Original Story Title: We Only Part to Meet Again
Original Story Link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/360901/chapters/585263
Original Story Pairings: Sherlock/John
Original Story Rating: Mature
Original Story Warnings/Content Notes: Reichenbach
Remix Author: cherrytide
Remix Story Title: Corsica
Remix Story Pairings: John/Sherlock
Remix Story Rating: Mature
Remix Story Warnings/Content Notes: Reichenbach, aftermath of violence, head injuries.
Remix Story Beta: A huge thank you to xock for doing a fabulous betaing job. Any remaining mistakes are my own.
Remix Story Britpicker: n/a
Summary: During the hiatus a homesick Sherlock encounters a version of John on a beach in Corsica.
Mycroft’s agent is waiting on the runway, camera phone in hand. Sherlock moves carefully, trying to keep his movements as smooth and natural as possible, and hoping the dim light will hide his bruises. She says nothing as Sherlock approaches, but raises the phone as soon as he gets close and snaps a picture. The flash of light sends pain bursting through Sherlock’s head.
“Don’t send that picture to my brother,” Sherlock says.
“Of course not,” she replies, from which Sherlock understands that she already has. “Are you sure you’re in a fit state to travel, Mr Holmes?”
“Obviously,” Sherlock says. “I’ve a lead I need to follow in Budapest. If you’ll take me…”
Mycroft’s agent shakes her head. “My orders are to take you to a safe house.”
Sherlock’s hands clench, anger thrumming in his ears. “I don’t need a safe house, I need—“ he has to pause, because a wave of dizziness has passed through him like heat, causing him to stagger slightly. The agent sighs, and he feels a hand on his upper arm.
“On the plane,” she says, firmly.
“My name’s Anthea, by the way,” the agent says, as she takes out a medical kit and begins to look Sherlock over.
“No, it isn’t,” Sherlock says.
“No,” the agent concedes. “But if you want to call me something…”
“Why would I want to do that?” Sherlock asks.
Agent Pseudonym only shrugs at that. “Can you tell me today’s date, Mr Holmes?”
The agent subjects him to a battery of medical tests as the plane is prepared for flight. Her hands are dry and cool, and her manner is distant and Sherlock can’t help thinking of John. In his old life he’d rather looked forward to receiving minor injuries if only because of the opportunity they gave to see John slipping into doctor mode. Sherlock had liked that, liked to watch the interplay between John’s precise, practised movements and the emotions that could still be seen flickering across his expressive eyes – worry, concern, relief. The agent’s cool touch on his skin is like John’s and yet so utterly unlike that it makes Sherlock feel like an iron band is tightening around his lungs.
“You have a concussion,” the agent concludes. “Two cracked ribs. I don’t think the bruising is anything to worry about.”
“Of course it isn’t.”
The agent gives him a cool searching look. “You will take time to recover, Mr Holmes. That isn’t negotiable.”
Sherlock bares his teeth in a snarl, looking away from her. In truth, he knows she’s right. The Budapest operation is far too important to risk while he is still staggering about the place from the blow to the head. But the thought of stopping, even for a few days, makes his skin itch.
The phone in his pocket buzzes, shocking him back into the moment. He picks up.
“What do you want?”
“Ah, Sherlock,” Hearing Mycroft’s voice feels like a having a slick of oil spill all over him, cool and cloying. “Still alive, then?”
“My commiserations,” says Sherlock.
“Anthea has estimated a minimum recovery time of two weeks. I suppose I can make the necessary preparations for the Budapest operation by then.”
Sherlock turns to glare at the agent, who is now leaning back in her chair, smiling placidly at her Blackberry.
“Five days,” Sherlock says. “Maximum.”
“Ten,” Mycroft says. “Only if Anthea thinks you pass muster. I can’t have you jeopardising matters by charging in when you aren’t fit for duty.”
Sherlock huffs. “Is that woman even medically qualified?”
“Extensively,” Mycroft says. “Why, would you prefer a different doctor?”
Sherlock is silent a fraction too long. “No.”
