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John didn’t notice, not at first. Sherlock managed to hide the symptoms well, masking the flinches by extravagant turns and excited spins, the quick breathing by rapid monologues and speedy diatribes, the anxious twitches of his hands by smooth hand gestures.There’d been a few near misses, where John saw his eyes go slightly wider when he looked out windows of skyscrapers, or his hand twitch when he climbed a high ladder or fire escape, but he’d not been caught yet.

 

He didn’t avoid high places per se, he would go if need be, but only if absolutely necessary, and nobody was any the wiser, just attributing his reluctance as particularity and laziness. He’d been home from abroad for a month now, and he hadn’t had a severe reaction since the flight from Serbia to London, the majority of which he’d spent hyperventilating in Mycroft’s arms in a corner, and he planned to keep it that way. Unfortunately, his luck soon ran out.

 

It started with a case, the most interesting one he’d had in ages. It had still taken a bit of persuading on Lestrade’s part to get Sherlock out of his chair upon the mention of a rooftop, but the case was just too intriguing to warrant missing because of a stupid phobia, so he’d hopped out of his chair in a flurry of manic energy and flew to hail a cab, dragging John behind him.

 

The air in the cab was frigid, both men sitting as far apart as the seat would allow. Not for any desire on Sherlock’s behalf though. If he had his way they’d be halfway in one another’s laps, but John was still spectacularly angry over the past two years. Understandable, undoubtedly, but John still made it a point to express his continuing displeasure at every turn. He had hardly spoken to Sherlock at all in the past month, really only when it was absolutely necessary or deemed a social requirement. No one commented on the change in their relationship, thankfully, but Lestrade had been a surprisingly accepting confidante for Sherlock since his return and had attempted to offer advice multiple times when him and Sherlock were alone together. Sherlock appreciated these talks and had put all of the advice to use but to no avail, a point which brought him a great deal of distress.

 

Not only had the inspector offered advice on how to earn John’s forgiveness, but he had also been very accepting of Sherlock’s explanation for his leaving and had allowed Sherlock to describe everything that he had endured while he was gone, something that was surprisingly cathartic for the sociopathic detective. A luxury John had not allowed him upon his return or anytime after the fact. And so the two stood at an impasse, going about their daily business just as they had before the fall, just minus any conversation or social interaction of any kind. It was hateful, but that’s what they did, and so they made the cab ride in silence.

 

Upon their arrival they both shuffled out of the cab, Sherlock taking a moment to pay the cabbie since John no longer did it, and then he paused a moment to peer up at the office building they would be entering. 15 stories of glittering, glistening steel, glass, and concrete towered above him, making his head spin just looking up at it. He shook his head slightly to clear it and made his way to the main entrance, John close on his heels with a scowl. They took the elevator to the 15th floor where the doors opened to a flurry of people and mountains of equipment set up as a base camp for the initial investigation. An officer saw Sherlock and grimaced before pointing behind him in the direction of the stairs to the roof.

 

The elevator ride alone had made Sherlock’s hands start to twitch and tremor and now his feet were rooted to the spot as he stared towards the door propped open at the end of the hall letting in a swath of blinding white summer sunlight. He looked down at the floor for a moment, taking in a deep breath and clenching and unclenching his fists in an attempt to disguise the tremor, before forcing his feet into motion and making his way toward the door.

 

He slowly pushed open the door with his shoulder, grunting slightly at the pressure on his back, which was still healing from his time in Serbia and didn’t take well to even the slightest pressure, and stopped. Not of his own accord, obviously, but his brain’s base instincts were making an appearance, telling him “No! No! Stairs mean roof which means high which means STOP!” and it was all he could do to override them. For the case!

 

He once again had to take in a breath before beginning to climb the solid, concrete steps to the blinding white at the top. After a trip that seemed to last a lifetime they reached the top and Sherlock looked out at the landscape that had once enraptured him, the glistening roof tops, columns of steam rising from various establishments blending in with the brilliant white clouds and cerulean blue sky, the warm June breeze ruffling his tousled onyx curls, and he shivered, looking away in search of Lestrade.

