Title: Those Days
Author: Still Waters
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.
Summary: If Sherlock had danger nights, then these were John's danger days.
Written: 2/5/13 – 2/8/13
Notes: Yet another piece that came out of nowhere and further proof that when I tentatively title a draft "short piece" it will grow way beyond the drabble length I originally figured it would be. Having watched John sitting alone, barefoot and silent in the beginning of ASiP after his nightmare and in TRF after Sherlock's jump, I've pictured him as a man who is no stranger to the fight against depression. While jotting down notes for a story I have yet to write, I came up with the idea that while John's clenching and unclenching his fists is generally a complex personality trait, that sometimes he does that with his left hand because of pain and numbness caused by nerve damage from his injury in Afghanistan. One evening, all that coalesced into this story – an exploration of pain, depression, resilience, and friendship. Lidocaine plasters (aka lidocaine patches) are medicated patches that stick to the skin, delivering a local anesthetic that numbs and relieves pain. As always, I truly hope I did the characters justice. Thank you for reading and for your continued support. I cherish every response.
There were days John woke to an all-consuming sensory attack: dying patients' stories in his ears, the smell of hospital in his nostrils, the grateful eyes of the healed, the glassy eyes of the ill, and the empty eyes of the dead all seared into one twisted scar across his vision, the dry, stale taste of too little saliva and too little to drink as busy hours passed without a break, the feel of cracked skin stretching over flexing joints from too many hand-washings and endless glove changes.
Some days it culminated in one violent rush and he exploded into consciousness, breathing torn between panic and residual adrenaline, bolting upright with burning eyes and an equally burning shoulder, pain as fresh as the moment he'd been shot. On others, he jolted to awareness with a stuttered breath and was still; a dazed man who hit the wall of consciousness at top speed and lay stunned on the ground at its feet. He would struggle, not to calm his breathing, but to find the energy to breathe at all; rub gritty eyes filled with sand and too little sleep in a fight for clear vision he wasn't quite sure he even wanted, left arm on fire and numb at the same time, the bed sheet's bare touch an excruciating electric burn, clenching and unclenching his fist in a reflexive attempt to regain feeling even as pain blossomed elsewhere with the movement. On those days, his thin-pressed lips would twist into a grimace under blank eyes, some distant corner of his overwhelmed brain amazed at how neuropathy's opposing characteristics of pain and numbness managed to overtake every aspect of his being.
If Sherlock had danger nights, then these were John's danger days. The comparatively rare days he woke up still and breathless were the ones where he was slowest to recover. Sometimes, even rarer, recovery became a foreign language John didn't speak; a laughable concept - if he'd had the energy to laugh - that was beyond impossible. In his own way, John had disregarded the very concept of impossibility from the moment he entered Sherlock's life: he was the only person Sherlock honestly introduced to others as "my friend"; the best friend of a man who seemed designed against the very concept. So when John's own mind and body held him prisoner to the point that escape was so impossible as to be beyond actual thought….those days were more than bad.
They were terrifyingly wrong.
Those were the days where the numbness overwhelmed everything else, leaving John too exhausted to curse his body's past reactions to standard neuropathic pain meds or to dig out his lidocaine plasters, place them on the areas of the worst pain, and see if they brought any relief. The days John walked through molasses, his brain as sluggish and useless as Sherlock accused the rest of the world as being, barely eating, barely moving, drowning in memory and chronic pain and only awake because his body was cruel, leaving him too uncomfortable to find refuge in sleep. The days Sherlock called John's name multiple times without response as he witnessed a mood that was less black and more robbed of color.
Black would have implied feeling anything at all.
John wasn't one to give in and give up, but on those days the energy, the will to fight, was ripped away and locked beyond reach. He was ripped away and locked beyond reach. And that feeling of helplessness and weakness added shame and guilt to the numb grayness, leaving him stranded within a suffocating, slow-moving storm, a self-perpetuating cycle consistently renewing itself to keep its sufferer in inescapable torment; an eternal pause. Empty and alone with no way out.
After moving in with Sherlock, John had enjoyed a period of remission from those days. It wasn't until they had been living together for a year that he had one of them, the pain spiking and his brain going offline; returning to full awareness two days later to Sherlock's frown at breakfast, his flatmate's eyes filled with frustration, annoyance, experimental curiosity, and the barest hint of uncertainty mixed with understanding.
