"You're not getting better, John."
The therapist's words were soft; un-accusing. It was a carefully trained tone of finality. Her face, if he had cared to look at it, would have been kind. That fine line between patronising and compassionate. John did not care to see it.
"You've heard me talk about Scarlet Hill? It's a lovely place, just outside of London."
At once, he didn't want to listen. He didn't want to sit and let these spiritless niceties drift past him; sitting like an old rock being slowly eroded by the tide.
"Just...tell me what you're talking about. Please." His eyelid flickered shut for a moment, a minute defence against the waves.
He sees the shift in Ella's position. The forward lean: the talk to me and listen tilt.
"You're not making enough progress, John. You need more support. I think, and your doctor agrees, that you need to take some time to really focus on yourself and your life. You can't go on like this. Can you see that?"
From Ella, it was strong words. You can't go on like this. What did that even mean? He saw no reason why he couldn't. Some lives just aren't meant to be happy. That's what he told himself.
"I think that it is in your best interest to co-operate. Just think. This could be the best decision you ever make." Ella smiled, exactly like a therapist should.
A decision, she said. From where John was sitting it didn't sound like a decision at all. He got the distinct feeling, in fact, that this was already arranged for him; a decision indeed.
"I don't need to go to a psychiatric hospital." It sounded like denial. But of course it wasn't. John understood health. He understood sickness; he saw it enough. He told Ella that.
"But, John, you haven't had a job in weeks."
That was true; though unfair of her to point out.
"I wasn't fired," he said, and he sounded defensive.
Ella slants her head slightly. Her mouth pulls into a bemused line. "I know that," she said. "But we've talked about this before. The line between being fired and leaving before you are is a thin one."
"I wasn't fired," he insists. "But can we get back to the point."
"What is the point?" Ella asks, and it sounds so annoyingly philosophical that he has to fight an impulse to sigh. She watches him expectantly. It's infuriating.
"I'm not going to hospital."
She's disappointed. John suspects it's because he hasn't told her the meaning of life yet.
"You need to learn to live again. Live like a civilian, that is. The place we've chosen for you, it's a residential facility. The staff are excellent, and the location is beautiful. Not to mention, they have specialist trauma and PTSD services. I think it's for the best, I really do."
Trauma, civilian, PTSD...
The buzz words.
He'd learned to deflect them. But this time, they stuck.
It wasn't a friendly idea. Ella really thought he belonged in that place. What did that say about him? John wasn't stupid; he knew things had been rough since Afghanistan. He hadn't been right. But that was to be expected. Wasn't it?
"It's been months, John." Ella looks at him, waiting for him to look back. He can't do that.
He goes back to his only real line of defence, ignoring the stab of guilt that tells him he's wrong.
"I don't need to go to a psychiatric hospital."
"John, you don't think you need anything. You think your career is meaningless. You think people will let you down. You think your friends will only die. It's not that kind of war out there; you would know that if you gave it a chance."
And that's how it happened.
He packed his bag, and he didn't pack much. He let the cab take him away. He signed on all the right dotted lines.
He didn't know who he did it for. But it certainly wasn't himself.
Scarlet Hill: Residential psychiatric hospital.
He allows himself a wan smile to the chatty receptionist; because manners cost nothing. She beams back, and he wishes he could understand how she did it.
A straight-backed man with wiry blonde hair and a pallid complexion introduced himself as Dr Rose. "You're allocated Room 5," he tells John, accent bristling with assumed class. "But before you can settle in, you're seeing...ah, Dr Feng. Yes, her office is easy enough to find, and I've no doubt you'll get a tour later. So don't worry about that. You've arrived rather late, I'm afraid; I hope you've eaten already." He doesn't pause to acknowledge John's brief nod. "You will get your treatment timetable tomorrow, after Dr Feng has talked you through your options. And that's all! Any problems, be sure to find a member of staff. Best of luck, Mr...I'm sorry, Dr Watson."
Dr Rose doesn't hang around, and John is left horribly alone.
As he trails around the hospital he is struck by its emptiness. High ceilings, blue chairs; clean, but not clinical. Not quite.
The living room is spacious, and the furniture sparse. The sofas are well worn. A clock ticks away wearily, and it shouldn't affect him like it does.
The blank room felt heavy against him, and for lack of anything, he fumbled with the sleeves of his shirt, feeling far too much like a child on their first day of secondary school. It wasn't helpful. Sometimes you just want something to hold on to. On this occasion he would have to make do with nothing.
It was becoming clear that he would have to learn to navigate this place by himself. So that's what he decided to do.
Making his way past a suitably sized TV set, John aims for the door; a closed door.
The light switch isn't far away, and he flicks it on easily. At first, it's only the bare bones of a room. The floor is wooden boards, worn with age. A few easels line the far wall, but none of them hold art. Then something moves. Unfolding from somewhere behind a bare table is a tall, thin, angry looking man.
"S-sorry," John stammers. Actually stammers.
The man looks at John, then behind him, and then back again, his eyes narrowing to slits on his face.
John checks himself. So he found a human being in a darkened room, nothing to freak out over. Not for the first time, he notices that he can't remember how he would have reacted to this before. Would he have found it strange?
"I was just...you couldn't tell me where Dr Feng's office is, could you?"
The man, whoever he is, is definitely angry. Maybe it's a psychiatric hospital thing. Perhaps this man has staked a claim on this particular darkened room. No, John thought. He should probably just leave before he said something like that out loud.
"Er, thanks for your help," he said, and left without waiting for the answer he wouldn't get.
It was less than 20 seconds later that he was in the long, white corridor that started at reception and ended at the living room – His second encounter with the man from the dark room. How this person had managed to arrive in front of him, out of nowhere and with not a sound to be heard, was beyond John. He looked different now, under these glaring lights. The anger was wiped from his expression, replaced only by an empty nothing. His hair was a mop of unruly, dark curls, and his eyes stood out like bright stones in his pale face.
"You've almost found it," the man croaks. He clears his throat. "Go to reception; there's a corridor opposite it, to the right. You'll find what you're looking for there."
It took a moment for it to click. John opened his mouth to thank him, but he is interrupted.
"–Sherlock Holmes," said Sherlock Holmes. And then he was gone.
The night arrived shortly, and Room 5 was everything he thought it would be: clean, white, and very empty. Two beds where made up with fresh white linen. He chose the one by the window, of course.
The sleep was empty. Just like his room. Just like this hospital.
He heard the music first: sweet, rolling sounds, reaching through his mind like ribbon.
Through the darkness of his dream, he opened his eyes, and the darkness changed. It was lighter, gentler.
The ribbons continued to ripple in the air. He could have reached out and touched them.
A deep voice disturbed their patterns.
"Do you object to the violin?"
John was awake now, staring into the purple shade of the ceiling.
"And you wouldn't be offended if I were to ignore you now and then? I don't care much for conversation."
The music had stopped, but Sherlock's voice rang out like it hadn't at all. And it was Sherlock. John could see him now. His slim, suit-clad body stretched over the surface of the second bed like a tortured artist. His skin was almost silver under the pale streams moonlight. A violin lay over his shoulder, a bow in his hand.
"Roommates should know the worst about each other, after all."
It was only for lack of words that John stayed silent. He had nothing to say, and so the quiet lingered. But it was peaceful, and it was calm.
"You look tired..." Sherlock said to the tranquillity. "What is it they say: No offence? Let me see if I can put you back to sleep."
That was the last thing John remembered, before the music began, and he was lost to dreams once more.