Mycroft’s sigh is a burst of static in Sherlock’s ear. “If you want me to, I can arrange -“
“No,” Sherlock repeats, and screws his face up against a fresh wave of pain passing through his head. “What I want, Mycroft, is to go to Budapest so that I can finish this. This operation has already gone on too long.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, brother mine.”
“Supposedly, it was destroyed in three days,” Sherlock says, and pauses. “It’s been almost a year.”
“You have all the charm of the barbarian hordes, Sherlock,” Mycroft says. “But there is only one of you.”
Sherlock snorts. There is a pause and Sherlock reflects that in the usual course of their conversations one of them would have hung up by now. It says something about the last few months that now even Mycroft’s voice feels like comfort.
“Keep Anthea informed on any developments,” Mycroft says. “I’ll be in touch.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” Sherlock says and the line goes dead.
The agent sighs, shuffles in her seat and pulls out a book. She turns to Sherlock, an open packet in her hand, as around them the engines begin to roar into life.
“Peanut?” she asks.
They land in Ajaccio, Corsica. Sherlock might have guessed that Mycroft would send a patient suffering from concussion to a place where the sunlight is about 300 per cent brighter than it ought to be. The colours in this place are all hellishly bright: the palm trees burn like green fire, the red rocks of the coastline glitter painfully in the heat, and the sea is a shade of turquoise that seems calculated to sear itself onto his visual field. He winces.
“It will be a couple of hours. You’d be better off trying to nap,” says the agent.
“With you behind the wheel of the car? Unlikely.”
“You think I’m a bad driver?”
“I think you work for my brother.” Sherlock leans his head back against the car seat, curling his fists until his fingernails bite at his palms.
The agent hums noncommittally. “Suit yourself.”
They arrive after a painful two hours, in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. A bank of sand dunes rises to one side of them, and beyond them Sherlock can see the ocean. Under a fringe of palm trees slumps a dilapidated beach hut.
“Is this your idea of a safe house?”
“Safe enough,” the agent hops down from the car and looks around at the beach. “No potential problems for miles.”
It is true, Sherlock reflects Corsica is one of the few places in the world that Moriarty’s network hasn’t spread tendrils into. He can be reasonably confident that no one here is looking for him. Not yet, anyway.
“Right,” he says, and steps out onto the sand. His city shoes sink into it.
“There’s a village two miles away,” the agent says. “I’ll go and get some supplies. You should rest.”
The inside of the hut is blessedly dark after the dazzling sunshine. Dimly he can make out a low trestle table, and in the far corner a rudimentary kitchen – sink, shelves, gas ring. There’s a door at the other end of the kitchen, with a suitcase propped against the door. Presumably the agent’s quarters.
Sherlock moves to the back of the hut, where another door stands ajar. Inside is box sized room with a single shuttered window and a bed neatly made up. Intended for him, undoubtedly. Sherlock doesn’t bother to pull back the sheets, but lies down on top of the coverlet and quickly drifts off.
When he wakes, the sun is still streaming in through the gaps in the shutters, but the light has a softer quality than before. Sherlock staggers out into the main room. There is no sign of Mycroft’s agent but it is clear she has been here – the table is set, a bowl of olives, a loaf of bread, some soft cheese and a couple of figs lying on plates. Sherlock eats an olive and tears off a piece of bread before heading out. His head still complains at the light, but the ache is muted now. His shoes are no good in the soft sand so he takes them off, and leaves them on the porch with his socks. The sand burns as it makes contact with his feet but Sherlock doesn’t mind. It distracts him from his aching head.
Sherlock wanders over heaped sand dunes towards the shoreline – he looks around him, trying to assemble a mental map of the area. the land makes a wide curve here, ruddy cliff face rising up to his right while to his left white sand stretches out into the distance. By the water’s edge he finds an old fishing boat, rotting hull half sunk in the sand. Sherlock clambers inside and sits on the sternsheet. There is a mess of fraying plastic netting at the bottom, and an upturned half-rusted pail. He wonders what it would take to restore the boat. Push it out on the water and float away on it, far from Mycroft and his lackeys and their never-ending concern. From criminal gangs and tacky airport lounges and crowbars and everything that isn’t home.