For a self-professed sociopath, Sherlock had attached to John faster than Mycroft's "you're very loyal, very quickly" had suggested that John did to Sherlock. Somehow, Sherlock came to not only rely on John's presence but desire it, and after John's second episode, Sherlock went after the restoration of that presence with an addict's single-mindedness. Sharing John's attention with something as tedious as the surgery was barely tolerable. These moods that had the capacity to keep John not only from The Work, but from Sherlock himself, were simply unacceptable.
So Sherlock researched. Experimented. Went through John's things when John was out, gathered more data and, simultaneously, a bit more respect for John's ability to surprise him with hidden information, and worked it all into the general framework of "adrenaline rush = treatment" that had solved John's limp. Dug into online military and medical resources, and came up with a final plan.
When the third episode dawned, with John in his armchair, shirt untucked, feet bare, and left hand alternating between white-knuckled tension and slack lifelessness, empty eyes staring in the general direction of the window without seeing a thing, Sherlock strode into the sitting room to take his friend back.
The fact that it took John four full seconds to react to Sherlock rolling up his left shirt sleeve was, to Sherlock, proof of just how imperative his actions were.
"Sher-" John paused, swallowing as if trying to focus, to bring his words and thought processes up to an acceptable speed. "What….." And then his brain kicked in and he jerked his arm away from Sherlock's touch. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded. It was a weak version of his usual long-suffering, sarcasm-laced irritation, but it was a full sentence and brought a flicker of life back into his eyes.
Sherlock took it as a success.
"Applying your lidocaine plasters," Sherlock shook the box and gestured at John's half-rolled shirtsleeve.
"My-" John spluttered, going into a frighteningly diluted version of his steely, confident defense mode. "Sherlock, did it ever occur to you that the reason you never knew about those was because I didn't want you to know about them?" He dipped his head, right hand coming up to cradle a point just above his eyebrows; the very picture of resigned depletion.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You've been in pain all morning and haven't done a thing about it. Clearly you're incapable of-"
"Of what?" John dropped his hand, voice going dangerously low as he looked - actually looked - at Sherlock for the first time that morning. "Managing my own bloody health?"
Sherlock fought down the - probably socially inappropriate - urge to rejoice at the ice in John's eyes; so much better than the emptiness that had been there before. Anger was something. Anger he could work with. "You have neuropathic pain in your left arm and shoulder from the bullet wound you sustained in Afghanistan. While you frequently clench your fists in response to various situations, today you have only been clenching and unclenching your left fist, clearly an attempt to regain feeling in that hand, even though the movement is painful enough to warrant consistently guarding your arm close to your body. You don't take any of the tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsants generally used to treat neuralgia, yet you continue to have flare-ups," he waved at John's current condition. "A doctor such as yourself would be unlikely to refuse treatment of a condition that could affect his profession, which suggests that you had a particularly severe reaction - life-threatening, I'd say - to those medications, which necessitated their discontinuation, leaving the lidocaine plasters as the only treatment you deemed acceptable. Considering that even Anderson would be aware of the link between chronic pain and depression, it's hardly a difficult leap to connect higher levels of pain with worsening depression and nightmares. Conclusion: you know you should try the plasters, but lack the energy to do so. Now will you place them or shall I?" Sherlock finished with his usual deductive rush and moved forward toward John's arm again.
John pulled his arm closer, rolling the sleeve down angrily. "Don't….." he swallowed the rest of the tight growl – don't touch me, don't talk about this like it all makes sense - around a wince as the shirt scraped across his oversensitive skin. Anger warred with embarrassment, betrayal, and exhaustion. "I can't believe you'd….."
Sherlock fixed him with a 'don't be stupid' look. "That I'd what?" he asked, voice dipping on the last word, parroting John's earlier icy anger within his own half-hurt curiosity. Then he blinked and it was all gone, expression as straightforward as his next words. "Two weeks ago, you threatened to invite Mycroft for a visit unless I left the sofa and ate one full meal per day for the four days it took Lestrade to phone me, acting – quite poorly, I assure you - as if you hadn't been texting him repeatedly for a case." He fixed John with a look that clearly said, 'how is what I'm doing right now any different?'