 

His eyes landed on the inspector and then the corpse in lightning quick succession. He bade a quick hello and a wave to the inspector and then beelined for the body, eyes alight and completely ignorant to the height now that there was something else to focus on. He scanned over the body as he approached. The man had been strung up to one of the various poles lining the edges of the rooftop in what appeared to be an attempt at a cross, mundane, common criminals , but when he got closer he saw the wire coiled around the man’s bare torso, the spider-webbing burns across the pale, still damp skin, the car battery not a metre away still hooked up to the corpse and also dowsed. His eyes lit even brighter and a grin attempted to worm its way onto his face that he only half cared to try and suppress.

 

As soon as he was upon the corpse he hopped up onto the nearest ledge and began running his hands just barely around the torso as he inspected it, fascinated by the lightning like strikes burned vivid red into the flesh. He was completely absorbed, blind and deaf to everything happening around him, but something, maybe a subconscious need to ensure he had a secure footing on the ledge or a barely registered sound below him, caused him to look down.

 

He gasped as the ground below him swam before his eyes and he almost slipped as he tried to scramble away from the ledge, inadvertently throwing himself towards that very same ledge and he flailed inelegantly as he nearly tumbled over the edge. Only a quick hand holding tight to his overcoat and pulling him back kept him from plummeting to a swift and entirely real death on impact with the pavement 50 metres below. He stumbled to the gravel in a shaking, heaving heap, gasping for breath and clutching his chest, clasping and unclasping his hand in his shirt. Suddenly where he was came flooding back to him, and with it came the panic.

 

His ears rang and he clenched his eyes shut tight as the world spun around him, hyperventilating as he leaned back against the ledge, slouched down so that he couldn’t feel the open space and the breeze blowing behind him. He couldn’t hear, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t think. He could only clutch at his heaving chest and the gravel around him, rocking back and forth in a vain attempt to calm himself and return to the land of the living as flashes of John on the pavement dozens of metres below as he plummeted to the ground, a cold, damp serbian cellar as a whip tore into the flesh of his back, the burn of frostbite and needles piercing his flesh as they stitched him back together in the dirty backroom of a run down restaurant only miles from his prison. Reality was fleeting as the past came back to haunt him in the daylight.

 

The flashes of the past grew slower and fewer in number as reality came back to him in increments. He could hear the distant murmur of a deep voice calling to him, but it seemed to grow more irritated as the time passed and he didn’t respond. Suddenly the voice grew fierce and fire tore through his shoulder as the firm grip of a Serbian soldier tore into the barely healed wounds. The bitter cold bit at his nose and fingertips and his whole body became wracked with shivers. He whimpered almost inaudibly as he heard the whistle of the whip hurtling through the air towards him from behind and cried out as the pain throbbing through the nerves intensified. He wrapped his arms around his torso protectively and curled into a foetal position, shying away from the hand he felt hovering over his burning shoulder.

 

“Joooohhhnnnnn” Sherlock called out desperately for the haven of his friend, the light that had gotten him through countless other interrogations. The brute behind him continued to rip into him with the thick leather as tears poured down his face and his chest tightened, tightened, tightened. He couldn't breathe. A vice wrapped around his ribs. They refused to expand. His head grew fuzzy. His lungs burned as he hyperventilated, gasping like a fish, trying to no avail to get oxygen into his screaming lungs, ripping at his shirt, at whatever was trapping him, trying to breathe . Another lash went right down his spine and he tried to cry out but there wasn’t any air so all that came out was a thick wheeze and then a deep chesty cough as his lungs protested the action. His vision grew dark around the edges, growing darker and darker and darker, blurred over with tears as the lack of oxygen clouded over him, until a dim, faraway voice reached him.

 

“Sherlock. You’re having a panic attack, but you’re going to be alright. Can you breathe with me? Can you put your hand on my chest? Sherlock, I need you to listen to me or you’re going to pass out.” John’s calm, low, authoritative voice snaked its way through the fog to Sherlock. He was still gasping, he still couldn’t breathe, he was still trapped in a freezing cold serbian cell with a whip poised to strike again, but John was there and some of the fog began to clear. He managed one small breath in and the fog cleared a bit more, the cell began to fade away ever so slightly, and the presence at his back no longer felt poised to strike. He could see the faint outline of a man kneeling a metre or so in front of him.

