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Gimme Shelter

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The love affair began with salt.

Thick salt. The kind that coated shivering skin in chalky warmth and crusted like splintering glass in between tiny strands of hair, seeking the water, seeking the sun, seeking the froth.

Salt that crackled across his tongue and burned in the corners of his tear ducts. That whipped through the crevices of his pruny fingertips and nestled thickly in the hair under his arms, the tiny crevice underneath his big toe nails, the hidden curve just behind his ear. That dried and slithered in shrinking flakes across the skin of his forearms under the baking sun.

“Jesus, stop licking your skin, Johnny, you crusty old shrimp,” his mom said to him, warm smile on her lips where she stood with one hip propped against the metal doorframe of their little red and white seaside mobile home. She had cotton balls stuck between her freshly painted coral toenails, hairnet over curlers and a languishing Lucky Strike perched between her fingers.

She always called him a crusty old shrimp when she was happy – when her Friday night date after her shift at Lou’s diner went well and she came home to John already tucked in his bed with the bowl from his cornflakes washed and drying in the sink. She’d step out of her little white Baby Doll shoes with her pink and white frilled waitress cap still bobby pinned to her curls and press a kiss to his salt-free forehead drowning out the sound of the waves. And John would pretend to be asleep while she rummaged through the hamper of their clothes all fresh and dry from the laundry line in the sun until she found his little pale blue swimming shorts and set them on the bed for him to find as a surprise when he woke up to the clanging of his Bugs Bunny alarm clock. The promise of a full Saturday’s worth of daylight spent waist deep in salt water and sand.

When John was ten years and four months old he shut off the radio during the final credits of Cisco Kid and stood up on his tiptoes to wash his cornflakes bowl in the sink. He checked that the screen door was shut tight and sucked a little toothpaste onto his tongue so his mom would think he brushed his teeth and climbed into his little couch bed dreaming of the salt that crested and fizzled in the white froth of the waves. Of the way his pale blue swimming shorts floated and swished around his legs in the soft, wet swells and crusted in the hot and heavy Long Beach sun.

He waited and waited for the bubblegum kiss to his salt-free forehead. Waited and slept and dreamed. Until he woke up in the morning to a blaring Bugs Bunny alarm clock and an empty trailer and no pale blue swimming shorts laid out on his bed. No frilly waitress cap hanging off the metal doorknob.

John’s aunt took him in after his mom looked the wrong way stepping off the moonlit curb at the end of the pier and met with the hood of a cherry red Chrysler speeding on its way to catch Teddy Edwards at the Lighthouse Café up in Hermosa Beach.

Auntie Cath lived way out in the San Fernando Valley in some chicken ranch desert called Reseda. Her house wasn’t made of metal and didn’t sit on wheels with a screen door that rattled in the sea breeze. Her kids Ron and Susan ate Kix instead of cornflakes and didn’t listen to Cisco Kid on Friday evenings. When John asked them if they liked to lick the salt off their skin too after playing sunup to sundown out in the waves, they told him they’d only ever been to the beach once. It took Auntie Cath and Uncle Ron almost two hours to navigate the old station wagon through the Las Virgenes pass to make it all the way out to Zuma Beach, and by the time they got there they had just enough time to suck on some popsicles, dip their toes in the icy water, pack up and leave again.

John didn’t taste the salt again for years. His forehead stayed clean and fresh. Salt-free. The little crevice behind his ear was as sterile as a freshly washed palm.

When he turned seventeen he hopped in the passenger seat of Billy Murray’s dad’s old Buick and handed him a wad of money he saved bagging groceries to use for gas. They drove and drove until they reached the fizzling licks of salty waves lapping at the Santa Monica sand, baking in pools of golden sunset light. There was a bonfire, and chilled bottles of Pabst. Girls in little white swimsuits and the same four chords played over and over again on an old cheap guitar. And when John took Lisa Kerny’s hand and lead her away into the quiet, pristine bed of velvet sand and tide pools, and let her drag her pink coral nails across his bare chest chasing little droplets of sandy water, he licked the salt off her skin at the place where her neck met her shoulder, and it tasted like a crusty old shrimp.

Chapter Text

The air pierces John’s lungs as he gulps it down in heaving gasps, head bursting up out of the water like a rocket. His legs scramble below him trying to find purchase in the ripping currents as another wave washes over his face, cutting off his lungs from the oxygen with a sharp slap. He needs to find up. Needs to find his board. Needs air.

His body is hurtling through a churning void, ripped and thrashed by the water’s gripping fingers while the seaweed drags his shins deeper and deeper into the black depths. He has the vivid sensation of an iron black hand tugging his ankle down away from the air and fights against it, struggles with all his might, until he realizes it’s the yank of his own ankle strap and board pulling him up to the surface, to life.

Weathered fingers finally find rough, waxy wood and the sun and breeze hits his face with a great clash, beating away the waves and froth still clinging to his face and lungs until all that’s left is the salt on his grinning cheeks.

“Shitty luck, Johnny!” he hears Greg call out. “Next time you get yourself pitched over at least have the courtesy not to look like you’re drowning. I missed a fucking primo barrel waiting for you to surface.”

John heaves himself up onto his board and then collapses on his back, chest heaving.

“I’ll try to be more considerate next time,” he says. The hot sun feels like a kiss on his chapped lips.

“Hang ten on a wave like that without getting your ass kicked next week and you’ll be looking at a nice pocket of cash courtesy of the ISF.”

John turns his head to look over at Greg sitting idly on his long board, wet spine swaying with the rocking waves while they wait for the next swell. The truth of his friend’s words feels like a weight on his chest, cutting him off from the cool sea breeze. The International Surf Festival next weekend down the road at Hermosa Beach is his last chance to finally earn enough points to make it out of the damn qualifiers and up into the Championship Tour. If he makes it, it means a whole new years’ worth of competitions. Extra cash in his pockets, traveling up and down the coast sleeping in the back of Uncle Ron’s old station wagon, waking up each morning before the sun with the only care on his mind being how many minutes until he drops in on his first barrel of the day.

If he wipes out, it’s back to the Long Beach dockyard until he can pay his way back into a qualifying membership. John feels his body go limp into the fiberglass beneath him as his mind clouds.

“Hey man, mellow out,” Greg says. “I can hear your brain flipping out from all the way over here.” John yelps when a handful of seawater gets dumped on his face.

“Buzz off! Can’t mellow out if you’re drowning me all over again, asshole,” John laughs. He moves to sit up on his board and rolls the kinks out of his neck in a long, slow circle. The endless blue stretches out in front of him. A question and an answer all at once. He sighs and runs his fingers through the wet tangles of his hair, brushing back his overlong fringe that’s turned almost white from the blinding sun and reveling in the way the little droplets of water trickle down his sides and back in a salty race.

“For real, though, man,” he goes on. “I can’t go back to that dockyard full time. Gotta make at least a grand or two riding this year or. . .” He trails off. Greg hums.

John leans forward onto his elbows and watches Greg retie his long curly hair into a loose bun out of the corner of his eye. The wavy, salt-slicked strands look like black silk in the waking morning sun, and Greg’s chest rises and falls in tandem with the gentle rocking of his board. His stomach muscles clench to keep his balance as he tucks in the last loose lock of wet hair. The sight makes John feel warm and dry in the back of his throat, just like it has every early morning for the past two years drifting side by side out on the velvet waves.

“Johnny,” Greg says staring straight ahead. “You know those guys over at Val’s have been banging on your door since you first turned up on this beach telling you they’ll sponsor you once you make pro.”

“They tell every new young punk that,” John interrupts, but Greg fixes him with a hard stare.

“Been riding the waves on this stretch of beach since I was eight, man, and they’ve never given me a phone call, I’ll tell you that much. And you’re not a young punk either, you old geezer.”

John forces a laugh and splashes some water Greg’s direction. Greg’s right. He isn’t young anymore. Nearly every dude in his heats at the local competition last month was younger than he was way back when he even first set foot onto a Navy ship. Even Greg would have barely been in junior high when John was praying to a faceless god down in the slimy belly of a hull listening to the distant echo of torpedoes.

“Sorry, man,” he says, shaking his head once and speaking down to the water. “You know how I get.”

Greg knows. After two years of constant friendship and near daily pre-work surfs side by side out along the sleepy Los Angeles coast, John knows that Greg has trained himself to look out for the faraway dark stare he sometimes gets in his eyes. The blackness that pulls him down away from the jokes and laughter and joy of flying off the ocean spray on a shiny waxed board and entombs him in its deep, sightless depths. Greg sees it, and he doesn’t ask how or why, and he pulls him back up gently, slowly. Without pity. John knows that’s the main reason that Greg Lestrade has become his longest lasting friend to date.

What Greg doesn’t know could fill an ocean. They’re both well aware that Greg’s only tiptoeing across the very top point of the ice burg that is John Watson. Greg never asks, never pries. He tells John the story of his life and his parents, the places he’s been on vacation and the way his girlfriend Molly tilts her head when she drinks a milkshake. He talks steadier than the firm breeze in the patient calms in between sets while they perch on their boards and wait, and he never once asks a return question. He fills the histories for the both of them, and for that John is wicked grateful. But this – the darkness, the void, the inequality – it’s there all the same.

Greg doesn’t know that the reason John was sleeping down alongside the beach in the back of a station wagon when they first met was because he’d stepped off a Navy vessel fresh from the Vietnam coast just two months before with nowhere to go and nothing to do. He doesn’t know that John’s never once set foot back in the little Long Beach trailer park where his mom’s frilly waitress cap hung off the metal doorknob each night. He doesn’t know that John shot a man face to face at point blank range and then looked down at the dying body to see that the kid was too young to even have a driver’s license. He doesn’t know that John thinks about the way Greg’s thighs hug the smooth fiberglass and wood of his board. Thinks in the middle of a fourteen-hour shift down at the dockyards of the precise, unchanging process Greg uses to tie up his hair in a bun, revealing the smooth skin of his tan neck.

Greg grins, a little smirk at the corner of his thin lips, and rolls himself down onto his stomach to start paddling out into the smooth vast blue.

“Yeah, I know how you get, old man,” he calls back over his shoulder. “Crotchety old hodad shit sitting out here on your wrinkly ass wishing us young kids weren’t putting you to shame on every wave.”

John rolls his eyes and shakes his head down at his board, flinging himself down onto his stomach to try and catch up to Greg, cutting through the sharp, clear water with his arms as they race out to the rolling horizon.

Greg’s done it again – pulled him up and out. John’s back feels open and assured, pushing back up against the weight of the world and drying inch by inch in the waking sun.

“Gotta head in after this set,” he yells up to the bottom of Greg’s feet. “Shift starts at 9.”

“Show me what you can do then before you’re late to your fucking bingo game and Odd Couple reruns.”

John feels the familiar slow burn start to build in his shoulder sockets, spreading out from his core and threading through every vein in his body, rushing his blood so fast and hard that his body melts seamlessly in with the coursing blue water underneath him. He duck dives under a nice barrel and smiles as he shoots a stream of bubbles out of his nose through the thick churning salt, sucking in a deep breath before turning back to watch the very top of Greg’s loose and wet bun bob up and down as he rips down along the glassy shoulder of a wave until his strong, sturdy legs are swallowed up by whitewater along the shore.

Greg’s whoop echoes out to him across the waver. “Behind you, old man!” he cries, palms cupping around his mouth where he stands next to his board stuck in the sand. “Bomb coming – got your name on it!”

John feels his heart beat double time in his chest as he turns back out towards the endless blue. He spots it immediately. A rolling, rumbling crack of a wave forcing its way across the surface, pushing up from the murky ocean floor to form the biggest set they’ve seen all morning. His brain shuts down and his muscles take over. He feels the low, humming tremble of the waves rock against his board and wrap around his bones. Crisp air slaps his face as he whips his arms through the water, paddling through the churn and racing against the rushing force of the wave. He can feel it starting to crest behind him, lifting up the tail of his board towards the heavens, towards the take off, up and away and out of the sightless black depths.

The froth rockets him forward, bursting off the spray. His hands grip the waxy board as his legs and feet scramble for purchase, fighting against the ocean’s sacred strength. This is his light. His therapy. This is his sitting in a circle in a small beige room and sharing in a monotone voice the horror of shooting a little boy point blank in the face, leaving his body there to rot in the jungle. This is his walking halfway up to the little brown box that Auntie Cath told him was holding his mom while she slept and not being able to walk all the way up to it to take a final look. This is his sleeping alone in the back of a station wagon and wishing Greg’s hand was the one softly pressing between his legs.

John opens his mouth to let out a victorious cry as he tips his board down for the take off along the crushing face of the barrel, and the sun warmed salt whips and crackles across his tongue as he soars.

Chapter Text

John’s nose draws in a deep breath of body-warmed bed sheets and salt scented air as his eyes slowly blink open into the golden haze. It’s John’s favorite thing about this shitty, hole in the wall, one room apartment – the windows. Ever since Greg helped him enter his first surf competition and the prize money meant no more sleeping in the back of Uncle Ron’s old station wagon, John has blinked awake before dawn to a view through a thin, rattling window of the great vast blue, deep velvet glass cupping the earth in its wet palms and beckoning John out to its depths with the soft, rolling, even crush of the waves against the shore.

He props himself up on his elbow and turns to look out of them now, expecting to see the barest hints of dawn peaking up lazily over the sharp horizon. Sleep crusted eyes blink slowly awake against the unexpected glare, and he squints and holds up a palm to shield his eyes from the sun. It’s not the milky darkness hovering over the waters that he sees. Instead it’s a white hot beach bathed in sunlight and swarming like an anthill in people, a forest of surfboards sticking up in the sand waiting to be waxed and glinting in the sun, a parking lot full of beat up Winnebago’s and Corvette’s alike waiting to bake in the California heat.

“Shit shit fucking shit!”

John hurls himself from bed and snatches up his alarm clock in a shaking hand. The dead battery light blinks back at him like a taunt.

“Shit!”

He zooms about the tiny one room apartment haphazardly getting ready, throwing on board shorts and a torn Quicksilver t-shirt he’s pretty sure is Greg’s from when he went on vacation with Molly to Australia before he and John even met. He shoves deodorant under his arms and splashes water on his face, grimacing at the stubble on his cheeks and knowing there’s jack shit he can do about it at this point.

He sends up a quick prayer of thanks to whatever god is up there watching him flail around and panic from above that he thought to pack his gear bag the night before. John inexplicably throws a banana and an entire loaf of bread into the already full bag and then slings it across his shoulders and onto his back. The sound of the crowd already cheering from down on the beach rushes to his ears as he flings open the crooked apartment door. He jams on a scratched pair of Ray Bans and shoves his feet into flip flops before tucking his surfboard under one arm while the other drops his skateboard down in front of him as he jogs down the driveway and out to Hermosa Avenue.

John tries to calm his hammering heart and lets himself smile at the feeling of the warm wind whipping through his hair as he bobs and weaves down the windy slope of road that will get him down to the sand. Palm trees, patio coffee shops, and ramshackle surf bars zoom past him as he lets his body lean and sway with the movement of the skateboard hurtling over blinding pavement and hot asphalt. Sweat starts to tingle down the back of his neck and under his arms, and John curses under his breath when he realizes the only damn thing he forgot to bring from his entire apartment was sunscreen.

The beach when he gets there is a zoo. A giant hand painted sign boasting the “International Surf Competition 1976 - Hermosa Beach, California” hangs fluttering in the breeze between two palm trees, while across the sand a churning throng of people battle against the sun with hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, and tiny bathing suits. They’re straining their necks to watch the first surf heat already out in the water and trying to listen to the commentary going on over a large, crackling loud speaker set up in the back of a pickup truck next to a purring generator.

John leaps off his skateboard at a run and swoops it up under his other arm, knowing full well he looks ridiculous with a board under each arm, crooked sunglasses, and a frazzled sweat already pouring down his forehead. He weaves through the crowd as best he can, making his way towards the white competitor’s tent off to the side and hoping against all hope that they’ll still let him surf.

“Well looks like fucking Sleeping Beauty decided to actually show up! And in my own goddamn shirt!” he hears a voice call from the tent’s shade. John breathes a sigh of relief, and feels that damn irritating flutter in the bottom of his stomach, when he sees Greg jogging out to meet him, already ready for competition in his wetsuit bottoms with a small damp towel draped around his neck. His brown curls hang down long over his shoulders, still half wet from when he must have taken a dip in the waves.

John shoves his surfboard down into the sand and drops his gear next to Greg’s before running his hands over his sweaty face. “Oh my god. Damn alarm clock battery died,” he sighs between his fingers.

“More like up too late last night doing something far more interesting than resting before a competition, you fucking juicer,” Greg says as he jams a sandy fist into the top of John’s head and messes up his hair.

“Aw fuck off!” John laughs as he shoves Greg away from him. He tries hard to make sure the smile reaches his eyes as he smoothes his hair back down into its usual swoop. It’s times like these he jarringly remembers that Greg has absolutely no idea that he’s his one and only friend in the world.

He walks beside Greg up to the check in table and almost whoops for joy when he sees that it’s Molly behind the little foldup table. She greets them with a flip of her long brown ponytail and a deep eye roll.

“Well thank god you decided to show up. I almost had to put this one in a corner he was whining so much about why you weren’t here yet to play in the sandbox with him,” she says, pointing her thumb towards Greg and pretending to resist as he wraps her in a hug from the side and tries to press a sloppy kiss to her cheek. John chuckles down at the sand, unsure as to whether his laughter is real or forced.

“Look, Molls, any way you can do me a solid and pretend I was here an hour ago in that paperwork of yours?”

She smirks and wipes the sand off her chest from Greg’s arms. John can see Greg staring almost openmouthed at her little red bikini out of the corner of his eye as Molly stands and leans across the table towards him.

“Already told them you were here,” she whispers into his ear, passing him his heat number.

“Far out, Molls. I owe you one.” He kisses her cheek and takes the heat number in his hands before following Greg back over to their boards.

“I’ve still gotta wax. My heat’s two groups away,” Greg says as he bends down over his backpack and rifles through for the bar of wax. John forces himself to look away from the long curve of his back.

“I’ll join you, bro.”

They receive a fair amount of attention as they make their way through the sea of competitors stretched out on beach towels and lounging in the sand. Greg’s been a staple of this beach for his entire life, and, as much as he doesn’t feel like it deep down, John’s made somewhat of a name for himself on the SoCal scene over the past two years of local competitions.

“Shit, man, beach is crawling with groms and kooks today. Can barely pick out the competition,” Greg says as he lifts his board above his head to avoid a group of onlookers spread out in the sand.

“Don’t see you complaining about the chicks, though,” John quips with a sly grin, and Greg looks back to flip him the bird.

“Gonna go pro today, dude, I can feel it!” someone calls out to him from the crowd. John rubs his hand over the back of his neck and barely jumbles out a thankful reply, already starting to feel the crushing pressure bearing down upon his shoulders. He hears a similar sentiment four or five more times as he and Greg make their way past groups of young high schooler's smuggling Budweiser’s onto the beach in brown paper bags sprawled next to some of the most distinguished names in Hermosa, most with a platinum blonde haired beach chick hanging off their arms, passing a cigarette back and forth.

Greg smirks back at him as he continues to stutter over his replies to the well wishes, and John is inordinately grateful when someone starts blasting Earth Wind and Fire on a nearby boom box loud enough that anything more than a smile and nod becomes impossible. He feels like he’s been dropped onto a goddamn Hollywood film set, with a costume thrown on his body and a fake surfboard shoved under his arm and a director yelling “hey there, sonny, just walk down the beach and pretend you’re one of the boys!”

He feels one hundred years old, and he struggles not to limp in the sand. The last week’s worth of shifts sweating down at the dock yards feel like icy lead in every muscle of his body, leaving him frustrated and out of breath as they trudge through the hot, deep sand.

Greg leads them out to a more secluded spot, up just high enough on a bluff that they can see the whole event stretched out before them like a colorful mirage. John marvels again at the sheer volume of it all. It seems to him like this whole surf scene suddenly appeared overnight. One day he was catching his last wave on a completely empty stretch of beach before boarding a Navy vessel, and the next day he was stepping off that same boat and waking up in the back of a station wagon to see an entire beach plastered with people wanting to watch a real, organized surfing competition. It seemed absolutely insane to him then, and it still feels surreal even now.

“We are lucky sons of bitches, aren’t we?” Greg says, reading his thoughts.

John hums in agreement as he gets out his wax. He settles his knees deep in the sand and feels the stretch in his tight hamstrings. He grimaces at the thought of stretching them later before his heat. Gradually he loses himself in the hypnotic ritual of waxing his board, listening to the steady waves call out to him as they pound against the sand in time with Greg’s deep, focused breathing beside him. John pretends that his already anxious, racing heart doesn’t speed up even more when he sees Greg eventually sit back on his heels to tie up his hair into a bun.

“You don’t believe them, do you?” Greg asks.

John startles out of his zen and looks up from his board with a frown. “Believe who?”

Greg pockets his wax and leans back in the sand on his elbows. “Anybody. When they tell you that you can really go pro with this, that you can make it up to the Championship Tour.”

John shrugs, avoiding Greg’s gaze. “Guess I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than hope. Works better that way.”

He flinches when Greg’s hand is suddenly right in front of his eyes, slowly dragging the Ray Ban’s down off John’s face before leaning over to look him in the eye. John’s breath catches in his throat as those deep brown eyes latch on to his.

“Fucking win this, Johnny. For all that shit you’ve seen that you keep bottled up in there. Go out there and fucking blow this thing out of the water.”

John feels his throat close up, and he looks away embarrassed as he blinks the moisture out of his eyes. Greg’s never said anything like this before, never acknowledged out loud the secret past that John keeps hidden from him, from everyone. He’s seen the scar, of course. And the limp he gets when his body hasn’t fully woken up yet. Seen them both hundreds of times in pre-dawn light as they perch side by side on their boards and wait for the next quiet set.

John remembers the first day he decided to go without his wetsuit top in front of Greg. It was one month after they met, and it was terrifying. The whole night before he’d been nauseous just thinking about it. Lying in the back of the little station wagon listening to the crickets and the waves, convincing himself to just suck it up and do it and then talking himself back down from making the biggest mistake of his life and pushing away the only true friend he’d made since Billy Murray. He didn’t know how Greg felt about it all – about the war and the politics and the soldiers coming home to tree trunks without yellow ribbons and brains that thought cars backfiring were machine guns in the middle of Sunset Boulevard.

The next morning he’d risen before the sun like normal and brushed his teeth from bottled water over the gutter on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway. The seagulls cawed down to him. Mocked his uncertainty. He made his way on shaky legs down to the shore with his board tucked under his arm and a bulky sweatshirt thrown over his thin frame. And he’d watched as Greg jogged down to him from where he parked his beat up Chevy with a smile on his face in the cool grey sand, and taken his hand and thumped him on the back like usual. And then John had forced himself not to vomit as he pulled the sweatshirt up over his head and left himself bare chested in the slowly warming virgin air, waiting to hear the gasp he knew would come from Greg’s lips.

Except it didn’t come. Instead Greg had simply pulled off his own sweatshirt, cursed and shivered at the cold, and then run forward into the waves to start the day, calling back over his shoulder for John to get his shit together and join him before he had a birthday waiting for him.

John sees now that it probably wasn’t really as much of a surprise as he’d thought it would be. Thousands of boys his age were being shipped off to Vietnam every month, and almost just as many thousands came limping back one year, two years later. If they made it back at all. It didn’t matter if you disagreed with why they were over there in the first place. The soldiers still got shipped back all the same.

Even now, sitting up on a perfect sunny stretch of sand and looking down at the grand spectacle of the International Surf Competition thousands of miles away from the little stretch of beach in Da Nang, John knows there has to be at least a solid handful of secret soldiers hiding amongst the surfers and spectators in the vast crowd. They all hide in plain sight. Laughing over beers down at the surfer bar or smiling around the bonfire after a day out on the waves. And then they wait for the crowd of friends to pack up and leave, they wait until they’re truly alone, and then they let the haunted darkness seep back into their eyes.

They see each other in the crowd. John looks at them and they look back at John and they know. They know. There’s a nod sometimes, or a blink. John received two just now following Greg through the crowd with his board under one arm and his wax in his pocket. The haunted darkness isn’t welcome on this sunny California beach, brimming over with cheers and smiles as young, unmarked men rip their way across the waves and spray. As pretty little girls cheer them on while sipping on Pepsi and the kids studying over at UCLA make plans to grab fish tacos before studying in the back of someone’s station wagon by the shore.

And now Greg’s gone and told him to fucking win it all anyways. To stick it to the haunted darkness and take the prize money and make a living doing the only thing in the world that keeps him from walking out into the sea and ending it all. He can’t think of a single way to thank him.

John swallows hard and blinks out of his thoughts. Greg’s still watching him calmly, patiently.

“Ok,” he finally chokes out, and Greg smiles and winks before nodding back to the crowd. “Time to get back and stretch so you don’t break a hip old man,” he says. “And also the stubble on your face looks like shit.”

And John laughs, breathless. Nods once hard and slips his sunglasses back down over his wet eyes.

Chapter Text

“And with a wild first wave score of 9.3, our own local boy Johnny Watson clears his first qualifiers heat with three waves all over 8.5. I think we all know that he’s gunning for those last couple thousand points today to push him up into the coveted World Championship Tour. We’ll see if he can pull it off in the second round of heats, coming up just after lunch. And speaking of lunch, dudes, why don’t you head on over to Dave’s down on the pier for a wicked burger and fries . . .”

John sweeps his first heat. Annihilates it, in fact. The other three surfers didn’t even stand a chance.

He’s walking calmly back up towards the competitors’ tent listening to the chorus of applause and shaking the salty water from his hair when he’s barraged by a swarm of other surfers congratulating him. He laughs and tastes the salt on the inside of his lips.

“Alright, alright, ladies, form a line.”

The other surfers laugh along and slap him on the back, reach out to touch his board like it’s a trophy. John looks around and realizes he barely knows half of these guys – some of them not even just by name or face. A mixture of elation and dread fills his gut. He’s known now. He’s becoming one of them. No longer just a local guy whom some of the ex-surfers down at the Alcove Bar talk about as a little guy to keep your eye on as they nurse along a fourth beer and groan over the good ol’ days.

He needs to live up to something now. To prove that he’s worthy of surfers from all over the entire goddamn world currently patting him on the back and unknowingly clapping their palms over the ropy scar on the back of his shoulder. He needs to hold his head high and act chill and pretend he’s used to having his five minutes of fame on the hot sand. He also needs to get the hell away from all of them so that he can find a quiet corner to unzip the top half of his wetsuit and throw on a t-shirt before anyone sees that he’s a worn out Vietnam sailor nine years older than the rest of them, not some hot new kid climbing up the ranks in the Hermosa Beach waves like surfing’s just the greatest fun game in the world.

Greg breaks through the crowd and grabs John around the neck, rubbing his fist into his hair to mess it up again. He leans down and whispers “you did it, old man,” in John’s ear before telling the other surfers to fuck off back to their girls and leave the poor guy alone to relax. John shoots him a grateful smile. The side of his neck feels cold when Greg takes his arm away.

John watches Greg jog back to his circle of friends in the sand, the warmth in the pit of his gut slowly fading with each step Greg takes away from him, then he keeps his head low and slinks through the crowds up towards the bluff by the pier so he can change in the shade of a palm tree trunk. He leaves the top half of his wetsuit hanging down around his waist beneath his t-shirt and ventures over to the packed boardwalk. His feet just lead him there. He has no idea why.

Dave’s burger shack has a line almost down the whole length of the pier. John dodges skateboarders and families, fishermen and groups of bikini clad girls as he makes his way barefoot down the rough wooden planks, seeking out a bathroom or a lemonade or whichever comes first. A girl with waist length straight brown hair and a bikini top with cut off jeans roller skates past him and shoots him a knowing look and a wink, popping her lips around her bubblegum. For a fleeting moment John imagines if Greg looked at him that way, all sultry desire and radiating flirtatious confidence, and now he needs to find a cold drink to get rid of the warm flush on his sunburned cheeks. A Beach Boys song from back before John even got drafted blares from a little ice cream stand he passes in search of a soda, and John feels a sudden pang of nostalgia in the pit of his chest for the times he would hop in Billy Murray’s dad’s Buick and race down along Pacific Coast Highway with an ice chest of beers in the trunk and nowhere to be but the sand.

Just when he almost reaches the tip of the crowded pier, it happens. John’s scanning the pier one last time in desperate need of a drink when he catches the eyes of a man through the sea of bodies. They’re piercing and clear, nearly hidden by half wet locks of brown curls.

Time stops.

John senses the crowds continue to swarm and move around him while he stands frozen on the pier, eyes riveted and breath throbbing right at the back of his throat. The other man is staring too. He holds his gaze as people continue to pass between them, as the air horn sounding the end of the current surf heat blasts across the beach followed by a wave of cheers down on the sand. John feels the dryness in the back of his throat, feels the flush spread up his neck and onto his face. The man is looking at him like he’s surprised by John’s very existence. Like he’s slowly blinking out of a fog and John is his lighthouse in the storm. John’s never been looked at like that in his entire life. He sucks in a breath of air and moves to step towards the stranger, licks his lips to speak – to say what, he has absolutely no idea.

Then it’s over. The spell broken. After what could only have been three seconds the other man is gone, absorbed back into the crowd and leaving John adrift in a swarm of people. He lets out a shaky breath and fights the urge to rub his hand over his scar. For the life of him, he can’t remember the color of those eyes.

Half an hour later finds him back on the beach, frosty bottle of Coke in hand as he spots Greg in the middle of a circle of his oldest surfing buddies – guys John knows by name but barely anything more. He plops down on the sidelines of their group to a more mellow chorus of well wishes and pats on the back, ready to sit back and take a deep breath for the first time that day. He looks out over the roaring waters and feels the sun slowly baking the saltwater off his skin. The top of his wetsuit still hangs limp down by his hips, and he burrows his toes under the first layer of hot sand to reach the cool, wet mud underneath.

A group of French surfers walk by, followed by two from Mexico. They all look at John with mild acknowledgement, even appraisal. It makes his skin itch to realize he’s no longer anonymous. He’s almost up there with them. Almost.

“Tough luck on your draw for the final heat, Johnny,” one of Greg’s friends Kip calls over to him.

“Shit I haven’t even had time to look. Who is it?”

A snicker passes over the group beside him, and John feels a strange warning tingle zip down his spine.

“Facing off against that fucking fairy,” says Dean, as he runs his fingers through his long beard and sneers.

Fairy. John feels his heart stop beating in his chest. It takes everything in his power not to look over at Greg, to find solace in the shape of his broad shoulders or the way his shorter hairs curl softly at the nape of his neck. Instead he stays neutral, digging his heels a bit harder into the earth. The air horn starting the next heat echoes across the beach, and John wishes desperately he could just sit silently and listen to the commentary on his competitors.

He takes a slow breath and faces Kip. “Who?” he asks.

Kip finishes taking a swig of cold beer and sticks the frosty bottle down into the sand.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t seen him here yet. That kid from over in Hawaii – Scotty Holmes.”

A small chorus of girly, high-pitched voices echo the words “Scotty Holmes” after Kip speaks, causing another round of laughter.

John feels a cold sweat break out over his skin. His heart’s beating faster now than it did when the horn sounded at the start of his last heat. He takes a deep breath and stares straight ahead at the waves, eyes unseeing.

He knows exactly who Scotty Holmes is. Who doesn’t? The very second day John had ever surfed with Greg, Greg got stars in his eyes and told him how he read in Surfer’s Journal that last month a nineteen-year-old kid stole someone’s board, ran straight out into the water in the middle of the First Annual Billabong Masters without even registering to surf, and took on the biggest fucking wave anyone had seen all day like it was just business as usual. Then he’d simply untied the ankle strap, left the board floating in the whitewater, spat his name over to the judges’ table, and disappeared off into the palm trees. It had taken almost six months to track him down to mail him the prize money.

John decides to play aloof. If he doesn’t he’ll go and sink right down into the sand, small and forgotten.

“Ah yeah, him,” he says. “He actually that good?”

Dean snickers. “Oh, he’s good alright. Not some fucking kook or anything. Won the Billabong Masters in Oahu the first two years they ran it, and they say he didn’t even break a damn sweat. He barely leaves Hawaii, only seen him out here once before. Son of a bitch goes after the huge ass surf they got over there in Waimea. Word is he’s going for the world big wave record.”

Kip cuts him off. “But man he’s a miserable asshole, Johnny. Thinks he’s Jesus Christ or something looking down on all of us poor losers. And keep fucking far away from him out there unless you want him checking out your ass as you paddle out, sick fucker.”

John swallows hard and slips his shades back over his eyes to hide the panic he knows is showing. The conversation is proving an unsurprising but still terrifying reminder of how careless he’s gotten with his looks at Greg. His stomach fights against the banana and slice of bread he ate earlier before his heat as he agonizes over whether Greg’s ever noticed him checking out his ass as he paddles out in front of him in the early morning waves day after day.

He feels nauseous. “I’ll keep my ass thoroughly out of sight,” he says with a forced smile. He feels his curiosity start to boil over within him, and he barely stops from wincing even as his mouth forms the question. “What makes you say he’s a queer?”

Another friend, Jeff, chuckles deep and ironic in his chest. “Shit, you never heard? Not sure what you’d’ve called it, Johnny, if you’d been the one to walk in on him with his tongue down some fairy whore’s throat last year in a bar toilet after the Laguna Beach competition. Harry said he almost upchucked all his beer when he saw it,” Jeff finishes with a shiver.

“He’s lucky we all still even let him surf,” Kip adds.

John’s mind flashes back to the memory of his own hand between his legs the night before, and the images that had been running through his mind, and his skin burns hot with shame.

Then it occurs to him. “Wait, if he’s such a big shot, what the hell am I doing in his heat?”

“Matt Randley twisted his ankle on his last wave,” Greg explains. “Would’ve been you against him based on your rankings but –“

“But that miserable fucker jumped in and volunteered to surf against someone still in the qualifiers,” Kip interrupts. “Like the surfing Mother Theresa. If that doesn’t scream hidden goddamn motive I don’t know what does. Probably just wants to see someone get crushed.”

John feels ice at the back of his throat. Five minutes of fame after his first heat aside, he’s still just a nobody. A local boy getting too old for all of this with a forgettable face who only got people talking because he seemed to materialize out of thin air two years ago and wasn’t a complete limp noodle on a board.

He has absolutely no business in hell going up against someone who won the Billabong Masters not even once, but twice. The inevitable humiliation feels like someone is pouring thick wet sand over his face, closing off his lungs from the brilliant clear sun and sky and dragging him back down slowly to the depths. Back to the dock yard.

He startles when a hand with glossy bright red fingernails clamps down on his shoulder.

“Johnny, I’ve been looking for you!” Molly looks flushed, like she ran to him across the beach. “You know your round is in fifteen minutes?”

John curses under his breath and leaps to his feet, almost head butting Molly in the process.

“Molls, you’re an angel!” he calls over his shoulder as he sprints through the crowds to his board, a chorus of “good luck, you’ll need it’s” hitting his back. The sand falls off the legs of his wetsuit in clumps, and he fruitlessly runs a hand through his fringe to try and get out the crunchy tangles. He really needs to wax his board a second time. To stretch and condition a little bit, go for a jog or drink a huge bottle of water or find some damn sunscreen or just sit down and breathe. But instead he’s just sat and listened to everyone tell him all the ways Scotty fucking Holmes is going to demolish him without doing anything to even try to set himself up for a chance at success.

He flies through his preparations on automatic pilot, ducking behind a tent to rip off his shirt and zip up his wetsuit top before nearly sprinting to the starting area of shore near the judges’ tent.

He breathes a sigh of relief when his competitor isn’t even there yet. John isn’t ready to face him, to see him face to face knowing that every wave out there during the next thirty minutes will have the other man’s name written all over it. There’s no way he can compare the monolithic terror of a man – no, a kid – that he’s built up in his mind over the past hour with a real human being.

John stares straight ahead, taking the final minutes before the air horn to study the rises and falls of the water. Trying to plot out the surf breaks and find the best pathways to catch the smoothest barrels. Trying desperately not to think about Scotty Holmes’ tongue down another man’s throat. He forces air slowly into his lungs and gradually feels a calm start to wash over him. The familiar meditative state of watching the lungs of the ocean rise and fall in beat with the earth. It’ll just be the two of them in this heat – no fighting with a whole group of other surfers for the best waves. Whoever wins gets 10,000 more circuit points, a fat pocket of cash, and the ability to say they made it to a second round qualifying heat of a major international surf competition.

Except why the hell a fucking two-time Billabong Masters champion would ever want to boast about that makes absolutely zero sense. And so John’s careful contemplation of the water turns once again into churning anxiety, his eyes fighting with him to start glancing around frantically for the man who should be next to him.

“And here we have a special treat down on the sand today, folks. Those of you arriving just now for the afternoon’s Championship heats, you’re in luck, because first here we have Johnny Watson fresh from a primo first qualifying heat ready to face off in a chance encounter with Oahu’s own champion of big wave surfing - Scotty Holmes—“

John nearly winces at the sound of his own name booming from the crackling loud speaker. It feels like being stripped naked in front of the giant, surging crowd. Like he’s in a dream where he looks down after surfing for three hours and only then realizes he’s naked. The announcer sounds like he’s had one too many beers already that day, and not a little bit of heatstroke. The buzzing murmur of the spectators mixes with the static of the loudspeaker and songs from three different boom boxes to create a wave of sound at John’s back, pushing him forward inch by inch towards the calm of the waves. He grips his long, waxed board harder under his arm and curls his toes into the sand. Sweat trickles down his sides underneath his wet suit, and his heart pounds blood through his legs.

Suddenly, like a mirage appearing above the sand, someone materializes to his right. In one calm, smooth movement, the empty space next to John becomes inhabited by a man in long black wetsuit bottoms and, of all ridiculous things, a skin-tight light grey hoodie. The crowd at their backs draws in a collective breath of silent awe and anticipation as the infamous surfer plants the tip of his board down into the sand. John wants to laugh as he stands there trembling with nerves and sweating in his wetsuit. Then he turns his head sideways to get a better look.

It’s him.

John nearly gasps. The man from the pier stands next to him transformed. Gone is the shocked curiosity, the inquisitive yet vulnerable stare covered by loose curls locked on to John’s eyes from the center of a swarming crowd. In its place is a statue. A God. John knows his mouth is hanging open as the man next to him slowly pulls off the hoodie to reveal tanned bare skin, his entire muscled back covered in an intricate tattoo that John can’t quite fully glimpse. He stops himself just in time from dashing over to get a better look.

Scotty Holmes is no fucking kid.

The loose curls from earlier are slicked back hard against his skull. Harsh and sleek like the lines of a jet black Porsche. He has aviators on over his eyes, and suddenly John would bet anything that he has no plan of taking them off in order to surf. The wetsuit bottoms are so tight they seem to melt into his skin, hugging the sharp curves of his hips and clinging to every muscle. John’s heart beats double time in his chest as his eyes quickly roam over the warm, tan skin. The rippling strength as the man bends to pick up his board and tighten his ankle strap. The way a dusting of hot sand drips down his ankles like honey, clinging to the bottom of his calves. The pure, unadulterated focus that beams out of him like a laser. The slow rise and fall of lungs that have no reason in the world to be nervous.

John knew deep down for years before he ever first shook Greg Lestrade’s hand that men were always gonna be what did it for him, but – Christ. He can barely breathe. The sheer presence of the man next to him dazzles into the air and sizzles across his skin. He forces himself to look back towards the water, but not before Scotty quickly turns his head to look at John. Even behind the sunglasses, there’s no recognition there. No acknowledgement of the pier. There’s only competition in the harsh lines of his face. The sharp, fierce focus layered over a sizzling burn of adrenaline and competency. The full, pink lips pressed into a harsh line of determination. That one glance is all John needs to know that he’s about to be absolutely pummeled. He might as well set his board down now, strip off his wet suit for good, and hop on his skateboard right back down to his job at the Long Beach docks.

He distantly realizes the two announcers are still babbling about their predictions for the waves and the heat when the airhorn blares unexpectedly, startling John and starting the heat with an awkward anticlimax. John thinks he hears his competitor mutter “idiots” under his breath as they both jog towards the waves and throw their boards down into the water to a fresh roar of applause, pushing and pulling at the small shoreline swells until they can reach the wide open blue. John tips the nose of his board down and duck dives under an incoming wave, losing himself to the sensation of the current ripping and writhing at his body. When he surfaces, though, he nearly curses out loud. The ocean looks like smooth glass – not a ripple in sight. The sounds of the crowd have long since faded, even the booming of the announcers disappearing up into the clouds. All John can hear is the soft trickle of water droplets falling off his arms as he paddles. That and the smooth, even breathing of the man ten feet to his right.

“Well shit,” John breathes as he looks out at the wave-less water. He perches on his board and tries to count the minutes in his head. Each second that ticks by without a swell feels like another chance at going pro is slipping effortlessly out to sea, just out of the reach of his fingertips. The only benefit of waiting there like a sitting duck is the fact that the Scotty Holmes can’t knock him on his metaphorical ass if the ocean isn’t giving him jack shit to surf on either.

It’s awkward, sitting perfectly still just ten feet away from each other with absolutely nothing to do and hundreds of people watching them not do it.

John clears his throat. “We haven’t met yet. I’m Johnny,” he says.

His competitor doesn’t even turn his head. “Obviously.”

His voice is rough and deep, like he hasn’t used it in days. The sound of it makes John clench his stomach muscles as he feels his board rock underneath him. He’d half expected Scotty’s voice to be effeminate. A perfect embodiment of the walking stereotype Kip and Dean and the rest all painted so vividly for John back in the sand. He wasn’t expecting melted dark chocolate. The sound of a rich, thick wave slapping hard against a rocky shore.

The water beneath them continues to ripple and roll in soft, slow curves. No waves in sight.

John licks his lips against the sun and runs a hand through his drying hair.

“You’re a big deal,” John tries again. “I’m lucky to even get to surf against you. So thanks, I guess, for volunteering to—“

“We’re not even surfing, for God’s sake,” he cuts in.

John takes a deep breath and prays with every fiber of his being for a swell to come in. When the water stays mockingly flat, John realizes the only way to let the excess adrenaline out of his limbs is to take on the challenge of talking to the man next to him. He takes another breath – feels it press out against his ribcage that’s still sore from an eleven hour shift the day before.

“Well, gotta say it’s pretty amazing what you did in Oahu two years ago. I read about it. And you were just a kid –”

“Yes, yes, I’m the young prodigy and you’re the old washed out vet trying to go pro before your knees or your wallet give out. Glad we’ve got those tedious details out of the way.”

“How the fuck do you know about –?” John stops himself before he really lets loose. He knows he has a temper, and the middle of the ocean next to a no doubt champion swimmer is not exactly the best place to lose his head. Scotty’s words, old washed out vet, drape over him like heavy ice.

It’s then that his patience – for the lack of waves, for the man next to him, for the sunburn forming on his cheeks, for the hours and hours of extra shifts he’ll have to work to afford to enter his next qualifying competition – runs out.

“Well, crucify me for trying to have a conversation,” he spits out.

The man finally turns to look at him, pure incredulity plastered across his face, spreading out from underneath his black sunglasses.

“You sat surrounded by so-called friends for an hour before this heat hearing about what an asshole fag I am, and then you walked up to the shore expecting to be absolutely humiliated in front of everyone and having the chance at going pro taken from you by a dickhead who volunteered to annihilate you, and your first instinct when we got out here to this flat water was that you wanted to converse with me? Who the hell are you?”

John bristles. He fights down the urge to slam his fist down onto his board in front of him like a five-year-old who was just reminded of the fact that they’re irrelevant and irrational and small.

“Well who the hell are you?” John shoots back. “What the fuck do you know about me?”

“I know that you’re considering taking this little swell that’s coming towards us as your first wave in a last ditch attempt to end this horrible conversation – which, incidentally, was your idea in the first place - and I know that when I tell you that that wave’s gonna be closed out because of a rip current and isn’t even worth paddling out for, you’re going to look at me and go ahead and do it anyway just to spite me and admit to yourself that you don’t have to try and be civil to me anymore because I’ve now proven myself as a verified asshole. And also tough luck about your alarm clock battery.”

“Jesus Christ, they weren’t exaggerating,” John mutters as he shakes his head out at the flat horizon. He keeps his eyes trained on the little swell Scotty mentioned. He’s no idiot. He can see as well as anyone that it’s gonna be closed out. It would be embarrassing to chase after it in front of the finest surfers in the world. It would be mad.

John starts paddling.

He nearly laughs to himself when he hears Scotty’s incredulous huff behind him as he cuts through the water towards the oncoming wave, feeling a thrill down his spine as he watches it slowly gain speed to reveal a perfect swell coming in right behind it. The muscles in his shoulder start to groan and spike under the heavy wet blanket of his wetsuit as he pulls his body through the water, and the muscles across his back and sides clench to keep him balanced on the waxy board.

John lets his mind slip away and his body take over as he leaves Scotty farther behind with every paddle. He can feel the rushing surge of the wave behind him now, scooping up the tail of his board and lifting him up towards the sky. It’s going to be a full barrel. He can feel it. With a grunt down in his gut John grips the sides of his board with trembling fingers and hoists his feet up behind him, toes gripping to find purchase under the power of the wave.

This is his favorite part. The lift off. The treacherous moment between lying flat against the belly of the earth and being lifted up into the heavens on the wings of the spray. John’s tired legs find a second wind and pump him down the face of the barrel just as it folds into the perfect pipeline, cocooning him in a swirl of water and echoing the sound of his heavy breathing. He reaches the opening of the barrel and clenches his core to turn his board up towards the lip of the wave, tapping the crest twice before cutting back and leaving a rocket of spray. Just as the whitewater starts to swallow up his legs John shoots a glance back to Scotty Holmes perched on his board with his fucking aviators still pulled down over his eyes. John smirks as the sound of the wild applause starts to fill his ears, and does a full soul arch, face lifted up to the sky as he feels the churning foam swell around his calves.

Scotty isn’t even looking his direction.

John falls back into the shallows to end his ride and feels his body melt into the water. His muscles surge with excess adrenaline, lactic acid from holding himself tight on the board during the cutbacks starting to leak its fiery way through his veins. By the time he clambers back up on his board and cracks his neck he can hear the distant booming crackle of the announcers going wild. One glance out at the pathetic waves coming in tells John that that ride will be his first and last one of the set. His chance at going pro, his chance at everything, resting on the previous thirty seconds of his life. That and whatever Scotty Holmes is able to accomplish in the next seven minutes before the airhorn.

John’s breath catches in his throat as he turns in the glassy shallows to watch Scotty chase after his own incoming swell – small but with promise. The long, lean lines of his body cut through the water like silk. John desperately wants to turn away, but he’s frozen. Riveted as he stares at the way the inky tendrils of the tattoo shift and ripple across the muscles as Scotty paddles. He turns to catch the wave, paddles once more, then shoots up all at once to a gasp from the crowd. John convinces himself the burning in his cheeks is just from the sun as he watches Scotty’s long, sinewy arms extend for balance, ripping down along the face of the wave and throwing up spray with each half turn up along to the lip.

John’s heart sinks deep in his chest. It’s over. It’s all gone. There’s no way in hell, even with his perfect pipeline, that he could ever compete with this. With the pure muscle and grace and elegance that glides along the water as if gravity doesn’t even exist. He’s just resigned himself to turn back towards the shore and escape as quickly as possible when Scotty looks over to him. John’s heart beats once, twice, stops. Scotty stares, and he pulls the aviators down from off of his face as he continues to surf along the crest, all while looking straight at John, and then he wipes out.

The crowd goes insane. Gasps and wails and cheers and there’s no fucking way that John’s really hearing people chanting his name across the hot sand. He wades towards the shore on shaky legs and pulls his board alongside him floating on the water when suddenly Greg is on top of him, tackling him down into the froth with two warm, soft hands on either side of his face. For one heart-stopping moment John thinks he’s going to kiss him. That Greg will pull John into his body and press his perfect chapped lips against his in front of hundreds of people on the shore. But then Greg’s pulling his hands back and roughing up John’s hair like he always does, the grin on his face threatening to leap off his freckled cheeks.

“Johnny, you professional surfing son of a bitch, you just left Scotty Holmes in the fucking whitewater!”

And John wants to cry. At the saltwater stinging his eyes, and the way Greg is looking at him with his hair falling into his eyes like he just went and hung the sun, and the swell of cheers he can still hear pouring over him from the beach, and the way the sheer thrill of his ride has shocked the scar on his shoulder into being too numb to hurt yet.

It’s all just overwhelming enough to make him wish he was walking up onto a deserted beach instead, just after dawn and a Los Angeles sunrise with only Greg by his side. John looks back once more towards the sea and sees Scotty pulling his aviators back down over his eyes and running his hands through his hair to smooth it down. John freezes. He swallows hard as a shiver of realization runs through his core, turning his joy into ice.

He’s standing there on the Hermosa Beach shore having just defeated a two time Billabong Master’s champion. Having just stuck it to the haunted darkness and fucking won it all anyways. And now John Watson can’t even stop and enjoy it all, because he suddenly realizes two very important things:

One, that the way the tattoo rippled across Scotty’s back made him dry in the back of his throat in an achingly familiar way.

And two, that this Hawaiian son of a bitch just went and wiped out on purpose.

Chapter Text

The love affair began with physics.

With crinkled graph paper stolen from the cupboard of a 4th grade classroom in Iowa covered in sharpened red crayon. Wavelength charts and gravity pull calculations and the effect of wave peel angle versus wave break intensity based on the size and composition of the sand hidden in the water’s depths.

Physics that started with accidentally getting his small, sticky hands on a full color advertisement photograph of a wave breaking fresh on the Hawaiian shore, found on the last page of a copy of Playboy magazine buried deep in a wet rubbish bin just off the little dirt road in the middle of landlocked Kentucky.

That stayed folded up in the back pocket of Scotty Holmes’ only pair of khaki pants until his khaki’s became three inches too short for his legs, and until Lieutenant Holmes announced that after moving eight times in five years they were finally gonna settle down and have a house of their very own on the military base way out at Pearl Harbor. And Scotty sat sweating and cramped in the back of their beat up pickup as they drove across the desert headed straight for the Los Angeles airport, trying to tune out the rattling old cassette tape of a Sunday sermon that his father had made them listen to eighteen times already. Something about fire and brimstone. Something about needing to be saved.

He held the torn and faded photograph in his quiet ten-year-old hands as they drove while his younger brother asked every fifteen minutes whether they could stop to find a Dairy Queen for a frostee. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the hot leather seat and imagined what the water near Pearl Harbor would sound like crashing against the shore, with the wind in the palm trees and the crystal blue waves and the way the soft, warm sand would feel different than prairie dust against his bare toes. Imagined a velvet beach covered in a blanket of shiny white pearls.

It was almost enough to help him forget that his momma wasn’t in the car with them. That she was still back crying on an Arizona porch with a liquor bottle in her hand and no wedding ring on her finger. With her beloved cross necklace lying on the rough wooden floorboards of the kitchen after she broke it trying to hold Scotty close into her chest, snot covered lips groaning out “not Sherlock, please not Sherlock,” and his father’s firm grip tugging him clear the opposite direction towards the Chevy.

It was physics that filled his head and drowned out the sound of the sweating preacher every Sunday morning, where they bowed and knelt and prayed in the sticky, hot, humid air of the Oahu church, his father’s starched formal uniform on one side of him and his father’s new wife’s traditional muumuu on the other. And it was physics on his mind when he tuned out his dad saying grace for fifteen minutes before each meal while his brother snuck early bites off his plate and chewed soft enough that only Scotty noticed. Physics that he thought about late on the night of his fourteenth birthday lying on the bunkbed underneath his brother, after he had asked their father if he could have a surfboard for his gift, and instead he’d gotten a lecture and a new Bible and a necktie.

The day after Scotty’s fourteenth birthday he took apart an old fax machine he found dumped behind the high school where everybody laughed and called him Egg-white, on account of the fact he had the palest skin any of them had ever seen, and he’d committed the social crime of eating an egg salad sandwich packed by his father’s wife on his first day of school there. Scotty tinkered for a week and finally put the fax machine back together so that it only ever printed out Led Zeppelin lyrics. And it was then that he realized that a whole lot of people would pay good money to get a kid to fix their televisions and calculators and radios for half the price it would cost them at a Radio Shack.

On his fifteenth birthday Scotty Holmes walked up to the counter of the local surf shop with bulging pockets and purchased his first very own surfboard. He stayed up all night memorizing the rises and falls of the waves – the perfect stance to have on the board in order to surf a smooth barrel. Practiced paddling and popping up on the worn carpet of his small bedroom floor. Nine years’ worth of handwritten notes on wave physics. Nine years’ worth of observations on the clear, vast blue. The way the ocean breathes and the force of the spray. Angles of the wind and the thick black pull of the deep.

And on the day after his fifteenth birthday he planted his new board proudly in the sand on the empty local beach right at sunrise. He ran down to the shore just to give himself a first fresh dip in the virgin waves, and when he walked back up to his precious board he nearly fell to his knees in the sand when he saw someone had spray painted “faggot” across the face of it.

He stood there frozen with the icy, curdling realization that Seb Moran must have caught a glimpse of the photo of a half-dressed sailor he kept hidden in the back of his beloved notebook after Seb stole it from him in the hallway last week and made him hand over his lunch money. Something straight out of a cheesy high school bad boy film. And he’d just stood there like a dumb mute thinking of the winking sailor hidden in the notebook’s pages currently clutched between Seb’s thick and sweaty fingers, feeling like some stupid idiot just waiting to get caught and hanged. And he also realized, kneeling in the sand on the sunrise after his fifteenth birthday, that a group of other just-turned fifteen-year-old’s were currently hiding in the bushes laughing their asses off at him.

In the end it was impressively efficient how little time it took his father to pack up his entire life for him and leave it out in a trash bag on the doorstep, with a few yelled parting words and a shocked and embarrassed snicker coming from his little brother half-crouching at the top of the stairs. It was even more surprising to hear the sound of bare feet running after him down the sidewalk three minutes later. To turn and see his father’s wife Lahela with tears in her eyes begging him to let her know he was alright. To not disappear forever. To not turn his back on the Lord.

So Scotty found new places to sleep, as far from Pearl Harbor as he could possibly get on the tiny island of Oahu. Quit high school and instead devoured every science book he could get his hands on. He studied the ocean with romantic obsession, chronicling her every quiver and breath. He fixed people’s broken clocks and telephones and primitive computing machines in his little trailer for cash under the table, and he wrote a secret letter to Lahela once a month. He scrubbed the spray paint off the face of his surfboard. Went out every morning before the sun and stayed out until he barely had the strength to still stand upright on the waxed wood. And he realized that, since the first time he ever picked up a sharpened red crayon and worked out a physics equation in vibrating, shaky scrawl, he had finally found something he was actually good at.

He was really fucking good at surfing.

Chapter Text

It’s all very unexpected.

Sherlock pauses after throwing his sunglasses back on over his saltwater stung eyes and running his hands through his soaked hair, still thigh deep in the waves with his board floating restlessly by his side. It bobs and presses against his leg, like an anxious pet dog waiting for a pat on the head or a scolding.

The swelling roar of the crowd spills out to him over the surface of the water, mixing with the harsh slap of the waves against the shore. They’re cheering for his competitor. Surrounding him and clapping their hands all over that scar he keeps hidden beneath his wetsuit and reaching out to touch his board like a talisman. “Scotty Holmes wipes out to give Johnny Watson his Championship Tour ticket on a golden platter!” the announcers are yelling. No one is looking at him. No one is watching him be pushed around by the waves in the shallows, mocking the fact that none of those cheers are for him.

He breathes slowly through the emotions brimming up inside of him, crawling out through his skin. There’s surprise, for one thing. Surprise at himself that after just 1.8 seconds of staring straight at Johnny Watson while ripping across the surface of a wave he had apparently decided to go and fling himself off his own board on purpose. He can’t even remember the last time he wiped out on accident, let alone because he chose to. The potential memory feels false and fleeting in his mind.

There’s also resentment. Irritation and misplaced humiliation and a pit-of-his-gut desire to rewind time and absolutely crush Johnny Watson the way he had intended to when they first threw their boards down side by side and paddled out into the smooth glass sea.

Sherlock keeps his head down as he emerges from the foam and walks as fast as he can along the sand away from the crowds, board clutched hard under his arm. Someone’s blasting the latest irritating mishmash of sound by The Doors across the beach. Sherlock feels it in his bones like a personal insult – the little keyboard mocking him. People fall uncomfortably silent as he walks past, shocked that “Oahu’s own champion of big wave surfing” just got literally knocked on his ass by a local boy without a reputation and a wave barely taller than a ten-year-old kid.

Except they don’t know. None of them stop and think and just realize that of course “Oahu’s own champion of big wave surfing” didn’t suddenly forget how to surf like he hasn’t done it literally every day since he turned fifteen.

No one notices when he stops at the edge of the swarming crowd and looks back. They light up new cigarettes and snap open new cans of Coors and fawn over the local underdog like sheep following a new prophet. Sherlock wants to scoff at them. To laugh at how ridiculous it is that they all think worn out Johnny Watson somehow had the skill and the strength to actually, in fair contest, beat Scotty Holmes.

He wants to cross his arms and smirk that Johnny’s probably basking in the glory with no idea whatsoever that of course Sherlock knew there would be a good wave hiding behind that little closed out dud of a barrel. He didn’t study the ocean obsessively for his entire life for nothing.

He wants to think these things, and mentally pat himself on the back for a job well done fooling them all, and then escape back to his little motel room. Wait until the sun sets and the beach clears so he can whip his board back out and surf alone through the quiet calm of midnight.

But then he looks at Johnny Watson one last time, catches a glimpse of golden sunlit hair through the crowd, a hint of a warm smile tinged with a fleeting and invisible melancholy, and suddenly the idea of going back to a motel room alone sounds goddamn miserable. Sherlock grips a handful of frizzy curls with his fingers and huffs. He feels unsettled. Betrayed by his own body. Because while he may be the only person on that beach that knows he wiped out on purpose, even he doesn’t fucking know why.

Johnny clearly thinks he doesn’t remember what happened on the pier. No human being has ever been more wrong in their life. Sherlock remembers exactly what happened on the pier. He remembers the way his breath caught in his throat, and his bottom lip dropped open, and his heart felt like it would explode on the spot. Remembers Johnny emerging from the crowd like a lighthouse through the fog.

Sherlock scoffs at his own thoughts and forces himself to look away from the perfect picture of Johnny giving a last wave to the still cheering crowd while his little best friend with the ridiculous bun hangs by his side like a puppy and the girls in bikinis practically line up to kiss his stubbled cheek. It looks straight out of a cheesy 1950’s Los Angeles advertisement: Come to the City of Angels, where the waves and the women never run dry!

It’s not until he’s a fifteen-minute walk away from the beach, thoroughly enjoying his self-imposed sulk and trying desperately not to think of why in hell his body willingly fell off his board, that Sherlock realizes he completely forgot his bag back at the competition, including his motel room key. He groans and reluctantly turns back towards the crowded chaos, still avoiding the eyes of shocked fans and strangers alike. He tunes out the blaring music and the roar of the crowd, slinking through so silently his tall form is rendered nearly invisible, even with an 8 foot long surfboard tucked under one arm. His bag is right where he left it – back up behind the crowd a ways and perched in between two palm trees, just on the outskirts of the big dirt parking lot. He double checks his wallet and motel key are still in there, slings it over his shoulder, goes to pick up his surfboard again, and freezes.

Johnny Watson has absolutely no idea that Sherlock’s standing barely fifteen feet away, perfectly concealed between the two palm tree trunks, face hidden in their shade. Sherlock can’t move. He stares silently, watching with a clenched jaw as Johnny leans against the back of the lifeguard stand and breathes slow and deep, face gazing up at the cloudless sky, utterly alone on a beach filled with hundreds of people. Johnny runs a hand through his long, sun-bleached fringe to sweep it back up off his forehead, and Sherlock’s chest clenches tightly when he sees Johnny’s fingers move to the zipper of his wetsuit. It’s his signal to leave. A blaring red siren screaming “private, private, private!”

Sherlock stays.

He unconsciously licks his chapped lips as Johnny peels the wetsuit off slowly, inch by inch, to reveal broad tan shoulders, sharp collarbones covered in a dust of freckles, hot sand clinging to the muscles on his chest, toned arms hiding a quietly commanding strength. Sweat and saltwater glisten over the firm lines of his stomach, clinging to the muscles on his back and dripping down the curve of his spine like honey. A fat drop of seawater falls from a loose lock of Johnny’s hair and drips onto his firm chest, rolling slowly over a peaked nipple in the chill of the shade.

Sherlock sucks in a quick breath and bites his bottom lip. Sweat prickles hot and sticky at the back of his neck, down his sides and under his arms. His eyes are riveted, drinking in every new inch of revealed skin like a dying man in a desert come upon an oasis. Johnny slowly rolls his neck to crack it, and the quiet groan he lets out sends a shiver down the skin of Sherlock’s forearms. Johnny lets the top of his wetsuit hand down by his sides and stretches his arms behind him, revealing the gnarled scar. Sherlock gasps. It’s horrific – marring the sturdy, smooth, powerful lines of Johnny’s body with a firework of raised, pink tissue.

It’s also the most beautiful thing Sherlock has ever seen. He thinks of a crumpled up magazine page with a Hawaiian wave crashing onto a perfect shore. He thinks of a topless sailor winking at him from a photograph bought under the table at the back of a record store back on Oahu. And he suddenly thinks of what it would feel like to draw Johnny Watson into his arms, letting him rest his weary skin against his own too-tall, too- bizarre body, feeling the quiet strength and competence in his forearms, his shoulder blades, his kneecaps, the little salty sliver of skin behind his ear.

And it’s then, with the crashing force of one of Waimea’s biggest waves, that it finally hits Sherlock why his body decided to fall off his own damn surfboard when he could have just left Johnny Watson behind in the whitewater. Why he opened his big mouth out on the lifeless, smooth sea and goaded him into chasing after that closed out barrel knowing he would catch the perfect wave hiding just behind it.

The answer is so blindingly simple in retrospect that Sherlock wants to kick himself. He gazes through the palm trees at this hidden sailor, currently standing alone behind a lifeguard stand and smiling down at his feet like he just had his dreams handed to him on a platter. This man who stared death in the face and said “not today.”

Sherlock sees now that he had two options when he first popped up on his board to catch his first and only wave of the set, following in Johnny’s wake.

In the first option, he absolutely crushes Johnny Watson as intended, and boards a plane back to Oahu the next day with a pocket full of prize money, and moves on with his preparations to win the Billabong Masters for the third consecutive year. And Johnny Watson picks his board up out of the water, and shakes his head with a sheepish smile, and goes back full time to a Long Beach dockyard with no future surf competitions in sight.

In the second option, Sherlock embarrasses himself, lets Johnny Watson win the heat and go pro, and sees those deep blue eyes again in two weeks in Oahu.

Was it ever even really a choice?

Sherlock is still frozen, breathless with this revelation and almost choking under the weight of it, when he suddenly feels a pair of eyes lock onto him. Johnny Watson’s staring at him through the trees like he can’t decide what emotion to even begin to express. Sherlock panics. With a sharp intake of breath he bolts from behind the palm trees less than a second after those eyes first locked onto his, purposefully losing himself in the chaos of the crowd for ten minutes before finally breaking free to make his way back to his motel room down Hermosa Avenue.

Sherlock Holmes doesn’t wait until the beach quiets down. Doesn’t take his board out into the quiet midnight waters to surf free and open in the moonlight. Instead he stares at the ceiling of the motel room for a long time. Thinks of all his earthly belongings in a trash bag on the front porch, his momma’s broken cross necklace lying lonely on the rough floorboards, Seb Moran’s gritty fingers clutching a photograph of a winking sailor.

Thinks of Johnny Watson’s blond fringe under a sailor’s cap. Of his thighs dripping with wet sand and glistening with sweat, tan and firm against his own shivering skin. Thinks of the sinking, desperate look on Johnny’s face when Sherlock had taken off his sunglasses and looked over at him halfway through his own ride across the face of the barrel. Thinks of Johnny’s stunned face on a crowded pier.

He slowly, achingly lets his hand slip down between his legs for the first time in years, ears tingling at the unexpected moan that escapes his salty lips. Sherlock sighs as he feels himself harden in his hand, hips moving slowly in a pool of warmth that spreads down his legs to his toes. His breath stutters in his chest as he pumps his long, smooth fingers over his cock, cradling himself in the palm of his hand and trembling at the coiling tension in his groin. His body feels oversensitive. Exposed like the skin’s been peeled back from his bones, revealing his veins to the air. He remembers the way Johnny Watson practically growled as he hunkered down and paddled with all his might, chasing after a wave. He hears the memory of that deep, quiet grunt echo softly in his ears. When he finally lets go and comes he sees Johnny’s face, fierce and set and determined as they waited for the air horn for their heat, a soldier preparing for battle. And he lies there in the silent, dark aftermath feeling slow and dirty and utterly, ridiculously dull.

--

Just before midnight Sherlock finds himself back down at the shore walking slowly along the water’s edge. The muted yellow from streetlights along Hermosa Avenue cast ghostly shadows across the cool sand, flickering off the water like a layer of liquid gold covering the swells of the sea. The ocean roars just as loudly in the dark of night. The sound of it never fails to calm him.

Just up ahead the road cuts closer to the water, revealing a strip of bars and surf shops. The sound of laughing and self-important talking gradually gets louder as Sherlock approaches. Even if he was back at his home in Oahu, he knows he has absolutely no business at a crowded, popular surf bar the night after a major competition. He’s the absolute last person anyone would want to see during their social hour. Still his feet drag him closer, drawn towards the light like a moth. He sits in the shadows down by the water, half hidden by a craggy outcrop of rocks, and listens to the hum of people talking over too-loud music.

After a while a cheer erupts behind him, and he turns to see a crowd of surfers part to reveal Johnny Watson at the center, basking in the glow of his newly professional status with a calm, embarrassed pride. He’s shaved since that morning. Showered and changed into jean shorts and a navy and white striped long sleeve rolled up over his forearms. Sherlock watches out of the corner of his eye as Johnny’s handed a beer and gradually moves out to the patio, his brunette friend with the long hair beside him. They stand shoulder to shoulder leaning out on the wooden fence, talking softly in each other’s ears. Sherlock feels absolutely ridiculous watching them. Somehow in the past twenty-four hours Johnny Watson has reduced him from Oahu’s untouchable, unbeatable champion to a brainless, predictable high-schooler, tripping over his own toes in the hallways and clutching a notebook to his chest with a secret photograph tucked inside.

The friend laughs at something Johnny just said, and Johnny takes another long sip of beer before reaching up and tucking a lock of hair behind the friend’s ear. Sherlock’s heart pounds. He couldn’t be . . . could he? The friend doesn’t react, just keeps looking out over the water as if nothing even happened. Sherlock wants to scream at him. How can he stand there with absolutely no reaction when Johnny Watson has just casually run his fingers through his hair? He watches through his eyelashes, rapt with attention, as Johnny leans even closer to whisper in the friend’s ear, face turned serious. Sherlock suspects he’s revealing something personal. The hard line of his spine, the firm set of his shoulders signals new territory, subjects long left untouched finally being spoken. Johnny’s free hand rubs unconsciously at a spot under his left shoulder. Sherlock can practically feel the tiny warm puffs of air against his own ear, can almost hear the smooth, warm voice spilling over with secrets.

“Greg stop flirting and get your ass back in here! We finally got the pool table free!”

Johnny practically leaps back from the friend – Greg – as Greg smiles and calls back an answer to the friend inside the bar. Johnny’s not smiling. He shoves his hands down into his pockets and flinches as Greg claps a hand down on his shoulder in some sort of apology. No doubt some sort of “finish this talk another time” nonsense while he nods towards the pool table. Sherlock watches Johnny resolutely stare down at the sand as Greg walks back into the bar, still softly shaking his head ‘no’ in response to Greg’s probable offer to join as if he was still there to see his reaction.

Suddenly Johnny’s tearing across the sand, half full beer left back on the patio. Sherlock stupidly thinks of laying down to hide like a child behind the rocks before he realizes it’s too late. He’s going to be seen. It’s inevitable. He smoothes out the front of his tank-top and grits his teeth. He’s Scotty fucking Holmes, not some star struck little kid, even if Johnny did catch him watching him through the palm trees earlier that afternoon. He feels his face settle into his familiar mask of cold indifference.

Right when Johnny is five feet from his hiding place, practically running now in the sand, Sherlock speaks.

“Bit late for a jog, isn’t it?”

Johnny startles and curses under his breath as he whips around.

“Christ, you startled --- wait a minute, you.”

Johnny points an accusing finger at him, brow fiercely set, and Sherlock rises warily to his feet. It isn’t exactly the reaction he was expecting.

Johnny stalks towards him in the moonlight. “You – what the fuck was that today? Huh? The hell are you playing at?”

His voice is a harsh whisper, and Sherlock feels it like ice down his spine. He’d been expecting some good-natured gloating, maybe a “too bad” or two, or an “are you alright.” After all, Johnny Watson was the first surfer in three years who’d taken it upon himself to try to have a goddamn conversation with him.

Instead he looks furious. Sherlock clears his throat, feels the corners of his mouth tighten. “I believe the correct term, in case you forgot, is ‘wiped out’,” he spits back.

Johnny practically growls. “No you don’t. No you fucking don’t. How big of an idiot do you think I am? Scotty Holmes magically wipes out on his only wave of the day after three years of a near perfect record? Wiped out my ass.”

Sherlock feels like Johnny is twenty feet tall. He barely stops himself from cowering. He opens his mouth to retort, but Johnny beats him to it.

“Tell me – what’s your game, Holmes? What is it? You want to help me go pro just so you can watch me get my ass handed to me by you and everyone else on the circuit for the next year? Was it pity? Do I look so depressing you felt like I needed a free meal from your blessed hands?”

“Oh cool it and spare me the theatrics. You’re hardly the first broken sailor I’ve come across on the waves.”

Sherlock hates himself even as the words leave his mouth, but the rage he expects to see on Johnny’s face is quickly overtaken by – irritation? Curiosity?

“How can you possibly know that? Fucking tell me how you knew that,” Johnny demands.

Sherlock physically stops himself from leaning closer into Johnny’s space. The man is looking up at him with a challenge, daring him to continue to prove himself as a know-it-all asshole so that Johnny can keep up with his righteous anger. Sherlock decides to go along. He files away for later the fact that seeing the furious glare in Johnny’s deep blue eyes sends a completely unfamiliar thrill up his own spine.

“Oh please, how many people do you think you’re fooling? There are thousands of you. Who in hell wears a full wetsuit at a surf competition in Los Angeles in July? Someone with something to hide. Can’t be an embarrassing tattoo – you’re too terrified of commitment to get one. You may be short but it can’t be anything with your physique. You rub at your fucking shoulder every chance you get when you think no one’s looking and you magically arrived here sleeping in a van two years ago with absolutely nothing to say about how you spent the last five years of your life and you stand up straight like you’re at inspection when you wait on the start line. The Navy was just a lucky guess – some sentimental bullshit having to do with your childhood spent in the waves I’d guess. Combine all of that with the fact you keep even your closest friend a twenty foot pole’s length away from your actual thoughts and that you change your shirt in secret alone behind a lifeguard station after just winning the competition of your life and I’d say I’d have to be an absolute airhead not to have worked it out before, Seaman.”

Sherlock feels himself visibly blush as his mouth spits out the last part about seeing Johnny change on the beach. The admission hangs between them like a lead weight in the air.

Johnny stares him straight in the eyes and takes a deep, grunting breath. “Swear to God I’ve never wanted to say ‘fuck you’ to anyone as much as I want to say it to you right now, and I’ve seen people do some terrifying shit.”

Sherlock’s mouth goes dry at the sheer rage, the vibrating, barely contained power radiating out from the fiercely controlled man in front of him. “Well what’s stopping you then? Your delicate sensibilities? Getting soft in your old age?”

Johnny huffs out at the water before looking back at Sherlock with a sharp danger glinting in his eyes. “Watch yourself. I’m not that fucking old.”

“No? If you’d asked me that five minutes ago I’d have said the exact opposite.”

Sherlock’s mind flashes images to him of Johnny Watson looking alone and lost in the middle of a crowded pier – slumped shoulders and tired legs and shadowed eyes just moments after absolutely annihilating his first heat.

Johnny puffs up his chest and steps into Sherlock’s space, face just inches from his. He barely misses a beat.

“Oh yeah? Says who?” he growls.

Sherlock laughs, a harsh, shallow breath. “Says you!” He feels his own arms flail out to the side like a dramatic idiot on a daytime soap opera. “You walk around this beach like you’ve got a noose around your neck and you’re five steps away from the gallows. We’re surfing, for God’s sake. It’s muscle and adrenaline and physics. It’s just a game. We’re not standing on the brink of World War three.”

Sherlock feels like he could fly with all the energy pumping through his body. He hasn’t had a conversation this long with someone in years, even if it has just devolved into a shouting match. Being less than a foot away from Johnny’s heaving chest, pectorals rising under his thin cotton shirt, is causing his brain to short circuit. Spitting out anything and everything and not even able to pause for breath. He stands breathless and watches as the fight leaves Johnny’s eyes completely in one long breath. Sherlock’s heart hammers in his chest. He clenches his fists to keep from reaching out and shaking Johnny – from trying to shake the life and the anger back into him to keep his eyes from pooling dull black like they are now.

“So it was pity, then,” Johnny says, holding his gaze steadily. “I’m pathetic, to you.”

Sherlock’s mind practically screams at him to say anything but. He simply doesn’t understand. They’re on a fucking beach in one of the most beautiful places on earth, getting paid money to fling themselves across the surface of the ocean and rip through the spray. But Johnny’s eyes look like they’re still facing down the barrel of a gun on a beach in Hanoi.

Sherlock realizes he’s been silent for far too long, and when he opens his mouth to respond Johnny holds up a hand to stop him.

“Shut it. I don’t want to hear it,” he hisses. Johnny takes a step back from him and runs a hand through his hair. He looks out at the crashing waves and breathes slow and deep. Sherlock wishes he knew what he was looking at – what he was really seeing out in the moonlit sea.

“They warned me about you,” Johnny finally says. Sherlock can barely hear him over the roar of the water.

“Let me guess – that I’ll check out your ass? Force myself on you when you aren’t looking?” he sneers back. He thinks of his hand down his pants earlier that evening in his dingy motel room and forces himself not to visibly shiver with shame.

Johnny hesitates, then looks straight at him. His body goes completely still. It’s absolutely terrifying.

“No,” he says. “That you’re a miserable asshole who thinks he’s the Mother Theresa of surfing.”

Sherlock scoffs. “That’s the most ridiculous insult I’ve ever heard. It’s not even clever!” He doesn’t realize he’s closing the gap between him and Johnny again until Johnny’s hand is on his shoulder, pushing him away so roughly that they both stumble in the sand.

“Stay the fuck away from me,” he growls. “I’m telling you now, Holmes. I don’t fucking care about whatever grand plans you have to humiliate me. Whatever shit you pulled in the water today, I fucking earned my place here. I earned it. You can look down on me from your high horse all you want but I know what I want –”

“And what do you want?” Sherlock interrupts. “Besides just lounging around on a beach all day with chicks lining up to wish you good luck, huh?”

“I don’t need to tell you shit,” Johnny says as he starts backing away quickly. “But for a start, I want you to stay the hell away from me!” He turns and storms down the beach, kicking up sand behind him.

Sherlock’s gut clenches. The reason for his wipeout earlier hits him so hard in the face again he feels dizzy with it, his vision blacking out everything but the man practically running away from him in the sand.

“Well tough shit!” he yells after him, “because your precious pro status means you’ll see me again in two weeks at the Billabong!”

Johnny doesn’t even turn to look at him as he flips him off.

Sherlock watches him go, chest heaving. He finally forces himself to roll his eyes, without exactly knowing why, and turns to leave when he spots something glinting in the sand. He reaches down in the moonlight and picks up a bullet casing, dropped a few inches from where Johnny had shoved Sherlock back from him. He doesn’t have to think hard to know exactly where the bullet casing is from.

In a daze Sherlock walks down the beach in the opposite direction of the bar and his motel. The opposite direction of Johnny Watson. His fingers rub the smooth metal casing in his pocket until the sun starts peaking up over the distant horizon, sending puffs of slowly warming salty air across his skin. His body is exhausted, begging him for rest and water. He pats his other pocket to reach for cash for a cab and realizes he left his wallet back in his motel like an absolute moron. And when he finally drops down limp onto his motel bed almost three hours later, sweating and dehydrated and spent, he lies there and tries very hard to hate Johnny Watson with every fiber of his being. To hate him for staring straight into his eyes in the middle of a crowded pier, and for stubbornly insisting on introducing himself while they waited for the waves, and for emerging from the whitewater as the winner, and for making Sherlock’s throat tighten when he placed his warm, rough hand on his shoulder and pushed him away, and for being so damned unpredictable.

He tries to hate him for hours, listening to the cars zoom down the busy street outside his motel window, filling his mind with the grating hum of urban white noise.

He fails.

Chapter Text

The last hour before a meal break always drags by like an eternity. John can feel every muscle he used the day before in the competition screaming out at him, exacerbated by getting only a couple hours of sleep after he’d stood staring out the window of his apartment fuming, Scotty Holmes’ choicest phrases repeating through his head on an endless loop.

You’re hardly the first broken sailor I’ve come across out on the waves.

Who do you think you’re fooling?

It’s just a game.

They’re doing maintenance on a shipping ramp today, welding and soldering metal with bursts of flame cutting through heavy late morning sun. John’s skin feels like his own personal humidifier, and his button-up work shirt is plastered to his back and sides with sweat. His coworkers are distracting themselves with stories of their exploits from the night before – girls and booze and Sunset Boulevard antics. The older guys are arguing over last night’s Dodger’s 9th inning upset, distinctly leaving out any mention of wives or children. John remains characteristically silent. After over two years none of them even know that the reason his hair is still damp when he gets to work each morning is because it’s ocean water from surfing, not a shower at home with a fake wife and kids. No one wears a wedding ring on the job; it would just get lost. It makes it easier to lie.

Despite achieving his dreams out on the waves just twenty-four hours ago, John already feels maudlin. He thinks back to those times on the Navy ship in between missions, playing cards late into the night in a cloud of cigarette smoke, on shore leave in Ha Long in a seedy bar with Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling and warm beers covering the rickety wooden table. It’s a hard thing to realize about himself, and he recoils from the thought like he always does. Hard to know he only ever really gets close to people if the threat of death is hanging over his shoulder. And here, now, on this sunny Long Beach dock with four-hundred and seventy-two accident-free workdays in a row, and counting, he grimaces and shakes his head against the unwanted thought that he wishes he was back in a camouflage dinghy motorboat hovering off an exploding jungle coast, surrounded by bright freckled faces with adventure and fear in their eyes, smears of blood and mud on their cheeks, looking over at John like he’s been their best friend since the womb, knowing that one of them will be dead by nightfall.

John stands up straight from his crouch hauling a stack of new wood over to the building site and winces as his back pops and groans. About half of the men sweating and grunting around him are older than him, some by a lot. Their spines creak and sag as their calloused, gloved hands reach for the next shipping container, the next thick cable, the next lukewarm beer. It’s like working surrounded by ghosts of his future self.

A quick look into his finances that morning at the bank before his shift had showed John that even if he won a small amount of money at every major professional competition that year, he’d still have to keep the dockyard job part time to make ends meet – at least to cover plane tickets until he could rope together a sponsor. As much as Greg tries to convince him otherwise, he’s under no delusions that the call from Val’s will ever actually come through. The thought of it feels like suffocating in slow motion. Stuck on an unmoving surfboard as the water heaves and rises around him.

The whistle finally blows for lunch and the entire dock lets out a collective groan of relief. John wastes no time booking it over to his water bottle in a tiny block of shade against a fence, ripping off his work shirt so that the breeze can cool his skin through his sweat soaked undershirt. His work boots feel worn and heavy on his feet, and the thick leather gloves covering his hands get quickly torn off and thrown to the ground. Finally he removes his hard hat and swipes a hand through dripping hair, shivering as rivulets of sweat drip down the back and sides of his neck.

He's just about to take a sip of water and let his brain shut off for his thirty-minute break when he stops frozen in his tracks, mouth half open.

Scotty Holmes looks like a Hollywood film star accidentally wandered onto the grimy, salt and rust-stained set of a maritime horror movie. A perfectly cut white shirt hugs his lean body, shirt collar left open to reveal the long, smooth lines of his neck. His legs look a mile long in crisp, ironed slacks, hot sun glinting off his brown suede shoes. His hair is tamed in perfect curls – a night and day difference from the frizzy halo he was sporting the night before when he had caught John unawares in the sand. He looks like a completely different person. As if someone straight out of that Star Trek show Greg’s always bugging him to watch made a magic clone of Scotty Holmes, where the original man is just a young kid in a tank top with frizzy hair, and the clone’s a top level Hollywood executive just stepping off a private jet at LAX. John’s eyes flicker over the barest hint of collarbone, and he swallows over a dry throat.

Scotty stops walking once John notices him and stands there waiting, eyes squinting hard against the harsh sun. John still can’t even believe what he’s seeing. For a terrifying moment he thinks he must have heat stroke and is seeing a mirage. Because there is absolutely no fucking way that not even twelve hours after thoroughly chewing him out (and being chewed out) on the moonlit sand, and being explicitly told to stay the hell away, that Scotty Holmes has donned a suit, found out where John works, and come here to --- what? Humiliate him some more? Gloat? Tell him that all of yesterday was really just a lucid dream - that John was slipped some mushrooms or some shit by a co-conspirator and never actually made pro in the first place?

John realizes Scotty is waiting for him to approach and finally does so, wary eyes watching him with a mixture of apprehension and irritation. The tiny part of John that’s excited at the thrill of this unexpected turn of events is thoroughly clamped down.

He runs his forearm over his sweaty forehead as he approaches and wipes his dirt and grease-stained hands on his work pants. He sees Scotty’s eyes roam once quickly up his body, probably self-righteously disgusted at the stark difference in their current states.

John decides not even to give him the benefit of a “hello” or a “what the fuck are you doing here.” He stops before Scotty and waits, brow furrowed, shoulders back, eyes narrowed.

Scotty licks his lips and clears his throat, hastily looking down at the ground before meeting John’s gaze. It has the unexpected effect of making him look startlingly young. John tries not to get lost in his cool, grey eyes. Little droplets of fresh ocean water in the middle of the dirt, sweat, and grime.

“I believe you dropped this,” Scotty says calmly, holding out his palm from his pocket.

John’s blood turns to ice. He hadn’t even realized it was missing. He shoots out his hand and quickly grabs the bullet casing from Scotty’s long fingers, shoving it down in a zippered pocket in his pants before looking up and giving one brief nod. The metal is still warm from Scotty’s hand. John’s heart is thumping so hard he’s sure Scotty can see it through his thin, dripping undershirt.

John waits expectantly for Scotty to turn on his heel and book it out of there as fast as possible in his perfectly shined shoes. Humiliation accomplished. Mission completed. ‘Holier than thou’ gloating quite successfully achieved. When he doesn’t, John starts to grow wary. He can practically feel the weight of Scotty’s gaze on him – judging, scoffing, pitying. John’s defenses rise, prickling the hairs on the back of his neck and his arms.

“You got anything else to say or can you leave?” he spits out.

Scotty blinks slowly. His eyes widen a fraction, stare unfocused at the ground before looking back up at John. His face is soft and unguarded. The man from the pier.

“No, I – I don’t,” he says. John crosses his arms and puffs out his chest as Scotty’s eyes roam over him once more. John stares back, daring him with just a look to say something more. Practically begging for a fight.

Instead Scotty simply backs two steps away, hands slumped in his pockets. He gives John a ghost of a tight smile, then turns on his heel to walk away, long legs graceful on the rough, uneven dock.

John’s brain flashes back to the image of Scotty the day before, fresh out of the water from his defeat and walking utterly alone away from him down the sand, head slumped and avoiding everyone’s shocked gaze. John’s mouth opens before he even realizes what he’s doing.

“Wait!”

Scotty freezes in his tracks, and John jogs to catch up with him, running his fingers through his hair once more to buy time as they stand face to face.

“You – you didn’t have to do that.” He swallows roughly, staring just over Scotty’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

Scotty shrugs one shoulder. He couldn’t look more bored if he tried. “Yeah, well, can’t have a fish choke on it and die or something or the environmental hippies’ll be all over your ass.”

John huffs out a startled laugh, despite himself, and Scotty’s lips quirk up just at the corner.

“How the hell did you find out where I work?” John asks, not bothering to hide the undertone of a dark challenge in his voice.

“Wasn’t that hard,” Scotty says calmly with a shrug. “Callouses on your fingers consistent with some type of manual labor. Tan lines on your wrists from the gloves, scars on your forearm from stray sparks from welding, articles in all the local papers about the controversy over expanding the dock ramps down here. That and the mud around the tires on that old station wagon you drive could only come from a dock. Would’ve been tempted to guess you worked out on the lobster trap boats or an oil rig but I suspect you haven’t stepped foot on a boat since you last stepped off one in uniform.”

John purses his lips and stares Scotty down.

“That’s unbelievable,” he says tightly.

Scotty furrows his brow. “But I just walked you through it all, told you my reasonin---”

“No, no, I mean that’s fucking amazing,” John says.

Scotty looks at him steadily for a second, his body completely still. It looks like he’s a robot who’s just been unplugged. John tells himself his heart is still racing because of the work he did all morning, even if his break started over ten minutes ago.

Finally Scotty responds. “You still look like you’re angry.”

John hums, crosses his arms once more. “I didn’t drive to the competition yesterday,” he says.

“No.”

“You followed me home. Looked at my car so you could follow me here.”

Scotty squints staring off over John’s head and quirks his head to the side. “I’d call it more – happened to pass by your car before you left for work this morning.”

John shuts his eyes and shakes his head, pressing his lips together in a firm line to hold back the retort that’s right on the tip of his tongue. He takes a steadying breath and wills his voice to come out steady, calming the anger inside of him.

“You’re a real fucking creep, you know that?”

Scotty does that irritating shrug again. “Been called worse.”

The air between them suddenly turns tense and fragile, and John’s blood thrums hard through his veins. They stand in a silent stalemate, both staring at the ground.

Finally John clears his throat. It’s hard to breathe right with Scotty Holmes standing tall and gleaming and untouchable just inches from his own sweating, grimy chest. He takes a step back and gestures his head towards the crew lounging in the shade of the dock with their lunches, hating the fact that he suddenly doesn’t want to leave.

“Right, well, gotta get back—”

Scotty’s arm darts out and catches John’s upper arm, stealing the breath and the words from his mouth.

“You want to win in Oahu. Pick up a sponsor there so you can quit working in this hell hole.”

His voice is smooth and clear. Urgent. John’s skin feels prickly underneath Scotty’s long fingers, still snugly gripping his upper arm. Scotty’s eyes are dazzling, staring straight into John’s like his face is the only thing they can see. John forces himself to breathe and shakes his head.

“No way I can win there,” he says.

Scotty takes a step closer, invading his space so that John has to crane his neck to see him. From this close he can feel the heat radiating off his chest.

“But you want to. You told me you know what you want – that’s what you want. To get out of here.”

John sighs, lifts his hands in a helpless gesture at his sides. “Yeah. I – yeah. Who wouldn’t?”

Scotty seems to realize for the first time that his hand is still on John’s bicep. He snatches it back quickly, fluttering his fingers by his side. John feels his arm twitch at the absence.

“I’m staying here another week before flying back to Oahu,” Scotty goes on. “Train with me.”

John groans and shoots him an icy glare. His giddy breathlessness falls away in a split second, replaced by solid, familiar anger. “God, you’re unbelievable. You didn’t get the picture enough last night when I told you I didn’t need a fucking handout?”

“I’ve studied the waves in Hawaii almost my entire life. I know how to win there. I can show you.”

“And what? And come competition time you’ll just stand back and let me win?”

“Obviously not. I won’t be surfing.”

“You – you aren’t going to surf in the Billabong?”

Scotty stands up even taller, puffing out his chest. It strains against the buttons on his gleaming white shirt. John stops himself just in time from licking his lips.

“Waimea Bay’s holding a big wave surf contest the week after Billabong. One that I fully intend to win. I’d be an idiot to waste all my strength trying to get a prize I’ve already won twice.”

John huffs. “Oh yeah, right, wouldn’t want to look greedy. How fucking humble of you.”

Scotty rolls his eyes and puts his hands on his hips. He looks like a business man late for an important meeting, and John is just the valet taking too long to retrieve his car. “Look, you’re wasting time pretending to feel offended. I’m serious about this, John. Train with me.”

John stops in his tracks, eyes searching Scotty’s exasperated face for any sign that this is all some sick and elaborate joke. The sound of his name, his real name, in that voice runs slowly through his body with an unsettling, fizzling warmth.

“Nobody calls me John,” he finally responds.

Scotty rolls his eyes and huffs. “Well we can’t both go by names that end in ‘y’ if we’re going to be around each other,” he bites back. “It’d be like some horrible sequel to a ‘Dick and Jane’ children’s book. See Johnny swim. See Scotty surf.”

John feels the spark of irritation start to boil over inside of him.

“You’re an infuriating dick. Change your own damn name if it’s so important to you. Scotty’s gotta be short for something.”

Scotty rakes his fingers through his hair and pulls, so comically exasperated that John almost laughs.

“Look this isn’t the point. You need to win. I need to train for Waimea. You need someone to tell you about the surf out there, and I need something to keep my mind from imploding over the next week stuck in this boring, hot, shithole of a city until my flight. The way I see it you’d be an absolute idiot to say no.”

“You already think I’m an idiot. There is absolutely nothing about me that you even like!” John shoots back. He laughs once, harsh and incredulous as he looks up at the sky. “Man, I wish I knew what game you were playing at here. What you could possibly want from me.”

Scotty is silent, hands hanging limp by his sides and waiting for an answer. John finally looks up and sees that Scotty’s eyes have gone soft. For the first time since Scotty Holmes ever stepped up next to him in the sand, John remembers how young he actually is. How underneath the toned physique and the sunglasses-while-he-surfs and the bighting remarks, he’s just about the same age John himself was when he took his first trembling step onto a Navy ship, wishing his mom had still been there to hand him a sacked lunch and kiss his cheek goodbye. It makes him want to reach out and take Scotty’s hand and lead him – to where, he doesn’t even know. He can practically see the thoughts warring in Scotty’s mind as they stand there staring each other down, deciding whether to continue being a haughty asshole or whether the silence will eventually guilt-trip John into agreeing.

John takes a deep breath and licks his lips against the hot sun. He feels like he’s just made a decision, and he doesn’t even know what it is.

