Why the bloody hell Sherlock had agreed to take a case up in the wilds of the Lake District, John Watson still had no idea. Perhaps the novelty of proclaiming: “John! We’re off to Cockermouth,” had been persuasion enough to take the long trip North; however the thing was so far removed from Sherlock’s usual cosmopolitan careering around London, something else had to be afoot. The detective was badgered, pestered, even sung to (John’s less-than-melodic warble was a vital tool in annoying Sherlock Holmes; however his “Sherlock, tell me, tell me, Sherlock,” refrain did nothing to move the brunette) the entire journey before John gave up with a huff and a splutter and conceded that even though something was obviously up, he wasn’t about to get it out of his companion.
Five people died before the hammer-wielding Cumbrian was cornered in his workshop; it appeared that the attractive looking furniture he had been selling to the community was far more homegrown than anyone had been expecting. The townsfolk were nauseated, appalled, then extremely grateful. Sherlock was more than happy to accept a spontaneous delivery of macabre side-tables and filled John’s car with their gratitude.
This was a week into their fortnight’s booking at The Howe.
“No, I… I think we should get our money’s worth.” Sherlock had announced unexpectedly after the conversation had drifted on to their imminent departure. John, hands enclosing a steaming mug of tea, almost fell out of the armchair by the fire.
“You want to stay?”
In the Lake District? In October? With the trees and the lakes and the countryside? There’s no Internet in the countryside, you do know that, right?
John wasn’t about to start another altercation about money (and for Sherlock to actually be advocating the saving of it, well, this was unheard of), so accepted Sherlock’s placid nod and took another sip of his scalding tea.
The next morning when John rolled over in bed, he found himself unnaturally startled by an empty space where Sherlock’s lethargic, recumbent form usually lay. His grunt of confusion was responded to by a sharp “a-hem” from the foot of the bed and John looked up blearily to find his counterpart stood resplendent in winter coat, scarf and gloves, a manilla wallet tucked under his right arm.
“Come along, John.” Sherlock instructed with a steely serenity that always unnerved John, somehow; it generally preceded some form of purposeful and/or illegal activity.
“Wh- wha-?” John replied with his famed morning eloquence.
“I have rented us a boat. As a sort of excursion. Come on.”
After a lot of complaining and some rough assistance into his clothes by his companion, the two men were dressed and ready for the great outdoors. Sherlock was still wearing a suit but this did not surprise John; he’d never seen the Holmes brothers in public without their faithful formal attire (apart from that one time Sherlock had gone four days without sleep, hallucinated a giant bee in the middle of Baker Street and run out in his pyjamas to “catch it”, apparently) and this seemed no exception. Sherlock, despite having the engorged brain of a genius, possessed no ideas of sartorial appropriateness. He would go out in this boat in his best shoes and then blame John for their ruined state at the end of the day.
John did not want to go outside, not when those black clouds were threatening. He told Sherlock this. Their altercation was brief, swift and repetitive: John’s valiant attempt to scream “NO!” at everything his partner said was vanquished by a stubbornness unmatched in the entire British Isles; John admitted defeat and agreed to drive them to the lake in their car full of human remains, grumbling all the way.
So Sherlock Holmes and John Watson found themselves toes to the edge of a jetty on Loweswater, silently despising one another as they stood staring at the sorry state of the vessel supplied to them. The owner had buggered off shortly after revealing his craft, leaving the pair to contemplate their fate noiselessly.
“We’re going to die.” John deadpanned. “Shot in Afghanistan, blown up by a maniac… and I’m going to die in the middle of a lake thanks to someone’s stupid idea of an ‘excursion’.”
“I assume this is how one risks one’s life up North. Besides eating local cuisine. Come on, get in.”
“Me, get- You want me to get in first? Fuck off. I enjoy being alive, thank you very much.”
“I suppose one self-sacrificing gesture for me is your limit.”
John, unsure just how serious Sherlock was being, reverted to protocol: he got in the boat. He couldn’t have been certain, but Sherlock’s utterance under his breath sounded something like “Good boy”. John placed one foot in, wobbled a little, turned back to Sherlock with a pleading glance that went without response, wobbled some more, closed his eyes (probably not the best plan of action), then finally launched himself into the wooden boat. It bobbed violently, rocked a lot, but when John Watson opened his eyes he found himself sprawled before a contentedly smiling Sherlock, knees up to his chest.