Sherlock buries his face in his hands, hating everything.
And then from somewhere, distantly, he hears the sound of sand shifting under someone’s feet.
He raises his head and he looks back at the beach. A distant figure in a blue jumper is walking across the dunes towards him – he pauses as he reaches a ridge of sand and waves at Sherlock, who automatically raises a hand in acknowledgment.
Sherlock stares at the silhouette of the man, short, solid, moving with a sense of purpose.. What business could anyone have on this godforsaken beach? He isn’t a fisherman, Sherlock can tell that from the set of his shoulders.
The man finds a spot halfway up the dunes and sits down in the sand, staring out at the sea. His body is still, posture taut, expectant. There is something very familiar about the pose.
Sherlock’s heart starts to beat, uncomfortably. It isn’t possible.
Carefully, he gets to his feet. The heat of the sand on his feet doesn’t seem to sting anymore as he crosses the beach towards the sitting man.
As he moves closer the man’s features slide into focus, and every particle of doubt disappears. Sherlock’s heart clenches in his chest.
“John,” the word forces itself out of Sherlock’s tight throat.
John turns, looking up at him. Blue eyes meet Sherlock’s and John’s face breaks into a broad smile.
Sherlock feels winded, the world around him taking on a rushing quality as he stares down at his friend. He finds himself kneeling in the sand, John’s hands on his shoulders.
“All right. You’re all right.” The voice in his ears is impossibly kind.
“John. You can’t be here. How?”
John tuts, and shifts to a kneeling position beside Sherlock, warm hand resting between Sherlock’s shoulder blades.
“You needed a doctor,” says John. “So of course I came.”
Sherlock turns to him, eyes searching. His face is so close to Sherlock’s now, so close that he can see every detail. John has been driving through the afternoon, with the sun on his right side - the tan on one side of his face subtly deeper than the other. His eyes look different in this light, bluer than in London. His eyelashes are dark at the roots and pale at the ends - the sunlight seems to bleach the very tips of them.
“You weren’t expecting me, were you?” says John, his voice vibrating with familiar fondness. “I really gave you a shock.”
“Did Mycroft send you?”
John pauses, and looks out thoughtfully at the sea. “He must have, mustn’t he?”
Sherlock ought to be angry at having his wishes disregarded but instead he feels an utterly embarrassing swell of gratitude, half choking his airways.
“John, do you have any idea-?”
Sherlock blinks. They are in the beach hut, sitting at the wooden table. Opposite him, John breaks open a fig, takes a bite of the fleshy insides.
“Delicious. You must thank Anthea.”
“Her name isn’t Anthea,” Sherlock says. “How did we get here?”
“We were on the beach.” Sherlock says. “I was sitting on the boat and then you…”
John gives him a look of amused pity. “That was some head injury, wasn’t it?”
Sherlock touches his scalp, feeling the bruise. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Good,” John says absently. He passes half of the fig into Sherlock’s hand, takes another hearty bite of his, licking juice off his fingers. “You need to eat that, Sherlock. You know I hate it when you don’t eat.”
Sherlock takes a cautious bite – he’s never much liked figs. But now he thinks he can taste that it’s been in John’s hands, transformed in the process. It tastes nourishing, sweet. He feels a warmth spread across his chest like sunlight. John is here. He’s sitting opposite him and smiling as if everything in the world were well again.
It isn’t, Sherlock reminds himself. He’s half way through dismantling a criminal web, and more than half the assassins in Europe are looking for him. He received a crow bar to the head less than 24 hours ago. A little more force and it would have fractured his skull.
He’s playing a dangerous game, and he’s losing.
John frowns at him. “You’re wishing I wasn’t here.”
“No,” says Sherlock. Then, “Yes.”
John puts down the fig and looks away from Sherlock, expression suddenly cold. Shadows seem to move across his face and Sherlock is reminded of another conversation they had had when John had looked at him like that – in front of the fireplace, in Baskerville. I don’t have friends.
