Chapter 1: Breaking Point
As soon as they were through the door, John shoved past him, eyes forward, and marched up the stairs. Above him, Sherlock heard the door to the flat slam. He sighed and delicately shut the front door behind him before removing his coat, heavy and waterlogged, and following John up, his clothes dripping steadily onto the staircase. He considered, of course, turning back around and leaving. John was in one of his moods, and there would be no reasoning with him. He opened the door and entered the flat, preparing for whatever illogical critique he was about to receive.
Inside, he found John, stripped of his own soaked jumper, pacing across the room and running a hand through his matted hair. He was decidedly looking at the floor. Sherlock remained frozen in the doorway until John finally halted in his tracks and, still looking at the floor, whispered, “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I think a great many things, John.”
“You know what I fucking meant!” John spun on him, eyes lit with anger. Sherlock unconsciously took a step back. He had only seen that light twice before. Once at him and once beside a swimming pool…but not since, well Sherlock was still scanning dictionaries for the proper word for their current relationship. He’d yet to find something suitable. ‘Boyfriend’ was so childish. ‘Lover’ was less socially appealing but strangely applicable. They’d only begun sleeping together two weeks and three days ago, but apart from that, little else had changed in their relationship.
It had been John who was brave enough to make the first move. Typical of him. Showing off. Leave it to John Watson to successfully navigate his own way through a mess of emotions and come out ahead. Sherlock had not called much attention to his feelings for John, but he had made little effort to deny them. John had side-stepped into his life and, even more surprisingly, stayed. He liked Sherlock. Like. Not a word he got from many people. Not many at all. And John had been, well John had been John. A kind and simple man and exactly what he appeared to be. He was both plain and fascinating and constantly in flux between the two. And he changed Sherlock’s life. Sherlock hated such melodramatic phrasing, but it was accurate. Before John, his life had been living from case to case and chasing away the boredom in between with absolutely anything that worked. And after—he had John. John, who helped him with cases, tolerated spare arms in the fridge, laughed over takeaway with him, who made him smile, who stayed there. He could never go back to the before now that he knew what the after, what a life with someone else, could actually be like. He didn’t think he needed this, but he did. He needed John. He loved John.
John loved him. Very little could surprise Sherlock, but when one quiet night while watching some poorly-made action film on the couch John’s hand floated across the void between their bodies and interlaced gently with his own, his heart stalled. He didn’t look down. If he did, he might notice something—a missing scar or discoloration—that would indicate that this was all a hallucination, that he had fallen asleep high again, and this was nothing more than his wishes expressed by randomly and actively firing neurons. If that were the case, he didn’t want to know. Instead, Sherlock continued to study the film in front of them, all the while gripping John’s hand mercilessly in return. John didn’t seem to mind.
Eventually, the movie had to end and they had to get up. Sherlock reluctantly let go of John’s hand as he stood, and they faced each other.
After a moment, John tried to speak. “Sherlock…” he began, but Sherlock shook his head. John was about to make some qualifications—to apologize for being so forward, to ask where they went from here—complications. Confusion. Sherlock refused to entertain any of that right now. He just wanted to lie back and let the coolness of the moment wash over him. John had held his hand. Sherlock hadn’t believed how much joy such a simple act could bring him, and he never wanted it to stop. He reached down, took John’s hand once more, and pulled it up between them.
“Don’t, John. Not tonight.” He leaned in and swept a light kiss across John’s temple. If John could be brave for him, then so could he. He held them there for a moment, foreheads pressed together, eyes closed, before letting go of John’s hand at last. They separated and drifted off to their own bedrooms. Sherlock was electrified.
The next morning, Sherlock awoke to a text from Mycroft.
Would you and Dr. Watson prefer silver or white invitations? MH
Obnoxious, sarcastic, git.
After that, very little changed. Very little needed to really. They had always been, even before…well, as he said, Sherlock had never made any extraneous efforts to hide his feelings for John. And now neither did he. John became more tactile—grabbing Sherlock’s wrist on cab rides and pressing a hand into his back as the knelt over a crime scene. They kissed. Infrequently at first, but as they adjusted to the normality of the act, the sensations of each other’s mouth, it became a more common occurrence. Only in private though. They weren’t being deliberately secretive. After all, Mycroft clearly knew. Of course he would, and they were hardly ashamed of one another. Sherlock doubted Lestrade and their other associates at the Yard would be even remotely surprised. No, they were discrete for their own sakes. As if telling other people would somehow jinx the bliss they now shared. As if sharing it with the world would make it real and vulnerable. Sherlock was hardly superstitious, but he was enjoying their quiet happiness too much to want to introduce any other factors. They had been alone when John had initiated contact. Perhaps he preferred to be alone.
Until one day, while working a case, a jewel thief managed to corner Sherlock in an alleyway. He had broken off from John and Lestrade, who were also on the chase, and the thief was smart. He had managed to double back on Sherlock and trap him. Sherlock was defenseless, and he exhaled as the thief drew his weapon. He didn’t flinch when the sound of the gunshot resonated, but it wasn’t he who fell to the ground but the thief. Behind him stood Lestrade, weapon drawn, and John running up behind them.
“Sherlock, are you all right?” Lestrade called.
Sherlock only had time to nod before John was upon him, drowning him in a mess of arms and frantic lips.
Wrapping his arms around John, Sherlock kissed him back fiercely, savoring the chance to breathe the outside air as John breathed it, to taste the city as John did, and to have him here with him.
After a minute, Lestrade cleared his throat. “If, uh, you two are quite finished, we would like to process this guy’s body, and, Sherlock, if you can give us anything you got off him before we got here?”
John pulled back, blushing slightly, Sherlock noted. It turned the tops of his ears a beautiful shade of red. He hadn’t known John could blush like that. He made a note to try and make it happen again. Soon.
