30 minutes later I'm sitting in Ella Thompson's office.
Ella is the same.
The office is the same.
I am distinctly different.
The last time I'd visited her was several weeks ago. At the time, I was useless, broken, depressed, and slogging through the monotony of civilian existence like something unnaturally risen from the dead.
That was right before Sherlock came crashing into my life and upended it.
Sherlock managed to do more for me in one evening than she'd done in five months; he'd cured my limp and tremor, he'd brought me back to life, and he'd given me new purpose. There didn't seem to be a reason to return to therapy after that.
So much had happened in those weeks since our last appointment. Yet, many of those incidents are things I wouldn't dare to share with her even before I became gravely concerned about her ability to keep our sessions confidential.
As she settles into her seat, I visually scan the room for threat. I can't help but take note of the glint of glass in the upper corner of the room. Given the constant monitoring I've been living under at Baker Street, it immediately sets me on edge. As she flips open her pad and clicks her pen, I force my gaze back down to her and try to push that needling awareness of a potential threat to the back of my mind for the moment.
"It's good to see you, John. It's been a while." I appreciate that she doesn't lie and say that I 'look good' nor does she point out how edgy I clearly am. My fingers are tapping on the arm of the chair and I hadn't even noticed. I stop them by clenching them into a fist. "How have you been?"
"Fine. Yeah. Good…" I force a wane smile, unable to stop from glancing up to the corner as I carefully weigh what I say. "Busy - I mean, I've moved. Living in London now and doing a bit of… work." I'm hesitant to tell her that my work involves trailing after a madman to solve (and occasionally commit) crimes. I somehow doubt she'd approve.
She nods, scribbling on her notepad. That prickly irritation that's been haunting me since I awoke flares up and I breathe out harshly and cross my legs in an effort to restrain myself from fidgeting.
"No cane," she notes, glancing at my leg.
"No... Not for a couple weeks. Haven't had a tremor either." I lift my hand to show her how steady it is, and my smile is genuine for that. It's no small feat to be rid of those most visible identifiers of my broken mental state.
She makes a sound of interest and her eyes sweep over me, assessing me in her cool, clinical way; like a triage nurse cataloging wounds and their severity to determine priorities for treatment.
"But something's gone wrong?"
I almost object out of defensive reflex but she holds up her hand to stop me as she fixes me in her no-nonsense stare. "Let's not waste time, John. We both know you wouldn't be here if everything was fine. What's bothering you?"
I sniff and stare straight at her for a moment before I give in with a stilted nod. Suppose we've got to face it if there's any hope to solve this.
"Nightmares," I admit.
"Not your usual nightmares?" It's more a statement than a question. We both know I've grown somewhat accustomed to the torture of my PTSD invoked nightmares. I wouldn't have returned if it was only that.
I shift uneasily and my gaze is once again drawn to the corner. I can't ignore it any longer - not with where this conversation is heading.
"Sorry, but what's that about-" I gesture towards the corner of the ceiling.
She twists in her seat to look where I've indicated. "The camera?" Her eyes swivel back to me and I meet her gaze with a tip of my head to the side and a thin smile; polite but demanding. Something in her posture shifts.
"Safety precaution." She is speaking in that slow, deliberate way that is probably meant to soothe and ground me. It only grates my nerves with the feeling she's trying to hide something. "Common practice when you deal with clients with... anger issues. Closed circuit," she assures, "It runs to the security desk and it's strictly for visual monitoring. The video is not kept and there's no audio..." She pauses, turning to fully regard me a moment before speaking. She folds her hands in her lap with deliberate calmness. "I think the more important question is 'why are you fixating on it now?' It seems to me you're deflecting, John. Are you trying to avoid the topic?"
"No. No. Not at all..." I shake my head and lift a hand to deny the accusation but I can't help but glance back up towards the camera. I can't tell her that my sudden interest in her closed circuit security system is because a shadowy government agent had demonstrated his ability to hack such a system by tracking me down and springing a trap to abduct me. I can't tell her that I'm understandably cautious because I'm now under constant surveillance by people who are looking for an opportunity to kill my flatmate. I can't tell her about the mess I made for myself and Sherlock when I had to perform for a camera. I'm becoming more and more agitated with each thought tumbling through my head.
