The things John loves are always the ones that can hurt him.
There are the hands of his father, the words of his mother. Later, there is their absence, and surely he should hate himself more for not missing them? For being happy about the parent-shaped hole the accident left? The memory of them is tender to the touch, but nothing like the bruises he’d had.
John stands next to his sister Harry at the funeral. His aunt’s hands are on his shoulders. John fists his hands in his coat. His knuckles brush plastic – a water pistol. Remnant of a friend’s birthday party, forgotten in his coat pocket. He closes his hand around it. His thumb traces sharp seams and raised lettering - 'Made in China' - and he feels better. He looks at the grave. He knows he should cry but can’t quite get there. Something in him has twisted out of shape - but at least there’s no pain.
Harry is different, of course, always was. His feelings for her are the usual familial annoyance and obligatory affection - there’s no real attachment, and thus she can’t hurt him with her selfishness and neglect. Just as well.
John sleeps with the water pistol under his pillow that night. And the next. And when the water pistol is broken under the careless foot of his aunt, John howls in actual grief, his reaction out of normal proportion to the event. His aunt is bewildered, then frightened by the way John clutches a shard of clear green plastic until his palm is bleeding.
Untimely partings - when one loves - hurt terribly, John finds out.
Life goes on.
John goes to school, has friends, even the odd girlfriend, though they never seem to last. John is the picture of a normal boy, blond hair falling into his eyes over a wide smile. He turns seventeen and along with his driver’s license he acquires Martha. He feels silly, but really - her name is Martha. Martha is an aged orange Ford Cortina, and John loves her. Driving is only one activity he shares with Martha. Studying in the front seat, tinkering with the motor, talking out loud. John is happy.
Other things happen in the backseat of Martha with local girls. That’s normal. And if John parks in his aunt’s garage and inhales the fading scent of exhaust while rubbing the front of his trousers – well. Boys.
John and Martha are struck by a drowsy lorry driver in an intersection, and John is trapped by the crushed door, head streaming blood, leg broken and half-strangled by his seat-belt. John sobs. He never knew Martha could hurt him this way, holding him down while he was in pain.
He is wary of Martha after that. He feels the same relief he’d felt after his parents died when Martha is sold for parts.
John loved Martha, and Martha turned on him.
John is finishing up his A-levels, packing, ready for university. He wants to become a doctor in the Army. He dates. It doesn’t work. He looks for connections. Yet another relationship falls apart, unsatisfying and frustrating. John is amiable and funny and normal, but something is missing. Something essential. It can’t be him. Can it?
And then he goes to London and yes - it is him. And not. It had to be right, the regard mutual. And now he knows.
She goes by a boy’s name, but John knows this for a joke. She’s all female, lovely and smooth and white. Older, yes, but that’s how these things go. And when he takes his lunches, sitting near her, he can hear her talking to him. She’s funny, in a wry way that makes him smile. She’s clever, tells him secrets no one else will ever know. She’s all he’s ever wanted. John knows she sees lots of other people, but they have an understanding. And when he finds a dark corner and takes himself in hand, fingers of his free hand splayed and rubbing on her, John knows she wants it too. She’s always waiting for him.
He never questions that his feelings are requited.
The other students don’t really understand why John spends so much time at Barts. But his exam results are excellent, and the Army is pleased to take him on.
It hurts John to leave her, but he knows she quite literally cannot leave London. And so when he is in Afghanistan, sweating in the darkness of his camp bed, he sees her in his mind’s eye, and oh god. Oh. Oh, God. He writes and writes and writes, emails, paper, postcards. The others think he is a bit mad, the amount he writes, but love is madness. John does know that the relationship he has with her will never be understood - he is a doctor for gods’ sake, he’s read journals. He signs his letters (the paper ones, she has no personal email address) with different names. He misses her but he doesn’t want to go home yet - he loves his work.
But oh how she hurts him - so remote. John is trying so hard not to feel the distance separating them. And John begins to dwell on it as time passes, and he feels sad at first, then a little angry.
Then he is shot, operated on, half-mad with infection and delirious and he calls, calls, cries, vomits, gasps. His recovery is slow, his heart desolate as his emotions fade from his heart - old ink on curling letter paper.