Isn't this what friends do?
With a mixture of pride and relief, Sherlock watched as John, despite his current state, read into that look and understood.
John deflated, ever so slightly. "I'm still angry with you," he said.
Sherlock rolled his eyes – a clear 'whatever, I won't even pretend to be suitably scolded' dismissal.
"I mean it, Sherlock," John held up a finger for emphasis. "I need to know you'll respect my privacy the few times I ask for it. And that the next time you even start thinking about my medical history, you'll bloody well talk to me first."
Sherlock huffed out a 'we're wasting time' breath, but his eyes were clear and focused with a begrudging respect for John's principles and an honest promise to try; silent responses not many beyond John could read. "Will you place them or shall I?" he repeated aloud, holding out the lidocaine plasters.
John snatched the box with his right hand. "I'll do it," he sighed under eyes that accepted Sherlock's true response. And it was his wearily sarcastic, fondly exasperated 'why do I put up with you?' sigh.
It was John again.
Sherlock beamed as John began rolling his sleeve back up. "Good," he nodded, pulling out his mobile and waving it in front of John. "Lestrade phoned an hour ago: two bodies in a booby-trapped car boot in Brixton."
John gave him a mild 'there's something seriously wrong with you' look as he cut the plasters down to size and applied them, hissing softly as he rolled the sleeve back down, adjusted the fabric over his shoulder, and flexed his hand. "Sherlock, I haven't even-"
"There's tea and toast on the table and it'll hardly take you more than five minutes to finish dressing."
John looked back toward the kitchen - breakfast laid out with self-assured certainty that it would be consumed - then back to Sherlock with a raised eyebrow and a silent, 'who said I was coming?'
Sherlock managed to scoff without making a sound.
Who are you fooling? You need this just as much as I do.
"Damn it," John sighed, pushing himself out of the chair with his right arm. Smug bastard and his damned habit of being right.
Sherlock sniffed a silent 'of course I'm right' as he bounced excitedly on his feet and began dividing his attention between texting Lestrade and doing his pre-case Internet research.
John found himself eating with a renewed energy he thought he'd never feel again as Sherlock rambled on about what he knew so far from Lestrade's brief description of the scene. By the time he finished dressing and returned to the sitting room to find Sherlock at the door with coat, scarf, and gloves in place, the familiar thrill was thrumming in John's chest like a long-lost heartbeat.
"Lestrade's people can track the murderer down once we have a name…." Sherlock resumed talking as John grabbed his coat and began carefully easing the improving, but still painful, left arm into its sleeve.
Ah, so Sherlock noted the gun. "Sherlock…." John began, ready to remind him that not only could he still run, but that he shot right-handed.
But Sherlock knew all of that already.
"Really, John, they need to keep up what little skill they have," Sherlock dismissed with a vague wave of his hand. But his eyes strayed to John's arm as he spoke and there it was: a raw flash of the incredibly human worry and protective instinct that most people never even knew Sherlock was capable of feeling.
I won't put either of our lives at avoidable risk when you're not completely well.
John ducked his eyes. And Sherlock accused him of sentiment.
"Charming," John snorted, responding to the less vulnerable expression - the insult to Lestrade's squad. "Ready?"
Sherlock grinned and bounded down the stairs, coat flying.
John hurried after him, wiggling his fingers loosely, reborn for the day.
It wasn't the end of John's danger days. The cycle of pain, suffocating depression, and renewed, nightmare-broken sleep wasn't so simply cured, just as all of Sherlock's black moods weren't solved by the distraction and stimulation of a new case. There would be days where Sherlock's method of friendship and treatment – bluntly telling John to medicate and plying him with the same sort of intellectual and adrenaline rush that often worked for Sherlock – would fail. When the pain and numbness would keep its brutal hold regardless of outside intervention before finally, finally allowing John to sag into the exhaustion of recovery.
But sometimes, Sherlock's method would be exactly what John needed; the one thing that could bring him back to life.
And those days, while rare, were all the more precious for their rarity.
They were brilliant victories, each and every one.