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Aestival

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Aestival: Pertaining to summer

A gentle breeze tangled his curls, bringing with it the scent of fresh-cut grass and nearby water: cool and crisp. Heat coated his skin, pressing through the cotton of his shirt and wrapping his bare arms in golden light.

Behind his closed eyes, the dappled shade of the trees feathered the sun’s incessant glow, and the distant clatter of Londoners doing battle with Hyde Park’s ubiquitous deck-chairs reached his ears.

Sherlock sighed, the aching whirl of his mind bought to rest by the aestival symphony of the city. Days like this were rare, and him taking the time to appreciate them was practically unheard of. However, just for one hour, he was content to hold himself still and let the world pass him by.

Dry, grass-clad earth cushioned his back as he lay boneless beneath the sun’s benefaction. His left arm was draped across his stomach while his right rested at his side, his palm upturned and his fingers loosely curled in bliss. He’d start to burn if he stayed here much longer, but that was a distant concern. Summer brought the world to life even as it dragged the metropolis to a stand-still, its people halting their busy existences to partake in the most instinctual, primitive sort of worship.

The city became light-hearted, anchored in the confines of the present rather than spread too thin between past and future. It was hard, even for Sherlock, to care about anything but the immediate. The rest of the populace must surely be incapable.

Pigeons crooned to one another, their claws clicking on the paved paths that wound through this sprawling oasis. Distantly he could make out the rhythmic clopping of the Horseguards on exercise down by the Serpentine, their progress lending definition to the limpid tranquillity.

Calescence pooled in his veins, spreading through his body to bring light to the darkest places. It blessed the scars he carried, easing away the burden of their whispering, phantom pains. Every breath tasted of car exhaust and organic life: the hot press of bodies filtered through the emerald leaves and refined into a blend of sun-cream and lethargy.

The sound of approaching footsteps impinged on his hazy consciousness. Not the abstract rhythm of a passer-by, but the faintly lopsided march of a soldier during peace-time – out of place amidst London’s surrender. The owner of that stride walked with purpose, and Sherlock held his breath, wondering if John was about to bring his idyll to an end.

Out there, beyond the park’s verdant frontiers was a world of demanding complexity. The sun’s mantle became a burden, the heat weighing him down rather than giving him life as the clatter of a thousand concerns filled his mind.

He would rather hide from that, just for a while longer.

John’s stride slowed as he approached, each step softened by consideration. Sherlock sensed him move from the plane of the path to the yielding grass, and he listened to the soil carry the timbre of his friend’s movements.

He should open his eyes, but to do so would acknowledge everything he was trying to forget. It wasn’t really the Work which he was attempting to avoid, but the cacophony of John’s troubles. It was his responsibility to support him through difficult times, but a petty voice at the back of Sherlock’s mind could not help but whisper that John had bought this on himself: the divorce, the confusion of having a child that was not genetically his and the subsequent complexities of self-analysis.

They had both borne the consequences of John’s turmoil these past few months, and it was only here that Sherlock briefly felt free of it.

Dimly, he realised that he wasn’t the only one who found succour in his current surroundings. He could sense John’s proximity, but there was not the tell-tale prickle of that blue-eyed gaze upon his skin. Instead Sherlock could picture him, his shoulders, locked with a permafrost of tension, slowly softening beneath the sun’s balm. His head would be tipped back in mute praise, perhaps, his hands unclenching from their fists at his side. The simplest things could soothe, and if anyone required such relief, surely it was John Watson.

The grass soughed, the click of John’s knees pierced the susurrus as he sat down. The hiss of an indrawn breath curled in Sherlock’s ear – the opening bar to the symphony of John’s voice – but the words never came. Instead, there was a heavy sigh, like a man expelling smoke from his lungs, blowing away the toxins that he’d carried in his chest for far too long.

A different warmth reclined along Sherlock’s right side, one that had more to do with the brush of cotton shirtsleeves against his own than actual temperature. He could feel John’s body mirroring his own frame, a shorter stretch of human presence a mere hand span away, pushing at the boundary of friendship. Nothing new there.

It was what happened next which had the potential to change everything.

Perhaps others rewrote their lives with grand, sweeping gestures, kisses and serenades, but for all the brashness of their mutable co-existence, that was not the way either he or John worked. It was in this – the intricate details, so easily overlooked by anyone else – that they forged their new beginnings.

Two of John’s fingers, the smallest and its neighbour, twitched sideways, the very tips brushing Sherlock’s palm. It was achingly tentative, easy to write off as an accident or a figment of his imagination, but Sherlock knew otherwise. He could hear John’s breath, stalling and shallow, and sense determination in the way that tiny point of contact lingered in the bowl of his hand.

Slowly, Sherlock curled his fingers inwards, giving John time to withdraw, yet there was no such retreat. At last he felt weathered skin beneath his own, and instantly, he noticed what was missing. John had stubbornly worn his wedding band throughout the divorce proceedings, not pining for his wife, but as an act of defiance: a reminder that he had never broken his promises.

Now, its manacle-weight had been banished. Sherlock didn’t know where it had gone; it could be at the back of a drawer or the bottom of the Thames for all he cared. Currently, it was only significant in its absence. Another chapter drawn to a close.

John’s hand shifted and, thinking his wished to pull away, Sherlock released him. A moment later, a callused palm engulfed his own, strong and dependable. His fingers wove through the gaps between Sherlock’s, blending their periphery. The next breath John took was deep and steady, as if he had finally found some measure of peace – not in the woman he had once claimed to love, but in Sherlock himself.

It was tempting to speak – to ascribe significance and definition to John’s actions – but Sherlock swallowed the words away. Right now, it didn’t matter to him if this was all that they shared. In the brush of their skin was more than he had thought possible, and in the turn of each minute lay beautiful potential.

The future held an immeasurable number of possibilities, and none of them were guaranteed. However, after so long struggling through grey, monochrome days, Sherlock felt as if he had stepped into the light.

In this gift of a perfect summer’s day, they had found hope. Not in the sunshine or the azure sky, nor the joyful delight of London’s people, but in each other.

And Sherlock cherished it.