“You need to know,” he starts. His breath tightens on the words, and he clears his throat and starts again. “You need to know this isn’t just a game for me.”

Scotty’s soft, grey eyes dart down quickly to the pocket where they both know the bullet casing is hidden. He breathes out quickly through his nose and dips his head. “I know. I – I’m realizing that.”

A silent moment passes. Out of nowhere, a thought hits John with sudden, breathtaking clarity. “You knew there would be a great wave hiding behind that closed out one yesterday, didn’t you?”

Scotty’s eyes go wide with surprise, quickly masked again by a calm indifference.

“Didn’t study the ocean all these years for nothing,” he says back, sounding bored.

John wants to ask a thousand questions – mainly what the hell was Scotty Holmes thinking when he took advantage of John’s stubbornness and goaded him into riding the best wave of the set. He stands there staring up at him in disbelief, painfully aware that they’re still standing far too close for two acquaintances in the middle of a dockyard, one covered in blue collar sweat and grime and the other one just stepped off a fashion show runway.

Suddenly the alarm signaling the end of lunch echoes harshly out across the dock, and John startles and flinches down. He blinks hard against the familiar haunting boom in his mind that makes him want to duck and find the nearest cover after a loud noise, and he feels his heart pound blood through his veins. He takes a deep breath and tries to shake it off staring at the ground, feeling tense and hot and embarrassed. Scotty stands there silently. John tries to read pity or impatience in the still lines of his body, but all he finds is an anchoring calm. Finally John looks back up to sheepishly meet his eyes and turns his head back towards the dock in a silent excuse, a cold sweat breaking out over his neck as he feels the tension slowly leave his limbs. Scotty nods understanding, eyes narrowed slightly in thought.

John wipes his hand once more on his work pants and extends it out in front of him. His hand is steady.

“You infuriate me,” he says softly, lips set in a harsh line.

Scotty’s mouth twitches as he takes John’s hand, his fingers long and warm. “As do you,” he replies.

“Six-thirty tomorrow morning? Hermosa?” John asks as he rubs the back of his neck with his other hand.

“Yes.”

John feels the tips of Scotty’s fingers lightly trace at the tip of his wrist, and suddenly the hot air around them crackles with anticipation. They’ve been shaking hands for far too long. John stares spellbound as Scotty looks down at their joined hands, then back up at him through his eyelashes, eyes wide with uncertainty. John swallows hard. They’re back on the swarming pier, drawn into each other like magnets, likes waves to the shore. He’s going to take a step forward. He’s going to reach out his other hand and press his dirty, calloused fingers against the perfect, clean white shirt. He’s going to feel the tan, lean muscles of Scotty’s chest, feel his heartrate quicken under his palm, lean forward and smell the leftover salt on his skin --

“Watson, the fuck you doing over there? Stop being a flat leaver and get your ass back here before The Man sees you!”

John flinches back at the sound of his coworker’s booming, raunchy voice. He snatches his hand away and after a sharp nod turns and jogs back to the work site. His palm tingles by his side, and he fights the urge to wipe it off on his pants. He doesn’t turn around to look until he’s all the way back at the ramp, with his work shirt pulled on and his hard hat and gloves jammed back onto damp, tired skin.

When he finally does take a breath and look back, Scotty’s long gone. John hates himself for the sinking feeling in his chest when he sees that Scotty didn’t stay there watching him.

He’s a grown man. One who’s lived a full life, and fought a war on the other side of the world, and come back with absolutely nothing only to re-build himself from the ashes. He isn’t some clueless, trigger-happy surfer dude getting into pointless, macho turf wars. Isn’t a nervous, hormonal teenager who’s never met anyone in his life before who happens to be attractive.

John purposefully pushes away the thoughts threatening to drown him and focuses on the steady ebb and flow of work, the push and pull of working muscles, the breath and pulse of the docks. He lets the memory of Scotty Holmes’ fingertips on his wrist fade into a distant memory – melding with his dreams from the night before under the heady opacity of the unreal. It isn’t until nearly three hours later, as he hoists one end of a steel rod over his shoulder and heaves it across the dock following the man in front of him, that John suddenly realizes that tomorrow morning will be the first morning in over two years where the person he meets down in the pre-dawn sand won’t be Greg Lestrade.

--

John’s awake, dressed, and gazing out his window with a cup of instant coffee in his hand a full thirty minutes before he even needs to skateboard down to the beach to meet Scotty.

To meet Scotty. The sentence feels ridiculous in his head. If someone had told him a week ago that he’d be waiting to go for a private surf and training session with the Scotty Holmes just two days after winning the Qualifying circuit of the International Surf Festival he’d have thought that all the POW training in the Navy had finally caught up with him and absolutely fried his brain. Left him just a hallucinating vegetable.

And yet here he is.

He’d stopped by Greg and Molly’s new place after his shift ended last night. He’d only been there once before for a party when they first moved in. He always remembered that night with a shudder – for multiple reasons. The main one being the fact that he’d taken a look around the place and realized that he was by far the oldest person in the room, and that people were avoiding him like the dreaded older brother, and that he had absolutely no business being there intruding on all of their good time by standing ominously in the corner with a warm beer in his hand and waiting for Greg or Molly to come over and talk to him. He’d left after twenty minutes.

Last night Molly and Greg had been barbequing some hot dogs on their little patio outside the house in Redondo that Greg bought for them with the savings he’d built up over the last couple years working his way up from being a fresh recruit in the LAPD. John hadn’t mean to stay any longer than it took to tell him that he needed to cancel their surf plans for the next morning, but then Molly had taken one look at him and said that if he went home alone to his apartment and ate a plain sandwich when he could have stayed with them and had bratwurst and homemade potato salad, Greg would have to arrest him for stupidity.

So John had stayed, and jokingly rolled his eyes with Greg behind Molly’s back when she insisted on only listening to Jefferson Airplane records, and laughed at how unexpectedly hilarious Molly’s stories from her Vet school classes at El Camino College were. Their little home was all decorated now. A photograph of the two of them taken in Australia hanging on the wall above a secondhand bright red couch, Molly’s college beach volleyball trophy sitting proudly on the coffee table next to Greg’s police academy medal. The sight of it all had made John feel like a little kid visiting a friend’s house and getting stuck talking to their parents. He’d thought of his undecorated, barely furnished, one room apartment near the beach with his hard hat hanging on the back of the door and felt like his life was moving in slow motion, stuck forever at the age he’d been when he first put on his sailor’s cap and picked up a gun.

He’d helped Molly clean up the dishes after while Greg played with their yellow lab Josie out in the warm backyard full of dead grass, listening to Molly ruminate over what to get Greg for his birthday and priding himself that he wasn’t fiercely, ragingly jealous over it all. Greg had looked up at the two of them from the yard and smiled, tucking a strand of loose hair behind his ear, and John had flushed at the memory of his brainless slip up the night before – reaching out and doing the same exact thing on the patio of the beach bar without even the excuse of alcohol to hide behind.

John smirks again to himself sipping his coffee as he remembers the look on Greg’s face when he’d told him why he couldn’t meet up with him to surf in the morning.

“Fucking hell, Johnny, I told you to beat him, not date his sorry ass,” Greg had joked, eyeballs popping out of his head. And John had swallowed down his panic and laughed along, explaining Scotty’s warped reasoning for why they should train together and decidedly leaving out the part of the story where Scotty picked up his most treasured possession from the moonlit sand, stalked his apartment, black magic figured out where he worked, and then followed him to his job a forty-five-minute drive away from Hermosa just to return it in person.

Greg said he had early morning shifts over in Torrance anyway that whole week to train with the beat there on freeway pursuits down the notorious 405, and so after a few more jokes about how Johnny needed to knock some sense into Scotty Holmes and not let him be too much of an asshole, John had hugged Molly goodbye and clapped Greg on the back and driven back to his dark and empty room.

John’s startled from his thoughts of the night before when a tall, dark form appears down on the grey sand, hair blowing in the misty fog that the slowly rising sun hasn’t burned off yet. John fights back a smile and feels a thrill down his spine, grabbing his skateboard and surfboard and hurtling out the door. The streets are sleepy and quiet, suspended in the still fog like a breath waiting to be exhaled come rush hour. Palm trees sag limply in the grey light, fronds gently hushing by him in the breeze as he weaves his way down the slope to the shore.

Scotty doesn’t even look his way when he walks up next to him in the sand and sets down his board and bag five minutes later. He’s standing perfectly still gazing out over the water, eyes soft and unfocused. John stands there next to him and breathes in the sharp, clear air, slowly filling his lungs. He silently marvels at how comfortable it is, standing there next to this man who he’s spent the majority of the past two days either yelling at or inwardly gritting his teeth over.

Here, with their backs to the world, it feels like they’re the last two people at the edge of the earth, being beckoned out to the sea side by side. The reverent, silent air melds with the steady roll and thrum of the waves lapping at the shore. John gazes out at the first hints of sunlight peeking up over the flat horizon and has a sudden, panging thought that some people go their entire lives without ever seeing the ocean. He thinks back to Harold Carmichael, one of the Army recruits sent to share Intel with John’s ship docked off the outskirts of Hanoi, who’d never seen a body of water bigger than a Kansas pond until the Army jeep carrying him from the southern base camp near Saigon dropped him off at the Navy ship dock, and who’d wept in secret in his bunk under John that night over the fact that he’d never seen so much water in his whole damn life.

Scotty kneels in the sand beside him wordlessly and gets out his wax, settling into an age-old routine in silence. John follows. He lets his toes curl up in the cool, dry sand, feeling the stretch in his thighs. John thinks as he waxes in steady, slow circles that the man next to him seems to be able to transform into an entirely new person at will. This contemplative, peaceful presence next to him is certainly not the pushy runway model from the day before, or the hesitant man who held out the bullet, or the frizzy-haired kid splaying him open in the moonlit sand, or the statuesque god who scoffed at him out on the waves from behind a pair of aviators. He isn’t even the man from the pier.

Something warm flutters in the pit of John’s chest when he thinks that maybe only certain people get to see Scotty Holmes this way – unadorned and wiped clean, kneeling silently in the sand to the sound of the waves. The prospect that he’s somehow been chosen shouldn’t feel as exciting as it does.

Eventually Scotty sits back and rolls his neck to stretch, then pulls his grey hoodie up over his head. John goes to follow and hesitates, fingers tightening over the zipper of his jacket. He realizes in a moment of panic that he completely forgot to wear his full wetsuit while he spent the morning lost in his thoughts. He’d gone on muscle memory, pulling on the board shorts and jacket he would wear to the beach with Greg. Scotty’s eyes are on him as he stands and brushes the layer of sand off his sweatpants. John stands on shaky legs beside him as Scotty shucks off the sweatpants to reveal a short black pair of board shorts rippling in the breeze. He bends down next to John to secure his ankle strap, and John can’t stop himself from turning his head to finally gaze at the tattoo covering Scotty’s back. He sucks in a breath and stares.

A giant black and white jellyfish radiates out from Scotty’s shoulder, its billowing, translucent tendrils winding their way across his spine as if his back is made of water. It looks like a crisp, clean photograph painted into Scotty’s smooth skin. John’s seen plenty of tattoos. The other sailors in the Navy had their arms practically covered in anchors and koi fish, pinup girls and American eagles. But he’s never, never seen anything like this. It’s beautiful. The ink looks poised to swim away at any moment, threatening to leap off Scotty’s back and disappear into the sea. John’s lost in it – eyes drowning in the swirls of translucent tentacles. He leaps back startled when Scotty chuckles softly from where he’s bent over before standing tall again.

“Were you expecting a koi fish? A giant heart that says ‘mom’ in it surrounded by an anchor?”

It’s the first thing either one of them has said. John rolls his eyes and looks back to the water embarrassed, swallowing over the dryness in his throat.

“Can the rule of today be ‘you don’t get to be an annoying dick all the time just to get a rise out of me’?”

Scotty picks up his board and starts walking towards the waves. He looks back over his shoulder to John and smirks.

“Of course. But only if your rule of the day is ‘don’t be tedious and stand there for ten minutes wasting time debating whether or not to take your jacket off’.”

John huffs and mutters “unbelievable” under his breath as he watches Scotty jog towards the waves. The jellyfish glistens on his back under the sunrise, peeking through the cool, grey fog. John takes a deep breath of salty air, listens to the seagulls start to make their way across the sky. The beach is silent except for the gentle roar of the waves on the sand, the smooth hiss of foam spreading out across the shore. They’re utterly alone – nothing but the craggy mountains at their backs.

John unzips his jacket and reveals bare skin with shaking fingers. He feels reckless. It took him months to get to this point with Greg, to trust him to see the darkest, blackest part of him etched permanently into his skin in an ugly snarl – a reminder that he was sent back broken, unwanted on either soil. And now after just two days he’s shedding his jacket and running breathlessly towards the waves where Scotty Holmes waits perched on his board for him, the barest hints of a smile at the corners of his mouth as he watches John shiver in the icy water.

John braces himself for more cutting comments when he finally joins Scotty side by side on the water, mentally preparing for a day of irritation and wasted time that will inevitably lead to them never agreeing to do this ever again. Instead Scotty angles his board so that he’s right next to John, shins gently butting against each other underneath the ocean surface, and he points out to the distant horizon, and in a smooth, velvet voice, he tells John everything he knows about the waves off Oahu.

John feels like he’s been sucked up into a hurricane, utterly at the mercy of a force of nature. Scotty’s lips move a mile a minute spouting facts and statistics, studies and observations. His eyes rapidly scan John and the horizon and the swells and back to John again. Tracking the waves, the wind, the currents, the correct and incorrect lines of John’s body as he hunkers down across a wave. Scotty drops in with him on barrels, calls out his corrections, tells him how Hawaiian water would be different. He makes John laugh and scoff, roll his eyes and listen with such focus that every cell of his body is zeroed in on the rich sound of his voice. He’s an encyclopedia, and he’s ruthless. Fierce and awkward and ridiculous and terrifying and charming. John finds himself following in his wake like a breathless disciple, amazed and indignant as he tries to hold on for dear life, to just stay afloat in the sheer onslaught that is surfing with Scotty Holmes.

They surf for almost three hours. By the last wave John is aching and sore, arms trembling with exhaustion as he paddles after the largest wave of the set.

“Come in at a southeast angle!” Scotty yells between cupped palms from his board. “This will have a perfect face for cutbacks, so gather your momentum from the drop-in and gain a little air up at the crest. Judges love that!”

John does exactly what he says. If the past three hours have shown him anything, it’s that Scotty can read the ocean like book. Every current, every force, every swell – he plots out the ride in perfect sequence and practically hands it to John on a platter. It feels like flying and cheating all at once.

John digs deep and pops up in one clean motion to catch his last wave of the morning, legs shaking under the rushing force of the water beneath him. It’s not a pipeline, just a rushing face with plenty of spray flying off the top, exactly like Scotty predicted. John squats his legs like Scotty showed him earlier and pumps down the face of the wave, shooting towards the very bottom before twisting his core and rocketing up to the crest, shooting off a wall of spray and whooping at the top of his lungs at the sheer speed beneath his board. When he finally falls back into the whitewater and surfaces to gulp down air, he half-expects to hear “far out, old man!” echo across the waves in Greg’s familiar, even voice.

Instead he hears “Passable, but you could have easily fit in two more cutbacks. You’re convinced your legs will give out sooner than they will.”

John’s elation dies. He practically crawls back to shore dragging his board behind him, his fingers clasped behind the back of his neck. He glares at Scotty waiting for him in the sand, with his head high and arms crossed like a petulant teenager.

“You couldn’t have just trusted yourself to fit in two more turns?” Scotty says, voice haughty. “The wave was only just beginning to crest and you didn’t have any wind resistance. If you’d only just trusted your instincts the wave wasn’t gonna cave on you before you could –"

“And you couldn’t let me just have one moment of victory, could you?” John bites back, cutting him off. “I just surfed for three fucking hours while you mostly just sat there and talked at me. You couldn’t just let me have fun on my last ride?”

Scotty huffs and turns to walk back to their bags, squeezing the saltwater from his curls to dry them out as he walks.

“I’m sorry, I was under the impression you wanted to actually win, not be ‘given charity’ as you put it.”

John groans and rolls his neck slowly to crack it. What happened out on the water, the thrilling whirlwind, the startlingly familiar camaraderie, suddenly feels like a lifetime ago. All John feels now is weariness and contempt – it’s only been thirty seconds since Scotty chastised him for ducking out of that wave early, and John fucking damn well knows that he should have fit in those last two turns, and already he’s completely exhausted. He feels like an old dog, and Scotty’s the young kid irritated and resentful that he can’t learn any new tricks.

He rubs a palm over his shoulder and grimaces, studiously avoiding Scotty’s gaze. His work shift is going to feel like absolute hell. He shakes his head finally, not even answering Scotty back, and walks towards his bag to pack up and leave. Scotty is so goddamn unpredictable. One moment he’s calmly, patiently explaining a brand new technique to John, eyes soft but alight with excitement, body so close that John can practically feel the heat from his dripping skin. The next moment he’s an untouchable genius, telling John everything he did wrong and not even bothering to pay attention long enough to hear John’s retort.

It’s absolutely nothing like surfing with Greg – all soft comfort and warmth pooling in the pit of his gut and spreading out through the tips of his fingers, smiling across the spray and whooping together for joy.

Surfing with Scotty Holmes is more like trying not to fly and drown at the same time.

John can hear Scotty following him, breathing slightly hard from the morning’s worth of surfing. Aside from that the man had hardly broken a damn sweat.

“I don’t understand,” Scotty says, voice barely concealing his frustration, fighting to meet John’s gaze. “You want me to tell you what to do, and then you hate it when I tell you.”

John sighs and turns to face him, desperately wanting to avoid this conversation.

“Look, Scotty, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me today. I really do. But I can’t – I just ..”

“You want me to be a friend, not a coach,” Scotty says, eyes narrowed.

John thinks of their shins brushing against each other as they perched side by side on their boards, Scotty’s eyes soft and bright and focused on nothing but John and the water.

“Something like that,” John replies. “And I know that’s your idea of a worst nightmare, so we’ll just –”

“Run with me tomorrow.”

John freezes with his jacket half-zipped up. Scotty’s looking at him so intensely it’s like John will disappear if he blinks. John looks at Scotty’s impatient, frustrated face, eyebrows furrowed in irritation, and wonders why he could ever possibly want to spend two more minutes in John’s company. Scotty couldn’t look more exasperated with him if he tried.

“But you hated this,” John finally says.

“No, you hated this. Which is why we’ll do something different tomorrow. Run with me.”

John shakes his head, zips his jacket the rest of the way up. “I don’t know if that’s –”

“God, what ever happened to you to make you so afraid of success? It’s the most goddamn tedious thing I’ve ever seen. You already want to agree, if the angle of your body towards me and your rising pulse is anything to go by. You know you’re a good runner. You think you could possibly be better at it than me. That excites you. So agree to run with me and you can get your little personal victory in and then we can surf the day after without all of this emotional nonsense.”

“Fuck you,” John says as he shoulders his bag and scoops up his skateboard.

“So same time tomorrow?” Scotty replies, still standing by his board in the sand.

“I said fuck you,” John calls back over his shoulder.

He barely hears the “Six-thirty, then,” called after him as he reaches the pavement beyond the sand and does a running step onto his skateboard, feeling the wind whip away the last droplets of water clinging to his hair, clearing the salt and sand from his skin. He tries desperately to think about anything but Scotty fucking Holmes, standing back there in the sand like the know-it-all asshat Johnny’d been warned about over and over. Scotty Holmes who has the goddamn gall to strip away all of John’s secrets and then comment on his technique as if John hasn’t been surfing for almost as long as Scotty’s even been alive.

Scotty Holmes who brought back the bullet, and spent three hours telling him everything he knows about the waves in Oahu just so that John can win, and wants to spend even more time with him tomorrow even after John walked away from him with two impressively fierce ‘fuck you’s’ lobbed at his face.

John sighs as he pushes back up Hermosa Avenue on his skateboard, tightening his grip on his surfboard under his arm. He already knows, without a shadow of a doubt, what he’s going to do tomorrow morning.

He’s going to run beside Scotty Holmes in the sand at 6:30.

Chapter Text

Sherlock paces in the sand, sinking his bare feet deep into the soft, cool grains and willing his hands to stay still by his sides. His mind is on fire. Since yesterday morning he hasn’t stopped going over every detail of his morning surf with Johnny Watson – trying to figure out where he went wrong, where he went right.

Out of all the snippets of yesterday playing on an endless loop in his mind – Johnny’s surprised, soft eyes when Sherlock started telling him about the ocean, Johnny’s quietly indrawn breath when their shins brushed against each other underneath the water, his gritted-teeth determination as he tirelessly surfed wave after wave, his fierce look of burning resentment that he lobbed at Sherlock as he finally walked away – one thought rises above the rest.

If he comes today, don’t fuck it up.

Sherlock knows it is nothing short of a miracle, an absolute miracle, that he even got Johnny to go out surfing with him yesterday after that train wreck at the dockyard. Sherlock still doesn’t even quite know what went wrong. Here he’d kept Johnny’s possession safe, and found out and driven all the way to his work, and dressed up nicely so he wouldn’t embarrass Johnny in front of his coworkers with them thinking he was talking to some young, naïve surfer punk, and handed back the bullet without a word while also getting to prove how genius he’d been to even find Johnny in the first place. Sherlock isn’t sure what he’d even been expecting in return. Not anything too grand, certainly, not after what happened that night on the beach. Not even a smile. Just . . . something.

And instead he’d stood there feeling like a dumb kid while Johnny pushed back his shoulders and glinted hard at Sherlock in defiance, seemingly completely unaware of the way Sherlock had to control his breathing just looking at him all drenched in sweat with tan muscles bulging and chest heaving and a little smear of grease right along his freckled cheekbone. Instead he’d been left completely unmoored by Johnny’s quiet admission, coupled with a fleeting, black pain in his deep blue eyes – this isn’t just a game for me.

But for a moment, one shining, glorious moment, Johnny had given him that look of wonder that he gave him on the pier, even while his lips had formed the words “you infuriate me.” Their hands had joined. They’d touched each other in the palm for far too long, and Sherlock knew he couldn’t be the only one who’d felt the electric current run through the thick, salty air around them.

And then Johnny had come back the next morning, exactly like he said he would. And he hadn’t made fun of Sherlock’s bizarre tattoo like so many people had before him, or asked a thousand questions about it. And he’d unzipped his jacket and barred himself before Sherlock in the soft dawn air, scars and all, and run breathlessly after him into the waves.

So now he’s pacing on the shore at 6:25 am and running a hand through his curls on repeat, hoping against hope that Johnny’s final “fuck you” the day before hadn’t been quite as permanent as it had sounded.

Something moves out of the corner of his eye, and his breath catches in his chest when he turns to see Johnny Watson walking calmly toward him across the sand, perfectly on time. Sherlock immediately stands up straight and rolls back his shoulders, trying to school the surprise off his face.

Johnny’s hair ripples softly in the breeze, glinting in the shimmering, grey light of sunrise. His legs underneath a short pair of red running shorts are steady and loose, completely devoid of all their usual thick tension. Sherlock clenches his fist against the imaginary urge to run his fingers through the soft, blonde hair covering sturdy, tan skin. The breeze picks up, blowing locks of frizzy curls over Sherlock’s eyes. By the time he successfully sweeps his hair back from his face, Johnny’s standing beside him, looking out at the ocean.

“You came,” Sherlock says. He prides himself that his voice doesn’t come out breathless and giddy.

Johnny shrugs his shoulders underneath his pullover and crosses his arms over his chest.

“Yeah, well – figured you’d have nothing to do today if you didn’t have me yelling at you for something, so I thought I’d save Los Angeles from the carnage you’d wreak on it if you were bored.”

It’s an apology for the end of yesterday. A guilt-ridden admission cloaked in a poor joke. Sherlock tears his eyes away from the tips of Johnny’s eyelashes and gazes out at the water while clearing his throat, forcing the corners of his lips not to smile too widely.

“A solid plan. Wouldn’t want that policeman friend of yours to have to arrest me before I can impart all my surfing wisdom to you.”

Johnny looks up at him with his arms still crossed, a look of exasperated bafflement in his eyes.

“How the fuck do you know Greg’s a policeman?”

Sherlock doesn’t meet his eyes and shrugs. “Can’t force me to give away all my secrets, can you? Anyways we’re wasting time. You have the day off today, judging by the general lack of ‘dead man walking’ about you this morning, but you’re still hoping to spend the afternoon with him after he gets off his early shift and I’m hoping we can fit in the whole run before we bake in the sun and smog. So, ready?”

Johnny’s shaking his head slowly and groaning under his breath. Finally he turns and starts walking in the direction of the nearby lifeguard tower, pulling his sweatshirt over his head as he goes to reveal a white tank top. He balls up the sweatshirt and throws it up in the tower, then, without a glance back at Sherlock, starts running at a brisk pace down the beach, bare feet kicking up loose sand until he turns down towards the wet, compact sand of the shoreline.

Sherlock bolts after him, already left behind. He breathes a secret sigh of relief that Johnny started running south towards Redondo instead of north towards the insanity that is Venice Beach. Something about this run already feels private, even though Johnny’s just run off and started in a huff without him, and the thought of sharing it with swarms and hordes of muscle men and sideshow carnies makes him feel a bit nauseous. No – Redondo beach will be almost empty this early. It’s perfect. Johnny’s a genius.

Johnny runs smooth and steady along the shore, head barely bobbing as he glides. He’s a natural runner, calm and loose and easy. His shorts fly up with every step to reveal thick thigh muscles, pale above his tan line. Sherlock’s eyes slowly trace down his legs to his calves, already dripping in clinging, wet sand being kicked up by his toes. Sherlock feels ridiculous chasing after him with his halting, gangly stride, and then scoffs at himself for even caring in the first place. Johnny shoots a glance his way when Sherlock finally catches up, already breathing a bit hard from his initial sprint.

They run in easy silence for a mile. A quiet calm settles over Sherlock’s body as they breathe side by side. It’s like the only thing his mind can think about is one foot in front of the other, timing his lungs with the man beside him. He feels a thousand pounds lighter. It’s glorious.

“You’re unbelievable,” Johnny finally says over his steady, even breaths. “Do you actively try to be a smug bastard all the time or does it just come naturally to you?”

There’s a hint of a smile behind his words, and Sherlock feels himself unexpectedly laugh. The sound of his own chuckle catches him off guard, and it takes him a few strides to catch his breath again.

“I’ve got a reputation to maintain, haven’t I?”

Johnny hums distractedly and cocks his head to the side. Sherlock doesn’t need to try too hard to guess what he’s thinking of – probably repeating the choicest phrases from his circle of so-called friends the other day before their round at the competition, warning him of the dangers of Scotty Holmes. Sherlock didn’t even have to be there to know what was said. He’s heard it plenty of times before. The knowledge of this makes him feel strangely desperate. Here, now, running on the beach next to Johnny Watson with nobody else to see, he wants to do something different, to prove to Johnny that he isn’t like that. Not really. Not all the time. But then the prospect of revealing himself so thoroughly feels like being stripped naked in front of a crowd, and he nearly shivers at even the thought of it.

The silence settles over them again, thick and heavy as they pass by a narrower stretch of beach, abutted on their left by a high, rocky cliff leading up to a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway and lined with swaying palm trees. A plane on its way to LAX flies low overhead, drowning out the sound of the waves. When it finally passes, Johnny speaks.

“Greg told me the other night that the sunglasses are kind of your thing,” he says. “Never seen without ‘em.”

Sherlock frowns. It’s the last thing he expected Johnny to say. It feels like an accusation – another thing to have to defend against, and his skin starts to prickle under Johnny’s poorly masked scrutiny.

“Well I have to keep something private if every competition I turn up at I’m such a topic of discussion,” he responds, voice hard. It’s a pointed dig at Johnny’s earlier recollections of his pre-heat talk with his friends, and they both know it.

“Keep what private – your eye color?” John huffs out.

“No, my expressions. Reactions.” The implied obviously hangs heavily in the air.

Johnny looks over at him, and Sherlock forces himself to meet his gaze as they continue to stride across the wet sand. He startles when he sees that Johnny’s eyes are soft.

“Sorry, I – I didn’t mean it like that. Guess I just meant . . . or I was gonna ask. . . you don’t wear them around me.”

Sherlock feels his heart start pounding in his chest, even harder than it already is. The feeling of being stripped naked returns, prickling hotly across his skin.

“That’s completely untrue. You saw me wear them at the ISF, and then you can hardly have expected me to be wearing them at night.”

Sherlock trails off, knowing that any other points he could make are useless. He hasn’t been wearing them, and he hadn’t even fucking noticed. He feels flayed open and raw. It’s maddening that such a simple thing as a pair of goddamn sunglasses is turning him into deer in the headlights, left exposed.

His mind is racing, aborted sentences dying on his lips as he struggles to come up with a better, cleverer, less immature response when he feels Johnny’s warm hand briefly grip his upper arm. It knocks the wind out of him. The soft, anchoring pads of his fingers.

“I wear full wetsuits in July. I get it,” Johnny says quietly, a self-deprecating smile on his lips. He slows down a little to get the words out without gasping. All Sherlock can do is nod.

Johnny slows further to a jog and then stops as they come around another bend, opening up onto an enclosed stretch of pristine beach, hands crossed behind his neck as he pants for breath. Sherlock stops and leans over his legs, cursing himself for being so out of shape when it comes to just straight running. He wipes his forearm over the early morning sweat forming across his brow, blocking his sight so he can’t watch Johnny’s shorts cling to the backs of his thighs as he bends to stretch his hamstrings. He stares at his feet until Johnny stands upright again. He can feel Johnny’s deep blue eyes on him, furrowed in thought.

“I can’t seem to shake the habit of wanting to fight with you every moment,” Johnny finally says to the sky. The truth of the statement pings Sherlock deep in his gut, but he forces himself to huff out a sharp laugh.

“I’m sure you’re not alone in that sentiment.” Sherlock swings his arms once behind his back before continuing. “And besides, you’re a soldier. You’re supposed to fight.”

Johnny lets out a harsh sigh. “I’m just a sailor – was a sailor.”

Sherlock hears the darkness in Johnny’s voice and turns to look at him, shocked at how quickly the energy of their run, the vibrant life in his eyes, could fade away so quickly. He looks limp and small, staring out at the waves while his body sways gently with the wind. Sherlock can feel deep in his veins that this moment is important somehow. That his response to this is the most important thing he’ll ever say.

“You flew halfway around the world, put on a uniform, and got shot at,” Sherlock says. His breath catches in his throat when Johnny’s eyes meet his, desperate to hear what else he’ll say.

“I’d say that makes you a soldier.”

Johnny blinks hard and bends down to sit in the sand, leaving room for Sherlock to sit right beside him. The breeze brushes gently against their sweaty backs, mixing with the fresh salt air coming off the waves. The scent of John and the sea fills Sherlock’s nose as he continues to recover from the run. Sherlock feels on edge, fragile and tense and waiting with bated breath – for what, he has absolutely no idea. Just when the silence becomes unbearable, Johnny speaks.

“I’ve never talked to anyone about the war. Ever,” he whispers.

Sherlock can hardly breathe. He can feel the heat radiating out from the man beside him, can feel as the tops of their arms brush together when they shift and move in the soft, warm sand. It’s almost unbearably intimate, sitting here side by side at the edge of the earth – like every breath coming from Johnny’s lips is traveling straight to his own, like he can taste his words on the tip of his tongue. He forces himself to be patient, not to interrupt. Johnny’s voice when he speaks again is low and trembling, like warm, amber honey in Sherlock’s ears.

“They warned us about that. At the Navy hospital. That people wouldn’t be . . . receptive, when we came back here. All those war protests and shit people are doing up in ‘Frisco and D.C. and places.”

Sherlock notices he didn’t say ‘when we came home’.

Johnny licks his lips and lets out a shaky breath, running his fingers through his sweat damp hair as he stares blankly in the distance, seeing something there in the water that Sherlock knows he never will.

“But they don’t tell you what it’s like . . . to feel like a fucking old man and a teenager at the same time. Right? Like you’ve seen more shit than most people see in eighty years, seen people die on the ground, just drop and breathe their last breath right in front of you even though you’re the last choice of person they’d ever want to do that in front of, and you were just playing poker with them six hours ago and talking about their girl they got back home. But then out you come out of the jungle dragging their bones behind you and you’re still stuck the same way you were when you first stepped on the fucking boat. No change at all. Nobody tells you what to do about that.”

The defeat in Johnny’s voice is unbearable. Sherlock has the completely unprecedented urge to wrap his arms around him and pull him down under his own body, shielding him from the air. Then he remembers that that would only choke him.

He waits. Johnny keeps talking.

“And then there’s surfing. I’ve been doing it my whole life, but it’s so fucking stupid. Just hop on this plank of wood and float on the water – and the earth will just randomly decide for you whether you’re gonna have a good time or not. Nobody else gets to decide that for you. It’s just you and the earth. It’s just that. It doesn’t . . . mean anything for other people, do anything good for anyone. Not even a team sport. It’s just – selfish. But I still do it. I swim out there, and I don’t make any decisions, and I just float around on some wood for a couple hours every day instead of doing something with my life. And you know what?” Johnny clears his throat as his voice threatens to break, then powers through. “I don’t feel any age at all when I’m surfing. Nothing. I just feel alive.”

The silence is electric. Johnny runs a hand roughly over his face and sniffs softly. Sherlock can tell he’s on the verge of crying, and furiously trying not to. He’s shocked at the weight of these words. Breathless and guilty with the realization that he’s the first person to ever hear them. A long-forgotten memory, hazy around the edges, pops into his head, and his mouth starts speaking before he even decides to or not.

“Lahela always used to tell me ‘Ukuli'i ka pua, onaona i ka mau'u.’ The flower may be tiny, but it scents the grasses around it.”

Johnny’s head pops up immediately at the sounds leaving Sherlock’s lips. “Wait – who?”

“Lahela. My mother.”

“You’re half-Hawaiian?” John asks incredulously, tears on his cheeks momentarily forgotten.

Sherlock continues to look out at the water. “Well, step-mom. Anyway, I always used to roll my eyes at that.”

Johnny snorts a quiet laugh next to him, a laugh that means gee, I can sure imagine that, and Sherlock smiles.

“Real surprise there, I know. But it didn’t make any sense – it still doesn’t make any. I mean, the size of a flower has no impact over how much pollen it produces, or whether bees will pollinate that flower and help track the scent to other locations. And how can a flower’s scent rub off on the grass around it? Stupid. But she would always say it to me when I was –” Sherlock stops immediately. He hadn’t meant to get this far in the story, to reveal this much. He can’t very well tell the man next to him, the hero, that his step-mom whispered that through the thin door to his bedroom on the days he came home with a black eye from school, or missing lunch money. It all sounds so stupid and childish. Still, Johnny’s waiting patiently, cheeks still glistening, and Sherlock finds he can’t stop even if he wanted to.

He tries again. “She would always say it to me when I was . . having a rough time, after my father moved us to Oahu. Looking back I see she was trying to tell me that even the smallest thing can make a big difference. Even the stupidest thing is allowed to make you happy, if you let it. Or something like that. Never quite got the hang of the whole ‘inspirational quote’ hippie trend.”

He feels Johnny’s slow smile next to him. The thick fog between them clears under the new warmth in Johnny’s eyes, and Sherlock gasps in a breath so deep he feels his lungs stretch out his chest. The silence drags on while Johnny draws nonsense in the sand with his finger. Sherlock feels in tune with every cell in Johnny’s body – every beat of his heart and flex of a muscle. Every thought. Every pulse in perfect symphony with the steady thrum of the waves. Finally Johnny sits up and rolls back his shoulders, put together once more.

“That’s amazing – you speak Hawaiian?”

Sherlock scoffs. “God, no. Just that phrase. Well, that and ‘he alamakahinu’.

“Which means?”

“A ‘greased forehead.’ Basically someone who kisses ass. She’d lob that one at my younger brother every other day when he discovered he could pit the parents against each other to try and get a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots for Christmas.”

Sherlock hears a rumble next to him, and turns just in time to see Johnny burst out laughing, shoulder brushing against Sherlock’s as he leans back in the sand to take a deep breath. He shoots Sherlock a smile then, warm and private on the tip of his lips, and Sherlock almost closes his eyes and looks away. He’s never had a smile like that directed at him. Ever. It almost hurts to look at, like staring straight up into the sun over Oahu.

Johnny clears his throat and pushes to stand, waiting for Sherlock to follow suit as he leans down to brush the sand from the back of his thighs and the tops of his feet. Without a word, and with the ghost of that smile still tracing over his lips, Johnny gestures with his head back down the beach the way they came. He waits for Sherlock to take off running beside him this time, and Sherlock tries to tamp down the blooming feeling in his chest. He feels a sense of doom hovering at his elbow, crouching just to the side of the current happy peace that’s settling warm and soft in his limbs. But then Johnny Watson looks over at him as they jog and the look on his face is just so damn grateful that Sherlock would face an entire crowd naked and stripped and exposed if it means Johnny would look at him like that again.

By the time they get back to Hermosa beach, and Johnny grabs his sweatshirt from the lifeguard stand, the sun is already hot and heavy above them, sizzling across the sand. The rest of the run back had been pleasantly silent, their arms brushing against each other every few steps and neither one bothering to move any further steps apart. Something was crackling at a low hum between them. Something tense and sweet and thick. And now Sherlock finds himself for the first time in his life trying to think of a reason not to say goodbye to somebody.

Johnny solves the problem for him by pointing towards the beach showers and restroom.

“Need to get some of this sweat off my skin before I can walk up the road in public,” he says, already walking towards the building. Sherlock swallows hard and follows, walking further into new territory with every step. His eyes track slowly up the back of Johnny’s body, tank top wet and clinging to every muscle on his back with sweat, thighs tan and glistening, glittering with a dusting of sand, blonde fringe plastered to his forehead the same way it had looked at the dockyard. The air feels too thin in Sherlock’s lungs. Too fragile.

No one else in inside the shower house – it’s still too early for the typical beachgoers with their umbrellas and shovel-toting kids and supermarket romance paperbacks, and most of the exercise nuts prefer the stretch of beach closer up near Venice. The sound of their footsteps echoes loudly on the tile floor and concrete walls. A thin, long window around the top of the room lets thin sunlight into the large, open communal shower space, illuminating specks of sand and dust swirling in the air. Sherlock finds himself hovering near the doorway, uncertain and tense, as Johnny walks calmly inside and strips off his shirt like it’s nothing, heading for the far left of the three shower heads against the wall and flipping it on, testing the water with the tips of his fingers.

He steps under the spray, and Sherlock holds his breath as the water sluices in sheets down Johnny’s body, clinging to his stomach and the crease between his thighs, causing his shorts to glide along every contour of his skin. Revealing the soft bulge between his legs.

“You just gonna stand there and watch?” Johnny says, joking.

It nearly knocks the wind out of Sherlock. He hastens inside and strips off his shirt, also leaving on his running shorts. It’s ridiculous. He’s been shirtless in front of hundreds of people – thousands. He’s a champion of a sport where the entire point is to be shirtless. And yet here in this poorly lit, muddy, chlorine scented beach shower, in front of a man who’s already even seen his tattoo up close and gasped at it in wonder, Sherlock feel nerves roiling through his gut. His fingers tremble as he goes for the far right shower head, and his stomach sinks down into his toes when he realizes it’s broken.

“This one’s broken,” he says unnecessarily out loud. He wants to kick himself.

Johnny just hums, now tipping his head back to let the water run through his hair, down across his face, dripping down the front of his neck, over his Adam’s apple. Sherlock swallows and forces himself to move to the middle one closer to Johnny, hating with every fiber of his being this feeling of being completely out of his depth. This isn’t Scotty Holmes - showing up to a major international surf competition to a stunned and fawning crowd and blowing surfers from all over the world out of the water. This isn’t even figuring out someone’s life story just by looking at them, or fixing a television that everyone thought was a total goner.

This is him, plain old Sherlock Holmes from bumfuck-nowhere Iowa, standing in a shower just one foot away from Johnny Watson, trying to force his goddamn hands not to shake as he turns on the water and feels it slap sharp and icy against his skin, blasting away the salt and sand.

Johnny hums next to him as the water pounds against his back, massaging out sore muscles. It’s the most erotic thing Sherlock’s ever heard. The sound of it shivers up his spine. He feels a horrifying warmth start to pool in the pit of his gut, and he presses his forehead against the freezing concrete wall to try and blast some sense, any sense at all, back into his brain. He takes a breath under the spray and assumes the stance of Scotty, shoulders back and chin high, chest puffed out. Johnny’s probably showered in front of tons of other men in the Navy. He’s faced a bullet and won. Faced ‘the Scotty Holmes’ on the starting line of a surf competition unexpectedly and didn’t even blink an eyelash. So surely Sherlock can handle a fucking post-run shower.

But then Johnny turns so that his back is to Sherlock, and takes a slow step back so his shoulders are just inches from Sherlock’s clenched chest, and any attempt to retain a hold on his usual, unflappable persona becomes instantly null and void.

They both realize at the same exact moment just how close they’re standing. There’s a mutually held breath hovering in the room like a secret. A bomb waiting to drop. The water hisses over both of their half naked bodies and echoes softly off the floor, a steady trickle of wet slaps on tile. Sherlock pushes the wet hair back out of his eyes and takes a deep breath. His chest is just inches from Johnny’s shoulder blades. One small lean and there would be contact, his peaked nipples able to just barely trace the outline of Johnny’s spine. When breathes out, shaky and slow, he sees goosebumps form all along Johnny’s back. An invisible imprint of Sherlock’s lungs. His skin shivers, muscles twitching. They’re breathing in tandem, quick and shallow. Wet skin surrounded by hot, swirling steam. Sherlock takes one tiny step forward, his chest now just a finger-width away from the man in front of him, and Johnny tilts his head back gently on his neck, letting the water drip down the front of his collarbone and chest.

Sherlock can see the dip of his collarbone from over his shoulder, can see droplets of water cling to his skin and roll slowly down over his pectorals, catching on his nipples and rolling down onto his stomach. Sherlock wants. Wants like he didn’t even know it was possible to want. Wants to lean just a tiny bit forward and press himself against Johnny Watson like a ship to its anchor. Wants to press his nose into the hollow of Johnny’s neck and shoulder. Wants to taste the water dripping off his skin. Wants to run his hands up his wet sides and hold on.

He feels attacked, barraged at all sides by thoughts he’s never even known could exist. The air between them thrums and cracks, humming and pulling their skin closer and closer with each moment they don’t move apart, each breath that passes without a denial.

Sherlock licks his lips and starts lifting his hands, tracing ghostly touches up the sides of Johnny’s arms, their final destination unknown. His fingers hover over the tops of Johnny’s shoulders, left fingertips just a hair’s width away from the raised, pink scar. A soft and broken sound escapes from the back of Johnny’s throat. Sherlock lowers his fingers towards his wet and warm skin. Breathes in the smell of his neck, dips his nose closer to his hair, lowers fingertips and lowers, lowers, lowers –

A bang in the doorway startles them both and they leap apart, Sherlock’s heart in his throat. His hands hover awkwardly in the air, grasping at nothing. Johnny turns his back to the door quickly as two more men walk in, talking loudly now and throwing down bags onto the wooden benches in the center, barely paying any attention to the two forms standing stock still in the corner showers. Sherlock tries to get his breathing under control, to tame the unbearable shaking throughout his body. He hazards a glance to his left, just under his eyelashes, and sees Johnny staring resolutely at the ground, letting the water splash directly onto his forehead. Sherlock’s eyes flicker downwards and he holds in a gasp.

The front of Johnny’s running shorts are tented.

Sherlock looks down at himself and sees, mortified, that he’s in a similar state. Trembling and aching and visible. Exposed in the corner of a dirty beach bathroom. In a barely controlled panic he slams off the water and books it to his shirt, holding it awkwardly over his front and making for the door before the other two men, still talking loudly and stretching over in the other far corner, can see him.

The outdoor world feels like a slap to his face. It’s like an assault on his senses. The sun and sand and salt and breeze and people all swarming around him in a daze. He walks on numb legs towards the shore and stands frozen. He can still hear the sound of Johnny’s quiet moan mixing with the soft slap of water on skin. Johnny’s indrawn breath as Sherlock’s lips had shivered just above the top of his neck, causing a cascade of goosebumps. He has no idea what the fuck just happened.

An eternal minute later he hears Johnny exit the showers back behind him. Hears him stop and hesitate in the sand, clearly deciding whether to yell at Sherlock for stepping closer to him in the shower, and for causing his body’s natural response to be so shameful, or to just cut his losses and book it for good. Staying far away from Scotty Holmes just like everyone had warned him to. Sherlock waits and holds his breath, listening for Johnny’s footsteps to run the other direction, to head straight for Hermosa Avenue to his apartment and never look back.

He stares blankly at the sand in front of him, head tipped down. When he hears a person walk up next to him he half expects to turn and see one of the other men from inside, waiting to meet his face with a punch after they belatedly realized what had been going on (about to go on?) in the opposite corner of the bathroom. He thinks of all his belongings in a trash bag on the porch.

Instead he looks up, half-wincing, to see Johnny Watson, holding out a towel he’d grabbed from the rack back inside, physically placing it in Sherlock’s fingers when he doesn’t immediately move to grab it.

Sherlock holds the towel helplessly in front of him and stares down at his fingers. He licks his bone dry lips and clears his throat.

“I – I’m sorry if . . . that wasn’t . . .”

“Nothing to be sorry for. Nothing happened. Just a shower,” Johnny says. His voice is calm, but Sherlock can hear the sharpness concealed beneath it. Sherlock nods dumbly and finally runs the towel over himself, the shock from earlier having thoroughly and mercifully killed his erection.

Johnny clears his throat, continuing to over-do it in pretending all was business as usual.

“Look so, I don’t have tomorrow off, but I don’t start my shift until eleven. So I figure we could start early and drive down a little bit south, check out a new stretch of beach to surf,” he says, voice lighthearted.

Sherlock blinks slowly. There’s no way he’s hearing this correctly. Absolutely no way on earth that Johnny wants to spend even thirty more seconds in his company. He’s already far outlasted anyone else Sherlock’s ever come into contact with besides his own damn family. Surely that’s enough of a victory for him. Now Johnny can cross ‘try to befriend the enemy Scotty Holmes even though he tried to molest me’ off his bucket list and go back to his normal friends and surf with people who aren’t eternally damned to Hell.

But Johnny stands there, still looking up at Sherlock with an absolutely unreadable expression, and he doesn’t walk away. All Sherlock can do it nod yes.

Johnny nods once back, neck tense, and pulls his shirt back on over his still wet skin.

“Right, then. Same time. I’ll pick you up from here in my car,” he says quickly, already moving away towards the street.

Sherlock watches him walk two steps away, then belatedly calls after him, voice thin and rattled.

“John!” He visibly winces at his mistake. “Sorry, I mean –”

Johnny holds up a hand slowly as he looks back at Sherlock. The expression in his eyes is completely unreadable. It’s thrilling and infuriating and beautiful all at once.

Johnny’s lips grow soft, and he gazes at Sherlock for a few silent beats. “You can call me John,” he says. And then he’s gone, leaving Sherlock open-mouthed and rattled in the sand. Wanting to break his own mask and chase after John and grab his wrist and whisper “who the hell are you” and “please, please don’t go.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock fiddles with his motel room key as he waits at the edges of the dirt parking lot, staring down at his flip flops.

He’s early. Again. He wants to roll his eyes at himself. He never would have stood for this a week ago – standing in a parking lot alone waiting for a ride when he could very well already be surfing perfectly fine on his own. He certainly wouldn’t be standing there waiting for someone who now knows, without any shadow of a doubt, that the “fairy from Oahu” felt a physical attraction towards him, accidental or no.

His mind keeps telling him to walk away. Let John pull up to an empty parking lot and realize that it all would’ve been a horrible mistake anyway. It’s the plan Sherlock came up with the day before after they’d parted ways outside the shower house. He’d stood in the sand for who even knows how long staring at his own toes and convincing himself that the ache between his legs was well and truly gone. And then he’d taken four different busses and almost three hours to travel all the way across Los Angeles to the Griffith Observatory, where he’d looked out over the hazy, smog covered city and tried to guess the occupation of everyone that walked by and decided that he would definitely, without any second thoughts at all, not show up to be picked up by John Watson the next morning.

But he’s here. And he hears the sound of a station wagon pulling up alongside him in the dirt. His heart skips a beat in his chest, and that long dormant part of him that held a torn and faded photograph of Hawaii in his hands is suddenly alive again, face young and open and turned towards the sky. The feeling of a warm palm cupping his hand. The way his mom’s cross necklace would tickle his cheek.

He picks up his board and straps it down on top of John’s on the roof of the station wagon, taking more time than necessary to try and calm the shaking in his hands.

He hops into John’s cool leather passenger seat, preparing himself for the atmosphere to be tense and awkward, and barely catches the banana lobbed at his chest.

“You don’t eat enough,” John says nonchalantly instead of a greeting as he pushes the car into first and peels out back onto the Pacific Coast Highway. His shoulders visibly relax right before Sherlock’s eyes as Sherlock settles into the seat, his left knee just inches from John’s right.

Sherlock feels a weight lifted off his chest. One that had been sitting there hotly since John walked away from him quickly in the sand the day before while the blood still pooled achingly between his legs. After everything Sherlock’s done – all the games he’s tried to play and accusations he’s thrown, after all the bighting remarks and awkward, fumbling missteps, here’s John still calmly driving him in his car like it’s nothing at all. Body loose and relaxed even though he has to work later that day, like Sherlock’s mere presence is a balm. He realizes he hasn’t responded yet.

“How did I ever last living on my own the last seven years without you to remind me that fruit exists?” Sherlock peels the banana open anyways and takes a bite.

“Seven years?”

Sherlock can feel John doing the math in his head. John’s brow is furrowed as he concentrates on the empty road, zooming past palm tree-lined highway with the windows down, letting in swirls of fresh ocean air. Sherlock just hums.

He takes a too-large bite of banana to fill the silence. He wants to slap himself in the face. Two minutes in to his last ever morning with John and he’s already gone and said something stupid – reminded them both of the fact that he’s ten fucking years younger than the man smoothly navigating a stick shift down PCH, and now revealing that he apparently did something so absolutely horrible that his own family didn’t even want to see him through until he turned eighteen.

Stupid.

John breaks the silence. “Did you teach yourself how to surf?”

Sherlock swallows hard and stares out the window, letting wind blow his curls into his eyes. He starts to reach into his pocket for his sunglasses, then freezes, feeling that somehow, in some way, that would ruin everything.

He nods, then realizes John can’t see him looking at the winding road.

“Yes.”

Out of nowhere, John laughs. One golden, breathless chuckle. Sherlock turns to stare at him.

“What’s so funny?”

John wipes a hand over his grin and leans his elbow on the open window.

“Nothing, just. Of course you taught yourself how to be the top surfer in Hawaii.”

Sherlock scoffs. “I’m not the top surfer in Hawaii.”

“Oh what, are you getting humble on me now, Holmes?”

“Of course not. Don’t be an idiot. I’m not the top surfer in Hawaii – I’m the top surfer.”

And John laughs again, free and open into the clean air. The sound of it fills Sherlock with a tingling warmth. It settles deep in his gut, right in the center of his chest, up the muscles surrounding his spine. He finds himself chuckling along too, cheeks fighting against his grin as he gazes out at the distant blue horizon. He feels like an imposter of himself sitting inches from John Watson’s warm thigh as they zoom down the empty highway – like Scotty Holmes has a secret twin brother who laughs and surfs with other people and has someone coming to pick him up to intentionally spend time with him like that’s nothing special at all. Like it isn’t revolutionary.

Sherlock settles back into his seat, watching out of the corner of his eye as the wind ruffles John’s hair in the breeze.

“And you? Who taught you to surf?”

John grins, eyes soft with nostalgia. “This guy who lived in the trailer next door to me and my mom. I thought he was so ancient growing up, but he must’ve been only fifty. He surfed in Florida in the 20’s. Can’t really remember how it started but he must have taken a liking to me, or maybe my mom asked him to look after me when she was off at work. Anyway he’d keep an eye on me when I was down by the water, and when I was six or so he put me on a board and spent a whole year teaching me how. I don’t even remember his name, actually. Just called him Mr. Cool.”

“And your mom? She still lives by the water?”

A silence follows, and Sherlock immediately realizes his mistake. He feels sick. He should have known, should have seen it and realized. That’s what he does, isn’t it? Realize these things? And yet here he is so captivated by the smooth sound of John Watson’s voice and his knee just inches from his that he goes and asks about a mom who he should have realized, from the first moment John mentioned her at all, was dead.

He stares straight ahead, too uncomfortable to see what John’s face looks like.

John’s voice when he speaks is soft and calm. Resigned. “She died,” he says.

Sherlock wants to say a million things. He wants to ask how and when. Who took care of him, and where Mr. Cool is now, and if he still remembers the sound of her voice. He wants to tell him that she would be proud of him for even being alive. Proud that he’s a professional surfer. Wants to tell him that he’s sorry for even bringing it up, and that the Bible apparently says that all shitty things happen for some unknown precious reason, and that he can still hear his own momma’s voice in his dreams (Not Sherlock. Please, not Sherlock) and that he wishes to God that he didn’t.

Instead he says, “What was her name?”

John turns to look at him. His eyes are shocked, raw and open. Like nobody had ever taken the time to ask him that question before.

John clears his throat and turns his eyes back to the road, fingers tightening on the gearshift.

“Helen,” he says, a ghost of a smile just at the corner of his lips, mouth forming the word carefully like he hasn’t uttered it in years.

“Helen,” Sherlock whispers back. Without thinking about it he moves his knee slowly, letting it briefly press up against John’s for just a breath before pulling it away again. The soft hairs at the top of John’s shin feel like velvet. He expects the moment to feel like the shower all over again – all hot and tense in his muscles, nervous sweat prickling sharply at the back of his neck, a blaring internal alarm screaming ‘wrong, don’t, dirty, mistake’. Instead the touch feels calm and warm. The bright, clear waters off Oahu lapping gently at his toes. He hears John exhale a long, slow breath.

“Her favorite thing in the whole entire world was a strawberry flavored milkshake,” he says. “She only got one once a year. We’d go on her birthday to this place down the pier, and she’d always tell me we would split it fifty-fifty but then she’d give me way more than half. Plus all the whipped cream.”

Sherlock’s lungs are straining against his chest. He wants to fly, spread his arms like wings and soar up bolstered on the gust of John’s words. His evident relief at finally saying these words out loud. They stop at a red light and John looks over at him all easy and soft and grinning and light. He looks twenty years younger now than he did when Sherlock first ran beside him into the waves following a blaring air horn.

“When’s her birthday?”

John bites the inside of his cheek as he shifts the car back into first, revving the engine a bit too hard.

“The day after the Billabong finals.”

Sherlock feels an odd pang in his chest, one he can’t quite pin down, and the wind deflates slightly from his sails. All he can do is hum.

The rest of the drive passes in a startlingly easy silence. Sherlock watches the palm trees and stop signs zip by like the steady ticks of a clock. By the time John pulls off the road nearly an hour later they’re down somewhere near Laguna.

“Greg and I found this place last year,” John says as he parks in the dirt alongside the road, looking over the bluffs leading down to the shore. “Usually empty this time of day, but great surf.”

Sherlock hates his own lungs for clenching at the sound of the friend’s name, flinching away from it like it’s some sort of intrusion. It makes him feel like a child, clapping his hands over his ears to block out the sound of the word “chores.”

He climbs out of the car following John’s lead and gets down his board in silence, suddenly desperate to reach the water, like this will all just disappear up in smoke if he doesn’t get down to the waves fast enough. John carries his board over his head, biceps bulging, then sets his board down in the sand beside Sherlock and strips off his shirt without a moment’s hesitation. Drops to his knees slowly in the sand and starts waxing as if they do this every morning. Business as usual.

For some idiotic reason, the liminal space of the sand – caught in between the silent comfort of the car and the open freedom of the waves – feels sharp and threatening against the fragile, tender little flutter of something that Sherlock feels in the three feet of space between them. The warm little thrum of spark that flickers and pulses, pulling gently like a magnet. It feels like it’s on the verge of being flickered out forever – snuffed by the wind on the shore. Sherlock waxes his board in half the time than usual, then jumps up and jogs to the water, desperate to keep the spark from blowing out and feeling like a pathetic, romantic idiot for even thinking of it in the first place.

His breath catches in his chest when he turns to see John following him, full out running with his board under his arm and hurling himself into the whitewater and the soft swells like he can’t reach the water fast enough either.

“Fuck, Scotty, give an old man some warning before you dash off to start,” he says grinning as he paddles out to Sherlock.

“I thought you ‘weren’t that fucking old’,” he calls back, breathless as the spark flames into a crackling heat.

“Oh, so that’s how you want to do this, huh?” John pauses to sit up and catch his breath for a moment, smirking before tilting his head back to slick down his hair, causing Sherlock’s fists to clench. Sherlock tears his gaze away from the long, dripping column of tan neck before that internal alarm starts blaring again. John shoots him a grin.

“Try and keep up, kid,” he says over his shoulder, voice dripping with a challenge. Then he’s off, rocketing on powerful strokes across the surface towards the rushing wave before turning his board and readying for the drop in. Sherlock clenches the sides of his board with both hands and lets out a shaky breath of anticipation. The hair on the back of his neck stands up in a silent, shivering thrill as he stares breathlessly at John Watson dropping in on the powerful wave. John zooms along the face, shooting off spray behind him as he pumps along with his legs for speed. He reaches down to grip the side of his board, shoots out the other arm for balance, and then absolutely soars up into the sky, catching huge air off the top of the crest in a firework of foam and letting out a victorious cry. Sherlock feels the sound settle deep into his gut, hovering right at the base of his throat. John lands solidly on the lip of the wave and glides smoothly to the end of the shoulder, fitting in one fierce cutback before letting the whitewater swirl around his shins. When he finally falls gracefully into the shallows on his back, sinking down gently into the earth, Sherlock feels a quiet moan slip free from his throat.

John surfaces and reaches for his board bobbing on the waves. He runs his hand through his dripping hair and catches his breath before flopping down to paddle back out towards the calm water near where Sherlock perches, frozen.

“You gonna sit on your lazy ass all day?” John huffs out as he reaches him. “Come on, Mr. Top Surfer. Show me what you can do.”

Those words, said in that voice, send a zipping trail of heat straight down Sherlock’s spine. He rolls his eyes to gain a moment to recover before laying down flat on his stomach to start paddling.

“I just wanted you to have your precious minute of victory before I embarrassed you,” he says.

He hears John laugh once and mutter “unbelievable” behind him as his arms start cutting through the water, propelling him forward. The sun feels warm and dry on his back, draping over his shoulder blades like a blanket. The horizon stretches out before him like a line across the heavens, and the salty air settles down around him in a silent cocoon. Out of nowhere, he hears his momma’s voice in his head.

“And God said, Let there be a firmament – that means cut ‘em in half, Sherlock - in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And that’s how come the sea and the sky look the same.”

And he remembers his small voice asking, “Have you seen the sea? Is that how you know it looks the same?”

And he hears her voice, faint around the edges, whisper, “No, honey, but your father told me all about it.”

He stops and waits for a good enough swell to come in, achingly aware of John’s eyes on his back, tracing the tendrils of his tattoo. He shuts off the voices in his head and looks out over the water, eyes scanning rapidly for signs of a good swell, following the drifts of the current and the tides, judging the depth and composition of the ocean floor beneath him.

He sees the familiar physics rise up in front of him like they’re written plain as day in the air. Equations and predictions and models all hovering over the face of the waters (“And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.”).

He gasps at the sudden clarity of her voice, relegated for so many years to his dreams and now crisp and sharp in his ears. It hurts. A dam he never even realized he had built suddenly cracks and breaks, releasing a floodgate pouring out from his skin and into the sea lapping at his hips, causing the water to rise, and rise, and rise. He hears the sound of her cross necklace falling to the floorboards. Hears the imagined sound of Helen Watson telling John he can have the whipped cream. Hears his momma calling out his name, snot dripping from her nose, down across her lips.

“Scotty?”

John’s voice shocks him from his thoughts. He turns around sharply, and sees that John has paddled out a bit to meet him. His brow is furrowed in confusion, tense like he’s approaching a wounded animal about to strike.

“You alright?”

Sherlock feels embarrassment flare up across his cheeks. Everything is quiet. Silent save for the gentle lapping of the water against the undersides of their boards in tandem with both of their breaths.

“Yes, I – sorry.”

John looks like he wants to press him for more, but then instead he smiles. “Stop thinking about it all so hard, Einstein.” He nods his head towards a far off swell, one that looks particularly large. “Here, drop in on that wave with me.”

Sherlock nods dumbly and follows, mind still reeling. He lets his eyes zero in on the broad, quiet strength of John’s back as he paddles out ahead of him, his own arms and legs feeling like molasses. His heart pounds in anticipation as the wave starts to build and crest behind them, lifting up the tails of their boards where they wait about ten feet apart. He’s never ridden a wave with anyone else before, aside from someone else snaking in on him to try and screw him over in a competition.

The wind rushes against his face and stomach as he drops in and feels his muscles take over. He follows in John’s wake as he snaps off the top and then does a quick cross step so he can hang five. Sherlock knows he’s showing off on purpose, trying to snap Sherlock out of his own mind and goad him into a competition of friendly fire. But Sherlock can’t get his limbs to move. He feels himself soar across the face of the wave and closes his eyes. Feels the droplets of spray splash against his cheek, his eyelids. Feels the solid, comforting weight of the earth beneath his feet. When he opens his eyes he nearly gasps. He sees John Watson before him, hanging five and looking like a smug bastard, outlined against the stunning Laguna beach mountains and a clear, open sky. For the first time in his life since he ever picked up a magazine advertisement, he sees something in the waves besides muscle and adrenaline and physics.

He opens his eyes wide, and he feels the wind on his face, and he sees a vast, incomprehensible beauty.

--

They surf for another hour, trading off dropping in double on waves and showing off with trick jumps and over-cocky flips. It’s the least amount of real, competition-approved technique Sherlock’s ever used during a surfing session, and the most fun he’s had in ages. John Watson moves and breathes like an entirely new person, utterly unrecognizable from the small, haunted man on the moonlit sand, or at the dockyard, or panting after a three-hour long training session. The blue of his eyes now indistinguishable from the blue of the sea.

John gestures to the shore for a break and Sherlock follows, legs and arms pleasantly sore. He can’t quite keep the grin off his face. It feels out of place and entirely natural all at the same time. John rummages in his bag for a towel and quickly dries himself off before pulling on his tank top. He throws back his head to take long, slow gulps of water. Sherlock stares for a moment at the saltwater trickling down over John’s Adam’s apple, mouth open and dry, then does a double take at the water bottle.

“I’m pretty sure you were supposed to give that back,” he says.

John glances down to the Navy-issue canteen in his hand and shrugs. “Turns out if you get metal blasted through your body you get to keep it as a souvenir.”

Sherlock wants to cup John’s face in his hands and yell down into his eyes that it’s the most remarkable thing that’s ever happened on earth that John Watson is suddenly laughing, making a joke, about his time in Vietnam. And that he’s choosing to share it with Sherlock of all the goddamn billions of people.

Sherlock takes a step closer so that they’re standing chest to chest and opens his mouth to reply when someone beats him to it.

“Johnny fucking Watson!”

They both jump apart and turn towards the sound of the voice, and Sherlock feels his stomach turn into lead. It’s the policeman.

He looks back to John hoping to see a similarly disappointed face – that their glorious time alone has been interrupted by an intruder – but John’s face has broken out into a dazzling smile, giddy and sizzling with warmth. The perfect picture of pleasant surprise. Sherlock wants to vomit.

Greg jogs towards John and throws an arm around his neck before rubbing his fist into his hair like a schoolkid. “Thought that was your car up there, old man,” he says. “You’ve been ditching me for ages!”

John laughs and places a firm hand on Greg’s shoulder, keeping it there for a beat longer than necessary. Sherlock can’t see anything but the tips of John’s fingers caressing the skin just above the neckline of Greg’s t-shirt.

“Yeah, well, I’ve been learning the ways of the professionals from this lunatic,” John says with a smirk and a quick glance towards Sherlock.

Greg looks over at him and freezes, as if he hadn’t even realized he was standing there.

“Well fuck, Johnny, you weren’t yanking my chain after all.”

Greg stares slightly open mouthed at Sherlock as he sticks out a hand.

“I’m Greg, Johnny’s friend,” he says.

It’s only been a day and already the name “Johnny” sounds foreign to his ears. Sherlock reluctantly takes Greg’s hand and gives a single shake. “I know.” He doesn’t offer anything more.

He’s realizing with each unbearably awkward second that passes that he’s grown far too accustomed to just being in John Watson’s company over the last few days. Facts quickly slot into place in his head: that he’s leaving tomorrow morning, that he just finished his last ever surf with John, that now John’s ‘real life’ has come calling to take him back, that John’s shooting the same private smile at Greg now that Sherlock thought was meant only for him just yesterday. Like a naive idiot.

He sets his mouth in a firm line and tries to simultaneously look intimidating and invisible. Greg takes his hand back, saying “ok, then,” under his breath, and John’s shooting him a look that Sherlock refuses to meet head on. He can’t bear to see what it is. What it means.

He tunes out the next part of the conversation, noting with a piercing ache that Greg and John are gradually taking small steps away from him in the sand, drawn into each other with quick words and even quicker laughs. He starts to plan his silent escape, quickly flipping through options in his head of how to get back to his motel now that he knows he doesn’t have a ride back with John, when even more voices come bounding down from up on the bluff.

“Well look who’s still alive!”

“Johnny, you narc, you made Greg cry like a fucking baby all week – left us to babysit him!”

Sherlock swallows down the nausea in his gut as he turns to see a group of four more guys make their way to them across the sand, roughhousing with each other and cracking more jokes as they jog, startling a group of nearby seagulls into flight.

He sees John’s body language tense as they approach, and his brain instantly supplies him with the reason why. Now everyone knows, can see with their own eyes, that John willingly spent time with Scotty Holmes. He’s probably afraid they’ll think he’s just a pushover, or an ass kissing fanboy, or a guy who thinks he’s too good for all of them now that he’s made pro.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is. The end result is the same: John looking quickly at Sherlock with a flicker of fear in his eyes, masked by undeniable embarrassment.

He’s startled from his thoughts when someone claps a hand hard on his shoulder.

“So it’s true, then. Our little Johnny went and left us for the Scotty Holmes,” the guy says, barely hiding his snicker.

“And we even get to see you without the sunglasses!” chimes in another.

Sherlock’s heart sinks in his chest. He’s heard this all before. It would feel mildly irritating and dull if only John wasn’t still looking at him with that damn unreadable expression, eyes narrowed and wary while his body leans ever closer to Greg’s beside him.

Sherlock stands up straighter. He can feel John’s eyes on him like a laser, prickling the hairs on the back of his neck and causing sweat to drip down his sides. He wishes desperately he had his sunglasses, or at least that he was wearing a shirt. As it is he feels completely laid bare, skin ripped back and showing his internal organs no matter how much more he tries to puff out his chest.

“Yes, well, we’ve been training together. For the Billabong,” he says, voice flat and steady.

The uncomfortable silence that follows his statement settles like a block of ice right in the middle of the beach. Apparently that explanation was too vanilla to make fun of. Everyone shuffles their feet for a beat before Greg clears his throat and steps in.

“Come on, Johnny, you owe us some hang time,” he says, wrapping an arm around John’s shoulders. Sherlock wants to cough. Loudly.

“Yeah, man, we were just on our way down here to get breakfast at Norm’s when we saw your old station wagon along the side of the road,” says a third guy, one who’d been silent up until then.

“Come swimming with us, at least. These losers get cranky when they’re too hot,” Greg says with a jokingly icy glare at the group of other guys.

Sherlock feels the easy camaraderie among them all flying over his head and sailing past his sides, impossible for him to latch onto even if he wanted to. He steps back as the group starts to rip off shirts and strip down to underwear for their swim. He doesn’t miss the wary glare directed at him from two among the group, daring him with a look to do something queer. As if he’ll jump on anything male that breathes if it has an inch of bare skin showing. It would be humorously childish, something to make him roll his eyes and scoff, if he didn’t see John Watson notice those looks directed at him too and frown.

He reaches down to his own bag and pulls out his shirt and sunglasses, slowly continuing to back away as they all jog off down to the water. He’s formed an alright plan – just fake going for a walk down the beach and then come back to grab his stuff and leave when they’re all busy swimming. Somehow it feels too pathetic to simply grab his stuff and leave now.

He’s startled for the second time that day by a hand on his arm. This one is soft.

“You’re not coming?” John asks. Sherlock notices he’s still wearing his tank top.

Sherlock huffs out a laugh, short and harsh, as he pulls his own shirt over his head. “Obviously not.”

John opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, then shuts it after a beat. Something passes quickly over his eyes, too quickly for Sherlock to fully catch. Embarrassment? Resignation? Hurt?

He fights with himself not to lean forward as John takes a step back. The air in front of him feels cool in his absence.

“I’m gonna join them for a bit. Greg’s right, I haven’t seen him all week,” John says.

Sherlock nods, wishing his board shorts had pockets for him to shove his hands into.

“You know I’ll still drive you back, yeah?”

It’s even worse than if John had simply left him to fend for himself. This feels too kind, too overly accommodating, like he’s a kid whose parent forgot to pick him up from the middle school dance, and someone else’s dad is offering him a pity ride. He knows it wouldn’t work to fight him on it now, though, so he quickly nods his head and walks away, tearing his gaze from John Watson as fast as he can without thinking too hard about it and striding off in the opposite direction.

He knows he’ll never see him like this again.

--

Sherlock wanders half a mile down the beach until the soft, sandy shore opens out onto a bed of rocky tide pools, washed over gently by the incoming waves and brimming with coral and starfish. It’s surprisingly empty – no little kids with buckets and shovels running through to catch sand crabs, no frantic parents chasing after them, terrified they’ll fall.

He perches himself on a flat stretch of rock and bides his time, waiting until the group he can just barely still see down the shore is distracted enough that he can sneak in and grab his board and bag without being seen. Without being conquered or pitied.

He feels exhausted from the day. The conversation with John in the car, the unexpected memories of his own mom, his revelation surfing behind John on the wave, all leave him feeling wrung out completely dry. Hell, the last four days have done nothing but wring him out, over and over and over again until he’s been wiped completely clean under John Watson’s soft, blue gaze.

Sherlock wills his mind to go blissfully blank, staring out at the sea and listening to the soft whirls and crackles of the foam as it hisses into the crevices of the tide pools and retreats.

It’s a mistake. After what feels like only five minutes he hears footsteps coming his way in the sand and reluctantly turns his head to see John approaching him. He moves cautiously, as if Sherlock will up and run away if he seems too eager. Sherlock nearly groans out loud at his stupidity. He should have just booked it out of there when he had the chance, not waited around like a sitting duck so that John could tell him to his face what he already knows in every cell of his body – that he’s appreciated the help, and it’s all been good fun, but he really has to get back to his real life now. He turns back to the sea and closes his eyes, ears already imagining the way John’s lips will form the words.

“Thought you’d gone,” John actually says.

Sherlock flicks his hand in a gesture towards himself that says still here. “Also do you really think I’d leave my board?”

He hears John sigh. “Yeah, guess not.” He feels heat along his side as John approaches him, legs just inches from Sherlock’s shoulder. When he doesn’t move to sit, Sherlock sighs inwardly and stands, meeting him chest to chest. He has the sudden, blinding desire to see the true color of John’s eyes one last time, and he slowly removes his sunglasses and folds them over his shirt, pretending he doesn’t notice John’s raised eyebrows.

“Greg’s been wanting to meet you.”

“Yes, well, now he has.”

John’s lips set in a firm line. “You know what I mean. He wanted to actually talk to you.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “No he didn’t. He just wanted to say he’d met me. A cool story to share at parties.”

John opens his mouth and takes a step back. “I’m sorry, I missed the memo when we decided you could go back to being a dick again.”

“Did you? I believe that memo was sent out when you invited all of your friends to come gape at Scotty Holmes. A rare sighting outside of a competition,” he sneers.

“Shut up, just, shut up. You heard what they said, it was a coincidence.”

“Was it also a coincidence that you lit up like a smitten schoolgirl when Greg walked towards you in the sand?”

He hadn’t meant to say that. He really hadn’t meant to. But now that it’s out and open Sherlock’s chest practically roars for a fight, gunning to let off some of the weight left behind by having to watch John’s fingers graze the naked skin at the base of Greg’s fucking perfect tan neck.

John goes deadly still. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me correctly. It’s written all over your face.”

John clenches his fist at his side, eyes blazing. “What the fuck are you implying?”

Sherlock tilts his head and narrows his eyes – a silent answer.

John breathes in hard and fast. “Swear to god, Holmes, you watch yourself. You have no idea.”

Sherlock wants to scream. “Don’t I? It isn’t that hard to figure out watching you tuck his hair behind his ear and whisper sweet nothings into his ear.”

John moves in abruptly like he’s going to shove him, then yanks himself back at the last second, breathing out harshly through his nose.

“Jesus, that’s really fucking bold coming from the man who got caught with his tongue down a rent boy’s throat in a fucking bathroom,” he grits out.

Sherlock’s eyes blow wide with surprise, then he guffaws. “Seriously? That’s the story they’re telling these days?!”

A beat passes, and John’s expression softens, confusion seeping into his enraged glare. “You’re saying that’s not true?”

Sherlock laughs again, quick and harsh, flailing his hands out at his sides. He can’t remember when exactly they started yelling.

“Of course it’s not true! Do you think I have a fucking death wish?”

“Could’ve fooled me! Certainly seems like you do the way you walk around on your fucking high horse all the time, sneering down your nose at everyone else.”

“Oh great comeback. A real zinger, John. I can’t believe I’ve never heard that one before.”

“You know what, fuck you! What the fuck do you know about me? About any of this?”

“I know you seemed pretty damn keen on spilling all your little secrets out to your precious friend the other night at the bar,” Sherlock bites back, feeling like a petulant high schooler.

John sucks in a breath. “Spilling all my – Jesus, Scotty I was going to tell him about being shot at in fucking Vietnam. You think I have a death wish?”

“So you don’t deny it, then?” Sherlock lobs back.

John goes still again, every inch of his skin prickling and hot. Sherlock feels like John’s towering over him, and a terrifying thrill zips up his spine. It almost drowns out the despair brewing in the pit of his gut. The air between them is sucked of oxygen as they stare each other down.

They’re both remembering the shower.

Finally John takes a step forward and lowers his voice, pointing a finger straight at Sherlock’s chest.

“Look, all of this shit you think you know about me, all this shit you’re trying to trick me into saying – who the fuck did you talk to, huh? How the fuck have you known about my life since day fucking one.”

“Who did I – who did I talk to?”

“Swear to god, was it Molly?”

Sherlock looks up at the sky and feels his chest clench in frustration. “Molly? I don’t know who the hell ‘Molly’ is! I didn’t talk to anybody. Didn’t have to ask anyone.”

“Then how?”

“I just looked at you, that’s how!”

John shakes his head. “You don’t know a thing about me. Not a fucking thing.”

Sherlock’s face is incredulous. “Not a thing? What the hell ever happened to ‘I’ve never talked to anyone about the war ever, Sherlock,’ or ‘here, Sherlock, let me tell you all about how I learned to surf’?”

John pulls his hair with his hands and sputters. “Who – what – who the hell is Sherlock?”

Sherlock freezes. He hadn’t even noticed the name slip out. He starts to panic, even more than he already is. He feels like the air is crashing down onto him, burying him under too much breeze and oxygen. He desperately hopes he didn’t pause too long. His voice is churning with frustration.

“Look – that’s not the point. Just, what the hell are you so afraid of? You’re so terrified of me seeing into your little head. What the hell is stopping you from leaving your shitty ass job or your shitty ass apartment? From actually moving on?”

“Oh, you’re one to talk! Why are you so afraid of someone actually having a real conversation with you? Answer me that, Mr. Sunglasses.”

“That’s a low blow, John, even for you,” Sherlock spits back. He can’t breathe, chest heaving against clenched muscles.

“You know what a low blow is, Scotty? Telling a fucking veteran who’s had a bullet blasted through his fucking chest that he doesn’t have anything to be afraid of.”

Sherlock feels his legs moving before he even realizes he’s doing it, striding off across the rocky tide pools and leaving John Watson as far behind as he can get. He calls back over his shoulder.

“Sorry for taking up so much time of your precious second chance at life, then.”

“Oh, you want to run away? Turn and face me like the fucking man you pretend to be all the time!”

Sherlock bolts around, a furious and ashamed and absolutely panicked retort on the tip of his tongue, when he sucks in a gasp and freezes.

He barely has time to register the enormous wave rushing towards John’s back, and the way his bare feet cling precariously to the edge of the rock, and the way his back is to the sea, yelling at Sherlock as he runs away like a coward. He barely has time to scream out “John! Look out!” before the wall of forcing water crashes into John with a booming slap, throwing him to the ground and smashing his head straight against the craggy rocks.

Sherlock’s vision whites out to everything but the sight of John’s limp body being dragged out to sea by the wave, tumbling and thrashing in the whitewater like a ragdoll. His legs are numb. His tongue feels too big for his mouth. He’s running faster than he ever has in his life, sprinting into the foam and nearly slipping across the slick bed of rocks and coral.

He hears someone screaming, and realizes distantly in his mind that it’s him – screaming John’s name. Screaming out into the void.

A second wave crashes over John’s body, burying him in a cloud of sand and foam, only the back of his calves barely visible on the surface of the churning water. Sherlock reaches him right before a third wave slams down and grabs the first part of John’s body he can reach. He yanks him as hard as he can, heaving him against the rushing pull of the tide, hauling the dead weight of him up out of the waves and onto the rocky stretch of shore. He grabs him under the armpits and flips him onto his back. Wet sand covers his face, plastered through his hair. A stream of deep red blood pours down from the gash in his forehead, mixing with the saltwater. His eyes are closed, and his lips barely parted.

He isn’t breathing.

Sherlock curses out loud and feels a panicked hotness prickling at the back of his eyes. He can’t lose it now. He absolutely cannot.

He sprints through his memories searching for something, anything to help. A memory flies up and smacks him in the face – he’s seventeen, spying on the lifeguard training course from the shady wall of trees, wishing they would just get on with it so he could have his stretch of beach back, watching them practice CPR.

His hands and fingers move without him, ripping open John’s tank top to see his chest, plastered with more wet sand and flecks of broken seaweed. He doesn’t even know if this will help – if this won’t just hurt him even more. But John’s chest stays still and flat and his lips stay closed and he can’t fucking watch John Watson die on the sand knowing the last thing he ever saw on earth was Sherlock Holmes running away from him like a coward.

He sees the lifeguard training in his mind and positions his shaking hands on John’s chest. He starts to push. Hard. Pumping down and feeling John’s ribs creak and sag under the weight of his trembling palms. He hears his momma’s favorite hymn in his head, steady in time to his beat.

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.”

He stops after fifteen (Was it supposed to be fifteen? Thirty? Five?) and grasps John’s jaw, moving his lifeless head back to open up his neck, hating the heavy weight of it in his hand. He brushes the blood off his face, feeling it wet and sticky in his palm. He can’t stop to think about it. With a deep breath he holds John’s chin with his hand and leans down over him, pressing his dry lips to the grimy sand and saltwater covered skin. His lips are still warm. Sherlock puffs up his lungs with air and forces the breath into John’s throat, hearing the roaring rush of the air pump down into his lungs. He feels his own cheeks vibrating, stiff and sore as he leans up just enough to suck in another breath before covering John’s mouth again with his own. The tide pushes and pulls at his shins, cradling John’s body before trying to pull him back out to sea. Sherlock holds on to John’s upper arm so tightly he feels straight through to the bone.

After three breaths he feels a soft gurgle in the back of John’s throat, a quick catch in his chest. A tremor. Sherlock’s heart pounds as he forces another breath into John’s body, praying like he’d never prayed in his entire life that this would do it – that this would be the one to keep John’s lips from growing any cooler beneath his.

He’s so earnest in his thoughts, lost in the haze of blindingly focused panic, that he doesn’t immediately notice the slight change in pressure under his mouth. Out of the chaos he feels a subtle pushback on the air he’s forcing into John’s throat – a back flow of outgoing breath moving steadily out of John’s lungs. He moves to lift his mouth up, to see if he should place his hands back on John’s chest, when suddenly the lips beneath his own move under his, softly latching on to his bottom lip and sucking. For exactly one second Sherlock freezes, feeling the soft jaw below his move to further capture his mouth, feeling as John exhales a steady stream of breath from his nose straight onto Sherlock’s upper lip. Sherlock’s eyes fly open. He feels his mouth start to move softly against John’s and then sucks in a startled breath, yanking back from John’s face as John starts to cough and heave in great gasps. With numb fingers Sherlock turns him over to his side and watches wide-eyed as John coughs up mouthfuls of seawater and gulps down air, still feeling the warm, wet pressure of his lips gliding against his own.

“Thank god,” he hears himself whisper.

Suddenly rough hands are grabbing his shoulders, throwing him back from John.

“The fuck are you doing to him? Get the fuck off of him!”

Greg and the rest of the guys are sprinting towards them – the one who got there first hauling Sherlock up to his feet by his collar and practically spitting with rage.

“You fucking pervert – making a fucking move on him when he just fucking drowned!”

Sherlock doesn’t register the punch in time to duck. The man’s fist slams into his cheek, throwing him down into the rocky sand. He cradles his face in his hand and yells out, blinding white pain shooting through his skull. He comes to in time to look up from the wet sand and sees Greg brushing the hair back from John’s face softly, whispering to him and holding his hand. He sees John’s eyes open and blinking. Sees his chest rising and falling. He stumbles to his feet as one of the guys sprints past him to the road, presumably to find a call box for an ambulance. He stands back gasping and helpless, still clutching his throbbing face as the rest of the men kneel around John in the tide pool. He hears John’s voice rise above the murmurs, and wants to weep at the sound.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, just got sucked under, that’s all, I’m fine.” He says the words over and over. Sherlock wonders if he actually believes them. If he realizes that he’d lain there in the wet sand underneath Sherlock’s aching hands not breathing. If he, too, feels the ghost of lips pressed hotly against his own.

Suddenly he can’t take a single minute more. He knows that the longer he stares at John Watson lying limp in the sand the more he’ll want to never, ever leave. He tears his gaze away, reassuring himself one last time that he is, in fact, breathing, and then turns to walk as fast as he can back across the sand to his board. He wipes furiously at a tear that escapes down his cheek, John’s dried blood cool and thick on his palm, other hand still clutching the blooming bruise.

He hears footsteps chasing after in the sand, and turns and tenses his body, ready for round two of the fight. Instead he sees it’s the other friend – the quiet one.

“Hey dude don’t go!” he calls out, panting as he sprints. Sherlock stands still as he catches up, wanting desperately to run in the other direction.

“Sorry about Kip, man, he was just scared,” he says. Sherlock huffs and experimentally flexes his jaw, then winces at the shooting pain.

“I know you were just doing CPR on him.”

“Yeah, well, you could’ve shared that with your friend over there before he fucking decked me,” Sherlock snaps. He turns and starts striding away again, feet numb and heavy in the sand.

“He’s asking for you!” the friend calls after him. “Johnny’s asking for you!”

Sherlock’s chest pangs, and a small moan escapes from the back of his throat. He feels the ghost of John’s lips pressed against his own. Feels the memory of his head rolling heavy and limp in his palm. He makes it back to his stuff and heaves his board under his still shaking arm, then books it up towards the road to hitchhike back up to Hermosa.

He doesn’t once allow himself to look back.

Chapter Text

The love affair never even began.

It was broken. Dead on arrival. The part of the “J” in John’s name where the pen briefly ran out of ink while he stood leaning over a desk and signed his name on an enlistment form. The part of the “J” he never went back to try and fill in.

It was already dead when John stepped up out of the station wagon one foot at a time onto the hot asphalt of the LAX airport at four o’clock in the morning, Auntie Cath’s sobs echoing out across the empty drop off lane and Uncle Ron’s hand slapping his back hard enough to bruise.

Dead when he touched down onto a muddy training field next to the base camp outside Saigon and Run, seaman, I said get your ass into gear and fucking run or them Viet Cong’ll cut your balls off! and when the Lieutenant shoved him off the top of the diving platform into the freezing cold, chlorinated pool and he thought he was gonna die of fear before his back hit the water. You need to know how it feels to fall off the side of a ship without pissing yourself they said.

They also said hold this gun like you’ve been holding it your whole life and don’t fucking shoot at anything that’s got the damn Stars and Stripes on it and if the ship goes down with a fucking torpedo and those sons of bitches capture you you don’t say a fucking word about our Intel no matter what they do to you, you fucking hear me, seaman?

“Sir, yes, sir!” with no soul behind the words. “Sir, yes, sir!” before hunkering down in the back of a camouflage jeep alongside the jungle hidden Navy dock and whipping out packs of cards and smuggled cigarettes and little folded up photographs of naked pinup girls wearing fishnet tights and sailors’ caps.

“Sir, yes, sir!” when John was dismissed from his midnight to five a.m. shift keeping watch up on the deck, and you scrub the hell out of that grease stain on your uniform collar before the next time I see you, seaman, or you’ll be scrubbing decks wishing you were a POW instead. He went down into his tiny, swaying hammock bunk and pulled out a sheet of lined paper and pen to write to Auntie Cath and Uncle Ron to tell them “all is fine,” and “the food on the ship is alright, but not as good as your tuna casserole,” and “last week I saw a monkey climbing along the trees on the shore.”

Instead he wrote a tear-stained letter to Helen Watson. Told her that he wished he’d stayed in college instead of enlisting. That he’d just taken the chance with being drafted into the Army, destined to never return home. (You have a hell of a lot more chance in the Navy they’d said. Boy your age oughta enlist out on the sea before they draft you and drop you in the middle of the jungle face to face with the barrel of a Viet Cong gun).

Told her that this was the first year he couldn’t go drink half of a strawberry milkshake alone on her birthday since that night she never came home. Told her that he didn’t want to die.

Written, but not signed. Dropped into the ocean before the whistle for first watch. Gobbled up quick by a fish.

--

Keith Hartman knew that John Watson’s mother’s name was Helen.

He knew it in the dead of night, standing shoulder to shoulder on the starboard deck looking out over the lifeless, glassy sea, necks rubbing raw under starched uniform collars and eyes drooping shut to the steady lull of the ship rocking on the waves.

Keith Hartman’s love affair began when he signed his name on that crisp white piece of paper, pen ink flowing smoothly throughout the whole entire “K.” He had green eyes like the grass on a baseball field, and hair that’d been cropped in a military cut since he was born, and a whole hallway back at his momma’s home in Alabama covered in Navy medals going all the way back to 1805. Straight gleaming white teeth that could be their own lighthouse in the middle of the foggy, black nights. He wrote letters home to his girlfriend Lila May, waiting and praying for him on an Alabama farm. He told the other sailors during mess hall that her tits were the prettiest little buds you ever did see. He told John in the black of night, shoulder to shoulder on the starboard deck, that really she was keeping her skirt pulled down and her blouse buttoned up until the day she had a wedding ring on her finger. He had danger in his eyelashes and adventure in between his toes. Lit up like a firework when he stood shoulder to shoulder with John standing at attention and found out the two of them were among those chosen for The Mission.

“Sir, yes, sir!” when John followed in Keith Hartman’s trail like the tail on a comet as they strapped themselves with dark green and rusting supplies and not enough water and too many bullets. Surely there were far too many bullets.

It was supposed to be easy. Deliver the supplies. Pass off some Intel. Say hello to the Army buddies exhausted from trekking on foot through the jungle. In and out in five hours. Come back on board with the same amount of bullets they left with.

Instead it was far, far too quiet along the coast, where they hunkered down in the quiet camo dinghy with guns drawn and pointed at the lifeless shore. Far, far too empty at the stretch of beach where the Army men were supposed to signal them down and meet them. Far, far too still.

They docked in absolute silence, crept up along the messy, jungle shore with pounding hearts and unsteady hands. Whispered orders. Whispered curses. Camouflage uniforms disappearing one by one into the airless, thick jungle. Wet, green leaves tugging softly at gun-toting arms. Swallowing up the boots on their feet and reminding them all that they were far, far away from the sea. Keith looked like he wanted to fly.

The first bullets felt like little puffs of wind. A respite from the heavy, wet sun hanging above them and dripping down onto their backs.

Then the world exploded.

There was chaos, and an explosion of sound, and orders screamed out into the void, half at the sailors, half into buzzing old radios. There was sweat dripping down into eyes and John followed Keith Hartman in front of him and ran and ran and ran. And that’s when it started to rain.

There wasn’t time for “sir, yes, sir!” when the order came to get the hell down and find some goddamn cover and hold your fucking ground and shoot the hell out of anything that moves, I said shoot, goddammit! John trembled on his back on the other side of a dirt mound and felt the earth shaking beneath him under the force of the bullets and the fire and the bombs. Hot and steaming water poured down onto his face, into his eyes. Dirt clods ricocheted off his metal helmet and hellfire rained down above him, pounding down into the earth and sending up towers of fire into the smoking sky. There wasn’t enough time to ask for orders. Wasn’t enough time to be scared.

John fired off bullets shoulder to shoulder with Keith, feeling his gun’s recoil straight through to his own body. They fired searing metal into a wall of thick, choking smoke. The enemy emerging from the flames of hell.

No time for “sir, yes, sir!” when the order came to move out, goddammit I said fucking move out and Keith Hartman pulled John by the collar to his feet and they ran and ran and ran. John didn’t know whether they ran towards the sea or away from it. Bullets whizzed past sweaty, trembling cheeks, eyes stung shut against the smoke, jungle leaves and vines wrapped around legs and ankles and pulled sailors down into the heaving, hot palms of the earth. Reminding them they weren’t on a ship that could glide away into the horizon.

You have a hell of a lot more chance in the Navy, they’d said.

John turned to see a wall of screaming fire explode on top of Roy and Lawrence. Their bodies disappeared, swallowed up in crackling red smoke. There wasn’t enough time to stop and hear the noise – hear the ripping booms of exploding bombs, or the screaming orders, or the thrash and crack of the palm trees riddled with bullets, or the rain pummeling down into the soft, steaming earth.

Keith ran and ran and ran. And John followed.

They ran for hours, days, years. They ran for eleven minutes. And then Keith Hartman tripped and fell flat on his face, and John looked down and saw he’d tripped on Jack’s muddy, smoking body, with three limbs left instead of four. And Keith hurled Jack up onto his shoulders and screamed at John to run ahead and save yourself, Johnny, for god’s sake save yourself. So John did.

