away a bit. Sherlock let him, watching him as he wiped at his face. Concerned, he noted John's grimace as he slowly straightened his right knee. Curling up his left leg, he wrapped his arms around it, resting for a moment. Then he turned his face to look at Sherlock.
His eyes, bright with unshed tears, pinned Sherlock in his place. He sat frozen, unable to decipher the emotions in the depths of those dark blue eyes.
Though his voice still quivered and cracked, John said, "I don't want to go. I have to. But, I don't…" A few more tears slipped, unnoticed, down his face.
He heaved a sigh and continued, determined to ask his question.
"I don't want to go alone. Sherlock, will you go with me?"
Sherlock paused a beat, realizing John was completely serious. He ran a hand through his hair, looking at him in confusion.
"You want me to go with you?"
John nodded. Sherlock clambered to his feet as he searched for something to say. He reached down to John, holding out his hand to help him up.
John hesitated, hoping for an immediate answer. When he could see that Sherlock wasn't sure what to say or do, he held his hand up and gripped Sherlock's
Sherlock pulled him to his feet. Turning John toward the door, he stayed by his side, wrapping an arm around his waist. As John limped heavily toward the stairs, Sherlock pulled John's right arm across his shoulders, supporting more of his weight.
By the time they got to the landing outside John's door, Sherlock was practically carrying him. He lowered John gently to the bed until he was sitting on the edge. He flipped the sheets and blanket back, and as John lay down, covered him back up. He turned away to close the curtains against the early morning sun.
Turning back to the bed, he saw John had curled around a pillow, his back to the room, on the far side of his bed.
Sherlock sighed. He wished he was better at this sort of thing. He sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed.
"John, do you really want me to come?"
John's voice was muffled by the pillow. "I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't..."
Sherlock grimaced. "I don't know how much good I would possibly be able to do there. I'm not usually asked to go to social functions. Especially weddings and funerals, because they are so full of sentiment. I will say something wrong and embarrass you."
He thought for a moment. "Wouldn't Lestrade be a better person to ask?"
"You are the one I told all this to," John replied, still talking into the pillow. "You're my best friend. You're the one I want... need... there."
Sherlock was a bit taken aback. John's reply wasn't at all what he'd expected.
His brow furrowed in thought, Sherlock took a pillow, and stuck it between his back and the headboard, stretching his legs out on top of the covers. He slid his phone out of the pocket of his dressing gown, where he'd slipped it before they came upstairs. As he turned it on again, John rolled over to face him. Aware of John's stare he glanced up. He raised an eyebrow at John's puzzled, and slightly concerned, look.
Avoiding John's obvious question he said instead, "What? You need to sleep. You're in pain. The couch is too hard. You'll be more comfortable in your own bed. I have some research to do. Which I can do here. Besides, then I will be close, if you… um… have a… well, you know… if you need something." He stumbled to a halt under John's gaze, quickly turning his attention back to the phone.
Peering at him out of the corner of his eye, he could see the gratitude in John's eyes as he settled under the covers. He heaved a sigh, glad that he didn't have to try to explain any further, something that he couldn't yet put into words.
Then, John's raised his head slightly from the pillow reaching his arm behind his back. As John pulled his hand out, Sherlock saw it held his gun. John's knuckles were nearly white, his grip on it was so tight, as he offered it to Sherlock.
Sherlock held out his hand under John's, waiting patiently. Slowly John exhaled, and let Sherlock take it from him, as his grip loosened.
"If I wake up, and have that on me. With you here… I might not know where I am. I don't want to hurt you."
"I know, John. It will be right here," he said, as he laid it on the side table. "As will I," he finished.
John fell back on his pillows, rubbing at his forehead with shaking fingers. Sherlock reached out and caught his hands, lowering them to the blankets, giving his fingers a quick squeeze before letting go.
"Now. Go to sleep" Sherlock said firmly.
John frowned a bit at being ordered around, but only mumbled something unintelligible into the pillow as he rolled over. Sherlock's mouth curved in a gentle smile.
"To answer your earlier question, of course I'll go with you, John," he murmured quietly, as he tugged the blankets up around John's shoulders. There was no response from John, other than him burrowing further under the covers.
The room settled into silence. Sherlock shifted slightly to get comfortable. He had many things to file away in John's room in his Mind Palace. He also had questions that could wait, for now.
Sherlock scrolled through his text messages, ignoring or deleting most of them.
One stood out.
Congratulations, brother dear. You seem to have managed, after all.
Sherlock rolled his eyes and deleted it as well, trying not to huff out loud. John moved a bit next to him.
He held still, hoping John hadn't woken.
John's arm crept out from under the blankets, and his hand rested lightly on Sherlock's arm for a moment.
"Thanks, Sherlock," he whispered before his hand slipped back down to the mattress.
"You're welcome, John." John's face slowly relaxed, his body finally giving in to the exhaustion from the past few days.
Peace descended in the room, as Sherlock, once again, settled in to watch over his friend while he slept.
a/n: There you are! Hope you enjoyed! I was going to do an epilogue of sorts to this, but the characters seemed to want to end here.
Please do read and review!