“Ugh.” John expelled along with a sigh.
“I shall take that as a noise of gratitude. The oars, John.”
It was with a sinking heart that the doctor realised the singularity of the boat’s propelling mechanism. He could see how this was going to go: Sherlock would sit there like Lord bloody Muck, barking orders to his lackey puffing and pulling them across the lake. He stared at the single pair of oars like they were a smudge of mould on the underside of his sandwich.
“Give them here, John.”
“Wh- what- you-?”
“Yes, I am. Give.”
John had inched them towards the detective only slightly before they were snatched out of his grip. Sherlock let out a long breath – of satisfaction or ennui, it wasn’t clear – and flexed his fingers around the wooden oars. Then he began to row.
His technique was lazy but powerful; they seemed to whip through the water at high speed, the wind was up, Sherlock’s curls were blown in all directions but that didn’t seem to bother him. His concentration was entirely on the movements of his arms, the rotation of the rotting blades.
John arched an eyebrow. “Did you…?”
“No,” Sherlock was quick to dismiss, “I did not. All that getting up at the crack of dawn, hours of physicality… no.” His speech plummeted in volume. “I doubt they’d have wanted me, anyway.”
John wanted desperately to contradict, to reassure, but recognised that Sherlock was probably right. He kept silent.
The brunette continued to row at his astonishing pace, never letting up until the two men were far surrounded on all sides by water; what looked liked miles of water stretching out around them, but couldn’t possibly be that far. It was a place that made one seem small – not insignificant, but simply a tiny part of some greater machine of lush greens and muddy browns. Over John’s shoulder was a magnificent mound, vast in stature but not yet a mountain. It towered over them, almost challenging in how it stood proudly, inviting yet somehow intimidating. The scenery was all different shades of nature, cast over with the grey of the sky. Still, but unmistakably alive.
John felt remarkably little as he gazed around at it all. They glided to a halt; the boat began to slow, to drift until finally they were at a halt in the centre of the lake.
“Unusual radial drainage pattern;” Sherlock suddenly stated, waving an arm around at the lake with a sort of purposeful abandon, “most lakes in the District drain outwards, whereas this one drains towards the centre.”
“I’m not at all interested in that and neither are you.”
The detective jerked his head slightly towards John, as if reluctant to recognise his statement but unable to ignore it. “You’re right, it’s dull. This is a lake and those are trees and those are hills; they’re not science. It doesn’t work. I won’t do that.” He paused, eyes down, brain whirring in ways indecipherable to the common man. “Who cares about where the water goes.”
John shuffled in his seat, “Sherlock, what are you doing.”
“You’ve hired a boat to row me out into the middle of a lake and talk about drainage patterns. What’s going on.” His question was met by silence; Sherlock’s mouth was a strong, thin line, his features frozen in stoicism. “Sherlock, you hate the countryside. You’ve never voluntarily gone outside Kingston-Upon-Thames unless it’s for a case. Why the sudden urge to gaze at grass and trees?” Still no response. “Why the Lake District?”
The silence amplified the wind; it rushed around them, blowing their appearances into rugged disarray; it blustered and howled and heralded the approaching storm. John watched Sherlock, this frozen man in thought, and wondered if this had been his intention all along. Out on the lake, threatened by a thunderstorm: danger far away from London. John felt no fear, only captivation. After years he still could not understand the man in front of him.
“Keats.” Sherlock suddenly muttered, eyes scanning for splinters by their two pairs of feet. His voice was almost drowned out by the gusts.
“Keats, yes, John Keats. I wanted to come here because of John Keats, satisfied?”
This was a development.
“John… Keats- but Keats was a poet; I thought you didn’t like litera-”
“I don’t. Generally. It’s dull and frankly a waste of my time but… Keats is different. Don’t ask me why, John, I hardly know myself. He’s the only one I’ll read. He makes me think.”