He ran for eight more minutes. Eight more years. The jungle was thinning out, and he could tell he was reaching a safe, silent shore, and his lungs were burning in acid and legs on fire with trembling adrenaline, and that’s when the enemy jumped out in front of him from the heaving, green shadows. And John wailed from the deepest part of his chest, and raised his gun arm without even thinking about it, and shot him before he could even check the uniform for a sign of the Stars and Stripes.

When he did crouch down and crawl on his hands and knees to check, he saw the face of a kid staring up into the sky, one eye covered in long black hair. Not even old enough for a driver’s license.

John hurled himself to his knees and ran towards the shore, vision blacking out except for the tiniest slip of ocean peeking out through the palm trees. His numb legs carried him through the last dense brushes of the jungle, hot and screaming at his back, and the crystal blue water in front of him lapped gently at the soft white sand. The silence was a slap in the face.

He looked up towards the sky, with his mud and sweat and blood covered face, and saw a rescue helicopter swerve toward him way out in the distance, hovering over the sea. And he ran out knee deep into the ocean, and waved his arms like a madman, watching the swinging ladder sway in the breeze, and the rain cleared up just like turning off a faucet. He turned back one last time to the churning chaos praying he would see Keith Hartman emerging alive from the fire, and that’s when his chest just under his left shoulder exploded.

--

John learned it all later, when he was laid up in a hospital bed near base camp under crisp white sheets. How Keith Hartman had come running out of the jungle, vomiting with exhaustion from carrying Jack’s corpse on his back, and seen John’s body floating face up in the shallows, sinking into deep red water, rising and falling in the blood-soaked foam.

Keith won a medal for it all. For saving Jack’s body for his funeral and saving John Watson’s breath in his lungs. He visited John in the hospital, holding his thin hand in the uncomfortable silence, and John clamped his mouth shut so he wouldn’t ask Keith why the hell he didn’t just leave him to rest in peace on the beach. It was hard to talk if they weren’t standing shoulder to shoulder on the starboard deck. Keith slipped a bullet casing into his hand, and neither one of them said goodbye.

They promoted Keith Hartman after that. Shipped him off to a war office with a comfy leather chair. And John never saw him again.

When John tried to think about it – what happened after his chest just under his left shoulder exploded – he could only remember two things.

That someone, somewhere on the pristine little beach was screaming out in tears for their momma, and that the last conscious thought he had was of whipped cream on a pier.

--

Get down there to China Beach, Johnny. It’ll cheer you up in no time they said. So John hauled himself from his crisp white sheets and clutched his creaking shoulder and hitched a ride on one of the supplies jeeps traveling thirty minutes south from Da Nang.

It was a zoo. A rolling stretch of beach covered in G.I.’s, with a hand built driftwood lifeguard tower covered in graffiti paint jobs and a line of shirtless soldiers all along the shore watching two men surf out in the waves.

Watching two men surf. Surfing in the middle of the chaos. Surfing on the other side of the world.

John sucked in a breath and stared speechless, hovering at the edges of the crowd. He felt like he’d entered a time machine – doomed to stand frozen like a statue while he viewed a scene from his past life in Los Angeles. Stood there gaping until someone came up and handed him a lukewarm beer, and another laughed and said relax, dude, you’re in paradise now and another one handed him a surfboard.

It was hand built from extra Army supplies – wood painstakingly sanded down and covered in cheap Army issue wax. A big white peace sign painted on its belly.

How did you know I can surf? John asked.

Because you clenched your fists at your sides and looked twenty years younger when you saw those surfers they said.

They told him to take a breath. Take it for a ride or two and enjoy himself. So John Watson stripped down to his fatigue pants and an undershirt, and threw his boots down into the hot sand, and waded out slowly into the waves. One foot in front of the other, sinking into the soft, cool deep. His first time touching ocean water without bullets strapped to his back. Touching the same molecules of water, the same great, breathing sea, that he touched growing up outside his little Long Beach trailer.

It was painful to paddle out with his shoulder, and his back spasmed as he tugged himself along one-handed. The water was too flat and his mouth too dry. He wanted to turn back. End it all before he embarrassed himself, or ripped open the stitches in his skin. But a little swell came in, and he paddled out to meet it, and before he knew it John was standing on his board on shaking legs, feeling the wind and spray rush against his face.

He was surfing.

He was surfing.

He felt the smile take over his face in a great burst, and a tear on his cheek mix in with the salty spray. The smile stayed on even as he eventually leaned back and let the sea foam swallow him up in the shallows. It threatened at the corners of his lips as he dragged the board back behind him to the shore, handing it back off to the group of soldiers lounging around in the sand with a quiet “thank you.” They looked into his eyes and nodded. They understood.

He smiled and smiled and breathed as he walked slowly along the shore, feet sinking deep into the wet sand, the sound of laughter at his back. And he looked up to the clear blue sky, free of smoke and fire, free of the sound of screaming. He smiled, and he licked his lips, and they tasted like a crusty old shrimp.

--

On Day One of his new life John woke up in the back of the station wagon, which Uncle Ron had left him after he and Auntie Cath assured he was still alive and breathing and then packed up and moved to Sacramento. Better house prices up there, they said. Less traffic. John brushed his teeth over the gutter, buttoned up a shirt and walked into the work office for the Long Beach dockyard. Can you be on time? Yes. Can you work manual labor? Yes.

They never asked if he knew how to fall off the side of the ship. If he knew how to hold and shoot a gun at anything that moved.

He stayed alive for two months. Working and eating and sleeping. Breathe in, breathe out. Eyes open in the morning and closed at night.

And after two months of work he made his way with sagging spine and lowered neck down to the shoreline next to the pier. He’d never gone down there before, always packed up and left right after the end of day whistle.

He stood awkwardly in the sand. Fiddled with the bullet casing in his pocket. There was a group of surfers out there, laughing and playing in the ocean spray, faces turned up towards the sky. John tried to remember how it felt to surf that little swell along China Beach and couldn’t. Just couldn’t. Instead he thought of wanting to tell Keith Hartman that he should have just left him there, should have left him to rest in the shallows with his last conscious thought about whipped cream on a pier.

And then a man appeared in front of him, all tan shoulders and wet hair pulled back and saltwater dripping from his calves. He put out a hand and waited for John to shake it, his grip wet and warm and firm. And he said, “Hey, man, my name’s Greg. You surf?”

Chapter Text

The air tastes like flowers, soft and warm on his tongue. John stops in his tracks on the curb outside the Honolulu Airport terminal and takes a deep breath in, letting it fill up his lungs, replacing the stale air from the plane in his system.

The cut on his forehead throbs as he looks up to the full, bright sun, and he winces as the dull ache makes its way behind his eyes. He hadn’t even ended up needing stitches – head wounds always bleed ten fucking buckets more than you’d think they would from the size of it. It’s just a tiny line now, barely visible unless you knew it was there. The ache remains, though, to remind him. Remind him that he had bullets shot at him halfway across the world and yet the thing that almost did him in was a puny little tide pool on a sunny Laguna Beach shore, right in the familiar safety of broad daylight.

It’s fucking embarrassing. John’s feet feel rooted to the pavement as he watches taxi after taxi pass by. He can’t bring himself to wave one down. If he does, then he’ll have to give an address, and he’ll have to let himself be driven clear across an unfamiliar island, and he’ll have to follow through with this absolutely insane, ridiculous, suicidal plan.

He’ll have to see Scotty Holmes again.

It all started in the hospital room four days ago. He’d spent the previous six hours begging and pleading to just be released. He was fine, he felt totally normal, his chest was just a little bit sore, no his heart wasn’t stuttering. But they’d ordered him to stay overnight for observations since his body had done the goddamn inconvenient thing of trying to stop breathing, and Greg had stood in the doorway of the room with his arms crossed and practically dared John with just his eyes to try and get past him.
So he’d laid there under crisp white sheets, and tried desperately not to think of the last time he was left to stare up at a hospital ceiling, and instead focused all his attention on the sounds of Greg and Molly’s voices, nervously chatting about anything and everything to keep the room from falling into silence.

He stared at the ceiling and remembered. How Greg had pushed his hair back from his forehead there on the beach with the tide rushing in around his weak and sore body, trying to drag him back out to the depths. He had held his hand and leaned over him and said “Christ, Johnny you could have died. You could have died on me. Don’t know what I would’ve done if Scotty hadn’t pulled you out and known how to get you breathing again.”

And John stared at the ceiling and realized that it hadn’t all just been a dream. That he really had come back to consciousness to the feeling of warm, wet lips pressed against his own, and he really had thought for one fleeting, ridiculous second that he would open his eyes to find Greg’s deep brown gazing back at him. And instead he’d seen two little droplets of ocean, blown wide with fear and covered with a mop of brown curls, a whispered “thank god” passed between full, trembling lips.

He realized that that zing up his spine, that overwhelming, soul consuming feeling of “I have to fucking survive this,” had come upon him at precisely the moment he’d looked up at two terrified eyes. Had felt it because they were blue and not brown. Eyes that were frantic and young and powerful. Desperate. He’d known then that he didn’t want to be left to rest in peace on the beach, floating in the blood soaked foam. He’d known that he didn’t want to die. Again.

And John remembered how he had coughed up another lungful of seawater and choked out “where is he?” And Greg had gone silent and Kip had bit his lip and muttered, “Sorry, man, I thought he was doing something nasty to you, so I . . .” John had gritted his teeth and turned his head. Seen Scotty walking, no, running away from them all in the sand, one hand clasped up to his face, the other one covered in blood. Running away from Dean’s calls.

The memories had continued to flash through his mind like a horrible video when he’d been in the hospital, an endless hellish loop. Until finally he’d gathered the courage and asked Molly if she could finagle one of the girls who’d worked the ISF check-in table with her for the pro circuit surfers if she could get her Scotty’s address in Hawaii. And Greg had looked at him like he was insane while he explained to them that he’d probably get a week off work in sick time after this, and he already had his plane ticket for the Billabong, and he obviously wasn’t going to surf it now but maybe he could still take a Hawaii vacation? And maybe he could watch the competition and pick up some tips for next year, if he ever even made pro again? And maybe, just maybe, he could thank Scotty Holmes for pulling his lifeless body from the surf?

And then Kip, Dean, and Steven had come in, with hands held awkwardly behind their backs and their heads turned so they weren’t looking directly at John in the hospital gown.

“That’s a gnarly scar you got there, man,” Dean had said. “Never noticed it before.”

And the air had turned thick and tense when John shrugged his shoulder and said, “Yeah, I was shot.”

Kip had missed the unspoken explanation and said “Where?”

And John had looked up at the ceiling and whispered, “not here.”

And now, after four long days of staring out his apartment window thinking more than he ever had in his whole damn life, even on the nights he’d kept watch on the ship without Keith by his side to talk to, John finds himself standing on the curb of the Honolulu airport, with a rucksack slung over his shoulder and an address written on a folded up note in his pocket.

He tastes the flowers in the air, squares his shoulders, and flags down a taxi.

The drive across the island is gorgeous. It leaves John with his jaw hanging open and eyes scared to blink out of fear they’ll miss another waterfall, or another tropical flower, or another craggy mountain. It reminds him of Vietnam – the beautiful coastlines they passed from the ship, the breathtaking, endless green they trudged and clamored through in guzzling camo jeeps.

It takes him by surprise, to sit there in the back of the taxi and think of Vietnam with even a tinge of nostalgia, of appreciation. He feels completely at ease with the memories, even despite his nerves at seeing Scotty again. He tells himself that it’s impossible for him to feel like this because he’s about to see Scotty again. That would be ridiculous. Everything aside, he’s only known the man for a little over a week. You felt like an entirely new human being after just one day of knowing Greg his brain supplies. John frowns as he looks out the window, the foliage and rolling hills fading into a blur. No, the landscape is just beautiful. That’s all. Even someone as fucked up as him can appreciate that. Even he can feel relaxed by it.

The taxi driver doesn’t ask any questions. He drops John off near Mokuleia forty-five minutes later, along the Northshore of the island. It’s a small little town. Dirt roads and somewhat ramshackle houses strewn about like they were tossed down in a handful from the sky.

“Keep walking down that trail you see there for half a mile and you’ll see it,” the driver says. “My taxi’ll get stuck if I try it on that road.”

John nods and shoulders his pack, starting off down a rutted dirt lane abutted on either side by rows of trees. He can smell the salt of the ocean, hear the gentle rustle of the wind as it gently drapes over the surface of the island. His heart is pounding. He’d sat white knuckled the entire plane ride and thought about what he would say – how he would somehow justify that he basically, at the heart of it, flew all the way across an ocean and hopped in a taxi for the sole purpose of saying “thanks for not being a dick and letting me drown.” It feels humiliatingly unnecessary. Who in their right mind would have stood there and watched him be carried limply out to sea without even trying to save him?

Then he remembers. Turn and face me like the fucking man you pretend to be all the time.

That’s why he needs to say thank you, he thinks as he trudges slowly down the lane. Because he wouldn’t have faulted Scotty one goddamn bit if he hadn’t just left John to drown in his own defensive anger and self-pity in the sand.

The road turns a corner and opens up to a clearing, a two-story farmhouse in whitewashed wood sitting primly in the center. John gapes. It’s the absolute last thing he expected to see. He triple checks the address in his hand with the painted numbers on the house and frowns. There’s perfect blooming flowerbeds hanging off the porch, and a rocking chair, and wind chimes swaying from the eaves. John shoves the paper back in his pocket and takes a step. He doesn’t allow himself to hesitate and strides clear up to the door, praying to god that whatever eventually comes out of his mouth will somehow be the right thing to say.

He knocks, and a few moments later the door opens slowly. John stops midway through the word “hi” when he sees it’s an old man looking out at him, suspenders over a thin white tank top and old khaki pants. The man doesn’t say anything, and they stare at each other. He keeps the door just open enough to poke out his face.

Finally John shuts his mouth, licks his lips, and tries again.

“I’m looking for Scotty?”

The man doesn’t say a word, just slowly points a finger down a side lane that John hadn’t noticed walking up, leading out from the clearing and down a winding dirt road in between the trees, cutting down a slope to the beach.

When John turns back to thank the man the door’s already shutting in his face. He stares blankly at the whitewashed wood in front of him. When he finally wills his body to start moving towards the lane, he finds the wind gone from his sails. The false start robbed him of any courage he’d mustered up, and he shakes his head at himself feeling pathetic and foolish as he makes his way between the trees.

He can hear the sound of the ocean building as he walks, beckoning out to him softly in the warm air. He hasn’t even been in the water since the accident. He’d tried to, just yesterday. Put on his trunks and grabbed his board and left his apartment with confidence in his step and determination in the set of his shoulders. And he’d stood there on a crowded beach watching a pack of surfers already in the water, ripping across the pounding waves. And he’d gasped as he felt again the harsh slap of the water against his back, and the sharp pain of the rock against his forehead, and the trembling, guttural moan of the sea as it dragged him half-conscious out into the cold, dark deep. He’d tried to blink the fear out of his eyes, looked side to side to make sure no one was staring, picked up his board and walked straight back up the road to his apartment. Called the World Surf League people and said he had to drop from the Billabong. Unexpected injury.

He tells himself now after each step as he walks down the shaded road to just turn back. That Scotty will just be embarrassed for him, that he came all this way just to say thank you to a man who hates him for doing something that anyone in their right mind would have done. He fiddles with the bullet casing in his pocket, unbuttons and re-buttons the button at the top of his quarter neck grey shirt. Before he can force himself to turn back he rounds a bend and freezes.

The thick brush opens up before him to a small white sand beach, perfectly cradled on either side by rocky outcroppings and framing an endless sea of clear blue water. A wooden hut emerges from the dark green shadows of the trees, jutting out over the sand with a thatched roof and huge windows, an overhang of eaves draped with hanging braids of shells blowing in the breeze. John barely has time to take any of it in before his ears register soft music, slowly plucked strings, and he zeroes in on the hammock besides the house strung up between two palm trees, swaying slowly back and forth and with one long, bony foot hanging off the side of it.

When John had first taken that folded up paper with an address on it from Molly he’d briefly pictured an apartment by the sea, the mirror image of his own. Maybe a small, ramshackle house if he really thought about it - he had no idea what you could afford in a remote place on an island like this. But this, this perfect bubble of paradise, floating on the calm sea like the earth was cupping its palms and holding together Scotty’s private world, it makes John feel fiercely embarrassed for having intruded. In a panic he realizes this is all a mistake. He shouldn’t be here, stomping into this private peace without an invitation, without the calm or beauty within himself to fully appreciate it. With every breath he feels himself contaminating this place, polluting it with the haunted darkness seeping out through his skin.

He shutters out a breath and turns to leave when the music suddenly stops. He knows he’s been noticed. The hammock leans as the leg extends to stand up on the soft sand. John’s heart is in his throat as Scotty turns his head back warily to look towards the road. His eyes fly wide open when he sees John standing there, and suddenly Scotty bolts up to standing, the ukelele hanging limply from his fingertips.

“John,” he says breathless.

They stand there staring. Scotty’s mouth is wide open, his eyes blinking rapidly and fixed on John’s face. John is absolutely pinned by the gaze, unable to form a sentence to say why or how or what. The breeze winds gently through the seashells hanging from the eaves of the house, clinking softly in the still, clear air.

Scotty looks like he’s broken. He’s dressed in pajama bottoms and an old, thin t-shirt in the middle of the afternoon. His hair is frazzled and big, face fresh and young. He gapes at John with his mouth still open, chest rising and falling, eyes pouring over every inch of John’s body in wide disbelief. John realizes in one breathtaking second that Scotty isn’t angry. Suddenly the sight of him like this, unmasked and shocked, surprised in the warm cocoon of his private haven, causes every muscle in John’s tense body to relax like warm water. He knows now why he didn’t turn back.

“Guess you didn’t predict this one,” John says, voice light.

Scotty blinks once more slowly, then shakes his head back into focus and snaps his mouth shut. His brain seems to come back alive, and he stands up straight, shoving his hands in his flannel pockets and clearing his throat. John wants to run towards him and laugh.

“Yes, well, it’s obvious you still had your plane ticket for the Billabong, and I’m sure you got a week of sick leave off work, and so you thought you might as well at least give yourself a vacation and scope out the competition for next year,” he rattles off smoothly.

John grins and takes a step forward in the sand. His shoes sink too deep into the soft grains. “Nice try, but that doesn’t explain why I’m actually here.”

Scotty’s eyes lose the sharp confidence for a beat, and his body sags like air let softly out from a balloon. “No, it doesn’t.”

He looks wary, uncertain. John knows he needs to get this over with quickly before he loses his nerve. He’s so tempted to keep on with the joking conversation, pretend nothing’s happened between them since John sipped water from his Navy canteen and joked with Scotty on the sand two minutes before Greg walked up. He has to do this, though. He thinks of Scotty on the pier and he thinks of Keith Hartman handing him a bullet casing and he has to.

“Look, well, I’m sorry I dropped in like this. On this.” John nods out at the house and the ocean. Scotty’s eyes don’t leave his face.

“I just wanted to – needed to – ah shit.” John looks down at the sand and takes a deep breath, already hating every phrase that comes into his head. It all sounds so trite. So pathetic and lame. Like a poorly veiled excuse just to spy on Scotty’s private world. He puts his hand in his pocket and feels the worn, smooth metal. He tries again.

“This is the second time someone’s saved my life, and the first time I never said thank you. So I couldn’t . . . I can’t move on from this without thanking you, too.”

Scotty shrugs his shoulders and glances down at his toes. “I hardly saved your life. Like you said, you just got sucked under. And whoever did it before wasn’t expecting thanks anyway. It was their job. You have nothing to thank.”

“But I do. You did. You came back after me and pulled me out –”

“I just did what anyone would do –”

“—and you forced me to breathe again.”

John looks back up at Scotty’s speechless face and notices for the first time the faint bruise on his cheek, just under his eye. The sight of it makes him sick to his stomach, prickling hot sweat forming up along his spine, followed by a cold shiver. He forces himself not to lick his lips, refuses to remember the wet, soft mouth against his. He’s ashamed by it now, standing in front of Scotty. Ashamed that this man dropped to his knees in the pounding spray and pushed air in his lungs only for John to interpret it as a kiss in a feverish half-daze.

Scotty’s eyes are soft and sad. There’s another cautious emotion hidden in the corners of his mouth, one John can’t quite interpret. John takes another step forward and wills his face to look as earnest as possible.

“You saved my life. Thank you.”

Scotty doesn’t retort this time, just hangs his head for a moment before looking cautiously back up at John. He runs a hand over the back of his neck, eyes looking lost. “You’re welcome,” he says gently.

John feels the moment tingling at the edges, threatening to pulse and thrum the way the air always does when he’s anywhere near Scotty Holmes. He wants to stand in it forever. Feel the air warming in slow, electric tingles up his arms and straight into the center of his chest. But he sees in his minds eye how out of place he must look standing in Scotty’s home in his too-hot shirt and his shoes in the sand. He feels intrusive again, now that he got out what he needed to say. He lets the silence, the flickering pulse, last one more indulgent moment before clearing his throat loudly and stepping back, breaking the air back into a clear, stable calm.

“Right well, I’ll leave you be. If you come down to watch the competition, don’t be a stranger.”

He turns to leave before Scotty can respond, hating the fact that every fiber of his being wants to stay. He’s half a dozen steps away when he hears his name called out sharply into the peaceful quiet.

“John!”

He flashes back to Scotty calling out his name in desperation outside the showers. He turns slowly, looking just over his shoulder. He raises his eyebrows in a silent yeah?

Scotty runs his fingers through his curls and opens his mouth twice before speaking. “Would you – do you want to see the island tomorrow? The competition isn’t for two days and you’ll just be here with nothing to do and I thought that maybe . . . well there’s this road we can drive down that people think is scenic, and I have a Jeep, or there’s good spots to swim, or I can tell you where you should go check out, or –”

“Yes.”

Scotty pauses mid-word and blinks. “Yes -- You’d like that?”

John fights to keep the smile from brimming over onto his face. His heart feels tight and warm in his chest.

“More than anything.”

Scotty smiles, a real, soulful smile lighting up the corners of his face, turning his eyes into little pieces of glittering sky. John wants to cup his cheeks in his palms and gaze at it forever. It’s a strange feeling – to feel like he’s flying while also being so rooted into the earth that even a hurricane couldn’t rip him from his base. It’s something . . . unprecedented.

“I’ll come back here in the morning, then,” John says, turning once again to go.

Scotty nods, standing stock still in the sand. “Any time.”

John thinks he hears a whisper when he’s already halfway down the lane, a voice carried gently on the wind. It’s faint and ghostly, shivering up his spine in warmth and trembling through the boughs on the tropical trees.

Thank god, the whisper says.

 

--

 

John lies awake staring at the ceiling of his motel room at four a.m. and counts down the seconds until it’s a reasonable hour to get up. He’d spent the rest of yesterday wandering in somewhat of a daze. He’d tried to do a bit of sightseeing along the sleepy Northshore after leaving Scotty’s beach behind and found he couldn’t focus long enough to even look at what was right in front of him. It felt wrong, seeing these sights alone with Scotty Holmes back in his hammock just a few miles away. So he’d hopped on a bus he hoped was heading back towards Honolulu and spent the rest of the evening hunting down a cheap motel, a cheap dinner, and a cheap paperback to pretend to read in his motel room until his stinging eyes finally closed in sleep.

At 5:45 he groans and allows himself to pop up from the shitty mattress. He figures if he takes extra long to get dressed, and walks as far as he absolutely can to find coffee and something to eat for breakfast, and then walks all the way back to his motel to hop back on the bus he knows will take him out near Scotty’s home, he’ll be there just late enough in the morning that it will be reasonable. That it won’t be absolutely pathetic.

He's burning with questions. What Scotty does for a living, who he surfs with along the shore over there, how he ended up with that house, how he ended up with his own fucking private beach, if he sways alone on that hammock all the hours he isn’t doing . . . whatever the hell else he does.

John’s mind is whirring so intently that he doesn’t even check his watch until he’s just stepping off the bus, five minutes away from the dirt road leading down to Scotty’s house (home? hut? oasis?). John curses under his breath and groans. It’s only quarter to eight. He feels like an idiot. A teenager nervous and sweating on the doorstep of his prom date’s house, realizing he’s thirty minutes early. He certainly doesn’t feel like a grown ass man, a fucking professional surfer war veteran, on a relaxing vacation in Hawaii. He looks around him at the small, sleepy town and knows that he doesn’t really have an option. It’s either wander around Scotty’s little stretch of beach until he wakes up, looking absolutely stupid and feeling small and embarrassed, or it’s wander around this town as the new town creep. With a resigned sigh he moves down the now-familiar path towards the beach, quieting his steps through the brush as much as he can.

He eases his way around the last bend in the road, watching the early sunlight drift through the trees in swaths of swirling gold and expecting to find a quiet, sleepy hut with gently lapping waves. Instead he nearly jumps out of his skin when he hears “John, you’re here! Excellent. I see you ate breakfast. Coffee before we go?”

Scotty Holmes is standing on his balcony leaning out over the railing and gazing at the sea, fully dressed in khaki shorts and a black t-shirt with a mug of coffee in his hand, sunglasses hanging off the front of his collar.

John stops in his tracks and tries to catch up. He feels like a kid caught out sneaking around after bed time. “I, uh – I honestly didn’t think you’d be awake.”

“Yes, yes, and you thought I’d wake up and see you on my beach and think you were a creep and then you’d be humiliated forever. Dull. This way we get a head start on the day.”

Without waiting for John to answer Scotty ducks back into the hut for a moment and emerges with a backpack and a thermos which John barely catches after he tosses it to him. He feels like he’s back in the whirlwind, back to being the breathless disciple chasing after the sunlit storm. He keeps waiting for himself to feel annoyed, to feel goaded and patronized by the apparent goddamn tour guide leading the way in front of him. But instead his excitement and curiosity only grow, drawing him forward with each step as he follows Scotty back down the road and through the trees up to the whitewashed house. He follows him in silence, breathless to try and keep pace. Scotty’s walking the way he did that day on the dockyard – the way John watched him walk up to the starting line in Hermosa a lifetime ago. Legs long and confident, back swift and straight.

“You’re wondering whose door you knocked on yesterday,” Scotty says.

John rolls his eyes. “God how could I have forgotten after four days how fucking insane you are?”

“A grave error on your part. Anyways, his name’s Chuck Hobbs,” Scotty says as they make their way towards a Jeep parked off to the side in the grass. “He’s a writer. No idea what the hell he actually writes – never seen it. He never leaves his house, goddamn terrified of it. But he complains all the time that he can’t write stories if he isn’t around people. So I told him I would meet with clients at his house and use it as an office, and he can watch and take notes in the corner like he’s my ancient secretary, and then in return I get his old beach hut for dirt cheap.”

John climbs into the Jeep besides Scotty and tries to slot all the rapid-fire information into his head.

“Wait, your clients?”

Scotty starts the Jeep with a roar and revs the engine as they pull out of the weeds. John barely fastens his seatbelt in time. “I fix people’s broken shit – not sure what you’d call that. Technology, mostly. Televisions, radios, phones, that sort of thing. Do it for a lot of businesses too.”

John’s mouth is hanging open. “But that’s . . . how do you even know how to do that?”

Scotty shrugs and steals the thermos in John’s hands to take a long sip of coffee. “Dunno. Just tried it once when I was a teenager and realized I was good at it.”

John gapes at him in silence, then bursts out into a laugh. “God, you’re unbelievable.”

Scotty smiles over at him quickly, the expression a little stiff on his face, then turns back to the uneven road to focus. John can feel that something is off between them. Too wired and tense and frantic. It dawns on him as Scotty navigates them through the narrow dirt roads that he knows more about Scotty Holmes right now than he ever has by a landslide. That Scotty’s lobbing the answers to his unvoiced questions right back at him one after the other. And yet in the same moment he feels the air between them like a cold, endless draft. The little pulse, the little flicker, is gone. They’re both trying too hard. The problem is John doesn’t know what he’s even trying for in the first place. To be buds? Rivals again? The life saver and the life savee? Two people who happen to surf together? Casual strangers?

The subtle wrongness of it all builds in his chest as they continue to drive, Scotty pointing out facts about the island here and there in quick, unemotional words and John left trying to absorb it all. After over an hour Scotty pulls off the winding road and parks, ending his explanation of a new flower that was recently discovered on the mountain towering behind them. The silence without the revving engine is deafening. Neither one of them moves to get out.

The air feels thick and choking. Nothing like it did the last time they were in a car together, all warm and rested and clear. John wants Sherlock to move his knee over and press it against his like he did the last time. To hear him ask him quiet questions and watch his body melt into the car seat, muscles completely relaxed. But instead when he closes his eyes all he can see is his mind’s recreation of Kip’s fist meeting with Scotty’s cheek. All he can hear is his own furious, threatening voice screaming at Scotty until he chased him away.

He knows the day can’t go on like this, surreal as it is to be sitting in a Jeep on a gorgeous Hawaiian island besides Hawaii’s greatest surfer. John sits up a bit and clears his throat. His mind whirrs for the right thing to say to try and make things right. “Look, I’m –”

“I’m sorry, John.”

John stops mid-word. “What?”

Scotty takes a moment to think, scrunching his lips, then goes on as he gazes out over the floral blanketed cliffs in front of them.

“What I said to you that day. About the policem—about your friend. I’m sorry.”

John breathes slowly. Scotty’s voice is low and sincere, the apology carefully formed on his lips. The intimacy of it – sitting knee to knee in a silent car with nobody around for miles, discussing insults hurled at each other moments before Scotty pulled John from the waves – bears down on him with a heavy weight.

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have said any of the shit I said either. About the rumor or . . . or saying you weren’t the man you pretended to be.”

Scotty lets out a single laugh, low and brusque. “I think this entire island would line up to disagree with you there,” he says, the sarcasm not quite hiding a deeper darkness.

Without thinking about it John moves his leg so that it brushes against Scotty’s and holds it there, feeling the warmth grow between their skin. He waits, heart pounding, as he feels Scotty’s body tense up next to his, the air in the car vibrating with tension. Then suddenly, with a long exhaled breath, Scotty pushes back warm and firm against John’s touch, and settles back into his seat. John unclenches his fists. The icy, frantic, vastness of the air between them suddenly vanishes, and John feels a weight lifted off his lungs at the change in the atmosphere. They sit together, gazing out over the gorgeous landscape, feeling the breeze rustle gently through the car’s open top and sides. John knows he doesn’t have to say anything more. His leg against his is enough.

After a minute Scotty steals the thermos again for another sip of lukewarm coffee and grimaces.

“God, how have you been drinking this shit on the whole drive?”

John laughs. “You haven’t had coffee on a Navy ship. Makes that taste like something you’d drink in Paris.”

“Oh, were you in the Navy? I didn’t know,” Scotty shoots back with a smirk, and John pushes him in the shoulder and curses at him, not even bothering to fight the grin on his face.

Absolutely everything changes. They spend the entire morning touring the island in the Jeep, stopping now and again to get out and look at the view. Scotty makes fun of John for gasping every ten minutes, and John rolls his eyes when Scotty gets twenty-minutes too deep into a discussion of some plant or historical fact or another. It feels like every ‘once in a lifetime’ vacation he’s never had all rolled up into one. Scotty knows the island like an intimate friend, can read every rise and fall of the earth like a novel waiting to be cracked open and adored. The same way John breathlessly watched him predict every swell of the waves. John listens to Scotty’s warm, smooth voice vibrate with energy and feels the words rush over him warm, gentle water. He feels wide-eyed and light, desperate to take in every sight to see in this new and brimming landscape, and at the same time he feels absolutely assured, that he’s been to these places hundreds of times before. Scotty Holmes at his side.

They stop for lunch at a little stand Scotty knows about that seems to appear out of nowhere next to the one lane highway stretching alongside the beach. Scotty orders for them both before John can get a word in, and then leaves John with his mouth hanging open when a man inside the trailer home behind the food stand leaps out the door and bear hugs Scotty after running to him across the grass. The man is older, native Hawaiian. They whisper quietly together for a moment, both sets of eyes darting quickly once to John off to the side. Finally the man pats Scotty once on the back with a smile and goes to speak to the boy in the little kitchen.

John shoots Scotty a look that says what the hell was that about, and Scotty merely shrugs. “I rigged up his cash register for him a few years back, made some improvements.” It’s the most anticlimactic explanation John’s ever heard. He’s also never seen someone bear hug another human being over a cash register. But Scotty turns back to get their food, leaving John alone with his questions. Scotty silently hands him a bowl made of banana leaves once John’s sitting on a wooden bench overlooking the ocean by the road.

“Poke,” Scotty answers John’s silent question. He sits down so their knees are touching. “Lahela used to make it for us all the time. My father would make her grill him a separate steak or something and my little brother wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, so I always got triple helpings of it.”

John takes a bite and almost moans. It’s the most delicious thing he’s put in his mouth in years. Scotty practically devours his share next to him.

“You have a little brother?” John asks.

Scotty pauses, food midway to his mouth, then finishes the bite and swallows, taking twice as long to chew.

“Had,” he says.

“Shit, sorry, I didn’t –”

“He’s not dead.”

John doesn’t know what to say. Feels small and out of place sitting in this sacred landscape holding up a bowl of food to his mouth that he can’t even name or pronounce, digging secrets from the man next to him whom the entire island would gladly pay to watch surf across their own waves, reputation or no. The feeling of being an intruder starts to settle slowly upon his shoulders again. That his haunted thoughts are contaminating – unworthy of what’s so far been one of the most perfect days of his life.

Then Scotty’s knee presses gently against his, and it stays there as they sit at the edge of the earth for all the ocean to see, and all John can feel is calm.

“I’ll be right back,” Scotty says with his mouth full. “Need to make a quick call on his landline.”

John finishes his food while Scotty’s inside, still not quite believing his dumb luck that he, of all the goddamn people on the planet, is being given a private tour of a Hawaiian island by the champion of her waves. John Watson, who was just lying in a fucking hospital bed four days ago because he’d turned his back to the sea like an absolute moron and gotten knocked down onto some rocks like a little kid. Who looks ten years older than he is and moves with a tired ache in his limbs. Who should’ve died on a beach across the world, or spent this whole day sitting around blankly in a Honolulu motel room, or been back at a dockyard loading shipping containers. He is the one to feel Scotty Holmes’ hand on his shoulder, warm and soft, asking if he’s ready to go.

They step back into the Jeep and Scotty pauses, fiddling with his keys. “I don’t mind dropping you back near the airport,” he says, voice slow.

John hopes he’s not imagining the sense of “please say no” behind those words. He takes the leap. “Please don’t make me sit in a fucking motel room the rest of the day.”

Scotty’s face softens, a small grin on his lips. The sight of it makes John want to pump his fist. “You have a point. If you just moped around for the rest of the day you’d be a real drag at the competition tomorrow. They’d never invite you back.”

“Oh, shut up you nut. Just take me somewhere where I can take a piss.”

John smiles when he sees Scotty’s driving them back in the direction of his house. They park on the same patch of grass and walk down the shadowed lane together in soft silence, Scotty kicking a rock ahead and doing soccer tricks with it with his sandaled feet. John stops himself from sighing in relief at the sight of the hut. He has absolutely no reason on earth to be thinking of this place as home. No reason to feel his body relax when it comes into view.

Scotty does, though. The small tension he’d kept in his shoulders as they drove around all morning leaves instantly the moment he sets foot onto the sand. He kicks off his shoes and leaves them haphazard outside before running up the few steps to the still-open door. He points to the bushes next to them and says “there’s your bathroom,” even though John can see the pipework from plumbing running along the side of the hut. John rolls his eyes and catches Scotty’s self-satisfied smirk as he disappears in front of him into the hut. John takes the bait and relieves himself outside, trying to calm the sudden fluttering in his chest. When he’s done he puts one foot on the steps and pauses, feeling suddenly momentous without any clue as to why. The curiosity burns inside of him. With one last look at the ocean he steps through the front door, eyes blinking to adjust to the light.

The inside is small, just one main room with a kitchen along one wall and a door he suspects leads to a bed. Almost every wall is made of windows, leading out to the trees and the sea. There’s books on almost every surface – textbooks mostly. A basket of random wires and metal parts sits overflowing in front of the worn, hand me down couch. Standing in one corner is an old surfboard, cracked and worn along the surface, with traces of paint stained into the waxed wood. John does a quick sweep with his eyes and can’t quite match the rooms before him with the man he’s spent all day with, let alone the man who towers above people on the beach or reads the ocean like a fucking scientist. The room seems hollow, somehow. Like it’s still waiting to be lived in and filled. Too perfectly, quietly, appropriately domestic.

He takes a step further inside, acutely aware of the fact that Scotty’s standing frozen watching him. His eyes roam over the few pieces of wood furniture and says the first thought that pops into his head, needing to break the buzzing silence.

“How did you get all this handmaid furniture?”

Scotty stands awkwardly in one corner, watching John look around, and shrugs. “I built it.”

John lets out a breathless laugh and holds on tighter to the wooden chair back under his hand. “Of course you did,” he says under his breath. His eyes flick over to a small side table, only one photograph on top of it. Besides the surfboard it’s the only personalized thing in the room. He’s drawn to it like a magnet, quickly stepping across the wooden floor. A young curly-haired boy looks back at him, shit-eating grin over his whole freckled face. A woman crouches behind him and holds him around the middle, eyes bright behind huge cat-eye glasses with a smile that’s just barely forming on her lips. There’s a row of military jets behind them, lined up on hot white cement and asphalt. Before he realizes what he’s doing John picks up the framed photograph in his hands. There’s writing just along the bottom in a long, feminine scrawl, and he squints hard to read it.

Me and Sherlock. Ft. Knox, 1962”

“That’s my mom,” Scotty says quietly from the corner. John looks up startled, palms starting to sweat and feeling like he’d been caught out. Something clicks in his brain from the day of the accident.

“Sherlock’s your real name?”

Scotty nods. “Nobody calls me that. Only her. She always said she got it from some adventure book she read when she was a kid.”

John nods slowly, unable to tears his gaze away from the brimming little boy in the photo, small thin hands holding on tight to his mom’s freckled arms.

“Your dad’s military, then?”

Scotty hums.

John feels the air turning tense, feels Scotty closing off from him bit by bit the longer he holds the photograph. With one last glance he sets it down on the table, matching up the angle with how it was before. He’s overflowing with questions, exploding with curiosity in his mind. He knows there’s only one thing he can ask, though.

“What’s her name?”

Scotty lets a quick breath out of his nose and shoots John a knowing, grateful smile. “Ruth. After the Bible character.”

John runs a hand over the back of his neck. “Man, I wouldn’t know who the hell that was if you put a gun to my head,” he says, and he feels warmth tingle through his body when Scotty’s face breaks into a laugh.

John walks toward him in the kitchen, eyes alighting on a contraption taking up almost half the counter, with wires and tubes and switches. He feels the need to change the subject.

“Aw shit, this whole hut is a bomb isn’t it?”

Scotty rolls his eyes at the poor joke. “It’s nothing. Just something I tinkered with.”

“What does it do?”

Scotty turns towards the contraption and points out the parts, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to sound bored. “It’s a contraption that connects with my alarm clock through a wire I ran in the wall. When it goes off, the electricity creates an imbalance of air pressure, which forces water through the tubes here across the induction burner, and meanwhile the battery operates this lever here which scoops up the grinds and places it in the filter, here, and so when the hot water reaches the end of the boiling process it drips through and starts making fresh coffee.”

“You built a fucking automatic coffee maker that’s triggered by your alarm clock in an entirely different room?”

Scotty suddenly seems unsure of himself. “Yes . . .”

John shakes his head and lets out a breath, crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s fucking brilliant.” When Scotty genuinely smiles, chest puffing out a bit, John goes on. “You must get tired of explaining it to all the idiots like me that trudge through here.”

Scotty’s smile grows serious, and his eyes narrow at John in thought. A silent moment passes before he speaks.

“Nobody else has ever been here,” he says.

John stands dangerously close to Scotty in the tiny kitchen, watching his chest rise and fall into the silent, buzzing air of the room. He knows he should say something about that. Change the subject or take a step back or ask him for more or something.

Instead he stands there, breathing in tandem with Scotty’s chest, feeling the close intimacy of their shared air in the quiet hut, the sound of the distant waves echoing through the windows.

Their eyes meet, and Scotty’s voice is a low whisper. “The sun will set soon. You want a good view?”

John nods, and still they don’t move apart. He can’t look away from Scotty’s eyes, the two little droplets of ocean that had made him want to suck in some oxygen and live. Finally Scotty slowly moves his hand toward John, hesitating in the air. John holds his breath, lips dry, as Scotty gently places his hand at the top of John’s forearm, gripping his skin beneath his elbow in a warm touch. John’s legs feel like water.

“Let’s go,” Scotty whispers.

They break apart, but the moment stays. It hovers over them as John follows Scotty outside down the private beach, feeling the velvet soft sand in between his toes. They climb up the rocky slope at one end of the inlet, using moss and grass for cover under their bare feet as they slowly ascend. John follows in Scotty’s footsteps with confidence, never more than a small step behind, feeling his heart pulse in time with his. When they reach the top of the rocky overlook John gasps, and Scotty chuckles under his breath. The sun hangs low and sweet over the sea, dipping its orange and yellow ribbons into the blue depths and swirling through the clouds. John can feel Scott’s eyes on him as he looks out over the view, breathless with the realization he’s standing on the edge of the earth. He feels absolutely no fear.

He meets eyes with Scotty, expecting to see the warm, soft gaze from earlier, and instead sees a glint of mischief.

“Oh no. . .” he starts to say, but then Scotty is pulling off his shirt and stripping down to his boxers.

“Oh yes,” he says back, staring hard at John until he groans and starts to reluctantly pull his shirt over his head.

“I haven’t even been in the water since I almost died, in case you forgot,” he says through his shirt.

“I haven’t forgotten.”

“My head isn’t even fully healed, it still aches all the time.”

“I noticed.”

“I’m not even surfing tomorrow. I’m supposed to be out here resting and enjoying myself.”

“You are resting, and you are enjoying yourself.”

“How do I even know the water’s fucking deep enough?”

Scotty turns back from the edge of the cliff and gazes back at him over his shoulder. The air between them crackles, alighting into flame. John feels goosebumps rise over his skin. His hairs stand on end as he gazes at the tattoo covering the muscles in Scotty’s back, dripping down the length of his spine towards his sculpted hips. He feels Scotty’s eyes over every inch of his revealed body as he stands there in his boxers. Feels the earth itching with anticipation beneath the soles of his feet.

Scotty smirks. “Because I’ve done this before,” he says. And then he jumps.

John runs to the edge with his heart in his throat and looks over as Scotty flips once in the air, curls flying wild in the wind. He crashes into the crystal blue waters below in a heap of limbs, causing the ocean to bend and ripple in frothing waves. John’s chest stays clenched until Scotty surfaces, running his fingers back through his curls and spitting out a stream of water. He treads water and looks up at John, warm smile on his face.

“Come on then, Mr. Navy,” he calls up. “Show me you can swim!”

John goes to laugh, cheeks just starting to grin, when suddenly the wave is booming against the back of his skull, and the rock is slamming into his forehead, and the tides are pulling him, gripping him out to the sea. He feels fear crawl up the back of his neck and swell up his tongue. He’s back on the top of a diving platform, waiting for the Lieutenant’s hands to shove him from behind.

“John.”

The calm voice breaks him from his trance and he opens his eyes to see Scotty looking up at him, worry in his eyes. John can barely look down over the ledge. He can’t form a reply. Hot embarrassment creeps up the backs of his legs, rooting him firmly in place.

“It’s alright, John,” Scotty says. His voice is steady and assured. He isn’t lying.

John tries to nod, but it comes out as a strange jerk of his head. The water slaps against his back, the rock rushes up to meet his face.

“John. I’ll be right here.”

Like a rush of cool spray John feels every muscle in his body release, his feet untethered from the ground. The words are like a magic spell, hovering over his body. It’s the feeling of seeing the rescue helicopter waiting just off shore. It’s the sight of two terrified blue eyes staring down into his. He takes a step back from the edge and nods down once at Scotty, grits his teeth and takes a deep breath, then runs.

His body soars weightless into the thin air, floating in the void for a moment before falling towards the earth. He hears the wind rush and thrash against his body, smells the salt water pounding into his lungs, and he lets out a whoop from the pit of his chest. The ocean water that hits his skin parts underneath him like smooth velvet, enveloping him into a sudden cool silence. His lungs burn as he makes his way back towards the surface, where the orange and red of the sunset light his way just above the rippling of the water.

He finds Scotty’s eyes and laughs, wide-eyed at himself. At his own daring.

“Well done,” Scotty says, smiling. His voice is deep and warm. They swim towards each other in the weightless sea, bobbing among the little swells left over from their jumps. John lowers his chin into the water and feels it lap against his lips as he glides. The sound of their breathing echoes over the surface, and the little droplets of water falling from their hair sound like splashes dropping into a vast, wet cavern. John watches the water gently rise and fall over Scotty’s chest, tracing smooth, rippling lines over his collarbone, over his nipples. The sunlight illuminates Scotty’s skin, turning it into gold. They stop swimming towards each other when they’re chest to chest, cocooned in the sounds of their breathing, the water gently slapping against their bodies, little droplets falling from blinking eyelashes.

Scotty licks his lips. “It’s shallow enough to stand just a little ways to your right. Sand bar juts out.”

John gazes at him and nods, wanting to close his eyes at the sound of that voice echoing on the surface of water trapped between their bodies. He swims behind Scotty until they can stand up to their navels out of the water, expecting Scotty to continue to walk towards the shore.

Instead Scotty turns so that they’re face to face, sharing the heat from their dripping chests.

“You were brave,” he says.

John shuts his eyes hard and shakes his head, rueful smile at the corner of his mouth. “It’s stupid. I don’t know what the hell happened to –”

The breath is stolen from his lungs as Scotty’s hand suddenly rises from the water, palm placed firmly down right over the scar on John’s chest. He gasps. Scotty’s hand doesn’t move.

“You were brave,” he says again.

John tries to breathe under the feeling of Scotty’s palm on his chest, covering the most intimate part of his skin, willingly touching the haunted darkness etched forever into his body. He trembles under the weight of it, afraid to look Scotty in the eyes. Finally he steels himself and raises his hand to cover Scotty’s own, thick, tan fingers covering long and thin. He meets Scotty’s gaze and gasps again.

The man from the pier.

“I missed you,” Scotty whispers. John nearly groans. He wants to draw the man before him into his body. No – he wants to be drawn into his. Kept and protected and held. He leans forward, lips parted, and sighs when Scotty suddenly reaches out and grasps him in his arms, pulling him close against his body and cupping the back of his neck with his huge, warm hand.

“Fuck, I missed you too,” John breathes into his chest.

Scotty holds him as the gentle waves lap at their skin. He’s never experienced this in his entire life. He feels desperate – hands practically clutching at Scotty’s back, clinging to the tendrils of the jellyfish, the bones of his shoulder blades. He feels Scotty’s stubbled cheek rest against his forehead.

“Is this ok?” Scotty whispers. John feels his chest tense against him, afraid of the response. John opens his mouth to speak and can’t. Finds the words blocked and choked in his throat. He turns his face into the hollow of Scotty’s neck and holds on tighter, sighing as Scotty’s body relaxes under his once more.

A sudden thought pops into John’s head, and he clings to it like a lifeline.

This is why Keith Hartman didn’t leave you to die on that beach.

 

--

 

John keeps waiting for the night to turn tense and awkward – for that panicked, internal alarm he felt flaring through his system in the Hermosa beach shower to start up again, loud and fierce now that they’ve held each other skin to skin in the shallows of the waves.

It doesn’t.

John’s sitting on one of the chairs Scotty moved out to his porch, practically devouring the spicy rice dish Scotty seemed to whip up out of thin air once they made their way back from the shore. He’s wearing a borrowed pair of Scotty’s sweats and an old, worn Grateful Dead t-shirt that he doesn’t fully believe Scotty just randomly bought at a Goodwill. They sit and look out over the moonlit ocean, illuminated by the lights still on inside the hut, pouring golden pools through the windows. John feels like he’s lived in this place for a hundred years. The thought of leaving to go home in a bit churns in the pit of his gut like lead, yanking him down from the heavenly daydream he’d been living all day.

“Just stay here,” Scotty says, reading his goddamn mind again. “Can’t catch a bus this late and there aren’t any taxis out here. Couch isn’t that bad – I’ve slept on it plenty of times.”

John breathes out slowly. He’s terrified of how much he wants to say yes.

“Besides, you’ve got an early morning tomorrow,” Scotty goes on. “I think check-in is at seven-thirty or eight.”

John’s mind freezes, frantically running back over that sentence. He starts to frown. “But I don’t need to be there for check-in---” he starts to say. He turns to look at Scotty and sees a look on his face he’s never seen before. He looks. . . sheepish?

The realization crashes into him, knocking him breathless and forcing the blood in hot waves through his body.

“The fuck’s going on?” he asks, voice dangerous.

Scotty’s a statue, gazing purposefully nonchalantly out to sea. “You’re surfing tomorrow,” is all he says.

John clenches his fists. “No, I’m not,” he says icily.

“You are. You can borrow a wetsuit I have I think will fit you. And my board.”

“Since when am I fucking surfing tomorrow?”

Scotty swallows hard and looks at John. He doesn’t look quite so casual anymore. He looks ruffled. Unsure.

“Since I called when we were eating lunch and re-registered you.”

“Since you called and – Jesus you just don’t fucking stop, do you?” John leaps to his feet and paces over the deck, mind fuming.

“Seriously, what made you think that’s a good idea? I was in the fucking hospital, for god’s sake. I haven’t even surfed!”

“It’s only been four days, you haven’t lost any strength.” Scotty rises to his feet and faces him. “You proved to yourself just now that you aren’t afraid.”

John huffs. “I haven’t prepared for one fucking second. Don’t know a single thing about who’s surfing, or what’s going on, or where the hell I’m even supposed to go. What on earth made you think this was a good idea? That I wanted this?”

“Of course you wanted this! You can't honestly tell me you'd be happy watching from the sidelines. This is your dream –”

“I’m not even supposed to fucking be here!”

John glares at Scotty and goes completely still. “I shouldn’t even have the points to be here,” he says again.

He knows Scotty knows what he means. His mind flashes back to Scotty whipping off his sunglasses mid-ride down a pitiful swell, staring him down just before flinging himself back into the waves on purpose.

Scotty steps back and runs his hand through his curls. “Well you wouldn’t have been that far behind me in scores that day anyways. You don’t understand, John. This is what you need to do.”

“Need to do? I don’t need to do anything. Especially not something you just decided for me not five fucking days after you had to fucking resuscitate me!”

“But you’re already here! You have a board and they’ll put you up against a Wild Card and you can surf,” Scotty pleads.

“God, I just – you know what? No. I’m not letting this ruin my day. You’re going to sleep, and I’m going to sleep, and we’re waking up to go watch the fucking competition tomorrow, alright?”

Scotty stands still gazing at him, hands helplessly wringing at his sides. John dares him with his eyes to keep fighting – to put up another ridiculous, pointless, goddamn unbelievable selfish excuse why John should go out and embarrass himself on Scotty’s home turf tomorrow. Finally Scotty ducks his head and nods, taking another step back.

“Shower’s in the back,” he says low. “There’s an extra towel.”

“Right,” John says as he strides inside. He scrubs his skin furiously in the tiny shower, rubbing until he feels pink and raw. The door to the bedroom is closed, light pouring out from underneath by the time John makes it back out to the main room. He flicks off the light with such force it nearly topples over, flings himself onto the couch, and hates himself when he notices Scotty left a folded up blanket and a pillow for him. He huffs onto his side, forces his brain to shut off, and stares blankly into the dark.

John barely sleeps. He’s awoken just before dawn to the sound of footsteps softly padding through the room, making their way carefully out onto the deck. He lies awake staring at the ceiling, waiting for Scotty to come back inside, hating the fact that he feels so alone knowing that he isn’t in the house. When he doesn’t return John pushes himself from the couch and groans, cracking his neck. He blinks blearily at the soft, grey light starting to bathe the shore in silver as he looks out the window. Scotty’s down at the shore, standing still and gazing out to the sea, shoulders slumped.

John sighs as he feels his feet start to carry him out to the sand, shivering once at the chilled dawn air. He makes his way slowly down to where Scotty stands, hair rippling gently in the breeze. Scotty doesn’t look over at him when he joins him by his side. He doesn’t seem surprised.

“Couldn’t sleep,” John says to fill the silence. Even the sound of the waves feels muted.

Scotty hums. They stand in silence for minutes, looking out over the sea as it slowly lightens with the oncoming sunrise. The man next to him feels soft and gentle – fading effortlessly into this peaceful landscape. The peace that John ruined the night before by yelling and stomping off.

He takes a deep breath in through his nose and smells the salty air. His palms itch to get in the water. To get their grip on a freshly waxed board.

“You aren’t messing with me,” he says quietly. “You really think I can hold my own for a round without embarrassing myself?”

He turns to look at Scotty, and frowns when the man shakes his head.

“No,” Scotty says. He meets his gaze, eyes focused and intense. “I think you can win.”

John huffs and looks away, heart pounding in his chest. “Nobody’s that optimistic.”

“John.”

John sighs and looks back, resigned to hear whatever new wild excuse or explanation Scotty has at the ready – perfectly designed to goad and convince him into doing this stupid thing anyway. He raises his eyebrows at Scotty to continue.

“John,” he says again. He hesitates, then turns towards John, waiting for him to do the same. John holds his breath as Scotty’s hands slowly reach up to settle down on top of his shoulders, grip warm and firm. Scotty’s pale eyes flicker in the morning light, and his curls blow softly across his forehead. John feels a moan on the tips of his lips.

“Think what you want about me,” Scotty says. “But I’m not cruel. I wouldn’t embarrass you.”

John feels gutted. He gazes helplessly into the little droplets of ocean and takes a step closer, feeling Scotty’s fingertips trail lightly at his collarbone. He licks his lips. His body is pulsing, shaking, held together only by the hands on his shoulders.

“No,” he whispers. “You wouldn’t.”

He sucks in a quiet breath, and the air between them changes. He sees Scotty’s eyes widen, and he slowly leans forward into the heat of his chest. He barely understands what’s happening as Scotty tips his head down towards his, lips gently parted. He feels his own hands reach up to grip at his warm, firm waist, afraid to press too hard, afraid to make this all disappear.

John tilts his head and closes his eyes. Feels Scotty’s breath dance across his lips, the warmth from his cheek illuminating John’s skin. Suddenly Scotty sucks in a breath and pulls back. John opens his eyes to see Scotty staring at him in disbelief.

“You want this,” he breathes, voice shaking.

John’s answer falls effortlessly from his lips. “Yes.”

Scotty swallows hard and blinks. “With me?”

The question is so small, so tiny and fragile in the air. The unspoken me, not Greg hangs like a trembling secret in the air. John closes his eyes and thinks of holding a picture of a curly-haired little boy in his hands.

“God, Sherlock, more than anything.”

Sherlock’s chest hitches on his breath. He looks at John with pure, absolute, radiating wonder, and he breathes John’s name on a sigh into the dazzling sunlit air. He cups John’s face in warm, trembling hands, leans forward and kisses him with a soft smile still on his lips, leaving John melting and gasping and breathless in the sand as the sea laps gently at their feet.

Chapter Text

John Watson is kissing him.

John Watson is kissing him.

Sherlock tastes the groaning sigh that leaves John’s mouth as John’s hand comes up to hold the side of his face, fingers trailing through his curls and holding on. Thumb brushing gently over his cheek, soothing the bruise that came from the end of a fist while John had struggled gasping in the wet sand.

He hears a moan escape from the back of his own throat as he tilts his head to capture John’s warm, sleep-soft lips under his, wet and pliant and gentle. Consumed.

Fire burns up his spine and crackles in the pit of his chest as he pulls John’s body flush against his and feels the rapid beating of John’s heart straight through to his own skin. Feels John’s peaked nipples brush against him. An electric shiver through his blood.

John’s body is solid and soft beneath his hands – hands which he can’t believe are still steady despite the fact that John Watson is kissing him. Steady, coursing, overwhelming desire burns in his chest, and he pulls back to speak before he loses his nerve.

“Say it again,” he whispers, lips brushing against John’s. The air between them is warm and wet, exhales mixed with the salty ocean breeze.

To his relief John knows immediately what he means. John smiles a breathy laugh and looks into his eyes, brushing the curls from Sherlock’s forehead with gentle fingers.

“Sherlock,” he breathes. The sound of his name in John’s voice floats gently out over the sea and towards the distant horizon. Sherlock wants to cup the sound of it in his palms and hide it away inside his skin forever. He wants to melt. “Sherlock,” John whispers into the side of his neck. Says again nestled into his cheek, breathing warmth across his shivering skin.

Sherlock turns his head to capture John’s lips once more, and they both groan as their tongues brush, quiet trembling gasps mixing in with the sound of the steady, crashing waves. Sherlock lets his mind go blissfully still, utterly lost in the feeling of John’s skin against his, the gentle caress of his lips, the careful, reverent traces of his warm fingertips. The visceral, exploding relief.

Then he remembers why John stormed away the night before. He needs to know. Sherlock holds the side of John’s neck, letting his fingers trace through the strands of his hair, and gives him one final, soft kiss in the corner of his mouth. He pulls back, breath shaking off the tips of his kiss-sensitive lips. John’s eyes hold the depth of the sea. They bore into him the way a wave envelops his skin. Unrelenting and powerful, refreshing and known.

“Surf today, John,” he says, gazing into his eyes. “Do it for you. Please.”

John Watson is a marvel. He stands on a beach willingly holding Sherlock’s body in his arms, letting him touch and mark and feel his skin with his hands, letting him ask him, beg him to hold his ground against his fear. John’s eyes don’t leave his. The icy water continues to lick at their ankles, leaving their toes in cool, damp pockets of sand.

“You’ll be there?” John asks.

Sherlock nods. He can’t help himself. He brushes his fingers through John’s hair and refuses to blink as he watches John lean into the touch. His touch.

“I’ll be there,” he responds.

Then John smiles. It washes over his face in warmth, and Sherlock can feel his own cheeks responding. He feels as if he’s going to rise up into the air, bolstered by the power of the look on John’s face and the wind blowing steadily off the surface of the ocean. He wants to run down to the competition and laugh in everyone’s faces that the bravest man on earth just said he wanted him, right there for the entire sunrise-covered ocean to see. He dips his head and brushes his nose against John’s, breathing in the scent of his sleepy skin. John hums, then shakes his head and lets out a husky laugh, placing his hands on Sherlock’s chest and leaning slightly away.

“This is insane.”

Sherlock’s smile freezes on his face and turns stale. The breath in his lungs turns to lead. He knows this. Doesn’t John realize that he knows this? He’s the most irritating, risky, un-liked man in all of surfing and John Watson just willingly kissed him. Of course it’s insane. Why else would he have had to wait to find the bravest man on earth for someone to finally say they wanted him? Yes - he knows all of this like he knows every part that makes up a television, a radio, a toaster oven, a car. And yet, he’d thought it would last a bit longer before John pointed that out. At least long enough to kiss him again (lie on top of him, peel his clothes from his body, hold him down into the sand, hear him gasp, feel him arch against him). At least until John wins the competition and walks away with a garland of flowers. At least until he has to leave and go back to Los Angeles . . .

Sherlock’s lost in his head. He realizes too late that he’s gone entirely stiff. John notices the tension in his body and sucks in a breath.

“No no no,” he says. “I didn’t mean this.” John hesitates, eyes narrowed like he’s gauging Sherlock’s reaction, then he leans forward and kisses Sherlock softly on the mouth. Sherlock feels relief course through his body in pounding waves. He moans on a sigh as he relaxes under John’s brief touch, still shocked at the taste of John’s lips – John Watson’s lips – against his own.

John pulls back and grins again. “No, this is not what’s insane,” he says. He bites the inside of his lip and clears his throat. Sherlock can feel the moment turning heavy. John clears his throat again and goes on.

“Actually, this feels like the least insane thing I’ve ever done.” He pauses, tongue jutting out quickly to lick his bottom lip. “You know I wasn’t actually drafted? That I enlisted?”

The whispered words vibrate in the air between them. They drown out the sound of the breeze rustling through the seashells hanging off Sherlock’s porch – the sound of the waves forever rushing over the sand onto the shore. Sherlock dips his head, then takes John’s hands from his chest and holds them in his own, running his thumbs along the length of John’s sturdy, calloused fingers.

“I’d guessed as much. If you’d been drafted they would have sent you straight in the Army based on how old you were at the time. You probably figured you’d be safer in the Navy. It’s why you haven’t asked for any help from anyone since you’ve been back – you feel like you only have yourself to blame for being over there in the first place.”

Sherlock realizes he’s nervous saying this out loud. He doesn’t know what’s changed now, what should be different. If he shouldn’t say his weird observations out loud anymore now that he’s tasted John’s lips.

John looks up at him, scrunches his lips together, and laughs. “You’re a genius,” he says. “Is there anything you can’t take one look at and know fucking everything about?”

Sherlock knows he’s joking, but the answer that falls immediately from his lips comes from the truest pit of his chest.

“You.”

John looks at him with an unreadable expression, holding his gaze. Neither one of them breathes. Then John squeezes his hands one last time before letting go, turning back to face the sea and standing close enough for their arms to touch. John takes a deep, slow breath in, and Sherlock’s eyes track the rise and fall of John’s chest below the thin fabric of his own t-shirt.

“What I meant to say, before,” John says. “The thing that’s insane. I’m standing here in Hawaii, and apparently I’m about to surf the fucking Banzai Pipeline, and I’ve got the Scotty Holmes saying he’ll help me not make a complete ass of myself. Eighteen-year-old me is pinching the shit out of his arm right about now. It’s unreal.”

Sherlock hums. “Eighteen-year-old you definitely wouldn’t have been pinching himself about an eight-year-old know-it-all kid with greased and parted hair in a Midwest Sunday school,” he says, smirking.

John laughs and leans against him. Sherlock feels the touch straight through to his bones.

John runs a hand through his hair and speaks while gazing out at the water. “But honestly, that’s not even the insane thing. The insane thing is that I so badly just wanna say ‘fuck the Billabong,’ and fuck all those things that I wanted, because what I want more than anything right now is to stay here and kiss every inch of you. Of Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock almost moans. He feels John’s words rumble through his skin, settle deep in the pit of his gut, between his legs. He feels a ghostly press of John’s warm lips at the dip in the small of his back. In the crease between his hip and thigh. His skin shivers. It takes him three tries to clear his throat. He absolutely forbids himself to look sideways at John. If he does he won’t be able to stop himself from wrapping his arms around his strong waist and pressing him down into the earth and covering him with his body. Finally he speaks, his voice low and gravely.

“You’re not allowed to kiss me again until you’re a Billabong finalist,” he says.

John huffs. “You’re fucking insane.”

Sherlock turns to him and smirks. He can see the fires in John’s eyes – the same look Johnny Watson had given him just before he chased after what he thought would be a closed-out wave off the hot and muggy coast of Hermosa.

“Trust me,” Sherlock says. “I know.”

 

--

 

“I spent all night going through the latest surfing journal news and –”

“--you what? I told you last night I wasn’t doing this. How did you know --”

“—I’ve come up with who I think they’ll pit you against in the Wild Card round today based on rankings. Pay attention, John, those flowers will still be there in two days you can look at them then.”

“Jesus Christ, don’t you ever –”

“—Shane Hamilton, Australia, won the East Coast championships at Virginia Beach in ’66 but he had a nasty wipeout in ’67 that threw him off for a few years. Back problems. He’s older than you, probably this is his last ditch attempt at getting through to a quarter or semifinal so he can go out on a high note –“

“—fuck! Sherlock, watch where you’re fucking driving!”

“That goat had at least a foot of room, calm down. Anyway. Hamilton. He’s gun-shy now. He’ll be cautious with his back. Drops in really late on swells only once he sees they’re going to be a smooth, open barrel that won’t close in on him and trap him inside. Use this – look for one’s he’s hovering on and sneak in before him to take it before the barrel fully presents. You can handle a few wipeouts – it’ll be worth it to rattle him. Following?”

Sherlock turns his gaze from the winding, dirt road to look at John. His own heart is racing, as if he’s the one who’s going to have to surf their ass off all day and not John. Since jogging back up to the house from the shoreline his brain had been an absolute whirlwind. He’d been running different strategies through his mind, trying to predict the way the waves would be that day, making a list of everything they’d need to do and bring, and suddenly John had grabbed him by the shoulders and pressed him up against the back of the doorway and kissed him. Hard. Licked into his mouth and grinded him back into the rough wood and groaned and pulled on a fistful of his curls. And he’d pulled back before Sherlock could even begin to respond and said “fuck, Holmes, what you do to me,” and Sherlock had thought he would melt into a puddle and never walk again.

And they’d yanked themselves apart, pacing around the hut trying to throw things together for the competition, tossing items back and forth like what Sherlock imagined an old married couple would be like right before leaving for a vacation. Then coffee was started, and while it was brewing Sherlock had wrapped his arms around John’s tense waist from behind and whispered into the back of John’s neck “you’re gonna surf like hell today.” And John had leaned gently back against him and placed his hand right on Sherlock’s forearm and squeezed, letting Sherlock hold him in the quiet stillness of the room. And that squeeze had meant more than anything they’d said standing on the shore that morning.

And now they’re here – speeding along in the Jeep while Sherlock dumps absolutely everything he’s packed into his brain about the surf and the competition that day, hoping John is catching at least some of it and not even physically able to slow down the train of his thoughts even if he wanted to.

He’s nervous. He’s nervous for John. And isn’t that an absolutely remarkable thing. An absolutely terrifying thing.

John looks over at him and gives a tight smile. He’s nervous too. “I’m listening, genius, keep going,” he says. He reaches over and puts his hand on Sherlock’s thigh as he drives and keeps it there. Sherlock has to tear his eyes away from the sight of John’s tan fingers resting on the line between his board shorts and his skin and force himself to look back at the road.

“Right. Other Wild Card they’ll throw in there – Peter Fu. From Maui. He’s the exact opposite of Hamilton. Attacks every wave whether it’s a clear open barrel or not. He’s wicked good at skirting on the foam – so he’ll take a wave he knows is gonna collapse and he’ll ride the barrel as long as he can before just hopping out and grinding along the foam in front. Then he does some fancy show-off leap at the end to finish the ride. He’s nineteen. Paddles like hell the entire set. He’ll take every wave he can get his hands on, which sort of takes care of Hamilton for you, but Fu will rack up enough medium level scores on waves that if you don’t get your three good waves in he’ll end up winning based on sheer quantity alone. Plus he’s got a bit of home turf advantage, if you believe in that sort of shit. Got it?”

John clears his throat and nods, looking out the window with a look on his face like he’s going to be sick. Sherlock can tell he doesn’t want to be left alone to his thoughts, so he keeps talking. Talks about the weather conditions, and the currents, the topography underneath the water along the Banzai Pipeline and the way the social scene usually works at this competition (not like he’s ever actually been part of it). He talks until he feels his voice growing hoarse and they’re pulling up twenty minutes later to the outskirts of the beach, the sleepy town already alive and busy for competition day. John gives Sherlock’s thigh one final squeeze before removing it, running his hands over his face and sighing before leaning back to look out at the sky through the open ceiling of the Jeep.

Sherlock doesn’t want to leave the car. When he does, he’ll have to be Scotty Holmes. John will separate from him and pretend they didn’t just arrive together, and John will be surrounded by surfers from all over the world wishing him luck and catching up on the latest news and gossip and warming up together and sitting together to strategize. And meanwhile Sherlock will be off to the sidelines with his sunglasses on, dodging all the shocked looks he knows he’ll get when word spreads he isn’t surfing this year, trying to avoid fangirls and ass-kissers and rivals all at once by looking as unapproachable as possible.

He doesn’t want John Watson to see him like that – to see him as Scotty Holmes on Oahu. And yet the thought of the entire beach whispering about ‘what the hell got into Scotty Holmes this year’ if he walks around trying to be the man he is around John feels like suicide. He wants to turn the ignition back on, turn the Jeep around, and drive like hell back to his home with John Watson by his side. To feel the weight of him in his arms and memorize every detail of his skin so that he’ll have the memory of it forever – for years beyond the day when John gets on a plane back to LAX.

Sherlock hears John trying to calm his breathing next to him, and he realizes that John will never move from the car unless Sherlock forces them to start. Suddenly he remembers the thing in his own pocket.

“John.”

John hums and keeps staring out the window. When Sherlock waits and doesn’t answer, he slowly meets his gaze. His eyes are churning storms.

“When I went back up to the rocks last night to get our clothes – your . . . the casing was still in your pocket. I have it now, if you want it.”

John gazes at him, and Sherlock can’t decipher the lines on John’s face if his life depended on it. The moment drags on, and Sherlock starts to worry that he did something terribly wrong by taking it out of John’s shorts and pocketing it in his own. His palms are sweating. Finally John speaks, and his voice is thin and hoarse.

“I’d rather know that you have it,” he says. Sherlock can only nod.

They take a mutual breath and both reach for their respective door handles. Sherlock feels his body change the instant he steps outside the car. Already his shoulders are back, chin higher, eyes itching to get behind their protective dark lenses. He leaves them off – just a few minutes longer. The sudden desperation he feels to hold on to his final seconds as Sherlock Holmes takes him by surprise. He helps John unload his board and bag, makes sure he has the water they packed and some food.

“Take extra time stretching your left calf muscle,” Sherlock says as John shoulders his borrowed bag. “It looks tight.”

John nods and picks up the board under his arm. Sherlock keeps going.

“And watch out for that rip current if your heat ends up starting after 9:30, it’ll make dropping in on any waves that are angled southwest impossible and you’ll get sucked backward into the bottom of the pipeline.”

Again, John only nods. Sherlock can feel his internal panic rising. The desperate need to say something, anything, that will snap John out of this somber silence he’s fallen into – like a robot preparing for his doom.

“Your strong suit is staying low and tight around the board, gouging into the face of the wave where Hamilton and Fu will just try to zoom out of the pipeline as soon as possible. Judges here love when you go deep and spend extra seconds inside the barrel, so try and use that to your advantage—”

“Alright, mom, I get it. Thanks.”

John’s tone is icy, and Sherlock stops mid-word, mouth hanging open. He feels like he’s been slapped. He feels like an idiot. Of course John doesn’t need his help – doesn’t need him rambling on about things he already damn well knows when he’s trying to calm himself and focus. He feels like a scolded child. Sherlock takes a step back from John and reaches for his sunglasses, taking one last look at the true golden color of John’s skin before slipping them on over his eyes and running a hand through his curls to smooth them. He sets his mouth in a firm line and steps aside wordlessly to let John go by, fists clenching at his sides. He looks away from him, out towards the end of the street, when John’s voice draws him back. He sounds tired and small.

“Sorry, I – Sherlock don’t.”

Sherlock turns back to him. He leaves the sunglasses on. John sighs and looks up towards the clear, open sky.

“I just – I –” he sighs again. “I feel like such an idiot. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

Sherlock frowns and takes a step forward. “Why do you say that? You know what you’re doing, John. You can read the waves. You’re a good surfer. Just trust yourself.”

“No, I know, it’s not that. It’s – I wish that I could stay with you today. On the beach, between heats. While you’re off . . . being the reigning champion and I’m sitting alone shitting bricks. I wish that so fucking badly.”

John’s face looks like he’s embarrassed to admit those words, and Sherlock’s chest clenches. Without a second thought he reaches up and yanks the glasses off his eyes, blinking against the harsh sunlight. He takes a quick look side to side on the empty little dirt road and steps chest to chest with John, causing John’s chest to hitch. Sherlock leans forward and brushes his lips against John’s forehead, hearing the breath shake from the tips of John’s lips.

“Surf like hell, John Watson,” he whispers into his skin, and he kisses him softly just under his hairline. John sighs long and slow at his touch. Sherlock feels the tension seep out from John’s body in front of him, feels the hot lines of nerves running rigid through his muscles soften and relax.

Sherlock forces himself to step back and tries to mask how amazed he is at his own daring, then shoulders his own bag, flicking back on his sunglasses and mentally preparing to enter the churning crowd. He shares one last look with John and nods before John turns to walk down towards the beach alone, leaving Sherlock behind by the silent Jeep. They’d discussed this – how they should arrive on the sand separately. The last thing they need – the last thing John needs – is a rumor flying around about why the hell he showed up with the reigning champion he embarrassingly defeated two weeks ago in LA. Not when he’s trying to focus. Not when he’s trying to win.

When John is ten steps away Sherlock can’t help himself. Suddenly the sight of John walking away from him towards the thronging beach feels too final – like an unforeseen goodbye. He feels frantic, desperate and shaken with the need to call him “John” one last time that day. He calls out to him, not caring how he must sound, and John looks back over his shoulder with a raised brow.

“I’ll be there,” Sherlock says to him, voice steady and low. He wills his body to remain still, trying to pour assurance out of every inch of his own nervous, shaking limbs. John’s answering smile is more beautiful than the entire blooming mountain at his back. It’s the same smile he’d given Sherlock on the beach just after telling him about the war, only this time Sherlock doesn’t feel the need to look away.

Sherlock shuffles his feet in his flip flops for another fifteen minutes by the car, perfectly imagining every step John must be going through down at the competition. He can see the beach clearly in his mind – the crowds lounging across the already blazing hot shore, the canopies of palm leaves, the sea of surfboards all stacked and standing in the sand, waiting to be waxed, the cliques of surfers from all over the world standing in huddles with their beards and their long hair and their girlfriends hanging at their sides.

Sherlock closes his eyes and remembers back to his nineteen-year-old self, hiding alone in the dense trees near the beach and waiting for his opportune moment to run out and steal a board and prove to everyone that they were all absolute novices at surfing the Banzai. He smiles now remembering how unbelievably irritated he’d been watching the world’s so-called best pipeline surfers wipe out in wave after wave for getting stuck too deep in the barrel, or failing to stick low and close to the face for fear they’d be pitched over. He feels reckless just remembering that moment – when he’d taken a breath and run full speed from his hiding place, sensing the perfect set just on its way in that he couldn’t miss if he was gonna show everyone who was really the best at pipeline surfing.

And he had been the best, hadn’t he? They’d mailed him the prize money (well, they’d mailed Chuck Hobbs the prize money and Sherlock had found it a week later taped to one of the trees near his house), and given him an automatic spot on the pro circuit, and sent him the competition schedule for the rest of that summer and the next, and he’d placed in the top four at every major competition since. The realization of how easy it had all been makes him ashamed in retrospect, thinking back to John’s somber, determined face that morning. Thinking back to the look of sinking devastation on his face in Hermosa when Sherlock had been about to beat him in their round. A fiery, foolish part of him wants to run down to the beach and yell out “for god’s sake, please let John win. He almost fucking died protecting all of you, so you have to let him win this. You don’t understand but you have to.” And then he remembers John’s terrifying face in the moonlight when he’d accused Sherlock of losing on purpose, and suddenly that desire is replaced by the need to go down there and find John Watson and scoop him up and carry him away from it all and back to Sherlock’s home, back to the beach where no one will stare at the way his raised scar shows through his shirt.

Shit, he’s never had so many ridiculous conflicting desires all at once in his whole life. He’s felt nothing but reckless for the past fort-eight hours. He could have let John Watson walk away from him down the road and gone back to his peaceful solitude and his hammock and his music, and instead he’d called after him and practically begged him to come back to him the next day, like the world’s neediest travel agent. He still doesn’t even know what came over him when he’d placed his hand on John’s chest there in the shallows and accidentally said out loud what he’d been thinking – you were brave, - and he sure as hell hadn’t planned on reaching out and wrapping his arms around John’s body, holding him close against his own skin like he’d wanted to watching him change in secret behind the lifeguard tower. He has no idea who he is anymore – the man doing these things. If it’s Scotty or Sherlock or ‘the fag from Oahu’ or some version of himself he hasn’t even had a chance to meet yet.

He can still feel the ghosts of John’s hands on his skin, clutching at his back and burying his face into his neck, letting the stubble on his cheek rasp against Sherlock’s collarbone, being willingly held in his arms for the entire ocean to see. And then Sherlock had looked at John in the soft, grey morning light and burned up with desperation at the need for John to know that he could win and he’d heard John’s perfect lips forming the sounds of his name – his name – and he’d leaned forward and kissed him.

Sherlock realizes he’s standing next to the Jeep smiling like a goddamn loony. He brings his fist in front of his mouth and coughs before pulling his shades back on and grabbing his bag. It’s time. He slicks back his curls and takes a deep breath, reminding himself what it feels like to be Scotty Holmes, and then he quickly makes his way down to the shore, already starting to receive shocked stares the closer he gets to the beach.

The first day of the Billabong Masters is never quite as insane as the finals on Day 2. Sherlock restrains himself from immediately searching for John in the smaller crowd once his feet finally reach the sand and he kicks his sandals off, leaving them in the middle of the pathway. The WSL guys are running cables to set up for the announcers’ table, and the judges are starting to arrive. Sherlock wonders how far word’s spread that he isn’t going to be surfing. If it hasn’t, there’s going to be a stupid high-school gossip mill exploding in about two hours once everyone figures out he doesn’t have a board with him. It if has, that same high-school gossip mill is currently tearing itself to shreds wondering whether he injured himself, or had a mental breakdown, or is playing some big trick on everyone, or finally got arrested for one of the ridiculous activities he supposedly does when he’s not just being a stuck-up asshole. Oahu’s a small island, and surfing’s a small world. Sherlock’s learned not to kid himself by pretending he isn’t a topic of conversation, and a favorite one, at that.

He finds a spot in some shade at the base of a tree and sits to wait it out, trying to look as simultaneously intimidating and invisible as possible. He breathes in the sea air and tries to calm himself over the next couple hours watching the beach slowly come to life – as the surfers start warming up out in the waves, and the announcers start going over the day’s match-ups. He watches John stretch his left calf muscle over and over again. Keeps constantly searching for a golden blond head moving throughout the sea of tanned bodies and native Hawaiians, bobbing among the other surfers warming up in the massive swells. John looks tense. He can see it from a mile away. It takes all of Sherlock’s willpower to stay where he is, to just let John be. The best thing he could possibly do for him at a surfing event in Oahu is stay as far away from him as possible. The raw truth of that hurts somewhere deep and unfamiliar in his chest.

The first heat of the day is completely forgettable. All three surfers struggle to hold their ground against the sheer velocity of the Banzai waves, clearly all new to the terrain, and none of them make higher than a six on any of their three scored waves. It would make Sherlock feel smugly victorious, if he wasn’t ready to throw up at the thought of John losing his nerve under the pressure. Fifteen minutes before John’s heat Sherlock takes a deep breath and pushes off from his hiding spot, making his way down into the crowd with head held high.

The inevitable happens. The crowd parts before him like Moses with the Red Sea. Everyone knows who he is. He’s Oahu’s golden child. Other surfers call out “Scotty! Yo, Holmes!” as he walks by, last year’s rivals give him the reluctant but expected head nod, and fans gasp and plead with him to hear if it’s true he isn’t surfing the Masters. He stays silent. He makes his way to the far side of the judges’ area and finds a clear spot of sand to sit as close to the waves as possible. To be able to see John. He can feel the crowd hovering at his back, staring and whispering. It makes him feel prickly and sick. He knows exactly what they’re saying now that his back is turned. Before he used to find it mildly amusing, hearing the various rumors people came up with, or the new complaints they had about his surfing or his personality or his tattoo or whatever else the hell people decided to take issue with. “If only our champion wasn’t a miserable asshole,” “If only our champion didn’t think he was god’s gift to surfing and actually knew how to be a part of the community,” “If only our champion wasn’t a fag.”

Now, though, knowing that John is somewhere on this beach, hearing the whispers and seeing the stares, the reality of it all makes him want to hide his face under the sand. He feels embarrassingly hot tears prickle at the back of his eyes behind his aviators and hates himself for it. That he woke up when he was fifteen with a dream to be the best surfer in the world, and all he’s managed to do since then is piss off an entire island and create a worldwide reputation for himself as “that dude we wish would finally just lose.”

He shakes his head and blinks hard before settling his elbows around his knees to watch. He tells himself John needs him to pull it together, even though he doesn’t believe that at all. Somewhere behind him John is zipping up his wetsuit and walking towards the starting line over to his right. He blocks out the sound of everything but the waves and the announcers. His own ridiculous thoughts can wait. John has a heat to win.

-

“And here for round two of Day One of our Billabong Pipeline Masters, folks, we’ve got our Wild Card heat. The Aussie Shane Hamilton coming fresh off an injury at Bells Beach back in his home surf –”

“Yeah, man, that was a wild wipeout. Stayed under for almost a minute if I heard right. But he’s been looking strong with his paddling during warm ups earlier this morning. Back doesn’t look like it’s giving him too much trouble.”

“He’s here hoping to make a semi-final if you ask me. A little too weak yet to be aiming for anything higher, especially with the power of these waves. He’s been dropping in late all season, you think he’s gun-shy?”

“Hamilton’s got some radical speed down the pipeline when he drops in early enough, but you’re right he’s been looking a little cautious all summer. Didn’t even make it out of his first heat back in Hermosa at the ISF and that was a Wild Card heat, too.”

“I’d sure like to see him make it today, just to give us old and greying hodads some hope. And then we have Peter Fu – the new Hawaiian wunderkind?”

“Woah, dude, wouldn’t say that quite yet. You can hear the home crowd agrees with you, though! Kid’s been looking fierce all summer at the local competitions. Takes wave after wave and barely slows down to catch his breath. Crazy stamina in him, that’s for sure. But I’m wondering if he’s got the patience to wait it out here at the Banzai, where taking a wrong wave can be a much bigger problem for you than just a little wipe out.”

“That’s true, man. He’s gonna have to sit some out and wait for the clean barrels if he wants high enough technical points to push him up into tomorrow’s Finals heats. And if he doesn’t want to end up straining something in a wipe out.”

“And what about Johnny Watson?”

“Bit of a surprise, there – I heard he dropped out with an injury, but it looks like he’s back to surf!”

“Someone called in for him last minute and got him back on the list is what I heard. And I think we can agree that the main reason he was let back in was his stunning upset two weeks ago in Hermosa against Scotty Holmes.”

“He beat Scotty Holmes on a single wave! A single wave!”

“It was a gorgeous ride, man. Just beautiful. Hugged in close to the face and stayed deep in that barrel, which is exactly what judges love to see here at the Banzai. Not sure what the hell got into Scotty Holmes, though – that wipe out came out of nowhere.”

“Nerves, do you think? Normally you don’t have to win a whole round on just one wave – the surf that day was gnarly. Way too flat for surfers at this level.”

“Watson’s been making a name for himself on the SoCal qualifying circuit the last few years – dude came absolutely out of nowhere from what I heard. Not sure what to make of his chances today. He may have beat Scotty Holmes, but that seems to have been a fluke.”

“Yeah, man, hate to say it but I think Johnny’s just here today to show his face and get a little recognition. He only just made pro back at Hermosa – these types of powerful waves we got here aren’t at all what he’s used to surfing.”

“With Scotty Holmes apparently not surfing, though, who knows what the hell will happen?”

“I hear that, man. I hear that. I don’t know what to think about that – didn’t think he was injured? Word is he’s here today to watch but, some of you folks in the crowd have probably seen him milling about. And I think you know what I mean when I say this, that I’m not really sure why he’s here if he isn’t surfing.”

“You’re preaching some truth there, dude. We’ll have to ask him tomorrow what his ‘famous’ predictions are for the Finals. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say. . . But now, folks, we got the Wild Card heat lining up at the starting line, and some bomb fresh swells coming in off our beautiful Northshore coast ---”

-

Sherlock’s never felt this nervous before a surfing competition in his life, and he isn’t even the one surfing. He finally lets himself look over at John waiting on the start line next to Fu and Hamilton and feels his heart jump up in his throat. John Watson is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He’s standing holding Sherlock’s board (the extra one no one’s seen before – nobody will ever know), and wearing Sherlock’s old wetsuit (just barely too big for him – nobody will ever suspect), and looking for all the world like he’s about to fight like hell. The look on his face steals the breath from Sherlock’s lungs. Suddenly he can’t bear to sit down and just watch. He leaps to his feet and jogs a ways down the sand, just past the crowd. He plants his feet apart and crosses his arms over his chest and wills himself to look bored. Cool and icy and as ‘Scotty Holmes’ as humanly possible.

Inside he wants to faint. He can see John slowly, casually turning his head left to right and realizes he’s searching for him. He curses himself for ever leaving his spot closer to the starting line and the water. Now John will think he left him, that he heard the idiotic nonsense the announcers were spewing out and decided that they were right, and Johnny Watson really is just here as a consolation prize for knocking Scotty Holmes on his ass in front of everybody in Los Angeles, and he could never in a million years survive this round without mildly embarrassing himself.

Then John turns his head in just the right direction, and his eyes lock in on Sherlock standing alone and aloof in his aviators, a statue at the edge of the chaos, and even from this far away Sherlock can see every bit of tension leave his body. Sherlock’s insides feel like lava. He nods his head once just enough for John to see, and he sees John do the same. An emotion hits Sherlock so strongly in the chest he nearly buckles over at the sheer force of it.

John Watson is going to fucking win this round.

-

“And Peter Fu takes a wicked hit on that last wave!”

“That barrel slammed down onto him. It was really a bad choice to go in on that one.”

“He’s been making easy points so far trying to go for style holds and grabs on smaller foamy waves but hits like that are really slowing him down.”

“Shane Hamilton looks like he’s considering this next swell, paddling forward to meet the crest, looks back over his shoulder like he can’t decide how tall the wave will be –”

“And oh Johnny Watson drops in right before he can make his decision! Watson’s flying down this wave – he’s in deep now, crowd’s holding their breath to see if he’ll make it out of that barrel –”

“Just look at the spray coming out of that pipeline!”

“And Johnny Watson’s out! He’s out! He’s still stalling trying to stay tight in that tube ride as long as possible, just gouging into the wave with his hand, crouched nice and low –”

“And a beautiful nose grab at the end there before flipping forwards into the whitewater to end his ride.”

“That’s gonna be the biggest point wave we’ve seen so far, and he knows it. He’s pumping his fist as he surfaces and the crowd’s loving it. Heat’s only 7 minutes old but these surfers have been attacking everything that comes at them. I don’t think a wave’s gone by without somebody trying it.”

“Hamilton’s not happy about missing that one. That was a bangin’ wave, clear and open in the tube.”

“Looks like Watson definitely knows what his strengths are. If he’d tried to pump on that face he would’ve zoomed out too quick onto the shoulder and missed the slow barrel behind him.”

“You might have been wrong about Watson, man. He’s already powering towards his next wave and didn’t even stop for a break after his last ride. Looks like he’s out here to make more than just an appearance.”

-

Sherlock’s heart is pounding in his chest. His legs feel weak in the sand underneath him. Watching John conquer that wave was unlike anything he’s ever experienced in his life. He feels breathless and awestruck. He wants to laugh and turn to the entire beach full of people carefully not looking his direction and yell “He kissed me this morning! That man kissed me!”

He feels ridiculous. It feels amazing. Unprecedented. There’s a tingling at the base of his spine – one that started the moment John popped up on that last wave and dropped in, fringe flying in the wind, calves bulging and clinging to his board, back broad and strong as he crouched low and practically flew into that pipeline while the crowd around him gasped and held their breath. He can feel the memory of the muscles on John’s back underneath his own fingertips. The memory of the taste of those chapped, salty lips on his tongue. It’s an absolute miracle he’s managed to stay completely still, face betraying nothing. It suddenly occurs to him that this must be what his mom felt like on the inside when she would stand up in church and raise her hands up to the ceiling and shout, swaying and clinging at her cross necklace like she’d fall apart without it, like her skin just couldn’t contain the wild joy bubbling up inside of her. The need to swing her body and bellow with her lungs. Maybe John Watson is his new Jesus Christ. The thought makes him wish she were here beside him, watching his first and only friend in the world surf across the sea she’s never seen.

He startles from his thoughts when the announcers start yelling.

-

“—that monstrous snap off the top of that wave!”

“Shane Hamilton just proved that he’s still in this heat – only a surfer with his experience could read that wave like that. That was beautiful.”

“He knew exactly when to execute that turn at the end to create the most spray. He may have missed the tube ride on that one but that was a powerful ride straight up the face of that wave at the end. One of the tallest waves we’ve seen in this set.”

“Fu’s shaking his head at himself. I think he realizes he’s in trouble unless he starts choosing quality over quantity. Twenty-one minutes in and he’s gotta be aching.”

“I gotta go back on what I said this morning, man. Fu’s got real potential for some great trick wave competitions, but . . . well he’s no Scotty Holmes.”

“Nobody’s a Scotty Holmes, man.”

“Watson out there is sure trying to remind us, though, of why he deserved to be the one to knock Holmes out of Hermosa. Just look at him paddling to meet this wave.”

“His left arm’s looking a little stiff, he’s definitely paddling harder with the right. You think he strained it?”

“Hard to tell, man. He’s got two solid waves up there already, a 7.6 and his first huge ride with an 8.3. I think Hamilton’s last ride is gonna put him just ahead, though.”

“Do we think Fu’s out?”

“He may have the most rides in, folks, but they’ve all been under 7. Let’s see if Fu can advance before our home crowd here. Just listen to the cheers!”

-

Sherlock holds his breath as John goes in for another wave. It’s a monster – rushing in under his board and soaring him up into the air. Sherlock can tell John’s shoulder is hurting him. He wants to kick himself. Of course it’s hurting him. He hasn’t surfed in four fucking days besides the warmup time this morning. He should have helped him stretch it, or given him a Tylenol, or brought him some ice or something. And instead that morning he’d just told him to win and kissed him on the forehead and basically said ‘good fucking luck.’ Stupid. He wants to dive out into the water and hand John his own arm to use. “Here, paddle with this! Don’t mind the blood, I just ripped it off for you!”

What the hell is he even thinking about? Sherlock shakes his head and watches breathlessly with clenched fists as John drops in on the wave and soars down the face. Instantly Sherlock can tell it was the wrong decision. The barrel is already breaking, too heavy to hold a proper pipe, and John’s not pumping fast enough to get out ahead of it. Sherlock watches in horror as the top of the tube crashes down onto John with a booming force, causing the announcers to wince and the crowd to gasp as his board flies up rider-less into the foaming air. It’s the worst wipe out yet of the set. Sherlock’s toes grip furiously at the sand as he counts the seconds in his head and waits for John to surface. One, two, three, goddammit John, four, five, no, god no . . .

-

“Folks we’re all keeping an eye out here for Johnny Watson to surface. Hamilton and Fu have turned back on their boards from out past the breaking line and seem to be looking for him, too. With only four minutes left in the set you gotta commend them for putting a pause on to make sure he’s alright. I would, too if I was –”

“There he is! We see his head coming up, he’s reaching for his board and climbing back up.”