 

“That’s good Sherlock, you’re doing good. Can you do another one? Another breath, that’s all I need from you.” Sherlock’s chest quivered with the effort, he only managed a half breath before his lungs forced the air out again in a violent cough, but still the fog cleared a little more. The frigid concrete walls melted away and John’s tense, worried face began to come into focus. His chest ached and his head felt like it was filled with helium, the world swam before him as he managed a few more small breaths, each coming a little easier than the last. John continued to breathe with him, offering small encouragements and a tense smile. When finally Sherlock managed a full breath in and out without coughing he too breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“God Sherlock, you scared me. Are you alright? Am I okay to touch?” Sherlock nodded tightly, head leaned back against the ledge behind him and eyes shut. John laid a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “Shall we get you off this roof?” Sherlock nodded again. “Alright. Can you stand?” Sherlock shook his head. “Alright, budge up, we’ll get you downstairs. Lean forward.” Sherlock somehow found the strength to push himself forward enough for John to reach an arm around his back and start to gently tug him upwards. Sherlock hissed at the pressure and John backed off a bit. “Alright? What’s wrong?”

 

“My back is not wont to take much pressure at the moment, but I’m fine. Just get me off this damned roof.” Sherlock growled through gritted teeth as John heaved him up. Sherlock stumbled and swayed as he came upright, barely able to hold himself, his knees quivering.

 

“Alright?” John asked low in his ear. Sherlock nodded, but the second John tried to step forward Sherlock’s knees gave out and he tumbled almost completely to the ground, facefirst into Greg, before John managed to catch him again. “Alright, alright, I got you. Greg, mind lending a hand?” The inspector looked stricken at suddenly being addressed but quickly recovered and rushed over to Sherlock’s other side and hoisted him up. Together the three slowly but surely made their way across the roof, down the stairs, down the elevator, and into the lobby on the ground floor. They awkwardly shuffled to the small, plush leather sofa tucked away in the far corner and Sherlock dropped down onto it like a stone, not even able hold up his head despite having been practically carried all the way down. John immediately kneeled down on the floor and tucked himself in close to Sherlock, face creased with concern, and Lestrade backed away to lean on the pillar, facing out toward the lobby to give John and Sherlock some space as well as to keep any prying eyes away.

 

“Sherlock. Are you alright? Can you hear me?” Sherlock gave a stiff nod. “What was that?”

 

“You mean besides an impressively debilitating panic attack?” Sherlock quipped back, though his voice lacked its usual bite; hoarse, quiet, and rasping instead of the smooth baritone he normally sported.

“Sherlock. What was that?” John chastised.

 

“It would appear that my . . . time away . . . has had more undesirable effects on my psyche than I expected, resulting in a rather severe manifestation of acrophobia.” Sherlock tried to open his eyes and lift his head to look over at John, but the lights burned through his skull, his head was as good as an anchor, pulling him back down, and the world spun at the movement, so he put his head back down and recovered his eyes with his arm. “I’d just like to return to Baker Street John.”

 

John’s eyebrows crinkled in between his eyes and he worked his lower lip between his teeth with his displeasure at not getting a straight answer before nodding, “Alright. Do you think you can stand now or do you need help?”

 

Sherlock was silent a moment, turning his head from side to side and taking his arm away from his eyes but leaving them closed. Finally he held out a hand to John in a silent request for help sitting up, which John quickly obliged, as gently as he could, but still Sherlock winced as he moved to sitting. Once he was upright he put his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands for just a moment, collecting himself, before he sat up completely and held out his hand for help again. John slowly helped him to standing, having to hold both of Sherlock’s hands to get him completely upright. Sherlock hung his head, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, and swayed slightly. He took a hand out of his pocket and held it out, palm down, and reached for John’s shoulder, head still bowed.