That night had been a rush of relief and happiness and love and celebration of life. It wasn’t the first time Sherlock had slept with a man. Nor was it John’s. But it was still hours before they felt like they could breathe properly again.
That had been two weeks and three days ago. The John before him now was not shivering with relief that Sherlock was alive. Sherlock wished he were. He would have liked to hold John’s hand now. Instead, John’s hands were loose and mobile as he shouted.
“You know what I meant, Sherlock! Why the hell would you do that?”
Sherlock said nothing, silently permitting John to continue his pacing and his tirade. John was angry, and Sherlock would not attempt to reason with him until he returned to normal.
“It was stupid, reckless, and pointless! You nearly got Lestrade killed! Then you go and nearly kill yourself! For nothing! God, Sherlock, I don’t know what—aren’t you going to say anything?”
He took a step forward. “It wasn’t for nothing,” he said plainly.
“What?” spluttered John, folding his arms across his chest.
Well, it hadn’t been for nothing. It had been very important. Sherlock, and even the Yard, had spent weeks working to trace every last branch of a drugs smuggling ring. It had been vast and intricate; the task had been a delightful challenge. So much so that Sherlock suspected Moriarty himself had had a hand in it, which is what made him so interested and so keen to see it through. James Tanner had been their last lead. With the leftovers found at their last known hideout, Sherlock had managed to lead them to a tiny restaurant, where they found Tanner. Tanner had taken one look at their out-of-place suits and coats and bolted out the back. Lestrade began organizing his officers into a chase, but Sherlock didn’t have time to wait. He took off around the back after him.
It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t known that Lestrade would follow him. It was foolish of him. He should have stayed with his team where he might better orchestrate an arrest. Why had he followed? For Sherlock, presumably. Some attempt to protect him. Foolish. He had let his emotions interfere with police procedure and risk a case.
So it hadn’t been Sherlock’s fault when, half a block behind Tanner, Lestrade had called out to him. He turned and caught the last echoes of his gruff “Get down!” before the gun went off and Lestrade fell out of sight.
Sherlock hadn’t hesitated. He hadn’t even looked back before continuing on after Tanner and leaving Lestrade there on the ground, bleeding.
He caught up with him at last at the edge of the Thames, the river roaring some ten feet below the ledge. Sherlock had attempted to speak to him, to coax him. Tanner wasn’t important. He was just a pawn. But a pawn who knew things. Who knew names. Whose mobile phone surely had texts and rendezvous times stored on it. That was what Sherlock needed. That information was the key to taking down the ring and quite possibly Moriarty.
And Tanner knew it. Knew he was cornered. Knew he had what they needed. What might get him killed. Before Sherlock could grab him, Tanner had reached into his pocket and chucked the phone into the murky water.
Momentum carried him the rest of the way forward, and he collided with Tanner, toppling them both over the edge. It wasn’t a far fall, but the cold water smacked against them as they broke its surface. Gravity and the churning waters spun them around until they broke apart. Up. Sherlock needed to get up. Which way was up? Difficult to tell. Tiny bubbles of air swirled around him. Air. Rather important. He thrashed his arms trying to regain some sense of direction when he saw it. Floating steadily downward, or presumably downward, a few meters away was Tanner’s phone. It was falling fast. Down. Away from the air. But he could almost reach it, and if he didn’t move for it now, it would be farther and farther away.
Sherlock swam down. He swam after the phone. His throat clenched and his chest burned, but that was irrelevant. His fingertips grazed over the plastic, but he just missed it. He pushed against the water above, deeper and deeper, ignoring the pain, the need. His hands closed around the phone. Got it! Could he feel his hands anymore? The cold. No air. He blinked up. He’d never reach the surface. There was nothing but the pain and the cold and the abyss of water. And the phone. He shut his eyes, resigned, and the darkness closed in.
His eyes shot open as his body folded in two with gasps. He shut them again quickly, blocking out the blinding light. Coughs wracked his body as lungfuls of Thames water spilled out of him. A hand on his chest steadied him as he caught his breath.
“That’s it. Just cough it all up. Nice deep breaths, Sherlock.” The voice was tight, but when Sherlock finally adjusted his eyes, he saw John kneeling over him and gazing at him with concern, his clothes dripping onto the ground.
He tried to bring himself up into a sitting position, but he fell into another coughing fit. John supported his back and brought him up to lean against his body. He fell back onto him, breathing heavily from the effort.
“Jesus, Sherlock…” mumbled John, but his hands brushed lightly through his wet curls. They sat there together and waited for, well, Sgt. Donovan, he supposed. With a small chill, he remembered Lestrade.
“How is—” he rapsped, but John cut him off.
“He’ll be fine. Caught him in the shoulder. He’ll be out of commission for a while, but…he’ll be all right.” Sherlock nodded and grabbed one of John’s hands. He glanced over. A few feet from them lay James Tanner. Dead. Drowned. He felt in his coat for Tanner’s phone and pulled it out. Also dead. Destroyed. Nothing remained. He clutched firmly at John as Donovan hurried over to them.
“It wasn’t for nothing,” repeated Sherlock, back at the flat. “Tanner’s information could have helped to take down Moriarty.”
“But you couldn’t know that, Sherlock! And even if you did, by blundering in on your own, we lost the phone, we lost Tanner, we could have lost Lestrade, and we nearly lost you!” John put his hands over his face and groaned. “How is that worth it? How?”
“John…” mumbled Sherlock, looking at the floor. “I did what I needed to for the case.”
“That’s just it, Sherlock! You think you know what you’re doing. You think you don’t need any help. But you do! And you risk people’s lives by refusing it.”
Sherlock shook his head. “Lestrade is an officer of the Yard. He knows the risks his job entails.” He mentally winced at that. He realized just as he saw it in John’s eyes how he would react.