“And it looks like he’s waving off the lifeguard – how is that possible?”

“What the – and folks what do you know, Johnny Watson after the worst wipeout we’ve seen yet today is paddling his ass off back out to the breaking line.”

“I can’t believe it! He just nodded at Fu and Hamilton and then took off like a rocket. I haven’t seen him paddle so fast yet this round.”

“Well he’s got to if he wants to try and make some insane comeback – clock’s reading only two minutes left.”

“And Fu and Hamilton don’t even know what just hit them. I think they were waiting for a rescue to happen – definitely not this!”

“This is bangin’, man. Johnny Watson’s turned his board around and he’s paddling like hell to catch this last wave of the set, and boy is it a beauty.”

“He drops in – and oh look at that tube! He’s deep inside – deep. Spray is flying out of this thing. Will he make it out –”

“He’s out! Johnny Watson is out and look at that huge cutback to the cheers of the crowd, throwing up some spray and looking up to the sky with a shout as he sinks down into the whitewater to end the ride.”

“What a powerful comeback on that last wave. If that’s not at least a 9 I don’t know what is.”

“And it’s a 9.4! The highest wave of the day goes to Johnny Watson and he has officially moved on to Day Two of the Masters.”

“Listen to the crowd! This feels like the biggest underdog story of the entire day and we’ve only seen two rounds of surfing so far!”

“And let’s also give some love to Peter Fu and Shane Hamilton – no weak rides today on that tough surf, that’s for sure. They each surfed their asses off in this Wild Card round, but Johnny Watson came back from that wipeout to somehow surf the best barrel we’ve seen today. What a show, folks, and it’s only the beginning!”

-

The crowd is cheering on their feet for John Watson, running to him as he emerges with a dazed smile on his face from the shallows, board held high over his head. It’s a moment that Sherlock’s been at the center dozens of times, and yet he’s never felt a wave of energy quite like this – a churning force of genuine happiness directed at just one person the way the crowd on the beach is looking at John. He wants to run to him and wrap him in his arms. Badly. Desperately. Instead he stays by the edges and watches, arms still crossed, sunglasses still pulled low. Scotty Holmes would never run to congratulate a competitor, let alone a surfer in a competition he isn’t even surfing in. It would only throw suspicion on John.

He's not quite sure what to do. The elation coursing through his body is so intense he barely knows how to contain it. Yet at the same time he has an overwhelming sense that he’s intruding – that his presence is somehow dampening the celebration still happening on the shore he was once the champion of while the next heat prepares near the starting line. The announcers have grabbed John and pulled him near a mic to congratulate him, and Sherlock can’t even hear John’s quick, one-word replies over the sound of the cheers still rolling through the crowd.

Sherlock realizes they never talked about this – about what they would do and how they would meet up again if (when) John wins. Sherlock knows how it goes – for other surfers at least. You win an amazing round, and the other surfers want you to chill with them with a beer while you watch the rest of the day’s surf, and then you go out that night to one of the local bars to celebrate and hype each other up for tomorrow, and then you don’t get back to your house or hotel room until three a.m. with sore muscles and the promise of a hangover. At least, that’s how some of the surfers do it. The one’s that Greg seems to be friends with. The ones John is probably used to.

The thought of going back to his house and waiting alone for the rest of the day, hoping with a tinge of doubt to hear John’s footsteps coming down the path in the middle of the night, feels worse than suffocating. Sherlock knows he’s fucked. Knew it, if he’s honest with himself, from the moment he leapt up from his hammock and saw John Watson standing there saying “didn’t predict this one, did you?”. He’s supposed to be standing on the beach as Hawaii’s most decorated surfer of ’75 and ’76 and instead he’s waiting at the edges like a teenager with a crush on the high school football captain. Ridiculous.

An idea occurs to him – that he could at least walk back up to the Jeep and give it an hour. Wait and then come back down and peek if John is still hanging out with people. He can’t spend one more second on this beach with John just fifty feet away from him and a complete inability to take one step any closer. With a resigned nod Sherlock tears his gaze away from John and makes his way up towards the top of the beach and the streets of the nearby town, avoiding everyone’s gaze as usual.

He’s just turned the corner onto the side street they parked on that morning when he hears footsteps running behind him. His gut clenches, then he hears a voice.

“You fucking bastard, where the fuck are you going?”

He leaps around and comes face to face with a furious John Watson. He opens his mouth to answer but no sound comes out.

“Seriously, where are you going? Why didn’t you come to me?” Sherlock realizes in a wave of shame that John looks incredibly hurt. Far more hurt than angry.

Words rush to his head and pour out of his mouth before he can think them through. “I’m sorry, John. You won and everyone was there and I didn’t want them to see you with me because they love you -and I thought you would hang out with the other surfers, and I could wait here for an hour and see if you still wanted to go home with me, but I –”

John Watson is kissing him.

John Watson is kissing him.

On a tiny side street in the middle of broad fucking daylight after just annihilating his round of the Billabong Masters, John has his hands tight on Sherlock’s neck and shoulders and Sherlock is gasping against his lips, holding on for dear life and groaning against John’s mouth “you fucking did it,” and “thank god,” and “I’m sorry,” and “John.” The kiss is rough but quick. John pulls back after just a few seconds, lips red and swollen, and quickly glances both ways down the street before holding the back of Sherlock’s head with his hand and bringing their foreheads together.

Sherlock can barely breath. He grips handfuls of the t-shirt John threw on after unzipping the top of his wetsuit. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I didn’t know. I should have stayed - I’m sorry.”

John shakes his head against Sherlock’s skin and breathes quick through his nose. “You were there,” he says roughly. “You were there.”

Suddenly Sherlock knows – that John did hear the announcers teasing him, and did hear whatever everyone else whispered behind his back all morning, and did see the stares directed his way – some awe, some disgust, some resentment. He saw it all and he still came running after Sherlock like hell when he noticed he was gone, and he’s still here now holding his curls in his hand and risking it all just to taste his mouth, just to press his forehead gently to his. John Watson is a marvel.

John pulls back and looks up at Sherlock, knocking the wind out of him for the tenth time that day.

“You’re alright?” Sherlock says.

John blinks hard and nods. “I saw you, right when I came back up. You looked like shit,” he says.

Sherlock tries to laugh, but can’t. “I thought that – I thought –”

John takes his hand gently. “I know. It made me realize I needed to get back out there. I didn’t even know the round was still going on – thought it had timed out while I was under.”

They stand in buzzing silence. They’re both remembering that day. Sherlock thinks of pulling John’s limp body from the water, and forcing air into his lungs, and suddenly a laugh comes bubbling up out of him.

“Those other surfers didn’t know what the fuck hit them when you started paddling again,” he says. “Thought you were a corpse come back to life.” And John starts laughing too, leaning over to catch his breath and eyes lighting up with the thrill of his victory. Sherlock wants to taste that smile on his lips.

“Yeah, well, there’s only so many times I can almost die before it gets old,” John shoots back, and that has them losing it all over again, gazing breathlessly into each other’s eyes and laughing over the fact that John Watson almost drowned twice before Sherlock’s very eyes, and John Watson just fucking won his first heat of the Billabong Pipeline Masters.

-

John insists they find an out of the way place to watch at least another round or two, and Sherlock leads them to the place in the trees where he watched and waited for his chance to jump in and surf all those years ago. They sit shoulder to shoulder in the shade while Sherlock tells him about the other competitors, stories from his past years at the Billabong, stories from other competitions in and around Hawaii. It’s the first time he’s ever said any of these stories out loud. It feels exquisite. Soft, velvet honey dripping from his tongue for only John to see.

By the time they make it back to Sherlock’s home the sun is late and heavy in the sky. Sherlock can tell John’ shoulder is bothering him. The adrenaline of victory has worn off, leaving him sore and tired, and John’s holding himself carefully when he moves. He can’t quite understand the feeling that comes over him when he sees John’s entire body visibly relax the second they come within sight of the little hut.

John’s sitting out on the porch rubbing at his shoulder while Sherlock tries to throw together some food, somewhat breathless at the easy domesticity of it all. They haven’t even kissed since they’ve been back, and Sherlock finds he doesn’t even mind – doesn’t feel like the warmth will slip away unless they tear at each other the same way they did by the Jeep. He sets a plate of pasta down in front of John out on the porch and pulls up the chair beside him, stretching out his legs to crack his toes. It feels completely reasonable, completely normal that someone be sitting at his side. A habit of eating seven years’ worth of dinners alone broken in the span of five minutes.

“I’m surfing in the Finals day of the fucking Billabong tomorrow,” John says.

Sherlock chuckles. “Surprisingly, that fact hasn’t changed since you said it fifteen minutes ago.”

John slaps him in the arm and digs into his pasta. “Oh right, I forgot that’s old news to you. You’re so humble about it all it’s easy to forget you’ve won before.”

Sherlock’s cheeks hurt from smiling, and they spend the rest of dinner in easy silence. The breeze rustles through the seashells hanging from the eaves, and Sherlock realizes they’ve never sounded so beautiful.

“I’m not gonna be able to fall asleep any time soon,” John says once they’ve finished. The sun is starting to set over the ocean horizon before them.

“I have an old Pendleton – I use it sometimes to go down and watch the sunset by the water.”

John looks over at him and smirks. “You watch sunsets on a beach on a blanket by yourself? What do you live in a fucking romance movie?”

Sherlock laughs and goes to get the blanket anyway. He knows John’s interest when he sees it – and it shocks him deep in his core to realize that he could even know another person so thoroughly. They lay the blanket out on the lower part of the shore and relax over the soft sand. John goes to lean back on his elbows and winces.

“Your shoulder’s tight,” Sherlock says. “I could see you were having trouble paddling with it. Gonna feel like shit tomorrow.”

He’s almost surprised when John doesn’t fight him on it. Instead he just nods and continues to knead at the sore muscle with his hand.

Sherlock says his next words before he even realizes what he’s saying, before he can stop to think of the implications of his question, or the myriad of reasons why John wouldn’t want him to do this – place his hands on the most guarded part of his body. And then John’s answer to his insane question stuns him so thoroughly he’s left to gaze helplessly out at the sunset-colored waves, gently lapping at the shore and bathing the world in gold.

“Do you want me to give you a massage?” Sherlock had asked.

And John had sucked in a breath, and let out the tiniest little moan, and turned to look at Sherlock with his beautiful deep blue eyes bathed in the golden haze of sunset. And John had whispered “god, yes.”

Chapter Text

An electric shiver ghosts down John’s spine the moment Sherlock’s warm fingertips touch his skin. He sits on the blanket in the sand with one leg bent looking out over the rolling hush of the ocean, dripping in pearls of orange and red and painted with foaming gold. He holds his breath tight in his lungs, afraid to exhale and release the moan hiding in the back of his throat, emerging from the tense pit of his chest.

Sherlock had taken his time to slowly kneel behind him, waiting for John to strip off his shirt after John had looked into his eyes and said the first words he could manage to speak once the image of Sherlock’s hands on his bare skin had emblazoned itself onto his mind, halting his thoughts.

God, yes.

The echo of it still trembles quietly in the air, thrumming in the space between the open V of Sherlock’s thighs and the dip in the small of John’s back. The easy, light smiles from dinner and their walk down to the shore have been replaced in an instant by a breathless anticipation, crawling slowly up through John’s stomach and shivering in the shallow breaths leaving his lungs, mixing in with the restless thrush of the ocean.

John can hear Sherlock’s steady, even breathing behind him and envies him for the millionth time how he can remain so goddamn stoic all the time. So effortlessly in control. It’s embarrassing – to feel so unbelievably affected, right on the verge of a faint or a moan from the second he feels Sherlock’s body heat radiating up his back from behind him. And meanwhile Sherlock’s hands are still and smooth, gliding slowly up and down the slope of John’s sore shoulders, fingertips just barely alighting on the sensitive skin of his neck, leaving shivers in their wake.

The silence feels heavy and right. A warm blanket in the cold dark of a storm. Sherlock’s breaths gently rustle the hair at the top of John’s head, leaving tingling warmth to drip like slow, salty water down the rest of John’s scalp. They both wait in silence for the unspoken moment – the moment when this will turn from shoulder massage into a caress of something more. Finally, with the tiniest hesitation, Sherlock’s hands move to firmly grip the tense muscles of John’s left shoulder, reaching around to place his palm flat over the scar and kneading into the tissue.

John moans, and Sherlock’s hands still.

“You’re not hurting me,” John whispers. His words break every last wisp of tension that had still been hanging over them. With a long, shaky sigh Sherlock scoots forward so that John’s body is suddenly cocooned within the V of his thighs, resting along the length of his lean body. John frowns when he realizes he doesn’t even remember Sherlock taking his shirt off. He can feel Sherlock’s heart racing against the muscles of his back, and he suddenly understands in a moment of breathless clarity that Sherlock doesn’t feel stoic about this at all. That the touch of his fingertips on John’s marred skin does not feel like some commonplace occurrence – does not effortlessly flow from his hands like some sort of post-workout stretch with a friend.

No – this is more. This is letting the entire ocean see that Sherlock Holmes is choosing to touch the physical imprint of the haunted darkness on his skin. That Sherlock Holmes, the man who can read the sea like a lover, is sitting at the edge of the earth and holding John upright from falling into himself. That Sherlock is placing John’s tired, weary body securely in the warm space between his thighs and the ocean that he worships straight down to his bones. John doesn’t know enough words to describe the emotions. Doesn’t have enough space inside himself to contain them.

Sherlock’s thumbs dig deep into the muscles in John’s shoulder, rubbing out the soreness from the day. John can feel every second of surfing he did aching through his body, from his neck all the way to his ankles. He feels completely spent and limp, body still rising and falling underneath his skin in tune with the bob of the waves. He feels Sherlock’s cheek rest against the side of his head, nuzzling gently into him as he slowly, patiently works out the tension in John’s shoulder. John leans into the touch, feeling safe and held and right on the precipice of something. Toes itching to jump. And Sherlock lifts his cheek, and presses his lips firmly into John’s hair while his palm strokes warm feeling into the raised scar on John’s skin, and that’s when John feels himself start to cry.

He’s silent. Stunned. His chest clenches on his breath and he shudders through his core and the tears slide gently down his cheeks, dripping down onto his collarbone. The churning emotions that had been slowly piling up inside him since first setting foot onto Hawaii – hell, since first opening his eyes to see two terrified blue ones staring down at him – suddenly spill over inside of him, pouring down his face.

He sees Sherlock from earlier in the day in his memory - standing apart from the crowd on the beach looking radiant and beautiful and right. Sees the way his face was threatening to break out in fear waiting for John to surface on the ocean. He thinks of that moment – bobbing in the water and gulping down air and realizing that he absolutely had to paddle out and catch the next possible wave. To prove to himself that he still could. To prove that he had the courage to jump off the cliff.

He thinks of lifeless black eyes covered by long hair lying still on the floor of a wet and steaming jungle, pumping out gurgling blood into the screaming void. Remembers the terrifying, nauseating fear that had coursed through his body two seconds after the world had exploded, and the feeling of his lips moaning out the word “mom” into the shattering gunfire.

Suddenly he feels furious. Furious at himself. Angry that he doesn’t have the strength in this moment to sit up on his own away from the support of Sherlock’s body behind him. To let himself be darkness all on his own without contaminating the radiating sun of a man holding him up. Angry that his mom wasn’t there to kiss him on the cheek when he first stepped onto the boat. That the ocean that keeps him alive just by letting him ride her waves is the same one pushes him back, back, back to the shore, to existing and breathing and working when he just wants to keep swimming out to the horizon and finally rest.

Angry that he can’t be a normal person and sit and appreciate a fucking beautiful sunset, with a fucking beautiful man holding him, without falling apart and cracking into pieces like someone who belongs in an insane asylum. Angry that he even can sit there and think of a man as beautiful in the first place. He wants to tell the universe to just give up and lock him away since he doesn’t have the decency to appreciate a good thing when he sees it. To banish him into the black since he can’t laugh and pump his fist and overflow with joy that he’s surfing in his dream competition tomorrow. That the best surfer on the whole damn island somehow believes that he won’t embarrass himself. Somehow sees something in him to believe in. And here he is crying instead like a child.

Sherlock’s fingers are running through his hair. John has absolutely no idea how long they’ve been doing that. They run through his hair slowly, gently, and then Sherlock reaches around and wipes his thumb across the wetness on John’s cheek, without hesitation. His long, strong arms surround him, softly pressing him into his body and never, never letting go. For a startlingly fierce moment John wants to escape, to break free from Sherlock’s hold and run out into the ocean and finish what he meant to do years ago. To let himself finally be one with the sea.

Then he hears Sherlock’s voice in his head (is it only just in his head?).

“I’m here, John. I’m here.”

For the first time since he wrote a letter to Helen Watson on a Navy ship in the middle of the ocean, John allows himself to weep. Sherlock pulls him closer into himself and holds him steady as his chest heaves and his hands come up to cover his eyes. As he curls himself tight into a ball, willing his bones to disappear. To let Sherlock’s bones take over.

John isn’t sure how long they sit there. Sherlock doesn’t move a muscle beneath him. Doesn’t shift or fidget or tense. When John can finally take a full breath again he almost laughs. His lungs feel one hundred pounds lighter. He feels like he did during that moment when he’d hovered weightlessly in the air after leaping after Sherlock off the cliff into the gentle, steady blue. He knows somewhere deep in the pit of his soul that he doesn’t need to tell Sherlock a single reason behind what just happened. That he doesn’t have to pretend that tears aren’t still on his face, or that Sherlock didn’t just hold him as he broke apart, or that Sherlock’s hands weren’t caressing the ugliest part of his skin like it was the petals of a beautiful, fragile bloom.

Sherlock’s arms are still wrapped around his waist, and John lets his head rest back onto his shoulder as they look out over the heavy sunset still slowly streaking its way across the sky, bodies relaxed and easy. It feels impossible that he’s only known this man behind him for two weeks, and that he spent probably half of that time feeling absolutely infuriated with him. John muses as he lies back against Sherlock’s chest that he could probably spend the rest of his life naming emotions and still never name each one he’s experienced since the moment he first locked eyes with Sherlock Holmes on a pier.

But John knows now. He knows Scotty Holmes, and he knows Sherlock Holmes, and he knows. The same way Sherlock had looked at him on a moonlit beach and told him how he knew he’d been in the war. John can’t imagine now how he’s ever spent a sunset in his life apart from Sherlock. Sherlock who feels like the vitality of life itself effortlessly holding him up and out of the darkness.

After a while John pulls forward out of Sherlock’s reach and turns to look at him. He stops himself from feeling embarrassed that his eyes must be puffy and red. Sherlock holds his gaze and smiles. Smiles. Like there’s something in John’s swollen, wet eyes that’s pleasant for him to see. John sniffs and wipes his face one last time before breathing out the last bit of tension from his chest. He waits for the moment to feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t.

“Here, let me return the favor,” he says, looking down at the blanket for Sherlock to lie down.

Sherlock smirks. “I don’t really have anything I feel the need to cry about right now, but thank you.”

John rolls his eyes and feels a delighted warmth bubble over in his chest. “Not that, you asshole. Lie down and I’ll get your back.”

Sherlock looks steadily into his eyes. An odd look crosses over his face for one brief, fleeting second. A slight waver of uncertainty. And then he’s smiling again at John, turning down onto his stomach on the blanket and settling down into the sand.

John’s never seen the tattoo this up close before, and looking down at it now he gasps. The ink forming the body and tendrils of the jellyfish swirls in delicate, fluttering, translucent back lines across the smooth skin of his back, gliding over muscles and dripping down his spine. The detail is incredible, unlike anything he’s ever seen. John sucks in another breath and leans closer to get a better look.

Sherlock instantly tenses up beneath him the moment John draws closer, and John realizes that he’s nervous. John clenches his lips and feels a sadness wash over him. He honestly doesn’t blame him one bit for tensing up at the feeling of someone looming over the lines on his back, seeing every intimate detail of the history inked onto his skin. In a rush he remembers the shit he heard all day at the competition about ‘Scotty Holmes’ from the other surfers – the tattoo just one thing on a list of his apparent sins. The faceless memories make John feel nauseous. He wants to shut his eyes tight and force out the memory of those words. Then he remembers Sherlock’s still lying deadly still beneath him, chest clenched waiting for a reaction.

John forces his eyes open, then licks his lips and warms his palms with his breath before placing them down squarely on Sherlock’s shoulder blades, anchoring him down into the earth. “It’s so beautiful,” he whispers. To his relief Sherlock slowly relaxes beneath him as John begins to run his palms up and down the length of Sherlock’s back. He presses deep into his skin, gliding smoothly from the tops of his shoulders down to the divots above the backs of his hips. He hears Sherlock sigh, and watches him gently, just barely arch his spine, pressing his hips down into the earth and his back up against John’s hands.

It’s the most erotic thing John’s ever seen, Sherlock’s marked skin slowly undulating underneath his palms, rocking to the rhythm of his touch, seeking more pressure between his fingers and the sand. John doesn’t even think as he lifts a leg to straddle over Sherlock’s hips, sinking down onto the solid warmth of his body beneath him. Sherlock shivers as John lightens the touch of his fingers and picks up the trail of one of the tentacles etched into his back, following it slowly down across his trembling skin.

“Tell me about this,” John says.

He continues tracing and following the lines of the tattoo, leaving shivers in the wake of his fingers, as Sherlock takes a deep breath in and huffs out a gentle laugh.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me before,” he says back, voice low and muffled by the blanket. He takes another deep breath in, arching up into the pressure of John’s hands, then goes on.

“You’re probably wondering by now how everyone knows I’m gay if that bathroom story isn’t true.”

John sucks in a breath and freezes. It sounds obscene to hear that sentence fall from his mouth so casually. So simply. A bomb dropped nonchalantly onto the cool, peaceful sand. I’m gay.

Sherlock turns his neck and peeks one eye up at John. “You can’t tell me you didn’t realize that part was true,” he says, brow furrowed.

John is suddenly acutely aware of the fact that he’s straddling the top of Sherlock’s ass between his thighs. That he’d grabbed Sherlock by the neck and pulled his mouth to his in broad daylight by the Jeep not five hours ago. He stops himself just in time from raising himself up and off his body.

“No, I –” He clears his throat. “I just never heard anyone say it out loud like that before.”

Sherlock hums. John thinks he’s going to go on with the story of the tattoo. Instead, Sherlock says, simply, “You’re gay too.”

The air prickles around John’s skin. His body prepares to flee, prepares to tense up hot and defend and deny and refute. But then John hears himself say softly, “I know.”

Sherlock relaxes beneath him once more, and John’s fingers resume their path along the lines of the tattoo. He feels like a completely new person in the wake of this admission. He also feels exactly the same.

He drinks in the words when Sherlock goes on. “When I was fourteen I was in this little record store near the Pearl Harbor base where we were living. Trying to kill time before I had to go be home for dinner. Guy who ran it had this little counter in the back of the store with . . . magazines. You know. I saw this photo and - I had to have it. Sold it to me for a dollar. Now I think about it he must have been a queer, too. Maybe took pity on me or something.”

John can’t help himself. “What was the photo?”

He watches breathless as a blush forms across the top of Sherlock’s neck and back, blooming across his skin as John continues to run his palms and fingertips over and across the inked lines.

“It was of a sailor.”

“Like a Navy ID?”

“No, John. A sailor.”

John feels his own face flush bright red. He clears his throat and shifts his position a bit sitting across Sherlock’s hips. “Right. Go on.”

“I was an idiot. I kept it in my notebook – this one I used for my notes I took reading other textbooks after school. Didn’t want my brother to find it because we shared a room. But then that notebook got taken from me – was only about two fucking weeks after I bought it. The wrong kid saw the photo and . . .Oahu’s a small island.”

John realizes his hands have grown still, resting firmly just under Sherlock’s neck and fanning across his shoulders. He picks up rubbing his back again, letting him know he’s still listening. His ears tingle in the clear, salty air at the sound of Sherlock’s voice, vibrating up from his chest into John’s palms.

“Word got to my father at work on the base pretty fast. Day I turned fifteen I was coming home from being at the beach really early in the morning and all my stuff was in a bag on the front steps.”

“He kicked you out?”

Sherlock hums. John’s heart is racing in his chest. He has a million questions. He chooses the least important one.

“Why were you on the beach so early?”

To his surprise, Sherlock smiles warm and soft, tinged with sadness and longing. “It was the first day I ever tried to surf.”

His words hover over them on the beach, mixing with the last golden rays of sunset still floating through the cooling air. John rubs his hands up over Sherlock’s back, across his neck, up through his hair and down across the dip in the low of his back. Then he remembers why the story even started in the first place.

“So what does that have to do with the tattoo?”

Sherlock chuckles. “Oh right. Well that first night on my own I slept on the beach – didn’t have anywhere else to go. Just had the clothes I was wearing and my bag of stuff and my surfboard. Woke up in the morning and I was mad as hell. I’d never been so pissed off in my life. I went down to the water and the only thing I could think to do was yell ‘fuck you’ as loud as I could at my father. Well, at the waves. And then this jellyfish suddenly swam right up next to me where I was standing in the water. It just hovered there by my leg and I watched it. And for whatever goddamn reason, looking at that thing, I suddenly wasn’t mad anymore. Completely gone. So I saved up money fixing shit and found out about an artist over on the Big Island that would tattoo a kid my age. Flew down and got this the first chance I could. Never been mad about any of it again since. Stupid, but, that’s the story.”

“It’s not stupid at all,” John breathes. He wants to take his splayed open heart out of his chest and press it against the tattoo covering Sherlock’s back – against the reminder of all he’s overcome. He wants to lean down and press his lips to the inked skin and taste it. So he does.

Sherlock gasps when John’s wet and parted lips touch his skin, kissing the top of his spine before slowly, carefully, dragging them down along one of the inked lines, following it across the muscles of Sherlock’s back and down towards his hips. John breathes out shakily and watches as goosebumps form over Sherlock’s back, shivering under his lips. John keeps tracing the lines up and back, following the flowing tentacles across his skin. He kisses them with his lips, licks and tastes them with his tongue, runs his nose along the smooth lines of muscle and breathes in the scent of him, salty and floral and warm.

“John.”

Sherlock’s voice is low and ragged. The sound of it shoots heat through John’s veins and pools deep in his gut, slowly throbbing between his legs where he still sits pressed over the bottom of Sherlock’s hips, feeling him quiver and roll beneath him as he tastes every inch of the skin of his back, the tattoo as a tender guide.

Without thinking John grinds his hips down slowly, suddenly feeling his hardening cock press deep into the crease of Sherlock’s ass through his shorts. They moan simultaneously. John freezes, and the air crackles around them, rushing across John’s skin and sensitizing the tips of his fingers.

“John.” This time it’s a whisper. The air around them releases. The breeze coming off the ocean rushes in to weave through Sherlock’s curls, and John rolls his hips down once more onto Sherlock’s body, rubbing himself off slowly, glacially on the heat radiating out from the dip of Sherlock’s ass. He can’t remember the last time he even got close to being this hard. Can’t remember the last time he was lightheaded and breathless, muscles trembling and lungs shaking and lips wanting to taste, taste, taste. Hot and swollen between his legs, already dripping from the tip.

A small part of his brain, the tiny alarm from the shower that now feels like a lifetime ago, starts to go off. John is sitting out in the open air in front of the entire world with an erection between his legs and a man underneath him. A man who’s arching up into John’s touch, and reaching back with a shaking hand to grab tight onto John’s hip and squeeze. A man who’s panting on ghosts of his name, hovering on the tips of his full, wet lips.

John tells the alarm in his mind to shut the fuck up. He raises himself up off of Sherlock’s hips and leans down to press an open, wet kiss to the tattoo one last time.

“Turn over.”

He barely even recognizes his own voice. It’s rough and hoarse. Desperate. Sherlock turns slowly underneath him until he’s splayed out on his back, chest heaving and eyes blown wide, looking up at John in awe. John licks his lips and stares. Sherlock’s skin is painted in gold, bathed by the warm colors of the sun just barely hanging on in the sky. It molds across the muscles of his chest. Drapes over his stomach and down his lean, tan arms. John’s eyes track down the length of Sherlock’s body. He takes in his nipples, dark and peaked in the cooling air and the salty breeze. Takes in his hard, rippling stomach and the trail of hair leading from his navel down to the quivering waistband of his shorts. Down to the thick, bulging erection that’s now just inches from John’s own, throbbing and hovering in the air.

He meets Sherlock’s eyes and swallows hard. He feels on the cusp of a decision. As if he could simply walk away right now if he chose to, even having kissed Sherlock and ground himself down over his body. As if he could go back to Los Angeles and go back to his job and have sex with women again and completely forget that the hardest he’d ever gotten in his life was when another man’s stubble-covered cheek was rubbing against his. He can see thoughts playing out across Sherlock’s pale and glittering eyes – nerves mixed with uncertainty and drowning in arousal. John reaches forward, still hovering just above Sherlock’s body, and gently brushes the hair back from Sherlock’s forehead. Sherlock leans into the touch and sighs, body going limp into the blanketed sand. It’s a decision.

John gives a small nod, and at that Sherlock sucks in a breath and sits up quickly. He grips John firmly by the hips and pulls him down onto his lap before tilting up his head to capture John’s mouth in a kiss. John feels the taste of Sherlock’s lips shiver down through his body and pool in thick warmth between his legs. He straddles Sherlock’s hips and feels his own erection pressing up against the heaving skin of Sherlock’s stomach through his shorts. He pushes forward into him on a moan. Sherlock’s hands are clutching at his back, running up his chest, cupping the side of his face and neck as his warm, wet lips caress his own mouth. As he tastes him. As their tongues meet trembling in between them while they breathe gasps of hot, groaning air into each other’s mouths.

John feels himself disappear. The spray of the pounding ocean waves hits his back, and the droplets of cool air dripping from the stars run down his neck. The gentle warmth of the sand caresses his knees through the blanket as he looks down at Sherlock’s face and kisses him deeply, not daring to pause for breath. His skin is electric – every touch, every grip, every caress from Sherlock’s fingers pulsing through his body with a jolt, leaving permanent imprints of his fingertips. John runs his hand through Sherlock’s hair and grips a handful of soft, velvet curls. Sherlock gasps, his panting sighs mixing in with the sound of the waves rushing over the shore.

John licks one last time into Sherlock’s mouth, tasting the salt on his lips and sighing out through his nose before pulling back for air, fingers still clutching at a handful of curls. He wants to say something elegant. Something that could somehow convey even one tiny portion of how he feels in this moment where he’s a man who’s kissing a shirtless Sherlock Holmes on a goddamn Hawaiian beach. Instead all he can say is “fuck.”

Sherlock lets out a breathy laugh and runs his nose along John’s, trailing his fingers through the hair on John’s chest with one hand while the other grips under his thigh. He opens his eyes and John wants to gasp gazing down into them. Wants to press his lips right onto his eyelids and feel his eyelashes brushing against his mouth. The eyes that only he gets to see.

Sherlock licks his kiss swollen lips. “You are a marvel.”

John laughs. He’s the marvel? He’s thirty-two living like he’s twenty with no plans, no direction, a chain of dog tags in his sock drawer and a cheap surfboard. And here’s Sherlock Holmes, with his private beach house and his own business and a list of championship titles longer than a sheet of lined paper. Smarter than him by half, with the body of a fucking model, who steps one foot onto a beach and sucks everyone’s breath clear out of their lungs.

And then Sherlock runs his thumb along John’s cheek, still slightly damp from his tears, and he leans in and leaves the softest ghost of a kiss just on the corner of John’s mouth, tongue darting out to taste his skin, and John realizes that he’s never been more wrong in his life. Realizes that the man he wants to compare himself to, the man he tries so hard to convince himself is too good to be true, too good to willingly cup his cheek and kiss him – that man is not Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock’s mouth brushes against his, and John whispers his name against his lips. “Sherlock.” Sherlock hums and tilts John’s head back gently with his hand before bringing his lips to his neck, leaving soft, wet kisses from his shoulder to his ear. John gazes up at the stars and tries to breathe. He feels himself growing hard again against Sherlock’s stomach, let’s himself push forward against the hot friction of Sherlock’s body. He whispers Sherlock’s name up to the stars again and again, a mantra to remind himself of who he is. Who they are.

Sherlock’s tongue on his neck sends a zip of fire down his spine. He rocks his hips down onto Sherlock’s body, rubs the tip of his erection through his shorts against his stomach. He needs more. Now. Desperately. Sherlock pants wet, hot breaths onto his shivering skin, and his moans echo out across the sea. Then Sherlock reaches around and grabs John’s ass firmly in both hands, pulling him forward hard and crushing John’s cock into his abs, and John feels himself explode in a white hot flame of want. He grips Sherlock by the shoulders and pushes him down into the sand with a grunt. Sherlock whimpers as John leans down and kisses him fiercely, groaning into his mouth and biting his full, wet lips between his teeth. Sherlock runs his hands down John’s back, grabs his hips hard and pulls, and John collapses down on top of Sherlock’s warm and writhing body. Their bare chests touch, pearled nipples brushing over sensitive skin. John shifts his weight up just an inch so that their erections align, and they both gasp out of the kiss and moan.

John aches between his legs. Sherlock’s arching up into him, pressing his hard cock up against John’s and rocking into the heat of him. John rolls his hips and rubs his balls slowly along the length of Sherlock’s erection through the fabric of their shorts, feeling the thick, hard cock beneath him throb and tremble at his touch. John yanks Sherlock’s head to the side and bites the thin skin in the crook of his neck as he grinds himself down onto Sherlock, rubbing their cocks along each other hot and slow and smooth. Aching at the feel of Sherlock’s thick desire and dripping fat, wet drops of precome onto the front of his shorts. Sherlock’s hands are everywhere. John feels consumed by them. Long fingers grasping at his ass, at his neck and arms, at every bone up his rolling spine, quivering and dripping with sweat underneath the salty breeze. John moans into the side of Sherlock’s neck as Sherlock’s hand reaches under John’s waistband to grab the bare skin of his ass in his giant hand, gripping hard and rough. Sherlock lets out a cry, high and breathless, as John sucks on the skin just underneath his ear. Rumbles John’s name into the still, moonlit shore, so deep that John can feel it straight through to his own chest and bones.

And then Sherlock’s lips are on his again, and his mouth pants wet, open, frantic kisses against John’s swollen, sensitive lips, and John’s hips rub and rub and grind down onto the pulsing heat of Sherlock’s cock, thrumming to the pulse of their moaning gasps and grunts. Sherlock’s hand grips him hard, pulling John close against every inch of his body, long fingertips just barely ghosting into the crease of his ass and brushing over John’s hole, and then he’s coming, free and open under the moonlit sky.

John groans as he feels himself fall apart into bliss, burying his face in the mess of Sherlock’s curls as his orgasm pulses hot and thick through his limbs. Sherlock’s hips stutter against his and a breathless cry leaves Sherlock’s throat, hot cum seeping into the front of his shorts following just behind John’s climax. John goes to collapse at Sherlock’s side, then gasps surprised when Sherlock’s hand is gripping his cheek and crashing his lips to his, panting a wet and lazy kiss against his mouth, letting John taste the sound of his name whispered from the tips of Sherlock’s lips. John kisses him deeply, feeling limp and heavy in his skin, Sherlock’s hands gently stroking up and down his sweat soaked back. He grazes his lips against Sherlock’s one last time before pulling back and gazing down at him.

Sherlock’s head falls back limp onto the top of the blanket, spreading his curls out into the sand. His eyes are half-lidded and blazing, chest heaving, irises glittering silver in the light from the stars, lips red and full. It’s simultaneously the most tame and the most erotic sex John’s ever had in his life.

John feels deep down as if he should be bothered by that – that and a million other things that just happened, but instead all he does is lean forward and kiss Sherlock’s forehead softly, the same way he’d done to him just that morning by the Jeep. Something flashes through Sherlock’s eyes, something mournful and sad, but it’s gone before John can even process it, or memorize the way it subtly changes the lines around Sherlock’s eyes. He gazes down at him for another moment, waiting for Sherlock to speak. When he doesn’t, John scoots down and lets himself fall limp into the quick, strong grasp of Sherlock’s arms around him. Sherlock reaches over and pulls across one edge of the blanket to cover their skin from the cool sea breeze, and he continues to stroke up and down John’s back while John places his ear right over the thrum of his heartbeat.

It feels like they’ve done this a thousand times. John feels a flutter in his chest at how perfectly his cheek rests against the top of Sherlock’s chest. How his leg slots just so between Sherlock’s warm thighs. How the softness of Sherlock’s cock inside his shorts pressed against his own skin feels grounding and unashamed and right. Sherlock turns and presses his nose into John’s hair, letting his lips ghost again and again across John’s forehead as they lie in each other’s arms, breathing in time to the hush of the waves and listening to the breeze rustle the shells hanging off the eaves of the house, bathed in golden light from the lamps through the windows.

Finally Sherlock reaches up to hold John’s face once more, thumb resting at the corner of his mouth. “You have another early day tomorrow. Should get some sleep.”

John hums. He wants to say “isn’t it fucking amazing that you and I just had sex and don’t even feel the need to say anything about it?” Then Sherlock chuckles softly into his scalp, and reaches down to grab quickly at his ass, and John realizes he’s thinking the same exact thing. It feels fucking amazing. Like hovering in the air moments after leaping off a cliff, knowing the soft, cool water will catch him. Knowing Sherlock Holmes is there.

After another minute John mumbles “ok” into Sherlock’s skin, and they stretch out tired, sated limbs as they sit up and pull off the blanket in easy silence. John stands and marvels that the ache in his shoulder is gone, even after holding himself up over Sherlock for so long in the sand. He catches Sherlock shoot him a knowing smirk as he folds up the blanket and shakes the sand from its edges.

“I didn’t just suggest giving you a massage so I could have sex with you,” Sherlock says.

John huffs and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right, Mr. ‘I know fucking everything and I’m going to remind you about it every five minutes’.”

Sherlock laughs, and John almost gapes at how easy the sound of it falls from Sherlock’s mouth. John can’t even begin to imagine what Scotty Holmes would look like laughing – standing tall on a beach with his sunglasses and his arms crossed and his lips in a permanent straight line. And here Sherlock is all loose-limbed and calm, looking over at John with a warmth John can feel throughout his entire body and laughing like it’s the most natural thing to do in the world.

John starts to follow him back up to the house, not wanting to leave the place beside him. Their bare feet sink into the soft, cool sand, arms brushing as they walk, when suddenly John realizes that he absolutely cannot leave that beach, can’t wake up and surf in the Billabong Finals tomorrow without doing something first which he’d never thought he’d needed to do before.

He stops and turns to Sherlock. “Do you still have it?”

Sherlock frowns in confusion, then follows John’s line of sight staring down at his pocket. He nods in understanding, reaching down in his pocket to pull out the bullet casing he’d kept in there during the competition, holding it out for John on a steady palm. John stares at it a moment, then takes it with equally steady fingers. He walks calmly back to the shoreline, knowing Sherlock will follow.

John stops just when his toes reach the icy, lapping froth and feels the cool wind rustle through his hair. He holds the bullet in his hand and looks down at it in the moonlight. He looks at it and he tries to think of a pair of lifeless black eyes on the floor of the jungle, or the look on Keith Hartman’s face when he’d screamed at him to save himself, or the way the beach had transformed itself in his final conscious moments to a Long Beach pier with a whipped-cream topped milkshake waiting at its end. Waiting for him as he collapsed down into the blood-soaked foam.

He stares at the metal in his palm and tries to think of the memories it always invokes. The ones that keep him up at night, and remind him that there must be some godforsaken reason he survived, and whisper in his ear that he should put off walking out into the sea for one more day. Just one more day. And one more.

But all John sees now as he looks down at the bullet casing is the brilliant smile that had swept across Sherlock’s face right at the moment John had emerged victorious from the Wild Card heat. Sees the color of Sherlock’s half-lidded eyes as he’d let his head fall back gently into the sand.

John rubs his thumb once slowly along the metal, saying goodbye. Then he curls it into his fist, reaches back with his arm and hurls it with all his might out into the depths of the moonlit sea. He watches it soar and glint in the air, reflecting the light of the stars, and nearly gasps as it plunks into the water with barely a sound at all.

A single tear, still hovering at the back of his eyes from earlier in the night, falls slowly down his cheek, and he lets it. He can feel the warmth from Sherlock standing right behind him in the shallows. John stands still and waits for himself to feel panic that his talisman is gone. That he’ll never again feel the metal underneath his fingers which he’d been tightly gripping the moment Greg had walked up to him in the sand and asked if he surfed.

Instead he feels utterly, incomprehensibly calm. He closes his eyes and sees the waves he’s going to ride across tomorrow in his mind, and he hears Sherlock’s steady, even breathing at his back, and he lets out a breath he’d been holding in for more than two years.

Sherlock walks forward to stand at his side, and they gaze out over the water, letting the foam pool around their shins.

“The hippies’ll be all over your ass if they find out some fish choked on that,” Sherlock says, stone-faced.

John turns to look at him, standing there nonchalantly staring out to sea like absolutely nothing has happened since they first laid the blanket down onto the sand, and John smiles as he bursts out laughing. Feels the happiness flow over into every vein in his body. Stands breathless as Sherlock looks at him out of the corner of his eye and quirks his lips back in an answering chuckle.

John shakes his head and turns to walk back up to the house. Sherlock matches his step and puts a firm hand on his shoulder before leaning over and kissing the side of John’s head. John knows without any hesitation that they’re walking towards the same room, the same bed, the same sheets. That he’ll wake up tomorrow morning on the day he surfs in Day 2 of the Billabong Pipeline Masters with Sherlock Holmes by his side, sleepy and warm and soft. He steps closer to Sherlock and wraps an arm around his waist, feeling a flutter in chest when Sherlock pulls him close around the shoulders.

Sherlock leans down and kisses the side of John’s head once more, like he can’t get enough of the feeling of him against his lips, and John feels warmth spread through a part of himself he never even knew existed when Sherlock whispers into his hair, “you surfed like hell, John Watson.”

Chapter Text

John flutters awake behind his eyelids, feeling bleary and sated and heavy. He stretches his tongue in his mouth and drowsily wonders how much longer he’s got until his alarm will go off to wake up if he wants enough time to go surfing with Greg before work. His ears fixate on the rolling sound of the ocean, waves cutting through fresh dawn air and pouring their pools of cool froth over the virgin sand. It sounds closer than it usually does – more steady and consuming and insistent. John takes a deep breath in and smells the hint of salt in the air, carried on a bed of blooming flowers.

His apartment never smells like flowers.

He sucks in a breath and flicks open his eyes, trying to focus their vision on the plain white ceiling above him while his heart kicks in to start pumping blood through his body. The angle of the ceiling looks wrong, the diagonal slants through the air – just the barest hints of light – pouring in from the wrong sides. He can’t hear the early morning commuters making their way down Hermosa Avenue at twice the speed limit, or the dull, insistent way the gas pipe of his apartment building constantly hisses and squeaks. This newfound confusion mixes thickly with the usual aching dread of another full day spent at work while he lies on his back slowly stretching his sleepy lungs with air. Finally, John wakes up enough to turn his head to look over at his bedside clock.

He freezes. John doesn’t see his bedside clock. Instead he sees a sleeping face just inches from his, dusting of freckles clear and vivid in the pale, grey air, half-covered by a mop of frizzy curls. The memory of the last few days crashes down on him with the slapping force of a crisp, thick wave. He stares dumbfounded at Sherlock’s sleeping form beside him, stretched out on his stomach with one arm curled up over his head and the other one lying gently in the small space between their bodies, tattoo rising and falling with the pulse of his breathing, sheet bunched in a tangle around his waist.

John stares at him, and he takes in a deep breath of salty flowers and sleep soft skin, and a warm smile curls at the corners of his mouth. Fresh, tingling relief courses through his body. He doesn’t have to crawl out of the water and throw on a hard hat and go to work today. He doesn’t have to spend the entire day waiting to go home to an empty apartment.

He’s in Hawaii. He’s going to surf in the Billabong. He isn’t even nervous. The reigning champion is gently sleeping next to him, face relaxed and easy like he already knows John’s there, even in his dreams. John feels like he just won the goddamn lottery and solved world peace and found eternal life all at once.

John scoots his face closer on their shared pillow, close enough to feel the soft puff of Sherlock’s breaths on the tip of his nose. He basks for a moment in the quiet unbelievability of it all. That little more than two weeks ago Scotty Holmes was just a terrifying god stepping up next to him in the sand. And here John is watching the rise and fall of his bare back as he sleeps. In his home, in his room, in his bed. Free and welcome to breathe his same air, and know the most intimate touch of his skin, and wait with bated breath for his unguarded eyes to finally flicker open and land on him.

John can’t help himself. His chest feels awash with a wave of emotion – affection and protectiveness and unworthiness at this trust that’s been so effortlessly placed into his palms. Sherlock had held him as he wept, had wiped the tears from his cheeks with his thumb without pity, and had offered his bare skin to him in full view of the sea and stars.

John relishes the moment for just a minute longer, reaching out to touch Sherlock’s hand with the barest brush, just to feel his warmth. To prove to himself that this is real. That the first time he’d woken up next to someone and not had his first thought be “where are my pants, and how am I going to get home,” was not just some cruel, sick dream. He feels Sherlock’s living, breathing warmth underneath the pads of his fingers, and then he closes his reassured eyes as he relives the rest of the night before.

How they’d walked back up to the house wrapped in each other’s arms, and Sherlock had calmly handed him a towel and an extra pair of boxers and nodded at the shower. How John had just covered his salt-dry hair in shampoo when the shower curtain had pulled gently open, and Sherlock had stepped confidently inside and wordlessly turned John around by the shoulders so that he could wash the soap from his hair, like it was something he did every evening without thought. And Sherlock had washed the salt and sand from every inch of his skin, and rambled in a smooth and steady voice that mixed with the splash of the shower spray all he knew about John’s competition tomorrow – the competitors and their weaknesses and his predictions for the weather and the swells.

And John hadn’t even minded that he’d grown hard all over again standing naked in a shower with Sherlock Holmes’ steaming, wet body behind him, rubbing up his back with his deep voice right in his ear. He’d let himself get hard and then turned so that they faced each other, Sherlock’s monolog grinding to a halt. They’d stared into each other’s eyes through the mist, neither daring to look away. Remembering the shower by the beach. Then they’d each given a silent yes and looked down breathless at the sight of their hard, dripping cocks almost brushing up against each other in the thrumming space between their bodies, flushed and bobbing in the force of the spray. And John had watched with his breath in his throat as the water dripped down and soaked through the dark curls surrounding the base of Sherlock’s cock – the first one he’d even seen erect that wasn’t his. He’d felt the water dripping down from his eyelashes and gasped as Sherlock gripped his own erection in his shaking hand and stepped forward to trace the pulsing tip slowly up the length of John’s cock, panting into the hot steam of the shower and trembling with restraint.

And John had raised quivering fingers and placed them right on Sherlock’s muscled chest, letting the pads of his fingertips stroke down slowly over Sherlock’s nipples until they hardened and shuttered underneath his touch. He’d rubbed and swirled and flicked the hardened beads of wet, soapy skin as Sherlock arched into his hands, and Sherlock had continued to drag just the tip of his leaking cock slowly up and down the length of John’s aching erection, electrifying the warm skin covering John’s rock-hard penis. John had realized that they both were standing there feeling each other without any intention at all even to climax. Just touching. Enjoying. John had torn his gaze away from their cocks rubbing against each other in the buzzing air of the shower and looked up at Sherlock’s piercing pale eyes. And Sherlock had given him a half-lidded smile that meant I know. I can’t believe we get to do this either.

Sherlock had leaned forward and pressed the softest ghost of a kiss to the corner of John’s mouth just as the water started to grow cold, and they’d stepped out still hard and erect and dried off side by side like they weren’t doing anything life altering in the least. Had pulled on two pairs of Sherlock’s boxers over half-hard cocks and climbed into his bed side by side without even discussing who would sleep where. And John had taken a deep breath and reminded himself of who he knew he was at his core – the man who’d just hurled away the bullet into the sea, and kissed Sherlock Holmes underneath the view of the stars – and then he’d turned into Sherlock’s body and slotted his leg between his warm thighs. Had let himself be held by huge, strong hands. Had let the feeling of a slowly softening penis be pressed into the dip of his hip and thigh, relaxed and intimate and known.

John opens his eyes out of the memory to see Sherlock still fast asleep next to him, nose twitching gently in the throes of a dream, chest heaving deep and slow. John stares at him and waits for his insides to churn into nausea. Waits for the realization to dawn hot and sour in his gut that he’d finally given in to the desire he’d forbidden himself from since he was sixteen on a sunset beach and found himself wishing that Lisa Kerny’s painted fingernails gliding over his skin could be replaced with Billy Murray’s solid, calloused fingers.

He waits for five minutes, watching the tips of Sherlock’s eyelashes jut out into the warm, soft air, intimate and vulnerable in the breeze caused by John’s breath. He waits as he reaches out a hesitant hand and places it gently over the stubble on Sherlock’s cheek, running his fingertips slowly across the side of his strong jaw before reaching into his hair and scratching the side of his scalp. He waits as Sherlock’s eyes suddenly flutter open all at once, completely awake in less than a second, surprised gaze focusing immediately on John. John looks directly into his eyes, tracking the fluttering droplets of sea in his irises, the way the corners crinkle in soft warmth when Sherlock starts to smile.

“John,” he whispers, voice raspy from sleep.

In an instant John knows he doesn’t have to wait anymore. The nausea simply isn’t coming. Instead he returns Sherlock’s lazy smile and brushes the curls off his forehead, amazed at how frighteningly easy it is to gaze into his eyes without looking away.

Sherlock reaches both arms above his head and stretches luxuriously across the sheets before turning to shuffle closer to John, facing him with his hands folded in between them, utterly relaxed. John reaches out and covers Sherlock’s hands with his, smelling the combined, sleepy warmth of their limbs.

The easy contentment in Sherlock’s eyes almost hurts to look at. John’s never had such a force of satisfaction directed at him before, not even from Greg on all the mornings they sat side by side on the waves, completely at ease with each other.

No – this is complete, consuming rest. Rest in John, and with John, and because of John. The emotion in Sherlock’s eyes is young and clear, unclouded and stripped bare for John to drink in his fill. The back of his throat tightens at the intimacy of it, somehow more meaningful, more risky than standing naked together in a shower with their erections pulsing side by side.

Sherlock clears his throat, and a light glimmers in the corners of his eyes. “You know what I’m going to do tonight?”

John raises his eyebrows and hums.

“Gonna have sex with the Billabong Pipeline Masters champion.”

John huffs out a laugh and feels a flutter of nerves soar up his throat, mixing with a heady, thick heat zipping down his spine at the thought. “You’re insane,” he manages.

Sherlock’s grin widens, and he shuffles closer to John in the bed so that they’re chest to chest, nose to nose. John imagines he can hear the sound of Sherlock’s heartbeat thrumming into his skin, in time with the steady beat of the waves onto the wet shoreline just outside the quiet hut. Golden rays of dawn light slowly seep in through the windows, illuminating Sherlock’s tan skin into glowing, sunlit warmth. John feels like he’s embracing the sun itself.

“You know what you’re gonna do right now?” Sherlock asks, voice deep.

John feels his eyes pool black at the sound. The breath leaves his chest, and all he can do is shake his head.

Sherlock puts his warm hand on John’s shoulder and pushes him onto his back, rising to hold himself over him on his elbows. A groan escapes John’s throat at the heavy weight of Sherlock’s body draping across his, muscles still lax from sleep.

John holds his breath as Sherlock dips his head towards him, licking his lips for a kiss. When they’re nose to nose, Sherlock pauses. John sees a flash of uncertainty suddenly blaze across his eyes – cutting through the playful teasing and easy confidence. Their lips hover inches apart, halted in time. Sherlock’s eyes search John’s, a hesitant, yearning look hidden in the folds around his mouth, and John remembers a flash of conversation from just two days ago.

Nobody else has ever been here.

John wants to cup Sherlock’s face in his hands and whisper to him “yes, tease me. Be cocky and confident and assured because I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Then the reality of his plane ticket back to LA tomorrow slaps him in the face, leaving a stinging bruise. He tries to hide the realization in his eyes, but he knows Sherlock catches it first. The moment turns dense and uncomfortable, tension radiating through Sherlock’s body as it hovers just above his skin, as if touching him will cause John to leap from the bed and run away for good – to escape the reality of a man touching his skin in the slow, relaxed, purposeful light of day.

John holds his gaze and gives a slight nod, bringing up a hand to gently push Sherlock’s hips down onto himself.

“What am I gonna do right now?” he whispers, playing along. The words hang heavy in the room like too many questions at once, leaving Sherlock’s playfulness far, far behind.

Sherlock eases himself slowly down onto John, then leans forward so that their lips can graze together, open mouthed and shaky. John starts to grow hard at the heavy weight of Sherlock’s lean, muscular frame on top of him as his breath trembles against his own open, panting lips. John can tell Sherlock’s still holding himself back, still waiting for it all to disappear. With a gentle sigh John reaches up with his neck and capture’s Sherlock’s soft lips in a kiss, moaning at the taste of him bursting across his tongue.

Sherlock barely moves, frozen and trembling above him, then he pulls back with a gasp and licks his lips, eyes wide and locked on John’s face. John lets him look, lets him drink in every line of sincerity on his face, plane flight tomorrow be damned. A tiny flicker of sadness passes over Sherlock’s eyes, quickly replaced by the same easy desire from before.

“What you’re going to do right now,” he whispers, letting his weight settle onto the warmth of John’s body, “is you’re gonna have sex with a Billabong Pipeline Masters champion.” And Sherlock suddenly scoots down John’s frame and brings his wet, parted lips to the center of John’s chest, kissing his way slowly down the center of his stomach as John gasps, pausing to lick at the dips of his pelvis. John groans under his breath and grabs at the bedsheet with his hands to keep himself from bucking up into Sherlock’s touch. He gazes at the slowly lightening ceiling, eyes hazy with arousal as Sherlock’s fingers dip into the waistband of his boxers and without hesitation pulls them down off his legs, leaving John exposed to the morning air and the rushing hiss of the waves through the window. He takes a deep breath and moves to look down at what Sherlock’s doing when suddenly hot, wet lips are kissing at the base of his half-hard cock, leaving a gentle trail of open-mouthed kisses from root to tip as he slowly hardens underneath the hot velvet of Sherlock’s lips.

“God,” John whispers. The touch feels obscene – Sherlock’s lips kissing his not even fully erect cock just like he would his lips, suckling and tasting the hot skin. Sherlock’s hands grip his hips. Hard. He reaches the tip of John’s now throbbing erection and sucks at the tip with his lips, gliding his tongue in slow circles across the dripping slit and groaning deep in his throat, closing his eyes and salivating down his chin like he can’t get enough of the taste.

John’s eyes are riveted, locked on the sight of Sherlock’s full, wet lips closing around the tip of his cock over the view of his own heaving chest. It’s been years since even a woman did this to him – before he ever set foot on a Navy ship. And he’s certainly never looked down and seen the fucking hard, muscled lines of a man’s shoulders in between his thighs, or felt the heady rasp of stubble scrape across the hair at the base of his cock, or heard a rumbling moan so deep he feels it rattle straight through to his bones.

“Fuck,” he groans. Sherlock moans at the sound of his voice, and pulls slowly off the tip so that just his tongue is laving at the swollen, dripping slit.

John tries to suck in enough oxygen to breathe. Sherlock looks up at him with pale, half-lidded eyes and pins him with his gaze, tongue curling under a fat drip of precome and sucking it into his mouth.

John’s voice cracks and rumbles as he speaks. “Have you ever done this before?”

Sherlock pulls up from his cock and lets it fall hard and throbbing onto John’s tensed stomach. The air suddenly turns focused and clear, cutting through the fog of arousal.

“Not with you,” Sherlock says, eyes quiet and serious, and John hears it for the meaning that it is.

John exhales a shaky breath as he watches Sherlock’s wet, full lips start to descend once more to the aching tip of his cock, still glistening with his saliva.

John lets out a breathy laugh. Stunned. “Who the hell are you?”

Sherlock’s lips quirk into a smile, reliving that day on the water as they share in the breathless memory, and then his hand is on the base of John’s cock, and he licks his smirking lips, and he takes John down his throat all the way to the base in one smooth glide, pressing his tongue hotly against the veins on the underside of John’s erection and groaning vibrations through the sensitive skin.

John shatters. A high, breathy moan erupts from the back of his throat as his head crashes back onto the pillow, hips fighting not to thrust up into the tight, wet heat of Sherlock’s mouth as Sherlock strokes him with the flat of his tongue and sucks him root to tip. John lifts his neck and watches with his breath in his throat as his cock disappears again and again beneath Sherlock’s dripping lips, throbbing against the back of his throat and arching into the heat of his moans. He’s trembling, fighting for breath and aching as Sherlock pulls up to swirl his tongue around the head, sucking at the slit and pumping John’s cock with his hand before engulfing him in his mouth once more.

John can’t help the curse that passes through his lips. He feels it like an electric shiver radiating down his spine. Sherlock suddenly snatches John’s hand and pulls it down hard onto the back of his head, moaning deep in his chest when John’s fingers reflexively clutch at a handful of curls.

It’s all John needs to know. Like an unleashed floodgate, a stream of forbidden words fall free from his lips as he pushes Sherlock’s bobbing head down onto his cock, thrusting up into his throat, ears tingling at the wet slap of saliva on skin as Sherlock moans and sucks him deep.

“Fuck yeah,” John breaths. Sherlock’s shaking hands clutch hard enough on his hips to bruise, groaning as John fucks into his mouth.

“God, take it.” John feels another groan from Sherlock’s throat radiate through his body and pushes his head farther down onto his erection. “Fucking take it.”

Sherlock’s lips are wide and stretched around him, red and pink and swollen as they suck him deeper into his throat. John can feel Sherlock’s hips rolling hard into the foot of the bed, grinding himself off on the sheets and rocking the bed as John pumps into the heat of his mouth, clutching at his hair.

The words fall from his lips like a wave, somehow so much easier to say now in the morning light than they were last night on the beach. The aching pulse in John’s groin is reaching a peak, coiling hotly as he fucks into the rumble of Sherlock’s moans against the throbbing wet skin of his cock.

“God, Holmes, suck me. Look at you. Fuck, just look at you. Yeah, that’s it. . . that’s it . . .suck me down and take it . . . take me.”

John throws his head back comes with a cry, heat pulsing through his body from the center of his aching cock, still sucked into the tight heat of Sherlock’s mouth. He spills down Sherlock’s throat and pulses as Sherlock swallows around him, sucking him down with his tongue on a long, deep groan.

When John forces his eyes back open he sees Sherlock up on his knees, wiping the back of his mouth with his hand. His sweaty skin is glowing from the light pouring in through the window, reflected off the bright surface of the ocean. John opens his mouth to say something. A “fuck yes,” or a “thank you,” or a “that was the most fucking incredible sex I’ve ever had,” but then Sherlock is throwing himself on top of him, lips crashing into his. He makes a surprised sound in the back of his throat as Sherlock kisses him with a fierce desperation, hands clutching at his face and neck, tongue licking into his mouth in long, hot pants, filling John’s mouth with the taste of himself until he can barely breathe.

All of a sudden the desperation feels wrong – tense and forceful and solemn. Clouded over with grey. John grabs Sherlock’s shoulders and gently pushes him back as he gulps down oxygen into his lungs, letting the air rush over his swollen, tingling lips.

Sherlock looks torn apart. His curls are wild around his face, and his lips are kiss-swollen and pink – chest flushed and heaving with eyes locked on to John like he might never be able to look away. John glances down and sees that Sherlock’s erection is gone, lying soft now behind a wet stain on his boxers. The fact that Sherlock came just rutting into the bedsheets with John’s cock in his mouth should make him flood over with fresh arousal – want to crush this man to his body and feel the strength in his waist and run his hands up the muscled, inked lines of his back.

And it would make John do all of those things, if not for the expression on Sherlock’s face as he gazes into John’s eyes looking naked and small and lost. John feels an incredible sadness wash over him. Without having to be told, he knows Sherlock’s thinking of his flight.

John reaches up to cup Sherlock’s face gently in his palm, and Sherlock turns his face softly into the touch, breath shuttering out his nose as a wet sheen glosses over his eyes. John’s chest clenches.

“You’ll be there today?” he finally manages.

Sherlock’s voice is a whisper. “I’ll be there.”

John tries to smile, but knows it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “And you won’t fucking run off to the car if I win?”

Sherlock relaxes above him and sighs through his nose before turning his face to press a soft kiss onto the inside of John’s wrist.

“When you win,” he says into John’s skin, “I’ll be there.”

And John rolls his eyes and grins at Sherlock’s absolutely ridiculous, misplaced, jinx-worthy confidence, and answers Sherlock’s raised brow with a nod that says “I’m ready,” even though he feels absolutely anything but.

--

“—most likely pit you against Mark Florence and Dale Trent in the semifinal rounds. Try to create some ridiculous battle of the unexpected underdogs –”

“Coming from the man who keeps saying I’ll win!”

“Well I know that but everybody else is an idiot, obviously –”

“And you wonder why everyone else on the circuit thinks you’re an asshole?” John says back laughing.

Sherlock shoots him a sly grin before turning back to the road, right palm resting warmly on top of John’s thigh when it isn’t using the gear shift. “Clearly not everyone thinks I’m an asshole,” he says, squeezing John’s leg.

John’s cheeks hurt as he tries to contain his smile. He grabs Sherlock’s hand with his own and gives a brief squeeze. “No, they don’t.” He turns back to look out the open window, letting the breeze bash against his face and watching as the patchwork of white and pink flowers dotting the rolling green hillside fade into a nauseating blur. “Keep going, then,” he prompts.

“Florence is new – first time surfing outside the UK. He’s used to choppy water, cold fast breaks with a lot of whitewater. Don’t think even he has a fucking clue what he’ll do on a huge open pipeline. My guess is he’ll take the waves that have already closed and ride over the top of the whitewater. That or he’ll take the ones that are short enough to just stay open faces. Day like today, though, with the wind the way it is, don’t think he’ll see many waves come in that aren’t barrels.”

John sucks in a breath and tries to let it out without shaking. “Right. K, Trent?”

“Trent’s from your neck of the woods. Santa Cruz –”

“That’s a fucking seven hour drive away from Los Angeles!”

“Well that’s shorter than an entire ocean!”

“Oh my god, you’re absolutely –”

Anyway, the thing about Trent is he loves to show off. Completely unnecessary –”

“Seriously, are you hearing yourself right now?”

“—I’m hearing me giving you excellent advice and you pointedly not listening –”

“Watch the fucking road! There’s a fucking tree!”

“John you’re from Los Angeles – aren’t the freeways there just a fight to the death anyways? Why you’re concerned about a goddamn tree that had a good three inches is absolutely beyond me –”

“God I think I’m gonna be sick.”

John actually is going to be sick. His easy, lazy contentment from that morning – the blissfully calm acceptance of the fact that he was about to surf the fucking Banzai Pipeline – is completely gone. Replaced in an instant by a churning, nauseating fear. Sherlock turns and sees the look on his face and immediately pulls over to the side of the deserted road, parking alongside a wall of bright green fronds and cutting the engine.

They sit in silence, the sounds of the Jeep still echoing across the oceanside mountains, mixing with the rising clouds of dust billowing out from the wheels. John wasn’t even this nervous when he stepped out of the camo dinghy into shin-deep water with a gun in his hands and a too-silent shoreline in front of him.

Sherlock’s hand is suddenly on the side of his face, gently turning his gaze.

“John, look at me.”

John turns his head against the headrest of the old Jeep, pushing his cheek further into Sherlock’s steady palm. It’s hard to believe they’re not the only two people on the island. That five minutes down the road there’s a massive swarm of people from all over Oahu – from all over the world – gathering to watch him try to prove he somehow deserves to be there. Sherlock’s eyes are wide and clear, boring into his with such focus it sends a shiver up John’s spine.

Sherlock lets the silence linger for a few more moments, then licks his lips to speak. “When I was six, I came home from Sunday school in tears because we learned about the seven days of creation and I was terrified of the water. How he separated the sea from the sky. And my mom sat me down and told me how it wasn’t scary at all, and how it was where all the beauty that the earth couldn’t hold overflowed to.”

John sighs as Sherlock’s thumb strokes across the day-old stubble on his cheek, deathly loud in the still silence of the air.

“She’d never seen the ocean, probably still hasn’t. When we left she. . . stayed behind in Arizona. Pretty sure she just read about the ocean in the Bible. So the first time I ever tried to surf – the morning I saw the jellyfish – I. . . well I remembered the way the Hawaiians always say a sort of prayer before they walk out into the waves. Lahela would take me to watch for an hour on the days I had to go run errands with her. So that morning I dipped my hands in the water and held a handful of it and told my mom out loud that I was seeing the ocean for her. You should do the same.”

John forces himself to speak. “What, you mean say a prayer?”

“No. I mean surf for Helen.”

John swallows hard and stares, grounded to the earth by the slow swipe of Sherlock’s thumb still brushing over his cheekbone. He tries to match the man before him with the man he’d first heard Dean and Kip and the rest of them talk about that day at Hermosa and wants to throw up at the unfairness of it all. That while Sherlock was kicked out on his own and telling his mom that she could see the ocean through his eyes, the rest of them were making fun of his sunglasses and spreading a rumor about him kissing a rent boy in a bathroom stall. And here he is, holding John’s cheek on the way to a competition that John knows he really isn’t surfing in just so that he can be there for him, and John feels like his entire body is cupped into the palm of Sherlock’s warm, soft hand.

He clears his throat twice and reaches up to hold Sherlock’s hand against his face. “How do you always know what to say to me? We haven’t even known each other a month.”

Sherlock’s lip quirks into a small smile, and John hates the fact that the corners of his eyes are still sad. “Don’t need a month. I knew you on that pier.”

John lets out the breath in his lungs in a rush and lunges forward across the gear shift to kiss him, clutching hard at Sherlock’s shoulders. It’s the only way he can think of to tell Sherlock Holmes that he didn’t meet him for the first time on that pier. That he met him somewhere deep in his soul from the moment he opened up his eyes to blink groggily at a white hospital ceiling and realized he wasn’t still dead in the blood-soaked foam, left to sink in the waters off Ha Long. John doesn’t know how to tell him any of that quite yet, and so instead he sighs into his mouth and caresses his soft lips with his own, tasting Sherlock’s words from the tip of his tongue. Sherlock’s kissing him like he thinks this is the last chance he’ll get, and the urgency in his mouth stings John somewhere deep in the pit of his gut.

John places one last gentle kiss on Sherlock’s wet lips before pulling back and resting their noses together, drawing in the warm scent of his skin. The smell of the ocean embedded into the freckles on his cheeks.

He takes a final deep breath before pulling away, slapping his hands once on his knees and shaking out his shoulders.

“Alright. Fuck. Let’s go.”

Sherlock smirks as he revs the engine and pulls back out onto the dirt highway. “Not gonna cry again on me, old man?”

“Did I seem like an old man to you when my dick was down your throat?” John answers back roughly.

Sherlock doesn’t answer, but John looks over just in time to see the goosebumps rising on his skin.

They park in the same place as yesterday, and John has to remind himself as they step down out of the Jeep that it really was only just goddamn yesterday. They move like a synchronized team, unloading John’s (Sherlock’s) board and their bags in quick, easy silence, nodding stiffly at anyone who passes on their way down to the shore.

John hikes up the board under one arm and slings the knapsack over the other shoulder, then turns to face Sherlock. There’s far too many people around today – kissing Sherlock would be like a death sentence. Immediately John wants to hop back in the Jeep and drive somewhere private where he can kiss the living daylights out of this man. This man who’s already got his sunglasses in his hand like a shield, and whose very skin seems to prickle under the weight of the sets of eyes already staring at him from afar. John steps closer so their bodies are just barely obscured by the back of the Jeep, then reaches out to take Sherlock’s hand. He already looks so alone.

“Don’t you dare leave my sight,” John says under his breath.

Sherlock gently threads the tips of their fingers together. “Pretty sure I’ll have to take a piss at some point today. While I’m at it, might find a man to make out with, so it could be a while –”

John rolls his eyes and gives Sherlock’s fingers a final squeeze before walking away, blazing the image of Sherlock’s soft, warm smirk into his memory.

“You’re insane,” he calls back over his shoulder.

He almost doesn’t hear Sherlock’s response over the noise of the crowd – old friends greeting each other, car horns honking to try and find parking, the rushing crash of the waves, an old Eagles song blaring somewhere from a cheap, crackling stereo.

But John does hear it. And he feels the ghostly press of Sherlock’s lips against his forehead as a shiver sends its way down his spine, tattooing the words onto the veins beneath his skin.

“Surf like hell, John Watson.”

--

John finds a little corner within the crowd and goes to fish out the wax from his bag. The other surfers are more tense today – less talkative as they each sit and stand in their own private bubble, gazing out at the waves and memorizing their every curve and swell until the clock ticks down enough for their own turn at soaring across the water.

John prefers it this way. Anything to escape the half-hearted attempts at small talk he’d had to make all of yesterday while casting secret glances at Sherlock from across the beach, standing tall and apart and godlike on the sand, attracting the gaze of everyone within fifty feet and not even twitching in acknowledgement. John sinks to his knees in the already hot sand and blocks out the sound of everything but the rough swish of wax over the surface of his board and the crush of the waves onto the shore. The barrels are huge today – Sherlock’s prediction was right. The familiar spark of fear John always gets when faced with monster waves flicks to life in the back of his mind, clearing his head of the chaos around him and focusing his mind on one thing only: surf. And survive.

He waxes his board in slow, steady circles and goes back over everything Sherlock’s told him about his competitors in his first round, about the swells and the strategy, weaknesses and strengths. For ten minutes he successfully remembers Sherlock’s words and advice. “Let Florence chicken out on his own watching you take on one of the first bomb swells. The barrels today will be tighter – don’t spend as long in the pipe. Take your hand off the face and let the water propel you out before it closes in on you. Let Trent have smaller, frothy waves so he’ll try to pull off a trick. He’s not used to the velocity of the Banzai and he’ll wipe out.”

Then he feels the ghosts of Sherlock’s hands on his wet, naked shoulders, rubbing soap into his skin as his voice rumbles deep in his ear. John grits his teeth and blushes down to his chest as his skin replays the physical memory of Sherlock’s wet, open kisses down the center of his stomach, down through the hair between his legs.

Suddenly he notices the tension in the air change around him, tightening like a drum, and he looks up just in time to see every other surfer’s gaze zoom to John’s right. John follows their stares and holds in a gasp.

Scotty Holmes is jogging through the thick crowd down towards the shoreline, holding a board over his head that John knows immediately is stolen (“borrowed” Sherlock’s voice supplies in his mind).

Sherlock Holmes is gone – completely subsumed by Scotty’s puffed chest and high chin and slicked back curls. John stands there in shock – tries and utterly fails to picture this man’s hands on him, falling asleep with his nose tucked into the crook of John’s neck, holding him by the shore as he wept, cupping his palm to John’s cheek just an hour ago in a Jeep pulled over to the side of the road. It’s equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking. John stares at the dichotomy until feels almost sick to his stomach watching the charade he’d once gazed upon with breathless, shivering awe. He watches open-mouthed as the spectators part before Scotty effortlessly gliding across the sand, aviator-covered eyes staring straight ahead at the booming waves.

“Well fuck me, Scotty Holmes is surfing in this now?”

The other surfers around John are starting to whisper and fidget, gathering into a standing clump to watch as Scotty plunks the tail of his board into the sand, rips off his shirt, and then throws the board under his arm once more as he runs out into the waves.

The chorus of whispers around John grow into a chorus, crushing him with the weight of their sound.

“Showing off that fucking tattoo again –”

“Could he not let somebody else have a chance for a year? Needs to go and pull this stunt again like he did three fucking years ago?”

“You know what that fairy said to me last year? Fucking told me I was going to lose before we even got in the fucking water because of some shit about my left ankle –”

“You heard what he did in the bathroom in Laguna, yeah? Fucking sick –“

“Think he really has the guts to go after the Big Wave record?”

“He’s just having fun,” John says over the chorus of the crowd. He sets his feet apart in the sand and holds his ground as the surfers around him turn to stare.

A man John recognizes from a competition last year in San Diego speaks up next to him. “What’s that, Watson?”

“He isn’t surfing in the competition. He’s just having fun before it starts. Look.” John gestures with his head out towards the waves, and the guys around him follow his line of sight. Scotty’s paddling out in front of a powerful rushing wave, oblivious to the crowd holding their breath on the shore as he lets the rising swell raise him up towards the sky. In one swift movement he pops up and speeds down the face of the open barrel. The crest of the wave curls around him and crashes into a smooth, glittering pipeline, and the crowd of spectators release an open gasp across the sand as spray shoots out from the opening of the barrel like a rocket.

“Shit, man, that’s the fucking biggest bomb we’ve seen all morning,” one of the other surfers says under his breath.

They all nod. The wave is easily twenty feet tall, towering above the rest of the horizon line and blocking out enough of the sun to cast a shadow along the shore. John’s ears pick up the sound of the announcers cutting through the thick, tense silence on the beach.

“---not surfing this year, but our own reigning champion Scotty Holmes is deep in this barrel, folks, and boy is it a beauty.”

“I’m getting a little worried we haven’t seen him pop out, yet –”

“It’s always tense to wait – and Scotty Holmes emerges from the barrel! And look at him fly! Cuts back along the crest for a massive spray and grabs the nose of his board for a tap across the lip.”

“Fits in a third cutback! And Holmes isn’t done yet! Look at him squeeze every second he can out of this monster wave!”

“—soars into the air with a one-eighty turn to end his ride right at the end of the shoulder.”

“Folks you’re all giving this ride standing applause and we have to agree – Scotty Holmes may not be surfing in this Billabong, but I think he’s just reminded us all that he is still the champion of these Oahu shores. What a treat, folks. What a thrill!”

John’s heart is in his throat when he realizes the surfers around him are cheering. Cheering.

“Fucking hell, Holmes, that was a beauty!”

“Son of a bitch can ride –”

“Tubular – that was insane.”

John can’t believe it. This group of surfers around him who were practically lining up to give Scotty Holmes shit are now standing here respectfully clapping one of the biggest waves of the year, not an “asshole” or “fairy” or “fag” to be heard. John can’t even bring himself to join in the applause. He watches breathlessly as Scotty emerges from the waves, saltwater dripping in sheathes down his bare, muscled chest, his soaked board shorts clinging to every contour of his thighs. Scotty straightens the aviators over his eyes and runs his hands back through his dripping curls before raising a hand once to the crowd in acknowledgement. Then he calmly struts through the chaos, hands the board back to a bewildered local spectator, and disappears off into the trees lining the beach.

It takes every ounce of John’s self-control not to drop his things in the sand and chase after him. Not to find him and grab him by the shoulders, rip off the sunglasses and tell Sherlock Holmes “did you see them? Did you see everyone on the shore? They were clapping for you, you incredible, sexy, genius.” He wants to kiss the man who just stunned a crowd of hundreds into remembering that he is still the champion of their waves. That he can stand there and be ridiculed and lied about, hated and despised, and still rise above them all without even breaking a sweat. John wants to taste the saltwater on his lips and shove him against a wall and fucking own the Billabong Pipeline Masters champion. Then Sherlock’s words from just that morning float to him on the warm, floral breeze, cutting harshly through his fantasy.

“Tonight I’m gonna have sex with a Billabong Pipeline Masters Champion.”

John’s stomach is in knots. Nervous sweat prickles over the back of his neck as the heat times start to be announced. He’s up in thirty minutes. He wants to panic. Wants to swim out into the sea and dive beneath the waves until he finds the bullet casing. Wants to clutch it in his palms and think of how easy it all was just two weeks ago when he was sitting in the sand with Greg and looking out over the familiar Hermosa swells, his only care in the world wondering if anyone down below on that beach knew about the scar on his chest.

Now he has a professional status to prove, and a fucking semifinals heat to somehow not absolutely embarrass himself in, and a gorgeous man to somehow convince to still want him when he inevitably loses, and a plane ticket sitting in a long-abandoned hotel room back by the Honolulu airport that he needs to viciously force himself to forget about for the next twenty-four hours.

He feels the absence of Sherlock on the beach fiercely. It haunts him down into his bones as he finishes waxing his board and starts stretching off to the side to prepare for his heat. There’s a pull at the center of his chest – a knot around the warmth inside his skin that’s connected to a long string which Sherlock Holmes wears effortlessly on the tip of his fingers, pulling him helplessly along in his wake. There’s a low boil of anger churning in the pit of his stomach. Not two hours ago Sherlock had held his hand and looked him in the eyes and promised not to leave the beach. To stay there with John as his anchor – as the only thing holding him up from falling down into the dark.

And now he’s gone and disappeared entirely from the hot sand after hurling himself into the waves and stunning the crowd like John didn’t even exist. Panic prickles at the back of his throat. He can’t do this. He absolutely cannot fucking get on a board and paddle out into the Banzai in front of hundreds of people and somehow surf well enough to win, or well enough to even get a sponsor. He should just quietly pick up his board (Sherlock’s board), pocket his wax, and leave. Slip away like a ghost into the crowd and nobody would even notice he was gone. Johnny Watson? Who the hell is he? That guy from LA that Scotty Holmes lost to on purpose? Out of pity?

A harsh whistle startles John from his black thoughts, and he turns around to find its source behind him. Sherlock flicks his hand out from where he stands concealed in the shade of the trees, already back in a dry t-shirt, bag slung over his shoulder.

Relief floods through John’s system so quickly he thinks he might pass out. With a quick glance back at the crowd of surfers to make sure nobody’s watching, John jogs across the sand to where Sherlock waits in the shadows, hidden in the cool, thick air of a plumeria tree ripe with blooms.

“Thought you’d gone,” John pants out as he joins him. The rest of the beach disappears the moment he’s chest to chest with Sherlock Holmes. Gone are the sounds of the crowd, the buzz of the announcers, the swish of the umbrellas and palm fronds and the chorus of laughter and music. All John can hear is the sound of Sherlock’s breathing.

Sherlock frowns as he takes off his aviators, folding them over the neckline of his t-shirt. “I literally just told you I’d be here – why would I leave you?”

John feels instantly ashamed for his earlier anger. It shows on his face, and of course Sherlock picks up on it. He sucks in a breath, eyes wide with realization.

Oh, you thought I just did that to show off and then booked it out of here to escape everyone,” he says. “Makes sense. You were standing right in the middle of a huddle of my particularly greatest fans.” Sherlock rolls his eyes and smiles down at John, eyes alight with warmth.

John can’t believe this is the same man who just utterly annihilated that wave, all dripping muscle and terrifying focus ripping across the surface of the ocean, stealing the breath of everyone on the shore.

“How can you stand it,” he asks. “Knowing what they say about you?”

“John, you’ve met me. Don’t make me into an angel.”

“Yes, but –”

“Listen, that’s irrelevant,” Sherlock cuts him off. He places his hands on John’s shoulders, then quickly glances back at the beach to ensure no one has noticed them. His voice when he speaks is smooth and alive, rushing over John’s entire body like a steady, soothing breeze.

“I just went out there to test the current,” Sherlock says. “Rumor going around of a riptide flowing southeast right after the breaking point, but that’s total bullshit. Florence and Trent have heard about it, though, and they’ll stay clear to avoid it. Use this. Hang back farther out than you normally would and wait for the largest swells that break first. You’ll be able to catch them while they’ll just have to dolphin dive under. You’ll have to surf your ass off on them, and don’t wipe out underneath one of those, but if you can hold it down you’ve got this round in the bag. Move on to the finals.”

John feels warmth tingle from the soles of his feet to his scalp. He fights back a smile and looks up into Sherlock’s eyes, blazing and alight with excitement. “Who the hell are you?” John whispers.

Sherlock grins knowingly and squeezes John’s shoulders under his hands, his chest puffed up with pride. He leans forward towards John’s face, then hesitates. John watches fascinated as the thoughts play out across Sherlock’s eyes. Desire, then hesitation, then realization, then relief on the heels of joy. Sherlock sighs and leans the rest of the way in and plants a kiss on John’s forehead, lips soft and warm.

“Go on, then,” Sherlock says, turning John by the shoulder back towards the beach. “They’re about to call your heat to prepare.”

John walks forward in a daze, guided by Sherlock’s gentle shove at his shoulder. He knows if he looks back he’ll never be able to leave. He’s walking on air, heart soaring up into the clouds with no intention of ever coming back down.

Sherlock calls his name when he’s ten steps away, and John risks a glance over his shoulder, eyebrows raised.

Sherlock’s eyes are sparkling, his entire body framed by a sea of white and yellow blooms. John wants to dive into the sight of it. Take a picture and ink it onto the skin of his own body.

“For Helen,” Sherlock says low. John feels the words catch in the back of his throat. Sherlock nods his head at him to continue walking, and all John can do is gaze at him for one beat more before turning back towards the competition, a new determination in his step and a heavy warmth settling in the core of his chest.

--

The airhorn startles him, just like it always does. John holds back his flinch and runs forward into the waves, throwing down his board into the shallows once he’s waist-deep and leaping on top of the solid, familiar wood. His heart races in his chest, pumping the blood through his body so harshly he can feel it pulsating through the tips of each of his fingers.

He's flanked by Hamilton and Trent, both breathing hard as the three of them pull themselves out to sea, diving under the whitewater waves that come their way before they make it out safely past the breaking point. John relishes in the comfortable familiarity of paddling out at the start of any competition – slowly leaving behind the sounds of the crowd and the announcers with each stroke of his arms, feeling the pleasant burn wake up the muscles in his back and shoulders while the sun beats down onto this skin, memorizing the rhythm of the waves as they rock against his body.

He does exactly what Sherlock had said to do – paddles out even after he senses Hamilton and Trent both stop to perch on their boards and wait until he’s out just far enough that only the largest waves will break before they reach him. The knot around his chest is still there – a woven, unbreakable string that grounds him back to Sherlock on the shore with each paddle he takes. For the first time in his entire adult life, John actually wants the sea to push him back to shore. Wants her to thwart his efforts to keep swimming out towards the horizon and forbid him from disappearing into the deep.

Far off in the distance John can see the deep roll of a huge wave rushing steadily in to the breaking point. In his gut he knows this one is his. Behind him he can hear the sounds of Trent and Hamilton battling it out over the tighter barrels closer to shore, dropping one after another into the whitewater as the pipelines shoot them out too fast or close in over their heads. Almost six minutes have gone by in the round. John knows that everyone on the shore thinks he’s lost it. That he’s chickened out or lost his mind or caved under the pressure of going up against two surfers known for doing trick rides on smaller waves. Going up against two surfers actually known for something in the first place.

Idiots,” the Sherlock in his mind says. John smiles as the wave continues to build, heaving up the water from the deep and forcing it towards the shore. He has to start paddling now or it’ll pass by right under him. John turns his board and tenses his muscles, readying for the race of his life. He goes to place his first paddle, then remembers.

“Mom,” he whispers into the surface of his board, feeling foolish and alive. A strange peace settles over his body, settling in a layer between the surface of his skin and the force of the baking sun. He closes his eyes and savors the taste of the word on his tongue for a moment before the hurling force of the wave starts to push him up towards the sky by the tail of his board. The crest of the wave starts to form just underneath his center of gravity, and with a smile on his face John Watson pops up onto his shaking feet and soars down the face of the barrel.

Everything is forgotten. Everything but his legs and the water and the board. John surfs like a machine, barrel after barrel, ride after ride, chase after chase. He’s the only person out there in the water. The only person on the entire beach. The only person underneath the sun. The towering waves push and shove against the bottom of his board, straining at the muscles in his legs and ripping at his core. They blast salty spray into his face and crush him in their whitewater – propel him faster than he’s ever moved on a board in his life and shove him back towards the shore again, and again, and again. He doesn’t stop. The only sounds in the world are the hurling crash of the great walls of water around him and the echo of his breathing in the long tubes of the barrels. He gouges into the face, rips cutbacks across the crests, soars up into the air and crouches down low against his board.

When the airhorn finally echoes out to him across the water it feels like he’s been surfing for five minutes or five days. He has absolutely no idea what even just happened. Every muscle in his body aches, and his throat screams out for clear water, and his eyes burn and crackle under a thick sheen of salt. He has no idea at all as he paddles in on aching arms and body surfs on the whitewater of the waves how Hamilton and Trent just fared in the round. Doesn’t even know how many waves he caught, or if they really were as towering as they felt, or whether his two brief wipeouts left him looking embarrassing and clueless and small.

The crowd is roaring as he approaches. They’re on their feet and waving their arms and yelling. Cheering. John paddles in to where he can stand and looks back over his shoulders for Hamilton and Trent. The ocean behind him is empty. He turns quickly back to the shore and sees them off to the side, panting with towels around their necks, applauding for him.

Applauding for him.

John gasps and drops his board into the shallows. He sees the entire beach before him like he did that day at Hermosa, exploding before his very eyes, every gaze locked on him. He catches the sound of his name coming from the announcers’ crackling loud speaker, and he gazes dumbstruck as a pack of smiling surfers jog down to meet him in the shallows.

Desperately his eyes scan the crowd along the shore. Searching. He nearly moans when he finally spots a familiar head of dark curls standing in the center of the chaos, arms crossed over his chest and chin held high. He sees Sherlock Holmes pull the aviators down off of his eyes, and send John a wink, and smile softly at the corner of his mouth.

And that’s when John Watson drops to his knees in the wet mud of the foaming shallows and feels tears at the back of his eyes. When he witnesses the overwhelming scene before him for the second time in less than a goddamn month. Because he didn’t just embarrass himself, and hundreds of people are currently applauding him completely unaware of the scar hiding just beneath his wetsuit, and he’s moving on to the fucking finals of the Billabong Pipeline Masters.

And Sherlock Holmes is smiling at him, uncrossing his arms to clap.

Chapter Text

Sherlock wants to sprint towards John Watson at full speed and tackle him down into the soft sea foam and kiss the disbelieving smile on his lips. Wants to feel his shaking muscles under the clinging wetsuit beneath his palms and feel the rushing heartbeat in John’s chest against his own. He physically grips the sand with his toes to force himself to stay put as John rises up to stand from his knees and is quickly engulfed in a crowd of surfers gone running to congratulate him. To slap his back and tap his board and welcome him into their midst with open arms – the unexpected underdog no longer. He has proven his worth and they’ve gone running towards it like moths to a flame, leaving Sherlock to stand in an empty patch of sand.

Nobody came running towards Scotty Holmes after he’d first ripped his way across the Banzai Pipeline.

Sherlock shakes his head against the unwelcome thought and awkwardly grips his hands behind his back to stop them from clapping. John can’t see him now anyways, not anymore. Sherlock steps back into the crowd from the empty stretch of beach and wills himself to fade back into the masses, slipping down his aviators and silently thrilling that, for once, nobody is looking at him. He tries to catch a glimpse of golden hair through the huddle in front of him – a smooth, tan forearm or a flash of stormy blue eyes. But all he can see is a thronging sea of bare backs and board shorts and beards. Not the forehead he’d fallen asleep with his lips pressed against, or the hands that had gripped his curls and cupped his cheek as Sherlock had settled between his legs and kissed the most secret part of his skin.

God, but John’s eyes had been beautiful when they’d locked onto Sherlock’s just moments ago. Sherlock had watched breathlessly as the thoughts passed so freely across John’s face. Exhaustion, followed by confusion and wariness, finally blotted out by sheer disbelief and relief. By joy. And he’d sought out Sherlock in the crowd as he stood there dripping, chest heaving, on the shore and stared at him with a look that said you gave this to me.

Except that’s absolutely ridiculous. Sherlock hasn’t give him anything at all. John did this for himself. For Helen. And his look at Sherlock had simply been a reflection of his inner sense of accomplishment. It hadn’t had anything at all to do with the fact that Sherlock himself was standing on that shore amongst the crowd.

Did it?

Sherlock huffs and grips his hands tighter behind his back. It’s infuriating – experiencing such a wave of indecision on the beach where he’s always felt more confident than anywhere else in the world. He’s spent every day since he was fifteen writing his own inner monolog – cataloguing the world around him into a system that makes sense, a system that acknowledges Sherlock Holmes’ existence but does not particularly love that he’s there. And that’s been good. It’s been fine and perfect and carried him through each hour until he can set foot back on his private stretch of sand at the end of the day and release the cold breath in his lungs.

And now after just two days of letting himself touch John Watson’s skin he’s walking around thinking that someone is thanking him. That someone is actually searching for his eyes in a crowd because they want to see that he’s there.

Stupid.

Is it?

The airhorn starting the next semi-final heat blares across the hot sand, and Sherlock blinks out of his thoughts to see that the entire crowd around him has resumed their seats, leaving him standing alone among the sea of sunbathing skin and beach towels. In an unfamiliar flash of panic his eyes scan the beach for John, wishing for the first time in his life that someone (John, only John) was saving him a seat on one of those beach towels next to them to watch the next set of surfing.

He finds him easily. He’s leaning back in the sand with a t-shirt pulled on and his wetsuit top hanging down by his hips, running a hand through his soaked blonde fringe and laughing like it’s the only way he knows how to breathe. Laughing surrounded by a group of other surfers.

The rush of jealousy Sherlock feels looking at John’s body effortlessly surrounded by them is staggering. He feels as if the sunlight has been blocked forever directly above his head, as if his skin is doomed to remain dry and hot and prickly for all time despite the cool ocean spray blowing steadily at his back. A sense of betrayal niggles unwelcome at the back of his mind.

“You’ll be there?” John had asked.

And Sherlock had answered yes, of course, always. Had crept along in the shade of the trees and called John over to him and assured him yes, I am here, can’t you see that it would physically hurt me to leave you? That the trails of kisses you left on my back would split open and bleed if I turned away from your gaze?

He wants to strut over to John Watson and step on the hands and toes of all the other surfers and demand why, when they still have one precious day left together, John is already imposing their separation. Why, not even an hour after Sherlock had kissed him in the shady cocoon of flowers and opened himself up the entire beach’s scrutiny out on the waves just to make sure that John could win, John is now lounging back on his arm and acting like he doesn’t even know Scotty Holmes is standing on the same shore. Why John’s laughing with them and acting like those same smiling lips didn’t whisper the word “Sherlock” over and over again underneath the full view of the stars.

And that’s when Sherlock realizes that he is the world’s biggest idiot. Because his eyes suddenly focus, and the hazy fog of indignant hurt clears from his mind in the salty breeze, and he sees that John Watson is not, in fact, lounging back on his hand and laughing like it’s the only way he knows how to breathe. Instead John’s entire body is tense, the smile on his lips is stale and fixed, and the hand pressing back into the warm sand is slowly, ever so slowly, pushing him up to stand.