“Why?” says John. “Didn’t you want me to come? Why didn’t you ask Mycroft to send me?”
Sherlock’s throat is tightening painfully.
“Did you think I wasn’t a good enough doctor. Is that it? Is Anthea is better than me?”
“No,” Sherlock says. He pauses. “I didn’t want you to see me like this.”
There is a brief tense silence during which John stares at him. Then, abruptly his eyebrows lift.
“You’re right. Blonde isn’t a good look for you.”
Sherlock laughs, touching his dyed hair self-consciously. “It was a disguise – I stand out less.”
“I bet you hate that,” John says. “No turning your collar up here.”
“No,” says Sherlock. “You’d hardly recognise me,”
John leans forward, slips his hands over Sherlock’s. “I always recognise you.”
“You don’t,” Sherlock says. “Once when you were dating Jeanette, I followed you both for three hours pretending to be an Italian tourist. You never looked at me twice.”
“I was indulging you.”
Sherlock twists his wrist so that his hands are cupping John’s palm to palm. John’s hands are smoother than one might expect, the product of frequent medically-mandated washings (always so conscientious). There’s a callus on his trigger finger.
“John,” Sherlock looks down at the intertwined hands and feels a coldness pour through him like spilt water.
“What is it?”
John’s hands feel so warm, so firm and heavy in his.
“You’re not really here.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You’re wearing a jumper,” says Sherlock. “On a Corsican beach in June. My head doesn’t hurt. I don’t like figs.”
John’s eyes are full of sympathy. “That is compelling evidence.”
“You aren’t even surprised to see me alive.”
“Mycroft could have told me the truth.”
“He wouldn’t,” says Sherlock. “Mycroft loves being mysterious. He wouldn’t miss the chance to hold this over your head.”
John sighs. “Then there’s nothing else for it,” he says. “Sherlock. You have to wake up,”
John shoots him a look, somehow both cynical and fond and so utterly John that Sherlock feels his breath stop in his chest.
“Sherlock. Seriously,” John says. “Wake up.”
Suddenly Sherlock feels the pressure of a hand on his shoulder.
“Mr Holmes. Wake up.”
Sherlock opens his eyes and sees Mycroft’s agent glaring down at him.
“Your brother was right about you,” she says.
“For the record,” the woman says, in clipped tones. “The beach isn’t the best place for a nap, not when it’s 30 degrees and you already have a concussion. I have better things to do than babysit.”
Sherlock simply stares down at his bare feet in the broken boat. His head pounds sickeningly, and his skin feels heated, tight on his face. Sunburn probably. Heat exhaustion a possibility, depending on how long he’s been out here. The agent is right. Foolish.
The agent sighs, and pulls at Sherlock’s arm, passing it over her shoulder so she can lift him up. She’s surprisingly strong. Mycroft does know how to pick them. The movement of standing sends the pain crashing through Sherlock’s skull again, and he lets out a noise embarrassingly like a whimper.
“Come on,” says the agent, but her voice is softer now.
Back in the hut she examines him again, forces him to drink a bottle of water and daubs some kind of white paste onto his skin.
“Aftersun,” she says shortly. “You’re already going pink. It’s going to sting like hell in a few hours.”
“It already does,”
“The sun cream is right here on the table,” says the agent. “For next time.” She picks it up and thumps it down again on the side for emphasis. Sherlock winces as the sound echoes through his head. She looks down at him critically for a moment, and then nods. “Sleep now, I’m going to wake you in a few hours to check on you. Don’t wander off again.”
Sherlock wakes to dim moonlight filtering in through the windows. He checks his phone for the time – 2 a.m. His mouth is horribly dry and the skin on his face is burning. He gets up and stumbles into the kitchen. He pours himself a glass of water and drinks it, contemplating. There’s a cigarette in his jacket pocket, he recalls. He finds it, walking out onto the front porch of the hut. The night sky is a riot of stars stretching overhead, the glittering points of light reflected on the glass-flat sea beyond.
“Lovely, isn’t it?”John says, stepping out of the shadows. Sherlock stares at him for a long moment.