And that hurts more than his wounds.
Who were you calling for, the doctors ask him. There is no man here by that name, no woman, the doctors tell him. Barts, is that a real person, the doctors ask. Can you explain these emails you saved, these letters, the doctors ask.
John’s hand trembles.
He is back in London, grey and empty. His shoulder throbs, his leg requires a walking stick. But he knows why the Army really invalided him out. When his therapist recommends he start keeping a blog to try and reconnect with people, he covers his eyes and shakes with laughter.
Might as well. Not that he wants that link with people, not really. He knows from past experience. People hurt John as badly as any object could. As any object has.
With that last thought John realises - he could choose. This time, the object will be well-nigh indestructible, it will stay by him. This time he will embrace love with eyes open, knowing its potential to harm him.
It could even be fatal. That, too, would be his choice.
This thought comforts John. He is ready, and he has the shape of it in his mind.
And so John contacts a friend, who knows another friend who takes him to an alley and shows him something in the boot of a car lying amongst some greasy blankets. If you had told John Watson he would meet the love of his life in some grotty alley, he’d have laughed, blue eyes crinkling at the thought.
John doesn’t laugh. He looks and looks. He asks, How much? and pays. Then he picks his love up, cold metal and the scent of oil and hatched grip in his palm. Heavy. It feels right. He feels right. There is a sense of inevitability. They belong together, and this time John won't get hurt unless John chooses. Unless John hurts himself first.
John takes him to his bedsit, sits at the table, tracing the seams, the raised letters of the name on the side.
No, says the gun, because of course he talks to John, and only John, in his head. That’s not my name.
What is it, then? John asks.
The gun hums. I think you can guess it, John. You’re a clever man.
John thinks. Sigerson. Sig is your nickname.
Sigerson is happy and John feels the warmth of affection, approval from the weapon in his hand. Knew you’d get it.
Sigerson, I am so happy to have found you at last, John says. You have no idea.
John had been avoiding her, but now he goes to Barts to say his goodbyes to his old love, Mike Stamford stumping along at his side. With new eyes John sees her for what she is. A hospital, a public building. She looks old and shabby on the outside. Inside, it’s nothing like what he remembered with such fervour while he was abroad. It’s cold and modern and off-putting. In the end, it is easy for John to let her go in his heart at last.
He comments aloud to Mike on how she has changed since the last time he was in her. Mike grins, and introduces him to a man.
Improbably, John gains a new flatmate. Sherlock Holmes.
It’s pretty good. They get on together well. It’s good to have a friend. John can be a very good friend.
Things John loves hurt him.
John aims through the window. Sigerson jerks in John’s hand with kickback and his palm stings. Together, they kill a man. Some cabby. Not a nice person. His flatmate seems grateful, darting looks at him over the Chinese dinner after. But John’s not going to feel that for him, they’ve already sorted that out. It’s a weight off John’s mind, frankly. There’s going to be no awkwardness. Sherlock is married to his work and John’s heart is spoken for.
Sigerson stays in a drawer by John’s bed most of the time. When needed, Sigerson is the perfect companion. Some nights, John presses him to his heart. Some times John rubs his lips over the hatched grip and muzzle and they whisper to each other. On bad nights John holds him to his head or puts Sigerson in his mouth, eyes squeezed closed. But Sigerson will never hurt him. Not unless John consents. They both understand.
It’s happiness, or as close to it as John as ever known.
One night during a case Sherlock walks into into John’s room without knocking and freezes, looking between John and the gun held in his hand.
Were you just… I thought you were talking to someone.
John looks at him. I was.
Sherlock’s brows draw together. But…
It’s not your area. And it was a private conversation. So if you don’t mind…
John nods at the door. Sherlock blinks, but John doesn’t drop his gaze.
Knock next time. Or get a new flatmate.
Sherlock opens his mouth, closes it again. He leaves.
John’s thumb rubs over Sigerson’s name.
Things John loves can hurt him. If he chooses. It’s enough.
Sherlock doesn’t ask, and the subject never comes up again.