 

Leaning heavily on John’s shoulder, Greg walking slightly ahead at John’s bidding to open doors and to hail a cab, Sherlock slowly made his way out to the kerb. When they made it out to the kerb there wasn’t a cab in sight. They stood for a moment as Greg called the cab company to request a cab. They made it only about 30 seconds before Sherlock’s legs began to quiver violently and John had to slowly guide him to sit on the kerb before he completely collapsed. John was just moving to sit down beside him when a high-pitched chuckle sounded from behind the two of them.

 

“Not quite got your sea legs yet have you there Bambi?” John’s shoulders stiffened and his eyes grew dark when he saw the growing frown on Sherlock’s face at the comment. He turned around, eyes burning, to see Anderson leaning against the brick on the far side of the door, just a metre or two away, a half burnt cigarette hanging loosely between his pale fingers. Beside him, Sally Donovan gave a low chuckle at the dig, bowing her head slightly to hide her gleeful smile.

 

“Excuse me? What did you just say? He has just suffered an extremely debilitating panic attack, likely due to unimaginable trauma and a result of unmanaged PTSD, and you have the nerve to laugh ?” Anderson and Donovan both had the presence of mind to look properly chastised, but still John turned behind him to call out to Greg. “Greg, tomorrow I will be coming down to the yard to file a complaint against the both of these two. Their behavior is entirely uncalled for, inhuman, and absolutely despicable. I want you to ensure that these two realize the full extent of the punishment for these types of harmful, derogatory comments so that it won’t happen again. Think you can do that?”

 

Greg gave a tense smile, or at least something that was maybe meant to be a smile, but it more resembled a strong grimace and every line and tension in his face screamed the rage he was attempting to control just beneath the surface. “Of course, John.”

 

Anderson and Donovan both had matching looks of astonishment on their faces when they fled as John turned back around to provide them with another vicious look and then sat down next to Sherlock again who, in the short time John had been standing, had listed so far to the side that he was nearly horizontal and his arm was shaking violently with the effort of holding him up. John sat down and nudged and poked and prodded until Sherlock’s head was leaning on his shoulder and the detective was half asleep, face buried in John’s light jumper.

 

As Sherlock slept quietly on John’s shoulder the minutes passed slowly in a sort of tense calmness, the elephant in the room sucking all the air from between Greg and John as they stared one another down, John occasionally running his hand over Sherlock’s curls. “So,” John cleared his throat, “do you have any idea what that was?”

 

“Beyond a panic attack of biblical proportions the only thing I have are guesses, but those are based entirely off of private conversations he had with me and I don’t think he’d appreciate me telling you any of that, I’m pretty sure he wants to.”

 

“Conversations? I didn’t even know the two of you had seen one another at all outside of cases.”

 

“Yeah, we’ve met a few different places, mostly pubs but also the occasional coffee shop or bakery. I think maybe . . . once or twice a week, every week he’s been back. Wow, I didn’t realize just how much we’ve been talking. I think it’s been good for him though, having someone to talk to, especially since you won’t speak to him -” John opened his mouth to defend himself but Greg interrupted him before he could start, “Not to say I don’t blame you for being angry, God I was angry too, but I’m glad I gave him the chance to explain. I don’t think you realize how rough he’s had it these past two years. It’s been hard, listening to what he did while he was . . . away, but I’m glad to know and I’m glad he has a vent.”

 

John’s mouth flapped open uselessly as he attempted to find some response to that, but then the cab pulled up to the kerb and redirected his attention. “Sherlock.” John nudged him gently, shaking his shoulder just a little, “Sherlock, you’ve got to get up, the cab is here.” He shook Sherlock’s arm a little bit harder and before he even had a chance to blink Sherlock was kneeling behind him, breathing heavily, John’s hand pinned face up in both of his and being pressed toward his wrist slowly, pushing John headfirst into the pavement.

 

“Sherlock! Sherlock, let John go. You’re safe, you are in London, this is your friend John and if you don’t let go you’re going to break his wrist.” Sherlock continued to hold on, his face set hard as stone and eyes glassy, although he didn’t press down any further. Greg put one hand gently over Sherlock’s where they pinched around John’s and he gradually felt the pressure on John’s hand release. “There we go, that’s good. Would you like to sit back down?” Sherlock nodded, eyes clearer and cheeks flushed lightly as he was guided to sit on the pavement again.