Sherlock watches with his heart in his throat as John nods along and slowly gets to his feet, waving a hand at presumed offers to stick around and watch with the group and instead looking straight at Sherlock like he knew exactly where he was standing without even a second’s hesitation. John gives a slight nod of his head before walking swiftly and calmly up the sand towards the road, smiling and acknowledging the well-wishes thrown his way as he makes his way through the crowd. On numb legs, Sherlock follows at a distance, pointedly looking everywhere but at the broad line of shoulders in front of him or the smooth skin at the back of John’s still dripping neck, leaving the sounds of the competition gradually farther behind them.

He follows John carefully through the maze of palm trees and cars, feeling the warm breeze on his skin and uncertain anticipation start to spark in his chest. John walks like a god. The wetsuit clings to his calves and thighs, drips over the firm curve of his ass. A tiny sliver of skin shows between the bottom of Sherlock’s old t-shirt John’s wearing and the top of the folded down wetsuit. Sherlock wants to run forward and drop to his knees and press his tongue to the warm strip of skin, to taste the salt and feel the fragile hairs on John’s body against his lips and hear the shiver that would erupt down John’s spine.

John turns down a side street off the main road and glances casually to his right before turning again behind the back of an old surf shop, surrounded on three sides by the beginnings of a stretch of lush, rolling green hills. With a bewildered frown Sherlock turns the same corner, only to immediately feel hands grabbing his shoulders and slamming him back into the wall. Sherlock barely has time to grunt in surprise before a hand comes up to rip the sunglasses from his face and throw them to the ground, and then John Watson is kissing him fiercely, pressing him back into the wall with the force of his body and gripping at Sherlock’s hair and shoulder as if Sherlock will fall apart without the firm grasp of his hands.

The low heat that had been pooling in Sherlock’s gut from the moment John had popped up on his first wave of the day explodes into a fire of want, pulsing between his legs and grinding against the heat from John’s body. He melts as John pants and groans into his mouth, forgets to breath as John kisses every inch of his lips and steals the moans hovering at the tip of Sherlock’s tongue. Sherlock brings his hands up to clutch at John’s waist, helpless to do anything else but surrender and hold on.

Sherlock wants to laugh into his mouth, or turn his face up to the sky to laugh in the face of the sun. He wants to laugh that the man who just stunned an entire beach to their feet just left it all behind so he could kiss Sherlock up against the back wall of a surf shop. It’s more magnificent than any competition he’s ever won combined.

Sherlock gasps for breath as John sucks his upper lip between his and moans one last time through his chest before pulling back and licking his kiss swollen lips, eyes wild and dilated and absolutely locked onto Sherlock’s face. Sherlock’s hands still clutch at the fabric around John’s waist, holding himself up from collapsing onto the grass.

Sherlock’s mouth hangs half open and he stares. John looks like a ray of sun plopped down in the middle of the velvet green blanket of the earth. The bright sunlight glints off the tips of his wet blonde fringe, and the saltwater dances on his eyelashes, and the colors of the jungle of flowers behind him reflect off his tan, rippling skin like a handful of sea-polished pearls.

John leans in towards him again and runs his nose along Sherlock’s cheek, sending a shiver down Sherlock’s spine until his bare toes clutch reflexively at the soft, warm grass.

“Couldn’t get away from them fast enough,” John whispers, eyes still closed. “Thought they’d never let me leave.”

Sherlock feels a bewildered smile curling at the corners of his lips as John opens his eyes to gaze at him, pinning him back to the wall with the pure, earnest truth in the lines of his face. Sherlock licks his lips and tries to speak, tries to pick out words that he could possibly say that would somehow do justice to the fact that John just willingly left a crowd of people who were fawning all over him just so that he could press Sherlock’s back into a wall and kiss him.

Sherlock realizes he’s been standing there with his mouth half-open, and John’s brow furrows as he takes in the look on Sherlock’s face.

“Shit, sorry, you’re shaking. I didn’t mean to—”

Sherlock cuts off John’s ridiculous apology by gripping his shoulders and turning to slam John back into the wall instead. He needs to taste the salt on John’s lips. Badly. Needs to feel every inch of his strength and muscle underneath his hands, feel the force of the man who conquered the Banzai’s largest waves of the day. He needs taste and subsist on the oxygen and carbon dioxide coming from his warm, wet mouth. To show the rolling mountains at their backs that John Watson is letting him kiss him when he’s just one surfing round away from achieving his dream.

John gasps in surprise the moment Sherlock shoves him back, body going stiff for a moment, and then Sherlock moans on a sigh and presses his lips to John’s, licking into his mouth and tasting the proof of John’s words. The proof that he really was seeking Sherlock out on the sand. John groans deep in his chest as Sherlock caresses his lips, cupping John’s face in his hands, and suddenly John’s own hands are up and under his shirt, running roughly up Sherlock’s bare sides and clutching at his skin, trailing the tips of his thumbs over Sherlock’s nipples.

The feeling of John’s hands on his bare skin, just five minutes away from a beach full of people, sends a fiery thrill through Sherlock’s core. He feels John’s thick and hot desire suddenly pressed into the dip of his hip, thinks of the way John’s thighs had bulged as he clung to his board and soared across the face of the wave, and in a rush of pure desire Sherlock reaches down for the underside of those thighs and lifts John up against the wall, thrilling as John wraps his legs around his waist without hesitation and grinds Sherlock’s body into himself.

Sherlock is flying. He feels the weight of John’s powerful body in his hands, the quivering muscles that had carried him across the punishing roar of the ocean, the kiss of warm sunlight still lingering on his skin. Sherlock pants into John’s mouth and tastes the warm, wet heat of him, kneading his fingers into the firm curves of his ass through the wetsuit as he holds him up off the ground. Out of nowhere, the memory of the photograph he’d bought when he was fourteen floats into his mind – the shirtless sailor with oiled abs and dog tags gleaming on his bare chest and a hand reaching down into the open fly of his tented uniform pants. And for the first time since leaning down to kiss John Watson on the beach at sunrise just yesterday morning, Sherlock’s brain realizes that he has that sailor. Here. Now. Groaning underneath his palms and grinding his cock into Sherlock’s hip. Desperate for friction just ten minutes after absolutely annihilating his semi-final heat, punishing the waves of the sea with the sheer strength of his body.

It’s the most erotic thought Sherlock’s ever had in his life. He hikes John higher up on the wall and pulls back to gasp from his lips. He starts speaking before he loses his nerve, leaning in to lick a stripe up the side of John’s tensing neck.

“You’re the hottest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.”

John tilts his head back against the wall and moans as Sherlock whispers the words into his neck.

“Fuck, Sherlock –”

“Watching you out there. God, you have no idea what it –”

A loud bang clatters from the other side of the surf shop wall, and Sherlock whips his hands back from John’s ass so quickly John barely catches himself from falling to the ground. Sherlock leaps back from him and tries to calm his heart pounding in his chest. He has no idea what just came over him, pinning John Watson to a wall and hiking his legs up around his waist in broad fucking daylight, when John should be resting and preparing for his finals heat in just a few hours, when he should be off surrounding himself with his new community and watching the other surfers and studying the rise and fall of the waves.

John’s hand is suddenly on his cheek. John doesn’t look like a man who should be off preparing for a finals heat, or who was just slammed into another wall by another man in broad fucking daylight, or who wishes he was back watching the other guys surf. Instead John strokes his thumb across Sherlock’s cheek and smiles. Smiles.

“Stop thinking so hard, genius,” he says. “You’ll pull a muscle and then my plans for tonight’ll go to shit.”

Sherlock laughs despite himself and feels the panic slowly leaving his body. He clears his throat and ducks his head. “Sorry, I just – I thought –”

“I know. And it’s not true. You can be a real idiot sometimes, you know that?”

Sherlock can feel John’s warmth all along the front of his body, pulling him close even though they still stand two feet apart. John drops his hand and starts to walk back towards the road, beckoning Sherlock to follow him with a warm smile still on his lips.

Sherlock jogs a step to catch up. “I’m starting to realize that,” he says under a chuckle. He amazes himself how easily the laugh falls from his lips.

John walks ahead of him back out into the world like nothing at all unusual just happened. It takes Sherlock’s breath away. Watching him hold his head high and walk down the street like this isn’t one of the most important days of his life – like he doesn’t have to surf his ass off and try to win a competition in just a few hours. Like he didn’t just press his erection into another man’s thigh and cling to his body in the hidden shade. He stares at the outline of John’s body as he walks smoothly back towards the competition and notices for the first time the way John’s carefully not moving his shoulder. An idea occurs to him.

“Your shoulder’s gonna give out on you unless you stretch it out,” he says as he walks by John’s side. “Got some food in an ice chest in the Jeep – if you eat now and stretch some you’ll have enough time to get back down and watch the water for a while before you’re up.”

John stops in his tracks and immediately starts walking in the opposite direction of the competition, back towards where the Jeep is parked.

“I knew you were a genius,” he smirks.

Sherlock tries not to let his chest puff up too obviously with pride. Who feels proud of themselves after simply suggesting somebody else eat lunch? He passes a hand over his mouth, hating that what he’s about to say will wipe the easy smile from John’s face.

“Give me a chance too to fill you in on who you’ll end up against this afternoon,” he says cautiously.

John runs a hand through his hair. “Shit, hadn’t even tried to find out. Who is it?”

John turns to look at him, and he must see the look on Sherlock’s face because he immediately blanches like a sheet.

Sherlock clears his throat and forces himself to hold John’s gaze. “Duke O’Brien,” he answers.

“Oh fuck.”

 

--

 

“He’s not as unbeatable as everyone says he is. Hell, I’ve beaten him –”

“That’s because you’re you!”

You’ve beaten me, and I’ve beaten him, so I’m not sure why you’re being so damn stubborn about this –”

“I beat you because you fell off your fucking board! On purpose!”

“And as I’ve told you before it still would’ve been close if I hadn’t!”

“Close is not the same as beating. Especially not in the fucking Billabong finals. Jesus –”

“You’ve made it this far, haven’t you? And nobody’s fallen off their board on purpose yet.”

John opens his mouth to retort then abruptly closes it again, sighing back into the seat and tearing haphazardly at the crust of the sandwich in his hand. Sherlock smirks at John’s silence and reaches over across the gear shift of the Jeep to place a hand on his knee.

“Gotta eat something. Your body’ll thank you.”

John sighs again through his nose and stares out the front window towards the beach like a man staring at his own gallows. Sherlock moves his hand up to John’s shoulder, loose and open after Sherlock helped him stretch it standing in the shade of a nearby canopy of trees. John’s brow suddenly furrows.

“When did you even pack this food? I was with you the whole morning.”

Sherlock takes his hand back to reach into the bag in his lap and lift out a handful of sunflower seeds. “Did it last night.”

“In the middle of the night?”

Sherlock hums and throws back the seeds into his mouth, almost knocking the sunglasses off the top of his head.

“Why the hell weren’t you asleep?” John adds.

Sherlock takes his time to chew and spit the shells out the side of the window, smirking when John makes a disgusted noise. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and decides whether to make up a reason or tell the truth.

The truth wins. “I knew I had . . . plans for the morning. Didn’t want us to be late if we didn’t already have your stuff packed for the day.”

John throws back his head and barks out a laugh. “You made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at three o’clock in the morning just so you could have enough time to have sex with me?”

“No, that would be stupid. I did that so that I could give you a good luck blow job. There’s a critical difference.”

“’Critical difference’ my ass, you fucking loony.”

“Well it worked didn’t it? You’re here, in the final.”

John turns to look at him, and the smile on his face takes Sherlock’s breath away. The tension seems to melt from John’s body before his very eyes, slowly fading away on the warm, floral scented air. John nods once and takes a deep breath before sitting back into the hot leather seat, taking a bite of sandwich and shaking out the remaining tension in his shoulders.

“Right. So, O’Brien. Tell me whatever the hell I need to know.”

Sherlock doesn’t want to talk about O’Brien. He wants to start the Jeep’s engine and drive off clear over to the other side of the island where no one else will be around and stand under the clear, open sky holding John Watson’s hand tight in his. For an insane moment he almost opens his mouth to suggest it. To say “it’s just some silly competition, and you’ve already proved you’re an amazing surfer, and can’t we just go and be on our own now for every minute until you have to leave me?”

Then the image of John hurling the bullet away into the sea pops into his mind, and he knows it’s not just some silly competition at all.

“This isn’t just a game for me.”

Sherlock squares his shoulders and spits out another mouthful of shells, forcing his mind into focus. A tiny part of his heart is yelling that John Watson needs him right now, and the rest of his heart desperately wants to believe that’s somehow true.

“Duke O’Brien,” he begins. “Last year’s Virginia Beach champion, as you know. Second in the Sunset Beach invitational, fifth in the Surfabout in Sydney, and came third in the U.S. Open over in your neck of the woods in ’74 to get qualified for Virginia –”

“Oh this is really helpful, thank you. Tell me more about what he’s already won, please.”

“Well it’s important to know what waters he’s surfed on before! You can’t just walk out there totally ignorant!”

John laughs and places a hand on Sherlock’s knee. “I know, I know, genius. Keep going.”

Sherlock feels a flushed, embarrassed grin spread across his cheeks when he realizes John’s just goading him on purpose. He clears his throat and watches the shimmer of the waves far out in the distance.

“Right, as I was saying, in the last year alone he’s surfed on every major coastline for big wave surfing. Word is he’s using the Billabong here to pave his way for the World’s in Australia in two months. It’s a huge advantage of he wins this – they’ll let him skip straight to Day 2. So he’s gonna go hard and fast, isn’t afraid to be a dick and drop in on a wave if he thinks it’s a good one, so you can’t hesitate at all with him. Don’t pause up at the crest after paddling, just drop in early so you can get on the face, even if you miss part of the barrel. Yes?”

“Right.”

“He loves doing cut backs at the foot of the wave. He’ll zoom straight down the face just to get to the bottom and then stay there to surf underneath the wall. Virginia judges liked it because the waves there aren’t huge to begin with and it let him do some nice trick moves in the whitewater, but judges here want to see you take advantage of the pipeline. That’s your specialty, just as long as you can drop in before he snakes in on you. And he will -- ”

“Oh gee, thanks.”

“-try. He will try.”

John closes his eyes and runs both hands through his hair before looping his fingers at the back of his neck, breathing deep and slow. Sherlock watches transfixed as John’s chest rises and falls underneath his own t-shirt covering his warm skin. He wants to put his head under the shirt and rub his face against the hair on John’s chest and breathe in the smell at the base of his neck, under his arms, in the crooks of his elbows. The desire is so intense it startles him – this sudden need to possess, to be possessed, and he only just kissed him for the first time yesterday goddamn morning.

“What are you thinking about,” John suddenly says.

“Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that question?”

John grins and rolls his neck once on his shoulders to crack it. “I’m thinking about being scared shitless to go up against O’Brien on the Pipeline in an hour. Your turn.”

Sherlock’s chest clenches tightly against the words that want to come spilling out his mouth. That he doesn’t know how he’ll breathe when John gets on a plane tomorrow and leaves. That he had it all planned out to take John over to the east side of the island tomorrow to a little place where he knew he could buy John a strawberry milkshake, but then he found out John’s flight leaves first thing in the morning. That finding John Watson on that pier was more lifesaving than the first time he ever popped up on a board and rode a wave into the shore.

Instead he starts to gather his things so that they can leave the car and head back down to the beach, pausing to speak just before pulling his aviators back down over his eyes and ignoring the dull, dreading ache in his chest.

“I’m thinking that you’re about to surf like hell,” he says, forcing out a calm confidence he sure as hell doesn’t feel, and John nods once with a small, grateful smile on the corner of his lips before opening the door of the Jeep.

 

--

 

“—with a final three wave score of a whopping 27.1, Terry Russell just proved that he is definitely the one to beat in this Billabong Finals.”

“What a performance, folks. Eight full rides, beautiful clear barrels, epic speed and a hang ten right at the end there to rack up the extra points – George Moore surfed the set of his life, but looks like even that still wasn’t enough to come out ahead of Russell today.”

“Gotta feel bad for Moore. 25.8 is the best he’s put up in his career but of course it had to be in the same Finals round where Russell seemed to pull together every ounce of strength he had and absolutely demolished that set.”

“Moore didn’t even really have a chance from that first swell, you know.”

“Right on there, man.”

“Now Russell’s in the hot seat – you think he’s praying this next heat goes badly?”

“Who wouldn’t? He’s sitting on the Billabong title right now and hoping one of these next two competitors readying themselves on the start line doesn’t snatch it from him.”

“And those two surfers are Johnny Watson from Los Angeles and Duke O’Brien all the way from the UK –”

“What a matchup! Who woulda thought?!”

“Watson had a solid run yesterday in his Wild Card heat, but man did he surprise us all this morning!”

“He was to the max. Not sure how the hell he knew that rip tide wasn’t as strong as we all thought, but man did he take advantage of it.”

“He’s gotta be feeling those monster waves in his legs now, though. Gotta be tired. O’Brien lucked out with his semi-final, as we all saw.”

“That’s right – small waves, perfect for his trick moves, and two fine surfers who caved to some harsh injuries.”

“Now we’ve got about five minutes until this last Finals heat of your 1976 Billabong Pipeline Masters – let’s talk strengths. Johnny Watson.”

“Watson’s been having a hell of a month – just made it out of qualifiers about three weeks ago at the ISF and already he’s showing us all he deserves to be here with the pros.”

“That’s right, dude. Went from placing top ten and top five in some local SoCal competitions, did a few in San Diego from what I hear, but beyond that he hasn’t been beyond that circuit.”

“Makes it hard to talk about what we’ll see from him here. He’s definitely on the older side for the surfers we see here on the Pipeline – it’s a punishing stretch of beach we got here. He’s shown he can use some killer strategy against his opponents, and he sure as hell can hold his own against the big wave surf we’ve got here along the Banzai, but beyond that I have no idea what to expect from him up against O’Brien, and like you said he’s gotta be feeling the ache from that first round –”

“Sheer tenacity from O’Brien – that’s what we’re gonna see.”

“He’s had a gnarly last two seasons leading up to that Virginia Beach victory –”

-

“So this is it,” Sherlock thinks to himself. “This is how I’m going to die.”

There can’t possibly be a way that he’ll survive the nerves roiling through his body – that his heart was somehow made to withstand the beats currently thudding in his chest like explosions. He tunes out the droning voices coming from the announcers and tries to focus in on the sound of the waves, desperate for the steady rhythm of the breaks to try and slow his racing heart. The incoming swells are some of the largest they’ve seen all weekend, booming across the shore and roaring with whitewater and spray. It only serves to make his skin feel too tight for his bones and his throat feel piercing and dry.

His eyes fixate back on John where he stands next to O’Brien near the starting line. To any one of the hundreds of spectators flocking to the beach to see this Final heat, John Watson looks entirely calm. He’s ready in his full wetsuit with his waxed board by his side and a wet towel around his neck, leaning forward to hang in a stretch between his open legs and calmly bobbing up and down like he has all the time in the world.

Sherlock can see that he’s terrified. From the moment they’d stepped out of the Jeep and started walking towards the sand, John a careful fifty feet in front of him, Sherlock had watched helplessly as each step closer to the beach brought a little more tension back into John’s frame. The body that had been so free and loose and open as they’d held each other and kissed in the shade. Those same arms that had held him close in loose, sleepy warmth just that morning in the soft, quiet air of his bed.

Sherlock feels a thrill in the back of his mind at the prospect that he alone in this sea of people knows the clues to reading the secrets hidden in the lines of John’s body. That he alone has felt the raw power of those arms against his own skin, and that he alone knows that this man standing calmly on the shoreline, like he’s simply waiting in line to buy groceries, holds a forcing, dangerous strength in every inch of his limbs.

That he alone knows the texture of the scar hiding beneath his wetsuit. That he alone can call him simply “John.”

In a flash of panic he realizes that John can’t easily see him from where he’s standing. He quickly scans the beach, knowing he only has a matter of minutes to find the perfect spot so that John can easily find him from the waves, when he hears his name cackle across the sand over the mic.

“—get Scotty Holmes up here to tell us his prediction for the Final!”

“Wouldn’t be a Billabong without our reigning Champion.”

Sherlock feels dread settle in his gut like lead as he looks behind him towards the announcers and sees that half the beach is expectantly staring at him, stuck in an awkward standstill between cheering acknowledgement and hesitant noninterest. Sherlock moves to simply shake his head no and turn back towards John when he realizes that this is his last chance to speak to John in the two minutes before he’ll run out into the waves. That this may be the last time he’ll ever see John Watson surf knowing that he would actually want to hear Sherlock’s voice.

With a sharp nod he walks back towards the announcers, zigzagging through the sea of lounging crowds and beach towels. He stand stiffly beside the two guys he recognizes from last year and shoves his hands in his pockets.

“So Scotty, care to settle the rumors?”

“Yeah, man, fill us in. Why aren’t you surfing here this year?”

Sherlock takes a deep breath and clears his throat, fighting with himself not to stare across the crowds at the back of John’s head, waiting for the airhorn to start his heat.

“Timing just wasn’t right. I need to focus on Waimea.”

“You heard it here, folks, looks like Scotty Holmes really is going for that world record!”

“Thoughts for this final? You know these waves better than anyone.”

Sherlock can hear the faint insincerity hiding behind their cheerful words – the thrumming undertone of remorse that they aren’t currently hanging out and chatting with literally any other surfer on the beach. Sherlock flashes a desperate glance towards the starting line and sees that John is entirely in his own head, gazing out at the waves with no idea that Sherlock’s voice is even echoing across the sand.

He clears his throat again and bends over to make his voice louder in the mic, sending up a silent prayer to who-knows-what that this plan will somehow work.

“Johnny Watson. Obviously,” he says clearly.

With a thrill in his chest he sees John’s head perk up at the sound of his name.

“Alright, dude, you can’t leave us hanging. Gotta explain that one!”

“Yeah, man, I don’t think any of us is doing him a disservice to still call Watson the underdog here.”

“This just because he beat you back in Hermosa?”

Sherlock fights with himself not to audibly scoff. “Of course not. Russell put up an alright score, but he got all his points just by throwing in tricks at the very end of his rides. O’Brien’s gonna chase after everything that comes at him, whether it’s a smooth barrel or not. Watson’s the only surfer here today with enough experience to know when to wait.”

“Enough experience you say – but he hasn’t even been pro a whole season.”

“Yeah man, he only came on the scene two years ago.”

“That doesn’t mean he hadn’t touched a surfboard before then,” Sherlock cuts in. He can read in every inch of John’s body that he’s listening. Intently. The clock ticks down to thirty more seconds before the airhorn, and Sherlock feels absolutely desperate. He hasn’t said enough. Hasn’t done enough. Hasn’t told John Watson what he fiercely needs him to know.

“We’re just about ready to start here, folks. Holmes, any last thoughts on your underdog choice today?”

Sherlock clears his throat and allows himself to look directly at John, remembering the feel of his skin underneath the pads of his fingertips.

“My prediction isn’t wrong,” Sherlock says, hoping no one else can hear the desperation in his voice. “I’m more confident of this than any competition I’ve even surfed in.”

“Wild claims, Holmes. What makes you say that?”

Sherlock takes a deep breath and imagines he can feel John’s racing heartbeat against his own chest. In his mind he sees the man he saw that day on the pier, so small and lost compared to the man standing now on the starting line, exuding a fierce, quiet strength. He feels the back of his throat start to close up, and wants to reach out across the sand towards John Watson with his fingers, hoping to grasp just a ghostly wisp of his same air.

“Johnny Watson will be the next Billabong champion,” he answers, voice steady. “Because O’Brien’s going out there today to get a spot at World’s, but Watson’s going out there today to survive.”

And the announcers go on blabbering about how Scotty’s gone and said another one of his ridiculous, cryptic one-liners, and the crowd has turned breathlessly to the starting line where the two surfers are lined up ready to race with their boards held under their arms, Scotty Holmes already well and forgotten. And in the last five seconds before the airhorn John’s been waiting his entire life to hear blares across the sand, John turns back and finds Sherlock immediately with his eyes, and Sherlock gasps at the realization that crashes through his body.

Sherlock knows, more strongly than anything he’s ever known in his life, that he is in love with John Watson.

The horn sounds, blasting across the waves, and John doesn’t even flinch as he sprints out towards the ocean to the sound of a roaring cheer from the crowd. Sherlock stands breathlessly in the middle of the crowd, salty wind rushing at his back, and he feels a piece of his chest be dragged out to sea towards the largest swells on the face of the earth, kept safe and secure in the warm patch of skin over John Watson’s steady, pulsing heartbeat.

-

“Two wild first wave scores from both of these surfers!”

“They’re not playing around out there today, man. The championship is on the line and they’ve both just shown that they more than deserve to be here with those first rides of the heat.”

“Duke O’Brien’s chasing after this next wave. Watson’s letting him have it.”

“It’s a beauty – he’s letting himself be pushed up to the crest – and what a drop in! Look at the speed! O’Brien cuts down the face and pumps along the foot of this wave.”

“He’s searching for an open part of the face to fit in some turns, and look at the spray.”

“He’s smart not hanging back for that barrel – pipeline on this one is far too small. You’d get caved in on.”

“And after two cutbacks he ends his ride with a tap on the lip and another shower of spray before diving into the whitewater.”

“What a ride!”

“That was ace!”

“Look here folks Watson’s getting ready to answer. I’m not sure if he can get in front of this wave in time. It’s a monster.”

“Paddling like hell but it might be too late. He’s pushing after it, straining to catch the crest. Oh! And this swell gets away from him.”

“He’s disappointed. He could’ve caught that one and he knows it.”

“It’s wicked hard to watch O’Brien take a wave like that and then answer to it – you think he’s feeling the pressure?”

“With O’Brien looking like he’s gonna catch this next one, three scores to Watson’s one is not gonna put Watson in a great place to do well in this heat.”

“Scotty Holmes might be wrong – for the very first time!”

-

Sherlock clenches his fists where he stands off to the side, chest heaving as if he’s the one out there battling against the force of the ocean. John chickened out on that wave – there’s no other explanation for what could have happened. That or his shoulder is already starting to give out on him.

O’Brien finishes his third major ride of the set and puts up a third score over 7.5 points, accompanied by a wild cheer from the crowd. Sherlock thinks he’s going to be sick.

John paddles a little farther out, dolphin diving under a few swells before letting himself be pushed up and over the next set. He looks small and fragile in the water, pushed and rolled about by the waves. He looks like a ghost of the man who’d attacked the water with everything in him only just that morning. His limbs wilt off the sides of the board as he floats along in the swells, all the momentum from his first perfect ride already lost out to the sea.

Sherlock stands there helplessly watching as John chases and misses two more waves in a row, knowing that he is the only person to blame for throwing John out there to struggle in front of everyone like he is now. He wants to grab his past self – the man who’d fallen off his board, and told John he could win the Billabong, and sent him off with a sandwich and a kiss on the forehead – and slap him upside the head. Wants to run out into the waves and cradle John’s body in his arms and carry him back to shore.

John starts to paddle after a third wave, smaller than the previous two, and Sherlock’s heart leaps up into his throat.

-

“—looks like Johnny Watson’s going after this smaller wave, right after missing two in a row.”

“Probably trying to win back some confidence. He’s gotta be exhausted from paddling so much in one stretch.”

“I dig it. Watson’s out ahead of this wave, digging deep in to the water, letting the wave catch the tail of his board up -- And he catches this one! Crowd’s giving him some encouragement as he pumps along this swell.”

“Look at the spray coming off his turns!”

“And a perfect nose grab before a tap off the top and a quick re-entry. He’s milking every second he can get out of this wave, not letting the shoulder taper off without a fight.”

“It won’t be a huge score but at least it’ll be something!”

“Nineteen minutes left in this heat and you know he’s gotta be feeling the pressure. He may not know the scores but he’s seen O’Brien’s waves.”

“O’Brien’s at a current three-wave score of 24.9, and with Watson’s latest coming in at 5.9 he’s got a lot of catching up to do.”

“He’s still in the game, though, folks! Anything can happen here at the Banzai.”

“Watson looking to catch another wave now, paddling hard after leaping back on his board from that last ride. And boy, this one’s a big one –”

-

Sherlock nearly groans out loud. His lips are pressed to tightly together he’s sure they’re turning white. John’s paddling like hell after this next wave, one of the biggest ones of the set, but O’Brien is right on his tail chasing him, and Sherlock knows exactly what’s going to happen.

The crowd holds their breath and starts to hesitantly cheer as John places his hands firmly on each side of his board to pop up, when suddenly O’Brien leaps to his feet and flies past him down the face of the wave, leaving John to awkwardly tuck and roll over the crest in a body surf with his board flying up behind him in the spray.

“Shit,” Sherlock breathes. The crowd groans in sympathy, then switches to cheering wildly for O’Brien as he whips down the towering pipeline, riding the first full barrel of the set. Sherlock knows John’s well aware of the time quickly ticking down. He’s probably got a rough estimate of points in his head, same as Sherlock and everyone else does when they’re out past the reach of the voices on the beach. John knows he only has one wave worth even looking at – hardly enough to hold a candle to O’Brien and not even worth the embarrassing comparison to Russell, who sits off to the side near the other competitors with a towel around his neck and an anxious frown etched into his face.

John paddles back out past the breaking point as O’Brien finishes his ride, dropping in the backdoor of the barrel and riding the entire tube to a booming cheer from the crowd as he emerges through the spray. He paddles out until he’s just a speck on the vast glass sea, dwarfed by the endless blue horizon and the infinite crystal sky. Sherlock squints his eyes to see as John sits up on his board, nearly unheard of in the middle of a competition round, and he calmly gazes out towards the horizon, keeping his back to O’Brien, and the rest of the waves, and the crowd, and the entire Hawaiian shoreline.

He sits there for almost a full minute, utterly still and staring out to sea while O’Brien catches another smaller wave as a safety for his points, catching a small tube before cutting back across the whitewater. It’s as if the crowd has forgotten John’s even in this round as O’Brien flings himself back on his board to their applause and heaves himself back out to catch the next set. Unstoppable.

Finally Sherlock watches as John reaches down and cups a handful of water in his palms, bringing the water close to his bent over chest, and Sherlock gasps as he realizes what John’s doing.

He’s surfing in the finals of the Billabong, and he has hundreds of people watching him do it, and he’s a good four rides away from even coming close to catching O’Brien. And John Watson is stopping in the middle of it all to sit quietly in the middle of the waves and talk to Helen.

Then, just as suddenly as he stopped, John springs into action again, flinging himself down on his board and paddling like hell towards the shoreline as a gigantic wave surges up behind him. The crowd holds their breath as John chases it, and O’Brien looks on from the side with a scowl, and Sherlock thinks he’s going to jump right out of his skin and ignite.

John reaches the crest of the wave, plants his hands firmly on both sides of his board, and pops up.

-

“Just look at the monster Watson’s dropping in on! Perfect nose grab as he gouges into the face, using his hand to slow him and keep him inside the barrel.”

“Perfect pipeline – beautiful entry. Look at the spray on that tube!”

“Just waiting for him to emerge –”

“And he does! Johnny Watson zooms out of this pipeline standing tall and ends his ride with a powerful leap off the lip and into the whitewater.”

“Whatever Watson was doing sitting on his ass out there it worked – listen to the crowd!”

“I’m right there with them, man. That was a thing of beauty. Powerful wave, perfect fast drop in, ample time in the body of the tube. Judges gotta award that one at least an 8.”

“And it’s an 8.6! One of the highest waves we’ve seen today, and Johnny Watson just showed us all he is sure as hell still in this final. Two more waves like that and O’Brien could be in real trouble.”

“Watson’s already paddling out for the next one, and O’Brien’s on the chase –”

-

Every muscle in John’s body looks alive. Sherlock can feel his energy all the way from where he stands tensely on the beach, carried to him on the force of the crisp salt spray. Everything has changed. The atmosphere on the shore is electric, crackling with anticipation, the announcers are yelling and cursing at will, the other competitors watch with half-open mouths, and Terry Russell holds up a towel to hide half of his face from the view, partly afraid even to watch.

Sherlock feels a smug grin threatening at the corner of his mouth. He wants to turn to the random surfers lounging near him and say “You know why Watson’s doing so well? It’s because I gave him a good luck blow this morning.” The thought alone makes him have to force down a chuckle in his chest. He feels lighter than air, like his body will simply float away on the wind rushing across the shore from over the tops of the thick green mountains at their backs.

He knows now that John knows he can win this.

-

“O’Brien’s certainly not going down without a fight, and that wave proved it.”

“Huge air during the drop in – I don’t think his board even touched the water until he was three-quarters of the way down the face!”

“And that’s earning him another whopping score – an 8.1”

“It’s pushed his three-wave score up to 25.3. Well within the possibility of trying to catch Russell’s Billabong record of 27.1 set in the first Final round here this afternoon, but it would require some monster effort on his part.”

“That mean you’re saying Watson’s still too far back?”

“Never say never, especially after his last ride, but with only eleven minutes left in this heat Watson would need two waves well over a 9, and I don’t think he’s even put up more than a handful of 9’s so far in his entire career, especially not on the professional stage.”

“You’re right there, man. Judges definitely score harsher once you’re up in the championship tour. Every up and coming pro surfer will tell you their first year pro is like a slap in the face.”

“Not many surfers go pro by knocking Scotty Holmes on his ass, though, my friend!”

“True that!”

“And look here, folks, we’ve got a battle out on the waves for this next drop in.”

“Watson definitely started paddling first, he has the right of way closer to the peak, but O’Brien trying to snake in there like he does -- and Watson’s not giving up! He won’t let O’Brien have it!”

“O’Brien looks left, probably telling Watson to get the hell off.”

“Watson keeps paddling! He’s not backing down!”

“These two surfers are both at the crest. Someone’s gonna have to give up or the wave will be a waste for both of them.”

“And man, it’s a bomb we’ve got coming in here.”

“O’Brien moves to pop up –”

“Watson drops in! Watson pops up barely even using his hands and soars down the face of this wave!”

“O’Brien can’t believe it! He’s had to wipe out to the side to keep from crashing down into Watson’s barrel.”

“Watson’s bending deep. He’s crouching as he pumps along this wave. Will it curve over into a pipeline?”

“It does! Watson knew this wave was going to be a beauty, and boy is he thanking himself he didn’t back down in that fight. This tube is a wonder – perfectly formed, crystal clear waters, rocketing spray –”

“Is that --? Ladies and gentleman Watson’s just exited the tube goofy foot!”

“How did he manage that inside that barrel? How?”

“We’re all going wild as Watson rips up the face of the shoulder and does a floater down across the whitewater along the smaller breaking part of this wave – what a way to end that ride.”

“I can’t even guess what score that’ll get – how many techniques were in that ride? Four? Five?”

“Five hundred? Man, Holmes wasn’t kidding when he said Watson would know to wait for the perfect wave. What a beauty!”

“9.3! 9.3!”

“Watson can’t hear us but he’s pumping his fist as he makes his way out past the breaking point. He knows that was a winner.”

“O’Brien’s only got time for one more – maybe two if he hustles.”

“Nah, man, these waves may be gnarly but there’s no way he can paddle hard enough to fit in two.”

“What’s he need to pull one over on Russell?”

“At this point – looks like that would be a 9.4. Clearly not impossible, as we’ve just seen from Watson.”

“Two waves that much over 9 in a row, though?”

“Well, it is the finals!”

“And where does Watson stand?”

“Watson’s surfing his ass off, but even with that 9.4, he’ll need an insane 9.5 to push himself up past Russell.”

“That’s right, man. Watson and O’Brien may be battling it out against each other out on these waves, but the real battle is between each of them and that massive 27.1 score put up by Russell. I bet it’s taunting them.”

“And Russell looks like he’s about to pass out over in the competitors’ area. He definitely didn’t expect to be feeling this pressure going into this heat.”

“Look here, O’Brien’s going for that final wave of the round –”

-

Sherlock wants to yell at everyone on the beach to just shut up already and let John think. Which is ridiculous, because he knows from experience that John can’t hear a single thing aside from his own breathing out there where he is on the water. But still Sherlock’s hands are clenched into fists, and his eyebrows are furrowed behind his aviators, and he’s never wanted to open up his lungs and yell so badly in his life. He wants everyone to close their eyes and turn away – to let John have his final moments out on the water in peace.

Instead in almost perfect unison the entire beach rises to their feet as O’Brien gets ready to drop in on his final wave of the round, a collective gasp of anticipation hovering over the sand.

O’Brien drops in on a massive wave, crouching low to his board right from the start, and Sherlock sees exactly what will happen two seconds before it does.

He crouched too early, center of gravity pitched too far forward over the breaking crest of the wave, and the entire beach gasps as O’Brien tumbles forward off the lip of the fifteen-foot wave, board flying up behind him and limbs scrambling for purchase in the air before he crashes headfirst into the belly of the barrel.

The shore is deadly silent as they wait for O’Brien to surface, hoping that another wave doesn’t break and force him into a double hold-down. Sherlock tracks the flow of the current within the wave, watching the force of the water until his eyes pinpoint exactly where he’ll come up for air. He starts to count, flashing back painfully to just that morning when he’d had to do the same for John.

Hundreds of people wait with shaking limbs for Duke O’Brien to let them all know he’s still alive out in the depths of the ocean. Finally, after ten full seconds, he does. The crowd lets out a chorus of sighs, groans, cheers, whistles, as O’Brien climbs unsteadily back onto his board, chest heaving as he gives a quick wave to the shore. He knows his chance is over. All eyes turn to John.

Sherlock closes his eyes for a beat then pushes his sunglasses up off his eyes to perch in his hair. He needs to see John Watson fully. Needs to see the true color of his skin contrasted with the waves, and track the black speck of his wetsuit bobbing through the swells, and see the flash of golden light in his hair.

He crosses his arms over his chest and feels his heart racing as he watches John explode into action once O’Brien starts paddling towards the shore. His arms paddle like mad through the swells and the spray, pulling him towards a thirty-foot wave rushing in from the horizon, and Sherlock has to force himself to breathe.

John catches the wave, lets it hurl him up towards the sky on its crest. The crowd holds their breath, every person on the beach deadly still, and Sherlock lets out a soft moan as John prepares to drop in on his wave.

He hears himself whisper a single word.

“John.”

-

“Watson’s final wave now.”

“He needs a massive 9.5 to edge ahead of Russell –”

“Getting ready for the drop-in. This wave has gotta be at least thirty-feet!”

“He drops in and crouches low – look at that speed! He’s flying! Barely keeping on his board!”

“He’s riding this barrel high up on the face, using his hand to gouge into the wave and let him stay in that tube just a little bit longer.”

“Shoulder’s opening up, it’s gonna spit him out –”

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Johnny Watson just dropped down the face and he’s caught the second break in this wave!”

“Riding low along the foot of this wave, and he’s lower than we’ve seen him ride all competition.”

“He’s practically sitting on his board! Look at the spray!”

“And this barrel has him totally enclosed – waiting for him to break free –”

“There he is! Johnny Watson emerges from the longest tube ride we’ve seen today– two tube rides in one wave!”

“He knows he just gave it everything he has. He’s pumping his fist in the air as he rides straight out of this wave– I can hear the shout from here.”

“And a perfect fall back into the whitewater to end this ride.”

“If that wasn’t the best ride we’ve seen all day I don’t know what is. That was a once in a season ride right there!”

“This crowd is going insane. You gotta feel for Russell right now – he’s sitting on pins and needles after that showstopper.”

“This is madness– Johnny Watson comes from absolute nowhere to give a ride that, dare I say, was just as powerful as any you would see on this Pipeline coming reigning champion Scotty Holmes.”

“You’re right, man. That ride had Holmes all over it. The technicality, the expertise, the grace right up until the end.”

“And Watson is what – ten years older than him? Imagine the skill!”

“Johnny Watson just showed us all he has a hidden strength – and a hidden talent.”

“We’re all holding our breaths here as Johnny paddles in – waiting on the score from the judges.”

“Folks I think you could hear a pin drop.”

“Look at that - even Scotty Holmes looks nervous!”

“Watson’s walking up out of the shallows. Judges are having their final consultation –”

“Any moment now, folks. Any moment now –”

“Watson’s waiting in the water like a statue, board floating in the foam –"

“9.8! Jesus Christ a 9.8!”

“Watson can’t believe it! Would you look at his face, he can’t believe it!”

“Listen to the roar from this crowd! We’re cheering on the new champion of these Oahu shores.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Johnny Watson is your 1976 Billabong Pipeline Masters Champion, and boy does he deserve it!”

“What a performance!”

“Put this in your record books, folks. This is the first time in the six years of running the Billabong that a surfer in their first year pro –”

“—in their first month pro!”

“—clawed their way to the top to win the title. What a treat. And look at O’Brien walking over to shake his hand. Excellent surfing we saw from him today, as well, and the crowd’s letting him know it.”

-

Sherlock wonders why his cheek feels wet, then realizes it’s from the tears spilling over in his eyes. He runs his forearm quickly across his face, grateful everyone’s too focused on John to be looking at him. He watches from a distance as every surfer on the beach sprints towards John where he stands, half-kneeling, in the shallows, board still floating and bumping into his ankles with the tide.

Sherlock catches a shocked, breathless smile flash across John’s face before he’s surrounded for the second time that day by a swarm of other surfers, cheering for him along with the rest of the crowd, reaching out to place their hands on his skin.

Sherlock’s limbs are shaking. The minutes tick by, and the swell of energy exploding across the shore doesn’t die down, and still Sherlock holds his ground waits. Even if John spends the entire rest of the day celebrating his victory with everyone else, Sherlock needs this moment. Just one moment to somehow catch John’s gaze in the crowd and let him know that he’s never seen anything more beautiful in his life than the sight of John Watson catching that last wave. He racks his brains trying to think of something Scotty Holmes would conceivably do for the man who just won the championship he’s known for. It frightens him that he can’t automatically think of the answer – that Scotty is so far away he has to stand there and think hard in order to conjure him up.

He’s still standing there stiffly in the sand, not even able to bring his shaking hands together to clap, when a small gap forms in the group before him. Like a burst of sunlight cutting through the fog, John Watson breaks free from the surfers surrounding him, takes one look across the shore, and immediately locks eyes with Sherlock.

Sherlock doesn’t give a shit what Scotty Holmes would do. His breath catches in his chest as he starts walking forward on numb legs, closing the distance between them as John jogs out to his spot at the edge of the crowd. All eyes are on them, boring into John’s back.

John slows to a stop when they’re face to face and looks at Sherlock with so much emotion it would take Sherlock one hundred years to catalog it all – to parse out each enigma of John Watson’s barred soul and memorize the look on his face.

Sherlock reaches out a shaking hand, and John takes it with equally trembling fingers, palms squeezing hard, fingers locked firmly in a grasp. Suddenly the beach around them vanishes. The only things on earth are the sunlight above them, and the sound of the waves still crashing into the shore, and the feeling of John Watson’s hand in his. John shakes his hand once, then simply holds on. Sherlock feels another tear threatening to fall lose, and he lets it, knowing they’re just far away enough that no one else will see.

John sees, though, and he whispers Sherlock’s name into the wind. Sherlock sniffs hard and reminds himself he can’t hold on to John’s hand forever. That he has to let go. With one last firm shake Sherlock pulls his fingers out of John’s grasp, mind flashing back to that first time they ever held hands at the dockyard. His skin still crackles with electricity, radiating out from his palm.

“Go on,” Sherlock says in a rough voice. “I’ll be here. I’ll wait for you.” He nods back towards the crowd behind John, meaning the winners’ ceremony and the sure to be endless loop of congratulations.

John’s eyes flash a painful sadness before he nods firmly and tears his eyes away from Sherlock’s gaze, taking a deep breath before fully turning and meeting head on with the crowd. Sherlock watches as John walks away from him down the swarming stretch of shore. Stands frozen and alone in the sand as the lei of flowers is placed over John’s head, and photos are taken with him and Russell and O’Brien with their boards. He watches as John laughs and smiles and embraces every post-competition moment Sherlock usually despises. Watches as John floats with happiness at all the things Sherlock normally tries to escape from as soon as humanly possible without forfeiting the championship title.

He sees them through John’s eyes now, and an unprecedented warmth settles over his skin as he waits, starting at the palm of the hand John had grasped in his wet, salty grip.

Sherlock knows now that he’ll wait for hours, days, years. He’ll wait forever.

 

--

 

He finds a cold lemonade and relaxes under the shade of a tree for almost two hours, tracking John’s movement back and forth across the sand, wiling his mind not to think of anything but simply the way John had looked at him as he held his hand in his in front of every single person on the beach. He wishes he could use this time to get his own turn out on the waves. His body feels restless and agitated. Cooped up after two days of watching everybody but him surf along his favorite pipelines and already missing his morning surfs with John after half a decade of managing just perfectly being out on the water alone.

He feels the clock of their remaining time together ticking away in his head. He wants to run down there and yell at everyone to just go away – to let him have his last few hours of knowing that John Watson’s eyes will always seek him out on a crowded beach before he has to get back on a plane. But John just looks so happy. He’s giving an interview to the Surfer’s Journal crew for next month’s edition, and taking photos for the local Oahu paper – making everyone around him perfectly at ease and thrilled where Sherlock had always just left behind stale air.

Just when he’s starting to think he might run down there and physically snatch him away, John catches his gaze across the beach and gives a tiny nod towards the direction of the Jeep. With a flood of relief Sherlock springs into action, making off towards the car knowing John will follow a little ways behind. The sun is starting to set heavy and full above the ocean, casting orange and purple lights across the rustling mountains framing the shoreline. Sherlock feels the cool evening air settle on his skin as he makes his way through the winding side streets towards the Jeep, now parked alone on a long dirt stretch.

He throws their bags into the back and turns just in time to see John making his way towards him, dressed back in board shorts and a hoodie with his board underneath his arm and a slow, aching weariness in his step.

The enthusiasm that had been emanating from his body all afternoon is gone, and Sherlock opens his mouth to ask what’s wrong when John suddenly drops his board into the dirt and rushes forward to throw himself into Sherlock’s arms with a sigh. Sherlock quickly wraps John in his arms as John leans like a dead weight into his body, letting Sherlock cup the back of his head to hold him.

John Watson is a genius. Sherlock didn’t realize how badly he needed to feel John in his arms until he has him there, slowly, deeply breathing against his own chest with his cheek burrowed into the crook of Sherlock’s neck, arms wrapped tightly around the low of his back. The island seems to settle and sigh under their feet, fading into the hushed tones of dusk, letting the sunset colors gently pull the palm fronds down towards the earth to rest. After a few minutes John gives one last squeeze before pulling back slowly from Sherlock’s arms, and Sherlock leans down quickly and places a single, soft kiss on his mouth before he can convince himself not to.

All afternoon Sherlock had sat and fretted about what he could possibly say to John Watson – the man who just conquered his fears, and stunned surfers from all over the world, and achieved one of his dreams there for the entire earth beyond the horizon to see. The man whom Sherlock realizes he loves more desperately than the feeling of his own wet board beneath the soles of his feet.

Then John looks up at him, and gives him a warm smile before turning to climb into the car, and Sherlock realizes he doesn’t have to say anything at all. He throws the surfboard into the back before climbing in and starting the engine, heart fluttering in his chest when John’s hand immediately goes to his knee.

They’re silent the entire drive back, John calmly staring out the window like he didn’t just live one of the most insane days of his life. Finally, just when they reach the beginnings of the road leading down to Sherlock’s beach, John speaks.

“It’s weird,” he says under his breath. “I feel exactly the same.”

Sherlock wonders whether he missed an earlier part of the conversation, too lost stealing glances at the reflection of the island sunset off the tips of John’s soft eyelashes.

“Hmm?”

John’s hand doesn’t leave Sherlock’s thigh. “I just mean – I’ve wanted this, to win something like this, since that first day Greg told me about the surf scene after I came back from the war. Going to work every day and surfing with him, every smaller competition back home, this is all I thought about.”

Sherlock waits as John gathers his thoughts, watching the purple ocean roll by out the window, framed by golden palm fronds and liquid pools of glittering sand. The wind through the open windows winds gently through his hair, and Sherlock wants more than anything to feel those locks of salt-dried hair rustling against his cheek.

After a minute, John continues. “I thought I’d finally feel my age now, I guess. Like I could move on and start living for something, you know? Get a sponsor and solve all my money problems and just surf out into the sunset every day. Magic house and wife and kids just appearing in my life, nice car to drive, better job.” John sighs and grips Sherlock’s thigh even harder underneath his palm. “God that all sounds like hell now. I just won the fucking Billabong and I don’t feel a goddamn change at all.”

Sherlock grips the steering wheel tight beneath his hands. “And is that a good thing?”

John waits to answer until they’re just about to pull into Sherlock’s parking spot up the shady lane from his beach, the sounds of the Jeep’s engine hushed by the curtain of velvet green trees.

“I think so,” he says.

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say. John is acting the complete opposite from what he’d expected. All day – since the moment John had caught that first major wave against O’Brien and proved that he could win this - Sherlock had been waiting for a laughing, cheerful drive home, breathless smiles and kissing in every corner of his house and letting John throw him down onto the mattress and take him.

But now, as he follows John softly through the lane leading down to his house, dipping his head to duck under the lower tree branches and watching John grow visibly more at ease with each step they take closer to Sherlock’s home, he realizes that they could never have that breathless, laughing, celebratory evening in each other’s arms, consuming each other and devouring strips of bare skin and calling each other the Billabong Pipeline Masters Champion.

Because John has a plane flight tomorrow. And suddenly he realizes he doesn’t even know if John is staying with him tonight, or if he’s expecting him to drive him back to his hotel by the airport.

He follows John on shaking legs as John passes by the house and instead walks across the sand towards the water, gazing out as the sun spill its evening warmth out across the rippling glass sea.

“You’d think I’d be sick of it by now. Watching the waves,” John says out to the water.

Sherlock comes up behind him and hesitantly places his hands on John’s shoulders. Immediately John falls back into the touch, letting Sherlock pull him close into his body and wrap his arms tightly around his chest, cheek resting in the salt-dried locks of hair.

“I never do,” he replies.

John hums, and Sherlock holds his tired muscles in his arms, willing his racing heartbeat against John’s back not to give his emotions away.

He feels his lips moving before he even makes a conscious decision to speak.

“Stay with me, John. Tonight. Please.”

Sherlock shuts his eyes tight as he feels John’s breath shutter in his body. John makes a wet sound just at the back of his throat as his hand comes up to grip Sherlock’s forearm, and his head nods gently against Sherlock’s chest.

His voice is choked and rough. “God yes.”

Chapter Text

John wakes up all at once. The room feels stormy and grey, fogged in by an overcast pre-dawn sky and the thick mist rolling off the humming surface of the ocean.

He squints through the half light at the ceiling and tries to piece together the night before, like flitting through photographs in an album. He remembers Sherlock holding him on the beach for a long time – long enough that John had almost fallen asleep standing up and leaning back into his arms while the sun dropped slowly over the waves. He remembers Sherlock taking his hand and leading him up to the porch and plopping him in a chair, putting a bowl of some sort of food in his hands. He remembers feeling wholly, achingly tired, every muscle in his body stiff and sore and begging to be allowed to just melt.

And that’s when John remembers why his muscles had been so tired. Because he’d won the fucking Billabong.

He’d won the Billabong Masters yesterday. He’d stood on the beach with the lei of flowers around his neck, and reporters in his face, and an entire shoreline of people applauding the way he’d surfed. They’d announced him as the champion, ‘Johnny Watson’ echoing across the sand. And yet the first thing that had popped into his mind the moment he became conscious had been standing on the cool shore with the warmth of Sherlock Holmes behind him, running his fingers up and down the top of John’s arms and pressing his lips gently into his hair.

And John realizes with a sinking thud of dread that the last thing he even remembers from last night is him gradually drifting off to sleep out on that chair on the porch. And the last thing he’d seen had been Sherlock leaning back in his chair with his bare feet propped up on the banisters, softly plucking at the ukulele in his hands. Letting John drift off to sleep next to him as if they did this every evening – like John hadn’t just won one of the world’s largest surfing competitions and claimed Sherlock’s reigning title just hours before. Like they didn’t only have one last night together before John had to leave, and like Sherlock hadn’t begged him to spend that night with him in his home, in his bed.

John stretches out his legs and realizes he’s naked under the sheets, skin dry and scratchy since he never took a shower the night before. He can see what must have happened in his mind like a film – how Sherlock must have somehow gotten him from the porch into his room, and must have laid John down on the mattress and slowly taken off his sand-covered clothes, and pulled the sheets up over him so he could rest. How he must have lain there next to him wishing he was awake – wishing they were still chatting on the porch, or holding each other close, or laughing on top of each other in bed calling each other the Billabong Champion in between breathless kisses.

He quickly turns his head to look at Sherlock’s sleeping form and sees two pale blue eyes staring back at him, clear and open and fixed on John’s face like he’s the most fascinating sight they’ve ever seen.

“I didn’t mind,” Sherlock whispers, voice raspy.

John feels an ache in his chest. Sherlock’s eyes hurt to look at. “How did you know what I was thinking?” he whispers.

“You show your thoughts on your face.”

John turns onto his side, his entire world shrinking to the three inches of space between Sherlock’s eyes and his in the darkness.

“And you can read my face that well, can you?”

Sherlock hums.

John tries for a smile, but his eyes sag at the effort. He feels the seconds tick by in the air like bombs dropping, each one pushing him farther and farther away from Sherlock’s air. Sherlock is looking at him as if he could memorize every inch of his face if he only stared hard enough, eyes roaming slowly from his forehead to his chin and back again, eyebrows furrowed in concentration underneath a curtain of morning-soft curls.

John knows that if he reaches out and touches Sherlock it will feel like an electric shock, a heated pulse of aching need that would surge through his body from his fingertips. He keeps his arms tight against his own body, cramped in the tiny space between their warm, naked skin.

He licks his dry chapped lips. “I’m sorry that I – that we couldn’t –“

His throat closes up, and the words catch at the back of his mouth. He’s not even sure what exactly he’s apologizing for. For falling asleep last night before they could do anything, or for keeping his plane ticket, or for stealing Sherlock’s title from him, or for even trying to talk to him in the first place that day out on the waves off Hermosa. Or for all of it at once and then some.

Sherlock’s face crumples at John’s words, shattering into tiny broken pieces. He barely gets out a hoarse whisper of John’s name before John is reaching out towards him in the grey and pulling him towards his body, tucking Sherlock’s head under his chin. John grips him so fiercely he can feel Sherlock’s bones creak beneath his palms. Sherlock lets out a choked noise and shutters against his chest, clinging to every inch of John’s bare skin beneath the sheets, digging his nails hard enough into John’s back and shoulders to leave a mark.

John wishes Sherlock’s fingernails would pierce his skin and draw out blood and scar. A permanent reminder. His own version of the tattoo that rests warm and soft on Sherlock’s back beneath his palms.

“Goddammit,” John chokes out, face buried in Sherlock’s curls.

He grounds himself in the feeling of their warm, heavy limbs wrapped around each other, skin on skin. Feels Sherlock’s soft penis pressed into his thigh, bared and unashamed. For one piercingly clear second he wonders what the rest of the surfers – what Greg and his friends – would think if they walked in on them now. Two grown men, two of their own kind, clinging to each other naked and trying not to cry in the dark. It’s hard to believe those other people even exist – that this embrace between them is something that’s occurring in the same universe as everyone else’s life. That it’s something that could even be discovered or known.

Then Sherlock looks up at John with wet cheeks, and touches the side of John’s face so gently John barely feels his palm at all, and he leans up to place the softest ghost of a kiss on John’s mouth, lips trembling as Sherlock’s thumb swipes slowly across his eyelashes. The other surfers in John’s mind immediately disappear. He gives in to the kiss, the caress of Sherlock’s lips against his, desperate in its timid, gentle touch. John quivers and responds to Sherlock’s body, pulling him close by the small of his back, knowing that if he does what he wants to and presses Sherlock back into the mattress no force on earth would ever be able to pry him off.

Sherlock is still planting chaste kisses on his mouth, small and soft and wet, never-ending, when suddenly his alarm goes off, exploding through the velvet grey air and cutting through their sleepy fog. Sherlock lets it ring and lifts his head to kiss John’s cheek where it meets his nose, holding his lips against his skin for the span of three shallow breaths. Then he pulls back and turns over to shut off the alarm, the smell of coffee already drifting to them on the ocean breeze flooding through the house.

John’s heart is pounding. He’s frozen. Lips locked into the last position they’d been in when Sherlock had pressed his tender mouth to his.

It had felt an awful lot like a goodbye.

Sherlock stretches his limbs before abruptly sitting up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed to stand. “Let’s go then, soldier,” he says, as if he hadn’t just clung to John in the darkness leaving a sheen of tears across the scar on his chest. John wants to grip his arm and pull him back into bed. He feels fear run through his body like ice as Sherlock stands without looking back at him, spine straight and rigid. It’s too soon. It’s far too soon.

John turns his nose into the sheets and frantically gulps down one more deep breath, memorizing the combined scent of their skin, then he heaves himself from the mattress while Sherlock already paces about the room gathering John’s things.

“Should take a shower. Don’t want to smell like seaweed on the plane,” Sherlock says steadily, tossing John a towel he barely catches in time.

John shakes his head to try and fully wake up, pushing down the panic in his chest as he watches Sherlock slowly transform into the man he’d been that morning John had met him to go out and see the island. Three days and three lifetimes ago.

“Right,” he mutters. He catches the clothes Sherlock tosses him, the ones that are actually his. The reason behind why he’s had to borrow Sherlock’s clothes for days suddenly slaps him in the face. “Shit, I wonder if the hotel even kept my stuff. It’s been three days. . . I didn’t even think about it.”

“No need. It’s taken care of – they’re holding your stuff for you.”

John stops mid-crouch to pick up a sock. Both of them are still naked. “What?”

Sherlock walks out into the living room, talking louder so that John can hear, voice crisp and businesslike. “I made two calls that day when we were eating lunch. First one was to the WSL and second one was to your hotel.”

“What the –” John stumbles out into the main room of the house, awkwardly holding his bundle of clothes in front of his crotch as if anyone could see him through the wide-open windows. Sherlock stands tall and proud in the kitchen, pouring out a cup of steaming coffee with his back towards John. The silhouette of his bare, inked skin against the foaming grey sea through the window makes John want to gasp. Instead he grips the bundle of clothes tighter and plants his feet on the hardwood.

“How did you even know what hotel I was staying at?”

Sherlock turns towards him as he takes a sip of coffee, frowning down at John’s attempt to cover himself. “John, don’t be ridiculous. You know there’s nobody around here to see.”

John does know. He had sex right out there out under the stars on that beach, and still he holds the clothes firmly in front of him. A fiery, hot madness starts to churn deep down in his gut. The blinding need to grab something made of glass and break it.

“That’s not – seriously, how did you know the hotel? And that I would stay here? We hadn’t even . . . you know. We hadn’t even said I was staying here,” he says.

Sherlock fixes him with a look. “Well I wasn’t wrong, was I? Why does that matter?”

“Why does that – of course it matters, Sherlock!” John huffs and feels his shoulders tense and hunch. “You can’t just – how did you know?”

Sherlock sighs like John’s the most exasperating person he’s ever met in his life. Maybe he is.

“John, it says the name of your hotel on your room key, which was in your shorts pocket that day with the tag hanging out most of the time. Even an idiot could have put two and two together.”

John refuses to feel embarrassed, and in its place indignation slowly bubbles up from his chest. He feels like an actor in a film, where everyone knows the script but him. He feels the shower calling to him at his back, begging him to get in and get clean so he can pack up his stuff and just leave already.

He stares Sherlock down. “Ok fine, I’m an idiot. But that doesn’t explain how –” John flutters his hand uselessly out towards the sand. “How you knew –”

“I didn’t know. I saw that you were enjoying yourself, and you clearly didn’t want to go back to your hotel, and I have a couch. You hadn’t even thought of your hotel room – I figured I’d help you out.”

“By calling and cancelling my own damn hotel room for me? Without even asking me?”

“I didn’t cancel it, for god’s sake, I paid them to hold on to it and keep your stuff together until today.”

“Oh, so now you’re paying for stuff for me, huh?” John hisses. “What, did you pay them to let me back in the competition too?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Don’t say shit like that you don’t even believe, John. It’s tedious.”

Sherlock fixes him with one last icy glare, then starts to turn his back to John and look out the window, shutting him out as if his back is an unimpeachable wall.

John feels stranded in the middle of the floor, panicked and hot, and he practically growls while griping his toes into the hardwood. “Oh no you don’t. No you fucking don’t.”

Sherlock whips back around, eyes fierce. “Don’t what? Don’t look out the window of my own house? Don’t help you by getting what you want? Don’t breathe?”

“No, you dick, don’t turn away and go all ‘Scotty Holmes’ on me like you didn’t just lay there crying in my arms!”

Sherlock freezes, coffee mug half raised to his mouth. He looks dangerous.

“I didn’t ‘go all Scotty Holmes’ on you. I am Scotty Holmes. You’ve been living with him for three whole days, or did you forget?”

“The hell you’re Scotty Holmes!” John heaves in air and feels his legs shaking, cold and exposed in the breeze. “Don’t fucking lie to me like that.”

Sherlock glares at him, eyes glinting. He says nothing, then takes a slow sip from the mug in his hands, eyes boring into John and daring him to say something more.

John almost laughs. The silver light reflecting off the ocean covers Sherlock’s skin in gold like a glittering statue. The sight of him, statuesque and beautiful in the dim light of his kitchen, completely unashamed of his naked skin, makes John feel suddenly nauseous. Nauseous and angry as hell.

“So what, you’re just gonna stand there drinking coffee and waiting for me to take my shower and leave like we haven’t been fucking all weekend?”

Sherlock scoffs. “Really? ‘Fucking all weekend’ – that’s what you’d call this?”

“Well I’d like to know what else the great Scotty Holmes would call this, seeing as how you’re such a fucking genius and all. You clearly moved heaven and earth just to get me to stay here in the first place, what with paying off my own damn hotel room.”

Sherlock slams down the mug on the counter and yells. “I don’t know, John! Maybe I wanted you to stay here so badly because I, the great Scotty Holmes, actually just hoped that I would maybe get to kiss you. You know, like a fucking normal person would hope for after meeting somebody like you. But clearly getting John Watson to stick around is too much of a fucking challenge, even for a genius like me!”

“That’s not fair. You know that’s not fair.” John doesn’t realize until it’s too late that he’s already dropped the bundle of clothes to the ground. He stands naked at the opposite end of the house, wanting to crumple and scream.

“Well life isn’t fair, as I’m sure you of all people would know,” Sherlock spits back.

John huffs out a bitter laugh, hands floating wildly up into the air at his sides. “I can’t just stay here, Sherlock! I have a job, my apartment, I have a whole fucking life back in Los Angeles. I can’t just leave it all and move here to la-la paradise land with you!”

“That la-la paradise land is my actual life – and in case you forgot, it really isn’t such a paradise at all, even with the fucking palm trees.”

“Oh, well keep going, now you’re really convincing me to stay.”

“Well what the hell else do I need to say to convince you then? What else do I need to do for you?”

Do for me? I don’t need you to do jack shit for me!” John yells.

“Don’t worry, John, you’ve already made that point loud and clear, several times.”

“Well if I’m so annoying why do you want to keep me around?”

Sherlock scoffs, eyes blown wide. “You seriously have to ask that?”

“Yes, I seriously have to ask that,” John glares, arms folded fiercely across his chest.

“Why the hell wouldn’t I want you around? You make me –” Sherlock looks lost, eyes desperately searching around the empty room. “You just won the championship!”

“Oh so that’s all this is? I’ll just come to you each time I want to win something and you’ll graciously bend over backwards to help me? As long as I give you something back in return?”

Sherlock is shaking. “How dare you? How fucking dare you?”

John wants to punch himself in the face. He holds his ground, feeling wild and desperate. Unleashed. “Well what else am I supposed to believe when you ask what you can do for me to somehow goad me into staying?”

“You just told me thirty seconds ago that you don’t need jack shit from me, so I doubt I’ve already forgotten that that’s exactly what you don’t want me to do.”

“Oh, so now you’re trying to do what I want, huh? First you wake up and all but shove me into the shower to leave and now you’re begging me to stay?”

“I didn’t want you to be late for your fucking flight!”

“Oh right, because you always know best for me. I get a hotel room, but you decide I don’t need it. I come here to watch the Billabong, and you fucking decide I actually need to surf in it instead.”

“But you fucking won!” Sherlock groans and grabs his hair with both hands. “God, John, why the hell can’t you just let yourself be happy?”

“I’ll start letting myself be happy when you stop pushing me away!”

“Pushing you away? You’re the one who’s fucking leaving!”

Sherlock’s words echo through the house, falling like lead into the dense, thick air.

John stares at him, wanting to drop to his knees. Hot, prickling water stings behind his eyes. He covers his face with his hands, feeling fragile and exposed. “Just – what the hell are we even fighting about? How did this even happen?” he asks, voice breaking.

He pulls his hands away from his face and gasps when he sees Sherlock. He looks devastated. Wrecked and small and trembling in the middle of the kitchen floor. Lost. The polar opposite of Scotty Holmes strutting across the sand in his aviators, head held high.

Sherlock’s lips shake as he whispers. “I don’t – John, please – I don’t know what to do if you leave.”

John feels gutted. Slapped in the face. “Fuck, Sherlock.” He takes a hesitant step forward. “I’d rather get shipped back to the war than get on that plane. But I have to.” He chokes on a sob. “I just have to.”

“I know,” Sherlock whispers, and then he starts to sink to the floor. John rushes across the vast space of the house towards him, gripping Sherlock’s shoulders and pressing his face into his own bare chest as Sherlock’s hands cling to his arms.

“I have to,” John chokes out again. Sherlock nods while he gulps down shaking breaths, trembling and hot under John’s hands. John grips Sherlock’s cheek in his palm and lifts his face towards him, pulling him into a fierce, desperate kiss. Sherlock moans under the force of his lips, hands immediately going for John’s chest as he straightens his shaking legs to stand..

With a heaving sigh John walks him back him into the counter and licks into his mouth. He pants harshly through his nose, pressing himself along the entire front of Sherlock’s warm skin while Sherlock’s huge hands hold and grip and consume him.

John holds Sherlock’s face in both of his hands and whispers words into his sighing, wet mouth.

“I’m sorry. God I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean any of that --”

Sherlock shakes his head and turns his face to kiss along John’s wet cheek. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said –”

John silences his words with another kiss, groaning as their tongues brush and clutching hard enough at Sherlock’s skin to bruise. Sherlock’s hands on his skin feel desperate. Starving and crazed. John thinks of opening the creaking door to his own empty apartment later that day and heaves out a stifled sob into Sherlock’s mouth, crushed by the weight of the reality of walking away down that tree-lined path.

His lips feel swollen and sore as Sherlock utterly consumes his mouth, limbs shaking as he grips trembling skin. Neither of their cocks are hard.

“I promise you,” John breathes into Sherlock’s mouth. “I promise you we’ll have this.”

Sherlock grips him tighter and devours his lips on a desperate moan, like a drowning man finally finding air.

John caresses the quivering skin at the back of his neck, whispering against his cheek. “I promise you I’ll figure something out.”

Sherlock softly shakes his head no and reaches again for John’s mouth, trying and failing to breathe.

John kisses words onto his lips, mouth open and panting. “You don’t believe me, but I will.”

“John.”

“I will.”

“John, I . . . I lo—”

“I know. Fuck, Sherlock, I know. I promise.”

“John.”

“I promise you.”

 

--

 

John presses his forehead against the cool glass of the window by his seat and looks down at the endless sea below. It looks like they’re barely moving, just stuck forever hovering in the same patch of sky. He keeps reaching for the bullet in his pocket, never remembering in time that his pocket will be empty.

“Beverage for you, sir?”

The stewardess winks at him for the third time on this flight. John drums up his best courteous smile and shakes his head no, already turning back towards the window when she leans in and speaks again.

“Were you on vacation, then?”

John has the sudden, intense feeling of going on stage for a play, head popping out from behind the backstage curtains.

“Sort of, yeah.”

The stewardess leans her elbow against the empty seat in front of him and relaxes the slope of her shoulders.

“I never get to go to the beaches – never have enough time on work layovers. You see any good ones?”

John chuckles, hoping it doesn’t sound too ironic. He sees a specific sunset-covered ocean in his mind.

“A couple chill beaches. Palm trees, water, sand, the whole package.”

She laughs, high and tinkling, and John notices a man across the row start to pay very close attention while pretending to read his newspaper.

“Did you see any of that big surf competition they had? Was all anyone talked about for weeks leading up to it. Billabang something?”

John opens his mouth to just retort – say “no, I’ve never even heard of surfing in my life, sorry to disappoint, juts sat on my ass on a lounge chair all weekend with a beer in my hand.”

Then he sees Sherlock’s face in his mind, eyes bright and a single tear on his cheek when he’d shaken John’s hand in the sand.

John takes a deep breath and schools his features to look as casual as possible.

“Yeah, the Billabong Pipeline Masters –”

“That’s it!”

“Right. I, uh, well I won that, actually.”

The stewardess laughs again, louder this time. John realizes she thinks he’s joking.

He puts on a smile and tries again, hand awkwardly rubbing at the back of his neck. “No seriously, I just surfed there this weekend. I won the competition.”

The stewardess leans in, giving John a full whiff of her crisp perfume. “Well you can show me the trophy when I finally get my beach vacation,” she says low. She winks one last time, and sets a can of Pepsi on the seatback tray. John stares numbly at it as she walks away and makes her way down the aisle, acutely aware that every man’s gaze but his is following her ass down the plane. He looks under the Pepsi can and confirms what he already knows. A folded slip of paper with a phone number.

John sits back in his chair and closes his eyes, crumpling up the paper in his palm. He’s never felt like more of a queer then he does in this moment, even when he’d had his own cock down Sherlock Holmes’ throat. He’s got the number of a beautiful woman in his hand, the invitation practically painted across the sky, and all his mind can see is Sherlock’s face when they’d finally pulled apart for breath that morning, naked and trembling in the grey light of his kitchen, brushing the sweat damp hair from each other’s foreheads, cocks still soft.

Sherlock had kissed his forehead once, twice, three times. Imprinting the feel of his mouth onto John’s skin, and then they’d each stepped back with forced, harsh movements. John hadn’t had time to shower, and they hadn’t had the air for any more words. John had dressed and gathered up his things like a ghost roaming through the halls, feeling like the house was abandoned and empty even with him and Sherlock still standing right in the middle of it. He hadn’t allowed himself a final look out towards the sea. If he’d looked it would be admitting he might never get the chance to see it again.

Sherlock had driven him across the island to Honolulu, lips in a tight line, breathing uneven. He hadn’t come close to hitting anything on the road. Just drove straight and smooth and easy. Perfectly in line. And John had gripped his thigh so tightly on the drive he was surprised Sherlock even had feeling still left in his leg, trying to somehow force assurance through his skin and straight into his bloodstream, up the veins in his body into his heart and lungs. I promise. Somehow, I promise.

And he’d wished like hell that he believed it. Fist pressed tightly against his mouth as he looked out the window and watched the rolling green zoom past, dotted with pearls of flowers. It hadn’t looked like Vietnam anymore. It had just looked like Oahu. And the open breeze had felt stiff and suffocating against his face.

He’d stepped up out of the Jeep at the airport drop off after they’d swung by the hotel and realized in a jolt of panic that he hadn’t hugged Sherlock one last time back at the beach. Hadn’t kissed him or held him or let himself be held. And now they couldn’t – not standing there at the airport terminal, one Jeep in a long line of taxis, surrounded on both sides by parting and reuniting embraces.

Sherlock had stepped out smoothly and handed him his bag, hands hanging limply at his sides. He’d licked his lips, staring down unblinkingly at the blinding concrete, shattering the illusion of a man held carefully together. Then he’d looked up, and shown John his soul through his eyes.

“You surfed like hell, John Watson,” he’d said, and John had only had the strength to barely whisper “I promise” before he’d torn his gaze away from those pale eyes and practically ran into the terminal, leaving Sherlock alone and untouched on the sidewalk, looking like he’d just said goodbye.

The announcement to prepare for the descent sounds in the stale air of the plane, and John presses his forehead to the cold glass once more. The stewardess passes by one last time to pick up trash, and John feels like the scum of the earth for not even looking her direction.

Instead he opens the can of soda and takes a long gulp, telling himself that the brown liquid running down his throat is actually creamy and cold and pink. Topped with whipped cream. He closes his eyes and shutters, remembering the feel of his mom’s long coral painted fingernails scratching gently across his scalp.

Remembering the feel of Sherlock’s trembling wet lips on his cheek.

He stares down at the ocean, at the hazy Los Angeles sprawl slowly sharpening into view. He imagines the salty slap of the waves against his skin, and he shuts his eyes tightly against the world, and he rolls the folded piece of paper in his hands until it resembles the shape of a bullet.

-

The LAX terminal looks exactly the same. John feels surprised as he navigates the hallways, dodging other harried travelers with their luggage, until he remembers that of course it fucking looks the same. It’s only been four days since he was last there, running like hell to catch his flight after being stuck in a taxi in traffic and praying to god that he wasn’t about to do something extremely stupid showing up unannounced at Scotty Holmes’ doorstep.

He’d had a different folded up piece of paper in his pocket that time.

With each step he takes towards the doors leading out to the sprawling maze of Los Angeles, John feels like he’s stepping father away from home. Which is ridiculous, because up until four days ago the only place besides Los Angeles he’d ever even been to had been goddamn Vietnam, like the world’s worst global traveler. His palms itch to feel the warm saltwater underneath them, toes straining to sink into warm, soft sand. Nothing like the icy, seaweed choked water and rocky grains that make up the SoCal shores.

Nobody’s looking at him as he makes his way towards the doors. Nobody registers he’s there. He used to love that. The ability to walk through a public place and know with certainty that nobody could spot the scar beneath his shirt, or the way he flinched at loud noises, or the way his shoulder moved stiff in the joint. It made him feel alive, part of the thrilling life of the city, leaving the haunted darkness behind at home.

Now he feels foolish as a small pang in his chest already longs for the beach full of applause directed his way. For his name falling easily from everyone’s lips, and for a piercing blue gaze constantly searching him out in a crowd, desperately wanting to find him.

“Johnny!”

He keeps walking. There’s millions of guys named Johnny.

“Johnny Watson, you old fucker! Johnny!”

John turns, startled, as a familiar body accompanies the familiar voice, bear hugging him without warning and causing him to drop his bag.

“Greg? What the--?”

Greg pulls back and gently whacks him on the side of the head. “You turkey, you told us you weren’t going there to surf, and then you fucking won it?!”

Greg goes to hug him again when he’s pushed aside by Molly, who grabs the bewildered John and wraps her arms tightly around his neck, not saying anything.

John buries his face in her hair and inhales, an indescribable emotion flowing over within him. Finally Molly releases him, wiping the back of her hand quickly across her eye, and Greg’s arm immediately falls around her shoulders.

John can feel his mouth hanging open. “How – what –?”

“Never underestimate the power of a best friend with a police badge,” Greg says smirking. “Had to whip it out three times just to figure out what goddamn flight you were on, and that was after I had to call and ask every fucking surfer on earth whether they heard correctly that Johnny Watson had just won the Billabong.”

Greg tries to look stern, but the warmth shines through in his eyes, forcing a smile at the corners of his lips.

John has no idea what to say. He stands there stunned, bag still lying at his feet. “Word travels fast,” he finally grunts out.

“You’re fucking right it does. Especially when a fucking rookie who just turned pro three weeks ago wins the fucking Billabong Masters from the Wild Card spot!”

Greg grabs his arm again and squeezes. Molly tucks her hair behind her ear, holding on tightly to Greg’s back. “We’re so proud of you, Johnny,” she says, eyes wet.

John clears his throat and bends to pick up his bag, stalling for time until he can speak. He runs his hand through his hair, knowing Greg and Molly know him well enough to see that he’s touched.

“I don’t know what to say,” he finally gets out.

Greg pushes him forward towards the doors by the back of his shoulder, leading Molly along beside him as they walk. “I know what you should say. You should thank the only two people who’ll put up with your miserable ass and still pick you up from LAX at rush hour even though you never called to tell them you won the fucking Billabong –”

“It only happened yesterday!”

“—and then you say ‘thanks Greg and Molls for inviting me over for dinner,’ because that’s what we’re doing now.”

“We got stuff to make that chicken dish you like, with the tomatoes,” Molly chimes in.

“Plus,” Greg says as they step out into the harsh sunlight, “You look like shit. Like some lost puppy in a cardboard box nobody wanted to adopt from the animal shelter.”

And John laughs for the first time since he’d found out he’d won, kneeling in the foaming shallows off the coast of Oahu, searching out Sherlock Holmes’ smile in the crowd.

“Thank you,” he says quietly when they reach Greg’s truck, feeling completely inadequate. Molly grabs his shoulder quickly before hoisting herself up in the seat, scooting to the middle of the bench and then patting the seat for John to follow.

“We know,” she says.

 

--

 

John sits back in the rickety metal chair in Greg and Molly’s backyard, pleasantly full and sleepily watching their dog run about in the dry grass. He breathes in the familiar air of Los Angeles, tense and thrumming and alive. The claustrophobic energy bouncing between the skyrises and freeways and hidden backroads, all swept over by the faint breeze of the ocean. Greg and Molly are nursing beers and half-heartedly arguing over whether it gets too hot for Greg to try and start a vegetable garden near their fence next spring. John watches them with sleepy, hazy eyes, simultaneously wishing he was alone in his own apartment while also realizing he never wants to leave their safe little backyard. Greg laughs, and leans in close to kiss Molly lightly on the cheek before sitting up straight to tie back his hair, and John suddenly blinks hard and realizes that he hasn’t, not for one moment, even thought about wanting to be with Greg since he surprise bearhugged him at the airport.

The revelation leaves him breathless. He stares into the warm night air, mouth half-open, and marvels that he hasn’t spent one second looking at the way Greg’s hair curls around his ear, or the tan skin of his forearms, or the way his t-shirt hugs his muscled sides.

He hasn’t felt nervous, or guarded, or giddy. Hasn’t wanted or hoped. Hasn’t gone to say or do something and then pulled back with a terrified internal halt.

He sits there and he looks at Greg. He sees his best friend. The man who’d walked up to him in the sand and asked him if he surfed. Who’d met up with him nearly every morning for two years without ever knowing where or who he’d been in all the years before. Who’d brushed the soaked hair back from his wet face in the shallows, and sat by his hospital bed telling him too many details about the latest episodes of MASH.

It’s so different from the way John looks at Sherlock he can’t believe he didn’t have this revelation sooner. He feels like laughing. Gone is the heavy weight of dread, the fear of discovery and simultaneous intense desire to be known that he had always felt in Greg’s presence, even when they were just laughing out on the waves. He watches as Molly leans her head against Greg, both of them content to leave John to his quiet thoughts, and all he feels is a deep, aching pulse of longing that Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be behind him to catch him right now if he were to close his eyes and lean back his head.

“Bed time for you, old man,” Greg says.

John flicks open his eyes, not remembering when they’d closed. “Think I could catch a taxi if I walk out to that main street –”

“And have you fall asleep in the backseat?” Greg stands and puts a firm hand on John’s shoulder. “Come on. Guest bedroom exists for a reason.”

John starts to shake his head. “I couldn’t –”

“You can and you will. Molls didn’t spend seventeen hours trying to pick out a duvet cover just for nobody to end up sleeping under it.”

“Oh, says the man who returned and bought a different toaster what – four times now?” Molly cuts back.

John follows behind them back into the house, feeling a bit like a child being put to bed by his parents as Greg smacks Molly’s ass in front of him while she bends down in the linen closet to pull out a towel.

“Here, Johnny. Blankets should be fine. It’s hot as hell anyways.”

For the third time in as many days John’s handed a towel and pointed to a shower that isn’t his own. John’s grateful when they leave him to his own devices, not sure he could stand it if they wished him goodnight or tried to show him around the room. He showers off the remnants of the Oahu sand and salt from his skin, washes away the last remaining wisps of Sherlock’s scent on his body, and he stares at the ceiling beneath soft sheets for hours, pretending that the cars zooming outside down the freeway are really the sounds of the ocean.

 

--

 

“Come on, sleeping beauty. Up.”

John groans out of a dead sleep and blinks blearily into the dark room.

“Let’s go. My shift’s at nine so we don’t have much time.”

John’s eyes finally focus on Greg in the dim light, and he sees he’s already dressed in board shorts and his pullover. He groans again and turns his face into the pillow.

“No way, man. I’m tired.”

“All you did yesterday was sit on your ass on a plane,” Greg laughs.

“Yeah but the day before that I surfed my ass off winning the goddamn competition,” John moans.

Greg throws a pair of board shorts at his head, not lightly. “Oh what, so now you’re retired? I know you still have a day off before you start work again. Now get your ass up and surf with me before I disown you, miserable old fucker.”

Greg quietly leaves and creeps down the hallway trying not to wake Molly as John heaves himself from the bed and pulls on clothes in a daze. Greg’s throwing his extra surfboard into the bed of his truck by the time John joins him out on the driveway, blinking into the thick, grey air.

“I feel like you’re my dad taking me on a surprise trip to Disneyland that mom doesn’t know about,” John quips as he climbs into the passenger seat.

“That’s true,” Greg says, starting the ignition like a bomb on the sleepy, silent street. “Except mine and Molly’s kid would be a million times cuter than you in the morning. You look like a wet paper bag.”

John laughs out the window. “Asshole.”

They drive to the beach in silence, passing by the sleeping city covered in a veil of slowly lifting darkness, fading from black into glittering silver. For one startlingly fierce moment John almost reaches his hand out and puts it on Greg’s leg as he looks out the window, watching the trees zoom by. He lifts his hand to do it, fingers itching to land on warm, soft skin. Then he remembers it wouldn’t be the leg he’s hoping to find. He covers up the movement with a cough.

Greg doesn’t say anything more as they park along their favorite stretch of Hermosa shore and pull out their boards. They strip down to their bathing suits in silence in the sand, John pulling off his sweatshirt and shivering with his bare chest in the cold. It’s the same as it’s always been. The usual routine. Except this time John’s eyes don’t linger on the muscles of Greg’s stomach as he ties his hair up into a bun, hair tie hanging out the side of his mouth.

They jog out into the crisp, icy waves, groaning and shuttering at the cold. The cool grey air settles across the surface of the restless ocean, tinged with pink as the sun slowly rises above the glittering city at their backs. They paddle out past the breaking point, dolphin diving under waves to get used to the water. John follows as Greg paddles out beyond the point where they’d normally stop to perch and wait for good swells, venturing farther out to the flat, glassy deep. John pulls up a few feet away from him and rolls his neck to stretch out his shoulder, already feeling a sore ache in his joint.

“So, out with it, then,” Greg says gently, speaking out to the horizon.

John frowns. “I haven’t said anything.”

“Exactly – you just won a pro competition, something you’ve been wanting to do for years, and you haven’t said a single word about it.”

John looks over his shoulder back at the city - the jumbled, churning chaos of metal and glass rising up from the earth, the total opposite of the vast, empty sea and sky at their front. He turns back to look towards Greg, feeling far away and small.

“You know me,” he responds lamely. “Just – haven’t processed it all I guess.”

Greg chuckles through his nose, a small sad smile on his lips. “I do know you, Johnny. So that’s why I want you to tell me why you just had the best week of your life, minus the almost drowning part, but you look even sadder than you did that first day I met you.”

John flinches and rubs the back of his neck. He speaks down softly at his board. “That obvious, huh?”

“Obvious enough to us, at least.”

John sighs. “I don’t want to drag Molly into anything,” he says.

“Too late – she’s already dragged in. We both care about you.”

John feels an embarrassed prickling at the back of his neck. “I know.”

“We just want to help you,” Greg adds.

“I’m not a child,” John shoots back. He immediately runs a hand over his face and groans. “Sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

Greg silently nods his head. Forgiveness. He sits and waits for John to speak, and John fights against the urge to just swim out towards the swells and leave this moment far behind him. He doesn’t even know what he could possibly say. He’d stared at the ceiling half the night before, wishing the solution would come to him.

On the one hand, he feels freer than he ever has in his life. He can be around Greg, he can be close to him, and he doesn’t have to worry about revealing anything – about standing too close or touching him for too long or letting his eyes stay and linger.

And on the other hand, he sits next to Greg alone out on the water and feels the ghosts of Sherlock’s hands on his skin, in his hair, between his legs. And it’s as if the entire Pacific Ocean suddenly sits between him and his friend, vast and lonely and un-crossable.

He’s been silent too long. “You know I’m not good at this stuff,” he finally whispers.

Greg hums. “Yeah, I know you’re shit at it. But so am I.” Greg turns to look at John, bobbing slowly on the rippling surface. “I missed you, Johnny,” he says.

John feels his face grow hot. He looks back down at his board. “Aw, it was only three days, man,” he says, trying to keep his voice light.

“No, I mean. The past two weeks. Since the ISF. I’ve missed you.”

The sound of the water gently slapping at the bottom of their boards is deafening. John swallows over his dry mouth and wishes desperately he had water nearby to gulp down. He missed Greg, too. He could tell him that and laugh it off and say “sorry, man, you know I am, but I’m here now, right? We can start surfing again every morning before I go to work because I’m back, and everything’s normal again.”

Just the thought of those words feels like acid in his mouth. He lets himself say the first part - the part that would have seemed absurdly impossible just two weeks ago.

“I missed you too, Greg.” And then, to fill the silence. “I’m sorry.”

Greg shakes his head gently. “Nothing in hell to be sorry for.” He takes a deep breath, and John feels the moment shifting like the ocean rising to swallow them whole, forcing itself up from the deep. “You looked happy,” Greg says quietly. “With him.”

Everything changes. The air around them crackles and fizzles with heat. John stares down at his board and thinks he’s going to vomit. His limbs shake, and his gut clenches, and he feels his vision greying out around the edges.

“Facing off against that fucking fairy.”

“You don’t want him checking out your ass as you paddle out, sick fucker.”

“Fag’s lucky we all still even let him surf.”

John takes a shaking breath and finally forces himself to meet Greg’s gaze. He almost gasps. Greg’s face is soft. Patient. John realizes he isn’t angry, or jealous that John found a different friend than him, or even accusing that out of all the people it had to be that chief asshole Scotty Holmes. He’s just stating a fact, you looked happy with him, and waiting to see if John will pick up the lifeline and answer.

John picks it up with sweating palms.

“He - he’s been a good friend to me,” John whispers.

Sherlock holding him in the shallows, palm pressed up against his scar. “You were brave.”

“Probably find that hard to believe,” he adds.

Greg shakes his head. “Nah, man, if you say he’s different I’ll believe it.”

John feels that the entire ocean is listening, frozen and waiting on the cusp of his words. The words flow out of John’s mouth before he can even plan them, voice rushing out with something like relief.

“After I was shot, back in Vietnam, I wished I hadn’t woken up. In the hospital.”

Greg freezes beside him. They’ve never talked about this. Never. Not even the day John took off his sweatshirt and bared his skin before Greg. Never even said the word “Vietnam” out loud.

John licks his lips, talking out at the horizon. “These other soldiers there recovering told me to check out this beach a little way’s south. Said there was a platoon stationed near there that had fixed it up, added a little lifeguard tower and made some surfboards.” John clears his throat. “So I went, and I caught one wave. Nurses were mad as hell at me that I got the stitches wet,” he laughs under his breath. “But that’s the day I knew that if I surfed, I wouldn’t . . . wouldn’t wake up one day and swim out as far as I could and not come back.”

He looks over at Greg and sees that his eyes are wet. Greg nods solemnly, fingers gripping tightly at his board. Suddenly John understands everything.

“I’m realizing as I say this out loud – you probably knew all of this, didn’t you? That’s why you made me meet you every morning before work.”

Greg smiles, eyes dark and sad. “More or less, yeah. Was wondering how long it would take you to figure it out.”

They look at each other, and John feels the air around them soften, and he knows that it’s now or never.

“Greg,” he says, holding his gaze. “I’m not . . . everything with Sh-, with Scotty. . .” He suddenly can’t look at him, tearing his eyes back out at the water. His voice is just trembling air.

“I’m gay.”

John thinks he’s going to slip off his board and sink down into the murky, cold deep. The seconds feel like hours. Then, out of the thrumming fog in his mind, he hears Greg saying his name. Realizes he’s been saying it for a while.

“Johnny. Johnny, look at me.”

John does, feeling crumpled and small.

Greg holds his gaze and softens every line in his body. “I know,” he says softly.

John can’t believe what he’s hearing. “What—you guessed?” he whispers.

Greg shakes his head. “No, I know.”

Realization crashes down on John like a slap of icy water. He shutters and runs a hand over his face. “Shit, I didn’t think you remembered that.”

Greg laughs once under his breath. “Hard to forget.”

His voice is gentle, but John cringes all the same, face prickling and hot. Hard to forget how John had stopped in his tracks when he was halfway down the street after leaving Greg and Molly’s housewarming party early, hearing footsteps chasing after him. How he’d turned and seen Greg running towards him, face loose and happy from drinking, begging John with half-slurred words not to leave yet. Not to leave him yet. And John had been so overcome with adoration for him in that moment, chasing after him and begging him to stay in the middle of the warm, lamplit street, that John had taken two steps forward and grabbed the side of Greg’s face and kissed him square on the mouth.

And for two breathtaking, beautiful seconds, Greg had kissed him back.

Then Greg had put his hands on John’s shoulders and gently pushed him away, whispering “wait,” and John had realized what he’d just done and jumped back from Greg’s touch like a scorching flame, too horrified to even apologize, wanting to fall into the pavement and be swallowed up by the road. And Greg had tried to step forward and take his arm saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” like he was trying to wrangle a terrified animal, and John had finally whispered “I’m sorry,” and took off running down the street. He’d run the four miles back to his apartment, not bothering to stop for a cab, and the sound of Greg calling out his name echoing down the street had rung in his ears the whole way back.

And the next morning he’d sat on his bed staring at the wall after not sleeping a wink, and at six o’clock on the dot he’d heard Greg banging on his door saying, “Come on, you lazy asshole, I’ve been waiting for you down on the beach for twenty minutes!”

And John had opened the door with a shaking hand, and seen Greg looking at him like it was just any other morning, and thought that maybe, just maybe, Greg had been just drunk enough not to remember any of it at all.

Turns out he couldn’t have been more wrong. “Fuck, I’m so sorry,” John says into his hand. “I never meant –”

“It’s ok, Johnny. I meant it when I told you. It’s ok.”

“But Molly –”

“It’s ok.”

John’s chest clenches painfully, erratically squeezing on his lungs. “So you knew this whole time, then?”

He meets his gaze, and Greg nods, eyes serious.

John feels an incredulous laugh bubbling up inside of him. “And you still – how did you – you still stayed? You never said anything?”

