The sun looked warm on Sherlock’s face where it fell around the edges of the small, green-and-black paperback propped between his thumb and pinky and through the leaves on the tree above him and John, who tipped his head to read the white, blocky title.
“I never took you for one to read fiction,” John commented idly, moving to join Sherlock on his back. Sherlock hummed an answer as he turned a page. John folded his arms beneath his head and turned his face to the sky, catching a sunbeam from between two leaves just under his chin.
“There was nothing else I hadn’t already read. This one was recommended to me with great enthusiasm; the driving point was that it took the villain from an earlier series and painted her in a sympathetic light, giving her proper reasoning behind what she did.”
John nodded. “Makes sense. Where’re you at?” He rolled to his side and propped his head on his arm, watching the softly distracted face of the man beside him. The lime green of the page’s edges stood out against the pale alabaster of Sherlock’s fingers.
“I’m here: ‘Elphie, get in this cab, don’t be a fool,’ Glinda cried. The driver was adjusting the reins and yelling at Elphaba to sod off.
‘You’ll be all right,’ Elphaba said, ‘now you’re a seasoned traveler. This is just the return leg of a voyage you already know.’ She put her face against Glinda’s and kissed her. ‘Hold out, if you can,’ she murmured, and kissed her again. ‘Hold out, my sweet.’
“Page two-two-seven,” Sherlock announced, and shook his head. John rolled to his stomach, his arm now touching the one of Sherlock’s not busied with the task of holding the book over his head. Hearing Sherlock read from a book that his sister loved enough to put him off of it gave John second thoughts on disliking it.
“What do you think, so far, then?” he prodded, resting his cheek against the side of one hand to keep from breathing in the fibers of the crocheted afghan beneath them. “Does this sort of new light on an old classic appeal to Sherlock Holmes, Fiction Scorner Extraordinaire?” Despite the teasing tone to his words, Sherlock gave him such an annoyed look out of the corner of his eye that John couldn’t help but puff out a laugh and shift to rest against Sherlock’s side, pillowing his head against a bony shoulder.
“I find it fascinating, honestly.” Sherlock’s words rumbled through his chest to what felt like all of him, and John was unable to help placing a hand to the ribcage he could feel under the silk of a delicate button down. “This book gives a proper name to The Wicked Witch of the West—Elphaba—no doubt stemming from L. Frank Baum’s initials, and it gives her a life other than what we’re told in The Wizard of Oz.” Sherlock shifted enough to stretch his arm around John’s shoulders, and his fingers started rubbing gently at his upper arm, occasionally dipping under the hem of his shirt sleeve.
“That’s sort of obvious, isn’t it, though,” John pointed out with a slight motion. “I could have gotten all of that just from reading the back cover.” Sherlock gave a long-suffering sigh, but turned his attention away from the book long enough to brush a kiss over John’s hairline and rest his chin against John’s forehead.
“You want me to go in-depth on a book from which I’ve only read less than half,” Sherlock huffed. John nodded, a grin fluttering onto his face then smoothing away.
“I want to hear your thoughts on this bit of fiction, yes.”
“Can you stop pointing out that I’m reading fiction? I know what genre this book just so happens to be,” Sherlock whined, lifting his hand from John’s arm to turn one page and then another, bypassing a glimpse of a picture that served as the divisor between one part and the next. “In any case, my impression so far is a good one; I’m finding myself sympathizing with Elphaba, though not quite in the reasons one would expect, coming from a book written to paint her as a normal—if green—human being with a difficult past. Her thought process and views on the societal roles of this country would be similar to mine, were I in her position.”
Sherlock’s eyes scanned the page in front of his nose. “All that she’s doing to stand for her thoughts and views are admirable.” John couldn’t stop a fond smile from taking root and sticking. “I’m also partial to the fact that she hasn’t allowed her body or emotions to control her and prevent her from doing what she felt was necessary,” Sherlock explained.
“That’s exactly what I expected of you, you know,” John said. Sherlock’s eyebrow raised. “Yeah, it was—and don’t you give me that look, you.” Sherlock lifted his hand from John’s arm again to nip the bookmark from between the cover and the first page and slide it gently into place against the pages where he held the book open, then set it aside.