John Watson could do nothing but stare at his companion’s bowed head. He longed to reach out, place a hand on his knee, do something comforting for the man he really cared for, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Sherlock wasn’t one for words of reassurance, public displays of affection, even when they came from John. He decided on banality instead. “Huh. You really do learn something new every day.”
Sherlock’s head raised, slowly, to look John in the eye. “Keats visited here with Charles Brown. He spoke about the ‘intellect, the countenance of such places’, referencing the Lake District; he called it a ‘mass of beauty… harvested by the finest spirits’. It’s largely hyperbole I’m sure, but,” Then the contact was gone; he glanced away again, out to the green hills surrounding them. “‘I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest’.”
He didn’t need to continue. John felt no desire for an explanation; it was a trick he had learned upon first cohabiting with the man: Sherlock could tell so much about him from a nod or a gesture, it wasn’t long before John picked it up too. He would never be on his companion’s level, he knew that, but little things would now illuminate themselves. It was obvious to John that Sherlock needed some form of escape – from what, that wasn’t yet clear. This indecision showed him how to proceed. He would give the man space; when Sherlock wanted to come to him, he would. If that point never occurred then that would be that, John would move on, Sherlock would continue how he was, things would remain constant but become sorted out in the end. It was how they operated and the way their relationship worked – no one thought it would, but they proved them wrong.
So John decided to change the subject. No probing further, no requests for elaboration, no delving into the depths of Sherlock’s psyche. Time to move on.
“I reckon I know some Keats. There’s got to be some in there somewhere from college, something I was forced to recite for…” John smiled; a vague recess of his mind was waiting, ready to oblige him. God bless Mrs Aldershot. “‘Bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art’… and then something about splendour, in the night, or… something?”
“‘…Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night/And watching, with eternal lips…’ You understand.” Sherlock tailed off, looking for all the world like he was embarrassed. Not that he was, of course. (No.)
John grinned; it was always nice to see Sherlock looking at least a little bit human. Like he had some of the flaws that normal people did. “No, I- God, I shouldn’t admit this, but I like it when you… you…”
Sherlock’s eyes were fiery. His personal embarrassment was out of the window now he could transfer it to John, “Go on,” He reciprocated the doctor’s grin, except dialling it a bit further up to ‘twattish’.
“…When you recite poetry.” John was fully aware of the anticlimax of this statement, they both were, it was rather magnificent to see these two grown men smirking at each other in a little wooden boat. “Yes, I admit, I am actually a teenage girl. Speak poetry to me, Sherlock, then make love to me, right here, right now…”
Sherlock’s smile was a wicked one. “You’re an idiot.”
“And you’re absolutely dying to show off some more to me.” He folded his arms, canting his head to the left a little. “Go on. What else do you know?”
Challenge accepted, Doctor Watson.
Sherlock looked up to the heavens as if calling on his chosen deity to select one from his library of possibilities. John wasn’t going to put it past Sherlock to have every ode, sonnet and letter of the man stored in there, simply for moments such as this. “‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,/Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;/Conspiring with him how to load and bless/With fruit the vines that round the thatch even-run-’”
“Oh, yes, Sherlock, another.” John groaned extravagantly, suggestively. Sherlock’s eyebrows shot up his forehead as he sussed his partner’s intentions.
Oh. So that was how it was going to be.
“Another? Shame, I thought that was rather seasonal.” Teeth sunk down onto a lip as Sherlock selected again. “‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk-’”
“Nnngh, yes!” John, caught up in his (frankly rather loud) responses, startled himself by recognising the lines; his eyes flicked open and his eyebrows knitted together, “Hang on, I know that- isn’t that ‘Ode to a Nightingale’? Er, then there’s something about an ‘opiate to the senses’ or… something like that.”
“Almost. How about: ‘Four Seasons fill the Measure of the year;/Four Seasons are there in the mind of Man.’”
“Mmmm, Sherlock, say it to me,” It was getting ridiculous now and they both knew it, barely suppressing giggles on both sides. “You know what Keats does to me.”
“‘O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung/By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,/And pardon that thy secrets should be sung/Even unto thine own soft-conched ear’!”
“‘I saw pale kings and princes too,/Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;/They cried - 'LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI/HATH THEE IN THRALL!'
