Not My Proudest Moment
"What plans do you have for the 9th of February?"
John frowned, glancing up from his newspaper and looking across at his flatmate, who was sprawled across the sofa.
"That's today isn't it?" he asked.
Sherlock sighed in annoyance. "Yes, today. Saturday. Also the eve of the Chinese New Year."
John pursed his lips, returning his attention back to the newspaper. "I'm not doing anything right now, and nothing's planned for later tonight." he said.
"Good, because I've got a case which I need your assistance on."
John rolled his eyes. "What sort of case?"
"Murder. And I know who did it." Sherlock replied, closing his eyes and pressing his hands in a prayer-like position underneath his chin.
The doctor raised his eyebrows, waiting for the detective to continue. When he didn't, John sighed. "Who did it, then?" he asked.
"Hmm? Oh," Sherlock's eyes snapped open. "A Chinese gang called The Silver Heron."
"The name isn't all that frightening, is it?"
"It isn't the name we have to worry about, John." Sherlock sighed. "I have been tracking them for a few weeks, and I've received information that there will be a meeting tonight – about what, I'm still unsure. It should be harmless, but if things were to get out of hand the fireworks that will be set off due to the New Year will easily cover a gunshot or any screams. We're only going to be there to observe, unless we need to intercept."
"Fireworks," John muttered with a frown. "Do you really need me there?" he asked reluctantly.
"What? Yes, of course I need you there." Sherlock snapped. "Who else is going to accompany me? You're not going to suddenly tell me you're afraid of fireworks, are you?"
"No, of course I'm not afraid of fireworks." John answered. Wary was the word he would've used. The loud bangs still brought back unwanted memories, and in the past he had been prone to flashbacks. That had been a while ago, though, and whenever it was New Year's or Bonfire Night, he would spend the evening indoors and with something to distract him.
Now that Sherlock was asking him to do this – creep around in the middle of the night while bright lights and stunning sounds went off around them... he wasn't sure what could happen. But who was he to deny his friend?
"When do we leave?" he asked.
"Two hours time." Sherlock answered, and without any warning got up and strode off to his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
John blinked in surprise, but then looked back down at his newspaper, though his thoughts were elsewhere.
It'll be fine, he told himself. You've faced far worse since then.
I'd still managed to avoid fireworks, though, he countered.
Well it's too late to back out now. We'll just have to see what happens tonight.
Realising he was having a conversation with himself, John left his chair and began to make a cup of tea in the kitchen, all the while wondering what he could possibly do to make tonight less eventful than it could be.
Sherlock opened the door to the fire escape and quickly strolled across the roof until he was knelt at the edge and looking down at the street below. He felt John crouch down next to him, and neither of them said anything for a while. It was ten minutes to midnight, and Chinatown was full of people getting ready to celebrate the New Year. Chinese dragons roamed the street, and little children carried paper lanterns with them, prepared to let go of them when Big Ben struck midnight.
Sherlock watched them all with an air of disinterest, but he could tell John was enjoying watching the people dancing to music that was playing everywhere. It was definitely better to be up here rather than down there, where one could easily get lost in the crowd. At least up here it was relatively quiet; the music only faintly wafted up towards them. Everyone was laughing and chatting and generally having a good time, but Sherlock paid no attention to them.
Instead, he scanned the street for any signs of the members of the Silver Heron. Lestrade had given him images of a few of the men he was looking for, so he kept his eyes alert, scrutinising every face below them and looking for indications that told him he'd found his man.
He was momentarily distracted, however, when he noticed John take his iPod out of his pocket. Sherlock watched him with eyebrows raised as the doctor untangled the headphones and placed them in his ears, then pressed play on whatever track he was listening to. John carried on looking down at the street, and he seemed to take no notice of the detective staring at him incredulously.
"What on earth are you doing?"
John looked across at him and raised his eyebrows in question. Noticing that Sherlock had spoken to him, he hastily took out his headphones.
"I said, what on earth are you doing?"
John looked down at his iPod, then back up to Sherlock. "Listening to music." he said with a frown, as if suddenly uncertain as to whether he actually was listening to music.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'd gathered that. Why are you listening to music?"