 

The three sat in silence for a minute, Greg and John watching Sherlock intently as he caught his breath. “Do you think you’re ready to get in the cab?” Sherlock nodded, eyes wide but drooping and face paling as the adrenaline left his system. Together Greg and John hoisted his overly light body into the back seat of the cab and, after a quick handshake between the two, John hopped in on the other side and and off went the cab for Baker Street.

 

The cab ride was silent, although John’s concern had replaced the palpable tension, but Sherlock astutely ignored it, putting off the inevitable explaining he’d have to do once they got back to Baker Street for as long as he could. He’d wanted to tell John for weeks what had happened while he was away, explain why he’d had to leave so just maybe John would forgive him, but he didn’t want to do it like this, vulnerable and weak, having exposed his fears to the entirety of Scotland Yard, and inadvertently John. It was hateful, but he might not ever get another chance if he didn’t tell John now, because John was on his last thread and one more lie or secret might just be the blade that severs it.

 

When they arrived at Baker Street John helped Sherlock out of the cab, but Sherlock managed to make it all the way in to the bottom of the stairs under his own power. When he reached the bottom of the stairs he simply stood there, shoulders bowed dejectedly, until John joined him, slipped an arm around his waist, and awkwardly assisted him up the steps. When they reached the top they separated, John moved in to the kitchen, presumably to make tea, and Sherlock went to his armchair, settling himself into the plush leather gingerly. When John came in a few minutes later carrying two steaming mugs of tea, he found Sherlock with his head lolled on his chest, ruffled curls curtained in front of his face, hands folded gently across is slowly rising chest, deep in sleep. With a soft chuckle he set down the two mugs on his side table and pulled the quilt off the back of his armchair to settle it over Sherlock. Sherlock harrumphed softly as the breeze from blanket shifted his curls and he curled into himself tighter. He stood over Sherlock’s sleeping form for a moment and smiled, then sat down into his armchair with his tea and the paper to wait.

 

John had finished reading the paper and made it most of the way through an episode of Bargain Hunt on BBC One when he saw Sherlock begin to stir. He turned the volume down and turned to watch surreptitiously as Sherlock picked his head up, held a hand to it, winced, and looked around with sleep-softened, confused eyes. “ Whe-” Sherlock was just opening his mouth to speak when John said, “You fell asleep while I was making tea, about 5 minutes after we got back to the flat about an hour and a half ago.” Sherlock shut his mouth and pursed his lips slightly. “How’re you feeling? Want some paracetamol?”

 

“God, please.” Sherlock groaned, shielding his eyes from the bright light from the telly in the otherwise dimly lit room.

 

John returned a minute later with the medicine and a glass of water, which Sherlock gulped down eagerly before returning the glass and laying down sideways in his chair, head on one arm, feet on the other, and clenching the quilt tight to his chest. John sat back down across from him and looked over his figure, eyes pinched with unvoiced concern. “So, would you mind to tell me what that was back at the crime scene? You scared the shit out of me Sherlock. It would be stupid to not tell me, in case it happens again. I need to be able to help you.” He pursed his lips and his face was set, but his eyes conveyed the obvious worry he was feeling.

 

“I already told you John. My time away has resulted in a rather severe manifestation of acrophobia.” Sherlock responded, as haughtily as one could curled up like a child in their armchair.

 

“Yes,” John breathed exasperatedly, “But that’s not really telling me. What even is acrophobia Sherlock? And what about your time away, I thought you were just taking down Moriarty’s web?” John’s voice began to harden and he spit out the last question through gritted teeth.

 

“Well you’d know if you would just talk to me !” Sherlock snapped as he sat up to look John in the eye. “For a month we have been living together, and you’ve hardly spoken to me. I’ve wanted to explain to you why I had to go, tell you about what happened while I was away, to try to gain your trust back, and you hardly spare me a glance! You’re upset that I won’t talk to you when you haven’t spoken to me for weeks! What am I meant to do? I was tortured for you John! I spent months locked in a freezing cold Serbian cell with hardly any food or water, being whipped and beaten and waterboarded! To keep you safe !! Then I come home and you refuse to speak to me! To let me explain myself! Greg has been my only confidante. He’s been trying to help me appeal to you almost since the moment I got back. Only now that my mind has failed me are you willing to listen?” John gaped as Sherlock finished his tirade and flung himself from his chair to stare out the window toward the street, breathing heavily and shuffling back to leave plenty of space between himself and the window.

