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Carved In Stone

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Later, after the rest of the Euglassia Watsonia have hatched, Holmes excuses himself to the living room to make phone calls while Watson boils water for tea. She still feels oddly giddy - no one has ever complimented her like Sherlock has, in such devastatingly meaningful ways - and the sensation is like no other in her memory.

She fills the tray and brings it to the dining room, where Sherlock is finally clicking off his phone. "Not a new case already?" she jokes because there can't be a new case, not after what they've just gone through in the days before. In fact, she's wondering if they have anything they can remotely refer to as a 'case' again.

He glances up at her, his expression either calm or exhausted - or both, she's not sure. "Yes, actually. Can you be packed within the hour?"

Her shoulders droop. The giddy feeling is gone. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. It shouldn't take long, just a weekend. Would you mind?"

"Can I finish my tea first?" She sits with a sigh.

He looks at his watch. "You have half an hour. The car will be here at two-thirty on the dot. My father's service is irritatingly reliable."

His father. Oh, great. Watson tries, and probably fails, to hide her misgivings. "Are we finally going to meet His Majesty?"

Sherlock laughs aloud. "Watson, you are genuinely amusing." He rubs his hands and winces as he does so. His shoulder is still hurting, badly and Watson makes a mental note to take along fresh bandages and antibiotic cream. "Oh, and Watson? Please pack sensible shoes. Those snow boots of yours with the six inch heels? The opposite of sensible. There will be some climbing involved, most likely. Try hiking boots. It's not as if I don't know exactly how tall you are, nor do I care if you're petite."

"Climbing, huh. Great." The tea is already unpleasantly lukewarm in her mouth. Watson pushes herself up from the table with a determined sort of cheerfulness. "Whatever this case is, it can't be any worse than the one we just solved."

Holmes looks at her with a directness that has never ceased to be startling. "You solved that case, Watson. You alone. It's important that you keep that in mind."

She doesn't smile right away, but as she packs, her face almost hurts from the wideness of her grin.

0o0o0

It takes a while for them to get out of the city and onto the New York State Thruway, a wide expanse of freeway cut through mountains and some of the most beautiful scenery in North America.

Joan watches mile after mile of maples and oaks fly by the tinted windows as Sherlock stares straight ahead at the glass that separates them from their driver. She is a little surprised by the limo - usually a snow plow will do as far as Holmes is concerned - but she's appreciative of its comparative luxury.

They're on the road for hours and the ride is mostly silent. Holmes nods off an hour in and Joan doesn't berate him for it. She's tired too and besides, she trusts him now, to tell her what she needs to know in his own time. She attaches headphones to her iPhone and listens to Bach, enjoying the endless natural scenery.

Eventually they come to their exit. The roads are smaller here and hilly, winding suddenly onto a mountain from which Joan can see for miles. The sign reads 'Catskill State Park', and Holmes stirs then, buzzing open their windows much to her delight. The fresh air hits her like a sugar buzz, smelling sweeter than any candy.

He breathes deeply along with her. "Back home I always thought I hated the country. All sheep and gossiping old drunks. Then I came here ..."

"You've been here before?"

"Field trip with the rehab," he says, with an eye roll. "But it was enlightening, in a small way. Let's just say I appreciate it better with someone by my side."

"I can't imagine what sort of case is up here," she says as they roll back onto the local routes. "Looks very David Lynch. Or worse ... slasher movierific."

"Case ... huh. Yes, yes ... the case. All in good time, Watson." Holmes yawns and hunkers back in against his seat. His eyes close, a clear sign to Joan that he doesn't want to talk anymore.

Which is fine by her. They come up to their destination, a charming motel nestled between two large hills. There are flowers everywhere, hanging above the gravel grounds and birds of all different colors fly by, straight out of a Disney movie.

Amused, Joan examined their spotless room, two double beds covered with what appear to be handmade quilts, surrounded by country decor, all apples and ruffles. There's a fireplace even and a rocking chair, which Joan sits in right away, feeling like a little girl. "This is adorable. The rehab took you here?"

Holmes nods. "The only time I actually considered making a run for it. It's hideous, but very clean. Germans run it. The bedsprings are probably polished weekly. Hope you don't mind."

Joan rocks back and forth with a smile. "I love it. So what do we have to do first? You didn't bring any files with you."