Greg smiles, but it looks like a grimace. “Don’t turn me into a saint, Johnny. I never said anything to stop Kip and Dean and the rest of them when they got going about Scotty, did I? You were right there, and I let them –”

“I’d never expect you to do that.”

“That exactly why I should have.”

John doesn’t know what to say. The earth feels tilted on its side underneath him, forever altering the way he walks on the ground. The silence stretches on, frazzled and tense. Pulsing.

Greg finally speaks. “So, Scotty. You and him. . .”

John clears his throat in the silence and nods. “Yes.”

“For how long?”

John huffs out a laugh. “Two weeks – not even that, two fucking days. I stayed with him in Oahu. We hadn’t . . . we hadn’t, before then.”

John can’t believe he’s saying any of this out loud. The words falling from his mouth feel like bullets piercing the peaceful morning air, tainting the sleepy calm hovering over the ocean. And yet Greg sits next to him relaxed and easy, limbs loose and soft. John realizes he’s never wanted to hug him more than in that moment.

Greg clears his throat and runs a hand over the back of his neck. “Well, in the spirit of admitting things. . . Fuck, I feel like this is the shittiest thing to say to you.”

John gently splashes a handful of water at him, chest still aching. “Go on, can’t be worse than any of the shit I just said.”

Greg grimaces. “That’s just it – I . . . well if we had met some other way. If it was a different time, if I hadn’t already been with Molly. I think that . . . I would’ve wanted to try. With you. I think – I know – I would have wanted you.”

John can hear the terror in Greg’s voice, the fear that he’s telling John something that makes him the biggest asshole on earth. Instead John’s never heard anything more beautiful in his life. Because he’s sitting out there, bobbing gently on the ocean, and he just heard the person he dreamt about for two long years say that he might have felt that way about him too. And all John feels is affection for his friend. Gratitude and calm and relief. And he wants to get back on a plane and jump into Sherlock’s arms and be held.

Greg’s waiting for him to respond, staring despondent down at the water.

“That’s not a shitty thing to say. Not at all,” John says.

Greg huffs and gestures out at the water. “How are you not mad as hell at me right now? I mean, I knew, and I strung you along for two years –”

“You didn’t string me along. You saved me. You’re my best friend.”

Greg sighs. “I’m just so sorry I couldn’t . . . be that for you. When you needed it. When you wanted it.”

John nods. “I know.”

The silence stretches on again, softened by the blanket of the waves. John tries to imagine now would it would actually be like to kiss Greg Lestrade and can’t. Every time he closes his eyes he sees Sherlock’s lips, Sherlock’s face, Sherlock’s hair.

“I’m glad you already had Molly,” John says. “I wouldn’t . . . I’d never wish this on you.”

“Fuck, Johnny, I don’t wish it on you either.”

John smiles and looks over at him, shivering at the wave of warmth rushing over his skin.

“I know, Greg.”

Greg sighs, eyes still sad like he’s just told John that the world is ending. John thinks that maybe it is. He can’t decide whether he’s upset about it.

He startles from his thoughts when Greg clears his throat. “But Scotty. Is he . . . is he that for you?”

John feels a smile flit across his lips, then remembers Sherlock’s face as he’d walked away from him, leaving him alone on the airport sidewalk. The smile turns into a shameful grimace. John takes a deep breath and steadies his voice.

“He tried to tell me that he loves me, right before I left,” John says. “I didn’t . . . I couldn’t let him finish saying it.”

Greg turns fast to look at him, eyes wide. “Fuck, Johnny, seriously? And you – is that how you feel?”

John shrugs his shoulders hard, arms falling helplessly at his sides. “How can I? You can’t love someone after two weeks. That’s not how it – it’s impossible.”

“Oh fuck that. Who said there was a rulebook?”

John laughs. “Probably the same person who said two men can’t fuck each other.”

Greg chuckles in response, and John feels the air settle and relax, clearing some of the thick, tense fog. “Anyway,” John goes on. “You made the right choice. Molly’s way prettier than me.”

“Fucking right she is. Sometimes I get confused out here wondering whether something’s you or a clump of old seaweed.”

“You son of a bitch,” John laughs, and Greg splashes him back, grinning.

“Fuck. So he loves you,” Greg says, and John nods slowly, stunned to hear the words said out loud. Greg smiles wide. “When are you going back?”

“To Oahu?”

“Well, yeah!” Greg looks at him again, sees something in the look on John’s face, then groans. “Shit, Johnny, don’t tell me you’re not planning on going back.”

John feels the anger from yesterday morning settle once more over his chest. “Well what else am I supposed to do? I can’t just . . . drop everything and move there.”

“Why the hell not?”

John shoots him a look. “Seriously? Jesus, you sound just like him.”

“He asked you to stay there with him? On Oahu? Johnny, why in the living fuck are you back here?!”

“I have a job! I have . . . I have –”

“Exactly. You’ve got jack shit here in LA besides my sorry ass and you know it.”

“It’s not that simple –”

“Of course it’s not simple. But you’ve got a man who says he fucking loves you, and you’ve got a bank account full of prize money because you’re a fucking professional ass surfer, and you’ve got a best friend who thinks you’re an absolute moron for not getting the hell out of here. Tell me one reason why you aren’t back on a plane right now.”

John says the words before he can even think. “I’m scared.”

The silence feels heavy and buzzing. Greg waits, and John forces himself to speak, pushing out choked words.

“If I go there – there’s no turning back, right? Everyone will know, no matter how hard we try . . . People aren’t idiots. They’re going to notice that Johnny Watson and Scotty Holmes show up to every surf competition together in the same fucking car. I can’t just . . . say never mind in a year and go back to this. To how it is now.”

Greg’s voice is soft and gentle. “But does he make you happy?”

John wants to keep fighting. “Well, you make me happy. You and Molly make me happy. No reason why I need to change anything.”

“Damn right we make you happy, but I’m sure as hell not gonna put stars in your eyes like he did that day on the beach in Laguna.”

John sighs, not answering. He thinks of something, anything to change the subject. Now that he’s gone and revealed himself he just needs it all to be over. He doesn’t want to sit there on the water and think of Sherlock’s face looking desperate and lost in his kitchen. Doesn’t want to think about how neither of them believe John will keep the promise he’d made in the heat of a frenzied kiss.

The subject refuses to change, and John gives in to the conversation with a resigned sigh. “I promised him I’d try to make this work. That I’d somehow be with him. But . . . I don’t even know. I don’t even have his phone number. Didn’t make any plans. I think he thinks we won’t see each other again – just awkwardly wave at the next competition. I feel like a complete asshole.”

“You’re not an asshole. You’re just scared.”

John laughs, frantic and desperate. “Why is this more terrifying than stepping off the fucking boat with a gun in my hands? It doesn’t make any fucking sense --”

“Hate to sound like a greeting card, Johnny, but love doesn’t make any fucking sense. First day I woke up and knew I wanted to marry Molly she was dead asleep and had a horrible perm and was drooling all over the pillow. And I thought ‘I need to fucking marry this girl.’”

John’s brain halts. “Wait, you never told me you’re getting married?”

Greg’s face lights up with a brilliant, shy smile. “I, uh, haven’t told anyone yet. I just bought the ring a week ago.”

John feels every ounce of anger leave his chest in a rush. He answers Greg’s smile, reaching out to take his hand and hold it. His throat chokes up on his words, and a million sentences float through his mind before he finally settles, lamely, on “I’m so happy for you, for both of you.”

Greg squeezes his hand and smiles, eyes understanding. “Me too, man.”

The moment suddenly turns strained, the emotions from the past thirty minutes churning into a thick, heavy weight in the air. John lets go of his hand and dramatically shakes out his shoulders, trying to breathe away the tension still in his limbs. “Right, well, tomorrow morning I’ll bring a check and pay you for the therapy,” he jokes.

“I’ve kept your sorry ass alive for two fucking years – you owe me at least a hundred grand at this point,” Greg smirks.

John rolls his eyes and starts to paddle towards the breaking point of the waves, knowing they’ve said everything that needed to be said. Greg joins him, paddling just behind him and panting as they reawaken stiff muscles.

“Look, Johnny,” Greg says as they paddle, “all I’m saying is, and this is the last thing I’ll say about it, you decide to go back there, just say the word and I’ll help you. We’ll help you. I’ll miss you like hell, man, but, you just say the word.”

John looks over his shoulder, feeling water glossing over his eyes. Greg smiles at him, knowing he heard, then nods over his shoulder at a fresh swell coming in their way.

“You take this one,” Greg says.

John nods and starts to get into position to chase the wave. He stops just before starting his first stroke. “Will you tell Molly, for me? Tell her . . . you know.”

Greg nods. “Of course, old man.”

Then John paddles like hell towards the Los Angeles skyline, feeling a warm tingle zip down his spine as he catches his first wave of the morning and soars into the spray, hearing Greg’s whoop follow him all the way into the shore.

 

--

 

John lifts his hand in a wave as Greg pulls away from the curb in his truck an hour later, wheels revving so he can make it home to change and shower before his shift at the station. The dust along the side of the highway swirls around John’s shins in a sandy cloud, and the hot morning sun beats down onto his back, high and bright in the sky.

John looks around and feels like a tourist in his own city. He shoves his hand in his pocket making sure his apartment keys are there, but the thought of going back to the stale, empty room feels somehow like an accepted defeat. He should go home. Throw out the stale trash and open up the windows, run down to the bodega for some groceries and call in to make sure he’ll still be allowed to show up for work tomorrow.

Instead he walks down the beach towards the pier, already thronging with morning joggers and tourists. He hefts his bag higher on his shoulder and makes his way through the crowd. It feels surreal that only two weeks ago he’d stood on the sand just below this very boardwalk and emerged from the water having just beat Scotty Holmes. He passes the exact place he’d been standing on the rough wood when he’d locked eyes with the man in the crowd and can’t even believe it’s the same pier – the same place. Everything looks like a façade. A cheap, thrown together copy of the water and sand surrounding Sherlock’s home on Oahu. Even the palm trees don’t look quite as green.

He makes it to the very end of the pier and leans his elbows against the splintered wood, looking out along the southern stretch of beach, snaking around the coastline down towards Long Beach. He imagines he can see the cranes from the dockyard piercing up into the sky, heavy and rusted with the slow, eternal drag of labor. Covered in grime and sweat. He wonders if they even have a dockyard on Oahu. Maybe down by the harbor near Honolulu, a black, oily splotch in the middle of paradise. The thought makes him cringe. Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t want to wake up every morning next to an exhausted, sweat and grease-covered dockyard worker. Not in his little haven of paradise.

Would he?

John stands there for almost an hour, feeling the skin on the back of his neck burn under the sun and forcing his mind to stay blank. When the thirst in his throat makes him feel lightheaded he finally turns back down the pier with a resigned sigh, making his way towards his apartment with thudding, dreaded steps.

The door to his apartment opens with a shove, creaking on its hinges as it swings open into the airless, dark room. His clothes are still scattered on the floor from the day he shoved them into his bag to try and rush to the airport on time. The hospital bracelet from his stay lies torn in half on the little wooden table, the insurance paperwork folded up in a heap next to it.

John steps inside and shuts the door behind him. Takes one slow look around every corner of the room. He can barely hear the ocean over the sound of the cars rushing by just outside his window. His surfboard is the brightest color in the place, standing limply in the corner. His bed is only big enough for one.

John gasps in a breath and closes his eyes. Suddenly he knows, more than he’s ever known anything in his life, that he is in love with Sherlock Holmes.

The realization leaves him trembling and breathless, giddy in the center of his room. He sprints to the phone on the wall and snatches it off the cradle, groaning in frustration when he doesn’t hear the dial tone. He must have forgotten to pay the phone bill. In a mad panic he grabs a handful of change from the dish on the counter and rushes out the door, running like hell down the block towards the payphone near the bodega on the corner. He shoves the quarters into the slot with shaking fingers and can’t wipe off the smile blazing across his face.

He flips through the crumpled-up papers and cards in his wallet until he finds the one from Greg’s station, dog-eared at the corners with the number to reach him there written in Greg’s own shaky scrawl.

The voice at the other end is crisp and professional. Completely unaware that the man on the other end of the line is seeing Los Angeles in vivid technicolor for the first time in years.

“Los Angeles Police Department, Torrance Station, how may I help you?”

John clears his throat. “Uh, yeah, is Officer Lestrade there? Greg Lestrade?”

He hears papers shuffling on the other end of the line, muffled voices and beeping in the background. “I’m sorry, sir, he’s out on patrol. Can I take a message?”

“That’d be rad. Yes, just – tell him Johnny Watson called.” John runs a hand through his hair and feels the fresh breeze against his face. “Tell him I decided yes.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock stands on the shore off Waimea before dawn, silently watching the waves surge and crash in the moonlight while the wind whips his hair into his face. He lets his curls blow wildly across his cheeks and tangle with his eyelashes, hovering over the bridge of his nose.

He’s been standing there since sunset.

His bare feet are cold and stiff in the sand, buried almost up to the ankle. The wind slices through his sweatpants and grabs a hold of his legs, sending shivers up his skin. He hunches his shoulders and tips his head down so that his nose is buried in the neck of the soft sweatshirt covering his thin frame. He hesitates, letting the fabric cast a calm, guarded warmth over the skin of his lips and chin. Then he shuts his eyes tight, shakes his head helplessly at himself, and inhales.

It’s the only piece of clothing John touched that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to wash. His sheets, his towels, his pillowcases, every article of clothing – all of it went straight to the laundromat in town the second he’d gotten home from dropping John off at the airport. No sense in delaying it – might as well jump immediately back into his old life. His comfortable, usual, familiar little life. Where all his clothes just smell like himself, and his meals last him for days on the leftovers, and his bed only has the imprint of one body in the morning. Pillowcases only strewn with long, brown curls of hair.

This goddamn sweatshirt, though. He’d gotten back from the laundromat and seen it lying forgotten half-hidden under the bed, an unwanted monument to the past erected smack in the center of his home. And he’d left it there for three days until he picked it up with shaking hands in the middle of the night and held it to his face in a daze. And now he feels moronic and hopeless, standing on the beach like some swooning heroine, trying to somehow breathe in a reminder of John’s scent against the salty air and warm musk of the sand as the thick black wind slowly lightens into the clean slate of dawn.

It’s been one hundred and thirty-seven hours since he last held John Watson. One hundred and thirty-six since he last saw him. The knowledge that that number will only ever grow towards infinity leaves a thudding ache in his chest, drowned out by the heaving drone of the wind whipping across the churning surface of the ocean.

He needs to keep count, though. To track the number as it grows higher and higher and higher. Because watching the number grow to one thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand means that it had to have started at one, then two, then three. It means that it actually must have happened at some time, in some place. That it can’t all have just been a dream.

One hundred and thirty-eight hours, now, as he braces himself against the wind and spray and tracks the current of the waves by the light of the greying stars, memorizing their rises and falls, completing the tables and formulas in his head that will help him pick the largest wave tomorrow at the competition.

He knows that to most people this is what he was born to do. Or at least, meant to do ever since he picked up that sharpened red crayon and opened the stiff pages of an outdated water-damaged textbook. He looks out at the ocean and sees her secrets hovering over the waters. Sees her currents and forces, the whispers of her underbelly and the pull of the tides. It used to thrill him. The mental spark of muscle and adrenaline and physics coalescing into one bursting firework of action when he threw his board down into the waves – the possibility of winning in a challenge of man versus nature.

And then John fucking Watson had gone and poured his emotions over the surface of the ocean, drowning Sherlock’s perfect calculations into the chaos of the whitewater and leaving him instead with the loneliness that comes from standing at the edge of the world. Leaving him with an echo of his mother’s voice singing prayers in his head that hasn’t stopped since the moment he’d looked out at the sea with John Watson no longer beside him. Five days and five years ago.

He feels like he’s floating above in the darkened clouds and watching himself down below on the shore. Stunned and indignant and repulsed that he’s been stripped down to such a sorry state – that the man he’d known himself to be since he was fifteen was really all just a façade, easily blown over by the breath from John’s mouth when he’d first parted his lips and said “We actually haven’t met, yet. My name’s John.”

It’s all just a little bit ironic. Because here he is staring at the surface of the water and stripping bare her secrets and forces hidden beneath, scoffing at the other surfers who only ever bother to notice the height of the waves. And apparently he’d forgotten all this damn time to apply the same logic to himself. And John Watson had taken one look at him barreling across the sand with his head held high and seen straight down to the seafloor of his soul. And John had taken shelter there, and kissed it gently with his soft, salty lips, and then calmly stepped onto a plane with a bullet-free pocket and a championship title to his name.

Sherlock wants desperately to stand there in the darkness and lie to himself like this. Tell himself that John is fine and living free without him over there in Los Angeles. Probably tired of having a stuck-up kid hanging around him all the time, especially a kid that everyone agrees with no contest is a complete and utter dickhead. He wants to pity himself standing alone and morose on the beach, trying to smell John Watson’s skin in the sweatshirt he’d worn for a day.

But then he sees John’s face in his mind, the broken, shattered, desperate way he’d stood there naked and trembling in Sherlock’s home, right before rushing to his side to hold him together with his bare hands. And he knows he can’t lie to himself and say that he’s the only one affected. That he’s the only one who wanted John to stay.

Somehow that makes John getting on that plane feel even worse.

Sherlock waits for one last swell to come in, noting the composition of the wave and adding it to the mental catalog he’d been building during these nightly vigils all week. Now more than ever he knows he needs to surrender himself to the giant pillars of water crashing down into the shallows. He needs to pick up his board in his steady hands tomorrow and run out towards the uncertain horizon, letting the earth hold his life in its palms.

Needs to prove to himself that there is something higher at play than waiting on a moonlit beach for John Watson’s arms to come up behind him and hold him together in a ghostly embrace.

He watches the rushing spray and foam settle softly back into the earth after the crash of the wave, listening to the water fizzle down into the wet sand like tiny fireworks exploding across the sky. Then he holds the hair back from his eyes against the wind, tucks his nose down into the neck of the sweatshirt, and makes his way back to his Jeep, legs stiff and sore from a night of standing watch.

He’ll conquer the tallest waves on earth tomorrow. Gut strong and hands steady and neck held high, flinging himself down into the spray from the heavens, fighting against the great heaving force of the water and foam. He’ll do it whether John Watson’s blue eyes are seeking him out on the sand or not. And he knows that they won’t be. They definitely, unequivocally won’t.

-

On the drive back home along the winding beach-side road Sherlock has the sudden, intense desire to just grip the wheel and swerve his car off the dirt road towards the trees, wanting to hear John curse and panic next to him. Wanting to hear him laugh. His fingers grip the wheel hard and he starts to do it – drive like a maniac in an action film who’s gotta save the girl before the bomb goes off. Then he realizes the car would just be silent if he did, only the wind as a witness. The wind doesn’t laugh like John Watson, not free and deep and open like waves rolling over smooth rocks on the shore. And Sherlock drives home straight and narrow, five miles under the speed limit.

When he gets back to his house he throws his keys haphazardly across the room and goes to make a cup of coffee when he stops dead in his tracks.

The photograph.

In a daze his numb legs carry him four steps across the creaking hardwood floor to the side table, and he picks up the frame in aching hands. His mother’s skin is golden and shining like the sun, eclipsing the tired metal and grey of the airfield and covering Sherlock’s small frame in warmth. He strokes across the surface of the photograph with his thumb, tracing gently over the locks of her hair. He’s never picked it up and held it in his hands before – not since he first set it down on the table on the day he’d moved in, when it took him ten hours to sand down the hardwood floors and just ten minutes to unpack all his belongings.

John Watson had held it in his hands. He’d squinted hard at his mother’s elegant scrawl and gazed at her radiant skin and looked up and formed the word “Sherlock” with his lips, fragile and warm and perfect in the still, salty air. And it had been the first time Sherlock had heard his real name since he was ten-years-old on an Arizona porch. And now he misses the sound of it so badly he’s tempted to whisper it to himself in the stale and empty air of his house, feeling younger and more alone than he ever has in his life. Feeling naked.

“Sherlock, baby, what’s it say in Exodus chapter twenty?” his mom had asked him in the car that day as she drove him swerving down the road towards Ft. Knox three miles away from their house, looking back at him in the rearview mirror with half-glazed eyes and a nervous smile perched on her lips.

“Exodus chapter twenty verse twelve: honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” Sherlock had recited proudly, not caring in the least what the verse actually meant.

“That’s right. So what’s that mean we’re gonna do when we see your father at work today?

It means just do whatever he says,” Sherlock had mumbled.

Sherlock . . .” his mom had warned.

It means say ‘yes sir’ and be respectful,” Sherlock had tried again.

And he remembers, vivid as the photograph in his hands, how his mom had smiled back at him in the rearview mirror and wrapped a curl of her hair around her index finger.

You know momma loves you,” she’d said.

And he’d beamed in his chest and whispered “I know, momma,” too young to realize that her words were heavy and slurred.

And John Watson had held this photograph in his hands. He’d held it. He’d asked her name. Held it with the same fingers that had run through Sherlock’s hair when his face had been down between John’s legs, and that had touched Sherlock’s cheek soft and warm in the quivering air of sunrise.

A wave of self-disgust suddenly washes over him, sharp and stifling and hot. He slams the picture frame face down on the table, takes two steps away, then reaches back and flips it right side up again. He clenches his fists and sets his shoulders, walking confidently towards the taken apart record player in the corner that he was supposed to have finished over a week ago. For the first time since John waltzed into his life his fingers itch to get their hands back inside the intricate workings of a machine – the wires and knobs, switches and electrical currents. The knowable logic of a perfectly made system. Sherlock takes his project out to the porch and sets up his usual workspace on the rough wood floor, out under the open sky and overlooking the sea.

He tells himself one last thing before he loses his mind to the steady zen and predictable logic of the broken parts waiting expectantly underneath his fingers. He has his work, and he has his waves, and he has his little place in the world. And John Watson has reduced him to a lost and trembling shell of the man he’s created for the very last goddamn time.

He ignores the tiny part of his brain that whispers, “you also have the memory of his lips against your lips. One hundred and forty-one hours ago. One hundred and forty-two hours ago.”

 

--

 

The sun is heavy and bright in the sky when Sherlock blinks hard and looks up from his work. He’s switched back and forth between the record player and recording his notes on the waves from the night before in his notebook, working until the passing hours feel like seconds as his mind buzzes steadily ahead, refusing to do anything but think. His stomach growls roughly, and his eyes start to droop closed against the harsh blare of the sunlight reflecting off the white sand. He suddenly realizes he hasn’t eaten or slept in well over twenty-four hours, and shakes his head angrily at himself. So much for taking back control of his life – he can’t even keep his new resolve for four hours without letting himself get to a state that will come back to bite him in the ass tomorrow morning at the competition when he’s tired and weak.

The warm breeze weaves through the seashells hanging from the eaves, gently clinking in the wind and mixing with the steady soft hush of the restless ocean. He twiddles the screwdriver in his hand and tries to think. He could eat now, or he could take a nap, or he could get a practice run in down in Waimea. He could go for a swim, or he could start on the project for his next client sitting up at Chuck Hobbes’ place, or he could sit there and close his eyes and remember the precise color of John Watson’s eyes in the moonlight just moments after he’d orgasmed, clinging tightly to Sherlock’s shoulders and covering him with the warm weight of his body.

Sherlock groans and runs his hands over his face, gripping tight enough to sting at his hair. He feels like a mess. He can’t even decide what to do with his goddamn day without thinking of John fucking Watson, and he’s been deciding what to do with his days just fine for over seven fucking years. He sucks in a frustrated breath and gets quickly to his feet, still gripping the screwdriver tight in his fist and hoping that his feet will somehow carry him on to the next activity for the day. The next thing to fill the time. The meaningless series of steps and movements and thoughts that will carry him successfully through hour one hundred and forty-five so he doesn’t go and do something pathetic like stand lonely on a windswept and rocky shore with his curls blowing into his face again.

He turns to walk up the lane to Hobbes’ place, thinking he might as well go lose himself again in his work. It makes the hours go by faster, after all. He walk down into the sand, and he takes two steps towards the lane staring down at his feet, and he looks up quickly at the spot where John had once surprised him by appearing like magic out of the shaded, tree-lined path, and he freezes.

John Watson is standing there.

John Watson is standing there.

John Watson is standing there with three bags slung over his shoulders and no shoes on his feet and sunglasses perched in his hair and a tank top clinging to his abs and a brilliant smile overtaking his face.

“Sherlock,” John Watson says, voice breaking.

Sherlock’s heart explodes. It explodes and stops beating and soars up straight into the heavens all at once. He drops the screwdriver down into the sand. His muscles ache with adrenaline pumping through them like fire. Adrenaline and shock and disbelief and John Watson is standing there. John Watson is standing there.

John Watson is --

His mouth is too dry to speak, and his tongue lays limp in the bottom of his mouth. Stunned.

John Watson has tears in his eyes. “I promised you, didn’t I?” he says.

John Watson looks brilliant in the sunlight. It glints off his hair in brilliant golden streaks like the tails burning radiantly behind shooting stars soaring over the ocean. His skin is the warm sand, and his hands are the shade cast underneath the plumeria blossoms, and his eyes are the vastness of the ocean. The depth and the secrets and the power of the waves.

And his voice is the calm, rolling moan of the lighthouse cutting through the storm. The hope of dry land in wet darkness. Sherlock wants to stand frozen on the beach and spend the rest of his life describing John Watson, until the number of hours reaches all the way up to one million.

Instead John takes a step closer to him, gesturing with his chin to the bags hefted around his strong, broad shoulders.

“This ok?” he asks. His voice is see-through and soft. Hesitant.

Sherlock feels himself start to laugh deep down in his chest, and it comes out sounding like the choked back exhale of a sob.

“I don’t understand,” he breathes.

He thinks that maybe he’ll never be able to move again. His eyes are frantic, drinking in every sight of John standing calmly in front of him before John disappears up into the mist, turning back into a ghost to walk beside Sherlock in the blackest hours of the night, guided by restless dreams and the ghostly echo of John’s voice saying his name ringing in his ears.

John doesn’t disappear. He stands firm and waits, staring through the thick crackling air between them and looking at Sherlock like he hasn’t ever seen a sight so beautiful. Like Sherlock is somehow a sunset covered ocean and a velvet field of flowers and the first warm hints of dawn lapping gently at the cold, silvery shore.

Like he is somehow something more than a stunned man standing frozen in the sand, curls frizzed wildly about his face and mouth half-open and eyes blown wide with disbelief.

John starts to look worried. Sherlock stands there, helpless to move or speak, as John’s façade slowly starts to fade, revealing the uncertainty beneath.

“Sherlock…?”

The spell hovering over Sherlock’s limbs breaks away in an instant. He licks his trembling lips, wanting to yell and sink to his knees and fly and run all at once.

“You’re so beautiful,” he says on a whisper. And John melts. Drops his bags with a thud into the sand and runs the twenty-feet towards him, knocking the sunglasses off his head and kicking up clouds of sand. Sherlock throws open his arms and takes one desperate step forward and grabs John hard in his arms, pulling him close to his body in a fierce embrace and letting out all the breath in his lungs.

John’s back is shaking hard. “Fuck, Sherlock,” he chokes out. “Fucking hell.”

“John.”

It’s the only word he knows.

John fits his head underneath Sherlock’s chin and hugs him hard enough to bruise, fingers gripping hard into his back, imprinting themselves on Sherlock’s bones.

“Say I can stay,” John breathes. “Please. Please say I can stay. Fuck, I’m so sorry. Please, Sherlock.”

John whispers the words into his chest, and Sherlock can feel the heat of them straight through his shirt, straight through his skin and ribs down to the muscles in his chest. Something inside of him releases. Something held hot and tight since the moment the doors had closed behind John walking away from him at the airport terminal. One hundred and forty-five hours ago.

Sherlock melts around John’s body. Places his cheek down in his hair and rubs his face against the soft strands, brushes his lips again and again across John’s scalp, clean and warmed by the sun. He breathes in the scent of his skin, feeling it spread through his veins like a salve. John smells like the seats in the plane, and floral Hawaiian mud, and sweat and salt and musky men’s shampoo.

He smells like the worn, thin sweatshirt.

Sherlock tilts his face up to the clear open sky and thanks whoever the hell is up there that his mother always used to talk to. Thanks them for flying John Watson clear across the Pacific Ocean and placing him solid and warm in his arms, gripping so tightly that Sherlock can barely breathe. Then he cups the back of John’s head in his hand, feeling the warm living weight of it in his palm. He coaxes John’s face back from his chest, and whispers his name into the air, and leans down with a sigh and kisses him. John sighs into his mouth, hands flying up to hold Sherlock’s neck and face in his hands.

“Thank god,” John moans into his mouth.

Sherlock kisses him deeply, tasting the words on his lips and feeling their vibrations against his tongue. He laughs against John’s mouth and pulls back to breathe.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” he says. The smile on his face hurts his cheeks. The salty breeze tingles across his sensitive lips, carrying the taste of John’s mouth across the sand on a gentle, soothing wind.

John’s eyes are the ocean. He brushes the curls back from Sherlock’s forehead, looking like he has words waiting right at the tip of his mouth. Then he shakes his head in disbelief and pulls Sherlock hard down against him, licking into his mouth and groaning against his chest, sending a flame of heat straight down Sherlock’s spine. Sherlock kisses back. John’s lips part under his, desperate and wet. Gentle and consuming. He caresses John’s lips with his, brushing up against the warm, salty skin. Tasting him.

Sherlock sips on the breaths spilling over from John’s mouth. He licks the lips that were once cold and turning blue under his, caresses the mouth that almost died twice in the foaming shallows of the ocean and still gulped in air and breathed. The beautiful mouth that had looked death in the face twice and said “fuck you, you bastard, I’m not fucking ready to go yet.”

A laugh bubbles up in Sherlock’s chest at the thought and he pulls back to chuckle breathlessly against John’s lips. John cups his cheek in his calloused hand and frowns, a grin spreading across his wet and swollen lips.

“You laughing about how I kiss, you asshole?”

Sherlock laughs again, legs shaky. “No.” He brushes his thumb gently across John’s lower lip, watching the soft skin gently stretch under the pressure of his finger. “I was thinking that you have the most beautiful mouth, but you say the dirtiest things.”

John gets a dark glint in his eye, and Sherlock feels a shiver at the back of his neck. John’s tongue darts out to lick the tip of Sherlock’s thumb, then his lips gently pull it into his mouth. Sherlock’s chest clenches as he watches his finger disappear into the warm, wet heat of John’s mouth. John sucks at it gently, then releases it to brush against his lips, hot breath sending goosebumps up Sherlock’s arm.

“Good,” John says, voice rough and low. “Because you’re fucking stuck with this mouth, Holmes. Stuck with it until you physically pry me off you.”

Sherlock moans under his breath, clinging like hell to the muscles on John’s back. The trembling strength of his shoulder blades.

“That mean you’re here for good then?” he breathes.

John gasps hard through his nose and blinks once hard, leaving a sheen of water across his eyes.

“For good,” he whispers.

Sherlock’s words choke in the back of his throat. “I don’t understand. How . . . how?” He feels his own eyes grow wet, blurring out John’s face into a brilliant spot of tan warmth as he gazes down at him.

John clears his throat roughly. “I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you, just –” He pauses and gentles his grip on Sherlock’s cheek, tilting his head down so that he can rub his nose softly along Sherlock’s, breathing in long and deep. He whispers so softly Sherlock can barely hear him over the roar of the waves.

“Can we?”

Sherlock nods desperately, nose bumping into John’s, then he crashes his lips into his, rubbing his thumb along John’s cheek and catching the drop of salty water falling from his eye. John groans deep in his chest, clutching at the back of Sherlock’s shirt and pushing their bodies roughly together.

Sherlock knows he’s grown hard – can feel the low current of heat start to pulse between his legs. He goes to move his hand to the back of John’s hips to press them closer together, desperate for friction, when suddenly John pulls back from the kiss gasping and grabs his arm hard around the wrist.

“Fuck I need to feel you. Now,” he growls.

A whimper escapes Sherlock’s mouth as he tries to keep up, John pulling him steadily up the steps and into the cool darkness of the house. The moment he’s inside the doorway John grabs his shoulders and pushes him back into the wall with a thud that rattles through the wood foundation. John runs his hands up Sherlock’s sides under his shirt and kisses him hard, pressing him back into the wall with the force of his body.

Sherlock’s chest is heaving. He slips down farther on the wall, bringing himself face to face with John, and pulls John into himself by the small of his back, perfectly aligning their hips and feeling John’s half-hard penis press gently into the dip of his own thigh. It’s exquisite. John’s body is warm and solid is his arms, letting Sherlock feel the full weight of him pressing up against his frame as John’s tongue slides against his, hot and steady and slow.

John pulls back panting and looks straight into Sherlock’s eyes, pressing back gently into Sherlock’s hands holding him at the low of his back. John’s hands slip up over Sherlock’s chest underneath his thin shirt, resting gently just above his nipples, and he rubs warm, soft circles into Sherlock’s shaking skin. The swish of John’s palms against his chest echoes throughout the silent room, mixing with the sound of their breathing. John leans in towards his neck, hesitates for barely a second, then gently presses his warm wet lips just under Sherlock’s jaw.

Sherlock shivers. “John.” He reaches up to caress the back of John’s head with his hand, holding him against himself as John slowly presses soft, steady kisses down the line of Sherlock’s neck, hands still brushing over his chest underneath the cotton of his shirt.

Sherlock lets his head drop back against the wall and closes his eyes. He drowns in the feeling of John’s mouth dragging firmly along his sensitive skin. The puffs of warm air from John’s mouth spreading through his entire body. Slowly, ever so slowly, Sherlock reaches his other hand down to the low of John’s back and presses, guiding John to roll his hips against him, rocking his hardening penis into the dip just above Sherlock’s thigh. John moans softly into his neck, voice high and broken, as Sherlock’s hand moves lower to the firm muscle of his ass and holds him there, rocking John’s hips into himself in a slow, heated rhythm.

John’s breath falters. He presses one last shaking kiss to Sherlock’s neck before lifting his head to rub his cheek along Sherlock’s jaw. Sherlock shivers at the rasp of John’s day-old stubble against his skin. John brings up one of his hands to cup Sherlock’s cheek, whispering low against his skin.

“When I tell you I’m here to stay – that I promise that. Do you believe me?”

Sherlock presses a kiss into the side of John’s cheek. He can’t even believe this is happening. Just thirty minutes ago he was sitting alone on his porch trying to pep talk himself into eating something for the first time in over a day, counting the hours up to infinity to remind himself, prove to himself that once John Watson had desired his company. And now John is here, in his house, with his bags, asking and promising to stay. Letting Sherlock hold him and press their bodies together. Letting Sherlock feel his cock against him with the understanding this is no longer just a fluke.

He realizes he hasn’t answered. He pulls John even closer in the embrace, letting him rest his body against him. “More than anything,” he whispers. Then, “You came back.”

John looks at him with deep blue eyes and clears his throat, voice soft and intimate in the silence of the room. “I knew I had to come back the second I opened my apartment door. Just took me a few days to sort everything out.” John breathes out a sigh. “Fuck, Sherlock, I’m so sorry I left –”

Sherlock hushes him with a kiss, just at the corner of his mouth. He understands now. Looking into John Watson’s eyes, holding his body against him, he sees that this is not the same John Watson who walked away from him into the airport. Not even the same John who emerged victorious from the waves, or who hurled away the bullet into the sea.

“You had to go back,” he says gently.

John nods, understanding. “I did,” he agrees.

Sherlock thinks the moment has passed – that they’ll get John’s bags from back outside and talk through what to do. He wonders if John realizes that Waimea is tomorrow. Wonders when John plans to surf next, and whether he’ll need to get a bigger bed, and if John’s hungry or tired or thirsty or wants to go and surf or wants to go and be alone.

John’s mouth is pressed against his, and Sherlock’s brain stops short. “Stop thinking and take me to bed,” John whispers, lips curving up with a smile.

John steps back from him and waits for Sherlock to stand upright again, then takes him by the hand and leads Sherlock confidently into his own bedroom – into their bedroom. Sherlock’s brain shivers at the thought.

“But it’s the middle of the day,” Sherlock hears himself say.

John laughs, turning to lead him forward towards him by the bed. “Yeah, no shit. I thought you were supposed to be a genius.”

Sherlock huffs, embarrassed. “Well how should I know. You’re the only one who ever calls me that.”

He means it as a joke, but John gets a sad look in his eyes and pulls Sherlock close to him, placing his palms back on Sherlock’s chest above his shirt.

Sherlock feels the air of the moment changing into something heavy and warm. John’s breath ghosts across his skin like velvet when he speaks.

“I’ve never actually been with a man before,” he whispers.

Sherlock frowns. He knows this. Of course, he knows this. Anyone who saw John Watson’s face when he’d looked down that night in the shower and seen Sherlock’s hard cock brushing up against his would realize that he’d never gotten to be with a man before. He opens his mouth to say this and then shuts it immediately again. He realizes John looks nervous. Scared that this will somehow make Sherlock step back from him and say “you know, actually, I’ve changed my mind since you clearly don’t know what the hell to do if another man’s penis is involved.”

John keeps talking before he can respond, voice shaking. “I’ve never . . . never wanted anyone like I want you. Right now. But I don’t. . . I might not know . . .”

Sherlock kisses him again, licking the tips of his lips with his tongue. He pulls off his own shirt, mind racing. There aren’t enough words in the English language to convince John Watson that Sherlock has never wanted anyone, anything, the way he wants John Watson right now. That he has never even experienced such a breadth and depth of emotions in one moment. That he couldn’t give a shit who John touched before this because John is here. Now. In his room. In his arms.

John’s hands immediately run up Sherlock’s stomach and settle over his chest. Sherlock kisses him, letting John feel the warmth of his bare skin, and John moans as he parts his lips to let Sherlock in.

Sherlock speaks against his lips. “John Watson, you have no idea –” He kisses him over and over. Hands planted on either side of John’s face and living off the air coming from his mouth. “You have no idea,” he says again.

With a rush of air John reaches down and strips off his own shirt, then falls into Sherlock’s arms, skin to skin. It feels so much different from the times they’ve touched naked before. Sherlock can’t even believe that someone’s skin could change in texture so drastically. His hands run up the hard, muscled plane of John’s stomach, dipping across the curves of his abs and trailing through the hair leading down from his navel. John shudders underneath his palms, arching into his touch, and Sherlock moves his palms up over John’s chest, pausing to rub softly over his nipples until they peak. John looks down at Sherlock’s hands on his body and groans, closing his eyes.

“God, your fucking hands.”

Sherlock chases the words on his lips with a searing kiss. John’s voice reverberates through his body, sinking deep into his veins. They are alone on this beach, on this island. Alone in the universe. The only sound that exists is John’s deep, gasping breaths. The sound of skin on skin. Soft moans escaping from the back of desperate throats.

Sherlock grips John’s sides and runs his thumbs over John’s nipples until he’s pressing his chest into his touch, then he leans down and licks a stripe up John’s neck, pausing to bite him gently just under the ear. John cries out and grips the back of Sherlock’s head, holding him there in the crook of his neck.

“Touch me. Fucking touch me,” he groans. “Please.”

Sherlock’s hands move before he even fully processes John’s words, working at his belt and the zip of his jeans. He pauses with his hands on the waistband, looking at John for a nod, then pushes his pants down to the floor, leaving him in a white pair of plain underwear clinging to his hips and curving over the bulge of his erection. Sherlock feels a thrilling rush in his cheeks. He wants to drop to his knees and press his face into John Watson’s warm, erect penis. Wants to breathe in the scent of him and feel the wet tip of his cock through the cotton of his underwear.

Then he feels absolutely ridiculous. Because he’s already seen John naked. He’s seen John naked in the full light of day standing tall right out in his living room. He’s kissed down John’s naked body and settled down between his legs and taken John’s cock into his mouth, feeling his thighs squeeze and tremble on either side of his shoulders.

But everything feels different now. Sherlock can’t even believe those actions happened between him and the man in front of him. John is different. And he is different. And this is the first time – the first of innumerable times. And Sherlock trusts John’s promise more than he trusts that the tide will push the waves in to shore day after day after day.

He shucks off his own jeans with shaking fingers then drops to his knees like he wanted to, grabbing the back of John’s thighs and rubbing his cheek slowly along John’s erection as John curses under his breath above him. John’s hands settle firmly on his shoulders, holding him down to earth. Sherlock kneads his hands firmly into his ass, then turns his face and breathes hot air against the covered tip of John’s cock, feeling the fabric turn wet and warm under his lips. John’s shaking under his touch. Straining to push forward against his mouth and back into the firm grip of his hands.

Sherlock looks up at him through his eyelashes. John’s eyes are pooled black. “Do you want this?” Sherlock whispers. His voice is husky and hoarse. It’s insane how badly he wants to put his mouth on John’s cock. Unbelievable how desperately he needs to feel the weight of him on his tongue, hot and heavy, and taste the evidence of his desire leaking thickly from the tip. Sherlock knows his face is flushed. He rests his cheek against the top of John’s thigh and waits.

John blinks hard and groans before finally shaking his head. “No,” he says. “Well, yes. Hell yes. But . . . Jesus I need to feel you. Let me feel you.”

John Watson is a genius. Sherlock reaches up from his knees and pulls John’s briefs down off his hips, dragging them slowly over the soft hairs covering his thighs. He gets quickly to his feet, so quickly he almost gets dizzy, then pulls off his own underwear as John kicks his off his ankles.

They take a mutual deep breath and stand before each other naked. They’ve never stood naked in front of each other before. Not like this. Not when Sherlock can let his eyes slowly wander over every inch of John’s bared body with the knowledge that his time left to look isn’t slipping through his fingers like sand. John catches his eye, a serious look on his face, and Sherlock knows that he’s thinking the same.

“Sherlock,” he whispers, meaning so much more than a name. And Sherlock reaches for him and pulls him close into his body, meeting his lips in a warm, deep kiss and letting his hands roam steadily up and down John’s broad muscled back. John’s gentle, rough fingers are on his hips, his ribs, his biceps, the dip in the middle of his chest, fingers curling softly through his fine, thin hair.

It’s everything and it’s not nearly enough. Sherlock kisses the corner of John’s mouth, lips open and panting, then pulls him back with him towards the bed. He thinks John’s going to push him down and climb on top of him, wants to feel the solid weight of John’s body on top of his, rolling and heavy. Instead John walks past him and lays down first on his back, squeezing his hand and looking up at Sherlock like he’s waiting for Sherlock to decide whether he actually wants to come and join him. John’s chest is heaving as he tries to control his breathing. His stomach is clenched, and his thighs are shaking, and his cock stands proudly up from his stomach, red and swollen and full.

Sherlock licks his lips, squeezes John’s hand back with a small smile, then swings his leg over to settle down sitting over John’s hips. Sherlock holds himself up on his thighs hovering in the air, giving him one last chance to change his mind. John looks down at the thrumming space between their bodies then throws his head back onto the pillow with a moan, lifting his hips up into the air towards Sherlock.

“Please. God, please,” he moans.

With a rushing sigh Sherlock settles his weight down on top of John’s hips, letting their full erections settle heavily against each other, and slowly rocks his hips. They both gasp in a moan, high and breathless. Sherlock can barely breathe at the spark of heat radiating up his spine. The soft afternoon light pours in through the open window looking out over the shore, bathing John’s bare chest and stomach in rippling ribbons of gold. The light settles across the muscles in his chest, drapes over his firm, tanned arms, illuminates the freckles on his sun-kissed skin. Sherlock leans down and licks a stripe up John’s chest, tasting the sunlight on his skin, and John’s hand flies up to grasp the back of his head, holding him close against him. John tastes like the ocean.

Sherlock slowly kisses and licks across his collarbone, down over his pectorals, down the sides of his shaking shoulders, all the while slowly rocking his hips deeper into John’s body, feeling his erection rut heavy and full against John’s hot and pulsing penis beneath him. Letting the heavy weight of his balls push John farther back into the mattress. John’s hands frantically clutch at his hair, the back of his neck, the length of his spine and the very lowest dip of his back as Sherlock leaves a trail of wet, open kisses across his bare skin. He stops to lick at his nipple, moaning around the taste of the hardening bud under his lips, feeling a shiver of heat down his sides as John cries out breathlessly and pushes his chest deeper into the heat of Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock bites his nipple softly between his teeth before moving his lips down, tracing them reverently over the muscles in John’s stomach, moaning kisses over the strong lines of his body, breathing softly over the spot where his dog tags would have laid.

He pauses when he gets to the scar. Looks up from underneath his eyelashes to see John staring down at him as if he’s looking straight up at the sun, overwhelmed and desperate and seen. And Sherlock stops grinding down onto John’s arching body and holds his hips firmly against his warm, naked skin before leaning down to gently kiss the center of the scar etched into his skin, reaching up to cup John’s cheek.

Time stops as he kisses the gnarled skin. He traces its outlines with his lips, tastes its warmth with his tongue, holds John’s body firmly against himself as he anchors him into the earth with his mouth. Suddenly he feels John’s lips press softly into the center of his palm. John whispers words into his skin, bringing his hand up to hold Sherlock’s palm against his lips.

“Who the hell are you,” he breathes.

Sherlock presses one last kiss to John’s chest before sitting up, running his thumb along the soft skin underneath John’s eye.

He smiles. “I’m the best surfer in Hawaii.”

John laughs under his breath, pressing Sherlock’s hand harder into his cheek. “I thought you were the top surfer?”

Sherlock grins before leaning down to plant a kiss to John’s forehead. “Yes, well, I’ve grown a bit humble. Mellowed out a bit,” he quips.

John raises his eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Yes. In fact I’ve met someone.”

John rolls his eyes gently and brings his other hand to Sherlock’s hip, gripping him firmly and briefly pressing his cock up into the inside of Sherlock’s thigh.

John plays along, eyes glittering. “Well, who is she then?”

Sherlock frowns. “John, you haven’t heard? I’m also the gayest surfer in Hawaii.”

John laughs, reaching up to run his palm up Sherlock’s lean chest, pausing to run his thumb slowly over his nipple. “Oh, right. I might have heard. So who is he then?”

Sherlock smirks and rolls his hips languidly, rubbing his heavy balls slowly up and down John’s erection, causing him to shut his eyes and moan.

“He’s a professional surfer,” Sherlock says.

John smirks with his eyes closed, hands gripping hard at Sherlock’s hips. “Yeah? He must be good, then.”

Sherlock leans down to brush his lips across John’s forehead. “Very good.”

Suddenly Sherlock remembers holding John up against the wall behind the surf shop, picturing the way his uniform would drape across the muscles in his arms and thighs. The thought leaves him dizzy.

“He’s also a sailor,” Sherlock says breathlessly.

John flicks open his eyes and smirks, a flush spreading quickly across chest. “Oh, so we’re allowed to talk about how you have a thing for men in uniform, then?”

Sherlock scoffs, freezing. Feeling caught by a strong beam of light in the dark. “I do not!”

John’s eyes are sparkling. He gently smacks Sherlock’s thigh on top of him. “You fucking liar! Admit it. You’ve got a thing for it.”

“That’s fucking insane. My father was a man in uniform.”

“On yeah? So was your teenage wank photo. And so is the naked man underneath you right now.”

John reaches around to grab Sherlock’s ass hard, causing them both to groan at the friction. Sherlock looks back down at John and feels a thousand words get caught in the back of his throat. He runs a hand slowly up John’s hard stomach, settling over his chest.

“Fine. You might have a point,” he says, rolling his eyes, and John grins up at him, looking soft and relaxed. Looking perfect.

The moment settles. Sherlock gets lost in John’s smiling eyes.

“God, you’re beautiful,” he says again, voice low.

John breathes sharply out through his nose and blinks hard before reaching up and pulling Sherlock down onto him by the shoulders. “Come here,” he whispers. Sherlock falls forward and drapes himself across John’s body from chest to ankle, letting the full weight of him sink down onto John’s warm skin. John grips at his back and reaches up to meet Sherlock in a deep kiss, open and wet.

“Fuck, you feel good,” John pants into his mouth.

“God, John.”

“So fucking good on top of me.”

Sherlock groans into his mouth, licking and sucking at his lips. John’s muscles are warm and solid beneath his body, rolling up into Sherlock’s touch, legs entwined at the thigh. Sherlock wants to press himself so solidly into John Watson that they become inseparable.

Suddenly John tenses beneath him. Sherlock pulls back to ask what’s wrong when John’s hands are gripping his shoulders and flipping him over onto his back, knocking the air from his lungs. John is on top of him, slotting his leg between Sherlock’s naked thighs and pressing his cock down hard into his hip, stomach to stomach and chest to chest. Nipples brushing over nipples. Sherlock tries to breathe as John devours his mouth, hands roving up his sides and gripping at his skin, reaching around under the small of his back and pulling him up closer into John’s body above him.

The heavy, angular weight of John’s body on top of him is maddening. Sherlock thinks he might disappear. Float up out of his body and be carried out across the waves on the warm breeze. Instead John’s hands hold him down into the mattress as he presses one last kiss to Sherlock’s lips before moving down on his elbows towards Sherlock’s chest. John kisses him, every last inch of his bare skin. Sherlock can feel him tasting his skin with his tongue, covering his shaking, sensitized body with warm, wet traces of his lips. His touch is grounding. Soft.

John kisses down his stomach, up his sides, down below his navel as Sherlock clings to his back hard enough for his nails to scratch deep. John looks up at Sherlock and curses under his breath, then places his cheek in Sherlock’s pubic hair and rubs. Sherlock moans, watching John press his face into his groin and slowly, deeply breathe in the scent of his skin. Sherlock spreads his legs as John settles down between them, placing his shaking fingers gently in John’s hair, one hand settling on John’s cheek. John reaches out, hesitates for a moment with his hand in the air, then places his palm gently on top of Sherlock’s penis. Sherlock realizes with a jolt John’s never touched it before, and he feels his cock twitch beneath his hand, aching to be stroked.

John holds his hand on top of his skin, feeling the weight of it against his palm. Then he looks up at Sherlock, turns his face gently into Sherlock’s hand and closes his eyes, and without looking wraps his fingers firmly around Sherlock’s cock. John opens his eyes and looks at his own tan fingers wrapped around Sherlock’s red and gleaming erection and groans out loud, long and deep.

“Fuck yeah,” Sherlock whispers. “God, touch it. Touch me.”

He’s not sure if he will survive. John looks up at him again with deep blue eyes the color of the ocean in a storm, and Sherlock’s amazed that his lungs continue to take in air. He watches, chest heaving, as John slowly brings Sherlock’s cock towards his lips, licks them, then places a soft kiss midway along Sherlock’s shaft. He places another kiss closer to the tip. And another. Soft and open and wet. Sherlock holds his breath tightly in his chest as John looks down at his cock, licks his lips again, then opens his mouth to rest the tip of Sherlock’s cock against the flat of his tongue, holding the weight of him in his mouth. Sherlock cries out in a rush and fights the urge to thrust. It’s been years since anyone did this to him. Since he was barely nineteen and in the back of a seedy gay bar in San Francisco fresh off his first win at the Billabong and right after placing second earlier that day in a local competition in Santa Cruz. And now John Watson is sinking the tip of Sherlock’s cock deeper into his mouth, running it between his wet velvet lips, tasting the heat of his skin and moaning out loud at the weight of it on his tongue.

Sherlock’s neck gives out. His head drops back down to the bed and he holds John’s hair between his fingers and gently rolls his hips, letting the tip of his cock gently pulse between his lips, trembling with want. He gets lost in it. The puffs of air ghosting down his erection coming from John’s nose, John’s hand slowly fisting along his length, the deafening sound of their panting breaths in the silent buzzing air of the room, the tiny moans sounding at the tips of Sherlock’s breaths.

Suddenly it’s gone. His cock is wet and cold in the air, lying flat against his stomach. John is completely silent. Sherlock flicks open his eyes and pushes up on his elbow to look down. John is sitting up on his knees, one hand gripping Sherlock’s thigh and the other one covering his eyes, head tipped down at the mattress between Sherlock’s legs.

Sherlock’s heart hammers in his chest. John’s regretting it. It was too much. Sherlock pressured him, told him to touch it, made him take off his clothes and lie down with him in bed and put his mouth around another penis like a queer. He forces himself to speak.

“John?”

John sniffs wetly through his nose and runs his hand over his eyes. “Fuck, I’m sorry,” he chokes out.

Sherlock’s heart shatters in his chest. He tries to sound calm. “It’s alright. We don’t have to, I never meant to make you – we can just . . . you don’t have to stay, you don’t have to –”

“No you idiot.” John takes his hand away from his eyes, and Sherlock realizes with a gasp that he isn’t angry. He sits up all the way, and let’s John reach out to grip his hand hard.

John’s voice is breaking and choked. “Just, do you have any idea how long . . . how long I’ve wanted to do that?” He pauses again to catch his breath, eyes shining. “I can’t – seventeen fucking years, Sherlock. I’ve wanted to do this. And it feels –” He swallows down a cry, shaking his head self-deprecatingly before running his forearm over his face. “It felt so fucking good. So right.”

“Oh, John.” Sherlock rushes forward and cups John’s face in his hands, kissing him softly on the mouth. He can’t stop. He kisses him again and again, tiny sips of kisses against his trembling lips, reminding them both that this is real. “You are a marvel,” Sherlock whispers against his mouth, wiping at John’s wet cheeks with his thumbs.

John huffs out a laugh. “Christ, could I cry any more fucking times today, do you think? Make it an even ten or something?”

Sherlock kisses his closed eyelid, brushing away the saltwater with his lips. “I don’t mind,” he says, honestly.

John pulls back and looks at him skeptically. “Come on. I’m not exactly helping the mood. Came here with big ideas to . . . throw you up against a wall or something.”

Sherlock kisses his cheek. “Trust me, I’ll be the last one to stop you from doing that.” Kisses his mouth. “Right now, though.” Kisses him again. “God, you have no idea, John. You have no idea.”

John deepens the kiss with a groan, the caress turning heated. “I think I do,” he whispers.

A thought pops into Sherlock’s head so suddenly, so forcefully, he’s amazed he hadn’t planned it out before. It’s dark and twisted, sending shivers across his skin. It’s beautiful.

“Would you –“ He pauses, licking his lips. “Do you want to do that at the same time?”

John pulls back and frowns, thumb running over Sherlock’s bottom lip. “What, su—” He stutters, then pushes through. “Suck you off?”

Sherlock tries to breathe. “No, suck us off.”

John’s eyes pool black, blown open wide, lips trembling. “How can you even . . .”

Sherlock leaves one last kiss on John’s lips, gripping the back of his head, then pushes him hard down onto the mattress, overcome with hot desire thrumming through his veins.

“Fuck yeah,” John breathes.

Sherlock twists away from him, lying down the other way so his head is near John’s cock, now half-hard and pulsing again. He licks his lips, moves to try and better position them both, mouth-watering. His brain frantically flies through the steps – how they should move, how they should be. He thinks maybe he’s taking too long, maybe this was too twisted. Too much. Then suddenly John’s hand is on the back of his head, pushing him down hard onto his cock and groaning.

“God, take it. Suck it.”

Sherlock takes it. He grips the base of John’s cock in his hand, wraps the other around his thigh by his cheek, and takes John down as far back in his throat as he can, feeling him swell to hardness on his tongue. John’s head is resting on his hip watching. Sherlock can feel the stubble from his cheek on his bare skin like electric shocks of pleasure. John rubs at his side, wraps the other arm around his thigh, and rolls his hips slowly, pressing himself deeper into Sherlock’s open mouth as Sherlock grabs desperately at the back of his ass, pulling him close against his face.

Suddenly, without warning, the stubble is gone from his hip, and his aching cock is enveloped in tight, wet heat. John groans against his penis, sending vibrations through his throbbing skin, and Sherlock cries out against John’s cock. John’s erection is swollen and heavy on his tongue, leaking and hot, and John’s cheek is rasping against his inner thigh, and John’s lips are sucking down the length of his erection and groaning like he can’t get enough of the taste. Sherlock clings to his body, face buried in his groin, John’s penis hot and throbbing in his mouth, and thinks that he could do this forever.

They roll into each other. Press and push and thrust. The room is filled with the wet sounds of thick cocks slipping across lapping tongues. Sherlock breathes out his nose, grips John’s ass harder in his hand, and grinds him deep against his face, taking him all the day down until his pubic hair rubs a rash against his chin.

John pulls off and reaches down to grip at Sherlock’s hair. “Fucking hell, Holmes. God look at you.” Then his lips are back around Sherlock’s cock, licking up the precome from the slit and moaning at the taste before sucking him down again deep.

Sweat trickles down Sherlock’s back as he bobs his head and rocks his hips, overcome by sensation. John’s thighs are sweating under his palms, trembling as they rock into his mouth, every moan vibrating straight into his cock.

He’s not going to last. With a gasp he pulls off, rubbing John’s penis against his cheek. “Fuck John I can’t – shit I’m gonna come. I’m gonna come.”

John sucks him hard and fast, cheeks hollowed around his cock while his hand slaps Sherlock’s ass hard and grips. Sherlock buries his face into John’s groin at the base of his throbbing cock and looks down to watch his own erection disappear again and again into John’s mouth, wet and glistening, precome and spit dripping slowly down his chin.

“John,” he moans. “John, I – fuck.” John nods around his cock and grips his hip hard, and Sherlock’s climax explodes across his skin, pulsing out of his cock straight down John’s throat as John moans deep and slow at the taste. Sherlock lets out a silent cry, gasping for air. John pulls off his cock with a grunt deep in his chest, then gently places a kiss at the base, burying his nose in Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock’s limbs feel loose and wild. He grabs for John’s arm, yanking him hard back up towards him.

“Sit on my face,” he hears himself say. John curses and leans down to lick into Sherlock’s mouth, letting him taste himself in a hot and frantic kiss, then he scoots forward on his knees until his hips are over Sherlock’s neck. He holds himself up over Sherlock on shaking thighs and grips his erection with his hand, guiding it gently towards Sherlock’s lips. Sherlock looks up at him and wants to cry. He looks beautiful. The light off the ocean reflects and ripples across his sweating skin, and his hair is rough and wild, and his skin is flushed and glistening. Chest heaving. Lips pink and swollen and wet. Sherlock reaches around to grab John’s ass firmly in both hands and pulls him towards himself, letting John guide himself to the tips of Sherlock’s lips. Sherlock laps out with his tongue at the slit, licking up the precome and swallowing it with a moan, then he opens his mouth wide and pulls John forward until his cock sinks all the way in. Sherlock looks up at John, lips stretched around his throbbing erection, and winks.

John laughs, eyes blown wide. “God, you’re insane,” he whispers. He plants one hand on the wall in front of him and grips Sherlock’s hair with the other, then slowly rocks his hips, driving his cock again and again between Sherlock’s wet and open lips. Straight down his throat.

John bites his own lips and groans. “Fuck look at you. Look at your fucking mouth.” He traces the outline of Sherlock’s stretched lips with his thumb, feeling where they grip around his cock. He looks wrecked. Thoroughly fucked. The most desirable thing Sherlock has ever seen in his life. Sherlock grips him hard as John rolls his hips, clenching the muscles in his abs and brushing his tight and heavy balls against Sherlock’s wet and aching chin.

John’s hand on the wall turns to a fist. The roll of his hips picks up speed. “Shit, Holmes. Swallow me. God. Gonna come down your fucking throat. God, Holmes. Fuck, gonna come down –”

He lets out a breathless cry and grips Sherlock’s hair hard enough to sting, frantically fucking into his mouth as Sherlock’s tongue is covered in his hot and salty cum. He gulps it down, eyes blown wide staring up at John Watson’s face as he comes, Sherlock’s name a moan on his lips.

Sherlock pants for breath when John slowly guides his cock back out of his mouth, lips and chin and mouth absolutely dripping with John’s cum, the hot taste of him rolling down his throat. John looks down at him, shakes his head slowly, then flings himself down on top of Sherlock’s body, covering him with his weight and pulling him into a kiss, deep and slow. They moan as their tongues brush, trading the tastes of each other. Sherlock clings to John’s back and shoulders, nails digging into his skin, desperate for the weight of him on his skin. Then finally John falls off Sherlock’s body with a sigh and rolls back heavily onto his back. He pants staring up at the ceiling, one arm thrown over his eyes.

“You,” he whispers. “You.”

Sherlock turns onto his side and pulls John gently into his arms, feeling a warm ache in his chest when John throws himself limply into the embrace, letting Sherlock pull him close and hold him. They come down slowly together, panting breaths slowly evening out, sweating skin starting to cool in the breeze, heartbeats fading back to normal. Sherlock buries his nose in John’s hair and inhales over and over, memorizing the combined scent of them. John’s penis is warm and soft pressed into his thigh, the space between his thighs still dripping.

Finally Sherlock cups John’s cheek in his hand and pulls him back up for a kiss, gentle and long. Sherlock groans softly into his mouth, holding him close, feeling every inch of his warm skin pressed against his, limbs sated and heavy.

John smiles at him, eyes glowing and soft, and the words Sherlock had tried to say in the middle of a desperate kiss five days ago come flying up once again into his mouth, perched and waiting on the tips of his lips. He swallows them down. It isn’t time. Not yet. Then he brushes John’s hair back from his face, resting with their legs entwined.

He licks his lips and whispers, voice hoarse. “You know that Waimea is tomorrow,” he says.

John nods. “S’why I made sure I got back here by today.”

Sherlock’s heart flutters hotly, and he leans forward to brush another kiss across John’s mouth. The breeze off the ocean dances across their skin, leaving shivers, and Sherlock leans down to pull a blanket up over them, holding John closer in his arms.

John looks at him with serious eyes. “It scares the shit out of me knowing you’re surfing those waves tomorrow.”

Sherlock nods, eyes solemn. “I know.”

He’s well aware of what he’s up against. Men die off Waimea. Brilliant surfers get flung from their boards, and crack their heads against the reefs and rocks below, and drown in the whitewater, bodies sometimes never to be found.

John’s eyes are bright. “I don’t know what I would do – I don’t know.”

Sherlock tilts his head up to kiss John in between the eyes, trying to breathe confidence through his skin.

“Won’t be that bad,” he says, tone light. “I had to watch you surf the Pipeline. You even wiped out to give me a nice flashback. Test my nerves.”

John laughs. “Those weren’t fucking fifty foot tall waves, you dick.”

“Well compared to your short ass they practically were,” Sherlock shoots back, needing to see the fear fade away from John’s eyes. And it does. John barks out a laugh and rolls his eyes before smacking him hard in the arm. Sherlock fights back smirking, straining against John’s grip, and then they’re wrestling for leverage, the blanket pushed off onto the floor. John throws a strong thigh over Sherlock’s hip and rolls on top of him, pinning him down and settling his weight on Sherlock’s body. Sherlock’s hands rub gently at the small of John’s back, the fine hairs tickling his fingertips.

John runs his hand through Sherlock’s curls, and Sherlock lets himself arch into the touch, eyes gently closed. John’s thumb runs along the thin skin under his eye.

“You look exhausted,” John says.

Sherlock hums, warm tingles dripping down his neck and back at the feeling of John’s fingers running slowly through his hair. He feels hotly embarrassed now about his sleepless nights standing alone by the waves, not knowing that John was at that very moment finding his way back to him for good.

He feels John’s lips suddenly brush against his face, kissing the sleep-deprived bags under his eyes.

“Right,” John says firmly. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna get all my shit that’s sitting outside, and you’re gonna clear out a drawer for me so I don’t feel like I’m in a fucking hotel. Then you’ll sit down and eat something because you look like you’ve lost ten pounds since I last saw you. And I’ll tell you about all the shit and fucking red tape I had to go through this last week so I could move my life out here.”

Sherlock opens his eyes, and John’s looking down at him with such fondness that Sherlock wants to say fuck it to all of John’s plans and hold him against his body in bed all day instead. John chuckles under his breath and continues to brush through Sherlock’s hair.

“I know,” he says, reading his thoughts. “You can hold me all you want tonight. But right now you gotta eat something so you don’t drown on me tomorrow. You can tell me all about your strategy and whatever other weird science shit you’ve got going on up in there.”

John leans down to kiss him softly, and Sherlock melts under his touch. Then John pats his cheek and rolls up from the bed with a groan, standing to stretch out his arms above his head and giving Sherlock an absolutely fantastic view of his ass. Sherlock heaves himself from the sheets and follows John out into the main room of the house on shaking legs. He feels drunk. Half-asleep and half-dead and half up floating in heaven. John walks naked through the house with soft, confident limbs, not hesitating in his steps as he walks over to the kitchen cabinets and looks through them for something to make them to eat.

Sherlock watches him breathlessly. Amazed that John Watson is naked in his kitchen, not clutching a bundle of clothes over himself. Looking like he’s been standing there just like this every afternoon for decades. Broad lines of his back and shoulders silhouetted by the vast, rolling horizon of the sea through the window, painting wisps of golden light across his skin.

John talks over his shoulder. “Should take a shower. You smell like sex and it’s fucking distracting.”

Suddenly Sherlock needs John to know. Needs him to somehow understand that just that morning Sherlock had stood in this very same spot and contemplated whispering his own name into the silence just to be able to hear it. To pretend that John’s voice was echoing through his house, carried effortlessly on the salty breeze. And now John is here. Cooking. Telling him he smells like sex because they just had sex and not looking uncertain in the least.

Sherlock stands in the place where John had stood five days ago and calls out his name, voice trembling. “John.”

John pauses and turns around, feet firmly planted on the hardwood, shoulders soft.

Sherlock opens his mouth to speak again and can’t. John Watson is beautiful in his home. In their home. A powerful beam of the sun. Crackling and warm deep down in the pit of Sherlock’s chest.

John’s eyes crinkle just at the corners. “I know, Sherlock,” he whispers. “I know.” John’s eyes roam quickly over his body, taking in Sherlock’s still-damp thighs, and his soft penis, and the curls stuck to the sides of his neck with sweat. Then John nods his head at the shower behind him and turns back around to keep cooking, hands working open a bag of pasta.

In a daze Sherlock tears his eyes away and wanders into the shower, leaving the light off. He stands under the warm spray and looks down at his own body, seeing the soft, pink marks from John’s fingers all over his skin.

He’ll conquer the tallest waves on earth tomorrow. Gut strong and hands steady and neck held high, flinging himself down into the spray from the heavens, fighting against the great heaving force of the water and foam. He’ll do it because John Watson’s blue eyes will be seeking him out from the sand. And he knows that they will be. They definitely, unequivocally will.

Sherlock covers his face with his hands then slicks back his wet hair. He lets the water pound against his face and chest and finally whispers into the spray the words that had been hovering on the tip of his tongue for one hundred and forty-seven hours.

“I love you. God, I love you.”

Chapter Text

John stands in the middle of the darkened bedroom and looks down at Sherlock sleeping on his stomach like the dead, sheets tangled around his waist and curls plastered to one side of his head.

It’s just before six in the morning, and John’s been wide awake since four. They’d fallen asleep early. Sherlock was so exhausted his eyes had been drooping shut over dinner, head slinking back in the chair out on the porch overlooking the ocean while John rambled on about finding a new renter for his apartment, and quitting his job, and finally getting that call from Val’s, and deciding whether to ship his board out to Oahu or just say screw it and use some sponsorship money to buy a new one.

He’d waited to tell him about Greg. The words had been hovering there in the air the whole evening, desperate and yearning to come out. “I actually told someone I’m gay out loud. I said it. And the world didn’t end. And when I looked at him there out on the water and revealed myself all I could see was you.”

But John needed Sherlock to be fully awake to hear them, not drifting off in a doze with half a smile on his lips, one hand reaching out to gently cling to the hem of John’s shorts, not even letting go when he finally drifted off to fall asleep.

And John had done exactly what Sherlock had done for him a week ago. Had woken him up gently and lead him half-asleep by the hand into the bedroom. Slowly stripped him of his clothes and climbed into bed beside him after taking one final piss and washing his face. And Sherlock had nestled against his chest and clung to him tightly as he started slipping back into his dreams, breath hot and wet on John’s skin. And John had listened to him sleep while tracing the lines of his tattoo with his fingertips, watching the moonlight ripple across his back through the window.

At first John hadn’t dreamed at all. Then he’d dreamed of Los Angeles. Palm trees with surfboards for fronds, and Molly begging him to find their lost dog, and Sherlock finding it miles out in the ocean, hauling it back through the sea in his arms only for all of them to realize he’d accidentally captured a dolphin instead. John had fallen out of the dream with a thud and blinked open his eyes to discover that Sherlock was pinning him down to the bed with one thigh draped across both of his legs, one arm flung across his chest and his nose buried right in John’s armpit.

And John had chuckled, and kissed Sherlock’s curls. Smiled like hell into the darkness that this was his life. Blown away by the sensation of hard lines of muscle weighing him down with tender sleep and looking up at the ceiling knowing that this was his home. He lived here. With him.

And then he’d closed his eyes again and dreamed of Waimea. Of waves a thousand feet tall, black as tar, rushing towards the shore with the sound of screams echoing through a hot jungle. And Sherlock dangling like a ragdoll from the crest, reaching down for his falling aviators, and John running and running and running to catch him and feeling his shoulder explode before he can get there in time to break his fall.

John had gasped awake and stared at the ceiling with greying vision, heart pounding, and once he finally convinced himself that Sherlock was safe and alive next to him, he realized that the ache in his shoulder was real. Pain radiating out from where Sherlock’s head was pressing down onto him, heavy with sleep. John had tried and failed for almost an hour to look down at Sherlock’s soft and vulnerable face and not picture it pale and draped with seaweed, floating endlessly in the depths of the sea like a ghost. Swallowed up whole by the deep.

And when sleep failed him and his shoulder felt on fire John had pressed one last kiss into Sherlock’s curls then slipped out from under him with a grimace, telling himself that if he laid there any longer it would be admitting that they might never get to do it again.

He’d stood in the kitchen and looked out the window at the moonlit waves. He’d paced. Taken a shower and fought back whimpers as he tried to stretch out his screaming shoulder under the hot and steaming spray. And then finally he’d come back into the room, their room, and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling like the biggest creep in the world for sitting there in the dark just watching Sherlock sleep. He’d reached up and gently held Sherlock’s hand, draped up over his head on the pillow. He’d felt the steady thrumming pulse behind the thin skin of his wrist.

And now John stands over the bed counting down the seconds until he has to wake Sherlock up to get ready, hating himself that part of him wants to climb back into bed and force himself to fall back asleep so they’ll both sleep in too late to make it to Waimea on time, since he knows neither of them set the alarm clock the night before.

Sherlock looks so young and open. Strong and alive even in sleep. The sculpted lines of his back rise and fall with his breath, glinting off the faint moonlight spilling into the room from the reflection off the sand outside. With a resigned sigh and a forced nod John sits back on the edge of the bed and kisses the center of Sherlock’s back, then rubs his hand along the warm skin in slow, firm circles.

Sherlock starts to stir, and John leans down to kiss him again.

“Hey you,” he whispers. “Should get up. Have something to eat.”

Sherlock groans and shoves his face farther into the pillow. John chuckles under his breath at the sight, and suddenly Sherlock bolts his head up, staring blearily in John’s direction with fast blinking eyes.

“John?”

John can’t help it. Sherlock looks so confused and rumpled and adorable in the soft grey light that he wants to take a photo and paint it onto his own skin, right next to his heart. He leans down and places a soft kiss on Sherlock’s lips, and Sherlock completely freezes below him.

John frowns and pulls back. Sherlock stares up at him, eyes blinking, mouth frozen open in the position it had been in under John’s lips. Then all of a sudden the light flicks on behind his eyes, and John’s chest clenches as he watches a wave of pure, disbelieving relief wash over Sherlock’s face. And Sherlock surges onto his back, reaches up with both hands to cup John’s face, and pulls him down into a deep kiss with a moan.

The kiss is perfect. Warm. Overflowing with honeyed joy and soft velvet comfort and home. John feels the last remaining tendrils of fear from his nightmare wisp away gently from his body. Feels the line of his shoulders soften, and a bit of the churning anxiety deep in his gut slow to a calm. Sherlock pulls back after one final press of his lips to John’s mouth and heaves a great sigh, thumping back onto the pillow with his curls fanned out around his head and staring up at John with a bleary-eyed smile.

John laughs. “What, did you think it was all a dream?”

Sherlock looks caught out for a moment, eyes wide and young, and then he snorts and shoots John a look that says he’s an idiot. “Of course not. Obviously you’re here. Your clothes from yesterday are right there on the floor, my mattress has a dip towards the side you were sleeping on, and the air smells like you. Plus I have a rash from your fucking stubble on the inside of my thigh.”

Their rough, low voices sound crisp in the intimate darkness. Etched permanently into the air of the house and set apart from the rest of the world churning on just outside the windows. John smirks, running his thumb gently across Sherlock’s chin. “Good. That way you’ll remember me when the saltwater gets in it and stings so you don’t do anything too stupid today.”

They share a look, and something tingles up the back of John’s neck. Something heavy and permanent. He clears his throat before the moment can turn too serious, needing to lose himself in a morning routine so he can pretend that Sherlock’s not about to go fling himself off the tops of the tallest waves on earth. John leans down to kiss Sherlock’s cheek and gives his other cheek a soft pat.

“I’ll start coffee. You get ready and then we’ll go. I know you want to watch the waves for a while.”

Sherlock turns his face to press a kiss into John’s palm and nods, and with an internal sigh John pulls himself away and starts to pull on board shorts and a t-shirt from the drawer Sherlock had cleared out for him in his dresser. He makes his way out into the kitchen, hearing Sherlock start to get up and rummage around for things back in the room. It sounds so right – hearing another person walking about, creaking on the floorboards, opening doors and moving clothes. John can’t quite believe he survived for so many years in a silent apartment, only ever hearing the sounds of his neighbors.

He can’t figure out Sherlock’s goddamn coffee contraption to save his life. After ten minutes of cursing under his breath he gives up and puts on some boiling water. He finds a loose teabag deep in the back of the silverware drawer and bobs it up and down haphazardly in the steaming water, pretending that his hands aren’t shaking. By the time he has a mug full of over-steeped and stale tea the gripping fear is already back full force, pulsing through his body in black, heated bursts. He looks out the kitchen window and holds the un-drunk tea in his hands, watching the calm tide lap gently at Sherlock’s shore and picturing towering walls of water in his mind, ripping across the surface of the ocean and roaring as they break over into a fury of whitewater and foam, crushing Sherlock’s limp body beneath them, burying him deep under thick, wet sand.

He startles when Sherlock’s arms are suddenly around him from behind, wrapping across his chest.

“Why the hell are you drinking tea?” he mumbles.

John leans back into his body, heart still pounding, and tries to huff out a laugh. “Couldn’t figure out your damn coffee machine.” His voice is almost shaking.

Sherlock reaches around and takes the mug gently from his hands, placing it on the counter, then wraps John fully in his embrace, pulling him back into his body until John finally lets his neck rest back on Sherlock’s chest. He can feel that Sherlock is dressed and ready behind him, smelling like soap and toothpaste with just the tiniest hint of sunscreen. John can’t even remember hearing him get ready. He’d only heard the sounds of the waves, and the slap of choking clumps of seaweed, and the crash of the water bashing against the rocks.

Sherlock hugs him tighter and presses his face into the side of John’s neck.

“You know you can ask me not to do this,” he whispers low. “One word from you and I’ll listen. I won’t go out there.” Sherlock presses his lips into a soft kiss on John’s skin. “I mean that.”

John wants to moan. He reaches up to grip Sherlock’s forearm hard, fighting with himself to keep from shaking even more than he already is. They stand there for a long time. Sherlock waits patiently, face pressed close into John’s neck and breathing slow and steady at his back, holding him close. Holding him up.

John wants to turn around in Sherlock’s arms and press their lips together and whisper into his mouth, “Yes please I’m begging you not to go out there and do this. I’m fucking begging you.” He wants to take Sherlock’s hand and lead him to literally any other beach along the North Shore, or in Hawaii, or in the entire world. Say, “Here, come surf with me. We just found each other and we can surf together and go home each night to our bed. Just not Waimea. Anywhere but Waimea. Please.”

Then he sees a tattoo-less Sherlock in his mind, standing ankle deep in the shallows on an empty beach and screaming out “fuck you” across the still water. A trash bag of belongings waiting behind him in the sand. Sees Scotty Holmes standing alone and aloof on the shore with an empty circle cast around him like a curse, all alone in the middle of a crowd.

John closes his eyes and grits his teeth against the sinking pain in his chest. He’s ashamed that it took him this long to figure it out – to see the truth deep inside the man whom he’s been unable to take his eyes off of for weeks.

That this isn’t just a game for Sherlock either.

Finally John shakes his head slowly and sighs, sinking back into Sherlock’s arms. He clears his throat and tries to speak. His voice is barely a whisper. “You let me get on that plane,” he says. “I couldn’t . . . I can’t ask you not to do this. I want to, more than anything, but I can’t.”

Sherlock nods, brushing his face against John’s neck, and moves his palm up to cover the scar under John’s thin shirt. The warmth from Sherlock’s hand feels like an iron. A kiss and a burn and a warm fire on the blackest winter night all at once. The tingling of his mom’s coral fingernails scratching lightly at his scalp.

“Thank you,” Sherlock whispers. He moves his hand up to grip harder at John’s shoulder, and suddenly pain radiates out from his socket. John winces with a hiss before he can hide his reaction, and Sherlock freezes before whipping his hands from John’s body, stepping back.

“You’re hurt. You didn’t tell me you were hurt.”

John rolls his arm, fighting an angry blush, and turns to face Sherlock, looking worried and something like afraid.

John shakes his head softly. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about –”

“I fell asleep on you. My head was on your shoulder. I pinned it down in the same position all night and then you woke up this morning in pain.”

“Really, Sherlock, it’s fine. It’s not your fault, just –”

“But I should have known. I should have realized before I fell asleep that I was hurting you.”

Sherlock’s eyes are wide and anxious, chest heaving, and John reaches out to grip his arm hard, trying to bring him back down to earth.

“Listen to me,” he says steadily. “Listen to me.”

Sherlock blinks hard and slowly focuses on John, coming out of a panicked daze. John tries not to wince again as he raises his left arm to grip at Sherlock’s other shoulder, holding him hard and firm.

“Neither one of us is talking about my goddamn arm right now. I had nightmares half the fucking night of you drowning from a thousand foot tall wave, and you’re scared right now that if you go out and do this I won’t still be on the beach waiting for you by the time you come back. So listen to me. I’m not leaving. You’re going to do this. And we’re going to have fucking mind blowing sex tonight because you’ll still be alive and I’ll still be here and I don’t give a shit if my arm hurts, ok?”

John shakes Sherlock’s shoulders gently, trying with every ounce of energy he can muster to mask the fear still churning behind his eyes. To look calm and assured and easy. Sherlock studies his face, pale eyes slowly roaming over his features until they finally blink hard and settle.

Sherlock gives a tiny nod, then smiles at the corner of his mouth. “Aye aye, captain,” he says. And John rolls his eyes and shoves him away from him, gasping in a deep breath of oxygen now that the air isn’t thick and charged.

“You’re fucking disgusting,” John groans. “Now make us some coffee with your fucking spaceship here so I don’t fall asleep today, and then you’re gonna drive us like a normal person to Waimea because swear to god I’ll have a heart attack on you if you try and swerve us into a fucking goat again, alright?”

John turns to head back into the bedroom and gather his stuff when suddenly Sherlock’s hand is gripping his face, pulling him back quickly towards him and planting a deep, warm kiss on John’s mouth. John reaches out and grabs a handful of Sherlock’s shirt in his shaking palm, sighing into the kiss. John can taste the relief on the tips of Sherlock’s lips – the warm, soft pulse of understanding, of gratefulness, that John didn’t ask him not to surf.

John pulls back reluctantly, still clinging to Sherlock’s shirt. “Come on. You’ll be late,” he says roughly. Then he kisses Sherlock’s cheek and steps aside to let him walk by, not missing the chance to slap his ass.

John lets himself stare at Sherlock’s back for just a moment as he starts to make the coffee. His eyes trace the firm lines of his back and shoulders, the strength in his arms, the dip of his hips and muscles in his thighs. Bony ankles perfectly balanced on hardwood. He lets himself stare, and he tells himself that he’ll be able to see this sight every morning until somebody walks in and physically drags him away. And he tells himself that Sherlock Holmes will live.

--

“Oh, so you can drive like a normal person on the way to a competition. I wasn’t sure if it was physically possible.”

“Seriously? I drove just fine that first day I took you around the island. And on your way to . . . on your last day here.”

“I realize that, moron. I said on the way to a competition. It’s physically possible. For you. To drive without killing us before we get there.”

“Well I’m not fucking nervous this time, that’s why, Captain Smartass.”

“No no no, this whole Captain thing has gotta go. Right now. Gone.”

“Yes, Cap’n,” Sherlock smirks.

“Oh Jesus Christ. Nevermind. You just --- wait hold on a second. How in hell are you not nervous this time? You didn’t even surf before!”

“Exactly! You were the one surfing, and it was goddamn nerve wracking to watch.”

“Oh coming from the man who told me every five seconds I would win.”

“Well that wasn’t a for sure thing! I can’t fucking predict the future!”

John laughs under his breath and shakes his head, covering his smile with his palm while staring out the window at the fragrant rolling green.

“Seriously, you’re about to surf down the most fucking dangerous waves on earth and you were more nervous about sitting on your ass and watching me. You’re insane.”

Sherlock leans over and places his palm on John’s knee, gripping tight. “John,” he says. The tone of his voice causes John to pause and turn his head. Sherlock is solemn. Earnest. “John,” he says again, when John’s locked onto his gaze. “I’ve never wanted anything more in my life than I wanted you to win that title. Do you understand me?”

John swallows hard. He can’t blink. Sherlock’s eyes are the clear open sky, pouring out emotion and looking like they’ve never spoken a higher truth in his life. John clears his throat and nods, covering Sherlock’s hand with his. They gaze at each other, the moment quickly turning heavy, tumbling towards words that both of them have prepped on the tips of their tongues. Then John sees something out of the corner of his eye.

“Fucking God Sherlock the cliff! Watch the fucking road you fucking lunatic!”

Sherlock cranks the wheel hard back onto the road, away from the precarious edge. John’s heart is exploding in his chest. “Do you have any idea – We could have died! Goddammit you can’t fucking drive for shit!”

And then John realizes that the odd sound filling the car isn’t him yelling, or the sound of the engine. It’s Sherlock laughing. Laughing. Leaning forward over his knees and thumping his palm on the wheel and gasping for breath.

John sucks in a slow, furious breath and tries to calm his voice. “You fucker, you did that on purpose, didn’t you?” he says, voice icy.

Sherlock wipes a tear from the corner of his eye. “John, I could drive this road with my eyes closed –”

“—fucking don’t!”

“—and you thought I was going to drive us off a cliff?” Sherlock pauses again to calm himself, trying to talk over the laugh overtaking his lips. “God, you’re adorable,” he says.

John stills. The word settles over his body like a warm shiver, starting at the base of his spine. He’s never been called that before in his life. Never even imagined that he would ever want to hear that word directed towards him from the lips of someone whom he had just fucked in the last twelve hours. And now the desire to get out and walk over to the driver’s side door and kiss Sherlock Holmes is so strong that he nearly chokes trying to get the words out.

“Pull over.”

The smile freezes on Sherlock’s face, eyes narrowed. “What?”

John can barely think clearly. The thought that this might be his last chance ever to kiss Sherlock hovers dangerously at the back of his mind, and his voice shakes when he repeats himself. “Pull the car over. Stop the car.”

Sherlock looks over his shoulder then pulls over to the side of the empty highway, lips pursed with worry. “John I didn’t mean – that’s not a bad thing, I just meant –”

“Not a bad thing at all, you moron, just wait a damn second.” John practically flings himself from the passenger seat and jogs around the back of the Jeep. Sherlock is already cautiously opening his door by the time John walks up beside him, setting one long leg down into the soft dirt. John feels the sudden need to drop to his knees and wrap himself around the warm skin, feel the soft hair under his fingers, the curves of the muscles in his calves and the bones of his ankle. Instead he opens the door the rest of the way, steps into the V of Sherlock’s thighs, and kisses him before Sherlock can ask the question hovering on his lips.

John’s heart clenches when Sherlock immediately wraps his arms around him and draws him in. The tension melts - vanishing into the clear, floral air, carried away on the soft breeze ghosting over them from across the surface of the ocean down below.

John presses a final kiss to Sherlock’s mouth before pulling back, bringing their foreheads together. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I just couldn’t --- I had to. Just in case.”

Sherlock breathes out a sigh through his nose and holds John closer by his grip around his back. “I know,” he says. “Thank you.”

John knows that “thank you” is for a hell of a lot more than just walking around the car to give him a kiss. He swallows hard and kisses Sherlock one last time, gently breathing in the scent of sunlight from his skin, and then he pulls back, running his hands through Sherlock’s curls to smooth them from the wind of the drive.

“No more driving off a cliff jokes, you fucker,” he says.

Sherlock smiles, gently lighting up the sadness that had settled in the corner of his eyes. He nods. “Noted, Captain.”

 

--

 

John looks sideways at Sherlock once they pull up along the side of the beach and breathes into the silence. The waves are already crashing onto the shore, building up to the largest swells of the morning. The sea air blows through the open sides of the Jeep, rustling Sherlock’s hair, and the swish of palm fronds settles over the silence in the car like a blanket. They look at each other, and John takes in the slight nervous clench of Sherlock’s fingers in his palm, the small eager excitement trembling just at the tips of his fingers. Sherlock gives a nod, and John tries to give a smile, and they both exhale and reach for the door handles, stepping out into the bright air of the real world for the very first time that morning.

There’s already a small crowd on the shores of Waimea Bay by the time they get there, gathering to watch the sun rise steadily into the sky, standing on top of station wagons and leaning against the sides of Camaro’s to point out at the incoming swells and judge the best routes to take. John follows Sherlock through the thick green brush running along the edges of the sand, making their way through the rocky green over to the rest of the surfers.

There aren’t any fans sitting back on the sand with cold drinks in their hands. No judges setting up their table, or announcers booming across the beach, or umbrellas dotting the shoreline in the breeze.

No, this beach is quiet. Somber. Lightyears away from the young people with boomboxes sprawled across the Hermosa Beach shore. In a completely different universe from the shoreline packed with hopeful surfers and cheering Hawaiian locals stretched out along the Banzai Pipeline.

John feels each step closer to the beach in his bones like a dirge, and the wind against his face is a warning. He can’t even bring himself to look out at the waves steadily rising up towards twenty, thirty, forty, fifty feet high. A voice in the back of his mind starts praying like hell for the waves to never reach past twenty. For the informal competition to be called off due to the swells, for the weather to be too rough, for a wrong current to make its way in and dash the hopes of clean, open-faced waves against the rocks lining the shallows like barbed wire.

Sherlock’s head is held high in front of him. He pulls down his aviators over his eyes as he approaches the group of surfers already lined up along the sand by their cars, arms crossed and eyes intent as they gaze out over the waves. The group turns to look at Sherlock approaching, and John almost gasps when he sees their faces all light up into warm smiles.

“Here he is. Was wondering when you’d show up, you lazy ass.”

“Ahh, Holmes, heard you had your sights on Waimea this year.”

“Banzai waves too small for you now, huh?”

“Come on, dude, look out and tell us what we’re all missing.”

John’s mouth is half open. He doesn’t recognize any of these men from the Billabong. They look slightly older. More worn and weathered. He stands dumbly in the sand as Sherlock accepts their handshakes and pats a few of them on the back, effortlessly moving into their circle.

John had heard that Big Wave surfing was different – it’s own small set apart world full of the craziest surfers with the biggest thirst for danger. He’d heard how other surfers he was around back in Los Angeles talked about the men who traveled to Waimea to surf. How they were all insane, too ruined now by the thrill of monster swells to get any enjoyment riding the surf off any other coastline. Thrill seekers who hurled themselves from the crests without second thought, riding on the shoulders of the group of boys who first threw down their boards into the infamous surf in 1957 and swam out into the waves without looking back. Men who chased after the next record, and the next record, and the one after that simply because they could. Because the waves were there, and they had surfboards in their hands, and somebody had to go out and try to ride them and live to swim back to shore and tell about it.

But now, standing here face to face with this world, John sees that it’s an entirely separate universe. One where the rest of surfing, with its competitions, and qualifying and pro circuits, and points, and heats, and judges doesn’t even exist. Where Sherlock Holmes can walk onto a beach and be welcomed with open arms. Where the only people who dare to show up and watch are the ones who know they may end up seeing a corpse float onto the frothy shore.

He realizes Sherlock is staring back at him, beckoning him closer.

“You all heard of Johnny. He just won the Billabong,” Sherlock says, chin high.

The other surfers seem to notice John for the first time. A few of them frown in confusion, glancing quickly at Sherlock and wondering how in hell Scotty Holmes just showed up to surf with a friend, and then they’re beaming towards him, holding out arms to slap his back and shake his hand.

“So you’re the wild card!”

“Fuck, man, heard about your 9.8 – fucking primo ride you had there.”

“And you beat this miserable fucker back in Los Angeles too!”

John smiles embarrassed and tries not to shrink into the sand under the praise. He can’t even believe what he’s seeing. It’s like he’s stepped into that Twilight Zone show – where the surfers here on this beach say all the same shit John heard the surfers say back at the Banzai, except in this world they say it with warm grins, stepping back gently to welcome John and Sherlock into their fold. John feels like an imposter. These men are about to surf the highest waves on earth, following in the footsteps of surfing giants before them like it’s nothing, and they still somehow give a shit that little Johnny Watson from Los Angeles came over to their shores a week ago and won a silly competition.

Sherlock’s hand is briefly on his elbow, and John blinks out of his thoughts to look at him. The look on Sherlock’s face says everything. The look says, “It wasn’t just a silly competition, it was the goddamn Billabong Masters,” and it also says, “I can’t believe these guys don’t hate me either.”

Sherlock shoots him a soft smile, and the other surfers surrounding them vanish as John smiles back. Then Sherlock clears his throat and crosses his arms over his chest.

“So, looks like the swells will be high enough after all,” he says.

“Wicked early in the season for it, but Harry was right. These beauties’ll definitely get over thirty today.”

Sherlock nods. “Who’s judging?”

A surfer next to him laughs. “Shit, Scotty, did you just show up and hope there’d be a competition on?”

Another one steps forward. “Nah, he fucking knew. We woulda had a nice calm empty beach today, but somebody had to go and open his big mouth about this thing we’re doing over a damn microphone last week at the Billabong.”

Sherlock’s cheeks turn pink as he looks down at his scuffling feet. He shrugs his shoulders. “Well, the people requested an interview. You know how it is.”

“Oh, and all of a sudden you want a little piece of spotlight?” another surfer laughs.

Sherlock shrugs again, pointedly not looking up at John. “Seemed important,” he says to his feet.

