Sherlock has been sitting on the sand for the last ten minutes, watching a starfish – taken carefully from its location by John, and placed upon its back in a sandy-blue rock pool – turn slowly, and carefully; its small suckers wriggling against the water, its arms bending in almost slow-motion, until it has shifted itself, finally, finally, to the correct way up.
Sherlock watches the starfish. John watches Sherlock. The starfish, presumably, watches no-one at all, unless its vision is more sophisticated than John would suppose; either way, it certainly seems less interested in its human observers, than it is on inching its way slowly, slowly, towards the uneven rock-face John had originally plucked it from – a muddle of anemones, black-purple baby mussels, and unlikely-looking creatures that spurted water, as Sherlock had discovered, when jabbed with a precise, pale finger.
The starfish now righted, Sherlock stands up, and swipes his hands at his trousers. He looks at the beach, as though seeking a new distraction; it's surprisingly quiet, where they are, and the rocks that they're standing amongst – spilt from the mountain to their left – keeps the sound of shrieking holidaymakers to a minimum. A group of teenagers have been circling them steady, despite that; have been making eyes at Sherlock. He clearly doesn't consider them to be a worthy distraction, however, because he's acting as though he hasn't even noticed them, and doesn't so much as move his head, when one of the girls lets out a particularly high-pitched giggle.
“Bored?” John asks, amused.
“Are you?” inquires Sherlock in return, then shades his eyes. He's wearing a hat, with the name of the national park stitched upon it in garish colours, because John had flat-out refused to let the consulting detective walk around without one, not even when the Australian weather bureau was describing the UV levels as 'extreme'. The sight of Sherlock like that, with the brim wobbling around his face, and the side of his hand to his head, eyes squinting, makes John's mouth crinkle into a grin despite himself.
John spends far too much time, failing to police his expressions around the man he lives with.
“Not at all,” he answers, and wonders what, exactly, it is, that Sherlock hears when he speaks.
The girls let out another peal of giggles, then run into the ocean, paying the men no further heed, unless their bikini-clad bottoms are jiggling deliberately. John closes his eyes, and lets the quiet hum of the wind settle around him. He wonders whether the beauty of this place, of the slow-moving starfish, is something judged worthy of keeping, by Sherlock Holmes' brain, or whether it will be summarily deleted. They're only here, after all, because Sherlock had come to Melbourne for a case involving a very famous violin, and an increasingly infamous crime family; John had said, in the first place, that he didn't think it was a wise case to take on. Being bullied by belligerent local coppers, roughed up by belligerent local bastards, spending two nights cooling his heels in a cell, and only avoiding a dose of deportation thanks to Mycroft's fingers wiggling in pies, hadn't exactly left John in the best of moods. To be honest, the national park had been John's idea of the kind of payback he would personally enjoy a great deal, whilst Sherlock would be left whining with frustration at being stuck in the outdoors, in the middle of nowhere.
John had imagined.
Sherlock fusses with his hat, and glances at John, as though to make sure that has friend were still there. Then he bends, rolls his trousers above his bony knees, and wades to the centre of the rock pool.
Things never do work out the way John imagines.
At the very least, John had been certain that more pleasure would be taken in a study of the tourists, then in a study of the wildlife. If someone had told him a story about Sherlock dedicating time and effort to small green caterpillars, grey-furred wombats or, even, copper-coloured snakes with darting tongues, John would have laughed.
But then, on the very evening they'd arrived – John simply sighing, when the pretty girl at the front gate had looked the pair of them over, questioningly, through the window of their rental car – the detective had spent a good five minutes in what had looked uncannily like a thorough exploration of freshly-budding boronia flowers.
John watches, now, as Sherlock makes his way through the sandy pool. The man is moving carefully, but tiny ripples of water are still darkening the cloth above his knees. The material at the seat of Sherlock's pants is even darker, and still speckled with sand, from where Sherlock had been sitting; the cloth hugs unsettlingly.
John pretends he hasn't been staring, and squats, instead, to coax a soldier crab from the wet sand at the edge of the pool; Sherlock walks back towards him, when he sees the small creature settled proudly on John's index finger.
John lets the crab scurry, all shades of cautious indigo, from his skin to Sherlock's.
Sherlock's fingers are cool with sand and water.
When Sherlock looks at him and grins, John can't help himself any longer; can't stop himself from saying, “But Sherlock, why?”
For a second, just for a second, Sherlock looks almost confused. Then he huffs, rolls his eyes, and says, “Because it interests you, obviously.”
John pauses inside. It's as though his organs have come to a momentary halt, then hiccup, before leaping back into motion at a faster pace than ordinary. He can hear his pulse, behind his ears, triple-timing the slap of the waves. He watches, as the crab drops from Sherlock's hand, and disappears into the sand at Sherlock's feet. He watches, as Sherlock's toes wriggle beneath the water.
John stands, and walks to where the open sea is lapping; the water is cold and bitingly real.
It mumbles into waves, as Sherlock stands beside him.
Sherlock's face, beneath the brim of his absurd hat, is quietly self-satisfied. It makes John's skin tingle.
“Because it interests me?” John repeats.
“Hmm,” the detective says, raising his foot to meet an oncoming wave. It buffers against them. “And because you interest me.”
Somewhere, John can hear girls calling to each other. Somewhere, a starfish is just reaching the rock-face, and is settling in amongst tiny mussels. Somewhere, over the sand, and beyond the crest of the bush, is the camping area where they've been staying. Somewhere, somewhere, ever so far away, is London. Somewhere, everything is about to change.
Not here, though, John realises. Not here. Not really.
Sherlock beams at the ocean, and slides his hand into John's back pocket.