“Certainly,” he says, coldly. “For a dream.”
John smiles at him.
“The solar system,” he says, gesturing upward. “Might have known it was in there somewhere. Those things will kill you, you know.” He looks pointedly at Sherlock’s cigarette.
Sherlock turns the cigarette in his hands regarding the burning tip.
“Can’t get cancer from imaginary cigarettes.”
“I’d rather you didn’t take the chance,” John plucks the cigarette from his fingers smartly and stubs it out on the ashtray.
Sherlock stares down at the dying embers. “Why are you here, John?”
“I’m not,” says John. “I’m thousands of miles away, tucked up in bed. Safe. Well. Probably a bit bored, if I’m honest. But what can you do, eh?”
“I’m dreaming about you.”
“Yes,” John tilts his head slightly as he looks up at Sherlock, eyes crinkling slightly in amusement. “I wonder why.”
There is a pause. Sherlock grips the banister of the veranda, feeling the worn and flaking line of the wood. Dream or no, he suddenly finds he cannot look at John.
“Imaginary cigarettes can’t harm you,” John says. “Nor can imaginary conversations,” A hand on his elbow, warm and insistent.
Sherlock turns to look down at John. His eyes are dark hollows in the moonlight, hair shining silver. And he knows.
““There are –“ he begins. His voice sounds off to him, strangely hoarse. He clears his throat and forces himself to continue. “There are things I wanted to say. When I was saying goodbye.”
John’s face seems to slip further away from him, deeper in the shadow. Sherlock blinks, trying to keep him in focus.
“I...” Dimly, in his mind’s eye, Sherlock can see another scene approach him – a rooftop, stark against the flat grey sky, blood pooling on the concrete and somewhere far below…
Sherlock focuses hard on the sound of the waves, the stars, the quiet sound of John breathing.
“I don’t know how I did it before,” he says. “Since I’ve been on the run – since I died - I don’t know how to be anymore. Without you. You’re – good,” Sherlock feels horribly aware of the paucity of that word as an adjective. Of all it does not describe. “You’re a good man.”
A hand tightens on his elbow. “You could have told me that,” John says. “Quite easily.”
“No.” Sherlock says. “Yes. That’s not- that isn’t all of it.”
John looks up at him, eyes steady, questioning.
“I should have told you that I love you.” Sherlock says. There is a moment where the quiet presses against his ears.
“I’m sorry. But I have to - I could die. I could have died yesterday. I might not get a chance to say it.”
There’s a rushing in Sherlock’s ears, and he’s back in that alleyway in Tailinn, hand around his neck, crowbar flashing above him as it bears down….
“Sherlock,” John’s voice is soothing. “Sherlock, look at me.”
Sherlock looks at John. There’s an intent look on his face: a solemnity that he rarely shows, that says I am looking at something monumentally important. John reaches up, hands brushing Sherlock’s face, tracing his bruises, thumb brushing over his cheek.
Sherlock forgets everything about dreams and reality, and misery in the morning - he moves closer. He can feel John’s breath against his mouth. Surely, it must be all right, Sherlock thinks. John wouldn’t let him get this close if it wasn’t.
Deliberately, he crosses the few remaining inches between them and presses his lips to John’s. It feels perfect. John’s mouth is soft and supple, moving under his, his hands tangling in Sherlock’s hair, tugging at his shoulders to pull him closer.
“John,” Sherlock’s voice is embarrassingly hoarse.
He forces himself to pull back, to look down into John’s face again. To see him, glowing up at Sherlock, eyes wide and wanting.
“I love you too,” John says. “Of course I do.”
The phrase rings in Sherlock’s ears and Sherlock thinks about how pathetic this all is – an imagined John conjured by his subconscious, telling him exactly what he wants to hear.
John leans up, on tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “Stop thinking.”
They are inside now, pressed against the doorjamb. The night air around them is fluid, caressing. John lets out a soft moan, hands gripping Sherlock’s hips as Sherlock gently kisses down the line of his throat, to the hollow of his collarbone, where the skin is unexpectedly soft and tender.