“That doesn’t mean you get to put him in danger! No one’s job description covers you, Sherlock. Not Lestrade’s, not Donovan’s, not your brother’s, and certainly not—”
“Yours, John?” spat Sherlock with a sharp look. “Is that what this is about? Are you getting tired of the risks of my life? Too dangerous for you?” He seethed visibly as he spoke.
“For me? Sherlock, you almost drowned! If I hadn’t---if I hadn’t gotten there, I don’t—I don’t even want to think about it, okay?” His chest heaved and he paused to catch his breath. Sherlock allowed him the moment. “It’s the fact that you don’t care. You don’t care that you might get someone killed. You don’t care that you nearly killed yourself. And you don’t care about what that would have done—to me. Would you care, Sherlock? If you went and left me alone and hurting because of you?” he shot.
“Of course I would,” whispered Sherlock, laying a hand on John’s shoulder, but he shook it off.
“See, I don’t think you would! Because you don’t seem to care now. Do you regret it? Do you regret what you did today? Would you change it if you could do it again?”
Sherlock knew the answer. He didn’t want to say it, but it was the absolute truth. “No.”
John threw up his arms. “Then I don’t know why you bother, Sherlock. With me, with us, with any of it! What’s the point?”
You. You’re the point, thought Sherlock, but he spoke none of this. Instead, he hung his head. John flopped down onto the couch and began pulling his soggy boots back on.
“What are you doing?” asked Sherlock.
“I thought you knew everything. What does it look like?” he asked, grabbing his keys from the table.
“It looks like you’re leaving,” whispered Sherlock.
John nodded, but he didn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah. Look, I can’t….I can’t go through this every time you get so single-minded over some bloody case. I thought I could, but I can’t…I just need to go, Sherlock. I need to get out of here. I need some time.” John finally looked over at him, and he shut his eyes tightly.
“I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon to pick up my things,” he heard him say. Then the sound of feet on stairs. A door. Then silence. Only the tiny pats of the drops from his coat hitting the floor. When Sherlock finally opened his eyes, he was alone.
Chapter 2: Drifting
John plans his next move.
Now it's officially a boat fic.
As in "Whatever Shakes Your Boat." And "John just needs to think. Everything else is transport." Like a boat...is...transportation....
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John was six blocks away before it occurred to him that he didn’t know where he was going. It was another two blocks before he cared. He paused on the corner and ran a hand through his hair. God, what had he just done? Had he just split up with Sherlock? What would Sherlock do tonight? Would he be all right? Would he—
No. John shook his head. Stop that, he told himself. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? You spend all your bloody time worrying about him when the man can’t be arsed to care about himself, let alone you. And he wasn’t going to…waste his time caring about somebody who was going to get himself killed by the end of the week. His heart sank, but it was true. He couldn’t take the pain of it. He loved Sherlock. Of course he did; that was the problem. This could only end badly. It stopped being thrilling when he fell in love. When it wasn’t just his neck on the line. Besides, what did that say about Sherlock’s feelings for him? If he doesn’t care about his own life, how could he care for another’s? He had thought…but maybe he was just another sodding skull. One that talked back. One that you could fuck every once in a while.
He kicked violently at a stone on the ground. It skipped off into the street and disappeared under the wheel of a passing cab.
“Fuck it,” muttered John, turning back down the street. He knew where he had to go. Only one place he could on this short notice, unless he wanted to sleep on a park bench. He considered calling first, but thought better of it. Ten minutes and a brisk walk later, John was knocking on the door of Harry’s flat. After a moment, the door clicked open, and a large, red hand appeared in the gap.
No answer came, but the hand remained in view.
“Harry, it’s John. Can I come in?”
The hand vanished, and a head appeared. “Joohhhnn!” she said slowly, craning her neck around the door frame. “Yeah, come on…in.”
John shut his eyes as he brushed past his sister and entered her flat. He couldn’t block out the smell though.
“Harry, I….need to stay here. Probably just for tonight. Maybe a bit longer. Is that all right?” He opened his eyes. His sister was staring at him with alarmingly rapt attention.
Her eyebrows flew up a couple of seconds later as she slowly processed what he had said. “Oh no John!” she cried. “Did you and Sh…your boyfriend break uuuup?” she slurred, her voice dripping with liquid-induced sympathy.
John sighed. He hadn’t exactly told Harry about him and Sherlock. He hadn’t told her about a lot as they barely spoke. But she was family. And she had a bed.
“So can I stay?”
“Yeeeeeaaaah! Of coursssse you can! Lemme get you some, uh, some blankets.” She tried to step backward and tripped. John caught her by the wrist and steadied her.
“You know what, Harry, why don’t you come with me?” He pulled her gently by the arm, not looking at her eyes, and began to guide her toward her bedroom. It had been quite a while since he’d last been in her flat, but he knew his way around.
“Sure, John…..whatever you say,” she said feebly and allowed herself to be pulled along, slumping in the vague direction of John’s shoulder. They moved like a losing team in a three-legged-race, but with a lot of effort on John’s part, they made it to her bedroom. As soon as they approached the bed, Harry shifted forward and collided with the bed, eyes closed. John watched her still form for a moment before he lifted her legs up onto the bed and pulled off her shoes. She shifted at the contact.
“John? You there?”
“I’m…sorry,” she murmured.
He frowned. “Don’t, Harry.”
“No, I am,” she whispered. “I don’t like it here.” She rolled over to face the edge of the bed and was silent for a moment. John watched her face and studied its creases. Too much like his own face. “I don’t like being alone. I miss….Clara.” Her voice caught, and she shut her eyes. John reached out a hand to touch her temple. He lightly stroked back her hair. “I miss her, John. I know why…it was me. I’m not—stupid. But…I don’t like being alone here.” Her voice lowered and her breathing evened out. “You must be so sad, John,” she whispered as she drifted into sleep.
