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The Strait of Juan de Fuca

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Every flower in London is blooming, and everyone with either dog or bicycle has taken to the parks and streets, and the great lid of winter has lifted and allowed the city to breathe to the sky, to exhale its poisons and rinse itself fresh.

The sun does not penetrate Baker Street.

John's in short sleeves, the jumpers all hanging in the closet, and there's a little color in his face, but the blue of today's sky hasn't penetrated his eyes. They went washed out and grey staring into the sky from which Sherlock fell, and all Sherlocks' theatrical returning, all of London's flowers of contrition cast at their feet, haven't taken the cold from those eyes.

Sherlock believes John when John says he's not angry. When he says he never did really believe Sherlock was dead.

"Irene's face looked worse than yours when I saw her dead," John had said. "I knew you could do it. Fake it. Once I got past the shock of seeing it I began to realize you aren't the killing yourself type."

Sherlock had known, but could not say how he knew, that it wasn't a compliment, really.

And John had seemed accepting when Sherlock, defensive to the point of belligerence, had made his explanation; they were going to kill you, and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, Mrs. Hudson, John, so I had to. We had to make it safe, for you, it never would have worked if you hadn't believed it, at least for a little while. It was for you, John.

Most days, Sherlock could tell himself it was all back to the way it had been. John nags him to eat and tucks his Sig against the small of his back when Lestrade calls and laughs when you might expect him to.

But something is gone now. Sherlock does not know what it is.

*****

There are reporters outside the dockside warehouse, and when Sherlock and John cross the police tape, the cameras and microphones turn as one. A fresh wind gently breathes old winter leaves down the sidewalk and into the gutters, and the light is pure, undimmed by the usual thin effluvia of commerce, engines and factories.

Beyond the great doors of the warehouse is a corpse, not an extraordinary corpse by any means, just an employee sprawled on a factory floor. The reporters don't know the name of the victim, nor do they care. It's Sherlock they came to see.

"How's it feel to be back on the job, Sherlock?" a voice cuts through the cacophony, and there's a bobbing phalanx of microphones yearning over the yellow tape. Sherlock lets his sunglassed gaze sweep them indifferently, but his shoulders straighten, making his coat swing and its collar brush his jaw. Cameras flash, brighter even than the slanting morning sun.

Sherlock looks back for John, but John is already walking past him, favoring his leg slightly but mindlessly as he always does now, and Sherlock has to lengthen his stride to remain at his side.

John's eyebrows and lashes are burnished in the light. He's frowning slightly, not against the sun, but in vague annoyance at the clamoring press.

"Hey, John! Is it good to have Sherlock home?" a woman calls to him.

"Could be better. Brought you lot back around, didn't he?" John says, hardly turning his head. "I'd only just got rid of you." He doesn't smile.

Sherlock takes his sunglasses off as they approach the massive bay doors into the great fluorescent welter of machinery and noise. Thinks of the corpse bleeding a gelid pool amid the machines, a loser in someone else's game. His pulse grows strong, a chant.

John tilts his head up. His eyes glow of seawater as he breathes deeply, once, of the sky. And then he sighs, and leads Sherlock inside.

*****

John leans back in his chair at Angelo's, legs sprawling. He smiles while Sherlock talks through the tiny bits of telling ephemera in the congealed jelly of blood that made a halo around the head of the union shop steward, in the metal shavings in his hair.

A few factory managers are under hard questioning right now. By morning one will confess. The shop steward will be immortal among the members of his union; he paid with his life for his unyielding willingness to lead a strike.

"Brilliant," John says. "Really, Sherlock, that's fantastic."

He smiles across from Sherlock. His hand hangs loosely across the back of the empty chair next to him. There is that faint ever-present tremble in his index finger and thumb, it never goes away any more, nor does it ever worsen, the same as his slight limp. He is looking out the window at the soft pink sky. Sherlock is still talking as they reach the sidewalk.

"At least the press will finally serve some use, for a wonder," he says. "People will know we are available again."

"You'll get a lot of work out of this," John says, nodding affably. "Solving this case."

The streetlights are on now, making the world a polar, shadowy blue. Sherlock turns his collar to the cold as John raises his hand and stops a cab.

*****

John is two hours late home from work when he comes in, tosses his keys on the table and takes off his coat on the way into the kitchen.

