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Talking therapy

BBC Sherlock fic

Rating PG, pre-slash

Spoilers for The Great Game
Prompt asking for some John H/C (http://sherlockbbc-fic.livejournal.com/575.html?thread=677439#t677439)

John had sold his iPod shortly after he'd come to London and it was only in the summer after he'd moved into Baker Street that he decided he should at least get a cheap MP3 player. Given how infrequently Sherlock slept, he didn't want to take any chance of disturbing him when he did. It took him a week to work out how to use the radio tuner, but that night he'd finally got it sussed, and he lay down on his bed to listen. Then a light Irish voice said in his ear: "Good evening", and he ripped the earbuds out so quickly he almost made his ears bleed.

He'd put away the player and told himself he could cope. And perhaps he could. He had only had a couple of nights dreaming about Moriarty, which was not too bad. But three weeks later he was at Tate Britain, where Sherlock had another art fraud case. He was wandering about vaguely, as Sherlock darted through the galleries, and he'd got himself an audio guide, mainly because there were times when even he felt he'd had enough of Sherlock talking at him. He looked up at the big picture on the wall and punched in the number for the commentary...


One of the advantages of Sherlock's deductive powers was that he didn't mind much if you couldn't explain things. When he'd spotted John having a panic attack, he'd just switched off the audio guide and bundled John into the cafe for a hot drink, with barely a word exchanged. OK, he'd then left him for several hours while he interrogated half the Tate's staff, but at least it meant John had time to pull himself together. And Sherlock's gloating at having solved the problem took up most of the taxi ride home.

 Most, but not quite all.

"So it's the combination of headphones and particular phrases that sets you off, is it?" Sherlock suddenly asked John. "You don't start having hysterics just because I say 'swimming pool', do you?"

"You bastard! No, I don't, fortunately for you and the cabbie. But how did you know?"

"Standing in front of David Hockney's A Bigger Splash? What else could it be possibly be as a trigger? Have you talked to your therapist?"

"Not yet. We're still trying to work out my Afghan issues."

"And I'm making you accumulate traumas faster than you can recover from them. I see." They reached the flat, and Sherlock paid off the taxi.

"There's nothing for it, then," Sherlock added as they went inside. "If your therapist isn't going to do it, I'll have to help you with this."


"it's inconvenient if I have to start carrying an orange blanket around all the time."

"Sherlock-" John began, but Sherlock was already dashing upstairs.

John hesitated. His therapist had warned him about letting Sherlock mess with his mind, but that was practically part of the job description of being a friend of Sherlock. And he knew the signs: he was Sherlock's new project now, and trying to stop him at this stage would be like trying to halt a tank with your bare hands. If he went into the flat, it would end up happening somehow, whatever it was. But, he trusted Sherlock, didn't he? Stupid thing to do, but he did. Very deliberately, he sat down on the third step and systematically relaxed his muscles, before walking slowly  upstairs.

Sherlock was rapidly pushing piles of papers around in the living room, so he could relocate the armchair. He had a headset on and he handed John an earpiece as he came in.

"You sit here. I'll be behind you, less distracting. But right behind you, so you'll feel safe. The acoustics are going to be slightly weird, but I'm hoping that's not a key factor, it'd be tricky getting the authentic echo effect. Are you ready...are you OK to do this?"

"No eyeballs, no crossbows, no semtex. It's verging on the normal. Go ahead."

"Then start repeating after me. Evening."



John was confident, well, reasonably confident that Sherlock's plan wasn't actually going to make things worse. He hadn't believed it would help. But bizarrely, it did seem to be having some effect, he could feel his body slowly untensing. Moriarty hadn't said much to him, through him, after all, he hadn't been the person who mattered. So it was just the same few phrases repeated again and again. Repeated without anything happening. He didn't die, Sherlock didn't die. He could start to realise that it wasn't going to happen this time, become conscious of a world out there that wasn't accelerating into chaos.

After a while he became aware of the accents. There was a 'Bet you didn't see this coming' which had him waiting to hear the expected 'freak' after it. A bit later it was Lestrade, and then...