John stayed there, perched on the edge of her bed and running his thumb through the strands of his sister’s hair. She looked peaceful when she slept. The lines on her face relaxed. He bent down and pressed a kiss to her forehead before getting up to prepare the couch for the night.
When he woke up the next morning, Harry was gone. There were no traces of her presence except for a brief note beside a set of keys on the kitchen counter and an empty bottle in the sink. He didn’t much feel like staying in her flat, but he wasn’t on for work today. And he had told…he’d told Sherlock to clear out in the afternoon, so he had some time to kill. A low growl in his stomach prompted him to check Harry’s kitchen. He pulled open the fridge. At least there were no severed limbs inside but neither was there any real food. He ran a hand across his forehead before shutting the door and grabbing the keys off the counter. It was only two blocks to the nearest Tesco’s, and a walk would take care of some time.
The store wasn’t too crowded, which suited John. He didn’t much feel like dealing with people today. He grabbed a few basic items to take care of him and Harry: milk, beans, bread, a bit of fruit, and some sliced meat. Sandwiches sounded good right now, and he made a move to grab a head of lettuce. By the time he realized, it was too late; gravity won out, and as his hand closed around one, the delicately stacked pyramid came toppling down around him.
“Oh sodding hell,” he breathed as he scrambled to pick them up.
“All right, mate,” came a deep voice from the other side of the stack. “Happens to the best of us.” Hands clutching lettuce appeared followed by a smiling, bearded face. A familiar one.
“Oi! Watson!” he grinned.
John was startled at first, but with a dull smile, he registered the man in front of him. “Bill! Bill Murray! Oh, it’s, uh, good to see you, mate.”
“And you!” said Bill with a weak smile, clamping him on his good shoulder. “How’ve you been? Been following yer blog, you know.”
John feigned a smile, but he could see in Bill’s face that it wasn’t very convincing. “Oh you know….all right. How ‘bout you, Bill?”
“Oh you know me! I get on.” His teeth beamed out from between the clumps of ginger hair on his face before he narrowed back in on John. “Hey, Watson, you busy? You want to grab a pint or something?”
“What, at ten in the morning?”
“Just the one. And, to be honest, you look like you could use it, mate.”
John grimaced. “That bad?”
Bill patted him on the shoulder again. “I’ve rarely seen you looking worse, John. Come out with me. We’ll catch up.”
He eventually nodded. “Sure. All right.”
They paid for their things and carried them half a block down to the pub. It was empty but for them and one old man. They slid into a wooden table, and Bill looked him squarely in the eye as he ran a hand through his beard.
“So what’s been going on, eh? I told you I been having a look at yer blog. This Sherlock fellow sounds like he’s brought you a world of trouble.”
Pressing his lips together, John thought about those early blog posts. “Not really. Well, no, that’s a complete lie. Tons of trouble. Tons.” Bill laughed. “But no more than I was used to—than I could handle.” He let out a single breath of a laugh. “It was good for me. Honestly.”
Bill folded his hands. “’Was’?”
Sighing, John bowed his head. “Er, yeah. Was.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that, John. I take it you and he were…?” John’s eyes shot up defensively. “Oi, you don’t have to panic. Relax. You might fool a lot of people, but you can’t fool me. Long as yer happy, I got no qualms with who makes that happen.”
John nodded faintly. “Well, like I said….not anymore.”
There was a pause. “I’m sorry, mate.”
“Yeah, well...” shrugged John. Another silence. Bill was looking at him expectantly. “It got…difficult. I suppose you could say we wanted different things. I wanted someone to…” he cleared his throat, “but it seems like Sherlock needed—a lot less than that.” He ran his hands along the grains of the wooden tabletop. “He didn’t care. He doesn’t care. Not if he gets himself killed. Not what that would do to me. Not if anyone else gets killed trying to save his sorry skin. And if he doesn’t, then how can I…? I couldn’t go out every day knowing he’s not going to make any bloody effort to keep me from coming home alone.” He stared intensely at a knot in the wood.
After a moment, Bill said, “I didn’t realize how much you loved him, John.”
John looked back up but didn’t meet his eyes.
“You’ve moved out, I take it? This isn’t your neck of the woods, after all.” John nodded weakly. “Then take the time. Honestly. Just, take the time away to really get away and clear your head and just think. Maybe about this Sherlock or maybe not. Don’t force it. Just be with yourself. It’ll do you good.” He reached into his pocket. “I’ll tell you what," he said, pulling out a folded photograph from his wallet. “Why don’t you take Valerie?”
“What?” said John, doing a double-take.
“Valerie,” Bill repeated, sliding the photo across. John carefully unfolded it. Oh. It was a picture of a sailboat. He examined it. He could see the name in black script across the back. She looked old but well-cared for and fairly large.
“You know how to sail, Watson?”
“A bit, yeah,” he replied. When he was a kid, his and Harry’s Dad used to take them out. John used to be fascinated by it. Used to love the time out on the water, just him, Dad, and sometimes Harry and Mum. He knew how to handle a boat.
“Then take her! Go out; spend a week or so at sea. It’s perfect. Nothing to distract or bother you. Just you and the work of sailing.”
“I can’t take your boat, Bill,” he said, sliding the photo back, but Bill refused it.
“’Course you can. You’re only bloody borrowing her. And I know I can trust you to take care of her. Tell you what,” he said, snatching up the photo. He scribbled something on the back. “That’s my number. Take that, think about what I said, and ring me tonight with your answer, okay?”
After a moment, John accepted the photo. “Yeah, all right.”
They made small talk after that. John’s work at the surgery, Bill’s kids, and when they finally parted ways, the photo sat heavily in John’s trouser pocket. He let himself back into Harry’s flat and took his time unpacking the shopping. He took even more time making himself and eating a sandwich. But it was starting to get on, and with a dull pain, John concluded that he had better go get some things from Baker street. He made a decision to take a cab over as he registered a mild ache in his leg.
