If he had to pinpoint the exact moment that he'd known his lot in life was to live in constant pain, it was the night his father had come home drunk as a lord and smacked his mother so hard she passed out. He was only seven that night, and his sister was eleven, and neither of them had been safe from his father's wrath. It wasn't clear what had actually started the near slaughter, but what had ended it was the arrival of the police just as his vision faded to black.
That was the first time he saw the White Lady. It wasn't Her title, or even Her name, but he would always think of Her as the White Lady, even when he grew old enough to understand exactly what She was. Laying eyes on Her, at that moment, even as young as he was, he knew his life had changed.
When he woke up in the hospital and saw Her eyes staring at him out of the face of the smiling nurse checking his vitals, he wasn't sure if his nausea was drug- or fear-induced. She patted him on the head, like his mother used to do when he got a good grade on a test, and then disappeared into the ward. He'd never seen that nurse again.
Then there was the time he'd protected Harry, who had just revealed her sexual preferences to his incredulous mother and step-father. Step-father had wordlessly taken off his belt and Mother had lifted a wooden spoon from the counter. It was pure adrenaline that allowed him to throw his 12-year-old body over his 16-year-old sister's, allowing him to absorb the worst of their blows. The White Lady had been waiting for him when darkness fell behind his eyes.
It was in the ambulance this time that he woke up to Her eyes, soft and sad in the face of a young black woman. She held his hand until the gurney was pulled into the A&E of the local hospital. As he'd stared into those eyes, he'd sworn he would never reveal anything to his parents about his sexual preferences.
In med school, his first girlfriend left him for his sister. The next year, his second girlfriend left him for his roommate. The third year, his first boyfriend suffered a psychotic break and shot him. Luckily, he was already in the hospital doing his internship rounds, but he still couldn't fight the blackness that swept away his vision.
Somehow, that time was different. He was angry this time, furious even, and he'd ranted for what felt like hours while the White Lady reclined beneath a red-trunked, cyan-leaved tree of awkward dimensions. She had been very understanding, affectionately concerned for his well-being. He remembered Her long, skeletal arms wrapping around him in a secure hug that broke him into a sobbing mess.
A new purpose had filled him when he woke and stared into Her eyes in the face of a pretty blonde doctor. Like a concerned mother She kissed his forehead sweetly before disappearing into the stark white corridor. He would not let this continue, he would not become a slave to the pain. He would become a force against it, in defiance of it, and he would never allow himself to break again.
Joining the Army at Her behest had been the best decision of his life. The RAMC had welcomed him with open arms, especially with his high academic scores and his obvious potential. He'd moved up in the ranks very quickly, was considered - despite his quiet self-effacement - a hero to many men and women who had the luck to find their wounded selves beneath his caring hands.
Officers pushed medals onto his sash, despite his repetition that he'd only been doing his duty. Promotions were pushed through and approved, amidst vigorous protests that he was undeserving. His brothers- and sisters-in-uniform were nearly falling over themselves to follow his orders. Some were falling over themselves to get into his bed.
The nurse he allowed himself to date shot herself in the head during a shelling, unable to deal with the stress any longer. The orderly he'd fallen into bed with one night was caught in a suicide bombing two days later, and the smile on the younger man's face as he'd left the tent that morning was burned forever into his mind. Those who died beneath his hands haunted his dreams, no matter how much alcohol he poisoned himself with or how exhausted his shifts left him.
But he wasn't invincible, no matter how much the men under his command, or in command of him, insisted. Damned close to it, yes, but he knew that one well-aimed shot or one successful explosion could change that in an instant. He had no delusion of his own mortality, and took many precautions to keep himself wary. Even that didn't stop him from being shot in the back by a racist Sergeant while he was dragging a dying Afghani boy into camp.
The pain was intense, of course - his entire shoulder and chest shrieked with it, but he repeated the words of the White Lady like a prayer as he dragged the fading boy across the slippery sands, the scent of blood and dust sharp in his nose. 'It's only pain,' he repeated to himself as he bled, refusing to let anyone even consider helping him until the child had been seen to. One of the men sent out into the desert to retrieve him turned as the Sergeant barreled into the hospital tent and held up his M16 shouting that he would fire.
He wasn't aware if he'd thought at all, but suddenly the world had gone clear as crystal as he glanced at the bellowing Sergeant. With practiced ease he whipped the revolver from his comrade's holster, leveled it, and fired. 'To the End with you,' he'd breathed softly in a voice not his own, watching without emotion as the Sergeant's head whipped back from the force of the bullet as it drove through his skull.