“You expected me to sympathize with her because of how she thought and not her past?” He rolled more into John’s touch, and John slid his hand from Sherlock’s chest to around his waist, tugging him closer.
“I certainly did. It’s more like you, anyhow.”
Sherlock pressed his nose against John’s temple and draped his other arm over John’s, letting out a soft, tuneless hum at John’s fingers pressing gently at the line of his spine through his shirt. “That’s all that matters to you, isn’t it?” he asked. “That I enjoy a literary character for their thought process and not because their back story persuades us as readers to like them.”
“I never said that,” John disagreed lightly. “I just said that it was more in line with your own brilliant mind to like a character for the way they think instead of how they grew up.” Sherlock slid an ankle between both of John’s and tugged him closer with the bend of an elbow. “That’s how you always decide which are your favorites, even in movies.” John pressed the bridge of his nose to the curve of Sherlock’s jaw.
His hand slid up Sherlock’s back, fingers tracing the bumps of his vertebrae softened by wine colored silk but made more obvious by the curve necessary to wrap himself around John. Sherlock stayed quiet, but it was a content enough-feeling quiet that John worried for a moment that Sherlock had found it the right time to drift to sleep. John dug his fingers into a knot of tight muscle he could feel between Sherlock’s scapula and his first thoracic vertebrae and kept pressing at it when he was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath and a soft, pained grunt forced past gritted teeth.
“Jesus, you need to stop hunching over that microscope with your shoulders ‘round your ears,” he admonished gently, rubbing the blade of his hand up and over the ridge of Sherlock’s shoulder—over more knotted muscle—and back down. “That’s what’s making your neck hurt. You’re putting too much strain on the muscles and making them go tight.”
“I don’t notice it happens,” Sherlock replied tartly, gripping John’s arm tighter at a particularly vicious dig from the tips of John’s fingers. John could tell the moment Sherlock’s eyes lit on the cooler they’d brought as if remembering it for the first time, as he could feel his muscles shift and move as he pushed himself to sit up. “What did you bring?”
“Champagne, sandwiches, sweets, that sort of thing.” John shrugged and propped himself up on his elbows. “D’you want something?”
“Yes.” Sherlock climbed over him on hands and pointy knees to pop open the lid on the cooler, and John couldn’t hold back a soft laugh, even under the steady weight of a few seconds’ scowl from Sherlock. He laid back on the afghan, folding one arm under his head and spreading the other in Sherlock’s direction, fingers splayed.
“I know you’ll get distracted and not actually eat anything, though. It always happens,” John pointed out, nothing but fondness tucked away in his words.
Sherlock pulled the glasses out of the cooler between his fingers and the bottle of champagne out in his other hand. “Be careful with those glasses,” John started to warn him.
“I know, I’m not careless.” Sherlock opened the bottle and filled both glasses. “Sit up, I’m not giving you this if you’re laying down,” he demanded. John sat up and folded his legs half-lotus style, reaching for the delicate champagne flutes he’d so carefully packed away. Sherlock passed one over, and brushed the tips of his fingers over the back of John’s knuckles when he relinquished his grip on the glass.
John pretended not to notice the soft-around-the-edges look he got from behind the rim of Sherlock’s glass as he lifted his own. He knew that, as much as he cared for John, it was still a bit of a stretch to get him to let it show on his face for longer than a split second, even in the large and grassy but no less enclosed and private backyard of John’s parent’s home; Sherlock never had been good at emoting when he meant it for others, and obviously preferred to keep it quiet.
The champagne was a welcome spark of carbonation on his tongue, and the taste that accompanied the bubbles made John picture a wedding, or a New Years’ party, or something much, much fancier than sitting in the sun on one of his mother’s handmade blankets when he closed his eyes and let his imagination wander.
“Why do you do that?” Sherlock asked him as he pulled his eyes open, rolling the stem of his glass between his fingers. The curiously intrigued tilt to Sherlock’s head was a tiny quirk of his that John found absolutely adorable, but he kept that to himself, lest Sherlock stop.
“Do what, close my eyes? I’m appreciating the flavor.” John shrugged and lifted his glass to his lips again, acting unconcerned and only mildly amused.