When the cab dropped him off, he stood outside the flat for a while. He looked up into the windows to see if he could see anything. He studied the door and where the paint was chipping. Mrs. Hudson would have to see to that. He hadn’t said goodbye to her. He wondered if she was in. Finally, he stepped up to the door and opened it.
Inside was silence. “Hello?” he called. Stupid. He didn’t know why he did it. He doubted Sherlock was in, and if he was, he didn’t much feel like seeing him. And if Mrs. Hudson were in, she’d hear the door. Slowly, he climbed the stairs. He was in no rush. As he climbed, he watched the walls float down below him, running his hands along the surface.
When he reached the door to the main room, he took a breath before pushing it open. His heart sank. He hadn’t known what to expect. He hadn’t expected anything different. But there, in front of him in the room, were all of his things. What would fit was packed into his suitcases and the rest was neatly packed into a cardboard box. His tea kettle rested on top. All there. All packed. Ready to be taken away from here.
John cleared his throat and wiped at his eyes. He had no right to be upset. This was his decision. He was the one who walked out. But if Sherlock had packed his things like this, he supposed he must want him out just as well. He coughed again. Right. Time to go.
When he finally made it back to Harry’s flat, he put his tea kettle on the stove before sitting down in her armchair and staring at the wall. By the time it whistled, he had pulled out his phone and a small piece of paper. A voice greeted him on the third ring.
“Bill?” he said. “It’s John Watson. If it’s still all right I think I will take the boat.”
Yes, my Bill Murray is the sort of man who grows a beard despite being ginger, drinks beer at ten in the morning if he damn well feels like it, and carries around a photo of his boat in his wallet next to the picture of his kids. The boat's been there longer.
Chapter 3: Becalmed
After John leaves, Sherlock decides what to do.
Here, at last, is the next chapter. I promise you that the next chapter will most definitely have John on a boat, but we had to cover what Sherlock's been up to.
It was about two hours before Mrs. Hudson knocked on the door. Sherlock could typically accomplish a lot in two hours. He could perform an adequate experiment on the reaction of specific metals to corrosive acid. He could read several volumes of the latest psychological journals. He could update his catalogue of tire tread mark patterns. But Sherlock had done none of these things by the time Mrs. Hudson found him. Instead, he had sat down, his still-damp trousers clinging to the material of the sofa, and stayed there.
After John left, he hadn’t cried. Not that he expected as much. He hadn’t shouted. He hadn’t watched as angry, bitter thoughts whisked through his mind. He hadn’t silently reviewed every syllable of their final conversation. For once, for once in his entire life, his mind had gone utterly blank. There was nothing but static, and unsure how to react, Sherlock had slid numbly onto the sofa and stared at the opposite wall. For two hours.
Mrs. Hudson’s gentle taps on the doorframe couldn’t break through the static. Nor could her words.
“Sherlock?” she asked quietly. “You all right, dear?” He said nothing. He did not blink.
She sighed gently before coming to sit beside him on the sofa and tenderly resting a hand on his upper back. Had she heard their fight? Probably. Or perhaps not? Could she hear down there? Why would she come up here then? Think. Come on, stop this, just think.
“Sherlock,” she began again. He remained still. “I, well I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I might have overheard a bit. You were quite loud…I’m so sorry, love. I know you and Dr. Watson…well, you were happy with him. I could see that. You smiled a lot more.” She began rubbing her hand in comforting circles. Sherlock lowered his eyes. “It’s going to hurt for a while. I can’t change that. Neither can you. Nobody can. That’s being human.” She patted him lightly. “But if it wasn’t meant to be, then it wasn’t meant to be. You can’t hang onto something that is never going to work. Believe me, Sherlock, I know,” she whispered. Then she smiled at him. “You know I liked Dr. Watson. A good man. But your happiness is what matters to me. Always, Sherlock. Always. So if he’s going to walk out on you, then that’s his bloody loss,” she murmured. “In the meantime, you stay here as long as you like, at half rent. Don’t even worry about it.”
He barely nodded. “Good. That’s settled then.” She smiled weakly.
He registered when she had gotten up from the sofa after several more minutes of back rubbing. He registered when, ten minutes later, a mug of tea appeared on the table in front of him. He even thought he heard her light footsteps going down the stairs. He couldn’t be sure. He could only stare at the wisps of steam floating up from the mug until they vanished.
He didn’t notice when the sun set. He didn’t notice when it rose again.
He didn’t notice when a car pulled up outside or when feet could be heard climbing the stairs.
The feet stepped quietly into the room and moved to sit in the armchair. For a moment, there was silence. Sherlock continued to stare at the mug of tea.
“What do you plan to do, Sherlock?” Sherlock exhaled, but he did not look up. “You cannot sulk forever, brother.”
The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitched almost imperceptibility.
“And no, that is not a theory for you to test. I asked you what you planned to do.”
There was a pause. “What does it matter, Mycroft? What I do now. It doesn’t make any difference,” he whispered.
Mycroft folded his hands and peered carefully at his brother. “Oh, come now, Sherlock, look at yourself. You haven’t slept. You haven’t moved. You claimed to do just fine before Dr. Watson entered your life. Surely you’re capable of functioning without him? Hmm? The ‘brilliant mind’ of Sherlock Holmes certainly doesn’t need some feeble and weak-minded human. As I recall quite vividly, it is only your work that matters to you and nothing else. That cannot have changed. So do stop sulking and pull yourself together.”
“Shut up, Mycroft,” spat Sherlock.
“Please, brother, don’t be petulant. I’m only calling your attention to the truth. John Watson proved this to you himself. I do believe he left because your work was more important to you than him. He knew the truth. Accept it, Sherlock.”
“I said shut up!” Sherlock glared at him fiercely.
Mycroft glanced at his watch. “Why? I’m only making you face reality. Unless you know of some other reason why John Watson’s sudden departure should bother you? Make me understand, brother. Tell me. Tell me why you’re upset.”