John shrugged and fiddled with his headphones. "It helps me think." he answered.
"You don't need to think; I'm the one doing the thinking. Put them away."
John opened his mouth to retort, but Sherlock shot him a glare which clearly said don't argue with me. Reluctantly, John stuffed his iPod back into his pocket.
"Thank you." Sherlock said sarcastically. John sighed in exasperation and leant his elbow on the ledge in front of them, then placed his head in his hand.
"What, you're bored now?" Sherlock asked.
"I'm fine." John answered tersely.
Sherlock rolled his eyes but decided not to retort, and instead the two of them sat in silence for the next ten minutes. When the people on the streets below began the countdown, both Sherlock and John shifted; the detective to peer further over the ledge and the doctor to sit up straighter and take a few deep breaths.
"THREE... TWO... ONE!"
When Big Ben struck midnight, the dark sky erupted with fireworks directly above Sherlock and John's heads, illuminating their faces with different colours. Sherlock paid them no attention, however, and he anxiously searched for their culprits seventy feet below them.
John also tried very much not to fixate on the fireworks, but he wasn't finding it as easy as his flatmate. The deafening noises that sounded eerily like bombs going off all around him, added to the sounds of people shouting and yelling all served to unnerve John's senses, and he desperately scrunched his eyes shut. He didn't yet feel the need to clasp his hands over his ears, but if he remained there any longer that would soon change.
His hands clenched into tight fists, and he bowed his head as he tried to remember techniques his therapist had taught him when the flashbacks had first started. John counted to ten in his head, and then listed all the differences between London and Afghanistan, but those methods were fast becoming useless, vanishing to the back of his mind as the thunderous booms, snaps and crackles reverberated above him. Even though his eyes were squeezed shut, he could still vaguely see the bright lights that were lighting up the sky against his eyelids, and he tried so very hard to convince himself that it wasn't the Afghanistan Sun bearing down on him.
John could feel his heart pounding frantically against his ribcage, and he knew he wasn't going to last much longer. He barely even noticed his hands snaking up to rest over his ears, only muffling the sounds a little bit and not enough to provide a soundproof barrier as he had hoped for. He was fading, and fast.
The doctor jumped violently when a foreign hand suddenly rummaged about in his pocket and took out his iPod. A moment later he felt long fingers cover his hands and gently draw them away from his ears. The cool headphones replaced his hands and before he could say anything soft music was playing in his ears.
"Unclench your fists, John, your palms are bleeding."
Over the sound of the music John could hear Sherlock's deep, baritone voice, and he did as he was told without thinking about it. Sherlock's hands gripped his arms and the detective slowly helped him to stand.
"We're going to go downstairs, but keep your eyes closed." John nodded as Sherlock held onto one of his arms and led him across the roof until they reached the fire escape door, and began the slow descent down, step by step. Sherlock remained at his side, not hurrying him nor pressing him with questions, but instead kept a firm grip on him, and John focused on the contact, reminding himself that he was here in London with his flatmate and not out in Afghanistan with his comrades.
Soon they were back outside on the pavement, and John subconsciously closed his eyes tighter against the sounds of fireworks he could hear over his music and the deep vibrations that shook through him whenever the fireworks exploded. He tried to ignore it, and John would guess they had been walking for about ten minutes when he felt Sherlock squeeze his arm reassuringly.
"Almost there." his friend murmured. Where there was, he wasn't sure, but he didn't ask questions, trusting Sherlock to know what to do. The two of them continued down the pavement at a slow pace, and thankfully the streets were not too busy, despite the number of people welcoming in the year of the Snake.
Eventually, Sherlock stopped, and John felt him nudge his side slightly. "We're going down some stairs again, alright?"
The doctor nodded and let his flatmate lead him down the foreign set of steps, his curiosity as to where they were increasing evermore the further down they went.
The grip on John's arm suddenly vanished, and his heart rate began to pick up as his mind panicked at the thought of not knowing where Sherlock was, but the grip reappeared a few moments later, followed by another hand pressing on the small of his back, and he realised Sherlock must have had to move closer to him, perhaps because there were so many people near them if the number of bumps against his left shoulder was anything to go by. Where on earth where they?