"Oh, right. All in good time, Watson. The first thing we have to do is rest. I'll take this bed, yes? Maybe you'd enjoy a stroll outside while I nap. There's a stream behind the shed, various wildlife ... hummingbirds by the flower planters. Mobs of them. Insufferably sweet but I can't fault anyone for admiring them. They are amazing creatures. While you're out back don't touch the pale white mushrooms ... they're toxic and can kill you very easily."

Joan looks at him curiously, as he stretches out over the bed and is almost asleep within seconds. "I thought only the brightly colored mushrooms were poisonous."

"No," he replies sleepily. "This one hides in the guise of purity, but beneath is the deadliest organism of them all."

A chill curls down Joan's spine. She wonders if they are still talking about mushrooms. "What are they called?"

"Destroying Angels ..." he murmurs, before dozing off.

Her mouth turns dry. Suddenly, she doesn't want to leave the room, preferring to keep watch over him, hating Irene ... Moriarty ... all over again. An hour passes and Joan's fear fades, but she makes sure to lock the door behind her before heading out into the fading sunlight.

The clean air revives her a bit. The grounds are immaculate and it's a pleasure to sit in a worn Adirondack chair with its high wooden slats, watching the hummingbirds feed at the flowers and sugar water left out specifically for them. They dart like bees, hovering mid-air while drinking and its only when a bald eagle soars by, is Joan's attention - and breath - taken away.

The hours pass easily and she's almost asleep herself when a voice behind her startles her. "I saw a pair of eagles circling overhead. They were down to just a few nesting pairs twenty years ago. Almost commonplace now."

"I wouldn't call such a sight common ..."

"Commonplace. There's a subtle difference, Watson."

Before she can argue, a beat-up car rolls up over the gravel, bearing a sign that says "Angela's Pizza". A teenager comes out and without preamble shoves a pizza into Joan's hands, a bag and receipt into Holmes'. "Fifteen-fifty, please."

Sherlock signs off on it without looking. "You put plates in there, right?"

"Yeah. Napkins, cups and extra salt too." The kid is already climbing back in the car. "Oh, and we didn't have diet soda. I gave you regular."

"Of course you did. My diabetes thanks you," Sherlock calls after him, annoyed.

"You don't have diabetes," Joan says, trying to balance the pizza in such a way they can both partake of it.

"I might have. How does he know? It's hot, I hope." Holmes pulls up another chair and settles in beside her. "It's nowhere near Brooklyn quality - the water up here doesn't allow that - but it's as close as you'll get."

"Mmmm," Joan says around a mouthful of melting cheese, hungry enough not to care. She accepts the cup of soda he pours and together, they eat, looking out over the mountains where the sun is slowly setting.

She wipes a drip of grease off of her chin. "So, about this case that you seen to have forgotten about?"

Holmes chews, his mouth twisting in almost comical circles. "You know there's no case, Watson. Unless you've suddenly lost all your deductive abilities overnight."

"I just like things confirmed. So why are we here?"

He pauses, making an elaborate pretense of wiping his lips and taking slow sips of soda. "I'm tired. As are you. I think taking a short break is the logical thing to do. Hope you're not cross with me."

"Of course not. It's beautiful here and a nice surprise," she says, reaching out to gently rub his tender arm, once again encased in its sling. He must have slept on it wrong and she makes a note to change the dressings and give his entire arm a good massage. "I wasn't looking forward to traipsing around like those kids in the Blair Witch Project anyway."

"This is the second time you've mentioned being afraid of the woods, Watson. Is it just too many horror movies or is it something more?"

Embarrassed that he's figured her out so easily - again - she shrugs. "We used to go camping a lot when I was a kid. I got lost once, only for a couple of hours, but ..." She pauses, her stomach clenching at the memory. "I had never felt so alone. So insignificant. It was as if I'd been swallowed alive by endless trees, that all looked alike. I was convinced I was traveling in circles ..."

"You probably were," Sherlock interjects quietly, his face solemn.

"And no matter how fast I ran, I didn't get anywhere. I would have welcomed a crazy killer to be honest, at least I'd know I hadn't ceased to exist before he got me. I ... I still have nightmares about it." Watson puts her pizza down, no longer that hungry. She pulls her sweater more tightly around her shoulders. "It was dark by the time they found me, huddled under a tree. I was less than a quarter mile from the camp site, but to me, it could have been another world entirely. It was pretty awful."