“Because I love him!” shouted Sherlock, rising from the sofa.
Sherlock’s chest heaved, and the room was still for a moment before Mycroft slowly rose from his chair, walked over to Sherlock, and, with a hand on his shoulder, guided him back down to the sofa.
“I know, Sherlock. I know that.” The two brothers stared out straight ahead. “So what are you going to do about it?” Sherlock spun to face him.
“We both know you cannot go back to the way things were. You’ve….well, it pains me to admit, but I never truly foresaw you ever finding someone so…” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, and Mycroft cleared his throat. “The point is, you have, and here we are. So, what will you do?”
“I don’t know, Mycroft. What can I do?” Sherlock swallowed, and Mycroft did not take his eyes off him. “I…Everything I told him last night—it was true. I can’t change that. I am who I am. You know that. I know it. It’s futile to deny nature.”
Sherlock reached out and twisted the ice cold mug of tea. “I was just as surprised as you were Mycroft. I never imagined I would find someone like John. But I suppose even I was too much for him. I—” Sherlock snapped his mouth shut and pulled his hands into his lap. Shutting his eyes, Mycroft shifted in his seat.
“I wish I had been lying, Mycroft,” he murmured. “I wish I cared about all of the things he wants me to. But…” he drew out the last consonant as he thought, “I wasn’t lying about my feelings for him. Of course I care what happens to John. I love him. I…didn’t expect that, but I honestly do.” He ran a hand across his brow and cleared his throat. “What do I do, Mycroft? Tell me what to do.” He buried his face in his hands.
Mycroft nodded. “You leave, Sherlock. You step back. You are in no position to do much of anything right now. So you walk away. I can have the family cottage on the coast opened and prepared within the hour. I suggest you go there for now. After that is up to you, but I would encourage you to stay there at least a week. No cases. No work. Just think about the things you have just told me and, well, I can see the absurdity in asking you to relax, but do at least make an effort.” He smiled tightly. “If John Watson is the man you believe him to be, then there is hope, and this is all you can do for now.”
“I can’t just—”
“You can,” Mycroft cut him off sharply, “and you will. And you will not hound Dr. Watson as I know you are tempted to do. You must leave. I have seen to it that John Watson is taken care of for now.”
“What?” asked Sherlock, raising his head. “You didn’t send to him to some overseas prison, did you?”
Mycroft shot him a look. “Nothing to be alarmed about. Just a few simple arrangements, chance meetings, that sort of thing. I have not sent him to an overseas prison, I promise you.” He leaned back in his seat. “Speaking of Dr. Watson, I do believe he will be by later this afternoon to collect his things, correct?”
Sherlock nodded dumbly. “Then you will be out by then. In fact, if you would like, I have a car waiting outside which can take you away right now. Would you prefer that?”
“I should be here when he comes back,” whispered Sherlock.
“No,” said Mycroft heavily, “You will not be. Go. I will take care of things here. Your rent will be seen to in your absence, and everything you will need will be waiting at the cottage. Get into the car, Sherlock.” He looked up at Mycroft before pulling himself up stiffly from the sofa. He nodded at last.
“Good. My assistant is waiting in the car. She will take care of you.” He handed Sherlock his coat and watched as he moved toward the stairs.
“I’m sorry, brother. I truly am,” he said to Sherlock’s back. Sherlock paused for a moment but did not turn around. Mycroft waited until he heard the car pull away before letting out a slow sigh. In the next hour, Sherlock would find himself on the southeastern coast with nothing but an empty house and the ocean to occupy his time. Heaven help anyone in a fifty-mile radius. But his assistant was capable, and she would see him settled in. There was no need for Mycroft himself. He had done enough.
He glanced around the flat and pulled out his phone. “I’m at 221B Baker Street,” he said quickly. “Have someone come by with some boxes. I need some things packed away.” Within that same hour, all of the belongings of John Watson would be ready to leave as well. It had been the home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Together, it had been theirs, but apart, it would be an empty place. Perhaps that’s the way it ought to be, he quietly thought. At least for now. He stepped out and shut the door behind him, taking the last bit of life out of the flat.
Chapter 4: Open Water
John takes the Valerie to the seas to be alone and contemplates his situation.
Firstly, I know its cliched, but I apologize for the delay in this chapter. I went back to college/uni/what have you, and things got a bit crazy. But I promise this has not been abandoned. Thank you for sticking with it, and I hope you enjoy!
Special thanks to beta, Mesmiranda.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John always liked the early morning. He figured it was probably a souvenir from his military days, but that didn’t bother him. He liked that perfectly still part of the day when the leaves on the trees were suspended in a kind of golden light that you only got before five a.m. He liked the way the air felt—colder than usual, but invigorating.
So as he stood before the Valerie for the first time, he was grateful he had gotten up this early, if only to see her for the first time in this flattering light. Funnily, John had never been a boat sort of man, but he had no trouble adjusting to the whole she/her thing. It just seemed right for the Valerie. She was strong, but not in a masculine way. Beautiful. Curved but smooth. Comforting. Her sails were curled tight, but he could almost see their energy waiting to burst open. When he ran his hand along the fiberglass side, its silken surface was cool to the touch. Yes. The Valerie was definitely a woman. Although technically he knew it should just be Valerie, and not the Valerie, he couldn’t get used to that for some reason. It felt too much like being with another person, and John wanted very much to be alone right now.
Which is why he was greatly troubled by a soft throat-clearing sound behind him. He spun around. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“That’s a fair question, Dr. Watson,” said Mycroft Holmes, standing before him in a crisp suit and balancing on his closed umbrella. “Though I fear you could make a reasonable guess.”
John slung his bag over his shoulder and moved to walk past Mycroft. “I’m not coming back, if that’s what you’re after.”
“I wouldn’t dream of asking.”