“Bed,” John says, voice low.
They fall back with a satisfying creak from the mattress springs, tangling the sheets. Sherlock scrambles on top of John, kissing him hungrily, over and over. He’s wanted this for so long. He’s worn out with pretending he hasn’t.
He can feel every point of contact between their bodies: John’s hand on his shoulder blade, his knee under Sherlock’s thigh, the rising and falling of John’s chest. John wraps a leg around his waist, pulling him in close. Sherlock feels desire thud through him, and behind it an aching sense of loss. He makes himself stop, looking down at his friend.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again,” he says.
“Don’t,” John says.
“I wouldn’t care if I died,” Sherlock said. “Only I need to see you again, I need to…”
John makes a noise halfway to a snarl and then pushes at Sherlock, flipping them over so that Sherlock is on his back with John’s weight pressed on him. His kisses have the edge of violence to them now, teeth scraping over Sherlock’s lower lips, tongue warm and plundering. His hips jerk hard against Sherlock’s, hands twining in his hair.
“Shut up,” John says. “Don’t think. Do you hear me?”
Sherlock does, surrendering himself to the moment. He leans back, sliding hands over the John’s back and pulling him in closer as John rocks against him, pulling them both over the edge into oblivion.
Sherlock wakes to an empty bed. He turns and looks at the space on the mattress beside him, sheets still neatly tucked in on the opposite side of the bed, and feels a hollowness spread though him.
There is a knock at the door, two brief taps, and Mycroft’s agent enters the room carrying a glass of water and a medical kit.
“Fine,” Sherlock takes the paracetamol she hands him and sits obediently as she examines his bumps and peers into his pupils.
“The sunburn isn’t as bad as I would have thought. You were lucky, Mr Holmes.”
“It isn’t a mistake I plan on repeating.”
“Good. Drink the water, slowly.” Sherlock takes careful sips, under her eye. The water is lukewarm, tastes thick and unpleasant against his tongue. John would have had the sense to serve it chilled.
“Your eyes are a bit red,” the agent says. “You don’t have allergies, do you?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Hmm,” the agent looks at him carefully, green eyes considering. “Well, there are antihistamines in the medicine box if you need them.”
Sherlock, shifting slightly on his pillow becomes aware that it is damp. Was he crying in his sleep? Sherlock can feel a flush beginning to sting his cheeks and looks for a distraction before the agent notices. Night time weeping fits are one symptom he does not need reported to his brother.
Sherlock scans the woman in front of him, looking for some ammunition – she is wearing a dark green sundress, clearly intended to impress, the strap on a swimming costume peeking out from the sleeve.
“He’s married,” Sherlock says.
“The gentleman you met on the beach yesterday. A German, I believe? You’re planning on spending the day with him, possibly the night too if it goes well. He’s lying about his marital status.”
The agent only raises her eyebrows. “You’re not quite as good as your brother, Mr Holmes,” she says. “He told me he was married. Actually I’m meeting them both,” She smiles blandly. “I don’t often get the chance of a holiday. Don’t worry – I’ll be back in a few hours to check up on you.”
Sherlock can’t bear to stay in the ringingly empty bedroom after she leaves, so he gets up, pulling on a new shirt. There is food on the table, which Sherlock picks at, contemplating the long hours of boredom ahead of him.
He finds a shelf over the sink with various hideous looking paperbacks on it. He picks one up - The Millionaire’s Virgin Bride. A woman swoons in the arms of a besuited man who, from the back, looks disturbingly like Mycroft. Sherlock drops it quickly.
“Mills and Boon,” John says, from the doorway. “Probably not your cup of tea.”
Sherlock turns sharply to look at him. He’s wearing swimming trunks, a towel slung over his shoulder. His hair is dark, spiked up from being roughly rubbed dry.
“I’m starting to worry about my sleeping habits,” Sherlock says.
John tilts his head consideringly. “I don’t think you’re asleep,” he says. “Not this time.”
“Then I’m hallucinating. Hardly reassuring.”