He reaches out and to Watson's surprise, squeezes her fingers. "I'm sorry you went through that, Watson. I promise we'll only go hiking during the day. You brought appropriate footwear, correct?"

"Yes, Mom," she says, smiling weakly to try and lighten the mood.

"Good. Now, if you're done eating, we can bat watch. They come out at dusk and if we're lucky, some hoary bats will show up. They have a wingspan of over sixteen inches and ... where are you going, Watson?"

Gathering up the pizza box and bag, Joan is already on her way back to the room, ready for the bed and remote. She waves him off as he protests, reeling off all the benefits bats - even giant hairy ones - bring to the world.

Not that she doesn't believe him, she reasons as she channel surfs, the fireplace turned up 'high'. It's just that sixteen inches of bat is too much for any sensible person ... even the woman who'd vanquished a villain named Moriarty.

0o0o0

They sleep peacefully a few feet from each other. Joan wakes a few times in the night, soothed back to sleep by Sherlock's steady breathing. He'd complained before bed about her tending to his shoulder - "Honestly Watson, you fiddling with it just makes it hurt more." - but she knew she wouldn't be able to rest unless she was sure he was taken care of.

She has no idea when his well-being became so important to her peace of mind. The old saying about love comes to mind, about how your beloved's happiness is always more important than your own, but Joan isn't sure about that. Her happiness seems to be derived from his, a precarious proposition to say the least. The things he's shown her, how to view the world and miss nothing ... it's added a dimension to her life she's never dreamed of.

Like a brand new world, filled with wonders. And a touch of, no, more than a touch of adventure - and confidence. More confidence that she's ever felt, even as a surgeon. Maybe this time, if she were lost in the woods again, she would appreciate it.

She knows she'd definitely find her way out again.

Later that morning, she gets up and heads into the bathroom to wash. The shower isn't quite as nice as the room. The stream is weak, smells like sulfur and turns boiling hot without warning. She shrieks when it sears her on her bottom and comes out grumbling.

"Who showers before hiking?" Sherlock asks the ceiling, awake and already dressed. He's waiting for her on the bed with his good hand behind his head.

"Morons," she mutters back, shaking her damp hair out. "Happy now? Will you be all right with that arm?"

He lifts it gingerly for her and wriggles his fingers. "Right as rain. Although I don't plan on walking on my hands."

A little gel in her hair is good enough, Watson thinks as she twists the long black locks into a tight pony tail. She'll be outrageously curly later, but it doesn't matter. It's not as though she'll be impressing anyone. "I thought there was climbing involved."

"A little. You can push me up by my posterior if need be."

"As opposed to yanking you up by your ears?" she shoots back. "We'll see."

He bounds up and holds the door open for her. "Oh, come on. Enough chatter, the well-charted wilds await." Once they are outside, he pulls out a map from his pocket. "Just so you know, this is a very heavily marked trail, the chances of us getting lost are nil."

"The chances of us getting lost with you on the lookout anywhere are nil," she replies, automatically. She's surprised to see the delight in his face. "What? I'm just stating a fact, He Who Sees Like Eagle."

"You're very charming when you want to be, Watson." His eyes are practically twinkling. "Now, it's a quarter mile down the road to North-South Lake, a pleasant flat hike to a short rock scramble - where you will push me gently to my ascent - and then, a slightly more aerobic hike to a very special rock. Are you game?"

She nods her agreement. "Lead on."

Sherlock holds out his good arm for her to take and after a slight hesitation, she winds her own through his. True to his word, the first part of the hike is gorgeous, a winding path through sun-dappled trees that barely causes an ache in her legs.

Of course, the 'short scramble' of rocks is more like a fifteen foot wall of boulders where much grunting and arguing ensues of how best to tackle it with Holmes' injured shoulder. He yelps and complains as she ends up both pushing and pulling him up it, swearing out loud that on the way back he'll be flying down.

There's nearly a quarter mile of honest steep hiking after that, which leaves Joan, as fit as she is, huffing a bit at the end of it. The landscape is different at this altitude, almost desert-like with short, strange sandy-colored trees growing sporadically and acres of worn rock beneath their feet. The air feels different, maybe thinner and Joan experiences a touch of lightheadness that isn't unpleasant.