He stopped. “Then what do you want?”
“Nothing of importance,” Mycroft said, rocking on his umbrella slightly. “I merely wondered about your plans. Where you plan to go. What you plan to do, and I must say I did not predict this lovely vessel you seem to have acquired.”
“I’m only borrowing it. It’s not mine—you know, I don’t see how this is any of your business.” John’s expression was firm, but Mycroft’s face remained deliberately casual.
“Now, now, there’s no need for hostility, Dr. Watson. I’m simply concerned for your well-being.”
“Yeah,” scoffed John, “I kind of doubt that.” He continued past Mycroft and out of the boat yard.
“When you… ‘set sail’ this afternoon, Dr. Watson, do consider heading south. I hear the seas near Sussex are rather lovely this time of year. Should be quite pleasant for a less-experienced sailor such as yourself.”
John stopped again, but did not turn around. “You don’t do anything without a reason. Just for that, I ought to go north.”
“Ah,” said Mycroft, “but you won’t. You really won’t.”
John shook his head and went on walking.
“Good day, Dr. Watson,” called Mycroft after him. John pretended not to hear him.
He thought about getting some more sleep back at Harry’s flat before heading out, but found that he couldn’t. He couldn’t sit still long enough to shut his eyes. His mind refused to stop buzzing, replacing everything he should be thinking about with irritating white noise. But that was the whole point of this. He wasn’t going to think about him, he was going to do as Bill said—go out onto the water with nothing but himself. Himself and the Valerie and the task of staying afloat. Survival. That, at the very least, he knew how to do.
The afternoon came soon enough, and John returned to the boat yard. Though it was now bustling with the scattered movements of a handful of occupants, Mycroft was thankfully nowhere to be seen. Good, thought John as he began the work of taking the Valerie out of port. He was the last thing he needed. Sherlock was right—the man was a slimy, meddling git. Turning up with a cryptic message like go south? Why the hell should he follow that? Mycroft wasn’t exactly one to turn up to discuss the weather. John was willing to bet that he’d meet his death if he went to the South Seas on Mycroft’s word. He angled north and started the engine.
Why, thought John, would he have suggested it? Was it something sinister? Probably. So far every interaction he’d had with Mycroft, save one utterly bizarre tea with Mrs. Hudson, had resulted in him almost dying. He doubted that was about to change, despite anything that may have happened between him and Sherlock. Then again… Mycroft Holmes wasn’t about to make a trip at four a.m. to see his… to see John Watson just to exact some sort of—what, twisted, back-handed revenge? Maybe his words were genuine. Who knows what he’d find down the coast? For all he knew, it was the calm seas that he needed, just as Mycroft said. Then again…
“Fuck,” muttered John as he threw back the engines and redirected the Valerie southward. “I am going to regret this.”
Four days later found John drifting just beyond the Sussex coast. He made a point of keeping it just out of sight. He wanted to be lost on the open waters, to be alone and at peace. Which was, to his amazement, exactly what he had found—peace. The waters had been quite calm so far—no deadly sharks or international assassins or whatever Mycroft might have been planning—and the work was easy. Bill hadn’t lied; the Valerie was a good ship. Sometimes, as he pulled on the sails, he thought he could feel some of her instinct taking over, guiding him, but that was likely a symptom of the isolation. Still, he hadn’t started talking to her. Yet.
The sun was high overhead and here, unlike in the city, he found it unobscured by cloud more often than not. He’d taken to wearing a wide-brimmed canvas hat he’d found below deck. It made him look ridiculous, but there was no one around to care—least of all himself. Though he’d packed a razor, he hadn’t bothered to shave, and from the feel of it, there was definitely the beginnings of a beard cropping up. Hard to say. He hadn’t looked in a mirror since the day he found the hat.
All in all, the experience reminded him of Afghanistan. Not unpleasantly. There were huge differences—no one was shooting at him, no one was dying, he was alone. He had never been alone over there, not really, unless you counted the few days he spent making his way back after his platoon had been captured—and that wasn’t something he was keen to reflect on. No, none of that, but the atmosphere. The world around him. Afghanistan was more than another country: it was the farthest he’d travelled from home before he’d joined up. The sand and the heat were a far cry from London, and even though he had barely left it now, this world was a new one, too. A world of blue and salt and quiet rustling and busy hands and sunlight. Bill had been there with him. Bill had known exactly what he needed now. He’d been right.
Smart bastard, thought John. He really should make more of an effort to stay in touch with him. With the way his life had been going, with Sherlock, it had gotten hard to keep track of everything outside of that. Bill had been trying, of course. Even said he’d been following his blog. That damned stupid blog. He didn’t know why he kept up with it. It was sort of a habit now. He supposed someone ought to document the brilliant absurdity that was his life. Was… it was ‘was’ now. What would he say on his blog now? August 12th—bought milk. August 15th—went sailing.
Nothing ever happens to me.
Time passed in a new way on the Valerie. He could tell when days passed, but it was hard to tell how many. His only unit of measurement was the amount of rations he had left. He knew, on a two-week trip, he’d have to come to post soon to resupply, but he wanted to avoid the coastal village and its inhabitants for as long as possible. He looked up at the sky as he tugged firmly on a rope. The sky had been a rich blue in the first week or so, but the grayness was moving in and the clouds gathering. If it was going to rain, he’d better get supplies while he could. He turned the rudder to point him toward land.
He could deal with the rain well enough, he thought. They certainly got plenty of it in London. Granted, it was a bit different on solid ground, but John figured if he could scale a chain link fence while chasing a jewel thief in a torrential downpour, he could just about handle anything the rain could bring. Although Sherlock hadn’t been so lucky—after he slipped down and tore his trousers on the metal, while the thief skipped off to freedom, John hadn’t let him live it down for weeks. Sometimes over dinner he’d just start laughing at the memory, much to Sherlock’s chagrin, but he was never too mean—just enough to make up for everything he would say about John. “Damn,” he swore aloud softly. He’d gone and thought about Sherlock again. That seemed to be happening an awful lot. So much for avoidance.