“…‘"BEAUTY IS TRUTH, TRUTH BEAUTY," - THAT IS ALL/YE KNOW ON EARTH, AND ALL YE NEED TO KNOW!’”
The two men collapsed in extremely manly giggles, shoulders shaking as they clutched one another, trying to control their laughter at their own ridiculousness. Only they could be in such a poetic setting and descend into vulgarity; only Sherlock Holmes and John Watson could be so utterly infantile whilst being so utterly intelligent. As their eyes met, the laughter, first thought to have calmed, erupted again; John snorted very attractively and this sent Sherlock over the edge – figuratively, however almost literally as their movement sent the boat tipping dangerously. The pair scrambled, eyes wide with a terror heightened by their hysteria, to right themselves; the next time they locked gazes they were sobered, no longer laughing but with mouths curled upwards in the corners, suppressing mirth.
“You understand I’m extremely unlikely to let you mock me about this again.” Sherlock ventured forth once they had calmed completely.
“Who says I was mocking? You don’t know the extent to which John Keats arouses me.”
As the two men exchanged glances it was agreed that was just a bit too disturbing, even for them.
“However, we are entirely alone here. Can’t be anyone else around. No one to see, no one to hear…” John tailed off, eyes catching Sherlock’s, brows up. The pair looked down at the boat; at the splinters and suspicious black coating some of the slats had; at the way it swayed and tipped with the gusts… then at the black clouds right overhead. With heads up they blinked as rain began to spit into their eyes. “On second thoughts, perhaps not.” John decided as Sherlock dropped his chin to grin at him again.
“Perhaps not.” Sherlock echoed. As the two men stared out at the pines, rain spotting their clothes and dampening their hair, John felt a hand slide over to enclose his. That was right, it felt right, they were right. Just far enough away from civilisation for Sherlock to show it. John squeezed back, not caring about the storm.
Later, once the pair had dried off (and John had managed to style his hair into something at least resembling its usual neatness), John and Sherlock found themselves stretched out along the cottage’s old sofa. Sherlock had seized the opportunity first and grabbed the prime spot, recumbent on the cushions, while John had to content himself with lying on top and squashing his face into the detective’s chest. A delve into the navy coffer in the corner had produced an extensive record collection; John had groaned when Sherlock had removed Mahler’s Symphony No.5 and placed it on the ancient gramophone, but soon found the strings somewhat… soothing. He wanted to laugh, really – what a pretentious day he’d had; poetry, country air and classical music – but his lethargy stopped him. Instead he listened to the heartbeat of his detective and mocked himself internally for his sentimentality.
“You know, this isn’t at all comfortable for me.” He mumbled after a while, as if to counteract his horrendously soppy thoughts.
Sherlock smiled to the ceiling. “You can always move.”
“Yeah.” John replied. It was painfully obvious to both concerned that he had no intention of doing anything of the sort until his legs dropped off. “Tomorrow, shall we go to the Ambleside waterfall? Would you like that?”
“You did your research.” Sherlock noted, the smile staying. Oh how transparent his doctor was; wasn’t it fantastic. The man who had ‘popped into the village to get some dinner’, insisted that Sherlock should stay and keep warm, avoid catching a cold from the rain that bounced off the paving slabs. John had returned without food but with a mysterious, flat, rectangular package that he’d uselessly hidden underneath his coat. His disappearance to the bedroom and its unsuccessful storage underneath the bed did not go unnoticed by the detective. Sherlock had done his best with the contents of the cottage's cupboards while John stowed himself away to “do… stuff,” and the couple had dined on burnt mushroom soup. The book was John Keats’ letters; Sherlock hadn’t seen it yet, but he knew. “It’ll be cold, you know. You won’t enjoy it.”
John sniffed; his arms tightened round Sherlock and he decided that he didn’t much care about being maudlin anymore.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…
Poems quoted are (chronologically): Bright Star...; To Autumn; Ode to a Nightingale; The Human Seasons; Ode to Psyche; La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Ode on a Grecian Urn. Also quoted is Keats' letter to his brother from the Lake District, of which a transcript can be found here.