"She's seeing at least three other men," Sherlock says. It's raining lightly out. The mist is caught in John's hair and as he walks by Sherlock, with him comes a cool smell of blossoms on the cherry trees up by St. Bart. He walked home again. Why?

A moment later the kettle clicks on.

"Jenny is seeing Mark in radiology, that I know." John's voice is calm, coming from the kitchen. He's assembling mug and tea bag and sugar. Sherlock can't see him but the sounds make a picture that is cinema-perfect in his mind. The RAMC mug. The spoon John uses when the real sugar spoon is dirty in the sink. There's no second mug on the counter.

"She'll cheat on you," Sherlock says, and why won't John argue? He has posted an article on how to identify the sources of metal shavings and no one is arguing with him about his findings, either. It's all too easy now.

"No, she won't."

"She will. She's cheated on every man she's ever been with."

"You can't cheat on someone who isn't your boyfriend." John comes in with his mug and sits. "So no, she won't. She's a bit of fun."

"Fun enough in a supply closet," Sherlock observes, turning and glaring. "She left a hair sample in the lowest button on your shirt. Bad dye job, that."

"She was good, too, but I won't let her do it again," John says, plucking at the long hair and flicking it away. "She fancies me a bit too much, I think. Don't want to hurt her. Just don't want a girlfriend."

"Of course you do. You've always wanted a girlfriend."

"Time was," John says, absently. He turns on the telly and is already reaching down for the paper but his hand stops. He looks back up at the telly, momentarily caught.

Sherlock turns his attention to the screen. It's inane, nothing. It's a travel show. A camera pans over a rim of white mountains. They have the ragged sharpness of the teeth of sharks. A museum-curator voice is delivering a hushed monologue on British Columbia. Sherlock has always dreaded the idea of Canada. So undeveloped. So vast and natural and irrelevant. Unsorted. Sherlock has no use for it, no use for places like that.

John's face is as composed as ever. His eyes yield no clue. But they cling to the panorama.

******

John will be so angry.

It's gotten late in the afternoon. The shadows are beginning to stretch, the rectangle of sunlight on the living room floor has grown elongated and yellow.

John will be home soon and it still smells like cigarettes. John hates it when Sherlock smokes. That's why Sherlock hasn't, since he got back. But he got bored. He went to Tesco, got Silk Cuts, came home and smoked half of them.

John will be disappointed in him.

There is the door, and John's boots. He pauses, throws his keys on the counter, and without a word steps past Sherlock to the window and pushes it open.

A tide of fresh air sweeps into the room, sweet with the smell of Mrs. Hudson's hyacinths. The sounds of life seem unusually vivid, dogs barking, voices calling. There is a busyness of pigeons below.

John braces his hands on the splintering sill and leans out into the sun. Shuts his eyes and turns to the light, smiling slightly, before drawing his head back in. He blinks, gives his eyes a moment to readjust to the relative dark of the room, and then looks at Sherlock. Sherlock braces for his blast of temper.

"Open the windows before you smoke half a pack, you git," John comments mildly, and runs water into the kettle.

It is not relief Sherlock feels. It is terror.

"Vancouver," he blurts.

"Sorry?" John looks around, mildly interested.

Plans fall together in Sherlock's head, resolve firms in his chest, even as he speaks.

"Next week. Monday. Back Friday. You have vacation time you haven't used."

"Vancouver. Canada. You want me to go to Vancouver."

"Yes. A case." No, no no. Not a good time for a lie. It won't work, anyway. "I mean…no. Not a case. Well, in a manner of speaking." The case of your disengagement from what we were.

"Yes, right. You're not making sense," says John, but the kettle is on the counter, not plugged in. There are twin lines between John's brows. A breeze ruffles the curtain, dust motes eddy in the patch of sun.

"Come to Vancouver." He scratches at the back of his head. He has no way to explain. "Please."

"Sorry, why?"

"You want to. You've never been, and you want to." And I owe you. I owe you so much. Maybe you'll stop this. Maybe you'll come back.

John is searching Sherlock's face.

"You're taking me because I want to go. You're taking me on holidays. Is that it?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. "Vacation."

"To Canada. You aren't interested in Canada. Never have been. Have you."

Sherlock draws a breath to demur, and then lets it out and shakes his head. "Well. I said Vancouver. It's not some Athabaskan village or a guided moose hunt. There's…civilization, of sorts."

"You started to say it was for a case."

"I thought maybe then you'd go."

"Why did you…"

"Because it wasn't true."