"I don't sound like that," he protested, "do I?"

"Only when you're very tired and slightly drunk," said Sherlock. "You're doing extremely well. Only one more accent to go."

The shock hit John in the stomach.

"No," he gulped. "I'm fine, I don't need any more help, I really think you've cracked it now."

Sherlock walked round the armchair and stood in front of John, staring at him. John forced himself to gaze back, as calmly as he could.

"It's  another of the potential triggers, isn't it?" said Sherlock. "Do you think I haven't noticed you changing channels whenever someone with an Irish accent comes on the TV? I should have said something about it before. "

"I can live an entirely happy life without ever watching Graham Norton." John replied.

"Moriarty doesn't actually sound that much like him," said Sherlock. "Oh, there's a very general similarity, but if you listen hard-"

"I'm sorry, I was a bit distracted at the time, and I'm not an expert on dialects. I suppose you could tell me exactly where Moriarty was born, down to the last street, just by his voice?"

"Possibly, but that's irrelevant. Stop trying to distract me, John. If we're doing this we need to do it thoroughly." Sherlock paused and then allowed more slowly: "Of course, if you've had enough for tonight?"

If they stopped now, maybe a new case might come up tomorrow and Sherlock would forget this. He looked up at Sherlock and knew he was wrong. Sherlock was very quietly panicking, because he'd realised now just how deeply the events at the pool had affected John, that he hadn't been able to shrug it off, as he'd claimed. And if Sherlock couldn't sort this out, he'd be back to blaming himself for what had happened to them then, just like when they'd been in hospital afterwards. And they'd get into that terrible spiral again, where the lingering pain they could see each other suffering only drove them both further down into guilt and recriminations and white lies that were black at the centre. He wasn't going back to that again, he had to break through these last fears now, for both their sakes.

"I'm OK for one more time," he said at last.

Sherlock half-smiled, and then froze, as if straining to catch one of the thousands of thoughts rushing through his mind.

"We need to do it differently this time," he announced.


"You're so concentrated on the sounds, that it's overwhelming you. We need to engage some of your other senses, dampen down the auditory input."

"What do you mean?"

"Taste, smell, sight...touch."

John could feel the blood draining from his face, and it was a struggle to work his mouth. "I would prefer...not wires", he forced out at last, concentrating very hard on not putting up his arms to shield his neck.

"No, you don't understand," said Sherlock. "I'm not trying to replicate the scene, I'm trying to weaken its hold on your body. You need different sensations, other things to engage with, to distract you from the images in your head. Taste?"

"I cannot eat anything and listen to you being Moriarty," said John, almost tasting the bile already. He didn't think it was necessary to add that all he'd be able to smell was his own sweat.

"Sight and touch then." Sherlock knelt down beside John's chair. Their eyes were almost level: with Sherlock's headset on, it looked like a slightly warped close-up from a TV talent show. Sherlock's hands reached out and grabbed John's forearms tightly.


"It'll remind you of the real physical world here, now. Look into my eyes, John. Keep on looking and you...we can get through this."

Sherlock's gaze was so intense that John wondered if he was being hypnotised, but he forced himself to stare back, to focus on the pale irises, even as Sherlock opened his mouth, and that soft, flexible, evil voice came out, and Sherlock's hands were crushing his bones, and if he could just keep looking at Sherlock, it would be OK. But soon he couldn't bear that fierce, absorbed gaze – did Sherlock never need to blink? – and fixed instead on Sherlock's mouth, even white teeth...full, mobile lips. Sherlock is talking to me, so I'm not going to get hurt, no, but Sherlock might get hurt, no, don't think that, Sherlock's  grip is hard and confident and warm on my arms...would his lips feel the same? If he twisted his head just right, the microphone wouldn't get in the way...

He realised just in time that if he did kiss Sherlock, it'd stop him talking, and Sherlock would probably insist on going back to the start again. The sudden incongruity dampened his fear, and he could concentrate now on slowing his breath, calming his mind, this cannot harm me, I am in control, Sherlock is in control.