John smiles and steps towards him. Sherlock feels his eyes pulled almost involuntary down to his chest, the scattering of tawny hair across the pectorals, fine enough to be visible only at close range. A drop of water slides down, leaving a shivering trail that Sherlock has some difficulty withdrawing his attention from.
“I’m not a hallucination,” John says. “I’m a memory. You deleted me.”
“Padstow,” Sherlock realises.
They’d had a case, a series of mysterious deaths in a small Cornish town. John had insisted they stay on a day after the case was concluded, something about needing a holiday. They’d been put up by the local police in a villa by the beach. John had taken a morning swim and come back looking like – looking like this. Sherlock suddenly remembers the utterly paralysing swell of want that had coursed through him when he’d seen John walk through the door, damp, smiling, relaxed. Shivering slightly after the chill of the water.
Deleted, for obvious reasons.
“Clearly I didn’t do a good enough job.”
“Mmmm,” John says. “That blow to the head must have knocked a few things loose.” John stretches his arms out with a satisfied sigh. “You should come out,” he says. “The water’s lovely.”
(Which, Sherlock recalled, was exactly what John had said all those months ago. Sherlock had curtly refused).
“Bad idea,” Sherlock says. “Head injury, remember? I’ve already run foul of Mycroft’s agent once.”
“As if you care about that,” John says. “At least come out onto the porch. There’s no need to skulk around in the dark.”
John turns and walks away and Sherlock finds his feet follow him automatically. There’s a nagging sensation deep inside him that tells him not to let John out of his sight.
The sea is a bright blazing blue as they step out on the porch. John pulls out a deck chair, unfolding it and placing it carefully in the shade. He gestures for Sherlock to sit and Sherlock does – it feels awkward, the back of the chair too low and flat, pulling at his back in uncomfortable ways. He’s about to tell John so when John climbs into the chair on top of him, settling himself into Sherlock’s arms. His bare skin is still cool from the water, damp hair tickling under Sherlock’s chin.
It improves Sherlock’s opinion of the chair immensely.
“We fit perfectly,” says John. “Don’t we? I always thought we would. It’s as though we were meant to be like this.”
“That is appallingly sentimental,” Sherlock says.
John turns and grins at him. “You’ve only got yourself to blame,” he says. “Figment of your imagination, remember?”
“Memory,” Sherlock corrects, tracing a line down John’s arm with his fingers. “You were always sentimental.”
“You were the one with all the declarations of love last night.” John says.
There is a quiet moment in which they both watch the waves chase each other up the shoreline.
“Think you’ll ever tell me for real?”
Sherlock says nothing for a long moment. “I wanted to,” Sherlock says. “I almost did it a hundred times. But-“
“You were afraid I’d reject you.”
“It seemed likely. I should have remembered that there are worse things.”
“You. Out there. Living without me. Not knowing.”
John shifts in his arms. Sherlock feels his breath in his ear. “You could tell me now. All it would take is a phone call.”
Sherlock shakes his head. “You asked me for a miracle. My current situation falls rather short of that mark.”
“Concussed, bruised and hallucinating,” John says. “It’s true, you’re not exactly a knight in shining armour. But you did rise from the dead. That ought to count for something.”
“A cheap trick,” Sherlock says. “You deserve better than that.”
“You’re going to go back and present me with Moriarty’s fallen network, all tied up with a bow. And you say I’m sentimental.”
Sherlock leans down to plant a kiss on the smooth skin of John’s shoulder. It tastes of salt. “It’s what you bring out in me,” he says.
“And when you’re better,” John says. “When Mycroft and Anthea let you go on, to Budapest and the rest of it. Will I go with you?”
“I don’t choose what I hallucinate.”
John turns to look at him, eyes wide and troubled. “Of course you do. Do you think I’d be here if you’d decided to block me out?”
Sherlock hesitates. “I can’t have any distractions John. You know that.”
John sighs softly into Sherlock’s collar. “That’s a no then. Well.” He rolls onto his front, facing Sherlock, eyes suddenly gleaming with intent. His leg shifts, pressing between Sherlock’s.
“We’d better make the best use of this time.”