John turns to the window. He is a dark shape, outlined by the square of light. There is a long silence. Sherlock hears a group of children walking below, voices high and bright. The pigeons haggle over scraps. He can hear the outstretched wings, the rustle and rush.

John finally turns back, meditatively puts the kettle on. The lines are still between his eyes.

"I'll call Sarah," he finally says.

*****

Vancouver is a city spread thin, as if on toast, but it is a city. The cab ride from the airport to the hotel reveals pubs and kebab shops and even a few places where one could find a reasonably wearable shirt.

The moment John steps out of the cab in front of the hotel, he turns his head and pauses, gazing off at the great fang-like mountains beyond the modest cluster of blue glass high-rises and the innumerable bridges. They are white and sharp as uncut diamonds and there seems to be no end to them.

"It's hundreds of miles of that," says John. "Can you imagine?" He shakes his head with a half smile. Sherlock feels a sweep of horror. He can't conceive of that much wilderness.

"I want to go there," John says, still half-smiling.

*****

Highway 3 to Manning Park is beyond dull. Ahead lie mountains so precipitous as to seem digitally enhanced. But the highway there passes ragged little towns, scraggly lumber yards. Car lots listlessly spread themselves before a disinterested public. There are billboards advertising in faded paint out of season attractions; whitewater raft the McKenzie. Fruit stand ahead. Nine acres of mini golf. There are farms, but they are frayed at the edges, without the neat ancient fences of stone of England.

There are massive copses of trees unimaginably empty, as if no one had thought to do anything with them. There is no history in the thin layers of buckling asphalt that make up the side streets between gimcrack houses all thrown together in a ferment by ham-fisted developers forty years ago.

A river shares the valley with the highway. It, too, is unkempt. Houses perch along its banks here and there, but the banks are left raw and rocky, shot through with scraggly bushes. Civilization seems uneasily perched here. It is a rough draft of a country.

Sherlock allows John to think he is engrossed instead of appalled, staring out his side window. John taps his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the radio, shoulders relaxed.

When the road begins to climb Sherlock finds himself pressing his face to his window, craning to see the tops of the peaks. There are wisps of cloud snagged against the high flanks of the mountains.

Moss grows in a thick green sheath over everything. The trunks of trees are encased it in, and from the moss parasitic ferns grow high above the ground. Another moss trails like black icicles from the evergreens. The rock banks that periodically form walls just feet from Sherlock's window are all sheened with an atmospheric damp. The forests look dense, impenetrable.

The high reaches of the peaks above them now are limned with snow. Sherlock's ears pop. He fights nausea. He tells himself it will end.

*****

The car engine is ticking, cooling. John is leaning on the bonnet.

Behind them is an hour of bone-rattling dirt road, and behind that 200 kilometers of highway.

Before them, where the road ends at what some website termed a "scenic overlook" is a universe of empty places, blue rocky peaks striated with snow that wheel on without number, a great stream-bottomed valley, studded with giant boulders.

"My God," says John. He is enraptured. "Will you look at that. Incredible."

Sherlock tries to see what John sees. He draws a deep breath. It is raw, cold. He can't. The vast spaces clutch at his throat. He wants nothing more than to get back in the car and hide his eyes from so much nothing.

"If you say so," he drawls, a magma of frustration rising in his chest.

"You don't like it?" John crosses both arms and legs and looks at him.

"This is where you go when you die if you have been very, very bad," Sherlock snaps. John quirks a half smile.

"What, because there's no cell phone signal?"

"There is nothing here, John," Sherlock explodes. "It makes no sense. It's not…" he circles a hand. "…organized. It's chaos."

John is quiet. There is a smell of snow and pine on the wind that reddens his cheeks.

"Yeah," he finally says. "It really isn't, though. It has laws. And once you know them, you can count on them."

*****

Sherlock huddles on the sofa in a terry robe from a heated drawer, and outside the window the city glitters in the blackness. He remembers who he is. Today still yawns behind him, a green void, but he is starting to feel warm again.

John emerges from the bath in pyjamas, scrubbing at his hair with a towel, just as there is a soft chime at the door.

Sherlock springs up for it, takes the tray of tea, milk, sugar, cups, tips the waiter extravagantly.

He pours for John and extends the cup without looking at him.

"If you're still interested in the trappings of civilization," he says. He can not keep the acid from his voice.

John takes the cup, sets it aside, drapes his towel over the back of a chair, and looks at Sherlock.