"No you won't," Moriarty's voice gloated, and Sherlock's grip on his arms relaxed. John slumped forward instinctively, but then forced himself to sit up, look at Sherlock, hear him released back into his own, slightly manic tones.

"It's worked, I think it's worked, do you think it's worked?"

"It's...yeah, it's..good. Thanks for that." John managed a few more gulps for air.

"Was it OK, really? Are you all right?"

"Fine, it was just, just a bit long. Why did you go through the whole of the scene at the pool that time? Not just Moriarty talking to me, but you as well?"

"I wanted to check there were no other trigger words, but I would have stopped if I'd thought you couldn't take anymore, really I would." Sherlock's grin was broadening. "We've done it, haven't we, John, you've done it? Or do you think it needs more? I can do it again if it'd help, reinforce key pathways in the brain."

"No." John said firmly.


"Sherlock, you imitating Moriarty to help me out is incredible. Doing it again because you are enjoying the acting is really not right. And I'd like to keep the circulation in my arms, thank you." He was going to have some very embarrassing bruises tomorrow, but never mind.

"So what now? What does the doctor order?"

"A shower, a takeaway, a beer or two, and then maybe an early night. I'm not really in the state for moonlight chases."

"OK. I'll be around if you start having nightmares again."

"Thanks," said John and headed off to clean himself up.


"Were you OK last night?" Sherlock asked as John came down for breakfast the next morning. "No nightmares about the pool?"

"No nightmares," said John, "it was all fine, just fine."

Fortunately, at that moment something exploded in the microwave, and by the time they'd dealt with that Lestrade was phoning to say that he'd just had a fax from Interpol thanking him for his offer of help in the Baron Gruner case, and who the hell had Sherlock been impersonating now? John was reasonably confident that Sherlock wouldn't remember to ask anything more about his dreams the previous night. Which was just as well, because he was lousy at lying at the best of times, especially to Sherlock.

He hadn't technically been lying, of course, because it was true it hadn't been a nightmare, even if he had dreamt about being back at the pool. Standing there in the near darkness, with Sherlock's hands biting into his arms and saying - and it had been his own voice, not Moriarty's – 'I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.' It hadn't been terror that had woken John out of the dream, sweating and with his heart beating a little too rapidly. But he wasn't going to tell Sherlock that, and he hoped to God his subconscious never betrayed him. There were some things it was best never to talk about.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 11th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, I really like this! Sherlock is so worried, and then so excited about helping un-trigger John's triggers. It's interesting to see how his mind works with this project, and that what he does actually helps.

QUITE pre-slashy, I think. :-)
Sep. 12th, 2010 07:45 am (UTC)
Quit a few of my fics end up having some mental health aspects to them. I'm trying to be careful and not show anything either completely unrealistic or any treatment that's too dangerous. Though I suspect this kind of experiment by an amateur would still give any medical professional kittens, as you can't predict what the effects will be. ;-)
Sep. 12th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
Yes, his wanting to do it AGAIN because it's FUN isn't the greatest idea - MOST of his experiments would probably give professionals kittens. XD
Sep. 12th, 2010 09:50 am (UTC)
this is amazing, I loved the twist at the end. Really well written :)
Sep. 25th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
This is amazing! Totally loved it!
Sep. 26th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
> thanking him for his offer of help in the Baron Gruner case, and who the hell had Sherlock been impersonating now?

LOL! Love the remark about the classic case. Very sweet story; you got the friendship mojo down. Cheers!
Aug. 6th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Talking therapy
This piece was well done.

he should at least get a cheap MP3 player

The phone John was given by Harry is MP3-enabled. Could he have used that?

The whole bit about finding an Irish-accented voice speaking to him through earbuds - that's brilliantly perceptive. Of *course* he would have a good reason to find that triggery. *All* the survivors of that sick little game would, come to think of it. (God knows what *else* Moriarty said to them to work them into the state most of them were in, come to that...)

One of the advantages of Sherlock's deductive powers was that he didn't mind much if you couldn't explain things.