"Just… you know… observing," I say as blandly as possible, picking up the glass of water on the table and taking a sip to try to disguise my uneasiness. I'm keenly aware that Mycroft or any number of other threats could be eavesdropping on our session as we speak.
She hums at my response but it's clear that she's skeptical. She fails to shield her notepad and I clearly see her write 'RØ Paranoia' on it and underline it. When she looks up and catches me reading her notes upside down, she clears her throat and tilts the pad up out of sight, leveling a reprimanding look at me.
"Let's get back to the nightmares, shall we? They're different?"
I consider my words for a moment. It's a fine line to walk between giving her enough information to potentially help me put the nightmares behind me while not providing any ammunition to eavesdropping enemies.
"They're... vivid," I say slowly. "Not flashbacks."
She hums and nods, taking notes. It takes everything in me not to leap up and snatch her pen. Who knows who might read those notes and try to use them against me, as Mycroft had already done. "What are the dreams about?"
I purse my lips and shake my head back and forth, refusing to elaborate. There's no way for me to add further detail without revealing far too much for comfort and safety.
She pauses but doesn't try to wait me out. She knows from experience that that's not a strategy she can win with against me. She's accustomed to me shutting down when it comes to sharing uncomfortable things (which is pretty much everything about my past experiences or current emotional state). After a few moments, she continues in a different direction; circling around to try to get at the problem from another side.
"So, I was pleased to see that you're using the blog."
Shit! The blog!
How had I forgotten all about the blog!? Of course she'd seen it - she was the one who made me start the infernal thing. I hadn't much use for it before Sherlock, but I had wrote up a bit about my first meeting with him as a form of insurance prior to visiting the flat; enough bread crumbs to trace my probable murder back to the mysterious and dangerous Sherlock Holmes. Then, I'd posted again right after the serial suicide case concluded to establish an albi since I'd had to take down the cabbie to save the idiot's life. I hadn't returned to it since.
“Oh, right. The blog. Will probably take that down."
“I wish you wouldn't." Her voice is trying so hard to be encouraging. She must see my desire to delete the thing as embarrassment.
It's not that.
It's a liability. If she's following it, who knows who else is. Ultimately, it isn't worth the security risk.
"The blog reinforces your progress and I really believe it will be vital for keeping perspective as you make this transition. Opening yourself up and connecting to another person - that's a big step for you.”
I start to nod, then freeze and look up with her with wide eyes, confused and hoping she's not suggesting what I fear she is "Wait, what?"
"You've met someone." She looks down at her notes again. "Sherlock."
"Sherlock is my flatmate," I say slowly, emphasising the final word sternly, as if that excludes anything else she might be thinking. "We share the rent and kitchen, that's all.
"Hmmm." She doesn't look up. Instead she appears to consult her notes again.
"You work with him as well?"
My jaw tightens into a grimace but I nod. I don't like the turn the conversation has made.
"I mean a bit. Mostly just stand there while he calls us all idiots for not keeping up," I say, trying to downplay it. She makes a small sound (mostly of acknowledgement) as she scribbles something else on her pad. This time she is careful to keep the pad tilted out of view, but I recognise that little furrow in her brow and the way she's holding her lips. She's coming to a very important conclusion about what she thinks is going on when me.
"He's the reason your leg doesn't bother you anymore, correct?" I say nothing. There's nothing I can say - no defense or deflection. I'm being taken apart, stitch by stitch, and I hate it. So, I merely glare at her with lips pursed shut on bitter words.
"And you described him as..." a flip back in her book to look at notes she obviously took down before I arrived, "strangely charming and-"
"Listen," I snap, cutting her off before she, like Sherlock, can fabricate all the evidence she needs about all my feelings as if I have somehow been broadcasting them. "I really didn't come to talk about him" My irritation is sparking into fury now. "He's just a flatmate. He's arrogant, rude, and self-absorbed. We hardly speak - ignores me most the time." I can't modulate the volume of my voice. It's increasing as I reach my emotional boiling point. "I'm really fucking tired. I came here for help. Help with my nightmares. Are you going to help me, or not?!"