"So. Why are you here then? If you hate the outdoors so much."

"You've been working a lot, Doctor. Someone had to stop you."

"Yes, and you're the soul of solicitude. Come on, Sherlock. Why are we here?" John's jaw is set.

Sherlock walks to the window. The moon is nearly full. The distant peaks are black and jagged against the deep glow of the sky. The silence rises like a drowning tide. His evasions exhausted, Sherlock feels the truth cracking him open, a seedling splitting a helpless rock.

"I wanted to see if I could find you," Sherlock says when he can bear the strain no longer.

"RIght here, Sherlock," John says.

"No," says Sherlock. His throat goes tight. He puts the cup down on the window sill. "No, you haven't been."

"Where've I gone, then?"

"I don't know," Sherlock says, and wrenches himself together, he will not allow his voice to tremble, he will not. "But John Watson gets stropped when I smoke and idiotically pursues romances with vapid women and has a steady left hand and…and…was my friend." And that's all his voice will grant him. He stares resolutely at the city.

John looks at him a long moment. His mouth is a hard line.

"Yeah, alright," he says. "Yeah, I know. It's…I can't feel things properly any more. I want to…just." He waves a hand. "Lost the ability, it seems."

"But you felt…good…today. Your face was relaxed. Your shoulders. Out…" he waves a hand, "…there."

"Out there, that's the only place that makes sense any more."

"But why?" Sherlock cries, hands flying to bracket his temples. "What about that place makes sense at all?"

"It doesn't lie!"

They both are shocked to silence by the ragged shout. John is breathing hard. Sherlock's heart is running too fast.

"I never know what is true anymore. Maybe never did," John finally says.

"I told you why I had to…"

"Sherlock."

No. Life must not ask this of him. He has told enough of the truth, hasn't he? He has admitted that he is afraid of losing John's friendship. Must he tell it all? Can he hold nothing back? To tell all of the truth, the truth he has made a discipline of concealing for years, doesn't bear considering.

Because that dream, the fantasy that John could one day love him back, he needs that fantasy. But it is a delicate and fragile thing, sheltered in the humid darkness of his mind. It will not survive the light.

He stares at John and John stares back.

Finally John's shoulders drop.

"You don't have to do this, Sherlock," he says. "Look, we can catch an early flight. But I could have pretended I was grieving quite well if I'd known you faked it, and you know it. I fooled Lestrade that I was an innocent bystander with my Sig still hot under the back of my coat on day fucking one and shammed for you a thousand times after that. So yeah. I know you are lying about why you did what you did to me. And a vacation package can't fix that."

"John," he blurts. "I didn't lie. I wasn't lying. I…"

Fuck. He is a coward. A thousand times a coward.

"Take me somewhere else. Tomorrow," he says, and he is begging. "I'll go with you somewhere else. Surely there's…more. Mountains, or what have you. We have tomorrow and Thursday. I'll…"

John has a stare as unyielding as granite.

"I didn't lie, John. But there might be more. That I didn't tell you."

They lock gazes.

"There's one more place, yeah. That I want to go," John says.

*****
Sherlock's boot slips and he nearly goes to a knee. Cedar, when wet, is treacherous. He lurches to his feet and resumes climbing. He is climbing a crude staircase, cut by chainsaw from a single massive cedar log and tossed diagonally up the flank of the steep forest slope. Above this log are three more, forming a zig-zag flight of stairs to the edge of yet another ridge.

Doubtless on the other side there will be a similar flight of logs, headed down.

John's pack-laden back, ahead of him, is relentless. He is a study in drab, olive pack, khaki trousers with pockets on the legs, a stone grey sweat-stained t-shirt. He is nearly a forest animal.

The soil on either side of the cedar logs is soft, loose, made of centuries of rotting forest. It smells musty, thick and pungent, redolent of evergreens and wet. It is black, spongy, and in the stream-eroded valleys between these blades of eroding coastal bluff it oozes, unable to bear the weight of the moisture with which it is saturated.

The trail levels out at the top of the slope, and for a few minutes, the Strait of Juan De Fuca stretches off at their left, leaden under a silver sky, choked with pine-black islands. It is one of the most dangerous passages in the world; the wrecks of four centuries line its depths. Beyond the mouth of the strait lies the crescent-shaped Graveyard of the Pacific, where more than 2,000 ships litter the ocean floor. Maps are no guarantee here. A salt-wet air breathes over Sherlock, chilling the sweat under his backpack.