John tears his eyes away from Sherlock and looks out over the empty stretch of beach, endless pools of soft white sand surrounded by rolling hills of craggy green and fluttering flowers. He frowns. “There’s nobody here, though.”

“They’ll be here, just you wait.”

“Curious sons of bitches can’t pass up the opportunity to watch someone maybe get crushed,” another says, smirking.

“Anyways, got one of the WSL guys to come down and be the judge, make it official and shit. Not like we need him, but if one of us goes for the record…”

The rest of the group nods, suddenly solemn. They all turn to look back out at the waves, snarling against the shore and slamming into the barrier of reef and rocks, hurling up streaming spray into the sky.

John feels sick to his stomach, vision going hazy as he stares without blinking at the roaring walls of water.

“You joining us, then, Watson?”

He blinks and turns to the surfer asking him, a twenty-something kid with a drooping mustache and a faded orange baseball cap from Zion National Park. Realization dawns on John as he looks at him. He sees the haunted darkness hovering just underneath his skin. They share a small nod, alone in the group of surfers. Then John clears his throat. “Nah, just here to watch the show. Make sure no one does anything too stupid,” he tries to laugh.

The vet gets a sad grin at the corner of his mouth. “Chris got one of those new jet-ski’s they’re selling at Jack’s shop over in Honolulu, rich son of a bitch, but I heard he can’t make it up here today. Be good to have another set of surfing eyes on the beach.”

John looks to Sherlock confused, and Sherlock clears his throat to speak. “You’ve seen them in LA, those motorized personal bike things you can ride out on the water.”

Another surfer jumps in, short and stocky with a giant American Eagle tattoo buried under a forest of deep black chest hair. “Chris got one and started using it for us along the North Shore. Attach a board to the back of it and you’ve got your own little water ambulance. Figures the first day in three years the waves off Waimea are ideal enough to surf he’s got a fucking funeral to go to.”

Another guy rolls his eyes. “Oh yeah, Dickie, blame Chris for having the fucking nerve to go to a funeral instead of saving our sorry asses.”

“Well it’s true! Fucker knows what happens around here.”

“Well don’t go fucking jinxing it! Jesus do you have any concept of superstition?”

The group goes on half-jokingly arguing, laughing and teasing each other like they’re just sitting around a bonfire with beers in their hands. It almost makes it easy to forget that one of them could die that day.

John shivers. He can’t forget. He seeks out Sherlock in the group and sees his eyes are far away out over the ocean, focused intently on the rises of the swells barreling in towards the shore, growing higher and higher with every set until the entire bay turns into a churning, bubbling caldron of white foam and salt.

John can sense when his invitation becomes strained. With one last smile he walks off and leaves the group to their strategy, walking down along the sand and sitting down in the shade of one of the palm trees. He watches the waves and meditates to the steady thrum of the water. He can sense people slowly coming on to the beach around him, locals curious to see the first time Waimea’s been surfed in years, and fellow surfers come to watch and learn.

John’s not surprised at the voice in the back of his mind that tells him over and over again to grab a board and join them out in the swells. That he should be one of the ones racing down the towering faces of water. It feels like the spark deep in his gut when he’d followed in Keith Hartman’s footsteps into the thick and airless jungle, gun clutched hard in sweaty palms, trigger finger steady. It’s the part of him that had silently thrilled, in a twisted black way, when he’d first laid eyes on Scotty Holmes standing tall next to him in the sand. The part of him that had felt shivers up his spine and adrenaline in his bones when he’d looked to his right from under his eyelashes and seen Scotty Holmes’ shorts tented in a dark public shower.

It’s also the part of him that he had willingly hurled out into the sea, knowing that Sherlock Holmes’ arm would be there to steady him if he fell. John listens to the voice telling him to run out there into the waves like a man listening idly to the radio. And then he shuts off the station, and thinks of the look on Sherlock’s face when they’d placed the lei of flowers around his own neck, and suddenly the need to go out there and prove himself, to feel the rush of danger in his veins, fades away to a soft, clear mist. He takes in a deep breath of bighting wind and buries his toes deeper into the sand. He looks back over towards the surfers once last time, and he immediately locks eyes with Sherlock. John nods, gesturing out towards the sea with a look he hopes means, “Go ahead, I’ll be here.” And the smile Sherlock Holmes reveals for only him makes John feel like he just won the Billabong all over again.

 

--

John’s roused from his doze by a cheer rippling across the warm beach. He flings open his eyes and desperately, before his brain can even realize why, searches out Sherlock in the crowd. His heart hammers in his chest, adrenaline pumping through his veins. He frantically scans the beach, the shoreline. Checks the two little specks of surfers already paddling out into the menacing waves to see whether either of them has a head of dark curls.

He thinks one of them might.

With his heart in his throat John starts to stand, thighs shaking and palms gripping handfuls of sand as he struggles to his feet, still blinking off sleep to realize that Sherlock Holmes just fucking surfed out into the waves without even saying goodbye, that absolute motherfucker –

“John! John I’m right here. I’m not out there.”

Sherlock is jogging towards him across the sand, eyes worried. John flops down into the sand and releases a shaky sigh, running his hands over his face and trying to hide his embarrassment.

Sherlock reaches his side and leans down, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just running over here to see if you wanted to watch with me. We picked straws and I’m up last with Hank.”

John still can’t talk. His mouth is dry and his limbs feel heavy and limp. He hadn’t realized just how scared shitless he was of watching Sherlock paddle out into those waves until he’d thought it had been happening, and now the realization that he’ll actually have to watch that in a matter of hours barrels down on him like black mud, choking him off from the gorgeous beach air, the breeze and spray coming off the water, the swish of palm fronds at his back covering the green mountain.

Sherlock’s hand is still on his shoulder, waiting. Finally John clears his throat and opens his eyes, forcing himself to look up at Sherlock and hoping his terror isn’t showing on his face.

Apparently it is. Sherlock frowns and drops into a crouch. “John,” he whispers. He pushes his sunglasses up into his hair. “John I would never go out there without knowing you were here watching my back, you know that?”

John swallows hard and nods, hating that he was so affected by a mere two fucking seconds of not knowing where Sherlock was. He feels young and helpless. “I know that. I know. I just thought –”

He can’t even finish the words, and Sherlock nods, moving his hand up briefly to cup John’s cheek. “I know,” he says low. “And I’m telling you that would never happen. Never. You’re stuck watching my sorry ass now whether you like it or not,” he tries to joke.

John forces a smile, taking Sherlock’s offered hand to pull himself to his still shaking legs.

“Come on,” Sherlock says, turning back towards the punishing waves. “Watch with me. And then you can pretend to be in charge and force me to eat or stretch or some shit. Feel useful.”

John rolls his eyes, at the same time feeling a wave of gratefulness wash over inside him. Gratefulness that Sherlock knows him well enough to know when he’s panicking, and know what he means to say, and know when he needs to pretend that what just happened hadn’t happened at all.

“Oh thanks for giving me purpose in life,” he smirks.

Sherlock shrugs his shoulders casually as they walk back towards the small crowd gathered along the beach, the floral breeze of the rising mountains gently pushing at their backs, mixing with the salty spray of the waves. “Well, jobs for vets are shit these days so I’m just doing my part. You could be my manager. Like those guys that holds the clubs for the golfers, fetch them their towels and water and shit.”

John slaps his arm and tries not to laugh. “You don’t ever fucking stop, do you? You’d think by now, after . . . everything, you’d stop being an asshole with me at least.”

“Oh no, John, now I have to be the biggest asshole to you. Can’t have you thinking too highly of yourself that you snagged Scotty Holmes.”

John sucks in a breath and glances around them quickly, hoping nobody heard. Then he realizes that nobody could give a shit what Sherlock’s muttering over his shoulder to him. Not when two surfers are paddling their way out towards the tallest waves Waimea Bay’s seen in years.

He relaxes his shoulders, wanting desperately to reach out and wrap his arms around Sherlock’s warm, firm waist. “You’re fucking insane,” he whispers, and Sherlock looks over his shoulder to shoot him a wink before pulling his sunglasses back down over his eyes.

The crowd is nearly silent after the initial cheer following the first two surfers’ paddle out towards the breaking point. Everyone is holding their breath, eyes never straying from the two little back dots bobbing and weaving through the swells. The surfers paddle out to the side, just off where the waves are fully breaking, and pull up next to each other on their boards, talking through which sets to go for, what routes to take.

John follows Sherlock off to the side, cringing at himself for being afraid to even look down unless he lets Sherlock out of his sight. The three inches between their shoulders buzzes and thrums. It’s all John can think about. How if he just leaned slightly to the right, if he just shifted his weight in the sand, he could feel Sherlock Holmes’ warmth on his skin, a reminder that he’s here and alive and breathing. Not floating pale in the black deep with seaweed covering his face.

Sherlock calmly watches the surfers while the wind off the waves picks up speed, clinging to his shirt and wrapping it around the contours of his chest and stomach. John forces himself to do the same, ignoring the electric space between them and watching the sets, trying and failing to come up with what his own route through the chaos would be. Some of the waves are tall enough to partially block out the sunlight, casting the water in shadow. They crest and break over on top of each other without pause, waves as tall as three-story buildings smashing down into the foam, breaking over hidden rocks and surging against the palm trees tucked into the sides of the craggy rocks on either side of the bay. The sound is deafening. The air is thin. John watches, and tries to breathe, and waits.

The vet, Hank, walks up next to him and stares out to sea without saying hello. ““Betcha Don’s gonna take that swell forming out on the horizon line. If he waits any longer he knows he’ll lose his nerve.”

Sherlock hums from the other side of John, still looking out at the waves. “It won’t be a record-breaker but it will hold a clean face for him. Won’t break too soon.”

Hank chuckles under his breath. “Won’t even ask how the fuck you can tell all that this early.”

Sherlock just smirks.

John holds his breath as Don starts to paddle like hell out in front of the incoming wave, far sooner than John normally would for any of the smaller waves he’s caught along Los Angeles. The ocean seems to rise towards the sky behind him, heaving up in one great surge to fling him up towards the heavens. The beach is silent. Every person frozen. Don paddles as the wave pushes him higher and higher up towards the building crest.

“Shit, man, I wish we had Chris out there with his raft,” Hank says under his breath.

“He’ll be fine. The current will take him straight down the face and he’ll be well out before the crest breaks,” Sherlock says back, voice calm.

Don perches at the top of a thirty-foot wave, grabs both sides of his board, looks down over the edge of the crest, and pops up to his feet.

The beach gasps, and John leans to his right to press his shoulder up against Sherlock’s. Don rockets down the face of the wave, spray flying up behind the tail of his board, a black speck against a wall of moving water being hurled back down towards the earth. John can see his legs shaking under the force of the wave from here – the way his board pumps and bobs against the face as it tries to carve in a steady path. The wave starts to break ten feet behind him as he zooms straight down, threatening to crash on top of him and bury him in thirty-feet of solid, rushing water and foam. Hank curses under his breath, one hand covering his mouth, and John almost does the same. Sherlock alone out of everyone on the beach stands calm and unaffected, lips not even pursed.

For a moment Don is swallowed up by the mist and spray, disappearing behind churning ten-foot high walls of rushing foam. Someone on the shore yells Don’s name, cheering him on. And then, like a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds, Don reappears, backed by walls of whitewater and flying out towards the shoreline, still standing tall on his board. The crowd lets out a cheer as Don pumps his fist into the air and then dives off his board into the shallows, staying under for the bulk of the wave to roll past before surfacing again to crawl onto his board and get some air.

John lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and Sherlock presses back briefly into his arm.

“Well shit, Scotty, you were right,” Hank says, shaking out the tension from his arms.

Sherlock finally breaks his gaze away from the water. “Are you surprised?”

Hank grins. “No, I’m fucking not. I need to stretch, gonna go say my last rites and shit,” he quips. “Holmes, see you out there.”

Sherlock holds up a hand, and John gives Hank a nod as he heads off towards his board, still shaking the muscles in his arms and shoulders loose.

John stands next to Sherlock, barely speaking, for the next three rounds. Two surfers, one wave each. Nobody has the endurance to try to catch more than one of these waves within a heat. The beach feels oddly quiet without the blaring airhorn, or the crackling announcers, or the sounds of yelling and laughter spilling across the warm sand.

Everything is calm. Understated. Surfers start and end their heats with a cheer, and a blanket of silent focus hovers over the shore. Sherlock calls each ride as it’s happening – which wave they’ll take, how tall it’ll be, what will happen. Three surfers wipe out, but all of them happen early enough in the wave to simply dive through the face and surface on the other side of the crest, missing the crash of the breaking point.

John almost forgets that Sherlock will eventually take up his board and join them. That he won’t spend the whole day standing by his side predicting the future before taking John’s arm and leading them back home to their porch and their gentle waves and their bed.

Then Sherlock clears his throat and uncrosses his arms. “I need to get ready,” he says.

John freezes, mouth dry.

“John?”

With an effort he forces himself to turn and look at Sherlock, standing beside him looking absolutely gorgeous with the sunlight reflecting off his aviators and the salty wind blowing in his curls and the warmth of the sand glittering across his skin.

John can’t say anything. He licks his lips and nods. Sherlock reaches out to grip the top of his arm tightly.

“I’ll find you before Hank and I head out, ok?” Then he’s off into the crowd, walking towards his board so he can wax up and stretch as if he isn’t about to do something absolutely, deathly insane.

John fights back a moan as he watches Sherlock walk away from him down the stretch of shoreline, framed by mountains of rushing water on his right and mountains of green velvet on his left. He looks back out at the surfers paddling up and over the gigantic swells out towards the horizon and tells himself that everything will be fine. They haven’t had any major accidents today. Nobody’s drowned. Nobody’s died. These guys know how to surf this beach, have been training for it for years.

And that’s when Dickie drops in on his chosen wave. And the towering force of water behind him caves in on top of his tumbling body, crushing him under the foam while his board soars clear up into the air, ankle strap broken. The crowd on the beach lets out a collective gasp, waiting with bated breath for a tiny speck of a human to surface from the crashing, churning whitewater.

And then a second wave hits, even taller than the last. And that’s when the other surfers start running.

Sherlock speeds ahead of them towards the shoreline, board held up high over his head before he throws it down into the shallows and paddles out, duck diving under the incoming swells. John takes two trembling steps forward in the sand, wanting to cup his hands around his mouth and scream for Sherlock to come back, to let one of the other surfers go after Dickie caught underneath the walls of gushing water, to get his ass back on the sand and come and let John crush him into his arms so he can’t fucking leave his side.

But Sherlock paddles out, Don on his heels. John tracks Sherlock’s soaked white t-shirt through the rises and falls of the battling swells, wheezing breath out through his mouth and trying not to sink to his knees in the sand. The crowd has moved closer to the shoreline. Two men – lifeguards, John hopes - stand ready with a thrown together first-aid kit. Nobody makes a sound.

The entire universe shrinks down to the speck of Sherlock’s t-shirt in the deep blue water. John can’t tell if he’s standing or kneeling, silent or screaming, sleeping or awake. He sees Sherlock turn over his shoulder to call back towards Don before paddling up and over a twenty-foot wave just about to break, barely reaching the crest before it topples over into a barrel.

Someone from the beach yells. “I see him! I see him out there to the right!”

Sherlock’s paddling straight towards Dickie, as if he knew exactly where he would surface. John covers his mouth with his hand as Sherlock reaches out for Dickie and pulls his limp body onto the front of his board. They’re just to the right of the main breaking point, dangerously close to the to the crashing falls of the waves as the ocean continues to barrel towards the shore, completely unaware of the three men trying not to drown in her foam.

Don helps hoist Dickie’s body onto Sherlock’s back, wrapping his arms underneath Sherlock’s stomach so he can try and limply hold on, and then they’re racing back to shore. John can see the straining of Sherlock’s muscles from here, pulling with all his strength against the current and fighting to get enough air as his board sinks underneath the weight of two people. He catches a few waves in towards the shore, body-boarding in on the whitewater, and Don reaches the shore a minute before him, panting and sprinting towards the surfers.

“He’s alive but we can’t tell if he’s breathing,” he pants out. The other men nod and run towards the shore where Sherlock is almost in. He slides off his board in the shallows and catches Dickie underneath his arms, dragging him backwards up towards the sand and out of the last clutches of the waves.

John’s running before he even notices what he’s doing. He’s running towards Sherlock, white shirt plastered to his skin and dripping with saltwater, seaweed wrapped threateningly around his thighs and calves. His chest is heaving as he pushes his wet hair back from his face, stepping back so the two trained surfers can kneel in the mud and make sure Dickie’s ok. Sherlock’s eyes are blown wide open, mouth taut, and as John nears him he suddenly realizes what Sherlock must be thinking of as he watches the two men check Dickie’s airway and try and force air into his lungs. How he must be seeing John lying there limp in the wet sand, wet lips slowly turning blue.

John reaches out for his arm, and Sherlock flinches at the touch, hands still clutching at his hair.

“Sherlock I’m here,” he says, not giving a shit about calling him Scotty. “I’m here. It’s me.”

Sherlock blinks hard and sucks in a breath, then whips his head towards John.

“I’m here,” John says again. Sherlock releases all the air in his lungs, stepping back further from the men kneeling in the sand and taking a stumbling step towards John. He lets his arms fall to his sides and leans his weight against John’s shoulder.

John takes him by the wrist and starts to lead him away. “Here let’s get you some air. There’s nothing more you can do.”

The beach is eerily silent as he pulls Sherlock away, his limbs moving thickly through the sand in a daze.

“Scotty, you alright?” Hank calls out.

Sherlock blinks hard and nods, leaving his wrist in John’s hand. “I’m all good. Just need some air.”

Hank nods and puts up an understanding hand. “Looks like he’s alright,” he calls out. “He’s breathing, just a little stunned. He’s fine.”

Sherlock nods and doesn’t respond, letting John lead him slowly up towards the shaded canopy of the trees. John gently pushes him down into the sand against a palm trunk and hands him the nearest bottle of water. He kneels in front of him and puts a hand on his shin, trying to exude nothing but a strong, calm peace.

Sherlock gulps down the water and takes a deep breath to calm his heart, pushing the curls back from his forehead.

“I’m alright,” he says.

John huffs. “Like hell you are.”

“I’m fine. I’m good. Just needed to catch my breath.”

John shakes his head slowly as Sherlock shuts his eyes and leans his head back against the truck, breathing slowly. The saltwater glitters across his skin, and the muscles of his chest rise and fall under the clinging wet contours of his white tee. John wants to lean forward and grab his face in his hands and kiss him and say, “You fucking promised me you wouldn’t go out there without saying goodbye. You fucking promised me.”

But he knows he would never really say that. Because Sherlock knew he was the fastest swimmer on the shore, and he knew that he would know exactly where Dickie would eventually surface. And John knows that Sherlock saved that man’s life without even a second’s hesitation. A man who’s probably given him shit in the past, or called him a fairy, or whispered behind his back.

John lets himself reach forward and for a moment to hold Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock opens his eyes and gives a tired smile, and John feels his heart sink in his chest. He knows.

“You’re still gonna go out there, aren’t you,” he says.

Sherlock gazes into his eyes and nods, body tensing waiting for John’s reaction.

John takes a deep breath and nods, and Sherlock’s eyes widen in surprise. John squeezes his hand and lets go.

“I said you should do it. I won’t take my word back now,” he says, and Sherlock closes his eyes and leans back against the tree, whispering John’s name softly into the warm breeze slowly drying the saltwater on his skin.

They wait in the shade for another half hour as Dickie recovers on the sand and the crowd tries to recover from the scene. All too soon Hank’s waving over in their direction.

“You still joining me, Holmes? Or did you get your fill already?”

Sherlock smirks and starts to rise to his feet. “Gotta show you all how it’s done,” he calls back, and Hank nods and laughs. “Five minutes!”

Suddenly John needs to say everything. He grabs Sherlock’s hand before he can walk towards the shore and pulls him back into the trees, slamming him up against a trunk. They’re still in full view of the crowds, and John wishes more than anything he’s ever wished for in his life that he could just lean forward and press their lips together one last time. Instead he holds Sherlock at arm’s length and grips his shoulders hard.

His voice is choked. In his mind he sees Sherlock young and asleep earlier that morning in their bed, with the moonlight illuminating his face and his curls softly falling across his pillow. He blinks and sees the man on the pier.

“Don’t you dare not come back to me,” he whispers, voice hoarse.

Sherlock’s eyes are the vastness of the sea. They stare straight through John’s skin into his soul, and his large hands come up to hold onto John’s forearms. Sherlock clears his throat, and the earth disappears.

“I love you,” he says.

John shuts his eyes and hears a moan escape from the back of his throat. Sherlock’s eyes are wet and steady. Open and clear.

John shakes his head and huffs out a wet breath, then meets Sherlock’s gaze and forces his own voice to work.

“Come back to me and I’ll tell you the same thing, you bastard.”

Sherlock’s mouth crumples, and he smiles with wet eyes and nods. “I will, John,” he whispers. “I will.”

And then he’s gone. Walking away across the sand and pulling his wet shirt off his back, making his way towards his board to join Hank out in the surf. Leaving John grasping at cold, thin air.

John stands dumbly in the shade and watches Sherlock rejoin the surfers as if nothing’s happened. As if he didn’t just risk his life saving one of their own, or as if he didn’t just look into the eyes of John Watson and say in full view of the clear open sky and the vast blue sea that he loves him. That he loves him.

John wants to turn his face up towards the thick soft clouds and laugh at the top of his lungs. A gigantic “take that!” to the universe that’s tried to drag him down over and over again.

But then he watches Sherlock walk with his board towards the waves, the crowd gathering closer to watch and cheer them on. Sherlock turns back and looks over his shoulder, giving John a wave, and then he’s running out into the thrashing sea, not looking back.

John watches as Sherlock’s tattoo disappears into the spray. He whispers, “I love you,” into the choking, salty air, throat burning and tight, blinking back the hot tears threatening to spill over in his eyes.

He goes to stumble towards the water when suddenly he sees movement out of the corner of his eye. A woman appears from the line of thick trees, long black braid streaked with grey curling over her shoulder. Her long skirt blows gently across the surface of the sand, and her blouse ripples and clings in the strong wind pouring across the shore from the waves. She walks towards the water with small, hesitant steps, then stops in her tracks and raises a hand to her mouth, eyes completely fixed on the two surfers paddling out into the fierce walls of deadly, roaring water.

In a flash of clarity John realizes exactly who she is.

“Lahela always used to tell me ‘Ukuli'i ka pua, onaona i ka mau'u.’ The flower may be tiny, but it scents the grasses around it.”

He looks out quickly towards the waves, making sure Sherlock is still in the safety of the shallows, and then he slowly walks towards her where she stands completely frozen in the sand.

He clears his throat gently by her side. “Are you here to watch Scotty?”

She jumps at his voice, and turns to face him like she’d forgotten she wasn’t alone on the beach. Her deep brown eyes are wide with fear.

“Yes,” she whispers. She doesn’t ask him how he knew. John looks at her and nods, not bothering to mask the fear in his own eyes, and she clutches at a cross hanging down around her neck.

In a silent decision they walk side by side closer to the shoreline, off to the side of the rest of the crowd. Lahela’s skirt blows against John’s ankles in the sand, grounding him on the earth as his heart flies out across the waters to the place where Sherlock paddles through the waves, fighting against the water to let him ride her swells.

John watches the man who just said “I love you” paddle steadily towards the most dangerous waves on earth while he stands powerless and frozen on the shore.

And beside him he hears whispered words escape from Lahela’s trembling lips, carried away on the salty breeze.

“Ka mana o ke Akua e ho’ opakele mai ia kakou. Ka mana o ke Akua e malama mai ia kakou.”

And John watches as Sherlock paddles just to the left of the breaking point, perched on his board above the heaving swells of the deep. Sherlock looks back towards the shore straight at him, a silent signal that he’s about to take the next wave barreling in towards the shore. And John whispers his own prayer softly into the wind.

“Come back to me.”

Chapter Text

The wind scours across the surface of the waves and whips the cold saltwater from his face, hurling droplets into the rolling void of the deep below his board. Sherlock grips his thighs tighter around his board to steady himself against the rocking water beneath him, trying to breathe slow enough to keep his heartrate steady after the harsh paddle out to the breaking point. Hank is still battling behind him – stuck in the shallows and trying to get past the barrier of cresting waves, pushed back again and again by the whitewater no matter how fast he tries to paddle over the tops.

Sherlock is alone out on the water. Gasping for breath with a burn in his arms and limbs, shaking with exhaustion since he already battled through these waves once not even an hour ago to help Dickie. Sherlock tears his eyes away from Hank pushing through the breaking waves and looks out towards the horizon. The vastness of the sea suddenly looms before him with a moan. He can hear the empty groaning of the void across the surface of the ocean, stretching out to infinity with no break in sight. No people, or whispered words, or family, or jobs, or money, or competitions on crowded beaches.

No John Watson.

The empty horizon line had always been a peace for him. A welcome reminder that he always had an out. He could simply swim out towards her unreached depths and never look back if he wanted to. He could take a deep breath and swim out towards the blessed, lonely silence. He could wake up one day in his house, step out into the sea, and let his feet leave the steadiness of the ground for the very last time, abandoning the whispers behind him.

But now John Watson is at his back, strong and brave and beautiful standing on the shore, letting Sherlock be out here in the raging swells just so he can prove to himself that he’s capable of reading the secrets of the ocean. That it’s possible for him, Sherlock Holmes, to have one place on earth where he actually belongs. To dare the sea to welcome him with thrashing, outstretched arms.

Time stretches out before him like eternity. Sherlock knows he’s only been out there for five minutes, only stopped paddling and stopped to perch on his board thirty seconds ago. But now Sherlock also knows, deep in the pit of his soul, that John Watson is waiting for him back on the sand, waiting to tell him “I love you.” And he knows, for the first time in his entire life with certainty, that the ocean will carry him back to shore and not leave him to roam out towards the horizon forever.

Sherlock tracks the next two waves rolling in to shore and sees his opening – an incoming swell that’ll be at least thirty feet. Forty if he’s lucky. It isn’t the record, but it’ll do. Suddenly the record isn’t important to him anymore. Not when he still has the scent of a sleeping John hidden in the crevices of his skin. Not when he’s just opened his mouth back on the shore and said the most terrifying three words he ever has in his life without even feeling scared for a moment.

It’s time.

He takes a deep breath to still his racing heart, steadfastly ignoring the fear and adrenaline pumping through his veins. Without meaning to he looks quickly back to the shore, and immediately his eyes find John, standing frozen in the sand with the wind blowing his golden hair back from his face. Looking like sunrise light pooling across a soft, cashmere beach. Looking like the crystal clear waters, rippling with glittering light, which Sherlock had looked down into through angry tears and first seen the jellyfish bobbing gently by his feet.

Looking like the feeling of opening the door to his house and seeing someone else’s shoes already sitting just inside. Worn and comfortable and home.

He sees only John Watson, who looks back at Sherlock with such steadfast focus that Sherlock wants to say “fuck it” and race back into shore as fast as he can. Abandon his board in the shallows and run to John and cup his face in his hands and tell him that saying “I love you” was the easiest thing Sherlock had ever done in his life. The most poignant moment of clarity – more deeply felt in his bones than the moment he’d first stood up on a surfboard on trembling, fifteen-year-old legs.

John nods from the shore. Sherlock can see his lips just barely moving, whispering to him in the breeze. He hears John’s voice clear as day in his head, crisp and warm over the sound of the roaring waves.

“Don’t you dare not come back to me.”

Now it’s time.

Sherlock swallows hard against the fear in his chest and looks back towards the perfect wave rolling into shore from the distant horizon. He looks quickly down at the water pooling over his board and around his legs, cups a palmful of it in his hands and thinks of his mom. Thinks of her God. Thinks of survival.

Then he’s paddling like hell out in front of the heaving mass of water, vision blocking out everything but the sight of his hands sinking again and again into the blue, pulling himself steadily along. His breathing echoes off his board, amplified across the vibrating surface of the water. The salt tangs on his lips and tongue. The spray coats his face in foam, pulling strands of his hair down into his eyes. It feels strange to see the brilliant blue of the waves without the cover of his sunglasses. The way the sand looks like a blinking pool of pure light beaming from the edges of the waves. The way the sunlight ripples through the whitewater, surrounding his body as he tugs himself towards the shore. Towards John.

The wave starts lifting him up towards the sky by the tail of his board. The ocean surges underneath him, rumbling and churning as it gains speed. Sherlock sees the speed and height hovering over the waters like he always does. Sees the angles and drop in, the perfect path to take and the precise moment to stand up on his board and drop in.

He is alone in the ocean. Alone in the world. He grips the sides of his board with shaking fingers right at the crest. He feels his heart beat like a drum in his chest, echoing out across the silent, muffled sound of the entire rest of the earth. He sucks in a wet, salty breath, thinks of the color of John Watson’s eyes in the earliest morning light, and then leaps up to standing, ready to fly.

He soars down the face of the wave, zooming straight down a three-story drop with nothing but the screaming wind at his front and the ripping force of the ocean underneath his legs. His knees tremble with energy, his thighs ache and grasp at his board, desperate to stay standing. He feels one-thousand feet high in the air. As if he could just angle his board and soar off carried on the wind into the sky. Like he could spread out his arms and fly across the island and land back in his home, John Watson already waiting for him with a warm smile and open arms, with no fear left in his eyes.

Sherlock grunts against the force of the wave beneath him. He hunkers down against his board, arms flying out to catch his balance, fighting against the thrashing current beneath him. He’s almost to the foot of the wave, just barely ahead of the breaking crest. He needs to pick up a little more speed to make it out from under the crushing force of the barrel. If he doesn’t he’ll be pummeled into the deep, cast off like the smallest piece of seaweed thrown limply across the spray.

He bends his knees deeper and sucks in a breath, fighting like hell to reach the bottom without flying off into the spray, bucked from his board. He hears the wave crash in a screaming roar behind him, feels the slapping rush of spray and foam slam at his back with the force of a moving train. It shoots him forward like a rocket across the surface of the water, blinding him in a cloud of whitewater that slaps at his bare skin and burns in his eyes. He can’t tell if he’s up on his board or hurtling through the water. If he’s breathing in oxygen or salt. If he’s traveling towards the shore or being sucked back down into the claws of the deep.

Sherlock’s heart pangs in his chest. He needs to reach the shore. Needs to reach John. Needs to live.

Suddenly, like the brilliant sun piercing through the clouds, Sherlock’s lungs suck in pure, dry air, and his eyes catch a glimpse of dark green mountain backed by an open blue sky. The deafening roar in his ears subsides. He can hear himself breathe again. He can tell he’s standing upright, still clinging to his board with numb and shaking legs. His stomach is on fire, abs clenched so tight he thinks he’ll never draw in a full breath again.

He’s alive.

Suddenly he laughs. A smile and a sigh and a sob all at once as the pent-up fear in his body escapes from his muscles in a rush. He looks up once towards the sky, noting one solitary dove flying gently across the sea of soft, white clouds, and then he looks back towards the shore. John Watson stands alone in the crowd, illuminated on the beach by a ray of sunlight shining down directly onto his body. The rest of the people on the beach are waving their arms and cheering for him, calling out and clapping and rushing in closer to the water. But John stands silent and unmoving. Arms clasped tightly behind his neck. With a brilliant smile illuminating every corner of his face.

Sherlock smiles back, thanks his mom’s God who separated the sky from the sea, thanks the ocean for carrying him safely to shore, and then leaps off his board into the shallows, feeling the cool water like a kiss against his aching skin.

He waits underneath the water for the bulk of the wave to pass over him, then surfaces into the calm between the swells. The bubbles of the foam sizzle gently in his ears, and his hair falls limply into his eyes. Like a madman he paddles towards the shallows, then rips off his ankle strap and leaps off his board. He runs in the soft sand, shins slapping against the receding waves. The other surfers are running towards him – Don and Dickie and the rest, Hank with a wet towel still around his neck, never having made it past the break. They’re calling his name and cupping their palms around their mouths, looking at him like he’s the goddamn sun. Sherlock leaves his board to float along in the foaming shallows, making his way on invisible legs into the warmth and noise and bright light of the real world where the earth doesn’t heave and roll underneath his feet.

He walks through the small crowd like he’s hearing the earth for the very first time.

“Fucking primo ride, Scotty!”

“Largest wave of the day, dude!”

“Shit, Holmes, you just showed us how it’s done! That’s how it’s fucking done, man!”

The ocean continues to pound at his back, rushing in over and over again onto the sand, covering his feet with tingling foam. He lets them pat his back and reach out to touch his board bobbing in the shallows like a trophy. He hears their words and cheers like one giant sound, crackling in his ears and blowing against his face. Sherlock isn’t even sure what he says, how he looks. If he smiles or waves or says, “I know, man, didn’t think I was gonna make it out of that one without needing one of your sorry asses to come out and do the rescuing this time.”

Then the crowd parts, and the sound fades away, and all he can see is John.

John who has his hands gently resting behind his back as if he’s standing watch on the deck of the ship. John whose eyes are sparkling like the sunlight dappling the surface of the sea. John who is walking towards him slowly, eyes locked on to his.

Sherlock runs to him like he’s never known what it is to truly run until this moment. The saltwater stings his eyes, and the sunlight blares, and his curls fall down into his face, and he runs towards John Watson like a clear beacon of guiding light, clearing his path across the shore. His toes trip in the sand, his calves burn, and John’s face breaks into a crumpling smile just before Sherlock reaches him and crushes him into his arms, feeling John’s hands grip tight enough at his bare, wet back to leave a mark. A new tattoo of the memory of John’s touch on his skin.

John’s back is shaking, and his face is buried deep into Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock holds him tight against himself, breathing in the sunlight from his hair, cupping the back of his neck in his palm. They are the only two souls in Waimea Bay.

And then John huffs out a breath and moans.

“I love you, Sherlock Holmes,” he whispers into Sherlock’s quivering skin. “God, I love you.”

Sherlock wants to take a deep breath and dive under and drown in John’s words. Wants to breathe them in and keep them down in the pit of his lungs so they can never escape from him out in the wind across the ocean.

The water from his skin is seeping into John’s clothes, making them cling to his body. Sherlock wants to pick John up and fucking carry him back across the island to their home. Let John throw him down onto the bed and take him. Have him. Let John cover him with his lips and fingers and tongue and let Sherlock know that he belongs to him until the day a force of nature kicks down the door and physically drags them apart. He wants to hold John’s face in his hands and kiss him on the shore, letting John taste the saltwater on his lips. Wants to pick him up and feel John’s legs wrap around his waist like the girlfriends of the other surfers do when they’re kissing in the sand after they’ve won, kissing to the sounds of cheers and whistles echoing down the beach.

The embrace lasts less than five seconds. Just short enough to be two surfing buddies, champions of the Billabong congratulating each other in the sand. John sucks in a deep breath when he pulls back, like he’s breathing for the first time all day. His eyes are shining and clear, and Sherlock nearly gasps. The darkness lurking in the corners of John’s eyes is gone. Eradicated completely and replaced by a warm, glowing pride - a sense of security that washes over Sherlock more thoroughly than the waves that just crashed over every inch of his skin.

John looks into his eyes and pats his arm once before stepping away, putting more space between them.

“Later,” he whispers, and Sherlock understands. Then John grins one last time at him, his beautiful lips curving up just at the corners in a smile meant for him and him alone, and then he steps just barely to the side, and Sherlock absolutely freezes.

It can’t be her. But it is.

Sherlock looks quickly back to John, making sure that what he’s seeing isn’t just some dehydrated hallucination in the middle of the beach. He can feel his mouth hanging half-open. John looks at him with eyes as deep as the sea and nods gently. Sherlock can sense the surfers behind him retreating back to their own groups – going over the best waves of the day, making plans to go grab a drink, passing along the latest news and gossip. The wind from the waves whips at Sherlock’s back, pushing him closer to where Lahela stands motionless in the sand, her silk skirt billowing in a ripple across the grains while the breeze whips through the loose strands of her braid.

She looks back at Sherlock with watering eyes and her hands hanging helplessly at her sides. Sherlock takes one hesitant step forward, toes sinking blindly into the sand.

She whispers gently into the breeze. “Oh, Scotty.”

Sherlock takes another step closer and shakes his head. “I don’t understand,” he whispers back. His voice is nearly lost in the wind.

She smiles, and her mouth trembles at the corners. She holds out her hands, fingers shaking. “Can I see you?” she asks.

Sherlock feels that if he takes three steps forward and holds her hands in his she’ll disappear. He hasn’t touched those hands since he was fifteen walking down a hot sidewalk with a trash bag slung over his shoulder and his father’s yells echoing in his ears. He’s afraid they’ll be thinner than he remembers. More frail. He’s afraid they’ll feel like his mom’s hands did gripping at his shirt on an Arizona porch with a half-empty liquor bottle spilling over onto the splintered wood. He’s afraid that if he touches her then John will fade away into the mist. One good thing gained, another taken.

He’s afraid.

John clears his throat and speaks gently at his side. “Sherlock,” he says. It travels through the tense muscles in Sherlock’s shaking body like a salve. It means everything.

With a rush of air Sherlock moves forward in the sand on numb legs and reaches out his hands to take hers. She grips his fingers hard. Desperate and frantic. Clutching his hands in hers.

“My boy,” she says, voice shaking.

Her voice sounds just like he remembered it. Deep and fragile, gently lilting over the vowels like flower petals bending under the weight of a warm, soft breeze. Sherlock doesn’t even know what comes over him. He blinks hard, letting the sight of her sink crisply into his vision, not fading away into a ghost. Then he walks forward and lets her wrap him in her arms, feeling her thin bones under his hands as she stretches up on her toes to reach her arms around his bent neck and shoulders. Her long braid rests against his cheek – the same way she’d always worn it for the five years that she had made his lunches and sent him off to school and held ice to his cheek all the evenings he came home with bloody noses or black eyes.

Her hair smells like flowers. It’s the smell of mornings when Sherlock would wake up at three o’clock in the morning and make his way on silent bare feet down the hallway to the kitchen and see her standing there in her nightgown drinking tea. The smell of the special silent nights they sat across from each other at the kitchen table. The smell of her perfume that had wafted over to Sherlock across the tense air when she had chased him down on the sidewalk, grabbed his wrist hard, and begged him not to turn his back on the Lord.

Her hair smells like candles and sand. The scent of his father’s aftershave and the slightest hint of fried fish from dinner the night before, which Sherlock wasn’t there to eat all the leftovers of after his father and brother had picked at it and wished they were eating a steak instead. It smells a hell of a lot like an Arizona porch.

Lahela pulls back with wet eyes, smoothing out the front of her now damp blouse. Sherlock opens his mouth to apologize, but instead says, “How did you know where to find me?”

Lahela smiles with sad eyes. Sherlock can’t tear his gaze away from her. If he does she’ll disappear into the sand, vanishing forever and never to return. He can feel John’s presence still at his side, grounding and safe. He gazes into the face of the past he’d screamed “fuck you” to out across the surface of the waves, and he tries desperately to convince himself that the past two hours have been real.

“I heard about you after you won that first time. Everyone was talking about it. It was in the papers,” she says, voice wistful like describing the plot of an old and favorite book. One with a very sad ending.

Sherlock barely remembers to nod.

“I saw you the next year there. When you won again.”

Sherlock’s eyes widen in shock. “You were there?”

She nods. Sherlock wants to question everything he’s ever experienced in his life. The thought that he was standing along the Banzai holding his board while his own step-mom was secretly among the crowd without him knowing makes him feel like everything he’s ever seen has maybe been just a mirage.

“You stopped writing to me, Scotty,” she goes on. “Did you get my letters?”

Sherlock looks at his bare feet encrusted with sand and feels a flush of shame spreading up his neck. “I did,” he says low.

He’s not sure what he could possibly say. “I did, but I didn’t want you to be associated with the fag from Oahu?” or maybe “I did, but you think I’m going to hell anyways so I didn’t really think it worth the time to respond?” or really he could just tell her the truth and say “because every time I picked up the pen I remembered that I hated my lonely fucking life a little bit more.”

Lahela doesn’t wait for him to answer. Instead she reaches forward and takes his hand in hers. “So is this what you do then? For a living?”

She nods towards the waves still pounding at their backs, and Sherlock realizes he’d completely forgotten the entire Pacific Ocean was even there.

He clears his throat. “Uh, no. I work. I just. . . I do this. Too.” He nearly winces at himself. He sounds like a complete idiot. Like he hasn’t aged one day since the morning he turned fifteen.

Lahela squeezes his hand, and her eyes see straight through his skin. “You surf like were born out there in the water,” she says. Her eyes are focused and grave. “A true master of heʻe nalu.”

Sherlock feels his eyes watering. He hears what she’s saying - what she means. That somehow a kid from bumfuck nowhere Iowa worked his ass off enough to call what he does on a board an art. A religion. He thinks of John, “this isn’t just a game for me,” and suddenly he understands deep in his bones. Lahela watches the thoughts play out across his face and nods, eyes serious.

He can still feel John’s presence at his side, and in an instant the thought of finally letting himself reach out to the woman in front of him without her realizing who John is feels like drowning. He wants desperately just to stand there and look at her warm smile. To talk about surfing and ask how she is and pretend that his past is behind him. That the reason he ever had to leave in the first place is dead and long gone – just a teenage mistake. He wishes he could look the woman who just called his surfing he’e nalu in the eyes and say he was no longer the man with a photograph of a sailor in his pocket.

But John Watson loves him, and the thought of doing just that feels like a betrayal.

He steps back from Lahela and looks over at John, who takes a breath and walks over closer to his side. Sherlock takes one last glance at Lahela, still looking at him with warmth and pride in her eyes, and then he opens his mouth to speak over the sound of the waves.

“This is John,” he says. “He’s the new Billabong champion.”

Lahela’s eyes widen, and she reaches out her hand to shake his. “You’re as good as my Scotty then,” she says, eyes sparkling.

My Scotty. Sherlock tucks those words away in his mind so he can revisit them after this interaction inevitably goes to shit. After Lahela runs away from him embarrassed and disgusted in the sand. He feels John stiffen beside him – he realizes what Sherlock’s about to say. He does absolutely nothing to stop him, just stands tall, chin high.

“John is . . . he’s with me. He lives with me.”

Sherlock stares steadily at Lahela, willing her to somehow understand. She does.

Lahela doesn’t run away in the sand. Instead she stands frozen. Her eyes grow wide, and she whips her head back to John standing at his side tensed and ready for a fight. Sherlock watches with his heart in his throat as Lahela looks at John with focused, narrowed eyes. She looks back to Sherlock, then back at John, lips thin and pursed. The beach is silent and deafening all at once. Sherlock feels his own breathing echo harshly in his ears, like the water behind him has turned into sand paper thrashing and cutting against the rocks along the shore, filling the beach with snarling white noise.

Finally Lahela reaches up to clutch gently at the cross around her neck. She looks at John.

“You don’t look like a . . . you don’t look like it,” she says.

To Sherlock’s surprise, John’s eyes soften. The corner of his mouth curves in a gentle smile. “No, I suppose I don’t,” he answers. “But I am.” He looks quickly at Sherlock, eyes full and blue. “With him,” he finishes.

Sherlock has never wanted to scoop up and kiss John Watson more than in that moment. He wants to run his fingers through John’s perfect hair and look back at Lahela and say “Can you even fucking believe it? That I got this man to somehow love me? That I got him to pick up his life and leave behind his friends and his job and his safety and move here just to be with me?”

Lahela is still standing frozen watching them. Sherlock nearly begs her to speak – to just fucking say something instead of leaving them both in suspense. Yell at him, curse him, tell him he’s going to Hell, just anything instead of this silence.

She clears her throat and reaches out her hand again, fingers slightly trembling. John frowns, surprised, then takes it.

“It’s nice to meet you, John,” she says. “Scotty wasn’t happy for a very long time.”

John looks down at their clasped hands and shakes hers once before letting go. Sherlock stares at the empty space where their joined hands used to be, scared to breathe unless everything around him dissolves into a dream.

“Scotty,” she says softly.

He looks up at her, eyes wide and unblinking. She takes him in, letting the wind blow the loose strands of her braid gently across her face as she blinks into the sun hanging heavy and full over the blinding ocean.

“You need to trim your hair,” she says. “Too many tangles at the ends.” Then before Sherlock can even react she reaches forward and holds his arm. “When will you surf next?”

Sherlock sucks in a breath and blinks hard, forcing his throat to work. He feels like his brain is thirty seconds behind, frantically trying to play catch-up. “Sunset beach is in three weeks,” he says back.

She nods and releases her grip. She doesn’t smile, but there’s a clarity on her face Sherlock hasn’t ever seen since the first day she showed up in their living room with his father’s hand on her shoulder and a new engagement ring on her finger.

“I’ll be there, then,” she says. And then with one last look she’s turning to leave, skirt blowing out across the sand as she makes her way back to the bus station that took her clear across the island, on her way home to cook dinner and do his father’s laundry and sit with her Bible in her special chair to pray for his soul. And probably to pray for John’s soul, too.

Suddenly Sherlock feels panic churning low in his gut. Dread flashes through his mind – that despite what Lahela just said, if she walks away now Sherlock will never see her again. That he’ll lose everything that he thought he might have hesitantly just gained back. He takes two running steps forward in the sand.

“Wait!”

She turns, holding the blowing strands back from her face.

“Mikey,” Sherlock says, the name completely foreign in his mouth. “Is Mikey ok?”

Lahela smiles, but her eyes are sad. “Yes, your brother is well,” she says. She pauses and licks her lips, then goes on, still turning back awkwardly at the edges of the beach. “He’s going to UC Berkeley in the fall. For engineering.” Then she smiles once more, glances one last time at John, and turns to keep walking towards the palm tree-lined road.

Sherlock stands stunned in the sand. His brain feels like it’s churning through thick, wet mud, dragging him back and slowing him down. He watches until her form, familiar and alien, disappears behind the line of trees. Swallowed up by the dusty green of the island.

His brother is going to Berkeley. His brother who always begged Sherlock to finish his homework for him under the covers with a flashlight each night is going to Berkeley to study engineering, making his father beam with pride when he tells the other Lieutenants on the base. And meanwhile Sherlock stands on a beach without even a high school diploma, with a tiny ad in the phone book naming himself as a pseudo-mechanic for cheap and saltwater and grease stains permanently etched into his fingertips.

It’s a shock – the fact that the world has kept turning even after he’d turned his back on it. The fact that his brother isn’t still eleven years old, and Lahela’s hair is streaked with grey. Fuck, maybe his father isn’t even Lieutenant anymore.

Suddenly his pride at conquering Waimea leaves his body in a rush. He feels pathetic and young in the sand. Left behind.

But Lahela had been proud of him, hadn’t she? She’d stood tall and looked at him with pride and called his surfing he’e nalu. And John Watson doesn’t care that there isn’t a framed diploma on his wall.

Right?

“Sherlock?”

Sherlock feels like an idiot. He hadn’t even remembered that John was standing there, or that the rest of the beach was filled with surfers probably wondering who the hell he was just talking to, or that he’d just surfed the biggest wave Waimea’s seen in years and lived to tell about it.

He’d forgotten that John had held him close and whispered into his ear, “I love you.”

He turns to look at John, still speechless, and John smiles in that way of his, lighting up every grain of sand on the beach into a brilliant burst of sunlight.

“Come on, then,” he says. “I just had a birthday standing here waiting for you to move. You need to say bye to any of these guys or can we get the hell out of here so I can kiss you?”

John Watson is a genius. Of course they should leave. Of course they should go back to their home together now that the fear is over. Of course they should go and kiss each other senseless. Because John Watson loves him.

Sherlock nods, and John lets out a breath like he’s relieved as they start to make their way over to Sherlock’s board and bag. Sherlock looks one last time out at the raging waves, feeling like he’d surfed across them thirty days ago instead of just thirty minutes, and then they turn to go, shoulder to shoulder, leaving the group still mingling behind them in the sand.

“Holmes, you ducking out?”

Hank jogs after them across the beach, waving a hand for them to wait.

“We’re all gonna head down for a beer if you guys want to join. You know, celebrate not dying and all,” Hank says.

John chuckles sarcastically, and Sherlock fights the urge to reach out and take John’s hand. “You know me,” he says back. “Not much for sticking around. We’re just gonna head back home.”

He realizes his mistake too late. Hank barely hesitates, just blinks and looks quickly at John with just his eyes. Then he smiles at the corner of his mouth. “You out-surfed all of our sorry asses today, man. Guess you deserve to be rid of all of us.”

Sherlock lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Hank nods over at John, hands in his pockets. “You’ll be at Sunset in a few weeks?”

John nods yes, and Sherlock suddenly catches the gaze of understanding between them. He feels like a moron for not having spotted it before. Too focused on himself, on the waves, on his ride. John looks at Hank like he’s seeing a friend from his past, still covered head to toe in camo with the jungle at his back.

John rubs the back of his neck. “Guess I am, now that I’ve tricked everyone into thinking I know what the fuck I’m doing. You?”

Hank laughs. “Nah, man. Not much one for competitions. I just sneak out here when I don’t have to worry about points and heats and shit.”

Hank leans forward to hold Sherlock firmly on the arm before Sherlock or John can answer him. “Go on, then, you fucking hermit. You both earned it.”

Sherlock nearly gasps as the look in Hank’s eyes makes him realize just how much Hank knows, and then Hank turns to walk back to the group of other surfers still lounging on their boards in the sand, as if he hadn’t just done anything revolutionary at all. As if he hadn’t just shaken the hand of the gayest surfer in Hawaii and told him to go home to be with his man.

John clears his throat and shakes his head towards the road, and Sherlock follows silently. By unspoken agreement Sherlock hands John the keys to the Jeep when they get near, and after throwing his board in the back he gets into the passenger seat, placing his hand firmly on John’s knee when John lets out the clutch to start driving them home.

The drive is silent. John whistles a Stones tune through his teeth as he drives, slowly meandering the winding seaside road back down along the North Shore towards home. Sherlock stares out the window, letting the wind rush against his face, and he breathes in the salt sea air, mixed with warm flowers and a hint of earthy mud. Salted fish and grassy straw and sweet, milky coconuts wafting through the breeze. John Watson’s deodorant, and the musk of sweat mixed with saltwater and hot sand, and the worn, cracked leather of the seats in the Jeep.

Sherlock closes his eyes, and with a rush of emotion realizes for the first time in his life since he stepped off the plane in Honolulu holding his father’s hand with a Jetsons rolling suitcase behind him that this is home. That his little hut with its peeling paint and empty beach and creaking wood floors is the absolute best place in the universe. That he’s one lucky son of a bitch.

He looks over at John, driving with one hand out the window and the wind rustling his golden hair, and smiles so wide it hurts his sunburned cheeks.

“Say it again,” Sherlock says over the sound of the engine. He leans back further in his seat, letting his curls blow across his eyes.

John’s eyes light up as he looks ahead at the stretch of road, and he covers Sherlock’s hand on his knee with his own. “I love you,” he says. He covers his mouth with the hand that had been hanging out the window, and the corners of his eyes crinkle as he slowly shakes his head. “God help me, I do.”

-

John gets his board out of the back for him after parking out in front of Chuck Hobbs’ place. Sherlock feels like he’s living inside of a film. Where he has John Watson to drive him back home after a morning spent surfing Waimea, and John Watson to get his board for him and walk down to the house – their house - and John Watson to look back over his shoulder and say, “Come on, you lazy ass, your legs are like five inches longer than mine and I’m carrying your goddamn board and I’m still beating you.”

Sherlock jogs to catch up to him, feeling like if he just ran a little bit faster he’d sprout wings and fly up into the clear blue sky.

John sticks his board down in the sand leaning up against the house and shucks off his shoes. “You must be starving.”

On cue, Sherlock’s stomach growls. John smirks and walks into the cool darkness of the house, heading straight for the small fridge and looking at the contents inside with a frown on his face, muttering to himself under his breath.

Sherlock stands frozen in the doorway, watching John casually look through the fridge in his bare feet as if he hadn’t just picked up his whole damn life and moved it here just yesterday. As if he hadn’t just watched Sherlock surf the tallest waves on earth, or whispered “I love you” into his ear on the beach. The low sense of dread, the complete disbelieving anxiety that this all can’t possibly be real, finally spills over in Sherlock’s chest, and he takes a step forward into the house, heart pounding.

“John.”

The tone of his voice makes John pop up his head over the refrigerator door. “Something wrong?”

Sherlock gestures limply with his hand around the silent, empty house, not even sure what to say. “You – you gave up so much for this. For me.”

It’s not at all what he’d meant to say. He’d meant to say something like “I think there’s some chicken thighs in the freezer,” or “isn’t it crazy now that you live here now?”

He sure as hell hadn’t meant to stand there looking young and stupid in his doorway reminding John of everything he gave up to be there. That he doesn’t have a job yet. Or that people like Lahela and Hank will look at him now standing next to Sherlock and know. That he’ll be the fag from Los Angeles who fell for the fag from Oahu.

He wants to sink to his knees and apologize and tell him to pack his bags and run. But before he can do that John shuts the fridge door and leans back against the counter, arms spread casually out behind him.

John nods slowly, small smile on his lips. “Yeah, in a way I did.”

Sherlock swallows hard. His voice sounds tiny. “I’m sorry.”

John frowns, taking a step forward. “Why the hell are you apologizing?”

Sherlock shrugs. His mouth is dry. “Because, you – I don’t want you to go through what I do. You don’t deserve that.”

“Well you don’t deserve it either, love.”

Sherlock shuts his eyes at the name, feeling a warm flutter in the pit of his chest.

John goes on. “Sherlock, look at me. I wouldn’t have gotten back on that plane at LAX if I wasn’t sure about this. If I wasn’t one-hundred fucking percent sure.”

Sherlock feels like the room is spinning. “I’m sure, too,” he whispers.

John nods and clears his throat. The house seems vast and silent, warping around them in its own private universe where nobody else even exists. “You know I told Greg that . . . that I’m gay. When I was back there. He helped me get everything together so I could get back out here. Told me I was an idiot for not coming back to you.”

Sherlock gapes. “You told him?”

“Yeah I did.” John shrugs his shoulders. “And the world didn’t end. You know? It’s—” John runs his hand through his hair, looking past Sherlock out the window. “Shit, Sherlock, I wanted to kiss you on the beach after you came out of the waves. I wanted to so fucking badly. I wanna tell people that I’m with you. That I just moved in with you, because that’s the kind of shit people get to be excited about.”

Sherlock feels his eyes growing wet. “Me too.”

John sighs, then walks forward and takes Sherlock’s cold fingers in his. “But, we just can’t. Not everyone’s Greg, or even Hank.”

Sherlock nods. “I know.”

“But listen to me. That sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m leaving you, or that I don’t want to live here with you –”

“But—”

“No, no but’s. I haven’t wanted to fucking kill myself since the second I met you, and I’m pretty sure you’ve felt the same. So unless you tell me to leave –”

“I’d never tell you to leave.”

“Right, so unless you tell me to leave, I’m in this. I’m with you. I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t feel that way, ok?”

Sherlock can barely breathe. He gasps in a deep breath then reaches forward to pull John into his arms. He rests his cheek against his hair and runs his hand up the muscles in John’s back.

He smiles into John’s hair. The house doesn’t seem quite so large or silent anymore. “I’m not sure what the hell I did to deserve you.”

John huffs. “I’m not sure either, because you can be a fucking asshole most of the time.”

He pulls back and grabs Sherlock’s cheek, bringing him down for a kiss. “Now stop doubting me. I’m a fucking decade older than you, I know what I’m choosing here.”

Sherlock laughs despite himself as John steps back. “Seriously, you’re gonna play the age card?”

“I’m gonna play the age card if you keep doubting that I don’t love you more than I even know how to deal with,” John says. He walks back towards the kitchen. “Now go and shower, you smell like hot beach. And when you come back we’re eating whatever I can whip up out of this sorry ass fridge and drinking beers and you’re gonna tell me all about your secret plan for what I’m gonna do for a job.”

Sherlock gasps, caught out. The world starts moving again around him for the first time since he’d stepped foot in the doorway. “How the hell do you know about that?”

John smirks. “I didn’t, but you just confirmed my suspicions, genius.” He nods over his shoulder. “Go on. I’ll be here.”

John turns back to the fridge and leaves Sherlock standing in the middle of the house. The house that’s filled with the sounds of John Watson whistling while he rummages through the fridge. And the warmth of his skin reaches out across the hardwood floor and spreads through every inch of their home, caressing the soles of Sherlock’s water-wrinkled feet.

--

“So your step-mom knew, then. About you.”

Sherlock takes another sip of his beer out on the porch and nods, bringing his knees up to his chest.

He hums. “Wasn’t exactly a secret. I’m pretty sure the whole street heard what my dad was yelling that day.”

John winces. “The usual names?”

“The usual.”

John stretches his legs out, resting his feet on the banister of the porch, and cradles his icy bottle in his lap.

“I sorta thought she was gonna react more when you told her about me today.”

“So did I.” Sherlock takes another drink, then lets his beer hang between his fingers by the neck, swaying softly in the breeze coming steadily off the ocean.

“I don’t think she’s ever actually met any gay people before. Think you threw her for a loop with all your manly muscles and shit. No lipstick or feather boas or lisp or anything.”

John huffs out a laugh and runs a hand through his hair. “Never understood it – those guys you hear about up in San Francisco or New York or whatever who dress like that. Never understood how they could be that brave, letting everyone know like that. I’d be scared shitless.”

Sherlock chuckles. “You know, I went to a gay bar in the Castro once, couple of years ago after a competition in Santa Cruz.”

“No shit?”

“Was like a whole different world up there. Whole blocks where everyone outside on the streets was a man holding another man’s hand. Leather, high heels, the whole thing. I felt like I was on a movie set.”

John smiles wistfully. “Did you take advantage of it?”

Sherlock smirks. “Best blow job of my whole damn life, until you came along.”

John rolls his eyes, then finishes off his beer and cracks open another on the porch railing. “You’re impossible,” he says. Then he sighs and settles back into his chair. “So, you’re gonna see your step-mom at Sunset?”

“Looks like it.”

“Will you write to her again?”

Sherlock shrugs, looking out over the calm flat horizon as the sun begins to slowly drip towards the waves. He wants to say yes, but the past six years hang over him like a lead weight crushing him slowly from the sky. “Don’t think so. It still feels too soon.”

He looks over at John, hoping he gets what he’s saying, and John nods understandingly, soft smile on his lips as he gazes out over the ocean. Then the smile turns into a small frown, and John licks his lips. He’s nervous.

“Your actual mom. . .” he says.

Sherlock knows that it’s a question. It’s the question. And suddenly he doesn’t feel nervous at all.

“She drank,” he says simply, holding up the beer bottle in his hand with a shrug before taking another sip. “I was too young to know. Only in looking back that I’ve figured it out.”

John nods, waiting patiently, and Sherlock continues. “We moved from Ft. Knox to Arizona when I was nine. I don’t even remember where, to be honest. Near some base down there in the desert. One day there was a church picnic after service on Sunday. It was like a hundred and three fucking degrees. I remember whining because they ran out of lemonade and I was sitting under a tree waiting to go home.”

John huffs like he can perfectly imagine little Sherlock whining and hot and sweaty at a church picnic. Sherlock takes a deep breath. It’s been years since he’s even thought about this day. He’s never said any of it out loud. John waits, quiet and gentle on the porch, and Sherlock looks at the sunlight glinting off his eyelashes before he goes on.

“So my mom shows up late. Totally out of her mind already. I heard all this yelling and went over to see what the hell was going on, and my mom was standing by the food table calling the pastor’s wife a bitch because she copied her potato salad recipe. Then she picked up the bowl and threw it on the ground in the dirt. For some reason I remember that the only thing I was shocked at was that her bra strap was hanging down her arm. She was always dressed up so perfectly. I’d never seen her bra strap before.”

John hums, listening, and suddenly Sherlock feels a smile grace across his mouth. “You know, actually I remember laughing. Because my mom pointed her finger at the pastor’s wife and said she was jealous of all the people on earth who hadn’t had to meet her. Then she turned to the pastor and told him that she could vomit out a can of alphabet soup and it would be more eloquent than his sermons.”

John laughs beside him. “So that’s where you get it from.”

Sherlock hums. “My mother was the queen of calling out other people on their shit. I just didn’t realize at the time she only ever did it when she was hammered.”

John lets the smile gently fade from his face. “So what happened?”

“I remember she fell. My dad screamed at me and Mikey to get her back home and he stormed off. But Mikey followed him, and everyone else just stood there staring. So I had to try and help her up by myself. And as I was trying to help her up she just kept telling me she was ok and that I should go and play with my friends. Except I didn’t have a single goddamn friend there.”

Sherlock suddenly feels bad for telling such a sad story, ruining their first real evening together out on the porch of their home. “Sorry. It’s not really a nice story to hear.”

John shakes his head. “I’m gonna start making you put a dollar in a fucking jar every time you apologize, and then you can buy me a brand new surfboard. What happened next?”

Sherlock shoots him a grateful smile. He realizes he couldn’t stop telling that story even if John had asked him to. It feels so good to let it fall from his lips, like finally releasing the image of his mom kneeling in the dirt to fade away over the sea. Like finally setting her free.

“I finally got her back home down the street. One of the other women finally helped me. Can’t remember for the life of me who she was. When we got home my father was on the phone. I don’t really remember much of what happened after that. But three or four days later he woke me and Mikey up really early and said to pack everything we had and be at the car in fifteen minutes. And when we went out my mom was on the porch.”

Sherlock’s throat clenches, and he takes a moment to let his words settle. John waits beside him. Steady and calm.

“She grabbed my arm, and my father grabbed my other arm, and she was crying yelling at him not to take me. Then I remember her cross necklace fell on the ground, and then suddenly I was in the car. That’s when we moved out here, to Pearl Harbor. Never seen her since.”

John lets out a slow, deep breath. “Shit,” he says.

Sherlock chuckles softly. “Shit is right.”

“You ever thought about trying to find her?” John asks.

“Think about that every day. I don’t even know where I’d start. I don’t know what her maiden name was.”

He feels shame creeping up the back of his neck, the familiar muddy weight of inadequacy that drags him down whenever he stops to think about the fact that he should be able to just hop on a plane and find her.

John reaches over and touches his arm, breaking him away from his thoughts. “Hey, now, I thought you were supposed to be a genius,” he quips. “Telling me you can’t figure out how to open a fucking phone book?”

Sherlock laughs. “Guess not.” He smiles then, grateful for John dropping the subject with a joke. He takes another sip of beer and feels it settle in his stomach, releasing the ache in his muscles from a day of battling the waves. John watches the waves beside him, relaxed and lost in his mind. Sherlock wants to let him just sit there perfect and relaxed for hours, but now he needs to know.

“And you? You never said how your mom died.”

He half expects John to be offended. Instead John hums like he was expecting the question, then leans back further in his seat to relax.

“I was ten. She went to work one night and never came back home. Woke up to an empty trailer. Then the neighbor – you know, the surfer guy – Mr. Cool. He came over and got me finally. He didn’t tell me what happened, just drove me out to my Auntie Cath’s place in the Valley. And then my Uncle Ron finally told me like ten fucking hours later that she’d been hit by a car.”

Sherlock winces. “Did she . . . was it --?”

“They told me it was instant, yeah. That’s the story I’m going with.”

Sherlock breathes in the ocean, melting back into the chair. “Well, it makes sense, in the end.”

John turns and looks at him, a soft smile starting at the corner of his mouth. “What makes sense, you bastard?”

“Mommy issues – it’s one of those things that’s supposed to turn you into a queer, isn’t it?”

John barks out a laugh, face turned up to the sky. “You’re too much for me, Holmes,” he says, grinning. “I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be Daddy issues that does it. And who the fuck knows who mine is – some sailor that was in Long Beach on leave, probably.”

“Well there you go,” Sherlock says. “Absent father, single mother imprinting all of her feminine ways on you –”

“Don’t make me kill you two days into living together, you fucking loony.”

Sherlock ducks as John throws his balled-up napkin at his head, then rises on aching legs to his feet, stretching out his body with a groan. He feels lighter than air. Like he didn’t just sit there and have a conversation about dead and missing moms for the first ever time in his life. He thinks for the thousandth time that John Watson is a marvel.

“Must be exhausted,” John says behind him.

Sherlock hums. “Getting there.”

John’s arms suddenly wrap around his waist, holding him close. Sherlock can feel John working himself up to say something, and he waits, leaning back into John’s body the way he’s done for him what seems like countless times over the last few weeks. It feels exquisite. Like standing up on his board on a wave that he knows will go on in the perfect barrel towards infinity.

John sighs into Sherlock’s back, and his warm breath softens into his skin. “Really, though, what the hell am I gonna do out here,” he says. His arms tighten around Sherlock’s stomach, and his cheek presses into his shoulder, stubble rasping against Sherlock’s shirt.

Sherlock closes his eyes and leans back further. “You forget you’re a professional surfer now. You’ll have money coming in. Competitions are every few weeks, plus you got Val’s backing you.”

John nods against his back. “I know, but – I can’t live off hoping I’ll somehow come in in the top three all the time. I’m not like you. And I can’t – I can’t go back to a job at the docks. I just –”

“Who the hell told you that you need to go back to working the docks?”

John shrugs. “Well besides standing up and balancing on a slippery board there’s jack shit else I’m good at.”

In his mind Sherlock sees the man he’d seen that day on the docks, angry and embarrassed, reaching out to snatch back the bullet and shove it into his pocket and looking like a corpse walking around in broad daylight. The idea that had been slowly brewing in the back of Sherlock’s mind since the second John had held him the day before and said “for good” pops into his head again, loud and clear. Sherlock can see the way forward paved in front of him like that stupid ass yellow brick road in that movie his mom always made him sit down and watch when it showed on television once a year. The thought almost makes him laugh out loud.

Sherlock can feel John’s weariness bleeding through his back and straight into his chest, and he knows like he knows the skin on the back of his own hand that John is silently asking him to change the subject – to make him laugh and roll his eyes and forget. To let him go on pretending that he can live in a jobless paradise forever, with no darkness to haunt the back of his eyes.

Sherlock smirks.

“Can you even see anything back there, little man, or are you just staring straight into my shoulder blade?”

John huffs and shoves him forward. “You’re impossible,” he says. “Swear to god I’m gonna get some weird eye deformity from rolling my eyes at you every five minutes. Now stop being a dick and ruining the moment and help me clean up.”

Sherlock swells with silent pride, then turns and catches John’s arm, stilling him. “We’ll get that later. Come swim with me.”

John shoots him a look. “Seriously. You want to go swimming. Right now.”

Sherlock fights down the grin at the corner of his mouth and starts walking off the porch towards the shore. “Come on, old man. Don’t tell me you believe that shit about waiting thirty minutes after you eat.”

John looks towards the sky. “Swear to god what the fuck did I ever do in life to get saddled with the most irritated dick on the planet?”

Sherlock holds up a middle finger without looking back. “You sure as hell didn’t think my dick was irritating yesterday. Now stand there and argue all you want, but you know you want to.”

He keeps walking towards the shore, picking up his board along the way. He can hear John sighing behind him as he jogs to catch up.

“There’s no way in hell you can surf here,” John says from behind him. “The water’s totally flat.”

Sherlock keeps walking. “Grab the extra board laying by the hammock, will you?”

He smiles to himself when he hears John huff again, then turn back to grab the other board. Sherlock stops at the shoreline and waits until he can hear John walking up behind him. Then he starts to strip.

“What the –”

Sherlock finishes pulling off his shirt, then pulls down his shorts and boxers in one go.

“Fuck, Sherlock you can’t just –”

Sherlock turns. “Name one random stranger you’ve seen come on to this beach since you’ve been here.”

John sighs, averting his eyes from Sherlock’s naked body and looking out across the waves. “We’re still in fucking public!”

Sherlock runs his hands through his hair to loosen out the curls, then bends to pick up his board, shivering down his spine as he watches John’s eyes stray over to track the movement of his bare thighs, pupils black.

He turns towards the ocean, letting the salt spray fan out across his skin, covering him in goosebumps and settling deep in his groin with a thud. He takes two steps out into the foam, wanting to run forward and laugh up towards the sky that he is at home, with John Watson, and that he will wake up tomorrow morning, with John Watson.

He wants to glide out into the waves with John beside him and tell him everything, spilling words out across the surface of the calm, quivering ocean. How they can open up a surf shop together. How he has the down payment, and can study how to build the best boards, and how John can run the front and own the place and never have to set foot back on a dockyard ever again. He wants to pull John’s bare body into his arms in the waves they call home and tell him that he hopes John realizes that he’s in this for good. For life. How he wants to hold John’s hand in front of the endless sea and make a declaration in front of heaven and earth that he is John’s. Forever. The same way that men and women do in fancy chapels with a three-tiered cake and expensive photographer.

He hears John sigh and start to pull off his shirt behind him, and Sherlock looks back over his shoulder, holding his board high up above his head. The water slaps softly against his stomach and thighs, cradling his skin in foam.

John stands naked and beautiful and grounded in the sand. Sherlock licks his lips, throat dry, as his eyes roam over John’s body in the sunlight. Then summons his best smirk and winks. “You coming, Captain?”

The last thing Sherlock sees is John rolling his deep blue eyes, then Sherlock dives head first into the waves, letting the salt wash away the last remnants of stress from the day. He takes a few strokes through the clear and calm waters, relishing in the soft caress of the waves against his bare skin, so different from the snarling waves off Waimea. Then he hears John Watson splash into the water behind him, and feels John’s smile spread its warm tendrils straight down to the depths of the cold, dark ocean, filling the deep with sunlight.

Chapter Text

The sun is soft and pink in the sky as it slowly melts down into the gentle waves, lapping at John’s ankles like warm, melted cream. John shivers as the cool breeze brushes across his bare skin. He watches transfixed in the shallows as Sherlock holds his board over his head and wades out in front of him into the waves, letting the water pool around his thighs and ripple just under the firm curves of his ass.

John’s mouth waters. The image of Sherlock Holmes wading naked out into the golden sunset sea is so beautiful he feels tears building up in the back of his eyes. The soft sunlight drips down over the muscles under his golden skin like honey, clinging to his spine and draping across his shoulders, causing his tattoo to shimmer across his back as his shoulder blades work to hold his board aloft in the sky. John stares at Sherlock’s hips as they sway deeper into the water, gently rocking in the waves. Crystal clear saltwater rises and falls over the firm muscles of Sherlock’s ass, frothing in the space between his thighs and dripping fat drops of sweat and seawater down the length of his spine and into the crack between his buttocks. John stands there, toes clenching in the wet sand, and tries to breathe. Tries to move.

Sherlock looks at him over his shoulder and winks as if he isn’t doing anything extraordinary at all. “You coming, Captain?” he smirks. Then he flings his board down and leaps onto it in a dive underneath the water, sending up a small plume of foaming spray into the glittering air.

John rolls his eyes, or at least he thinks he does, and then he takes two steps forward on numb legs, and throws down the board he’d been holding limply under his arm, and follows Sherlock into their own little strip of ocean, diving below the water with a crash. The saltwater weaves through his smiling teeth as he kicks down under the rolling, incoming swell, and then he surfaces to a burst of sparkling sunlight and the crisp, clear air of the island. Tasting like flowers instead of smog and mud instead of asphalt. Tasting on the tip of his tongue like warm skin and thick salt and home.

Sherlock paddles steadily in front of him, breathing calm and easy to the rhythm of his long and lazy strokes. John follows in his wake, watching the water ripple and splash over the backs of his bare thighs. Watching it pool in the dip between his shoulder blades and catch individual ringlets of hair in the sunlight.

John breathes in deeply and revels in being back in the water for the first time in days. There hadn’t been any time back in LA, not after he’d picked up that payphone and called Greg to tell him he’d finally made up his goddamn mind. He’d seen Greg and Molly for nearly every second he spent that week when he wasn’t finishing out his last days at work - packing boxes, selling his car, deciding what to ship and what to keep and what to leave on the side of the road in a cardboard box.

He’d looked at the waves out of his apartment window just the way he always used to before – watched them rush into shore and splash over the early morning surfers and afternoon children and evening lovers who waded out into the water off Hermosa. But the thought of grabbing his board and running out into those waves when he knew Sherlock was waiting for him never to return to Oahu had felt like wanting to take a sip of strawberry milkshake and instead getting a mouthful of sand.

So he’d waited. He’d stayed inside and inland and salt-free and dry. And he’d joined Greg and Molly for beers in their backyard far away from the water where they asked him all about the beaches on Oahu and sent him wet smiles when they thought he couldn’t see.

Now, though, as he follows smoothly in the wake behind Sherlock’s board, watching the curves of his back glisten in the sunlight, and the tattoo writhe across his paddling shoulders, John feels that the water is a kiss over every inch of his skin. It wakes up stiff joints as he paddles through the calm ripples as if he’d been doing it since the day he learned to walk. It caresses his skin and softens it like a dried-up sponge finally plunging into fresh, cool liquid.

It feels strange to be lying down on his board naked, humming at the back of his mind that something feels out of place even though he’s paddled out to sea hundreds of times before. The waxed surface scratches at his chest and clings to his stomach like it always does whenever he feels safe enough to swim without that goddamn wetsuit. But it also tickles the insides of his bare thighs, and digs in gently to the bones in his hips. His board rustles the thatch of wet pubic hair waving gently in the water as it rushes past his groin, and the waxed surface presses up against his soft penis in a way that feels grounding and vulnerable all at once.

It's just him, and his board, and the water. No crowd at his back, or wetsuit covering his skin. No time limits or post-surf work shift or tiny airless apartment waiting for him alongside the long stretch of traffic and smog and skyline.

It’s just him and Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock paddles out ahead of him towards the smooth, glassy horizon, then stops fifty yards out from the shore and turns back to John with a warm and easy smile on his face. He sits tall and unashamed on his board. The saltwater pours down from his wet curls plastered onto his neck, and runs down over his chest towards his abs and cock, which John notices is half hard where it’s bared between his legs. Sherlock catches him looking and smirks, then takes a breath and looks back calmly towards the shore.

“Feels like a year ago that we jumped off that cliff, doesn’t it?” Sherlock says, squinting off towards the far end of the beach where the cliff stands silhouetted against the pale blue and purple candy sky.

John blinks, surprised. “Shit, it does.”

Sherlock smiles wistfully as John pulls up next to him and perches on his board to rest.

“You know the days always used to run together here before. Like one giant, never-ending day with a few customers thrown in or a competition. And then this last month has felt two fucking years long.”

John hums. He feels alone on the earth with Sherlock out in the middle of the ocean, their voices echoing loudly across the thrumming surface of the waves. He feels as if the shoreline could suddenly disappear, and they could be surrounded by nothing but the sea, and it really wouldn’t bother him in the least. He expects that thought to gnaw freshly at the pit of his chest with anxiety, dragging him down towards the little piece of shiny metal that he knows is still resting at the bottom of the sea, worn and smooth from years spent warm and dry in the palm of his hand. Instead all he feels is a gentle, far away calm, slowly approaching his bare skin before reaching out to cover him with soft and easy warmth.

Suddenly John sees Scotty Holmes in his mind – standing next to him with his sunglasses and stripping off his grey hoodie that day back at the ISF, power and strength exuding from every inch of his tanned and tensed skin. The picture is perfect in his memory – etched into his brain in brilliant, perfect detail.

“I feel the opposite,” John finally says back. “It seems like I first looked at you next to me at the start line five minutes ago, looking all cool with your aviators and shit.”

Sherlock chuckles. “Well it’s good to know I’ve made such a great impression you forgot everything that happened in between.”

John splashes a handful of water his way, rolling his eyes at Sherlock’s smirk. “Ass.”

Sherlock sends him a quick wink that sets John’s heart racing before he closes his eyes and tilts his head back towards the heavy purple clouds. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, letting it settle every muscle in his body, and then Sherlock lays down on his back on his board and sighs lazily up at the sky. He holds out a hand towards John, wiggling his fingers to come, and John’s heart clenches as he paddles himself forward on the water, aligning their boards. John grabs the other side of Sherlock’s board to steady them beside each other, and Sherlock places his head up on John’s thigh with a contented sigh.

John takes him in, eyes crinkling just at the corners. “There’s no fucking way that’s comfortable for your neck.”

Sherlock shrugs. “Works for now.”

Sherlock closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath, and John lets himself gaze straight down at his upside-down face. He runs his fingers through Sherlock’s curls swirling lazily in the water pooling around his head as they bob on the surface of the calm and sleepy sea, and Sherlock hums as he stretches his legs down and cracks his toes.

John doesn’t even remember that they’re naked.

Finally Sherlock licks his lips and cracks open one eye, staring up at John through the thick and drifting sunlight.

“You said earlier you think I have some magic plan for what you’re gonna do for a job,” he says.

John grins and shrugs one shoulder. “Well knowing your crazy ass mind I figured it was a safe enough guess.”

Sherlock chuckles under his breath, then goes on talking, eyes still closed and one hand coming up to rest on John’s board, keeping them close together on the waves.

“You know I have some savings. Money I’ve saved up over the years from work and winnings. Built up pretty fast since I don’t have to pay Hobbs any rent. And I’ve sort of . . . had this idea for a while, but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.”

Sherlock pauses, turning his cheek into John’s palm as he strokes through his hair and down along his neck. John leans down and kisses his forehead gently. “Go on.”

Sherlock takes a breath, steeling himself. “You and me – we should open up a surf shop.”

John huffs out a surprised laugh, rocking them both unsteadily on their boards. “Oh right, and cars can fucking fly,” he says. John pats Sherlock’s head gently and ruffles his hair. “Stop shitting me. What’s the real idea?”

Sherlock sits up suddenly, then angles himself so that he’s facing John with their boards side by side. He grabs onto John’s knee hard as John stares back at him in disbelief. Sherlock’s face - his earnestness, his serious gaze, the flash of hurt deep in the back of his eyes. John realizes with a thud in his gut that he’s completely, one-hundred-percent fucking serious. He looks steadily into Sherlock’s eyes and runs a disbelieving hand through his own wet hair.

“Shit, you’re serious.”

Sherlock nods, then goes on, glancing down nervously at the water and chewing his lip as he spits out the words as fast as he possibly can, as if he’s afraid John will try to cut him off if he doesn’t.

“I have the money – know of a few places along the North Shore that could be for sale. I’ve been setting down some plans in writing for a new idea I have for a board style for the past year or so. I know how to use all the tools – how to make them. And you could own the place and run the front. Give kids surfing lessons or some shit if you wanna feel humanitarian about it or something since you’ve almost died a million times. Feel like you’re giving back. And then we’d find somebody to run it for us when we’re off at competitions, and we could split all the money, and you wouldn’t have to run all over trying to find somewhere to work that you’ll hate like hell anyway.”

John freezes, stunned, then blinks hard, tearing himself away from Sherlock’s gaze. He doesn’t want to allow himself to hear what Sherlock’s saying. It sounds like a goddamn dream. His own shop. His own place. Sherlock at his side and at his back and at his front. Locking up the door of the shop and coming home every night to their own bed with the smell of wood and salt and seaweed on their skin. Tasting like the sun.

Then the dream shatters in his mind, cracking into a million pieces like the center of a punctured mirror. There’s a reason things sound too good to be true.

John sighs and grabs the back of his neck, trying to work up the words and hating that the light behind Sherlock’s eyes is about to fizzle out. “I don’t know the first fucking thing about running a shop, Sherlock. I mean, shit, I could run it into the ground. I can’t just rely on you to pay for everything either.”

John expects Sherlock to roll his eyes and shoot back some witty retort. Instead Sherlock reaches up to cup his cheek with a wet and warm palm, causing the entire world to freeze.

“John, I saved up this money for a reason, but I’ll never get to use it if I don’t have you there helping me. People love you. You are somebody now. And they may not like me any better than a pile of dog shit but people trust that I know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to waves and boards.”

Sherlock swipes his thumb gently across John’s cheek, and John’s throat grows tight against the words that want to come spilling out of his throat. Sherlock looks radiant in the sunlight. Golden and strong and soft in the buttery pink wisps of light slowly dripping down over the waves from the sun. Sherlock leans forward before John can respond, eyes earnest.

“Please, John. Let’s try. Let’s be happy.”

John chokes out a watery “fuck” and then launches himself forward into Sherlock’s arms, hugging him awkwardly across the distance between their straddled boards. Sherlock huffs out a wet laugh into the side of his neck, clutching him close by his nape. “You are a marvel,” he whispers.

John pulls back and cups Sherlock’s face in his hands, trying and failing to think of anything he could say. He kisses him gently, tasting the ghosts of the words on Sherlock’s lips with a soft hum. Then he looks over his shoulder back towards the shore. He sees their home – peeling teal paint framed by lazy palm fronds and golden sand. He sees a ghost of himself from not even three weeks ago – standing nervously at the entrance to the beach in the shade of the trees, looking at Sherlock Holmes’ foot draped off the side of a hammock and wondering how in hell he was ever going to thank him for saving his life without looking like an absolute idiot.

Sherlock’s staring at him with eyes the color of the crystal glass sea. He looks young and fresh and open. He looks like the man who conquered the wave at Waimea without falling into the deep black ocean, and he looks like the man whom John woke up next to the morning after he’d finally let himself lay his hands on another man’s skin.

He looks beautiful.

Sherlock smirks. “You are one lucky son of a bitch,” he says.

John rolls his eyes and doesn’t even try to fight the grin on his face. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you reading my mind like that, ya fucking creep.”

Sherlock shrugs and looks out over the water. “Not my fault you wear every emotion on your face. I mean, shit, didn’t they teach you how to be stone-faced in the Navy?”

“Aw, fuck you,” John groans. He splashes Sherlock with a handful of water, who gets a mischievous glimmer in his eyes right before leaning across and grabbing John’s shoulders and shoving him clear off his board into the waves.

The ocean swallows John up in a gulp, cutting him off from the sound and the sunlight and the air. John chokes on a lungful of saltwater and kicks to the surface, shivering in the cool layer of seawater hidden beneath the surface layer warmed by the sinking sun. He spits out a mouthful of water right at Sherlock’s eye, shooting him the best glare he can.

Sherlock yelps. “You’re disgusting!”

“Not like you haven’t tasted my spit and ocean water before,” John smirks.

Sherlock cocks an eyebrow. “You don’t have a problem with tasting ocean water then, Captain?”

Before John can groan Sherlock’s leaping on top of him from his board, shoving him down under the water and fighting with him to keep him under the waves. John grips at slick wet skin under his palms, feeling Sherlock’s muscles ripple and flex in his hands as he struggles to fight back towards the surface and get a breath. He finally gets a grip on Sherlock’s curls and yanks before bursting up through the surface and gasping down a lungful of air.

“You fucking dick!”

Sherlock surfaces and laughs, panting. Face wet and glistening and ringlets dripping across his forehead and neck. Before he can even fully decide to John’s reaching over in the water and pulling Sherlock’s bare body against his, licking the salt off his lips with his own gasping mouth. Wet skin meets wet skin, sliding slick and smooth. They kiss and wrestle in the waves, legs kicking fighting to stay afloat while hands roam and grip and stroke. John throbs between his legs in low, steady pulses as his erection grows. He wraps his legs up around Sherlock’s slick, wet hips and moans as he feels Sherlock’s fully hard penis press into the dip of his thigh.

“Shit,” he breathes.

John rolls his hips forward, pressing his hardening penis into the hard, muscled plane of Sherlock’s stomach, and they both choke down moans in their throats. Sherlock kisses him deeply once more before pulling back, lips full and pink. His voice is low and gravelly – foaming waves rushing over a rocky shoreline.

“Get on your board.”

John runs a hand up Sherlock’s wet chest, running his fingers through the soft hair and catching Sherlock’s nipples under his thumbs. He can barely think straight, he wants so desperately to grind himself deep and slow against Sherlock’s wet skin. “What?”

Sherlock grabs his hips hard and shoves John back towards their boards bobbing listlessly on the surface of the waves. “I said get on your board.”

John heaves himself up onto the waxy surface, shivering up his spine as his aching cock brushes across the board. He straddles it, erection standing proudly between his legs, then clenches his abs and thighs as the board suddenly rocks deeply to the side as Sherlock climbs on behind him.

“Shit, it’ll sink,” John cries out.

Sherlock slides on behind him, gripping John’s shoulders as they both fight to steady themselves and keep balance. The board sinks down into the cool, clear water, bringing it up past their waists. Suddenly Sherlock’s hands are wrapped around John, sliding slowly up his stomach and chest. John can feel Sherlock’s chest pressed smoothly against his back. Can feel his hard penis pressed into the low of his spine, warm and thick between his hips just under the water’s surface.

Sherlock whispers into his ear, voice low. “It won’t sink. I didn’t study physics for nothing.”

John barely huffs out a weak laugh as Sherlock’s hands come up to grab firmly at his skin, rubbing up and down over his nipples until they peak. John’s thighs are shaking, and Sherlock’s breath echoes loudly in his ear, mixing with the sound of the water gently lapping at their bare skin and sides.

With a shaking breath John lets himself lean back into Sherlock’s body, feeling the warm, bare skin hard and sturdy behind him. Holding him close. Holding him up out of the sea.

John’s hot and pulsing between his legs. His cock bobs obscenely under the surface of the water, rocking with the movements of the board underneath them. The board rubs gently across his ass, teasing at the hole Sherlock had placed his finger against the first time John had ever come in his arms, laying out under the stars. With a groan John rocks his hips down against the board, pushing himself deeper into the V of Sherlock’s thighs, and Sherlock licks a stripe up his neck, breath trembling.

“John.” Sherlock’s hands move down to John’s bare thighs, running slow and firm up the length of the muscle, rustling against the hair of John’s legs in the water. Sherlock leans forward to rub his cheek against John’s stubble, humming deep and low in his chest. “Fuck, John.”

John feels like he’s floating in a mixture of sea and sky, effortlessly held up by the touch of Sherlock’s hands on his skin, roaming across his sides and chest, dipping down under the water to caress his hips. To stroke up the inside of his sensitive, quivering thighs. John leans his head back on Sherlock’s shoulder and dips his hands under the water to grip the outside of Sherlock’s legs, clenching tight around John’s hips.

Deep down in his brain John knows that he should feel too vulnerable – naked and bared before the edge of the earth with Sherlock’s penis pressed thickly against his back. With Sherlocks’ hands roaming possessively over his wet and trembling skin for the entire open ocean to see.

Then he realizes that he’s never felt safer in his life. It washes over him like a burst of fresh oxygen dripping down over every inch of his skin. It brings a watery smile to his lips as he closes his eyes, then he gasps as Sherlock’s large hand suddenly grips the base of his erection, pressing firm with his calloused fingers around his penis as his pubic hair ripples in the water.

“Jesus,” he breathes. He pushes his hips forward unwittingly, needing to press himself deeper into Sherlock’s palm. Sherlock’s other hand comes up to rest across his chest, fingertips just barely caressing the edges of his scar.

John stops himself from thrusting. “You don’t have to,” he barely grunts out. “You surfed today. . .”

Sherlock’s hand pumps slowly along the length of his erection, knocking the breath from his lungs. John shivers down his spine as Sherlock’s voice rumbles against his ear, breath tickling the hairs at the back of his neck.

“Oh, I definitely have to,” he says.

John groans as Sherlock’s mouth leaves a trail of warm, trembling air along his neck. Sherlock’s hand is caressing his penis beneath the water, splashing gently into the buzzing silence as his fist pumps along John’s cock, following it up towards the surface of the water before plunging back down to the base. Slow and calloused and warm. Wet.

The splashing water echoes loudly in John’s ears as he rolls his hips harder against Sherlock’s fist, feeling hot pulses start to build from between his hips. He watches the tip of his own throbbing penis disappear again and again within the tight grip of Sherlock’s long fingers, blurred and hazy beneath the water in the thick sunset light.

Sherlock’s voice rumbles in his ear as his other hand grips at John’s chest, holding him close. “Can you imagine,” he breathes, “if you were sliding your cock into my ass?”

John almost screams. The thought slams into his mind with the force of one of Waimea’s waves, knocking the breath from his lungs and clenching every muscle in his stomach.

Sherlock gasps raggedly in his ear as he lets John slowly fuck the tight circle of his hot, wet fist. He keeps talking, voice like gravel. “If I was on my hands and knees in front of you, with my cock hanging down between my thighs. If I was dripping. Begging you for it. If you were watching my balls sway swollen and heavy.”

“Jesus fuck, Sherlock. The fuck are you doing –”

“If you looked at my tight little hole and saw it pulsing and wet. Begging to be filled up.”

“What are you --- I don’t ---”

“If you shoved your fingers into my mouth and got them dripping wet. If you ran those slippery fingers around my ass – feeling how hot it is –”

“I can’t –”

“How tight. . .”

“Fuck. . .”

John’s face is burning. Sherlock’s lips feel hot and filthy in his ear, pouring streams of shivers down his side and across his spine as he grips him from behind. His long fingers trace the length of John’s erection – holding and caressing the throbbing skin, skimming gently along the veins, brushing with an aching touch just across the slit. John looks down through the ripples caused by Sherlock’s hand and sees precome leaking from the tip of his penis and slowly dissipating into the ocean water in a long, opaque stream, swirling gently in the waves caused by Sherlock’s restless hand on his body.

John swallows over his dry mouth and runs his shaking hands slowly up Sherlock’s thighs bracketing his hips.

He tries to speak. “I didn’t know –”

He stops, swallowing hard. He’s not even sure what the fuck he wants to say. “I didn’t know you could say such filthy things to me?” Or maybe, “I didn’t know you were so turned on just sitting in the ocean and talking about surf shops?” Or, what he really wants to say, which is, “Fuck, Holmes, I didn’t know you wanted me to fuck you and the thought of it makes me not able to fucking breathe.”

Then John blinks hard as Sherlock’s hand stills on his cock, cradling the heavy length of him in his hand as his lips kiss gently up John’s neck, letting him take a moment to breathe. John closes his eyes against the vast horizon stretching out before him and centers himself in the feel of Sherlock’s hands on his skin, holding him.

Finally he says what he thinks he meant to say all along, lips parted just barely around the words. “I didn’t know that was ok.”

Sherlock sighs through his nose into John’s skin, bringing both hands up to wrap firmly around John’s stomach, fingertips brushing against his sides. John tries not to shake in his arms, feeling on the verge of leaping off a cliff. The same way he’d felt in the eternal seconds before he’d placed his hand on Sherlock’s bare erection for the very first time, mouth watering at the thought of finally getting to taste it.

He focuses on Sherlock’s skin – the hair on his forearms brushing against his own chest, and the warm pocket of water pooling between John’s back and Sherlock’s stomach, and the hot, solid length of Sherlock’s penis still pressed into the small of his back like an anchor.

Sherlock leans forward to press his cheek against John’s. His soft voice echoes out across the vastness of the sea, trembling quietly along the surface at the sound of his words. Trembling against John’s skin under the waves.

“Would you want that?” he whispers.