Only snippets of memory remained after that, like some weird movie montage. The shocked faces of his comrades, introducing his face to the sandy floor, the searing pain, the sound of his colleagues frantically trying to save his life. They fixed his shoulder as well as they could, but fever took him the next day and spun him around like a top in a tornado.
The fever brought the darkness this time, and he decided on seeing the White Lady that he could no longer suffer through this kind of abuse. It was nothing personal, he loved saving lives and all, but with a ruined shoulder he would be sent home to wallow in pain and uselessness. She understood, as always, and hugged him tightly while wishing him good luck.
Eyes opening to yet another hospital, Her eyes peered at him through an aging candy striper. Patting him on the head She kissed his cheek and whispered how much She would miss him. It was the last time he thought about Her, or much of anything for that matter, until he bumped into an old friend in the park.
Mike certainly had changed from their school days, but he was just as cheery as he'd been back then. It was an odd coincidence that, when his luck was running out, an old school chum popped into his life with the answer to his prayers. Deciding not to think to hard about it, he agreed to meet Mike's friend and followed him towards their Alma Mater teaching hospital at his new steady, limping pace.
Never before had he met a man like Sherlock Holmes. Brilliant in his capability to read the lives of people by their clothes and belongings, yet completely lacking in some primary school and pop culture knowledge, Sherlock was just the punch of adrenaline he'd been missing since being invalided home. The man was bloody addicted to danger and puzzles (dangerous puzzles being his favorite), and he seemed to have no sense of self preservation.
It was so thrilling to be back in the proverbial saddle that his limp disappeared. On especially cold days, his shoulder might ache fiercely but, nothing a little paracetamol couldn't fix. Sherlock ran him ragged, but he gamely rose to the challenge. He liked having a friend like Sherlock Holmes, even if he wasn't entirely sure the word 'friend' could truly be applied. Many of his own problems, his own insecurities, dimmed to worthlessness as he and the consulting detective rushed around London.
The greatest part of the companionship was forgetting all about the war and the pain of his life, the nightmares dwindling under the stress of exhaustion. Most of all, he forgot about the White Lady, who never appeared to him in dreams, never spoke to him in whispers in the hospital corridors or peered at him from the eyes of morticians. She left him alone as he had requested, until the night everything went wrong.
Seeing Sherlock about to swallow the suicide pill brought all the anger and rage back to fiery life in his veins. Though he wasn't really Her servant anymore, the old words slipped quietly from his tongue as he leveled his Browning at the window and aimed for the cabbie. The shot was perfect, as it always was whenever he invoked Her, and the cabbie fell backwards. He fled the building as Sherlock spun around in confusion.
He found himself invoking Her often after that, especially when he'd been strapped into that stupid bomb. Begging to Her silently to keep him safe, to keep Sherlock safe, to swallow their enemies into Her dark abyss. She never spoke to him, though, keeping Her promise not to trouble him until he passed on again into black sleep.
Then came the Fall. So much pain, too much, he couldn't breathe, couldn't sleep, couldn't think. Sherlock's drop from the roof left his heart shattered in a billion pieces on the concrete. Never before had he been so attached to someone, felt such all-consuming anguish, as he had for the greatest man he'd ever known.
The limp returned, so did the useless therapist. People looked at him with sad eyes and told them how sorry they were, not that Sherlock had died, but that he'd been so taken in by a madman. It was the first time in a very long time that he allowed himself to feel the full wrath of his own anger and hatred, snapping at people with vicious barbs to drive them and their misunderstanding stupidity as far away as he could.
When he found Sherlock's belongings being packed away by the landlady, he instantly began to unpack the boxes, giving her a look of such pure sorrow she started to cry. She left him to rearrange the flat exactly as they'd left it, refusing to let up hope that the man was dead. He hadn't even gotten the chance to tell him how much he'd meant to an injured ex-army soldier who had nothing and no one to live for.
That night he spread a tarpaulin over the floor, carefully moving furniture out of the way, and he dropped to his knees with a painful grunt smack in the middle. Unrolling his personal field surgery kit, he selected the largest scalpel he owned and neatly slit his arms open. Before his life ran out, he scrambled to smear Her symbol on the floor, and bowed his head to call out across the abyss for the comfort of the White Lady.
AN: This Prologue has been revised by my Beta Milky Etoile from Beat Nook group, part of the Imagination: Unleashed community. Thanks girl!