 

A tense silence overtook the room as John continued to gape and Sherlock got his breath back. John seemed to get his faculties back first. “You were . . . tortured? Sherlock, what?”

 

“Yes, John. I was tortured. My time disassembling Moriarty’s web was not some dramatic mission fighting off enemy spies and returning to my comfortable hotel room until the next mission like one of your Bond films.” Sherlock addressed the window, speaking so low John could hardly hear him from his seat on his armchair, but he couldn’t move for fear of disturbing the tension in the air.

 

“I spent the majority of my days living in grimy hovels and dilapidated bedsits throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. I had little money and even fewer supplies. I sustained many injuries at the hands of hundreds of adversaries, many of which went untreated except for what rudimentary care I could perform on myself. I was almost done, Serbia was the last place to go. I should have been home 8 months ago, but I got caught.” Sherlock’s voice seemed to catch at that. “I ran, I ran as hard as I could, barefoot through the woods in the pouring, bitter rain. I ran so hard that it was only later in my cell that I began to feel the pain in my feet, finding them shredded and splintered with brambles and wood chips, my toes black and blue and broken. I won’t . . .” Sherlock shuddered and paused for a moment. “I won’t go into the details of my imprisonment, but needless to say I have numerous physical and, unfortunately, mental scars from my time away.

 

Mycroft had to personally invade their ranks in order to secure my freedom. I spent a short while in hospital, a day or so, where they forced as many nutrients into my body as they could, before I insisted on being released so that I could come find you. You were the only thing that got me through a majority of that time. Memories of you, you would show up in the worst of it, guide me through, keep me strong so I could come back to you. But then I came back and you hated me. Understandable, of course, I put you through a lot of pain, but I endured so much, and I did it all to keep you safe. Moriarty was going to have you, and Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson, shot if I didn’t jump. I had no choice, so I made the best of it, I took the chance to take him down quickly and quietly. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I never wanted to leave you behind.” John watched as tears began to flow silently down Sherlock’s pale cheeks, stubbornly clinging to his chin before making the perilous descent to the ground. It was then he noticed that he was crying too, the sticky wetness of half dry tears making his face feel grimy and his eyes raw.

 

“Physical scars. Is that why your back hurts? Sherlock . . .” John paused, looking closer at the deep crimson dress shirt Sherlock was wearing. He began to notice patches, large patches, that were much darker than the rest of the shirt, but hardly distinguishable from the already dark colour. “Sherlock, you’re bleeding!! Will you-” He paused, building up to the question he felt he had no right to ask. Who was he to try to care for Sherlock now, to listen to his troubles, when he’d treated him so horribly since his return. He took in a deep inhale. “Will you let me look? Make sure everything is okay?” A moment passed and Sherlock didn’t respond. He stood statuesque at the window, what little John could see of his face showed blank, slate grey eyes and skin two shades paler than its usual ghostly pallor. He was just opening his mouth to retract the statement when Sherlock spoke.

 

“Yes. Yes.” He repeated, seemingly to ensure himself of his answer. “Yes, you may look.” He took in a deep breath and reached up to unbutton his shirt with a nervous efficiency. When all of the buttons were undone he hesitantly shrugged the shirt off his shoulders, allowing it flutter to the floor in a breath of shifting fabric. A breath that was taken in sharply as Sherlock’s back was revealed. The broad, once pale expanse of Sherlock's back was littered with barely healed gouges, criss crossed with jagged, swollen scars, hardly an inch of skin was spared. Trickles of blood poured from a few of the wounds where the thin, scarcely healed skin had been torn and scraped from the abuse it had endured that day, making thin, scarlet rivers down his spine where they soaked into his trousers waistband. Sherlock's shoulders hunched under John's scrutiny and they stood silent, several feet apart, before John could move toward him and begin to carefully analyze the wounds.