He remembers a series of mafia murders in which the victims were forced to carry the shovels with which they would be buried to the sites of their own executions.

It is hyperbole, and he despises that in himself. But for all the Rubik's cube turnings of his cunning mind, only two choices remain to him now: Tell nothing, and watch the rot spread in 221B. Or tell all, and hope John can find some way forward that includes both of them.

So not a choice, really. He marches.

The trail tips over the edge of another precipitous slope. John, ahead of him, trots easily down the series of etched cedar logs. There is a sound of rushing water growing ever louder, and then there is a slick of black rock soaring up to a scrap of sky. A white braid of a stream traces down its face and vanishes in the undergrowth. Brambles mesh over the stream where it emerges before them. Blackberry canes as thick as his thumbs catch at him, drawing blood.

There is a taste of iron in his mouth, a constant burn in his stomach. He is afraid, so afraid, and it makes no sense. It is supremely illogical. He has stared down the barrels of guns a dozen times. Gambled his life on the strength of a good disguise. Stepped off a six-story building with a fifty percent chance that he would not survive.

Yet the loss of the fantasy that John could love him eclipses every terror he has ever known.

The forest begins to hiss. Near him the broad leaves of some primordial fern rattle softly. A cold rain strikes his face.

*****

The crescent of grey sand is a flimsy buffer between cliff and sea. It's a sliver of no-man's land, a geologically negligible zone between half a world of water and the nation-sized Vancouver Island.

Their two sleeping bags are unfurled, bright scraps of fabric on a swatch of sand behind a driftwood log bleached down to the color of bone.

John is eating a sandwich. Sherlock refused the one John had offered. He feels the sweat chill his back as his pack rests on a nearby rock.

The sun is going down. The mass of the woods on the bluff above them grows dark.

John is efficient, building a tiny fire in a nest of sand, carefully setting a metal cup over the flames. The light of the fire deepens the darkness around them.

Sherlock unlaces his shoes, peels off his socks, doesn't know where to put them. He doesn't want sand in them.

"I've never seen anyone so far out of his element before," John says.

Sherlock looks up to see if he's being mocked, but John is smiling. The smile drops to something more serious.

"I know this isn't your thing, but this…" he glances out at the distant surf. "This I love. So thanks. It means a lot that you would…well. It means a lot."

Sherlock nods.

"So look," John continues. "Whatever you've got to tell me…you know nothing can make me hate you, right?"

"Except not telling you." One last plea for clemency.

"Yeah, except that." Denied.

They sit on the ends of their sleeping bags, watch the sun go down together, birds skimming along the raveling edge of the day. The tide is far out. It seethes through acres of black rocks, shaggy with kelp.

"Give me a moment," Sherlock says. "I'm not…particularly good at this."

"Well. Got all night, don't we?" John says with a half smile. The fear ebbs slightly. They sit, shoulder to shoulder.

Sherlock finds himself unaccountably sleepy. It is the exertion, he knows. Beside him, John yawns.

"'m tired," John says. "I might rest a bit."

"Nature. At last, a soporific to rival your blog."

John gives a slight laugh and flips him two languid fingers. He lies back and Sherlock does, too. The sky is still light above them. But night is coming. He feels a primitive fear.

 

*****
When Sherlock wakes, he is disoriented. For a moment, he doesn't know where he is.

The tiny fire has guttered down to red coals and John sleeps. It takes a few seconds for Sherlock's eyes to adjust.

He sits up. Everything looks different in the light of the moon.

He sees a silver beach. He sees the white lines of waves sweeping in. He sees a black mass of trees, a bank of forest, but it's far away. A hundred meters. He stands and turns. There is nothing but sand and sea and the far trees.

There is no threat. He feels something come loose inside. Nothing is coming. The worst that could come would be a crazy person, a killer. But he and John have faced plenty of those. A bear could come. But John would know what to do. It is not a bear he fears anyway. The odds of attack are infinitesimal.

It is only the vastness, and the unknown. But he is standing here, miles from electricity, from a road or a car. And he is, he realizes, unscathed. Safe, even. The vastness is silent and present, but it is not killing him, or harming him in any way.

He puts his hands in his pockets and tips back to see the moon. He had never realized that a full moon could produce so much light. There are even faint shadows cast by the rocks, by the driftwood. He sees his dark footprints in the sand.