“Most people usually reserve that sort of action for wine tastings,” Sherlock responded, lifting his own glass and keeping his gaze on John over the thin rim.
“Yeah, but I think the first taste of champagne is always the best. It’s hard to put into words.” John rolled his eyes as Sherlock scoffed, then walked forward on his knees. An arm’s length he moved, into Sherlock’s space. Sherlock lowered his glass and stole a kiss, lips a breath parted and sticky-sweet from sips of champagne. His hand rested at the base of John’s neck, fingers warm against his skin and thumb brushing over the skin beneath his ear.
“You have said several times that the best feelings are the ones hardest to articulate,” Sherlock murmured. John had to fight to keep his champagne upright in his hand during his bale of silent giggles.
“Sherlock, for all the denying you do over sentiment, you hold a lot of it,” he laughed, not quailing a single bit under the look he was getting.
“I’m going to read,” Sherlock sniffed, turning his nose up and moving back to take his book up from the afghan. He flicked the book open and the bookmark out of the way with an easy twist of his wrist. John nestled his glass of champagne against the cooler and pulled out the foods he packed, one container at a time to spread them out for eating.
The quiet that settled over them was another easy one, only barely broken by the sounds of nature and the soft turn of pages. Sherlock couldn’t have read twenty pages more before he read another passage from the book he held:
“Here: ‘...But you, you: you. Why did you cut us all off?’
‘I loved you too much to keep in touch.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Don’t ask me,’ she said, thrashing a bit, her arms like oars rowing in the blue summer evening lightlessness.”
The breath caught and tangled around a sudden lump that leapt into John’s throat. He couldn’t speak for a few long moments. He heard the soft clink of glass against teeth, and knew that Sherlock was biting the rim of his glass, a nervous habit he’d had for ages. “Was that—” John paused to clear his throat when his voice broke. “Was that why?” Why you left, why you did that, why you never said a word to me once in so, so, so long?
“In essence, yes.” Sherlock’s voice was a quiet rumble like distant thunder.
John would have loved to push and prod more details of their time apart out of him, because using a passage from a book to explain without explaining was something so Sherlock that it took John’s breath away, but the volume of Sherlock’s voice told him that he would be better off not. Something twisted in his stomach, still, about the words Sherlock had read out. It made his heart hurt deep, deep down to think about.
He loved them—him?—too much to stay in contact. While he was pretending at being dead.
There must have been a threat against them—or him. It was the only logical reason, knowing Moriarty and his games. John picked up his glass of champagne from the grass and took a mouthful. The bubbles burned like fire in his mouth, almost painful like the distant memories.
When John turned, he was being watched from behind a compact paperback. “Have you anything else to read me from that book of yours, then?” he forced out, pressing his lips into what he hoped a warmish, bemused smile and hoping Sherlock couldn’t tell which memories he’d been reliving behind his champagne flute (“I will burn the heart out of you,” was particularly loud in his ears). Sherlock’s eyes dropped to the page held by lithe fingers.
“More than anything else he wanted to walk the streets of Emerald City with Elphaba—there was no more beautiful place to be in love, especially at dusk as the shop lights went on, golden against the blue-purple evening sky. He had never been in love before, he now saw. It humbled him. It scared him.”
Their eyes met again, and at the heat in Sherlock’s gaze, John had to look away before he burned up like a scrap of paper held carefully over a candle.
“Christ, that’s, er,” he breathed, mussing a hand through his hair. “If you’re trying to tell me you love me, you’ve got a surprisingly subtle way of going about it.” He didn’t dare look at Sherlock; he didn’t dare risk meeting that gaze again, not with Sherlock looking at him like that. Instead he drained the last of his champagne and leaned back to set his glass back by the cooler. Leave it to Sherlock to surprise him with some secretly romantic mindset he had buried under all that iron-tight intelligence and mask of indifference.
“If I wanted to tell you that, I wouldn’t have beaten around the bush.” John looked up. Sherlock had set the book aside and had moved back towards him. “Come here,” he demanded, reaching out and taking John by the elbows. John didn’t resist and let Sherlock pull him close, relaxing into the wiry arms that slipped around his middle and held him tight. “John Watson, I love you,” Sherlock purred into another champagne-flavored kiss that had John melting like chocolate in the sunlight.