After a week, the questions of the future started nudging their way in. John tried to fight them off, but they were relentless. This is all well and good, Watson, hiding from the world like this, but you have to come back sooner or later. Then what? Do you move in with Harry for a while? That’s not likely to go well. He’d have to talk to her. He couldn’t bloody well stay in London on his own, so it went back to Sherlock. He had to decide. He had to decide if he was going to go back or not. But he’d be damned if he had to decide now. He tugged the wheel with a sharp jerk, his mouth tight.
When he finally went into port, he learned that it was a Tuesday. He’d been out at sea for nine days.
The village was quiet. Nestled into the coastal cliffs, there couldn’t have been more than a handful of shops and a few dozen houses. Probably the homes of a few fishermen’s wives who made a living selling supplies to people like John. Sometimes he let himself consider a life like that: living day to day with the same two hundred people, open the shop, close the shop, chat about Susan next door’s new baby and Charles’s busted engine. He could not imagine a duller existence. Still, it was nice enough for a quick visit.
He stocked up as quickly as he could at the little grocer’s and even managed to get some more fuel while he was there. Not that he was using much; he’d been letting the wind do the work and the Valerie carry herself as she would. Still, you could never be too careful, and if he got caught in a doldrum on his return trip, he’d be in trouble without it.
The elderly woman behind the counter reminded him of Mrs. Butler—this woman who used to live next to his parents’ home. He supposed she should have reminded him of Mrs. Hudson, but that was all wrong. Mrs. Hudson had too much spirit. She surprised you. No, this woman was a Mrs. Butler—peaceful, slow, nothing more than you’d expect, but with a kind heart. He made sure to leave a tip in her jar on the counter.
He never knew what had happened to Mrs. Butler. He hadn’t seen her since he’d moved out and enlisted. He hoped she was all right—she’d always been so sweet. She would bring over a tray of chocolate chip cookies every birthday. In the summers, he’d mow her lawn, and she would bring him a glass of homemade iced tea with a little slice of lemon in it. In all his years, he had never found anyone who could brew tea like Mrs. Butler. Even he couldn’t quite match it.
What a picture of life before the war she’d been: cut grass and glasses covered in condensation and birthdays and family. He had none of those afterward. He had none of them now.
As he sailed back out, leaving the village and the woman in the shop behind the horizon, he tried to think about what he had been left with after the war. He couldn’t think of much.
It was around then that he and Harry fell out. Oh, he’d known about her drinking for years. He’d watched her grow up. He’d watched her go through high school, coming home night after night, helping her sneak behind their parents’ backs, because that’s what siblings do for each other. She’d gone off to Uni but left after a year. Wasn’t for her, she had said. What was for her was Clara—that’s where they’d met. He could remember their wedding quite clearly. It was very simple and tasteful; he expected that was Clara’s hand in things. But it had been beautiful: them in their simple dresses, John, their parents, Clara’s mother, and the official. Harry looked so happy. She was trying so hard for Clara. John had always liked Clara, she was a warm woman—always quick with a joke, but could offer quieting wisdom when it was needed. He had spent many late nights with her after his sister had gone to bed, talking about the world, about life, about Harry. Clara had been trying, too.
He heard from Harry just once while he was abroad—a letter in his second month, then nothing. He tried not to worry. She showed up in the hospital they sent him to when he first returned to London, eyes red and hands shaking. After thirty minutes, she told him she’d left Clara. And why.
So there was just him. No money, no job, and certainly no cheating drunk of a sister to rely on. Nothing else but himself.
Above him, the dark sky rumbled menacingly. John tugged on his hat protectively.
And then—oh, then—Sherlock had swept into his world. God, how melodramatic did that sound? Bit like a fairytale. But that’s almost what it was. Sherlock was out of a story and so was their life together, dashing about from one crime scene to the next, never stopping, never breathing, just carrying on after each other for all eternity.
It was a dream. It had to end eventually.
Rain started to fall. The drops landed on the deck of the Valerie with an endless crackling sound. It was pleasant, if cold. He though he should probably pull in the sails, but he had a bit more time yet.
Why had Sherlock gone and ruined everything? God, it had been so wonderful. More than John ever could have hoped for in his life. Sherlock was mad and brilliant and saw the world in a way no one else did and every day he got a bit further into that man’s mind and every day it was a thrill to see him a bit more and he couldn’t stop digging deeper. The things they did together—the running, the solving, the chase of it all—were incredible. Stories in themselves. And he was beautiful. So beautiful. He had to smile just thinking about the lines of his face, the curves of his arms, the angles of his chest. God, he loved that man.
“Damn you,” he murmured as he caught up with his thoughts. But the sound was drowned out by the pounding of the rain. John looked up but could see no further than the mast. He’d been caught in a storm, distracted by thoughts of Sherlock. He clambered toward the mast to tie in the sails before they were shredded, but the force of the wind made his progress difficult. Around him the black sea churned; the sporadic bolts of lighting served as his only illumination now.
He pulled on the ropes, but they wouldn’t yield. “Fuck!” he shouted, burning his hands with the effort of his tugs. The sea rose up around him. Realising the futility of his work, John stopped to watch.
In that moment, the rain seemed to slow in its descent so John could see between the sheets of drops. He watched the ocean climb up, all the way above the Valerie’s mast. He watched at the wave capped at the top, and he watched as gravity forced it back down again. Onto him. And as he watched, he was caught in its beauty. It was an incredible sight. It was electrifying. It was deadly. It was exciting.
And as the dark wave came crashing down on top of him, John thought I’m no better than him.
I promise Sherlock's chapter will not be this much stream of consciousness. Sherlock is a doer. John is a thinker.