He walks toward the surf, and just before its hissing reach, he clambers up a rounded granite rock. It is black with lichen, until he looks close and sees the quartz pick up the moonlight. He sits and looks out over the sea. At the invisible horizon, there are red lights. A barge. When it has faded off into the far night, he is glad; it doesn't belong here.

He thinks of the tribes that would have found this cove convenient. On the bladed coast, it would have been a place to shore canoes. Light small fires. Spend the night. Mend broken things.

After a while, the waves are hissing around the base of his rock. It feels as if he is moving, rushing out to sea as the water sheets past. He is in no danger. Even at the highest of tides he could wade back in, he knows, he can tell from the pattern of barnacles below him.

The moon moves, the stars grow brighter. He has not been so deep in trance in years. He is aware that he is counting the waves. He is aware that each seventh wave is fifteen percent higher than the others. He is aware that the last time he had this sense of deep calm he was six, sitting on the floor of Father's library, rocking side to side like a metronome as the sunlight through the tall windows slowly passed over him.

The white lines of moonlit surf rush softly past him. For a time he loses himself in the illusion of being adrift, surrounded on all sides by the sea.

*****

The waves are conceding the land again when he sees John rise, dim in the moonlight and the distance. He waits. Watches John scan the beach for him. Watches him hesitate when he sees Sherlock. When he arrives, Sherlock looks down at him.

He feels the fear return, but over it there is a calm. So this will happen now. And then he will face what comes.

"You want to know all of it."

"If you're ready to tell me, yeah. Yeah, Sherlock, that'd be good."

A wave breaks. The water sheets, rushes softly near, slips sideways and gently away. Sherlock notices that it shifts the sand subtly. With each wave, the sand is caressed down the beach. The entire coast, he realizes, is constantly shifting. He lets the words come.

"Rationally, I knew full well that you could grieve convincingly. And rationally, Captain, I knew that I'd have a better chance of making it home alive if you came with me, yes."

"So why in the living fuck didn't…"

"I wasn't rational." A seventh wave swells, black and glittering.

"You. Weren't rational. When are you ever anything but rational?"

Sherlock takes one deep breath.

"When I am in love, apparently."

The wave folds, thunders down.

"I became obsessed with the fear that you might die because of me," Sherlock says. "Even a one percent chance that either of us would make a mistake was intolerable. The thought of seeing you shot before me, or of a phone call from Mycroft telling me that you were…well. It seems, in practice, my long-standing theory is proven. Sentiment and sanity can not share space."

The water hisses, foams, rushes for them.

John's mouth is parted, but he does not speak. He bows his head, breathing deep, reaches out one hand and braces himself on the rock.

Seawater washes around John's bare feet. John is looking down at it. The waves gradually sink his feet into the sand. After a time, he straightens, arm braced on the rock, rooted.

"God, that…it makes sense," he says, wonderingly. Sherlock can barely hear him over the waves. "You were telling the truth. Weren't you. My God, it makes sense. You would take chivalry to the same extreme you take everything else. The immutable law of Sherlock."

He looks up.

"That's why you were crying on the roof. You thought you were destroying any chance that I could ever love you. It's the same reason you never told me this."

John's shoulders start to shake. He stands next to Sherlock's rock and when he lifts his salt-streaked face to the moon, he is laughing.

*****

John is right, Sherlock realizes, as he settles down onto a nest made of unzipped sleeping bag. He had been freezing on that rock.

John, still laughing, had finally reached up and grabbed Sherlock's bare foot.

"Christ," he had said. "You're frozen."

Sherlock had lowered himself, stiff, to the sand, and let John guide him back, John still occasionally shaking his head, breaking into his old unhinged giggle. Sherlock had forgotten about that laugh. Unforgivable, forgetting an important piece of data like that.

The night sky is lightening to periwinkle over the black fringe of trees behind them. The moon is smaller now, and pale. Hulks of logs and rocks are emerging from the night that held them.

John is listening, and in his unbounded relief at that, Sherlock rakes his soul for true words. It's not poetry. It's barely English. But he struggles on. He tells the story of the roof of St. Bart's, omitting nothing.

A wind pushes inland, carrying the salt and the cold. Sherlock breathes deep and talks.

He tells of his magic trick. Of his vigil at his own grave, waiting for John. Of the way he carried what he heard with him. He laughs a little, at the hopeless hope those words had given him. He laughs, because John is listening, so maybe it is something they can laugh about. Maybe John will even find a way to be kind, somehow, to that hope. Maybe he will let him keep it.