 

“God, what've they done to you?” John exclaimed under his breath, moving closer and ghosting his hands a few centimeters above Sherlock's skin, his breath caught in his throat as he saw up close the irreparable damage that had been done to his friend. “Sherlock, do you even have full range of motion?”

 

“Not yet, the wounds have been too painful to allow it, but the doctors mentioned I may never regain full mobility in my torso.”

 

“Jesus Sherlock. A few of these were never stitched correctly, if at all, that's why they've torn. They're all going to need to be restitched except this one here.” John gently prodded near a small reopened wound just below Sherlock's ribs near his side, the action making Sherlock flinch slightly. “Sorry, sorry. Do you think you'll be able to handle it if I go on ahead and stitch these?”

 

Sherlock nodded. “I can't guarantee that you'll be able to finish, but you can try. I'll try my best to endure it.”

 

“You said that sometimes I would show up and help you through the worst of it. Would it help if I talked to you while I did it?”

 

“It may. I suppose we'll have to try it and see.”

 

“Alright. Let me get my bag and the kit. Back in a mo’.”

 

John went around the flat, up to his room, collecting everything he could possibly need to deal with the horrors of Sherlock’s back. “Do you want any tea before I get started?” He called as he walked past Sherlock’s still completely unmoved form in the sitting room for the third time.

 

“That would be fine, thank you.” Sherlock called back robotically, his voice monotonous and mechanical. Finally John had gathered up everything he needed and returned to the sitting room with a fresh mug of tea and a chair from the kitchen for Sherlock to sit in while he worked. He set it down beside Sherlock and bade him to sit, “Face the back of the chair. Here’s a pillow to put in front of you.” He said, handing him the Union Jack pillow from his armchair. Once Sherlock was settled he went about sterilizing, anesthetizing, and suturing as quickly and methodically as he could, starting with the worst, a partially clotted wound starting just above his right shoulder blade and tearing across his spine to the base of his left shoulder blade, a massive gash stretching almost 11 centimeters through the already battered skin.

 

When he was at last putting the final bandage on the wound below his ribs, the one that didn’t need stitches, Sherlock’s back was crowded with overlapping panels of stark, sterile, white bandages and every muscle in his body seemed wound tighter than a spring, ready to startle at the slightest movement, despite John having spoken to him throughout the entire ordeal. Sherlock, however, hadn’t said a word the entire time and was now hugging the chair back in front of him like a lifeline, head hung low and eyes shut tight to block out the world.

 

“Sherlock. Sherlock, I’m done. Are you alright?”

 

Sherlock nodded.

 

“Can we talk?”

 

Another nod.

 

“I’m sorry. Sherlock, I need you to hear me. I am so, so sorry, for everything. For not listening, for being so hostile, so misunderstanding. You would never have done something like this if it wasn’t for a good reason and I should have known that, I should have seen it immediately that you were in pain, that you were suffering, and that you needed help, but I didn’t, and I’m truly sorry. Greg said you’ve been talking to him about stuff since you got back, but have you gotten any professional help? A therapist might do wonders Sherlock. I just want you to be okay, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

 

“No, John, I can do this just fine on my own, at least as long as you’re here. You’re my anchor, my . . . my heart, John. You are the heart I never thought I had. And . . .” Sherlock stopped with an odd choking noise and John realized they’d both been crying for a long time, but now Sherlock’s voice was caught in his throat, the tears catching up with him, and the sound just would no longer come out. John sniffled and took up the sentence for him.

 

“And now we’re together. God and now we’re together and I will never let you go.” He surged forward and wrapped his arms around Sherlock, gripping him into as tight of a hug he could manage without hurting him, sniffling into the soft, cool skin of his shoulder. He felt Sherlock bend down around him, engulfing his upper body in long, lean arms, curls tickling the side of his neck as they embraced. They stayed that way for several long minutes, sniffling against each other’s necks leaving trails of moisture along the sensitive skin, neither one willing to let go.

 

“I will never leave you again. Thank you for staying. Thank you so much.” John felt the words breathed harshly against his ear and he squeezed a little tighter.

 

“Thank you for coming home.”