The oddity of not knowing where they were was proving a worthy distraction against memories of Afghanistan, and John realised that his hands were not shaking as prominently as they were on the roof. There were still faint tremors wracking his body, but that could easily be associated with the cold winter chill. He realised he could barely hear the fireworks now, and vibrations no longer coursed through his body.
"Where are we?" he asked, knowing that he didn't want to be kept in the dark any longer.
"Just hold on a sec. Keep your eyes closed."
He sighed, and he heard Sherlock chuckle beside him. Frowning, he took his earphones out, and as Sherlock took them off him he asked, "What's so funny?"
"You." Sherlock answered. "You're close to a panic attack yet I'm still able to annoy you. Alright, you can open your eyes now."
John needed no further instruction, and his eyes flew open, taking in his surroundings. He noted with a lot of surprise that they were stood in the middle of an Underground station. People were rushing about them, not bearing them any thought as they rushed towards their train. It was still quite noisy even though it was a few minutes past midnight, but he knew from experience that the Underground was rarely ever quiet.
"Leicester Square?" he asked, looking up at Sherlock as they purchased tickets and walked towards one of the tunnels.
Sherlock shook his head. "Piccadilly."
The detective looked down at him. "Because you needed something stronger than a few words to convince you that you were still in London, and the Underground was the best place to be because there is no doubt that you are still in England when people shove past you unceremoniously and completely ignore you." As he said this, Sherlock glared at a young man who had knocked into the detective's shoulder, obviously in a hurry.
The two of them boarded a train and stood close to each other, letting other passengers on. "How are you feeling?" Sherlock asked.
"Better now, thanks." John answered truthfully. Yes, his hands were still a little shaky, but now that he could no longer hear those blasted fireworks, he knew all traces of Afghanistan would soon disappear from his mind.
Ten minutes later and they were emerging onto Baker Street, strolling down the path until they were outside 221B. John looked behind him and could still see fireworks going off. He smiled at the sight of them; now that he could appreciate them from a distance he was able to see how stunning they really were.
"Coming?" Sherlock's pressing-but-bordering-on-irritated voice came from the hallway, and John smiled indulgently, stepping inside and closing the door, then followed Sherlock upstairs. "Tea?" he asked as the detective flopped onto the sofa.
"Love some." was the short reply. John walked into the kitchen and took two mugs from the cupboard. It wasn't until he was pouring water into them that he realised someone was stood behind him. Turning, he saw Sherlock staring down at him intently.
"Problem?" he asked, putting the kettle down.
"I should apologise." Sherlock said, a small frowning forming on his face.
John raised his eyebrows, the corners of him mouth twitching. "And are you going to?" he asked.
"Yes." his flatmate answered, looking for all the world as if he would rather be somewhere else. "I'm sorry."
"For?" John prompted, crossing his arms and savouring the moment.
"For not taking into account your PTSD and putting the case ahead of you."
John was surprised at the last part, but he tried not to show it. "It's alright." he said instead. "And you made up for it anyway by doing what you did. I should really thank you for that."
"And will you?" Sherlock asked.
The doctor picked up his mug and padded into the living room to settle into his armchair. "No." he said.
"What?" Sherlock squawked, moving from the kitchen and standing in front of John. "You're not going to, even after you made me spit out an apology?!" In a fit of petulance, he snatched the mug from John and retreated to his own armchair.
John began to chuckle, and stretched out his arms for his cup. "I was being sarcastic, you muppet. Give my tea back!"
A faint red tint highlighted Sherlock's cheeks as he returned the tea to the doctor and got up to collect his own, before sitting back in his chair. "Sorry." he muttered.
John shook his head in exasperation, though the grin remained on his face. He watched Sherlock sip at his tea, and he cleared his throat, waiting for the detective's ice grey eyes to meet his hazel ones.
"Thank you." he said earnestly. "It was good of you, and you handled it very well."
Sherlock nodded once and focused back on his mug. "It's fine. Our culprit didn't show up anyway." he answered nonchalantly. "Anything on TV?"
It wasn't until later, when John was lying in his bed, that he realised Sherlock hadn't let go of his arm until they'd reached 221B.