The sky is light jade. The morning star is all that remains of the glittering night. Thin rails of cloud far above earth, oyster-shell white and rose pearl, herald the coming dawn.

He explains, finally, hushed and repentant, that he thought John would heal better, because he'd lost friends before, in the wars.

"Yeah, well. You weren't just a friend," John says.

Colors return to the trees, the sea grasses.

"I've thought about it," John says, and his voice is nearly carried away in the wind. "Us. More than a bit, actually. That's why I grieved so much, you know."

John braces his fists on his folded knees, his back that of a soldier. "It took me a while to put it together, why it hurt so much to lose you, and to think you lied. Kept it to myself, though. And here you were, keeping the same secret, all this time."

He chuckles and shakes his head, then squares himself and meets Sherlock's gaze.

"I think I've been in love with you since we met."

For the first time in his life, Sherlock has a moment of perfect silence in his mind. Everything stops. He is nothing, no more than is the grass or the wind or the granite.

The sun sears open the seam between heaven and earth. It catches in John's eyes.

*****
London is finally cooling as the summer sun that scorched it all day slips off the horizon. It's half nine, but the sky is still light, and the flat is still too warm for comfort, so Sherlock and John have moved to the roof.

"You can't possibly be serious," Sherlock says, peering over John's shoulder.

John has a website open on the laptop on his thighs. There is a photo of a backpacker and a mountain range. Dirt. Sky.

"There's a trail that's 2,600 miles long!" John says, rapt. "This trail goes from Mexico to Canada. People hike it. They start in the spring and it takes all summer. They finish in September. In British Columbia. In Manning Park. Where we were."

"And I've scoffed at religion all these years, only to learn that there is a hell, and it's in America."

"I could do it," John says. "Don't think you'd make it ten miles, though."

"Rubbish, of course I would. Although it might take a week, what with your tiny stride."

"Dick," says John, and his face says he is amused and in love. "You'd wee yourself every time a bird chirped."

"Oh, please. There's nothing in the entire west coast of the United States more frightening than Anderson on a homicide, and I face that often enough."

"There's snakes. Bloody great rattlesnakes. Two meters long."

Sherlock feels a flicker of interest.

"They have the Mojave rattlesnake there, near Mexico," he says. "It's the only rattlesnake with neurotoxic venom. Like a mamba. It's a fairly rare snake. My birthday's coming, John, get me one."

"Sherlock, if I ever come home to find a Mojave rattlesnake or any other rattlesnake in the sink, in the refrigerator, or crawling about the flat in any form, in fact, should I find any snake of any description in any state at all on these premises, I will make you eat it," says John. He ruffles Sherlock's hair. Sherlock narrows his eyes at John. John smiles.

"You realize that most rattlesnakes merely have the same type of venom as do bees," says Sherlock. He leans back against the chimney. "So hardly the most dangerous of pets. What do you think? You've been pining for a namesake. We could get one and name it Hamish."

John pushes at him. Sherlock narrows his eyes again. They beam at each other. It is absurd. It is glorious.

Sherlock knows that by the time the evening star is a bright pin point in a mauve sky, they will be stretched out, rolling together, kissing, the loose slate rattling beneath their shoulders.

By the time the trees begin to rustle in a night breeze and the streetlights cast their orange glow over old ladies coming in with the shopping, as cats prowl out for the hunt and nightjars call from the eaves, they will be back inside.

They will strip off in the heat, the self-consciousness and ceremony of the first days given way now to ease and familiarity. The first touch of John's hands, though, will make Sherlock gasp.

Outside the open window, below on the pavements and down all the maps of ancient streets, London will happen. The heat will drive murders up. People will plot the demise of the legend that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have become. Some will be clever. Most will not. Lestrade will glare at a file or a murder scene, look at his phone and wonder if it's worth the headache. Those will be their tomorrows. They will be good.

Winter will come. John will terrify Sherlock, and will be terrified in return. They will retreat behind icy masks. They will turn them to each other, and pretend until they can't bear it. Then there will be fires in the grate, and the weight of John's head on his chest.

One day London will loose its hold on them, and John and Sherlock will slip away somewhere calm and green. There will be a small lab, a study.

He thinks of it, thinks of waves and clouds and John with white hair. Leans over and pushes his nose into John's neck. John still smells of the sun.

"Someday," Sherlock says, "I'd like us to live by the sea."