I agree. He didn't need John to drop his habitual reserve which made him so terribly uncooperative in therapy. (Not that that lets Sherlock take the place of therapy; Sherlock's still a civilian, and couldn't give John a sounding board as a fellow soldier might be able to.)

Sorry. Digression RE worldbuilding, always a weakness of mine.

OK. So the triggers identified so far are "headphones + accent" and "headphones + trigger phrases." *Very* well thought out on your part.

I'm glad that Sherlock isn't just experimenting because he's thinking of this as a bright shiny new thing, and that John realizes that Sherlock's panicking because he's now realized that John has a problem. To be fair, John would've been stoic about the whole thing, I don't doubt, and would've avoided giving Sherlock feedback about what he really felt. Gallows humor and snark as a defense mechanism, that would be the ticket.

white lies that were black at the centre

Ah. Good one.

a fax from Interpol thanking him for his offer of help in the Baron Gruner case, and who the hell had Sherlock been impersonating now?

:) I'd quite like to know that myself.

There were some things it was best never to talk about.

*whacks John with rolled up newspaper* No biscuit, John. (The author gets one, though, so to speak.)

Minor nitpicks:
shrug off it - I'm used to seeing this as "shrug it off".

in the hospital - I *think* UK usage would drop the 'the'.
Sep. 10th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Talking therapy
Sorry for the delay in replying - been rushing around doing other things. Thanks first of all for pointing out the nitpicks, which have been fixed. Unfortunately, I can't fix my glaring error about the MP3 player (I think this was written before I had the DVD of the series and I'd forgotten that). So all I can ask is that you excuse that, possibly by presuming that Sherlock is so prone to wandering off with John's phone that John's decided he needs an alternative music player.

Glad you thought the trigger idea worked - I'm a bit wary of fics where all John's psychological problems get effortlessly solved by Sherlock, but it sounds like this kind of specific technique is used as treatment for some forms of PTSD, and it didn't seem too dangerous for Sherlock to try.

I'm sorry you felt the need to whack John for keeping quiet: it took me a while to get comfortable writing slash, so my earliest fics are all preslash or het. As for Baron Gruner, he turns up again in a later fic although with a far more outrageous Sherlock this time.
Sep. 10th, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Talking therapy
Thanks first of all for pointing out the nitpicks, which have been fixed.

Thank you for your patience with *me*. :)

I'm a bit wary of fics where all John's psychological problems get effortlessly solved by Sherlock

I agree. It was well handled, I thought.

I'm sorry you felt the need to whack John for keeping quiet: it took me a while to get comfortable writing slash, so my earliest fics are all preslash or het.

Sorry; that wasn't meant as any kind of shot at you. I grouse at the characters sometimes for being in character. It was well written.

As for Baron Gruner, he turns up again in a later fic although with a far more outrageous Sherlock this time.

I've actually read that one, but am only rather slowly working through my stack of things I really need to review. More about that one when I review that one. :) (I have a weakness for The Illustrious Client...)

Edited at 2011-09-10 10:08 pm (UTC)
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:32 am (UTC)
I was amused by this, probably improperly. It was Sherlock's gleeful delight in a course of treatment that would cause a trained, responsible, sensible, slow-moving medical professional to hold up their hands in horror.

Sometimes a well-intentioned friend can do great good though. I think Sherlock manages it here. Just don't tell Ella. At any rate you pull off the story with panache.

I love mental health-themed fics (or the credible ones; it's a mixed bag out there) and have just discovered yours. I will be delving further into the archive.
Dec. 8th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed this - I've had mental health problems myself, so I try not to have any implausibly easy solutions for them in my stories. But desensitisation is one normal way of dealing with some aspects of PTSD, so I thought I could let Sherlock get away with that.
Dec. 8th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I don't know much about PTSD treatment but I do vaguely know that desensitisation is a treatment - didn't mean to imply it was inherently irresponsible. Sherlock's utter glee, and desire to keep doing it because it's fun though, that makes me imagine the mental health profession having kittens.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )