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Seeing vs. Observing

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1. Harry Watson

John comes back from Afghanistan to find a sister who's drowning in drink, halfway—or more—to divorced, and entirely falling apart.

It makes sense, after that, to hide—or at least downplay—what's happened to him, because Harry seems one burden away from breaking completely. Not that John's completely selfless, or that he thinks it's "just a scratch," the way he's heard some soldiers try to dismiss the fact that they're missing limbs, but he's a doctor. He's made a career out of recognizing people's limits, and this is Harry's.

And, of course, John loves her, because she's his sister, but right now it's hard to like her very much at all.

So the reason for his limp stays secret, and Harry makes the usual assumptions—bullet wound, shrapnel, traumatic to talk about—and doesn't say anything. She seems relieved, actually, to be able to focus on her own problems rather than his, and John is happy enough to let her. He's already gone through months of physical therapy and visits with psychologists and doctors and he's had enough of people looking at him like he's a cripple. He's not. He just has to work a little harder, a little differently than everyone else.

(Besides, talking about the war only makes him miss it, and he's not supposed to miss it, not when it cost him a good portion of his shoulder and his leg from the knee down.)

And then, of course—because nothing can ever be easy, or stay easy—she walks in on him while he's cleaning the prosthesis, boxers pulled up above the scarring on his right thigh.

Of the myriad ways in which John could have told her, this is probably the least ideal.

She's angry that he didn't tell her. Self-pitying, which drives John right to the edge of his patience. Hurt, because this means he doesn't see her as reliable—which, honestly, he doesn't, not while she's drunk more often than not, but it's still the final straw.

The army's bedsit is preferable to Harry when she's like this, and far more convenient in terms of his continuing therapy, and John removes himself from Harry's flat with little regret.

2. Mike Stamford

Mike notices it almost immediately, and is awkward in the way that most people tend to be when they see the fake limb right off the bat. He's more courteous than he needs to be, more careful of John's emotional state than he ever was in school. It takes a few bad jokes to get over it and ease him into an actual conversation—about the limb, perhaps, and why John chose a basic stump-and-socket prosthesis over osseointegration, but it's still conversation. Normal doctor-to-doctor conversation, too, rather than doctor-to-soldier-and-patient, which is something John hasn't had in a very long time.

In fact, it's talking about John's therapy and his current accommodations that leads John to scoff at the thought of finding somewhere else in London on an army pension. He taps his foot against the prosthesis and huffs, "Who'd want me as a flatmate, anyway?"

Mike pauses for a brief moment, as though struck by a sudden thought, and then turns to study John with an assessing eye. When John raises a brow at him, he smiles a little and says, as though it's a private joke, "You know, you're the second person to say that to me today."

3. Mrs. Hudson

John would quite happily go the rest of his life without anyone unexpectedly walking in on him when he's (half) naked. Unfortunately, the world seems to enjoy laughing at his pain, because Mrs. Hudson manages to surprise him coming out of the shower, prosthesis newly reattached and a bit awkward, clad only in a towel.

"Oh, my," she says, blinking at him.

John debates the merits of sprinting for his room, but his dignity is still in the "twitching" phase of its gruesome death-by-Sherlock and not completely stiff and cold yet, so he holds his ground and says politely, "What can I do for you, Mrs. Hudson?"

Instead of saying anything, she just giggles and waves him away, continuing down the stairs at a pace that's fairly sprightly for a hip like hers.

It's only then that John remembers he was with Sarah last night, and they'd been doing a bit more than just holding hands. There's a mark on his neck, in full view without his usual protective layers, and doubtless Mrs. Hudson has come to the wrong conclusion about his and Sherlock's relationship yet again.

"Oh god damn it," John sighs, and gives it up as a bad job.

4. Greg Lestrade

No matter what Sherlock has to say about Gregory Lestrade, the man isn't stupid. He's a detective in his own right, and if he looks a bit dull next to Sherlock, well, so would stars going supernova. John really, honestly likes him, and thinks he's a good chap, and after a month of dealing with Sherlock every night, he breaks down and invites the man out for a beer.

Normal might have been the bane of his former existence, but right now John is craving it, if only just for a few hours.

Of course, Sherlock goes off into one of his epic sulks while John is getting ready to leave, and by the time John's hidden his gun where he is (reasonably) certain Sherlock won't be able to find it and disposed of several of the more dangerous chemicals Sherlock could feasibly use to make an IED, he's late. Jogging to the pub—because he doesn't have Sherlock's nearly supernatural ability to summon cabs out of thin air—just makes him later, so by the time John throws himself into the chair opposite Lestrade, he's taking rather less care to conceal his leg than he normally does.

(Not that he's ashamed of it, or thinks that Lestrade will pity him, but because it's habit, and it's easier, even if Lestrade has already seen what he can do.)

"Sorry, sorry," he huffs disgustedly, stripping off his coat, because even though the night is cool he's warm from running. "Sherlock was being a prat."

Lestrade snorts and pushes a second glass across the table. "I figured," he says in weary amusement, and raises his own glass. "To great men, then, and may he become a good one before either of us murders him out of sheer self-preservation."

"Cheers," John agrees, clinking glasses, and promptly drops his wallet. He curses as it tumbles under the table.

"Here, I've got it." Lestrade ducks down to pick it up, and freezes half-under the table. John blinks at his still back, and then looks down as well, to see that his pant let has ridden up above his shoe and sock. Whatever can be said for the prosthesis, it doesn't look like a real leg.

"Ah," John sighs as Lestrade slowly straightens up, brows raised, and slides the wallet back to him. "Yeah, that's what got me sent home. Improvised land mine."

Unlike most people would, Lestrade doesn't ask for the story. He simply nods, takes another drink, and offers, "If we cut Sherlock off at the knees and got him two of those, you think he'd wait for the police like he should?"

"Not a chance in hell," John informs him with a grin, and Lestrade sighs, looking disappointed but not surprised.

5. Sarah Sawyer

"Oh," Sarah says the first time she sees him without his trousers, and suddenly she doesn't quite seem to know where to look. Her eyes linger on the prosthesis, the scars, and then jerk guiltily up to John's face.

John gets a bit of a sinking feeling in his gut.

"Right," he says grimly, and the mood is utterly dead now, so he pulls his trousers back on and goes to fins his shirt.

Sarah stops him at the door, wrapped in a silk robe, and she's really very pretty. Much too pretty for John, who's so obsessed with his flatmate that he can't even mention a bloody fake leg to his girlfriend. But there's a look on her face—partly resignation and partly wry amusement and a very little bit of sadness, which is really the biggest clue of all—that says she knows exactly what he's thinking right now. And she agrees.

"I'm sorry," John tells her helplessly. "I thought I'd said something. It's just…"

"Sherlock," she finishes for him, wrapping her robe around her a little more tightly. "It's all right."

It's really not, but there's nothing John can say that will make it better.

He doesn't bother asking if they can still be friends. They either will or they won't, and asking might just make their chances for "will" even worse than they are at the moment. Rather, he nods once, sharply—almost a salute, but that thought nearly makes him giggle because his flatmate is insane and apparently it's catching—turns on his heel, and walks away.

Looking back, it's probably the kindest thing he could have done.

(Because there's Sherlock. Oh god, there's Sherlock.)

+1. Sherlock

(But none of those others matter, not what they say or think or do, because—)

Sharp grey eyes in a ghost-pale face look up at him from across the lab. John stills, feels himself falling into the careful stance of a soldier once again, even though it's harder than normal.

The strange man hands John's phone back and asks, "Afghanistan or Iraq?"

He sees what no one else does, and it's brilliant.

And after that…