It’s only when I see the rare flicker of tension in her face, and note how she's shifted back in her seat with a wary stare fixed on me that I become aware of just how viciously I've reacted. The sound of my roar is still echoing in the room, I am gripping the arms of the chair tightly and leaning forward, practically snarling at her. Bit not good, Watson. I tip my head back and suck in a deep breath. I force myself to relax back into my seat and smooth out my features. However, there's no way to cover the fact that I'd lost control. She looks at me thoughtfully for a long moment before she continues.
"May I observe something?" She asks.
I hesitate for a few seconds, certain that her observation is going to be something I won't like. Still, I feel a bit ashamed for snapping, so I dip my head in a nod of consent, eyes focused somewhere around her knees.
"Uncomfortable dreams are typically either a way for your subconscious to work through its fears or for it to try to prepare you for potential danger by playing out scenarios in a less risky context. When a brain has been exposed to trauma, like yours, it can be overly sensitive to risk - seeing danger everywhere." This isn't anything we hadn't discussed before in relation to my other nightmares, so I nod. Still, I brace myself because I know that she is just softening up my defenses before she moves in for the main attack.
"Though you prefer not to talk about it, you are a man who has survived an enormous amount of pain; physically, mentally and emotionally." She pauses and I look up at her from under my brow. My heart is thumping like with the first pops of gun fire in the distance but I refuse to let it show. I've been trained to just stand there stoic and let my doom roll towards me like an approaching storm. So, Iet her say her piece. "It's clear to me that you've lost people - people who you cared about - people who likely relied upon you and who you felt responsible for," she continues, stripping flesh from bone with each careful but brutally honest word. I don't flinch, though it burns from the inside out. I grit my teeth and refuse to look away. "It undoubtedly was the worst pain in your life and you, understandably, don't want to suffer any further loss. So, you keep your distance from people - refuse to trust - you try to go it alone… but connection is necessary for survival. It's human nature, John." She pauses.
I am glaring at her so hard my eyes burn. I want to yell at her - tell her to shut up - but that would amount to confirming her conclusions and I can't afford to do that. Instead, I take each word like little cuts - like it's only flesh - something I can detach from, box up and bury deep at my core letting that contained explosion center me, as it had through my ordeal in Afghanistan.
"If I had to guess what is triggering these nightmares - based on what I know about you, what is happening in your life right now, and what little you'll tell me about the dreams - I'd say that this is a type of… subconscious self-defense to protect you from getting close to someone because you know the damage they can do if you actually care."
For a long time the room is quiet. There's only my breathing, rough like I've just taken a beating. I work to swallow down the burning heat flooding my system. I'm determined to speak calmly and clearly when I respond - giving nothing.
"You're wrong," I force out, at last. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about." My voice is so smooth and hard it could be steel. She doesn't know. She doesn't know anything; about me, about my experiences in the war, about Sherlock and what I do(n't) feel for him.
"John," she sighs, setting her notepad aside and leaning forward with elbows on her knees. Her face is full of practised compassion and concern. “I'm not saying that a man who you’ve referred to on your blog, as 'mad' and 'dangerous' is someone you shouldn't have concerns about getting close to but... you're living and working together and he's obviously having a profound effect on you." Her gesture sweeps from my leg to hand. "If you really wish to stop these new nightmares, I believe you must confront that fear you're hiding from - the fear of intimacy."
"Right. We're done." I stand up so abruptly, that she has to jerk back into her seat to keep from getting hit. I'm quivering with rage - or maybe just shaking from the inside out, like a stopped up weapon about to explode. I march around the chair towards the door, and then stop, turning back to glare and point a finger at her.
"You know, I was told that you got me all wrong and I should fire you," I say, clinging to Mycroft's comments from our first meeting about how she'd misdiagnosed the cause of my tremor and leg. "Got one thing right, didn't he?" I growl.
And with that I walk out her door, slamming it behind me.