Mycroft’s agent returns in the afternoon, light footed and dreamy eyed. Her tryst with the German couple has clearly been a success. Sherlock can’t say he begrudges her happiness – he and John had had rather a productive time themselves.
“Been having fun, have you?” she asks.
“What makes you say that?”
She shoots him a suspicious look. “You’re actually smiling at me,” she says.
She checks him over quickly, cool fingers and searching looks. Over her shoulder Sherlock sees John moves out of the shadows to watch, eyes narrowed.
“Not how I’d do it,” he comments.
“I brought sandwiches from a shop in the town.” The agent says when she has finished. “Halloumi.” She pulls a packet out from her bag, and sets it on a plate.
“You ought to tell her thank you.” John says. He picks up one of the sandwiches and begins eating it. Sherlock watches it travel to his mouth, and then looks at the agent, oblivious to the imaginary man behind her.
“Anthea,” John corrects his thought process. “It’s what she asked to be called.”
“It’s a lie,” Sherlock says.
The agent – Anthea – looks up at him in surprise. “Sorry?”
“Nothing,” Sherlock says. “I – think aloud sometimes.”
He shoots John a warning look, and John only shrugs at him and bites enthusiastically into his sandwich.
“I’ve had news from your brother,” Anthea says. “Apparently matters in Budapest have escalated.”
Sherlock freezes in the act of pulling his sandwich apart. “Oh?”
“He wants to know if you’ll be ready for return to duty any sooner.”
John has stopped eating, and is looking at Sherlock with wide eyes.
“And what did you say?”
Anthea shoots him a hard look. “Five days,” she says. “Minimum. And only if you are very careful.”
“I’m always careful,” Sherlock says, and tries to ignore the sudden weight pushing against his lungs.
“Five days,” John breathes into his hair once Anthea has gone. Sherlock looks up at him miserably.
“Better make the best of it.” Sherlock says.
“The very best.” John says, and kisses him.
It is only three days, in the end. The situation in Budapest spirals out of control and Anthea grudgingly agrees to relinquish her patient. Sherlock is no longer having dizzy spells and the headaches have eased. The only symptom that remains is John, walking by his side wherever he goes.
On the last day Sherlock and John walk out onto the beach together. It’s unexpectedly cool after days of blindingly hot weather. The sky has faded into a pale grey, the sea darkening. They pause by the boat where Sherlock had sat on the first day.
“I suppose this is where you leave me,” John says. His voice is quieter than usual, faint, and Sherlock has to move closer to hear, afraid the words will be snatched away from him by the sea breeze.
Sherlock hesitates, conscious of the pressing mass of all he wants to say, and the utter futility of saying. “These days have been- they’ve been….”
“Shh,” John says, covering Sherlock’s mouth with his hand. “You’ll see me again.”
“Not like this,” Sherlock points out.
John sighs, looking out to sea.
“When I go back, if I tell you –“
“You promised me you would,” John says. He gives Sherlock an accusing look. “Don’t say you lied to me.”
“Will you feel the same?” Sherlock asks. “If I do?”
John smiles sadly. “I can’t answer that,” he says. “Figment of your imagination. Remember?”
“Mr Holmes?” Anthea’s voice echoes over the sand dunes.
“Time to go,” John says, taking a short step back. His face is wet, Sherlock realises suddenly. There are tears sliding silently down his cheeks.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because you can’t,” John says. “That’s the way it goes, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want to go.” Sherlock says.
John looks out to the sea for a moment, and sighs. When he looks back his face is set.
“I believe you can do this.” he says. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says. It was one fact about John that was beyond doubt. He always believed in Sherlock.
“Mr Holmes! The car is ready.” Anthea appears on the ridge, arms folded, looking down at him.
“Go,” John says.
Sherlock reaches out, once last time, brushing John’s damp face with his before turning and walking slowly up the beach. When he reaches the ridge Sherlock looks back. John raises a hand to his brow – a salute – and then turns. Sherlock watches as John walks away along the shoreline, shoulders hunched, his footsteps already being washed away by the tide.
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