It's surreal in the sunlight and she walks on with Sherlock, toward what appears to be an outcropping at the path's very end. He waves her forward, excited. "Look down at the carvings, Watson. Read them."

She peers down, and sees names and dates carved into the solid rock. "Martin Welsh, 1822" ... "Louis Graves was here, 1890" "I love Violet. 1802 until Forever" ... and so on, hundreds of them, all the way to the very edge which opens before her in wondrous vastness. The view seems endless, all sky and sun and green fields. "It's like you can see into another state," she says with awe.

"Three states actually. This view, Artist's Rock, was one of the most famous in North America before the car became popular. Oh, what a place this was back then, Watson. All the important people of their day vacationed here and anyone of any ambition at all, would climb up to here and leave their mark. And now ..." With a flourish, he pulls a penknife from his pocket. "It's time to leave ours."

She winces as he walks straight to the furthermost part of the outcropping, with its sheer drop of hundreds of feet right beneath his feet, no fence anywhere. "Sherlock, you know, maybe not so close. You've been so tired and the arm leaves you off balance ..."

It's then, at the very edge, his knees buckle and Watson shrieks, leaping after him without a thought to catch him before he falls. She hates heights too, but that's not what she's thinking about as she jumps on him, throwing her arms around his waist and falling backward on purpose, to bring them both away from the fall.

She's thinking about the vast abyss of life without him and it's an intolerable thought.

Her bottom hits the rock with a jarring thud. He falls atop of her with a yell and they end up tangled together on the stony ground. "Watson, what are doing?" he asks, shaken and bewildered, his good hand beneath her head to protect it from the rocks. "I was just going to my knees so I could carve our initials on the ground."

"You were falling," she gasps, her heart pounding. "You were going to fall and I was never going to see you again." She's in tears and feels utterly stupid, but the look on Sherlock's face is tender, filled with perfect understanding. "I don't want to lose you. I can't lose you when I just found you, don't you understand?"

"I think I do," he replies, brushing her curling hair away from her face. "But surely you realize I'm not going anywhere. Now that I've found you too. I thought I made that clear. Then again, maybe I wasn't clear enough, my best ... my dearest Watson."

His kiss is very gentle. Hers is more forceful, with her fingers wound in his shirt, pulling him impossible close. Her back arches, melding her body against his and he groans in her mouth, his desire obvious. Watson can't help herself, nipping at his lower lip with surprising fervor, heat pooling low in her belly, the pulsing warmth between her legs spurring her on.

"This is a popular tourist spot, Watson," he rasps thickly as she starts fumbling with buttons and zippers that are frustrating in the extreme. "Children are just down that hill."

"So?" She yanks at his belt and he makes a strangled sound, between a yelp and a laugh.

Gently, he pins her wrists over her head, stopping her. "So there's a very nice, very soft bed a mile away - downhill - a fireplace and all sorts of amenities that you'll appreciate, I promise."

Frustrated, she huffs before nodding her agreement. Maybe this was insanity anyway, she thinks, groaning as she sits up on her very sore bottom. She watches as Holmes heads back to the edge of the rock, but not as close to disaster as he was a few moments before.

The penknife scratches for a few minutes against the stone, until he rises with a satisfied look. She carefully joins him and looks down at the initials carves ... an "H" and a "W" artfully entwined, within an eternity symbol.

She can't help but laugh a little, as he takes her hand. "That's very high school of you."

He frowns at her. "It means more than mere romance, Watson, I assure you. My view of eternity encompasses all things ... all aspects of our partnership." He leans in and kisses her forehead, which like the rest of her face has suddenly turned hot and pink. "I never took Irene here," he whispers against her skin. "It never even occurred to me. Take that as you will."

She closes her eyes and leans into him, breathing in his scent which has become as familiar to her as oxygen. "Are we going back to that room now?" she asks, with a full body shiver. This is going to be interesting.

"Are you throwing me down the rock scramble?"

"No, I think I'll preserve your ability to move for another couple of hours, at least. Maybe a few days ..."

He tugs her away from the rock with a chuckle. "Your practicality is merely one of your fine character traits, have I told you that lately?"

He hasn't, but Joan doesn't care. They have all the time in the world to talk.

Later. Much later.

0o0o0

Thanks for reading!