The answer forces itself so strongly into John’s mind it leaves him gasping and surprised. “Yes,” he breathes.

Sherlock’s grip around him tightens. “Then it’s ok,” he says.

John reaches up behind him to grab quickly at the back of Sherlock’s neck, opening himself up before the horizon and holding Sherlock close against his cheek. He closes his eyes again.

“But what about you?” he grunts out. “Do you –?”

“Shit, John, more than anything.” Sherlock plants a wet and open kiss at the base of John’s neck and rolls his body against him, sending shockwaves of ripples out across the water. His hands rove slowly again up John’s stomach and chest, trailing saltwater across his shivering skin and covering his muscles with his huge, warm palms. John presses forward into his hands, head leaning back and lungs full of air as he lays himself open to Sherlock’s touch before the horizon line.

He loses himself in the touch of Sherlock’s palms ghosting up his sides, fingertips trailing over the muscles in his stomach and thumbs resting gently in small circles just around his nipples. Sherlock’s hands make one final pass, starting at John’s thighs and slowly, firmly trailing up his body all the way to his neck, caressing John’s skin under his palms and covering him with frothy ocean foam. Then John groans in the back of his throat as Sherlock’s hand dips back beneath the waves and starts stroking again up and down his cock, bringing him back to full hardness and sending shivers down John’s bare thighs, hair swaying gently in the waves.

John tightens his grip on Sherlock’s neck as Sherlock bites the lobe of his ear. He steels himself to feel the uncertainty coil thickly again in his gut, cutting him off from the sparks of pleasure caused by Sherlock’s hand on his cock. When the feeling never comes, John releases the air in his lungs moans, feeling like he could float up into the air and fly.

He gasps as Sherlock’s thumb gently traces a slow circle around the tip of his penis, painting it in a cool, thin layer of saltwater fizzling against the heat of his skin. John reaches down into the water and feels the meeting place of Sherlock’s fingertips against his cock, stroking long and slow and firm. He groans. “What happens next?”

He can feel Sherlock’s pleased smirk against his ear, and John presses his hips back against the inside of Sherlock’s thighs, gasping at the rasp of the surfboard against the skin of his bare buttocks.

Sherlock kisses along his jaw from behind. “Next you’d push just the tip of your finger inside me. I’d clench around you. Hot and tight and pulling you in—”

“God—”

“Pulling you deeper. You’d watch your finger disappear inside me.”

John nearly chokes on the air in his lungs. The thrumming desire building between his legs shoots up his spine with a crackling heat, spreading through his legs and toes dangling limp and free in the water.

Sherlock thumbs at the dripping slit of John’s penis beneath the rippling ocean, causing the water to cloud with small drips of precome leaking from the tip. Sherlock breathes in deeply against John’s back, pressing into his spine, then looks down over John’s shoulder at his own hand on John’s cock and groans out loud. John grabs frantically at Sherlock’s thighs as Sherlock goes on, voice breathless.

“Then you’d grab my hips so hard it hurt, and you’d push another finger in. You’d feel me stretching around you, sucking you inside so slowly.”

Heat pulses between John’s legs as his balls swell heavy and hot in his groin at the rumble of Sherlock’s words. “Shit, Holmes –”

“You’d feel how tight I am. How wet and hot. God it’s been so fucking long.”

John feels a whine building in the back of his throat. His entire body is focused on the tight grip of Sherlock’s hand on his cock, which is hot and pulsing and thrusting into his fist. The roll of John’s hips rocks the surfboard and causes waves in the calm water, rippling out from the center point of John’s hips resting in the V of Sherlock’s thighs. The saltwater rushes gently past his penis in Sherlock’s hand, slicking the slow, deep slide of his palm on John’s skin and causing his pubic hairs to push and pull at his groin, leaving shivers.

He’s never felt sensation like this before in his life, never even had the guts to think about the words currently pouring from Sherlock’s mouth. He drinks them in like a man dying of thirst, gasping against Sherlock’s chest as he lets himself be lost at sea to the sound of Sherlock’s voice in his ear and the feel of his hand caressing the thick and throbbing length of his erection.

“God, John,” Sherlock rasps. “Then I’d beg you for it. Beg you to hold me down and fuck me. Take me. Beg you to let me have it while you fuck into my ass with your fingers.”

“Shit. . .”

“Can you see me? Can you see me on my hands and knees with three of your fingers fucking into my ass? Can you hear how wet it is sliding into me? Hear me panting underneath you?”

John moans as Sherlock bites the lobe of his ear. He can feel Sherlock’s penis rock hard pressed into the low of his back, slowly thrusting against him for friction, adding to the splashing waves in the water. John nods, lost, and Sherlock groans on a breath behind him.

“You’d hold your own cock in your hand, wouldn’t you? Look down at how thick it is. Think about how you’re gonna shove it inside of me, wouldn’t you? How it’ll stretch me open--”

“Fuck.” John looks down at Sherlock’s huge fingers wrapped around his cock. Looks at Sherlock’s wrist plunging over and over again into the water as he strokes John slow and deep. John swallows hard over another moan and closes his eyes, reaching back to grip again at the back of Sherlock’s neck.

“How are you – how can you even talk like that?”

Sherlock’s hand reaches down below John’s cock to grab roughly at his balls, rolling them in the water between his fingers while the tip of one finger strokes lightly over John’s perineum, sending a burst tight, crackling heat up through to the tip of John’s aching cock.

“You like it, don’t you?” Sherlock rumbles.

John laughs weakly and tries to breathe. “Fuck yes. God, I just –”

“Then you’d grab your cock and brush it across my hole. Watch it flutter around you. Watch the tip of your cock drip around the rim of my ass, wouldn’t you?”

“God, Holmes—”

Sherlock grips him harder, hand flying faster over John’s hard penis, turning the water into a churning rush of foam and spray in between John’s legs.

“You’d push your thick cock inside of me, wouldn’t you?”

John groans as Sherlock’s other hand pinches his nipple, and he pushes his chest into the touch of his hand, desperately arching his back.

Sherlock licks a stripe up the side of John’s neck. “You’d sink into me and feel how fucking tight it is. Watch your cock disappear into me. Listen to me pant for it.”

“Fuck yes, Holmes, God I’d fuck you –”

“You’d fuck me, pump your thick cock into me, push inside of me and stretch me open around you –”

“Shit, shit, I want –”

“Can you feel it? Can you feel yourself fucking into my ass? Can you feel me hot and wet around you?”

“Holmes—”

“Feel your balls slap against me, full and heavy and hanging –”

“God, take it. Fuck, I’m in you. I’m inside you. Take it—”

“Fuck me, John. Shit, that’s it. That’s it. . .”

John thrusts into Sherlock’s fist, eyes closed and seeing his own cock sink deeper into Sherlock’s body again and again in his mind, disappearing between the curves of his ass to the wet, frantic sound of skin on skin. He grips at a handful of Sherlock’s hair with the hand reaching behind to his neck, feels Sherlock’s ragged breaths shaking against his cheek. The aching hot steel of Sherlock’s penis rutting against his back, thrusting through the waves.

Sherlock grunts and works John faster, twisting his wrist at the top of his cock before plunging back down again and again to the base. “God, you’d feel so good. So fucking good in me. Taking me.”

“So tight –”

“Fucking me until I can’t breathe. Filling me with you. Holding me down and –”

“Shit, I’m gonna come. Holmes. Fuck –”

John gasps hard, gulping down a lungful of air as Sherlock’s hand grips his cock harder than ever before and pulls. Cool saltwater rushes over his cock in the wake of Sherlock’s palm, exploding across his hot and pulsing skin in bursts of cold foam as John groans deep in his chest and comes. Sherlock’s other arm grips him by the chest, pulling John back and close into his body while his fingertips reach up to trail along John’s neck as he throws his head back towards the sky. John’s orgasm shatters out from his bones and gushes across the surface of the sea, hurtling out towards the horizon from the point of Sherlock’s palm still caressing his penis beneath the water. Sherlock moans into his ear.

“Fuck, look at you. God, just look at you.”

John flings open his eyes and looks down as the last of his orgasm rolls through his body in hot waves. He sees Sherlock’s hand gripping his own penis, thumb stroking slowly up his length. He sees the crystal water clouding from his semen, swirling gently into the waves caused by the rocking of his hips down between Sherlock’s thighs.

John breathes out a deep sigh and collapses back against Sherlock, one hand still reaching back to grip a handful of his curls. “Shit,” he whispers.

Sherlock’s cock is still pressed thick and hot into his back. John closes his eyes and hums limply as Sherlock’s hands cup palmfuls of saltwater clouded with John’s release and brings them up to drip over John’s chest, cascading down over his sensitive nipples and pooling in the muscles of his stomach before tingling back into the rippling sea.

Finally Sherlock tucks his arms around John’s waist still submerged underneath the water and rests his cheek on John’s shoulder, utterly still. John tries to slow his breathing, focusing on the rise and fall of Sherlock’s chest against his back, and the fizzling waves of release still gently pulsing out from between his legs through his muscles, and the gentle ripple of the water against his skin.

Sherlock kisses John’s shoulder for a long time, holding his lips just there in the dip of John’s bone. Then he whispers into his skin in the newly formed silence. “I love you, you know.”

John smiles with his eyes closed against the setting sun, throat tight. “I know,” he whispers.

John’s just about to open his mouth again to ask what Sherlock wants to do for him in return when Sherlock suddenly slips off the board behind him back into the water, causing John to rise up further to the surface and scramble at the board to keep his balance. He watches as Sherlock’s naked body glides effortlessly through the water over to his board which had floated a ways away, cutting gently through the surface with his cupped palms and causing light, tinkling splashes to echo in John’s ears. Sherlock climbs up onto his board and paddles back towards John until they’re side by side, then straddles his board and perches beside John looking straight out at the horizon, his erection still rising proudly between his legs.

John’s not sure what the hell just happened. A slow fear starts to build at the base of his spine – that he said something wrong, or that what had come out of his mouth when Sherlock’s hand was on him had taken the fantasy too far, too fast. Sherlock sits beside him godlike and untouchable, pink light dripping down across his bare and glistening skin as his chest rises and falls with his even breathing. John clenches his fist not to reach out and touch him, wanting to bridge the sudden distance that had expanded between them in the seconds between John’s orgasm and Sherlock sliding off his board.

Then Sherlock takes a deep breath, licks his lips, and speaks calm and firm, eyes still roaming out over the horizon.

“Marry me, John,” he says.

John’s brain stops, then a surprised laugh explodes out of his chest. He thinks he must have sank down beneath the waves and died without realizing it, and now he’s living in a dream world where Sherlock Holmes sits next to him out on the waves and says absolutely insane things like “marry me” after John’s just come with a screaming groan into his hand.

John forces his lips to move, words exploding into the buzzing silence. “What the – Sherlock, we can’t even get married,” he finally chokes out.

Sherlock doesn’t move, pale eyes still fixed on the slowly setting sun. “Maybe not technically,” he says, tilting his head. “But we can get as close to it as we can.”

John gapes, mouth open, watching Sherlock calmly sit on his board like he hasn’t just said the most insane and ridiculous words John’s ever heard in his life.

John coughs to clear his throat and tries to speak again, voice shaking underneath his forced calm. “But it’s . . .” he stops, not even sure what he wants to say. Then he hears himself blurt out, “But you’re so young.”

Sherlock laughs, eyes crinkling at the corners. He finally looks over at John, face relaxed and easy and blue eyes sparkling in the reflection of the light from the waves. “That hasn’t bothered you before,” he says.

John grins sadly at the corner of his mouth despite himself. He feels a part of his chest sinking without fully understanding why. It all seems too good to be true, like a ghost of his potential future passing right before his eyes that will disappear into the clouds if he doesn’t reach out and grab it fast enough. Like trying to grab at a handful of water and hold every bit of it in his palm without leaking.

“We just met, Sherlock,” he says, grin sliding off his face. “I just moved here fucking yesterday. You don’t know if –”

“John you just told me two hours ago that you wouldn’t have gotten on that plane if you weren’t one hundred percent sure.”

“True, but. . .”

“No, no buts. You moved here. You said yes to the shop. And don’t try and fucking lie to me and deny that deep down you always wished that you could get married one day because you wanted to know that at least one part of your goddamn life wouldn’t just be one giant mystery. So I’m telling you. I fucking love you, and that isn’t changing. So marry me.”

John holds his breath as Sherlock looks straight at him, curls frizzed and drying in the late setting sun and eyelashes wet at the tips from the saltwater and cock now nestled half hard against his board between his legs.

Sherlock blinks, eyes glistening. “Marry me, John,” he says again.

John takes one last look at him, beautiful and glowing in the sun, then he closes his eyes, chest panging.

He wants to say yes. He wants to cup Sherlock’s face in his hands and say, “Do you even understand? Yesterday I was on a plane shitting bricks hoping you’d take me back, and then this morning I was having nightmares of you flying off the top of a goddamn wave and dying, and now you’re asking me this? Here?”

He wants to laugh and cry and throw his hands up at his sides saying, “You were just a fucking stranger standing next to me a month ago and now you’re ready to say ‘forever’?”

John swallows hard and opens his eyes. He’s not sure what expression is painted across his face, but whatever it is causes something in the back of Sherlock’s eyes to softly shatter.

“It wouldn’t be a wedding, Sherlock,” he says gently, voice breaking. “It wouldn’t . . . it wouldn’t mean anything. Just words. And who the fuck would even be there?”

Sherlock sighs softly beside him, chest deflating as his skin glows a gentle gold in the fading light. “It would mean something to us,” he says back quietly, eyes staring down at the water.

John passes a hand over his face, mouth trembling. He already hates himself for what he’s about to say, self-disgust burning hot and thick in the pit of his stomach. Sherlock tenses beside him, waiting like he already knows what John’s response will be.

John grimaces. Suddenly the surface of his board feels invasive against the bare skin of his buttocks and thighs. He wants desperately to cover himself. To shield his skin from the open horizon and block the water from rushing across his naked hips and legs.

John grits his teeth. “We just can’t, Sherlock. It’s not --”

“Fine then,” Sherlock cuts him off. John thinks he’s furious, then steals a glance and notices that Sherlock’s lips are just barely curved up at the corner, like John’s crisis out on the waves is somehow mildly amusing. It makes John want to wrap him in his arms and kiss him – gulp down a deep breath and hold him close and scream “thank you” up towards the heavens.

Sherlock turns to look at him, face open and clear. “A year from now, a year from today, unless you’ve gone back to absolutely hating my guts, then marry me.”

A lightness burns freshly in John’s chest. “You’re really serious?”

“Of course I’m fucking serious. I know of a guy who’ll do it – say the magic words and shit, even if there won’t be any stupid piece of paper involved. So in a year when you’ve convinced yourself that we won’t kill each other and we won’t be destitute and you won’t be stepping back on a plane to that Los Angeles hell hole, you can stand in front of me and get married like you wanted.”

John blinks back tears, breath stolen from his lungs. “Have you always wanted that?”

Sherlock smiles softly, then reaches forward to take John’s wet hand in his, fingers steady and calm over John’s trembling palm.

“No,” he says grinning. “But then you went and fucking showed up one day and made me want it more than anything, you asshole. I just want to be with you. So why the hell not?”

And for the second time out on the water John huffs out a disbelieving, relieved laugh and lunges forward to grab Sherlock’s shoulders with his hands, pressing a kiss to his mouth with a smile still on his lips. Sherlock hums into the kiss, fingers gripping at John’s waist, until John pulls back with a sigh, running his fingers through Sherlock’s curls and looking into his eyes.

“You’re insane, you know that?” he whispers.

Sherlock laughs, eyes wet. “How could I forget with you telling me every five minutes?”

John relaxes gently as the water bobs under his board, breathing in the scent of Sherlock’s sun and salt covered skin. A cool breeze rushes along the surface of the water, washing away the day from his skin and covering him in shivers. Suddenly he wants to be back in their bed with Sherlock resting on his chest more than anything, buried deep and safe under the sheets and breathing in the scent of his curls.

“It’s getting cold. Should head back,” Sherlock says, reading his mind. John rolls his eyes as Sherlock reaches forward and presses one last soft kiss to his forehead before laying down on his board and paddling in towards the shore.

John follows behind after one last glance out at the water, watching the last tendrils of the purple sun wind their way down into the black and blue deep.

Sherlock calls back over his shoulder, smirking as he paddles. “Besides, I’m exhausted as hell and I’ve had more emotional fucking conversations today than I did in twenty years combined. So you owe me a fucking mind blowing orgasm when we get back to the house.”

John laughs into the surface of his board, grinning as the water rushes past his skin in a cool kiss, leaving his fears from the day behind out on the waves. “I owe you that, at least,” he calls back.

John waits until they’re in the sand walking towards the house. After Sherlock has risen out of the water like a god, golden bare skin glittering in the rising moonlight and shoulder blades clenching as he lifts his board up under his arm. Waits until he walks just behind him, transfixed by the movement of the backs of Sherlock’s thighs, the curves of his buttocks, the sway of his hips as he walks naked across the soft sand, calves and ankles sinking deep into the cool, velvet grains.

John knows he has to say it now, before they reach the house. One last question niggling at the back of his mind that won’t let him lay his head down on the pillow and sleep like the dead with Sherlock’s arm thrown warmly around him.

“What made you choose now?” he asks quietly, stopping to stand still in the sand.

Sherlock freezes ahead of him and turns, a frown forming between his brows. “Choose what?”

John shrugs. “To . . . to ask that. To ask me that. Everything that happened today, and just two hours ago you were afraid I was going to leave or some shit. I just . . . why now?”

Sherlock looks back at him straight through his skin, the same way his eyes had peered into his chest that first moment back on the pier. John holds his breath as Sherlock walks towards him naked in the sand, the rising moonlight casting ripples across his smooth skin as he glides across the beach.

Sherlock reaches out to cup John’s cheek in his hand when he reaches him, and John lets himself drown in Sherlock’s eyes. They’re glittering. They look like the little glimpses of crystal ocean water that had peeked out at him through the thick and steaming jungle that day he’d run for his life with fresh blood wet on his palms – the promise of safety and silence and life.

The whipped cream- topped promise of shelter.

Sherlock bites his lip like he’s thinking of just what to say, then his eyes suddenly clear, open and wide and staring down at John like he’s the only thing worth looking at in the world.

“Because it just felt good to hold you,” he says. “And you seem to be the only person on earth who can stand my miserable ass.”

Then he kisses John softly on the lips before pulling away and walking calmly up towards the house, leaving John standing alone on the shore, watching awestruck at the silhouette of Sherlock’s body against the golden light pillowing out from the windows of their home.

John shakes his head softly, curses under his breath, and jogs to catch up to Sherlock in the sand. Something deep down in his chest tells him he already knows exactly what he’s going to be doing one year from today, and John realizes with a relieved smile that he’s not able to find one single goddamn reason to fight it.

Chapter Text

Late summer, 1977

 

The soothing sea rushes against his ears in a frothing whisper, gently pulling John from his dreams until his eyelids blink slowly into the thin, grey light. He can hear Sherlock’s deep and even breathing beside him, blowing against the curls covering his face. He’s sleeping like the dead on his stomach with his arms thrown up over his head like he looks every morning – painted in rested gold twinkling off the tips of the hairs on his bare arms and back.

John sighs, waking up his lungs, and turns on his side to stretch back his shoulder. He stares at the small photograph pinned to the wall by his side of the bed. He’d taken it on their trip down to surf Bells Beach in Australia back in February. John smiles now to himself looking at it – remembering how Sherlock had rolled his eyes so hard they’d nearly popped out of his head when John had pulled a brand new camera out of his bag when they got to the hotel.

“Lord spare me,” he’d said. “Please tell me you’re fucking joking.”

John had smirked, holding it up and immediately snapping a picture of Sherlock glaring at him across the room with his hands perched on his hips. “Definitely not joking.”

He’d pulled the film from the camera and waved it in the air to develop, smirking at Sherlock’s shocked expression as his hands flew up to grab in his hair.

“That film is expensive, John! Don’t tell me you just wasted a photo on that!

“I wouldn’t say I wasted it,” John had said, glancing down at the slowly forming picture like a ghost emerging from the black, watching as the fog cleared to reveal Sherlock’s judgmental eyes with a perfect ringlet draped across his forehead.

Sherlock had waved his hand, giving up, and turned back to continue unpacking his bag in his room, creating the ruse they’d done many times before of making it look like both hotel rooms had been slept in. “Well you’ll regret whatever money you spent on that within the week, I guarantee you,” he’d muttered, elbow-deep in his suitcase. “Those cameras are a bitch to maintain. Break constantly.”

John had come up behind him and wrapped his arms around Sherlock’s chest, stroking gently over the soft fabric of the shirt John had given him for Christmas. “Good thing I know a good mechanic then,” he’d whispered, right before biting the lobe of Sherlock’s ear and letting his hands rove down below the waistband of his shorts.

And then four days later, after John had surprised literally everyone on the beach by coming in fourth at Bells while Sherlock remained stuck in fifth place, and after Sherlock had grabbed John’s arm at the end of competition day and dragged him back to their hotel and threw him down hard onto the bed, fucking him through the mattress and covering John’s groans and cries with his hand, and after they’d woken up early to spend their last day in Victoria watching the sun rise steadily over the empty beach, John had let Sherlock walk along ahead of him, bare chested in the glittering morning light. He’d pulled the camera from the bag slung over his shoulder, and waited until the jellyfish on Sherlock’s back glittered just so in the reflection from the sunshine and the waves, and he’d snapped a picture of him looking just barely over his shoulder, waiting for John to catch up and follow. And Sherlock hadn’t made fun of him at all when John had pinned it up quietly next to his side of the bed, a handwritten “Sherlock and me. Victoria. February 1977” written across the white part along the bottom.

“You’re not even in the photo,” Sherlock had whispered, laying behind John their first night back at home and hugging him close in his arms.

John had wrapped a hand around Sherlock’s forearm and stroked, fingertips brushing over the shivers on his skin. “Yes, I am,” he’d whispered. And Sherlock had hummed understanding and kissed the back of his neck in the dark.

Sherlock stirs, shifting in his sleep behind John and burrowing his face deeper into the pillow, rousing John from his sleepy thoughts. John tears his gaze away from the fading photograph and turns onto his other side to face him, grinning silently as Sherlock huffs a lazy breath to blow the long curls off his forehead, nose twitching, then falls immediately back to a deep and heavy sleep. John throws an arm over Sherlock’s bare back, gently running his fingers up Sherlock’s spine and watching transfixed as his breath falters in his sleep at the touch of John’s palm.

Sherlock’s skin smells like salt and sand and sun. The sandalwood shavings from working on his boards in the back of the shop, and the lacquer that coats his hands no matter how many times he washes them, and the dark, musky hint of sweat and semen from the sex they’d had the night before. John presses his cheek to Sherlock’s upper arm where it’s thrown up lazily over his head, letting the new layer of scruffy beard on his face rasp against Sherlock’s skin, deafening in the silence of the room. He breathes in the scent of him. Kisses wet and slow up Sherlock’s arm towards his shoulder. Kisses over the fresh and crisp lines of the new tattoo draped across the contours of his body, still bright and bold over the shaved skin of his arm and practically glowing in the morning light.

John traces the lines with his lips. The barest hint of tongue. He hums softly into Sherlock’s skin, remembering back to the day only a week ago when he’d come home from a long day spent up at the shop and opened their front door to an empty house and a barely legible note taped to the fridge.

“Gone to the city. Be back late. That beef you were hoping to use in your lasagna tonight has gone bad. You can use the mushrooms from Hobbs instead in each layer and it’ll taste just fine.”

John had run a hand over his face and rolled his eyes, knowing full well he’d never mentioned to Sherlock at all that day or the day before that he’d been planning on making lasagna for dinner. Then his eyes had caught the words added to the bottom of the note, flooding his chest with a still unfamiliar warmth. “Don’t worry – not doing anything stupid.”

So John had used the mushrooms in the lasagna instead, and it had tasted fine just like Sherlock had fucking said it would, and the next morning he’d woken up to an empty but slept-in bed and walked out into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee from the machine it’d taken him a whole goddamn month of silent struggling to figure out. And he’d turned around at the sound of Sherlock’s footsteps behind him and nearly dropped his full mug at the sight of Sherlock bare chested in worn sweatpants with a fresh new tattoo covering his left upper arm and shoulder, protected by a thin layer of plastic.

And before John had been able to say anything Sherlock had walked forward and kissed him on the forehead, saying, “Took me three goddamn hours to find a place that actually made strawberry milkshakes because the first place I went to was fucking closed, and they half melted on my way back home on the bus, but they’re in the freezer for later today and you can thank me by fucking me tonight.”

Because of course Sherlock had known what day it was – that it was Helen Watson’s birthday - even though John hadn’t said a single goddamn thing about it. And while John felt hot tears building in the back of his eyes Sherlock had taken the shaking mug of coffee from his hand and wrapped him in his arms, whispering into his ear, “The tattoo wasn’t planned, obviously. Just walked by a place that looked clean and got an idea.”

He’d held John in the silent kitchen for a long time, letting John breathe roughly against his chest. John had stood stunned, arms hanging limply at his sides, feeling numb and small and completely overwhelmed. Then he’d felt Sherlock’s lips press gently into his hair, suddenly filling his bones with such a sense of right that John had nearly laughed. Instead he’d pulled back slowly, staring at the floor while he passed a hand over his wet eyes to try and pull himself together.

“It’s in a week, isn’t it?” he’d asked, voice choked. “The day that would make it a year?”

Sherlock had nodded, eyes soft and quiet, waiting patiently for John to speak.

Finally John had shaken his head and held Sherlock’s cheek in his hand, trying to talk over his own trembling lips. “Yes,” he’d said wetly. And Sherlock’s face had crumpled as he pulled John into a deep and groaning kiss, thumbs brushing softly over the tears falling silently from the corners of John’s eyes, moaning “Thank god” into his mouth.

Now, one week later, John continues to run his lips over the tattoo, waiting for Sherlock to slowly wake up beneath him. He feels the ink beneath his lips perfectly, as if the lines are raised into more than just a flat picture. Feels the ship’s anchor etched into Sherlock’s arm, surrounded by a winding rope and laying against a bed of white plumeria blossoms fanning out over his shoulder and dripping down his arm and back until they just reach the tip of the jellyfish. John keeps his eyes closed and kisses the exact place where he knows his initials are just barely inked into the bottom of the anchor, hidden in the details of the design for only John to see.

“Your beard tickles,” Sherlock grumbles into his pillow, halfheartedly shrugging his shoulder under John’s mouth.

John grins, climbing further onto Sherlock’s back and running his lips across his shoulder blades and neck.

“Should I press harder, then?” he asks.

Sherlock’s breathing changes beneath him, growing faster. “Then you’d just cover me in marks.”

John hums, licking a slow stripe up Sherlock’s spine before rubbing his gruff cheek at the nape of Sherlock’s neck, breathing shivers into his skin.

“You like having marks from your man all over you,” he says gruffly, rolling his hips slowly where he lays now completely on top of Sherlock, letting his warm, thickening penis press just barely into the curve of Sherlock’s ass.

Suddenly Sherlock tenses and flips onto his back underneath him, then he runs his hands up the small of John’s back and pulls him down to lay across his body. John lays his full weight down, groaning deep in his chest as his penis presses warmly against Sherlock’s own growing erection. Sherlock’s hands run up the length of his spine, up into his hair and tangling into the loose, blonde strands.

Sherlock’s voice is low like gravel. He rolls his hips under John languidly as he speaks, eyes still sleepy and half closed. “My man, huh?” he says.

The words tumble down John’s back like sparks of heat, and he leans down to capture the words on Sherlock’s mouth with a wet and sloppy kiss, panting across his lips and tasting the morning slowness on his tongue. John hums lazily into Sherlock’s sleep-warm skin beneath him, slowly tangling his fingers in Sherlock’s curls and moving like they have all the time in the world – deep and heavy and slow. After a few minutes of John slowly licking into his mouth Sherlock pulls back panting, lips pink and wet and pupils blown wide.

He grins at the corner of his mouth, holding firmly onto John’s hips and tracing up his sides with his fingertips. “Aren’t we not supposed to see each other beforehand?”

John groans and reaches down between them to cup his palm over Sherlock’s balls, rolling them gently in his hand and letting his wrist trace just barely against the base of Sherlock’s warm, soft penis. “You’re ridiculous,” he breathes.

Sherlock sucks in a breath and fights a moan as John slowly traces up his hardening length with the barest tips of his fingers, caressing the hot skin like satin. Sherlock closes his eyes and tilts his head back, pressing his hips up into John’s touch. “It’s bad luck,” he grunts out.

John grins and leans down to press a soft kiss to the corner of Sherlock’s mouth. “True,” he whispers. He props himself up fully on his elbow and reaches up with his other hand to press his fingers into Sherlock’s mouth, gliding between his full and parted lips and caressing his wet tongue. Sherlock’s eyes fly open wide as he moans around John’s fingers, vibrating against John’s skin and coating them with his spit. John shoves in a third finger, watching Sherlock’s lips stretch around him, and he rolls his hips hard and slow against Sherlock’s groin, rubbing his balls slowly along the length of Sherlock’s hot and aching cock.

“You want me to stop?” John rumbles. He pulls his fingers slowly out from between Sherlock’s lips, skin glistening and wet, then reaches down to grasp again at Sherlock’s erection, running his fist along the length of his cock from base to tip before swirling his thumb gently over the leaking slit.

Sherlock groans and huffs out a breath that John knows is supposed to sound annoyed but completely misses the mark when he’s writhing and panting beneath him, hips pressing up deeper into John’s palm. “Fuck you,” Sherlock says.

John kisses wetly beneath Sherlock’s jaw, tongue dipping out to taste his skin. “You already did that last night,” he says low.

Sherlock grabs at the back of John’s neck and chuckles breathlessly. “God, how could I forget?”

For a moment John revels in Sherlock lying heavy and soft beneath him, letting John work him, pulling soft moans from the back of his throat and running his lips over every inch of Sherlock’s face and neck. Sherlock’s fingertips cling firmly to the sensitive skin of John’s nape, anchoring him in his arms, and John moans at the rasp of the hair on Sherlock’s thighs against his own as they twist and tangle beneath the sheets, limbs moving heavy and slow.

Sherlock’s hand comes up to cup John’s cheek, thumb running across the scruff on his face. John’s chest clenches at the look on Sherlock’s face – a look he’d seen often since the moment he’d said “yes” just a week ago standing in their kitchen. John stills his hand on Sherlock’s erection, moving to just cup his balls and the crease of his hip gently in his palm.

Everything stills. “I wish you’d keep this,” Sherlock whispers low, fingers tracing along John’s jaw.

John frowns, surprised. “I thought you weren’t a fan. Just humoring me.”

Sherlock hums, reaching his neck up to kiss once in the center of John’s cheek. “The opposite.”

“Even though it leaves burns all over you?” John traces his thumb along just under Sherlock’s lower lip, where already a soft pink rash is forming from the rasp of John’s beard against Sherlock’s smooth skin.

Sherlock grins wickedly, and John barely has time to react before Sherlock’s muscles tense beneath him and he’s flipping him over in one smooth motion onto his back, pinning John down into the mattress with a grunt. “Especially because it leaves burns on me,” he says.

The words sear in John’s brain, shooting down his spine and pooling in between his hips. Sherlock grips John’s waist after pressing a wet kiss to his lips and motions for him to turn onto his stomach, which John does with a moan at the back of his throat, anticipation thrumming hotly through his quickly waking muscles.

Sherlock’s already trailing his lips and tongue down John’s back by the time he can force any words out of his breathless lungs. “Jesus. . .”

Sherlock bites at the skin over John’s shoulder blade hard, sending a piercing thrill through John’s chest, before laving at the mark with his tongue, hands roving firmly up John’s sides. “Should I be concerned that you’re calling out another dude’s name during sex?” Sherlock quips into his back.

John reaches back to grab at a handful of Sherlock’s curls and pulls, other hand gripping tightly at the pillow as Sherlock’s wet, open lips travel farther and farther down to the dip in the low of his back. “Fuck you,” John groans.

Sherlock hums, lips perched just at the top of the crease of John’s ass. “Let me do this first,” he says low, right before grabbing John’s buttocks hard in both hands and dipping his tongue into the crease, slowly traveling down in a cooling, wet slide.

Sparkling pleasure radiates out from the center point of Sherlock’s soft tongue gliding between John’s cheeks, leaving an icy trail in its path as his hands grip hard and squeeze. John frantically reaches up with one hand to press against the wall, pushing himself back against Sherlock’s tongue as Sherlock’s groans vibrate through skin. John can feel the bed gently rocking from where he knows Sherlock is grinding his own hips down into the mattress, getting himself off on the friction of the sheets against his cock as he breathes in deeply against John’s skin.

John’s chest is trembling, hips pushing desperately back against Sherlock’s mouth while also trying to grind his throbbing cock deeper against the mattress, shooting coiling heat through his groin. Sherlock’s lips and tongue slowly, gently kiss down the crease of his buttocks, nearing his hole with their warm, wet trail. John flutters in anticipation, gut tensing and breath held tightly in his lungs.

Suddenly Sherlock’s mouth is gone, cool air rushing against the spit trailed down along his ass. “You didn’t get up in the middle of the night to take a shit, did you?”

The air in John’s lungs releases all at once in a surprised laugh. “You know I didn’t, you dick. An idiot would be able to tell if I did.”

John can feel Sherlock’s answering grin in the air, brushing softly against the skin on his quivering lower back. “Never hurts to ask,” he says lightly. John’s just about to shoot back a retort when suddenly the words die on his tongue, pushed out with a rushing moan as Sherlock spits loudly against his hole and then presses his mouth against him in one slow, open-mouthed kiss.

John cries out from deep in his chest, hand on the wall shaking. Sherlock’s lips suck and kiss over his fluttering hole, leaving him wet and open and aching. John’s buttocks aches gently where Sherlock’s thumbs hold him open, pressing around his rim to make room for his lightly stubbled cheeks rubbing roughly against his sensitive skin as he licks. John fights the urge to reach back and grab the back of Sherlock’s head and shove him deeper into his ass, needing to feel every inch of Sherlock’s mouth against his body.

Then Sherlock’s warm, wet tongue slides roughly inside, shooting straight past the rim and igniting the heat in John’s groin, and Sherlock groans loudly against his skin. He pulls back, words whispered like ice against the wetness surrounding John’s hole.

“Fucking shit, John, you’re still open from last night.”

The memory slams into John’s mind with a heat-filled crash, causing him to reach back and grip a handful of Sherlock’s curls and push his mouth back against his ass. Sherlock groans into him, grabbing at his hips hard enough to bruise and pressing his tongue so deep inside John feels like his entire self is being stretched open for Sherlock’s wet mouth.

John closes his eyes and lets himself remember, reliving it like a fantasy as Sherlock’s lips continue licking deeper into his hole.

How they’d been sitting out on their chairs on the porch, after-dinner beers in hand and watching the sunset like they did every night. How Sherlock had been plucking idly at his uke, thinking out loud through a new board design he was going to try out soon at the shop once he got the right materials shipped in. And John had sat there feeling lighter than air, letting Sherlock’s words wash over him like a soft blanket pulling him deeper into a heavy, relaxed daze.

Then Sherlock had stopped talking, and played his uke for a few more minutes into the silence. And then he’d casually said, “So Chris is gonna meet us here tomorrow at ten, if that’s ok?”

The reality of everything had hit John, then. That he was essentially sitting out on the porch with his fiancé, talking about what time they were going to get fucking married. And even though that small part of his heart had still tried to pang and pull back thinking that it wasn’t even a real wedding at all, the rest of him wanted so desperately to hold Sherlock Holmes close to him in that moment it had nearly gutted him.

So John had risen to his feet on unsteady knees, reached down to pull Sherlock up to stand in front of him, and kissed him without warning, grasping Sherlock’s face in his hands. “I need you. Now,” he’d said against his lips, and Sherlock had followed behind him gripping his hand tightly on the way to their bedroom, eyes wide and soft and hungry all at once.

“Are you thinking about it?”

John flings his eyes open in the present where Sherlock’s words tickle against his skin, and Sherlock’s large hands glide slowly up his back. Sherlock leans down and suddenly bites the skin on John’s buttocks hard between his teeth, causing John to cry out and grind his cock deeper against the mattress, needing friction. “God yes,” he breathes.

Sherlock hums deep in his throat, wetly kissing his bite mark before moving his lips back between the crease of John’s ass, kissing their way back to his open and dripping hole. John shivers up his spine as Sherlock licks a slow stripe across his opening, starting at the thin and sensitive skin of his perineum and ending up in the small of his back.

“Tell me about it,” he growls. “Tell me why you’re so open and wet.”

John moans breathless as Sherlock shoves his cheeks back against the skin of John’s buttocks and sucks his lips around his hole, running his thumbs hard up the backs of John’s thighs. He feels dizzy with want, feeling Sherlock’s mouth suck and hum and lick open his hole while remembering the ghosts of Sherlock’s body from last night on his skin. John swallows hard and pushes harder against the wall, speaking low and trying not to cry out.

“You pushed your fingers inside me,” he groans, face burning.

He gasps as Sherlock grips his ass harder than he ever has and makes a noise that sounds like falling apart, pressing his tongue even deeper inside of him with a moan. John can barely breathe. He never says anything like that during sex. Never. He feels the mattress rocking even more as Sherlock rubs himself off on the sheets. John flushes red up his back towards his neck and shivers, throat tight.

“You stretched me open,” he pants out. “Felt so good.”

Sherlock pulls back from John’s hole and cries out breathlessly. “Shit, John.”

John feels the desperate heat of Sherlock’s words travel through his skin straight through to the aching, leaking tip of his penis, pressed hot and thick into the sheets. He thinks back frantically to the night before, how in the middle of kissing naked Sherlock had started to reach down to prepare himself like they did things most of the time, when John had stopped him with a hand on his wrist and shaken his head and whispered, “No, I need you.”

How Sherlock’s eyes had blown to huge black disks when he looked down and watched his fingers sink into John’s ass the way he’d done only a handful of times before, moaning out loud at the wet slide of his fingers into John’s shaking body.

John takes a deep breath, feeling bold and reckless. Sherlocks curls tickle against his ass where he still licks into him, stopping every few kisses to spit into his hole before diving in to press him open further with his lips. In his mind John sees Sherlock from the night before, gorgeous kneeling before him with his muscled chest heaving in the moonlight, holding his cock in his hand at John’s entrance with a hot sweat dripping down from his curls.

John presses back harder against Sherlock’s lips and curses under his breath. “You held your huge cock in your hand –”

“Fuck –”

“Pushed it inside me.”

“Oh my god. . .”

John reaches down frantically underneath his hips and grabs his own cock in his hand, gripping hard and moaning at the release of friction. Sweat beads along his spine and in the small of his back as Sherlock still bites and licks along the crease of his ass, alternately fucking him deep and wet with his tongue. Suddenly Sherlock gives one cheek of John’s buttocks a light slap, shooting heat straight down through John’s toes curling against the mattress.

He starts to keen as he pulls hard on his own cock, words pouring out of him that he’d only ever heard Sherlock say in the heat of sex.

“You were so fucking huge,” he groans.

Sherlock whimpers high in his throat, and John feels Sherlock take one hand off his ass to reach down to start working his own erection.

John goes on, prickling up the back of his neck. “Fucking into me. Pumping your cock in my ass. God you were so big. Didn’t think I could take it –”

John.”

John closes his eyes again and sees Sherlock from the night before. How he’d covered him with his body and thrusted his penis into him again and again while John lay panting and arched on his back, fingernails leaving red trails along the skin of Sherlock’s shoulders. How Sherlock had held John’s face in his hands and kissed his bearded cheeks, his eyelids, across his forehead, just the barest hints of panted kisses brushed against his mouth. He thinks of how Sherlock had pulled out all the way then knelt up to watch himself disappear into John’s body in one long, slow, glide, both of them moaning at the wet slap of skin against skin, deafening in the silence of the room.

How Sherlock had laid his whole weight on top of him, just barely rolling his hips so that they hit the spot inside of John that made his toes curl and the breath knock clear from his lungs. And how he’d whispered softly against his mouth, “dearest love” as he’d reached between them and gripped John’s cock in his hand and pumped him until he came.

John flings open his eyes and knows he’s getting close. He pulls and twists on his cock, fire shooting through his veins, and swallows over his dry throat to keep talking, knowing Sherlock’s hanging on his every word as his tongue traces a slow, hot circle around the rim of John’s ass, barely dipping inside to lick.

“I’m still open now,” he pants out. “That’s how much you stretched me open.”

Sherlock whimpers behind him where he still lays in between John’s legs, tongue flicking frantically against his dripping hole. John arches his back to push against him. “Fucked me so good. I can still feel your huge cock in me.” John grunts as he feels the heat of his orgasm starting to coil at the base of his penis, hot and dripping in his hand.

“Can still feel your cum dripping out of me, dripping down my thighs –”

“Jesus Christ –”

Sherlock presses his face hard against John’s ass, fucks his tongue deeper into John than he ever has, flicks the tip against the sensitive skin inside him, and groans.

John comes in his hand with a breathless cry, spilling onto the sheets and dripping over his fingers still frantically flying up and down the aching steel of his erection. Distantly he hears Sherlock’s voice, and feels his hands running up and down the cheeks of his ass.

“Fuck, yeah that’s it. Come for me . . .”

John collapses onto his stomach, not giving a shit that the sheets beneath him are wet. He takes a breath that expands every inch of his lungs, feeling dizzy and tingling and heavy like lead. Then he heaves himself onto his back as Sherlock pushes himself up to kneel over John’s hips, hand desperately pumping his own cock.

John runs his fingernails up Sherlock’s thighs, then reaches under to grab his balls in his hand, feeling them hot and tight up against his groin. Sherlock’s penis is swollen and leaking from the tip, shaking from the force of Sherlock’s huge hand flying over it where it juts out proudly just above John’s stomach. John reaches his other hand forward and brushes a finger just across the slit, collecting the drip of precome leaking there, then brings his finger to his mouth and sucks, licking it clean.

Sherlock curses, eyes desperate and wild. John looks up at him and blinks hard. Sherlock looks undone. Curls wild, spit still dripping from his chin, lips bright pink and swollen with beads of sweat dripping slowly down his chest and over his nipples, illuminated by the sunlight pouring through the windows off the surface of the ocean.

“You’re beautiful,” John breathes. Then Sherlock pulls himself once more long and slow, starting from the thatch of dark hair at the base of his penis and squeezing hard out towards the leaking tip, and then he leans back and keens as he comes, semen spraying across John’s chest as they both groan – two pairs of eyes blown open and fixed on the sight of Sherlock’s cum painting the muscles on John’s stomach and chest.

Finally Sherlock releases himself and collapses forward onto his elbows, bracketing John’s head and leaning down for a kiss. He hesitates just above John’s face, realizing where his mouth just was with a slight frown. John grabs the nape of his neck and pulls him down the rest of the way and crashes their mouths together, still panting and open, lips sensitive and wet. He kisses him for a long time in the early morning air, relishing in the heavy weight of Sherlock’s muscled limbs lying limp on top of him, trusting him to hold him up and not let him fall.

When Sherlock eventually pulls back to breathe John nearly gasps. He forgets sometimes. Forgets how wrecked and open and young Sherlock can look. They hold each other’s gaze in the new silence, breathing hard into the vulnerable air, then John pats the side of Sherlock’s cheek and grins.

“Still all in a fit about seeing each other the day of the wedding?” he asks.

Sherlock blinks once, registering his words, and then the look on his face is slowly replaced by his usual gaze – piercing and intelligent with just a tiny hint of smirk. John drinks it in as Sherlock sits up and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You don’t realize this,” he says, “because you have an absolutely shit internal clock. But it’s nine-fifty right now, and Chris is coming at ten –”

“Shit!”

John leaps up from the bed as Sherlock laughs, eyes bright. He paces across the room frantically searching for his robe among the heap of clothes thrown onto the floor from the night before, then looks back at Sherlock still casually kneeling on the bed, one hand working out the tangles from his curls while the other one strokes languidly at his soft, wet penis nestled between his muscled thighs. John wants to drop the robe in his hand back onto the floor. Leap back onto the sheets and pull Sherlock down and kiss him senseless until his cock is thick and hot again, pressing into his skin. Wants to taste the laughter on his tongue and kiss the dimples on his cheeks.

Instead he tries to look stern, rolling his eyes. “You couldn’t have fucking said anything about the time twenty minutes ago?”

Sherlock raises his eyebrows, eyes darting quickly to John’s ass. “I was busy!”

John curses and flings on his robe before heading for the door to the bathroom. He catches Sherlock’s pleading look out of the corner of his eyes as he heads for the door and stops. “Oh no no, you don’t get to use the shower. You’ll end up taking a fucking half hour, and I’m the one who has fucking cum sprayed all over me, thanks to someone.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and huffs at the ceiling. “Well fine, I’ll just have to look like I literally just had sex in all your memories of today then.”

John mutters under his breath as he walks into the bathroom and shuts the door. “You better be fucking clean and dressed by the time I come out of here. Seriously, Sherlock.”

He hears Sherlock’s laugh continuing behind him, spreading warmth through every inch of his chest.

“Quit whining, you old grump, we’ll be ready on time. Didn’t they train you to take fifteen second showers in the Navy?” Sherlock calls through the door.

John can’t fight the grin on his face as he frantically flips the shower on and fusses at his hair in the mirror. “They also taught me how to effectively drown someone in the Navy, so watch it with the sass, you dickhead,” he calls back.

John hears a muffled “Aye, aye, Captain,” through the door before he steps under the warm spray, letting it wash the smell of sex from his skin. He takes a deep breath of the humid air to fill his lungs, trying to steady his racing heart.

It feels real, now. Standing in the shower trying to look presentable in eight minutes so he doesn’t look like he just fucked another man when a stranger will knock on their door for the very first time.

He thinks to himself for the hundredth time that week that if someone had walked up to him a year and a half ago when he’d just finished a morning surf with Greg, or just ended his shift at the dockyard, and told him that today he was going to somehow bind himself forever to another man in front of a living, breathing witness, he probably would have passed out or vomited or punched whoever told him or all three. Fear coils thick and sudden in his chest, a little voice in his ear begging him to hide behind the door like a child when Chris comes and apologize to Sherlock later and say, “We’ve already said we love each other, so there’s no real reason to actually have some sort of ceremony for it, is there?”

Then through the sound of the pounding spray and the ragged breathing from his chest he hears Sherlock whistling as he gets ready in the next room – some tune John’s heard on the radio but can’t quite place. He hears the words again in his mind, clear as if they were being spoken right in front of him in the shower.

“Marry me, John.”

The fear dissolves, rushing from his body like the foam fades back from the shore with the rise and fall of each passing wave. He blinks back the water forming in his eyes and ducks his head to be battered by the spray, feeling flayed open and raw. Feeling one hundred pounds lighter. In a sudden rush John shuts off the water with a shaking hand and wraps a towel around his waist and peeks his head out of the bathroom door, steam billowing out around him into the living room while he drips wet puddles onto the floor.

Sherlock’s standing by the window already in his clothes with his hair tamed and styled, calmly looking out at the shore with his arms crossed over his chest. He turns to look over his shoulder when he realizes John isn’t moving from the doorway and frowns slightly, confused.

John’s heart races. “I love you, you know,” he says, lips numb. Sherlock smiles, free and open, and traces his eyes gently up John’s dripping wet skin. The moment pulses between them, and John has a sudden flashback to those mornings they’d spent on the beaches in Los Angeles together before everything had been laid open and made known. Mornings when the air would spark with electricity and buzz in the space between their bodies, tantalizing and hinting at more. Fierce and vulnerable like an open flame.

A harsh knock sounds at the door, breaking the thick, warm silence. Before he turns to answer it Sherlock shoots John one last look that banishes the last icy fingers of anxiety still clutching tightly at his heart.

“I know,” he whispers softly, eyes crinkling. And then he gestures his head for John to go on and finish getting ready while he goes to answer the door, hand still and steady on the doorknob.

 

--

 

“Shit, do you think we should have worn ties?”

John runs a hand over the back of his neck, feeling odd and itchy in his skin. Sherlock snorts under his breath and shoots him a sidelong look, and John can tell that he’s irritatingly trying to suppress a fond grin.

“For what?” Sherlock whispers back, gesturing with his head to the empty beach. “To impress the adoring congregation?”

John huffs and pushes his arm against Sherlock’s shoulder. “You know what I fucking mean.”

Sherlock gasps quietly, eyebrows comically raised up his forehead. “John Watson, cursing in a church? Wash out your mouth.”

“Oh for God’s sake –”

“And using the Lord’s name in vain!”

“Jesus spare me.”

“I’m sure he’s got better shit to do then come and look after your sorry ass.”

“Do you ever fucking stop?”

“Do I need to make you put a dollar in a jar for every time you curse on our wedding day –?”

“You two all set?”

John startles and looks up at Chris watching the two of them with an amused smirk, then coughs to clear his throat while something like embarrassment fizzles in his skin. He can practically hear the laughter he knows Sherlock is hiding back in his chest standing next to him.

“Yeah, sorry,” he forces out.

Chris holds up a patient hand, then gestures with a nod towards the rocky cliff far behind him, silhouetted by the slowly purpling sky. “Let’s go then,” he says.

John takes a deep breath and starts walking beside Sherlock, both of them trailing behind Chris as they walk along their stretch of beach just like they’ve done hundreds of times. Only this time John feels each grain of sand against his bare feet as he takes step after step, tickling against his toes and gently pushing him forward across the shore towards the place where he’ll take Sherlock’s hand in his and be expected to say words that will actually somehow mean something. Words that could somehow convey even half of what he feels as he listens to Sherlock’s steps gently swish beside him in the sand, echoing back and forth with his own.

John thinks as they walk in gentle silence that Chris is absolutely nothing like the man he’d been picturing. His name, and the fact that Sherlock somehow knew him in connection with being willing to perform a ceremony like this, meant John had been picturing some young New Age dude from San Francisco or New York, fresh in Hawaii with a string of fake puka shells around his neck, chanting something about Krishna like the parades of people he’d seen the last couple years in orange robes along the downtown LA streets.

He definitely hadn’t been expecting the elderly Hawaiian man walking carefully in front of them now across the sand, with a simple garland of leaves about his neck and a plain canvas bag slung lazily over his shoulder, grey hair glinting in the slowly fading sunlight.

John had done an embarrassing double take that morning when he’d walked into the living room dressed and ready where Sherlock was already talking casually with Chris. It was a shock to see someone else in their home for the very first time, and even more of a shock when that person was the complete opposite of whom John had been expecting. So he’d stood like an idiot in the doorway to the living room with his mouth half open until Chris had said, laughing, “Ah, so you’re one of the ones who was expecting me to be some young guru from the mainland.” And Sherlock had snorted down into his mug of coffee before gazing at John with twinkling eyes and gesturing silently for him to come sit by his side, as if they had coffee every morning with a stranger who knew that they kissed in the safety of the dark.

So John had joined them, neck red with embarrassment, and then grown even more surprised when Chris hadn’t immediately taken them outside, joined hands, said the magic words, and been done with it all and gone by ten-thirty. Instead he’d leaned back comfortably in their rickety wooden kitchen chair and drank his coffee so slowly John had to get up to use the bathroom twice before Chris was done getting through his first cup. He’d asked John about his life – where he grew up and what he did and where he’d surfed. And when John had glossed over a few years of his life with a low, “I was away,” Chris had taken one long look at him in the silence, then stuck out his hand and shook John’s hard and firm over the rough kitchen table, giving him a nod that John knew in his tight chest meant, “thank you.”

Then he’d turned to Sherlock, sitting loose and comfortable at the table without a tapping finger or fidgeting leg in sight, and he’d smirked a bit and said, “So, the infamous Scotty Holmes. I hear you’re designing a new board?” And John had watched, chest fluttering and warm, as Sherlock had come absolutely alive – eyes bright and hands flying and lips talking through physics and waves and materials faster than even John could fully keep up with, and he’d heard it all a hundred times before. And Chris had sat there and nodded and asked questions like he actually knew what the hell Sherlock was talking about, all while Sherlock’s knee pressed warm and steady against John’s own under the table.

Finally Chris had leaned back in his seat, set down his empty mug, and taken a deep sigh, smiling at them both. “If you don’t mind I’m going to take a few minutes for myself,” he’d said. “I’ll come back when I’m ready for you two and we can go?”

John’s heart had started racing, and Sherlock had nodded.

“Do you have a specific place in mind?” Chris had asked, pushing up from the table.

Sherlock had shot John a quick glance, placing his hand on John’s knee. John’s mouth had gone dry – they hadn’t discussed this before. The question hadn’t even crossed his mind. Then Sherlock had squeezed gently and looked up at Christ standing in the doorway. “There’s a small cliff just at the end of the beach,” he’d said. “I think we’ll do it there.”

And just as Chris was about to disappear outside, John had blurted out the question he knew he had to ask before he could stand up on that cliff and let this man somehow bind him to Sherlock forever.

“Why do you do this?” he’d asked suddenly.

Chris had paused, looking thoughtful. Then he’d looked across the shore towards the waves for a minute, patient in the buzzing silence. “I practice the old religion,” he’d finally said, words slow and carefully formed on his thin, chapped lips. “The old beliefs of my people.”

John had felt Sherlock go rapt with attention beside him, eyes clear and focused and fixed on Chris’s silhouette in the doorway. Chris had taken a breath and gone on, voice somber. “Then one day we were no longer free, and those beliefs became outlawed for hundreds of years.” His voice had grown haunted, shaking slightly as his body grew still. “People were thrown in prison. Or killed.”

Then he’d turned slowly back towards John sitting frozen next to Sherlock, meeting his gaze with soft eyes. “So it seems we have something in common, no?” And with a final nod he’d disappeared through the doorway, walking slowly out towards the shore.

Now, twenty minutes later, John follows along in Chris’s footsteps in the sand, Sherlock’s presence next to him flowing out to cover every inch of his skin. John can smell him in the air, feel ghosts of his warm touch still hovering on his face and hands, taste the words from his lips on the thin ocean breeze, mixed with a frothing layer of salt.

Suddenly Sherlock puts a hand on his arm and stops in the sand, giving him an odd look. John turns and frowns as Sherlock calls quickly up to Chris ahead of them. “You mind if we take a quick moment?”

Chris nods and turns to keep walking away, leaving John and Sherlock alone on the beach that John suddenly feels has never looked so open or so vast. Sherlock takes both of John’s hands gently in his. His voice is soft and low, blending in seamlessly with the steady thrush of the waves at their backs.

“Are you alright?”

John’s heart unexpectedly melts, churning in his chest, and without thinking he leans forward with a sigh and falls into Sherlock’s arms, burying his face against Sherlock’s neck and feeling Sherlock’s hands come up to hold him steadily at his back.

They stand there in silence, heartbeats synchronizing to the same even beat of the waves. John feels Sherlock press his lips into his hair, soft and warmed by the sun. Feels him breathe in the scent of him as Sherlock’s arms run slowly up and down his back, holding him close.

“Thank you,” John whispers into his skin.

Sherlock kisses his hair again and hums. “For what?”

John pulls back, chest feeling open and light, and takes in the breathless sight of Sherlock Holmes glowing in the light of the glittering afternoon sun. The crisp white of his button-down shirt shimmers radiantly, and John can just barely see the faint colors of the tattoo spilling across his shoulder peeking through the fabric made transparent by the sunlight. The shirt hugs the lean lines of his chest and stomach, tucked into khaki’s that cling to his hips and drape across his thighs. John takes him in, eyes roving slowly from his bare feet in the sand up to his eyes like the sea, and he feels emotion overtaking the back of his throat for the innumerable time that day. John smooths down the front of Sherlock’s shirt with his hands, fixing up his open collar before gliding his hands down his chest, stopping to rest just over Sherlock’s heart. Sherlock smiles down at him, eyes slightly wet.

John takes a deep breath through his nose and feels the nerves disappear from his body in a rush. “For doing this,” he finally answers. “Just, for slowing things down for a second.”

Sherlock nods silently, understanding. John stares at the dip in the hollow of his throat, fanned by the crisp white lines of the new shirt John had given him for his birthday.

“You look handsome,” John says low.

Sherlock blushes on his cheeks, then blinks hard and smirks. “Aren’t I supposed to look beautiful? I’m the bride in white, after all.”

John huffs a laugh and groans, slapping Sherlock on the arm. “You’re so full of shit,” he whispers, chuckling.

Sherlock grins and runs his hands slowly up John’s chest in return, smoothing down the dark navy shirt Sherlock had thrust at him the night before saying, “If you don’t wear this, I’ll pose an objection at the altar.” Sherlock’s thumbs run gently over his collarbones, then he traces the fingertips of one hand towards the scar hiding under John’s shirt, covering it with his palm.

“You sure you’re alright?” he asks. “You seem . . . there’s something on your mind.”

John almost laughs. Of course he’s an idiot for thinking he could ever hide something from him. He looks once more towards the sea, watching the sunlight dance and dapple across the surface of the water, then he covers Sherlock’s hand on his chest with his own.

He takes in a deep, lung filling breath of warm salty air, flowing through the veins under his skin. “I just . . . it’s sort of sad, isn’t it?” he says. “I mean, that we’re doing this alone.”

Sherlock’s lips tremble, just barely, then he shrugs one shoulder. “We have Chris as a witness,” he offers.

“I know,” John says.

Sherlock cups John’s cheek in his hand, fingers steady. “But that’s not really what you mean,” he says.

John smiles sad. “No, it isn’t.”

“We’ll see Greg and Molly in September when we’re there for the U.S. Open.”

“You realize we’re also there for their wedding, too? Not just for surfing?”

Sherlock fake huffs and rolls his eyes. “Fine, and we’ll be there for the wedding too,” he groans.

John grins and fixes the crease of Sherlock’s collar one last time. “You’re impossible,” he says. He moves to start walking again, feeling a little more grounded, the sadness pushed back from the forefront of his mind. He thinks he feels ready now. Ready to stand up in front of the sea and the sky and let the edge of the earth see that he’s in love with Sherlock Holmes.

Then Sherlock reaches out to grab his wrist to stop him. “What if,” he starts, “what if we didn’t have to do this alone?”

John frowns, turning back to face him. “What, you mean Hank? I thought he was watching the shop for us.”

Sherlock bites his lip and looks down quickly at the sand, and suddenly a spark of something lights up in the back of John’s mind, burning hesitant and bright. “Hold on, wait a second. Why the fuck do you look so suspicious right now?”

Sherlock looks up at him, eyes open and warm, then quickly glances over John’s shoulder back towards the path in the trees. John’s heart races without him fully knowing why, then he looks over his shoulder to follow where Sherlock’s gaze had landed.

His eyes focus, squinting against the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the sand, and then he freezes, sucking in a gasp.

Greg stands at the edge of the beach with Molly beside him, holding a hand up over his eyes to shield from the blinding sun. Molly waves back at John from where she stands close next to him, grin threatening to leap off her face and the other hand wiping at her eye.

John whips his head back towards Sherlock and gapes at him with wet and burning eyes. He can barely speak. “What did you do?” he whispers. Sherlock smiles at him like somehow John just hung the sun, then he leans forward and softly kisses his cheek. John’s too shocked to realize it’s the first time anyone’s seen them kiss. He doesn’t even flinch. Doesn’t move.

“Go on, then,” Sherlock says, pushing John gently forward by the back.

John’s afraid that if he turns back around they’ll be gone, faded away like a mirage into the hot sand. “You’re insane,” he chokes out, and Sherlock laughs and says, “I know,” as he pushes John forward again towards where Greg and Molly still wait impatiently in the trees.

John tears his eyes from Sherlock and stumbles forward on numb and shaking legs. They haven’t disappeared. They’re still standing there – standing at the entrance of his home like Los Angeles just plucked them up and dropped them clear in the middle of Oahu. John wants to jog towards them but can’t trust his shocked legs to move. Instead he walks, and Greg emerges from the shade to jog out to meet him instead, Molly on his heels.

“Who the fuck gets married without inviting their only goddamn friends?” Greg calls out to him.

John laughs wetly and shakes his head, eyes still disbelieving. “Me, apparently,” he says back. Then Greg reaches out and pulls him into his arms in a thick hug, clutching him to his chest.

They’ve never hugged before. Not like this. John feels his body melt against Greg’s bones, breathing in the scent at the crook of his neck that he suddenly realizes smells like the sea outside his old little Long Beach seaside trailer, where his mom’s frilly waitress cap hung off the doorknob.

“Shit, Johnny,” Greg whispers.

Finally John pulls back and holds Greg firmly by the shoulders. “How the hell did you get here?” he hears himself ask.

Greg chuckles. “Well you see they’ve got these newfangled things called planes now. Big tubes of metal that fly you high up in the air over the ocean –”

“Oh shut up, you dick –”

“And then there’s these machines called cars that are like mini planes on land with wheels –”

“You fucking ass –"

“Johnny!”

Molly flings herself into his arms, legs wrapping around his waist, and John holds her up with a surprised laugh out of the sand. Molly kisses his cheek before jumping back down to her feet, reaching forward to smooth out the wrinkles from John’s shirt.

“Sorry, but if I didn’t interrupt that you two would have just had the ‘insult Olympics’ for an hour while me and Scotty stood here waiting,” she says. “To answer your question, he called us a week ago and somehow pulled plane tickets out of the air, and Greg had some vacation days left and I skipped some class and here we are.”

John looks back towards Sherlock near the shore, standing looking out at the sea waiting with his hands in his pockets, carefully not looking their way. John’s chest expands almost painfully, overflowing with an emotion he can’t name. When he looks back at Greg and Molly, Greg wraps his arm around her waist, slowly turning serious.

“Really, though, Johnny, you know you could have told us,” he says. “You know we would have come.”

John feels hot shame creeping up his neck, and he fights the urge to run a palm over his tingling face. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I just didn’t . . . well it doesn’t really mean anything official, you know?”

Greg slaps him gently on the arm. “That’s bullshit and you know it,” he cries.

Molly pushes against his arm with a frown, chiding, “Greg . . .”

“You know what I mean,” Greg adds. He reaches forward to take John’s arm once more, grip warm and firm. “This does mean something,” he says low.

John blinks hard and swallows over a dry throat, feeling like a wrung-out sponge. “I know,” he whispers. The moment turns thick and heavy, settling between the three of them with a thud. Molly looks over John’s shoulder towards Sherlock and forces a smile, speaking lightly into the thick fog of emotion.

“Well come on, then,” she says. “He’s waiting.”

Greg starts walking with his arm still around Molly’s waist, the other one clasped firmly to John’s shoulder. John sucks in a full breath for the first time since turning around and glimpsing Greg standing on the beach, legs moving thickly through the sand like rubber. He walks towards Sherlock like a lighthouse in the fog, feeling like each step he takes is really on a pier in the middle of Hermosa instead of the soft, private sand of their home. He belatedly realizes Greg’s talking and turns his head to hear.

“Yeah, Johnny,” Greg’s saying, grinning. “Make him wait any longer and he’ll start writing pining love letters to you – send them tied to little bird wings flying across the beach.”

A laugh bursts from John’s chest, and he shoves Greg away from him. “Jesus, between you and him the only person on this beach who I actually fucking like is Molly,” he groans.

“Well that’s because Molly’s too nice to make fun of you for growing a fucking beard like some hermit living in a cave. I mean, shit, do you eat grasshoppers now and only bathe once a year?”

Molly huffs. “Greg, I swear to god I’m gonna purposefully lose this engagement ring in the ocean if you can’t just can it for two hours on the most important day of Johnny’s life.”

“Well if it’s the most important day of his life he shouldn’t look like he just crawled off a deserted island where he didn’t have a razor for six months,” Greg quips back.

Just then they reach Sherlock, who’s turned to greet them, hands stuck in his pockets and shoulders slightly slumped, like he’s trying to make himself look smaller in the air. Greg grows quiet as they approach, and John feels sudden nerves churn in his gut. He feels like he needs to say something. Somehow bridge the gap between the two halves of his life suddenly clashing together in the sand. He opens his mouth to try to speak, hands clammy and awkwardly clearing his throat. Then Sherlock reaches out a hand before John can say anything and Greg takes it in a firm and silent handshake, sharing a quiet look that makes John’s chest ache to witness. Sherlock turns to take Molly’s hand then, leaning down to kiss her cheek. John gapes, mouth wide open. He’s barely seen Sherlock shake another person’s hand before, let alone this. He burns the image into his memory, hiding it deep in his mind.

“Thank you for coming,” Sherlock says formally. John has the sudden sensation that Greg and Molly are his parents, and Sherlock’s his school principal inviting them down for a formal meeting. The thought makes him want to laugh, then he notices again the look that Greg and Sherlock share, feeling like he’s missing something important.

Greg breaks the silence and clears his throat, putting on his usual grin. “Yeah, well, someone had to come out here and make sure you weren’t just marrying this old man for his life insurance. You sure as hell aren’t marrying him for his looks.”

Molly huffs and rolls her eyes as Sherlock laughs. It lights up his entire face, and John stares at him breathlessly for what feels like the hundredth time that day. Without thinking he reaches out and places his hand on Sherlock’s cheek, feeling the smile still on his face, and then he stills, realizing what he’s just done in front of Greg and Molly. Some prickling, black part of him waits for Sherlock to turn his cheek away with an embarrassed look, or to crack a joke and turn to start quickly walking up towards the cliff, ending the awkward silence.

Instead he brings his hand up to hold John’s hand against his cheek, then turns his face to kiss the center of John’s palm. The earth stops, and John’s breath catches in his throat.

“Shall we?” Sherlock says quietly, speaking only to John.

John’s never known the answer to anything more fiercely in his life. He strokes his thumb across Sherlock’s cheek, swallowing hard. “God yes,” he whispers.

 

--

 

The wind at the top of the rocky cliff wraps around his skin like warm velvet, shivering across the hair on his forearms below his rolled-up sleeves. John clutches at Sherlock’s hands in his, unable to keep his eyes off Sherlock’s warm and glowing skin swathed in the white fabric of his shirt and bathed in the reflection of light off the waves down below. The wind blows curls across his forehead, down into his eyes. John wants to raise up on his toes and bury his face in Sherlock’s hair, inhaling the scent of him straight through to his veins over the floral salt scent of the sea.

Instead he holds on, and looks only at him, and tries to focus on what Chris is saying next to them as Greg and Molly watch on from just off to the side.

“The sky and the sea were once one,” Chris is saying. “A vast expanse of the same unbreakable blue, stretching unbounded for eternity. Hovering over the surface of the earth.”

Chris speaks softly beside them, his voice just barely carrying over the sound of the swirling wind and crashing waves below. Sherlock shoots John a quick look, eyes nervous with the barest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth, and John squeezes his hand in return, trying to breathe. Trying to stay rooted in the ground instead of flying clear up into the clouds.

Chris goes on, his voice evolving to a steady, calming hum. “One day the earth realized that the sky and sea could no longer remain one entity. And so she divided them softly down the middle, separating wet from dry, water from air, the waves from the clouds.”

Chris gestures behind him towards the vast horizon line, brilliant and shimmering in the sun. “But you see, they are not separate at all. They are the full sky. And they are the full sea. And yet they are also joined together seamlessly into one by the horizon line you see. And the sea sends its waves up towards the heavens to greet the sky, and the sky sends its wind down to kiss the surface of the water. And in that way, they are still one.”

He turns back towards John and Sherlock. John feels a slight prickling at the back of his mind that maybe Molly and Greg are finding this all ridiculous. He steals a glance towards them out of the corner of his eye and nearly gasps. He’s never seen Greg cry before, but now he is, one tear sliding down his cheek while his arm grips Molly hard around the shoulders.

The prickling in the back of his mind vanishes, and he looks back at Sherlock, glowing and beautiful in the sun. Sherlock winks at him, softly under the cover of his eyelashes, and John fights the urge to press him down into the earth and kiss him.

“Sherlock,” Chris says. “you are the sea. And John, you are the sky. At your horizon line, you meet. It is never broken, and never bent. It is eternal, holding your two souls together at the seam, and you may reach across it to share your gifts with each other, from now until the day you part.”

Chris reaches into the bag at his feet and pulls out a box. John had nearly forgotten – that morning already seems like years ago. When Chris had passed them each the rough, wooden box and told them to put their item inside of it, and John had desperately fought against his curiosity to peek at what Sherlock had already dropped inside. Now Chris opens it, shielding the contents from them with the lid. He cradles the box in his hands, and continues in a voice that floats effortlessly on the wind.

“In my hands are the symbols of your love that you each will wear over your hearts, chosen by each other as the deepest symbol of your entity as sky or sea.” He reaches in and draws out the dog tags John had placed in there this morning, freshly engraved with Sherlock’s name across the back. Chris hands it to Sherlock, who reaches up with a shaking hand, and looks at John with a crumbling look on his face.

“Really?” he whispers.

John nods. He can’t speak. Sherlock huffs out a wet laugh and reaches up to place the chain around his neck, then tucks the tags underneath his shirt, dropping them over his chest.

John startles when Chris holds up an object right in front of him, and it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust on what it is before he reaches up to grab it with numb fingers. It’s a small medallion on a chain, made of sanded, gleaming wood. John holds it in his palm and runs his thumb along the smooth, flat surface. Something about the coloring of it looks familiar to him. Then he notices the barest trace of spray paint at the edge. Realization slaps against his face, and he gasps.

“Your first board?” he breathes.

Sherlock nods, eyes hesitant. John can tell he’s waiting to see if John will understand why. Why Sherlock felt the need to cut apart the first board he ever caught a wave on, and carved out a piece at the center, and sanded and sanded and sanded it until it became something beautiful. Why Sherlock felt the need to include the barest hint of old spray paint that never fully scrubbed off, which John knows once formed a word painted across Sherlock’s board that still shoots icy fear into his chest.

He puts the chain around his neck, adjusting his shirt so the smooth wood hangs just over his heart. He looks at Sherlock with wet eyes, and Sherlock’s entire body relaxes like releasing a lungful of air. John nods, just barely, and he knows that Sherlock sees. That he understands. It’s perfect.

John nearly forgets everyone else is still standing there, and he flinches slightly when Chris goes on speaking, voice warming the cool frothy spray carried up to them by the wind flowing across the rocky cliff.

“Aloha is the welcome and the goodbye. It is the welcoming of this new union – this horizon of sky and sea. And it is the goodbye of the fully separate self – the goodbye of a life lived solely on one’s own path.” He turns to John. “John, before you say goodbye to your old life as one man, and welcome your new life as sky, is there anything you wish to say to him?”

John blanks. He hadn’t known Chris would ask them this. They hadn’t known anything about what he would even say - no vows or lines or any of it. He looks quickly at Sherlock with wide eyes, feeling like the entire ocean is frozen waiting on the cusp of what he’s about to say. Then he sees Sherlock’s eyes, the little palmfuls of clear ocean water, and the words come rushing out of his mouth before he can plan them, flowing calm and effortlessly from his lips.

“You saved me,” he says, throat tight. “And I love you.”

He feels a moment of insecurity, thinking maybe Chris had expected some longer, more eloquent vow. But Chris simply nods and turns towards Sherlock, who’s still looking at John like he’s stunned, and he repeats the same thing to him. “Sherlock, before you say goodbye to your old life as one man, and welcome your new life as sea, is there anything you wish to say to him?”

John stares transfixed as Sherlock swallows hard once, then twice. He reaches for Sherlock’s hands, and Sherlock’s fingers immediately lock onto his in a strong, tight grip. John waits patiently as Sherlock looks down at their joined hands and blinks, feeling small and helpless watching him struggle for what to say for the first time since he’s ever known him.

Then Sherlock looks into his eyes and gruffly whispers, “John.” He opens his mouth to say more, but nothing comes out. Sherlock looks back down at their hands wide-eyed, then releases a shaky breath and looks back at John with one tear slowly sliding down his cheek. His lips tremble as he barely gets out the word again.

“John.”

Then John watches in awe as Sherlock starts to cry, tears streaming freely down his face as his lungs clench over a wet sob, breath shaking. John completely forgets about the ceremony. Forgets Chris or Greg or Molly or the fact they’re even standing up on the cliff. Sherlock’s crumpling face is the only thing that exists in the world, and John reaches forward and cups Sherlock’s wet cheek in his hand, thumb wiping away the water under his eyes. He steps closer and tries to meet his gaze.

“Hey now,” he whispers, pulling Sherlock’s face down towards him. Out of nowhere an odd sense of calm drapes over his skin, banishing the panic and replacing it with warmth spreading through his veins. He grips Sherlock’s wet cheek harder in his hand as Sherlock tries to hold back the choked sounds in his throat.

“I’m right here,” he whispers. Sherlock’s wet eyes fly open and lock onto John’s face, wrecked and open with a hint of embarrassment burning in the vivid blue of his irises. John rubs his cheek and smiles. “Here I thought I was gonna be the one to lose it,” he says.

Sherlock laughs wetly, wiping the back of his hand over his cheeks and nose. “So did I,” he says roughly, eyes crinkling. With a final pat and one last swipe of his thumb John pulls away his hand, and Sherlock straightens up, running his forearm over his eyes once more and sniffing hard. When he’s ready he gives John a small nod, and they both look at Chris and gesture to go on. They both know that Sherlock just said everything he ever could in two words. He doesn’t need to say anything more.

Chris nods, face gentle and solemn, and bends down to pull a gleaming conch shell out of the bag, cradling it softly in his large, rough hands.

“With this sound we will ask for the attention of the sky and sea as witness, to see that you, John Watson, and you, Sherlock Holmes, have chosen now to join together as one, binding yourselves to each other with your hearts as the unbroken horizon line. May no man, no law, and no force of nature cause that horizon to bend or break. When I sound this horn, the sky and the sea become one.”

With one final serious glance at each of them, Chris turns to face out over the ocean, raising the conch shell to his lips. He takes a deep breath and blows a deep and mournful note, echoing out across the waves and billowing over the sea. John’s chest vibrates to the noise. He looks up at Sherlock, whose eyes are burning brilliant blue framed by long, wet eyelashes. Sherlock smiles, and cups John’s face in his hands, and John closes his eyes and hums as Sherlock presses a long, soft kiss to his forehead, thumbs rubbing just along his jaw. John reaches up to hold onto Sherlock’s wrists as the conch shell continues to blow out over the sea. He feels the wind in his hair, smells the salt in his nose and resting at the back of his throat, breathes in the scent from the hollow of Sherlock’s neck as his toes grip at the foundation of the earth beneath his feet.

Sherlock pulls back and looks at him just as Chris finishes the final call on the shell. John moves to step back from Sherlock when suddenly a voice breaks the silence.

“Aw come on, give him a real kiss!” Molly cries.

Sherlock laughs as John shoots Molly and Greg a breathless smile, and then before he can draw in a breath or prepare Sherlock’s lips are suddenly on his mouth, caressing his lips and moving deeply against his skin while a moan builds deep in his throat. John feels the kiss down to the soles of his feet. He smiles against Sherlock’s mouth, grips the back of his neck, and pulls him closer against his lips, not giving a shit that three other people are watching him place his mouth on another man’s skin. Watching him taste the sound of his name still trembling on Sherlock’s tongue, or weave his fingers through a head of dark curls, or swipe his thumb along a sharp, angular jaw.

It feels an awful lot like flying. Like soaring down the face of a wave with nothing but the ocean spray blasting against his grinning face.

Sherlock presses one last kiss to the corner of John’s mouth, moving his lips gently against John’s beard, then steps back, letting his hand go after one final squeeze. John realizes that Chris is placing the shell back in his bag and slinging it over his shoulder, quietly starting to step away. He steps in front of him before he leaves and tries to think of what the hell he could even say, feeling somber and giddy all at once.

He catches the deep brown eyes framed by unruly, grey brows and forces himself to speak. “Thank you,” he says. Sherlock stands beside him and nods once, eyes full of meaning. Chris steps back and looks between the two of them thoughtfully for a moment before giving a small smile and a nod.

“It was a privilege,” he says. Then he nods towards Greg and Molly waiting behind them. “Go and celebrate, then. And one of you better win for Oahu next month in Huntington Beach.” Then he smiles at each of them before shouldering his bag and calmly walking back towards the path leading down to the beach, stepping smoothly along the way with his head held effortlessly high.

John watches Chris leave with the strange urge to reach out and ask him to stay, feeling oddly sad and empty as he takes each step further away from them. Then he feels Sherlock push gently at his shoulder, turning him around towards Greg and Molly standing back near the top of the cliff. John takes two steps forward towards them, then Greg jogs to cover the distance and wraps him in his arms, gripping hard at John’s back.

They don’t say anything. John can feel Greg’s chest pressing the unfamiliar weight of Sherlock’s necklace against his chest, the wood already warmed by his skin. Greg thumps his back hard before stepping aside so Molly can jump in, wrapping her arms around John’s neck as he buries his face in her long brown hair. Sherlock steps up behind him, running his palm up the small of John’s back, and as Molly steps away John fears for a moment that everything will turn strained and uncomfortable – all four of them standing at the top of the path to the cliff without any idea what to say, the memory of Sherlock’s lips on his still burned into everyone’s mind.

Then Greg clears his throat and turns to Sherlock. “So who the fuck is Sherlock?” he asks. Sherlock laughs, the sound of it washing over John like smooth, warm water. And then Greg turns to John and sports a wicked grin. “And what the hell is this about him calling you ‘John.’? Who the fuck are you, now - some middle aged pastor from Kansas?”

John rolls his eyes and the tension breaks, giving way to calm breathing as John starts walking down the path besides Molly with Greg and Sherlock starting out ahead of them, slowly pulling away as they all eventually make their way back down along the stretch of beach. Molly walks beside him in easy silence, one hand playing in the tips of her hair over her shoulder. When Greg and Sherlock are too far ahead to hear John sticks his hands in his pockets and breathes in the scent of the sea.

“Greg’s not giving him the ‘break his heart’ talk, is he?” he asks.

Molly snickers under her breath. “No, he gave him that over the phone when he called a week ago. I was terrified just sitting in the next room over,” she laughs.

John chuckles, watching as Sherlock and Greg stop walking up ahead of them by the house along the shore, toes dipping into wet and foaming sand, and Greg leans forward to put his hand on Sherlock’s arm, holding him there. They learn towards each other, both speaking low and nodding. Something tells John he already knows the gist of what they must be talking about, and the sight of the two people he loves most in the world currently holding each other by the sea burns fresh warmth spreading through his chest, making him have to blink away.

“How long are you guys staying?” he hears himself ask Molly.

Molly takes the bait and goes along with changing the subject, taking a breath and flipping her hair back off her shoulder. “Only until day after tomorrow. You know it’s hard for Greg to get time off like this.”

John rubs the back of his neck. “Shit, I didn’t realize – we could take you out somewhere tonight? Or I’m not sure if we have anything to cook –”

“Oh please, I’m making Greg take me to the most expensive restaurant in Honolulu tonight by our hotel and you’re going to stay here and enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about us.”

“But you came all this way –”

“Johnny we’ll see you tomorrow, I promise. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning to find Greg’s already snuck out and hitched a ride back to you because he’ll be too impatient to wait for me.”

John snorts under his breath and grins down at his bare feet sinking into the sand as they join Greg and Sherlock standing quietly on the shore. Sherlock immediately reaches for him and pulls him close to his side by the waist, kissing the side of his head without hesitation. The plain, blatant fact of it makes John’s heart dance in his chest. He wants to call up to the heavens for somebody up there to take a picture of them all. Of John standing on the beach of his home in front of his two closest friends with Sherlock Holmes effortlessly pressing his lips into his hair. Of him breathing easy and open with the warm weight of Sherlock’s wedding gift hanging around his neck and over his chest, protected by the thin navy fabric of his shirt.

Greg puts his hand on Molly’s shoulder and nods. “We’ll see you guys tomorrow?”

John feels suddenly like someone should say something more. Like he should thank them again, or talk about what just happened, or somehow put something into words – keeping them forever in their huddle on the beach. Then he realizes that nothing needs to be said at all as Greg looks at him calmly with a warm smile on his face and turns away after a nod from Sherlock. They walk slowly back towards the lane leading through the trees away from the beach, Molly turning back once to give a final wave before she wraps her arm around Greg’s waist and leans her head on his shoulder.

John’s left alone with Sherlock at his side, and all he can think to do is laugh. “What do we do now?” he says into the silence.

Sherlock grins down at him, eyes glittering and creasing at the corners, then he looks out over the sea and takes a dramatic deep breath, settling his shoulders.

“Now we surf,” he says, and he walks off without another word towards where their boards are kept along the backside of the house. And John knows that Sherlock knows that he’ll follow him. Will follow him to the edges of the earth.

 

--

 

“Why did he choose me as the sea and you as the sky?”

John hums as he paddles out into the waves behind Sherlock. They’re skirting just to the side of the main break of the waves along the deserted beach they’d driven to at the very edges of the Banzai, swimming out smoothly towards the slowly setting sun.

John calls up to him as he paddles through the soft, clear water, voice echoing across the frothy surface. “Probably because you’re like a deep, black pit of terrifying mystery, and people are afraid of the ocean.”

Sherlock huffs. “What and you’re just sunshine and puffy clouds and rainbows all the time?”

“Obviously Chris thought so.”

“Well shit, I didn’t want to think he was an idiot, but now I have to,” Sherlock mumbles.

“Hello? You need any help up there?” John calls back. “I’m pretty sure you’re sinking under the weight of your gigantic fucking head.”

Sherlock chuckles ahead of him and stops paddling in a clear spot of water, sitting up to perch on his board. He pulls his arms behind him to stretch his shoulders, chest heaving. John’s mouth waters at the sight. The flowers spilling across his shoulder ripple and shine in the thick purple light, which billows out across the waves from the low and heavy sun and reflects back onto his smooth, tan skin. John pulls up next to him and sits up, cracking his neck. Already his chest feels naked without the warm, smooth wood hanging down across it. They’d left their necklaces back at home out of fear of losing them in the waves. Now John rubs the spot at the middle of his chest idly with his hand for a moment, breathing deeply in his lungs and catching the soft scent of flowers floating across the surface of the sea.

“I miss mine, too,” Sherlock says quietly beside him.

John holds out his hand across the water and Sherlock immediately takes it, dipping their joined hands just below the surface of the waves and holding on.

John sighs. He wants the world at his back to just disappear for a week. Wants to take Sherlock’s hand in his wherever they go and let Sherlock lead him to the edges of the earth. See only his face, smell only his skin, hear only his voice. “I wish we could escape,” he says. “Just for a week.”

“Come on, John, why would you ever want to escape paradise?”

John rolls his eyes as Sherlock squeezes his fingers. “You know what I mean, you dick.”

Sherlock hums softly, and suddenly the yearning in John’s chest grows so strong he thinks he’ll moan out loud at the clutch of it. “I know Hank’s already watching the shop for a few days but . . . you think we can ask him to add a few more?”

Sherlock shrugs one shoulder, looking out calmly at the horizon. “Seeing as how he owns a third of the place I don’t see why we can’t ask.”

“We could go somewhere,” John sighs. “Just the two of us, and no competitions or anything. Just, get out of this bubble for a week.” He turns to Sherlock and says the words hiding in the back of his throat. “Somewhere we can . . .” He briefly lifts their joined hands out of the water and nods down at them. “You know, somewhere we can do this. Out in the open.”

Sherlock nods understanding, rubbing his thumb along John’s hand. “I know of a place on Maui we could stay that might be nice. It’s really private from what I hear. And there’s hiking there. Volcanoes and shit you can climb to feel all adventurous to match your beard.”

“God, that sounds like a fucking dream.”

Sherlock hums and squeezes John’s hand once more before letting go. He cups a handful of seawater in his palms and leans his head back to pour it down over his hair, plastering his curls to his head. John watches the beads of water drip slowly down his chest and stomach, wanting to lean down and lick them off slowly with his tongue.

Sherlock smiles with his eyes closed, face still turned up towards the sky. “Then good thing we already have that place booked for the rest of the week then,” he says.

John blinks hard, mind reeling. “What? What about –”

“And good thing Hank already said he’d watch the shop for a whole week.”

The water tickles against John’s thighs as he sits there dumbly with his mouth hanging open. He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or take Sherlock by the shoulders and kiss every inch of his face, bit by bit. “You’re fucking serious?” he pants out.

Sherlock looks back at him with glittering eyes, barely holding back the smile from his lips. “Of course I’m serious. Our flight’s around the same time as Greg and Molly’s the day after tomorrow. We can ride with them to the airport.”

John huffs a disbelieving laugh and stares blankly out towards the endless horizon, trying to calm his racing heart and the quiet shaking in his hands gripping his board. He licks his lips and tries to talk without laughing. “Is this what being married to you is like, then? You surprising me once every five goddamn hours?”

Sherlock suddenly stills next to him, and John feels a flutter in his gut when he thinks he understands the reason why. “God, I feel bad, Sherlock. You’ve done all of this for me, and I had my friends there today.” He groans quietly and rubs the back of his neck, feeling hot under his skin. “I haven’t done fucking anything for you back,” he finishes.

“That’s not true,” Sherlock says immediately.

John gestures limply out towards the waves with his hand, not knowing what to say. He wants to cup the entire ocean in his palms and hand it to Sherlock on a platter. That or reach up as high as he can to write Sherlock’s name in the goddamn stars. Something to feel like less of an absolute dud.

Sherlock reaches out and grabs his hand again, grip steady. “John that’s not true at all,” he says again.

John looks over at him and bites his lip. “What have I done, then?” he asks. The question trembles across the gently rolling waters, hovering and waiting for an answer.

Suddenly Sherlock’s face breaks into a breathless smile, sending shivers down John’s spine. “You married me, you idiot,” Sherlock says, and then he leans across the space between their boards, grabs the side of John’s face and kisses him, wet and slow, sitting at the edge of the earth. John moans against his mouth, letting himself feel and taste every good part of Sherlock’s lips. He pulls back just far enough to speak, the air from his lips brushing just across the tip of Sherlock’s tongue.

“When was the last time I told you that you were insane?” he whispers.

Sherlock chuckles and presses another kiss just below John’s mouth, lips grinning. “It’s been at least an hour. Better remind me.”

John kisses him again, deep and open-mouthed and feeling Sherlock’s fingertips come up to run over his scar. “You’re insane,” he whispers against his lips.

Sherlock pulls back and gives John a look that explodes through his chest, making him breathless. Suddenly he knows what he can do – what he can say to somehow feel like he’s given Sherlock something precious back.

John steels his shoulders and clears his throat, looking straight out across the horizon. “I found your notes,” he says gently.

Sherlock’s eyes widen quickly in shock, and John laughs. “Well come on I’m not an idiot,” he chuckles. “You hid them in the pocket of my own goddamn pants.”

“Well you never wear that pair!” Sherlock cries. “Not even once! They’re practically the only fucking thing in our apartment you’ve never touched.”

John howls, leaning over his board to try and catch his breath from laughing. “Oh my god,” he pants. “You’re insane.”

Sherlock huffs, crossing his arms. “Well you don’t need to remind me again that quickly.”

John shoots him one last smile, his own laughter slowly fading from his chest, and suddenly the moment turns thick and crackling, Sherlock waiting tense and frozen on his board for what John’s going to say.

John blinks hard, taking a second to order his thoughts, then he speaks, voice calm and gentle rolling across the surface of the waves. “How long have you been looking for her?” he asks.

Sherlock shrugs halfheartedly, looking down at his board like he’s ashamed. “Not that long,” he says low. “Lahela mentioned something in her letter a few weeks back – a detail I hadn’t known that got me thinking . . .”

John takes pity on him and reaches across to run his palm slowly across Sherlock’s forearm, inwardly thrilling when Sherlock turns his palm over to catch John’s hand in his, entwining their fingers again.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” John asks.

Sherlock squeezes his hand once and breathes slow and deep for a long moment, and John waits patiently in the silence, bobbing slowly up and down on their boards as the waves rush and hum in the distance behind them. Finally Sherlock speaks, voice halting. “I didn’t mean to,” he says. “I just . . . it didn’t seem fair.”

John frowns. “What’s not fair?”

Sherlock looks up at him, eyes hot and confused. “This whole thing,” he says, flicking his hand out towards the horizon. “It didn’t . . . I feel bad,” he finally says. “I have Lahela, sort of. And now I’m trying to look for my mom, too.” He sighs, gripping John’s hand, and John’s chest clenches at the emotion on Sherlock’s face. “You don’t have anyone to look for,” Sherlock finishes.

“Oh, love.” John brings Sherlock’s hand up to his mouth and kisses it, holding the skin against his face. “Sherlock I don’t need to look for anyone,” he says, voice choking. “You are my family. I have you.”

“It’s not like you aren’t enough for me –”

“I know that. God, I know that.”

Sherlock sighs, moving to cup his palm over John’s cheek. “I just need to know,” he whispers. “If she’s still out there . . . I need to know.”

John nods, feeling the ocean rise up to caress them from the deep, holding them aloft in a large, gentle hug. The words come to him easily, settling comfortably in his chest as he looks at Sherlock’s chest gently breathing in the late and hazy sunlight. “I’ll go with you,” John says.

“What?”

John tries to hold back his smile, watching Sherlock slowly try to process what he said. “There’s only so much you can do all the way out here,” he says. “So if you go looking for her – if you go back to the mainland. You know that I’ll go with you.”

The moment settles around them, warm and velvet against their skin. Finally Sherlock swallows hard and runs a hand through his hair, head gently shaking. “You are a marvel,” he says.

John kisses Sherlock’s hand again before letting it go, chest expanding hotly under his skin. He looks at the man before him, an incredulous smile still painted across his lips. He looks and he tries to match him to the man he’d seen that day on the beach, a crowd of onlookers at their backs and the buzzing noise of the competition and sunglasses thrown over Sherlock’s eyes.

He can’t. The man now before him is the sea, open and rolling and surrounding John so thoroughly he can’t find a part of himself that isn’t covered in saltwater, caressed and warmed by the froth. Held by Sherlock Holmes.

Finally Sherlock looks over at him and nods over John’s shoulder to the waves rushing into shore behind them, filling the air with the rolling crash of trembling, salt-covered foam.

“Nice set about to come in,” he says, softly grinning. “You should take it.”

John drinks in the sight of Sherlock sitting in the rippling sun, strong and calm and beautiful on the surface of velvet water. Then he nods once and lies down to start paddling out towards the breaking point, feeling Sherlock’s eyes warmly fixed onto his back. The water rushes against his skin in the familiar salty kiss, sliding across his muscles and rippling through his hair as a delicious ache spreads through his arms and shoulders, racing against the rushing hum of the waves. Just when John reaches the breaking point and chooses the wave he’ll take, he hears a voice travel to him rolling across the sea. It mixes with the spray in the air, hovering over his skin and holding him warm and soft, settling straight down in his bones.

The voice sounds like whipped-cream and Sherlock and home. The voice calls out, “Surf like hell, John Watson.”